I do not own Samurai Jack.
The finale was all I could have hoped for, and this is the result of me coming to terms with the end of a masterpiece.
In a Name
Their son no longer knew his name.
This discovery by the Emperor and Empress came a few days after the defeat of Aku. They had their happy reunion with tight embraces and joyful tears, and were introduced to the slightly shy young woman by his side. They were surprised, of course, because to them he left for his confrontation only a matter of minutes ago. They freed their people from Aku's chains and, when they were certain no one was in need of urgent care, did they hear the whole story.
For hours they listened as their son spoke his tale, weaving a picture of a desolate and terrifying future under Aku's iron-fisted rule. His expressions would shift, depending on which point of the story he was telling. When he told them of a vastly intelligent dog named Sir Rothchild and his canine companions, there was a smile on his lips. When he spoke of his meeting with a brave warrior named the Scotsman, there was fondness glimmering in his eyes and a soft solmness to his voice. When he spoke of the destruction of villages and cities and their inhabitants, a shadow of mourning crossed over his features.
The Empress felt her heart break as the stories went on, seeming to be never-ending. The Emperor sat beside her, posture stiff and expression grim. They had both known that their son would face immeasurable evil when Aku returned–but they could never have imagined this. For over fifty years, their son had been away from them, trapped in a world wrought with horrors and death, forced to witness tragedies day by day, his hope and determination dwindling as he was overwhelmed with darkness.
Ashi was listening to these tales with rapt attention, and any questions they had about her place in their son's life were answered when Jack reached the end of his saga. With a warm, affectionate smile, he laced his fingers with hers as he explained how they met. It was quite a shock, to learn that this girl was a daughter of Aku, and Ashi turned her head slightly to avoid looking directly into their eyes, her shame and embarrassment clear.
The Empress took the girl's hand and squeezed. "You did not choose to be his child, nor the destiny that was forced upon you."
"You made your own choices, picked your own path, and your decision to travel the road of good and righteousness means you were never what Aku wanted you to be, and you never would be," agreed the Emperor.
The apprehensive tension lifted from Ashi's shoulders and she beamed at them, grateful and relieved they did not shun her for a heritage she could not control. Their son smiled at Ashi, and his parents could see that after all he had endured, he had finally found true happiness.
It was a day or two later when they began the monumental project of reconstructing their village. The fields and landscape were dry and blackened, and all their homes crushed and splintered from Aku's reign. The Empress helped with restoring the flower fields. There were quite a few boulders that needed to be removed, and she noticed her son travelling up the trodden dirt path with a wooden cart of supplies.
"Yasu!" she called.
When he did not respond, she assumed he did not hear her. Sh tried again, but he son still did not ackwledge her.
His head turned instantly and Ashi hurried up to him. They had a brief conversation before Ashi turned away, having received the answer she needed. The Empress stared at her son for a moment, expression puzzled.
"Jack?" she tried.
He looked automatically in her direction. "Yes, Mother?"
The Empress did not know the origin of this name her son had apparently adopted, but did not breach the subject. It was later, when they were eating supper, that the Empress whispered to her husband what had occurred. Brow furrowing, the Emperor glanced directly at his son and said, "Yasu?"
He did not look up from his bowl, though Ashi lifted her head and blinked in confusion. The Emperor and Empress exchanged glances. "Jack," the Emperor spoke.
Jack regarded his father, smile falling slightly at the troubled expression on his face. "What is wrong?" he asked in concern.
"Do you remember your name?" asked the Emperor carefully.
For a moment, Jack did not understand the question. He opened his mouth to answer, to say that of course he remembered his name, when realization suddenly struck him and he froze.
No. Jack wasn't his real name. Not the one he was born with. His name was…
He struggled to remember, but fifty years of being Samurai Jack drew up a blank space in his memory.
"Yasu," said the Empress gently. "Your name is Yasu."
"Jack's not your real anme?" asked Ashi in surprise.
"No…it isn't, but I had forgotten…I had thought…" Jack trailed off, brow creased, and Ashi set a hand against his shoulder. It brought comfort to his conflicting emotions and he rested his hand overtop hers, managing a small smile. Turning to his parents, he said, "I am sorry."
"You do not need to apologize," returned the Emperor.
"We did not mean to upset you," added the Empress, worried by the distant look that appeared in her son's eyes.
"No, no, it is fine. Thank you, for reminding me of my name. Yasu."
But as the name fell from his lips, it seemed unnatural and foreign, as if he were speaking the name of someone he did not know very well.
The dark sky stretched above him, glittering with silver stars. Jack rested his hands against the red railing of the balcony, tracing his thumb against the grain of the wood. He heard footsteps fall in his direction, and soon his father joined him. He did not speak, and after a long moment of silence, Jack let out a troubled sigh.
