LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS: An Analysis of Every Episode (Part One) – Learning with Pop Culture

Property of Netflix

LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS is an anthology series that features short animated films directed by multiple people and produced by multiple animation studios. Most episodes tackle a wide range of varying issues, topics, concepts, and ideas, while some are just genuine love letters to the genre that is animation. Regardless, every single episode is outright fun – in their own gruesome, terrifying, and awe-inspiring ways. With the use of cutting-edge techniques, dynamic animation, and creative storytelling, LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS draws you into the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy, and the supernatural while introducing deep philosophical and social concepts that’ll give even Black Mirror a run for its money.

I’m here to attempt to analyze and breakdown each and every episode of LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS because they got a lot hidden in them beneath the surface. I’m breaking this article into two parts because the series has 18 episodes in total and most of them have a lot of things to talk about.

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE SERIES!

1.    Sonnie’s Edge

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We begin with an episode that truly introduces us to the kind of stories we’re gonna get from this series.

The dystopian cyberpunk world of Sonnie’s Edge centers around a blood sport where human and monster become one through the use of technology. Sonnie, a pilot, and her team are asked to purposefully lose their match in exchange for a hefty sum. They quickly decline, putting them in the sights of their briber, the man who organizes the fights.

This is a wonderfully beautiful episode that put its dark yet vibrant lighting to great use both visually and from a story-telling standpoint. In the opening scene, we see a truck belonging to The Predators, Sonnie’s team. We are shown that the seemingly plain truck actually has UV paint all over it that spells out the team’s name and also depicts snakeskin patterns over a circuit board design, which is a reference to both the sport where two organic beings become one through technology and Sonnie’s own connection with Khanivore. The same design can later be seen on Sonnie’s UV tattoos, which covers the majority of her body.

Regardless of the lengthy exposition addressing it at the beginning, this short isn’t just about rape. People choose to see Sonnie as a “scared little girl, out for revenge.” It’s something that no one can seem to look past, not even her own teammates. Others have chosen to define her by it, but she hasn’t. She even curses at the thought of how other people see her. That in itself could be a critique on how society views rape victims: as nothing more than.

The whole point of the story at the beginning was to draw us and, inadvertently, Dicko into the twist at the end. Everyone who hears that story, us included, is pushed to the notion that Sonnie’s edge is her need for revenge fueled by hatred. But as she said, her edge is something more primal – fear. More specifically, the fear of death.

Sonnie’s puts it best in the scene where she explains her edge to Dicko’s mistress. She says:

“Hate. That was something I had to learn. You don’t come into this world with hate. But fear – that’s primal.”

She then later adds:

“And it keeps me alive.”

Although we, the audience, and the mistress didn’t understand it at first, that last line actually meant to Sonnie than we could’ve ever imagined at that point.

2.    Three Robots

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What starts out as a seemingly bleak short at the beginning (akin to Sonnie’s Edge) turns out to be a delightfully light-hearted dark comedy that centers three robots that go on a vacation to a post-apocalyptic city to observe the remnants of the long-extinct human civilization from which their kind was first built.

Before anything else, I would just like to point out that one of the opening shots mirrors the opening to Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), where a human skull is crushed beneath the heel of a robot foot. It has nothing to do with anything, but I thought that it was cool.

Anyway, Three Robots is an exploration of the human condition through the eyes of outsiders. Throughout the short, we are treated to the titular three robots as they walk around the city trying to decipher the objects and activities that humanity once had and did. Their unbiased and objective interpretation of our culture draw them to accurate, although simplified, conclusions of our existence. The short dissects the mundane practices we do as a society and throws it back to us in ways that make us seem almost stupid. It forces us, the so-called prime species, to realize how utterly trivial we are. It’s a metaphorical slap to our prideful faces and a predictable turn of events for the three robots trying to decipher their great creators.

The concept of the creator is referenced in the middle of the short when the three robots gather at the diner to comment about the idea of food. One robot comments that humanity’s design is flawed. To which another robot responds with:

“… they were made by an unfathomable deity that created them for no apparent reason out of dust. Just kidding. They came from a very warm soup.”

Although played off as a joke, this is a jab at the Primordial Soup theory, which gives a hypothetical set of conditions that must’ve been met on Earth billions of years ago to allow for the creation of life.

The final nail in the coffin comes at the end, where the critique on the human condition turns into an assessment of humanity’s demise. In the end, we were not done in by any form of war or hatred toward our own kin, but by our own selfish need to prove that we are the pinnacle of creation… and by our insistent love of cats.

3.    The Witness

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This gorgeous anime-inspired short is by far one of if the not the most artistically creative episodes in the series. It’s unique art style and masterful camera work make it a visual masterpiece.

Set in present-day to future Hong Kong, an erotic dancer witnesses a murder happen from her hotel window, now she’s on the run from the murderer.

The characters are stuck in a sort of inter-changing casual loop, where their roles shift with every recurrence of the loop – that is to say – the murderer becomes the witness and the witness becomes the murderer, over and over again.

