“It’s pretty anticlimactic. Well, welcome to humans.”
Love, Death & Robots is a stylistic experiment that harkens back to projects like Heavy Metal, The Animatrix, or MTV’s old Liquid Television programming block that just wanted to have fun, be awesome, and prove that cartoons can be for adults, too. Love, Death & Robots carries the spirit of those older animation touchstones, but the difference in quality is a little more noticeable than in those other endeavors, largely because there’s a lot more content here.
Love, Death & Robots contains 18 segments and clocks in at a little over three hours. Accordingly, not all of the sequences here will connect with you, but it’s fair to say that many of them will, and that there’s enough of them that work in order to keep you entertained. This generous variation in content doesn’t necessarily lead to the strongest overall series, but it does make for a fascinating collection that’s worth checking out.
Love, Death & Robots throws a lot at its audience and this leads to it being a show that has very high highs and very low lows.Stories aren’t afraid to touch on issues like societal and class strife via science fiction and one of the hand-drawn segments is all about opulence and excess and feels like it could exist in Dune’s universe. There are some incredible depictions of warfare and carnage through several installments, even if they fall a little flat.
There are creative riffs on Rear Window, Mad Max, Cronenbergian body horror, and supernatural creatures like vampires, werewolf soldiers, or even dinosaurs. The stories that skew more towards comedy also understand how to find humor from absurd places and to not overstay their welcomes. Some of these will fall flat, but Love, Death & Robots is prepared for you to move on to the next swing of the pendulum.
In terms of the series’ most exceptional entries, “Fish Night” and “Good Hunting” are particular standouts for their unique animation styles. The former is a fantastic existential voyage of the mind between two salesmen that plays with color and form in such brilliant ways and feels like something from Masaaki Yuasa. The bright, vibrant look of these stories connects much better than the sterile, cold aesthetic of other segments.
“Ice Age” and “Helping Hand” have genuinely great concepts and tell incredibly creative stories, especially the latter, which tells the kind of boiled down suspenseful narrative that’s tailor mode for an anthology. “The Dump,” “Three Robots,” and “Zima Blue” are more methodical, conversational, and play out like weird pieces of theater. They’re wonderful cool downs after some of the more chaotic, action-heavy installments.
Love, Death & Robots may touch on similar themes at times, but each of these stories dofeel like their own distinct universes. Furthermore, nearly all of these stories involve robots of some kind, but the designs for these machines are all so wildly different and full of variety, which definitely helps a lot to avoid mech fatigue.
Likewise, there’s a large diversity in the animation styles on display here that range from anime-inspired drawings, cutesy designs that bring Pixar to mind, or photo-realistic CG that uses motion capture-like technology to eerily blend the real with the artificial. In spite of how impressive some of the crazier CG efforts are, they can feel impersonal at times and it’s oddly the more traditionally animated material that resonates deeper and has more of a personality to it.
Even though the animation in this series is such a treat to take in, Love, Death & Robots is at its best when the story contains more than just stunning animation and provoking science fiction, but instead blends the genre with others like westerns, horror, comedy, or even heists.
As mentioned before, due to the subject matter, structure, and style, Love, Death & Robots will inevitably be compared to The Animatrix, and honestly, that feels like a more fully realized, polished version of this idea. Love, Death & Robots can technically feature an even wider variety of stories, but perhaps therein lies the problem. Topics like robots and science fiction are soexpansive that it results in stories that hit on similar ideas and some feel like echoes of each other in various respects. This series undeniably covers a lot of territory, but it still feels like there are blind spots that could have been touched on or that the narratives could have been a little more cerebral.
As much as the segments in Love, Death & Robots attempt to embrace the fact that they can tell mature stories, this is also one of the series’ greatest weaknesses. It feels likesome stories are trying a little too hard to fit in with the “adult animation” freedom of this project. A bunch of violent and sexy animated shorts is great, but it shouldn’t just indulge in those things because it can.
The best efforts here are the ones with a strong foundation at their core and the adult situations just compliment the larger themes that are at work. The cringier efforts feel like a sex scene from out of Mass Effect that would turn up on Pornhub. In fact, the show’sEDM-esque approach to their trailers, almost like they want to induce a seizure in their audience, actually tells you a fair bit about the mindset and approach taken to these stories.
Overall, Love, Death & Robots shows a tremendous amount of promise and while I had plenty of fun with this show, it’s the kind of thing that I wanted to enjoy more than I actually did. There’s a strong, fluid basis to this anthology series where I’d be very excited to see what a second season of stories could bring to the table. You will absolutely find something that you adore in Love, Death & Robots, but I hope that the next round of installments are even more consistent in nature.
Love, Death & Robots will be available to stream on Netflix in its entirety on March 15.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.