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Adi Shankar Talks ‘Captain Laserhawk’ and His Bootleg Universe Journey

The creator and executive producer's all-new Netflix series is the direct result of a long-time obsession with serious adult animation; premiering October 19, the high-octane show, chock-full of video game goodness, features Dolph Laserhawk and his partner in crime Alex as they take on the Niji 6.

In high school, Adi Shankar took an unconventional view of his social popularity. Though he had achieved coveted status among his teenage peers, Shankar was one of the few to use that position not to woo crushes or invites to parties, but to indoctrinate his classmates into the world of animated nerd culture. 

An honorable cause, to be sure. 

“I’d organize a party, where I’d make my classmates all watch Pokémon,” recalls Shankar, known for executive producing Netflix’s adult animated series Castlevania, Castlevania: Nocturne, and all-new Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix, releasing today, October 19. “I wasn’t even low key about it. I was openly converting people using my perceived status on the food chain to get people to play stuff like Magic: The Gathering. I loved cartoons as a kid and then, as an older teenager and young adult, it was like, ‘Wait, there's no more cartoons? We’re all just supposed to move on and watch Friends?’ That’s why I was so obsessed with creating serious adult animation when I moved to LA.”

Shankar’s Captain Laserhawk debut marks the culmination of a long journey through many years of videogame playing, anime watching, and almost a decade trying to infuse that heart and soul into Hollywood, which only opened its arms to non-comedic adult animation in the last six years or so. The cyberpunk multi-media animated series for Ubisoft via Shankar’s Bootleg Universe label takes place in an alternate 1992, where the country formerly known as the USA is now called “Eden,” a technocracy ruled by propaganda and corruption. Super-soldier Dolph Laserhawk has just been betrayed by the love of his life, Alex Taylor, and locked up in Eden’s off-the-grid maximum security prison, Supermaxx. Dolph is forced to lead a team of rebel outcasts on undercover missions under the order of the prison's shadowy Warden.

The cast includes Nathaniel Curtis, Caroline Ford, Balak, Boris Hiestand, David Menkin, Mark Ebulué, Adi Shankar, Courtney Mae-Briggs, Glenn Wrage, and Daniel York Loh.

Check out the trailer here:

The six episodes, directed by Medhi Leffad, showcase a hostile world, cohabitated by humans and aliens, a dark reimagining of landmark franchises like Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, Far Cry, and Rayman. It’s Shankar’s attempt to continue his mission of cultural conversion to make all Netflix watchers believers in video game-animation-live-action hybrid storytelling, ironically, through a show about the discrimination of hybrid alien beast species. 

“This series is a celebration of mixed media animation, as well as gaming, and not just a particular era of gaming, but the entire culture,” notes Shankar, whose series includes 2D animation, hyper pixelated live-action, old-school Nintendo graphics and miniature characters, as well as rudimentary 3DCG car driving simulations. “The series is in a video game universe, after all, where you’ve got power-ups, bazookas, and Nintendo Super Scopes.”

He continues, “The way I saw it, cinema has had over a century to develop its language. So, there are tropes and cliches of cinema that everybody knows. My goal was to harness the language of gaming, to bring further innovation to the language of cinema. Because, if you're around my age, you've grown up experiencing this language and watching games evolve before your eyes. Laserhawk fuses these two creative worlds and allows us to explore new storytelling possibilities.”

When Shankar first moved to Los Angeles in 2008, he had an Excel spreadsheet of every piece of intellectual property that he loved as a child, from Voltron and G.I. Joe to Captain Crunch. His goal was to reimagine these worlds in new, dark, and violent universes, such as a crime movie with the Care Bears. But his pitches were continually met with rejection. 

“I kept getting, ‘Now’s not the time,’” remembers Shankar who, in the meantime was producing for live-action films from The Grey to Lone Survivor, but with animation staying his true passion and long-term goal. “After a while, I started feeling deflated, but I never lost hope. Eventually, I decided to make fan films and put them on YouTube. It was my rebellion against IP holders.”

