TV Review
Blue Eye Samurai

By Brontë H. Lacsamana Reporter

MANY stories revolve around a lone warrior embarking on a brutal, blood-soaked journey of revenge. It may seem like there can’t possibly be another such tale with something original to offer, but Blue Eye Samurai proves that assumption wrong.

The animated action series, set in 17th century Edo-period Japan, is made up of eight episodes, and it follows a half-Japanese warrior named Mizu who is out to seek revenge.

As the title suggests, Mizu’s blue eyes are central to the plot — they are proof that she is of mixed race, which is taboo at a time when the country is supposed to be closed to the outside world. Her childhood is marked by extreme bullying, discrimination, and tragedy, as she is perceived as a “white devil.”

The goal of her lifelong revenge journey? To kill all four white men who were illegally trading in Japan during the time of her birth.

Co-created by husband-and-wife duo Michael Green (writer of Logan and Blade Runner 2049) and Amber Noizumi, Blue Eye Samurai puts a gorgeous spin on the violent, thrilling art of samurai swordfighting through Western animation. The gruesome revenge journey and the beautiful animated action sequences make for an enthralling viewing experience as we follow the central character’s dogged pursuit of the men who could be her father.

Most importantly, Mizu is more than just a typical stoic warrior, hiding emotions — and blue eyes — behind yellow-tinted glasses. She is voiced by Maya Erskine (co-writer and actress in the adolescent dramedy PEN15), who is perfect for a role that requires the range and mystery of a woman pretending to be a man.

The series’ various side quests and missions involve other compelling characters and help the audience look past the killing and maiming to reveal exactly what Mizu went through to become such a cruel, unflinching character.

Those who play a part in Mizu’s journey are the clumsy yet kind apprentice Ringo, voiced by Masi Oka (Hiro in Heroes); the blind and immeasurably wise Swordfather, voiced by George Takei (of Star Trek fame); childhood bully and rival-turned-loyal friend Taigen, voiced by Darren Barnett; and the beautiful and headstrong Lady Akemi, voiced by Brenda Song (a former Disney star).

Rounding out the stellar voice cast are very engaging antagonists: the conniving Heiji Shindo, voiced so convincingly by comedic actor Randall Park; and sadistic Irish arms dealer, who is possibly Mizu’s father, Abijah Fowler, voiced by Kenneth Branagh.

Those who are curious about the art style may be intrigued to know that the animation is sort of a hybrid of 2D and 3D, with certain episodes inspired by Japanese bunraku puppets.

Though Netflix has explored making hybrid animation before with Arcane, director Jane Wu ensures that Blue Eye Samurai is different, more dynamic for the sword fights and subtly breathtaking in the various scenes with natural scenery, metal forging, and even nudity and sex. Overall, it results in a beautiful, respectful portrayal of Japanese culture.

For co-writer Amber Noizumi, the story is personal, as she mentions in various interviews online. As a half-Japanese growing up in a Western setting, the idea of a situation reverse to hers was interesting to explore, with the character of Mizu having to pass as fully Japanese to avoid discrimination.

Mizu’s character design also delves into a unique facet of ambiguity. She initially seems very Asian and masculine, but at times the hidden white and feminine sides of her come out. This fits in with her lone wolf approach, having found that she never quite belongs to any one side.

However, the theme of revenge is a reflection of Mizu’s own internalized hate for the unwanted parts of herself, whether it’s loathed as a monster for being white or confined within certain standards due to being a woman.

The reality of gender norms for women is tackled so succinctly as well with Akemi’s storyline. The series sees her go from being a lovesick lady forbidden to make her own decisions, to a friend of prostitutes and warriors finding her own path in life, to a royal princess plotting her survival in the capital.

Mizu’s interactions with her, and many other characters, are meant to reveal the folly of living just for revenge.

The Swordfather, despite being blind, repeatedly takes her in and offers guidance both in forging swords and in life. He reminds her that the strongest sword is a blend of metals — as seen in Mizu herself being a mix in race, gender, and even fighting techniques.

Blue Eye Samurai itself espouses this, blending Western art production with Eastern art styles, and elements of both animation and live action. The result is simply wonderful to behold.