Genndy Tartakovsky’s approach to cartoon violence has always tested the limits of what is considered "acceptable" in children’s programming, and tonight's episode of Samurai Jack clearly demonstrates that he intends to take full advantage of Adult Swim’s less stringent guidelines when it comes to bloodshed. But this isn’t just gore for the sake of gore: seeing a freshly-opened jugular gush crimson, rather than the usual oily black, represents a fundamental shift in what both the hero and the viewer have come to expect from this setting—killing unambiguously human foes carries far more weight than slicing-and-dicing robots. And then there’s the long, red trail that Jack smears across the wall as he staggers away from the aftermath of his latest battle. Although our protagonist suffered his fair share of beatings in the original series, they normally did little more than shred his clothing and muss his hair; now that he bleeds, he feels truly vulnerable for the first time.
I do find it odd that the script stops short of explicitly referencing harakiri, but I suppose even Adult Swim has lines it won’t cross, and the implication serves the narrative well enough. Jack struggling to cling to hope in the face of adversity and conquer his darker urges are hardly new plot points (see: “Jack vs. Mad Jack”, “Jack and the Monks”), and there’s little doubt that his dire situation will ultimately strengthen his resolve, but Tartakovsky is such an accomplished storyteller that I’m happy to lose myself in the journey.