Love, Death and Robots is a limited animated series released on Netflix in April 2019. Taken as a whole, I give the series the thumbs up, but like most anthologies, it delivers a mixed quality of stories, artistic styles, and entertainment value. Some of the episodes were compelling and visually arresting while others I watched simply because I was too lazy to skip them. The best part of Love, Death and Robots is the buffet of animation styles to enjoy. Many employ startlingly life-like CGI while others are pleasing illustrations reminiscent of Disney hand-drawn cartoons. However, I find myself referring to this show as Blood, Sex and Robots for good reason: I’m not a fan of gore for gore’s sake, and some of the episodes tested my capacity to withstand gruesome, graphic violence. And while I’m no prude, the amount of nudity (especially sexualized female nudity) led me to guess (correctly) that the bulk of episodes were written and/or directed by men. Many of them would have been right at home in Heavy Metal. On that note, it’d be interesting to see what a second series might look like if they hired primarily female writers and directors. Anyway, we got what we got—some hits, some misses. Below is my personal ranking of the episodes, from best to worst. The summaries come straight from Netflix.
Lucky 13: “After the drop-ship Lucky 13 lost two crews, no pilot would fly her… but rookies don’t get a choice.” This episode deeply resonated with me. It features a strong, richly-drawn woman (a black woman, at that—someone we don’t see represented enough in sci-fi) in a story that would normally center a male perspective. The story touches upon the unreasonableness of superstition, the power of trust and faith, and the connections we forge with the seemingly inanimate technology in our lives. The CGI is solid in this piece—I’d often forget it wasn’t live action (at least, I don’t think it was . . .)
Zima Blue: “The renowned artist Zima recounts his mysterious past and rise to fame before unveiling his final work.” This is a story that, once it’s done, you sit back to reflect on it and only then find yourself in awe. The ending is unexpected and thought-provoking and the animation style has an avant-garde feel that provides a beautiful contrast to the hyper-realistic animation of many of the others in this collection. The earnest voice talent behind the characters adds another layer of richness to the episode.
Good Hunting: “The son of a spirit hunter forges a bond with a shape-shifting huli jing.” Despite the troubling “rape as motivation for revenge” plot point, which is irritating but not beyond the pale, this episode features beautiful animation with deft lines and soft colors. The heart-wrenching tale of the huli jing’s threatened existence to her final stunning transformation is astonishing. This tale about a woman who takes drastic control of her fate will stay with you long after the episode is over.
Helping Hand: “Stranded in orbit, an astronaut must choose between life and limb before her oxygen runs out.” The premise is an excruciating, nail-biting version of Gravity. Tightly-plotted with gorgeous visuals and a full story arc with nary a naked butt cheek; just a naked hand where it shouldn’t be, which is quite enough for this tale.
Suits: “A community of farmers use their homemade mechs to defend their families from an alien invasion.” This episode was just plain fun to watch. The story is engaging, the characters are empathetic, and the animation is satisfying without being too simple or too sophisticated.
Beyond the Aquila Rift: “Awakening after traveling light years off course, a ship’s crew struggles to discover just how far they’ve come.” This story ranks high on my list because I have a soft spot for deep space thrillers with ensemble casts. Think Event Horizon or Sunshine. Another hyper-real CGI venture, this sexy story feels like it could spawn a full-length movie.
Fish Night: “After their car breaks down in the desert, two salesmen take a dreamlike voyage to the dawn of time.” A magically-woven tale. I found the premise enchanting, and the mid-century mod vibe of the animation well-suited to the story. I sorta want to spend the night in the middle of the desert after watching it, but then given the ending, I also sorta don’t. Ever.
When the Yogurt Took Over: “After scientists accidentally breed super-intelligent yogurt, it soon hungers for world domination.” This was such a silly, simple and bizarre tale with an active-voice narrator and a charming animation style. I didn’t love it, but it amused me enough to rank it higher than many others on this list.
