This is it. The final battle. It all comes down to this.
It’s funny how Episode 8 made me go crazy with speculation as to how Samurai Jack would end, but then after watching Episode 9, I had no idea what to think anymore. And yet, here we are. I’ll be honest…it’s kind of a lot to take in. What we have here is a big climax not just to the season, but the whole show. It’s time for the climactic finale 16 years in the making, that sends us off not just by showing the conclusion of Jack’s journey, but celebrating the achievements he’s had along the way and giving it all a major send-off. It’s awe-inspiring, it’s adrenaline-pumping, it’s satisfying…yet also pretty sad? I’m sure there will be plenty to say when it’s all said and done, but for now, I don’t think I can properly put into words all that has transpired than by describing to you what I’ve seen and see what’s come from it. I’ll save the bigger, more hard-hitting stuff for later, but for now I come to you not so much as a reviewer of this episode as I am a witness.
Let’s not waste any more time and get to it.
We begin by showing off bunch of Jack’s friends/allies across the world looking with great worry at their televisions, which show a transmission coming from inside Aku’s lair, which according to the wiki, is called The Pit of Hate. As you surely remember, we’ve been told that Aku has been in hiding for many years, so it’s a big deal that he’s suddenly going public again. Some of these we’ve seen before this season, such as The Archers, The Ravers, The Woolies, The Scotsman and his daughters, but we do get to see a couple of others we haven’t caught up with yet:
The Triceraquins: A race of sea-monkey-like creatures who once captured Jack in an attempt to barter with Aku so that their civilization could go on land again.
The Monkey Man: A Tarzan-esque man raised by apes, who taught Jack how to jump so high, it’s almost like he could fly (or, as he calls it, “jump good”). He’s now much older.
The Robots of Andromeda: A group of peaceful, human-like robots who built a giant stone samurai that Jack got to pilot like a mech once.
Sir Rothchild: A talking dog who’s the leader of a group of dog archeologists; the first friends that Jack made when he came to the distant future many years ago. He’s also elderly and has many grandkids now.
After some silence, the transmission begins, and it shows…
the original intro to Samurai Jack?
You know, the one with the monologue about Aku taking over the world, and how Jack fought him, but was sent forward in time before he could finish him off?
Wow. That’s…conflicting. At this point, my brain was overdriving with nostalgia, what with plenty more familiar faces showing up again, but I can’t really be happy about it right now due to the gravity of the situation. Also…that intro. For a moment, I actually thought Adult Swim was trolling us and we were all gonna watch an old episode of Samurai Jack instead of the finale. It was trippy as hell.
Wanna know what’s so special about that opening sequence? It’s one of the few for any cartoon show that I can remember that sets up the show’s plot from the antagonist’s point of view. I’ve seen shows where the “bad guy” is the star (“Invader Zim”, for example), but this is different. It was a big deal how the story of a hero’s journey was being told to us by a villain, who throws around words like “foolish” to describe him. It was a very compelling way of setting up the show, and showing how high the stakes had always been for Jack. It’s a nice bit of nostalgia and all, but what really sells it is that, despite having some animation redone here and there, Aku’s voiceover in the clip is the original recording by Mako Iwamatsu, the O.G. Aku. He even gets listed as “Old Aku” in the episode’s credits. It works as a final tribute to the great actor’s legacy in this role. While Greg Baldwin had been handling the role quite well so far, it was probably a good idea to recognize the one who came before him before the end. Hats off to you, staff.
As soon as Aku’s voiceover ends, instead of transitioning to the theme song, present day Greg Baldwin Aku shows up to gloat about his decisive victory against Jack last episode. He’s now holding him captive and plans to execute him in front of the entire world in a final effort to crush its hope of salvation. Everyone looks on in dread at the sight of Jack on the brink of death.
Lucky for Jack, however, Aku is egotistic enough to not finish him off just like that, he has to make it a big deal. His execution is put on hold as Aku tries to think of the best way to kill him. As he does this, Jack tries to reach out to Ashi, who’s standing right next to him in her demonic form, telling her to fight back against Aku’s grasp over her. While nothing appears to happen, we get some quick-cut glimpses “inside” of Ashi, where we see the real her struggle against Aku’s energy, a fight that she’s losing. Aku eventually decides to “Ockham’s Razor” his problem and have Ashi kill Jack herself. Ah yes, “Death by Loved One”. Ultimate scumbag villain move.