It’s the same concept used in a multitude of films such as 12 Monkeys (1995), Primer (2005), Triangle (2009), and the granddaddy of it all, La Jetée (1962). If you like films like The Witness, I highly recommend seeing all of the aforementioned ones, especially La Jetée.

The casual loop plot device is hinted at in the opening title sequence by the ouroboros icon, the snake eating its own tail, which is a commonly used symbol in casual loop films. The other two icons, a skull, and an eye, represent of the ever-changing roles of the murderer and the witness, respectively.

4.    Suits

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This one gives me a Telltale Games-style visuals vibe. They’ve combined 3D cel-shading with 2D fire and smoke effects to make this one.

Set in a futuristic rural farmland, where farmers use mech suits to protect their cow herd from carnivorous (seemly extra-dimensional) creatures. But when thousands attack in a day, it’ll require the combined efforts of all the farmers.

The three icons we see at the beginning of the short are that of a cup, a barn, and a cow. Together, they vaguely form the word “DAY”, possibly hinting that the chaos that ensues in the short is the usual day-to-day for these farmers.

One of the first shots we see in this episode is one of the ugly metal scarecrow that, according to the main character, was given to him by their neighbor. The scarecrow stood low and slouched over in the beginning, but after becoming the instrument of the main character’s victory over the DeeBee queen, it stood proud and tall.

At the end of the short, we are shown that the creatures were actually the inhabitants of an alien world that we humans have now colonized. This is a refreshing twist on the cliché of alien invaders. Here, we’re the invaders.

If I were to infer something more from this short, the ending highlights the importance of farmers to our collective survival. It would make sense that when colonizing a new alien world, farmers would be one of the first to inhabit it because they produce the food that the rest of us would need to build the rest of society.

5.    Sucker of Souls

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Sucker of Souls is the first episode of series to use a completely 2D look for its animation. Whether it truly is 2D, I’m not sure. The short is a classic monster romp that follows an archaeologist and a group of hired mercenaries who uncover the ancient tomb of a dark beast. They inadvertently release this creature from its tomb and it now hunts them down through the castle it once lay dormant in.

The short doesn’t have much to offer in terms of social or philosophical commentary. Instead, The Sucker of Souls simply serves as a thrilling gore fest that successfully sets out to be a respectful rehash of the creature features that inspired it. If I had to say something, maybe it’s: What’s buried should stay buried. Or something like that.

6.    When the Yogurt Took Over

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This episode is one of the more light-hearted ones in the series with its ridiculous plot and cartoonish animation style akin to that of films from Pixar or Illumination Entertainment. It’s also the shortest episode of the series with a runtime of a little over five minutes. But it was loads of fun, nonetheless.

The title basically says it all. Sentient and highly-intelligent yogurt take control over the world from the human race in exchange for sharing the solutions to our world’s unsolvable problems.

I’m not too sure what to make of this. Perhaps, the yogurt symbolizes technology, and this is a commentary on how humans as a race have become so dependent on technology for comfort and convenience that without it, society as we know it would potentially crumble and devolve. This would give meaning to the giant yogurt space cups bombarding and destroying a satellite, a symbol of human technological advancement.

Another potential interpretation, as presented to me by a friend, is that humans are too greedy to ever solve their own problems for themselves. The government, despite being told to follow the plan without deviation, most possibly deviated from the plan to find a way to benefit themselves while still bringing an end to world debt. In this interpretation, greed has blinded us from true progress so much that something as mundane as yogurt could probably do a better job at governing us than we ever could.

It could be either of those things or both of them. Either way, the short basically says that we’re fragile creatures who’ll always mess things up whenever we get the chance.

7.    Beyond the Aquila Rift

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Beyond the Aquila Rift shocked a few of us with its hyper-photorealistic style that looks so damn real. The short follows a team of space explorers who enter hypersleep while traversing the galaxy. Upon awakening, however, the captain is informed by an old flame that they’re lightyears from their intended destination. Something strange is afoot.

The first thing I want to point out are the religious references in this short, i.e. the space airport at the beginning is called “The Arkangel” and, later on, we catch a glimpse of a statue of the Virgin Mary wearing a space suit. This is possibly a reference to the afterlife or on the case of Thom, the captain, the reality given to him the Lovecraftian monster that’s trapped them in its web.

For those who don’t know, Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre that focuses on cosmic horror and plays into elements of the unfathomable unknown and the shock that comes with encountering something that we, as humans, couldn’t possibly understand. Its named after author H.P. Lovecraft, whose works largely influenced the genre.

The ending is hinted to when Thom smashes Greta into the windows and the world glitches into spider-like web reality. It’s hinted at, albeit more subtly, early on when Thom and Greta have sex. The song that plays is “Living in the Shadows” by Matthew Perryman Jones. Its chorus is heavily used during intense scenes and its lyrics hint to the ending.

“Who’s the enemy? I don’t know what to believe. Living in the shadows.”

