Based on the 10-part manga series from 1998, this Netflix movie adaptation from Viz Media is out now. Blame! is a dark cyberpunk tale, set in an endless city that is constantly growing and expanding. The few remaining humans don’t remember a time before “the city.” Starving, they send out groups to try and find food and supplies, but venturing beyond their protected border is almost certainly a death sentence. Robotic “Safeguards” want to destroy any remaining human life, and even returning alive is considered a success. That is, until they run into an enigmatic stranger possessing a powerful weapon. Is he the key to their survival, and should he be trusted? Is Blame! good?
Blame! (pronounced “Blam!”) starts out full of tension, with a great action sequence. Teenagers from the local human tribe, the Electro-Fishers, leave the safety of their compound without permission in order to try and find food. Of course they run into a synthetic “Watchtower” designed to locate humans and summon the Safeguard Executioner robots that try their best to live up to their name. It’s a good intro for series protagonist Killy (pronounced “Kirry”), as even though it eventually shows him fight and destroy many of the Safeguard, he also seems removed from the Electro-Fisher’s plight and doesn’t turn into an unstoppable death ninja protecting everyone from harm.
Though I hardly thought the movie could keep up the pace set by the opening, it’s rather surprising how fast everything slows down afterwards. The naturally stoic Killy never says more than a couple of words at a time, and even those times are rare. While this is in line with the tone of the manga, as much of it was a showcase for visuals of the city and Killy’s lonesome quest, it doesn’t work so well for a movie. Tsutomu Nihei, the creator, said that he knew the story from the manga didn’t translate to film well in its original state, so they reinvisioned it for the medium. That left the bulk of character development and dialogue to the Electro-Fishers, who are minor characters in the book. The next part of the film focuses on meeting the different Electro-Fishers and learning about their plight, which slows the pace down considerably. I see the necessity of it, but the pacing seems a bit too slow after such a strong start.
Killy’s quest in the manga, to find humans with the “Net-Terminal Gene” and the ability to take control of the city back from the machines, seems more like the secondary plot here. Both plotlines end up running parallel as they unearth Cibo, a nearly dead scientist who promises to make Killy an artificial Net-Terminal Gene and the Electro-Fishers an abundance of food if they can get her to an automated production factory. Of course, nothing is ever that easy in a killer-robot-infested dystopia.
The visuals in Blame! are great, especially the action sequences. The city has a eerie, desolate atmosphere that sets the stage well. The music, too, is top notch, with synthetic-techno beats picking up the pace when the action heats up. It should be noted for purists that the animation is CGI and I watched the Blu-Ray on a 48″ HDTV and didn’t have any complaints. That’s not the universal opinion however, as enough people have noted that the frame rate looked clunky and jarring to them that I have to wonder if a larger screen or full 4K viewing makes these issues more prevalent. So, buyer beware.
The Blu-Ray has a features section that includes an art gallery, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and Japanese trailers. It also comes with the original Japanese audio, as well as English and Spanish voice-overs and subtitles.
Is It Good?
I hadn’t read the Blame! manga before watching the movie, so I enjoyed learning about the unique world and being introduced to Killy. However, there are really only three big action set pieces in the hour and forty-six minute run time. I thought the parts that focused on the Electro-Fishers were interesting, but they almost felt like parts of a different movie because of their methodical pacing. Quite a few of the more interesting antagonists from the books are left out completely, and fans of the manga may not like the liberties taken with the storyline. Nonetheless, Blame! isn’t a bad jumping-on point, and I could see any possible sequels building on it and being better.
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