What follows is pure, concentrated awesomeness:
Just as Jack is staring death in the face and Evil Ashi is going for the killing blow, an explosion goes off in Aku’s lair that blows the roof off of it and sets Jack free from his bonds. When Aku takes a look outside, a massive army of Jack’s friends has gathered (perhaps too quickly, but whatever) to rescue him. His little stunt has had the opposite effect of what he expected. Instead of crushing people’s hope, it drives them to help Jack after everything he’s done for them. Everyone is here and ready to give him one last shot at victory. Everyone who had been watching Aku’s transmission shows up to stand up for him, and then some: Showing up as well are The Spartans, another group of warriors Jack assisted once. They’re basically like the real Spartans, only their spears can shoot rockets! Their captain even exclaims “The 300 fight for the one!”
If this were The Lord of the Rings, this would be the equivalent of the fight at The Black Gate. All of this is enough to bring a tear to one’s eye.
In this ensuing chaos, Jack attempts to get back his sword, but Evil Ashi is standing is his way and giving him hell. Speaking of hell, it’s not long before Aku really begins to fight back. He squishes a whole bunch of Woolies and Archers, turning them into Aku-esque minions that begin to turn the tide against the resistance. Yeah, if you thought you could just feel good about watching Jack and friends fight back and win the day once and for all, you better get ready for a body count. We’re through pulling punches here. The army didn’t just come here to save Jack, they came to lay their lives on the line for him, and some are more than suggested to have paid the ultimate price doing so. It’s pretty nasty.
Thankfully, it’s not long before the cavalry arrives. The Scotsman’s Ghost guides his entire army of daughters, who ride in on giant elk on a magic trail created by his bagpipe music. They don’t hesitate to run through Aku’s forces (geez, somebody should’ve told them who those minions were supposed to be).
Not long after that, the Robots of Andromeda show up with their giant samurai robot and start going “rock ‘em, sock ‘em” on Aku’s ass.
The Scotsman catches up with Jack. After a brief explanation of the circumstances of his death, he runs through his comically long list of daughters, and even offers Jack the chance to “pick one”, though Jack politely refuses after pointing out Ashi, who’s busy fighting some of The Scotsman’s girls.
Speaking of which, she soon attempts to consume Jack, suffocating him in darkness.
Meanwhile, Aku is tired of messing around. He calls his minions to him, absorbs them, and brings down a rain of spikes over the battlefield. While The Scotsman blows them away, many are implied, though not confirmed, to have been killed by this, including Sir Rothchild and some Triceraquins. As for the giant robot samurai and its pilots? Yeah, those are goners, and they can proudly show their onscreen deaths because they’re robots. As this is happening, Jack fights to reach Ashi and make her come back to her senses. Ashi is ready to give up, but that’s nothing that Jack breaking out The L Word can’t fix.
…(ahem). The OTHER L Word.
Corny? Sure, though it’s probably the first time anyone has said that to Ashi, so…yeah it’s a big deal. Ashi is about to choke Jack to death, but pulls through in the nick of time, going back to her “Classic Ashi” form, complete with dark body-suit, only now with her “leaf outfit” hairdo. In a scene that’s criminally short, Ashi gets to fight back against Aku, discovering that she has the same powers as him. Upon realizing this potential, in the blink of an eye, she picks up Jack’s sword and opens a portal that sends both her and Jack flying through time before Aku can stop them.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Jack is finally, finally, FINALLY going back to the past!
I would’ve loved to see this fight between Aku and Ashi last a little longer, but we’re on a tight deadline as it is, so it was probably for the best to not waste any time, even if it comes at the price of not really knowing what happened to Jack’s army. Yeah, this is the last we see of them, not much fanfare after we get to see them sacrifice themselves for Jack. Also, while I know plenty will take issue with Ashi figuring out how to use her powers too quickly, my workaround theory to this is that her connection with Aku works both ways. Being a part of him, Ashi can be controlled by Aku, but this also grants her the same knowledge and abilities as him. Also, it really isn’t the best time to try to explain how Aku’s magic “works”, so I’ll just go with it. By the way, props to the ultra-satisfying music cue that plays as Jack and Ashi are travelling through the portal. Also, I want credit for calling that Ashi would travel back in time along with Jack…wait, there’s no record of me saying that before this. Dammit.
The two of them arrive in the past, right after Jack is about to finish off Aku, but is sent forward in time before he can. The scene in question is re-created with new animation and re-recorded audio from Phil LaMarr and Greg Baldwin. Once Jack arrives, he doesn’t hesitate to slice Aku apart, who’s too weakened from his previous fight to either run away or properly defend himself.
Like his father before him, he traps Aku’s essence within is sword and seals his power away, which causes his lair to collapse. Did I say “collapse”? I meant “explode”! Ashi claims that she felt Aku “leaving her” shortly after, and Jack confidently claims that “he will never hurt anyone again”, embracing her.
