Love, Death & Robots Season 1 Overview
Ach ja, Love, Death & Robots is an anthology series of animated shorts loosely connected via the themes of love, death and robots. Mostly death, if you would ask me, but that’s besides the point. Anthologies are a great way to display how a common idea can be executed in wildly different ways and they also tend to be rather fun. The small runtime of these shorts keeps everything fresh and the viewer is constantly exposed to new and potentially interesting concepts. In the world of animation, these anthologies can also get pretty experimental with their styles, so even for the people more interested in the technical aspects of animation, they are at least impressive from a production standpoint. With the exception of two episodes, every short is based on an already existing short story by different authors.
Initially, I wanted to create a simple tier-list for the first season (Might still just do that), but I figured I actually wanted to talk about a good chunk of them, so here we are. This is an overview of the first season of Love, Death & Robots.
The “Bad”, the Uninteresting and the Unsure
Just like we learned at school, I will start with everything I didn’t care about… or care about very much, but not in the most positive of lights. However, this doesn’t mean I actually thought any of these shorts were genuinely bad, just worse in the context of the rest of this season. At the very least, every short is an impressive showcase of animation and displays the ways a story can be told in the medium of animation. The episodes are not ordered by quality, but by my watch order (They are also apparently displayed in different orders depending on the the user).
Ice Age is, for all intends and purposes, the most harmless episode in season one. It is about a couple moving into their new apartment and noticing an old freezer that was left behind. Upon opening said freezer, they see a miniature version of “humankind” going through different periods of time, starting from the titular ice age, through the middle ages and leading up to your generic version of the future™ until eventually escaping the freezer, reaching singularity and seemingly disappearing altogether. Next morning, life in the freezer starts anew with humans hunting dinosaurs.
This feels like a concept that is way more fun reading about than watching. While the miniature worlds in the freezer looks great and the animation really sells the time lapse effect, I don’t think the fact that it is animated elevated the story, especially when the actual backdrop was live action for most of the time. I chuckled at this one shot with two construction workers sitting on a steel beam and wondering what the deal with those two faces in the sky is all about. I wished we would have seen more perspectives from the “humanity” inside the freezer and not just from the two people on the outside. I understand that this is kind of the point, but the point is boring and not entertaining to watch, so… yeah.
Unlike Ice Age, Sonnie’s Edge definitely has more meat to chew on concerning its narrative. An underground fighting arena where fighters link mentally with a monster and brawl it out until one can no longer move… basically like Pokémon or Digimon, but replace all the friendship with blood and gore. However, this is arguably not what Sonnie’s Edge is actually about. The underground dog fights are simply the framing device. The short is really about power dynamics, specifically those between men and women. It’s about assumptions of strength and potential to rule and master. Sonnies abilities are dismissed on the sole reason of her being a woman, her “Beastie” is assumed to be male when pointed out she is undefeated and Sonnies opponent very subtly gestures that she can suck his dick. Honestly, the more you take notice of all the small design details, the harder it gets to not get overwhelmed by them. It is in Sonnies character that she dismisses those assumptions about herself. She won’t be bribed, overcomes a cheating opponent and even tries to steal the main bad guys girl (The only acceptable kind of NTR).
So, what are my problems? I don’t know, honestly. For me, the vibe was just off. It has a really cool aesthetic with its cyberpunk-noir-neon-whatever, though I am not the fondest of dark visuals. The shot with them stepping into the arena and all the paint on their bodies and clothes lighting up is kino, though. The thematic core, while not subtle at all, still makes me question what exactly the point of it all was. It also doesn’t help that you do not actually criticize (toxic) masculinity by casting horrible human beings as your antagonist and then try to frame them accordingly by simply being male. While the story absolutely has more impact with the villain being male, it is hard for me to see him as a personification of bad male traits first and not as an evil person in general. However all things considered, this short might be the hardest to put into this “Bad” category. It is definitely worth a watch.
