'gen:LOCK' Creator Says Series Will Explore Diversity and Earth's Culture War

Rooster Teeth’s newest animated series, gen:LOCK depicts our world after a cultural divide becomes so vast it leads to war. It’s up to Julian Chase, played by Michael B. Jordan, and the rest of the gen:LOCK team to put a stop to the war and forces behind it.

But before you think gen:LOCK is a bleak, dark series, creator and writer Gray Haddock makes sure to balance the serious with the zany. It’s hard not to take this approach when Haddock’s inspirations for the show include some of the most beloved mecha in history.

Newsweek spoke with Haddock about the show’s themes, and how the past couple of years shaped it, the main characters and what inspired him to make the series.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

gen_lock_characters_header_01 The cast of the main 'gen:LOCK' team is diverse on purpose Rooster Teeth/NewsGeek

The themes of gen:LOCK deal with cultural divides and the cast is very diverse. Was that purposeful?

It is. The main point of the show has evolved since I came up with it two and a half years ago, before the most recent presidential campaign and election. And since then, a lot of gen:LOCK’s world-building has gone from speculative fiction and a cautionary tale to actual world history. So I decided to pivot.

The first season has the backdrop of this cultural war, but rather than deep dive into how the world got this way or how the different factions operate — if we’re fortunate enough to get a second season we’ll go into that — but now it’s just the qualities you need to take on when you’re trying to get by when half the world is against you for thinking a certain way, looking a certain way, where you’re born or the culture you come from. Those are the themes season 1 will go into.

Is there anything specific from this current cultural landscape that influenced the show?

I wanted to set some examples with this show by putting visuals on screen, even if they weren't major plot drivers. There may be some story building gimmicks as to why the team comes together the way it does, but the intention was to bring what I call, “casual diversity.” My BS definition of that? The world is a highly diverse culture that the protagonists are all coming from, but they don’t blink an eye at it.

It just happens to be that this cast is built from a variety of ethnicities and sexual/gender identities and it shouldn’t matter. In fact, over time, we start to find out what’s going on with The Monoculture, the seasons’ antagonists, and how they operate. I hope it’s something that feels organic to the story and not some soap box and reads as good storytelling that happens to show how I see the world and what I hope it becomes over time.  I don’t want to get too hamfisted about it.

As much as I want to say about the world and pass on the themes to the audience to help them get by in today's societies, it still has to be a show you want to return to every week and not a depression fest [laughs]. There's a lot of shows that I’ve enjoyed over the years that take an extraordinary amount of commitment to stick with. While I appreciate what they are trying to say, they did it in such a bleak manner that some of the potential audience that could have benefited from it could not stand how dark it is. Beyond that, it has to be a show that the crew wants to work on. If you have to work on a show day in and day out, there has to be a balance. We have to put out a well-rounded experience for the audience as well as the people working on it.

What are your inspirations? Did you ever think you would write a show that was inspired by the things you saw as a kid?

Absolutely not. And there’s a little nod to that in the show itself. Kazuo will have a moment in the first season where he gets to, more or less, live out the fantasy he had as a kid. And I can’t wait for the audience to enjoy that particular scene. That’s the experience of having a career in cinematic storytelling through animation, and I can’t believe I get to do that. The 10-year-old who still lives inside of me in my heart is just ecstatic.

As for my influences on the show? Here’s a shock — I’m a huge geek. I grew up on a steady diet of Star Trek, Star Wars, sci-fi, action tv and movies from the ‘70s till today. And anime became a part of my media diet since I was five years-old. The local syndicated station in California where I was living at the time would have a 90-minute block at 5:30 in the morning. [laughs] And to the chagrin of my parents, I would go into the living room and turn on the TV. And it was very different from watching Hanna Barbera and toons of the ‘70s. I’m watching Gatchaman, Giant Robo, Ultraman and Star Blazers. I was instantly addicted to the look and feel of those shows.

The way that’s all expressed in gen:LOCK? Yes, mecha are a big ingredient it’s not the only one. Everything from a couple of different eras in Gundam to more modern stuff. There’s cyberpunk ingredients, I love Ghost in the Shell and the other ‘90s sci-fi and cyberpunk anime and storytelling from Bubblegum Crisis, Dominion, and Black Magic. Writings of William Gibson like his novel, Neuromancer and movies like Blade Runner.

Gen:LOCK is trying to build from the ingredients in those shows and hopefully we’ve come up with a thing that stands on its own amongst all the other giants.

Is there any influences that the audience won’t expect?

My sense of humor is a little drier. I grew up on British comedies and stand-up. The comic voice of the show will be a little different than what you get from Red vs Blue or RWBY. Oh man, I wish I had a good joke answer for that one, like tap dancing.

Well, you could say Monty Python?

That’s an easy one. But we do have fun. Even though this show is more grounded than RWBY from its character designs and world building it’s a little more detailed. On the spectrum of anime and its design it's a little more realistic. We still have some gimmicks built-in to have some fun. The story that takes place on our Earth 50 years in the future, and of course we have finished making the Matrix, which in our world is called the “Ether” that you can experience in a variety of ways from a full dive experience where it looks like you are inside this virtual world because everyone in the real world has on high-tech eye contacts that lets them overlay additional graphics upon what you are see in in reality. Certain aspects of the online world can be projected in your real space. That’s where the opportunities for the zany humor will come over time.

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