An undisclosed amount of time after that, we get a couple more “blasts from the past”, as a whole bunch of warriors arrive at Jack’s kingdom by boat. These aren’t just any warriors, though. They’re men who trained Jack since he was very young to fight Aku in the show’s very first episode: You got a Robin Hood-looking Englishman, some Shaolin monks, a Greco-Roman wrestler, an Arabian Sheikh, an African staff fighter, several Vikings, and a sailor whose boat has Jack’s family symbol.
All of them are implied to know each other and, as it turns out, are visiting the kingdom for Jack’s wedding.
Yup, we’re skipping right along to this. We don’t really get some kind of tearful reunion with Jack’s family, no appreciation for how much better things have become now that Aku is gone, or anything like that which, after everything that he went through, and how it was the thing he was craving to do the most pre-Season 5, feels like a pretty glaring omission. The next time we see mom and dad, they’re helping Jack and Ashi suit up for their big day. Surely, it would’ve been nice to at least see Jack introduce Ashi to them, even if just to see whether he’ll bring up her connection to Aku. We also don’t get to see how a world without Aku has impacted the future. You know a scene showing all of Jack’s friends having happier lives because of what he did would’ve killed. In my opinion, if this finale has one big flaw, this is it…
…which brings us to the very ending; a moment that will surely make or break not just this finale, but perhaps the entire show for some people. It’s the day of the wedding: Ashi is looking like a dream, ceremoniously walking down the aisle ready to meet Jack, when she suddenly collapses…and dies. Well, not so much “die”, but rather fade away from existence. Turns out that with Aku being sealed away and never have taken over the world, The Daughters of Aku never would’ve been born, and it’s only now that the effects of warping the timeline like Jack and Ashi did are catching up to them, with an asshole sense of dramatic timing. Just like that, in a total roundabout, Aku has burnt Jack one last time.
Was anyone else ready to throw a big party over this? Was anyone else ready to celebrate how Jack and Ashi gave a big fat middle finger to time travel logic and paradox themselves into existence in the past? Anyone else riding high on that feeling of getting the best ending possible? Yeah, close but no cigar. So much of that goes away so quickly and unexpectedly at the worst possible moment that I’m still reeling from it, even as I’m writing this. This is gonna drive fans nuts for weeks, months, even years to come. I can already see the hate mail coming Adult Swim and Genndy Tartakovsky’s way. I’m also sure that discussing the “rules” of time travel as presented in this episode will be debated into oblivion. Here’s my take on this conundrum: Jack has essentially found a time machine and traveled back in time and destroyed its creator, which has made it so the time machine never existed in the first place. While this could’ve in theory made him disappear from existence as well, since without a time machine he shouldn’t be back in the past, he still exists in his timeline in some capacity, as opposed to Ashi, the time machine in this analogy, so he gets to stay right where he is. It also means that there’s probably another version of himself who’s been sent into the future, only know it’s probably a nicer future since it doesn’t have Aku in it. Since we don’t get to see it, there’s no telling how much change there would be to the timeline, if the world has advanced in terms of technology, magic, etc. as much as it did for the Aku future. For all we know, that Jack is stuck either in a “good” version of that future where he COULD go back in time, which would make for an eventual awkward, complicated encounter between two Jacks, or a future where there’s no way for him to go back home and will forever roam the world as he did during the 50 year time-skip between seasons…
Aaaand that’s all I’m gonna say on the matter since thinking more on it is gonna be a needless headache for me.
And so, we arrive at the very final scene. Some time after the non-wedding, Jack is roaming the countryside by himself and sits down under a tree to sulk for a bit. He sees a ladybug fly by, kinda like it did back in Episode 4, which makes him happy. Soon after, we see the sun break through the clouds, lighting up the beautiful Aku-free hillside. It’s revealed that the tree he’s sitting on is the same one he showed Ashi back in Episode 5. Hope has won. Peace has been restored. Jack’s journey has finally ended. The credits roll one last time.
I feel like this final moment is left purposefully vague so that fans can interpret for themselves what exactly Jack is thinking here, as there are no flashbacks, montages or dialogue reminiscing about what happened. Obviously, it’s about Ashi, and the time they spent together, but what exactly? Here’s what I think: it should be apparent enough that the ladybug is a callback to Jack’s first big adventure with Ashi where they escaped from inside the giant monster. It reminds him of all the travelling they did and what they were able to accomplish together. I feel like it also goes back to what Jack said to Ashi in Episode 9 about not wanting her to be just another memory. In a way, Jack is learning to make peace with this becoming fact, not just because he has to deal with it, but because, at the end of the day, even after everything he went through thanks to Aku, meeting Ashi was the best thing that ever happened to him given the circumstances. It definitely hurts that she’s no longer with him, but now that he’s free of his mission to save the world, he can really appreciate how much he loved Ashi and how much he was loved by her in the short time they had together, and how none of what he accomplished would’ve been possible without her. She was more than a companion or a means to an end: she was family. Nonetheless, Tartakovsky and Co. wanted to make this all come full circle by having the end be all about Jack fulfilling the quest he’s been on since back in 2001, as opposed to just the recent development of his relationship to Ashi. I can definitely respect this choice, but given how this season did such a good job of tying Jack’s story to Ashi’s, I still question whether it was really necessary to have her go away like that.
