Samurai Jack. The series, from legendary animator and director Genndy Tartakovsky, ended its run on Cartoon Network back in 2004 with a painfully incomplete story and a legion of diehard fans. The protagonist — a virtuous medieval samurai thrown through time into the far future — was last seen protecting a baby and searching for its lost mother. Yet as the final credits rolled, Jack remained stuck in the future, trapped by the demon Aku, who had conquered the world and remade it as a techno-dystopian hellscape. Jack’s ongoing quest to return home — “back to the past,” as the opening credits song says — remained unfulfilled.
More than a decade after that 52nd episode aired, Jack’s tale is getting its conclusion in the form of a final 10-episode season, directed by Tartakovsky and featuring many of the original key creative team. The first episode of the final arc airs on the Adult Swim block of Cartoon Network on March 11th. And it lets Tartakovsky explore more mature themes, thanks to its bump from a TV-Y7 to a TV-14 rating. What’s clear from the first two chapters of the final saga is that this season will take full advantage of that freedom to flesh out Jack, his ideals, and the pain he’s suffered from fighting Aku for more than 50 years.
Like so many great cartoons of its era, Samurai Jack speaks to kids and adults alike, in different yet equally powerful ways. Tartakovsky, responsible for Dexter’s Laboratory and the excellent Star Wars: Clone Wars micro series, has a knack for giving material from a known universe — Japanese folklore, for instance, or the story of Darth Vader — a style, polish, and identity all its own. With Samurai Jack, Tartakovsky mixes in one part anime, one part myth, and one part cyberpunk. The resulting combination is a widely stylized success tinged with equal measures of action, humor, and sadness.
Yet time and again, Jack has chosen to cherish human life and put others before himself. Now, as he faces the possibility of having to kill real people to make his own survival possible, we’re seeing just how dark, deep, and painfully true Tartakovsky is willing to go in Jack’s redemptive conclusion.
Season five of Samurai Jack debuts on Saturday, March 11th at 11PM ET on Adult Swim.