Ranking Robots: The Secret War

Ranking Robots is the newest tri-weekly series that will be making its appearance on the site every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as I make my way through Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots. For those that are unaware of the Netflix Original, the show is a series of short stories that have to do with, you guessed it, Love, Death, and Robots. If anyone reading this ever saw the incredible collection of short films called the Animatrix (if you haven’t go check that out now) then you won’t have any trouble jumping into this new series.

They say that war is hell, but in the case of these soldiers, it’s unfortunately true. With every battle, no matter how well they’re prepared, they and the thousands upon thousands of other soldiers that fight for their lives on the blood-stained snow that covers the battlefield are never quite ready for the horrors that travel in flesh-hungry packs eating anything and anyone that they come across. The Secret War’s story is one of heartbreak and tragedy. Whether it be man vs man or man vs demon, the horrors of war are put front and center reminding the audience just what’s a stake every time this group of comrades falls into another battle.

No matter how much violence is shown though, it’s important to remember that none of it matters if the characters fighting to stop that violence are characters the audience can’t connect to. In what is probably the episode’s most impressive feat, The Secret War manages to create a heartfelt connection between the audience and its characters all while barely saying a word. From the subtle looks that the soldiers give one other after being reprimanded by their superior officer to the way that the troops not only fight for their survival but for the survival of their friends, everything comes together to create a near-perfect story. Yes, one could nit-pick that the monster designs are generic and that bringing something even remotely unique to the table would have given some weight to an argument that this might be the best episode of the show, but despite this being a review, I’m not very interested in nit-picking something that manages to do what this story does in under 15 minutes.

The Secret War, whether you think it’s the best or somewhere in the middle, should be appreciated for the story it tells and delivers on. Yes, I love Ant-Man, but it took two movies and the most charming actor in Hollywood to make it happen. In The Secret War, when a character whose name I don’t even know finds themselves in a situation where death seems imminent, I’m on the edge of my seat hoping the impossible can happen. Throughout the season there have been similar attempts at telling stories about conflicts that are already in progress and so often they failed at getting the audience engaged in what was happening. This story though does that with flying colors by simply giving me a flashback that couldn’t have lasted more than a minute, and it’s because of this that I firmly believe that this episode is a great example for anyone interested in writing short stories on how to do it the right way. I know animation is a difficult and time-consuming task… my talent limited to drawing Dragon Ball Z characters so I’m not judging, but if the show has taught me anything, it’s show don’t tell. Every time an episode has had to choose between these two options and the higher quality episode always chooses to show the audience the story.

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