If anyone is familiar with regretting the past, it’s the samurai who’s lost his purpose. Returning with a fifth season, thirteen years since the show originally concluded on Cartoon Network, Samurai Jack continues the story of a man who was thrown into a future ruled by the evil Aku. Jack’s mission is to return to the past to stop the villain from overtaking the world, something he’s been unable to accomplish so far.
In the new season, Jack’s spirit is broken. It’s been fifty years since the events of the previous season, though he doesn’t age. “Time has lost its effect on me,” he says in the series intro. “Yet, the suffering continues.”
Forgiving ourselves is difficult, and accepting forgiveness from others can be just as challenging.Aku has destroyed all the remaining time portals, stranding Jack in the apocalyptic future; he feels guilty and ashamed because it was his destiny to bring hope to the world. And in episode XCVII, he is ready to give up. A samurai ghost called “The Omen” calls out his guilt and demands punishment for his failure. Jack is prepared to die.
Jack’s depression reflects the hopelessness that past sin and failure can inflict in the present. It’s easy to dwell on the mistakes we’ve made and continue to punish ourselves for them. Especially in Christian culture, there are certain sins that are mistakenly treated as unforgivable—inflicting pain in others and betrayal are often included among these. It’s when we let the people we love down that we (and often others) feel we deserve to suffer indefinitely for our crimes. While our actions do (and should) have consequences, the point of forgiveness is that it is not deserved. But we’re given it anyway.
In Jack’s case, he feels like he has failed people when the opposite is true. Aku-minion-turned-friend Ashi spends most of the episode meeting many of the people Jack impacted during previous episodes. Throwbacks to the original series abound as she encounters the Woolies, whom Jack freed from slavery in Season 1; the three blind archers, whose curse he broke and who are now part of a resistance against Aku; the children, now adults, he liberated from a mind-controlling DJ in Season 3; and a wannabe samurai from Season 4 that he saved from self-destruction.
“Hope lives. It is everywhere. I’ve seen it—everyone you have touched, people you have helped. You saved them,” Ashi says to Jack as he sits defeated on the ground, ready to meet his death.
All the beings he impacted recognized the hope he had brought them and were incredibly thankful for it. They moved Ashi to a closer understanding of what truth and self-sacrifice looks like. Now it was someone else’s turn to bring hope to Jack.
Sometimes we don’t recognize the impact we have on other people. If we spend time making relationships a priority, being kind to others and treating them as Christ would, that effort may reap joy later on. Even if we don’t see the impact of our actions in the same way that Jack does, that doesn’t mean we give up.
1 Peter describes a person that sounds very much like the Jack of previous seasons:
You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. (1:5-9)
Jack is constantly demonstrating those virtues; he just needed to remember that last part. Thankfully, Ashi is there to remind him of the power of forgiveness and of relinquishing past sins.
Ashi’s character arc is even more redemption-filled than Jack’s. Her entire life up to this point was spent training as an assassin for Aku. The high priestess who trained her describes her as “the strongest, but the most unfocused. Always distracted, questioning everything,” as if questioning her beliefs is a bad thing.
On the contrary, Ashi’s willingness to explore truth is what makes her strong. Though she stubbornly clings to her servitude towards Aku during the first few episodes of this season, Jack patiently provides her with proof of the villain’s terror-filled reign. Ashi confronts her beliefs and lets herself be changed by the truth, her shifting perspective made visually apparent as she washes Aku’s taint from her skin with delight.
Her new attitude doesn’t undo her past, but her acknowledgement that she was wrong and her determination to stand up for what’s right in the future helps her accept it and move on.
During a time when Jack is physically vulnerable, Ashi picks up the horn from the skeleton of one of the innocent creatures that Jack accidentally killed before he lost his sword. She uses it to fight the high priestess and deflects an arrow that would have killed Jack. It’s a symbolic moment as Jack is going through the process of forgiving himself for that mistake and for his failures. He finds peace by confronting the past:
“You. You are the one who has kept the past hidden,” he tells an avatar of himself—a representation of his anger, fear, and doubt. “Your anger, your frustration. . . . You have blinded us, but now I can see.”
It’s easy to dwell in the past and let it define our future; thinking this way takes the responsibility of change off our shoulders. It’s tempting because change is hard. Sometimes it’s easier just to fall into past habits and not make the effort to confront the truth of our transgressions. Forgiving ourselves is difficult, and accepting forgiveness from others can be just as challenging. Luckily, we have someone who offers to take the burden of our past sins for us:
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25).
Thankfully, we’re not on our own. All we have to do is accept the help that’s offered to us.
The past is part of who we are, but it doesn’t need to define our future. Like Jack and Ashi, we can confront our failures, our anger, our guilt and frustration, and move forward with the knowledge that we are forgiven.
Even in dark places hope can be found, though sometimes it needs to be pointed out to us by others. With their help, we can move forward instead of constantly going back, back to the past. Samurai Jack.