For a sci-fi franchise as beloved and influential as Blade Runner, it’s notable just how commercially unsuccessful it has been. Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking 1982 adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick novel was a notorious box office failure at the time, and only found success years later when the Director’s Cut was finally released. It took 35 years for an official movie sequel–2017’s Blade Runner 2049–and that too was a commercial disappointment. And yet, the world of Blade Runner maintains an irresistible and intoxicating pull on writers, artists, and filmmakers. Following the release of 2049 prequel short, Blade Runner Black Out 2022, another animated Blade Runner project is here.
Blade Runner: Black Lotus is a 13-episode anime series from directors Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama, who previously collaborated on Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045. It’s set in 2032–between the two movies–and focuses on a young woman named Elle (voiced by Iron Fist’s Jessica Henwick in the US dub), who wakes up in the back of a truck with no memory of who she is and a black lotus tattooed on her shoulder. She escapes with a mysterious piece of technology, and heads into the neon-drenched, rain-swept streets of Los Angeles to discover her true identity.
Black Lotus does an impressive job of immediately immersing the viewer in the urban dystopia and cyberpunk cityscapes that were brought so vividly to life in Scott’s original movie. From the dizzying shots of a dark sky filled with neon adverts and flying spinner ships to Michael Hodges and Gerald Trottman’s variation on Vangelis’s classic synthesiser score, there’s no mistaking that this is Blade Runner.
While Black Out 2022 had a more traditional 2D look, Black Lotus embraces 3D animation, allowing for some highly detailed backgrounds and deeply textured world building. Much of the familiar iconic imagery from the films is here–characters eating at street noodle bars, echoing announcements of a better life on off-world colonies, giant glowing holograms in the sky, neon umbrellas–but Aramaki and Kamiyama are smart to keep much of it as background detail, rather than play too much on obvious nostalgia.
The familiarity of the setting also extends to the storyline. While Elle is a new character, her attempts to discover who she really is are not so different from the questions asked by characters such as Dekkard, Rachel, and Agent K in the two movies. The big difference here is that Elle is blessed with amazing combat skills, leading to some bone-crunching and dazzlingly animated action sequences, as she takes on various villains who get in her way. But the themes of Black Lotus–at least in the two episodes that were provided for review–remain much the same: identity, memory, and the corrupting use of technology.
While the main characters from the films are (so far) absent, there are some familiar names here. Niander Wallace Jr, the character played by Jared Leto in 2049 and voiced here by Wes Bentley, appears, with the Wallace Corporation run by his overbearing father (Brian Cox, essentially playing a version of Succession’s Logan Roy). At this point in the Blade Runner timeline replicants have been outlawed–in one scene we see two replicants slug it out in an underground fight club. But knowing where 2049 takes Wallace Jr. and his development of synthetic humans, adds an extra dimension to his appearance towards the end of Episode 2. Elle’s quest is aided by Doc Badger, the electronics expert and pawn shop owner played by Barkhad Abdi in 2049, who returns to voice the character here. The 3D animation might not be to the taste of anime fans who prefer a more traditional look, but there’s no denying that the fluidity and expressiveness of the characters are impressively rendered.
Another Blade Runner movie seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and although these first two episodes don’t really take the franchise in a new direction, hopefully the story will develop in interesting ways over the next 11 episodes. Overall, this is a stylishly-made facsimile–or indeed, replica–that provides a welcome, almost comforting, return to futuristic Los Angeles.
Blade Runner: Black Lotus premieres on Adult Swim and Crunchyroll on November 13.
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