Reflecting on Season 5 of Samurai Jack

Reflecting on Season 5 of Samurai Jack

Picture by Diego Caceres

A quaint village nestled in the distance. Blue skies and serene landscape. Seems normal until BOOM. An explosion and clouds of dust emerge from the horizon. Pairs of feet scurry along the grass, belonging to a mother and daughter running from killer robots. With nowhere left to run, they exchange their final goodbyes.

What’s this? A biker emerges from the distance wearing a mysterious mask. 

He’s come to their rescue! He flies through the air on a motorcycle, shredding robot heads and twisting robot innards from their stomachs until—WHAM. A robot slices the biker’s mask in half. It’s Samurai Jack! But he looks different. Aged. Tired.

This is season five’s opening scene of Samurai Jack, one of my new favorite shows. As a kid, I would wake up in the middle of the night and watch episodes. They seemed bizarre. Now, years later, I have finally finished the series.

The show revolves around Jack, a noble Samurai stuck in the future. The intro that plays before every episode explains how Aku, the main villain, flung Jack into the future who is now on a quest to return to the past. Each episode, however, rarely tackles Jack’s quest for time portals but rather distinct stories that have nothing to do with previous episodes, allowing newcomers (or returners like me) to pick up from any season.

Despite being geared toward kids, Jack never talks down to its audience. Instead of trumpeting obnoxious sound effects and childish humor to hold attention, Samurai Jack uses silence. Episode “XLIV: The Princess and the Bounty Hunters” is a perfect example. The entire episode builds to a climactic final battle between bounty hunters and Jack. But before the battle even begins, Tartakovsky cuts the sound for a whole minute and thirty seconds, only disturbed by water droplets and a bird chirping.

Along the way, Jack encounters complex characters. For example, in episode “L,” we follow X-49, a former assassin robot turned wholesome after meeting a chubby puppy. When Aku kidnaps his puppy, however, X-49 must return to his old ways and assassinate Jack for her safe return. Part of you wants 49 to capture Jack, but Jack—understandably—must defend himself.

Years later, after a long hiatus, Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Samurai Jack, returned with season five, which adopts a more mature perspective on Jack, who’s been stuck in the future for 50 years. He grew a beard, abandoned his gi, and lost his sword.

Season five introduces the Daughters of Aku, assassins trained to kill Jack from childbirth. These foes are his greatest yet. The first two episodes are some of the best in the series—and possibly television history. The confrontation between Jack and the Daughters of Aku is the most tension-filled, anxiety-inducing fight sequence I have ever witnessed. Seeing Jack—withered and insecure—makes you worry if he can handle them. Even Jack doubts his abilities, making for an intriguing start to the season.

Sadly, the rest rolls by. Without spoiling the show, Jack confronts these feelings of weariness, but the resolutions to his problems get resolved in single episodes. I understand the showrunners only had a season to work with, but I just wish there was more!

Ultimately, I’m grateful Jack even got his conclusion. Despite not ending how I envisioned, I’m still glad the concept exists.