A lot has happened in the world of animation since the last episode of the original Samurai Jack aired in 2004. Thirteen long years have passed and fans of the action-packed cartoon are drooling over the series reincarnation on Adult Swim. Come drool with us!
I did a write up for Kotaku almost a year go about my excited, yet hesitant attitude towards Samurai Jack returning with darker tones and an updated cast. At that time we knew very little, aside from the fact that the show was coming back sometime soon and Jack would have a new helmet.
After watching the first episode of the fabled “season five,” three times I’m happy to report that it seems Jack is still in good hands. But let’s talk about what we saw in this first episode and where it might lead.
I’m going to jump around a bit, but needless to say, SPOILERS AHEAD.
Not Quite So Dark
As episode XCII begins we see some adorable creatures running for their lives from what is likely the most well-known Samurai Jack enemy - a swarm of mechanical beetles. The helpless creatures speak with electrical text between their head stalks, even throwing in an emoji or two for good measure. It’s silly. Which is fantastic, because Samurai Jack was/is a very goofy show with lots of slapstick humor and ridiculous characters. It’s nice to see the minor characters still have their own unique designs and haven’t been reduced to simply “someone in trouble.”
Speaking of which, the robotic and melodic assassin from the episodes’ end was the epitome of what makes Samurai Jack great. A bizarre, yet deadly foe bursting with personality. The guy scatted a sword battle to life for pete’s sake. His tuning fork knife was also an inspired form of musical weaponry, and having Jack pick it up as he left was wonderful to see. Without his trademark sword it looks like he’s going to have to rely on loot drops for the time being.
Sure, there’s a bit of blood here and some more mature themes, but for fans of the original series like me who were concerned we’d be getting more realistic massacres and foul language, this episode was a moment of relief.
A Haunted Past
There is definitely a Mad Max meets John Wick vibe coming from the new Jack. He’s disheveled and has lost much of the honor that he wore so proudly in the beginning of his adventure. He’s still playing the hero, but it’s obviously wearing on him. With his sword lost (down a hole?) he has resorted to guns and anything he can get his hands on. He’s getting things done in any way necessary, which means he does mind shooting up the joint to achieve the same results.
In the past Jack is seen as a determined and righteous protagonist, one with little doubt of his goal. Fifty years has brought him to a darker place, filled with regret and doubt. He hasn’t necessarily lost his way, but his focus certainly appears to be more on resentment and revenge.
The leaves falling in the stream was a powerful scene. The tortured souls of Jack’s family and allies struggling to stay afloat was admittedly terrifying. It showed how helpless he felt in the face of all his failure. Jack appears to be suffering from some serious PTSD, with his angry father projecting from his nighttime fire as well. Seems not all is well in Jack’s head.
Aku and the Akuettes
Ah, the beauty of childbirth. Nothing like the screaming cries of little demon spawn to tug at your heart strings. As the Daughters of Aku’s newest fleet is born, we’re introduced to this masked cult of murderous females. A few things are less than clear by the episodes’ end, but will hopefully be resolved as the series goes on.
For one, did those seven babies grow up the span of a few weeks? Or are we seeing years of development in mere minutes? It’s hard to say, though seeing as dark magic is at work I’m going to go with the quick-grow theory.
The Daughters of Aku also seem to not be in contact with Aku himself, which initially made me wonder if he had been struck down by Jack. Perhaps he was currently in hiding, nursing a magical wound. Of course we hear Aku later in the episode via a very short phone call with his “best” assassin, so he must not be completely unreachable. This means that maybe the Daughters of Aku are simply not on his radar, or they have failed him too often in the past. It’s hard to say why exactly he isn’t more involved with their cause, as it seems to share the same basic goal.
Back to the Beautiful Basics
Everything Samurai Jack fans loved about the original series could be found throughout this introductory episode. Quick cuts, slow pans, black bars, over the top action, and well thought out fight scenes were all present. In fact they all looked and flowed better than those in past. We’ve never actually seen Samurai Jack in high-definition before, and it’s certainly a sight for sore eyes. The backgrounds and art direction in general were unsurprisingly phenomenal.
No need to talk about it. Just look.
In the preview for the second episode we see Jack rambling about how all his enemies are nothing but “nuts and bolts.” They’re machines without real feelings or families. He has obviously got it in his head that what he is doing is morally acceptable because his victims aren’t actual functioning organisms. This may come into play as he battles The Daughters of Aku, who appear to be more humanoid than magic.
Only time will tell how this entire “limited series” plays out, but it certainly seems to be going in the right direction. The new iteration both looks and feels like the original Samurai Jack, while throwing in more mature themes in the ways of emotional anguish and a few drops of blood.
Welcome back, Jack. We missed you.
Feel free to discuss your thoughts on the first episode in the comments below.
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