“Blue Eye Samurai” is a thrilling animated series that exudes a deep knowledge of and passion for samurai films, a testament to the expertise and enthusiasm of husband and wife duo Michael Green and Amber Noizumi. Their confidence and excitement permeate every minute of the first season’s eight episodes. The series pays homage to iconic films like Toshiya Fujita’s “Lady Snowblood,” Akira Kurosawa’s revered masterpiece “Seven Samurai,” and more recent additions to the genre such as Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins.”
What sets “Blue Eye Samurai” apart is its ability to not only pay tribute to Eastern cinema but also demonstrate a clear admiration for Western interpretations, notably Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” Many movies and TV shows have attempted to emulate these classics, often falling short. “Blue Eye Samurai” succeeds where others falter due to its audacious approach and unapologetic homage to its predecessors.
Set in 17th-century Japan during the Edo period, the series revolves around Mizu (voiced by Maya Erskine), the daughter of a Japanese woman and a cruel white man named Abijah Fowler (voiced by Kenneth Branagh). Mizu’s mixed heritage makes her an outcast in a time when foreign presence was strictly prohibited. Driven by a thirst for revenge against those who have wronged her and her mother, Mizu adopts the guise of a male samurai, embarking on a ruthless quest for vengeance. Along the way, she encounters intriguing characters like the aspiring teen samurai Ringo (voiced by Masi Oka), who lacks hands, and Taigen (voiced by Darren Barnett), a revered samurai who forms an unexpected bond with Mizu.
The animation style of “Blue Eye Samurai” is a standout feature, offering a unique blend of Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Samurai Jack” and the visually striking “Arcane.” This distinctive style perfectly complements the series’ tone and elevates the excitement of the action sequences. The fight choreography and action are nothing short of exceptional, rivaling some of the best setpieces in television, whether animated or live-action. The series fearlessly embraces its TV-MA rating, delivering brutal and intense violence with scenes featuring blood splatter, decapitations, and dismemberment. Unlike some adult animated titles that rely on shock value, every element in “Blue Eye Samurai” feels justified and aligned with the series’ overarching vision.
Green and Noizumi’s narrative prowess shines through in their storytelling. The episodes maintain a brisk pace without sacrificing depth, offering a fully realized story with clear plans for future development. The series effectively manages a sprawling cast and expansive world, striking a balance that avoids overwhelming the viewer. Notably, the fifth episode, “The Tale of the Ronin and the Bride,” stands out as a masterstroke in storytelling. It provides rich backstories for Mizu while employing an inventive narrative structure, incorporating various timelines and a Bunraku puppet show.
The star-studded cast, including Maya Erskine, Kenneth Branagh, George Takei, Stephanie Hsu, Ming-Na Wen, Randall Park, and Brenda Song, delivers outstanding performances. Erskine embodies the role of Mizu with authenticity and charisma, while the casting against type adds depth to characters, such as Park voicing the untrustworthy Heiji Shindo.
“Blue Eye Samurai” is a triumph in animation, offering viewers an enthralling new world to explore and characters to become attached to. With breathtaking action and near-flawless animation, the series exudes confidence from its opening moments to its final credits, leaving viewers eagerly anticipating what lies ahead.