Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix really shouldn’t work. But it does.
The fast-paced, madcap cocktail of Saturday morning cartoons, featuring innumerable Ubisoft-owned characters and techno-dystopian fascism, somehow thrives within its inconsistencies, turning what should be a trainwreck of kidnapped characters into a tightly controlled explosion, expanding our sense of what a video game adaptation for the screen can be.
Everyone is here, just a little different. There’s Jade and Pey'j, from 2003’s Beyond Good & Evil, now imprisoned and forced to work in an ‘off the books’ Suicide Squad team under the watchful eye of the Warden. There’s a master killer right out of Assassin’s Creed, who just so happens to be a french Bullfrog (d’accord, d’accord). Even Rayman, the beloved platforming hero, makes a turn as the face of a fascist regime’s propaganda machine, slowly realizing he’s also replaceable to the mysterious council governing this futuristic society of ‘Eden’.
There are a number of other fascinating Ubisoft cameos, which I won’t spoil here, but Captain Laserhawk never feels like an overt advertisement for the publisher. Its eponymous lead character, Dolph Laserhawk, is a new invention, and the surrounding cast are allowed to fit into the story, coming and going as needed for the plot, rather than submitting to a dull Avengers-esque team-up where pretty much everyone has to make it to the finish line, with equal air time and representation to ensure maximum marketing efficiency for the cinematic product. It’s showrunner Adi Shankar’s world, and Ubisoft is just living in it.
At the time of writing, there’s a Twitter storm of incredulous reactions to the way the show depicts Rayman, a generally inoffensive video game mascot, snorting white substances, getting piss-drunk, and lounging in his high-rise apartment with a nude cow-woman hybrid and a plate of sushi. So far, so Bojack Horseman.
I watched the show’s six episodes (more, please?) in a bewildered haze, unable to fully comprehend what Shankar, show creator and one-time producer of the excellent Castlevania Netflix anime series, was allowed to do with these characters. I was deeply impressed that no-one at Ubisoft had shut this down after the first pitch meeting, and relieved to see a publisher happy to keep a loose leash on its precious IP. Instead, we get a distorted, bootleg vision of these beloved characters that an Ubisoft game could never hope to reach.
Back when Castlevania dropped in 2017, it was a revelation for video game TV shows, and it quickly changed the paradigm. Not long after, we were getting animated game adaptations that rivaled the drama and quality of some of the best TV shows out there – like the breathtaking Arcane (2021), based on the multiplayer battle arena game League of Legends. And it looks like Shankar is once again leading the evolution of the genre.
Captain Laserhawk is many things. It’s a dystopian hacker fantasy, a critique of totalitarian power structures, a queer love story, and a very silly show about lion wrestlers in rather fetching corsets. It’s a show that tries so little to be any one thing, and ends up encompassing countless things with little apparent effort. It’s a mess at times, but handles that mess with a love for its own inherent absurdity, showing a way forward for video game adaptations of the future – not sticking with a single game, or character, or franchise, but allowing various figures from gaming’s history to mix and match, bleeding into each other like the recurring exploration mechanics you see in countless Ubisoft games.
I’m not necessarily keen for our streaming services to be overrun with every publisher’s ‘version’ of Captain Laserhawk – like with the countless Super Smash Bros. imitators we see coming out these days from the likes of Warner Bros., it would get old fast. But I hope that this show inspires more publishers to let their creations loose, and see what chaos can be wrought in the right hands.
Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon remix is available to stream now on Netflix.
For more great series you should be watching, check out our recommendations of the best anime shows.