Samurai Jack Review
This review contains spoilers. They will be highlighted in bold letters for readers convenience. If you have not seen this show yet or have yet to catch up on it, particularly the finale, skip over the bold lettered sections and come back to read them when you have.
My friends, the long awaited conclusion to the story of the Samurai who gotta get back, back to the past, has come to a close. The series concluded last weekend and much like the series as a whole, it did not disappoint. It had all of the heart, all the goofy humor, all the well choreographed action, all the calculated artistry and color that makes this series so great. But let’s take a step back a bit and take a look at the entire series, all 5 seasons, and see how the show holds up with all the sums of it’s parts. Before we do so, however, I feel obliged to claim minor bragging rights.
I CALLED THE ENDING!! … . sort of. Those who follow my blog know that before saturday came around I made a post predicting how the series would end (you can read the whole thing here: https://scrawnydutchman.tumblr.com/post/160827392693/samurai-jack-finale-prediction) but in a nutshell, I predicted that Jack would give up, find allies with everybody in the lands he liberated, they would all go on all out war against Aku, Jack would have a showdown against corrupted Ashi, Ashi would liberate herself from Aku’s control and realize she has all of Aku’s powers including opening time portals, she would fling Jack into the past the moment he was flung into the future by Aku and kill him right there.
I was mostly right. Jack’s allies go on all out war? Check. Jack has a showdown with corrupted Ashi? Check. Ashi frees herself from Aku’s control? check. Ashi flings Jack into the past at the moment Aku flung him into the future to kill him? Check. Though my prediction had a FEW miscalculations, which we will get into in a bit, frankly I’m just so proud of myself that I came that close to predicting it spot on.
Okay, now that my bragging is out of the way, let’s tackle each aspect of the show, starting with Story.
One of the major strengths of Samurai Jack is it’s beautifully simple premise summed up nicely by the voice acting legend himself, Mako.
“Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting master of darkness, unleashed an UNSPEAKABLE EVIL. But a foolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law. Now the fool seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is AKU.”
I’ve said before many times that this premise is brilliant, because it’s so broad in it’s explanation and it’s setting is ripe for storytelling possibilities. The future is a distant mysterious place, and as such you can tell any story you want in it. A bunch of rave kids falling victim to mind controlling music? Go ahead. A strange homage to Alice in Wonderland? Go for it. A hilarious quest to quell the troubles of a flatulent dragon? Yes, even that. But on the flipside you can also tell stories more heavy in drama, culture and lore, and you can really up the emotional weight of the situation Jack is in. It’s a premise that’s practically destined to become a beloved television series, and so it has.
To compliment this ever broad ever expanding world Tartakovsky has created we have a great likable protagonist who is just as much a curious fish out of water as we the audience are, so it’s very easy for us to project ourselves onto good ol’ Jack. But the best thing about Jack is that he’s motivated: He’s gonna get back to the past even if it takes him over 50 DAMN YEARS. Much like I said in my other and most popular blog post “Why Boyscout Characters are Underrated” It’s more important for a lead to be motivated then relatable, because that’s what ends up driving the story and the drama.
*side note: ever since this show ended the most wonderful gifs have popped up, and it fills me with glee*
Being the stellar lead Jack is however, many would argue that the best part of this series is Aku, hands down. And I would agree with that. Aku. Is. AWESOME!! Easily one of the most entertaining antagonists in all of animation history. He’s the embodiment of evil and does some truly despicable shit, especially to Jack. So much of this series is just painful to watch because it’s Jack coming SOOO close to defeating Aku but Aku causes him to fall just short. He’s just so gleeful about ruining peoples lives and subjecting them to horrendous sadness and frustration. He is what every great character is tenfold …motivated (because again, motivated > relatable).
That said, Aku gets to be really goofy in this too, which is a huge part of his charm (arguably the biggest part). He’s just so hammy and joyful about being so evil; I love it.
This show has a whole SLEW of great supporting characters though. The Scotsman is charmingly brash and loud and boastful, but a very loyal friend to Jack (admittedly after a rocky start). Scaramouche is a hilarious villain from the 5th season that relieved me when he came up in the first episode and proved to me that the 5th season hadn’t lost the silly charm of prior seasons. The characters from one shot episodes like the “Jump Good” guy, the British dogs, the rave kids, they’re all delightful and charming. Demongo was a great one time villain. But by far, the best supporting character …3 syllables . . . SAH … MOO … RHAI
*Side-Note: One of the predictions I made about the finale was that Sah-Moo-Rhai would help in the fight against Aku and prove to be a competent swordsman. I was sadly wrong.*
Now all of these are well and good, but one of the most interesting and integral decisions made in season 5 was the introduction of Ashi to the Samurai lore. She is also very entertaining and, while her character growth isn’t as well developed and paced as say Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, She is still a solid and likable contribution to the shows final season that I welcome with open arms . .. even if many of the fans disagree with me on how things turned out. Yeeeah we should probably address that real quick.
