Scavengers Reign, an original HBO Max animated series that debuted in October, is based on a 2016 short film, Scavengers, created by Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner. The series revolves around the survivors of a crashed spaceship called the Demeter 227, who are now stranded on Vesta, an alien planet.
The storyline certainly doesn’t seem all that original on its surface until you consider some fascinating details about the series overall. First, there’s the incredible and complex world-building of flora, fauna, and weather patterns. There’s hideous-looking plants that extract DNA and provide air-lifts, fungi that give off spore clouds that can dissolve flesh, and freakish storms that project deadly metal shards. And yet, these survivors have barely batted an eye at this complex, extraterrestrial environment. They have thrived on it, adapted to it, and accepted it –still hoping to find their way back to their crashed spaceship and return to normality.
But there’s a problem. You see, not all of these characters are together, as the crew members were cast off to different locations of Vesta when the ship crashed, so we are given constant cut-away vignettes for each group or individual. Ursula, the ship’s botanist (Sunita Mani), and Sam (Bob Stephenson), the commander of the Demeter 227, are surrounded by intense wilderness they must traverse to get back to the ship. Azi (voiced by Wunmi Mosaku) and her robot companion Levi (voiced by Alia Shawkat) are constantly bickering with each other due to Levi’s faulty programming, while in another corner of the world, poor Kamen (voiced by Ted Travelstead), trying to come to terms over the loss of his estranged wife, relies on a telepathic alien creature to conjure her up again.
The fluid animation reminds me much of the old days of 1970s rotoscoping, made famous in movies like Heavy Metal or Fire and Ice. The precise lining and fully-developed pastel colors are prevalent throughout, lacking vibrancy and depth, giving the series a Weird Tales or Tales From the Crypt feel, a homage to the pulp comics of the age.
It is the intricate storylines that capture attention the most. Throughout the series, we are given little bits and pieces of information, and we must process it all to get the full story of each character’s origins and present situations. Kamen’s dilemma especially drives me almost to tears, watching this man move closer and closer to ultimate self-destruction and yet finding a way to hold his mind together to continue his own journey to the spaceship, and all the way tormented by an alien lizard mentally feeding off his confusion.
Don’t look for much happiness in this series, nor should you second-guess how it all plays out. Scavengers Reign is exactly as it should be: gloomy, somber, and a bit cringy at times, with a little ray of hope in each episode. You won’t come across many shows like this one. It’s not often that a series can dazzle our minds, tug at our hearts, and jangle our nerves all at once. This is a perfect animation series for the sci-fi/fantasy lovers in all of us, and for Rotten Tomatoes to give it a 100% score, you know it’s got to be amazing.