‘Samurai Jack’ 5.02 ‘XCIII’ Review: A Samurai’s First Blood

Samurai Jack

The sophomore episode of Samurai Jack‘s revival continues the show’s fantastic run. The years haven’t been kind to Samurai Jack (Phil LaMarr). While he hasn’t aged a day in over fifty years, he’s no closer to getting back to the past, he’s suffering from PTSD as the future continues to be as bad (if not worse) than it was when he first arrived, and he’s lost his katana – one of the only things said to be capable of killing his archnemesis, Aku (Greg Baldwin). Now, an entire generation of assassins in an Aku-worshipping cult have been raised from birth to hunt Jack down, and they’re some of the most dangerous enemies he’s faced yet.

After making an audio-only cameo in the previous episode, we are treated to the first full look at Aku since the show previously ended. While the character is known for his terrifying transformations and acting unspeakably evil, there’s an odd tendency for the character to also be funny, and his reintroduction is presented in the same sort of way. While he initially seems unconcerned about killing the Samurai after destroying all of the known portals back to the past, he later muses that he’s feeling uneasy due to the fact that Jack doesn’t age… through a psychiatry session with himself, of all things. Though Aku is comfortable enough that he hasn’t bothered to face Jack in battle for years, the Shogun of Sorrow does not know that Jack has been lost his katana – the one weapon that can kill him. In any case, this scene provides some interesting commentary on the show previously relying on the status quo remaining constant from episode to episode – at some point, a lack of progress is going to get to the characters, which is something we see much later with Jack.

When we actually meet up with Jack, the narrative takes a turn to the allegorical and we’re shown the story of a lone wolf and several lynx, with the actions happening in Jack’s battle mirroring the battle between the predators. The wolf obviously represents Jack and the lynx symbolize the Daughters of Aku, who were last seen leaving to hunt the Samurai down at the end of the episode. When the seven-on-one battle finally arrives, we’re shown some of the most intense fight scenes that the series has ever had in rapid succession, ultimately ending with Jack escaping, but left bleeding and almost completely disarmed once the Daughters destroy most of his armory over the course of a long battle. The episode also represents a notable development in that this is the first time that Jack has explicitly killed a person (since all of his previous kills have been either robots or demons), which is something that shocks Jack and will surely have an adverse effect on him later on.

Aside from the quirky prologue with Aku, the episode is far and away the bleakest episode of the entire series. Jack’s PTSD was one of the most interesting concepts introduced in the previous episodes, and it manifests in a different way here – the now-immortal Jack is faced with self-doubt as a mental projection of his younger self tells him that with no way back, the situation is hopeless and that he should kill himself. Even though he disagrees, Jack has clearly been damaged by his lack of progress – we’ve already seen him turn down the opportunity to help a village before relenting all too late. For him, it’s clear that things could seriously get worse for him before they get better going forward. With only a single kill, no weapons, and six more assassins on his trail, Jack is in more danger than ever before as he ends the episode drifting lifelessly through a river – and unlike some of the darker episodes of the earlier seasons, there’s not a whole lot of hope that Jack is going to make it home this time around.

The animation here is as top-notch as ever, with standout sequences in the episode including Jack’s first encounter with the Daughters as they proceed to destroy his armor and get rid of many of his weapons, a slow-motion sequence of Jack making a break for the temple in the rain as he discovers the Daughters trailing him, a brief chiaroscuro-esque skirmish where the sparks of clashing weapons briefly illuminate the darkened corridor, and an extremely tense scene involving Jack’s hiding place in a tomb being discovered while a score reminiscent of Ennio Morricone plays in the background. We’re only a fifth of the way into this season, and it appears as though Genndy Tartakovsky has produced his magnum opus – let’s hope Jack can survive the next eight episodes.

Samurai Jack airs on Saturday evenings at 10:30 CST on Cartoon Network.