I was very excited to watch Blame! without knowing very much about it, and for a big reason: I’m currently on an anime kick, and in my opinion I haven’t watched a lot of anime films. Sure, I’ve watched the essentials like Akira and Perfect Blue and Spirited Away and Ghost in the Shell and…I’ll stop there because it seems like a lot (but I suspect a real anime fan knows that’s nowhere even close). The aforementioned kick I’ve been on comes in the form of some anime TV series such as Re:Zero, Hunter x Hunter and currently Toriko, and all of them range from great to brilliant. So when I saw one of the more recent Netflix acquisitions came in the form of an anime film from Hiroyuki Seshita, director of the highly regarded Knights of Sidonia, I was pumped.
So pumped that I had to restart the film three times because I kept falling asleep.
For the majority of its runtime, Blame! is dry. Dark and dry, and it’s all too consumed with dread. It’s based on the manga that came out 20 years ago, and my understanding is that it’s actually quite different from the film; it was formatted differently to have the core of the introduction to this world fit inside a feature-length spin. Blame! takes place in the distant future where most of humanity is extinct (because, you know, we suck) and the focus is on a small group of survivors that desperately try to find food. When a search party meets death’s acquaintances in the form of some creepy robots, they’re saved by a mysterious figure named Killy, who is established as “The Man with No Name” of the film. He and the group have similar interests for the survival of humanity, but go about it in different ways. When they find a method that could feed the group for generations to come, they’re met with adversity in the form of more creepy robots, creepy robots, and would ya believe some more creepy robots?
Before I go any further, it’s got to be noted that Blame! has some good things going for it. Some of the scenes are absolutely gorgeous to look at. Anime has come a long way from the days of hand-drawn imagery, and it’s really not a surprise that stuff from the 80’s and 90’s look better than some of the computer-reliant materials of today. The level of care for what’s on the screen can vary greatly when you jump from era to era. As some who’s still learning about the genre, I see this (and honestly I can’t wait to discover more anime to fill in the gaps). The creators of Blame! went above and beyond the call of duty to give us detailed imagery, and it’s clearly evident. Everything is given exquisite detail.
The look, or should I say the ambition, to make Blame! a contender comes alive in the last act of the film, when all hell breaks loose. The animation is breathtaking, furious and the flare for the dramatics is waved around with pride. The characters show what they’re really made of (for better or for worse) and the tension to decide the fate of humanity is literally tossed in the air. All of this is owed to the animation, and I cannot stress that enough. Simply put, the last 35 minutes of Blame! is damn near remarkable. Having said that, a question now rises up…is it worth getting through the first 70 minutes?
My heart wants to say yes, and my brain wants to say yes…but man it’s an endurance test. Remember what I said about the imagery being detailed to the point of admiration? I meant that. What I didn’t mention was the overall lighting. One of the reasons the finale of Blame! stands out is because it’s marriage of the color red and sheer, absolute hell. The filmmakers don’t try to make it look like hell, but something different; a collaboration of the meaning of both aspects. If the rest of Blame! did that with other colors, I’d be singing a different tune right now. But the first two acts are committed to a bleak palate. I get it, the future for humanity is abysmal and the machines have taken over and everything is drearier than a below-cloud Matrix world. But this should’ve been an opportunity to be creative and daring with your lighting, not stand along side countless other examples. For over an hour, Blame! is in love with being a bummer and not much else. And it’s sleep-inducing.
Speaking of not being interested in nothing else besides its look, Blame! couldn’t really be bothered to explain all of where its coming from. I understand the manga was the “silent type” and that’s how the filmmakers wanted to continue the progression of the story. But a little bit—hell, a teeny tiny bit—of explanation wouldn’t have hurt its street cred. What’s the backstory of the machines? What exactly wiped out humanity? What is that other machine that plays a major part in getting their food? I’m well aware that sometimes the “questions go unanswered” trope is fine and that it could even work as strength for a film. But in the case of Blame! if you’re going to be slow to the status of feet-dragging, and be accompanied by imagery disguised as the cure for insomnia, give us something that makes us care a little bit more about the plight of these characters and their journey to find more food.
If you’re an anime completest, then by all means give Blame! a spin. It’s more fleshed out than the 5-minute episodes that came out in 2003 (now those were just…awful), and if this is a hit, the last act makes the concept of a sequel something to be curious about. But get comfy for what comes first with this film. Have some coffee handy, or Red Bull, or someone there to slap you awake, whatever the kids are into these days.