After what felt like a lifetime of being off the air, Samurai Jack is back, but what has been one decade for fans has been five for our hero, and the years have not proven kind. The long-awaited premiere of season 5 begins with an action sequence (to no one’s surprise), yet fans will be quick to notice that Jack is no longer engaging in his trademark combat techniques. His sword is nowhere to be found, and neither is his patience.
A mass of Aku’s robotic minions descend upon two helpless civilians, but the man who comes to their aid is one they barely recognize. Jack has exchanged his robes and samurai sensibilities for a futuristic suit of armor brazenly covered with guns. His sandals have also been replaced with a monstrosity of a motorcycle, with wheels doubling as spiked circular saws.
Jack makes quick work of the army (in a gorgeous sequence showing that creator Genndy Tartakovsky hasn’t lost a step either), but it is how Jack speeds away from the rescued duo without saying a word that proves more disturbing than any of the unhinged violence. Helping the innocent is no longer a sense of honor for Jack. Saving people has become nothing more than a nuisance. It is not just Jack’s armor that has hardened over time, but the samurai himself.
The viewer goes on to learn that exactly fifty years have passed, and while Jack doesn’t age physically, time has broken him down mentally. All throughout the episode he is haunted by visions of his family and people begging for him to come back and save them. Jack desperately still wants to help, but his life’s purpose at this stage feels like nothing more than a pipe dream. Sanity waning, he sees the faces of his parents calling him a failure. Much to the heartbreak of the audience, he believes them. Still, even with Aku having destroyed what the samurai refers to as his only way home, Jack presses on in the only way he knows how: he keeps on fighting.
Interspersed between the segments of Samurai Jack are the villains who figure to be the main antagonists for at least the first half of the show’s final season. A group of female Aku-worshippers, who for time’s sake will be dubbed the Akult (trademark pending), have taken it upon themselves to continue the evil ruler’s legacy during his unexplained absence.
In an eerie sequence, the Akult births seven baby girls who are bred for one purpose: kill the samurai. These seven “Daughters of Aku” are trained from an even earlier stage in their life than Jack. A montage of barbaric training rituals show a time lapse of the girls growing and training until the point their “mother” deems them ready. They are given matching Aku-inspired masks and sent off to kill our hero.
Samurai Jack ends with another action sequence that gives fans more of a taste of what Tartakovsky and company can do with modern animation. The beloved level of creativity behind the enemies Jack encounters is back on display as the blades start (and don’t stop) swinging. Fans will not be disappointed by the unrelenting badassery that ensues as Jack uses any and all weapons at his disposal in a truly stunning array of animated combat.
Overall, the move to Adult Swim has granted Tartakovsky the freedom to tell the story he truly wants to tell with Samurai Jack. Otherwise this fifth season of the show would not exist, as the director has moved on to bigger, more financially viable projects (Hotel Transylvania). The show’s evolution and tonal shift coincidentally reminded me a lot of the difference between the X-Men films and Logan. This is a cartoon that no longer must be restricted by the presence of young viewers. The visuals that haunt Jack are downright disturbing at times, and this adult-oriented take on the character is surely going to please fans who grew up loving the show as kids. I guess Saturday nights are now the new Saturday mornings.
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