Review: The Replicants Strike Back in Animated “Blade Runner Black Out 2022”
As part of the build up to Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve commissioned three short prequel films to set the stage for his sequel to the legendary Blade Runner. And while Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn and Blade Runner 2048: Nowhere To Run were entertaining vignettes, it’s the animated Blade Runner Black Out 2022 that feels like a complete short story. It’s also the real prize among the prequels.
Blade Runner’s influence has been widely felt in anime as well as in live-action films, so it’s appropriate that Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo director Shinichiro Watanabe helmed this short, which may be the closest thing to a Blade Runner anime series that we’ll ever get. The previous shorts hinted at a devastating worldwide blackout that led to a ban on Replicant technology. Black Out 2022 not only reveals that the Replicants were behind the incident, it actually makes that action seem necessary. As one of the characters notes early in the short, the Replicants are even “more human than human.” And they have a very human need to survive a threat to their existence.
Because this short takes place only a few years after the first film, there’s a cameo from one of the characters from that story with the same actor providing his voice. That was a great touch, but the story ultimately focuses on two Replicants: Iggy (Jovan Jackson) and Trixie (Luci Christian), both of whom have had strained relationships with humanity. The short’s extended run time allows for a brief exploration of their respective pasts through flashbacks. Iggy’s war story was particularly memorable thanks to its unfinished and sketchy look that wouldn’t have worked in live-action. Essentially, he realized who and what he is in battle. Trixie had a little bit more complexity in her flashback, but the short doesn’t reveal how she lost the connection that made her even more human.
There’s no shortage of action here, and this doesn’t feel like fake anime because it isn’t. Watanabe’s direction and the high quality animation make this short feel as genuine as any anime produced and created in Japan. The fight sequences move with fluid imagery and the backdrop of the futuristic city is visually arresting. If anything, it’s unfortunate that this short couldn’t be extended into a full-length TV episode or even a movie. Because as interesting as it is, it still glosses over a lot of details about what the Replicants are up to (perhaps a mystery best left for the movie) and only lightly touches upon the brutality that they are forced to deal with.
The ending of this short is also hampered by the brief run-time, as it relies on text to convey the long term impact of the blackout and its implications for both Replicants and humanity. That robs the story of its momentum at a critical moment, and therefore it doesn’t quite have the closure that it deserves. But considering that this could have easily just been an afterthought, it’s amazing that it’s as good as it is. This was a really impressive outing, and it makes the prospect of next month’s Blade Runner sequel even more exciting.
You can watch Blade Runner Black Out 2022 on Crunchyroll.
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures