Characters Who Deserved Better: Ashi from “Samurai Jack”

I suppose it says something that, after years and years of waiting for the final season of Samurai Jack, I barely even think about the show’s finale. It’s not that the final season was terrible; I just thought everyone–Jack and the viewers alike–deserved better. At least Jack got a bittersweet ending, but I think that finally defeating the evil incarnate that is Aku after decades of hopelessness warrants a happier ending! Maybe that’s just the idealist in me. Maybe I’m tired of stories being unfair. And mostly, I am tired of female characters always getting the short end of the stick.

Throughout the series, Jack made many allies, but always traveled alone. Until the final season introduced Ashi, one of the seven Daughters of Aku who were born and raised with the sole purpose of killing Jack. There are things I like about Ashi’s character, but unfortunately she was born sexy yesterday. The YouTube channel Pop Culture Detective has a video called “Born Sexy Yesterday” about this troubling trope involving mostly female characters. In the video description, he explains:

It’s a science fiction convention in which the mind of a naive, yet highly skilled, girl is written into the body of a mature sexualized woman. Born sexy yesterday is about an unbalanced relationship, but it’s also very much connected to masculinity. The subtext of the trope is rooted in a deep seated male insecurity around experienced women and sexuality.

Yes, readers, this does mean that Jack and Ashi (needlessly, in my opinion) fall in love. Amatonormativity strikes again. Fortunately, Jack is a good person and in no way tries to take advantage of Ashi’s inexperience. He’s not exactly the most experienced when it comes to romance, either, but he’s also much older (mentally–Jack’s body doesn’t age) than Ashi. Like the examples in the video, there are times when Ashi’s nakedness embarrasses Jack and he has to explain to her that “private parts are private.” As they travel together, the tension between them builds, and I could see their inevitable romance coming from a mile away.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Jack falling in love after decades of being alone is a bad thing. There has been proof in the show that he’s attracted to women, and if it makes him happy then he definitely deserves to be happy! But why does his love interest, who is actually a well-fleshed out character, have to be reduced to just his love interest?

Ashi has lots of great moments throughout the final season. She overcomes the lies and abuse of her childhood and learns to see the beauty in the world; she’s able to become her own person and choose freely to help Jack in his quest to destroy Aku; she even does one of the most important things of all, which is to show Jack that things aren’t hopeless and that he has an entire army of allies willing to fight with him because of the positive way in which he impacted the Aku-ravaged world. These moments of character development make the male gaze-y-ness of her character even harder to swallow. In the scene where she rids herself of the clingy black bodysuit she wears, it’s revealed that apparently that was just her own charred skin and she was naked the whole time? And then somehow fashions herself a skimpy outfit made of leaves, because fashion design was definitely part of her relentless warrior training? Her silhouette from behind a waterfall in which she’s all curves with just a pencil-thin torso, and also of course she falls in love with Jack immediately after being un-brainwashed to hate him and think he’s the root of all evil. Then, after finally defeating Aku and returning to Jack’s proper time period, they get married and she instantly fades from existence because without Aku, her existence is null.

If Jack’s “reward” for saving the world is returning home and instant marriage, then what is Ashi’s reward? It would have been better if she hadn’t fallen in love with Jack, not been Aku’s actual daughter (because gross) and not traveled back to the past with Jack. Let her be her own person and avoid the born sexy yesterday trope.