This year saw the conclusion of Samurai Jack after suffering in purgatory for 13 years. For the most part, it lived up to its legacy, but I’d be lying if I said the pay off was more satisfying than the build as the final episode came off as a flawed curtain call. Spoiler alert, this will go over everything in the finale, so less you want an abridged edition, go watch all of Season 5, which feels like a cinematic movie put on television.
It starts out promising when Aku broadcasts a public execution of Jack to everyone he’s helped over the past 50 years. The nostalgic callbacks are a great reminder to long term fans that everything is now coming full circle after the epic final shot of episode 9. Mako Iwamastu comes back from the dead when the original intro is cleverly used as propaganda and a troll joke. Youtuber UncivilizedElk brought up a valid point that starting off with Mako’s intro is straight to the point in pacing, but this works fine. Plus, having his voice alongside Greg Baldwin’s showcases what a fantastic job Mako’s replacement did in honoring the late legend. You feel the past 50 years have been all for naught when the wizard presents a defeated Jack without his sword. Sometimes it even hits a little close to home given the recent events in America.
Having a hard time deciding how to end it all, Aku commands his daughter to finish the job in poetic irony. During which all of Jack’s allies storm the tower not caring that they’ll most likely die trying. The fight is a very touching yet a monstrous ride, with hope in the beginning, fear in the middle and uncertainty near the end. Aku squashes his enemies like flies to turn them into slaves yet no one gives in. But the Scotsman flies in with his phantom bagpipes, all the while his daughters ride atop the sonic waves mounting giant deer as if Santa Claus operated an army base instead of a toy shop. Which leads to another classic BBF moment between him and Jack. It’s short but sweet as they catch up like two friends on a porch sharing a pitcher of beer.
Finally the wasteland robots crash the battle with a giant stone samurai, much to the confusion of Aku, to deliver some literal punchlines to his face (“Now you don’t see that very often,” observes the Scotsman). The timing alone is as sweet as peanut butter and chocolate: two elements coming together for a satisfying result.
But Aku’s not taking it anymore leading to the peak of the battle. He collects his minions to form a dark cloud raining sharp spikes on his enemies. A devastating counterattack the shakes the earth and leaves half the army as shish kabobs, and it’s really sad. Meanwhile Jack confronts Ashi’s demon with the power of love. Now Jack and Ashi’s relationship didn’t have enough time to bloom along with everything else and from here on out many loose ends are rushed to meet the 22 minute mark. Phil LaMarr and Tara Strong have great chemistry, but because the show wants to wrap up quickly it’s not allowed to naturally blossom.
Ashi then confronts Aku with razor limbs and eye-beams finally realizing she has the wizard’s powers. Within seconds, the sword is recovered and they escape through her self-created time portal barely dodging Aku’s grasp (“…Oh no!” he says turning to the camera with fear). Some question why Aku didn’t just open his own portal and save his younger self, but wouldn’t having someone meet themselves in a different time cause the space time continuum to implode? Hence why he kept Jack away from any time portals, including once this season. But on top of being rushed, we don’t get to say goodbye to four seasons of characters who are now dead or dumped off the side along with the other shish kabobs without a resolution.
But the moment everyone waited 13 years for finally arrives: Samurai Jack going back to the past. The music builds, Jack and Ashi embrace and the animation community rejoices louder than a scream in Five Nights at Freddy‘s. And not just back to the past, but right after the moment he was sent into the future. “You’re back already?!” exclaims Aku right before Jack rushes without mercy to deliver the final blow that destroys the tower of hate forever. And it was definitely worth the wait to see that wizard go down the way he did, but Aku is one of those villains that you’ll still miss because he can be both funny and a jerk. Although, had it lasted just a little longer like everything else it would’ve made for a great climactic comeback.
Shortly after, the entire kingdom and timeline is saved while all of Jack’s teachers gather to his homeland for a wedding between him and Ashi. But while Jack’s parents were a huge burden at the beginning of the season, they don’t even get a line of dialogue when their son returns with someone new. Why would his parents, the beings that haunted him for his failure to return, not get one line like Thank you Son? They feel very underused.
