Even good TV animation today is about doing more with less: less movement, less texture, less detail, as in the minimalist Powerpuff Girls, with its static figures "flying" against a pulsing background. If Samurai Jack (Cartoon Network, debuts Aug. 10, 7 p.m. E.T., then Mondays, 8 p.m. E.T.) looks like no other cartoon on TV, that's because it's maximalist with a capital MAX. Richly textured backgrounds, constant visual surprises, a thrilling music score--this 'toon gives you your cable bill's worth.
The plot is strictly B movie: a young samurai is teleported by the evil wizard Aku to the distant future. So is the dialogue ("With the power of this sword, I will vanquish Aku!"). But even nonaction fans will be wowed by the art. Creator Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory) raids the history of illustration, art and cinema with the gusto of a kid playing in an attic. He gleefully cobbles past, present and future into a supercool fantasy of classical Japanese art, Hanna-Barbera, expressionism, anime, '60s film and '50s modernism, just for starters. (His dystopian future city looks like hell as designed by Charles and Ray Eames.)
Best of all, in an era of chatty, hyper 'toons, this action show knows when to stand still and shut up. Tartakovsky uses generous pauses for drama and laughs, and has no problem going 10 minutes at a stretch without dialogue. Jack (you'll have to watch to see how he gets the name) never dispatches an enemy with a smug, hip one-liner; he's an appealingly naive, reserved wanderer, as might be found in one of the spaghetti westerns Tartakovsky also cites as an influence. You might call Jack a soba western. Or sashimi sci-fi. Either way, you'll slurp it up.
--By James Poniewozik