The short challenges the thought our delicate concept of what is real, much like sci-fi staple The Matrix (1999) and to a lighter degree, The Truman Show (1998). The hyper-realistic style is an allusion to this. We, the audience, are drawn into a world that seems almost real, save for a few imperfections and inconsistencies. The same can be said for the false reality that Thom finds himself in. When Thom is finally shown the truth about his reality, he is unable to fathom this truth, and the plot moves into multiple reoccurring themes of Lovecraftian horror – helplessness, hopelessness, and the fragility of human sanity.

In the end, Thom discovers that blind ignorance is better than the harsh, unfathomable reality.

8.    Good Hunting

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This one’s got an early 2000s cartoon vibe and reminds me of stuff like Xiaolin Showdown (2003) and Samurai Jack (2001). Good Hunting a heart-wrenching and beautifully animated steampunk sci-fi/fantasy that’s set in an alternate history of China where steam-powered technology was prevalent. It tells the story of a Chinaman and his spirit fox friend whose old ways have died because of the so-called progress brought in by their English masters.

Good Hunting focuses on the concept of “The Other”, which humans use to identify beings that are dissimilar to us. It helps us identify the concept of “The Self” by seeing distinctions in both the inner-self and the aesthetics of other people compared to our own.

During the rise of the European imperial conquest of “non-white” nations, the practice of “Othering” led to the oppression of anyone who didn’t look like the imperial elite and divided the world into the imaginary, binary dichotomy that is the West and the East. We now call this superficial practice of “Othering” racism, which is a major theme in the short.

This practice of “Othering” is first shown to be practiced by Liang’s father, a spirit hunter who saw the spirits as dangerous beings. His perspective of them was so one-dimensional that he never even tried to understand that, to the spirits, humans were dangerous. To him, the spirits were merely bounty’s to be killed and collected.

The same discrimination is again shown later on being practiced by the English. They treated the Chinese as lower-class citizens. To the western imperials, the Orientals they conquered were “The Other”. Through their eyes, everyone else who wasn’t white were basically homogenous beings. They were all the same – inferior in intellect and worth. They were people whose cultures and ways are worth forgetting for the sake of “progress”. And when they fought back, they were the bad guys.

The ending to Good Hunting is a return to the old ways for Liang and Yan. She can now hunt, as she dreamed, in this “jungle of metal and asphalt”, albeit not in the way she expected. And he continues his father’s traditions of maintaining balance, as evidenced by his father’s Yin-Yang necklace, and hunting down those who perpetrate injustice.

9.    The Dump

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This is, by far, my least favorite entry into this series. Its visuals, although still pretty good, borders on uncanny. The Dump is a story about a hillbilly who lives in a junkyard and is being evicted by this real estate guy who’s eventually eaten by his pet – a sentient pile of garbage.

I’m not too sure what to make of this one. If anything, I’m reminded of a quote by Jeff Goldblum.

“Life, uh, finds a way.”

10.    Shape-shifters

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Just so I don’t have to end with The Dump, let’s talk about Shape-shifters, one of my favorites. Like Beyond the Aquila Rift, Shape-shifters uses photorealistic visuals to tell its story. Set in an alternate present-day where the US military has drafted werewolves into their service, a lone and alienated wolf tracks down a dangerous enemy that took out an entire camp of American soldiers – including one of his friends. The problem is the man he’s tracking down is a wolf, too.

Watching this episode feels like watching a video game cinematic. It uses staple video game camera angles like first person views and over-the-shoulder third-person views during the intense infiltration of the ransacked camp. The camera work on this one is definitely one of the more dynamic in the series, along with The Sucker of Souls and The Witness.

Like Good Hunting, the concept of “The Other” is a reoccurring theme in Shape-shifters. Despite being set in war and featuring soldiers as its characters, the short isn’t much about the war itself. Rather, it’s a character-driven story that focuses more on themes of alienation, patriotism, revenge, and brotherhood. I suppose this could be interpreted as how war turns men into monsters, but it’s more likely an intimate and personal tale of a man who lost his only friend to a war no one truly understands. He describes it best with the line:

“They don’t understand us, any more than they do this fucking war, which is why we don’t belong here.”

The main character sees the war as pointless, while his friend believes that to serve is their duty. As his friend puts it:

“I don’t like every asshole who calls himself American, but it’s still my fucking country.”

These conflicting stands culminate in the death of his friend. And despite his heroic, albeit vengeful, actions to hunt down and kill the murderers, the main character is still treated like an animal by his commanding officer. Although, he does seem to earn the respect of his fellow Marines by the end as he carries his friend’s body out of the camp to bury it under the moon.

Shape-shifters has, in my opinion, one of the best character building and dialogue in the entire series.

Property of Netflix

This concludes the first half of episode analyses and breakdowns for LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. I’ll be posting the second half on Saturday, so if you enjoyed this one please be sure to check back in again for the second half. If you disagree with my interpretations, please feel free to leave your own thoughts about the episodes on the comments below. I’d very much like to talk about it.

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