Monday, May 7, 2018

Animation April, belated: Samurai Jack, Season 5 (2017)

I wasn't planning on doing any Animation April writeups this year. I'm still pushing my way through a fairly big project elsewhere, and had no ideas for prolix toon-related posts that wouldn't have been huge wastes of time. (Just because one can examine all three X-Men animated series doesn't mean it's a good idea.) But then April dragged on, cold and cloudy and generally miserable, and in my gloomy mood I stayed inside and watched a lot of cartoons. Now that we've got a May that's looking and feeling like April waylaid, maybe a quick glance at an old favorite is in order.

It's been about a year since the fifth and final season of Samurai Jack (2001–2003; 2017) premiered on Adult Swim. Now with a TV-14 rating, its titular time-displaced ronin could finally incarnadine his sword with living blood after fifty-two episodes of oil-spurting robot villains. Was that what people were most excited about? To judge from The Comments, one might believe so, but I don't think that's actually the case. The prospect of bloodletting in a Samurai Jack cartoon was just an appealing corollary to the real cause for anticipation, which was the promise of a resolution at last. Samurai Jack had a definite beginning and an episodic middle, but no end.

Samurai Jack's very premise necessitates the eventuality of a conclusion. Jack isn't a protagonist like, say, Bruce Wayne, whose essential story is of being Batman forever. Until he either rids Gotham City of all crime (not going to happen) or suffers a case of superhero perma-death (probably not in my lifetime), his saga cannot end. Batman exists in the amorphous narrative space of myth, while Jack is more representative of the comparatively diminutive but more distinct figure of the novel. He sets off with one avowed purpose: to find a way back to his own era and defeat his archnemesis Aku before the shapeshifting master of darkness conquers the world for all time. The goalpost never moves. It doesn't change. When the fourth and once-final season concluded with an episode where Jack rescues a baby and tells it a Japanese fairy tale, Samurai Jack certainly didn't end with a bang, but not with a whimper either. It went out on an ellipsis.