Blame! (Cert 12)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 106 minutes approx.
Netflix is making sure no stone is left unturned in its continuing mission for global domination by reaching out to anime fans, picking up TV shows for weekly broadcast and commissioning original films. Luckily, for those of yet to have succumbed to the cult of Netflix, Manga Entertainment has some of these titles for physical media releases.
Blame! is actually not a new title, beginning life as a manga in 1998 by Tsutomu Nihei, who also went on to create Knights Of Sidonia. A 6-part OVA web series appeared in 2003 but after a brief clip of Killy in action was created for a TV series being watched by the cast of Sidonia, Polygon Pictures decided a feature length film of Blame! was in order, leading us to this project.
In a distant future, the world has reached its technological apex with humans being able to connect directly with cities, until an infection caused the cities to go rogue and remove control from the humans. A defence system called the Safeguard has identified humans as an illegal presence and purged vast numbers of them by dispatching creepy cyborg assassins known as Exterminators.
A small group hiding in a tiny enclave of the city calling themselves Electro-Fishers are struggling to survive with dwindling rations and the constant threat of the Safeguard, believing they are the only remaining humans. A scavenger mission to find more food runs into trouble when they are attacked by Exterminators, but are saved by a stranger named Killy, a human with cybernetic make-up who might just be their salvation.
Coming twenty years after its initial appearance might date this cyberpunk plotline given the number of similar outings following the same ideas, but as a high concept piece of sci-fi writing, Blame! is rather prescient considering how far the advancements and our dependency on technology has become since 1998. And as a metaphor for society’s lack of preparation for when the plug is pulled, its potency is persuasively incisive.
Nihei isn’t painting a nihilistic picture here or portraying technology as a specific enemy since it is a man made creation, but does give us food for thought about artificial intelligence becoming too intelligent and turning on its human masters, since we are already slaves to it. And there are hints of subtle political allegory of despotic leadership and the corruption of power, but 106 minutes isn’t quite sufficient for exploring all of this these themes.
With 10 volumes of manga material being condensed into one singular sitting, there is a surprising amount of downtime in this film, and often the pacing threatens to ground to a halt. It opens with a female narrator sharing a few background facts as a prelude to the food-finding mission, led by a young girl named Zuru, which is undertaken without permission, making the risks and casualties incurred far greater than normal.
An innocent accident triggers the Safeguard and the Exterminators are released; sinister looking Kabuki style faces on top of spindly bodies that run at high speed on all fours like insects, making for terrifying foes. Luckily, Killy is nearby with his Gravitational Beam Emitter (laser gun to you and me) capable of wiping out numerous targets in one shot, saving Zuru and co from certain death.
Stoic in his demeanour and economic with his conversation, Killy is a human with a clear technological upgrade, boasting Terminator-like vision which computes all he sees. Killy is in search of any remaining humans possessing the outdated Net Terminal Gene which allows people to directly access the Netsphere. Able to provide food for the village, Killy earns the trust of the Electro-Fishers who agree to help him in his quest.
The first step is to locate a scientist named Cibo, whose remains are found in the Rotting Shrine, an out-of-bounds area for the villagers a few floors below them. Surviving as a half a decomposing skeleton, Cibo is able to direct Killy and the village squad to an automated factory where Cibo creates more food for the village and rebuilds herself as a cyborg, but the system rejects her long on and unleashes more Exterminators.
Escape is not so easy and further casualties hit the village squad, with Zuru’s friend Tae being badly injured, but with the Safeguard now aware of Cibo’s return, time is of the essence for the villagers to find a new sanctuary to hide in. However, a destructive presence lies silently right under their noses, waiting to attack.
With many of the villagers obscured by masks called helmettals for most of the time, it is difficult for the audience to establish any connection with them, thus concern for their plight is superficial. And when they are unmasked, they all have the same knotted hairstyle and uniforms, making them equally indistinguishable, save for Pops, the chief, with his bushy beard.
Killy looks the part as the brooding nominal hero but his personality is non-existent and the lack of backstory or reasoning for his search does not make him a particularly compelling protagonist. Cibo is slightly more interesting in her ability to shift her brain into any vessel (a’la Ghost In The Shell) but her shapely cyborg form is a little unnecessary.
Visually the CGI animation is top notch and arguably Polygon Pictures best work to date. The underground setting means colour is at a premium, bathing the screen in a dour greys which help the faux-cell shaded characters blend in with the backgrounds. When the colour does break, it creates a glorious effect, symbolic of the dichotomy of the villagers’ despair and the rare bursts of hope their adventures yield.
Unfortunately, Blame! dwells too much on the expository chat and melancholic mood building for a one-off film which will be its undoing for those looking for explosive cyberpunk action. If have the patience this is a smart and probing story, but one better suited for a series length run, the potential for which is obvious.
English Language 5.1 DTS HD -MA
English Language 2.0 Stereo LCPM
Japanese Language 5.1 DTS HD -MA
Japanese Language 2.0 Stereo LCPM
Rating – ***
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