True to series creator Sofia Alexander’s vision, Crunchyroll’s Onyx Equinox is an animated action epic that uses all the hallmarks of your traditional anime-inspired series to tell a story about a young boy forced to set aside his fears in order to face the gods.
Though Onyx Equinox’s core premise will ring vaguely familiar to fans of shonen-style hero tales, the series’ exploration of Mesoamerican cultures and mythology immediately makes the story feel like something fresh and innovative in the animation space. Like all mortals living in the fantastical rendering of the ancient world, Izel (voiced by Olivia Brown) is well aware of the delicate balance of power between humans and the all-powerful gods that must be maintained in order to ensure that chaos does not erupt. Here, humans rely upon gods like Quetzalcoatl (Zeus Mendoza) and Tezcatlipoca (Arin Hanson) for protection and divine intervention in times of need. In exchange, the gods require a variety of different kinds of sacrifice, some involving blood, as the deities themselves do not possess the life-sustaining substance.
The animated series’ earliest episodes waste little time in throwing you right into the thick of the action; the world is plunged into a strange darkness caused by a new conflict between the gods that concerns a blood drought. As demons emerge from the earth and begin viciously eviscerating unsuspecting victims, Onyx Equinox begins setting an important tone for the show that, at first, might seem at odds with its Saturday morning cartoon aesthetics. Violent as its opening moments are, the carnage is all in service of establishing the threats that humanity’s facing and how, in this world, the ritualistic letting of blood is a regular part of life that typically works as an effective means of dealing with gods and monsters.
At the same time that Onyx Equinox establishes that its hero’s ultimately fated to avert the apocalypse, the show also puts considerable effort into building out an expansive idea of Mesoamerica that encompasses more than the typical ideas about the Aztecs or Maya that have saturated pop culture. While Izel and his sister Nelli (Sofia Alexander) originally hail from Tenochtitlan, the city they live in is populated by people from all across the Valley of Mexico, and the idea of people immigrating freely is commonplace. Through fine details and world-building, the show pushes you to see that its idea of indigenous identity is complex and shaped by elements like class and wealth.
As a poor, timid boy simply trying to eke out a peaceful existence with his sister, Izel’s the last person anyone, including himself, would ever consider tapping to become humanity’s champion. But it’s certain that the gods’ machinations will lead to devastation in the realm of the living if he doesn’t. Again, this is all very standard “chosen one” storytelling, but what truly makes Onyx Equinox’s early episodes really compelling is its depiction of mythic figures that, blessedly, aren’t from the Greek, Roman, or Norse pantheons.
To put it quite bluntly, Onyx Equinox’s take on Tezcatlipoca — a calculating god of sorcery who exhales plumes of thick smoke with his breath — is just cool to look at as he possesses the bodies of mortals and incinerates them from within while using them to speak. The show’s art direction is eye-poppingly vibrant at times and stomach-churningly sanguine at others as necessary, and the action sequences do what they need to push the story along.
What’s going to be fascinating to see is what general tone Onyx Equinox decides to strike as the series’ first season continues. The very first two episodes come out more than hot and pack in a surprisingly sizable amount of important details to keep in mind, but if the story slows down a little bit to catch its breath, it might end up being a series worth sticking with.
Onyx Equinox’s first episode is now streaming on Crunchyroll, which will doll out new episodes weekly.