Blood of Zeus is Netflix's best (American) anime ever
Gorgeous and violent, Blood of Zeus reveals where the emerging scene of American-made anime is headed.
Find any academic at Comic-Con and they'll tell you that Marvel's and DC's superheroes are the modern-day Greek gods. What that statement glosses over is how accurate it can be. Besides their superpowers and confusing canon told over generations, there is as much soap opera drama and sexual tension in the X-Men mansion as there is on Mount Olympus.
But there's one thing superheroes have had plenty of that Zeus and company haven't: a gritty reboot. That changes now with the gruesome and gorgeous new Netflix anime, Blood of Zeus.
Streaming October 27, Blood of Zeus is a new take on the Olympians and their clash against the Giants. Billed as a "lost" story in the oral tradition (code for "we're doing whatever we want"), the eight-episode series is the story of Heron (Derek Phillips, Friday Night Lights), a peasant who discovers he is the son of Zeus (Jason O'Mara) born out of an affair with a human woman. When a powerful half-demon Seraphim (Elias Toufexis) shows up, his arrival — and his mysterious origins — dredge up old wounds among the gods, rekindling a war above and below.
Deliciously and excessively violent, Blood of Zeus is the most arresting Netflix anime since the streamer formally committed to the medium in 2017. While the show suffers from a relentlessly dour tone and a rudimentary ensemble who lack personality (Alexia, an Amazonian voiced by Jessica Henwick, is wasted potential, amounting to little more than a capable sword), Blood of Zeus makes up for its shortcomings with spectacle, a sweeping score, and dramatics befitting its Greek epic origins.
It's Blood of Zeus' novel setting that makes it worthwhile. Historically, anime has filtered Greek myth into a sci-fi space opera or a high school dating sim. There's nothing wrong with remixing or genre fusion, but it's telling how Blood of Zeus looks and feels original simply because it's anime. If the show were live-action, Blood of Zeus would be lost in the glut of peak TV, dismissed as an empty chase for Game of Thrones buzz. But Blood of Zeus is anime — however Americanized — and for that alone it stands out in the curated algorithm.
But what makes Blood of Zeus actually work is its tight plotting and really tight visual pizzazz. Fight scenes, from Heron taking on Cerberus in a random encounter to the finale's all-out brawl between gods and monsters, is the stuff pottery painters had in mind. Crimson flows and pours out of bodies like squeezed juice out of tangerines. It happens so often I wonder how many ounces of red ink the animators used in production. For genre-savvy audiences, the scope of these images will call to mind video games like God of War and Shadow of the Colossus. They are not unwarranted comparisons.
Because of Greek myth's ubiquity as the foundation of all storytelling, present everywhere from high school English classrooms to video game consoles, it's hard to say if Blood of Zeus is a culturally "authentic" story. But as the brainchild of brothers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, two second-generation Greek immigrants and screenwriters, there's an ineffable difference to their take that almost allows Blood of Zeus license to relish in its left turns.
Experts may, and likely will, scoff at the show's liberties to Olympian canon. To make up for my own lack of knowledge I explained the show to an expert, and their eyebrows wrinkled with confusion with every spoiler. But the Parlapanides brothers have a strong grip of their own voice (they are the sole credited writers on every episode) and a clear desire to represent their culture's tales in the most badass way imaginable.
There's an unshakeable confidence to the two that borders on auteurism. Perhaps one day, but not yet. So far the Parlapanides' only other major works are the 2011 film Immortals, in which Henry Cavill played Theseus, and the 2017 remake of the anime/manga Death Note. If Blood of Zeus takes off, and it just might, it will be the thing to make them a force in animation. But Blood of Zeus is undoubtedly another thumbs up for Powerhouse, the Texas-based studio behind Netflix's other gory Americ-anime hit Castlevania and Kevin Smith's upcoming He-Man. The show is another notch in Powerhouse's belt as they become a go-to name for gritty anime that appeals almost exclusively to Western tastes.
Blood of Zeus is, to put it simply, impressive. It is elegant in its violence — perhaps the most violent and most binge-able SparkNotes ever produced — and just a bit clunky in its characters. It's a mighty show, but there's a bigger picture going on to Blood of Zeus than its eight episodes imply. It is the next step in the maturing scene of American anime, proving what Western creators and animators understand about the Japanese medium after growing up with decades of imports. Castlevania wasn't the first (that honor belongs to Rooster Teeth's RWBY), but Castlevania opened the floodgates and Blood of Zeus is what's flowing out.
Blood of Zeus Season 1 will stream on Netflix on October 27.
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