Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Over twelve years have gone by since it left the air, but Samurai Jack is finally back. Creator Genndy Tartakovsky’s highly imaginative series took the animation world by storm when it debuted back in 2001 with a visual style that was equal parts anime and Frank Miller and ran the gamut of genre with pop culture influences ranging from Akira Kurosawa to Blade Runner.
The tale of a noble samurai trying to return to the past so he may destroy the demon Aku and prevent the world from falling under his rule ran for four seasons before ending in 2004. Season 5 will reflect the show’s elongated absence by moving fifty years into the future, where every time portal has been destroyed and a weathered Samurai Jack (Phil LaMarr) has stopped aging.
The series’ signature split screen presentation is kept intact for this upcoming season. Part of the excitement of Samurai Jack was the way it played with aspect ratio and split screen. The images fly across your television like panels from a comic book or manga come to life. Diversifying the visuals helped create a dynamic viewing experience and set it apart from any other animated program on television at the time.
Each episode also had its own flavor and experimented with all kinds of storytelling techniques. Gangster tales, cowboy westerns and the season 4 sci-fi noir episode Tale of X9, in which robot X9 is the protagonist, kept the series feeling unique. The various animation techniques also proved that the animators were willing to go in bold directions. Thankfully, then, the new episodes dive into some fresh inspirations, the first of which gives off some serious Mad Max vibes while the second contains some Lone Wolf and Cub and even a bit of The Raid.
You can also expect more beautifully choreographed action sequences in season 5. The combat in Samurai Jack was never just hack and slash, but smart and strategic. Jack was given the time to figure out his opponents’ fighting style and abilities until he could map out a winning strategy of his own. Sometimes a fight could last for almost an entire episode. The villains this time around are varied and the more formidable ones come packaged with distinct personalities and fascinating backstories. The premiere episode alone introduces us to yet another humorous antagonist that’s no doubt set to join the ranks of previous fan favorites like Demongo and Da Samurai.
Speaking of which, humor is another of the series’ strong points. The fish out of water premise allows for numerous situational comedic moments, not to mention the overall absurdity that some of the futuristic environments incorporate. The main series antagonist, Aku (Greg Baldwin), is arguably the most comedic of all the characters, with much credit going to original voice actor Mako, who unfortunately passed away in 2006. Greg Baldwin does a fine job stepping in, but unfortunately doesn’t quite fill the shoes of his predecessor.
Of course, Samurai Jack is a show that places visual storytelling and world building over dialogue, which results in multiple episodes with little to no dialogue being used. What’s there, though, is solid and Phil LaMarr’s pitch perfect voice acting as our titular hero is just as magical as it was twelve years ago.
With season 5, Genndy Tartakovsky and the rest of the creative team don’t stray too far from the original formula. It still feels very much like Samurai Jack and retains its hybrid tone of comedy, emotional drama and exciting action. The earlier seasons were geared more towards a young adult demographic and did well with incorporating important themes in a highly accessible and appetizing way. The morals of the samurai allowed for stories to promote selflessness, discipline, courage, strength, patience and endurance. Now, the thematic material will naturally evolve to more mature concepts, as the latest episodes tackle the exhaustion of time, loss of hope, guilt and even darker themes, still.
Samurai Jack’s return features crisper looking animation than ever before and a more mature tone filled to the brim with pathos and dark themes to match a protagonist haunted by his past, hunted in the present and trapped in the future. The action is more ferocious, too, as Aku’s minions and followers have become stronger. Blood spilling aside though, the show still takes time to make you laugh and contains the same inspired creature designs and imaginatively constructed worlds that audiences enjoyed during its previous run. Samurai Jack is animated storytelling of the highest caliber and it hasn’t skipped a beat.
Samurai Jack season 5 is a matured continuation to the saga that's action packed, emotionally affecting, beautifully animated and endlessly entertaining.