The story of Samurai Jack revolves around a young samurai (Jack) who quests to destroy an evil being named Aku. Though he nearly succeeded in the first episode, at the last moment Aku used his powers to send him to the future where he has become more powerful and rules the world, making Jack’s task much more difficult. Throughout the show’s original run from 2001-2004 Jack would look for ways to return to the past to defeat Aku, though it was cancelled at the end of the 4th season without finishing the story. Fast-forward to 2017 and the creator (Genndy Tartakovsky) makes the 5th and final season which finally concluded the series.
I didn’t watch Samurai Jack during its original run. Instead I discovered it in college and became a fan of its use of visual storytelling and creative imagery. I was a little disappointed that there were so many loose ends without resolution but largely didn’t think about it again until the 5th season was announced, which reignited my interest. I rewatched the entire series on Hulu and found a new appreciation for a lot of art-house techniques in many episodes, for example the animation style used for a demon realm in an episode about a haunted house.
Then Season 5 aired…and it was amazing. The animation was several orders of magnitude better than the previous few seasons, but the storylines and characters were what truly elevated it. A lot of risks were taken with Jack’s character, looking at how 50 years of being stuck in the future without aging nor any hope of returning home would make him hopeless and directionless. Furthermore he finally has to confront a situation where he has to kill other humans as opposed to the robots he has been fighting for decades. These are directions that were never explored to this depth before, and the ways in which they develop are well executed, making darker and more mature television than the previous 4 seasons.
There are two major characters introduced as well. The first is a fun robot villain called Scaramouche whose personality is based on Sammy Davis Jr. This guy’s always a riot when he’s onscreen with his distinctive voice and manner of speaking, and he has lots of funny lines. It’s honestly entertaining to just hear him talk. He has imaginative musical powers making his fight with Jack one of the most memorable in any season. Sadly, he’s only in 3 or 4 episodes.
The other major character is a woman named Ashi. Being raised in a cult that worships Aku resulted in her becoming a skilled assassin sent to kill Jack, though she fails and later becomes his ally, the two of them falling in love. It’s revealed in the penultimate episode that she’s actually Aku’s daughter (no, she wasn’t conceived that way). In the final episode she uses her powers inherited from Aku to send herself and Jack back into the past to kill Aku at the end of the first episode.
This is where the story gets to a point where I’m not sure how to feel. After Aku is destroyed it looks like Ashi, though temporarily weakened, will be fine and immune to the paradox of Aku not being able to create her. Instead, she collapses and fades from existence at her and Jack’s wedding, literally while she’s walking down the aisle. There’s a bittersweet moment at the very end of the episode where Jack, quite melancholic, is reminded of the beauty in the world and of Ashi’s appreciation of life by seeing a ladybug.
I liked Ashi. She went from a naive brainwashed warrior who had never been in the outside world to the second protagonist of the show and the most important ally of Jack. Jack spent over 50 years suffering in a mostly hostile future, and even when he finally succeeded Aku, in death, still managed to take away the person he loved most. She was the key to a lot of the new elements that the 5th season did so well and I would have liked to see her and Jack’s quest end on a happy note.
Just to be clear, by no means am I suggesting this is a bad ending, it didn’t turn out that Ashi survived and ran away to be a lumberjack or anything like that. Though my initial preference was for a happy ending, after rewatching the finale I realized two things. Firstly, I didn’t realize how much I cared about Jack or especially Ashi until I saw her disappear. In ending on this note Tartakovsky made us appreciate the impact that his characters made on us. It may not have been a happy or satisfying farewell, but it was a powerful one.
The second thing is that this was more an ending for Season 5 than for the show as a whole. The tone was for a more mature audience than the one that had seen the other 4 seasons, and I strongly doubt that any children watching would understand it. After 16 years of waiting to see how the story would end, however, it does reduce the nostalgic appeal of the series as a whole.
When deciding if you like the finale, the real question is this: did you like growing up?
Rating as the Finale of the show: 3/5 ★★★
Rating as the Season 5 finale: 5/5 ★★★★★