Reviewby Nick Creamer,
In the husk of a sprawling dead city, what few humans that remain struggle to eke out the barest of existences. Humans once built this city, and ruled it as kings. But when a virus stole humanity's ability to communicate with their robotic servants, the city turned hostile, and now being noticed by its towers and sentinels is a death sentence. Zuru lives within this city, surviving day to day by scavenging sustenance from its fraying pipes. But when Zuru comes across a wanderer known as Killy, she learns there might be a future for her people beyond slow decay, and perhaps even a chance of taking the city back.
It might seem like the apparent partnership between mangaka Tsutomu Nihei and CG studio Polygon Pictures is something of a monkey's paw situation for fans of Nihei's manga. After all, his manga is defined above all else by its decaying, endlessly embellished visual details. Nihei's manga places the texture of scenery first, and given CG's tendency to smooth all objects into clean lines, one could easily argue that translating his work into CG robs it of its essence.
However, in practice, Polygon's team seem to absolutely understand the fundamental strengths of Nihei's works. For Knights of Sidonia, while the character designs were a little underwhelming, the show's mastery of momentum in combat was unparalleled. And here in Blame!, while the character designs and their expressions remain CG-simplified, the soul of the work is absolutely intact.
Blame! focuses on a young woman named Zuru who lives in a vast and crumbling city, a technological marvel originally built by human-controlled machines. However, at some point in the past, a virus severed humanity's ability to maintain authority over these machines, causing the city to simply default to automatic loops. Additionally, with their authority denied, the machines now perceived humans as intruders, and slaughtered those they once obeyed. Now, some thousands of years later, Zuru and other humans like her must struggle to survive in this ruin, feeding off the city's waste products like the bottom rung of some vast mechanical ecosystem
What Blame! director Hiroyuki Seshita clearly understands is that the star of Blame! isn't any of its human or quasi-human characters - it's the environment they inhabit, the massive, decaying city that dictates the trials of their lives. Nearly half of this film seems to be shot from distant angles through layers of machines, consistently impressing upon us the imposing scale of Zuru and her companion's world. And these shots aren't just consistent and purposeful - they're beautiful as well, a gorgeous collection of painted backgrounds framed from too far away to ever clash with the CG character models. If you were worried a CG production couldn't capture the beauty of Blame!, at least when it comes to the city itself, you can set those fears aside.
Blame! is also blessed with strong color and sound design that each bolster its tonal effect in their own ways. On the color front, Blame! feels almost like a black and white film for much of its run - the city itself looks like a canvas of tar and bleached bone, while the characters are a mix of grey and white. This unique visual choice allows the few colors that do appear to really stand out. The dull blue glow of the city's watchtowers thus becomes as impactful and terrifying for us as it is for the show's cast, representing a clear intrusion on an otherwise sterile world. As for the sound design, Blame! relies heavily on the clanging, claustrophobic incidental noises of the city itself, mixing in electronic music that actually feels like an extension of the city's own voice. Blame! works very hard and successfully to make this city feel both terrifying and captivating, like some wild living leviathan.
On the negative front, there's a reason I'm focusing so much on Blame!'s tonal successes over its actual narrative: as a story, this is all pretty standard stuff. After running across the mysterious traveler Killy who says he's looking for a “net terminal gene,” Zuru spends the rest of this film helping Killy and a scientist named Cibo attempt to regain control of the city itself. In practical terms, that means this is basically a typical scifi treasure hunt: Killy and his allies find the scientist, Killy and his allies find the factory, Killy and his allies get out of the factory, etcetera. There's a very light sprinkling of the transhumanism focus that helps Nihei's other works stand out, but on the whole, Blame!'s story is mostly just a basic justification for a fight-filled journey through an incredibly beautiful set.
It also doesn't help that Blame! really can't nail the human element. It'd be hard enough for even well-written emotional scenes to overcome Polygon's inexpressive character models, but in truth, the relationships here are all boilerplate action movie bonds anyway. And Killy in particular is pretty much an emotionless slate set at the center of the narrative. Killy certainly has justification for his nature, but when Blame! tries to hang dramatic weight on Zuru not wanting him to leave after a full film of them not having any relationship at all, you get the feeling we're just going through emotional beats a story with no interest in emotion still feels obligated to offer.
Fortunately, Blame!'s ability to portray convincing relationships is nowhere near a load-bearing pillar. This is a film about atmosphere and action, and it succeeds admirably on both of those counts. Blame!'s fight scenes are energetic and beautiful, and its portrayal of a ruined megacity will certainly stay with me. As a visually arresting adventure film, Blame! definitely succeeds.
Blame! comes in a standard slipcase and bluray case, and is accompanied by both an on-disc art gallery and something much more unique: a behind-the-scenes featurette focused on the film's production at Polygon Studios. This featurette is full of fun insights into the film's genesis, like the fact that it was initially conceived as a show-within-a-show that would take place during an episode of Knights of Sidonia, or how the score was inspired by Ennio Morricone's classic western scores. It's clear from these interviews just how closely Polygon work with Nihei, and how intentional their various narrative choices were. Beyond the information specific to Blame!, this featurette is just a surprisingly frank overview of the show development process in general, and a very welcome addition to the collection.
Outside of that featurette, the only major inclusions are english and spanish dub tracks. I was generally impressed by Blame!'s english track, with my only quibble being that Keith Silverstein's Sutezou felt a little unconvincing in some scattered scenes. On the whole, it's a fine dub for a fine movie, one I'd recommend to anyone who's up for an adventure and doesn't mind some wonky CG along the way. Blame! is far from a perfect film, but it offers a world I felt privileged to explore, and I'd be happy to visit again.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Tells a fairly gripping story within a gorgeous decaying megacity, marvelous portrayal of its setting
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