A stranded spacefaring crew in a desolate tract of stars. A fatefully named ship and destination. Madness. Cosmic indifference. Tropes they may be, but just listing them makes me excited for any sci-fi project that treads those waters. Max’s recent animated epic Scavengers Reign navigates them perfectly. It’s the best sci-fi TV of the year. Were it a film, I might even give it the edge over The Creator, which I’m also a huge fan of. In fact, it deserves show of the year contention, regardless of genre.
Many years in the making, Scavengers Reign is a single-season TV show derived from a passion project called Scavengers, created by Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner and released in 2016. Check out the short; it will pay back your eight minutes with interest. The series’ plot is lean, mean, and stays that way across 12 episodes. The story’s only complications – beyond its simple Character vs Nature conflict – all stem from the incredible alien ecosystem conceived by the show’s creative team.
The back-of-the-box description is as simple as this: Five survivors of the interstellar cargo freighter Demeter 227 were scattered upon an abrupt collision with planet Vesta’s gravity well. The show begins as their ranking officer has succeeded in calling the escape ship down from orbit and all of them do their best to make their way to what they think is safety and a way home.
Beyond that, I’d do you no favors by sharing more. It is simultaneously the exact show you think it is and like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s ironic that the pre-release hype kept name-checking Annihilation, since Bennett and Huettner have talked publicly about reading that book and seeing its film adaptation while Scavengers Reign was in production. But that anecdote gives you a glimpse of how long and how lovingly this show was in production.
Its brand of flat, vibrant animation simply isn’t made anymore. Especially not in the West. And their flexible, remote workflow allowed for them to accept the artistry of a far-flung, international animation team. So I further love the visible influence of Moebius and his ligne claire style on the entire visual design of the show. Their love of the craft can be seen in every flutter of alien wings. Every breath of breeze that shimmers what we on Earth would call leaves. And, yes, every dripping throb from a wound or disease suffered by the Demeter’s crew.
And therein lies the true power of Scavengers Reign. Its artists fully realize what it takes to show the audience something truly alien. No flora or fauna gets so much as a few frames of screen time without us witnessing some small part of its role on planet Vesta. Sometimes a creature will reveal its rank on the food chain, while others make only furtive appearances, leaving you to wonder how common what you just saw was.
Nothing on planet Vesta behaves exactly like some analogue it might have in real life, and the writers made sure to force their castaways to deal with that uncertainty. We meet them in the opening scenes already having exploited the plants and animals of Vesta that are useful to them, painting them as savvy survivors, but also hostile invaders. Given the setting, our protagonists are the true aliens here. They have to guess at each encounter whether to fight bitterly against or try to ingratiate themselves to the Vestans for just another day with their reluctant host.
I can’t recommend Scavengers Reign enough. It’s worth the price of a month of Max all on its own with all episodes already available. Have you watched it? Give me your take in the comments or come digest it with all of us at the Boss Rush Discord!
Featured Image: Max
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