The newest episode of Samurai Jack season five, XCVII, reveals a ton about two specific characters: Jack and Ashi. With Ashi being raised as a daughter of Aku, her sole purpose was to train and one day, kill the samurai. However, over the last few episodes, she has come to learn that everything she knows is wrong. The sixth episode is the culmination of all of this and now, both know what they must do and their bond is stronger than ever.
In XCVI, we see Jack part ways with everything to follow the mysterious knight-looking figure. After thinking that the children all died because of his mistakes, he finally comes to terms with his fate and is ready to sacrifice himself. Little does he know that the children did survive and is just doing all of this out of the guilt that he feels.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about Ashi. In this episode, we see her searching for Jack after he disappeared with the mysterious figure. Not knowing where to find him, she starts asking questions at a variety of villages and asking different types of tribes and people. At first, they seem to think that she’s out to hurt him because she mentions his name. However, after clearing up that she’s a friend and that he may be in danger, they’re willing to do all that they can to help her. She hears a number of stories about him and how his selfless acts have helped the people and ultimately, the world altogether.
We already know that she has come to the realization that she has been brought up by lies all of her life. You can see a completely different Ashi once she learns that Jack is actually a good person. It’s sort of a weight off of her shoulders since she doesn’t have to carry the burden and task of killing him. It’s also a testament for her knowing that there are good people out there. Growing up, all she knew was hate and anger. Now, after some soul-searching, she knows who Jack is, and most importantly, who she is. She even changes her entire appearance, signaling that she’s completely left her other life behind.
From there, she encounters a mysterious creature who points her in the right direction. Once she finds Jack, she sees him surrounded by the mysterious knight and four other spirits. These spirits represent the souls of former warriors from the past. She learns from the knight that Jack has accepted his fate. He’s ready to give his life up for it because he can’t live with the guilt.
However, Ashi urges him that she now knows the truth. She reminds him of all the good he has done and that, in fact, the children are very much alive. The knight tries to silence Ashi so that Jack can continue with his sacrifice. As Ashi seems like she’s about to be killed, Jack comes and saves her life, killing the knight. Finally, Jack is back to normal and is ready to continue his journey with Ashi by his side. Next up, he must find his sword.
What’s interesting is the sassy, smooth-talking assassin, Scaramouche, from the first episode is still alive. Knowing that Jack has lost his sword, he’s searching for Aku to tell him about it. We’re sure this will develop in the coming episodes.
XCVII reveals a ton about two very important characters. This is another episode with almost no action. However, it makes up for it with great character development and story progression. The remaining episodes should be fantastic and build on what this episode established.
Samurai Jack takes a backseat to Ashi in a contemplative, thrilling episode
“XCVII” is a pretty unusual episode of Samurai Jack, in that the samurai himself is barely featured. The only real precedents for this are “Aku’s Fairy Tales” (which still sort of includes Jack), “The Birth Of Evil,” and this episode’s closest spiritual predecessor, “Tale Of X-9,” which also follows a confused henchman of Aku’s searching for Jack. But where X-9’s story is tragic, Ashi spends this episode learning about all of the people Jack has helped, and discovering for herself why his life is worth saving.
The bulk of this episode could have felt dangerously close to a clip show, with several different flashbacks illustrating the heroic deeds that Ashi is only just learning about from the original run of the show. Over the course of the episode, we see, among others, the seemingly-thriving, badass Woolies, an entire village that has sprung up in the wake of the blind archers, and Da Samurai, now 50 years older and voiced by Keegan Michael Key. This could have come across as just blatant fan service of the sort that would have characterized a less inventive and driven TV revival—and while there are certainly some elements of that, it’s mostly delightful. None of the scenes go on for too long, and even though they mostly serve to guide Ashi toward Jack, they give the episode a feel of slight, contemplative moment. Rather than an exciting plot episode, it’s a reminder of what Jack is fighting for. (Also, the parts of the world Jack has explored this season have been pretty barren, and it’s nice to know that not everyone is dead or suffering in some capacity.)
And though “XCVII” moves toward its seemingly inexorable conclusion and Jack’s final confrontation with his inner despair, it’s full of some of the most visually inventive and striking imagery of the season so far. (Which is saying a lot.) At the rave, Ashi discovers that making an “S” with one’s hands has become a symbol of support for Jack, kind of like the three-fingered salute in The Hunger Games. The dancers depict Jack’s battle with Aku, and the flashing lights and dancing creatures make a feast for the character designers. Meanwhile, Ashi undergoes a full transformation as she learns to interact with people and embrace nature, eventually sloughing off the blackened skin that marked her as Aku’s, and as a ninja assassin. (This is super weird, because I assumed it was some kind of ninja outfit, and also her body probably should not be as pristine as it is.) I’m not the biggest fan of her new look, which is a little too sprite-core and aggressively innocent for me (also, her old look rules), but it’s worth it for the simultaneously seductive and pure shot of the newly clean Ashi emerging from a waterfall, only to put on a dress made of leaves.
It’s a good thing that Ashi achieves some semblance of purity—when she finally finds Jack, he’s preparing to commit seppuku in the middle of a graveyard surrounded by the spirits of past warriors and egged on by the mysterious figure (credited as The Omen). This season has felt like it’s danced around the logical conclusion of Jack’s depression, but it finally makes the subtext explicit. Even if you don’t know what seppuku is, it’s hard to ignore the implication of Jack holding the sword with The Omen, noose around his neck, looming over him with another sword. We know he isn’t going to actually do it, but it’s still deeply satisfying to see Ashi finally, definitively, bring Jack out of his funk—not only did the children from the last episode not actually die, no matter what happens with Aku, Jack has still made countless people’s lives better over the course of his adventures in the future.
Meanwhile, this episode also gets a B plot, as Scaramouche’s head goes on a hapless, comic quest to tell Aku that Jack has lost his sword. The visual gag of Scaramouche’s head bouncing up and down is a little on the goofy, childish side for this show, but it works as a counterbalance to the grimness of the showdown with The Omen—and it’s full of great moments like the ever-growing signs telling Scaramouche why he can’t get on a boat heading to the megacity where he can reach Aku. Also, when he eventually does get on the boat, it’s thanks to an alien creature that “looked like a talking penis.” (Yes folks, this is Adult Swim, so Tom Kenny can say that now.) He’s thrown off the boat eventually, but there’s no reason for the show to spend this much time on Scaramouch as a character if he isn’t going to actually tell the depressed Aku that Jack has lost the sword. It’s not hard to see Scaramouche finally succeeding in his quest, provoking an assault on Jack by Aku just as the samurai recovers his weapon. But that won’t make the eventual, final showdown any less satisfying—it was always meant to be this way.
- Ashi is also a great source of comedy, especially when she screams that she’s looking for Jack.
- Where is Ghost Scotsman?
- The song from the rave is probably the most instantly dated part of the episode (and maybe the season) so far. It basically sounds like a more generic version of “We Found Love,” which, like, sure, that’s what people listen to at raves in the future.
- I almost did a spit take when the High Priestess says Aku was “born from” the dark. Has she not seen The Dark Knight Rises, or what?
- Solid cameo appearance by Demongo, The Soul Collector.
- I must, must have a poster with the blaxploitation-era Samurai Jack lettering.