“Irony” is a concept that is often misunderstood, see Alanis Morissette, but in terms of the often disregarded “dramatic irony”, it’s harder to think of a more apt example in animation than this episode of Samurai Jack.
“Jack and the Warrior Woman” focuses on Jack traveling with a warrior woman named Ikra in pursuit of a magical jewel that’d be able to grant their wishes. Jack’s to return to the past and Ikra’s to gain the power to free her father from the grasp of Aku’s ring of fire. At least, that’s what Jack believes, in actuality Ikra is just Aku’s most sophisticated shape-shift yet. Despite the episode waiting until the closing reveal to formally reveal this, it’s painfully apparent early on. Perhaps it’s because I’m watching this as an adult rather than a kid but there were just so many warning signs attached to Ikra that makes it hard for me to believe most kids would fall for the trickery like Samurai Jack himself did. Even ignoring Ikra sharing Aku’s color scheme, the other hints directly dropped throughout the episodes are anything but subtle. From the Elder almost explicitly warning Jack about the true evil, from the adorable mouse thing’s reaction to Ikra, and the gleeful expressions of the assassins when the two make their escape, for us it’s all but confirmed that Ikra is Aku.
This of course isn’t the case for Jack. Even though he probably should’ve paid closer attention to the Elder’s words, there wasn’t much to provide him with clues to Ikra’s true identity. Her color scheme signified the truth immediately for us, but from an in-universe perspective meeting a green individual isn’t really that surprising when blue people allow scorpions to ride their face. A lot of the other hints we receive Jack is either not present for or there’s other logical explanations. I do think this makes the episode more effective, rather than deriding Jack for missing obvious signs, we’re presented with enough information to easily figure it out and we have to watch poor Jack get suckered in. Despite his initial harsh attitude towards Ikra, he clearly gets attached on their many adventures throughout the journey. One of the most telling moments of the episodes for me is when they fail the Jewel’s test, and Jack’s immediate reaction is a stubborn belief that the Jewel messed something up because both of them are of pure heart. The amount of belief Jack placed in Ikra speaks loads to his character, even when she starts utilizing more of Aku’s move-set, from flying to becoming a giant, Jack still believes she’s on his side, even in his confusion. It takes her/him literally shattering the jewel and transforming into Aku for him to realize it. Rather than shocking the audience, it makes it clear to us the truth from early on, and the impact comes from watching Jack as we witness him fall handily into Aku’s plan.
That said, the episode does still treat the reveal with reverence from Jack’s perspective. I love how the series doesn’t show Ikra breaking the jewel, instead just focusing on the glass breaking sound it provides while emphasizing Jack’s reaction. It’s framed as the delusion Aku had him under being broken, rather than the Aku reveal being important, it’s Jack reaction to it that is. Because we already figured out Aku is Ikra, we don’t require seeing Ikra actually break the jewel because we knew it was coming the second she/he grabbed it. The following transition from Jennifer Martin’s (best known for voicing Ms. Bellum in the Powerpuff Girls) laugh into Mako’s was great too. Jennifer Martin’s voice can’t register with the same power as Mako’s does but she manages to match the cadence of laugh pretty well, making the transition as seamless as it possibly could be. The voice acting continues to be top-notch in the last act, Mako’s delivery as Aku is fantastic (my personal favorite is his correction of “dream” to “nightmare”) and the frustration of Jack is palpable in Phil Lamarr’s performance (over all, this is perhaps his best episode yet, he nails every moment from Jack here, who has a little more range in emotions than usual).
Visually, “Jack and the Warrior Woman” is the most conventionally told episode of Samurai Jack so far. Outside brief moments using letterbox during travel sequences and campfire discussions, the visual identity is established in the previous episodes are completely absent. Not that this is a complaint, they should only be used with purpose and despite that the episode remains to be visually interesting. Returning back to the Aku reveal for a bit, I liked the addition of having the ‘lens’ spin around Jack, visually highlighting that his world is being turned around. Outside of that, there were just some cool moments scattered throughout. I loved the shot of the two with the rising crescent moon in the background (pictured below). Particularly how Jack wasn’t stationed in front of the bright moon, but the night’s sky, perhaps symbolizing how he’s been left in the dark about Ikra’s true nature.
Much like “The Premiere Movie”, my favorite portion of this episode was the dialogue-less segments focusing on the escapades between Jack and Ikra. The Arabic influenced score match the setting perfectly and I love how it transitioned briefly into a more calming track during the second campfire segment of the episode. There are a lot of highlights contained here, from the surprisingly graphic insides of that worm beast that Ikra escaped from, to the hilariously depressing look across Jack’s face as he slowly drowns in quicksands, it’s a really fun segment. Perhaps the most interesting part, is when Jack and Ikra are invited to a banquet, and are provided with belly-dancers for entertainment. Ikra looks happy with the female one but is clearly uncomfortable with the male dance, who presumably was sent out for her. I’ve never really envisioned Aku as a sexual creature but this acts as another signal that its him I guess. I don’t really want to stay on this line of thought though.
Finally, I like how well-connected this episode is into the series lore. This is a first in a few ways but for now I’ll just point out two aspects that I like. First, I love how this connects back into the Woolies episode. Most of Samurai Jack can be watched in anachronistic order, but it’s nice that they’ve included some layer of continuity in-between the episodic adventures. Not counting any references to “The Premiere Movie”, this is the first episode to incorporate some level of order to the events of Jack’s future explorations. Secondly, this is Aku’s first appearance post-sending Jack in the future. He even learns his christened name in this episode. Overall, this episode serves an important addition to Samurai Jack, and in terms of the stand-alone entries we’ve had so far, this is my favorite one yet.