Aku

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Aku

(pop culture)
Aku, the merciless shapeshifter who describes himself as “the Master of Masters, the Deliverer of Darkness, the Shogun of Sorrow,” was created by animator Genndy Tartakovsky (who also developed the animated hit Dexter's Laboratory) in “The Beginning” (original airdate: August 10, 2001), the premiere installment of the Cartoon Network's Samurai Jack (2001–2004). Eons ago, a consortium of deities—Odin, Ra, and Rama—narrowly subdues a primeval entity of absolute malevolence. Yet a vestige of this amorphous evil survives, creeping like a virus across the globe, the eradication of the dinosaurs among its atrocities. Millennia later, after slaughtering countless Japanese warriors, the demonic force is wounded by a magic arrow but does not die, instead taking the form of Aku. After being imprisoned by an emperor who brandishes a supernatural sword, Aku escapes years later: “Once again, I am free to smite the world as I did in days long past.” He is challenged by the magic sword–wielding Samurai Jack, who has trained his whole life for the eventuality of Aku's return, but the shapeshifting menace banishes the young nomad to the future, “where my evil is law.” And thus Samurai Jack roams the Aku-ruled future Earth, with its dangerous robots, aliens, and Aku's minions (with sinister names like Demongo), seeking a chronal gateway to return to the past to defeat the Deliverer of Darkness before his global empire is built. (Tartakovsky initially drew fire for plagiarizing Frank Miller's similarly themed DC Comics 1983–1984 miniseries Ronin; nonetheless, Samurai Jack quickly established and maintained its own identity throughout its celebrated 52-episode run.) This colorful villain, a Kabuki horror emerging from hellfire, was bloodcurdlingly voiced by Japanese actor Mako, whose numerous film credits include The Sand Pebbles (1966), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and Bulletproof Monk (2003). Aku's malevolence inspired the video game Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku (2004), plus a “Flame Blade Aku” action figure and a 12-inch maquette. While Samurai Jack has been relegated to DVD collections and an occasional Cartoon Network rerun, its brave hero still battles Aku in the far-flung era.