Scavenger’s Reign – A Review

Scavenger’s Reign has finally been licensed internationally meaning I can now watch it legally in the UK for the first time. It’s a terrific show, in all senses of the word.

a black woman wearing utilitarian clothing sits on red ground in a bare landscape reading a book. She is surrounded by small white creatures and flowers.

The basic premise of Scavenger’s Reign is the characters are stranded after fleeing a sinking ship. In this case it’s not on a desert island, it’s an alien planet out in space, and the cargo vessel Demeter ran into a solar flare. The characters are split up and try to make their way back to the wreck so they can use an escape vessel to get back home, and on the way encounter and have to live with the horrors of that alien planet.

The journey is told with pretty sparing dialogue. Many scenes are long stretches without any speech, with the story expressed visually through the animation, the soundtrack and the sound effects. At times it can feel like watching a nature documentary.

The music switches between tense adventure, magical exploration, and sombre and melancholic moments, which fits well with the story being told. The base themes for the soundtrack are beautiful to listen to. The sound design can make a scene feel quite peaceful, but also incredibly horrific. I haven’t been quite as effected by sound effects this much since some of the zombie groans from half life 2. When they do speak the voice actors really shine. They did an incredible job in this.

The drawing style is beautiful and unique amongst a lot of other modern American animation which often can feel a bit homogenous. I have seen a lot of films that have bizarre alien worlds or worlds full of abstract plants and structures, but SR is the first I’ve watched in a while where both the fauna and the flora feel totally alien. They exist in an environment that in it’s strangeness carries a kind of logic. Throughout the show I feel teased with a vision of how the environment and the planet’s life cycle is made up and everything feels like it belongs and fits together. Except the humans, who are the only really alien thing left.
The designs are reminiscent of the more fantastical Ghibli movie creatures, turned up to 11.

The characters are engaging and the trouble and struggles they deal with never feels contrived. The journey before and after the disaster feels natural and lends a reality to the crew of the Demeter. It does feel like this is the kind of off-world risky job someone could take, and watching this at a time of heightened solar activity from our own sun also helps to sell the disaster that happened. Seeing a world fight back against the intrusion of humans is SR is quite fatalistic, the writers did a good job of making make me care for a character knowing that they’ll most likely die (often in a brutal way) within an episode or so. That can make for tough watching.

The growth of the characters and their relationships makes it so much easier to invest in them. My particular favourite must be Levi. A robot that starts to grow beyond its makers intent, and becomes one with the world it finds itself in. Aside from some stress at the start, Levi’s relationship with Azi feels unexpectedly wholesome given everything else in SR.

This is a cartoon which is very much not for children. In its themes and design it is for adults. And unlike many other, admittedly more commercially successful series, it doesn’t rely on sexual innuendo and crude comedy. I have nothing against either of those, but it is so refreshing to see a novel IP that tells a story through drama. This could have been live action, but I struggle to see how live action-CGI could have been as effective in showcasing the world. The imperfectness of pure animation makes it easier to let my brain fill in the gaps, suspend disbelief, and gives the animators more freedom to be free form outside of what is physically possible.

All of this praise makes it that much more painful to know that after season 1, the show was cancelled. The show mostly ends on a finished story but leaves a few loose ends and open questions. It is an insult to the art to see a work like this left unfinished, and an indictment of the wider industry that views this behaviour as normal. I thank the artists that made Scavengers Reign, and hope that they can complete their story at some time in the future. If you can watch it in your region, I highly recommend it.

† I would never condone using a trustworthy VPN such as Private Internet Access in order to access online piracy websites such as The Pirate Bay in order to download a show like Scavenger’s Reign that isn’t even for sale in your region, thereby making no difference to the economic status quo. Nuh-uh. Never would I recommend doing that.

‡ I’ve recently developed a fondness for fiction with living growing machines – The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells and The Pandominion by Mr Carey have been favourites as well.


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