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REVIEW: Love, Death & Robots Offers Plenty to, Well, Love

David Fincher and Tim Miller tried for years to get a reboot of Heavy Metal off the ground, and while that didn't work out, their efforts have now brought us a new anthology of adults-only animation: Love, Death & Robots. This series is an easy binge on Netflix; you can finish all 18 short episodes in around three hours, and time flies while watching these often exceptional works of animation. Some of the best science fiction writers working today are involved, and so, given the eclectic nature of this anthology, we'll review each short, individually.

Love Death Robots Sonnie's Edge

The first episode, the Peter F. Hamilton adaptation "Sonnie's Edge," serves as both a mission statement and a warning. Graphically violent and sexually explicit, it makes it clear who the show is not for: kids, prudes, the feint of heart, those who can't stand "male gaze"-y cinematography and those on the opposite side of the spectrum who are already calling this female revenge story "anti-male." Everyone else should be captivated by the animation (hyper-detailed yet just stylized enough to avoid photorealism), the action (think Pokemon battles with no holds barred) and a great twist. B+

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Love-Death-Robots-Three-Robots

After the intensity of "Sonnie's Edge," "Three Robots" serves as a breather. The first of three John Scalzi adaptations in the series, this short follows three robots wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape and finds the humor in human extinction. It's the type of short which could easily serve as a pilot to a full series, with distinctive characters we'd love to see more of. A-

Love Death Robots The Witness

For sheer beauty of animation, "The Witness" might be the best of the bunch. The brainchild of Alberto Mielgo , it's one of the few original screenplays in the anthology. If the "cyberpunk comic brought to life" style reminds one of a recent Oscar winner, there's a reason for that -- Mielgo was a concept artist on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The story's simple, and this is the short where objectification criticisms hold the most weight. Still, the visuals alone elevate this problematic but compelling short. B+

love death robots header

"Suits" is based on a short story by Steven Lewis, but more than anything, it feels like the trailer to an amazing video game. An extended action sequence wherein mech-riding farmers defend their turf from monsters, it's fun to watch, but would be even more fun to play. Even the visuals remind one of Team Fortress 2-Titanfall hybrid. Given Blur Studio does a ton of game animation work, might we see this turned into a game at some point? B-

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Love Death Robots Sucker of Souls

One of the series' few traditionally animated shorts, "Sucker of Souls" is a hyper-violent, anime-inspired take on the Dracula mythos. Based on a story by Kirsten Cross, there's a retro vibe calling back to both Heavy Metal and early '90s anime dubs. While the language and gore would feel try-hard if it was meant to signal serious maturity, as schlock, it's highly entertaining. B

Love Death Robots When The Yogurt Took Over

If not for a brief shot of a topless protest, "When The Yogurt Took Over" is the one Love, Death & Robots episode that could pass for a Pixar short. A gleefully silly John Scalzi adaptation with Muppet-like characters as Maurice LaMarche does his Orson Welles-esque narration, it's short and sweet with a little social commentary mixed in with the absurdity. B+

Love Death Robots Beyond the Aquila Rift

Yes, "Beyond the Aquila Rift" is 100% animated, even if at points you'll swear you're watching living actors. Where "Sonnie's Edge" approached photorealism but skewed things ever so slightly, "Aquila Rift" heads straight past the Uncanny Valley into hyperreality. The story, by Alastair Reynolds, is a solid reality-bending tale which easily could have been expanded into a feature. B+

Love Death Robots Good Hunting

One of the best installments of the series, "Good Hunting" is a stunning hand-drawn melding of Chinese mythology and steampunk alternate history. Ken Liu's story is a powerful anti-imperialist fable, and for a series that's high on death but fairly low on actual love, the connection between engineer Liang and fox-woman Yan is tender. The animator's "male gaze" tendencies don't entirely work in its favor (some scenes absolutely make sense drawn sensually, but there's a disjoint in more horrifying moments), but overall this is an amazing short. A-

Love Death Robots The Dump

Not every short can be a winner, and if there's any real loser in Love, Death & Robots, it's "The Dump". This Joe Lansdale adaptation has some mild laughs and a fun monster, but it's insubstantial and visually unappealing. C-

Love-Death-Robots-Shape-Shifters

With photorealism in animation, there's always the question of why one would bother animating what you could do in live action. "Shape-Shifters," based on a Marko Kloos story, is the short where the animation feels the most extraneous. Whereas other photoreal shorts like "Aquila Rift" have extensive outer space settings that make sense for animation, "Shape-Shifters" is more grounded, with only the soldiers' werewolf transformations necessitating animation. There's emotion here, but it could be better developed and executed. C+

Love Death Robots Helping Hand

You know how Gravity was basically an animated film with a couple live actors thrown in? "Helping Hand," adapted from a Claudine Griggs story, is basically Gravity if it was entirely animated... and also a bit more violent and less sentimental. Of the experiments in photorealistic animation, this might be the most compelling. A-

Love Death Robots Fish Night

The better of the two Joe Lansdale stories, "Fish Night" is another decent breather. One of the only real "safe for work" shorts in the series, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it has a surreal beauty to its Scanner Darkly-esque animation. B-

Love Death Robots Lucky 13

Seriously, how did they do the animation in "Lucky 13"? We know Samira Wiley did motion capture work, but much of the time it doesn't look at all like a computer duplicate of Samira Wiley, it just looks like Samira Wiley! This Marko Kloos story about a soldier's love for her ship has exciting action and unexpected emotion, even if it skimps a bit on developing the nature of the conflict. A-

Love-Death-Robots-Zima-Blue

Now we come to the masterpiece of Love, Death & Robots' first season: Alastair Renyolds' hand-drawn adaptation "Zima Blue." Unlike other shorts, this one doesn't need gore, sexuality or cursing to make it "adult." Instead, its maturity emerges from its deep existential questions. A spellbinding work of art that Netflix should submit for awards consideration. A

Love Death Robots Blindspot

"Blindspot," the other original screenplay in the anthology, is an odd one. Where everything else in the series feels either genuinely mature or at least enjoyably sophomoric, "Blindspot" feels like a Saturday morning cartoon with a bunch of cursing thrown in. Even the art style is more Speed Racer than Akira. The action's entertaining enough, but there's not much to latch onto intellectually. C+

Love-Death-Robots-Ice-Age

The one short directed by Tim Miller, and the only one to mix animation and live-action, "Ice Age" traces the fast evolution of a civilization in a refrigerator. It's cute, but coming from an older story (Michael Stanwick wrote it in 1984), it feels predictable today. The Simpsons beat Miller to the punch when it comes to animating this basic narrative. B-

Love Death Robots Alternate Histories

"Alternate Histories," the last of the John Scalzi adaptations, is another one that's funny, but not particularly original. Stories and jokes about attempts to kill Hitler have been done to death, but that doesn't mean these six scenarios aren't amusing. B-

Love-Death-Robots-The-Secret-War

Finishing up the season is "The Secret War," based on a story by David W. Amendola. This is yet another short which could be expanded into either a movie or a video game. The focus is entirely on action, a battle between Russian soldiers and demons, but the action is stunning, and with a bit more plot development this could become something special. B

The first season of Love, Death & Robots is streaming now on Netflix.

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