Samurai Jack: Season 5 Primer

We’re about to witness one of the biggest comeback stories in animation history, one that’s been over 12 years in the making…

But first, a little history:

One of the most unique animated series ever conceived, certainly one of the most unique in Cartoon Network’s history, Samurai Jack is a stylized, dystopic, action-oriented series with a stunning hand-drawn art style that draws inspiration from classic Kurosawa films, Kung Fu, and even Frank Miller; one that sacrificed the tropes that viewers had become accustomed to in typical cartoons of its day, particularly when it comes to a generally less-than-family-friendly tone, a slower approach to pacing, and a protagonist who couldn’t help but look out of place surrounded by his wackier, sillier, large-than-life contemporaries on CN, throwing the viewer into a world where genres seamlessly combined and possibilities for action and adventure felt truly limitless. It’s the kind of risk you can’t picture a major studio taking a chance in, especially back in 2001, yet they did, and the payoff was far greater than anyone could’ve anticipated. It’s one of the most praised and recognizable projects for animator Genndy Tartakovsky, whose résumé includes The Powerpuff Girls (director, artist, writer) and Dexter’s Laboratory (creator), both staples of CN’s golden age.

For the uninitiated, here’s the rundown: a samurai prince has trained most of his life to fight a powerful demon named Aku, who has taken over his kingdom. Using his father’s magic sword, the warrior fights the evil monster, but before he can finish him off, Aku uses his powers to send him thousands of years into the future, when he has conquered the entire world (and even several others). Now, he must find a way to go back in time and defeat Aku before his evil reign spreads. What follows is a journey filled with forging alliances, making enemies and helping those in need along the way, featuring an astoundingly diverse collection of colorful characters and unique environments (at least a new one of each almost every episode!).

Despite its success with critics and audiences, it came to an abrupt stop in 2004, with its main conflict being left unresolved. As the story goes, Tartakovsky didn’t intend this to be the end, but rather a placeholder while he took a break from it and worked on other projects. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, he and his team all started to move on from the series after they finished production on the 4 seasons they signed up for, leaving the series in limbo. It didn’t help that Mako Iwamatsu, voice actor for Aku, had passed away in 2006. Nonetheless, between then and now, word of mouth across the Internet has made the show grow with more popularity than ever before and gaining more fans (myself included) than when it was still on TV, with the dream of it making a comeback anchored by an IDW comic series and Tartakovsky repeatedly letting fans know that he does plan to bring the series to an end. At one point, there were talks of teaming up with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company to make a feature length film chronicling the end of Jack’s journey.

Then, in 2015, Adult Swim’s Youtube channel announced that Jack was coming back, much to the delight of the show’s fans and animation nerds everywhere. Turns out that Tartakovsky had been talking with Mike Lazzo, one of the key figures behind Adult Swim and Toonami, and agreed to produce a final season for Samurai Jack, which would bring the series to a definitive end, and will be airing on Toonami, promising to bring back all the series’ familiar elements, now with the benefit of airing in a late-night animation block that would allow the show makers to get more…intense.

Which brings us to why I’m here. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll attempt to review this new season of Samurai Jack. Tartakovsky and company are promising the same show fans have come to know and love, though we should expect this batch of episodes to take on heavier themes than before. Going into this new season, here’s what we know: Jack has been traveling the world for 50 years, yet still hasn’t found a way back home. Despite his best efforts, Aku still has a stranglehold on the world. Somehow, his body is not aging and he’s starting to lose himself, straying away from the path of righteousness he was originally following. What has made Jack lose his way and why? Will we re-visit familiar characters/locales from the series’ past? What kind of impact are Jack’s actions leaving on the world around him after being time-displaced for so long? How has this evolution impacted the show? How will working with modern animation technology affect the show’s presentation? Will Jack truly be able to stop Aku?

And, of course, will Season 5 live up to the hype?

For all this and more, join me as we finish this quest. Stay tuned!

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