SERIES REVIEW – Every minute of Blue Eye Samurai shows that husband-and-wife team Michael Green and Amber Noizumi are extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to samurai films. This confidence and enthusiasm shines through on screen throughout the eight episodes of the first season. Blue Eye Samurai strikes a chord with Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood, the Japanese female grindhouse samurai film, Akira Kurosawa’s famous Seven Samurai, and other recent works in the genre such as Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins.
This enthusiastic and professional couple not only pay homage to Eastern cinema, but are clearly fans of Western interpretations, especially Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Many movies and series have tried to pay homage to these works, but most have failed. Here, for example, the Kill Bill score “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” is brilliantly adapted, but Blue Eye Samurai avoids other pitfalls with the dexterity of a ninja, and the series pays tribute to its predecessors with both courage and creativity.
Welcome to 17th century’s Japan during the Edo period
Set in 17th century Japan during the Edo period, Blue Eye Samurai is reminiscent of the aforementioned Kill Bill and classic samurai films like those of Akira Kurosawa, but with a female lead. During this time, the country kept its doors strictly closed, especially to non-Japanese. This made the heroine of the series, Mizut (original English voice: Maya Erskine), an outcast. The daughter of a Japanese woman and a cruel white man, Abijah Fowler (voice of Kenneth Branagh), Mizu’s very existence makes her a target.
Mizu vows revenge on those who wronged him and his mother, so he disguises himself as a male samurai and sets out on a brutal and bloody path of vengeance. Along the way, he meets many new characters, including the naive but lovable aspiring teenage samurai Ringo (voiced by Masi Oka), who has a birth defect that leaves him missing the back of his hand, and Taigen (voiced by Darren Barnett), a handsome, rugged yet kind-hearted, lovable and great warrior, a young samurai who has known Mizu since childhood and forms an unexpected relationship with him.
Blue Eye Samurai’s animation style is fresh and unique
What immediately stands out about Blue Eye Samurai is its vibrant, unique animation style. It’s like a mix of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack and Arcane, yet it offers something completely new to Netflix that fits the mood of the series perfectly, and even makes the action scenes more exciting. The fight choreography and action sequences are among the best, whether compared to live action or other animated productions; they are fast, fast-paced, exciting, elegant and perfectly in tune with the animation. Spectacular samurai sword fights, epic battle sequences and combat training inserts dot the series, and all are exciting and convincing in terms of visuals that easily captivate viewers, even those who are less fans of animated films.
The environments are never boring, there’s always something visually interesting happening on screen. In addition, Blue Eye Samurai makes good use of the over-18 rating. The violence is brutal, with blood splatters, decapitations and severed limbs. While other adult animated films use this classification for gimmicks, and sexual content, self-serving violence or swearing as a cheap gimmick, all elements of Blue Eye Samurai are justified and stay true to the concept of the series. Adult animation in the West has undergone an exciting evolution in recent years, moving away from pure comedy, as shown by series such as Invincible, Castlevania, Primal, Arcane and Vox Machina Legend. Blue Eye Samurai could also make this list as one of the best new animated series of 2023.
Blue Eye Samurai is most fulfilled when he is bold and ambitious
Green, who has worked on such great films as Blade Runner 2049 and Logan, proves once again that he is an expert in epic films, and in Blue Eye Samurai, alongside his wife Noizumi, he shows it again. Each episode is superbly dynamic, while the storytelling is thoughtful and never disjointed. A fully developed story unfolds, with clear future plans for the coming seasons. With a respectable cast and a detailed world, Blue Eye Samurai could easily have become chaotic, but fortunately it deftly balances all the plot threads without feeling overly burdensome.
The highlight of the series, however, is the fifth episode, The Tale of the Ronin and the Wife, which gives Mizu a clear and satisfying backstory while creatively telling the story in different timelines and through a bunraku puppet show. It’s common these days for non-linear storytelling to become tedious, wordy, or confusing, especially in the middle of an eight-episode series, but Blue Eye Samurai handles this beautifully.
If you watch Blue Eye Samurai in English, it boasts stars such as the aforementioned Maya Erskine and Kenneth Branagh, as well as George Takei, Stephanie Hsu, Ming-Na Wen, Randall Park and Brenda Song. Erskine seems a natural as Mizu, her personality and charisma translating brilliantly into animation. The series works even when some of the cast is cast differently from the usual, such as when Park lends her voice to Heiji Shindo, the smarmy and unreliable salesman who works alongside Abijah Fowler, or when Masi Oka plays the buffoonish and likeable but perhaps inexperienced Ringo.
Green and Noizumi have created a winning animated series that lives up to expectations and opens up an exciting new world, full of characters to love or hate, yet extremely complex and humanly believable, with whom we will really connect. From the breathtaking action sequences to the almost flawless animation, it’s rare to find a series that so confidently captivates fans of animation, Japanese culture or samurai films in its first season. Viewers are captivated from the very first moments of the series, and after the finale, we are left wanting more. Let’s hope the next season will surely come, because we will be sad samurai if it doesn’t.
-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-