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I really wanted to enjoy this one.
AI are on the rise in popular culture, and Netflix—understanding my insatiable desire for new content—recently released the animated series Love, Death & Robots. It’s no secret that I love sarcastic, rampaging tin cans, so I was guaranteed to watch this show by the title alone. I was willing to forgive a lot of flaws.
Drawing heavily from the cyberpunk genre with thematic callbacks to The Animatrix, Love, Death & Robots was visually stunning, and for this it deserves credit. I’d still recommend watching it if you’re a diehard toaster fan and robots are your thing.
But oh man. There were issues.
As mentioned this series does get some things right. The show opens with Sonnie’s Edge, a short film about pit-fighting cybernetic “beasties” and the human cyborgs who operate them. It’s a quick, tense action flick that will keep you riveted to the screen, and despite my concerns with Sonnie’s motivation I found her to be an engaging character.
Likewise, the episode Three Robots was truly enjoyable and had me in tears with some of the jokes. Suits, Zima Blue, and Blind Spot should all be commended for their stylization. I also want to give a special shout-out to The Secret War, which had me convinced I was looking at real actors for a good minute and a half until a bad texture gave it away as animation. Kudos on them for getting past the uncanny valley.
Most impressive of all was The Witness, an absolutely breathtaking neon-soaked thriller where a dancer flees through a futuristic city after she witnesses a murder. It reminded me so strongly of Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void that I audibly gasped, and there’s no denying the sheer brilliance of the animation. The film was directed by Alberto Mielgo, best known for his work on SpiderMan: Into the Spider-Verse, and his artistic influence clearly shines through. If you’re going to watch Love, Death & Robots for anything, watch it for this.
I cannot get past the sexualized violence in this series, or how many women we saw mutilated on screen.
Full disclosure: I talk about women in sci-fi and fantasy on a regular basis through my work with the podcast Metamashina. We also have a mini-series devoted to the “women as robots” trope, so stuff like this is near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent a lot of time with it.
Beyond my professional work, I find this trend disturbing because I’m a woman too. I love robots and violent shows, but it can be incredibly disheartening when almost every person on screen who looks like you is either there as a backdrop element or shock value to be violently dismembered or killed. Sometimes all three, and not in that order.
Sonnie was great, but I’m tired of female characters who have nothing to motivate them but a sexual assault—women are more complicated than their trauma, and I wish Love, Death & Robots had realized this. I’m okay with stories about women who work in the adult film industry, but it’s upsetting to see so many of them being killed or dismembered on screen. This happened twice in Love, Death & Robots: first with the dancer in The Witness, then with Yan from Good Hunting.
Not every story is going to speak to every person, nor should it. But if Love, Death & Robots is ostensibly a collection of unique short films, then why do so many of the stories follow the exact same beats?
The real tragedy of Love, Death & Robots is that these narrative faux pas were avoidable. A more diverse writer’s room would have easily caught the ugly parts and reversed course. It’s a shame it wasn’t fixed.
There’s not much more to add to this review other than I genuinely hope that Love, Death & Robots gets a second season. Each episode can and does stand on its own, and despite its flaws I think there is ample room for improvement. Hopefully. Please. Don’t let me down, Netflix.
I also want to give a special shout-out to the artists who were involved in this, because Love, Death & Robots feels like a good example of what can happen when you give them room to flex their creative muscles, especially when it came to the creature design for some of the episodes. Here’s to hoping the storytelling catches up with their artistic brilliance.