Back in the day, when the animated anthology series, Love, Death and Robots (2019-ongoing), was announced and the fact that Tim Miller and David Fincher were executive producing it was revealed, almost everyone was ecstatic. And Season 1 of the show was an absolute slam dunk as it featured quality storytelling, eye-popping animation, lots of nudity (which was aptly criticized) and a shit-ton of violence (which was aptly criticized too). Season 2, unfortunately, didn’t fare that well. It still had some of the best animation of all time. But the stories didn’t really click. Now, Miller and Fincher are back with nine stories, and, spoiler alert, every single one of them is a masterpiece in their own right.
1. Three Robots: Exit Strategies
Directed by Patrick Osborne, produced by Blow Studio, and based on the short story by John Scalzi (who is the writer too), the return of the three robots is probably the simplest entry this season. It continues their sightseeing tour of a post-apocalyptic Earth from Episode 2 of Season 1 and largely focuses on how different economic classes tried to survive said apocalypse. Saying that it is the “simplest” isn’t a negative critique as you need to enter this season on a straightforward note so that you can digest what comes after it. The interactions between K-VRC (Josh Brener), XBOT 4000 (Gary Anthony Williams), and Elena (Katie Lowes) are peppy. The animation is detailed, well-lit, and continues the theme of simplicity to elicit laughter. The final reveal, involving a cat again (voiced by Chris Parnell), is funny because of the current state of the things, and it will get funnier as said state of things devolves.
2. Bad Travelling
David Fincher is in the house, baby, and he has delivered an all-timer again. Produced by Blur Studio, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, and based on Neal Asher’s short story, Fincher transports us onto a ship in alien waters. The crew comprises Torrin (Troy Baker) Turk (Kevin Jackson and Fred Tatasciore), Melis/Calis (Anthony Mark Barrow), Maril (Chantelle Barry), Suparin (Parry Shen), Deacon (Time Winters), Jorvan (James Preston Rogers), Paln (Jason Flemyng), Chantre (Elodie Yung), and Cert (Max Fowler). And they face a Thanapod (a gigantic crab-like monster) that makes the ship its temporary shelter and is in need of meat.
The prize for the most atmospheric short story in Season 3 certainly goes to Bad Travelling. Jason Hill’s music, Kirk Baxter’s score, the briney production design, every single detail in the background and foreground moving along with the ship, the character designs, the lighting, the virtual camerawork, and the overall mood is top-notch. But it is surprisingly political as well as it delves into the illusion of democracy and how well-meaning leaders are also looking to save their backs. Like every short should do, Fincher makes you wish that this was a feature-length film or even a mini-series so that we could spend more time wondering how Torrin is going to keep satiating the monster’s need for meat.
3. The Very Pulse of the Machine
Directed by Emily Dean, written by Philip Gelatt produced by Polygon Pictures Incorporated, and based on the short story by Michael Swanwick, we follow Martha Kivelson (Mackenzie Davis) and Juliet Burton (Holly Jade) to one of Jupiter’s moons, Io, in this short. Things obviously go sideways as subterranean explosion wrecks the rover they are in and knock them unconscious. When Martha wakes up, she finds out that Juliet is dead, and she quickly needs to reach the rendezvous point before her oxygen runs out. Using drugs to decrease the pain of her broken shoulder and Juliet’s oxygen tank attached to her dead body for breathing, she soldiers on. And what she sees next can be hallucinations because of the drugs or real or a bit of both.
The Very Pulse of the Machine is gorgeously animated, hypnotically scored, and peppered with so many mind-bending moments that you cannot help but gape at it in awe. And the ambiguity about the veracity of the events is actually what makes the viewing experience so amazing and engaging. The use of poetry to make sense of what’s going on is an interesting approach and not seen very often in the “sad people in space” subgenre. But, it is one that should be more regular in the said sub-genre because what’s better than something so Earthly clashing with something so interstellar. Mackenzie Davis (as always) brings it home with her vocal performance, makes you root for Martha, and then leaves you with a bittersweet note about accepting one’s death.
