After more than a decade, Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky gave the show’s namesake everything he wanted before ripping it out of Jack’s hands.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Samurai Jack’s fifth season.]
Over the course of Samurai Jack’s final season, Jack managed to find love and acceptance in the arms of Ashi, the daughter of his greatest nemesis, Aku. They bond over their mutual contempt for the villainous figure who loomed over their entire lives, driven by their desire to kill the unkempt beast. Shakespearean in nature, Ashi died after Jack slayed Aku and thought life, for once, would work out in his favor.
Tartakovsky told Polygon that from the initial planning stages, the intention was always to have Jack fall in love. He would accomplish his goal of defeating Aku, but the end result had to be tragic.
“The actual goal we knew we wanted to work toward at the start of the season was to illustrate love and relationships in a sincere way,” Tartakovsky said. “We worked really hard to make sure the audience loved Ashi, cheer for her and Jack. Then, where there’s a tragedy, it ends tragically and people can feel that pain. That ending was always going to be our ending because that pain Jack feels is the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Tartakovsky said “life is life” and they’ve always operated under that philosophy. If Jack ended up walking down the aisle with Ashi, building a future with the woman who saved his life, it wouldn’t stay true to his mythology or purpose. In order to weave the tragic tale of Samurai Jack, his life would have to remain one of constant sacrifice.
“I feel like we would be cheating if everything was happy and perfect at the end,” Tartakovsky said. “It didn’t feel right. We thought about it, for sure. ‘Why don’t we give it a happy ending?’ Instinctively, we knew that it would be wrong.”
The finale is something that Tartakovsky thought about for years. It was the true ending he wanted to give the determined samurai back in 2004 when the show ended on Cartoon Network. The reaction to the finale, however, wasn’t as overwhelmingly positive as Tartakovsky would have liked.
People were generally mixed, but there were complaints that after a season blueprinted to end on a climactic, cathartic note, the 30-minute episode felt rushed. Fans noted that the episode could have used extra time for the team to stretch out the story. For the most part, the creator agrees.
“I think I’m happy with the way it came out, at the end of the day,” Tartakovsky said. “Yes, it could have been longer. It was one of those things where there was so much to say, you want to give every character there spotlight and each moment to last. I don’t know if people were upset that it wasn’t a happy ending, but I think it’s successful that people either loved it or hated it. They were talking about it. I never wanted to return to Samurai Jack and do something that’s in the middle.
“I said everything I wanted to say.”
Tartakovsky is a man of few regrets when it comes to Samurai Jack. He views his body of work on the show as everything he’s proud of as a filmmaker. Being able to tell a successful, invigorating story that uses little dialogue and grips a generation of cartoon viewers is a point of pride for him. Still, there are a few changes Tartakovsky would have made to the first, initial run of Samurai Jack knowing what he does now.
“I wish we were able to tell a much more story-driven arc,” Tartakovsky said. “I wish that we were able to connect the episodes and really make it a very linear journey, and even have double-length episodes if the story is willing. TV is one of those things where you have to believe in your instincts and you have to live with your choices. This is my best effort and the best that I could do with it at the time. There’s a lot of crap and a lot of good and that’s something I accept fully. But I’m proud of Jack.”
Samurai Jack, which ended earlier this year, will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on Oct. 17. An event for Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie, which premiered in 2001, will be held on Oct. 16. The soundtrack will be released on Oct. 20.