The Review: Samurai Jack season 5

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Samurai Jack season five is finally back. But is it better than ever?

Unfinished stories create a very bitter sensation, one that animation fans experience far too often. Be it the dead halt of Teen Titans or the “season 3 never” of Spice and Wolf, not getting the ending to a great story is a huge buzzkill. So, when animation icon Genndy Tartakovsky announced that we would be getting a final season of Samurai Jack, over 12 years after the inconclusive ending of season four, fans were beyond hyped. The only question now is whether this finale lives up to fan expectations.

Fifty years have passed since the end of season four, yet Jack’s body seems to have stopped ageing. Despite this, his countless failed attempts to find a way back to the past and undo Aku’s evil have taken a heavy toll on his mind. All he can seem to do now is fight off Aku’s servants wherever they appears.

Meanwhile, a fanatical cult known as the Daughters of Aku have finished their training as the ultimate warriors. Their mission: Kill the samurai once and for all. Now Jack must confront his toughest opponents yet, as well as face his own inner demons, in the climactic end to the samurai’s torturous quest.

Can Jack still hold his own against the ever-strengthening minions of Aku? Source: Twitter

First off, if you haven’t seen the original series of Samurai Jack, WATCH IT.

Even as a children’s show, it’s an excellent display of creative presentation and unique storytelling. If you don’t think you have time to watch 52 episodic stories, I recommend all of season one and episode 32 and 35 (my personal favourite) at the very minimum.

As for season five, we immediately see that the series has undergone a dramatic rise in mature content. Not only is the action more violent and visceral, but the plot is darker and more intense as well. Jack’s struggle to push forward, and even to remain sane, often feels like a massive weight oppressing everything.

This desperation to simply continue living and battling his own insanity is incredibly gripping. I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to make this comparison, but it feels very reminiscent of Berserk at times with that insatiable desire for happiness never fully coming true, as the full depths of reality’s horrors come crushing down on you.

samurai jack season 5
It’s back baby.

That said, season five of Samurai Jack is neither too grim-dark nor overly edgy.

A surprising amount of the more comedic elements from previous seasons has continued here as well. It gives the series much needed levity to avoid becoming overly depressing or too slow in pacing. That balance between lighthearted fun and intense action has always been a cornerstone of Samurai Jack’s style, so I’m very happy they didn’t lose their sense of humour while bumping up to TV MA.

Unfortunately, with season five taking on a more continuous narrative than before, a few cracks in the armour have started to show. The more smarmy and ‘simplistic’ storytelling that we let earlier seasons get away with because “it’s a kid’s show” end up taking too much edge off some of the more climactic moments.

Episode eight in particular drew quite a bit of ire from fans for its mishandling of Jack’s interactions with a certain character who essentially becomes his sidekick in the second half.

While I did notice this, I was much more entranced with the god-tier directing of the episode. This is really what I see as being Samurai Jack’s primary strength. While the story might not be perfect, the way the story is presented is so engaging and cinematically brilliant that it more than makes up for a little sloppy storytelling.

Which brings us to the amazing technical aspects of the series.

The animation is just as strong as earlier seasons. Memorable and pleasing character designs plus gorgeous background art solidify the coolness of the show’s aesthetic, and its use of split screen and multi-framing show off Samurai Jack‘s ambitious filmmaking skills.

And, of course, the action is totally kickass. Episode nine has better fight choreography than a lot of anime I’ve seen recently.

The soundtrack of heavy drum beats and traditional orchestral accompaniment has also expanded to include pretty much whatever style Genndy thinks is appropriate, leading to episode eight having one of the most memorable endings to an episode I’ve ever seen.

Finally, the voice acting of Phil Lamarr, Greg Baldwin (filling in for the deceased Mako as Aku), and the legendary Tara Strong make for some of the best voice acting in any animated series.

Stellar lighting and shot composition put this series miles above its competition. Source: Dailymotion

Overall, season five of Samurai Jack is a resounding success.

Despite a few hiccups in the narrative and an ending that takes a few too many cues from another super-popular anime, season five of Samurai Jack finally gives us the conclusive ending that fans have been yearning for over a decade.

Yet, at the same time, an expansion on that ending is still a possibility. Whatever Tartakosvky does next, I hope that it will be just as great as this final chapter of Cartoon Network’s favourite samurai.

My Rating: 8/10

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