In the far future, humanity has discovered Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel. Unfortunately, humanity has also discovered that organic life cannot survive in the “sub-space” traversed by FTL craft. The only solution appears to be to send out colonists in slow generational ships in which the bulk of the colonists are preserved in cryo-sleep during the hundreds of years it takes to reach distant planets. However, when humanity discovers technology from a dead alien civilisation that enables clones to be bio-printed, a new solution emerges: an empty FTL ship can be sent ahead to a prospective colony world; and, once it reaches its destination, a small group of specialists skilled in terraforming can be bio-printed by a device called a “Womb”.  Using this method, the specialists can prepare habitable worlds in advance of the slower generational ships – meaning the hard work is already done by the time the human colonists arrive. And so it is for the crew of one such ship arriving in a star system with a planet ripe for terraforming. Except this time, for unknown reasons, the “Womb” suffers a fatal exception error as it is printing the crew: one member is printed as a hideous – and potentially dangerous – monster. The other crew members must work out how to deal with the monster while waiting for a “correct” version of their misprinted fellow to be created; but even when this eventually occurs, it only ushers in a sequence of events in which the participants must confront deep issues of personal identity, the meaning and value of life, and whether or not the ends always justify the means…

Based on a short story by Hirotaka Adachi and jointly produced by Tatsunoko Production, Studio 5inc and Bakken Record, Exception premiered on the Netflix streaming service in October 2022. Animated in a glorious style that recalls some of the higher-end Disney productions as well as the stunning techniques that made Arcane: League of Legends such a visual treat, Exception is a nervy thriller set in deep space that has all the taut atmospherics and suspenseful tension of such live-action classics as Outland and the Alien franchise. That it then throws in a layer of philosophic contemplation and an exploration of character and motive only adds a depth to the characterisations that lifts the series above the ruck of space-located action-thrillers. True, the plot turns and twists are not always sensical (at least, not necessarily on first viewing) and the passing references to why humans have had to leave earth and colonise deep space don’t always seem to add up (was it because of aliens or not?), nonetheless, the series unfolds in a way that provides both narrative satisfaction as well as a confrontation with issues such as colonisation, the consequence of decision-making, and who gets to call the shots in the struggle for life. Likewise, the denouement reminds us that the spoils of “victory” do not always go to – or are not always meant for – the last person standing (something it shares in common with the Horizon Zero Dawn franchise). Beautifully produced and compellingly realised, Exception is above-par viewing for thoughtful audiences.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2023. All rights reserved.