After a while of thinking, Cameron and Michael now compare their thoughts on Samurai Jack Season 5 and how it holds up in retrospect.
M: The finale of Samurai Jack began very strongly, then lost its momentum in the later half. It showed us Jack as a man beaten down by his struggle, and wrestling with some very dark thoughts. Then it swept it all aside and acted like it never happened.
C: Samurai Jack Season 5 has a bit of an identity crisis. It wants to both be a realistic emotional deconstruction of Jack’s journey while at the same time trying to also be a tonal and emotional continuation of the last four seasons. The result is that towards the end, these clash.
M: Yes, the tone of the final season changes very abruptly. At first, it’s grim and visceral. It lasts until Jack’s spiritual journey to regain his sword, where it deflates like a popped balloon. Which is further compounded by the next episode, with its cringe-worthy romance. The final two episodes have a bit of this seriousness, but not much.
C: This season has a bit of tonal identity crisis. The first few episodes focus on Jack’s despair and lost of hope. The destruction of his idealization. Then the series starts to emulate the show when it first aired, making it seem like the show forgot everything it built up in the last few episodes. Then it tries to blend the two identities together, in the final episodes, which made me confused as it felt like they didn’t resolve the tone they set up in the beginning. I remember describing the situation to our editor Kylie like this: “The season was something in like F minor, but then modulated to B Major, then F minor, then we were somehow in C major, then A minor, and then F minor at the end, and I’m very confused about the whole thing.”
M: The new Jack appealed to me strongly at first. He was still the noble and just man be used to be, but he’d been ground down by adversity. Resetting him to his old self was a poor decision. I really did like Ashi, and I was sad to see her arc end with her dying to give Jack some new trauma. Opening her eyes to the word and letting go of hate was a very powerful message.
C: Jack was excellent when he was a result of his development in the last 50 years. His character suffered a few times in the final, but overall his growth was believable. While Ashi’s arc and character was taken over by the romance arc , everything else was a good take on how this naive person has grown up and how she has improved herself, despite her awful past. Aku was much less with Baldwin in lieu of the sadly passed Mako, but his work was still top notch. the other characters were okay, if a little underdeveloped.
M: Pacing is a major, major problem. The first half of the season is quite good, even if the Daughters of Aku, sans Ashi, die relatively quickly. But once Ashi comes around and listens to Jack, the show hops onto a fast-moving train right until the end. Jack’s recovery of his hope and his sword are so quick that he might as well have just tripped over them. As touching as Ashi’s meetings with his allies are, they don’t get nearly enough attention.
C: We’re in full agreement, this season had major issues with pacing. The first few episode were tight, and I dare say, perfect for the feeling they were trying to create. But as the season ended, it felt uneven. The resolution to Jack’s angst felt so sudden and fast, and the travels around the world felt crunched. This is worse in the last two episodes, where the character are put through so much so fast, that their actions hardly feel developed. It’s like a poem that started out with beautiful long sentences got. Quick, choppy. Now the next sentence. Nope it’s over. Nah, let’s have some more development for the story. Nope. The story ends now. Whoop. Goodbye.
M: The art is as good, or better, as it used to be. Great scenery, crisp animation. Nothing to complain about here, just sit and take it in.
C: Same for me. It the art if artful.
How it Began
M: The beginning of the show, as I’ve said, is splendid. Jack’s trauma, hopelessness and thoughts of suicide are portrayed with brutal honesty. The Daughters of Aku are a legitimate threat that results in palpable tension. There’s a very real sense of everything heading towards an ending.
C: Excellent. The show wastes no time in showcasing the struggle Jack is in and how he has changed over the last 50 years.
How it Ended
M: The end felt too quick, to clean and too… perfunctory.
C: Ugh… It was too predictable and felt too manipulative. Of course they get married. Of course Ashi dies right when they get married. Even worse, it didn’t leave an impact. Instead of feeling victorious, it felt hollow. Aku is finally defeated, but his defeat feels hollow and cheep. Was that the point? Even if it was, I don’t think it was worth it, and feels like again, the series has a tone issue with the two stories its trying to both tell, smashing them together into something confused in the end.
I was also sad by how the show failed to explore the implication of Jack changing the timeline. Is there now a timeline where Aku still lives, and if not, does that mean none of those people even exist anymore? The morality of the situation is painfully unexplored, and it makes almost everything we’ve seen the series pointless. Making one of my least favorite tropes, a shaggy dog story.
What did the series do well?
M: The animation was top-notch. Jack’s battles against the Daughters of Aku were both breath-taking, tense and captivating. The scenery was as beautiful as it always had been. The sequence where Ashi encounters the people Jack had helped was touching and emotional in the best way. Jack’s initial character arc was viscerally upsetting and brutal about how it portrayed Jack’s despair and directionless.
C: Showcasing Jack’s loneliness and desperation in the beginning was brilliant. It showcased a maturity I wasn’t expecting. We saw him struggle not just physically, but mentally too. It was a journey about his struggles with his own survivor’s guilt and sense of failing. Also great was Ashi’s character before the love arc. The exploration of her psychology and growth was excellent and showcased maturity on the show’s writers.
The Daughters of Aku were a great concept, and I appreciated how they didn’t shy away from the effects the cult had on Ashi. Her recovery arc was poignant and I appreciated her change was represented visually from scrapping the ash and sewing out a pair of clothes out of leaves.
The pacing of the few episodes were, dare I say, awesome, and even though i have major issues with how the series ended, those first few were some of the best episodes I’ve ever seen. And not even the rest of the season’s issues can’t make me forget the surge of excitement I felt from watching them.
What Did the Series Do Wrong?
M: A lot of what went wrong can be chalked up to time constraints, perhaps. But the direction of Jack’s arc was still very dissatisfying. He was just instantly returned to his old self. Still, the romance was the single biggest point of contention. Not only is it unsettling because of the age difference, but it’s entirely unnecessary. One can see how it might have grown organically, but it didn’t. We had some clues here and there, but then it instantly springs up in a single episode. There’s no real chemistry, so it feels more obligatory than anything. Here’s a guy, here’s a girl, they’re in love. Jack and Ashi’s arcs didn’t need it, and in fact it seems to cheapen Ashi’s arc by making her a plot device.
C: A large part of my issues stem from around how the series missed out on a few opportunities, relied to heavily overused tropes, and in general felt, unsatisfactory. The potential this series had was handled so well in the beginning, but it felt squandered in the end for something…so okay, when it could’ve been great.
M: The way this season began well and ended poorly gives me flashbacks to Book 1 of Korra. Particularly since that one also suffered from having little time, and wasted it on unnecessary plots (romantic ones, in fact). But I don’t want to be harsh, since I enjoyed it on the whole. Even after the romance reared its head, the show was never bad. Just disappointing and not as good as it could have been.
C: This season was a mixed bag. I both love and hate aspects of it. It wasn’t ever truly bad, but it just had so much potential it failed to capitalized on. What we got we both great in some ways, and mediocre in others. I hate to sound so negative, but my feelings on the whole season are very, very mixed.
M: One way or the other, Samurai Jack did return to the past. The story is over, instead of hanging in limbo. It deserved that, and it finally got that.
C: It was…okay. The ending wasn’t terrible, nor was it great. On a whole, I am mixed on the season, and the ending itself. I think there are so many other directions the show could’ve taken, and those better possibilities plague my thoughts on the season. There was just so much potential wasted.
Images courtesy of Adult Swim