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Love, Death & Robots (2019), the animated Sci-Fi anthology series I’ve waited my whole life to see!

April 3, 2019

MY CALL: This series is everything that I never realized I was always waiting for in terms of feisty science fiction. Fans of Anime, fighting robots, Adult Swim and Pixar should enjoy this excellent anthology series. MORE Sci-Fi ANTHOLOGIES: The Twilight Zone (1959-64, 1985-89, 2002-2003, 2019), Outer Limits (1963-65, 1995-2002), Oats Studios Volume 1 (2017), Black Mirror (2011-17; 4 seasons) and Electric Dreams (2017-2018). The ABCs of Death (2013), The ABCs of Death 2 (2014) and The ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016) are primarily horror series, but have their share of Sci-Fi as well.

I’m a big fan of science fiction and anthology series. Black Mirror (2011-17; 4 seasons) made its allegorical mark focusing on cautionary tales intermixing morality with our potential trajectories misusing, overusing, or addicting to technology and/or social media. Subsequently Oats Studios Volume 1 (2017) and Electric Dreams (2017-2018) continued to grace Sci-Fi fans with more creative inklings within the genre. Now creator Tim Miller (Deadpool) brings a vast range of themes and tones from visceral head smashes to the hilarious banter of quirky robot tourists with an interest in mankind and a fearful respect for cats.

While I’d love to see any of these stories extended into longer stories, the brief 6 to 16-minute segments offer the very best of their creators’ visions and spare us the “general audience” pandering enforced by studios that cheapen films for big cash grabs. Animation styles vary wildly, from nearly life-like CGI (e.g., Beyond the Aquila Rift, Shape-Shifters, Helping Hand) and Pixar style (e.g., When the Yogurt Took Over, The Dump) to Saturday morning cartoons (e.g., Suits, Sucker of Souls) and Anime (e.g., The Witness, Good Hunting)… and some of them are actually mostly live-action (e.g., Lucky 13, Ice Age).

As the title suggests, content will be a bit more edgy than standard fare—including LGBTQ sexuality (e.g., Sonnie’s Edge), stylishly animated nudity (e.g., The Witness, Good Hunting), and even some graphic sex scenes (e.g., Beyond the Aquila Rift). It would be fair to note that this series is an equal opportunist regarding nudity, showing every bit as many animated penises as breasts (e.g., The Dump, Sucker of Souls, Good Hunting). Yet for all the nudity the sexuality never pushes audiences to discomfort. It’s presented more honestly and, at times, almost holistically. Yes, sexual themes abound in this series as the title implies, but the series is more concerned with its storytelling than it is with gratuitous thrills. Still some episodes are more wholesomely PG (e.g., Suits, When the Yogurt Took Over), with themes are as diverse as the effects style. Three Robots and Sucker of Souls both embrace a playful love of cats—actually as do several other episodes include glimpses of feline fondness. On the other end of the spectrum, Shape-Shifters and Sonnie’s Edge deliver the best brutal, gory action, while Beyond the Aquila Rift and Helping Hand both feature wonderful spacescape and spaceship special effects.

Now let’s discuss the short segments…

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Sonnie’s Edge opens the series with the grit and sexuality of modern videogame-adapted Anime while approaching Kaiju-esque monster-versus-monster ring-fighting themes from Arena (1989), Real Steel (2011), The Guyver (1991) and Pacific Rim (2013). The psychological motivations are dark, the villains seethe malevolence, and our hero is as dark as they come. The monster combat is outstanding and crisply animated with plenty of blood and gore, cool maneuvers, animalistic behavior and feisty surprises which rollover from the monster combat to the “players.” In fact, the scenes with the human players get every bit as dark and brutal as the monster scenes! Staying in brutal monster-fighting theme, Shape-Shifters brings us werewolf Marines in Afghanistan. The transformation scenes are just okay and the werewolves look decent. But the werewolf violence, gore and action are where this segment truly shines. The fight is full of brutal rendings.

Then we shift to the light-hearted humor of Three Robots (including Josh Brener; The Belko Experiment, Max Steel) on a walking tour of post-apocalyptic Earth. Smacking of a mature approach to Wall-E (2008), the strongly contrasting personalities of these three robots each add their own delightful flavor as they try to make sense of human’s existence—from their self-destructive nuclear weapons, to basketball, to cohabitation with cats (voiced by Chris Parnell; Archer, Rick & Morty, SNL). It’s all hilarious and features strikingly sharp writing and comedy. Likewise, Alternate Histories is a positively joyous comedic romp exploring alternate timelines of Hitler’s death. The scenarios are ridiculous and hilarious, and the animation style is a refreshing change of silly pace.

The Witness swings into full-tilt thriller as a futuristic sex worker witnesses a murder and flees the killer. The style harkens more classic Anime and is rooted in reality except for its Twilight Zone-y twist. This segment featured the least dialogue but still offered a lot. Next Good Hunting brings an abundance of animated breasts and penises to what would otherwise pass as a very PG cartoon story animated like a children’s cartoon (but with genitals LOL). This segment mixes traditional Anime swordplay with Asian folklore (shape-shifting huli jing) and steampunk.

