Given how influential the original Blade Runner was on the cyberpunk genre and anime as a medium, it’s a wonder nobody thought to develop an anime series set in the world of Blade Runner before now. (I am speaking of television series, of course, being well familiar with the short anime film Black Out 2022.) Blade Runner: Black Lotus certainly has a distinguished creative team behind it, including Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe, Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama. This may explain why, based on the first two episodes, the series seems to work better as an anime than as a continuation of the Blade Runner setting.
Set in the year 2032, some ten years after replicants were completely outlawed on Earth and in the off-world colonies, Blade Runner: Black Lotus centers around Elle, an amnesiac young woman, who travels to Los Angeles seeking her home based on what few scattered memories she has of street art on the sides of buildings. Her only other link to her identity is an advanced piece of data storage technology. The only other thing Elle remembers is how to fight, showing an amazing aptitude for combat that allows her to fight multiple gang members simultaneously.
It spoils little to reveal that Elle is a replicant. Yet apart from cameos by Blade Runner 2049 characters like Doc Badger and Niander Wallace Jr. there is little to mark Black Lotus as a Blade Runner production. Even the classic images of the advertisements projected on the sides of skyscrapers and various denizens with LED umbrella handles seem like they could have come from any tech-dystopia anime. Presumably this may improve as the series continues and the story builds upon what Elle discovers about her past and the reason for her existence.
Thankfully, Blade Runner: Black Lotus works perfectly well on its own terms. The animation is solid throughout and the action sequences are engaging. The voice acting is generally serviceable in both the English and Japanese versions, though I must profess a preference for watching the Japanese version with subtitles. I don’t have any strong opinions on the sub vs. dub debate, but some of the English actors are clearly uncomfortable working with only their voice and sound like an actor in a sound booth rather than a real person. Thankfully, that performance issue is a minor glitch and only involves a few supporting characters and not the leads. While fans of the film may not feel Blade Runner: Black Lotus does enough to establish itself as a part of the franchise, anime fans will appreciate it for what it is and I’m confident it will distinguish itself in time.