Arts and Entertainment

The Crushing Mediocrity of “Blood of Zeus”

Despite its refined art style, “Blood of Zeus” lacks depth in story, characters, and themes, making it really tough to watch.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

America isn’t very good at making animations. Despite the U.S.’s dominance in pop culture over everything from Hollywood to the music industry, Western animation, at least on television, has been left largely unexplored and underutilized as a medium. This has only become increasingly obvious with the rise in popularity of Japanese animation, anime. Though there are several cleverly written, well-produced animations made in America, few manage to reach the scale, depth, or intensity achieved in anime or are willing to tell stories even half as strange and creative as those from overseas. There is simply no way that a show like “Attack on Titan” or “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” would ever be greenlit by American producers, yet both of those animes are hugely popular on an international level. The few dozen genuinely standout American animations do little to balance the scale against the original, insane level of production and variety in Japanese animated series.

No piece of media epitomizes the failures of the American animation industry quite like “Blood of Zeus” does. Produced by Netflix and animated by Powerhouse Studios, the duo behind the surprisingly good “Castlevania” animated series, “Blood of Zeus” had the potential to represent a turning point for adult Western animation as a whole. Sadly, the show doesn’t live up to the expectations. Despite the beautiful visuals, solid voice acting, and satisfying violence, “Blood of Zeus” is one of the least ambitious, most by-the-book, recently released stories. Its impressive animation is not enough to hide its lackluster character writing and total absence of depth, leaving it to wallow in mediocrity.

“Blood of Zeus” follows Heron (Derek Phillips), one of the most stereotypical Greek heroes since the existence of ancient Greece. Complete with muscles, strong morals, and daddy issues, Heron is a son of Zeus tasked with saving humanity and Olympus from demons, giants, and a civil war among the gods. Joined by a posse of forgettable, useless, and underdeveloped side characters, he must defeat Seraphim (Elias Toufexis), the leader of the demons, to prevent the end of the world.

The problem with “Blood of Zeus” is not its lack of complexity. Many of the most beloved movies and shows focus on the conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, on heroes who always do what’s right and villains whose ambitions of world domination inevitably fail. The problems instead lie in how little the show adds to the bare-bones formula for an action adventure. Heron’s character isn’t poorly written because it’s dull to have a main character who’s always good—it's because he’s devoid of any personality. A completely virtuous protagonist isn’t an inherently bad thing, but Heron’s lack of other traits doesn’t give much room in terms of growth or change. The same can be said of his allies. Though the show aimed for a diverse and interesting group to complement our stoic protagonist, it only succeeds in producing four more Herons, all with identical, pompous declarations about glory and morality. What’s more, any efforts made to construct backstories for the characters feel superficial and tedious given the few minutes of screen time allotted to each one.

The only character who gets even a shred of thought to his characterization is Seraphim, the leader of the demons. Seraphim gets the full works in terms of formulaic development: a secret, tragic, and complicated backstory that ties him to the hero and tries to rationalize his comical evilness. Seraphim’s motivations of revenge and rage are clearly defined, and as a narrative foil for Heron, he had the potential to be a memorable character. Their dynamic, however, falls through due to Heron’s lack of character flaws or motivations, which would’ve made Heron’s attempted character arc of overcoming his anger more believable. Thus, the show leaves Seraphim hanging, with one half of what was supposed to be the main thematic thrust of the story rendered meaningless by the failure to deliver on any other element of the plot.

Seraphim’s arc was designed to be static, contrasting with the protagonist’s growth and maturation over the course of the plot, but this is undercut by the lack of any change in Heron throughout the story. The significant and often tedious time spent on the villain feels wasted, as there is no relevance given to this more complex view of Seraphim in either the larger ideas of the show or in his actions, which continue to be as predictable as ever. Seraphim isn’t even a well-written character, but with the amount of focus and screen time given to his development, it’s ridiculous how flat and empty he remains.

A lot has been said about the classic hero’s journey, the structure which most works of fiction follow to create a satisfying build and release of tension. Like most shows and movies, “Blood of Zeus” follows this archetypal format, differing from its peers in only one way: its complete unwillingness to add anything engaging at all. While modern classics like “Harry Potter,” “Star Wars,” and “Lord of the Rings” were able to form expansive worlds and beloved narratives within this framework, “Blood of Zeus” feels more like a Mad Libs for an ancient Greek adventure, unsurely going through the motions with a meaningless plot set in a bland world. It says a lot about the lack of originality of the show when, in the unbelievably vast canon of ancient Greek mythos, the two adversaries chosen are giants (who at the very least are adapted into Godzilla-style kaiju) and demons, the two most boring and overused ones of the whole batch. The demons in “Blood of Zeus” aren’t even interesting; grey skin and superhuman strength, which summarize every dark army thought up in the last four decades. If Rick Riordan has taught the world anything, it’s that ancient myths are a very good toolbox to create your own stories, and the inability for “Blood of Zeus” to produce even the slightest bit of suspense and surprise in this supernatural world shows laziness in the scriptwriting.

Despite its numerous flaws, “Blood of Zeus” still has one thing going for it: it looks really good. The animation in the show is mind-blowingly sharp and creates a unique aesthetic that defines and distinguishes the characters with far more detail than the plot or their dialogue. Though there are a few noticeable drops in frame rate and occasionally the characters look a bit weightless, akin to action figures rather than real people, Powerhouse Studios manages to design a style that fits both high-intensity action and more relaxing, scenic moments. The willingness to show blood and gore definitely enhances the combat, making every blow feel like it packs a punch, though the choreography often feels a bit passive. Even if the animation only provides a thin facade of quality, the visual and aesthetic design of the show was enough to keep me watching, even with the lackluster main plot.

“Blood of Zeus” is mediocre at best. It is a show content with being completely forgettable, unwilling to take any risks or make the effort to utilize its world in imaginative ways. Despite its polished visual design, the series presents only the most basic level of story, with a cast of flat, uninteresting characters and nothing more than vague illusions of thematic coherence. The series is wonderful to watch, so long as you’re willing to ignore the dull and often pointless events happening on screen. “Blood of Zeus” could’ve been Western animation’s chance to start telling interesting, innovative stories but instead ends up uninspired, banal, and bland.