Blade Runner: Black Lotus

2032: ten years after the Black Out, a world-wide EMP event that destroyed the Earth’s electronic data networks – including all records detailing the planetary whereabouts of the humaniform androids known as “replicants”. In the aftermath, “human supremacists” succeed in having replicants banned from Earth, which in turn results in the Tyrell Corporation – creators of the Nexus 6 and 8 replicant lineages – going broke. Meanwhile, global climate change continues to wreak havoc to the point where humanity would have gone extinct were it not for the development of foods based on synthetic proteins. The creators of these miracle foods – the Wallace Corporation, led by the brilliant Neander Wallace and his eponymously named son – acquire the rights to the Tyrell Corporation’s intellectual property, and begins lobbying politicians to have the ban on replicants removed, claiming it has developed a replicant lineage that is incapable of harming humans. 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 recollection of her past, except for scraps of a memory in which her “boyfriend” inscribes the tattoo on her back. A sequence of events leads her to 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 the young woman’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 – and just who is responsible for the circumstances in which she finds herself…

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 (AppleseedGhost in the Shell SAC 2045) and Kenji Kamiyama (Jin-Roh: Wolf BrigadeGhost 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”. It quickly becomes apparent that the primary function of Blade Runner: Black Lotus is to showcase animation rendered through a full 3DCGI process. In doing so, Black Lotus perhaps unwittingly articulates the strengths and weaknesses of the form. On the plus side, the cityscape and its attendant paraphernalia – vehicles, neon signage, etc – are beautifully rendered, faithfully recreating the world manifested in Ridley Scott’s original. On the negative side, all the characters look like vivified mannequins, moving with unconvincing jerkiness against the stunning background of the city. Even the combat scenes, which for the most part are well choreographed, nonetheless rely on tricks like fast cuts to overcome the CGI’s limitations. Thus, while full 3DCGI can render an individual body part – an eye in close up, for example – in superb detail, when it comes to the entire human body, the results are unsatisfying…especially when compared to series like Arcane: League of Legends.  Despite its early promise, the narrative quickly devolves into a by-the-dots political/revenge thriller, albeit with a nice twist at the end that acts as a poignant mirror image to the conclusion of Blade Runner. Likewise, the supporting characters are essentially there to drive the plot or inhabit the background, and even initially interesting figures like LAPD detective Alani Davis become mere props at best. Basically a three hander between the main protagonist – whom we eventually learn is called Elle – Joseph, and Neander Wallace Jr, Blade Runner: Black Lotus is an interesting but flawed experiment that ultimately fails to make the case for full 3DCGI animation.  

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