Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 29th 2005
In the far future, machines are sentient enough that they can replicate themselves and run a self-sufficient mechanical civilization. Silicon Creatures roam the physical and digital world, creating as much chaos as possible so that their kind can continue to survive. Meanwhile, the last few humans left try to fight the chaos and make sense of this world. Among them is Cibo, a scientist who has archived some data on this disc in hopes that it may provide insight into this strange future.
Forget about teenagers and giant robots saving the world. If there's one thing Blame! teaches us, it's that in the future, everything will be really... weird. So weird, in fact, that sequential events may not logically follow from one to the other. People show up and talk about things, but the words mean nothing (at least to our 21st-century ears). The entire world, in fact, is a jumble of pipes, wires, walls, and walkways. Sound like your kind of place? Then prepare to enter the mega-structure of Blame!... and if you can make any sense of it at all, you're already doing better than I did.
To suggest that the anime adaptation of Blame! has a storyline is like suggesting that Pokemon has deep philosophical implications. This disc is more of a supplement to the manga, illuminating the complex and disturbing setting of the series. The underlying concept—that the disc is an actual artifact from the Blame! universe—is a cute idea, but ultimately shallow and not as rewarding as a fully developed story. The nonlinear patchwork of scenes and images will leave most viewers scratching their heads and thinking, "What the hell is going on?" Like so many things in anime, it's pretty, but it makes little sense. Blame! isn't so much about telling the story as it is about setting the mood, the place, and the time of this dystopia. If you want to have any idea of what's taking place, make sure to read the back of the DVD case, plus the glossary insert.
Taking one step back, the setting of Blame! isn't so hard to understand; it's the usual post-apocalyptic science fiction fare. Machines taking over the world, humans fighting for survival, mechanical creatures chasing them—surely this wasn't a candidate for The Animatrix? The anime provides mere glimpses of this world, but if you concentrate hard enough, certain words and ideas start to stick. The "mega-structure" is the amalgam of all this self-replicating machinery; "net-sphere" is the new word for a very mutated internet, and everyone's really interested in "net genes" that allow humans to interface with the net-sphere. However, the fragmented dialogue makes it difficult to follow these explanations, along with slow, disjointed pacing that calls to mind Yoshitoshi ABe's anime at its most challenging. Towards the end, Cibo finally shows up and interacts with Killy (the main character of the series), but the lack of any conclusion maintains the fleeting, patchwork feel of this anime.
What Blame! lacks in story and coherence, it almost makes up for with the art. The backgrounds stay faithful to Tsutomu Nihei's unmatched manga linework, filling the screen with dense mechanical details. The resulting claustrophobic atmosphere creates just the right sense of unease, aided by eerie and unnatural colors that emphasize how far removed this world is (in both space and time) from our own. The character designs—whenever characters do show up—aren't as varied as they could be, but they have a stylized gracefulness that sets them apart from citizens of the future in other series. All this detail, however, causes the animation to be sacrificed, and motion often consists of shortcuts like long pans or stills in rapid succession. Although there are flashes of ultra-smooth, high frame rate animation, they don't happen often enough. The visual experience is still very striking and intense, but the limitations are readily apparent.
Like the visuals and story, the music of Blame! creates uneasy feelings with its unconventional, disjointed quality. A tuneless theme played on distortion guitars accompanies the credit sequence between each short episode, and within the show itself there are bursts of dissonant music that make about as much sense as the plot. Quite often, the lines between music and electronic sound effects are blurred, creating a unpredictable mixture of blips and buzzes that might be a well-programmed synth or an actual machine in the story.
For a work as unusual as this, Anime Works chooses not to dub it at all, which is just as well—the multitude of digitally modified voices on the Japanese track suggest that it would have been too difficult and expensive to adapt it into English. Subtitles are provided for all dialogue and on-screen text, but not the credits, although a full list of English-language credits shows up at the end of the disc. Extras include a gallery of background art, but good luck trying to get to it: the entire menu interface is written in some undecipherable future script. The full immersion experience into the world of Blame! is appreciated, but was it necessary to make the DVD so hard to navigate? The dead-end links don't help, either; poking randomly at indecipherable symbols just to find something is a waste of time.
(Here's the answer key: The first item on the menu plays the disc straight through, the third item goes to scene selection, the fifth goes to subtitle selection and trailers, and the last item contains the background galleries.)
Blame! is one of those strange cases where you're not sure whether to rate it highly for terrific art or knock it down because of its opaque story (if it can even be called a story). Animation is a medium that's all about visual storytelling, so balancing pictures with words and ideas is tricky business, and Blame! falls just short of getting it right. Thirty-seven minutes isn't long enough to let us get fully absorbed into this stark vision of the future, even though it's plenty of time to appreciate the richly detailed visuals. With an anime as dense and challenging as this, it's best to take the advice of a certain Cromartie High School character: "If you want to know what happens, read the manga."
Overall (dub) : N/A
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : D
Animation : B-
Art : A
Music : B
+ Richly detailed backgrounds and visual effects create an intense, uneasy atmosphere
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