From Adult Swim and CrunchyRoll, Blade Runner: Black Lotus is a spin-off animated series set in the year 2032 (this is after the original film, but obviously before the sequel directed by Ryan Gosling in 2049). Running for 13 episodes, the show is a polished take on the blade runner ethos, where the wealthy use androids in a game-hunting scenario (the same way someone might go on a safari and shoot antelope, for example). She, a replicant, escapes and while piecing together what memories she can, seeks revenge on those they slaughtered.
Episodes are less than half an hour long and can serve as a nice sci-fi slot to fill in between more time-consuming shows like Westworld Where stranger things. In addition, any new version involving the blade runner world should be devoured, especially after the marvelous Blade runner 2049. This film did the impossible, becoming a more than worthy sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, if not rivaling it at the very least with its visuals and great expanse of scope and expansion.
It’s hard to say where Black Lotus stands however. You get the feeling that he’s really trying to be his own thing, to stand out while existing inside of this Philip K. Dick world of androids, violence, and dark happenings – but also as if he didn’t have the know-how to do either, and didn’t seem good enough to warrant the attempt.
The origami elephant in Blade Runner’s room
There is a running theme regarding the uncanny valley in this series, both in form and content, and as a result the animation is grotesque, to the point that it will take you two to three episodes before you get used to it. . For a show produced and released in 2022, the visuals in Blade Runner: Black Lotus recalls one of Starship Troopers animated television series (1999), or the introductory cut scene of tekken on Playstation 1 (1994).
It looks bad – really bad. God only knows what must have happened during the transfer of power from the excellent official blade runner animated short film Blackout (premiering with two other shorts to coincide with the release of Blade Runner 2049) and the ugly mess that is Black Lotus.
When it comes to the gaming world, it raises the age-old debate that if a story is engaging enough, maybe the graphics don’t really matter. To quote a 1997 video game, N64 GoldenEye 007 remains one of the best multiplayer shooters around for its variety, ease of control, and dynamic level designs – and Pierce Brosnan’s polygon-filled face doesn’t take that away over 20 years later.
Comics ask a similar question: do I really want to read this if I don’t like the art? In a nutshell, if you like the writer, this is definitely something a reader can probably look past. But (beyond asking you not to look at your phone when it’s on), a TV show doesn’t require any extra commitment, like pushing buttons or turning pages that a game or comic requires.
We’ve reached a point in time where the technology is available and affordable to just about everything look somewhat decent, but Black Lotus‘ looks are terribly awful, to the point where the N64 golden eye comparisons become flattering to Black Lotus. YouTubers are creating things prettier than this in their home setups, and it’s becoming embarrassing to recognize the wealth of production companies behind this new blade runner series.
Black Lotus’ weak attempt at a skin-job
Are they obscure and cheap production companies? Quite the contrary, in fact, which makes it even more upsetting. Distributed and co-created by the Adult Swim brand (a major broadcaster and venue known for its own ingenuity in animation with Rick and Morty and Robot Chicken), Black Lotus was also produced by CrunchyRoll (which is owned by Sony, no less), and of course blade runnerfrom Ridley Scott, the creator of Scott Free Productions.
CrunchyRoll prides itself on being the place to go for all the latest in anime, and Ridley/Scott Free Productions were directly attached, and yet Black Lotus‘ The visuals look amateurish and immediately shitty. Scott and his team have just completed the premature cancellation Raised by wolves (one of the finest shows television has seen in many years), and to see the end result of Black Lotus’ the visuals make this series feel like an afterthought for these prolific companies, a disgusting burp after a really big dinner party. It’s really not good enough to have the blade runner™ name attached; they could have done so much better.
His characters move like tired scarecrows and their faces are dead, cold eyes, and that carries over to his world-building as well. Both blade runner feature films have only enhanced the collective game of cinema with their visuals, but the Black Lotus the world is just bland. We do not feel inhabited. This doesn’t sound like a place where crime has to be handled 24 hours a day; it’s more of a barren place, weird and rubbery to the touch. Even the (dare we say) “easier” boxes that should be checked when creating blade runnerlike the neon lighting and the synth soundtrack, are either denied or completely ignored (some musical choices, mostly over the credits, are wildly out of place, with Black Lotus literally and consistently opting for R&B at times).
Bland Runner: Black Lotus
Worse still, Elle, our main character, is perhaps the least interesting thing on screen. It’s hard to root for Elle as the protagonist when she remains so wooden throughout. It’s bland and monotonous, never really evolving. With her bug-eyed expression and lack of humanity in her movements and speech, she remains robotic in every sense of the word (they’re called “replicants” for a reason and should look hauntingly similar to humans).
The dialogue in Black Lotus never really picks up either. When he’s not comfortable being just basic, he’s ridiculously cliched and portrays himself as an AI forcing an AI to write a script on the AI. We don’t get a “tears in the rain” dialogue moment here — it’s not even close.
Unlike the two films from which it sprang, this series also lacks the humanity and ambiguity that made the blade runner world so far ahead of its time. There’s no sense that the dynamite under the table will explode anytime soon, just Her performing a task she needs to complete, doing it, then repeating that process until the finale. This is even more evident when the characters around Elle have the best moments. “Clare De Lune” is the series’ standout episode, largely because it’s less about Elle and more about Jay’s past and his gripping rivalry with fellow Blade Runner Marlowe, which morphs electrically into an inevitable firefight.
Easter eggs can’t entirely save Blade Runner: Black Lotus
Episodes like ‘Clare De Lune’ prove that Black Lotus isn’t all bad. The series also has a nice way of including Easter eggs from the movies and placing them into its own story without feeling cheap or shoehorned. Take the cameo from a scene by Barkhad Abdi (who was in blade runner 2049 and is best known as the hacker of 2013 Captain Phillips). Voiced again by Abdi here, the character is younger and has a lot more opportunity to be fleshed out over the episodes. Another nice touch shows how Niander Wallace Jr. (played by Jared Leto in 2049) loses his sight. In one last beautiful casting moment, the legendary Brian Cox also provides his thunderous voice as Wallace Sr.
Blade Runner 2049 was one of the best sci-fi movies released in the past two decades. With stunning visuals and big ambitions, it managed to both stand out and grow a beloved classic. Both of these feature films would involve very clear vision and direction on and off screen. Its spin-off television series, Black Lotus, it is missing everywhere.
Disappointing given that it’s part of a world made up of so much reverence and brilliance, this short series is barely “just right” between the two feature films for the diehards to check out.