Both a good friend and Netflix itself recommended a new sci-fi anthology series to me, Love Death and Robots, so I figured I should probably watch it. The “show,” if you can call it that, is 18 different animated shorts each focusing on love, death or robots, usually two of the three, and sometimes all three.
How this was organized is pretty curious. Almost all 18 shorts have different directors and were worked on by different animation studios, but almost all were written by one man, Philip Gelatt. Most were based on existing stories from science fiction writers like John Scalzi, Ken Liu and Alastair Reynolds, but adapted for this format. It’s kind of a neat concept.
The result is…mixed. Out of the 18 shorts, I’d say I loved 40%, didn’t care for 30%, and was neutral about 30%. That’s kind of how anthologies work, but it’s a little hard for some of these to find their legs as each is only 7-15 minutes.
This is…how do I say this delicately, a very horny project. One thing to note about Love Death and Robots is that it is extremely NSFW. As in, probably 80% of the shorts have female and male nudity, often full-frontal. Not that this is a bad thing necessarily, it just almost becomes a running joke as you watch as you watch because you are literally counting down until some kind of nudity appears onscreen. Attractive female character? You will almost certain see her topless (at least) in the next five minutes. Goofy cartoony animation style? Prepare to see some goofy cartoony sex. It gets kind of absurd at a point as you’ll be watching say, a short about burly Russians fighting demons in the cold winter of World War II, and somehow that nudity will slip in where there will be a flashback where surprise, a naked woman is being sacrificed to the devil.
Non-stop nudity aside, the quality of the shorts if variable, but I do have a few favorites:
Episode 1: Sonnie’s Edge – The intro short about a woman who partakes in “beast fights” by controlling the beast psychically is really, really cool and a solid introduction for this entire project. Conceptually, and animation-wise, this is one of the best offerings.
Episode 2: The Witness – One of the most visually striking shorts of all, this one is captivating from start to finish. I’m still trying to figure out how it was animated, as it comes off like a filter applied over real world actors, but I’m still not sure.
Episode 3: Three Robots – A genuinely funny short about three robots touring a post-apocalyptic world trying to understand what humans did with things like cats and hamburgers before they went extinct. Solidly written.
Episode 10: Shape Shifters – The only woman-directed short is only about men, specifically soldiers that have recruited a few werewolves into their midst to help hunt enemies in the war. The problem? The Taliban now has werewolves too. Brutal violence in this one, and good writing/acting to boot.
Episode 13: Lucky 13 – A woman (Handmaid’s Tale’s Samira Wiley) is given an unlucky ship to run combat missions with, and she forms a bond with it to the bitter end. The animation here is so good my wife genuinely did not believe it was animated at all.
Episode 14: Zima Blue – No violence or nudity in this one, probably making it the tamest of the bunch, but there are some cool philosophical questions posed here in the backdrop of a sharp animation style. Really loved this.
Some of these concepts get…extremely weird, like a short about superintelligent yogurt taking over the world, or a couple that finds a tiny civilization in their ice freezer. Some work, some don’t.
All in all, it’s probably worth watching all of these just to get the full spectrum of strangeness. The whole experience probably takes no more than 3-4 hours overall, as most shorts are 15 minutes or so, but some are as short as 7 or 8 minutes. It took me two days, but you can probably do it in one sitting if you want.
If you like sci-fi, and like it to be extra R-rated, this is the project for you. It’s no animated Black Mirror in terms of its lasting impact, but much of it is worth watching all the same.