It should come as no surprise that the people behind Fight Club and Deadpool produced a series as immediately dazzling, irreverent, sex-crazed, and hyper-violent as Love, Death & Robots.
Sex and violence always result in mature programming, but when a series is marked for “sexualized violence” by Netflix, a relative rarity on the platform, and slapped with a Mature rating, you know that something completely different awaits.
Released Friday, Love, Death & Robots is created by David Fincher and Tim Miller. Think Black Mirror meets Devilman Crybaby in the form of an adult animation anthology series, but it’s far more random as it meanders through various themes and animation styles.
Rest assured, there is nothing on Netflix quite like Love, Death & Robots.
Netflix accurately markets the series as “mind-bending” and “exciting.” True enough, to binge the series is to step inside a bewildering fever dream of disjointed narratives, each clocking in between six and 17 minutes long.
Edgelord stoners and lovers of all things hentai-adjacent will find a lot to like about Love, Death & Robots, and what it lacks in depth, it quite nearly makes up for with panache.
⬇ Spoilers below ⬇
Because each episode is so short, no single vignette is given the room to earn its big moments or twists, so the enterprise comes across more shallow than perhaps intended. For instance, in one story, we see hick farmers fending off a Pacific Rim-style alien invasion, but later we learn they are actually the invasive species colonizing an alien planet.
Love, Death & Robots often works its way to an interesting place, but its flashy, stylized stories end with what feels like a “gotcha!” moment instead of a profound revelation.
If ever a work a fiction could be described as “masturbatory,” it is this series. It’s also why a lot of people will love it.
Just when you think a plot is going somewhere interesting, it’s undercut by a ridiculous twist, a crass line of dialogue, or some gratuitous sex or violence.
Consider Episode 5, “Sucker of Souls”: A hard-ass soldier-type runs through dark tunnels with a nerdy, slow-running scientist. They’re being chased by one or more “Draculas” (they’re basically vampires). Right when the stereotypical soldier is about to get his head bitten off, a cat walks into the scene, causing the monster to run away. The “Doc” tells a legend about how eating a cat makes the vampire’s flesh burn.
“Well, he’s not the first man who got in trouble for eatin’ a little pussy!”
You might wonder: Does it really need a joke like this?
Most will tune in knowing what to expect, and these lines and that sort of storytelling won’t be a deal breaker for them. It might hold back Love, Death & Robots from others who find it among their recommended titles, though.
The series drops horror, sci-fi, and fantasy into a blender, and there’s no telling what comes out when you hit play on a new episode. No two episodes resemble one another, but they all seem to cater to an audience that relishes in the edgelord stories of yesteryear. Rolling Stone’s David Fear writes that many episodes “look and play like toxic cut scenes from old PlayStation games.” What a gloriously accurate and truly sick burn.
Stories are deliberately constructed around new ideas to melt the viewer’s brain and shock them with a big twist, so it’s a shock factor for the sake of itself — not because it actually means anything. That worked for 2004’s first Saw movie, but does it work in 2019?
Writing for Digital Spy, Abby Robinson comments that Love, Death & Robots deals in outdated “archaic, toxic tropes,” and we have to agree.
Robinson notes that in the episode “Sonnie’s Edge,” a story that is ostensibly about hyper-violent Pokémon fights, “gang rape is exploited as a plot device which outright refuses to engage with the topic in a responsible or intelligent way.” There was an opportunity to do something more nuanced and thoughtful, even if briefly, but it was passed over in the final product.
Similarly, in another episode, “The Witness,” a young woman is half-naked when she witnesses a murder across the street. She’s then chased through a futuristic city in all states of undress to her job as a dancer in a BDSM club. Meanwhile, her male assailant wears at least four layers of light clothing, even when he has a sexual encounter in the audience of the same club.
It’s also worth noting that she looks like a darker-haired version of Harley Quinn in clown makeup, but instead of a woman with agency, she’s relegated to a damsel in distress who is somehow drawn as something so much less.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with nudity, sex work, or BDSM in storytelling. The way it’s presented in these brisk 12-minute adult animation shorts should feel jarringly retrograde to anybody who remembers the ‘90s and the early aughts.
But creating something so jarring that we can’t look away is the point. For some, there’s a lot of actual value in this kind of shock value. For others, it might just be antiquated.
Rest assured that all of Love, Death & Robots is entertaining, especially as a late-night binge in the dark. But Love, Death & Robots glorifies violence and sex seemingly for the sake of it, which is to flirt with the most crushing criticism around: to be boring.
What did you think of Love, Death & Robots? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love, Death & Robots is now available to stream on Netflix.