Netflix’s first feature-length anime movie, BLAME!, is two hours of claustrophobic cyberpunk horror that does many things well. Aside from telling a more coherent story than the manga it’s adapted from, BLAME! thrives with its depiction of truly terrifying, vicious A.I. robot monsters.
Created by Polygon Pictures and Hiroyuki Seshita, BLAME! features an eerily stoic protagonist named Killy as he wanders through an endlessly replicating techno-labyrinth that extends in all directions, controlled by a bizarre cross between an A.I. and the internet, called the Netsphere. Killy is in search of a human with the Net Terminal Gene, which is the only way to interface with the Netsphere and regain control of what’s referred to as simply “The City.”
If that were to happen, humans could once again use machines to do just about anything, rather than be treated like a virus inside someone else’s immune system. But some unseen event millennia ago prompted the Netsphere’s defense program, Safeguard, to turn on humanity, and the Net Terminal Gene has seemingly been devolved into extinction.
Humanity is then relegated to being sporadic pockets of refugees, eeking out survival, always on the brink of starvation and extinction. When a small band of humans goes on an expedition to find food, a Safeguard watchtower spots them and immediately fashions Exterminators in a bewildering, almost magical fashion.
These vaguely humanoid, doll-faced robots crawl like giant spiders, clinging to walls and ceilings with ease, like a rabid Spider-Man. They often move faster than eyes can trace, wrenching off heads and clobbering victims with minimal effort. And they’re fairly hard to kill, which is why the Electro-Fishers that make up the core characters in the film utilize special powered armor — but even that barely helps. It’s the constant threat of Exterminators that keeps humans living in a constant state of fear, and it’s been that way for thousands of years.
It’s during an attack from the Exterminators that Killy comes in.
Killy is a badass man of few words in a post-apocalyptic world; he’s Mad Max but in the infinitely big “real world” of The Matrix, with a Gravitational Beam Emitter gun so small, yet so badass, that it can vaporize miles of steel in a single shot.
Whereas much of the manga functions like an incoherent anthology of Killy wandering from one strange location to another, encountering new people that die by robotic murder in all sorts of horrific ways, the anime instead opts to more loosely adapt from the most streamlined portions of the narrative. Killy is relegated to an emotionless Mr. MacGuffin in the background, a human more robotic than the robots hunting him, who’s only good for shooting his overpowered gun in the right direction.
Even his eventual cyborg companion Cibo (who starts off as a creepy, decaying robot torso, by the way) has more charm and personality. But that’s okay because Killy works better as cryptic Ronin than he does brave hero.
A feeling of hopelessness permeates throughout the entire experience of BLAME!, one that’s worsened by the constant anxiety of being watched, about to be attacked. Human characters aren’t allowed to “live” so much as they merely subsist. They’re starving, hunted, and have forgotten the distant past so thoroughly that humans controlling robots is the stuff of nearly-forgotten legend. Even the chaotic, rusted landscape is a frightening one — as is the sludge they consider food.
BLAME! is available on Netflix right now.