On May 20, Netflix released Blame!, a new anime film by Polygon Pictures based on the famous science fiction manga by Tsutomu Nihei (also the author behind the well-known Knights of Sidonia, which has its own adapted anime series also on Netflix), and it offers an intriguing glimpse into its dark and expansive technological world.
Far into the distant future, but still long before the events of the film, a contagion infected the existing net-based industrial society (the system network being called the “Netsphere”), and as a result, a collective known as the “Safeguard” gained dominion over “The City,” a now ever-expanding structure that their automated systems endlessly add layers to. Because of this, humans have lost the ability to connect with the Netsphere and take back control of The City, and are now seen by the Safeguard as illegal residents to be terminated on sight, hunted by terrifying killing machines known simply as “Exterminators.”
The film centres on a small tribe of isolated humans known as the “Electro-Fishers” who have been surviving in hiding, scavenging for food, but now find themselves running out of resources fast. The story begins with a small group of young adults from the enclave, lead by a brave but slightly rash girl named Zuru, who steals some of the elders’ armour and ventures far from the safe zone in search of a pipe containing a nutrient “sludge,” one of the few food sources known to their people. However, the mission ends in abject failure, as the pipe turns out to be dry, and the Safeguard are alerted to their presence and send Exterminators to eliminate them.
Enter our near-silent protagonist, Killy the Wanderer, a mysterious human traveller from 6000 city levels below their location, on a journey in search of any human being with the “net terminal gene” — a person who would have the power to communicate with the Netsphere once again and reclaim control of The City from the Safeguard. After Killy saves Zuru and the other remaining members of the ill-fated expedition group from the pursuing Exterminators, they take him back to their protected village in hopes that they may be able to repay him by helping in his search, and in doing so, potentially help themselves and all of humanity as well.
Blame! is visually stunning, the art style a masterful blend of traditional and digital mediums that works very well in helping to successfully capture the gritty, cyberpunk atmosphere of its post-apocalyptic world. Action sequences are for the most part crisp and smooth, the animation is fast-paced and exciting, with the 3D CG effects making it feel as though the Exterminators may burst right out of the screen and into your living room. Those familiar with Knights of Sidonia will likely feel some familiarity with the aesthetics, as both share similarities.
The story is fascinating, though somewhat convoluted, and the universe quite expansive; the film only scratches the surface of the intricate lore, and some viewers may feel slightly overwhelmed by the large amount of information and background introduced in such a short time span. Focusing on the tale surrounding the Electro-Fishers, a small aspect of the larger story, helps to alleviate this to a degree. However, the audience is definitely left with many unanswered questions (though some may be clarified by the source material, others may still be left intentionally vague), although this makes it a unique experience for each individual, as the viewer is left to fill in some of the blanks with their own imagination. I found myself longing for a series-length adaptation that would have allowed for more exploration of the epic story and many interesting characters, such as the female scientist, Cibo, introduced later in the film who is also a main character in the manga. Though Killy barely talks and we know very little about him, in a similar manner to the type the player controls in many video games who speak more with their actions than their words, it’s easy to transpose a part of oneself onto the character and become more invested as we also yearn to learn more about him and his past.
I’ve heard mixed reviews from fans who had previously read the manga before watching, but have been told that despite a few notable changes, it does a rather decent job in trying to remain faithful to the source material, and response to the film has generally been favourable. It serves as a good introduction to the cold and complex, yet beautiful world of Blame!, which both those well-versed and those new to the series may enjoy. I myself had not read the manga before seeing the new movie, but I certainly intend to check it out now that I have.