|“|| Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape shifting master of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil.|
But a foolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me.
Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time, and flung him into the future where my evil is law.
Now the fool seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is Aku.
—Aku, Intro for Samurai Jack
Aku is the main antagonist of the cartoon Samurai Jack. He is an evil, shapeshifting demon that has taken over the world and ruled for countless eons. Throughout the series, he was voiced by the late Mako Iwamatsu in the original series but was replaced by Greg Baldwin in Season 5 despite of Mako's death in 2006.
Though he is capable of shifting form into virtually anything he wishes, his standard form is a roughly humanoid being with a black body, a green mouth, and a red beard extending from the bottom of his chin. He also tends to have six horns, four long and two short, extending from his head, and eyebrows made of red, flickering flame. In his standard form, he also tends not to have legs, with his body simply ending at the bottom with robe-like darkness that sometimes manifests as flames, and he also tends to be several stories tall.
Aku constantly antagonizes Jack, often attacking him when he is weak, and other times defending himself from Jack's own gambits. The two seem doomed never to defeat each other, for though Jack has beaten him on numerous occasions, Aku merely transforms into a creature and escapes, usually calling out a taunt over his shoulder, a fact that he is entirely aware of and even lampshades in "Episode XLVIII: Jack versus Aku".
While he's usually presented as a serious and threatening foe, Aku is also a source of comedy in the show, due to his outrageous design and sometimes wise-guy behavior, supported by Mako's over the top voice-acting.
Aku means "Evil" in Japanese. It is written as "悪" in Kanji. The kanji can also be pronounced as "Waru".
Long ago in the vastness of space, a great, formless evil called the Ultimate Evil arose. Before it could do harm to the universe, it was set upon by the three prime deities of the Aesir, Egyptian, and Hindu mythologies: Odin the All-father, Ra the Sun God, and Vishnu, the Supreme God and Soul. The three deities fought a fierce battle against the evil manifestation, burning the entity almost completely out of existence with their divine power. However, during the battle, one small fragment of the entity that was cut from the whole by Odin did not burn away. Unnoticed by the three deities, this fragment floated away from the site of the battle and drifted through space for an untold amount of time, until it eventually crashed to Earth during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era. It is implied that this crash is the event that caused the extinction of the none-avian dinosaurs, although the crash occurred in ancient Japan as opposed to the Chicxulub impactor, which touched ground in modern day Mexico, so this may not be the case. The fragment developed over eons into an ominous forest of black spikes that devoured any who dared enter. Eventually the forest grew so large that The Emperor (Jack's father) decided to kill the evil at its source. Armed with a magic oil given to him by Buddhist monks, the Emperor and his cavalry rode into the heart of the forest. But as they rode, the forest began to kill his men, leaving the Emperor himself as the only survivor. Once at the black lake in the forest's center, the Samurai Lord doused an arrow into the oil he was given and fired it into the black lake, believing that it would destroy the evil. Unexpectedly, the oil's magic had the unforeseen effect of galvanising the evil into a human-like form, giving it sentience and shape-shifting abilities, and thus giving birth to the demon wizard, Aku.
The Emperor attacked Aku, but, with nothing more than his mundane, mortal weapons, he could inflict no harm upon the monster. Aku easily defeated the Emperor, and trapped him to the side of a tree so that he could watch as Aku destroyed his home and killed his people. However, the Deities, sensing the good in the Samurai Lord, summoned him to them. Taking the good inside him, they used avatar bodies to create an enchanted sword that was capable of harming Aku. Armed with the sword and a magical suit of armor, the Emperor plunged into battle against Aku. In the end, the Emperor was victorious, but he was unable to destroy the demon, and so instead sealed him in the devastated wasteland in the form of a jagged black tree. As he was sealed away, Aku vowed he would one day return. During the battle, the Emperor's wife gave birth to a son. Determined to learn from the catastrophe, and aware that Aku would indeed one day return, the Emperor and his family hatched a plan, and orchestrated the events that would set Jack on his eventual years of training.
