Cartoon Network’s Samurai Jack has always catered to mature, as well as young audiences. Returning for its fifth and final season, the series takes it up a notch with graphic violence befitting its adult themes.
The Yale Herald panned its return not for tonal shift or changes in subject matter, but for issues as trivial as cultural appropriation, perceived homophobia and sexism.
A sorry distant second to the Yale Daily News, the student-run publication honed its “critical eye” on Genndy Tartakovsky’s creative choices, declaring it to be all sorts of problematic despite praising its animation and artwork. After all, what would a piece of entertainment be without some controversy?
After giving a rundown on the new season’s story and setting (it all takes place 50 years after the end of the fourth season, which last aired in 2003) and details about the changes to the show’s titular character, Jack, the review decries Tartakovsky’s presentation of the season’s first villain, Scaramouche.
“Scaramouche, with his flamboyant dress and mannerisms which include ending every sentence with ‘babe,’ reads as somewhat tone deaf and homophobic,” declares Yale Herald writer Sam Kruyer. It’s only that way if you choose to project your own ideas of gay men onto the character. Viewers have noted that Scaramouche is more akin to Sammy Davis Jr. and other flamboyant jazz musicians.
Beyond that, even if Scaramouche is “queer coded,” who’s to say he shouldn’t be a villain? After all, both Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva in Skyfall and Far Cry 4’s Pagan Min were fantastic villains, whose presentation of sexuality only added to their character. And just like Scaramouche, Pagan Min isn’t actually gay.
The review goes on to complain about the show’s portrayal of samurai, which the author claims is “rooted in a Wikipedia level understanding of the historical figure,” and that it even “feels appropriative at times.”
Do Japanese anime like Rurouni Kenshin portray samurai any more faithfully? Hardly. After all, neither show aims to be historically accurate.
Finally, the review argues that the show’s depiction of female bodies is “uncomfortable” despite the season’s introduction of Ashi, a strong female character. The complaint is highly reminiscent of the cries against He-Man and other ’80s cartoons, which came from the religious right, and not the far left.
Just as Samurai Jack’s protagonist is old and tired in the latest season, so too are the arguments the Yale Herald raises against it.