‘gen:LOCK’ Writer Evan Narcisse On Writing Anime, ‘Wakanda Nights,’ and Afrofuturism’s Evolution
Set 50 years in the future, the Rooster Teeth anime-style animated series gen:LOCK tells the story of a diverse team of uniquely qualified young pilot recruits who assemble as Earth’s last chance against an enemy who threatens mankind.
In an effort to save the world, this team includes Julian Chase (voiced by Michael B. Jordan), expert mech pilot and Chase’s love interest, Miranda Worth (voiced by Dakota Fanning), Scottish hacker Cammie MacCloud (Maisie Williams), new recruit Kazu Iida (Kōichi Yamadera), and lead scientist and gen:LOCK technology inventor Dr. Rufus Weller (David Tennant).
Produced by Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society, the second season of the sci-fi title impressed new and longtime viewers with its imperfect balance of dark seriousness with the zany.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch this HBO Max original, then you’re in luck! During this 1-on-1 phone chat with Evan Narcisse, a former video game journalist with Kotaku turned screenwriter and narrative designer, we spoke with him about evolving gen:LOCK’s nuanced story involving humans and technology, how the growth of Afrofuturism will impact 2022, and why you should add this to your watch-list tout suite.
BET.com: This has been an epic ride for you, Evan, and in particular with gen:LOC, it has struck a chord with anime and mecha fans of color. For those just getting familiar with the show, could you share some backstory about the show and how you came to join its writing team?
Evan Narcisse: gen:LOCK is a riff on an established genre of sci-fi animation that’s done heavily in Japan and based around mecha. Otherwise known as “giant robots,” which older fans might remember with shows like Robotech or Evangelion, and has gained a second wave of fandom with its showing on Netflix.
For gen:LOCK, the technology has an interface that connects the pilot to the robot they pilot through uploading their mind to the machine. All of these existential questions arise from the conflicts that war and how to fight it spurn, specifically involving our main character, Julian Chase, played by Michael B. Jordan, who is one of the few in this world that is “gen:LOCK positive.”
This means that he has a genetic quirk that allows his mind to be digitized and uploaded easier than most. How I got involved was that I was a consultant on the first season of the Gray Haddock-created series. When they began the second season, I was brought on board as a staff writer for the show and worked with lead writer, Daniel Dominguez, and I wrote two episodes and co-wrote episode seven with Crystal Peluso.
BET.com: For Season 2, the storyline delves into connections and identity. As one of the architects behind these internal and external conflicts, how have you enjoyed the process and how has it been for the team to evolve the ways both sides handle them?
Evan Narcisse: While thinking of the story for the second season, we were discussing how we all use and encounter unintended usage scenarios with technology. Before it was cool to just have a camera on your phone. Now, cameras are the main thing that people use. So, when you think about that, from no longer having landline phones to computers actually thinking for themselves — there is all this subtext about the dangers and benefits of technological advancement in the show.
With gen:LOCK as a tech, one in a million people can digitally upload their minds given the right setup and circumstances. Depending on how deep you want to get, once your essence, your soul gets digitized then the question can be asked: Can it be manipulated, hacked, corrupted like any other form of data? In Season One, Julian was captured and had a copy of himself made and turned into an evil doppelganger. But also, the Polity had a backup of Julian that they used to lead the gen:LOCK team and fight.
It’s all Julian Chase. The same person. But what information gets lost in the process? How does that emotionally and psychologically affect the character? Add in that he is fighting a continual war and doesn’t have the ability to turn his mind off, and we wanted to explore that through the lens of this technological advancement. Meanwhile, on the other side with the Union, their technology allows them to believe it frees the human mind from their bodies to ascend into the flow, what they believe in the afterlife.
With the Union and Polity technologies competing for people’s minds and merging them with machines, the future is all about humankind moving around in these mechanical avatars. And as all this stuff is happening, both sides are really jockeying for really the hearts and souls of humanity, which results in open warfare.
BET.com: This show marks another wonderful transition in your career, Evan. From being a part of the New York Videogame Critics Circle to writing for Marvel’s Black Panther comic book, can you speak to what your day-to-day is like now as a screenwriter?
Evan Narcisse: I was a journalist and critic covering pop culture, specifically nerd culture, comic books, video games, and animation. The big pivot for me came when Marvel asked me to write for Rise of the Black Panther. I had written about Black Panther before and T’Challa has always been my favorite comic book character. Part of that writing included interviewing Ta-Nehisi Coates, with who I’m also friends.
I was told by his editor at Marvel, Will Moss, that he saw those interviews by me with him and they began to have conversations about bringing me on board. Once that series was announced, people I had known from my previous life started to ask me if I wanted to work on projects with them. Now, that’s pretty much what I do day-to-day all the time now. It’s still surreal for me, but to see my name on that TV screen or in the end credits of a video game is cool but challenging — because I can’t rest on my laurels.
BET.com: 2022 appears to be a breakout year for sci-fi and Afrofuturism projects. While it would be great to see your name on that proposed Wakanda Nights show for Disney+, how do you think this time will impact the industry and other Black creatives?
Evan Narcisse: Listen, from your lips to whoever is responsible ears, I hope that can happen. I’d love to keep playing around in the royal palace if they [Marvel] would let me. It is good that there’s an appetite and awareness about these kinds of stories. I think there’s still a long way to go when it comes to the variation of stories we see and what the premises are, but I feel like we’re looking for newer modes.
It will be nice to see more Black folks in decision-making positions of power, but I do know there are still battles to be fought. Black folx have different stories to tell and when we can expand into the diaspora, there’s so much that can be done. There’s still a lot of inertia around the big movers and shakers in the business, but, for the most part, the work feels like a big, heavy ongoing struggle that still needs to be wage in my opinion.
BET.com: Since gen:LOCK has completed its recent season and showcased beautiful animation, great writing, and giant, fighting mechanized robots — how could you describe this show to those who are interested in watching new and cool series?
Evan Narcisse: Humanity stands on the brink of climate collapse and two powerful opposing factions with wildly divergent philosophies fight for the future of mankind. At the core of this battle is the gen:LOCK team, featuring a group of young people with the genetic quirk that allows them to have their minds uploaded into giant robots that fight on the battlefield in war.
As the gen:LOCK team continues the battle, they learn about the motivations behind each faction and have to decide for themselves what the best path forward is for them and possibly humanity.
You can watch the complete Season Two of gen:LOCK by subscribing to or watching HBO Max.
Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @KevitoClark.