Graphic, intense, full of heart, and gorgeously designed, Blue Eye Samurai is absolutely first rate, slotting alongside Arcane and Scavengers Reign as one of the best in a new breed of animated drama. Set in seventeenth century Japan, the narrative follows the dark adventures of Mizu (voiced by Maya Erskine), a warrior traveling the Japanese countryside posing as a man. She also hides her eyes, because they’re blue, exposing her as mixed race. Mizu has single-mindedly channeled her energy into martial arts, as a means of exacting revenge against the four white men in Japan who may have fathered her. Her target, this time, is Abijah Fowler (Kenneth Branagh), a ruthless Irish gunrunner who has secretly been profiting off an illicit arrangement with the Shogunate. Mizu’s vendetta is sidetracked by personal connections, especially when she accidentally attracts the attention of Ringo (Mazi Oka), a disabled noodle chef who gloms onto her to become an apprentice. Eventually, though, her violent mission leads to confrontation with Fowler, just as he is attempting a coup in Edo. But has Mizu’s journey changed her destination?
Beautifully animated, Blue Eye Samurai is a mesmerizing watch, bringing a high-fantasy vibe to its grim historical setting. The show presents the sexism and racial dynamics of the era unflinchingly, and Mizu—conflicted, traumatized, complex—is the perfect vehicle for the discussion. Erskine handles the lead well, while Branagh brings eloquent villainy and Oka provides timely comic relief. The supporting cast is loaded with talent as well: Darren Barnet, Stephanie Hsu, Randall Park, Harry Shum Jr., Brenda Song, Cary-Hioryuki Tagawa, George Takei, and Ming-Na Wen give voice to the key characters. The show is realistically bleak and brutal, but not without hope, heroism, and inspiring undercurrents. An exceptional first season; looking forward to more.