Blade Runner: Black Lotus Review

I love the Blade Runner universe and have done for many, many years now, so a dedicated anime series set in the dystopian world made by the people who created the great Blackout 2022 anime short? I was all in… except when I saw it was a CG animated series. As I’ve said before more often than not I can’t find myself investing in CG animation the same as traditional animation, something about the look or movement of the characters just… I don’t know, puts me off. Still much like with Ghost in the Shell’s recent CG anime series my love for the original property made me stick it out and what I got was … well, a series full of really bog-standard story beats but with a great soundtrack! Let’s take a look…

Synopsis:

In October 2032, Elle wakes up in the back of a transport vehicle, with a black lotus tattoo on her back shoulder and unable to recall her memories. She carries with her an encrypted data device as she reaches Los Angeles.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

A Blade Runner and a Replicant face off, and the Blade Runner is definitely the bad guy… makes a change from all the character depth we normally get?

The best part about Blade Runner: Black Lotus is how much the scenery and soundtrack make it feel properly like a part of the Blade Runner universe. Some of the actual character models may look a bit crap or way too anime to fit but the buildings, billboards, flying cars and tech are all very well realised, and the background music is made by Michael Hodges, who did the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack, so it’s extremely on-point as well.

There are some good moments sprinkled throughout the show, but to give you a quick rundown of the core premise (which I will get to in great detail later…) our heroine is Elle, who is an amnesiac who has great fighting skills who goes on a revenge killing spree when she finds out she’s a Replicant who was made just as a test and then hunted down along with others of her kind. So there are some classic Blade Runner “what does it mean to be human” Replicant story in there at least, but it’s not exactly done with the same skill as what came before it, let’s put it that way. Due to being a Replicant she is hunted by a Blade Runner named Marlowe and the two having a fight in a corrupt police chief’s house was really well done, and later Marlowe also fights ex-Blade Runner-turned-ally-to-Elle Joseph in an all-too familiar block of apartments that was also exciting. Joseph is a fun character though extremely cliché in his “down on his luck cool guy who has loads of empty bottles of alcohol in his apartment” way, even his backstory as a Blade Runner who had one last job but he ended up falling for the last Replicant so couldn’t do it was predictable, but again, was at least entertaining. He is one of only two characters who actually looked like someone rendered in CG rather than just a generic CG creation, the level of detail in his hair and face far exceeding the blander cast. The other is Alani Davis, a “rookie cop who goes in too deep to a conspiracy” cliché, but again she is far better modelled than most of the cast so really stands out.

Joseph thinks about killing that guy who looks just like him that seems to follow him around, before remembering what a mirror is.

The only other thing that I enjoyed was the extra backstory for Niander Wallace Jr., the blind CEO played by Jared Leto in Blade Runner 2049. Here he’s a young scientist working for his father who is starting to use the Tyrell archives the Wallace Corp inherited to create his own Replicants, which he eventually does including Elle. He uses “Black Lotus”, as she becomes known, to kill his father and therefore gain complete control of Wallace so he can create his own replicants without his father’s worries. At the end of the series he’s slashed across the eyes by Elle, giving us a reason for his blindness later, not that we really needed one. It’s funny to think though that after all Elle and Joseph go through in the final episode to put a stop to Wallace Jr. and his Replicant lab we know full well that in a few years he’s unveiling the new Nexus-9 models of Replicants to the world and will still be the CEO in 2049, happily reaping the profits. Why Elle never comes back to finish the job I guess we’ll never know!

The Bad:

A female sword fight in the middle of the classic Tyrell Building office, with a young Niander Waller Jr. looking on. What a weird mash-up of visuals!

As I’ve made mention several times now the main issue I have with the show is how extremely predictable it all is. Elle is an amnesiac who when backed into a corner discovers she’s a well-trained killing machine who then goes on to kill those responsible for putting her in the position she’s in, so it’s basically the Bourne Identity but in the Blade Runner universe. Then we have the previously mentioned Joseph and Davis, the living by himself surrounded by empty bottles ex-cop who gets pulled back into one last job because he falls for someone, and the rookie cop whose instinct leads to her getting in over her head, respectively. The villains are all corrupt police chiefs, heartless CEOs and generic thugs, and even Wallace Jr. despite being based on an actual film character is portrayed as a cliché anime villain with a God complex. It was fine to watch for 20-ish minutes here and there but it never drew me in. Elle kills all the people who wronged her then goes after her creator, who she eventually gets one over on after dealing with an “upgraded model” of herself in a very un-Blade Runner-like sword fight.

The same goes for the visuals. Again Joseph and Davis look great, like real people just rendered in CG, but everyone else has that smooth hair / skin plastic look to them and as their role gets less and less the effort put into their character models gets less and less. Likewise the big fight scenes look great but quick brawls with thugs or generic guards are less so, far more rigid and full of that unnatural “smiling thug chuckles and squares up” animation that makes you feel like you’re about to exit a cut-scene and enter gameplay.

Davis takes a random “no effort put into the model at all” agent out to the desert to end his sorry existence.

In a very rare example I would’ve liked to have seen the dubbed version, not only would it be closer to the actual Blade Runner universe but the CG lips are synced to the English dub, meaning you get the weird dub-over issue you normally get when an English language track is put over foreign live action footage, just reversed and CG. Sadly here in the UK it was the Japanese version on Crunchyroll or nothing… man that’s a weird sentence to type!

Also the corrupt police chief’s equally corrupt wife is called Josephine Grant, which as a Doctor Who fan I can’t not mention somewhere…

Overall Thoughts:

A great example of the fantastic background visuals, plus the classic Replicant testing device! Hooray!

Blade Runner: Black Lotus gets some things right: some of the visuals and definitely the soundtrack are on fine form for the franchise, and despite a little bit of what it means to be human or artificial sneaking in from time to time the core storyline is that of an amnesiac killer looking for revenge and getting it, surrounded by a cast of really basic archetypes. It was nice to step back into the Blade Runner universe, but if we do it again I hope its in the hands of a writing team with a bit more ambition (and not CG either, unless they have 3x the budget!)

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