This is it. The series finale of Samurai Jack. A story that took 16 years to complete has now reached its conclusion, and it was absolutely worth the wait.
When we last saw Jack, he was in dire straits. He lost his last possible hope that he’d ever be able to return to the past, the woman he loves has been possessed by his mortal enemy, and since he cannot bring himself to kill her, he gives up his sword to Aku. With this, Aku decides to cut to the chase and execute Jack on a planet-wide broadcast in order to quell any remaining insurrections against his reign and ensure that he’ll never be killed as a result.
Luckily for our hero, Aku hesitates long enough for the cavalry to arrive – an army led by the Scotsman and his daughters, along with a militia made up of the generations of people who Jack saved over the course of his long journey. With Aku distracted, Jack finds himself looking to accomplish two seemingly insurmountable tasks – to recover his sword (again) and to rescue Ashi from Aku’s control. What follows is some of the best action that Genndy Tartakovsky has ever animated, either for this show or any other that he’s worked on.
Like “XCVII” (my previous favorite episode of the revival – or rather, the series – until this episode aired), the finale features a lot of references to prior episodes. In addition to the forces we see in the army that we were previously reintroduced to (the Scotsman’s family, Olivia and the Ravers, the Woolies, the Blind Archers, and the Spartans), we also reunite with several other familiar faces, such as the Triseraquins (a group of alien fish people), the Tribe (a group of apes and their adopted human), the Canine Archaeologists (dogs with human intelligence), and the Robots of Andromeda (who pilot a massive samurai mecha). We also get to see a handful of familiar locations, including the Scotsman’s castle and the forest that Aku destroyed – something Jack talked about when Ashi was willing to listen to him – as it originally appeared, but more on that later.
Ashi is freed from Aku’s control between her own struggle to fight it off and the knowledge that Jack is in love with her – something that she never experienced in her entire life. This allows Ashi to complete her character arc by establishing that she isn’t her mother nor her father, and that in spite of her accursed heritage she’s able to do good. With Aku’s powers, she recovers Jack’s sword and they travel back in time. The final battle between Aku and Jack is rather concise, but I feel as though this best serves the story – Aku was at his weakest point there, and Jack has well over fifty years of experience as a warrior when facing his nemesis for the final time – showing his growth and concluding an incredibly long journey in a satisfying way that’s not drawn out.
The show ends on an incredibly bittersweet note as Ashi fades from existence on the day she and Jack were to be wedded, leaving the samurai to travel alone in grief. She was the only thing that came back with Jack from the future, as it now appears as though many of the allies Jack made in the far future will never exist. But with this tragedy comes Jack’s realization that no other generation will have to suffer under Aku, and that he’ll never forget the allies that he made along the way. In the final, poignant scene, we see a ladybug – Ashi’s spirit animal – land upon Jack, and he smiles for the first time in what must be days. The light shines upon a beautiful forest as our hero accepts that the people he’s met on his journey will always be with him and realizes, for the first time in years, that there will be a future worth living in.
At long last, the samurai’s quest has ended. And while I’m sad to see him and his excellent show go, I’m happy that it got the conclusion it was desperately lacking for 13 years, and I personally feel as though they couldn’t have ended the show in a better way.
Samurai Jack airs on Saturday evenings at 10:00 PM CT on Cartoon Network.