Adult Swim and Crunchyroll’s ‘Blade Runner: Black Lotus’ Review

Photo Credit: Adult Swim and Crunchyroll

Look up and to the left.

The world of Blade Runner is expanding with the newest addition of Blade Runner: Black Lotus. Blade Runner: Black Lotus is an Adult Swim and Crunchyroll original anime series. Crunchyroll will be airing the anime with Japanese voice actors and English subtitles available. The English dub will air on Adult Swim during its Toonami block. 

For years I felt that Blade Runner was a vastly unrealized wealth of opportunity to world build and play with. I thought Blade Runner 2049 was the first step, but was disappointed when it under performed and didn’t have as much hope of ever getting more.

While the initial Blade Runner film also under performed at the box office and was underappreciated at the time, it has truly stood the test of time as one of the most important and influential sci-fi and noir films of all time. It is a true testament to the idea of the future of evolution and what it means to be human, especially at the time of its release in the 1980s. It was an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

The initial cut of the film released to the public wasn’t the final agreed upon cut. Ridley Scott and even Harrison Ford had issues with the studio interference with changing the endings and adding voice over narration that hindered the story that was intended to be told. The Final Cut which was eventually released, added back scenes which were previously removed and removed the narration which was never necessary. They also left the question of Deckard’s humanity a big question. We don’t have a definitive answer if he is a replicant or not ambiguous. It was never addressed head on, even in the sequel, though there are hints both sides of the argument can point to in both films.

While this isn’t the first anime project to come out of the Blade Runner universe, it is the first long form and fully built anime. As a prequel to the 2017 film Blade Runner 2049, Shinichirō Watanabe had the opportunity to build out the world of 2049 by creating a short story from 2022 which saw the rise of the replicant freedom movement and their first big strike against humanity, wiping out the records of their existence, allowing them to hide from society better. The Blade Runner Black Out 2022 short was my favorite of the three released, and watching it was when it really clicked for me that Blade Runner could absolutely work as an anime. The dark, gritty and cyberpunk-esq world of Blade Runner was a perfect backdrop. 

While not necessary to watch, the prequel shorts tie in directly to the larger story of Blade Runner. They are great to help connect more dots, especially if you’ve only seen the films. I highly recommend watching all of them, especially heading into this new series. 

The backdrop to Blade Runner: Black Lotus is Los Angeles in 2032. The world has changed due to the events of the black out, with past records of replicants all gone. A young woman wakes up with no memories of who or where she is. She quickly learns she possesses incredible deadly skills and the only clues to her memories are a locked data device she is in possession of. She also sports a mysterious tattoo of a black lotus, deepening the mystery of her past. Slowly putting together the pieces, she must hunt down the people responsible for her brutal and bloody past to find the truth of her lost identity.

The first season consists of 13 half hour episodes directed by Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama, with Shinichirō Watanabe as a creative producer and animation production by Sola Digital Arts. 

The English voice cast includes Jessica Henwick, Will Yun Lee, Barkhad Abdi, Wes Bentley, Brian Cox, Samira Wiley, Gregg Henry, Henry Czerny, Josh Duhamel, Peyton List, Stephen Root, Jason Spisak, and Elias Toufexis.

The series begins with an instantly recognizable world as created in the movies (I still need a Blade Runner umbrella). Utilizing a 3D animation this time around, it provides for a smoother world, with all the dark, dreariness retained. Sometimes scenes feel more like video game cut scenes, but as the time goes on it feels more unique. The backdrop of a dated but futuristic Los Angeles easily provides plenty of new opportunities for stories outside of the two movie’s focus on Blade Runners tracking down rogue replicants.

We see the appearance of characters from 2049 who didn’t get much backstory in the film. This anime taking place in 2032 helps to build out their stories and offers some other outright connections to the world of 2049. The Wallace Corporation is a focus that ties in directly to the main story. At this point in the story, it is before the Wallace Corporation formally gets the replicant green light in 2036 as established in Blade Runner 2049 and the prequel short Nexus Dawn. The Wallace Corporation bought out the Tyrell Corporation after it went belly up, providing them with the necessary means to create their own replicants. 

Black Lotus has the important Blade Runner noir feel to it. Big, long establishing shots help make the setting feel grander. It also helps lead to some great animated fight scenes. The series has a large sense of mystery, especially with Elle having no knowledge of her past aside from sporadic glimpses so far. We learn along with Elle in real time about her past and how she ties into the bigger picture. 

The opening titles are extremely effective and feel at one with the world of Blade Runner. Alessia Cara sings, setting the tone with mysterious visuals plus classic Blade Runner images including the flying cop cars, a shadowy man channeling Officer K and Deckard, and of course the cityscape of Los Angeles. The entire soundtrack to the series really encaptures the tone and sets the right headspace to be in while watching. 

Themes of violence, crime, death and the unforgivable world they live in run throughout. Dark, moody, and bleak as ever, but still at its core a story about humanity and what it means to be human. As it is one continuous story, kicking off the series with a double episode premiere helps build the story more. The first episode sets up the story but the second episode helps make it feel more complete. It also helps to explain key parts of the Blade Runner world for new viewers who don’t know what the world is like and what replicants are.

The character Officer Davis (Samira Wiley) has been a standout so far. She’s good at her job, strong, savvy and determined to get to the truth of what is going on. I find myself wanting more of her each episode. Elle and Joseph’s voice acting from Jessica Henwick and Will Yun Lee in the English dub is really strong. They give the right expression for each moment and it blends seamlessly with the animation. Each character introduced so far is compelling and comes with even more mystery, adding layers to the story. Not all of the announced characters have made on screen appearances in the three screeners, so there’s still even more to explore and learn about going forward. 

As someone who absolutely loved Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, even with its long run time, this new anime series has me so excited to continue exploring this world in an episodic format. Over the course of the three provided English dubbed episodes I found myself completely drawn in, binging all three episodes in one sitting. The wait for more episodes has been rough, but with the series about to release, I’m excited to see what comes next. 

Hopefully this isn’t the last stop in the Blade Runner universe as it signals there’s a bounty of ideas and stories left to explore whether it be film, TV or animation.

Blade Runner: Black Lotus will premiere with two back-to-back episodes at midnight on Crunchyroll and Adult Swim on November 13.

Lee Arvoy
Lee Arvoy joined the TV Source team in the summer of 2020 as a TV Writer.

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