When you stop to think about it, the casual familiarity of the public with Greek gods worshiped thousands of years ago may seem quite a remarkable thing. It’s an impressive example of staying power to think that the average person on the street could likely cite a fact or two about Zeus, an omnipotent skyfather whose image has been familiar for some 5,000 years. Upon closer inspection, however, one can recognize that the pantheon of Greek immortals—the mythology surrounding them, their powers and exploits, their superhuman depictions—is part of the same story that man has always told, and always will tell. What are the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if not their own pantheon of gods and goddesses?
It’s no surprise then that Netflix’s Blood of Zeus finds fertile source material for its animated action epic, all of it vaguely familiar in the way that comic book stories usually are. Most savvy anime viewers were likely taught about Greek mythology at some point, after all, or have seen it depicted via endless iterations of Hercules or the likes of Clash of the Titans. The settings and characters already feel comfortably familiar, but they are endlessly malleable, allowing Blood of Zeus to function like a freeform anthology of ancient Greek myth and modern invention. There are details here culled from every discrete corner of mythology, fused into a composite adventure, and damn if it doesn’t still seem vivacious and alive.
Much of that vitality is derived straight from the spectacular animation, which is an immediate strength for Blood of Zeus. The production company here is Austin-based Powerhouse Animation, the same studio that brought us Netflix’s lushly beautiful Castlevania, which I’d previously named as the best videogame adaptation of all time. And indeed, it feels very much like a product of the same artistic minds, down to character models that occasionally look just a bit too familiar—protagonist Heron in particular feels like a short-haired stand-in for half vampire Alucard, but there’s obviously a fine line between “a consistent art style” and an overused one. More important is the fact that the settings and action of Blood of Zeus feel fresh, while being imbued with the same bombastic bloodiness of Castlevania.
And my, do those action scenes largely live up to the high bar that Powerhouse Animation previously set. These gods and goddesses get positively grisly on a regular basis, and there are moments of explicit violence that occasionally feel even more line-crossing than anything in Castlevania, especially because it’s often the depiction of callous atrocities being committed by humanity against itself, rather than vampires who see humanity as troublesome cattle. Even as a jaded horror geek, there were some spectacles of gore I found myself wincing at, and I say that as a compliment.
The story of Blood of Zeus, meanwhile, is hero’s journey 101—instantly graspable by anyone who has seen an action or fantasy series in their lifetime. Heron (Derek Phillips) is a trod-upon (but impossibly, angelically beautiful) bastard in a small town, living a life of poverty alongside his long-suffering mother when fate comes knocking. Turns out he’s totally the Chosen One, a son of Zeus himself, and he must harness the powers of his birthright in order to prevent a coming calamity. It’s utterly what you would expect the series to be, although there’s at least some spice thrown in via the revelations surrounding tragic antihero Seraphim (Elias Toufexis), the leader of a society of “demons” spawned as a result of the ancient conflict between gods and Titans. When it gets right down to it, though, you’re not watching Blood of Zeus for inventive plotting—you’re watching it for beautiful animation, gritty action and solid vocal performances from everyone involved.
One area where the show particularly excels? In the little touches of design, atmosphere and in-jokes that seem aimed specifically at those who love Greek mythology. Queen of the Gods Hera (Claudia Christian), for instance, can be seen wearing the Golden Fleece from the story of Jason and the Argonauts as something like a shawl to keep warm—not a detail that is remarked upon by any character, but a neat Easter egg for those paying close attention. So too is it easy to appreciate the creativity on display in depictions of characters like ferryman of the dead Charon, a massive figure with numerous arms disturbingly extending from the pitch-black confines of his cloak. There’s always something interesting to run your eyes over, in Blood of Zeus.
The show’s writing, on the other hand, can be more questionable. Dialog in particular readily betrays its inspirations, sometimes seeming to be lifted almost entirely intact from extremely recognizable properties such as The Empire Strikes Back. So too is it concerning to me, six episodes into watching this eight-episode series, that the show hasn’t displayed any apparent interest at all in the other female members of the godly pantheon. Hera is a major player, angry at her philandering husband Zeus (Jason O’Mara) as in so many prominent myths, but I can’t recall a single line of dialog spoken by prominent goddesses Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite or Demeter in this time—none of whom have even been properly introduced. Contrast that with gods such as Poseiden, Ares, Hermes, Apollo and Hephaestus, all of whom have been heavily featured, and one wonders why the goddesses of Olympus were of so much less interest to the writer-creator brothers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides. Perhaps this will suddenly change in the final few episodes of the series, but one familiar with Greek mythology would surely expect Zeus to turn to, say, the goddess of wisdom Athena for advice at a time when the world is imperiled.
Regardless, Blood of Zeus is often exhilarating whenever it’s in motion, with spectacular action sequences that make up for any other shortcomings. It’s a boon for Netflix’s animation department, and fans of Castlevania will likely want to give it their attention. It’s not quite the masterpiece that show often is, and without anything resembling the gravitas in its characterization or writing, but you’re not likely to care all that much when the thunderbolts start flying.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.