Samurai Jack: A Night Owl’s Perfect Lullaby

Gotta get back, back to sleep…

Screenshot from the season 5 intro on Adult Swim

I’m tired. Very tired. Yet, here I am, staring into the vast abyss of the Internet. It provides me with dreams potentially more interesting than what I could have during a quality REM cycle. This digital sandbox distracts me from my slumber, with its imaginative stories of Kermit’s identity crisis and tales of cats marrying cheeseburgers.

One show, however, managed to cut me loose from the Web.

The recently rebooted Samurai Jack, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, replaced my online journeys with the ventures of a lone warrior, and has managed to become the final step of my bedtime routine.

But how, you ask, does a show with such peril and frequent fighting soothe the soul?

For one, Samurai Jack places a focus on sensory details. Every frame is a work of art, in a literal sense. The carefully painted scenery follows Jack through a museum of his life as he traverses each exhibit. At a close glance, these paintings are highly detailed. However, their overall structure offers a simplicity that reduces the sensory information our brain is receiving about each scene. The viewer is constantly kept in the loop about the plot. Because of this, we can focus on the raw emotion of the art and of Jack’s environment.

Sccreenshot from season 1, episode 4 titled “Jack, the Woolies, and the Chritchellites”

While I am certainly no fan of panning in most animated shows, Samurai Jack makes the most of camera motion, utilizing creative filming paths for its visual storytelling. The camera often travels in a diagonal direction, sometimes even parabolically, and is mostly used for scenic purposes as it should be. (Looking at you, anime.)

The background illustrations rarely fit inside of a single frame, mirroring reality as a mere piece of a continuous plane. This allows for longer shots for a single action, making it take longer for a speeding motorcycle to drive across the screen or for a charging Jack to swing his sword. Prolonged shots slow the pacing of Jack’s battles, offsetting any potential adrenaline rush received from the fight taking place.

Samurai Jack’s audio is just as sensory-focused as the visuals. Each sound effect echoes into the next, with long enough space in between to realize who or what is making noise. I don’t have to think about what’s going on at all, thanks to the crisp simplicity of how the plot is being delivered. It prevents the beginning of the stream of consciousness that leaves me restless at night, and instead encourages me to truly listen to the world rather than listen to the song that’s stuck in my head. And what could be more calming than listening to an empty room?

Likewise, voice actors Phil LaMarr (Jack) and Mako Iwamutsu (Aku, who is played by Greg Baldwin in season 5) effectively display harsh tones in a hushed manner. Even Jack’s battlecries and Aku’s maniacal laughter reverberate like the soft drone of a tickled gong.

The true lullaby of Samurai Jack is in its score. While the show itself does a great job in slowing things down, the music delivers me the final blow. From forest harps to siren songs, desert flutes to EDM beats, the soundtrack invites me to close my eyes at any given moment.

Song composed by James L. Venable from the series. An official OST has not yet been released.

Just when I thought the good night’s sleep ship had sailed, I had sank into my matress upon first watch of this artistic masterpiece.

Insomniacs, let me know if I was able to help, or what helps you get some rest, in the comments.

(Note: This artcle excludes the season four finale, which features a horribly annoying crying baby.)

(Edit: Surprisingly, I could not find an image of a cat marrying a cheeseburger. Feline photographers of the world: Make it happen.)

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