Love, Death & Robots is an eighteen-part animated (mostly) series streaming on Netflix, brought to us by executive producers David Fincher and Deadpool director Tim Miller. With their long gestating collaboration on Heavy Metal seemingly having run aground, Love, Death & Robots is the logical extension of ideas that would undoubtedly feel right at home on the pages of the legendary science fiction and fantasy magazine.
Love, Death & Robots is an anthology series with each self-contained episode showcasing both a brand new story and animation style. Although comparisons will be drawn, inevitably, to recent Netflix hit Black Mirror, and obvious anthology heavyweights The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, it’s really only the surface level where Love, Death & Robots has anything in common. It does not feel obliged, as so many other genre anthologies are, to provide us with a twist. The shorts have, simply, a beginning, middle and an end, so if anything Love, Death & Robots feels like it has more in common with literary anthologies than anything visual. Each episode is so distinct in its own right, as to liken it to a book of short stories. Which makes further sense when we realise sixteen of the episodes are indeed adapted from short fiction, with episodes based on tales from science fiction authors Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton and Bubba Ho-Tep scribe Joe Lansdale.
Without wanting to state the obvious, the only common thread to all eighteen stories is the presence of love, death and robots. For complete accuracy they could probably have added ‘monsters’ to that list, but it would have made for a less catchy title. Otherwise the shorts go to town on that premise and deliver a very adult animated series, with plenty of nudity, gore and violence.
There is a wealth of creativity and innovation on display and with no one episode exceeding a run time of 17 minutes (with the shortest being 6 minutes), they never outstay their welcome. Stylistically the animation ranges from the photoreal (Lucky 13, The Secret War, Beyond the Aquila Rift), to the traditionally ‘cartoon’ (When The Yogurt Took Over, The Dump, Alternate Histories), to the uniquely stylish (Sucker Of Souls, Zima Blue, Blindspot). Love, Death & Robots never treads water because each short animation brings its own identity and intriguing interpretation of the premise to bear. This means there is not one bad episode in the bunch and by the end it’s impossible to say which one is best, leaving you with only an ever-evolving list of favourites.
To that end then, let’s mention a few of the standouts:
Three Robots takes an overly comic approach to the end of mankind, as three robots resembling Ultron, a metronome and EVA from WALL-E, explore the scorched, last remnants of dystopian humanity. It opens with a wonderful Terminator homage and goes from there.
When the Yogurt Took Over features the instantly recognisable voice of Maurice LaMarche, perhaps best known for his work on Pinky and the Brain, in a career that spans almost every animation you care to mention. Here he narrates the tale of a sentient yogurt and its dominion over humanity.
Sucker of Souls sees a stylised crew of mercenaries accompany a bookish historian on an exploration into the tomb of an ancient and feral Dracula. Things go south. It gets bloody.
Shapeshifters has lycanthrope soldiers sniffing out insurgents in Afghanistan, before facing up to the local werewolf population, doggo to doggo.
The Secret War sees the Soviet army battling savage occult monsters deep in the Siberian forest. With a mind-blowingly realistic animation style, and an excellent story, it’s comfortably one of the best.
Some of the animation on display is quite remarkable in terms of its realism. The episode Lucky 13, about a futuristic fighter pilot transporting HALO-esque soldiers to and from the battlefield, features the voice talents of Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale, Orange is the New Black) and an animated rendering of the actor that is quite astonishing in its accuracy. If you did not know better, you could well be forgiven for believing it to be a live-action short film.
Elsewhere, several of the other episodes have a very distinct video game aesthetic to them, and to be clear, that is not a negative. Simply, that Robot Jox-inspired, pit-fighting monster yarn Sonnie’s Edge, and stranded-in-space Alien / Matrix love letter Beyond The Aquila Rift immediately bring to mind Bioware’s incredible Mass Effect series. As it turns out, the comparison is quite apt, since Tim Miller’s pre-movie background was in video games and he was visual effects supervisor on Mass Effect 2.
Interestingly, you can experience Love, Death & Robots in one of four separate episode configurations, allocated at apparent random chance. Netflix defended itself against speculation that users are profiled on gender, ethnicity and sexual identity, insisting the episode order is random. An experiment in presenting the series in a different way.
There’s enough variety and creativity at work in Love, Death & Robots to ensure there will be plenty to chew on, even if you only have a passing interest in science fiction and horror. Like the best short stories, Love, Death & Robots leaves you wanting more, even though expansion would likely only diminish the quality. It’s a testament to how well written, and animated, this series is.
The short story has always proved a fantastic area in which to test ideas, both great and small, and with studios apparently as risk-averse as they’ve ever been, perhaps animation is the way ahead. On this evidence the animated short is the perfect compliment for those wanting to unleash their originality and ideas that steer away from the mainstream spectrum. Love, Death & Robots is rich in both storytelling and visual ingenuity, and is essential viewing for science fiction and horror fans.
‘Love, Death & Robots’ can be seen on Netflix right HERE.