Gotta get back, back to the past. And back to the past we certainly went. One of the most beloved shows on Cartoon Network’s action-heavy “Toonami” block, Genndy Tartakovsky‘s Samurai Jack, has finally gotten its fifth season after eleven years of nothing, airing exclusively on Adult Swim, where Toonami now resides. Thus, you can imagine that it ups the grit and unsettling visuals this time around.
Samurai Jack was known for its cinematic feel, subtlety, mostly-serious tone (especially compared to Tartakovsky’s previous work, Dexter’s Laboratory, and other shows on the network at the time), heavy atmosphere, minimalistic dialogue, and stilistic influences drawn from the likes of Kirosawa, Miyazaki, Frank Miller, 70’s avant-garde and countless more – all while maintaining a distinct half-futuristic-half-ancient look. It was one of those shows I loved watching and wouldn’t be ashamed to revisit in my adult years – which, admittedly, goes for a lot of the weird stuff CN gave us.
It focused on a fearsome samurai voiced by Phil LaMarr, trapped in a distant future where the demonic overlord Aku (Mako Iwamatsu) rules all. As XCII begins, fifty years have passed since Jack was sent here and began his quest to return to the past and undo Aku’s apocalypse. Everything seems right; Jack’s voice, the art style, the sound effects, the imagery, the masterful color choices, you name it.
In spite of all this, I cannot help but feel a little underwhelmed. I get the impression that this season will be more serialized than previous seasons (where almost every episode played like a self-contained short film) and I feel like it could have taken its time when it comes to Jack realizing he needs to put his mind back on his quest of returning to the his time. Seeing him break down almost immediately after we’re reintroduced to him seems, I dunno, not entirely consistent with the slow but effective pace this show has been known for. Also, the Jack we know would not just abandon his sword for good like that, nor would he be quiet so emotional, nor would Aku miss out on a chance to destroy his worst enemy now that said enemy no longer carries the only weapon that can kill him.
I’m sure I’m in a minority when it comes to these thoughts, though, and the episode is generally succesful. I am especially intrigued by the Daughters of Aku – demonic babies who rapidly age into masked warriors – and also to see who shall replace Mako. We’ll see if anyone can do “evil from the belly” quite like he could.