VOD Review: Blame!
Blame! is a marriage of two eras of Japanese Anime. It is a thoroughly late 90’s cyberpunk tale rendered in Japan’s newest darling: cel-shaded, 3-D rendered animation. Blame! works well as a return to the millennial heyday of dark science fiction, and gets a bonus prize for making its source material a little less opaque.
If you like hyper-stylized, dark science fiction, the 1990’s was a fantastic time to be alive. Japanese sci-fi was all the rage. 1988’s Akira kicked the door wide open, and other dystopian works came flooding in. One such property was Blame!
Blame was a dark, post-apocalyptic manga written in 1998, but it didn’t have a ton of life outside of Japan. Things changed when Netflix scooped up the rights to make a movie version in 2015. The movie was released in May of 2017, and a sequel is in the works.
I tried reading Blame! a few months ago, completely unaware that it was coming to Netflix. I didn’t get very far. The storytelling was choppy, violent, and dense. The artwork was atrocious. I am happy to report that the movie version of Blame! fixes all of that, offering a tight (albeit violent) package with solid visuals and a comprehensible plot. If you are looking for a draught of millennial cyberpunk, no one would blame you for checking out Blame!
Humanity has seen better days. In the near future, mankind entrusted all of it’s day to day functions to a system called the NetSphere. It was designed as a cloud based system that every human could use to create whatever they needed. Every person was a power user, keyed into the Netsphere on the genetic level. Then a contagious disease went and changed the human genome.
The NetSphere regarded neo-humanity as a threat, an invading pathogen to be wiped out. It activated a system called Safegaurd, which created robotic assassins that wiped out humanity wherever it could find it. Now humanity hides in the cracks of it’s former glory, ekeing out an existence while avoiding Safeguard at all costs.
One such tribe of remnant humanity are the Electro Fishers, a group of hunter gatherers. While on a scavenge, new fishers Zuru and Tae encounter the Safeguard… and Killy, a cyborg with a weapon capable of wiping the Safeguard out. They bring Killy back to their village, where Killy enlists their aid in looking for humans who still possess genes capable of controlling the NetSphere.
Childe Killy to the Dark Tower Came
If Tsutomu Nihei hadn’t read at least the first book of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series before creating Blame!, I’d be shocked. The dystopia of Blame! is a sparse hellscape of hard men doing hard things. Violence and a savage impulsiveness are the laws of the land. Killy is our high plains drifter; and the similarities he shares with one Roland Deschain is hard to ignore.
The manga was focused entirely on Killy; the “episodes” of Blame! felt more like vignettes meant to show how mad the world had gone. In this movie adaptation, they shift the narrative to Zuru, the young Electro Fisher who finds Killy. I think this was a smart move.
Killy is a silent protagonist, so we need a little more narrative to make this world make anything resembling sense. Shifting to a young girl also gives the proceedings a little more empathy. The manga’s world was cold and impenetrable; the movie’s world, while cruel and unfair, is at least accessible. The Electro Fishers were just one of many of the random encounters Killy had in the manga, but here they fish the narrative out of the toilet and make this world a whole lot more than just poorly drawn Mad Max.
The other aspect Blame! fixes is the visuals. The artwork in the manga looks like what a three year old would do if you put a gun to their head and had them draw M.C. Escher. In the movie, we get cel-shaded CGI. It’s not even a contest.
At many japanese anime studios the love affair with cel-shading has progressed to heavy petting; at production studio Polygon Pictures they’ve already updated their family registry and are going out next weekend to get a larger rice cooker. I for the most part, enjoy it, in moderation. The upside is consistency and fluidity. The downside is sub-par shading effects and a tendency for character models to look a little samey.
In a manga like Berserk, the CGI robs the work of emotion. In Blame! it helps cement a world that is cold: burnt out megastructures and abandoned production facilities are the background to this sputtering last gasp of humanity. They use a neat trick of having each villager do their hair in distinctive corn-rows, dreadlocks and braids; this helps make each character distinctive once they are out of their uniforms. With traditional animation the action sequences would most likely have suffered for not having enough frames of animation; the CGI approach allowed for the movements to be extra fluid. Once again, here the trade off is sound.
Netflix Takes the Blame!
Netflix has secured another solid anime series. It’s all the more impressive, as the source material was a definite fixer-upper. If computer rendered anime isn’t off-putting to you, this will scratch your dystopian sci-fi itch. If you’ve never experienced either, Blame! is a good jumping in point. You don’t need perfect genes to watch this, but if you are sporting some a man named Killy would like to speak to you.