Scavengers Reign – Soulful Sci-Fi

Scavengers Reign – Soulful Sci-Fi

Perhaps the greatest joy I had at NYCC last year was getting the opportunity to see Scavengers Reign before its release on Max ahead of my roundtable chat with the creative team. This 12-episode animated series is easily one of the most challenging, artful, and addictive sci-fi creations I’ve seen in years. It crawls under your skin and into your brain moving at its own pace and with great purpose. What started as a wordless 8-minute short animated film created by Joe Bennett has been meticulously woven into a visual and auditory masterpiece. Perhaps lost in the crowded Max interface, Scavengers Reign didn’t find its audience and was canceled. It has, however, been given a second life at Netflix. The first season is now streaming and there is now hope for more. I implore you to seek it out and watch.

I spent much of the first few episodes simply marveling at how everything was conceptualized; how it all fit together in a wonderfully abstract but somehow rational way. Scavengers Reign evokes Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, 2001, Alien, and even Cronenberg. It speaks to so much of the science fiction that has come before it while carving out something meditative and altogether different. It’s a series that speaks softly but with great confidence so you have to move in closer, get more intimate, and really listen. It is exceedingly rare to have so little idea where you are headed next so consistently within serialized television, especially animation. Scavengers Reign is special.

The series drops you into the middle of a survival story. Several crew members have evacuated their ship, the Demeter 227, landing on the savage and beautiful planet, Vester. They are scattered and we don’t know how long they’ve been stranded. It’s most likely been several weeks, possibly a few months. They have adapted as best they can and all, independently from one another set out to make their way back to the wreckage after the cargo ship’s Captain Sam and his fellow crew member, horticulturist, Ursula manage to get the ship out of orbit and on solid ground. Our second pair of survivors is cargo specialist Azi and one of the ship’s droids, Levi. Finally, Kamen, tortured by his own ambition and the downfall of his marriage to Fiona is stranded on his own, isolated, until he encounters a telepathic and telekinetic creature from Vester – Hollow.

What little explanation I’ve given you is really more than the show does to start. One of the most clever things Scavengers Reign does is to give you enough for your brain to start asking questions while declining to spoon-feed a single word. From episode one you are backfooted and trying to piece together the timeline, the relationships, the how and why. This all keeps you from looking too far ahead. Furthermore, the tranquil and hypnotic score by Nicholas Snyder beautifully accompanies the action without telegraphing what or how you should feel at any moment. The sound design of Scavengers Reign is grotesquely elegant, sharp, and emotive. Coupled with Snyder’s meditative music it is a completely transfixing and immersive experience even when watching, as I had to, on my laptop.

Scavengers Reign is about survival, yes, but it is also about community and the deep and intimate interconnectedness of everything around us. It is about the human condition from its highest point – companionship, endurance, kindness, trust – as much as it is also about our lowest points – greed, gluttony, betrayal, selfishness. It beautifully animates the contagion of humanity in all its forms – the good, the bad, the ugly. It makes no judgments nor does it get caught monologuing on how we should be or what we should strive for. It is simply, as the greatest sci-fi is, a mirror taking in the alien unknown and reflecting back our own nature.

All 12 episodes of Scavengers Reign are now streaming on Netflix.

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