REVIEW: ‘Love Death & Robots’ Volume 2 is Simply Stunning

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Love Death & Robots Volume 2
Love Death & Robots Volume 2 stills from L to R: “Ice,” “All Through the House,” “Snow in the Desert,” and “The Drowned Giant.”

Love Death & Robots first aired on Netflix two years ago in 2019. A collection of animated shorts, the series was created by Tim Miller and director David Fincher after years of wanting to make adult animated features and short films at his animation house Blur Studio. That first volume? Well, it was stunning. A flex of all that adult animation can offer with blends of 3D CGI, hyper-stylized 2D art, and even some hyperrealism in there as well. Now, Love Death & Robots Volume 2 is here, and wow, does it expand on the work done in the first volume of the anthology series.

For Love Death & Robots Volume 2, Miller was joined by Jennifer Yuh Nelson as Supervising Director. Together they were able to find a collection that is not just diverse in background but also in style and message. Across eight episodes, ranging in length from four to 15 minutes, we see explorations of violence, trauma, philosophy, and even humor. The variation of themes and animation brings emotion and awe in equal measure. There is a balance to the Volume that thrives in the variations of genre showcased. But, because it is a collection of unique works, it is also hard to review.

The series opens with dark humor, in “Automated Customer Service.” Directed by Meat Dept (Kevin Dan Ver Meiren, David Nicolas, Laurent Nicolas) and animated by Atoll Studio, based on a story by John Scalzi, this one focuses on what happens when technology takes over and a woman and her dog makes it onto her vacuum clean-up list. This short offers up a brilliant element of realism when it comes to texture, but stretch it into a hyper-stylized design for humans. Then, from humor Love Death & Robots Volume 2 dives into fantasy and familial ties in “Ice,” directed by Robert Valley and animation company Passion Pictures, based on a story by Rich Larson. Here we see a world that I was desperate to jump into. In 10-minutes we saw a culture and a language and sibling bond that I immediately wanted to see stretched out into a full series. With stunning animation that gave me nostalgia for series like Samurai Jack

But after two lighter entries, Love Death & Robots Volume 2 dives into gritty dystopian science fiction, a world where immortality is achieved and children are outlawed with the 15-minutes “Pop Squad.” Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, animated by Blur Studio, and based on a story by Paolo Bacigalupi, “Pop Squad” is stunning from beginning to end. With fabric that looks like fabric and a near-realistic vision of life, the slight stylization elements on characters help this animation hold a unique quality among the other realistically animated entries in this volume. As one of the longer shorts, “Pop Squad” is one that drives emotion with a three-act structure that makes you forget that you were watching a short film.

Immediately following “Pop Squad” we see another thrilling dystopian story that also deals with immortality—only, it couldn’t be more different. Directed by Leon Berelle, Dominique Boidin, Remi Kozyra, Maxime Luere and animated by Unit Image, “Snow in the Desert” is another one of the longer shorts in the anthology. Based on the story by Neal Asher, this short is packed with action, stunning character designs for human-like characters, and detail so realistic that you can see the pores on each character’s skin. Additionally, the danger and romance is shown in “Snow in the Desert” are breathtaking and at moments, heartbreaking. The landscapes as well feel so real that you can feel the cold and the wind.

And then Love Death & Robots Volume 2 switches gears for an animation style that feels like an oil painting with del Torian monsters added in as well with “The Tall Grass.” This one is directed by Simon Otto, animated by Axis Animation, and based on a story by Joe Lansdale. While this short treads a path already walked by many films and books, it does so with enough variance to paint a new horror hiding in the tall grass. And, at just 8-minutes in length, it’s short and to the point in the best way.

As the volume reaches its last three shorts, the tone and focus shift and presents the most disparate section of the series. First, is the four-minute-long “All Through the House” which asks what would Santa do if you weren’t good? It’s a cute and hilarious short directed by Elliot Dear, animated by Blink Industries, and based on a story by Joachim Heijndermans. Not too many words are needed for it, but its existence is a note of levity in a fairly heavy series.

Love Death & Robots Volume 2 stills from
Love Death & Robots Volume 2 stills from L to R: “Automated Customer Service,” “Pop Squad,” “Life Hutch,” and “The Tall Grass.”

Then finally Love Death & Robots Volume 2 ends with a one-two punch that brings a hard sci-fi short and a philosophical one as well. First is “Life Hutch” which stars Michael B. Jordan in animation so real, I had to pause multiple times to look at scenes carefully. Directed by Alex Beaty and based on a story by Harlan Ellison, this is the second animation from Bur Studio in the volume. Ever wanted to see Jordan as a space marine? Well, this is your chance. It is also one of the fastest-paced of the volume. Then finally, we see the fantastical showcased with “The Drowned Giant.” A story from J.G. Ballard, and also animated by Blur, this short is directed by the series creator Miller and puts mortality under a microscope with a giant human washed ashore.

As a finale to the volume, “The Drowned Giant” packs a big punch, showcasing the way even the awe-inspiring becomes novel once the shine leaves it. It’s a touching short that is narrated by a man working his way to confront the stunning only to watch it fall into the mundane by the time he chooses to embrace it. As a story, it exemplifies how we all view arts, and large moments in our lives overall.

Truthfully, each short feels like part of a whole. They all work together despite the glaring difference in style and tone. In fact, it feels as if Love Death & Robots Volume 2 is even more varied in theme than the first volume in 2019. And yet, there is a cohesion that other anthology series strive for but sometimes miss. But maybe that’s because this series deals with small stories, shorter even than traditional television episodes. That cohesion may also be pushed by the fact that each short holds its own, and while there are standouts like “Snow in the Desert,” “Pop Squad,” and “The Tall Grass,” to say that there is a weak short among the bunch just isn’t true.

Overall, Love Death & Robots Volume 2 fires on all cylinders. It’s a stunning testament to adult animation, the depth of story it can tell, and nails exactly how to craft an anthology series. With a third installment coming in 2022, I can’t help but be excited for more weirdness, more camp, more emotion, and just more stunning animated shorts.

Love Death & Robots Volume 2 is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.

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TL;DR

Overall, Love Death & Robots Volume 2 fires on all cylinders. It’s a stunning testament to adult animation, the depth of story it can tell, and nails exactly how to craft an anthology series. With a third installment coming in 2022, I can’t help but be excited for more weirdness, more camp, more emotion, and just more stunning animated shorts.