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Blue Eye Samurai (2023)

Netflix’s latest adult animation offering Blue Eye Samurai is what happens when top end writing, perfectly-cast voice talent and beautiful design come together. It is a work of art, one which demands a five star rating from its very first sword-thrusts into the world. This is no by-the-numbers anime outing. The voice talent includes Kenneth Branagh, Masi Oka, Brenda Song, Stephanie Hsu, Maya Erskine, Randall Park and George Takei, who don’t lend their names lightly.

Before we go on, the show requires all the trigger warnings and more, so if any of the following has you turning off, you’d better know before you press play: violence, frequent gore, amputations, suicide, torture, racism, physical abuse, implied sexual abuse, drug use and abuse, explicit sex, ‘deviant’ sex. That said, none of the above is gratuitous. All of it serves the dark and riveting plot.

The following review contains mild spoilers. 


The setting is 17th Century Japan, the time of the country’s Edo period. All foreigners have been expelled from the country in an attempt to defend Japanese values from Western imperialism. But rumours abound that four ‘white devils’ remain, in hiding. We soon meet one of them, Abijah Fowler (Kenneth Branagh), a cruel and talented man in luxurious house arrest overseen by Heji Shindo (Randall Park). Abijah intends to smuggle in Western guns, overthrow the Shogun and have a puppet ruler open Japan up to foreign powers.

Our hero, the eponymous Blue-Eye Samurai, Mizu (Maya Erskine), is a reviled “half-breed”, child of one of the four, she knows not which (though set up as a boy – her mother makes her strap her breasts to pass as one – it is pretty obvious to anyone except any of the other characters that she’s a girl). Relentlessly bullied by a gang of urchins, notably Taigen (Darren Barnet), Mizu sees her home burned with her mother in it and flees from the village, ending up at a smithy where Japan’s finest swords are created by blind-from-birth blacksmith Swordfather (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Cue an apprentice coming-of-age sequence, including tutelage in epic sword-handling, until it’s time to leave on a quest to kill all four of the white men who might be her father.

Along the way, Mizu reluctantly acquires an apprentice of her own in the form of Ringo (Masi Oka), a noodle chef whose lack of hands prove to be no disability, and who is the most endearing character in the story.

Meanwhile, in the palace of powerful feudal lord Daichi (Patrick Gallagher) we meet the wilful Princess Akemi (Brenda Song) and her protector in her father’s court, Seki (George Takei). Akemi refuses her father’s attempt to force her to marry, preferring instead Taigen, who has grown up to become the best samurai at the nearby Shindo dojo.

When Mizu raids the dojo seeking the location of Heji Shindo (and hence Fowler) she kills or maims all the best samurai and chops off Taigen’s beautiful top-knot before she gets what she wants. The disgraced Taigen is no longer a fit husband for Akemi and her father reverts to Plan A. Akemi runs away, taking Seki with her, but eventually ends up in a brothel catering to ‘specialist’ tastes, run by the cunning Madam Kaji (Ming-Na Wen). When Mizu comes to the brothel for information on Fowler, she and Akemi meet, intertwining the two plots and allowing for plenty of drama which builds over the episodes to the season’s eventual blockbuster climax. It’s a story of prejudice, struggle and self-acceptance set against the backdrop of a violent, rigid society whose arcane way of life seems doomed. 

Blue Eye Samurai is the brainchild of husband and wife team Michael Green and Amber Noizumi (their young daughter has blue eyes, which partly served as inspiration). TV writer Green wrote or co-wrote Logan, Blade Runner 2049, Alien: Covenant and Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, while this is Noizumi’s first writing and producing credit, and together the pair deliver a masterclass. The writing is tight as a drum, beautifully paced and everything serves a purpose, as all the main characters are driven to physical and mental extremes. If there is one tiny criticism, it is that for all its apparent realism, some of the physical situations are ones characters would not recover from. But this is heroic drama, so some poetic licence is fully justified.

All the rock-solid writing is wrapped in beautiful production design, which uses light stylisation and exquisite detailing to settle us into in a thoroughly believable Edo period Japan for the coming thrill-ride. Of particular note is the incredible costume design, and the attention to detail in terms of food, customs, armour and weaponry.

The animation (from Netflix Animation, with Paris-based studio Blue Spirit also credited) is superb throughout, with character design, movement, colour and weather effects all combining to spellbinding effect. While the season rounds off nicely, it leaves you wanting a lot more: an obvious set up for a second season.

Supervising director Jane Wu, one of Variety magazine’s ’10 Animators to Watch’ is the guiding hand for the mayhem. Wu was a storyboard artist on Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy as well as Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, renowned for orchestrating exciting, complex battle scenes, and her experience shows in all of Blue Eye Samurai’s amazing fight scenes. But it’s not all swords, sex and severed limbs. There is real pathos throughout, as situations demand unlikely alliances and some very human choices.

If strong adult themes are in your wheelhouse, Blue Eye Samurai is a real treat, proof that animation can go farther in its storytelling than regular movies or TV. In what should serve as a strong lesson to any studio or producer striving to make art as well as cash, it is excellent writing and manifest love of the project from all its creators which put Blue Eye Samurai ahead of its peers. Don’t miss it.

FORMAT: SERIES AVAILABLE ON: Streaming  FROM: Netflix RATING: 18 [UK]  RUNNING TIME : 8 epiodes, times vary


 Netflix surges ahead with eight episodes of a beautiful, epic samurai revenge story which hits all the adult buttons, and then some.






Mark Brandon is a fiction and review writer based in Leicester, in the UK, who has loved all things animation since he was a kid, especially anything with science-fiction, fantasy, horror or detective themes. When he's not writing reviews, he's busy on novels and short stories.