Content Warning: Gun violence, blood
What’s it about?: Elle wakes up in October 2032 on the back of a transport truck with a black lotus tattoo and no memories; oh, and an encrypted data device that brings her a world of trouble. She finds herself drawn to an unfamiliar building where she meets Doc Badger, who agrees to help her in exchange for preventing a battle-hungry gang from causing him even more strife. With a katana in hand, Elle sets out to handle up on some business and maybe figure out what’s going on with that strange device.
Blade Runner: Black Lotus has, at base, a solid premiere. But is it compelling? Short answer: yes and no. Long answer? Well… let’s get into it right from the start.
Episode 1 starts off in medias res with Elle, an amnesiac who wakes up in a transport truck. All she’s got to her name is a black lotus tattoo, amnesia, and a strange technological thingie. All of this leads her to Los Angeles in the year 2032, which is where most of the first episode is set, and presumably, where the bulk of Elle’s story will take place. But in the premiere, we’re not there yet: in fact, most of Elle’s story happens in flashbacks as she wanders the city, encounters a gang, meets a man known as Doc Badger, murders said gang, and tries to unravel just what’s happening to her.
First things first, Blade Runner: Black Lotus (you know what… we’re gonna call this BR:BL to save my fingers) is dripping with lush, cyberpunk style. It pairs well with the semi-realistic CG animation, which actually reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy: Advent Children–which yes, still is one of my favorite animated films to date. Unlike that series, this features a heavily red color palette interspersed with hypersaturated magentas, yellows, and cyans, though.. the red coloration might make it hard for some viewers (myself included) to see.
In fact, animation-wise, there’re very few things that don’t necessarily move well: Elle’s hair looks a bit stiff at times and there’s a few off facial expressions, but by and large…it actually looks really nice, and is filled with hella smooth action sequences that feel like they have genuine weight to them. At no point does Elle feel light as a feather: instead, she’s got a physicality that feels nice and has solid impact alongside the sound design. It’s a pleasant surprise, considering how shows like Tesla Note and Deep Insanity are playing with CG animation in the same season.
This pairs well with the solid sound design that’s suitably dystopian, picking up in tempo and bass when action scenes occur. It gives them all this Cyberpunk 2077 flavor without a lot of the foibles, which I have to give them credit for, especially since the story is laden with tropes. That said, tropes aren’t always bad things, and there’s something exciting in how BR:BL leans into the genre, creating a suitably engaging premiere that, while not memorable, satisfied enough with its scenes.
BR:BL is surprisingly interesting, introducing us to a cyberpunk future dominated by Japanese imagery. While it doesn’t address the genre’s rather fraught relationship with using Japanese imagery as flavor versus… you know, having Japanese people in the actual cyberpunk-scape (outside of the voice actors) it’s still interesting enough, and there’s potential for things to maybe have some depth. This is set in Los Angeles, which feels like a setting ripe for exploring the heavy Japanese influences of the genre, and while I can’t speak for the Japanese diaspora, I do hope, as a Black creative who works with Japan, that this show kind of dips its toes into those genre-inherent aspects. I certainly expect it to, given its Japanese-American collaborative roots.
Will it do that? Probably not, but… well, you can’t blame me for hoping for some depth.
So, let’s get to the real question: do I recommend this? Well… yes and no. As someone completely unfamiliar with Blade Runner, I can easily say that I never felt lost during this premiere. I might not have felt emotions towards certain characters (in cases of characters featured in things like Blade Runner 2049) but did I still like them? For the most part, yeah. Elle is everything I wanted to be at age 14, living in a world filled with neon cyans, magentas, and brilliant yellows and meaty bass, lo-fi jams to wield a katana to. Still, all that considered, it’s kind of a 3.5 out of 5 premiere: not bad, but… not necessarily good.
That said, I imagine that if you’re already invested in Blade Runner, you’ll get a heck of a lot more mileage out of this series than I did. Still, you can watch it either way: you don’t necessarily have to be informed. The first episode lays things out, showing its hand in a pretty obvious way that’s still engaging enough. Ultimately, Come for the Mardock Scramble-esque vibes, stay for the curious plot, and well… I don’t know, just to see where this goes. Will I see where it goes? Probably not, but I certainly don’t regret spending my time with this premiere.