Everyone is happy, the land is bright again and the happiest day of Jack’s life (his wedding) is about to take place, until Ashi collapses on her way to the alter. Jack holds her in his arms as she explains, “Without Aku, I would’ve never existed.” Her body fades away from existence while everyone is left in shock. Regarding Ashi’s fate, it works because it shows that even in death, Aku can still take away Jack’s happiness. Like it or not, without him, Ashi can’t exist in the past, present or future, just like all the other characters. Ashi’s death also hurt because she was a great character that somehow got a lot of development in just a few episodes and there might have been a somewhat subtle hint that she knew it was going to happen while time traveling to the past. But on top of that, Samurai Jack has always shown that there can be no victory without sacrifice in the many times that he chose to save people over going back to the past. And despite being alone in an open field with a ladybug, the final image is the perfect shot to end on with Jack staring at the land, without his sword, and having hope now that evil is forever destroyed.
The ending to Samurai Jack isn’t the worst considering all the creativity, high stakes and emotional moments, but after four seasons of helping everyone and especially after a strong start to Season 5, there’s an unfulfilled void because of the time constraint. The Last Airbender’s Sozin’s Comet was a four part movie because the final act couldn’t be squeezed into the standard episode time. So did Gravity Falls’ Wierdmaggedon. Even Codename: Kids Next Door, which ran on the same channel at the time ended on a one hour special. Perhaps one day there will be an extended cut that’ll give the proper attention to all the rushed ideas by the fans or by Tartakovsky himself. Let’s just hope it won’t take another 13 years to accomplish. With that said here are a couple suggestions on how to fix the ending to its full potential as a closer to this alaysis.
#1 Extend the episode to 45 minutes
The biggest problem was the messy pacing that had too many loose ends to wrap up. If this was extended to a 45 minutes, there would be enough time for everything. Including the next few entries.
#2 Make the fight longer
Not just the free for all, but the duel between Jack and Aku, future and past. A lot of fun came from their exchanges in words and actions. Understandably they were at a 50 year stalemate, but now that it’s broken going back to the quick-witted jabs and stylish choreography in both the future and the past would be a great return to form and extending the battles would definitely add more weight to the stakes.
#3 Have Demongo and the bounty hunters Join Jack out of Spite
One of the most questionable cameos in episode 6 was Demongo who managed to work his way back up 50 years after Jack defeated him and Aku banished him. What would’ve been a great full circle idea is having him and the bounty hunters join Jack out of spite to get revenge on Aku. They could capture Aku before he flees while Jack’s group escapes to contemplate what to do now that Ashi is free and has her father’s powers. Demongo could even summon the Guardian as a twist to show that he’s not entirely dead. Maybe even have the Scotsman mock the wizard for becoming more powerful than he can ever imagine after striking him down. With Aku cut down to size, he would be unable to keep Jack prisoner while everyone slips from his grasp just as he had them in the palm of his hands for the first time in 50 years.
#4 Give everyone a proper goodbye before jumping in the time portal
For a show that had four seasons of characters, it’s a shame that Ashi is the only one to get a proper goodbye after 50 years. Excluding the casualties, everyone could be present when Jack is about to change the timeline forever. However, he could hesitate on going back to the past because he realizes that his future family. But in a moment of clarity, his future family gives him a reality check that going back is for the best even if he does lose a lot of people that he got to know for 50 years. And at the very least, everyone gets to say goodbye to not only Jack, but everyone watching as a sign that their sacrifice was worth the wait. Maybe even have a glimpse into the future on how the timeline changed now that Aku no longer rules the world. Do species from other planets still come to live on our world or are they confined to their own galaxy without Aku?
#5 Have a reunion with Jack’s parents
So much of the emotion in the first three episodes centered around Jack’s parents. But by the time he gets back, they don’t even get a line of dialogue. This is Jack’s birth family who tormented him for not returning to set things right, and they don’t even get to say anything about Ashi let alone know what happened to their son when those ten seconds turned into 50 years? It’s really odd.
The obvious theatrical ending is that Jack returns to the past, even if it does erase the entire series, but it’s for the greater good in that Aku’s evil won’t survive throughout the years. The other on an eventual DVD release is Jack stays in the future, defeats Aku and becomes king of the land. Not only as a, but also a send up to the comic book series, but as an alternative to the week long speculation of how the series would end in a “what-if” scenario.
Pros: nostalgic callbacks, high stakes, epic set-pieces, closure, grand animation
Cons: way to short