Love, Death & Robots is in a league of its own. The genre of anthology series is sparse — let alone animated science fiction anthology series. Because of that, there isn’t any precedent for the series to follow.
Forced to trailblaze, Love, Death & Robots took a 26-month break between Seasons 1 and 2, and the new batch of episodes look palpably different from what came before. After a risky debut, Season 2 plays it safer with eight episodes that all look relatively similar (we get lots of video game cutscene-style animation, with at least one notable exception) but pack the kinds of narrative punches often missing in Season 1.
Was it a mistake to change up Love, Death & Robots for Season 2? It depends what you’re looking for in your animated sci-fi anthology.
There are two main appeals to Love, Death & Robots: 1) the groundbreaking visuals, whether they be stylized so every frame is its own work of art or hyper-realistic like a PlayStation 5 cut scene, and 2) the short story-esque plots, some of which are actually adapted from famous science fiction literature.
Season 1 has both in spades, but showing off the animation was a clear priority. Episodes like “The Witness” were criticized for thoughtless and gratuitous storytelling — but looked brilliant. The episodes that stick to more traditional animation techniques fall to the middle of the pack, even if their stories are intriguing, like “Suits,” the agricultural Gundam episode that featured comic-book-style art.
Flashy animation is a great opportunity to flex artistic muscles and show what’s possible in the medium, but it can also be overstimulating. Animation is a balancing act between story and visuals, and the point of perfect harmony between the two is completely subjective.
Enter Love, Death & Robots Season 2, a shorter collection of eight stories instead of the previous collection of eighteen. All the short films in Season 2 are rendered in 3D except for one, “Ice,” the story of two brothers sneaking out on an alien planet. The visual styles are still different — the stylized comedic proportions of “Automated Customer Service” are incomparable to the photo-realism of “Snow in the Desert” — but there wasn’t as much experimentation visually.
There is, however, a whole new outlook on storytelling. Season 2 lets the script drive the action, using the lush visuals to flesh out and add details to the narrative. These stories are more interested in where each new world lies within its story, not where each story exists in the world. Take, for example, the shortest episode of the season, “And All Through the House.” Though it’s only five minutes long and only has a few lines of dialogue, the quasi-horror story is the takeaway, not the stop-motion animation. The house is the backdrop, not the subject.
The scripts are crafted with the animation as a tool, not a crutch. Stories like “The Tall Grass” or “Pop Squad” could absolutely be done in live-action with the assistance of visual effects, but they reach a wider audience thanks to Love, Death, & Robots. After championing the animation genre and showcasing where the medium is going in 2019 with Season 1, the series is now championing the art of the short film as a whole in 2021.
So is Love, Death & Robots Season 2 as good as Season 1? It’s unfair to compare the two when they seem to have different missions and goals. But with Season 3 already on the way, the path forward is clear — it has to find a way for story and visuals to share the spotlight, not outshine one another.
It’s a lofty goal, but there’s no series better suited to strike the balance.
Love, Death & Robots is now streaming on Netflix.