Kristina Elyse Butke
Storytelling is Art: A Review of "Love, Death + Robots" Volume 3
Terrifying creatures, wicked surprises and dark comedy converge in this NSFW anthology of animated stories presented by Tim Miller and David Fincher.
SPOILERS AHEAD! ❤️❌🤖
Story: Love, Death + Robots is an anthology series, meaning each episode is its own complete story. I'll briefly provide commentary on all the episodes here with my summaries.
Ep. 1 - "Three Robots: Exit Strategies." Three robots investigate the demise of humanity, surveying the attempts humankind made to thwart their impending doom, all of which were unsuccessful. Just ask the cats.
I thought this story was a lot of fun in that it explores the different ways humans today are trying to prep for the apocalypses. You've got the far-right, gun-toting commune where everybody kills each other; the ultra-wealthy paradises where robots were abused so they killed everyone; and then rockets that were meant to go to another viable planet being commandeered by cats. Because, of course cats would figure out how to survive the apocalypse. This was basically a little ditty showing humans how stupid we are, how we squander what we have, and likewise probably deserve what we've got coming to us if we keep to the path we're on.
Ep. 2 - "Bad Travelling." A monstrous crustacean attacks a shark-hunting ship. After killing many of the crew, it demands to be taken to Phaedin Island where it would likely feed on the population there. The survivors vote whether or not they should trick the monster by leaving it on an abandoned island or to do as the creature says.
One of my top episodes of the season, I always have room for a nautical tale when it comes to the fantastical. This story was pretty grim in terms of the violence of the monstrous thanopod, and then even grimmer when we learn that the crew, in their ballot voting, all opted to sacrifice Phaedin Island to the creature. There's plenty of death and murder, and the episode makes you question whether or not it's deserved--who gets to live and who gets to die?
Ep. 3 - "The Very Pulse of the Machine." A mission on Io goes awry when an SEV accident kills one astronaut and leaves the other badly wounded. The surviving astronaut, Kivelson, decides to retrieve her partner's body and drags it along the surface of Io but starts to see and hear strange things as she journeys across the moon.
This was another favorite episode for this season. Due to the dire situation Kivelson's in, where she keeps medicating and possibly inducing hallucinations, we don't know if she's really experiencing the moon of Io speaking to her, if it really is a machine, and if she'll really become one with it upon her death. This was a gorgeous, thoughtful piece.
Ep. 4 - "Night of the Mini Dead." A horny couple bangs each other in a cemetery, unleashing an indescribable evil that ends in what is essentially a galactic fart.
I don't have much to say about this one. It was amusing enough.
Ep. 5 - "Kill Team Kill." A group of soldiers are in for the fight of their lives when they encounter a robotically-enhanced grizzly bear.
This is another one where I don't have much to comment on. It was well-made, but not my type of story.
Ep. 6 - "Swarm." A surprisingly complex insectoid race is studied by scientists who may or may not have nefarious purposes for their research.
I thought the alien species in this episode were pretty interesting, kind of like bees in a hive. I don't know how I feel about the ending of the episode, though.
Ep. 7 - "Mason's Rats." The pesky rodents have levelled up and it takes the megatools from Traptech to stop them...if they can be stopped at all.
This episode was cute. Not much else to say.
Ep. 8 - "In Vaulted Halls Entombed." Soldiers chase insurgents into caves that lead to something deadly and unnameable--a giant eldritch creature demanding to be released.
I don't really care for military stories all that much but the monsters in this episode kept me interested.
Ep. 9 - "Jibaro." Conquistadors meet their match in a strange, beautiful siren of the lake, whose scream and hypnotic dance drives men into mad, deadly frenzies. But the siren has met her match in Jibaro, a deaf knight who doesn't succumb to her screams, but her other charms.
This was my absolute favorite episode, like something out of a dark fairy tale. It's completely without dialogue, and the whole story seems like one exquisitely choreographed dance. This story completely checked all my boxes and it also reflects the type of stuff I like to write.
Characters: It's kind of hard for me to talk about this because there are so many episodes, and not a lot of time to really dive into characterization because these stories are bite-sized. Probably the most interesting character of the season is Torrin from "Bad Travelling" because you don't know if he's evil or not...he kind of keeps you guessing. I would also say the siren from "Jibaro" is interesting just because you feel sympathy for her when her gold and jewels get taken and her body is unceremoniously dumped into a river. And then the voice of Io in "The Very Pulse of the Machine" also holds my attention as a character because you don't understand if it's a hallucination or not, or what its actual purpose is when it says its goal is to "know you."
The common theme seems to be that my favorite episodes all have mysterious characters to them, and their mysteries are what held my attention and made their characterizations memorable.
Animation: I think this is really what this series is all about. The stories in each episode can be hit-or-miss, but the animation is what's being showcased here. I miss hand-drawn animation a lot but the CG in this season was eye-popping with brilliant colors, textures, and at times, photo realism. There's even a bit of uncanniness there, too, and I mean that in a good way.
My three favorite episodes also reflect my three favorite animation styles. I love the colors of "The Very Pulse of the Machine," the vintage but photo-realistic look to "Bad Travelling," and then the dreamy, off-kilter hyper realism of "Jibaro." I thought for certain motion capture or live-action was somehow used for "Jibaro" but it wasn't!
Voice Acting: We have a mixture of Hollywood celebrities and then famous voice actors doing the voices for characters this season. I was delighted to see some names from anime and video games that I loved...but my VIP for this season goes to Troy Baker, who played Torrin from "Bad Travelling."
Baker has a naturally distinctive voice, except he also has an incredible ability to completely transform it so you don't know that it's him. He did this in the video game The Last of Us and does it again for "Bad Travelling." I could not tell it was him. And the voice he used was kind of an oily, dastardly British accent that was memorable.
Low Points of the Season: I wouldn't say that there were low points, but there were definitely episodes that were passable that just didn't stand out to me. Did I enjoy watching them at the time? Sure. But will they stay in my memory? Probably not. And I don't think it has to do with the animation so much as the story and my individual tastes. Military SF or any sort of battle story just isn't my cup of tea, so I'm probably not going to remember those stories (even though they had exceptional casts in them and solid animation!).
High Points of the Season: Going with my top three -- "Jibaro," "Bad Travelling," and "The Very Pulse of the Machine." These stories had interesting plots, characters, and gorgeous animation and represented the very best of what Love, Death + Robots can do as an animated anthology series.
Final Thoughts: I've now watched all three seasons to Love, Death + Robots (I plan on reviewing the first two seasons at a later time) and I think the third season is the most diverse in its storytelling and its best yet. Season Three had multiple standouts and even the episodes that didn't work for me as much were still entertaining as I watched them.
I know Netflix is going through a rough patch right now, and has done some disastrous things to its animation department that really troubles me as a fan of animation. I hope Love, Death + Robots continues to exist and that we've got a fourth season coming. I absolutely adore this project and love seeing different animation companies from all over the world interpret stories by famous SFF authors such as John Scalzi, Neal Asher, and Bruce Sterling (though I hope SFF stories by authors of other genders will be represented, too). Animation is often regulated to being "stories for children" when it encompasses all ages and tastes and styles. It should be taken seriously as a genuine medium of art, and I think Love, Death + Robots helps convey this. I hope we see more in the future.