In the history of Japan, the Edo period, or, as designated by the contemporary shogunate, the Tokugawa period, spanned two and a half centuries and was marked by several contrasting aspects. On one hand, the extremely isolationist approach of the nation allowed it to be completely hidden away from the rest of the world, contributing to a certain oriental enigma and the creation of a police state. On the other hand, the approach allowed the nation to reach the zenith of cultural innovation and maintain peace and prosperity during a period when the rest of the world was being ravaged by the pangs of European colonialism. Both of these aspects are beautifully highlighted in the recently released Netflix original series, Blue Eye Samurai, created by Amber Noizumi and her husband Michael Green, known for his work as a writer on movies like Logan and Blade Runner 2049.
As the series charts the roadmap of its titular protagonist through the political intricacies of the Edo Period, a pretty accurate delineation of Japan’s contemporary social ills is highlighted by its beautiful juxtaposition with the celebration of the nation’s culture. The gorgeous animation style captures both beauty and brutality in their pristine essence and almost makes viewers feel like they’re reading through ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Overall, it is safe to say that the eight-episode series has turned out to be another win for Netflix original animated works, and the first season has provided a foundation upon which a broader narrative can be built.
Who Is The Blue-Eyed Samurai? What Is Her Motive?
During the Edo period, Japan’s relations with the Western world were a contentious topic, as, except for limited trade, the door to foreigners was completely shut off. Needless to say, in such a restrictive climate, the very idea of mingling with Western visitors was looked down upon by society, let alone bearing a child with one. The series introduces viewers to Mizu, whose blue eyes indicate a mixed parentage. As the series begins, Mizu is seen to be on a vengeful trail against a certain Abijah Fowler, and as the narrative progresses, we learn more about her background, which clarifies her motive in the process as well.
Years ago, four chief European merchants introduced the opium, gun, and flesh trade in Japan. As they were entertained with all forms of debauchery under the patronage of selective clan leaders, a number of biracial children were born to local prostitutes. Mizu was a child of such an origin who, along with her mother, was considered a social outcast. In their effort to obliterate any extramarital lineage, the merchants secretly burned down Mizu’s cottage along with her mother, and such a harrowing incident left an indelible impact in the mind of young Mizu, who swore revenge against the four merchants on her mother’s grave. Due to contemporary social stigma, Mizu conceals her identity as a woman and adopts a man-like appearance.
Orphaned at a young age, Mizu had to look after herself and soon enough found herself under the wings of the legendary blind swordfather, Eiji, from whom she learned the discipline of craftsmanship. Observing his high-profile warrior customers in sparring action, Mizu learned various fighting disciplines, and years later she was prepared to find out the merchants’ whereabouts. However, her initial efforts as a pacifist went horribly wrong, and she found herself grievously injured in the process. Fate brought her back to her mother, who is revealed to have survived the attack.
Mizu’s mother coerces her to stray off from the path of revenge and settle down by marrying a suitor. She finds a disgraced samurai, Mikio, to marry off her daughter, and despite the duo’s initial distant attitude towards each other, Mizu and Mikio form a strong bond with each other. Just as Mizu lets her guard down and starts trusting Mikio, she gets betrayed by him, who informs the merchants’ enforcers about her existence. A distraught Mizu decimates the enforcers, and as she later confronts Mikio, it turns out that both he and Mizu’s mother were involved in the conspiracy. During the altercation, Mikio kills her mother, Mizu kills Mikio in retaliation, and Mikio decides to leave this life behind and continue her journey on the path of vengeance.
How Did Mizu Find The Fowler? What Danger Lies Ahead For The Shogun?
In the present timeline, Mizu has already managed to kill one of the merchants, Violet, and is on her way to find out about another one, Abijah Fowler, whom she suspects to be her father, who is being aided by a formidable warlord, Heiji Shindo. In the beginning, Mizu visits a ramen shop while tracking down a local flesh trader who shares a connection with Fowler and saves the shop owner’s amputee son, Ringo, in the process. Ringo is at once captivated by her bravery and skill and decides to leave his mundane life behind to join her quest. Initially unwilling to let Ringo join her side, Mizu later begrudgingly allows him to assist her. Through the course of events, Ringo learns about Mizu’s identity as a woman.
