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"Samurai Jack" Slices a Second Season

It’s been over a year since Samurai Jack: Season 1 hit store shelves, giving fans a full season of their beloved show with pristine DVD video and crystal clear Dolby sound. Now, fans will get their chance to grab the second season set on May 24.

CoverThe Season 2 set opens with “Monkey-man” teaching Jack to jump. It’s not the strongest episode on the first disc, but it nicely showcases the show’s visuals, sounds, humor, and story. Better episodes follow, though, and a few of them genuinely great. ‘XVI’ pits Jack against the Dome of Doom’s champions and provides fast-paced and relentless fighting; ‘XVII’ features the return of the Scotsman and introduces his “stout” wife. The highlight of the first disc, though, is ‘XIX’, which brings Jack to the ruins of his village. As he walks through, he has flashbacks to things he experienced there, including a day in the tall grasses with a girl, seeing a samurai defeat guards on the bridge, and his ball and the bullies who took it. The episode is one of the more emotional of the show, and it really makes you feel for Jack and what he’s lost.

The second disc, meanwhile, features a flatulent dragon, a naked Jack, an episode set entirely in widescreen, and a hilarious episode where Jack gets a new pair of shoes. It also includes the Emmy-winning episode ‘XXV’ and the set’s special features, the best of which is the “Creator Scrapbook”: What sounds like it should be a generic slideshow of Genndy Tartakovsky sketches turns out to be a twenty-minute documentary narrated by Mako (voice of Aku) that starts with Genndy Tartakovsky’s birth and ends shortly after his work on Clone Wars. The documentary also features interviews with Tartakovsky’s wife, his brother, Craig McCracken, Paul Rudish, and many others in the Samurai Jack crew. It gives you a strong new appreciation for Tartakovsky, who really is an “American success story.”

“An Original Episode Pitch” follows Mark Andrew’s pitch for Episode XVII (‘Jack and the Scotsman, Part II’), giving a nearly identical replication of John DiMaggio’s voice of the Scotsman along the way. It’s short, coming in at only seven minutes (covering the first three minutes of the episode and the last three) but a lot of fun to watch.

The final special feature is a commentary on XXV (‘Jack and the Spartans’), and it is one of the most in-depth sessions of a twenty-minute commentary I’ve ever heard, covering every aspect of every scene. Ideally, every episode should have such a commentary, but this one is so exhaustively thorough that I don’t know if the viewer could listen to thirteen episodes of such comprehensive talk (or if the commentators could sustain that much discussion).

CoverThe packaging will be familiar to those who own the first Samurai Jack set: a cut out in the front pulls out to reveal a larger image; octagonal shapes are used as a background; and a tri-fold-out features an intro written by Tartakovsky himself. Menus (not animated) are also reminiscent of the season one set, featuring “Main,” “Episode,” “Languages,” “Play All,” and “Special Features” options.

Video quality for this release is somewhat mixed. Disc one contains some really solid video that rarely wavers, though a few episodes contain a bit of interlacing. Disc two (especially ‘XXII’) had a lot more interlacing, but those who don’t watch their DVDs on their PCs or HDTVs won’t be bothered by it much, as I haven’t noticed interlacing to be that noticeable on regular TV sets. The only other glitches were on ‘XXII’ and ‘XXIV’, where a few “noisy” backgrounds cropped up with a bit of dancing pixilation.

Audio is crystal clear throughout, balancing the serene sounds of the quieter moments with the series’ large crashes and explosions. The commentary track is clear as well, something that’s nice after hearing so many distant commentary tracks on other studio’s releases.

My only other gripe (and it’s one I have with all WHV releases): I really wish there were chapter stops. Everything else in this release is top-notch, but chapter stops are sorely needed.

With the third season tentatively set for release later this year, the wait between this and the next release won’t be as excruciatingly long as the previous gap. Until then, this set definitely delivers. Samurai Jack fans won’t want to pass it up and those looking for a great blind buy should strongly consider this release.

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