4. Night of the Mini Living Dead
Fart jokes are looked down upon. They are regarded as low-brow humor. They are called childish. And maybe it is. But by saying so, people underestimate the power of a well-done fart joke. If you need proof, you have to look at the short written and directed by Robert Bisi and Andy Lyon, produced by Buck, and based on the story written by Jeff Fowler and Tim Miller. It is exactly what the title suggests: a zombie apocalypse unleashed upon a miniaturized version of planet Earth. The use of shallow depth of field, the animation, the environmental designs, and how it all comes together to highlight the inconsequential nature of humanity is perfect. However, it is essentially a 5-minute short that builds up to a rib-tickling fart joke.
5. Kill Team Kill
Written by Philip Gelatt, produced by Titmouse Incorporated, and based on Justin Coates’s short story, this Jennifer Yuh Nelson directorial is the most metal anthology short in this lot. There is not a sliver of doubt about that. It features Sgt. Morris (Joel McHale), Private Folen (Seth Green), Sgt. Nielsen (Gabriel Luna), Pvt. Coutts and Pvt. Macy (both voiced by Steve Blum, and Pvt. Erwin (Andrew Kishino) as a platoon of US Special Forces on a mission to get in touch with another team. After not getting any response, they make their way to the camp (or at least where the camp is supposed to be) and find their mangled bits everywhere. Who has done that? A cybernetic bear made by the CIA.
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The level of carnage in this short, peppered with humor, is unparalleled. And it’s not just because there is a lot of blood and guts on-screen. But the fact that blood and guts are displayed on the small screen with so much style, passion, artfulness, and fun. The hand-drawn nature of the characters, the kinetic motion of the virtual camera, the stylized lighting, the character designs, the snappy dialogue, the voice acting by the cast, the music, everything works in tandem so well that it makes you wonder why we even rely on live-action. Everything should be animated because there’s so much room for inventiveness and absolute absurdity. The animators need to be paid well, though. Or else, what’s the point?
Directed by Tim Miller, co-written by Miller and Philip Gelatt produced by Blur Studio, and based on the short story by Bruce Sterling, the titular Swarm is presented as a well-organized alien species floating around in space. Dr. Afriel (Jason Winston George) seeks to analyze it and take his learnings to Earth to help humankind. In the Swarm, he’s greeted by Dr. Mirny (Rosario Dawson), someone who has already been studying the Swarm for some time. She quickly understands that Afriel’s reason to be there isn’t pure but still helps him when he assures her that no harm is going to come to the Swarm.
Humans think that they are the most cunning and ruthless in the entire galaxy. As humans, while watching our species strive to take on an alien one, we always root for our own, hoping that they survive to be better. But, as the short indicates, we aren’t a fan of learning, and there’s a distinct possibility that we aren’t the most cunning or the most ruthless species out there. Swarm is the most anti-climactic short though, as it ends before reaching a high note (both in terms of gnarliness and storytelling), i.e., the agreement between Afriel and the Swarm. However, that’s probably the point of the short, and it wants you to imagine the horrors the Swarm has in store for Afriel. Again, the CGI and animation are mind-blowingly textured and dense with unique alien plants, food, and animals. And the way it tackles zero-gravity action is truly worthy of applause.
7. Mason’s Rats
Directed by Carlos Stevens, written by Joe Abercrombie, produced by Axis Studios, and based on the short by Neal Asher, Mason’s Rats tells the story of Mason (Craig Ferguson) and the rats in his barn. He obviously tries to shoot the rats. But the thing is that they shoot back. When Mason realizes that the problem is a little too hard to handle, he calls upon Nigel (Dan Stevens) to buy his pest-control devices. This leads to an out-and-out war between Nigel’s machines and the rats in the barn.
