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Recap / Love, Death & Robots: "Shape-Shifters"

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"I've got his scent now."
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An American Marine stationed in Afghanistan tries to sniff out an enemy. Based on the short story "On the Use of Shape-shifters in Warfare" by Marko Kloos.

Graham Hamilton voices Decker.


Tropes:

  • Badass Grandpa: The elder Afghani werewolf is quite the force to reckon with, unlike his younger companion.
  • Bash Brothers: The American Werewolves Decker and Sobieski, not those American Werewolves, are depicted as very close. though we never get to see them fight together, before Sobieski dies.
  • Bittersweet Ending: One step from a Downer. Decker feels tired of keeping up with humans and the non-stop Fantastic Racism he faces and decides to abandon human world for good. His revange for Sobieski doesn't provide any sort of satisfaction or comfort. But at least he could avenge his friend and can finally do what he wants to, rather than what he's told.
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  • Body Horror: The werewolf transformation is not pretty, with twisting bones and skin ripping off.
  • Brains Evil, Brawn Good: Not that Decker is stupid (being a prominent user of the Deliberate Injury Gambit) but the antagonist werewolves - or at least the older one - are far more cunning, using surprise tactics and never fighting alone. And they clearly need their pragmatism, as Decker's wolf form is noticeably larger than either of the antagonists' (the young one barely reaches his shoulder and is at most half his mass) and there's no reason to think that Sobieski's isn't as large, if not more so.
  • Bullet Time: Used when Decker first dodges a bullet.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The Afghani werewolf brings a second, younger werewolf to his fight with the American, having him lie in wait to attack Decker in the middle of his transformation.
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  • Curbstomp Battle: The assault by the enemy werewolves on Sobieski's unit; nobody's left alive and it's evident they were taken completely by surprise.
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit: Decker takes a non-fatal shot from a sniper so he can figure out where the sniper is hiding, giving the rest of the squad a target to shell into oblivion. He does the same again in the fight with the two Afghani werewolves. The elder is cautious, but Decker catches the younger one off-guard when they charge in to finish off what they assume is an opponent already near death.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The two werewolf soldiers are barefoot, in comparison to the uniforms worn by their human comrades.
  • Fantastic Racism: The other marines aren't too pleased to be working alongside werewolves, even officers are open in their hate.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Dog Soldiers", an insult used by the other Marines when referring to the werewolves in their midst. This has an extra layer of an insult, since they are Marines, not Army.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Werewolves have a tendency to run around naked, at least when expecting to transform.
  • Headbutt of Love: Decker and Sobieski share one just before the latter leaves for his fatal mission. When Decker finds Sobieski's dead body, he repeats the gesture.
  • Healing Factor: Werewolves can regenerate their injuries, something the other soldiers consider unnatural. In particular, Decker gets his arm stripped down to the bone in a fight, but few hours later it's just a bunch of cuts.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The older enemy werewolf keeps going about his life even after Sobieski's death, likely having deduced that Decker wouldn't rat him out because he wanted to kill him personally.
  • It's Personal: Decker's superiors want the enemy werewolf alive, which won't do for him as they kill his best friend/only pack mate.
  • Lonely Funeral: On his own, Decker buries Sobieski under a pile of rocks.
  • Military Science Fiction: The episode at the very least has shades of this genre.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Decker's run towards the battle against the opposing werewolves is one of the few times in the anthology where male nudity (or any nudity) isn't used for squick, instead straightforwardly showcasing his toned body as he runs.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The Werewolves shown here have hightened senses of smell, hearing and sight, even in human form. Their werewolf forms are of the antrophomorphic kind; clearly wolf-looking, but they're still able to run on just their hind legs. The transformation involves, among other things, ripping off their skin, and evidently can be interrupted before it's completed.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Sobieski is clearly proud of belonging to the Marines and fighting for his country even in spite of the Fantastic Racism he suffers. Decker is far more subdued and at the end abandons both entirely.
  • Rated M for Manly: Werewolf Marines. Enough said.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Sobieski and Decker, respectively. Sobieski is fun loving, cheerful and relishes being a marine; Decker is far more reserved and calm.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After killing the enemy werewolves, Decker abandons the military and disappears off into the wilderness.
  • Starting a New Life: At the end, it's made clear by his shed clothes that Decker is not just quitting service but human civilization altogether, opting to live in the wilderness.
  • Stealth Pun: When Decker and Sobieski are called "Dog Soldiers," the insult actually has a few layers to it. Beyond being compared to animals such as dogs, there is the fact that US Marines hate being called soldiers (in the American military, "Soldier" refers primarily to members of the US Army; the two branches tend to look down on each other.) Further, the preferred nickname for Marines is Devil Dog.
  • Semper Fi: The central unit is a marine corp, that also has werewolves.
  • Super Senses: The werewolves have at least heightened senses of smell, sight and hearing, even in human form.
  • This Was His True Form: Werewolves revert back to their human forms upon death.
  • Tragic Bromance: Decker and Sobieski, brothers in arms and fellow werewolves ostracized by the rest of their unit. After Sobieski dies, Decker avenges his death and then deserts the military.
  • Transformation Is a Free Action: The elder Afghani werewolf transforms without interruption. When Decker tries it, a younger Afghani werewolf attacks him before he can finish, forcing Decker to fight the younger one off before completing his transformation.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Decker feels absolutely nothing after avenging his friend and ultimately gives up on humanity entirely.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: These particular werewolves can transform at will.
  • Wolf Man: When transformed, the werewolves look bipedal and fairly humanoid.
  • Wolves Always Howl at the Moon: After the final fight, an exhausted Decker, in wolf form, howls at the moon.

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