Whether it's in Hogwarts, Westeros, or even the Sims, humans spend a lot of our time escaping from reality. And that need seems especially immediate right now. On June 29, Kiss Me First premieres on Netflix, tackling these very issues. The story centers around Leila (Tallulah Haddon), a girl so dissatisfied with her own life that she spends most of her time in engrossed in another world, called Azana. But is Azana a real virtual reality game? It certainly feels that way for Leila.
Though Azana has all the excitement and danger of the real world, it's actually a virtual reality universe. Players are able to access the world through virtual reality headsets, and once they are immersed in Azana, they can assume an identity far from who they are in reality. For Leila, this means becoming Shadowfax, an avatar in control of her destiny in a way that Leila is not. Unfortunately for those who'd like to experience it for themselves, Azana was just created for the show. So you can't play it, unfortunately.
"Azana is all breathtaking landscapes for sexy avatars to soar over, vertical metropolises, and, of course, violence," The Guardian writes of the virtual world created by the show. Azana provides a welcome escape for Leila, who is living a lonely existence with few friends and a recently deceased mother.
Even though Azana is a virtual universe, it often feels very real — but only if you manage to get your hands on an Azana Band. Created by a mysterious man named Adrian, and totally illegal, these sensory bands allow players to actually feel pain and pleasure corresponding with the actions their avatars undertake in the game. Though this innovation might seem as though it defeats the purpose of Azana — after all, why would you want to feel the pain of your avatar? — many teens playing the game actually seek this band out, including Leila. For these players looking for an escape, the sensory band allows Azana to feel more like the real world, and makes reality recede farther into the background.
Though Azana is often a pleasant escape for Leila, that doesn't mean that the world is without it's dangers, or it's secrets. As Leila becomes more engrossed in Azana, and becomes acquainted with the mysterious Tess (Simona Brown), she discovers what The Guardian describes as "a hidden subculture" called The Red Pill, a group created by Adrian and full of carefully selected players. Tess is a member, and tries to recruit Leila to join the group. But what being a part of The Red Pill really entails remains, like Tess, a bit mysterious.
The visuals of Azana are beautiful and unique, and the show's writer and executive producer Bryan Elsley and the special effects and animation teams on the show worked hard to create, according to an interview Elsley conducted with Channel 4. He said:
"I was very involved [in creating Azana]. Of course there was a bit of a vertical learning curve to go on until I was able to understand what the hell they were doing. That was actually a very enjoyable journey to go on, and I was able to find a way of working with the animation studio, so that the vision is a shared vision... In a way, the process was a coming together of minds, and we’re all pretty happy with the results."
Disregarding the real world for a virtual one, even one as beautiful and engaging as Azana, always has consequences. The protagonists of Kiss Me First are no exception. Will Leila be able to retain her grip on reality? Or will she slowly sink deeper into the world of Azana, leaving her true life behind? Sci-fi fans will just have to wait for the show's Netflix premiere on Friday to find out.