Netflix airs 18 animated short films in a NSFW series

By KATHARINE LEE and KATHARINE LEE | March 28, 2019

For all the Black Mirror fans out there, Netflix has finally released its animated equivalent: Love, Death + Robots. This not-safe-for-work (NSFW) series of 18 short films is the stunning collaborative effort of filmmaking teams from across the world. These five to 15 minute long short films are shocking but beautifully animated commentaries on, you guessed it, love, death and occasionally robots. 

While certainly aimed at a mature audience, Love, Death + Robots is not all sex and blood. The episodes range from gory and grim to comedic and light-hearted. For a quick guide to Love, Death + Robots, I would advise that some of the more aggressively provocative episodes are “Sonnie’s Edge,” “Beyond the Aquila Rift,” “The Witness” and “The Secret War.” These episodes are morbid, grisly and a stark contrast to the merry (or at least merrier) episodes sprinkled in between like “Three Robots,” “When The Yogurt Took Over” and “Alternate Histories.” The incongruent nature of Love, Death + Robots means that there’s a little something for everyone. So if the nightmare-inducing fight scenes from “Shape-Shifters” aren’t your cup of tea, you should still seek out some of the more G-rated episodes before giving up on the series. To give you a better feel for this medley of dystopian stories, it’s helpful to take a holistic look at the series under the three themes it promises from the get-go, starting with love. 

Love, Death + Robots defines “love” pretty loosely. Rarely do the shorts feature romantic love, often just sex and nudity. This makes sense for their purposes of telling edgy stories with provocative animation which is truly what Love, Death + Robots boils down to. Episodes like “Sonnie’s Edge,” “The Witness” and “Good Hunting” showcase the series’ risqué definition of love. 

Occasionally, however, Love, Death + Robots gives us a glance at a deeper definition. “Lucky 13” dives into the unmatchable bond between pilot and plane. “Zima Blue” tells the story of an artist whose passion for art pushes him to replace his body with machinery so that he can create art on even the most unwelcoming of planets. “Suits” portrays the love three farmers have for their community as they defend it from a hoard of aliens. Love, Death + Robots may use love mostly as a means to insert naked women into its episodes, but it still proves to have a great capacity to explore the nuances of love (in its many shapes and forms) through intense and unique stories.

As for death, it’s clearly the most prominent theme. Death makes its appearance in every episode, be it through a peculiar murder in “The Witness,” the littering of decaying bodies in the post-apocalyptic world from “Three Robots” or the never explained but probably metaphorical people-eating-garbage-monster in “The Dump.” Love, Death + Robots’ obsession with death is no secret either. It’s the ultimate topic of discussion when it comes to the provocative, the disturbing and the intoxicative. “Helping Hand” tells the harrowing story of an astronaut making her great escape from the clutches of death. “Ice Age” explores death in a much deeper sense: the death of humanity and its hopeful rebirth. “Blind Spot” and “Zima Blue” work in even broader strokes, considering death from a philosophical point of view — what is death to a machine? 

Of course, these are just some of the better examples where death is explored and not just used. Like love, Love, Death + Robots uses death to be provocative, showing gruesome and bloody killings in its more macabre episodes like “Sonnie’s Edge” and “Sucker of Souls.” Still, no theme is more used or better explored than that of death. In fact, the title really would be more accurate as Death, Death + (yes more) Death — but that probably wouldn’t have sold as well.

Love, Death + Robots is misleading. Only about five out of the 18 episodes have robots, and even if you want to be really generous with your definition of “robot” (including the plane from “Lucky 13” for example), I would still only count nine episodes. That being said, Love, Death + Robots delivers when robots do make an appearance. It is curious that the series rarely gives us autonomous robots and more frequently examines humanity’s integration with technology. In “Suits,” this integration refers to the human-operated alien-fighting robot suits the farmers don to defend their humble livelihoods. In “Zima Blue” and “Good Hunting,” the integration is the very union of flesh and metal as characters are piece by piece replaced with machinery. 

Perhaps the theme of robots is much more than its literal definition and encompasses all the commentaries Love, Death + Robots seems to have on the robotic and programmed nature of society. For example, the cyclic and simplistic view “Ice Age” seems to take on humanity could be alluding to how predetermined and inevitable our species’ course seems. Or perhaps humanity’s dependence on the far superior yogurt-race from “When The Yogurt Took Over” is a critique of our submissive nature as humans: how we’re unfit to govern ourselves and better off under the programming of some other species. But that’s stretching the definition of “robot” quite far. Perhaps in the whispered gossip of a season two, the show will deliver some stronger robot-related episodes.

If you aren’t interested in the stories, at least check out Love, Death + Robots for the artistry. Each short is animated in its own unique and captivating way. “The Witness,” for example, features breathtaking avant-garde color palettes, neon pinks and glaring cyans. The milky and clean-cut animation style of “When The Yogurt Took Over” reflects the utopian yet off-putting nature of the perfect society. Many episodes like “Ice Age” and “Lucky 13” use gripping photorealistic CGI to give an almost video-game-cutscene look to its half-animated actors. In short, Love, Death + Robots can stand alone as wonderful artwork due to the striking diversity and ingenuity of its animations.

It is clear from the start that Love, Death + Robots sets out to do one thing in particular: shock the viewers. There’s shock value in every part of Love, Death + Robots: the stunning visuals, captivating plots, frank nudity, horrific carnage and unsettling criticism of mankind. The episodes themselves do not go many places — a consequence of them being so short. Many seem purely explorative, exploring an idea or an alternative world. 

After watching the entire series I feel unsatisfied in the most fulfilling way. I want to know more about the intricate worlds I glimpsed. I want the cliffhanger plots to be given finite conclusions. I want to understand the deeper meanings behind the episodes that seemed to pass over my head like profound art. It seems this feeling of hollow endings is exactly what the creators of Love, Death + Robots had intended. I am certainly walking away from the series provoked, shocked and still lingering on the execution of such beautiful horror and such horrific beauty.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.