(Spoiler-Free) Netflix recently released a new show titled Love, Death & Robots that calls itself an anthology series but really is a collection of short films with similar styles, themes, and genres (like a snack-size Black Mirror); so yeah, anthology.. All 18 shorts deal with science-fiction themes in some way, whether they fall on the spectrum of “slightly sci-fi” or “extremely sci-fi,” and balance elements of horror, fantasy, action, comedy, and romance as well. While I didn’t find many of them particularly “funny,” those that could be considered comedic have such an awe-inspiring genius to them that’s impossible to deny, while others are just as notable for their thematic horror, emphatic action, or fantastical elements instead. For those of you who have not yet watched the show, I recommend checking out this short video from Tim Miller on the animation style of the show…
In this little essay, I thought I’d review the series episode-by-episode but not on an analytical university level; just basic things I liked, disliked, and picked up on. Some of them beg for more in-depth conversation so I’ll expand where I see fit but for the most part, this will be a fairly casual review. After I discuss each episode in a paragraph or two, I’ll summarize what I loved about the series, what I think works best for the overall style, and I’ll rank my favorite ones! Without further ado, Love Death and Robots:
Right off the bat, this series showcases one of the most shocking and gruesome tales in it’s arsenal. Sonnie’s Edge is, in Layman’s terms, Real Steel but with monsters instead of robots. Pictured to the right is Sonnie’s monster (with Sonnie and her crew cut off on the top of the frame). Since I can’t talk much about plot details, I’ll stick with style and atmosphere. Without a doubt, this is one of the most sensational short films I’ve seen in my life. The CGI looks absolutely life-like at all times, the music is addictive, the style of deep blacks and neon lights make for a trance-like ambiance, and the story itself will make your jaw drop. While I’m no person to scoff at violence, even my eyes widened at the detail this short puts into the tearing of flesh between monsters.
Presented as sort of a darkly comedic Wall-E, Three Robots tells a slightly sitcom-esque story of three robots with vastly different designs and personalities, as they roam what’s left of the world we currently inhabit. Discovering cats, basketballs, and what wiped out humanity, this short is nothing short of a good time in many ways. With an ending that feels a little like “Uh, I’m out of ideas,” it might not leave you with the sense of light-hearted bewilderment that the other scenes offer but it is a good “laugh at humanity” sort of story. Not the most memorable short in the series but certainly not one that’ll make you regret watching.
More than most others, this short survives on intrigue which feeds into excitement and thrills. What is going on? Who is this girl? Who is that guy? Those are the questions that drive the short as none of them are told to you upfront. However, you’re told everything you need to know at the very beginning. She’s good, he’s bad, and she has to run to survive. Between that revelation and the conclusion, the style stands out as being almost tangible. You’re in this neo-noir hyper-sexual setting that’s just gushing with flavor via the lights, sound mixing, and almost photo-realistic graphics. Granted, the style of the short isn’t meant to be realistic but rather almost comic and in that, it succeeds greatly. While this isn’t my favorite episode of the bunch, it definitely feels like something that I would write so in that, I suppose I expected a little more but, also, I’m flattered.
Suits is one of my favorites in this anthology series; it starts off as a sweet Disney-like tale of a farmer and his wife but almost immediately turns into one of the most outlandish sci-fi battle sequences I’ve seen. I’m probably going to say that phrase a lot in this series of reviews but it can’t be overstated. What you’ll see in this episode is jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, breath-taking action wrapped up in such a dainty animation aesthetic that makes the action all the more shocking. Like most other shorts in Love, Death & Robots, it’s the ending that’ll stay with you more than anything. My favorite part of this little slice of sci-fi is that it sets you up with these characters you’ll only spend 15 minutes with and gets you to care deeply about each one, happy with their perseverance or sad about their misfortune. Definitely watch this if you can only watch a few.
5.Sucker of Souls
If I had to wager a bet, I’d say that this short is one of maybe three that will get the least amount of love. While the animated is classic 2D in the vein of early Disney or late 90’s Dreamworks, it’s still an aesthetic that has remained evergreen to this day. To see a tale that’s familiar but new at the same time partners so well with the aesthetic they chose. If this was 3D animation like Sonnie’s Edge or The Witness, it would still pack a punch for the viewer but I think 2D animation was the best choice for this tale. The title tells you enough but to define it in more detail would spoil the surprise, and the surprise is what allows for the sinister and shocking sense the short will leave you with. Watching these episodes in order makes this tale even more intense: at this point, you’re gathering that all of these shorts are designed to surprise you in some way but most of them have been because they’re depressing, which makes watching this one even more intense and you have no idea how it will end.
