There are many fictional universes right now where people can spend hours dissecting every single detail, from stories, lore, aesthetics, and so much more. From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the world of Attack on Titan, there’s no scarcity of places to visit in our minds and hearts. Among all those fictional universes, the Warhammer 40K universe stands tall as one of the most complex and rich. Games Workshop has managed to expand the universe beyond the role-playing tabletop game and create all sorts of video games, novels, figures, and much more.
Game Workshop now intends to expand the Warhammer 40K universe into television. Angels of Death is the first attempt at a Warhammer 40K TV show, and the result, while ambitious and filled with palpable passion, is plagued with strange filmmaking choices, janky animations, weird editing, and low budget production values in general.
Angels of Death is a 3D animated TV show consisting of 10 episodes of roughly 20 to 30 minutes in length. The project was born thanks to the efforts of Richard Boylan when creating the Helsreach miniseries on YouTube. The fan-made miniseries caught the attention of Games Workshop, and the director was recruited by the company to make official content for them. The show debuts on the Warhammer+ streaming service. The service will try to adapt the tabletop game into new and exciting TV shows.
Angels of Death tells the story of the Blood Angels, a chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, better known as the Space Marines, the most feared and powerful military force in the Imperium of Man. The plot of the show introduces us to a squad of Blood Angels as they descend into a mysterious planet in search of their lost captain. Of course, the mysterious planet is more than meets the eye. The squad will come face-to-face with a very powerful and dangerous enemy.
When Angels of Death starts, the first thing that will catch your eye is the visual style. The creators have chosen to tell the story in black and white, which is very strange for a 3D animated TV series. The only color seen on the screen is red. This means that the Blood Angels, their red armor, and basically every drop of blood that they and their enemies will drop on their way, pop into each of the frames. The high-contrast visuals have both their pros and cons. It is certainly a unique style that differentiates it from its peers, but it muddles the visual clarity of the piece greatly.
At many points during the show, it becomes very hard to see clearly what is going on. The shadows are sometimes too strong, and in other themes they are too weak. This inconsistency is very clear and becomes jarring with each passing episode.
The filmmakers have also made the decision to combine these high-contrast visuals with an exaggerated amount of camera wobble. It is obvious that the effect is being used to give the show a more realistic feeling. Especially when it comes to the battle sequences. The effect, when used correctly, gives a lot of energetic chaos to the scenes, but when used wrong, it creates confusion, and for the more sensible, it can even be nausea inducing. The constant wobble is distracting, and it feels forced, especially when it appears very strongly in sequences where there isn’t a logical reason for its presence.
While Angels of Death is now an official product made by fan-made talent, the talent is still very much at a fan-made level. The goal is not to minimize the enormous effort required by the filmmakers to make a show like this. However, when seeing what other shows like Arcane and Castlevania have done to put their adaptations on the TV screen, Angels of Death falls flat.
The characters’ animations are inconsistent. They feel janky and half-baked. The facial animation of all the human characters and the Space Marines when they take their helmets off is as cheap as it can be. The faces of the characters feel like they belong in an early PS2 game cutscene. The sound design also fails to convey the power and scale that the story requires, making the Space Marines feel weightless and non-threatening.
Thankfully, some voice acting does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to building these characters, but the actors alone cannot go the extra mile when there are visible lip-sync issues in each episode.
The script also leaves some things to be desired, especially in the structural department. It can be a bit hard to follow the story at times, and it is very clear that some scenes, or even whole episodes, would work better if placed in a different order.
It might be harsh to complain about all these things for what is clearly a production with a very low budget and a lot of love and passion. But a couple of years ago, the Astartes Project, another fan-made series of shorts about the Warhammer 40k Universe, showed what could be possible if the IP was given to someone who knew what they were doing. The Astartes Project was made by only one person, and it was a dozen times better than what Angels of Death ended up being.
There’s still hope, as the Astartes Project’s creator was also recruited by Games Workshop, and he’s working on his own series right now. We can only wait and see what he has in store for us. Until then, Angels of Death is a good choice for those wanting 40k content, but it can only be recommended for the biggest fans of the franchise. Sadly, this is not the series that will take Warhammer 40K into the mainstream and show everyone how cool everything is.