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Blue Eye Samurai: Disability Representation Done Right


In addition to a roster of strong, well-written female characters, Netflix's Blue Eye Samurai goes one step further in its representation of disability, simply by representing it well. Of the two visually disabled characters, I will focus on the more minor one, simply because of the technical design choices that were used to display the character's disability, even when that character's role is a relatively minor one.


The character, Sword Father, adoptive father to the protagonist Mizu, is blind. It is a condition he acquired through an incident with fire, although what the circumstances around these instances were is not disclosed. Still, despite this draw-back, he is known in the show for his renowned skill as a blacksmith, specifically his skill in making swords. Though he is bodily placed within the story through his connection to Mizu, the show takes this one step further. Through audio choices, the viewer is immersed into Sword Father's perspective in a way that is both a media language used to understand how the Sword Father perceives the world, and a language integral to the way in which the audience interprets the meanings the story is trying to convey.

This character language begins from the scene where Sword Father teaches Mizu how to make swords. He does this not through an hand-holding, but by incorporating an auditory form of learning. He beats out a rhythm on the anvil, and Mizu has to fill in the gaps by hammering the steel. In the instances where her rhythm does not come, or is slightly off-beat, she is lightly hit upon the head with a pair of pliers by the Sword Father. It is an auditory language that on the surface seems to involve the two of them only, but actually brings in another meaning to the audience in how they are meant to consume the show in its entirety—story-telling will not just unfold visually, but auditory designs are also key to the story-telling and story-consuming experience.


In universe, Sword Father's blindness allows the show to tackle a common trope often seen with disabled character, especially those who are blind, which is the trope of being tricked or duped. It also uses the ensuing representation to add further depth to Sword Father's character.

When a villager comes to Sword Father hoping to have a sword made, he tells a pitiable story which Mizu, who believes what she sees, falls for immediately. But Sword Father, who has a brief moment of tactile interaction with the villager's hands, is not so easily tricked. In private, he question out loud the authenticity of the villager's story simply because the villager is a bookseller with oddly callused hands. When the sword is finally made, presented to the villager despite having broken in the final part of the welding process, Sword Father reveals the villager's true identity as an assassin. In most circumstances, the equation made would have been this: broken sword + aggressive assassin character = violence. However, the show subverts this. With the Sword Father's reputation as a famous sword-maker imbuing him with societal authority, he can claim that the sword created accurately represents the soul of the assassin, the intended wielder, and it is an argument that assassin cannot argue against.

The ways in which this auditory language for character imposes itself into the language the viewer uses to decipher the story the show is telling is best encompassed in Mizu's the subplot about Mizu's personal growth and slow acceptance of herself.

Before she leaves home, she requests the Sword Father make her a sword, which he denies. Later, when she can no longer put of her own journey for revenge, she reveals to the Sword Father that she made a sword for herself by tapping the blade on the ground. The ringing that ensues is masterfully made: through clever and concise sound choices, the ringing bears a resonant metallic quality, like hitting tuning forks together, and it is a sound absurdly amplified beyond the laws of physics to put the viewer in the Sword Father's perspective. It is here as well that the language of the Sword Father and the language used by the viewer overlap. While the ringing sound is meant to express to something personal and private to the Sword Father, that specific meaning is informed to the viewer through visual means: with the ringing happening, the camera pans over to a shelf where the Sword Father had kept a lump of blue metal from a meteorite. This isn't just the sound of Mizu's sword, but a sound that in the Sword Father's mind (and the viewer's) is now directly connected to her.


And the show doesn't stop there.


Eventually Mizu is brought home, bruised and unconscious, by a friend who does not know about the connection between her and Sword Father. The viewer does not know whether Sword Father will recognize that it is Mizu or not, because that piece of information can only be attained in this moment through one sense alone: sight. That is—until Mizu's sword falls out of its sheath and hits the ground. In this moment, there is no accompanying visual with the ringing, like the image of the empty shelf in the scene above: there is only the sword falling slowly, and the amplified ringing. Instead the viewer is made to recall the stack of information disseminated about Sword Father through the careful cultivation of his other sensory experiences: we know he relies heavily on sound; we know he is highly deductive even when the clues he has are minimal; we know that sound, rhythm and metal are three things that define Sword Father's relationship to Mizu. We know, to Sword Father, these three things are Mizu.


For the audience, such an interpretation is only possible when the representation of a character has been carefully and holistically created. In presenting the Sword Father's language as a technical language for story-telling as well, the audience is not only cued into how to interpret certain scenes, but come to understand how to interpret those scenes from the point-of-views of character whose experiences can only be experienced through imagination.


It's not just good representation. It is a great one.






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3 Comments


Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023

As someone who finds so much joy in watching animated films and shows, reading your review on how disability is represented in an insightful way where it isn’t reduced to being a disadvantage to the character, but rather highlighted as either a strength or an integral part in the development of a character's individuality and abilities convinced me to watch this show! This review reminded me of one of the characters in Avatar the last Airbender, who is blind and goes by the name Toph. She is not defined by her disability rather she is shaped by it, and there was so much to her character that existed outside of her blindness, while also not undermining the impact her blindness…

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In all honesty, I've never watched anime and I think a lot of it has to do with the stereotypical image that's been created in my head and genuinely kudos to you for delayering that stereotype. It's interesting to see how representation does not merely extend to marginalized communities that come usually come to the top of your head but also to other groups of people that just genuinely aren't represented enough in media and specially aren't represented well. It is safe to say that I am intrigued by this show and will definitely be looking into this and other anime as well. Do recommend more!

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AHHHHHH Another anime i havent watched but on my list, after writing this comment I will legit go and watch the show!! However, on the topic of representation, im very interested in how I will view both these characters while im watching the show, a great representation is hard to come by in media which tends to take the shorter, easier route.

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