When the fifth season of Samurai Jack started I was really excited and thought it was the start of some interesting developments. The Bushido mindset Jack carried and the psychological implications were a clear indication that Genndy had done his research. There is something inherently satisfying about exploring the hero’s quest failing and seeing how coockoo for coco puffs the protagonist becomes. But I soon became disappointed when it was clear the plot and pacing were all over the place, often resolved in quick and poor ways.
Let’s take a look at how the plot progresses:
- The season starts with Jack jaded, depressed and having lost the hope of returning. He’s dealing with both his subconsciousness and a mysterious Japanese figure pushing him to commit seppuku. Spooky shit, really.
- We go to the daughters of Aku, who have been trained gruesomely their entire life to kill Jack. One is something of an outsider, as she also likes to look at the beauty of the world, which she believes is Aku’s doing. This is of course Osha.
- Jack finds and kills a robotic assassin called Scaramouth.
- Jack gets attacked by the daughters of Aku and kills all but one, with whom he tries to reason. It doesn’t work, because said daughter tries to stab him while they’re exploring the insides of a monster.
- All of a sudden Osha listens to Jack and asks to prove that Aku is evil. One example is enough to get her to question her entire life and mentality.
- But oh noes! That one example goes a bit wrong and Jack goes with the mysterious figure to a spiritual graveyard to commit that precious seppuku.
- Osha follows, meets people Jack rescued and persuades the lone samurai to not gut himself. They deal with the mysterious Japanese figure (which wasn’t a hallucination, but an mytholigical Omen).
- It’s time to retrieve Jack’s sword. To do that he goes to a mountain, has one meditation session, deals with his angry subconsciousness and magically retrieves his sword.
- One episode where all of a sudden Jack and Osha fall in love and kiss at the end. While there is some tension between them, episode 8 is the first to fully focus on that.
- Scaramouth is still alive! He goes to Aku, tells him Jack lost his sword and the evil magical Shogun finally confronts Jack. He’s surprised that Jackie-boy has his sword and destroys the robotic assassin. Then Aku manipulates Osha into fighting Jack, but the noble samurai loves her so much that he refuses to strike her down.
- Jack gets captured, everyone Jack has saved in previous seasons fights Aku to save him, including the Scottman who died and all that malarky. Aku fights Osha, but the power of love and his words are enough to snap her out of Aku’s mind fuckery. She suddenly gains his power, brings Jack back to the past and together they kill Aku. They are to get married, but oh noes! Osha was a part of Aku and therefore disappears! Besides that it’s a happy ending.
As you can see a lot happens in ten short episodes. And that’s the biggest flaw of this season. Genndy has to go through so much plot to reach a fitting conclusion that he doesn’t allow Jack or other characters to experience what’s going on. It’s like a marathon where Genndy quickly sets up a plot before Jack runs through it. The biggest, and worst, example of this is Jack’s depression. He’s haunted by his twisted subconsciousness pushing him to commit suicide. It’s implied that this has been going on for a while and the season spends seven episodes on this only to have him resolve this in one meditation session. Ignoring the fact that the biggest reason why he was depressed in the first place was because he couldn’t find his sword, why did he wait so long to deal with his mental issues if one meditation session was enough to undo what is presumably years of mental damage? Especially if doing so got him his sword back? This plotline makes his struggle come across as cheap. There is no emotional weight to it if he can repair his problems that quickly.
Another plot point that is all over the place, is the romance between Jack and Osha. I saw it coming from a mile away and I didn’t like it. Jack is 70 years old. He shouldn’t have the same mentality as a 20 year-old, nor should he jump into a romance that quickly. Though it can somewhat be forgiven since Genndy does spend the entire season setting it up and it remains relevant throughout the entire season. And he did make sure that she remained relevant to the end, especially in the season finale.
But Osha suffers from the same “quick switch” in mentality and world view Jack does. It’s important to note that she’s essentially a parrallel character of Jack. She’s someone who’s trained to kill one specific person. The “fate of the world” rests on her shoulder, much like how Jack grew up travelling the world and learning from every culture to kill Aku. So they have a fight, Jackie wins and Osha spends about an episode insulting the hell out of him before all of a sudden looking at a beautiful ocean and reconsidering her life. Now, I may not be a psychologist as my esteemed colleague, but this doesn’t sound plausible to me. Especially when she’s pretty indoctrinated into hating the lone samurai. Realistically speaking she should cling to her world view and it would take at least a year of psychological evaluation for her to learn otherwise. The explanation Genndy gives is that she loves the beauty of the world and that makes her question everything she was lead to believe, but even that doesn’t make sense. Her “mother” constantly tells her Aku is responsible for that beauty and that Jack is threatening it. So she should want to kill him even more to defend nature.
But naturally the plot demands that she questions herself and allows Jack to change her world view in one episode. We start seeing some sexual tension, she turns from an evil woman in a supportive girlfriend with a nice symbolic transition in how she changes her attire: black Aku to flower girl. She protects Jack from his own mind and an Orc army while he repairs his mind and regains his sword and then we have the episode of full sexual tension before they turn into full-blown lovers. In fact, they love each other so much that Jack can’t bring himself to kill her and she overcomes Aku’s control through the power of love. And all of this happens in… a few days? A week? An unrealistically short amount of time to fall in love so badly that you can’t bear the thought of hurting her. Especially after an entire life time of being trained to hate this man. Humans don’t change that quickly. It takes time to change and even when you’re trying to change some fuck-ups are likely to happen. But the plot demands it and therefore it’ll happen. Even though both characters carry quite some mental damage and probably aren’t, as the Scottman so eloquently puts it, each other’s types. But the plot dictates how the characters act, rather than the characters shaping the plot. For me that is one of the biggest sins a television show can experience, as it doesn’t make for realistic character development.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good pacings in the season. Osha spending an episode interacting with people Jack saved before was very good, as it allowed her to get exposed to multiple cultures and people who are grateful to Jack. The first four episodes revolving around the Bushido mindset that Jack struggles with, is pretty well done and beautifully animated. And don’t forget the fact that five seasons of doing good deeds results in everyone ganging up against Aku to save Jack and result in a fitting finale battle. Whenever the season allowed characters to take the time and reflect or explore we get some good scenes, but the problem remains: ten episodes, too much plot to resolve.
And that’s a real shame, because season 5 had a lot of potential when it started. Maybe Genndy was forced to only produce ten episodes, because all Samurai Jack fans know he can lead the characters to some interesting places if he’s given the time. But the season 5 we have now simply isn’t a fitting conclusion to the series. It was quickly set up and resolved and it threw away a lot of characterisation opportunities.
- He’s Back – Psychological Analysis on What Fifty Years of Suffering Can Do To The Protagonist
- “Training? No, I shall Randomly Gain Power Instead” – The Biggest Sin of Dragon Ball Super
- A Regrettable Retrospective – Season 3’s Missed Opportunities of The Originals
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