<CONTENT WARNING> – Quite a few of the episodes in Love Death + Robots are extraordinarily NSFW. Heck, NSFH. Better yet, they might not even be safe to be viewed with your psychiatrist even. Who knows? You’ve been warned. – </CONTENT WARNING>
Animation is the realm of unicorns and singing princesses. This is an ironclad, law of entertainment. It’s one of those laws that runs alongside of “Never kill a dog in your screenplay,” and “Those that sin throughout the course of a screenplay always pay for it with their lives.” It’s just fact. Even screenplay writers that have never studied screenplay writing understand this innately. It would never do any good to kill a puppy – unless you are John Wick, and then it will be fuel to propel three different revenge movies into the stratosphere. But I digress. Animation is 100%, totally and completely, the domain of children.
Except when it isn’t. And when it isn’t, make certain, above all else, that it decidedly isn’t. When you break a screenplay rule, make certain you do it completely and irrevocably. “Upon reaching the New World, Cortez burned his ships; as a result his men were well motivated.” When you do it, make sure you do it all the way, and Netflix’s Love, Death, & Robots has done this so completely that it has caught me completely unawares.
But what is it? Love, Death, & Robots is a pile of animated film shorts that are all loosely coupled around this same intent – whatever you do, make certain the audience is aware that these shorts aren’t for children. They are violent, sexual, violently sexual, jarring, animated movies with piles of mindjobby black flips ever at the ready. And above all that, Love, Death, & Robots is some of the most amazingly gifted animation I have ever seen. Just mind blowingly good. Quality to make Walt roll over in his cryogenic chamber if truth be told. Hey, if you haven’t heard of it before, here’s a trailer in order to give you a feel for what it is all about. And I think you should be warned – even this trailer is a bit intense.
My favorite episode might just also be its most messed up. (Which says oodles about me, I’m sure.) The Witness. Which for me, was episode #3, but I’m hearing that Netflix was messing around with giving 4 different playlist orders to viewers based on demographics maybe, in order to see if it effects watching demographics. The animation was so blisteringly real, and so hardcore that I don’t think I breathed once for its entire 15 minute run time. And to top it off, it had an ending so good, and such a perfectly well written mindjob, that I did a double take as it slid into home plate without my even noticing it lapping the bases.
The Critics of Love Death + Robots
There are plenty of reviews praising Robots. But there are just as many lambasting the socially backwards stereotyping and misogynistic myopicness of its retro-futuristic vantage. Writing in The Daily Beast, Nick Schager described the series as “Black Mirror for the ADD-addled video game crowd.” Which, might or might not be considered a compliment or slight, depending on who you are. One boisterous reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes stated, “This animated anthology has enough creative Death to satisfy cyberpunk aficionados who Love their Robots to have some Heavy Metal influence, but the series’ lofty ambitions are often undercut by a preoccupation with gore and titillation.” Worse yet, Peter Rubin, writing for Wired, let fly his frustration at the seemingly “endless parade of stoic supermen and the women who deceive or escape them.” He continued to grouse that Fincher and Miller seemed to aim the show at a very definite “retrograde subset of genre fans”.
I mean, there is an episode, where in Hitler is suffocated by an enormous mound of gelatin. And that might be a tamer episode. Writing for Wired, Peter Rubin praised the show and its boundary-pushing nature, saying that “sometimes, you just want to see Adolf Hitler suffocated by a giant mound of gelatin.” There are several humorous and fairly tame examples if you’d prefer it. Try your hand at ‘Three Robots’ (for me it was episode #2) which was quite hilarious, ‘Suits’ (episode #4). Or ‘When The Yogurt Took Over’ – (episode #6).
Final Thoughts on Death Love + Robots
I don’t know what your comfort level is on cinema. So I can’t tell you whether Death Love + Robots is going to work for you or not. But I will tell you this – as someone who once aspired to becoming an animator with my life – Robots is possibly some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. Just mind blowing set design. Lighting. Unbelievable character development. Sure, some episodes are way better than others as they utilize totally different styles episode to episode. Which is a good thing. If you aren’t a fan of this one? Skip to the next one and see if it is more to your liking. But I can tell you, I really enjoyed them all. They were mindblowing. It’s too bad that the market won’t bear a full length film in these sorts of styles. There is no way. At least in the United States it won’t fly. Japan, sure. So, kudos to Netflix for investing in this underappreciated genre of adult interested animation. Love to know what you guys think of this show.
Oh, if you are looking for other movies in this vein, then maybe you’d like ARQ – not animated, but similar in feel. Bandersnatch also has a similar vibe going on. Cutting edge anyway. Or maybe Circle?