Ten years later, during a solar eclipse, the tree form that Aku was imprisoned in dissolved and Aku was released. In a castle, Jack was a young child and his father was telling him how he defeated Aku. After the story was done, Jack was left alone, playing with a toy sword. Suddenly, the castle was covered in Aku's shadow. Aku unleashed a vicious attack on the city. Jack's father attempted to get the sword, but Aku captured him before he could reach it. The Lord told his wife it was time to enact the plan they had prepared. Following the plan, Jack's mother escaped with him and the sword. Jack then started on his journey to prepare both physically and mentally for his confrontation against Aku.
Many years later, a formidably trained Jack returned to find his land devastated and his people, including his father, enslaved and horribly suffering, forced to harvest the rich resources of their land for Aku to increase his powers and spread his evil across the entire planet. Filled with righteous wrath, Jack quickly slew Aku's minions and went to Aku's palace to slay him. After a vicious battle, Jack eventually overpowered Aku. However, before Jack could finish him off, a desperate Aku tore open a portal in time and flung him into the distant future, a future in which Aku was certain that his evil would be spread out all over the world.
Unknown centuries passed before Jack reappeared into the world. During that time, Aku managed to terrorize and subjugate the majority of the entire world, making himself the undisputed ruler of Earth. Although he began with demonic servants to carry out his will, he later became enamored with mechanical servants due to the fact his demonic minion doesn't carry his task fast enough, and recruited mad scientists to make the X-Model. All but one were eventually destroyed before the next generation of Aku's army were developed: the Beetle Drones. Successors to the X-Models, the beetle drones became the model for a series of insect-themed minions that served Aku well into the height of his power, and were his standard henchmen.
Hungry for more power, Aku established the Earth as a space-faring world, opening his ports to surrounding worlds in order to plunder and conquer worlds beyond as well. The influx of aliens, ranging from enslaved species to rough immigrants, have made the Earth a hodge-podge of a dystopian society primarily run by tyrants and gangs. The few bastions of peace and hope typically remain out of Aku's wide field of vision.
Since Jack arrived in the future, Aku habitually watches his progress through the world, and taking any and every opportunity to destroy the samurai, whether through unleashing his minion armies, hiring bounty hunters, clever traps, trickery and deceit, and other methods in an unending struggle.
The Hermit was another one of Aku's aliases, just one of several forms which Aku assumed in order to travel closely with Jack. Using his shapeshifting abilities Aku changed himself to the appearance of an old cranky hermit with green skin, white hair and a black robe. He travelled with Jack to find the Gems of Cronus, looking for one gem to the other, in order to resurrect Cronus. Unlike with Ikra, Jack saw through the deception and was ultimately able to turn the tables on Aku. In the ensuing battle Jack defeated and heavily injured Aku, forcing him to retreat.
- Shapeshifting: Aku can change into virtually any form he desires, from a giant dragon to a small insect, or even a beautiful woman. He can also change his size, liquefy himself, stretch, and expand his body. He can also split into pieces to be in numerous places at once, with his consciousness inhabiting numerous bodies. He typically changes into animal forms during battle, such as a scorpion or an octopus, adapting to the situation. On one occasion, he also transformed into a huge, amorphous mass of darkness that greatly resembled the evil entity he had been spawned from, and could alter parts of itself at will.
- Supernatural Physical Ability: Aku can alter his physical capabilities to virtually any level he needs or wants due to his magical shape-shifting abilities, and has manifested superhuman strength, speed, endurance, and senses. No parameters or upper limits have been established regarding these capabilities.
- Immortality: A significant aspect in the series is that Aku is ageless and immortal. He requires no sustenance, and cannot be harmed by conventional means.
- Regeneration: While Aku is completely resistant to most forms of attack, he is not invulnerable; items such as Jack's sword or magics such as divine energy can damage the substance from which he is made. However, Aku is able to regenerate to a large degree even against attacks such as these; the magic or item will create large, burning holes or gashes in him that he can close back up with effort. However, his ability to regenerate in these situations is limited. In many of his confrontations with Jack, damage caused by the sword whittles away at his overall mass and ability to regenerate in the short term, until it tends to leave him as a very small animal of some sort, such as a frog or a mouse, at which point further attacks would presumably either seal him away as Jack's father did, or kill him as Jack intends to do. However, given a relatively short time out of combat, he will regain his former mass.
