Samurai Jack (2017) – Episode 1 Review

Jack is back and armor-clad.

When I was younger, I was an avid Cartoon Network fan because of the quality programming they showed. Toonami was my intro into anime and shows like Teen Titans (not the tire fire that is Teen Titans GO) were my bread and butter. And one of my favorites was a show called Samurai Jack.

It ended several years ago on a cliffhanger, but Cartoon Network has finally pulled their heads out of the sand and decided to bring it back for a final season to tie up loose ends. And we get right into the meat of it as the first episode of the final season picks up with a tense scene of a mother, daughter, and child being surrounded by Aku’s robots.

They’re pretty screwed given the numbers and they lack any means of fighting, so they say their goodbyes to one another and are ready for death. That’s when an armor-clad, masked gunman rides in and proceeds to decimate them with combination of guns and vehicular violence. A well-aimed blade cleaves through the mask to reveal it to be a grizzled Jack, our main character, who is recognized by the daughter as he violently slays the robot and thanked before leaving with nary a word.

At first it seems like Jack has changed up his style a lot but was still the same person that he was before the show ended. However, we are quickly disabused of that notion as the episode continues. He spots the tale-tell sign of a town in trouble but chooses to ignore it in favor of getting something to drink and a bit of food, both of which leave him haunted by ghosts of his pasts until he finally deems to visit the destroyed town where an assassin robot is waiting for him.

The annoying robot basically slaughtered the town to lure him out and then proceeds to mock him once he realizes that Jack has lost his sword. Jack silently engages him and suffers a very visible breakdown as the hallucinations appear again, but barely manages to get a win. He then takes his opponent’s weapon to replace his own and goes off to parts unknown.

And while all of this is happening, seven young women have been trained solely for the purpose of killing him in the name of Aku.

This episode, XCII, primarily focused on two things:

The first is that Jack has grown far more weary and jaded after fifty years without a way home. He has lost his neat appearance, abandoned those in need, and clearly suffers from PTSD, resulting in vivid hallucinations of his family and people left in the past—all because Aku has destroyed the only way he knows back home and he lost his sword at some point (likely tied into the silhouette of the horse-mounted samurai that keeps popping up), the only means to defeat Aku. Seriously, it’s a miracle that he’s still holding up and capable of fighting at all given his mental hang-ups.

The second thing the episode focuses on is the seven young women trained as the daughters of Aku, with the focus being on one in particular. We see as they are ruthlessly beaten into being efficient and merciless killing machines over the course of their youth, all for the sake of the mission they were born to do—kill Jack.

The episode as a whole is meant for veteran viewers of the series to get back into things, expecting the viewer to know the circumstances of Jack and his history with the world. They only give the briefest of mentions to how much time has passed and flashback to the important bit of him losing his sword at a critical moment to paint a picture of why Jack has become so different than before.

Yet, it begs the question of why he went out of his way to save that family when he was willing to abandon a town. He could have easily have let the three of them die but didn’t. And the fact that the child recognized him means they may have either had some history (it’s been a long time since I watched it so she could be a past character) or he still has a reputation of defending the downtrodden against the forces of Aku.

Either way, it’s a strong start and I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.

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