Pirates, treasure, spaceships, robots, and an undercurrent of transhumanist critique—Moscow-based animator Vitaliy Shushko's whip-fast animated sci-fi adventure short X-Story has it all. Created over the course of two years by Shushko and a small team of animators, the comic artist's 13-minute short film debut has the look of an early 2000s Disney movie (think Atlantis or Treasure Planet), but with a heaping helping of grotesquery and acerbic Russian wit.
X-Story follows a ruthless treasure hunter with a bionic arm as he hunts for ancient technology in a futuristic universe that draws fiercely from the megacities of Blade Runner and Akira. It opens with a gritty neon palette, including a flashy advertisement for a robotic prosthetics. "Cast away that rotting piece of flesh you call an 'arm,'" reads a billboard shilling for the Power Arm 5X. That's exactly what our protagonist seems to have done. His left arm shines metalically as he acquires a treasure map and journies to a remote tower in the desert to seek his fortune.
The action sequences that follow will thrill anyone who grew up playing platformers like Metroid or Prince of Persia. The treasure hunter navigates obstacles, climbs walls, and in the boss fight he must quickly analyze a giant robot's strenghths and weaknesses in order to defeat it. "This should be a videogame [sic], same art style and all," one commenter glows.
Exquisitely detailed animation style supports a story layered with irony and dark comedy, from lowbrow jokes about bodily functions to multiple reversals in what the audience knows about both our hero and the treasure he seeks. It also sets up a concise, if heavy-handed, commentary on the dangers of adopting technology at the expense of humanity. Shushko accomplishes all this without a single line of dialogue, limiting his voice acting to the ocassional grunt and one blood-curdling shriek. X-Story is visual storytelling at its finest.
The independent animator has been posting his progress on a blog since he announced the film in January 2015, but early concepts appear in his work as early as 2011. That work has clearly paid off, since the film has been shared far and wide since he released it last month, including the POW! WOW! Worldwide Instagram where we found it. His previous work includes motion comics with a cyberpunk aesthetic and numerous tributes to greats like Batman and Hellboy, whose influence on X-Story is clear.