While browsing through the HBO Max content a while back, I came upon Blade Runner: Black Lotus and my immediate reaction was both happiness and relief to know that the Blade Runner cinematic universe — just like the desire of all replicants within its story — was being kept alive, even if it were an animated television series. And like with the original Ridley Scott film, I hope this series finds a cult following and can have a second season. Yes, Blade Runner: Black Lotus did not have the best reviews from critics, but neither did Blade Runner when it was originally released in 1982. It took a decade for the director’s cut to come out to much-deserved fanfare and over 20 years for the sequel Blade Runner 2049. I think the sequel was robbed of a Best Picture Nomination at the Academy Awards, but that’s no surprise — science fiction movies hardly ever get respect from the Academy when it comes to that category.
Blade Runner: Black Lotus originally aired on Adult Swim on November 14, 2021, as well as on the streaming service Crunchyroll. The series was developed by Sola Digital Arts and directed by legendary Japanese anime filmmakers Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama. The English-speaking version features a cast of big Hollywood talents such as Jessica Henwik, Brian Cox, Wes Bently, and Josh Duhamel. Reprising his role from Blade Runner 2049 is Barkhad Abdi as a younger Doc Badger. However, his role in this series is more significant as he helps the main character Elle navigate to find out who she is.
I think Blade Runner: Black Lotus has a magnificent story that could have made for a great film. Unlike the two movies, Black Lotus has a more appealing tale to tell for the mainstream audience. Its pace has a bit more kick in the steps it takes in unraveling the mysterious truth behind Elle’s backstory.
In its first episode, City of Angels, the first image is of an eye-opening upon a world it hardly understands or what it’s only allowed to, depending on what it’s told. But, unlike the opening of the two movies, the character’s eye literally understands nothing because who it belongs to — Elle — has woken up in the back of an unmanned transport vehicle driving on the road in the middle of the desert and has amnesia. In her hand is some kind of “tech” that is, unfortunately, encrypted. So when she arrives in Los Angeles in 2032, she has no idea where to go, nor knows why Los Angeles is the way it is — her only memories, it seems, are of a Los Angeles everyone around her could only imagine.
A gang of hoodlums sees she’s carrying the “tech” and decides to steal it from her. While Elle is attacked and starts to fight them off, she begins to have some flashbacks as her memories come to her in random images and lines of dialogue that don’t have meaning for her quite yet. But fortunately, she remembers her name. And for the audience, we see that Elle is a replicant, a brand new one, which, if you’ve seen the second film, is an illegal act. The creation of replicants was made illegal after 2022, and the main purpose of Blade Runners was to hunt down the remaining Nexus-8 models that have no termination date within their engineered replicant DNA.
As Elle searches for something she’s familiar with, she finds Doc Badger’s shop, where he welcomes her, but then the gang who attacked her comes, so she hides. They ask Doc Badger if he’s seen her with the tech. He denies it. After they leave, Elle asks Doc Badger if he can unlock the encrypted tech to help her remember who she is and what happened to her. He agrees only if she helps prevent the gang of individuals from harassing him again. She agrees, takes a samurai sword from one of the shelves in his shop, then heads out to confront the gang in a cemetery.
The fight scene is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill, where the audience is introduced to Elle’s full potential as a genetically advanced warrior no one should imagine messing with. She ends up killing the leader and tells the rest of the beaten-up gang to leave Doc Badger alone. She has another flashback of her killing a man in the desert, but she can’t remember why she did it.
Elle goes back to Doc Badger’s shop. He admits he doesn’t have the knowledge to decrypt the locked tech but tells her his upstairs neighbor can do it. Elle follows Doc to a top-floor apartment, where they find a passed-out Joseph lying on his couch, surrounded by empty whiskey bottles. An obvious nod to Harrison Ford’s character Rick Deckard from the original film, who actually wasn’t as bad a drunk.
Blade Runner: Black Lotus is an excellent part of the franchise. It’s well worth watching along with the films. It explores the themes which the author Philip K. Dick — who wrote the novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? The original film was based on — wrote about in most of his stories: What is reality? And what does it truly mean to be alive if you’re told you have no soul? But you fear death like any other organic, conscience living person.
The main character Elle doesn’t know she is a replicant at the end of the first episode, but the audience does. As it goes on, we witness her rebirth as she unravels the truth of what happened to her.
Below is the Japanese version of the cemetery fight scene between Elle and the gang. It shows the final footage on top and the storyboards and animatics it took to create the visuals. (Warning: It contains some bloody violence.):