Samurai Jack, Season 5 – Episode 7 – “XCVIII”


The episode opens on a flashback to Jack’s last encounter with Aku nearly 50 years ago. Following yet another potential lead on a time portal, Jack ascends a large spiked mountain while being followed by/following the lead of a trio of baby rams. Eventually he manages to reach the top and find the portal, but as soon as he jumps in, Aku arrives and pulls him out, subsequently destroying the portal while simultaneously revealing it is the last one in existence. Before escaping the scene, he leaves Jack with a little parting gift: turning the rams into giant monsters and forcing Jack to fight them. In the ensuing battle, he kills all of them but reels in horror once they turn back into babies, and the resulting collateral damage causes his sword to fall down the hole where the portal was.

Back in the present, Jack and Ashi ride a giant bird to the site of his last encounter with Aku, descending down the massive hole to the bottom in order to find his sword. Unfortunately, their efforts turn up nothing, as Jack suspects that his own failures and emotional imbalance caused the sword itself to leave him for being unworthy. Back on the mountaintop, Jack goes into a deep meditative state/spiritual journey that will hopefully reveal where his sword is. The journey takes him across a multitude of landscapes, from vast grassy hills and sunlit rivers to moonlit skies and even a turbulent storm. The journey he takes is eerily calming across its many diverse landscapes, and much of it allows for the excellent silent visual storytelling that was placed somewhat on the backburner for the past couple of episodes. On top of all that, these scenes exemplify the quality of the gorgeous background art, illustrating the various states of mind that Jack goes through on his journey.

Meanwhile, Ashi catches sight of a massive army of monstrous soldiers who are looking to kill Jack, but her killer instinct kicks in as she tears through the massive army with ease. Afterwards, she quickly rushes back up the mountain as she suspects another threat on Jack’s life, and she manages to defend him from another rush of arrows, eventually revealed to be from the High Priestess of the Daughters. Angered deeply by Ashi’s betrayal, the two engage in a heated battle that, despite the seemingly even nature of the two, ends with Ashi piercing the Priestess with an arrow and sending her flying over the edge of the mountain. The editing and color schemes here do a good job of reinforcing the sheer intensity of this battle, as during the battle against the army, Ashi is often framed in deep hazy shades of red while breezing through them like they were nothing. The battle with the High Priestess also makes great use of their surroundings through interesting choreography and resource management, with the leftover arrows and the skeletal remains of the deceased rams from earlier. The fight even works in one of the most satisfying uses of one of its trademark editing techniques: the dramatic triple zoom-in once the Priestess is taken down for good.

The back and forth editing between the ferocity of Ashi’s battles and Jack’s meditative quest is an important focal point of the episode as it brings the subject of balance between the peaceful and the violent to the forefront. The disruption of this balance has been central to Jack’s character arc throughout this season, but this episode forces Jack to finally confront it directly. When the old man in the spirit world sips the tea that Jack has made, he is displeased with its quality, citing that despite the fact that the ingredients are correct, there is no balance between all the elements. At this point, the evil manifestation of Jack’s despair and anguish comes out and berates the man for not giving the location of the sword. Jack finally stands up to his inner demon after being subjected to its torments for so long, and he finally manages to achieve the balance and sense of inner peace he’s sought for so long. The elderly man is pleased with this development, teleporting Jack to the presence of the Gods that his father encountered when Aku first came into existence, and they bestow upon him the magic sword as well as cleaning up his rather shabby appearance. Now, in the truest sense of the phrase, Jack. Is. Back.

This was yet another excellent episode of the series, especially with how well it handles the entire concept of balance not just in its themes and writing, but also the various visual and musical components. As previously mentioned, Jack’s journey is mainly aided by the beautiful background art and its portrayals of lush natural landscapes accompanied by soothing ambient music that almost lies in the vain of early Oneohtrix Point Never. On the other side of the spectrum, Ashi’s plotline is characterized by more intense production and editing: widescreen views, deep red filters, the bleakness of the mountain landscapes, and of course the furious facial expressions of Ashi. All of this comes together to create an episode that’s extremely intricate and full of balance, much like our hero is now that his sword is back. There’s only three episodes left until the finale, and it seems like our heroes have an unexpected interruption in their final push towards the battle with Aku.

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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