LastMan sounds like a movie from the ‘80s, wants to be set in the 1970s, and looks like it’s supposed to be happening in the ‘90s. It’s a messy jumble of execution that occasionally manages to be appealing despite itself.
The best way I can describe LastMan—now airing on the Mondo channel of streaming platform VRV—is that it’s a retro-action, guilty-pleasure animation drama. It’s anime-adjacent but also bears the unmistakable style and storytelling hallmarks from French comics and cinema. That’s no accident, seeing as how the show serves a prequel to popular French comics series The Stranger, a fighting tournament/fantasy mash-up—written by Bastien Vivès and Balak, with art by Vivès and Michaël Sanlaville—that similarly fuses together Asian manga and European bande dessinée sensibilities.
The cartoon focuses on Richard Aldana, a brash, impulsive bruiser who lives in the gym of boxing trainer Dave McKenzie. When we first meet Richard, he’s applying for a job as a bouncer at a mob-run strip club in the city of Paxtown. That interview goes to crap when Aldana punches out the slimy mafioso-in-charge for groping and haranguing a thong-wearing employee. From there, it’s an madcap, punch-centric escalation that sees Dave paying the ultimate price for hiding away a mysterious adoptive daughter. The little girl in question is Siri, whose odd prophetic dreams and untapped eldritch potential have made her a target for the mysterious, electrically-powered Rizel. The six episodes up on Mondo show Aldana continuing to run afoul of the nephew of crimelord Holy Father, and trying to figure out the mystery surrounding who or what Siri is.
Speed isn’t a major concern for LastMan’s storytelling. The plot moves slowly and mood-setting seems to be the bigger priority. But the show has so much style that I didn’t mind that much. The overall aesthetic manifests through invitingly clean design, almost like watching really good comics panels come to life. There’s a grimy, almost-grindhouse feel to LastMan, too; the character archetypes are broad and roughly hewn with humor and action to match. As a result of the fusion of influences, there are overheated emotions, over-the-top scenarios, and intricate fight scenes that would feel at home in an anime-inflected work. The fact that they’re grounded in a more down-to-earth visual approach creates a cool tension. The aesthetics made it so I felt like I couldn’t stop watching LastMan.
But, the show’s retrograde approach to race and gender almost made me quit several time. The most prominent black characters are essentially ghetto stereotypes: a big, shit-talking boxer named Cooper, and his mother, who we first see having sex with teen Aldana in a scene with no narrative set-up whatsoever. All the women on the show are props to either save, lust after, or get serviced by. These moments are supposed to create a pulpy, retro-macho feel but combined to be a big turn-off to me, making LastMan often feel like something lovely to look at it but sleazy to experience.
In its way, LastMan nods at both Cowboy Bebop and Taxi Driver. Its protagonist isn’t a paragon of heroism, just a guy trying to survive and do the right thing. But, for all its good looks, the show suffers by not adding more dimensionality to its guttural personas and milieu. Like main character Aldana, LastMan feels like it has the potential to be more but is too lazy to be as good as it could be.