6.When the Yogurt Took Over
This is another one that I think will get less love than some of the other shorts but without a doubt, is one of my favorites. There’s something so clever and charming about how this one is written, which the title summarizes best. It’s a stop-motion animated short about, well, when the yogurt took over. It’s narrated, brief, and doesn’t ask you to ask too many questions which is partially why I love it so much; it’s sweet. The notions that it presents (Yogurt being a living creature that seems like a higher being than the very best of humanity) are ridiculous but that’s how the animation style pairs so well here, too. Stop-motion animation is by far the silliest animation style that this series offers so to have the (second) silliest short matched with this aesthetic was the perfect choice. It’s a six-minute-long episode so there’s no excuse not to watch it because of that, at least.
7.Beyond the Aquila Rift
Without a doubt, I’m sure this is the one episode that people will remember the most. Honestly, I haven’t been able to quit thinking about it since I saw it a few days ago; the story is hard to forget but what I can’t shake is the feeling this episode leaves you with. It sets itself up as a sci-fi mystery but then becomes one of the absolute most horrifying things I’ve ever experienced. Aside from the atmosphere, the CGI continues to be absolutely pristine, often making you wonder whether what you’re seeing is live-action or animated. This is one of the best shorts in the series and I highly recommend it. Best of all, if you watch this after the cute When the Yogurt Took Over, your emotions will have gone from happy and trusting to absolutely tormented. I’m going to go into spoiler-discussion so if you haven’t yet seen the episode, just skip the next paragraph altogether.
Since the details of exactly what happened are somewhat ambiguous, I can’t be positive about my theory but I think that the big bug-monster is the person he’s been talking too via Greta. He’s been on this station for some time, starving and dying, and the bug-monster has fallen in love with him and carried on a relationship with him. In his mind, it’s Greta who he’s been with but that’s far from the truth. She claims that he’s not ready to know the truth and that she’s encountered so many lost souls that she cares for but they’re never ready to know what’s really going on: that an enormous bug-monster has been taking care of them in an absolutely Hellish setting. Maybe Greta is in his mind but the monster is just a monster, I don’t know for certain. But I’m 99% positive that my theory is onto something.
In my into, I mentioned how all of the shorts are at least somewhat sci-fi but I’d hesitate to say that this is more sci-fi than fantasy. The story revolves around a race of transforming wolves that take the form of beautiful women in their human form. Hunters try to kill these creatures from tradition and fear but both species feel the same way about each other and run or fight from instinct alone. To say there’s no social commentary here would be misleading (welcome to sci-fi/fantasy) but the story and character definitely become the elements that shine brightest. It feels like an early 90’s Miyazaki film and in that, this short is superb. For me, though, I found this one to be one of the least impactful ones but it still has a lot going for it. It might not be my style per se, but a lot of talent went into each frame and they’re all hard to look away from.
If Suits led you to believe that it would be a sweet and graceful animated short before transforming into a brutal and violent escapade, then this short is the opposite. Without spoiling it, The Dump starts to make you think it’s going to be a horror short but then all fear is ripped away and leaves you with a feeling of “…huh, cool.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing as When The Yogurt Took Over leaves you with a similar aftertaste but this short doesn’t seem to try to do anything that the series is already known for. It’s fun at best and disposable at worst but all in all, it’s one that I wouldn’t mind watching again; compared to Aquila Rift that I literally rewound as the credits rolled. I don’t have too much to say about this one, the animation is great as always and the story is intriguing without a doubt but the payoff feels distilled alongside the other aspects of the short.
What if Twilight was badass? Enter Shapeshifters. Even though Twilight is the first thing that comes to mind, you should know that the only element this short shares with that infamous saga is that there are werewolves that take the human forms of good-looking young men. The army uses them as war machines but the strange thing to me is that the militants mock the shapeshifters because they’re different, even if they’re far better soldiers. If this is a metaphor for people in the military with traditionally unusual sexual preferences, then I think I understand the short even less, but applaud it even more. To me, this short is just meant to be entertaining in it’s action and gore without much subtext to read into without ending up with more questions than you started with. Hence, Twilight.
