Honestly, I was pretty thrilled when Netflix announced Blood of Zeus. A mature anime miniseries, drawing on Greek mythology, made by the studio behind Castlevania, one of the best Netflix shows of recent memory? You can count me in.
Blood of Zeus follows a young man called Heron, whose polis (read: city state) is being beset by deformed demons imbued with a dark power and superhuman strength. It’s not long before bigger players get involved, though – such as the eponymous Zeus, and the other deities making up the Greek pantheon (Ares, Hera, Poseidon, and the like).
Scorned by his local community for being "a bastard" – born out of wedlock – Heron scrapes by as labourer to support himself and his doting mother. Not everything, though, is as it seems, and the revelation of his true parentage shakes up his world for good – sending him into battle against a sinister demon overlord and some powers even greater than that.
It’s a tightly told story, with just eight 30-minute episodes that you can binge through in one or two viewing sessions if you want to (and I did). And this necessitates some heavy exposition, particularly in the first couple of episodes – setting up a pantheon of Greek gods, Titans, giants, demons, and humans that find themselves in the center of a great and divine conflict.
Because of this, Blood of Zeus probably offers too many of its secrets right away – and the one mystery that’s left unsolved for slightly longer isn’t overly hard to guess.
There’s certainly a thrilling story here – and Blood of Zeus does an impressive job of weaving its various threads, both divine and mundane, into a cohesive whole. Petty betrayals echo far larger ones, and the way in which the human realm is granted grandeur as the divine one crumbles into petty squabbles is one of the best things about the show.
There's plenty of fast-moving action, which really comes into its own with the lightning-fast speed and seismic strength of the deities in battle – especially in how their powers combine and clash with each other – which is worth watching the series for alone.
It’s a truly classic Greek myth, interlacing the grand and epic with the pitiful and bleak, making the movements of the sky and sea synonymous with the extensions of a flawed and powerful pantheon. If you want to geek out on a Greek epic, and don't want to read The Odyssey, Blood of Zeus is a good Netflix series to check out – whether you're watching on a smart TV, laptop, or smartphone. (The popping colors and 2D animation style means even a low-spec screen should do it justice.)
Of course, we have to address the elephant in the room: Castlevania.
Dracula casts a long shadow
With Castlevania season 4 expected to land in late 2021, anyone after a fix of bloody, myth-driven anime will be looking towards Blood of Zeus as something of a stop-gap series. And for that, it should do the job nicely.
This isn’t Castlevania by any means, despite some similarities in art style (it’s the same studio, after all) and even plotting (wave of demons across the land, etc).
The complex characterization found in Castlevania, the way its figures slowly morph through the result of their own actions, delicately prod their own doubts and hopes in between the fierce action sequences, isn’t to be found here.
Blood of Zeus’ cast is a bit happier moving along with the plot, doing what they need to advance the story, in a way that sacrifices some personality. I can’t even count the number of times someone exclaimed “By the gods!”
The size of the cast, and short length of the series, also means there isn’t really room for the kind of gradual softening seen between Trevor Belmont and Alucard, or the slow manipulation of Hector by outside forces, in Castlevania’s several seasons.
It is harder, in a story where gods and mortals coexist, to make the stakes feel equal across the board – and it’s this interplay that makes Blood of Zeus so thrilling, even if some delicacy is sacrificed to do it.
It’s worth noting, too, that despite a very wide pantheon to draw on, you really only get a few major (and male) players among the gods. Zeus is joined by his brother Poseidon, as well as Ares, Apollo, Hermes, and Hephaestus. We don’t hear anything from Aphrodite, Athena (who, you know, might be helpful in a war), Artemis, or Demeter. The only goddess even named is Hera, who is relegated to ‘scorned woman’, while perpetual philanderer Zeus is posited as a good, loving man.
There are some ways, then, that Blood of Zeus doesn’t manage to critique – or even fully celebrate – the mythology it inherits. The figures chosen for this story, though, are able to provide the broad sweeps of an epic, and enough swashbuckling to keep you entertained for a few hours.
Blood of Zeus airs on Netflix from October 27. If you’re not a subscriber already, check out the sign-up link below:
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