Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Writers: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Phil LaMarr, Tara Strong, Greg Baldwin
Summary: Set fifty years after the conclusion of the original series Jack is no closer to finding a way to stop the evil shape shifter Aku than when his quest first started. Now withdrawn and nearing a breaking point will Jack finally succumb to Aku’s evil or will he find new resolve and overcome his mortal foe?
“You’ve forgotten your purpose!”
It all started way back in 2001.
A story that would be both simple and complex. A story of loss and hope, told with silence and fluid art. The tale of the lone quiet samurai and his obnoxious boisterous nemesis. The time has finally come for that 2001 story to get its ending and, thankfully, it was absolutely worth the wait.
When we reconnect with our hero we discover that fifty years have passed since we last saw him at the end of Season Four and yet he is no closer to ridding the world of Aku’s evil than he was at the start. He is battered and bruised, both physically and mentally, and the first chapter of this final season explores the emotional damage that Jack has received due to his constant “so close yet so far” failures. Jack cannot age and Jack cannot defeat Aku. He has lost his family, his sword and is now losing his hope. At the beginning of this final season Jack is cursed to wander the devastated landscapes with only his regrets for company.
Aku has won and controls not only the planet but the entire galaxy. All there is to do now is hopelessly walk the Earth, gun in hand, and destroy the never ending hordes of machines that call Aku master, all the while knowing that it doesn’t really make any difference at all – or does it?
The first five episodes of Samurai Jacks fifth and final season are somber and powerful and undeniably beautiful. They show animation at its absolute best with images that can easily be framed and displayed on a wall and the art is bolstered by sound design that is on it’s A’ game. Whether quiet with only the wind howling or brutally intense with a soundtrack that is crescendoing to a frenetic conclusion; the sound and art on display during this final season of Jack showcases what animation can do when it has a team that truly cares.
I single out the first half of Season Five because this final story truly is told in two defined chapters, each tonally different and each having its own small arc with the through line being that of hope. I hold the first half of Season Five as some of the best animation I have ever seen. It’s story, one that is much more mature and serious than anything that has come before, is told with a pace that is impressive and follows through with a less is more approach. There isn’t much dialogue in the first half of this season, something that isn’t entirely unfamiliar for the series, but yet what dialogue is there is crucial and allows viewers to understand the dilemma that is plaguing our titular hero and the hopelessness that he feels.
Jacks failures have been mounting over the years and those burdens are pushing him to a very realistic and very frightening edge. But while the first half of this final story may be some of the finest animated storytelling I have witnessed, with sequences that had me on the edge of my seat as well as smiling in awe, the second half just can’t quite match up. Not only do the final five episodes feel slightly rushed but they are also tonally polar opposite. Where before there was a suffocating sense of dread there is now blossoming rays of hope and while there is reason for such a change it happens to such an extreme, and so quickly, that it makes the season feel somewhat disjointed and patched together.
The first half of the season shows that the show has aged with its audience while the latter half could have easily been produced with the original run back in 2001 and no one would be the wiser. Along with the more lighthearted tone comes more jokes and also more dialogue and while plenty of it just doesn’t quite land that’s not to say the second halves story isn’t worth experiencing. Yes the tone is a strange departure from where the season seemed to be going but it does have reason and it also features some genuinely beautiful and touching moments of its own.
I will not spoil any story beats here but while I do feel there is a plodding nature to some of these latter episodes, made more frustrating due to knowing these are our final moments with these characters, there is also a sense of rebirth and the joy of finding ones purpose and reason for being. While the first half has a haunting somber beauty the latter is beautiful because of its unfettered exuberance and it too had me genuinely smiling in parts.
To make matters more joyous, and make this final farewell as special as it truly deserves to be, this concluding arc also includes several nods to the original series run with not only fan favorite characters making appearances but also with more subtle locales and items from the shows earlier days being given brief glimpses that are sure to delight those die hard faithful.
Bringing these characters to life is a terrific voice cast headed up by the returning Phil LaMarr who easily slides back into the white robes of Jack while also showing new sides to our world wearied warrior. Newcomers Tara Strong and Tom Kenny provide great supporting roles as new and interesting villains for our hero to overcome with the former easily inserting herself as one of the more memorable characters in the shows history. Unfortunately the original voice of Aku, Makoto Iwamatsu, passed away in 2006 but Greg Baldwin does a solid job in channeling Makoto’s cocky, sinister but also dry tone that Aku is notorious for.
It took nearly thirteen years but series creator Genndy Tartakovsky can now breathe easy knowing that he has finally concluded the tale of the Samurai out of time and that it has ended standing victorious. This final season may have stumbled at times but there is no denying that it’s highs were exceptionally high and it concludes Jacks story in the most beautiful of ways. This season was all about matters of the heart and the feelings that make us human and the choices that define us, and in the end this final season made quite an impression with the feelings it instilled in me.
— Conclusion —
It was a bittersweet moment when it ended. There was a whirlwind of emotions that ultimately, after it wound down, left only feelings of both joy and regret. Regret that I wouldn’t be seeing anything new with these characters and their world again, but joy that we finally got to see their story completed and that it was undoubtedly one worth waiting for.
- + Incredible visuals and animation
- + Likable cast of characters
- + First half of season
- – Second half falters
- – Unnecessary filler in some episodes
- – It ended