As nostalgia rules over the ever-aging Millenials with reboots to pull at their heart strings (Ghostbusters, Duck Tales, I even heard a Matrix rumor today…), the samurai on the noblest of quests is back to finish what he started. Canceled after four seasons on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim (2001-2004), Samurai Jack returns to television for one final season to defeat the evil that (literally) flung the hero on this path centuries ago.
When I first saw the commercials for the soft reboot with the gritty, long-bearded samurai warrior, it made me more so upset to realize that (spoiler alert) I never really watched Samurai Jack in its prime. I do remember a handful of episodes and/or scenes that left a long-lasting impression on my younger and more vulnerable years, though. With that, like the samurai before me, I ventured on a quest to find what I had been missing this whole time. *Note – Special thanks to Hulu, all four seasons can be streamed!* I want to reiterate that I’ve never seen this show in its entirety, and at the time that I am writing this, I am currently at the end of Season 3.
The show, for those who are unfamiliar, starts with an “unspeakable evil” awakening from what appears to be a magical slumber. This evil, the shape-shifting demon Aku, comes back to life to wreak havoc upon the world. Aku returns to the village where those who trapped him to seek revenge. The man who protects his village sends his son away to learn the arts of every fighting style on the planet to prepare to fight the demon once he is ready. The boy grows and returns many years later to inherit his father’s magical sword, the one that defeated Aku originally. As the two fight, all but the last blow is struck before Aku magically throws the samurai through a time portal into the future, thus ensuring his victory over the samurai and the world. Here is where the story begins, as Jack, the samurai who’s nicknamed by a few street kids impressed by his fighting skills, tries to find a way back to his time to undo the evil Aku has spread throughout the world and (apparently) the universe.
Every episode opens with a recap of the pilot, allowing anyone to watch an episode, which is probably how I was able to only watch a few episodes in my early twenties and enjoy the plight of the warrior. How could this show with an amazing pilot episode and equally cool opening get canceled BEFORE the warrior completed his quest? I sit here now, watching episode after episode, I realize that nostalgia only takes you so far.
Samurai Jack was an excellent concept, and in my head it still is. However, the execution of the story had many, many flaws. Episodes range from very gritty and painful, watching Jack fight with every fiber of his being to do what is right instead of what is easy, to over-the-top silly and kid-friendly. The show has a major identity crisis that is nothing less than cringeworthy. I feel myself cheering for Jack as he fights ultra-robots, beasts intended to hunt the greatest prey in the galaxy, and every demon or monster Aku conjures, not to mention the trickery and shape-shifting thwarting Jack’s hopes every last second. In other episodes, I find myself cringing from the silliness of Jack’s transformation into a chicken for an episode, an episode entirely devoted to finding a new pair of sandals (including at least one scene of the samurai fighting in high heels), and the fairy tale stories told to children by Aku (void of Jack) because he doesn’t like being perceived as a “bad guy”. Deviating from the storyline was, I believe, the downfall of the original series. The intended audience was unclear. Was this supposed to be a show following the man who could do no wrong on a quest to do right by the world, or a cartoon of silliness to shut our brains off for a while? Perhaps you can decide.
Either way, I near the end of Season 3 and it is enjoyable enough to pass time while cooking dinner, watching from my phone. I continue to see previews of the rebooted final season, and I must say, it appears EPIC in comparison to what I’m watching now. It looks gritty, real, and everything I hoped the original story of Jack would be. It seems that maybe, just maybe, the creators realized their mistakes and that their audience has grown up a bit (some of us more than others). I can’t wait to see if Jack finally finishes his quest, even after the FIFTY YEARS that has passed since the end of Season 4 and this final season.
Here’s a great behind-the-scenes video for Season 5.
Samurai Jack airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim Saturdays @ 11 PM EST.