It was obvious that an anime reimagining of Blade Runner by the director of Cowboy Bebop would be killer, but it surpassed my high expectations. The recent anime short Blade Runner Blackout 2022 is 15 beating kick drum minutes of stoical one-liners, waltzing fight scenes and, because it’s still Blade Runner, philosophical riffs on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
Viewable on CrunchyRoll, the anime is set three years after the original film but a few dozen years before the upcoming sequel. Blade Runner Black Out 2022 follows two replicants—androids—on their mission to black out 2022 Los Angeles. It’s a world where the masses have released a database that helps them find and kill replicants. A highly-coordinated plan, which the viewer only groks when it finally unfolds, has the two replicant protagonists taking down a sprawling data center with a stolen truck of gas and very deft gunplay. That way, there would be no back-up files for the records destroyed by a great EMP blast they orchestrate.
Anyone who’s seen the space bounty hunter thriller Cowboy Bebop knows that director Shinchiro Watanabe is a master of rhythm. Blade Runner’s world, which in 1982 came alive with cutting-edge special effects and impeccable character design, has a beating heart in Watanabe’s adaptation. The anime’s fight scenes are liquid. But unlike Spike from Cowboy Bebop, or even the breakdancing samurai Mugen from Watanabe’s Samurai Champloo, Blade Runner Black Out 2022’s replicants fight like machines through their artful choreography. The replicant Iggy’s hand barely budges after firing his shotguns. His replicant partner, Trixie, knocks out enemies with springy acrobatics that appear rehearsed, which goes against the improvised feel Watanabe’s combat sequences are known for. It’s a show of Watanabe’s flexibility that he can task androids with the type of combat sequences that helped make him famous, and it still works great.
Blade Runner Black Out 2022’s dialogue occasionally comes off as trite, which isn’t unexpected for a Blade Runner adaptation. Lines like “Life doesn’t mean living” sound a little pseudo-philosophical. “[We’re] nothing more than toy soldiers in a sandbox,” Iggy says after a flashback to when he was at war and, after killing an enemy, realized that he was also a replicant. Luckily, the animation always makes up for the less impressive one-liners and, anyway, the cyber-punk genre isn’t exactly known for its wordiness.
The brevity does a lot of work in some instances. A human close to Trixie ends up helping the replicants pull off their heist. Unlike others, he’s sympathetic to the androids, and even a little self-conscious about being human himself. “Humans are selfish, stupid liars,” he says, about to betray his race. “But replicants are different, so pure, so perfect. Never betrays. More human than human.” Even in such a short animation, the payoff for these exchanges is big. When his role in the plan is revealed, I went back to that small scene to savor its contradictions again.
Watanabe’s motions toward fan service are small and tasteful. A lit up, cyber-geisha Shinjuku look-a-like appears in his 2022 Los Angeles. Slow-paced visual pans of the city, dotted with spaceships and electronic billboards, are a more subtle nod to Blade Runner director Ridley Scott’s direction. There isn’t much else. Blade Runner Black Out 2022 is outstanding, one of the most lively iterations of the cyberpunk genre I’ve seen in ages.