Sucker of Souls
Okay, this one just straight up sucks… *Badumtsss*. This episode was just really underwhelming. It feels like a prolonged prologue of a supernatural monster movie. A group of archaeologists and mercenaries go into a cave to learn something about the “Eater of Souls”. This fella eats the research assistant and chases the characters through the dungeons. The monster turns out to be Dracula and he is afraid of cats, which led to one funny moment.
This episodes really lives off its characters and their interactions with each other. The main mercenary is your generic hard-boiled mountain of muscles with a bad mouth and I love him. Beyond that, though? The explosives specialists really wants to blow stuff up, which is fine, but beyond them, there isn’t really anything that caught my interests. Also, the ending is an insult to the viewer. It really feels like the inciting incident that kicks off the actual plot. However, good 2D animation, I have to say. And at least we got to see Draculas dick.
“Style over substance” in the best way possible. Remember children, style can be substance! This short takes on the symbol of the Ouroboros – The snake eating its own tail – and incorporates it everywhere, down to the very structure of the story. A man murders a woman, but sees a woman across the hotel identical to the victim witnessing said murder. He then chases her through the city, into a sex club, then into another building where the woman eventually murders the man and in turn sees a man identical to the man she just murdered witnessing it.
Story-wise, there is not a lot to discuss (I think). It ends the same way it started and the story is bound to repeat itself endlessly, thus the Ouroboros. What’s interesting is the way this story is told not only visually, but also almost exclusively through the visuals with barely any important dialogue. This short might actually have the best direction in the entire season. Every single shot feels uncomfortable, claustrophobic and simply “off” in a myriad of ways that really adds to the emotional state of the characters. The director is also the same guy responsible for the phenomenal art design in the Spider-Verse movie. My biggest complaint about the visuals would be that it is really harsh on the eyes. As cool as the visuals are, any longer than the twelve minutes and you would need a break to rest your eyes.
Similar to “Sonnie’s Edge”, there is nothing actively bad I could point out to. However, there also isn’t anything I could point out to that I actively like. It happened, I got it, could talk with a friend a bit and then continued on to the next episode.
I feel like I will repeat myself endlessly, so I will make this one short. I enjoyed watching the short and then there was simply nothing I could talk about. The Dump is about a city inspector pushing the owner of a scrapyard to sign a paper to give up said yard. He refuses and instead tells a story about how his friend was killed by this monster that fuses everything it consumes into its own body. The inspector is thusly killed by the monster and we see how the owner treats the monster like a pet. It had a cool atmosphere to it and I appreciate how everything looks greasy and dirty, but there is nothing I find interesting about it. At least we got to see Pearly’s dick.
Furries in the afghanistan war. That’s it. That’s the episode. Well, not really, but summarizing profound premises in the worst way possible is fun. The episode follows two werewolf soldiers and their deployments against a taliban militia. However, similar to “Sonnie’s Edge”, this premise is more a backdrop for the actual story. Shape-Shifters is about discrimination. Decker and Sobieski are discriminated against solely on their status as a werewolf, despite them looking 100% human (if not in their werwolf form) and being fully fleshed american patriots.
The problem with racial allegories is that you can (or rather should) not justify racism in universe… because racism in reality can not be justified. However, stories about discrimination often tend to hardcode this “otherness” as a fact and thus give objective precedence for potentially justified segregation, whether it is just or not. A good story then capitalizes on the latter aspect. This one, though, feels like it goes trough the expected motions without actually saying anything of substance. Yes, the discrimination against the werewolves is bad and obviously stupid from what we have seen, but what does it actually mean? Humans are just horrible to everything they deem foreign? Minorities are not welcome? I feel like there is probably a lot more depth to be found if I knew anything about the afghanistan war and the soldiers perspective in the american military, but from an outside perspective, this episode feels at best unsure to draw real life connections and at worst a bit tactless. At least we got to see werewolf dick.
Visually interesting, Fish Night is kind of… nothing? At least for its first half. Two salesmen find themselves stuck in the middle of a desert, until at night spectres of fish swim through the air. It is foreshadowed by the older one of the two that the desert was once an ocean and that, similar to ghost of the deceased haunting old houses, the animals can do the same.
