“They say they will do what the humans say. That’s a good thing, right?”
Hiroyuki Seshita’s Japanese CGI anime Blame! (2017) is based on the ten-volume manga of the same name by Tsutomu Nihei, published between 1998 and 2003. Considering the Netflix film’s 106-minute running time, the depths of the story remain a murky mystery, even as the plot nears its culmination point. However, the insight we gain into the manga’s sci-fi world teases endless possibilities.
In a future, in which humanity has fully integrated with cybertechnology, a malfunction brought on by a virus causes machines to hunt down humans – with the end goal of exterminating them. With food rations quickly depleting, and their numbers bleeding out, a small community of survivors is forced to consider straying farther from the safe sector they are in.
When Zuru (Sora Amamiya) meets Killy (Takahiro Sakurai), the intricacies of the world dominated by unfathomable hatred become a little clearer. And with the help of the scientist Cibo (Kana Hanazawa), the aging community finds a glimmer of hope for the future. But as lines separating androids and humans blur, so do their hopes and fears.
The anime borrows samples from other recognisable animations, coming across as no less original in its exploration of the scouted confines of the sci-fi genre. Killy’s self-imposed “humanity”, for example, is reminiscent of the entirety of Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), while also managing to impose the same severe, disengaged setting.
The initial scenes, sharp and stinging with their glimpse at the threat and the resulting bloodshed, resemble the innocence and horror of Shane Acker’s 9 (2009). By extension, the mechanic Safeguards that lurk in the darkness – waiting for the chance to crawl out and slice away at human flesh – wear the stoic masks of No-Face, the secondary antagonist in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001).
The balanced swaying between action-packed sequences and expository conversations creates a symphony of eerie tones, as it allows the audience to experience both the horrors of the physical menace, and the hopeless state of waiting for starvation to creep closer. What aids the dive into the protagonists’ grey reality is the quivering pulse of the humans’ confusion. It’s concealed below hardened faces, which understand hatred and fear, but not the roots of these volatile emotions.
The humans’ grasp on the flapping tendons of composure strips them of their own cherished humanity, illustrating the process of decomposition that may be too gradual for them to notice. In fact, the anime can be perceived as a reflection on civilisation’s place and role in the ebbing cycle of destruction and expansion.
This message is lightened by Killy, however, whose contrasting coolness gifts him with the charismatic allure of Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). All he’s missing is a cigar.
Netflix, Amazon (disc)