Score one for another count of this anthology shooting itself in the foot with it’s insatiable desire to be grown. Legit just make this on the level of an episode of Legend of Korra or something and it’d be way better. This episode was directed by Oliver Thomas from a script by Philip Gelatt.
Alright, this one’s pretty cute. It’s about equally gross as well. Any story about the stoic man who has to keep rescuing the flighty girl who keeps getting into trouble will kinda be. But when the girl’s a furry fox girl sex witch clockwork cyborg who wants to kill colonialist oppressors, I’m on her side. It’s almost definitely someone on the production team’s very specific fetish, but y’know, it intersects with enough of mine that I’ll allow it.
I guess what puts it on my side of the cancellation line is how they treat the character of the guy. He’s never overtly presented as being in love with this girl, they’re just kinda friends, we are invited into a few episodes where their lives cross and they both act fairly chill around each other. She’s not the one that got away, or the girl to save him from a life of banality, she has a life which exists independently in the narrative to his.
Of course, what is not allowed to exist independently is… Her body. Chalk that up as another time this series blatantly objectifies it’s women characters. Of course the lead creative team are yet again entirely men. She exists, seemingly perpetually, in a state of partial clothedness with the camera readily placed to leer over her body. When she reveals that the cost of living has now extended to her flesh body, we are introduced to the robotic one vagina first, which doesn’t actually seem the best way of communicating the horror of what has happened.
The woman is a huli jing, a shapeshifting, nine tailed fox spirit. We meet her when a hunter kills her mother and his son befriends her, saving her life. The symbolism is obvious, as an icon of tradition in a rapidly modernising country, her powers gradually begin to fade. Ken Liu, the author of the short story upon which the film is based is generally heralded as one of the founders of silkpunk fiction (steampunk, but for Chinese antiquity) and it shows.
The design of this flick is pretty immaculate. Like, you can see the imperfect blending of 2D and 3D elements, the lip sync is sometimes very concerning, but the look is so damn juicy. I’m always gonna be a sucker for dirigibles and funiculars and little fancy automata, and the way that this film slowly layers them in is really charming. I’d wanna read more opinions before I speak to it, but the open dialogue that it has with the history of British colonialism helped stave off the worst fears of Orientalism on the part of the filmmakers.
I suppose this fits in with the series’ running theme of being generally sex negative, and specifically sex worker negative. The way that it presents its lead (the woman obviously, because the man’s story is non-existent) as wholly lacking agency over her situation feels a little reductive. She doesn’t only exist to be pitied by this dude, except the pervasive male gaze is only capable of seeing her in that way. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to reading into interesting women in media that insists on shoving the blandest of men to the fore.
All those manic pixie dream girl films I watched as a teenager, desperately thinking, ‘I wish I could be her.’ I know it’s problematic but sometimes you gotta give in and just let yourself be allowed one. If it tells you anything at all, the film ends just as its lead is about to start enacting revenge in her new body, because that’s when the boy goes from merely being extraneous to absent from the plot.
Love, Death & Robots is currently available to stream via Netflix.
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