The duo arrives in Kyoto, where Mizu visits the Shindo dojo to meet the master, who happens to be the brother of Heiji Shindo. After battling her way through the dojo members, Mizu battles a local samurai, Teigen, whom she recognizes to be the bully who tormented her during her childhood. Mizu beats and humiliates him in battle by severing his chignon. Mizu learns from the master that Heiji has kept Fowler secure in an island castle, and she starts off on her way to apprehend him. Meanwhile, after learning about the recent developments, Heiji employs a quartet of vicious mercenaries, the Four Fang, to track down and kill Mizu.
In Kyoto, the Tokunobu clan’s chief, Daichi, prepared to marry his daughter, Akemi, to the Shogun’s younger son against her wishes. Akemi manages to convince her father to let her marry Teigen, with whom she is secretly in a relationship, but after Teigen’s humiliating defeat, he is no longer considered a prospective suitor by society. Teigen sets on his own journey to earn his honor by defeating Mizu, and as Daichi continually presses Akemi to marry into the Shogun, she decides to flee in pursuit of her lover.
At Heiji’s castle, Fowler has planned with the warlord to take over the shogun, thereby wresting complete control of Japan’s economy, trade, and colonization. In order to do so, Fowler has secretively ordered thousands of guns to be imported through ships, and this technological advantage is surely going to provide him with enough edge to destroy the country’s best defenses.
Why Did Ringo Leave Mizu’s Side? What Happened To Akemi?
Mizu faces the Four Fangs in a town and manages to hold her own while decisively beating and killing each of them. She recognizes the leader of the merc group, Chiaba, who had previously visited Eiji and received a broken sword crafted by Mizu, and she detests her for that. Mizu puts a lid on past enmity by killing Chiaba at the end. Teigen tracks her down, but an exhausted Mizu is unable to take on his challenge and loses her consciousness. Teigen takes his leave by allowing her time to recuperate, but gets captured by Fowler/Shindo’s enforcers and is brought to their castle. The duo tortures him to force him to reveal Mizu’s whereabouts, but as an honorable warrior, Teigen isn’t willing to do so.
After regaining her strength, Mizu proceeds to visit the renowned brothel manager, Madame Kaji, to learn about the secret entrance to Fowler’s castle and gets spotted by Akemi, who happens to be in the same town and recognizes her by Teigen’s scarf. As Mizu finds Kaji unwilling to share information, she offers her service as a killer in exchange for the information. Kaji agrees and assigns her a task, and at the same time, Akemi, taking a job at Kaji’s brothel, meets with Mizu. After a furious Akemi lashes out at Mizu for her role in disgracing Teigen and separating him from his beloved, Mizu chastises her for leaving the option of a secure livelihood behind and assigns Ringo to keep a watch on her while she ventures out to complete her mission.
Madame Kaji was affectionate to a deaf, mute prostitute named Kinuyo and wanted to protect her from the evils of the world. However, the local crimelord, chief of the Thousand Claw Army, Boss Hamata’s perverted gaze had befallen her, and he forced Kaji to sell Kinuyo to him. Kaji wants to end Kinuyo’s prolonged misery by providing her with mercy-death, which Mizu needs to perform in order to learn about the location of Fowler’s castle. Mizu despondently carries out the killing, but eventually, Hamata learns about the situation and sends his men to destroy Kaji’s brothel. Mizu protects the members of the brothel by killing hordes of a thousand claw army, and even Akemi and Ringo manage to help her by rescuing her from a dire situation. However, in the end, as Daichi’s forces arrive to take Akemi back home, Mizu doesn’t stop them, as she believes it’s for her own good. Ringo is disgusted by Mizu’s inaction, and considering her a dishonorable samurai, he leaves her side.
After learning the location of the secret entrance to Fowler’s castle from Madame Kaji, Mizu battles her way through enemies and traps to surpass all nine levels and reach Shindo and Fowler, where she meets a captive Teigen as well. However, pushing herself too much, she has exhausted herself yet again, and as Fowler breaks her sword and delivers a vicious beatdown to her and Teigen, Mizu realizes that right at the moment she is absolutely helpless. Somehow she manages to gather some strength to send herself and Teigen out of the castle by breaking through the window, and the duo falls into the icy bay below.
