Pacific Rim: The Black ably utilizes the anime-style to tell an action-heavy story expanding the universe of Guillermo del Toro’s genre classic.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was a deliriously fun throwback to the Kaiju movies of yore. Spinning a yarn of alien Kaiju invading Earth through wormholes in the titular pacific rim, del Toro envisioned a world where the human response to giant monster invasion was the crafting a giant skyscraper sized mechanized vehicles called Jaegers. Del Toro populated his world with over-the-top characters with suitably absurd names like Stacker Pentecost and hilariously overwrought dialogue – who can forget Idris Elba’s call to “cancel the apocalypse!” – The message was clear: Pacific Rim is worldbuilding designed around fun.
Perhaps del Toro’s greatest contribution to a genre increasingly populated by floaty, dodgy CGI was an emphasis on the massive heft of his action scenes’ combatants. The jaegers – so large that in story they require two pilots to maneuver – are slow lumbering machines: combat with a kaiju enemy requires forethought as much as twitch reflexes. Somehow, the film managed to make a jaeger bashing a monster with a boat into something epic and amazing.
The film spawned a sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, which seemed to learn a bad lesson from the Transformers series. All of a sudden the jaeger were faster and more athletic machines and the heft that made the first film’s action seem so grounded was lost. The film’s transition to a largely new group of underdeveloped characters – child soldiers apparently rejected from Ender’s Game – helped undercut much of the good will of the first film.
This is a very long-winded way of getting to the cautious optimism with which I approached Netflix’s new anime series Pacific Rim: The Black. Untethered by conventional budgetary constraints, I was optimistic the animated format should allow for some satisfying action sequences. While I must admit anime is not my go-to genre, I’ve found my dabbling in Polygon Pictures’ prior output, including a season of Knights of Sidonia and a Godzilla animated film, to be reasonably entertaining and they seemed a good fit for the material. There’s a ton of good world building in del Toro’s film, so it was exciting to see what a few new voices might do with the universe.
I’m happy to report that, through the three episodes Netflix provided, Pacific Rim: The Black is a successful evolution of the formula. The show is set in Australia some years after the Kaiji make their return after the events depicted in the first film. The focus here is on two youths, left in safety by their jaeger pilot parents, who’ve yet to return five years later. Eventually, the two find a decommissioned jaeger and, as you’d expect, set off to find their family and avoid the kaiju menace on their tail.
The show’s first episode hits the ground running. After a brief prologue, the series is content to assume the viewer has some working knowledge of the Pacific Rim ground rules. It’s a wise choice that lets the series hone in on what it does best – impressive animated battle sequences. The first episode is not shy about leaning into the action and it’s a wonderful choice. Happily, the weight has returned to the jaegers and kaijus. The behemoths lumber as they exchange blows in combat, which help them to carry a real heft. The action is well-staged and often quite violent, which helps gives the series a visceral satisfaction. I’m happy to report that a number of the show’s action sequences left me with a big dumb grin on my face – my viewing notes are full of enthusiastic four letter words.
The subsequent episodes – which I shall not spoil – spend more time on the brother-sister tandem that makes up the show’s heart. They are perhaps less effective than the pilot if only because they emphasize the show’s big scale action a bit less. Nevertheless, they make for breezy, compelling viewing, and suitably build out the Pacific Rim mythos.
I am optimistic about how the rest of the season’s seven total episodes will play out. It seems apparent that more large-scale action is on the horizon, and the show has quickly managed to build out an array of memorable characters. Showrunners Craig Kyle (writer of Thor: Ragnarok) and Greg Johnson (X-Men: Evolution, among a great many other genre shows) have a clear appreciation for del Toro’s world and some interesting ideas at play for how to build it out. At the end of the day, you’re either the sort of person who appreciates the simple joy a giant robot slamming a missile into an enormous monster’s gullet, or you’re not. And if you’re the former, you should have a ton of fun with Pacific Rim: The Black.