Greek Mythology soars in anime: BLOOD OF ZEUS on Netflix
Why did myths enchant the young fifth grader in me? Why was I so beholden to the ancient tales of ancient Greek gods that populated and ruled Mount Olympus above the mortals. It’s easy to become lost in the millenniums-old stories of gods who assumed mortal forms to walk the earth to pass judgment, the souls that are rowed across the River Styx, the jealous goddess-queen Hera inflicted suffering on the innocent mortals unfortunate to be loved (consensual encounters if you grew up with kid-friendlier text like me) by the king-god Zeus. In these worlds, life or death for mortals depended on the favor — or disfavor — of the gods.
Illuminating the whimsy of mythology has no greater potential than the animated medium. The webcomic Lore Olympus has an adaptation in the future, and Disney once spun-off its own liberal Hercules take with a low-budgeted animated series with underrated satire. Enter the 8-episode first season of Blood of Zeus, created by Charles Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides and produced by Powerhouse Animation Studios. It joins the rank of an emerging form of sophisticated high-budgeted adult western animation by the likes of its Powerhouse predecessor Castlevania and Primal. Blood of Zeus borrows a tapestry and weaves its own design with the anime(-influenced) sheen.
Blood of Zeus does not adapt a specific story in the mythical repertoire, but it claims itself as one of the lost untranscribed tales. Young Heron (Derek Phillips) and his single mother (Mamie Gummer) reside in the outskirts of a clouded polis with a population that doesn’t look kindly upon outcasts like them. Horrible dark forces close in on the polis, during with Heron discovers that he is the illegitimate son of the god Zeus (Jason O’Mara), and the fate of humanity rests in his hands. Zeus’s breach of his martial bounds to his queen-wife Hera (Claudia Christian) and his constant intervention into mortal lives pour a torrent of consequences.
Regarding Heron’s central arc, you can only do so much if the typical development involves unlocking a mythical bloodline at the behest of a god. Again, the familiar isn’t awful territory and you care enough for Heron’s circle of relationships. After all, familiar progression derived from old tales can charm with the right cadence. But the origin stories flashbacks tend to exhilarate more than the present, and Blood of Zeus is at least keen enough not to stretch the build-up to its outcomes, revelations, and tragedies. Otherwise, Heron’s quest to control his rage and harness his inherited divine powers does not make for much compelling mission to the point where the direction doesn’t seem to overplay it, and likewise, the beats of the father-son relationship scratch the surface of the potential out of a god-and-mortal messy dynamic.
Where Blood of Zeus does take celestial flight is the court intrigue with the Olympus gods. The marital disputes between Zeus and Hera set flames to the tale. It does deeply understand how we might imagine the immortals play chess with the earth and test the limits of their laws and omniscience, such as how Zeus wanders the Earth or how Hera’s entourage of crows surveil mortals and relay information to her, and serve as visual omens of her presence. In addition, the story acquires surprisingly aching sympathy for its antagonists.
While bearing a decent cast with rounded pathos for its archetypes, I was most enthralled by the voice MVP, Claudia Christian, who fires out the fury that can cut scores of icebergs as the vengeful and wronged Hera. Chris Diamantopoulos and Castlevania alumni Adetokumboh M’Cormack, respectively playing a pair of smugglers with hearts of gold, offer some comedic relief between stormy battles.
Although entertaining through enchantment and combat sequences, Blood of Zeus is short of mastering the flair into a whole that could make the heart sing. Despite the lovely design, the movement reveals noticeable patches. Some of the drama is a few frames short of momentum. And it’s tough to beat high bars set in fantasy animation of similar tonality. Castlevania granted rougher edges and psychology to its players — although it could take notes from Blood of Zeus which goes slightly less on shock-value gratuity. And the family-friendly The Dragon Prince was more apt on introspective conversations that could rip the heartstrings.
With a score formidable to Frederick Weidmann’s work with Dragon Prince, the Paul Edward-Francis’s bombastic score, choralized at the epic peaks, breathes life into the drama. Those who consumed or devoured Greek mythology at any capacity might catch the references and iconography. Hera donning a boa of the Golden Fleece is a lovely touch. There are animated delights: the stream-trailing velocity of Hermes, the messenger god with winged boots, zipping to part the clouds and the talos automations that remind us that the ancients dreamed up technological wonders. The scenic design is wondrous with grandiose establishment shots of palaces, a scoped faraway shot of the Underworld peering into its realms, and a standout sequence staged around a silvery network of the threads of Fate.
The myths remain ripe. In an age of Percy Jackson, Hadestown, Hades, Blood of Zeus is a nice addition. There are times Blood of Zeus re-inspires my interest in an animated anthology of connected myths (also, reboot the animated Hercules series, Disney, damnit). Indeed, its old production title Gods and Monsters sounds like it would befit a collection of tales rather than just Heron’s saga. Long after the first season and its cliffhanger, you do wonder where Fate will take these players.
The first season of Blood of Zeus will drop on Netflix on Monday, October 26.