Alien planets aren’t usually all that alien in science fiction media, but Max’s sublime Scavengers Reign sets out to change that. Delivering us to the beautiful, mysterious, and enigmatic world of Vesta, it’s a unique jewel of an animated series, full of captivating visual storytelling, thematic confidence, and moving character interactions.
When the cargo ship Demeter experiences a disaster during a deep-space run, a handful of escape pods make it to the surface of Vesta, an uncolonized planet. Vesta has a breathable atmosphere, but is otherwise rather inhospitable to human life. From one pod, horticulturist Ursula (voice by Sunita Mani) and ship captain Sam (Bob Stephenson) are working together to bring the wreckage of the Demeter down to the planet. Azi (Wunmi Mosaku) is trying to survive with the aid of an inscrutable robot companion named Levi (Alia Shawkat). Elsewhere, isolated and alone, Kamen (Ted Travelstead) has spent too much time trapped in his pod, and is slowly going mad. The efforts of Ursula and Sam to trigger the Demeter’s automatic landing protocol finally do bring the ship down to the surface—an event seen by all. With the Demeter representing their only chance of long-term survival, they each set off across Vesta’s alien landscape to return to it, hoping to wake the surviving crewmembers from stasis and recover an escape shuttle. But the planet is full of hostile terrain, dangerous wildlife, and inexplicable scientific mysteries that seem hellbent on preventing the success of their journey.
Scavengers Reign does not possess super-sophisticated animation in the style of, say, Arcane. What it does have, though, is an absolutely mesmerizing vision. In Vesta, it has created a truly alien world full of fascinating flora and fauna, a place full of peril, but also of sheer wonder. I’ve never seen a show so successfully depict an alien world with such loving attention to its odd, unknowable workings. At times, it plays out like a nature documentary, but without the soothing narration to explain the mysteries of its wilderness. Despite the danger, one can’t help but marvel—as Ursula and, more interestingly, Levi do—at the majestic, natural idiosyncracies of Vesta. The backdrop serves as a beautiful metaphor for the interconnectedness of a planetary ecosystem, reflecting back on the timely problems of our own world. Along with these thoughtful thematic touches, though, it’s also a thrilling story on its surface, full of survival ethics and cost-benefit analyses, cagily teasing out character backstory in flashbacks that inform the gripping, frequently dialogue-free narrative. Displaying full confidence in its storytelling techniques, its themes, and its message, Scavengers Reign is truly magnificent, a haunting, immersive, and moving experience.