Samurai Jack review
05.25.2017 § Leave a comment
I just wanted to drop in here to share my opinion on the resolution of the Samurai Jack series.
I thought it was deep, both emotionally and intellectually. Deeper than earlier seasons ever came close to.
What happened was not surprising, but the impact it had was far more complex than I was expecting.
In the earlier run of the show, the time travel element of the show’s premise was little more than enablement, to pit an ancient Japanese warrior with traditional values and powers against various weird, technologically advanced forces from across the galaxy. Frequently, episodes would present the tension between Jack’s quest to return to the temporal root of the evil he sought to vanquish, and how his noble heart would nonetheless invariably sacrifice that goal to protect denizens of this horrible future. But that’s as far as things got.
In this reunion concluding season, this issue gets leveled up in a natural yet profound way. Jack must go beyond merely protecting this world to accepting it. As we glimpse in a couple episodes from the old run, often Jack’s battle becomes internal – against clones of himself, his anger itself, or inside his head in some haunted Japanese cottage I think. But here in season 5, Jack wins when he admits feelings of love.
This signals far more than, say, Trinity’s admission of love for Neo, merely fulfilling a prophesy that he is thereby The One. This is the fundamental battle that Jack has just won, not against Aku, but against his failure to Be Here Now, to live in the moment. In this season he begins in a spiritual place where hope is lost, and he has accepted that happiness exists only for him in memories. He is correct about the problem, but wrong about the solution. The problem is that happiness exists only for him in memories, but the solution is not suicide, but existentialism. Yes he must accept that he will never get back to the past, but his response to that must be to find happiness in this hell of a future.
It is a critical point early in the season that Aku informs Jack that the final time portal home has been destroyed. This is not trickery; it is the brutal truth, and it is a metaphor for the pain of separation all souls feel from the world they wish to belong to.
And ironically the moment Jack accepts that he will never get back to the past and does not need it is the moment he attains nirvana and thereby is granted the doorway back, through Ashi’s inheritance of Aku’s powers, including time travel.
Delightfully for us, both the future Aku and the past Aku meet ends of sorts. The future Aku realizes his folly in indulging the worshipping of the world he enslaves. This sets up a framework in which evil is associated with undoing and good is associated with preservation, where evil is associated with time and good with timelessness. Evil can create, but destructively, and unstably, through change. It can propagate but in ways that will negate itself ultimately. When good creates, what it creates is invincible, and can never be undone, transcending.
It is fitting that he locus for Jack’s acceptance and admission of love for the horrible future is the literal most direct creation of Aku’s, his daughter. This enters into some Gnostic themes, where the creator entity, or demiurge, is understood to be evil. What Jack is accepting at the deepest level is that evil plays a role in creating all that we hold sacred. The final image of the show is Jack sitting under the sakura trees, which in Japanese symbology represent ephemerality. Beauty is made out of a union between good and evil, here, because yes the evil of time makes short work of something pretty, but it also gives birth to it, and the knowledge of that beauty and appreciation for its fleetingness exists outside of the entire system.
What a mindfuck, I must say, that in this show what is ephemeral is a timeline itself. So meta. Much amaze. Very wow.
It is tragic that Jack’s battle is still not over, even after vanquishing Aku. Aku never got to appreciate any period of victory, being from his perspective in the past vanquished mere moments after his attempt to fling Jack into the future. But Jack has the tables turned. Where before the happiness in his memories was of something understood to be past, now the happiness that exists in his memory is of something which to him is past but to the rest of the world is an alternate future which is not to be. He could if he was weak experience the same problem of melancholy, missing Ashi and the life they could have lived together. But instead he signals that he accepts his role, not as a burden, but as an honor, to be the mind which preserves those memories. This is signaled with his smile as he encounters the ladybug, the thing which for Ashi helped with her awakening.
Some reviews I’ve seen complain that in the final episode Jack didn’t have enough banter with Aku. I believe this was by design. Aku is not Jack’s true enemy. The battle was elsewhere. Aku is destroyed when Jack moves past him. All he gets is one last YAAAAAAAA from Jack and death.
Other random notes:
- Clever that the opening credits from the original series gets revealed to all along have been Aku propaganda.
- Ashi is the same kanji as Aku, which both mean evil.
- Scaramouche was amazing.