Review: BLAME! (2017)

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BLAME! is a new feature based on the influential manga of the same name by Tsutomu Nihei. This isn’t the first attempt to translate Nihei’s perplexing work to video, but it is the most successful because director Hiroyuki Seshita and screen writer Sadayuki Murai understood that the film story didn’t have to follow the manga to the letter in order to capture its vibe.

The manga was largely popular due to Nihei’s incredibly detailed drawings of a world that most of his characters couldn’t comprehend. There wasn’t much dialogue and it was sometimes difficult for the reader to understand what was actually happening. At the time, this was interesting because it was challenging and fun to ponder. Even the tagline for the manga hedged its bets: “Maybe on Earth. Maybe in the Future.”

The previous video release of BLAME! was a mishmash of impressionistic material that seemed to be an attempt at making videos that would be just as challenging as the manga. I found it appealing in an experimental way, but it was far from being entertaining. It was more like a puzzle without a solution.

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Which leads us to the new Netflix/Polygon Pictures production. I’m not sure how Netflix got involved in this, but I’m glad they did. This is a beautiful CGI animated film that works on almost every level. The artwork captures the crazy cyberpunk world that Nihei created without telling us too much about it. Answers are few and far between, just like in the manga, but unlike the manga, Killy isn’t really the protagonist. That’s right – the main character from the manga, Killy, is a major force here to be sure, but he isn’t the main protagonist and that’s a good thing.

The entire world of BLAME! is a giant, overbuilt city. It exists as thousands of levels filled with broken tech and rebuilt buildings on top of buildings on top of buildings. The giant chasms are overseen by The Authority – a cyber force that’s trying to exterminate all the humans in the city using robotic forces called the Safeguard while it also randomly rebuilds things.

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Within this world, small pockets of humanity still exist. One such group is the focus of this first film (others are planned). Killy saves them from the Safeguard while he’s searching for humans with the genetic material that will allow him to take control of the Authority and right this sinking ship of a world once and for all.

Killy hardly ever speaks. He communicates through his actions, but that’s a tough emotional hook to hang your hat on. He’s the Man With No Name of the anime world, and as such, he’s much better when the audience sees him through the eyes of a more sympathetic character. Enter Zuru, a young villager who feels compelled to repay Killy for his aid and who persuades her village to allow the suspicious Killy inside their safe zone. Making this a story about Zuru allowed the filmmakers to provide an emotional beginning, middle and end to a single episode of a much larger tale. It was the right choice.

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The film plays to the strengths of the manga with terrific visual design and interesting concepts while also enlarging the original with more sympathetic characters and nail biting action segments. I’m also happy to report that Netflix included the Japanese language track instead of dubbing this feature for their English-speaking audience.

If there’s anything that could use work, it’s the music. The soundtrack is okay but, like many anime titles, it has a dated 90s feel to it without much in the way of memorable or moving themes. It’s not bad, it’s just generic.  I think this title deserves better.

Overall, this first BLAME! film is a win. I’m already looking forward to the next installment in the series. Highly recommended!

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