Today Cameron and Michal will finish off their brief analysis of Samurai Jack and talk about the series use of themes in its storytelling. Starting with…
Jack’s journey is a mixture of two forces: despair, and hope. On the surface, the samurai’s quest is hopeless. He has to find a way to return to the past, while opposed at every turn by a being of tremendous power and nigh-infinite malice.
This finds its way into the story’s very structure. Jack finds ways of time travel, but Aku, or random chance, thwart his efforts time and again. In most shows, a “villain of the week” structure is something natural and doesn’t merit further attention. In Samurai Jack, it’s reflective of the Sisyphean nature of Jack’s struggle.
The odds are stacked against him in almost every possible way. Aku is nigh-invincible – Jack’s sword is the only thing that can harm him, but he always manages to escape before the final blow. Aku rules the world – his minions and people who want his favour are everywhere. Finally, Aku watches Jack’s every move, with short moments of respite in places where his sight can’t reach.
Jack weathers it all with quiet dignity, like we said in our last article. But the atmosphere of despair still hangs around him. There’s only so much a man can take.
But there is still hope, despite all this. To the people in Aku’s future, Jack is the first thing they’ve ever seen that the Shogun of Sorrow can’t control. He can try to kill Jack… but that’s just it. He can try, which is otherwise unthinkable for someone who could do what he wanted with no one could ever stop him.
We see it in the last episode of the first season, where Aku tries to tell fairy tales to some children that paint him as the hero, and Jack, the villain. It’s a thoroughly silly episode, but it showcases how Aku can’t really deal with people having thoughts of a world that doesn’t centre around him.
Jack is a ray of hope in a dark and hopeless world. As hopeless as his own quest is, he helps many others to escape Aku’s clutches, or unrelated misfortune.
It won’t be long before we see how those themes carry on to the fifth season. Many years will have passed, and Jack seems no closer to accomplishing his goal. Will it break his stoicism? Will a resistance against Aku have formed by the time the season begins? The theme of the trailers thus far seems fairly dark, so I’m guessing no one has taken it well. Except maybe Aku.
Aku is tied heavily to chaos. This compliments Jack’s themes of resiliency, and sets the stage for why Jack is fighting. This is because Aku’s world is anything but stable. Aku’s world is chaotic. While there is order in the sense he rules over everything, beyond that the world he rules is lawless.
The destruction of civilizations, the murder of countless people of all facets of humanity and even alien, the pervading backstabbing of Aku, the imagery of destroyed and broken cities, the destruction of societal order, the fear of expression, evil objects of magic, the institutional slavery. It’s like the worst of Mad Max and 1984 mixed to create a scary and uncaring world. A world consumed into chaos.
Aku himself could be comparable to cancer. Despite being cut by Jack several times, he always regrows himself. Even the remnant of evil he was born from corrupted the world around him, taking and eating away, malignant and resourceful. Viewed from this lense, it makes Aku all the more terrifying, and something of a grim metaphor.
The Resiliency of Nature
Yet despite Aku’s horrible deeds, nature and the world is still calm and even beautiful in some places. Despite being the overlord for so many years, nature has started to regrow itself again. Clean, drinkable streams flow over the land. Swamps and forests still grow. The oceans are still somehow able to support life. The sky and clear and crisp.
This is consistent enough to become a theme, we think. For all the destruction and corruption Aku has wrought, nature endures. There are still unspoiled wildlands. When we look at Jack go through them, we can almost forget about Aku, and the samurai’s desperate goal.
It also serves as a reminder there is still hope. Hope that Jack can still win against Aku. Hope that he may prevent all of this from happening. Hope that his journey may finally come to an end. The series may soon give us a dose of acedia, but let’s hope the future is a bit brighter.