My reading of the short basically comes down to a similar phenomena you can see of victims of hypothermia, only this time in reverse where they get naked due to a sudden urge to swim. In short, it is a visualization of death by hyperthermia. A visually beautiful visualization with bio-luminescent fish against the backdrop of a starry sky and another man only being able to watch, as his friend drifts to the other side.
It looks great, though the simple cell-shading reminded me more of the Telltale games. Not bad in its own right, but considering how ambitious some of the other shorts are, this episode feels underwhelming in contrast.
Like “The Witness”, Blindspot is the other episode not adapted from an already existing short story. Imagine Mad Max meets robots… that is to say, imagine Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 sans the furries and more robots. As it comes down to, the whole episode is just one giant action set piece, I like it and that’s about it. It also occupies this weird space where I am not sure if it should have been more edgier and raunchier or less so, as it feels like a weird outlier in in ths anthology.
I do not get artists… like, at all. There is probably a lot about artistry, what it means to be an artist and how the more technical aspects and robotics relate to it, but I do not get any of this. I like the existential dread of a cleaning robot eventually achieving sentience by being constantly upgraded and pursuing a career in art by creating massive monuments of the color zima blue, but ask me what it means and I am out of the picture.
The short has one of the more unique animation styles. Not only is it 2D animated, but everything is designed, framed and staged like a A.M. Cassandre poster, which creates a surprisingly tense atmosphere for a relatively low-stakes non-thriller.
The Good and the Great
Finally, we get to all the episodes I genuinely enjoyed. Some are simply a delight to watch, while others are great short films in their own regard. If you only want to tip your toes into the anthology and search for recommendations, those are the ones I would gladly point out to.
For me, this was the first episode and it really captured the spirit of at least what I assumed would be the rest of the anthology. It is about three robots going through a post-apocalyptical city and engaging in human activities like visiting a diner or watching TV (Looking at a turned off TV is more appropriate), while wondering how weird humans must have been to interact with their world that seems so weird compared to how robots do. Through the environment, we see that the humans have clearly died through some kind of war, though not details are directly stated until the end.
SpoilerIt's cats! Of course, it's fucking cats, lmao. Human gave them opposable thumbs and the cats had no longer a need for the human species. Brilliant.
It was funny, nice to look at and all in all a very pleasant experience. I can see how this might be less interesting for others, but my list, my rules.
Beyond the Aquila Rift
Beyond the Aquila Rift leans into the more hard sci-fi angle. A spaceship crew gets stranded millions of lightyears off course and wonders how they can get back. To tell you anything beyond this premise would be to spoil the short. The first thing I noticed is the incredible animation. I think it is still clearly supposed to look like it is animated, but the technical details and everything sometimes made me doubt if we didn’t switch to life-action halfway through, though it does sometimes look uncanny valley. I also enjoyed the character dynamics and the atmosphere. There was this constant underlying sense of suspense and unease of what is really happening. Also, the sex scenes were like… really good? Sex, or at least the sexual imagery is an essential part of this short, but also… the animation. When Greta clawed into Thoms back and the skin turned red at those spots… that’s hot. It also helps that the dude is really hot. The woman, yeah sure, whatever, I guess, but Thom is an absolute hunk of a man. “Show us his dick!”, I screamed… the dick was unfortunately never shown. A tragedy, really.
The eventual reveal of this story is also really great. You yearn for cosmic space horror? This episode has plenty to spare. The literal reveal of the monster is also spectacularly framed:
SpoilerWhen the monster first walks into the light, the body looks humanoid and almost like a woman, until it fully comes out of the shadows and reveals itself to be an insect-like alien. I also think it is very deliberate that it incorporates elements resembling human genitalia into its design.
All in all, as a fan of more hard sci-fi, this episode was one of my favorites.
When the Yogurt Took Over
This one is just a delight. Scientist gave yogurt intelligence, it started yearning for power, eventually got granted control over Ohio, turned it into a paradise and the yogurt eventually left earth to explore the stars. It’s hilarious and the animation is cute with bright and poppy colors.
