Artistic Wonders: Animated Prequels That Provide Insightful Back Stories To Shows Such As ‘Blade Runner 2049’ And ‘Train to Busan’

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‘Blade Runner Black Out 2022’ [Credit: Warner Bros]

Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford may not have been the box office hit that its producers and diehard fans hoped for, but it is still a remarkable film in more ways than one. For instance, it is a rare recent film that has not one but three short prequels commissioned to provide back stories to events that happened between Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic, which took place in 2019, and Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, set 30 years later.

Directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley), the first two prequels 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run provide background stories on the characters Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), both of whom featured in Blade Runner 2049. But it’s the third prequel, the animated short titled Blade Runner Black Out 2022, that created the most buzz.

An Animated Prequel: ‘Blade Runner Black Out 2022’

Set in Los Angeles three years after the original Blade Runner, the action-packed short tells of how after mobs of angry humans start killing replicants with natural life-spans. Two Nexus 8 replicants – military combat model Iggy and pleasure model Trixie – decide to fight back by creating a massive power outage that became known as the Great Blackout of 2022, “a darkness the humans have never seen.”

Brilliantly animated, the 15-minute prequel is written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop fame. The clip also offers a few callbacks to the original Blade Runner, such as Trixie’s acrobatic skills – which is reminiscent of Daryl Hannah’s Pris – while LAPD blade runner Gaff is voiced by the original actor, Edward James Olmos.

However, Blade Runner 2049 is not the first cinematic production to have an animated prequel specifically made to provide a backstory for viewers. If you loved the concept. here are a few other fantastic animated prequels that may be of interest.

1. Snowpiercer (2013) Animated Prequel

Futuristic sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer, directed by The Host’s Bong Joon Ho and starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, focuses on the last remnants of humanity seeking refuge as an apocalyptic earth experiences a new ice age.

Its 4-minute animated prequel was produced to explain how the world turned icy cold after a disastrous attempt to end global warming triggers an ice age instead. Violence arose among the human race as they fight each other to get on board the train that runs on a special engine. The feature film picks up years later when a class system has arisen on the Snowpiercer and a revolution is about to erupt between the lower and upper classes.

The stunning short uses 3D animation albeit with static human characters, yet fear and violence is effectively portrayed through the use of light, sound and special effects. Yona (Ko Asung) narrates the short in Korean, but thankfully there are English subtitles. Effective and well-animated, the prequel helps viewers understand the chaotic scenario featured at the start of Snowpiercer.

2. 47 Ronin (2013) – ‘The Way of the Warrior’

If you can accept Keanu Reeves as a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian samurai, 47 Ronin is actually quite straightforward. Still, the producers felt a prequel was necessary to explain the film’s mythical premise. Set in 18th Century feudal Japan, the 4-minute short relates the tale of 47 great samurai whose lives turned topsy turvy when their master was killed by an evil lord. Forced to become wandering ronin (masterless samurai), the band set out to restore their master’s honor by seeking out his killers, while tackling human and mythical dangers along the way.

Employing 2D animation with splashes of bold colors, The Way of the Warrior is like watching Japanese ink paintings come to life. The short film is worth watching for the chief samurai’s fight with a fire-breathing dragon alone.

3. Train to Busan (2016) – ‘Seoul Station’

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‘Seoul Station’ [Credit: Finecut]

Train to Busan, 2016’s zombies-on-a-train hit from South Korea, was one of Asia’s biggest success stories in 2016. This even allowed director Yeon Sang-ho, who’s known for his animated works such as The King of Pigs and The Fake, to commercially release another zombie-related film titled Seoul Station.

Unlike other animated prequels mentioned in this article, Seoul Station is a full-length feature. And though it is regarded as a prequel to Train to Busanits plotline is actually quite different from its live-action counterpart, the only similarity being that the zombie uprising starts at the Seoul’s central railway terminus. However, it does give a more concise idea of how the undead pandemic started.

Whether you’ve seen Train to Busan or not (and you should if you haven’t), Seoul Station is worth watching on its own accord. It is a social commentary in the guise of a horror flick, using the premise of a zombie pandemic to highlight contemporary social issues such as misogyny, homelessness and ruthless manhandling tactics by authorities.

4. Game of Thrones: Conquest & Rebellion – An Animated History of the Seven Kingdoms (2017)

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‘Games of Thrones: Conquest & Rebellion’ [Credit: HBO]

With Season 7 done and dusted and Season 8 still far on the horizon, HBO is doing all they can to keep Game of Thrones fans occupied in the meantime. Game of Thrones: Conquest & Rebellion is a storybook-style animated history special that tells of turbulent events that took place in and outside Westeros thousands of years before the TV series started.

Part one of the 45-minute special is “Valyria’s Last Scion: House Targaryen”. It tells of the Doom of Valyria, which sees Aegon Targaryen (not Jon Snow, but his ancestor Aegon the Conqueror) sailing across to Westeros with his two sister-wives and conquering all the lands that their three dragons could breathe fire on.

Richly animated and accompanied with the familiar score from TV series, the first chapter is narrated by Harry Lloyd, who played Daenerys Targaryen’s irksome brother Viserys on the show.

The rest of the chapters, which will likely cover events all the way to Robert’s Rebellion, will only be available on exclusive Game of Thrones: The Complete Seventh Season DVD & Blu-ray™ sets (that carry the bonus disc) due out on December 12, 2017.

5. The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) – ‘The Animatrix’

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‘The Animatrix’ – “Final Flight of the Osiris” [Credit: Warner Home Video]

One of the earlier film franchises to produce animated prequels was the Wachowski’s ground-breaking Matrix trilogy. They weren’t the first to do so but they were certainly among the most ambitious. The Animatrix, conceived and overseen by the talented siblings, is a compilation of nine animated short films based on the Keanu Reeves-led sci-fi franchise.

The idea for the intensive animated project came about when the brothers were promoting The Matrix film in Japan and met up with anime creators who had influenced their work. The first of these shorts is the 10-minute “Final Flight of the Osiris,” a direct prequel to The Matrix Reloaded. Other shorts, such as “The Second Renaissance Part I and II,” tell of the rise of the machines and their ultimate war with man that led to the creation of the computer-generated virtual reality. Comprising different forms and styles of animation, each short film is a cinematic animated achievement in its own right.

Throughout the years, these animated prequels have served a great purpose for fans, as we eagerly seek out more information on our favorite fandoms.

From Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) – the Animatrix of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy – to Star Wars‘s Forces of Destiny series (2017) and the Transformers franchise’s upcoming animated features, these creative prequels are definitely here to stay.

Which animated prequel do you know of that should be added to the above list? Drop me a note below.

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