Shape-Shifters: “Deep in Afghanistan, two Marines with supernatural powers face a threat from one of their own kind.” I cringe at war movies that depict testosterone-filled behavior, prejudice, cruelty and hazing. Partly because they paint a depressing picture of military camaraderie but partly because they’re still so overwhelmingly male in their portrayals. Beyond that, I tend to enjoy werewolf stories, and this one has a lot to say about the harm of othering those who are supposed to be on our side.
Sonnie’s Edge: “In the underground world of “beastie” fights, Sonnie is unbeatable — as long as she keeps her edge.” This episode gave me highly-mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s a strong feminist tale with an unapologetically-brutal and sexually-confident woman who dominates in the traditionally-male arena of avatar fighting. But on the other, it is easily one of the goriest episodes of the bunch. As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of gory horror and bloodbaths, so that aspect turned me off, but I loved the twist ending. All this combines to land it in the middle of my list.
Ice Age: “A young couple moves into an apartment and finds a lost civilization inside their antique freezer.” This was primarily live action with a small bit of CGI. It packs an entire tale into a short episode and is reminiscent of Indian in the Cupboard. And it has Topher Grace. It’s entertaining and worth at least one pass.
The Secret War: “Elite units of the Red Army fight an unholy evil deep in the ancient forests of Siberia.” I kept thinking of the Norwegian zombie-fest movie Dead Snow as I watched this, even though it contains no zombies, no Norwegians, and not a lot of snow. I think it’s that whole “small group against deadly creatures in a desolate landscape” vibe. Anyways, it’s generally fine. The animation style is fine. The story is fine. The characters are fine. The brief naked-woman-as-blood-sacrifice scene was not fine.
Three Robots: “Long after the fall of humanity, three robots embark on a sightseeing tour of a post-apocalyptic city.” This episode wasn’t bad but neither was it great. It’s intended to be an inside joke for present-day us, a chuckle-and-nudge-in-the-ribs commentary over the fatal foibles of humanity. I get it, but I just wasn’t bowled over by its tongue-in-cheek, clever-wink delivery.
The Witness: “After seeing a brutal murder, a woman flees from the killer through the streets of a surreal city.” The only things that keeps this gratuitous female nudity mess of a story from getting booted to the bottom of the list is the adrenaline-pumping, high-pace action and the raggedly beautiful, bleary dystopic future the animation paints. Unfortunately, the Twilight Zone-like plot is dragged down by the inexplicable choice to keep the main character essentially naked for the entire episode. The story would have worked just as well if she were clothed, so this only serves to sexualize her fear and the killer’s pursuit of her.
Blindspot: “A gang of cyborg thieves stage a high-speed heist of a heavily armored convoy.” This episode is basically The Fast and The Furious starring robots. I’m not a big fan of the F&F franchise, so this didn’t do much for me. I rate it as “meh” for my tastes, but if you like the Vin Diesel-fronted movies, this might be for you.
Alternate Histories: “Want to see Hitler die in a variety of comically fantastic ways? Now you can. Welcome to Multiversity!” The animation style is amusing, and the pratfall-type storytelling elicits a chuckle or two, but I’m over the “Hitler what-ifs” trope. It’s a bit overdone, in part because it’s one of the most infamous events in human history and something we’d all like to go back and change.
The Dump: “Ugly Dave calls the garbage dump home, and he’s not about to let some city slicker take it away from him.” I didn’t find much entertaining or enlightening material here and expected what was coming at the end. At least it offers some gender equity on the gratuitous nudity front, though shriveled old-man balls don’t quite do it for me.
Sucker of Souls: “Unleashed by an archaeological dig, a bloodthirsty demon battles a team of mercenaries armed with… cats?” I found the story a bit tired and unremarkable and filled with gratuitous graphic violence. I’ve never been a big fan of the Hostel and Saw type movies, so this one was a hard NO for me.