- Dark Magic: Aku, being a demonic manifestation of a primordial evil, can tap into various dark energies and magics to unleash supernatural effects. There appears to be little to no limit to the scope of his abilities. The powers he has demonstrated so far are:
- Laser Eye Beams: Aku used this ability in numerous battles with Jack and he also used it to destroy the majority of Jack's Kingdom. He can also teleport beings through this ability.
- Pyrokinesis: Aku can breath streams of fire from his mouth and project it from his hands.
- Scrying: Using mystical forces in his lair, Aku can create images on the walls to spy upon Jack, not to mention other enemies and events.
- Opening Time Portals: This was the very ability that Aku used to send Jack into the future at the beginning. It was only used once and was a one way portal forward in time.
- Teleportation: Aku uses this quite often to appear before those he has business with, such as the Imakandi.
- Telekinesis: Aku has shown the ability to manipulate objects with his mind alone.
- Object Materialization: The ability to create objects and materials out of thin air. He once used this ability to conjure gold, jewels, and other treasures for the Imakandi.
- Interstellar Travel: Aku is capable of interstellar travel at at least the speed of light.
- Necromancy: Aku has been shown in one episode to be capable of animating countless dead bodies, and bending them to his will.
- Electrical Discharges: Aku is capable of combining fire breath with his laser-eye-beams to create blasts of electricity.
- Weather Manipulation: Aku can conjure thunderstorms at will.
- Premonitions: Aku, on at least one occasion, has been shown to have the ability to receive premonitions regarding his future through his dreams, which he can then act upon.
- Earth Manipulation: Aku has demonstrated the ability to use his powers to manipulate the ground; for instance, causing in one case a giant rock wall to spring from the ground to hinder Jack.
- Possession/Infection: Aku has been shown to have the ability to use small portions of himself to infect others with his evil. The only time this has been seen was when he incidentally spat up a tiny portion of himself at Jack, which, over the course of a day or so, proceeded to possess Jack, giving him the appearance and personality of Aku. On a related note, he can also use portions of himself to power machinery, as he demonstrated by doing so with the Ultra-Robots.
- Sonic Blasts: Aku is able to project waves of sonic force by shouting.
- Martial Arts: Despite never having been shown to have trained at all in any form of martial art, Aku is a very skilled practitioner of hand-to-hand combat. Though not any sort of match for Jack, he was at least capable of defending himself reasonably well against Jack during their duel, while limiting himself to using only human capabilities. He is also shown to be a fairly skilled swordsman, as, on one occasion where he stole Jack's sword, he was able to force Jack (who was armed with a sword and shield) into a defensive posture during a bout of swordplay. However, it should be noted on that occasion that Aku was not limited in the scope of the powers he could employ.
Known forms he has taken
- Bird: (he uses this form mostly to escape) used lots of times
- Scorpion: used in I and XXX also shown in opening titles
- Gorilla: used in I
- Billy Goat: used in I
- Squid: used in VIII and briefly seen in XXXVIII
- Manta Ray: used in IX
- Spiked Tubeworm : used in IX
- Spider: used in XXXVIII
- Kraken: used in I but also shown in beginning opening titles
- Cobra: used in XII
- Dragon: used in XIII
- Chinese Dragon: used in XXX
- Praying Mantis: used in XXX
- Mouse: used in XXX
- Frog: used in XXXIV
- Fish: used in XXXIV
- Flying Dragon: used in XXXVIII
- Army: used in XXXVIII
- Dark Mass of Shadow tentacles: used in XXX
- Human: used in XLVIII
- Amorphous Mass of Darkness: used in XXX
Despite his powerful abilities, Aku has a few weaknesses. These include:
- Color Scheme: Aku's shape-shifting is limited to his color scheme and will remain red, black, and usually green (though not always) no matter what form he takes. While not particularly problematic with regard to combat, this can make disguising himself somewhat difficult (though he has still fooled Jack numerous times with his disguises, as Jack tends not to notice Aku's color scheme issues and, when he does see through Aku's disguises, it is because of Aku's personality rather than his colors).
- Reflection: Aku's own reflection will reveal his normal form no matter what he has shifted to look like.