What Did Mizu Learn About Her Parentage?
As fate had in its cards, Ringo rescues both Mizu and Teigen and takes them to Swordfather Eiji’s forge, where they gradually recuperate. Fowler, on the other hand, prepares to journey to Edo and kill Shogun Itoh and his family to assume control and reshape the Shogun as per his liking. Akemi gets married to Shogun’s younger son and manages her way through social expectations, all the while learning to stand up for herself. For the royal marriage, Madame Kaji and her group of courtesans have arrived in Edo, and Akemi employs them as royal caretakers, thereby freeing them from the life of prostitution.
Teigen briefly catches up with Mizu, but after learning that she deliberately allowed Akemi’s marriage to take place by sending her back to her father and that she did nothing despite knowing about the impending attack on Shogun, he starts loathing her. Teigen leaves for Edo to warn the Shogun, while Mizu tries to gather herself yet again to face Fowler in a final showdown. After some timely advice from master Eiji and a bit of soul searching, Mizu is on the right track as she reforges her sword, makes amends with Ringo, and the duo begin their journey towards Edo to free Akemi and end Fowler once and for all.
One of the courtesans, Ise, who had overheard Fowler and Heiji’s plans previously, warns Akemi about the impending attack on Shogun, and as she informs her father, Daichi, about this, she is confronted with a horrible truth. Daichi and his Tokunobu clan were already in cahoots with Fowler, and the sole reason he arranged Akemi’s royal wedding was to weaken the royal defense from within when the time was right. Daichi locks Akemi away for her safety, but Seki, the ever-trustworthy guardian figure of Akemi, arrives at her rescue. Akemi and Seki lock away Daichi instead and rush to warn the Shogun.
Reaching Edo, Mizu assigns Ringo to secure an exit way while she ventures inside the royal palace to find and attack Fowler, who is already on his way with his gun-wielding armada to attack the shogun. It should be mentioned that Heiji and a royal advisor were assisting Fowler’s grand attack planned to betray him at the end by taking over his armor, but Fowler was a step ahead as he customized his weapons to remodel as furniture, thereby curbing any chance of betrayal in the process. Teigen meets with Ringo and convinces him to assist in informing the shogun about the attack, and although they eventually manage to do so, it is of little to no benefit as the armed royal guards are absolutely no match for gun-wielding soldiers. Fowler slaughters his way inside the royal court, kills the shogun, and holds the royal family at gunpoint.
Right at the moment, Mizu’s timely intervention changes the tide of the battle as she slays most of Fowler’s personal guards, Teigen kills Heiji and escorts the royal family to safety, while Seki and Akemi flee on their own. During the battle between Mizu and Fowler, fire breaks out, which slowly engulfs the royal palace, and in order to keep the gun-wielding enforcers from escaping, Akemi and Seki decide to close the gate upon them. Seki receives a fatal gunshot, much to Akemi’s dismay, and states her life’s desire to see the nation under the service of Akemi. The Royal Itoh family vows to rebuild the Edo and keep Western influence at bay from this point on.
Teigen finally meets his beloved, Akemi, and wishes to leave his past behind to start a life together. However, Akemi has changed a lot since the last time the duo met, and she visualizes Seki’s dream as her own ambition as well. Inside the burning court, Mizu beats Fowler and almost kills him when he reveals secrets unknown to her, which challenges her existing worldview. He states that contrary to her speculations, he might not be her father after all, as either of his other friends—Routly, and Skeffington—might be Mizu’s real father. He also reveals that the woman Mizu considered to be her mother was in reality a maid who was paid to take care of her, which is why she abandoned her when the flow of money stopped and later betrayed her for the same reason. There might be more answers Mizu can find from him, especially about the place—London—which piques Mizu’s interest, and she decides to spare Fowler’s life. As the first season ends, Ringo continues to worry for his master while serving as an apprentice to Eiji, and Mizu is seen to have set sail towards the west with Fowler captive in her ship. There is ample scope for exploration for a second season, provided through several plot points and multiple character arcs, the major two of which are the reformation of the shogun and Mizu’s quest to find out her identity.