Blade Runner: Black Lotus (Japan 2021)

Rating: **
Review Date: 2/12/23
Directed By: Shinji Aramaki, Kenji Kamiyama
Cast: Jessica Henwick, Samira Wiley

Contains 13 episodes

Elle (Jessica Henwick) is a new cutting edge replicant who finds herself in Los Angeles with no memories of her past and a mysterious data device in her possession. She also has some cute boots. In a place as rough as L.A., it doesn't take long for her to discover her exceptional combat abilities, and she starts to recall some of her past trauma. This leads to the inevitable revenge plot against her tormentors and ultimately the Wallace Corporation, which is manufacturing illegal replicants for sport. A cop named Alani Davis (Samira Wiley) gets too close to uncovering the truth, and finds herself on the other side of the law as a result.

First of all, the animation and art direction are fantastic, and Elle is a deadly, beautiful, and sympathetic protagonist. She's absolutely wonderful and hits all of my sweet spots. Officer Davis makes a good adversary as a tough female cop and I liked her a lot as well. Unfortunately, that's where my praise ends. If I were to rate the series based on Elle and the aesthetics alone, I would easily give it four stars and my highest recommendation, but the show consistently undermines itself at nearly every turn with pedestrian writing and wasted potential. In many ways, it suffers the same problems as Shinji Aramaki's other projects, like "Ghost In The Shell: SAC 2045" (2020) and "Appleseed Alpha" (2014). The writing and supporting characters are laughably predictable and cliché, and the soundtrack is regrettably awful. While Jessica Henwick and Samira Wiley give excellent performances, the rest of the English dubbed cast is disappointingly poor. I'm curious to hear the Japanese cast, but I haven't been able to track down the Japanese version of the series. The fight scenes are fun and energetic, and while the choreography is extremely flashy, the characters lack a sense of mass and momentum, which makes the scenes look like play-acting. Perhaps the motion capture is a little TOO accurate, because the characters literally look like they're pulling their punches. The depiction of firearms also has a uniquely Japanese flair, as characters tend to push their guns, rather than react to recoil. And I'm not sure how Blade Runner sidearms are supposed to work, but apparently they never need to be reloaded.

Now, let's take a pause and talk about how much I loathe streaming services and how the entire industry has devolved back to the 80's and 90's of tape trading. Since I don't have the infrastructure to support streaming video or the technology to capture it, I once again had to resort to getting a bootleg copy of the show because Adult Swim and Crunchyroll refuse to give it a proper physical release. And since it's been pulled from those services, the only way to see it now is by pirated means. That said, the Blu-ray that I have suffers from terrible compression, a nearly unwatchable frame rate, and flattened audio with no dynamic range, so it looks and sounds awful. I'm assuming the original source material doesn't have these problems, but it's impossible to tell. If these production issues are in the source, then knock off another star on the rating for the producers releasing such a crap product. Just release the series on disc so that fans can actually ENJOY and PRESERVE the show! That would also take a bite out of the black market, so it's a win-win. However, these days, studios don't see legitimate sales as a significant portion of revenue worth fighting for.