It’s one week until the series finale (drumroll…). And I had actually planned to write on this much sooner, but prior obligations have kept me away from my blog for some time. Excuses, excuses, excuses.
Anyway, the best thing about TV in 2017 (besides This Is Us) might be the revival of the classic kids’ show, Samurai Jack, on Adult Swim. And by “classic” I mean 13 years old. Either way, the show dropped off sometime in 2004 with no conclusion to the saga of Jack fighting his way back to the past in order to save his family and undo the evils of shapeshifting demon Aku.
The good news this year was, they decided to bring it back. The bad news: only for 10 episodes. Creator Gendy Tartakovsky assured that Season 5 would see the end of Jack’s journey home, giving fans the conclusion they’ve all been waiting for. And he catered it perfectly to childhood fans by maturing the show for a now older audience.
In the first episode we see an ageless, yet aged Jack, complete with a beard. He’s still defending people from the minions of Aku, but now bears a heavy burden: he’s plagued with cries of his people, and the guilt of leaving them behind after all this time. Cartoon Network decides to go darker with this than ever before when it explores Jack’s demons. It gives a harder edge to the show when it shows Jack, for arguably the first time (previous episodes kinda blurred the lines) killing another human being. We see the blood. We see the panic. And, through flashback, we later see a young Jack traumatized from watching his father, the emperor, kill several assassins that are attacking his family. The show gives a much deeper context here by explaining Jack’s code of honor not just as a matter of virtue, but personal pain. It is something he has to face when fighting the Daughters of Aku.
Speaking of whom, we see the show introduce us to a new character: Ashi. The greatest of the seven daughters (and fully badass), she has, like her sisters, been trained from an early age to hunt the samurai. After failing her mission she and Jack are swallowed up by a giant sea beast. Stuck together, the two begin a rather tumultuous relationship as Jack, rather than killing, tries to convince her to change her ways.
Soon the hard-as-nails Ashi begins to soften as she sees the world from a different view. She learns about the true evils of Aku. She encounters many people that Jack has saved in the past. And, now free from the darkness of Aku (well…sort of), she aids the samurai on his long lost quest for home. And so the two begin their purely platonic, Tumblr-inspired “father and daughter” relationship (laughs).
Jack reclaims his sword, his gi (garments), and clean-shaven face, after going on a vision quest. And soon he finds something he has never had before: love. The show delves into mushy, but delightful romance, as the “father and daughter” mentor-student relationship between Jack and Ashi becomes more and more intimate. And it does it in some of the funniest ways, including sexual innuendos that are surprisingly innocent, given the chaste nature of the two characters. It’s actually very cute at times, and enough to enrage Tumblr apparently. We get an episode ending where the two, after fighting their way through a giant monster, lock lips after some heavily suggestive breathing. Dean Martin plays in the background.
The show is once more replete with everything great about Samurai Jack: the dystopian landscapes, the epic fight scenes, the return of some old favorites (The Scotsman, and several other past characters), beautifully stylized animation that even surpasses the original, cultural references, and scenes that reflect the quiet, Leone-esque way of showing-not-telling a story.
It even has a robot assassin character based on Sammy Davis Jr. I nearly laughed my ass off when I saw it. Yale students erroneously decried this an a homophobic depiction. Being smart doesn’t stop you from being culturally tone-deaf, apparently.
And the show has embraced its Adult Swim license in a myriad of ways. There’s a lot more blood and violence (but not excruciating Tarantino amounts), character nudity (but kind of covered), darker themes of suicide, fear, and PTSD, a few mild but PG-rated swear words, and some lightly-sprinkled innuendos. And there’s a penis joke. Yes, Samurai Jack has a penis joke. Actually two. The first one is uttered by Scaramouche, the jazzy, sweet-talking, and clearly homophobic but not in any way Sammy Davis robot character. The second is a classic “what’s poking me, doc” joke, featuring Jack’s sword.
In the penultimate episode, Jack begins his face off with Aku. And the part about Ashi being free from darkness, well…not so much. We find out Aku impregnated her mother. And now he uses his evil to take over her, forcing her to fight Jack. Gut punch. At the end of the episode Ashi begs Jack to kill her before the evil spreads, turning her into a monster. And Jack falls, dropping his sword. Aku picks it up victoriously.
As I said earlier, the saddest part of the show’s revival is that we only have ten episodes. As of now, it’s nine down and one more to go. The Rick and Morty April Fools prank gave us one more week, or else the show would have just ended. I don’t want Jack to end. As a childhood fan, I can honestly say that this was my favorite show growing up. Season 5 suffers from the dilemma of being too damn-near-perfect to end. After hitting all the right notes the piano is about to go dreadfully silent. Arguably, it could have been even more perfect, if we had at least 13 episodes, like all the preceding seasons. Maybe we could have even seen a rematch with the Guardian (instead his broken glasses were found on the ground).
But I really am grateful to see Samurai Jack make its return, even if only to close the series. It’s brought me pure joy to see a great show that, after 13 years, still hasn’t lost it mojo. In fact, it’s perfected it. I just hope that maybe, after a little fan pressure, Gendy Tartakovsky would kinda, sorta, possibly consider leaving the door open. Having mastered the Saturday night ratings, Jack would make the perfect edition to the Adult Swim lineup. And it opens the way for more darker, deeper storytelling, allowing the show to maximize its potential in ways that it couldn’t before. If you’re listening, Gendy…
At least it’s an exciting prospect. Even if it doesn’t happen. Either way, it’s been a wonderful
nine-going-on-ten ten going on eleven (because of Rick and Morty) weeks. Glad we finally made it to the end. See you back in the past, Samurai. As I re-watch all my Season 1, 2, 3, and 4 DVD sets.