Favorite Episodes 2017: #2 “XCIV” Samurai Jack

This is part of the 5 Favorite Episodes of 2017 Series. Check out the previous entries here. This is the subjective countdown of my favorite episodes that aired in 2017. Articles include SPOILERS.

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Watching an episode of Samurai Jack has been compared to going to a museum. Every frame is carefully constructed to stand on its own so that each can be viewed as a separate work of art. It’s part of the reason why the show has so little dialogue; Genndy Tartakovsky and his team want to distract from their visual artwork as little as possible.

2017’s revival of the beloved animated series served as a proper goodbye by providing the most visually stunning episodes of its whole run. Advancements in technology and broadcasting in high definition both helped, but the time away from the show really gave the artists space to grow and take some pretty experimental risks which paid off big time. In the third episode of the season, the cuffs came off fully and gave us some of the richest drawings on American television this year.

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The fight scene that takes up the final third of the episode would probably put it on this list by itself. Its minimalist design provided a scene unlike anything I’ve ever seen, turning the forest white with snow and using that negative space to hide Jack’s ambush was brilliant. The stark contrast between the soft snow, the black angles of the Daughters of Aku, and the blood soaking the ground made the action easy to follow and highlighted the departure from the earlier installments of the series.

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That paradigm shift is at the center of this episode. The previous episode ends with Jack taking a human life for the first time. Sure, he’s slaughtered hundreds of robots, but he has always been able to stop short of killing another human. As he recovers from his nearly fatal injuries, he also has to accept what he has done if he is to survive. Samurai Jack, more than any other show, masters the idea of visually conveying who a character is, and is perhaps at its best during this stretch, where Jack confronts his inner self and the moral dilemma he finds himself in.

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Meanwhile, the Daughters of Aku get their own visual character development as they experience the outside world for the first time, without their mother’s propaganda. They encounter a stag and doe, completely confused not just by the creatures but also by the love they show for each other. They egg the stag on to destroy the weaker doe, as its antlers remind them of Aku, but don’t understand the simple beauties of life.

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This brings us back to the fantastic showdown that ends the episode, beautiful not just for its expression of movement and force but for using it as a clash between all of these ideas. Jack uses the same nature that confused the Daughters of Aku to ambush them. He parrots his father’s words back to them, offering them a choice in the fight that’s to come, and accepting how he must respond.

This is Samurai Jack at its absolute peak, providing images that aren’t just amazing to look at, but also full of subtext and layers of meaning.

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