December 13, 2019

Love, Death & Robots “Sonnie’s Edge” Review | Off the Beaten Path

For those of you still reading after my first post, thank you for reading this far! Be forewarned, there will be spoilers in this review (and every review for that matter). If you haven’t seen the episode I would recommend watching it, it’s only 17 minutes long so it’s not a large commitment. So without further ado, let’s talk about episode 1, Sonnie’s Edge.

The Episode Summary

Based on a short story of the same name by Peter F. Hamilton, the episode follows “beastie brawler” Sonnie and her beast Khanivore. Within the world of post-apocalyptic London, people battle genetically modified beasts piloted by mental connection ala Avatar in gladiatorial matches to the death. Sonnie, a woman hardened by a past horrific assault that made her a shell of her former self in more ways than one and fresh off a long hot streak, arrives at the venue with her crew.

After arriving they meet the venue ringmaster and his mistress. The ringmaster asks her if she’d be willing to take a dive for a large cut of the winnings. Unsurprisingly Sonnie refuses. Sonnie and Khanivore then face off with the ringmaster’s fighter, and after a harrowing battle come out on top. Sonnie must then face off against the wrath of the ringmaster and must reveal the secret to her edge to survive outside of the ring.

My Thoughts

When I watched Sonnie’s Edge back in March, I thought it was rather bland. It suffered from what I would call “Oats Syndrome” (based off of the short films of Neil Blomkamp’s Oats Studio). If I had to define “Oats Syndrome”, I would define it by the following symptoms. The premise is interesting, but the story suffers from rushing plot developments and characterization due to the compactness of being a short film to the point of hamfistedness.

In other words, I thought Sonnie’s Edge was near the back of the pack. When I would read about it online afterward, however, many people loved it. They called it one of the best shorts, and one of the most commonly requested to be expanded into a spinoff series. I didn’t understand their love of the short. When I rewatched it, I started to see what the fans were talking about.

Sure, on rewatch my criticisms remained the same. Much of Sonnie’s backstory is told in a quick summation with the subtlety of an anvil to the forehead rather than naturally and gradually shown. Safe to say the rest of the dialogue isn’t much better. As a screenwriter, this kind of “tell don’t show” storytelling annoys me to no end and is something I try to avoid at all costs.

The story feels rather cookie cutter. It’s essentially Butch’s story in Pulp Fiction mixed with the mental piloting aspect of Avatar with all the tropes you would expect. This means that nothing besides the final twist about Sonnie’s edge is at all surprising. It’s something a writer would write up in an intro to creative writing class.

Lastly, the CGI animation is rather bland compared to many episodes down the line. Animated by Studio Blur, the animation is serviceable to the point of not looking uncanny (Sonnie’s design even reminds me of the Navi in Avatar), but it reminds me most of a very solid looking PS4 game cutscene.

That said after I rewatched it some aspects emerged that made me understand why some people loved it. While the dialogue was pretty unsubtle and ham-fisted, it was only really characterization that was affected. The worldbuilding, in turn, was handled much more naturally handled through quick, natural dialogue and the animation. It brought me into the world of the episode rather than take me out.

The sex in the episode wasn’t as hastily thrown compared to other episodes. Late in the episode, the ringmaster’s mistress plays the role of femme fatale, seducing Sonnie to get close enough to kill her after the fight. In other words, sex has a narrative purpose beyond mere titillation (just barely, but it’s there).

The twist of Sonnie’s edge is well made. Sonnie’s assault left her so broken that to survive they had to implant her brain into Khanivore, leaving Sonnie’s human form as the remote-controlled being. Her edge then is that every fight is a true fight to the death. This is a truly compelling side to her characterization and adds some dimension.

The fight is easily the best part of the episode. Studio Blur did a great job of animating a fight that reveals aspects of the characterization of both fighters. We see Khanivore’s scrappy yet graceful control, Turboraptor’s wild blundering that conceals a cunning and deadly side, and Khanivore’s resolve to survive. The fight itself is truly dynamic without being disorienting, it keeps you on the edge of your toes, and it moves along the plot. In short, everything a good movie fight should be.

In Conclusion

Altogether, this made me want more. The story feels like it stopped just as it began, but instead of being frustrated at its truncation I just wanted to see more of this world than the 17-minute glimpse we got. It felt like it could have easily been 30 minutes, and I’d still likely want more.

To conclude my thoughts on this rewatch of Sonnie’s Edge, a lot of my criticisms remained the same, and I bet they always will. However, the positives shone brighter, pulling this up to solidly in the middle of the pack by being an entertaining watch despite its lack of subtlety and uniqueness.

My Recommendation: Recommend with Caveats 

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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