Last week's Samurai Jack premiere on Adult Swim's Toonami felt like a comeback concert for our favorite samurai fighting against evil. The second episode took a darker turn, filled with mounting dread and an emphasis on dualities that get more and more uncomfortable the more you think about them. Unlike its earlier seasons, this 10-episode finale tells one long, multi-part arc, which is available to stream in full at Adult Swim. Before unpacking what the latest entry means for the rest of the season let's recap the events really quickly:
• Aku returns with a full scene for Greg Baldwin, Mako's replacement voice actor, and the dark lord's giving himself psychological counseling by shape-shifting a piece of his body into a shrink while the rest of him slumps into a chair.
• Jack engages his new enemies, the Daughters of Aku, in a long and expertly animated chase-and-hide-and-fight-and-hide-and-fight-some-more sequence.
• Mid-chase, Jack argues with a manifestation of himself in his own head, which all but voices his own death wish. Jack insists that he'll beat the daughters and that he always finds a way.
• Jack kills one of the disciples in a fight, realizes she's not a robot, then jumps (while mortally wounded) out of an exploding castle wall. His status at the end of the episode is ambiguous.
• In a parallel story, a white wolf (whose forked path in a forest echoes Jack's own), is killed after a gruesome fight with sabertooth tigers.
In its original run Samurai Jack best demonstrated what you could do with an intentionally simple dichotomy: Jack was good and cool-headed and self-motivated in his mission to defeat Aku; while Aku was evil and short-tempered and constantly scheming to kill Jack. Now we know what 50 years have done to that relationship through a host of other dichotomies laid out here. Not only do Jack and the wolf both theoretically perish at the end of the episode, but Jack and Aku both give themselves difficult psychological critiques and each comes up short.
That's new, emotionally complex territory for a series that previously focused on all the ways you could tell a story through action and beautifully wrought set pieces, but not necessarily words. It's also insane that it manages to thread the probing through a seven-cats-and-a-mouse chase that the Daughters of Aku play with Jack. The scenes of Jack running through the ruins of the castle, Jack fighting in darkness illuminated only by the clanging sparks of swords, and Jack spinning to counter and finally kill one of the deadly Daughters in close-quarters combat, are all classic callbacks to the show at its best.
What lives up to this epic sequence? Here are some of the greatest fight scenes from the original show where Jack's found a way, in spite of everything. Many of them echo the events of this episode. All deliver on a mantra we hear Jack utter in "XCIII": "I'll find a way. I always have."
Jack vs. Mad Jack
One of the first times we saw Jack really argue with himself. In fact, Phil LaMarr who voiced Jack, went back to this episode to get his intonations right for this new batch of episodes.
Jack vs. the Shinobi
In one of the most beautiful fights of the series, Jack duels a ninja in an interplay of blacks and whites. I'd be amazed if they didn't return to this sequence when animating the shots in the dark.
Jack vs. the Shaolin Monks
Jack showing off his hand-to-hand skills without a weapon in hand.
Jack vs. Aku
Jack fights the "shogun of sorrow" himself -- without his sword.
Jack vs. the Three Blind Archers
Just Jack fighting blind, no big deal.
Jack vs. the Ultra-Robots
Here's why Jack's sword matters, complete with a Star Wars nod: "All too easy."
Note: If I've missed any great ones send them to me at email@example.com and we'll add them to this list.
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