If you’re anything like me, you drop everything the moment you hear sick beats superimposed on good animation. And while I had no idea about Love, Death & Robots before its release this past Friday on March 15, this new Netflix drop captured my attention with its cyberpunk soundtrack, clips of a variety of art styles, and its promise of dark “edgy” themes.
What’s this about?
Love, Death & Robots is the Heavy Metal-reboot love project of David Fincher (Fight Club director) and Tim Miller (Deadpool writer-director), an anthology of unrelated short animated clips that revolve around the themes of… well, love, death, and robots. The series may feel similar in concept to Black Mirror, and for the most part, it is largely the same, highlighting humanity’s lust and fascination in the cosmos, time travel, and trans-human forms and exploring our fears about whether and when true threat comes from our own self-induced mass destruction, from the evolution of “primitive” organisms exceeding us, or from alien threat beyond the stratosphere.
However, the selling points that set Love, Death & Robots apart from other Netflix-hosted series are the brevity of its episodes (most adapted from existing short stories), the unashamed nudity, and the use of animation for graphic content. With no standard length of clip (the shortest at 6 minutes and the longest at 17), this anthology wastes none of your time. It also features easily-missed wordplay and situational humor (one of my favorite pairs of lines goes something like “Where are the fucking cats?” followed by “There’s the cats, fucking.”) and brings in stories from different faces across the world. Not to mention the number of times cats are brought into the plots is a treasure for all of us feline aficionados to cherish.
Yet for how new and innovative it is made out to be, the series relies on tropes that are just more of what we’ve seen before, especially with its treatment of women. Most, if not all, the women featured fit in generally one of three categories: a victim of violent or sexual trauma (from men), a warrior/assassin-type seeking revenge or vengeance (against men), or a supporting side character (to men). The fact that male characters have more breadth compared to female characters makes it painfully obvious that men are the primary writers of these stories. Sure, it’s nice to see powerful female figures, but the subtext that these women became this way because of men leaves an acrid taste on the tongue and doesn’t help either toxic masculinity nor the gender divide.
So altogether while I appreciated the selection in ethnic diversity of characters, environments, and themes explored in Love, Death & Robots, I still await when something “mature,” “dark,” and “edgy” provides women with more backstory than trauma, more device than sexuality, and more purpose than vengeance. Until then, I hold my standing ovation.
This anthology nevertheless deserves a view — as much as I do expect more from cyberpunk now that it’s practically the turn of next decade, I admit that Love, Death & Robots delivers exactly what it advertises. And for those of us that love that shit, we will inhale the series in one breath.
Episodes I liked
Of course, everyone is going to have their episodes to highlight, and you’re bound to have your own favorites when there are a total of 18 to choose from, but in my humble opinion, these are the ones you don’t want to miss (in no particular order, and I promise as spoiler-free as possible):
Based on a story written by Peter Hamilton, “Sonnie’s Edge” is the first of the series — and rightfully an excellent debut episode. “Sonnie’s Edge” opens as an underground fight club for monstrous beasts, who serve as physical gladiators for the humans neurologically linked to them. The soundtrack will hype you up and syncs perfectly with the plot’s building tension.
You will immediately recognize Alberto Mielgo’s (former artistic director of Into the Spiderverse) style in this gorgeous animation, down to split-second onomatopoeia, bold neon colors, and distorted frames. This is a story of a woman who is caught witnessing a murder and the chase that ensues afterward.
Adapted from original work by Ken Liu, this story recounts the tale of a boy that befriends a huli jing, a Chinese mythological creature that in this rendition can shape-shift between human to fox form. The ethereal atmosphere and the 2D animation style of this short makes this piece feel almost like a Miyazaki, especially in its incorporation of magical realism and quite overt commentary on industrialization and colonization.
“Lucky 13” is probably the one episode of the series that features a female lead with no plot related to men or despite men. It is the story of a rookie pilot who, despite skepticism of her aircraft’s superstitious number, eventually develops a trusting relationship with her aircraft. Also, the pilot’s played by Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black), so that is a definite plus.
“Zima Blue,” adapted from a story in Alastair Reynold’s first collection of short works, features a journalist who covers the revealing of a world-renowned artist’s newest masterpiece. It presents one of more unique animation styles in the series, with angular, thick outlines and sharp, solid colors.
Have you watched Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots? Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter!
Featured image credit: Netflix