Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai Embraces Artistry and Balances Life and Death in a Beautiful Revenge Story

Maya Erskine as Mizu in Blue Eye Samurai. Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2023

An outstanding work of drama and adult animation, Blue Eye Samurai draws significant inspiration from samurai films, Kill Bill, and even Yentl. This brutal revenge tale is set in Edo-period Japan, a time when the country was fiercely closed off from the outside world to foreigners. 

Mizu (Maya Erskine), a biracial sword master, is bent on revenge to kill the four white men who resided in Japan when she was born. Her journey is full of challenges, stemming from a lifetime of marginalization from all aspects of Edo Japan. Not only does she conceal her gender by living as a man, but she also hides her eyes behind amber glasses—her identity has been nothing but a curse throughout her whole life by being referred to as a monster due to her mixed-race heritage. At its core, Blue Eye Samurai is a series about the balance between life and death. The production direction showcases the boundaries of life with the story, atmosphere, and technical details that elevate this inspired and bloody-revenge thriller into a cathartic release of embracing identity.

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The animation style is a unique foray into what I consider to be the next true creative direction with this hybrid 2D-3D model. We’ve seen similar styles in recent years with works such as Arcane, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse, and Blue Eye Samurai wholeheartedly earns its place by celebrating the artistry within. Not only does the series feature beautiful brushstroke textured imagery, but the action sequences showcase a complete understanding of movement in 3D and the inspirations of incredible samurai and western films such as Kill Bill, Lady Snowblood, and Once Upon A Time in the West. In fact, Blue Eye Samurai utilized an entire stunt department to choreograph the fight scenes along with Sunny Sun, the stunt director, which is almost unheard of for an animated series. The end result is crisp storyboarded action sequences that the animators could directly translate on-screen. It’s the exceptional visual direction, both from an artistic and production point of view, that is incredibly impressive for the animation industry. Jane Wu, the supervising director/producer, and the entire creative staff deserve a lot of credit for this work.

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Speaking of even more unconventional departments in animation, Blue Eye Samurai also utilized a wardrobe department for character design and setting choices. Many of the kimono patterns were found from extensive research into Edo-period Japan, and many of these details were something that the creators and executive producers, Amber Noizumi and Michael Green, were fascinated with at the time. More information on the incorporation of the details and direction can be found in our recent interview. To summarize, the end result is an entrancing assortment of details in the setting, such as the food and clothing styles that the creators’ love for it all speaks for itself.

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Blue Eye Samurai sports an incredible voice cast, with many A-list Hollywood cast members such as George Takei (Seki), Brenda Song (Akemi), Masi Oka (Ringo), Kenneth Branagh (Abijah Fowler), and Randall Park (Heiji Shindo) among my personal favorite characters. The entire cast just has a natural flow with the voice direction, and Maya Erskine’s direction of Mizu’s character perfectly represents a natural cadence befitting someone who has suppressed their identity their entire life. There is an intentional choice to have the cast speak comfortably and naturally, modern accents and all, to emphasize the theme of self-acceptance and cultural blending that is present throughout this series. 

To top it all off, many aspects of the music fully embodies the cultural blending of Eastern and Western influences. The soundtrack is very character-driven, as some scenes feature prominent Japanese orchestral arrangements, while other pieces are more of a mixture of Western and Eastern music. In some cases, the music really elevates the action sequences with some clever film references such as Kill Bill, and also drives the emotional narrative of embracing both halves of one’s self.

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Overall, the writing transports me to a space where the show enables the viewer to embrace and understand the many aspects of feeling marginalized through the characters Mizu and Akemi. Mizu, driven by her desire for revenge, embodies rage but also tells the hidden story of self-acceptance that is necessary to fully transform her path into her personal magnum opus, an almost beautiful yet violently driven quest for pure revenge. Akemi’s story is one that really highlights her royalty life with the struggle for freedom and is a clear juxtaposition with Mizu’s life, as well as other women in Edo Japan. One interesting aspect is that some of the scenes take place in brothels, and the use of sex throughout the show is handled in a way that reflects the attitudes of the time. This is probably another example of the historical research elements that illustrate how the people lived during that period, and this aspect is central to the themes of marginalization, gender, and identity, enhancing many of the character struggles we see in this series. In a sense, this show’s writing could have worked as a live-action drama, which shows how many elements are individually strong but together form an incredible series.

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Blue Eye Samurai is a fantastic series that shows care in all aspects of this show. There is an understanding of the elements that embody itself and the artists involved to form a visceral blend of “East meets West” in this beautiful, action-packed series. It is that artistry that showcases the blend between life and death, adding so much life into this series that makes the tension of death captivating for the viewer.

Nico is part writer, part podcaster, and part Italian. When he is not working for Anime Trending, he is hard at work caring for his cats Solo and Doppio and making sure they grow up with only the most refined tastes in anime such as works directed by Masaaki Yuasa and Gen Urobuchi. When he's not watching anime, he is busy playing competitive card games and RPG's he never will have time to complete.
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