Taking bits and pieces of mythology and weaving them throughout a series is commonplace in Japanese media, and for good reason. When the ancient tales of a person’s homeland are so engaging and enduring, how could they not serve as an everlasting source of inspiration? Like generations of storytellers before them, creators today show a certain level of ethnic pride by bringing those legends to modern art forms like anime (albeit with a bit more fanservice).
Yuzu Takada’s Blue Seed took this practice one step further. The series was one of the first big sellers for ADVision in the mid-90s, and western viewers immediately gravitated to the captivating story, charming cast of characters, and unique glimpses of Eastern mythos. But audiences didn’t realize how much the show relied on history: Blue Seed is a futuristic and fresh retelling of one of the oldest parts of the Japanese creation myth.
For first-timers to the show, it looks like yet another ‘teenage-girl-joins-a-military-operation’ type romp, with just as many panty shots as gunshots. Early on, however, the humor often takes a backseat to a poignant and dark tale of stolen youth and sacrifice in the face of danger. This also isn’t the first time Takada has infused his work with mythology; 3×3 Eyes shares many of the same themes.
The last thing you’d expect after grooving to such a memorable theme song is to get a crash-course in Japanese folklore. We wouldn’t recommend using the show to study for a test on the subject matter, no, but it might pique your interest and tickle your curiosity.
As with so many things in the mythology of Japan, we have to start with Izumo.
Deep in Shimane, the Land of the Gods
Momiji Fujimiya is your typical protagonist, and Blue Seed starts with a premise old as time: a clueless yet largely loveable middle-school girl is abruptly dragged into something terrifying and far beyond her understanding in the very first episode. Going about a normal day, she is attacked, first by a man calling her a strange name, and next by a legion of sentient vines appearing through every crack and cranny, hungry for her blood. When these beasts are chased away by mysterious government officials, Momiji finds herself plucked from her hometown of Izumo and whisked away to Tokyo, where she learns more about her destiny, and why she must fight back.
Throughout the series, Japan is being overrun by beasts created by the serpent, with the secret agency called the TAC (Terrestrial Administration Center) fighting back. Momiji is the piece of the puzzle needed to give the world a chance at survival.
Izumo isn’t just a fictional locale for the series; it’s one of the most sacred places in the entirety of Japan, located towards the southern end of the main island of Honshu in Shimane Prefecture. It’s no coincidence that Momiji comes to find she has descended from an ancient and powerful bloodline, nor that she’s grown up in a shrine; the Izumo Shrine (pictured below) is among the most ancient Shinto shrines, dedicated to Okuninushi, one of the central Gods in Japanese mythology. Basically, he’s the original ruler of the Earth. That’s something to put on a resume.
As Momiji is accosted by these strange plant-like beings, they whisper to her all the while, calling her ‘Princess Kushinada.’ Again, this is not a fictional construct (though Momiji’s destiny is a bit of creative storytelling.) When the trickster God Susanoo journeyed through Izumo long ago, a couple told him of a great serpent called the Yamata no Orochi which wreaked havoc throughout the land and ate seven of their eight beautiful daughters. Susanoo (not willing to do anything for free) agrees to destroy the beast, so long as he could marry the eighth daughter. This was Princess Kushinada, and as Blue Seed progresses, a plot to resurrect Susanoo comes to light, while Momiji discovers that the target on her back is because of this ancient heritage.
Much of the symbolism seen in Blue Seed (and the name of the series itself) revolves around the magatama, the curved bead seen embedded in Kusanagi and Momiji’s skin and fused to many of the monsters seen wreaking havoc throughout Tokyo. In Momiji’s case, the bead gives her the ability to sense these monsters. In a historical context, these beads appeared in prehistoric Japan sometime around 1000 BCE, and were simply jewelry for a time, before taking on a more religious connotation. In Blue Seed the bead is called a mitama instead, a word implying that the bead houses the spirit of a God.
Did the true Princess Kushinada spend her time sending plant-monsters to their eternal resting place? Probably not. But honestly, who can say for sure?
Blue Seed Mixed Legendary Lore with 90s Shonen Storytelling
None of this is to claim that Blue Seed is purely a study in ancient Japanese mythos. While everything from the main heroine to the terminology used throughout draws deeply from this well of inspiration (sometimes word for word) the 1994 series is also filled with those classic tropes we all adore so much, from Momiji having her animal-print panties show up in nearly every episode to one of the government workers being an avid hentai connoisseur. It also wouldn’t be a 90s series without Megumi Hayashibara in the lead role (and just prior to her massively popular work in Slayers).
Blue Seed somehow manages to blend the horrific possibility of the heroine’s sacrifice with an average teen love story in a way that seems nigh impossible. Jumping from a battle that could very much end our heroine’s life to footage of her cooking up a homemade bento for her crush is just the kind of ridiculous antics we’d expect from this kind of classic series. And if you’ll learn something while you’re laughing it up? Well, that’s a bonus.