It’s been a long journey for fans of Samurai Jack. A cartoon that’s always been notable for its visual creativity, the original series ended abruptly, leaving viewers without any sort of resolution to the battle between Jack and his arch-nemesis Aku. 13 years later, Samurai Jack finally has a decisive conclusion to cap off Jack’s journey. This in itself makes the fifth and final season something special, but what makes this concluding chapter stand out even more is how the darker, more mature feel of these last episodes are not as effective without the more kid-oriented approach of the past providing context.
As explained in the opening each episode, 50 years have passed since Aku sent Samurai Jack into the future. During this period, Jack discovers that he does not age, possibly as a side effect of time travel. Jack at the beginning of the fifth season seems almost like a different character, worn down by the death and suffering of others and his inability to vanquish Aku and save the world.
In the old Samurai Jack, Jack only destroyed robots as a consequence of its kid-friendly rating. Stories could be mature, but they had to toe a certain line. In the final season, he is shown to confront the issue of taking mortal lives on numerous occasions. While the story of a man who tries his best not to kill being forced to do so is compelling enough, it works especially well because of that past history as a children’s show. Moreover, the 13-year gap between the previous season and the final one means that the show’s audience has also aged, and I imagine that this creates a degree of empathy towards Jack, even if it hasn’t been 50 years for us.
Originally, the plan from creator Genndy Tartakovsky Samurai Jack was to do a feature film that would finish the story. While that would’ve likely been good in its own right, and likely more in line with how the series was back then, I’m glad we got this version instead. Plenty of shows these days, from Full House to Twin Peaks, are doing this “years later sequel” thing, but I can say for sure that Samurai Jack doesn’t suffer for it. The final season is artistically and negativity ambitious, and any flaws in it are in my opinion forgivable.