Shankar’s Bootleg Universe channel on YouTube provided his first dive into animation with Judge Dredd: Superfiend, an animated re-interpretation of Judge Dredd in the form of a violent Saturday morning cartoon. Shankar also produced a short film called Power/Rangers Unauthorized, which explores the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in a dark timeline where the Rangers ultimately lost, starring James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff, with Carla Perez reprising her role as Rita Repulsa from various Power Rangers series from 1994 to 1998. 

That video garnered over 20 million views and affirmed Shankar that there was in fact an audience anxious for the same content he craved to create. People like the team at Bobbypills, a Paris animation studio who handled the animation production of Captain Laserhawk

Check out this animation test:

“Hugo Revon at Ubisoft met them and came to me saying, ‘These guys are your people,’” shares Shankar. “So, we hooked up and I knew right away that we grew up cracked out on the same cultural references. And we had so much fun. The team at the studio made up the Hybrids song from Episode 3 and would sing it all the time. Being there felt like being in the childhood I’d always wanted with the friends I had always wished for.”

Bobbypills is the first and only studio in Europe specializing in adult animation, having previously worked on series like Crisis Jung, Vermin, and Nymphopolis. Shankar, who frequented the studio during production, says he affectionately referred to the Bobbypills team as “a band of renegade pirates.”

“For Laserhawk’s visuals, the original pitch was a marriage between American Saturday morning cartoons, Japanese anime, and video games, but there's a plethora of ways to interpret that,” says Shankar. “Luckily, with Bobbypills, it was a constant series of ‘Yes, and…’ It was an effortless process. Not that it wasn’t tough. There was a lot to do here. But Bobbypills really got what we were going for and brought true creative genius to the project.”

Cross-pollinating the languages of cinema and gaming, Shankar’s notes his series harkens to the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s pessimistically styled storytelling, but reverse-engineered into an action series. Add on the 80s and 90s pop-culture references and it’s a lot to juggle. It’s good that Bobbypills was on the same wavelength as their creative leader. 

“Especially because I didn’t want the characters to feel standardized,” says Shankar. “When you look at a normal animated show, the characters are typically all variations on the same design. But, in our show, when you look at a character like Bullfrog and compare him to Alex Taylor, then compare those two to Rayman, it’s like they're coming from three different worlds. That was intentional. I wanted this to feel like one of those 90s crossover commercials where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles team up with Scooby-Doo and Batman. And Bobbypills expertly executed all of that better than I could have planned.”

Captain Laserhawk will be a hot dish of nostalgia for most viewers, but for Shankar most of all as he looks back at the roads paved which made this series release even possible. 

“It’s very cool and very gratifying because I remember when I was dropping the Bootleg shorts, people were like, ‘This dude's torching his career,’” shares Shankar. “Then a rapper friend said to me, ‘No, you were just sharing your mixtapes on the street. Then the record label came along.’”

That record label was Frederator and Powerhouse animation studios, willing to bring to life Shankar’s vision of an animated Game of Thrones, but with vampires. 30 days after Castlevania released and became known as a ‘cultural cornerstone,’ in adult animation, Shankar pitched Captain Laserhawk

“What Castlevania ultimately did was create an ecosystem where now there was a buyer for this stuff,” explains Shankar. “I never understood why we only had sitcoms for adult animation. Luckily, Castlevania blew up and gave me more room to play in the sandbox of dark nerd culture and create this love letter to all the things I love.”

Shankar also got to include some of his Power Rangers fandom into Captain Laserhawk, featuring the Niji 6, a masked rainbow-suited squad dedicated to fighting Eden traitors. Shankar himself voices for the team’s leader, Red.

“I’m creating art for my younger self, really, and making things I wish had existed,” he says. “The whole reason I'm into a lot of this culture is because it’s an exploration of the heart space. That’s what’s at the core.”

Since Castlevania, through Bootleg, Shankar has dappled in animated Bootleg videos for The Simpsons (How to Fix Apu Once and For All) and Pokémon (The End of Pokémon). Devil May Cry, an upcoming series member of the Bootleg Universe and based on the video game franchise of the same name by Capcom, has yet to announce a release date and Shankar’s determined to keep quiet about the production for now.  

“Part of me really wants to spill all the beans,” says Shankar. “But no. You’ll have to wait.” 

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at