Memory is survival in Polygon Pictures and Hiroyuki Seshita’s worthy post-apocalyptic tale.
In another post-apocalyptic tale in which machines and AI have turned on humanity, Blame! reminds us that a now common plot structure doesn’t have to produce a predictable and overtly recycled story.
After a virus infected the automated processes of The City, which provided everything – every need – for humans, its AI algorithms began replicating and expanding The City’s infrastructure indefinitely. In this never-ending urban sprawl, humans lost their ability to interface with and control technology. Worse still, all humans have been deemed illegal residents, entities to be hunted down and eradicated by the Safeguard, the killing machines that protect The City’s core intelligence.
When did that event, the virus occur? No one knows how many years have passed. Memory, though faint, is all there is. But now the Electrofishers, a small community of humans that have not had contact with others for generations, are running out of food. The last bit of tech they have are mostly enhanced suits of body armour and long rifles that shoot iron nails. These suits, however, are limited in number and not sustainable forever. On a routine mission looking for food, a small group of Electrofishers comes across Killy, a wanderer that is on a mission to restore the connection between humans and The City.
Yes, it kind of sounds like we’ve heard this one before. Be that as it may, Blame! gets going quickly, and neither Skynet nor the Matrix lingers in your brain for long – and as a sci-fi manga, Blame! was on the shelf before the Matrix hit the big screen. No, this film adaptation directed by Hiroyuki Seshita and written by Tsutomu Nihei and Sadayuki Murai, based on Nihei’s original manga, is essentially a great sci-fi western. That lone gunman rallying a small town for the purpose of survival is the concept at the heart of this film. The character of Killy and his interaction with the Electrofishers is even reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s “Preacher” in Pale Rider. Or to put it better, because Japanese cinema has a long and well-documented history with the American Western genre, Blame! often seems to take a few cues from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo or even Okamoto’s Sword of Doom. Killy is himself (as his name conveys) a one man killing machine. But this chance encounter not only introduces an opportunity to find more food, but the possibility to change the future of humanity.
Overall, Blame! is indeed a refreshing take on the “AI is out to destroy humans” plot structure because it’s not really new. As noted above, Blame! was conceived in the late 90’s and is part of those story driven tech worlds that look back to influencers such as the original Ghost in the Shell – whose manga release was in 1989 – in which action never comes before character/story; the two should ideally have a symbiotic relationship. And so as Killy takes the Electrofishers on a specific journey to replenish their food supplies, saving and restoring humanity’s prior position isn’t the point in the end. Saving the Electrofishers is.
With a few nice plot twists and, more importantly, no deus ex machina at the last minute to solve a problem festering for generations, Blame! leaves you with the feeling that this story isn’t over, that we've just been privy to a vital point in this human and post-machine apocalyptic tale. Polygon Pictures Inc. also get kudos for maintaining a good balance between CG and the tech artistry, the detail, we’ve come to expect from great anime.
Available through Viz Media and currently streaming on Netflix, Blame! gets it right. This film adaptation is definitely worth your time, and it might even point you in the direction of its earlier manga series.