Warning: Spoilers for Season 5 Below! Turn back if you have a desire to watch the final season, but didn't get the chance to.
When it was first announced that Genndy Tartakovsky’s (‘Dexter’s Laboratory’, ‘Hotel Transylvania’ 1 and 2) animated masterpiece ‘Samurai Jack’ would be revived for a fifth and final season on Adult Swim, I was not only excited for the return of one of the cartoons of my childhood, but also a bit skeptical for what looked to be a more mature and darker turn when compared to how the show was in the past; if you have seen the old ‘Samurai Jack’, you will see a different, lighter colored style that pays homage to old cinema as well as wacky cartoon characters for kids to enjoy. While this season ups the ante on maturity and violence — including an addition of bloodshed which could be a bit shocking for some audiences to handle (This is not the same show you were allowed to watch as a kid) — Near the end of its first episode, we are introduced to a new robot villain named Scaramouche (Voice of Tom Kenny channeling his inner Sammy Davis Jr.), who serves as a way to channel the show’s wacky cartoon side when it was well acquainted with its biological parent, ‘Cartoon Network’.
Almost 13 years have passed (50 in the revival season, according to Jack, who replaces long-time enemy Aku as narrator.), the kids who were first introduced to the ponytail-haired, sword-wielding samurai in 2001 have aged even when our hero (literally) hasn’t .(I will get to this later.) We now live in a generation where shows from the past (‘Full House’, ‘Twin Peaks’, etc.) are being resurrected from the dead as a way to reunite cast members and push our nostalgic buttons. However, cartoons don’t have it easy when it comes to being revived. ‘Teen Titans Go!’ has been panned by nostalgic adults for pandering to children when the original ‘Teen Titans’ was much more than a children’s cartoon, as well as the new ‘Powerpuff Girls’ for a different animation style. With that being said, maybe it was a great idea for ‘Samurai Jack’ to be adopted and raised by Adult Swim for the better.
Tartakovsky wanted to finish ‘Samurai Jack’, yet other projects got in the way, with being an executive producer of the original ‘Powerpuff Girls’ created by Craig McCracken and his creation of the ‘Star Wars’ spin-off ‘Clone Wars’, before it was adapted into an animated film, which was then turned into a CG series with dialogue. When the time came, Tartakovsky decided to finish the show after a 12 year hiatus with the “series finale” at the time being open-ended.
For those unaware of the premise, ‘Samurai Jack’ takes place in a post-apocalyptic China where a prince (who is known as Jack) attempts to finish off Aku, an all-powerful being who is the master of evil and destruction. But just before Jack can finish the final blow, Aku opens up a portal, sending Jack to the future run by Aku; where his goal is to get back to the past and stop Aku from destroying everything he has ever known. The plot is simple, but the show focused on Jack meeting strange creatures and trying to stop Aku. With this revival, we get a continuing story that makes each episode feel like a 3-and-a-half hour feature film.
Back to my sentence about how Jack hasn’t aged in over 50 years. The series shows us a bearded Jack (Still voiced by Phil LaMarr), wearing a suit of armor while riding a motorcycle with an arsenal of weapons we aren’t used to seeing him dish out. He has grown angry and distressed at his failure, as he is haunted by a mysterious rider on a black horse, (Subtle resemblance to Death, maybe?) as well as visions of people he has failed to protect, and even a visit from his younger clean-shaven self, as maniacal and frustrated as ever.
A major plot point involves seven daughters of Aku born with one sole purpose: To hunt down and kill Jack, with one of them made to serve a purpose for the show’s emotional side in the later episodes of the season. Just because you see it coming, doesn’t make it less effective with time and good storytelling. ‘Samurai Jack’ is a cartoon that feels like an art film; Tartakovsky’s goal was to channel the art of Akira Kurosawa through animation style and make it entertaining for audiences. There is a feel of science-fiction, western, samurai movies, and old-school cinema in the art design. Some people will be turned off by the maturity and the art style, because to some, cartoons are simple, funny, and entertaining.
‘Samurai Jack’ may seem dark and violent during the first three episodes, but there are elements of humor scattered throughout. I have mentioned the introduction of Scaramouche, who seems like a one-episode villain, yet comes back in later episodes as a bouncing head, as he makes a humorous journey to tell Aku about what happened to Jack’s sword. Speaking of Aku, his introduction in first few minutes of the second episode are welcome. His original voice actor may have changed (Due to Mako’s passing in 2006), but his personality, being the main comic relief has stayed the same, even when the humor is different in tone when compared to Jack’s motivation for destroying Aku. The fourth episode of the season has to do with Jack and Ashi (the assassin with that importance to the show’s emotion) trapped inside a beast as they bicker throughout while trying to escape. Later, they get urges which seem too strong for them to overcome, which leads to a hilarious kiss that would make Piper and Alex’s make out session in the first season of ‘Orange is the New Black’ seem awkward. A couple of characters from cartoons past make appearances in an episode. The Scotsman from the past seasons also appears in a couple of episodes, but it is a misleading appearance that serves as an anticipated buildup for two allies to cross paths during the climax with Aku.
With that change in tone so often, ‘Samurai Jack’ barely feels inconsistent, yet its emotional moments shine through its artistic backgrounds and settings. Much like the final shot where Jack sees a ladybug as a glimmer of hope after Ashi fades away a day after the aftermath of Aku’s defeat. We, the viewers, end up feeling sad, yet satisfied as that glimmer of hope came to pass us in the form of Genndy Tartakovsky’s masterpiece.