The Secret War
The Secret War is a very atmospheric war drama about a platoon of red army soldiers fighting literal demons from hell… and that’s about it. Some of the best anthology’s episodes have a very easy to summarize premise which is simply executed very well. It also helps that it has just the right amount of “theatrics”, if this makes sense. It is grounded (aside from the ghouls), but engaging and interesting and the distance from reality certainly helps the narrative. I am not saying this short could be tweaked to become fully fledged soviet war propaganda… I am just saying that it would be the coolest war propaganda imaginable with its themes of duty, brotherhood and general badassery.
For anyone knowing me personally, you would immediately sense how this episode is just right up my alley: Space farmers protecting their cattle from aliens with self-build mecha, all in the aesthetic of a pre-2000 mid-western USA. Yeah, this is “I just want to grill” in its purest form. Beyond that, I really appreciate the sense of community this episode portrays. All those characters clearly have a history larger than the episodes run time with each other and it just shows through almost every interaction. Like, I root for the characters and I barely know them and it is able to pull of some dramatic narrative feats that would completely fall flat with a less sympathetic cast. The combat is also really really fun.
I was rather unsure of the animation style at first. I definitely get the reason why you would want to limit your framerate, but the result, at least in this case, needs a couple of minutes to get used to. Beyond that, this short looks capital-A Amazing, from the toon-shaded characters, to the designs of the robots and the stylized effects.
This episodes is everything I want from an anthology like this. It got love, it got death and the robots are also there. I am also in love if something decides to literally pull the camera away in the last shot and reveals to the viewer what is actually going on on the larger scale. I would like to name it the “Girls und Panzer Reveal”, but I am sure there is a lot that predates it.
Okay, from the perspective of the author of this hereby blog, I stand before the decision to either write two or two-hundred sentences about this episode, because this one is… a lot. Quite literally, as this feels like a dense double-length special despite only being 17 minutes long.
The episodes follows… it is about… where do you even begin without also having to fully explain the whole short? You don’t! This episode is genuinely amazing and absolutely worth your time, so I will give you chance to watch it blind. Do it!
SpoilerGood hunting has themes of sexuality, industrialization, colonization, womanhood and possession and is able to comment on every single one clearly and with depth, despite its short run time. I am a big fan when there is an interplay between magic and technology and adore how the short builds this mini-arc of Yan losing her ability to shape-shift and later gaining it back via the mechanical body given to her by Liang. Also, this whole sequence of Liang modifying Yan... that was hot... and yeah sure, this is clearly supposed be viewed as sex, but also the intricacy and complexity of the mechanics are just... now that is what I call fanservice!.. I swear, I am not attracted to machinery...
I love a good pun.
If you think about it, space is frightening. While it is not directly trying to kill you (unless aliens are involved), left to your own devices, even the tiniest of errors may led to your doom incomparable to what might happen on earth. Thus, being in space always leads to a certain tenseness for the characters, which this episode captures pretty well. I may even compare it to the movie Gravity in this regard. Just a lot of space out there in space.
SpoilerHonestly, I called the inciting incident from a mile away, when I saw her leaving the ship not being tethered.
Also, yes, I do love the brutality with which the conflict was resolved. You got me. I don’t even care how realistic it is. This was great.
Similar in vibe to “When the Yogurt Took Over”, this episode looks at increasingly elaborate and absurd what-if scenarios in which Hitler died before coming to power. It is hilarious, I like the structure with seemingly fixed events turning out slightly different each time and can see how this works pretty well with other historical figures. At the end of the episode, we get teased with a “What if Lincoln shot first”, but to my knowledge, this format wasn’t brought back for the following two seasons.
I am unironically in love with scripted media talking or incorporating superstition, simply by the fact to it being ironic beyond belief. Lucky 13 follows a new pilot in the… *looks at smudged writing on hand*… space army force whatever that ends up with a spaceship infamous for its crews not surviving the flights. Cutter, however is too based to care about it, treats the ship with respect and eventually completely reforms the ships reputation until soldiers sigh in relief if they see it souring through the sky. It is also heavily implied that the ship has some kind of mind on its own or at least reacts to the way Cutter cares for it. I am a sucker for the humanization of technology, especially mechanical vessels like tanks and ships. They too are a character and subtle hints of characterization can go a long way, as seen in the climax of the short and its message at the end. Just a really solid short overall with a cast that doesn’t draw attention to itself being quite diverse (Representation is good, actually).
