It’s been thirteen years since the ending of the fourth season of Cartoon Network’s “Samurai Jack,” but a repurposing of the story and Adult Swim’s acquisition of the rights of the show has steamrolled a new series premiere of Season 5.
The premise of the original series stems from Jack, a samurai who had been thrown into the future due to the evil powers of a shogun of darkness named Aku. The original series used clever animation techniques and comical moments (for example: this) to break tension between moments of fighting merciless robots that came in Jack’s way.
In this series, Jack is full-spirited, bright, determined and hopeful. The audience, and many of the citizens in Aku’s world-dominated future, feel completely confident in his abilities to destroy Aku and save the world.
The premise of the first series juxtaposes the new pilot’s plot. It has been 50 years since the ending of the first series. The pilot opens with a family of futuristic beings being attacked from all sides by Aku’s familiar minions. There is a distinct silence, and suddenly a motorcycle leaps out of nowhere, using spike-rimmed wheels to destroy the robots. The rider is a samurai-armored individual with a demon mask.
A robot slashes the mask off of the rider, and it is revealed to the family and the audience that this indeed is Samurai Jack. It was easy to see this reveal coming, but the anticipation of the face mask being shredded off was impactful due to the lack of dialogue.
But this isn’t the Jack we’ve seen before. This Jack has a long beard and seems grittier and less bright than usual.
The episode shifts to a mountain cult where witch-like individuals are surrounding a person giving birth to seven identical babies, known to be “the daughters of Aku.” But Aku is noticeably absent, suggesting that the individuals are operating on their own beliefs.
There is a montage of training where the daughters go through numerous and dangerous fighting situations to strengthen themselves as assassins.
These moments are fast-paced until one of the daughters, who happens to be the only one who is given a name in the show (Ashi), stabs one of the cult leaders assisting in the training. There is a waterfall of blood that rains down, giving the audience a first look at the “maturity” of the new series, compared to its Cartoon Network themes. The scene is intense and creates drama through deep bass notes featured in the background.
There is a jump-cut to Jack camping out in the woods. While in the forest, he sees smoke appear over a town in the distance. He feels inclined to help, but becomes distracted by visions in the flames — ghosts of his parents who scream to him about his forgotten purpose. There is shock-value to this moment, but what makes it more of a dynamic moment instead of a static moment is Jack trying to reason and deny his vision’s allegations.
The scene then moves focus to a mysterious green samurai on a horse that has a ghostly neigh. Viewers can see the physical tension it causes Jack.
This is the stand-alone moment of the show, due to its cryptic nature and how it contextually fits. But it leads viewers to question the purpose of this image. Is it a reminder to Jack to fight for himself, or is it an oncoming sign of Jack’s possible demise?
Dwelling on it causes Jack to sleep for three days, yet he eventually continues on to encounter the individual creating the ruckus in the now demolished town: a scatting robot who uses his vocal scatting techniques to control his weapons.
His hippy-dippy style and use of the word “babe” creates hilarious moments and cuts the tension from the previous, heavy scene (which was much needed). It’s reminiscent of the quirky and funny comic relief of the previous series. It felt warm and memorable.
Jack effortlessly defeats the robot and gets back on his motorcycle, headed to his next destination.
The pilot ends with the daughters of Aku being released from their sheltered dwelling into the open world. It seemed like a painfully obvious cliffhanger, yet the whole episode was a taste of the many different themes to come.
The series pilot inflated its mature themes to distinguish itself from its previous incarnation, and it created puzzles and suspense to keep an audience who grew up with the show on its toes.
The usage of story, animated bloody moments and both sound inclusion and exclusion, made a momentous impact that begins this resurrected series with a bang.