Jack is Back – impressions

Samurai Jack

After 11 long years Samurai Jack is back! Announced way back in December of 2015, the Genndy Tartakovsky animated show made its return on Adult Swim last March 11 to much fanfare. Kids who grew up watching the show were ecstatic that they were finally getting a conclusion to the epic tale of Samurai Jack.

Picking up where the previous series left off, Season 5 doesn’t seem to skip a beat. Episode 1 begins with a short reintroduction to the character of Samurai Jack. Immediately apparent is that this Jack is no longer the same samurai from seasons past. He no longer appears the calm, serene warrior that originally faced off against Aku. 50 years have passed since the last episode. Jack no longer ages, a side effect of his being sent forward in time. He appears gaunt, weary of the years that passed him. He is constantly haunted by phantoms of his past. Visions of his father and mother terrorize him, cursing him for being unable to defeat Aku and save them. He has also lost his sword, the spirit of the samurai. He appears very much to have given up on his quest.

This first episode simply serves to reintroduce us to the character and the series. The episode even starts with him fighting giant beetle robots similar to the first enemies he faces off in the original series. Later on he faces off against one of Aku’s droid assassins. Both of these fights are inconsequential, but it serves to reestablish the themes of the old show, such as the visuals and the familiar sound effects. Meanwhile, the show introduces a new enemy to Jack. A mysterious cult, known as the Daughters of Aku, is training in the shadows intent on killing Jack. Not much is known about them though they are shown to worship Aku like a deity and believe Jack to be their version of the “antichrist”.

This episode of Samurai Jack feels both familiar and very different at the same time. The direction, art style, and sound effects remain similar to the series’ past. However, the tone is very different from before. Where in seasons past Jack is driven by a manifest destiny to defeat Aku, this new Jack is haunted, broken after failing to defeat in his mission so many times.

Samurai Jack has always been very good at showing without telling. Jack has gone through so much that, despite not physically aging, he appears to have changed so much. He dons armor and arms himself with a pistol and a polearm. He goes into battle riding a motorcycle armed to the teeth with a machine gun and spiked wheels. With his mask off we see that his hair is unkempt and he now sports a beard. Everything about him shows that he is not the same man we last saw in season 4.

The shift to Adult Swim is also evident in the show. Despite the violence of Jack’s fights, the old show has always been PG friendly. Now, the show is obviously much darker in tone. When the Daughters of Aku are introduced, we see their cult leader giving birth to septuplets who she dedicates in a dark ritual to Aku. The children are then brutally trained in the martial arts by the Daughters, physically beaten and abused in order to wipe any trace of compassion from their hearts. We even see them kill their fellow cult members during the final stages of their training. Most notable of all is when they are commanded to “Kill!” the Samurai after they complete their training. All previous 4 seasons have never shown death nor said the word “kill” outright. Sure it was implied before that Aku killed Jack’s family and their subjects when he laid waste to their kingdom, but we never see any character draw blood onscreen. In just 20 minutes, S05E01 managed to perfectly establish the show’s new direction.

This only being the first episode, it’s too early to say if the show will be able to deliver on the expectations of so many fans. What’s promising, though, is that Cartoon Network has pretty much given carte blanche to Tartakovsky and his crew to make their vision of Samurai Jack’s ending a reality. Had this one episode been made 11 years ago, it would surely not have been greenlit for airing I can assure you. It certainly gives me hope for the rest of the season and I’m more than pumped for the next episode.