"I cannot believe I forgot my own name."
"You've been away for decades. You went through a great deal of trauma. There are some aspects of yourself that you have lost along the way. There's no shame in that."
"But my name? The one you and mother gave me, the one you put thought and meaning into?" Jack's fingers tightened against the railing. "You named me Yasu because it held significance to you. And I forgot it. It is disrespectful."
The Emperor regarded his son. "Tell me. Why did you choose to call yourself Jack?"
"When I landed in the future, I was lost. I was in a world strange and unfamiliar to me, and populated with beings that seemed to have come from the wildest of dreams. I felt I did not belong. There were these three robots–my first interaction of Aku's future. They called me Jack. Then, when Sir Rothchild asked me for my name, that was all I could think of. Not Yasu. Yasu did not belong in that world. But Jack…Jack could adjust and adapt, more so than Aku would have ever believed." Jack rubbed a hand down his face and said, "I am not making sense."
"No, you make perfect sense. Who you were then would not have been enough for the trials you needed to face in Aku's future. It was more than you, so you had to become more. You did that by becoming Jack."
"Over time…I was so focussed on my goal, on my purpose, that such a seemingly small detail disappeared from my memory. Now that I'm home, back in the past, I should be Yasu again." Jack shifted his gaze towards the sky. "But Yasu…Yasu was the child before Aku reappeared and everything changed. Yasu was the person who trained all over the world, having no idea what was truly ahead. But after I'll I've been through…I feel like Yasu, the me that existed before I first faced Aku, is a different person."
"You have always been yourself–you just evolved over the years. Seeing the horrors that you have seen, of course your view of the world was influenced, morphed and changed. But your soul, the core of your being, has not."
"I know who I am. I know my purpose has been fulfilled, and I can enjoy my life, with you, Mother and Ashi. It does not matter what I call myself."
The Emperor smiled knowingly. "But it does. To you."
"Everyone in the future, they knew me as Samurai Jack. The Scotsman, my friends…for fifty years, they never lost faith in me. The ancestors of my friends believed in me. No matter how much death and destruction Aku caused, they never lost hope. They put their dreams and very existences on my shoulders. And when Aku captured me, they came to my rescue, even though they knew there was a chance they would not survive. They did not know Yasu, but they knew Jack. There are many aspects of Aku's future that I wish to forget. But not them. To be Jack feels like a tether to them, a tribute to their bravery and their selflessness."
Jack halted his speech as an emotional lump grew in his throat, choking his words. "I never got the chance to thank them. To say goodbye."
The Emperor placed a hand against his back, a comforting pressure. "From what you have told me, the allies and comrades you made have always known what you were striving for. By defeating Aku, you gave them a much happier future."
"As I said before, you have always been you, even if you doubted that over the years. And a name, a name does not define you. So whoever you choose to be–Yasu or Jack-will not change you."
The Emperor paused and glanced over his shoulder. A smile crossed his lips and he said, "I believe Ashi would like to speak with you."
Jack turned as Ashi stepped onto the balcony, red kimono swishing against the floor, a sheepish expression on her face. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to eavesdrop–"
"It is fine. It is time for me to retire to bed, anyway. I am not as young as I used to be."
"Thank you, Father," said Jack gratefully.
"Of course, son."
The Emperor gave Ashi's shoulder an affectionate squeeze as he passed. Ashi smiled at him and joined Jack by the railing. "I'm sorry…"
Jack looked at her in surprise. "For what?"
"I never even thought…I should have let you say goodbye to your friends. I shouldn't have just taken you away like that," said Ashi regretfully.
Jack wrapped an arm over her shoulder, bringing her close. "No, you did the right thing. As much as I would have liked the opportunity, Aku would not have let me get a word out. Getting back to the past when we did saved their lives. Father is right. I am happy knowing that, one day, they will lead peaceful lives."
Ashi leaned her head against his shoulder, curling her arms around his waist. "I think Yasu is a beautiful name, as is Jack. I think they both fit you. But what would you like me to call you?" she asked softly.
Jack thought for a moment. He thought of his innocent eight-year-old self, running through the fields chasing crickets. He thought of his time spent training in the deserts of Egypt and the wilds of Africa, when he knew he needed to face a great threat but did not quite know what. He thought of his years spent in the now-defunct future of Aku, of the experiences that made him stronger, of the friends that showed him that evil could never extinguish hope or righteousness.
His father was right. A name did not define a person. But there was meaning behind a name, and he had chosen his without ever really realizing it.
"I am Jack," he said with conviction, and he swore he could hear the Scotsman's laugh, could picture his amusement at how seriously he was taking this matter. A smile spread across his face, and the stars suddenly seemed to shine brighter. "Samurai Jack."