Do you remember the riddle of the Sphinx? The impossible question asked by the mythological creature that guarded the city of Thebes, who would eat you if you answered incorrectly? The question, as everyone remembers from elementary school, was a tough one: “What is the Resident Evil franchise about?” It’s difficult to answer. The Sphinx ate a lot of people.
Resident Evil isn’t really a cohesive franchise. Hell is individual Games are not very consistent, even the good ones! But it’s a sprawling media property, with video games, live-action movies, animated films, and an upcoming live-action series to its name, so there must be Something it ties everything together, right? And yet, he seems to be succeeding directly because of his inconsistency. It’s the weird thing about Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, the unassuming animated miniseries now airing on Netflix: if you watch it closely enough, it presents a possible answer to the question of what makes a Resident Evil story. Watching it up close isn’t easy, though – even though it only spans four thankfully brief half-hour episodes.
Written and directed by Eiichirō Hasumi, with Shogo Moto co-writing the screenplay, Endless darkness is a computer-animated miniseries that follows government agent Leon S. Kennedy after a quickly contained zombie outbreak in the White House escalates into a diplomatic crisis between the United States and China. How the first relates to the second form the spine of Endless darkness‘, but the answers are only convincing to die-hard Resident Evil fans. Otherwise, it is incomprehensible.
For example: viewers are expected to know up front that Endless darkness takes place between video games Resident Evil 4 and Resident evil 5. They are also expected to be generally familiar with the events of Resident Evil 2. Otherwise, they won’t know anything about the show’s other main character, Claire Redfield, and how she connects with Leon. (They survived a zombie apocalypse together in the small town of Raccoon City.) Leon also appears in a trilogy of mediocre animated films available to buy or rent on demand – with subtitles Degeneration, Damnation, and Vendetta – But Endless darkness takes place in a blip on the timeline where those stories don’t really matter. Again, this seems like a project only for engaged fans, the kind of people who would most like to see a connection to those previous stories and the last. This connection is almost non-existent. Endless darkness does its own thing.
Unfortunately, this thing is not very convincing, given all the preparation for the study. Endless darkness waits for viewers to do. On paper, the miniseries presents an interesting twist on the resident Evil Formula: It chooses to treat the show’s ubiquitous zombies almost like an afterthought, and instead focuses on the people who create them. This has always been a common thread in Resident Evil games – in the fiction of the series, zombies and other monsters are almost always a by-product of attempts by drug companies to create a new form of weapon. Dubbed “bio-organic weapons,” the hordes of monsters that the player fights in these games are usually collateral damage in an attempt to create a more perfect and destructive monster, which is usually faced in the finale.
This is the strongest common thread that unites all Resident Evil games and spinoff media, varying in tone and quality enormously: they all relate, in one way or another, to the military-industrial complex. and how all flesh is water for the mill when it comes to making weapons of war. The world of Resident Evil is a world where bullets, bombs and missiles are no longer enough to satisfy the greed of war profiteers, new horrors must be introduced, and everyone suffers the consequences.
While Endless darkness has a lot of action, it’s more of a political drama than anything else. Even though it is set in 2006, there are echoes of the current tensions between the United States and China, and the plot centers on the fictional nation of Panemstan, embroiled in a civil war in which the other two countries have an interest. In the end, almost everyone involved – including Leon – has their hands dirty in one way or another, as tackling Institutional Rot isn’t as clean as taking down a zombie.
It should be noted that Endless darkness expresses all this with astonishing awkwardness. The quality of the animation varies from shot to shot, with the occasional fight scenes or close-ups rendered in impressive detail, and most of the other scenes occupied by characters best described as animated mannequins. The English dub is brutal, the episodes start and end arbitrarily (it feels exactly like a Netflix movie cut into a series), and the storyline is decidedly boring. On one level, it’s great to see such a focused attempt to bring the recurring themes of the Resident Evil series to the fore. But if this is how it is to be done, the usual thematic confusion is a better choice.
Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is now streaming on Netflix.