Many people, certainly fans on Tumblr, were very disappointed with the revelation that Jack and Ashi had a romance. They felt it was incredibly forced, they felt a non-platonic relationship between a man and a woman in a show was beyond cliche, and they thought it stripped Ashi of her agency and her being her own character because in the end all she proved to be was a trophy for Jack, the male protagonist of the show, to win. They’ve even gone as far as boasted shit like “GET THIS HETERO-BULLSHIT OUT OF MY SIGHT!” (replace hetero with homo and suddenly it seems like a real asshole thing to say doesn’t it?). I suppose I agree with the sentiment that blossoming relationships between male and female leads in a show is a cliche as old as time. But there’s a reason why it is so … . it’s because heterosexual relationships THEMSELVES are as old as time. Cliches are a product of evident truths that mankind has known about to some degree ever since literature first began. fit and well toned people are attractive, love triangles are just oozing with drama, and capes, while a practically useless accessory, look FUCKING AWESOME. It can be nice to break these stereotypes every once in a while for variety, but it shouldn’t be necessary every time. And an audience that would LIKE to see Jack and Ashi together shouldn’t have to have their little ship ruined because you “can’t stand hetero-bullshit”, (as if the relationship would somehow be more tolerable and less contrived and forced if Ashi was a man and they were a gay couple) because surprise surprise the show creators aren’t just trying to entertain YOU and YOU alone. Just like how Legend of Korra fans shouldn’t be able to ruin Korrasami for you, you shouldn’t shit on anyone for liking Jashi. Whatever happened to “love is love” anyway? As for the point about Ashi being stripped of her agency, 1. She CHOSE to engage in a romantic relationship with Jack. She CHOSE to join his side after being proven wrong. She’s not stripped of agency just because she fucking loves a dude and is just as competent a fighter as him, okay? She even plays a major role in how Jack ends up defeating Aku. 2. She’s not even a prize for Jack in the end anyway, because she ceases to exist after all of that … we’ll get to that in a bit.
Much like the story itself, the design is beautiful in it’s simplicity. It’s composition and color choices are BREATHTAKING! Not a single black outline in sight, everything is angular with defined shapes so you can tell which character everyone is even in silhouette, and the scenery . .OH MY GOODNESS the scenery. The colors compliment each other majestically, whether they need to blend together or create contrast. the imagery is awe-inspired; the show never lost it’s touch in terms of how everything is shown and communicated. This show is the literal definition of “every frame a painting”.
The sound and directorial choices of this show are great too. Genndy bases this show heavily on the suspenseful and quiet epics of samurai movies (as you can probably tell) and to an extent westerns. The show really challenges kids to have patience and sit through to the well-worth-it pay off, and it makes for some edge-of-your-seat excitement complimented with spectacular action choreography and animation. This show has some of the most imaginative and dramatic fight scenes ever put in western animation. The first and second episodes of season 5 were perhaps some of the best fighting animation I’ve ever seen in anything EVER.
But to be fair the fighting compliments the humor of the show at times too, and I ain’t complainin’
Conclusion (+thoughts on the ending):
Overall, this is a very satisfying show that’s praised over and over for all the reasons listed above and rightfully so. Genndy Tartakovsky has created something beautiful and has easily cemented himself as one of the greats of American animation. What else can I say . . . . OH! how about the ending??
So like I said above in one of the bold lettered spoiler sections of the review, I pretty much predicted what would happen. And setting aside my pride for a moment the ending is only … .okay. Yes it’s a big climactic fight, yes it’s a good twist and surprisingly it ends on a pretty somber note, so it’s by no means a horrible ending and this turnout makes the most sense all things considered, it just feels a bit rushed is all really. I wish it was twice as long as it ended up being quite frankly but eh, what you gonna do? I WAS surprised by a twist they end up going with about Ashi not being able to be with Jack because she fades from existence after Aku is defeated …right on their wedding day. Fucking OUCH. Jesus, Jack goes through decades of torture in the future only to finally get a final fuck you by having to let go of the woman of his dreams? That’s just cruel man. For a while when she remained in the past I was thinking “wait . . shouldn’t she fade from existence by now? how is she still here? and now they’re getting married? are they seriously going with this ending? I mean it doesn’t make a lot of sense but–” and then she falls over in her wedding dress and I was like “OHHH FUCK YOU! THAT IS NOT COOL! THAT IS JUST MEAN! GIVE THIS DUDE A BREAK!” Needless to say that was the most trolly ending we could have gotten. I can’t help but feel like the non existent Aku is having his last laugh.
But yeah, Samurai Jack … it’s really good. Go watch it. Now. You fools.