A friend gave me the tip to check out the new Netflix series Love, Death + Robots from Tim Miller and David Fincher, and I’ve spent the past three days devouring the vignettes, mesmerized by the variety of stories and depth of the series. In short order this is not a single narrative series, instead it’s a collection of 18 vignettes that all in some way deal with a combination or one of he following: Love, Death or (wait for it) Robots.
One interesting thing to tackle with this show that reinforces the independence of the vignettes as stand alone stories with their own morals/messages independent of the larger themes is that Netflix has chosen to randomize the order the episodes play for each user. Aside from reinforcing that the thematic links do not imply any other importance of one vignette following another, it also makes getting through the entire series all the more important because you may not be able to talk about it with friends because you can’t guarantee the 3 episodes you’ve watched already are 3 they’ve gotten to at all.
Overall, the diversity of animation styles, tones, and storytelling pacing and style is astounding. Vignettes range from uncanny valley ultra realism to actual cartoons (one is done in anime style, another literally toons) and everything in between (a couple are cel shaded, some are computer animated with hyper-stylized depictions of people). The futures depicted and discussed are varied from the satirical to the dystopic. We journey thousands of lightyears outside our galaxy, and even use A.I. to look into our past. One of the more poignant stories takes place in an old refrigerator (shout out to Topher Grace in the Ice Age episode).
Four stories stick with me most, the first of which was Sonnie’s Edge in my play order. It’s an exploration into confronting one’s anger and hate, and finding motivation and will to not only fight but simply to survive. This one is dark, cyberpunk, and action packed with a tremendously inventive concept of bio-engineered kaiju mind controlled for death matches to entertain the masses.
Good Hunting takes classic Japanese folklore of the kitsune and has it grapple with the onslaught march of modernity and technology. It’s a beautiful bit of visual poetry that is bravely cynical and dark in the story it tells, which only makes it all the more beautiful at its culmination.
The Witness is a great time paradox story, short, action heavy, sensually overwhelming, and brilliant in concept. The last one I want to tantalize you to watch though is the biggest one: Zima Blue. I don’t want to spoil a single thing about it, but it’s simply about a cyborg artist who’s obsessed with a particular shade of blue, who’s famous throughout the galaxy for constructing monoliths of increasing magnitude depicting the color.
I need to address the similarity between this and The Animatrix, which was certainly fun, but in the end its disparate tones and styles were weighted down and impeded by the film universe they were supposed to be a part of. Conceptually, they explored some interesting ideas, but always being tied to a particular mythos they could only say so much within that dialect and context even if some explored some interesting departures in style and tone.
Love, Death + Robots has no such constraint. Each vignette has not only its own unique style, but its own philosophy, its own universe or corner of the world. It’s why we can have such stunning explorations of how our mythos and cultures evolve from age to age, right next to a story about how yogurt became sentient and took over the world (not a joke). It’s brilliant and there’s something for everyone here.