Blood of Zeus is the newest entry from the studio behind the hit animated adaptation of Konami’s Castlevania franchise. From the outset, this new show appears to be capitalizing on that show’s success to increase Powerhouse animation’s portfolio of mature, adult animated action dramas. But how similar is it to Castlevania, really?
Not very, as it turns out. Granted, it is under no obligation to be the same show and it would be silly to expect the show not to try and be its own thing. However, you’ll find that throughout this review, I will still draw comparisons, as the key to understanding the flaws of one are found in the other.
Blood of Zeus opens with a grand message about the lost tales of Greek myth and that this story is “one of those lost tales.” It’s all very cheeky, giving them carte blanche to do whatever they want with their take on the mythology.
The story follows Heron, a bastard son of Zeus who lives as an outcast along with his mother. As an army of demons begins to threaten the human race, Heron discovers his heritage and begins a road of self-discovery to become the hero he was meant to.
Simultaneously, Zeus looks on and offers a guiding hand. However, tension grows between him and his wife Hera, whose rage over Zeus’ unfaithfulness pushes her to quicken the coming storm that threatens Heron and his mom.
The first three episodes progressively got me more and more excited about how the story would grow. It’s a prolonged call to action for Heron as he discovers his origins just as the life he knows is uprooted. There is a lot established in these episodes both in the earthly realm and in the heavens above.
The most fascinating part of Blood of Zeus is the titular god and his strained relationship. It’s simultaneously funny, dramatic, and all-around awesome to see a story that calls out Zeus for being such a man-whore. It also makes Hera a very interesting antagonist whose actions are understandable, if a bit overdone.
Greek myth is all about painting gods as terribly imperfect creatures, blurring the line between the souls of men and gods. This show truly embraces that imperfection, creating a conflict that begs many a question about who is in the right.
Those early episodes got me excited to see just how many more parts of Greek myth would be explored throughout. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the theatre on Mount Olympus was all that more interesting than something like the vampire drama in Castlevania.
In season two of Castlevania, a lot of time was spent in Dracula’s castle, as the vampires of his council squabbled over what to do next in their war against mankind. There are notable characters who are at the forefront who push the story forward, but there are a lot of vampires in the background who don’t do much.
The same could be said of the other gods on Olympus. Arguably, we see those characters do things way more than the background characters in Castlevania, but this brings up a more contentious point. The fact that we see these characters do things without learning more about them makes the time spent with them less meaningful.
When Zeus or Hera do something, it’s easy to understand why it is important and impactful. However, when Apollo, or Hermes, or Ares do anything, it makes me wish the script spent more time fleshing them out. Now, an argument against this is that the point of a story like Blood of Zeus is to stress the bridge between heaven and Earth as it were. Having the main character be Heron puts a spotlight on the role of humans in the story. The problem is, Heron isn’t a very great protagonist.
There is a key moment in Heron’s journey where I gave up hope of him being an interesting character. From that moment onward around episode 4, the screenwriting lazily pushes him towards the “awakening” moment that you can see coming from miles away.
It’s the way they do it that robs a lot of the potential. In discussions about the show, my friends and I tend to agree that the scenes with the gods or demons are interesting while the humans are underdeveloped. They actually introduce new party members to travel with Heron and Alexia, an Amazonian introduced early on.
As soon as the entire cast has been joined, they immediately separate them again. Heron is given training since he has yet to unlock his god-like abilities. According to a friend of mine who compared the two scripts, the training scene and the dialogue from Luke’s training in the film The Empire Strikes Back are almost exact copies of one another. Even without the direct comparison, the whole setup feels derivative.
It’s a shame too because the rest of the human characters are sent on a quest that is hyped up in the marketing to be the main goal of the story. And yet, looking back on the show after watching it, I don’t think the story ever properly set its sights on the right goals. If the main crux of the show was supposed to be the threat of the demons, then it wasn’t directed properly to reflect that.
Blood of Zeus is about Zeus’ affairs coming back to haunt him and his attempts to make amends by helping his son to become a hero that will lead humanity against demons and the greed of gods. In that way, Heron fails to be an engaging or interesting protagonist, and the human characters “accompanying” him never are given the opportunity to really make an impression as anything more than cool badasses.
My favorite character arc came in the form of Seraphim, the leader of the demons, whose tragic tale and his hatred of lands of both humans and gods made him so much more interesting than either. Elias Toufexis, known for his role as Adam Jensen in Deus Ex, gave a great performance as Seraphim. If anything has me even slightly interested in returning to the show or a second season, it’s him.
The only thing about Blood of Zeus, visually, that ties it strongly to Castlevania is the character designs, which were supervised by Kathryn Silva, who worked on Castlevania alongside the director, animator, and character designer of that show, Sam Deats. The look of each character is striking, memorable, and their artwork is consistent.
In fact, artwork overall is pleasant in this show as well. It is the show’s compensation for overall animation quality that fans of Castlevania may find a bit lacking. However, in its most epic moments, Blood of Zeus can still deliver on action thanks to great sound design and music by Tyler Barton.
Director Shaunt Nigoghossian and writers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides clearly had a great passion for Greek mythos and made a show filled to the brim with fanservice for other fans of the same. However, I think the love of the mythos may have caused them to eclipse their scope for this series. The main character is bland and the human characters feel underdeveloped. If they can channel the energy they put into the gods’ story into every other narrative, they will have a show worth binging for a second season.
As for what the show is right now, it is another sign of Powerhouse Animation’s devotion to making great adult-oriented drama in animation, right here in the west. To those whom that is important, this show will surely entertain. To lovers of mythology, it will similarly scratch an itch, as it were. For everyone, else, it might be waiting to see if it improves with a second season.
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Blood of Zeus is available for legal streaming through Netflix
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