The title of this short makes me hate the fact that some of these shorts have titles; watching these episodes in a binge-marathon without even knowing what any of them are about is the best thing to do. Helping Hand, really? The story is that an astronaut is in space and gets detached from her station, so she starts to drift away. As she runs out of oxygen, she realizes that she has a chance to save herself, but at the cost of a limb. If Gravity fed more into the horror genre, then this short is what that would be like. It’s brief but exciting and there are very few things that terrify me more than outer space (maybe the ocean, or Aquila Rift) so this short was right up my alley. I do think it ends fairly anticlimactically but seeing as how this is a short film, I think it does more than most others are able to do and it does it very well. A solid little thrill ride is what this offers.
Before watching this, I got off my couch to refill my water bottle and decided to see what the IMDb ratings were for each of these episodes. This one was one of the lowest ratings by far and I was having trouble imagining why seeing how I’ve loved nearly every single one of these. As I watched it, these thoughts persisted: “This episode is so beautiful, I don’t see how anyone could dislike it.” Then, it ended.
For comedy’s sake, I thought it would be a good idea to end my review of Fish Night right there but if you haven’t seen the episode, the joke would be lost. To explain the joke: the episode just ends. Like, boom, black screen, credits. I felt as though I missed something but after rewatching it, sure enough, it just ends. Which leaves me with two questions: If what happened at the end wasn’t what I’m supposed to be focusing on, then what is? and Is there anything else to take away from this? Upon analysis, I think the entire episode can be summarized by a line the father says early into the episode: “If the ghosts of people can haunt houses, then why can’t the ghosts of animals haunt places they used to live? This all used to be an ocean…” I think that’s sort of the notion the short drives home at the end but still, I would have liked more of a real conclusion. Watch for yourself to see what you think and let me know, I’d like to have a conversation on this one.
While watching this short, one main idea kept running through my head: if the other episodes tried to shock you, freak you out, make you think, then this one just wants to make your jaw drop with the best damn action sequences in history. For all intents and purposes, this episode is just a string of incredible dogfight and war scenes with a sci-fi twist. Lucky 13 is about a fighter plane that has had very back luck, losing two entire crews on two separate runs while the plane came out without a scratch. When a new pilot takes over, the plane seems to have the most incredible luck in history, which is showcased via crazy battle sequences in which the plane and her crew absolutely dominate the air and ground. It’s a sight to behold, but I wish this short had a little more to it than that. If anything, this short might be a good break from making you think hard but it’ll surely keep you happy regardless.
At first, the part of this episode that stood out to me was the animation style. It feels extremely early but, again, it’s paired perfectly with the story it tells. In Zima Blue, you’re given a story about art, evolution, technology, and the human race which sounds like a lot to put into a 15-minute episode but it’s done absolutely beautifully. Drowning in intrigue, this episode starts off light and quickly builds upon the lore it creates to climax in such an incredible (and spoiler-heavy way that I won’t go into). More so than all of the other episodes (combined) this story is pure poetry. I won’t say anything else about this episode aside from “definitely watch it.”
Talking about what I love most about this short would be spoiling the entirety of it but there are a lot of things that I appreciate about it that occur throughout the rest of the episode. The animation style and atmosphere remind me most of Suits from this show as you have a band of misfits fighting a war that’s much greater than they are, but against robots instead of aliens. Even though you don’t spend much time in this world or with these characters, I find that they’re much more memorable than the characters in the other episodes as I’m even able to remember one of their names…it’s “Rookie,” but still. As another episode that will just leave you with your jaw on the floor, Blind Spot is something special that will undoubtedly please fans of sci-fi, AI, and robots.
