The run-up to Blade Runner 2049, befitting what now looks like the cinematic event of the decade, has consisted of not just marketing hype (though it does include plenty of that) but genuine artistic material as well. Last month we featured Nexus: 2036, the first of three short “prequels” to Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Blade Runner sequel. That one and its follow up 2048: Nowhere to Run, both directed by Luke Scott (son of Blade Runner director Ridley Scott), use live action to fill in some of the story between the 2019 of the first movie and the 2049 of the second. The just-released third short, Black Out 2022, from Cowboy Bebop director Shinichirō Watanabe, brings the Blade Runner universe into the realm of Japanese animation.
“Blade Runner was definitely the movie that influenced me the most as an anime director,” says Watanabe in the preview of his prequel down below. He and other Japanese viewers understood the film’s power long before most anyone in the West (with the notable exception of Philip K. Dick, author of its source material), and Japanese artists began paying tribute to it almost immediately.
In a sense, Blade Runner took anime form thirty years ago: Katsuhito Akiyama’s animated series Bubblegum Crisis, the story of artificial humans (called “booomers” instead of replicants) run amok and the advanced police team (called “Knight Sabers” instead of “Blade Runners”) who hunt them down in a Tokyo of the future rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake, could hardly wear its influence more openly.
Filled with visual, sonic, and thematic references to the original Blade Runner while taking the story in new directions — and also introducing two new replicant characters — Watanabe’s Black Out 2022–viewable up top–depicts the events leading up to the detonation of an electromagnetic pulse that destroys the electronics and machinery on which humanity has become so reliant. Humanity blames the replicants, and so begins a period of prohibition on replicant production, only brought to an end by the efforts of Niander Wallace, the character so eerily played by Jared Leto in Nexus: 2036. Blade Runner 2049 will pick things up 26 years after the EMP attack. What shape will Los Angeles be in then? What shape will the cat-and-mouse game between replicants and Blade Runners take there? We’ll find out, and surely in no small amount of detail, next month.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.