When you start watching Netflix’s new German series, Tribes of Europa, it feels like a normal dystopian story. The world is established — it’s 2074, and Europe has lived without electricity since December 2029. Germany is split into sects, echoing its past city-state setup of the German Confederation. Among those sects is the peaceful, nature-focused group known by the Origines and the leader Jakob’s three children: Kiano, Liv, and Elja. It's all neatly laid out. What could go wrong? Well, everything.
It should be the perfect premise for an underdog story of a peaceful tribe holding their own under fire from outside invaders. Then, in the first episode, the Origine tribe we were just introduced to ceases to exist. A ship from the mysterious, futuristic Atlantean tribe crashes in the forest and young Elja finds the dying pilot and a glowing cube that becomes the McGuffin of the entire series.
Though it may look like The 100, the teenybopper feel of the show is utterly eradicated by the end of the pilot. The fearsome, samurai-like Crows who all have Mad Max-esque black eye makeup storm the Origine camp, slaughtering most everyone and leaving the three siblings stranded on different paths.
When I say slaughter, I mean slaughter. Thanks to Netflix’s streaming platform, this show doesn’t have to conform to network TV violence standards. There are swords plunged down throats, knives haphazardly slashed, and even a castration scene. It’s obvious Tribes of Europa is going for a Game of Thrones feel, which explains the rest of the narrative.
The three children are each on their own separate adventures, cut together much like Game of Thrones’ kingdom-hopping episodes. The catch is each of these storylines seems to be directly inspired by its own classic dystopian story but gives it a menacing, prestige TV twist.
Eldest child Kiano is brought into slavery but is chosen to live among the high classes as a personal favorite of a menacing female Crown named Lord Varvara. This storyline feels straight out of The Hunger Games, as Kiano must watch the decadence and brutal, deadly entertainment of the Crows before realizing the only way out is to participate. His storyline is the most intriguing, with a twist ending that allows actor Emilio Sakraya to show his impressive masculine yet vulnerable range.
Then there’s Liv, who finds herself in a different sect: the Crimson Republic. The Republic is the multi-cultural haven where drifters from all tribes can co-exist peacefully. But Liv falls in with the Republic’s military, where she has tension with her commander and a secret agenda. It’s much similar to the short-lived dystopian film franchise Divergent, which followed a similar timid girl who joins up with a fearless tribe and flirts with her superior. There’s just a lot more backstabbing.
The youngest, Elja, shoulders the burden of the Atlantean cube and the entirety of the sci-fi aspect of the series. He encounters Moses, a traveling merchant who sells the few remaining technological devices on the black market. It's here that Tribes of Europa seems to buck the YA dystopian stereotype and create something new. Elja's story is an escort mission that, like all the others, involves twists, turns, and betrayal.
Tribes of Europa proves itself as a spiritual successor to fellow German Netflix sci-fi series Dark, but it also proves it's growing along with its young adult audience. This isn't a show to be shelved alongside The 100 or The Society as a teen post-apocalyptic drama. It rightly deserves a place in the major leagues of action-packed, multi-layered drama with The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.
Considering the success of Dark, Tribes of Europa's new place as reigning German sci-fi is its to lose. And from the looks of what is hopefully just a first season, it's not going anywhere.
Tribes of Europa is now streaming on Netflix globally.