Again, folks: even as I’m sitting down to write this, I’m still trying to process exactly what happened, so I’ll leave you with an elaboration of a small discussion I had with a friend:
I expected this ending to be many things: climactic, intense, satisfying. While it was all of those things, it was also challenging, something I didn’t really expect, at least the way it’s presented here. It went out on a high note, but decided to top it off with a downer moment that, while not exactly sour, is pretty bittersweet. I feel like it does fit the ongoing themes and internal logic of the story and the season as a whole, so I can’t really fault it much for it. I also believe that embracing tragedy is something that Online Fan Culture should be more open to and not just go with the gut feeling of getting mad because their super cool idea for an ending didn’t really come to pass, assuming that most people wanted a happy ending. You know, take some time to think about what the story is saying with those kind of decisions. Being in that position, I should know. It surely doesn’t feel “nice”, but not every story should exist to make one feel nice. I’m open to a series that challenges what I think of it and makes me change the way I see it, which has definitely happened here. If the ending had been a little too clean, as I had envisioned at several times over the last couple of months, I probably would’ve moved on from the show much faster, but now, it’s really gonna stick with me long after I’m done with this review. Living in an era where I’m constantly consuming new media, it’s become increasingly easy for me to be done with something and just move on to the next thing. This ending guarantees that Samurai Jack will linger in my mind long after I’m done writing about it. And isn’t that the best thing you can say about any piece of media, regardless of its overall quality? I AM hoping that at some point Tartakovsky goes public, maybe at a convention panel or an AMA on Reddit where he helps us have a better understanding over what just transpired.
In the end, TV shows that can have a clean, no loose-ends, perfect wrap-up of an ending are the exception. After so much story and so many developments, it would be hard for any team to deliver on an ending that can satisfy on every level while still allowing the team to tell the story they want. After this spectacular season, it was gonna be hard for the Samurai Jack team to make it all come together as best as possible, and while it’s definitely flawed, this show went down swinging. I can already tell that some common criticisms of this finale will be that it felt “rushed”, and that some plot points feel like loose ends. You can make up your own mind about that, but personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team was aware of making necessary sacrifices to turn out the show like this. Whether it’s time, budget, etc. there are a ton of limitations that a show has to work around, and sometimes you just gotta deal with that. While there are areas of improvement here, I can’t really think of anything you could take out of here to work on those. For example, you could, in theory, remove the joke about The Scotsman talking about his daughters to Jack, but it would’ve made their reunion feel too short. The episode really needed to make the best of it. Also, I can’t really say that these shortcomings would be enough to justify extending this finale to one hour, as I’m aware many fans will declare. While it would’ve been nice to get a little more, I can picture a very meandering finale where we wrap up the big stuff too early and spend the last 20 or so minutes screwing about on the way to the finish line. I mean, it’s not like this is a LOTR sized saga where there was such a vast breath of story where it feels validated to have like 5 different “endings” one after another. I’d rather have a “compact” ending to a show than a drawn-out one. Perfect example: earlier this year, I saw the finale for Regular Show, which ended in a similarly tight story amid the biggest stakes the series had had. Its final moment is a montage to the tune of David Bowie’s “Heroes” that fast-forwards through the lives of the main characters, showing off some pretty big developments and twists for them, much to the chagrin of a lot of fans that had put a lot of investment in hoping to see these stories properly bear fruit before the show’s end. Similar complaints about the ending being “rushed” were being thrown around, but much like here with Samurai Jack, it was probably the better choice to not rehash these plot threads, letting the show go out strongly rather than slowly deflate.
So, to put a nice little bow on this review, do I think this ending was worth the wait? Did I think it was good? In a word: yes. Warts and all, it was a bold, fulfilling finale. I feel like the best way to appreciate it is to lay down how it’s tied to the overarching ideas and themes not just of the season, but the series as a whole. I’ve gone on for far too long, so I’m gonna save it for one final piece. Next week, I’ll be back with my final thoughts on Samurai Jack as a whole. I’m hoping this extra time will help me get a better grasp on everything that’s happened and give the show the sendoff that it deserves.
If you’ve been reading these reviews so far, thank you. I hope you’ll join me next week for one last goodbye.