How Samurai Jack helped Me Understand My Depression

As my friend sits on my couch, she hears me screaming “Noo”. She asks if everything is okay, and I say, “Of course not!” Samurai Jack, specifically the character Ashi, has taken me to a familiar place that I try to forget. It’s a place that I knew was in me since I was a kid, but I’m only now learning how to navigate as an adult.

Before we jump into this saga of depression and cartoons, let’s backpedal a bit. Growing up, I loved cartoons. I still do. I would skip going to church to watch reruns of Teen Titans. Whenever there was a new episode of Generator Rex, I forced my little sister to switch the channel. Together, we watched action sequences where the main character destroyed their problems with their strength and determination. As a teen and preteen, seeing problems smashed was magical — stuff I swear even the child of Harry Potter and Voldemort couldn’t achieve. In my life, I needed to see problems destroyed and solved because on my own, my problems consumed me. There were days that they left me paralyzed in bed, watching cartoons on rerun.

I don’t know where my love for cartoons began. Maybe it was the 26 minutes of escapism? For the sake of this article, it would be better to say that Samurai Jack was the gateway animation. I had one hit and then was immediately addicted. This wasn’t the case; I saw it by coincidence.

I was up late one night with my sisters. We had a Saturday night routine of sleeping in my older sister’s room. It was our sleepover tradition because we weren’t allowed to sleepover other people’s houses. My dad, a short but stern Nigerian, doesn’t understand the logic of sleeping on somebody’s floor when he has bought my bed with his money. My mother, a Detroitian who was proposed to three different times by men who fell in love with her, doesn’t trust anyone but herself, Jesus, and Iyanla Vanzant.

When my sisters and I watched Samurai Jack, my little sister always fell asleep after the opening the credits. My older sister remained awake as she waited for the PJ’s to come on. I watched Samurai Jack, wishing I could escape my life and enter his. In it, he was banished to a futuristic world where he was forced to fight for his life. As an audience member, you knew who the monsters and the bad guys were. You knew that you needed to destroy and kill Aku so that everything would be better. Also the theme song was amazing. Seriously, if you haven’t rapped along to that song once or twice in your life, what are you doing?

By the time the fifth season arrived, things changed. I’m a college graduate who is trying to be an adult. I’m months out of losing friends, a mental breakdown, and a major move from the East Coast to the Midwest. My life is okay — my credit score isn’t terrible. What more could I ask for?

In season five, Samurai Jack is depressed, suicidal, and lonely. It’s been fifty years of Aku’s bullshit. A moment of happiness appears when he finds Ashi, who is one of Aku’s seven daughters trained since birth to kill Samurai Jack. The story then follows a familiar plot line. Girl hates boy. Girl learns some important lesson from boy about life. Girl and boy bond and fall in love during cataclysmic moment. Girl and Boy start relationship, but it is ruined by something no one, including me, saw coming.

In this futuristic world, Ashi is alone. Samurai Jack has killed all six of her sisters. She has killed her mother who was trying to kill him. The trauma of existing in spaces of perpetual violence and Aku tyranny binds them to one another. Together, they have the mental and physical strength to destroy Aku; however, everything comes at a cost. Since Ashi and Samurai Jack have destroyed Aku together, it’s resulted in Ashi’s demise. Now bear with me, the science of this TV show is about to get a little complicated. Since she and Samurai Jack met in the future where Aku is alive and ruled the world, Ashi cannot exist in the past with Samurai Jack because she’s Aku’s daughter. In the show’s final moments, she vanishes in Samurai Jack’s arms on their wedding day.

When this happens I’m devastated. For me, Ashi wasn’t just Samurai Jack’s partner in badassery or a character with an amazing haircut. She was a reflection of me. There was darkness, Aku’s evil, inside of her, and in order to save Samurai Jack, she had to learn how to fight it. During the climactic battle of good vs. evil, we learn it’s also Aku’s evil, which gives her power and allows her to play a vital role in killing her father, the source of her pain, power, and the only thing connecting her to Samurai Jack. By the end of the show, my understanding is that Ashi cannot exist without her darkness. This feeling of parasitic existence is one that I know too well.

During the after credits, I gaze at my Prozac and Trazodone that sit on my windowsill. They are half filled even though they should be a quarter. For a week, I stopped taking my medication. Why? I told myself I didn’t need them because I was whatever normal was. There was nothing inside of me that made me different from anyone else. My former roommate talked me into taking them again. I folded. She reminded me I felt better when taking them, and that there’s something inside my mind that makes me prone to triggers.

My therapist thinks I have major depressive disorder. My psychiatrist thinks I have dysthymia. All I know is that I’ve tried to kill myself three times. I’m prone to cutting and self-deprecating jokes. Also, I drink because it helps me not to think so much. Example of usual thoughts — I’m dumb, my life is a mistake or a joke, and moments of fleeting pleasure are my only forms of satisfaction. Everyday, I try to run away from these thoughts, but by the end of the night, they slam against me, leaving me winded.

Like Ashi, there’s a darkness inside of me that drives my self-destruction, and I’m trying to control it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with awesome powers like the ability to turn my hands into dope swords or give me the ability to time travel. Also, it doesn’t help me find a samurai who respects my autonomy as a woman. Sometimes, when I’m at a bar and have pretentious dark musings about life, it gets me a free drink. It also with the aid of my medication helped me lose five pounds, which I may have gained back in beer, cheese, or a toxic combination of both…please forgive oh quinoa that sits on top of my fridge collecting dust.

Ashi was born with this darkness inside of her. I was too. I was kid that always wore all black and tried to get her Afro into an emo hair cut. The first time I tried to kill myself was in third grade. Shh, don’t tell my mom. She’ll make me move back home and have more family meetings. I’ve learned from Ashi that she needed this darkness to fight and survive; however, she had to be careful or else it would have overtaken her. I carry with me the monster that is tricky. I call my monster a she, and she likes to tell me that I’ll never be loved, I’ll never amount to anything, and that everything positive in my life is a giant lie. She’s not funny like Aku or has snazzy fire eyebrows.

In the past, I allowed her to overtake me. I spent nights crying in bathtubs, drinking until I hoped I disappeared, or longing for that sting of a fresh cut against my thigh. In order for me to survive, I can’t accept everything she has to say. I must remember I am a person worth being no matter what day it is. To somewhat quote another woman who has an A in her name (hint — Julia Roberts), I can’t forget –“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a mirror, asking to love all of herself even when the girl in the mirror has crippling depression and forgot to shower for three days.”

So, instead of letting her over take me, I’m trying to learn how to use and navigate my monster for my own strength. She’s my ride or die, and I might as well learn from her. I have no other option.