Reviewby Theron Martin,
Once humans ruled over a mighty automated city, but a virus cost them the Net Terminal Gene necessary to control it. Without it, the city determined humans to be illegal inhabitants and used Safeguards to exterminate them, while massive Builders continued to expand the city at random. Centuries later, one of the last surviving groups of humanity struggles to eke out an existence. Despite being able to live safely behind a barrier that shields them from the Safeguards, they're growing short on food, which leads intrepid young Zuru and several other youths out on an unauthorized food-gathering mission. After several fatalities and mission failure, they encounter Killy, the first human stranger seen in generations. He is seeking a human who still possesses the Net Terminal Gene, and he's quite capable of fending off Exterminators by himself. With his help, Zuru and her people discover the remains of a scientist who may be able to help them shut down the city for good. But in this broken world, things never go that easily.
With Tsutomu Nihei's Knights of Sidonia manga being adapted into a CG anime series, it's no wonder that there would be interest in adapting his earliest project: the 1998 cyberpunk manga Blame! Although it was adapted into a series of six ONA shorts back in 2003, this new version is a 105-minute movie animated by Polygon Pictures and directed by Hiroyuki Seshita, the same man behind Polygon's adaptations of Knights of Sidonia and Ajin.
Unlike the manga, which was more a collection of isolated encounters, the movie presents a single plotline focusing on Killy's encounter with the Electro-Fishers, a human tribe operating out of one of the city's few protected areas. Another big alteration is that Killy is only a co-protagonist in the story at best; it focuses at least as much on Zuru, a teenage girl who leads the tribe's youth, and the bulk of the movie takes place from her viewpoint. That was probably a wise decision, since Killy's personality is to not interact more than he absolutely has to. He may be a bad-ass, but that's all there is to him emotionally. Even the similarly roaming D from the Vampire Hunter D stories had more personality than Killy, and that's not saying much. Granted, neither Zuru, any of the other Electro-Fishers, or the aloof scientist Cibo are richly developed either, but at least the audience has a chance of caring about them.
The story could reasonably be described as The Terminator meets The Road Warrior, with a bit of Vampire Hunter D thrown in for good measure. I would be a little surprised if all three of those titles couldn't be cited as specific influences, since the movie uses distinct elements from the first two in particular: the premise behind the setting and the Terminator-like behavior of the movie's chief antagonist speak to the former, while the Electro-Fishers' dilemma alongside Killy speaks to The Road Warrior, down to repeating the final line of that movie. The only newer elements are the presence of the scientist Cibo and the vastness of the ever-expanding city. There are far worse concepts for dystopian sci fi than combining elements of three well-proven franchises though, and the concept of an automatically expanding city with thousands of levels gives the story a fresher spin.
Besides, complaints about weak characterizations and retread plot elements may seem beside the point when the cool factor of the visuals is the movie's main selling point, which it definitely delivers on. The extra budget and less cramped time schedule for the movie shows, as this is easily Polygon Pictures' best-looking CG title yet. The awkwardness in body language that marred the animation effort of both Knights of Sidonia and Ajin is almost entirely absent here, creating a sense of movement that's smooth even outside of the action sequences. Like the studio's previous two efforts, the action scenes spark with exciting movement, as Exterminators somewhat reminiscent of the robots from Ghost in the Shell Arise skitter across all kinds of surfaces and human characters run, dodge, and scramble for footing.
It's not just the animation that looks great, either. The suits and equipment worn by the Electro-Fishers show the kind of wear that might be expected from decades or even centuries of use, and both Cibo's restored body and the Terminator-like antagonist show amazingly creative cyborg character design, efforts that would be worthy of Yukito Kishiro (Battle Angel). Designs for the Electro-Fishers and Killy are more ordinary but still appealing. On top of that, the movie is almost worth watching for the background art alone, which conveys every bit of the gloomy industrial atmosphere that the story was aiming for. Don't expect much for bright colors, though. Aside from the eye-popping shots from Killy's gun, this is mostly the kind of subdued color scheme seen in Knights of Sidonia, only shaded even darker.
The musical score comes courtesy of Yuugo Kanno, who did the scores for Ajin and the recent JoJo's Bizarre Adventure series. Whether using metallic synthesized or orchestrated sounds at loud action levels or with much softer restraint, and sometimes accompanied by airy vocals, the soundtrack consistently conveys a sense of ominous dread and tension. In other titles, that might come off oppressively, but it suits the tone of this setting very well. By comparison, ending theme “calling you” is unremarkable.
Netflix is streaming this movie simultaneously with its Japanese release as a Netflix Original. It comes with language options for English, French, German, and Spanish in both subtitles and vocal track and subtitles-only for Italian. (Naturally, it has the Japanese dub too.) The English dub is populated by actors common to other Netflix Original Series dubs, including Cristina Vee, Michael McConnohie, Bryce Papenbrook, and Christine Marie Cabanos, The cast is well-chosen and performances are solid enough, with a script that doesn't vary more than necessary. The one curious observation is that all of the English cast seems to be trying to duplicate the Japanese way of pronouncing “Killy,” which makes his name come off more like “Kiry” in English.
If you're looking for a story with depth, then you won't find it here, but as darkly-tinged sci fi action romps set in interesting worlds go, you could do much worse.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Fantastic backgrounds, active action animation, suitably moody music score
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