by Beef Pickens
As someone who has seen “Blade Runner 2049” countless times and the original a few less, I was ecstatic to hear that a Blade Runner anime was going to be produced this year. Blade Runner fans had already received a magnificent taste of what an anime could look like with the “Black Out 2022” short film that was released alongside “2049” in 2017. The director of “2049,” Denis Villeneuve, asked his friend Shinichiro Watanabe to animate a brief film in 2D detailing an important event between the original movie and his new film. Although short in length, it was nothing short of beautiful and left fans wanting more. After all, there isn’t much Blade Runner media content to go around (“2049” came out 35 years after the original).
“Blade Runner: Black Lotus” was announced a year after the release of “2049”. It is a collaboration between anime company Crunchyroll and television channel Adult Swim, aptly deemed “a Crunchyroll and Adult Swim original.” Previously mentioned director Watanabe will be serving as a creative director for the project, and it will have both Japanese and English dubs. Around the period of the initial announcement, information about the anime was obviously quite scarce. Nevertheless, fans were sure to keep their ears open for any new information about the project; however, incredibly long stretches of time passed without even a word. Eventually, on July 23rd of this year, the Adult Swim YouTube channel released a 2 minute and 6 second trailer for the show that finally gave the ravenous fans a look at what they could expect later in the year. According to the video’s reception, their hopes were squandered.
One of the first things that someone would see while patrolling the comments of the video is a multitude of complaints regarding the choice to switch to 3D animation. Viewers made no efforts to mince their words, going as far as to compare the animation to that of a Playstation 2 game. The sentiment is a valid one; quality 3D anime are few and far between. It is even more confusing considering the extremely high quality of “Black Out 2022.” Essentially, 2D animation, which comprises the majority of anime, has been proven more than effective in portraying the “Blade Runner” universe. In an interview with show directors, it is revealed that 3D CG was chosen because it was the best way to portray the city, and seeing the characters against such a backdrop would be “entertaining.” I can’t help but think, though, (especially after looking at the quality of the animation in the trailer) that it was more cost-effective and thus was ultimately the required direction. It most certainly does not instill confidence in the quality of the show when it doesn’t seem to have enough genuine care and concern behind it for a proper animation budget.
Although there is clearly talent within the team responsible for the project, the content we have been exposed to has been rather concerning nonetheless. A second point of contention within the original trailer was the music choice. “Blade Runner” is known in large part for its atmosphere, and its soundtrack contributes heavily to this. The stunning synth and saxophone soundscape created by Vangelis for the first film perfectly matched the tone and what was happening in “Blade Runner’s” cyberpunk cityscape. Although “Blade Runner 2049’s” soundtrack did incorporate the synth heard in the original movie, it had a much different, heavier, bass-reliant sound that complimented moments of touching connection and heart-pounding chases.
With this being said, the music chosen for the trailer clashes significantly with the tone established in the “Blade Runner” series. “Feel you Now” is a pop song that feels too commercial and out of place in the series universe. One would have a very hard time guessing the property from the soundtrack alone. In another video revealing the opening released by Adult Swim, the song was confirmed to be the opening theme. While this could just be a poor decision that doesn’t actually reflect the soundtrack of the show, it is yet another major reason for concern.
Despite seeing the familiar cityscapes that fans have come to know and love, the trailer doesn’t feel very “Blade Runner” at all. A large effort was made to have a focus on action and combat scenes, which clashes with the films’ more meditative and thoughtful tradition. The “Blade Runner” franchise has always been focused on what it means to be human more than fast-paced fights. Although there were moments of heart-pounding action, they were very clearly not at the forefront of what the movies were trying to portray. Admittedly, this could be an attempt from the creators of the trailer itself to have it appeal to a wider audience, but it still creates yet another reason for skepticism. It is my hope, of course, that these doubts are ultimately unfounded. I want nothing more than to have a quality “Blade Runner” anime, and we will hopefully know soon whether the show is worth giving a shot.