I’ve been a fan of Greek mythology since I saw my first episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. The gods, the Titans, the demigods, and the messy familial situations all usually caused by the fact that Zeus, the king of the gods couldn’t stay faithful to Hera. Like me, most audiences have some basic understanding of Greek mythologies and the tragedies that revolve around them. Because of this, we know what to expect and it can make even brand new stories feel repetitive. But every now and again a new piece of media far surpasses your expectations by taking you down the tried and true of road of Greek mythology and then blows the lid clean off of it – that’s Blood of Zeus.
Showrunners Charley and Vlas Parlapanides take viewers down a familiar road, following a child of Zeus (Jason O’Mara) as Hera (Claudia Christian) aims to exact revenge for the affair that birthed him. Blood of Zeus tells the story of a young man, Heron (Derek Phillips), who is cast aside by his people. Born a bastard, the people of the village label his mother a whore and torment both mother and child. This is due in no small part to the storm clouds that accompanied them when they arrived in the village. While he struggles to survive the vengeful wrath of Hera and the monstrous forces of evil she aligns against him who wants him dead, Heron must also deal with growing into his identity as a son of Zeus.
For the first half of the season, Blood of Zeus does exactly what you think it will do. The twists aren’t very twisty and the character developments hit the usual notes of Greek myth, including showcasing Hera as a crazed woman whose power is only shown through her manipulation and not held within herself. Then, around episode five and six, it all changes. The show’s writers subvert the well-known formulae of Greek tragedy and comedy to make a refreshingly compelling story.
While Heron and our secondary antagonist, Seraphim (Elias Toufexis), receive the lion’s share of the narrative development, other characters have small moments that amount to larger ones as the story comes together. This includes gods like Hermes (Matthew Mercer), Apollo (Adam Croasdell), and Ares (Matt Lowe) and characters like the Amazonian Alexia (Jessica Henwick). That said, given the strong pantheon of goddesses, it’s a shame we don’t see any other than Hera take any sort of spotlight. Even when multiple gods are involved in battle, the goddesses take a back seat. But this is a very small complaint when you step back and look at the series’ story and the growth we see in both Heron and Seraphim. Where Heron learns to look inward and to find his strength outside of anger, a valuable lesson his father teaches him, Seraphim continues to use hate and anger to fuel him.
The duality of Heron and Seraphim is both beautiful and surprising. Where we would expect Zeus to teach Heron to embrace the toxic strength that comes from hate, he instead teaches him to learn when that anger can’t win. On the other hand, Hera, the godly mother, stokes Seraphim’s rage, pushing him to harness his pain into a weapon. Zeus gives Heron the softness we expect from a mother. He teaches Heron to feel every emotion, and to let out the sadness and the rage, and to allow himself to remember the love. The other side of the coin is that Hera instills in Seraphim the hardness we might expect from a father: strength, stoicism, and power through anger. While Hera’s actions are still that of a mother, the way she instructs Seraphim is through traditionally masculine ideals. This allows us to see Hera not as a woman, but as a powerful deity wielding influence.
As a character, Hera appears to be doing the same things as always. Zeus has an affair, Hera is scorned, Hera is angry and betrayed and she wields her love as a weapon. However, in Blood of Zeus, Hera’s anger is not grounded in love. As we continue to see her use characters as chess pieces and speak with Zeus we realize that her anger towards Zeus is not about the infidelity itself, but in the disrespect, he shows her through it. As the queen of the gods, she deserves dignity and loyalty. Zeus disrespects her and makes her look foolish, stripping away the majesty of her position as the queen of all gods. What happens after is Hera’s push to reassert her power over Olympus, not her love as she would usually be portrayed. This is compounded when we see Hera show her strength against foes, not just her ability to manipulate. This shifts the dynamic we’re used to and it’s a welcome change.
While the narrative elements of Blood of Zeus have layers of depth that I can only lightly touch on to avoid spoilers, the animation of the series is also something to note. Animated by Powerhouse Animation, the studio behind both Castlevania and Seis Manos, Blood of Zeus is a work of art. With their signature style of hyperviolence and pure beauty, Powerhouse Animation has delivered a series with some amazing monsters, magic, action sequences, and above all – as usual – gorgeous characters. With gore galore that always has its place within the narrative, the studio’s animation style fits the violence and beauty of Greek myth to a tee.
There is an important element of this series that I cannot allow to go overlooked: the skin tones. While the giants rising from the sea like kaiju and the way godly powers are animated in battle are showstoppers, the skin tones are an essential part of the show’s beauty. There is a diversity of skin tone among the humans and the gods that is phenomenal to see, and I’m not talking about different shades of lightly tanned. No. There is every shade of brown displayed across characters of varying powers and status, including dark skin tones that are rare to see done well in animation.
As a brown woman, when I read comics and watch animation, it’s rare to see my skin tone reflected with the same vibrancy that I see when I look in the mirror. Often, medium browns come out jaundiced, and any shade darker than that appear ashen. This happens in many pieces of media and comes from a clear misunderstanding of the undertones in brown and Black skin and how it reflects light. While I have never doubted Powerhouse Animation’s ability to execute beautiful skin tones, given Isaac in Castlevania and the whole cast of Seis Manos, the level of diversity and beauty shown in Blood of Zeus pushes them to another level, and I love to see it.
Overall, from character design and animation to narrative execution, Blood of Zeus is gorgeous and reinvigorates mythology that some audiences have grown tired of. By telling us the story of Heron, framed as an oral history lost when it wasn’t written down, Charley and Vlas Parlapanides pull you into a new story that lulls you into comfort. You think you’ve heard it before, and in some ways you have. Then, they pull the rug out and throw you into a familiar world with a story that surpasses your expectations. Blood of Zeus continues Powerhouse Animations’ strong line up of content and offers eight episodes of action, adventure, and magic to get lost in.
Blood of Zeus is streaming exclusively on Netflix October 27, 2020.
Blood of Zeus
Overall, from character design and animation to narrative exectution, Blood of Zeus is gorgeous and reinvigorates a mythology that some audiences have grown tired of. By telling us the story of Heron, framed as an oral history lost when it wasn’t written down, Charley and Vlas Parlapanides pull you into a new story that lulls you into comfort. You think you’ve heard it before, and in some way you have. Then, they pull the rug out and they put throw you into a familiar world with a story that surpasses your expectaions.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.