The miraculous hat trick of the Samurai Jack season premiere was keeping the show’s various elements in balance with each other while introducing a much harsher tone overall. 50 years of desperation and sorrow have made our hero a lifetime wearier, wreaking their toll on his sanity and his will to carry on, and the episode did a great job portraying that. Simultaneously, it managed to level these darker moments out with the battle against Scaramouch, one of the funniest villains the series has seen to date. Normally these overriding moods would be confined to separate episodes, but the more linear nature of this season means they’re likely to clash more often, and thankfully it seems like the season will be able to handle doing both with an extraordinary level of confidence, especially if this second episode is any indication.
On the subject of humorous villains, the episode opens with our reintroduction to the one and only master of masters himself: Aku! The introduction sequence showing us what he’s been up to is one of the most hilarious moments the series has produced. We see Aku’s bizarrely normal morning routine of putting on his eyelashes, stretching out his muscles, shooing away worshippers because they’re tracking mud in his lair, and trying to play it cool in front of his scientist minions, pretending that he isn’t concerned with Jack still running around. He even dips into a morning therapy session where he talks to himself about the samurai’s continued presence and it is causing him an undue amount of stress. It’s exactly as wonderfully ridiculous as you would expect. Our villain hasn’t skipped a beat in the time since we last saw him, trying to pretend like he’s the victim when he’s caused Jack so much psychological distress over the past 50 years. However, I suppose I need to mention the obvious change here since the original run, chiefly Greg Baldwin as the voice of Aku instead of the late Mako Iwamatsu. He was the same replacement who voiced Iroh in the Avatar cartoon series when Mako passed, so it makes sense to bring him on here. His performance in this role isn’t bad, but because the role of Aku is much more demanding than that of Iroh (seeing as how the former is a much more colorful and over-the-top personality than the latter), the differences become apparent pretty immediately, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken out of the experience for a brief moment.
Meanwhile, our hero Jack continues wandering the land, having his first major run-in with the Daughters of Aku after defeating yet another giant robot. If the opening episode wasn’t clear enough, this one definitely confirms Jack is out of his element and growing more desperate. The Daughters prove too quick for him as he is easily disarmed, forcing him to momentarily swing wildly at his opponents (the kind of reckless strategy we’d never expect from him), and there’s even a moment paralleling Aku’s introduction where Jack talks to a manifestation of his inner thoughts. However, this conversation is darker and significantly bleaker, with Jack’s inner thoughts telling him to just give up and end his life in order to end the suffering, while the real Jack is convinced that the daughters can be beaten, as they’re just “nuts and bolts”, like all of his enemies.
The back half of the episode carries out in a characteristically wordless fashion as the Daughters pursue Jack relentlessly through the ruins of an ancient temple. The visual direction here is outstandingly top-notch, as the episode makes excellent use of lighting and darkness to create some of the most stylish shots of the series to date. The standout moment is when Jack briefly confronts one of the Daughters in a dark hallway, with the only light coming from the clashing of their weapons, creating these gorgeous black and white visuals reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City comics. The sequence also makes excellent use of luminescent shades of green with a firefly serving as one of the few sources of illumination, frequently drawing the Daughters and Jack into each other’s past.
As another compliment to the excellent visual storytelling, there’s a side story running parallel to the main plot concerning a wolf as it makes its way through a forest, eventually being ambushed by a group of giant hulking monstrous tigers. The wolf just barely manages to kill them off, unfortunately losing its own life in the process. The wolf, with its bold spirit and white fur, shows that this story is a microcosm of Jack’s own struggles, as by the end, it seems like his noble warrior psyche is completely dead, especially seeing as how Jack ends up killing one of the Daughters before escaping the temple, an act which we’ve never seen him do before. The way home is broken, his sword is gone, Jack’s going completely insane, and now he’s violated one of his own key principles as a samurai. It’s darkly powerful material, all thanks to the excellent animation, art direction, and cinematography.
If there’s any complaint to be had here, it’s that, much like with the premiere episode, this one has a noticeable tendency for the musical score to feeling a little overbearing and over-composed. Many of the music cues in the episode are really strong, but then there’s the moment where the Daughters reach a massive hidden tomb in the temple where Jack is hiding, and the score just lays it on a little too thick. The visuals alone do a great job of telling us how frightened and desperate Jack is in this situation, but the music becomes incredibly overbearing, and it’s one of the more bland compositions that the show’s ever used, feeling like something heard dozens of times before in other TV shows and Hollywood blockbusters. I hope this isn’t a trend that continues through the rest of the season, because other than that slight blemish, these past two episodes have been fantastic and well worth the wait. The Daughters are still in hot pursuit of our hero, and we can only speculate what twists lie ahead in episode 3.
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.