In anticipation for the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, Denis Villeneuve tapped a few of his favourite directors to fill in the gaps between Ridley Scott's original sci-fi classic and 2049 with a trilogy of short films. The first two—2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run—were directed by Ridley's son, Luke, and shed some light on the years leading up to 2049, including Niander Wallace's (Jared Leto) attempt to remove a ban on the synthetic humans known as replicants.
Now available to watch on Crunchyroll, the third and final film, directed by Cowboy Bebop's Shinichiro Watanabe and scored by Flying Lotus, fills in the urgent backstory on why that ban was enacted in the first place.
Black Out 2022 is set three years after the events of Blade Runner in the same myopic Los Angeles metropolis Detective Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) patrolled, with one key difference. The Tyrell Corporation has begun producing replicants that live natural lifespans. They're indistinguishable from humans except for a serial number on their eyeballs and a database that stores all their identities.
In the short, a series of moody voiceovers and "archival footage"—recalling the robo-phobic riots of The Animatrix—summarizes the resulting tension between humans and their synthetic counterparts. It then follows Trixie and Iggy, a couple of militarized replicants who want to close the gap between themselves and humans with a _Mr. Robot_-style revolution. After hijacking an oil tank truck, infiltrating a missile launch, and facing off against armed guards, they may have succeeded—but at a high cost.
Watanabe is a natural choice to direct an anime prequel to the film. His work, including "gateway anime" Cowboy Bebop, is among a class of 1980s and 90s cyberpunk anime that has long been compared to Blade Runner for its bleak urban setting and fixation on the difficult questions technology presents humanity.
"Blade Runner was definitely the movie that influenced me most as a director," he says in a teaser for Black Out 2022. "I was careful about two things when creating this anime piece. The first was to pay the greatest respect to the original Blade Runner. The second was to make this anime true to the world, but not an imitation."
With Blade Runner: 2049 just a couple of weeks away, Watanabe's take on the neon dystopia sets up the primary conflict between equality-seeking replicants and the humans who seem to endorse Niander Wallace's analysis that, "Every leap of civilization was built off the back of slaves."
You can watch 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run online now, as well as a special look inside the making of Blade Runner 2049 and an interview with its stars, before the film hits theaters on October 6.