Still some of the episodes are notably less mature in nature—ranging more PG to PG-13. Suits is yet another segment playing on the robot pilot theme of Pacific Rim (2013) and Robot Jox (1989), as an agrarian community suits up to defend their land from portals spewing Zergling-like hordes of Starship Troopers (1997) bugs like the sentinel assault on Zion in The Matrix: Revolutions (2003). While conceptually satisfying, the Saturday morning cartoon style animation and less dire tone left this among my least favorite episodes, not that it wasn’t well done or enjoyable on its own. More violent but still carrying the Saturday morning cartoon vibe with a gang of cyborgs fighting a giant robot during a high-speed heist, Blind Spot also wasn’t impressive. Sucker of Souls is a mix of Saturday morning cartoon with R-rated humor, PG-13 gore and a touch of Castlevania (2017-2019; Netflix) illustrating a more monstrously demonic iteration of Dracula accidently released during an archaeological expedition.

Another episode that failed to impress me in theme and tone, not that it didn’t add diversity to the series, was Fish Night—my least favorite of the series although conceptually interesting. Vaguely reminiscent of A Scanner Darkly (2006) and smacking of a beautiful desert peyote trip-gone-wrong in The Matrix (1999) of prehistoric natural history. But I know “cool” when I see it. And that’s exactly what I saw in Zima Blue, a unique idea backed with excellent storytelling. However, the animation style and non-action theme wasn’t what I desired. I expect many will enjoy these more arthouse-inspired segments.

When the Yogurt Took Over is a brilliantly funny apocalyptic satire in which yogurt takes over the world. Appropriately narrated by Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, The Critic). Need I say more? The Dump tells the quirky story of a goofy old redneck living in a garbage dump, the man from the city (Gary Cole; Office Space) trying to evict him, and the old redneck’s pet garbage monster Otto. It carries an idiosyncratic charm.

Capturing the writing stylings of the Outer Limits (1995-2002), Beyond the Aquila Rift has the kind of storytelling and Sci-Fi twists that will cultivate nostalgia. A crew awakens from hyper-sleep far off course… VERY far off course. The revelation of the alien creature truly shocked me as the episode ended much like Event Horizon (1997).

Contrary to the overwhelmingly animated theme, Lucky 13 features purely live-action actors surrounded by much in the way of flight and military ship effects. As a major Star Wars fan, I enjoyed the excellent aircraft chase scene under the cavernous flats and the tactical scenes taking off while saving soldiers under fire. And get ready for an utterly wrenching visual vignette of survival as Gravity (2013) meets 127 Hours (2010) in Helping Hand.

Another live-action entry is Ice Age. This segment stars Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3, Interstellar) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3, The Thing, 10 Cloverfield Lane) as a couple whose refrigerator houses the evolution of modern civilization. It’s cheeky and reminds me of the God short film from Oats Studios Volume 1 (2017). Then we return to heavy action as Secret War boasts gorgeous shots of winter forests and battlescapes with Russians battling legions of infernal monsters. Great gore, action, creature effects, wardrobing and cinematography all bring this together into an excellent close to the series.

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This series is everything that I never realized I was always waiting for in terms of feisty science fiction. And while there were several episodes I didn’t like, they averaged about 10 minutes! So it’s easy to skip the segment and not feel a big loss as one advances to more preferable genre fare. Fans of Anime, fighting robots, Adult Swim and mature-themed Pixar should enjoy this excellent anthology series. I can’t wait for a second season.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2019 8:48 am

    My son told me this was good. He usually knows what he’s talking about. I will have to watch this.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      April 3, 2019 9:01 am

      I have watched most episodes more than once now. Highly recommended.

  2. Yangin-Atep permalink
    April 11, 2019 4:39 am

    Did some checking online and as far as I can tell Lucky 13 is actually completely CG with the lead actors faces scanned for their characters’ CG models. They are also credited as doing voices for it on IMDB.

    The one that fooled me that I thought was either motion cap or rotoscoping was The Witness, but according to interviews that one is entirely CG (hand animated no less) as well. They did use a fairly cutting edge software suite made for fashion designers to animate the clothing, though.

    But yeah looks like the one with Topher Grace is the only live action in the series.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      April 15, 2019 7:18 am

      That’s interesting. I was eyeing things very closely and, yes, I figured most of the space/landscape was CGI, I didn’t think the ship sets and people’s bodies were! CGI continues to impress the crap outta me. Thanks for sharing that. 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. Black Mirror Season 4 (2017), the science fiction anthology series that issues social commentary on our use of technology and media, and how it may defy our good intentions. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. Black Mirror, Season 4 (2017), the science fiction anthology series that issues social commentary on our use of technology and media, and how it may defy our good intentions. | Movies, Films & Flix

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