I mentioned earlier how some episodes might be less beloved than others, and this is one of them, but it most certainly should not be. The ingenuity that’s packed into these short 10 minutes is greater than most of what you’ll see in the cinema this year. In Ice Age, a couple that has just moved into a new house find the (extremely miniature) frozen body of a Woolly Mammoth in an ice cube. When they clean out the freezer, they find an entire civilization that seems to be progressing and growing at in incredible speed, as if they’re watching the entire history of humanity fast-forwarding in front of their eyes. It’s breathtaking, just watching the different eras from the prehistoric mammoth, to the industrial and technological revolutions, to the future. Without giving it away, just know that this is one of the most amazing episodes in the series but for the most tame and wholesome reasons. Without drilling you with theories and questions, it asks you to think and wonder about the past, present, and future. It’s the only truly feel-good episode in the short and because of that alone, it stands out greatly. Stand aside, racially and geographically inaccurate Indians in the Cupboard.
Following the only true feel-good short in the anthology comes the only true comedy short in the anthology: presented as sort of an episode of YouTube’s Kurzgesagt channel, we’re given a look at what would happen to the world if Hitler were to die in ways other than the historically accurate one. From there, you’re presented the most hilarious and ridiculous alternate histories that build upon each other (not only chronologically) but also in absurdity. Each of these six “death scenarios” lead to an ending that still makes me laugh in amazement. For some reason, it’s rated far below most other episodes but I think it’s far underrated. It’s not the most awe-inspiring of shorts in this series but it’s one that I’m still thinking about quite a bit. Good, clean fun (for adults 18 and older).
18.The Secret War
I’m not too sure what to say about this episode. It’s eye-opening, but only after it’s eye-closing. After an obnoxiously slow start, the action finally picks up by at that point, I was quite bored and rather disinterested in the story and characters. If this short started halfway through, it would be amazing but it doesn’t so it’s not except for the end. I’d like to say that it at least offers something unique that the others don’t but it feels almost exactly like Suits in just about every way, the only main separation between the two being aesthetic and era. In The Secret War, the story of WWII is told from a new perspective: Russians vs Demons. The short showcases an event in which soldiers and cultists work together to bring the ultimate weapons to Earth: demons, but it backfires and the demons start killing everyone in sight. Again, the ending is amazing but it takes so long to pick up the pace that the end makes up for it but not as much as it deserves to. If I were to equate this short to another story, I’d say The Two Towers as the Ents are impossibly dull but Helm’s Deep is the most amazing thing put to film; this is a lot like that.
Overview (Spoiler Warning):
What I love most about this show is that it aims to tell good stories while letting runtime, genre, rating, and episode connectivity fall by the wayside. Nothing matters in this show aside from good content, which is why every single episode is able to offer something unique and entertain to ridiculous extents. If there has ever been anything that better represents the phrase “no holds barred,” then it’s probably illegal; everything about the show as a whole is so superb even when all 18 episodes are vastly different. Surely there should be some that are significantly worse than others but each one is so great on it’s own and only bettered by the similarities and differences it has to it’s counterparts. Sure, a few are less inspiring in various ways but I would hesitate to call any of them “underwhelming,” even if you go from watching Aquila Rift to Fish Night.
There are a few reservations I have about the show, though, and that feeds directly into the medium/style that makes it so great. Some episodes seem to just “end” without much rhyme or reason, leaving you wondering “…wait, what? Why did this happen?” and no answer in sight. Of course, this is when analytical university think comes in handy (and many of the episodes demand it) but more often than not, these shorts are just fun to watch without thinking too much about. My main issue comes from the common denominators between the tales: they almost all end in devastating deaths of every character; not all of them, but enough to pick up on a trend, at least. While this works for 80% of the episodes that try to do this, some of them (like Fish Night) just feel like they’re missing something. Some of the episodes foreshadow imminent doom (Suits) and work all the better for it but the ones that don’t work as well just make me wish there was more variety in these conclusions.
Without a doubt, though, this show has quickly become my underdog of the year. Each of the episodes feels like something I would write (or have written) and that makes me very happy. I think I’m going to start workshopping my short stories and pitching them to producers because they’re not doing much just sitting in my Google Docs. Anyway, I love that Netflix is a platform in which storytellers and filmmakers can work creatively without having handcuffs of any kind. Language, sex, drugs, gore, and horror might not be things you can throw into a Cartoon Network series but it sure as hell works on Netflix with this anthology. I hope that everybody that reads this will watch the show along with my friends, who I am forcing to watch it as I type.
And because I said I would, here are my favorite ones…
- Beyond the Aquila Rift
- Zima Blue
- Sonnie’s Edge
- Lucky 13
- Ice Age
- When the Yogurt Took Over
As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!