It’s been more than 12 years since the season 4 finale, but it’s been 50 years in the life of the titular hero, voiced again by Phil LaMarr. Jack, untouched by the aging effects of time, has been wandering the future as a tormented ronin, and his hope for a return home is waning. But he’s lost more than just faith.
As pointed out by the new Pied Piper villain, Scaramouche the Merciless, Jack lost his sword, the mystical heirloom capable of slaying the shape-shifting demon Aku. It’s not merely a loss of an object that has him rattled, but a loss of one’s self, as the signature weapon has become a symbol of Jack’s noble quest.
Balancing the cartoonish aspects of Samurai Jack with such serious material was one of Tartakovsky’s biggest challenges heading into the premiere, which sees Jack plagued by fiery visions of loved ones lost. Then there are the daughters of Aku, whose ritualistic birthing scene marked a stark change in tone from what fans are used to.
So, Tartakovsky introduced “Aku’s most favorite assassin” to cut the tension.
“It was something that I struggled with a lot in this first episode, and the second even, where [we wondered], ‘Have we walked the line?’” he tells EW of the Scaramouche encounter. “But everything was so intense coming upon that scene where he starts playing the flute, or once he starts talking, and I wanted to let the air out a little bit. I think drama plays best with comedy.”
He adds, “It was really more of an Aku-type feel. You know, Aku is super intense, but he’s silly also, and it was time to get a few laughs. So we put it in and it felt right and it’s still a pretty cool fight.”
Another change fans might have picked up on is the opening title sequence. While the first four seasons featured a cinematic opener of Aku recalling how he flung his foe through a time portal, Jack leads the season 5 intro.
“Even though it’s always been Jack’s story, we’re shifting it to — it’s almost like his look inside of himself, so he’s narrating himself and that thematically plays along with where we went in the first two episodes already, and I wanted to introduce a darker time. I wanted to introduce a darker tone,” Tartakovsky says. “The main title is kinda cartoony, even though I love it and I know a lot of people like it, it didn’t feel right coming into what we were doing — going from will.i.am singing to a baby being born, it didn’t feel quite right. So, this felt more on point with what we were trying to do.”
Samurai Jack season 5 will continue next Saturday at 11 p.m. ET on Adult Swim.