The ones I would like to see more of
Now, most of these shorts tell a complete story, but this doesn’t mean I can’t wish more more, right? However, I also often tend to be rather skeptical of sentiments like “I wish we could get a whole series out of this” and so on. On a certain baseline, I absolutely get it. You have been exposed to something great and want to see more. What some people forget is that the thing they just saw may have been great because this is everything. No unnecessary padding of ideas, no extra plot lines, just what one has seen compressed down into its purest form. To make a long story short, I often have my doubts that these shorts would work in a more conventional and serialized fashion. However, for the following few, I think there is a good case to be made that they would benefit from either being continued or expanded upon.
This one seems almost like a no-brainer. The story is obviously far from over and considering how much care went into the world-building, design and production of this short, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was intended to be more. I genuinely want to see where the paths of both main characters led to and its themes come to a satisfying end. I feel like this episode only scratched on the surface of what it can potentially offer in full form and I would be so down to see it continued in some way.
The Secret War
Actually, I am rather unsure about this one. I doubt this premise might be enough to turn this small war drama into a full on epic, but the stories of comradery and brotherhood might be able to carry it all the way. It may also break the trend of more american-centered war stories and bring some needed fresh winds into a field that must be full of diverse stories to tell. Fill it all up with a more prolonged prologue, maybe even end it on a big bang and I doubt I wouldn’t adore it.
I think it is more appropriate for me to say I want it remade instead of continued, at least partially or even maybe in a way I want “The Secret War” to be continued. That is to expand it in several ways. Give it more background and time to fully develope its themes and messages to appear less muddy. Make the villain into an actual villain and give the whole enterprise more weight! I am certain there is a fantastic story in Sonnie’s Edge and I would like to see it some day.
That’s about the individual entries of Love, Death & Robots, however there are still some words I want to loose about the anthology itself.
I both love and hate how Love, Death & Robots advertizes itself as “adult” and “mature” animation that is clearly different from “adult animation” that tend to basically come down to raunchy sitcoms, like The Simpsons or Family Guy. However, I feel like this “adult” and “mature” appeal doesn’t necessarily come from it actually being adult and mature, but, at least in part, from being clearly not for children and teenage audiences. It almost reminds me how some people try to describe anime as “adult” and then continue to show you clips from stuff like Elfen Lied. Like, yeah… it sure ain’t for kids, but nothing adult about it either.
However, Love, Death & Robots also clearly shows its intentions on its sleeves… you just have to look at the title. Sex and violence isn’t something to be justified or shunned in a narrative context and the anthology clearly proved how these aspects can be integrated into stories to elevate them. I just wish it would look less immature while doing so, but maybe I have become simply to old to judge this.
Another aspect I find interesting is how the shorts frame their characters in sexual contexts. Specifically how male characters are viewed different from females ones. I always thought it was funny when male genitalia was shown on-screen, since these were all in shorts where the nudity is not sexual in any way and with a bulk of them being comedies. Meanwhile, female nudity is shown almost exclusively in a sexual context and while I think all shorts handled it in an appropriate way, given their themes, this unbalance still shows how differently we look at sexuality if the subject’s sex is concerned, as if the the naked womans body is not viewed equal to that of a mans. Though, as most things in this post, this might as well be an observation skewed by my inherent biased view. As a friend noted: I can appreciate the male physique, but I am attracted to the female form. For the sake of media criticism, I have to become bi to accurately judge stuff like this, I guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
But that is about it. Overall, I really enjoyed the first season of Love, Death & Robots, even if my 50/50 split into “Good” and “Bad” may make it appear not so and I hope the next season keeps up the good quality. Until then.
Love, Death & Robots is available on Netflix.
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