One of the things that has annoyed me my entire bloody life is that most people don’t respect cartoons. They’re considered childish, low in quality and something only simpletons or children enjoy. And yet so many cartoons are released that prove this idea wrong. The new season of Samurai Jack is another example that cartoons can and always will be a form of art.
Now, before I start examining the psychological aspects of the new season; let me get the necessary fanboying over with: “OMG! So cool, so awesome. All of that wanton destruction and power and colours and omg I think I’m going to pee. Look at all that shiny klinging and klanging of the blades! I want a blade and a spear and that awesome motorcycle and a thousand robot beetles to destroy!”
Alright, let’s focus on what is arguably the best thing about the new season: it takes place fifty years later after the previous season that aired in 2004. A pretty clever decision and it’s meant to show the fact that there’s a decade of time between season 4 and 5. It allows the show to make completely new settings, as half a century is more than enough to allow cities to be destroyed, new archeological ruins to be found and most importantly; to show the effects of fifty years of dystoptian future for both Jack and Aku.
And I think it’s pretty fair to say that both of them are a complete mess. But to some extent I’m not sure that they’re messy enough. I think that Genndy Tartakovsky used a nice round number to get an estimation of time, but fifty years is about an entire lifetime in feudalistic Japan. That is a very long time for a human being to live in absolute torture and terror. And we can definitely see some of the effects on Jack: he’s hallucinating, constantly thinking about his failures, in a constant “fight-or-flight” mode and most importantly of all: he’s considering Seppuku. He was raised with the Bushido mindset. This mindset places honour, valour and sacrifice as very imporant aspects of society. That’s why Jack constantly hallucinates about his parents and people. That’s why he has a hallucination conversation with his inner self, an inner self that mocks him, considers him selfish and tells him to “end it”. Which for the innocent of you means that he wants to shove a sword in himself. He feels he failed at his tasks, which arguably he did. Failure and the shame that stem from that were some of the worst things to experience in feudalistic Japan. And Jack has been experiencing this for FIFTY long years. It’s a wonder he hasn’t killed himself yet.
An extra damaging factor on top of all this is that in this season he has killed a human being for the first time in his life. This is huge in a number of ways. The bushido mindset determines that no innocent blood shall be spilled. To do so is dishonourable and shameful. That’s why he spends a long time feeling extremely guilty over killing one of Aku’s daughters after five decades of robotic slaughter. He always justified to himself that all he destroyed were “nuts and bolts”, not living human beings. He sees the human beings coming after him as innocents, people Aku uses to get rid of Jack. That’s why he needs to remember his father stating that giving a choice and then acting through it is an honourable thing to do. He was trying to cope with this cognitive dissonance of acting honourable while also killing the “innocents”.
Now let’s look at Aku. At first glance it might seem weird that he’s so depressed after living for millenia. But this is the first time in his long reign that he’s found a foe who might actually kill him. This is why he’s so demotivated. He’s very emotionally invested in making sure Jackie bites the dust, because in his mind the meddlesome samurai is the only thing that might destroy him. But of course his depression is depicted in a sillier way. He actually visits a shrink (which is himself?) and needs to find a safe space to cope. It’s done a lot more for laughs, but just like his archenemy he’s spent the last fifty years in a fight-or-flight mode, constantly wondering if Jack might some day make a little visit with his magical sword.
This is relevant, because the show is definitely setting them up to having to kill each other or maybe themselves. They’re both immortal, so one must die by the other to reach an ending. I think we all can agree that Aku will bite the dust and that Jack will return to the past. It’s what we have wanted for five seasons, but should he go back? He’s a mess and needs a lot of therapeutic aid to get over his survivor guilt, hallucinations and feeling of worthlessness. And I don’t think that the people in the past can provide it. I don’t even think that feudalistic Japan is a home to him any longer. That’s a very clear shift with the new season. For the first four seasons Jack constantly wanted to go home, to be back with his people. This season Jack is far more interested in succeeding in his quest. He doesn’t even really mention wanting to be home any longer. And I think Tartakovsky is setting that up for the ending, when he realises that he might be better off staying in an Aku-free future.
But of course, the one flaw of many cartoons is that very often they tend to have happy endings even when that’s completely unrealistic. It’s completely possible that Jack will heal when he’s back with his people and live a happy second life. Maybe even use his wisdom to make his kingdom a better place. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. Samurai Jack Belongs to Genndy Tartakovsky and Cartoon Network