The new season of Samurai Jack premiered on March 11, 2017. After 13 years off the air, fans and audiences rejoiced at Jack’s return. I played with doing a review of the start of the season and the second episode, but I’ve opted for a mid-series critique. Fair warning, there will be spoilers.
The fifth season of Samurai Jack feels like both a return to something familiar and an introduction to something new. The first episode sets up the basic premise for the fifth season. It’s fifty years in the future: Jack hasn’t aged, and is a gun-toting, spear-wielding, bearded, samurai biker. However, Jack has lost the magic sword he needs to fight Aku and is going crazy. He’s more or less a drifter who occasionally fights Aku’s forces when they are in his way during a bike ride. The first episode also introduces the Daughters of Aku, who are seven girls raised to assassinate Jack.
The second episode is a giant chase between Jack and the Daughters. The third episode is a classic showdown between Jack and the Daughters, while Episodes 4 and 5 focus on Jack and Ashi, the only surviving Daughter after Jack kills the others. The two enemies bridge the gap between them due to Jack’s patience and compassion and Ashi’s curiosity, and Ashi learns the truth about Aku and the unspeakable evil he unleashed so many years ago.
Ashi is a new character to the show, introduced in the first episode as one of the seven Daughters of Aku. They have one thing in common with Jack, and that is the fact their entire lives are dedicated to doing one thing. The Daughters were born and trained to kill Jack, and much like Jack, are relentless in their goals of destroying their enemy. They are a reflection of what Jack is. The Daughters and Jack are trained to pursue a goal and fulfill it.
The visuals still tell most of the story, and there are plenty of symbols to look at and interpret. Some are trickier than others. There’s some Christian imagery in the first three episodes. In Episode 1, Jack has a vision of his father being crucified in a wall of flame, which is later mirrored in Episode 3 where Jack falls down a waterfall with his arms spread open. In Episode 2, Jack is stabbed by one of the Daughters in the right side, the place where art of Jesus on the crucifix often depicts the stab wound inflicted by a Roman soldier. I refer to these images as “Jack the Savior.” That’s what he is and who’s he’s meant to be; a savior. From childhood, Jack was trained to fight Aku. And, much like Jesus of Nazareth, Jack is on a spiritual journey and facing the temptation to give up on his quest.
This Jesus imagery ties into a redemptive arc. Jack talks in the opening about getting back to the past. This is where I’m going to sound like some sort of crazy internet theorist, but Jack needs to return to a past version of himself. Specifically, he needs two things. First, he needs his will to fight. Second, he needs the magic sword. The audience doesn’t really know how or why Jack lost the sword; all there is to go on is a seconds-long flash back of Jack literally watching the sword fall down a pit. However, Jack losing his will to fight Aku is even worse. He lacks the drive and motivation he had in the first four seasons, but for good reason. It’s been fifty years,; he hasn’t aged; he’s trapped in time; he’s lost the one weapon that he can even scratch Aku with; and he doesn’t think he’ll ever return home. He still has the skill, but not the will. He’s a pilgrim who’s hasn’t forgotten his destination, but is wondering if it’s even worth it.
Jack’s character has evolved and it’s not all necessarily good, but it makes him a more compelling character. In the first four seasons, Jack was a stock hero. When Aku would do something awful, or a bounty hunter or machine would come after Jack, he would fight and usually win. Jack’s character was basically honorable and righteous.
However, Jack’s personality is less than honorable and righteous in season 5. He’s not bad, but he’s apathetic. The first episode has Jack turning his back on a town under attack by a robot. The only thing that causes him to turn back is visions of his father and a river of wailing souls. That’s what I mean by his evolution not being necessarily good but compelling. There’s also much more introspection into Jack’s state of mind and character via his visions and hallucinations. There are two things Jack keeps seeing. One is a manifestation of himself from the first four seasons, and it’s usually taunting him and even goads him into trying to commit suicide at least once.
The second thing that Jack keeps seeing is a dark, green-eyed figure on a black horse. So far, it has appeared in all of the episodes except for Episode 4. At the end of Episode 5, the figure approaches Jack and says; “It is time.” The figure then leads Jack away. One of my friends hypothesized this figure is a hallucination of a Jack gone evil. I think the figure is a spirit that keeps coming to Jack. A spirit of what I can’t say definitively; there’s too little information to go on. However, I appreciate that I can’t make strong conclusions about what the figure is. A little mystery can go a long way in a series like this.
Speaking of mystery, I’m wondering what will happen to Ashi. Episode 6 airs tonight, and in the span of two episodes in a ten episode season, she’s come around to Jack’s side. I’m wondering what will happen to her by the finale. This story is just about her as much as it is about Jack. I liked watching her transformation from hunter to companion, and I’m looking forward to Episode 6 because she’s the primary protagonist in it.
Speaking of protagonists, I need to talk about the primary antagonist, Aku. Aku is still funny and still evil, but he’s sunken into a deep depression because he can’t seem to kill Jack. His voice was heard in episode 1, and he has appeared in the openings of episodes 2 and 5 doing what Aku does best; be funny and foul. However, he’s less over the top. He hunches over. His humor is more deadpan, and any mention of Jack sinks him. His character’s changed too, and I think it works. After all, a supreme evil overlord not being able to kill the one person that is a threat to his reign and existence is pretty depressing.
These are my thoughts of the series so far. It’s been everything I expected and then some. I’ll do another critique after the series ends with episode 10.