Content Warning: Gore, Body, Murder/On Screeen Death, Body Horror
What’s it about? In a distant future where humans are forced to leave Earth, a spacecraft carrying a 3D-printed crew of specialists is sent on a mission to terraform a new potential home for humanity. However, not all is bright in this far-flung future: there’s trouble brewing aboard…
When I started Exception (stylized as e∞ception, but written as Exception because I don’t know how to type an infinity sign) I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t even know that it was by Otsuichi, also known as Adachi Hirotaka, one of Japan’s most notable horror authors. He’s written two of my favorite horror books—Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse and Calling You—is father in law to Oshii Mamoru, and generally is a very notable creator.
With him at the helm, I was sure that Exception would be exceptional. Yet what I found was… well… possibly exceptional in a different direction. Anyway, you know the drill: let’s get into the premiere of this Netflix original, starting with episode 1, “misprint.”
Exception opens with a beautiful galactic view before pivoting to a Treasure Planet-esque ship shaped like a coelacanth and then, the most do-nothing OP to a series. (It’s probably poignant, but I tend towards OPs that give me a bit of flavor to the show; maybe this show’s flavor is pensive which… ew. I like OPs to set the tone: that’s why they tend to be so watchable. It’s like an apéritif to get you ready for a new episode.)
Cut to our main character, Nina, fresh out of stasis and completely normal–in so far as she’s got a brand-new 3D-printed body, capable of getting her through everything she’ll need to survive in this series. She’s soon joined by a number of crew—Mack, Oscar, and Patty—who were similarly printed into a galaxy not too far-flung from our own. They’re all bound for Planet X-10, a potential new home for what remains of humanity. But of course, it’s not a habitable homeworld for humanity’s hungry, desperate masses: at least not yet. That’s where our intrepid crew comes in, and that’s where the central plot of this series lies too.
That is, until an electromagnetic wave causes a nightmare to be born aboard their ship.
Let’s get it out of the way: Exception is ugly. It has this weird gumminess to the style that reminds me a bit of Code Lyoko’s sequences in the computer, but like… a bit more stylized and with a lot of contouring. (Sorry to drag you like that, Code Lyoko; at least you were made 20 years ago.) Amano Yoshitaka’s fascinating art designs definitely feel uncanny here, to a degree that’s not quite laughable but just feels uneasy. That may later be to the show’s benefit, but for now everything just feels off.
When I say that , I mean this: the characters don’t move much, and everything is just stiff. It’s just not what I’d expect from a show on Netflix, a platform with money to throw at things. It feels rushed and by proxy… cheap, which feels especially upsetting in a show that has a sizable BIPOC-coded cast among its protagonists. Like I said, this may be to the show’s benefit because I suspect the “twist” will stick around for the entire run. However, right now? It’s just not great.
That said, the colors are nice though: there’s all of these ambient effects that add to the feeling of being in space. But by and large, this is not CG animation at its best. It’s a shame because the character designs are actually kind of interesting: they remind me of the video game Gnosia, with lots of futuristic fabrics and hairstyles and a variety of body types and ethnicities. It makes sense because, like I said, the GOAT Yoshitaka Amano did the character design, whcih means fascinating texture to characters that only feel 75% human.
What is at its best is the music, which is really quite fitting for a series with space as the backdrop. There’s this mildly Mass Effect-esque quality to the sound track, with lots of strings to add in an extra bit of ethereality to the space vibes. The dub voice acting is pretty good as well: it honestly bolsters this series and gives the characters a degree of warmth and life. Without these two elements, the show would be almost unwatchable.
Exception is dull for a show about life, death, humanity, and so much philosophy. Its premiere lacks any punch, and while there’s fascinating elements to the foundation of the world–the character designs, the soundtrack, the premise itself—it’s so thudding executed that I felt like I was back in my collegiate philosophy class listening to that one kid that was pro-communism but had a six-figure trust fund. Exception isn’t exceptional in a positive way. It drops so many anvils about what it’s trying to drive home–that humanity should be at the core of all our decisions—while really saying nothing interesting or new at all. It just feels like someone pontificating without ever saying something of value, and I kind of hate that.
I mentioned the video game Gnosia earlier, which I think is prudent to a series like this because they share a lot of similarities. In that game, the enemy takes the form of the gnos and gnosia, beings that invade humanity but are difficult to understand on a cosmic, philosophical level. They are legion, are monstrous, and are ultimately humanity’s enemy, much like the nightmarish creature in this episode. But they’re also building this fascinating tapestry of a world, which just doesn’t happen from the antagonist in this series. Exception could definitely take a page from Gnosia’s setting of a thriller in space: here, the thrills feel low-impact and unfortunately, that kinda makes Exception dead on arrival, even though it could be so, so much more interesting.
And maybe it’ll become more interesting as it chugs along: maybe Exception will become a lot more complex and become more of a thriller that discusses genuine, deep conversations about what it means to be alive and to carry the fate of a planet on your shoulders. I think there’s a lot to that, and I think that can be really, genuinely engaging. It’s just not quite there, but hey: many of my favorite works by Otsuchi took a moment to get to the “good stuff” and blend thriller, horror, mystery, and humanity together. It might just be a matter of time.
In truth, I wanted to like Exception, I really did: I wanted to sink into its colorful world and stay long enough to see where things went. But Nina and her crew just… don’t bring much humanity to its often rambly discussions of humanity, the soul, and our own home planet. I wish Nina and the rest of this world’s humanity the best, but… I won’t be around to see this series to the end.