Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Writers: Tsutomu Nihei and Sadayuki Murai
Starring: Takahiro Sakurai/Kyle McCarley, Kana Hanazawa/Christina Vee, Sora Amamiya/Christine Marie Cabaonos
Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Psychological, Drama, Mecha, Seinen
Netflix original movies tend to catch my eye (because I’ve enjoyed many of them), so when I saw a manga-adapted anime being promoted on my Netflix recommendations list, I was immediately drawn to it.
Blame! was originally a ten-volume manga series by Tsutomu Nihei (published in 1998) that was later adapted into a six-part anime in 2003. Netflix’s 2017 version of Blame! aims to be a feature film-scaled adaption of part of the manga.
Since I don’t read manga (and haven’t seen the 2003 anime), I entered Blame! completely “fresh” without any preconceptions about the film. I only knew from trailers and artwork that the world of Blame! was set in a dystopian future, where technology had gotten the best of humanity, forcing them to rebuild and survive.
Spiritual Content: A “shrine” is merely mentioned, without any religious connotation. Characters briefly discuss their superstitions (or lack thereof) regarding a “ghost” that can control people with its voice (a central character’s great-grandfather supposedly fell to his death at the whim of the ghost’s siren call). In the end, though, the “ghost” is little more than a malfunctioning android.
Violence: Blame! teeters on the edge of a PG-13 and R rating. There are scenes of intense violence that are often “censored” by careful camerawork, leaving some of the more grisly moments to the viewer’s assumptions. For example, there’s a scene were an Exterminator cuts off someone’s head. While the severing itself is censored, a blood splatter (complete with sound effect) and head rolling across the floor (concealed by a mask/helmet) leave little to the imagination. Elsewhere, an Exterminator kills a girl it is holding, with sound effects and blood detailing what the eye doesn’t explicitly see. On-camera violence includes someone’s hand being blown off, people being pierced through by laser guns, an all-out brawl between a main antagonist/protagonist, and scenes of dead bodies littering the wreckage.
Language/Crude Humor: Mild language (d*mn, h*ll) is used moderately.
Sexual Content: None
Drug/Alcohol Use: There’s a scene of adults drinking during a party. Some admit they have “had too much.”
Positive Content: A strong sense of hope prevails throughout the film, as characters act on hope in order to help people live (and fight) for a better future.
What first caught my attention about Blame! is the world it introduces and the animation that brings it to life. The story immediately sets up its environment for its cast to explore, surrounding them by ancient and seemingly unused metallic structures and revealing a bit of the world’s history in the process. The underground containment vibe of the atmosphere melds well with the suits and weapons that the characters utilize–somewhat “old-fashioned” for the technological advancements of the world of Blame!, but far more futuristic than our own.
The animation is fantastic when choppy motions don’t distract the eye–the broken frame rate being an obvious artistic nod to traditional anime. Ultimately, the segmented animation stands in small contrast to an otherwise beautifully-animated world.
There’s a strong sense of familiarity to the story and characters, and revelations come to light as the plot progresses along. The opening is particularly sturdy, with the environment, technology, weapons, music, and introduction of a mysterious character named Killy immersing the viewer in the world of Blame! and giving off some strong Final Fantasy vibes in the process.
The soundtrack varies in style and sound, but it definitely adds to the mysterious and epic tone of the story. Even though there are moments where the film wields big, motion picture-esque scores to highlight intense battle scenes and the like, my favorite piece in the whole soundtrack is Killy’s piano-led theme. Again, bearing resemblance to some of Nobou’s compositions in Final Fantasy, Killy’s theme is a gentle and whimsical tone that contrasts sharply with the world and the scenes it’s used in, making Killy’s presence known in a very subtle, yet powerful, way.
Killy piques the viewer’s interest from the moment he enters the screen. Able to destroy a whole line of Exterminators (robots designed to destroy humans without the “Net Terminal Gene”) with one blast from a weapon called a Gravitational Beam Emitter, having a mysteriously silent-but-awesome vibe, and having robotic features that only the viewer is privy to at first makes Killy an immediate point of interest–an intrigue that only grows as the viewer and other characters attempt to “figure him out.”
Director Hiroyuki Seshita implements some neat perspective shifts throughout the story. The “camera” jumps back and forth between first and third person at times, allowing the viewer a glimpse through the character’s suits and Killy’s robotic eye scanner (an unknown feature to the rest of the cast).
It’s not just Killy’s unique “vision” that makes him interesting, though. He’s searching for humans who possess the “Net Terminal Gene,” doesn’t need a suit to walk around the lower parts of “The City” (exposing human faces to the “Safeguard” activates the Exterminators), and carries an unbelievable backstory and arsenal of unique technology (like a small brick that can be instantly turned into a giant block of food when contacted with water). It’s hard not to be fascinated by his presence on the screen, which helps maintain the viewer’s interest in the unfolding story.
Interestingly, the Blame! manga tells the story from Killy’s perspective (according to my research). In the film, however, the community’s perspective is more prominent, which prioritizes the outsider’s perspective of Killy, rather than Killy’s perspective of the world around him. It’s an odd storytelling choice, given that Killy has the habit of wandering from community to community, and Blame! is a chronicle of his individual adventures, though it does ultimately make him more of a mystery. Without establishing Killy as the primary point-of-view, the story implies that Zuru is the main character of Blame!. I was actually surprised to find out that Killy was the main character in the source material.
Killy sets the momentum that drives the entire story. He claims that he’s able to connect the humans back to the technological world that went against them, enabling them to control it once again, if only he can find a human with the Net Terminal Gene. Thus, the fighters from the community join his hunt, with the help of another ancient robot/human named Cibo, as they search for a way to artificially connect back to and gain control of The City.
This is the most riveting aspect in the film: going through the adventure with Killy and co. and seeing things slowly unfold as they learn more about the world. The contrast of humanness (the community, especially Zuru), part-human and part-robot (Killy), and a robot with human traits (Cibo), is a fascinating mixture throughout the story that adds weight to the universal goals of each demographic. The community wants a better future for humanity, Killy (being a part of both the human and the cybernetic cultures) wants to restore control back to the humans overall, and Cibo (being a robot) wants both. This whole interaction leads to some interesting discussion points: What does it mean to be human? How far should humans go with technology? Do we rely and trust too much in technology? What are the consequences of control?
However, despite all it has going for it, Blame! leaves some pretty big questions unanswered, and solutions to simple dilemmas are often stretched for the sake of drawing out the plot. The overall story the film aims to tell doesn’t seem to “conclude” at the end. Though a sequel is in store to hopefully complete the main arc, newcomers to the series will no doubt feel Blame! is incomplete as is. In many ways, this is proof of how compelling the storyline is, as the viewer will likely be left desperate for answers and ready to continue the journey.
Again, this issue is most evident if you’re brand new to the entire world of Blame! (coupled with the differing perspective from the manga). Those familiar with the source material (or even if you just read the main synopsis) will most likely have a better understanding of where the creators are going with the story and not feel as unsatisfied by the end, because it’s ultimately a part of a much bigger story.
Overall, I really enjoyed Blame!. The characters and world drew me in, the unfolding story kept me interested, and the nice balance between action and deep themes will no doubt lead to some good philosophical discussions after viewing.
The Bottom Line
Blame! sends viewers on a compellingly-animated journey alongside a cast of intriguing characters, and it wraps them all together in a package of beautiful art and music. Just, don't expect to have all your questions answered by the end.