Needless to say, Netflix has become a strong source of entertainment since its inception and rise to popularity, making it easier to watch a given film or TV series, as well as saving Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Lucifer from cancellation and generating original shows such as Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy and its short-lived contribution to the MCU. Today I want to talk about one of these Netflix original series; the ever-so-intriguing LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS.
The first thing that enticed my attention to LD+R was its name. I mean, “LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS”! It sounds like that super cool video game you'd hear about when you were just about to become a teenager but probably wouldn't be allowed to play, although pre-teens probably shouldn't be allowed to watch this series, in all seriousness. I previously decided to watch the show, getting four episodes in, before being fortunate enough to binge-watch the entire series at a friend's house while we munched down on takeaway pizza. The following are my immediate thoughts...
I will begin by saying this: LD+R is a fun show. It’s a re-imagining of the 1981 film Heavy Metal, which was, like the series, of the adult animation, science-fiction and anthology genres. Therefore, as each of the 18 episodes is done by a different studio, you get a variety of animation styles including cel-shading, comic book style and video game-like 3D graphics. As such, binge-watching it all in one night as I did is an experience (by the way, the total runtime for the series is 220 minutes or 3 hours and 40 minutes, just in case anyone wanted to do the same). There are some constants that run through all the episodes; there is indeed Love - sex scenes where it's all on show *wink wink*, Death - war, blood, gore and ghosts, etc., and Robots - robots (obviously), mechs and cyborgs, but this series has so much more than that. There are werewolves, vampires, demons, monsters, aliens, dystopian/apocalyptic futures, steampunk settings/machines and sentient f$@&ing yoghurt (no word of a lie. That was indeed a weird one). Now if you're not into blood, guts and all that stuff then this show isn't really for you. Is it hyper-masculine? Maybe, but then again, I watched this show with a female friend and she loved it, saying to me that she “enjoyed that each episode had a completely different feel to it and kept her interest by never sticking to the same point of view or telling the same story” (thanks, Maryanne!).
I do think though that LD+R has untapped multimedia franchise potential. With genres ranging from science fiction and horror to fantasy and suspense, it's very easy to draw comparisons to tons of existing video games, films, anime and graphic novels. I mean, you can't go through one episode without having thoughts like "this is like this" or "this is like that". I've found nothing online about the studios' inspirations but it's still a feeling you get. To give an example, there's an episode called “Blindspot” that revolves around a cyborg team of thieves trying to pull off a heist on a heavily armoured convoy (that later involves overpowering a giant humanoid mech that transforms into a tank, to which I responded by literally exclaiming out loud "it can transform! I want one!") and to me, the episode seemed like Borderlands meets Cowboy Bepop. Luckily, though as familiar as it can be at times, there is just something that makes you want more of it. The show is the perfect canvas for any studio out there that just wants to have fun.
Sadly though, this familiarity in tones and stories/plot progression can be a double-edged sword; it can feel familiar but recycled. For that reason alone, I would strongly recommend watching it not alone, as I did. That way when a character does something dumb, like not immediately start running upon hearing a monster, or just says something insensitive, you can just rip the piss out of it. Following on from the animation, the interesting characters are brought to life by the talented cast of well-known actors of screen and voice, including stars like Omid Adtahi, Gary Anthony Williams, John DiMaggio and Nolan North (who's one of the best voice actors in the business).
What LD+R ends up being is just a fun experience we need more of, it's just stupidly good fun that takes on a variety of forms. One episode can be tense and nail-biting, the next episode can just be a monster-filled ride filled with blood guts and gore, the next can be just a suspense-filled fantasy that ends on a cliffhanger. There is no limit to LD+R: it is a show with no rule book. It is very easy to say that some parts feel too familiar but you can say that's just the appeal of it and that is what makes it fun. So yeah, LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS - a treasure for any pop culture fans out there, and even more fun when watching it with a friend.
Addendum: since LD+R is coming back for a second season, a small wish of mine is to see some of the episodes cross over. You could have the monsters from Sonnie's Edge end up in a fight with the main monster from Soul Sucker, the *enhanced* soldiers from Shape Shifters could encounter the supernatural elements from Fish Night, and so on. Just a thought.
I'll end this long analysis by recommending some episodes to check out...
1. Helping Hand
In this episode, an Irish astronaut named Alex is adrift in space after she's hit with debris. What I love about this episode is how it perfectly balances the never-ending vastness of space with a tense claustrophobic story that provides some of the most nail-biting edge-of-your-seat moments in the whole series. It's kind of reminiscent of the 2013 film Gravity, but maybe a bit better in my opinion. Lastly, you might want to look out for the reason why it's called “Helping Hand”, I found it funny.
This is my favourite episode. It's just great, and it encapsulates what makes this show so fun. There's action, interesting characters, nice acting and animation, topped off with a colour scheme reminiscent of Fortnite and a simple premise of farmer-piloted mechs fighting giant insectoid aliens. All I can say is make this a TV show, I need to see more.
3. Ice Age
Something a bit different now as it's the series only (mainly) live-action episode, starring Topher Grace and Mary Elisabeth Winstead, who play a couple that discovers a miniature civilisation that's quickly cycling through its history in their new apartment's fridge. The main appeal for this episode is that it's a different look into the show’s creativeness. Even though they seem to become emotionally attached to this civilisation abnormally quickly, it's still an interesting watch.
4. Alternative Histories
As this episode is the show's only virtually story-less episode, it instead shows a simulation of a given history-changing incident and the various new timelines created from it, the event in this instance being “the death of Adolf Hitler”. The animation style is reminiscent of (and this may sound odd) those animated guides you find in museums or “science places” like the Thinktank in Birmingham, UK, blended with stock footage and images from history. The result is a humorous watch that has some of the most WTF premises the show has to offer.
5. The Witness
This one is a suspense thriller where a young woman witnesses a murder and a chase ensues between said woman and the apparent murderer following behind her, just seemingly wanting to explain himself. Set in a world that reminded me of Ghost In The Shell and an animation style similar to Into The Spider-Verse, this almost dialogue-less episode left me wanting more; I wouldn't mind seeing this premise in a feature-length, though I have no idea what that would entail. From its beginning to its cliffhanger ending, the tension gets you hooked and leaves you wondering as to what the hell is going on.
By the way, should you have already seen this episode, watch it again and keep an eye on the young woman's bed and who appears to be in it (hopefully you'll think he/she is who I think he/she is, which would thrust a new angle upon this whole episode).