This short film undoubtedly has the best gag of Season 3 as the TT-15 picks up a fleeing rat, throws it up into the air, and then absolutely riddles it with laser shots as two other rats as well as Mason look at the carnage in utter shock. As it returns only the slain rat’s head to a pile of dead rats, one half-dead rat tries to run away, and TT-15 blasts it into bits. And the word that Mason can string together is “Christ on a bike.” It’s the hardest I laughed at in the show. The caricaturish character design, the attention to detail in terms of production design, the voice acting, the editing, and the overall storytelling undoubtedly lead to that moment, and that’s why it is so good. The message of the short, which is about opting for peace first instead of violence, is a very relevant one.
8. In Vaulted Halls Entombed
Directed by Jerome Chen, written by Philip Gelatt, produced by Sony Pictures Imageworks, and based on the short story by Alan Baxter, this story follows a special forces squad on a hostage rescue mission. The squad is made up of Coulthard (Joe Manganiello), Harper (Christian Serratos), Spencer (Jai Courtney), Beaumont (Noshir Dalal), Dilman (Stanton Lee), and Gladstone (Jeff Schine). They follow the insurgents into a cave and instantly find the dead bodies of the hostage and some of the insurgents. And dead means no flesh, only bones kind of dead. They venture on and realize that they are in the prison of sorts for an age-old evil (voiced by Fred Tatasciore).
There is not much nuance to this, except that it’s about a group of people who have been trained to face extreme situations and find themselves in a spot they have no training for. They trust their guns and bombs. They fail. They trust their eyes, ears, and brain. That fails too. Since Kaiju-like monsters have usually represented natural disasters, with the most famous one being Godzilla, maybe the message is that we should be grateful that the Earth isn’t turning itself inside out yet. On a technical level, it is immaculate. The performance capture is perfect. The sense of scale in the environments is palpable. And, with the help of amazing sound design, character animation, and CGI, In Vaulted Halls Entombed proves yet again that deadly critters can be scarier than a Cthulhu monster.
Written and directed by Alberto Mielgo, produced by pinkman. TV, the titular Jibaro (Girvan ‘Swirv’ Bramble) is a deaf soldier going through the forest with a platoon of soldiers. They decide to rest near a lake. On its shores, Jibaro finds a fish-like scale made of gold. As soon as he touches the water, the Golden Woman (or the Lady in the Lake or the Siren, call it whatever you like) wakes up and stands up on the surface of the water. Her shrieks draw every man in the platoon to the depths of the lake, except for Jibaro. This fascinates the Golden Woman and thus begins a dance of blood, death, and treasure.
If the short’s animation style feels oddly reminiscent of The Witness from the first season, then you are right. Both of them are by Alberto Mielgo. Both of them are equally chaotic. And both of them are equally beautiful (maybe Jibaro is better than The Witness by a small margin). The VFX work, the environments, the unmotivated lighting choices amidst all the realistically lit frames, the intricate character design, the movement of the characters oscillating between various forms of contemporary dance, the music shifting between operatic and techno-esque tunes, it is all brilliant. The story is fantastic, too, as it tackles themes of trust, greed, and eventually, revenge. Yes, this is the best out of the lot.
If you are a fan of Love, Death and Robots Season 1 and were disappointed in Season 2, then you should watch Season 3 because it is a confident return to form. If you have never watched a single short from any season of Love, Death and Robots, then it’ll be advisable to start from the beginning. You know, just to get the vibe. But, if you don’t want to do that and want to go straight into Season 3 (it’s ultimately an anthology show where the stories aren’t connected to each other), then feel free to do that. Because the stories are welcoming enough to make you fall in love with this show. After you’re done with all that, etch the following things in your brain. Animation isn’t a genre, it’s a medium. Animation isn’t just for kids. And you should stand by animators who are demanding to be paid appropriately.
Love, Death and Robots Season 3 is streaming on Netflix.