In the shadows of Japan’s samurai legacy lies one unique warrior: Mizu, The Infamous Blue Eye Samurai. Written by Michael Green and Amber Noizumi for Netflix, “Blue Eye Samurai” is a wildly refreshing and action-packed adult animated series.
The series follows Mizu, a downtrodden warrior who is outcast because of her blue eyes. In the show, her mixed race heritage of half-Japanese and half-European is seen as a subhuman trait as portrayed in the show. As a result, Mizu hides her blue eyes with tinted sunglasses and a Ronin hat, concealing her identity as both mixed race and female. There is a strong sense of duality that flows through Mizu, that makes her character so unique and refreshing.
Set in 17th-century Edo-period Japan, culture is flourishing, leaving no space for Europeans — except for four white men who happened to be in Japan when Mizu was born (a la “Lady Snowblood”). In the wake of the pain and carnage her mixed race identity has caused her, the series follows Mizu’s revenge on the four white men that are left in Japan. Mizu, voiced by Maya Erskine of Hulu’s “PEN15” fame, is as skilled with a sword as she is with her wit.
Her character is brutal and unforgiving, yet oddly charming, as she slashes her way through Japan’s greatest fighters and leaders.
The show is eight episodes long with each episode being about 45 minutes. Throughout each episode the point of view changes from character to character. The three POV’s mostly used are from Mizu, Princess Akemi who stands in as a thoughtful foil to Mizu, and Abijah Fowler, a vaguely North-Western European colonizer as the main villain of the show.
The show is also heavily influenced by Directors like Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino. There are compelling references to Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” especially in “The Tale of the Ronin and the Bride,'' the fifth and most emotional episode of the series. This episode reveals even more of Mizu’s past and her passion for her cause. Here Mizu takes on many similarities to Uma Thurman’s character, “The Bride.''
The two both lust for revenge and will do whatever it takes to be satisfied. There are many references to Tarantino’s kung fu flick, such as the showdown in episode five that's extremely reminiscent of Crazy 88 fight in “Kill Bill” — including some iconic Wilhelm screams and fight sequences.
Japanese connection of weaponry such as katanas and even the use of the mythological “Onryo” is also crucial to the story. Used more directly in “Blue Eye Samurai,” the Onyro is a wrathful spirit or ghost in Japanese culture. In this case, it takes the shape of a bride turned to madness and violence from pure anger and spite from being betrayed by a lover.
The show is a masterful blend of Japanese history, as it simultaneously alludes to post-modern Asian martial arts movies and their almost supernatural protagonists. But “Blue Eye Samurai” is carried by much more than clever references.
The animation and rich storytelling are wholly original and organic even if heavily influenced by Asian martial arts movies. The series is shot and written like a live action would be, but it uses the artistic capabilities of animation to push it to the next level. Drawing on overall themes of revenge and race to the very fight choreography, the creators made sure to use all the tools in their storytelling toolbox.
The art and animation is yet another standout element of this fictionalized version of Edo Japan. Director and producer Jane Wu made sure the combination of 2D and 3D animation flowed effortlessly together. Even going as far to superimpose live action, choreographed fight scenes into storyboarding. Between the sprawling landscapes and the tiniest details of Mizu’s stern expression, lies a world of beauty and the treacherous nature of this period in time.
While the revenge storyline is nothing new, “Blue Eye Samurai” breathes a fiery life into the trope by using Mizu’s mixed race as a driving force. Using a topic that is just as relevant now than it was in the 17th century is a brilliant way to captivate audiences and keep the show relevant. Identity is an integral part of all the characters, with themes like gender, disability and sexuality all being key driving forces that visually and emotionally animate the characters.
Despite Netflix’s infamous history of canceling shows, as of Dec. 12, Netflix has officially renewed Blue Eye Samurai for a second season. Even Netflix can’t stop Mizu from her path of revenge!
“Blue Eye Samurai” is truly a modern masterclass in storytelling. Every aspect of the show is in expert service to the story, just as Mizu’s katana is to her bloody cause.