- Magic: Though Aku cannot be harmed by normal weapons and attacks, he can only be harmed, defeated and vanquished by Jack's sword and other divine or mystical forces. For example, the Goddess of Water and her 3 elemental servants were able to harm and defeat Aku with very little effort, although not to the same degree as three 3 gods Odin, Ra and Vishnu. Since Aku was a fragment of the greatest manifestation of evil, he can be destroyed by the strength and purity of a human's (and likely any other living creature) spirit, as stated by Vishnu. Jack's katana is virtually the only item which can cause Aku damage that he cannot instantly regenerate from. For this reason, Aku is reluctant to confront Jack head-on.
- Illness: In one episode (XLIII), Aku appeared to suffer from flu-like symptoms, exposing an apparent lack of immunity to diseases. However, it is unknown how he managed to contract whatever illness he was suffering from.
- Vulnerability to Divinity: Powerful deities like Ra, Vishnu, Odin, the Goddess of Water and her elementals servants are able to overpower and vanquish him.
Aku is evil incarnate; he embodies the very essence of an evil overlord. Cruel and domineering to all he meets, it's obey or be obliterated with Aku. Arrogant and sadistic by default, he has ruled the planet for thousands of years and does not take kindly to disobedience. An example of his cruelty can be shown when an alien prince and princess had crash landed on the Earth and begged for his help because they needed to get back to their planet to stop an invasion; Aku had their ship confiscated and ordered them thrown into a forced labor mine where they would live "miserably ever after" while laughing about it. When their robot companion objected to this treatment, Aku smashed him into the ground without hesitation. The same episode also showed a dog in his castle being tormented by electrocution and whipping for unknown reasons. Although he is merciless and inhumane, to say the least, he has enough of an understanding of humanity to manipulate their feelings to his advantage.
Aku is as intelligent as he is powerful, and his cunning knows little end, from taking the form of a woman to trick Jack or manipulating various races into serving him. He is also dishonest and has no shame or remorse, and he routinely goes back on his word either to serve himself or simply for amusement.
Despite this, he possesses a dry sense of humor and often jokes when in a good mood, mocking Jack whenever he can and however he can. For instance, in one episode Aku holds a time portal just out of Jack's reach as Jack jumps for it.
He is also rather "genre savvy", and will occasionally lean on the fourth wall or lampshade either his own villainous tendencies or various cliche situations.
He is also a frequent source of comic relief in the show, due, in prime, to his reactions to the things around him.
Aku seems to have soft spot for children. This can be seen in Aku's Fairy Tales where he attempted to make children admire him by telling them tales that depict himself as a hero and Jack is a villain. Unfortunately for him, the children weren't impressed hearing his increasingly ludicrous tales, causing him to vanish in rage after roaring "the end". In Jack and the Rave, he composed an evil music that cause a town children to hypnotically dance for him and committed crime until Jack freed them.
Apperances in Other Media
- Aku was featured frequently in Cartoon Network commercial bumpers from 2001 to 2007.
- Aku makes a brief appearance in the intro to the short-lived programming block, Friday Nights. He can be seen early on standing in the city, rivaling a few skyscrapers in height.
- Aku appears as an unlockable Nano character in the Cartoon Network MMO, FusionFall. This is his first speaking role since the passing of his previous voice actor, Mako Iwamatsu. He was voiced by Greg Baldwin.
- He appears in both the handheld and console versions of Cartoon Network Punchtime Explosion as a boss character. He is a playable fighter in the console version as well. He was voiced by Fred Tatasciore.
- Aku made multiple background appearances during Cartoon Network's 20th Anniversary celebration.
- Aku was voiced by the late Mako Iwamatsu for the show's original run. He is known for portaying such characters as Splinter from the 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, and Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- As Mako passed away in 2006, any speaking roles by Aku following would have been taken up by other actors. In FusionFall, he was voiced by Greg Baldwin (who, incidentally was also the one to replace Mako as the voice of Iroh in Avatar), and he was voiced by Fred Tatascoire. While Gendy has announced someone who "does a pretty good imitation" of Mako will play Aku in Season 5, it is unknown if this person is Greg or Fred.
- Interestingly, a storyboard sneak peek of Season 5 had Genndy himself attempting to imitate Aku's iconic voice. However, as it was an animatic, it's not uncommon for the person pitching the scene to do all the voices themself as placeholders.
- Later on, it was confirmed that Greg Baldwin who would voice Aku in Season 5 replacing Mako Iwamatsu.
- Main article: Aku/Gallery