Blade Runner: Black Lotus – First Impressions

WARNING: POSSIBLE MILD SPOILERS

2032: ten years after the Black Out, a world-wide data wipe that destroyed the global electronic data networks. In the decade following, the world economy has collapsed and only slowly re-generated, while catastrophic climate change that would have resulted in humanity’s extinction were it not for the development of foods based on synthetic proteins continues to wreak havoc around the planet. During this decade, replicants have been banned from earth; and the Tyrell Corporation, responsible for the Nexus 6 and 8 replicant lineages, has gone broke. Now, however, the Wallace Corporation has acquired Tyrell’s intellectual property rights, and is lobbying politicians to have the ban removed. While these high-level power plays are unfolding, a young woman arrives in Los Angeles with nothing more than the clothes she is wearing, an encrypted device storing unknown data, and a black lotus tattoo on her right shoulder. She also has no memory of her past. Attacked by street thugs, she inexplicably “switches” into combat mode and makes short work of her assailants; during this process, she captures fragments of memory and remembers two things. The first is her name: Elle. The second is the apartment building where she used to live. There she meets Doc Badger, a black market dealer, and Joseph, a recluse said to be a genius with electronic equipment. She also sees a news broadcast that causes her to recover further fragmentary memories of herself and others being hunted in the desert.  Thus begins Elle’s strange, terrifying quest as she tries to stay alive in this violent, dysfunctional world and figure out, not just who she is, but also the questions she has about her past, where she came from, and what lies ahead in the future…

A co-production between anime streaming service Crunchyroll, the Adult Swim network, and Alcon Television Group, Blade Runner: Black Lotus falls in between the events of the original Blade Runner movie and its sequel, Blade Runner2049. Anime heavy hitters Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell SAC 2045) and Kenji Kamiyama (Jin-Roh: Wolf Brigade, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) serve as co-directors, while the fabled Shinichiro Watanabe (who directed the anime short Blade Runner: Black Out) is credited as “creative producer”. With only three episodes out of a scheduled thirteen broadcast so far, the series is still in its early stages but has already established a triad of engaging central characters – Elle, Joseph, and Doc – with an intriguing fourth (and possible antagonist), LAPD detective Alani Davis thrown in for good measure. The central premise looks tight and promises to be a combination of political thriller and neo-noir crime story. The visuals are absolutely stunning, re-creating Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner world in lavish detail, while the soundtrack is a low-key tribute to Vangelis’ original score. At this point, the only slightly jarring aspect resides in the fact that the characters are all rendered in full 3DCGI mode, which means they have a certain clunky artificiality in their movement and when juxtaposed against the gorgeous backgrounds.  The overall visual aesthetic, however, minimises this to the point where you stop noticing, especially in the well-executed action scenes. All in all, Blade Runner: Black Lotus is off to a solid start that promises to deliver not only a good story well told, but also a faithfully created and executed entry in the developing Blade Runner canon.  

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.