Well, although I probably won’t see “Blade Runner 2049” until it comes out on DVD (since I’ll probably end up watching it at least five times, probably more…), one cool thing about it is that the director Dennis Villeneuve hired three other directors to make short prequel films, that were then officially made freely viewable on Youtube.
Although I’ve watched the other two films, I thought that I’d review the third one – “Black Out 2022” – mostly because it was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of my favourite anime TV series (“Cowboy Bebop“). Yes, the director of “Cowboy Bebop” has made a “Blade Runner” anime! Words cannot describe how cool this fact alone is!
So, let’s take a look at “Black Out 2022”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS. Likewise, apologies about the low resolution of the screenshots in this review – I was so eager to watch the film that I lowered the resolution to 144p, so that buffering wouldn’t be an issue.
“Black Out 2022” is a 10-12 minute animated short that takes place in the year 2022. The Tyrell Corporation has released the Nexus 8 model, who have a normal human lifespan. The combination of this fact, and the shoddy privacy settings on the replicant database, lead to widespread anti-replicant riots where replicants are hunted down and lynched by angry mobs.
Whilst all of this is going on, a few replicants decide that the only way to stop it is to destroy the database via a terrorist attack on a computer facility using a fuel tanker.
Whilst this is going on, the military has noticed that one of their EMP missiles has been launched. However, one of the people in the control room is (to quote from one of K.W.Jeter’s Blade Runner novels) a “rep-symp”, having fallen in love with one of the replicants who is carrying out the attack on the facility.
After the resulting cataclysmic devastation to the city, replicant prohibition is enacted and the Tyrell Corporation never recovers. However, a text screen then explains that – several years later- the Wallace Corporation manage to repeal the ban on replicants.
One of the first things that I will say about “Black Out 2022” is… wow! Seeing the look and feel of such a familiar film as “Blade Runner” replicated in anime form is absolutely astonishing!
Even though I initially started drawing comparisons with the original “Ghost In The Shell” anime (itself inspired by “Blade Runner”), the short film’s aesthetics are quickly shown to be very much based on the original film.
Seriously, there are so many amazing visual references to the original film here – from the cityscape, to the projection room in the police station, to the noodle bar, to ESPER-like augmented reality glasses, to the Off-World blimp, to the Ennis House-style tiles on a building exterior, to the replicant database itself etc.. Likewise, Bryant and Gaff also make a cameo appearance too:
In terms of the animation, it is absolutely superb. If you’ve seen the “Cowboy Bebop” movie, you’ll know that Watanabe is an expert when it comes to fluid, fast-paced action scenes and this film doesn’t disappoint here. There are some brilliantly cinematic martial arts scenes:
One of the great things about animation is that you can do impressive things on a relatively small budget, and “Black Out 2022” takes full advantage of this fact.
The destruction of the city is shown in full, with spinners falling from the sky in a spectacular fashion and lots of melodramatic explosions.
Plus, of course, there’s some cool acrobatics involving a spinner and there’s also a wide variety of different locations too (again, no need to build physical sets etc…).
In terms of the characters and the story, this short film really excels. The nameless replicants are, true to the original film, portrayed as deeply human characters who ponder the nature of their own existence (with one opining that replicants don’t go to heaven or hell – life is all they have).
One particularly striking scene involves an ex-military replicant having a war flashback (which is very reminscent of the “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust” graphic novels) where he discovers that both sides in an off-planet war are only using replicant troops, like they were “toy soldiers”.
The story itself is really well-told too. Although the short film mostly revolves around one event, the background to this event is explored in a surprising amount of depth. Seriously, “Black Out 2022” crams more storytelling and characterisation into just 10-12 minutes than the average Hollywood film would manage in 30 minutes.
The only slight criticisms I have of this film (other than “why isn’t this a feature-length film?” or “why isn’t this a TV series?”) has to do with some of the voice-acting and dialogue. Basically, some of the voice acting has that corny “dubbed anime” sound to it, even though most of it is fairly good. Likewise, although the short film tells a complex story, a few lines of dialogue sound a little bit too simplistic.
In terms of music, this film sticks pretty closely to Vangelis’ excellent score for the original film… and it is a joy to listen to 🙂
All in all, this short film is brilliant. It’s an official “Blade Runner” anime from the director of “Cowboy Bebop”! And, yes, it is as cool as this description suggests! Not only does it manage to cram a lot of storytelling and characterisation into an absolutely tiny running time, but it is also visually and dramatically spectacular too. Best of all, it can be watched for free on Youtube too 🙂 Seriously, why aren’t you watching it right now?
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.