Saturday, September 23, 2023

Ashi’s and Jack’s Life Changing Field Trip in this Week’s Samurai Jack

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The most recent Samurai Jack episode marks something of a tonal shift from those we’ve seen so far. It’s not quite light-hearted…but not quite as grim and intense as those that led to it. And there is quite a lot of humor in it.

It doesn’t look this way at first. Jack wakes up, and immediately lashes out at imaginary enemies. Then he sees one of the Daughters of Aku, dead, and has another crisis of conscience. He hears the word “murderer” in the voices of crows around him.

Then Ashi appears, and attacks him. He restrains her handily, with her own chain. She rants at him with childish insults, as she did in the previous episode. This makes him realize she genuinely believes him to be evil. However, their debate about morality is cut short when the valley turns out to be the mouth of a massive monster. Which promptly swallows them.

What follows is an adventure through the monster’s entrails, which compose an entire ecosystem of its own. Jack hauls Ashi among nerve clusters, veins, and organs. Monsters attack them. One of them is a centipede so large, Jack fashions makeshift armor out of its carapace. It’s not the first time Jack had to find his way out of a giant monster– which he points out– but the visuals are still eerily organic and vibrant.

This is particularly evident in the final sequence, as Jack tries to escape through an unnervingly sphincter- like opening. There are creatures floating near it that resemble deep-sea lifeforms, and one of them tries to devour him. There’s also a contrast of light and dark, as the hole opens and closes. This show does like playing with light.

Ashi’s Healing Arc

Ashi is currently going through some interesting and painful development. She had been trained to give full dedication to Jack’s murder, and until the end of the episode, she never lets up. This, while adding to the episode’s dark humor in her “capture”, also further shows how damaged she has become by her brainwashing. She is constantly screaming for the Samurai’s Death the first half of the episode, but becomes reserved and quiet by the end.

Her moment of self-reflection on her own life is excellent. As she prepares to strike the Samurai when he’s down, she is distracted by the cute ladybugs flying around her. She comes to remind her of a time when her abuser squashing a bug for being a distraction. She then sees Jack with the very same bug, gently let it crawl over his fingers. She then stops, and notes how he didn’t hurt it, despite being presented as a monster to her.

She then rests. She is probably distrustful and ever suspicious of him, but she’s in a place now where she is stopping to observe the world around her, and more importantly, how Jack is acting in this world. Now another part of her personality may flourish, her curiosity.

Jack Growing Up

Looking Snazzy

Jack, in contrast, is perhaps at his most stable in this episode. Which isn’t to say all is well with him, but he doesn’t give in to despair or fear entirely. When his distorted old self appears, he tries to convince him to leave Ashi behind and save himself, which Jack won’t do. Despite everything, he won’t turn his back on someone who needs his help. This core of his identity is still intact, and fifty years of hopeless struggle couldn’t erode it.

It seems that having a clear goal in mind, and someone he can actually help, do help him focus. The Horseman does not appear. It’s something you might not notice until the episode ends, but the apparition’s absence is stark. However, the host of figments of Jack’s psyche is joined by… a small, white mote of light. Hard to say what it might be.

As an aside, Ashi gets a very peculiar expression when she sees Jack talk to himself. Not the behavior she expected from the scourge of Aku’s perfect world, certainly.

Some of the episode’s best moments are small. Jack’s joy at using some creatures excrement as armor, Jack and Ashi being pelted by needles and having them pick them out. Jack’s sheer exasperation with Ashi’s continued attempts to murder him. “Are you kidding me?” is not something we’d expect the stoic samurai to say.

This episode is refreshing. Despite its dark implications other Jack’s moral choices, and the flashback of emotional abuse Ashi had, the episode was actually pretty funny. More of a dark comedy, it is an excellent episode and we can’t think of anything that’s wrong without getting super pedantic.

Images courtesy of Adult Swim


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