(I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but I highly suggest you watch the episode for yourself before you read my review! I might dip into some spoilers late in the review! No promises!)
Jack is back, baby. It’s hard to imagine that after 13 long years, this series has finally returned to wrap things up. I’m glad that this is happening more and more, whether it be the return of Young Justice, the Voltron Reboot, or even sequel series’ like the crappy Fuller House thing. It’s always great to know that creators care and are listening to the fans enough to make passions projects like this happen.
For the uninitiated, Samurai Jack follows the story of a nameless samurai warrior who is trained from a young age to do battle with and defeat Aku, the Shapeshifting Master of Evil. This demonic wizard has taken over the world, imprisoned the samurai’s father, and is immune to nearly any weapon. The exception, of course, being the magical sword that the samurai carries. Years later, after his training is completely, he confronts and defeats Aku. Before he can strike the final blow, however, Aku casts a spell and sends the samurai into the distant future. Once there, the samurai discovers that without him or the sword, Aku has ruled over the world for many, many years. After impressing a group of teenagers and earning the nickname “Jack,” the samurai vows to defeat Aku, return to the past, and undo this corrupted future.
Essentially, it was one of those variety, villain of the week shows, but it took great inspiration from Japan animation and used a revolutionary new art style, direction, and story structure that was pretty mature as far as a children’s show goes. Jack was a calm, calculating warrior, but he had a heart, always wanted to do what was right, and was even capable of getting some laughs. It was a groundbreaking show that aired from 2001 until being canceled after Season 4 in 2004. Unfortunately, the series ended without any closure. Jack was still in the past, and Aku was still in power. For such a legendary show, it was a terrible disappointment to see.
And so, the series entered hibernation. There was talk for a long time about a feature length movie to close out the series, but after the mediocre showing of The Powerpuff Girls movie, Cartoonnetwork pulled the plug on it. Creator, writer, and director Genndy Tartakovsky would continue to try to get the movie made for years, but to no avail. Some other projects with Jack would arise, including a very interesting short graphic novel series (which I highly recommend).
Finally, our prayers were answered. Tartakovsky got the go ahead from Cartoonnetwork and last night we finally got episode 1 of Season 5. A 10 episode miniseries that will conclude the legendary story of Jack. And it’s being aired on Adult Swim, which adds a new and interesting direction for the show and will allow it to work with more mature material and darker themes.
Speaking of which, I’ve beaten around the bush for long enough, and now… Season 5, episode 1.
The episode is simply titled “XCII”, which strikes me as odd. That’s the roman numeral for 92, but something doesn’t add up. The final episode of Season 4 was episode 52. As we’re about to talk about, the season picks up 50 years after either the end of Season 4, or after he was sent to the past initially. You might think that the difference in numbers is due to the time skip, but mathematicians among us will note that 92 – 52 = 40. Perhaps this will be addressed at some point?
Anyways, like I said, the episode picks up 50 years after the events of the original series, and Jack has discovered that time no longer has any affect on him, and his appearance is largely unchanged from when we last saw him. He’s still hunted by Aku, though now he dons a set of armor similar to that worn by Feudal samurai and rides on a high-tech motorcycle, wielding as weapons a machine gun, pistol, daggers, and an energy trident. As we later find out, his signature sword was lost at some point.
Like I said, I really don’t want to spoil much, but… god damn does this feel right. The art style is spot on (the only negative point here is that several of the shots of Jack’s motorcycle are clearly CGI, but otherwise it’s exactly what you’d think it was), it’s taken full advantage of its position on Adult Swim (dark hallucinations haunt Jack, and we even get a little bit of real violence. It’s refreshing now that the show doesn’t have to dance around that anymore!), Jack is just as badass as ever, the action is on point, the villain showcased in the episode showed that the series still has comedic chops, and by the end, I was screaming “I NEED THE NEXT EPISODE!” New villains are introduced in this episode, and we’re moving towards a showdown between them and Jack next episode (if you’ve seen the trailers, you have some idea of what’s coming). But above all else, I feel like time has restarted. I felt like a little kid curled up in a blanket watching a new episode of a favorite cartoon. This team should be commended; they started the clock back up without a hitch, and everything’s moving beautifully. It really is strange for a series about trying to go back after being sent forward because we as viewers needed to wait for the distant future of 2017 before we could go back in time to 2004.
Voice acting is just as top notch as ever. There isn’t THAT much dialogue in the episode, but that’s pretty traditional for an episode of this series. It has a lot of quiet moments, though with this being the revival, they of course need a little exposition. Phil LaMarr reprises his role as Jack, and he slipped back into the role nicely, perfectly getting back into his groove. We only hear the muffled voice of Aku briefly in this episode, but as many know, the legendary voice actor Mako Iwamatsu, former voice of Aku, passed away in 2006. However, other roles of his have been replaced well in the past (such as Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender). Greg Baldwin is the actor who usually picks up these roles, and he’s slated to play Aku as well. I can’t tell from what we have in this episode, but I imagine he’ll do a fine job filling those shoes. He does have experience, after all. New characters are well acted, and are animated expertly. There’s just as much stark style and sharp lines as we’re used to, and it all lends itself to the air that it’s trying to recapture. All in all… just a wonderful job.
I’m sorry I didn’t go much in depth with this review, but I’m trying to tip-toe around spoilers as much as possible. Please, if you’re a fan of Jack, you have to watch this. If you weren’t a fan, get caught up because it’s absolutely worth the hype. Grab your sword and get ready to face the demons of the future so that we can finally get back to the past.
I give Samurai Jack Season 5, Episode 1 a 5 out of 5.