Watanabe shows short storytelling mastery in Blade Runner Blackout 2022
Blade Runner 2049 has seen a slew of short prequel stories released ahead of it’s October 6th premiere and they’ve been wetting the collective palates of an eager fanbase. They reintroduce the world, it’s themes, and the plot of the new movie before it seeks to add a new chapter to the original 1980’s sci-fi film.
With Shinichiro Watanabe’s animated Blade Runner Blackout 2022 you’ll be taken on a whirlwind trip of outstanding story telling while learning more about the universe and it’s nuances that Blade Runner occupies.
If you haven’t already watched Watanabe’s animated short you can check it out below before we jump into the analysis.
It’s a show not a tell
Good storytelling should adhere to a principle of unfolding through action and setting rather than narration, and nowhere has this been taken more to heart than in Manga. In Manga, a story can be told without a character or narrative voice for many pages. This method crossed into Anime and gained a more condensed version of the same ability.
Watanabe is at ease in a world that influenced his own creation of Cowboy Bebop. A sincere fan of the original Blade Runner, Watanabe’s visit to this setting feels natural and immediately satisfying. Teasers can be a let down for some who seek a more intricate story, but not so in this fifteen minute animated piece.
In Blade Runner Blackout 2022, Watanabe masters the Manga method, giving the audience an assist to fill in backstory and providing empathy for each character. Their relationships to one another are revealed using emoted reactions that show these beings to have intense feelings and complex identities.
In fair Verona where we lay our scene
The return to the familiar Los Angeles megatropolis that sparked imagination more than twenty years ago is at its best in this animated installment. Viewers can once more be intoxicated by a a city full of sultry neon nights, polluted sunset haze, and gritty scenery tinted with charcoal and ochre.
Blade Runner Blackout 2022 takes us very near to the original film chronologically, a mere three years afterward. This story is focused on two Replicants, Tribe and Iggy, and human sympathizer Ren, who conspire to bring down the power grid and all hard copy backups that hold Replicant identities on file.
The music box melodies provided by Flying Lotus fill in the dialogue gaps to provide a mood that ties the seductive jazz of the original film seamlessly to this prologue of its sequel. An element of Blade Runner that surely enthralled and influenced a young Watanabe as he tied his own love of music to his creations.
Through a glass darkly
Trixie is a dreamer. She shares her curiosity with those she trusts by asking questions that hint at a hopeful perspective, which seems contrary to her life experience as a receptacle for human desire. Trixie is eager to learn and her movements can be seen as subtle clues to her flowering consciousness such as removing her hood before springing to action. Her trust in her co-conspirators and friends is evident in reassuring smiles and leaning her head on a lap.
The human, Ren, is plainly enamored with Trixie, though he never says so. Ren describes replicants as the perfected version of humanity, and in doing so reveals his more human attributes of self loathing, guilt, and the need for acceptance that informs his decision to become a domestic terrorist. Ren seems a sensitive soul, but he is undaunted by the consequences of turning against his own kind for the Replicants right to exist.
We can see that Iggy has a righteous desire for justice when he encounters Trixie on the streets of Los Angeles. He uses his experience as an off-world soldier to save her from a trio of men.
Iggy then takes on a role as a mentor. Though we never see the weeks between their meeting and the mission, he shares his trauma, his wisdom, and philosophy of living with Trixie. Later, his expression is all that we have to fill in Iggy’s sadness and regret in loosing Trixie to the cause, but also a renewed determination to live with the freedom she died for.
All of these elements take seconds or fractions thereof to relate their significance to the viewer. This method of storytelling sets a pace perfect for the short story that is engrossing and deeply satisfying for an audience who could be left wanting more if it weren’t for the intentional focus on character’s motivation and inner life that Watanabe discloses so expertly.
Image Credits: Sony Pictures Japan, Blade Runner Blackout 2022