Samurai Jack, Season 5 – Episode 1 – “XCII”

12 years. 12 years have passed since the last time the animated hero Samurai Jack was seen in a new, episodic adventure. In the time between then and now, the desire to see a proper conclusion to this story has only grown exponentially, with everyone wondering when Jack would finally get back to the past and defeat Aku, the master of darkness. After the seemingly never-ending wait since the first announcement back in 2015, Samurai Jack is back for one last season. One last run of episodes to finally end the story and the conflict once and for all. There are absolutely monumental expectations that the premiere has to live up to, so let’s see how the season premiere plays out.

The episode opens on a familiar sight, with Aku’s robot beetles tormenting a mother and child (blue-skinned creatures who communicate through electrically-generated text). Just when things look hopeless for them, a mysterious warrior on a motorcycle approaches from the distance and begins to do battle with the robots, with this figure eventually revealed as none other than our hero, Jack. This opening fight is exciting and engaging as is standard for this series, but right off the bat, something doesn’t seem right. Jack is clad in a massive metal suit of armor instead of his white gi, and he favors doing battle with an electric trident as opposed to his trademark magic sword. What happened to him?

Well, while it’s been 12 years since a new episode, it’s been 50 years for Jack, who’s found himself lost in the future after losing his sword and having any possible path back home destroyed by Aku. With the odds so heavily stacked against him, Jack is left to wander the land and survive as best he can, frequently being haunted by visions of his family and the people of his past, driving him insane with guilt at his inability to fulfill his purpose. He’s also driven mad by visions of a horseback warrior enveloped in a sickly green mist, who may be responsible for Jack losing his sword. This level of panic is a state of mind that no one is used to seeing Jack in, as the usually peaceful and stoic warrior now finds himself feeling more helpless than he ever expected.

Complicating matters further, half of the episode centers on the introduction of a new set of adversaries: the Daughters of Aku, an all-female cult which worships the master of darkness. They have recently given birth to seven daughters who are trained from birth with the singular goal of killing Jack. The training shown is rather intense, constantly pushing the daughters to their limits, with a few hints paid to the idea that one of them, named Ashi, might have a smidge of humanity that has yet to be beaten out of her by her trainers.

This first episode juggles a lot of elements at once as it sets up the plot threads for this season, and while these new struggles are very well-executed, the great thing about this premiere is that it manages to balance those new unfamiliar elements with what the audience has come to expect from the series. The episode may introduce a lot of haunting doom-and-gloom plot elements, but it expertly manages to balance this out by giving us a gloriously over-the-top battle against an assassin named Scaramouch: a minion of Aku’s with an affinity for jazzy scat beatbox vocals and whose weapons of choice include a flute and a blade which doubles as a tuning fork. This gives us the kind of wackiness that’s been a staple of Genndy Tartakovsky’s work since the very beginning and it helps alleviate some of the grimness.

The animation, while seeing a noticeable uptick in quality and fluidity, still retains the dynamic art style like it hasn’t skipped a beat. The designs of the Daughters are a particular standout, with their black and fiery red color scheme and distinctively spiked body outlines/hairstyles, almost feeling like a successful mirror image of Aku himself. The hallucinations that plague Jack are also visual highlights, with the river of dead bodies and screaming fiery spirits really succeeding in portraying the sense of guilt that follows Jack. The music, composed this time around by Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, John Wick, various Rob Zombie and Zack Snyder projects, etc.) proudly retains elements of the original series (chiefly in its thunderous percussion) while adding a more modern industrial edge to many of the tracks. However, it’s worth noting that there’s one extremely odd music cue in this episode with a high-energy symphonic score playing as Jack races through the land on his motorcycle, and it builds to… Jack stopping to relax in a forest. It’s a strange musical moment in a series that’s otherwise great with its sound cues, but I can’t help thinking that this scene could have done without that music. That’s just a minor nitpick on my end, as the music all around is top notch.

Samurai Jack had a lot of expectations to live up to with this season premiere, and it managed to meet every single one of them, establishing so many new and haunting elements to the plot while still keeping things grounded in something familiar and true to the series. Now the question becomes, “Where do things go from here?” Well, with as fantastic a premiere as this was, it’s definitely worth continued viewing to find out.

Samurai Jack airs every Saturday at 11 PM only on Adult Swim. Episodes can also be streamed on Adult Swim’s website the day after they premiere.

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