It’s always fascinating to see a show come back and have to adapt to modern storytelling practices. For the most part, the original Samurai Jack played by standalone episode rules. One-in-done. Little continuity in the way, with the occasional follow up episode. But this is the current year! Where even cartoons for toddlers have intricate lore and ask you to watch every previous episode to understand the latest one. So our revived Samurai Jack has to adapt, to evolve in order to appeal not only to its established fanbase but to any intrepid viewers who got bored and turned onto Toonami. And it’s hard to have it any other way, because would people prefer this new season to be exactly like the old days? With reviews saying this felt exactly like a show from 2004?
That was one of my issues with Sym-Bionic Titan and why I couldn’t warm up to that series. Felt too much of a throwback that it didn’t have a lot in the way of original vision. And while the new Samurai Jack is certainly derivative, it carries a fresher flavor in its plot. With a destined endgame in mind, and a ten episode run to keep the show focused, this new Jack is now at a crossroads. In the original show, Jack was allowed to go off on so many side-adventures like with the Woolies, the Mafia, the baby, the rave kids, and the Ringo Starr seamonkeys. But now, those goofy little miniquests of his have wearied him, where he can only muster so much mental strength to go to a decimated village and fight a Sammy Davis Jr robot. Jack’s grown sick of fighting so much only to see the bloodshed of those he couldn’t save, leaving him almost apathetic to the cries even if he denies such thoughts. It’s been fifty years, so many of those he saved have probably died. Those talking dogs from his pilot movie have certainly passed on. All those undertones in the earlier show about how people could rise up against Aku, all those higher beings watching over Jack to make sure he wouldn’t stray from the path, they’re all gone.
But what was also absent in this first episode, besides a brief phone call, was Aku himself. Any presence he has is merely secondhand, with that cult of his worshiping his statue but never making any direct contact with him. He’s almost like a ghost. Before Scaramouche called him, I had a brief thought that Aku might have died off screen, and that revelation would lead to Jack breaking down further, knowing he’s worked and struggled so hard to fight an opponent who will never show up. Granted, that would be anticlimactic, but Jack’s enemy this episode was certainly his own past as much as it is the robots in front of him. And if he ever does get back to the past, how much will he welcome a realm that’s plagued his visions for decades?