To this day, it’s downright criminal that the world of Pacific Rim has only had a mere handful of chances to build on the rich lore and premise that the original 2013 movie introduced. Pacific Rim on its own is the perfect example of how Hollywood can get anime right when adapting it for the big screen, by handing a blank cheque to a film studio that genuinely wanted to create the best love letter possible to Japanese monster of the week Tokusatsu shows.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim still stands proudly tall as a massive combination of rock ‘em sock ‘em robot mecha on kaiju action, positive masculinity, and a visual design that is an absolute feast for the eyes. Pacific Rim: The Black though? It’s not a spin-off which attempts to constantly emulate that film’s blockbuster action whenever a scaly menace breaks through the dimensional rift and decides to knock humanity off the top of the food chain.
Think of it this way: Pacific Rim’s soundtrack had a main theme that perfectly encapsulated the tone of the film.
Sick guitar rifts, a heavy industrial feel capped off with bold philharmonic strings that sold you on the idea of a cataclysmic world conflict between nightmarish creatures from beyond the dimensional barrier, walking weapons of mass destruction that could only be stopped by humanity’s own imaginative talent for violence and incredibly massive Jaeger mecha.
If Pacific Rim: The Black was pulling a track from the album, it’d be this one:
And that right there sets the tone of Netflix’s anime series. Smaller, more personal, and somber in its construction. Set in Australia after the events of Pacific Rim: Uprising, the entire continent has been overrun by Kaiju and the populace has largely been evacuated. Australia has somehow become even deadlier, home only to towering behemoths, abandoned cities, and small pockets of survivors.
Enter twin fledgling Jaeger pilots Hayley Travis (Gideon Adlon) and Taylor Travis (Calum Worthy), who have spent the last five years in the No Man’s Land of Australia and who embark on a journey to find their parents. Armed with the operational training Jaeger Atlas Destroyer, Hayley and Taylor’s journey across enemy territory is a grim odyssey.
Pacific Rim: The Black is less focused on the fist-pumping clashes between humanity and the Kaiju, and instead shines a light on a more personal story with a smaller scope. It’s all the better for it, as the sibling’s journey is one of pure survival against overwhelming odds. If the Kaiju aren’t relentlessly hunting them, they’re having to deal with a very human threat that is less concerned about canceling the apocalypse and rather making a quick buck off of the end of days.
It’s an amazingly effective direction to take the franchise in, anchored by a number of strong performances from Adlon, Worthy, Victoria Grace’s Mei, and Andy McPhee’s sinister arms dealer with ambition Shane. There’s a layer of desperation woven throughout the short but sweet seven-episode run of Pacific Rim: The Black, that writers Greg Johnson and Craig Kyle perfectly balance with rare moments of action, intrigue, and mystery.
Adlon and Worthy carry the bulk of the emotional baggage in Pacific Rim: The Black, and they must have spinal columns made out of pure Adamantium to handle the immense load required of them. Pacific Rim’s attention-grabber when it was first announced were the wonderfully massive mecha, but the reason why the film was so beloved was because of the very human bonds forged within those Jaegers by two pilots forming a neural handshake within the Drift software that linked their thoughts, hopes, and fears together.
That chemistry is the raw beating heart of Pacific Rim: The Black, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any Jaeger action to get the blood pumping! In a more interesting twist, Pacific Rim: The Black’s primary 2500 tons of awesome danger is the Jaws of the series. A nigh-unstoppable Class 4 Kaiju codenamed Copperhead and better known amongst Pan Pacific Defense Corps circles as simply the Jaeger-breaker.
An absolute brute of biological weaponry and a hide thick enough to shrug off thousands of high-yield explosives, Copperhead is animosity on four legs and cannot be stopped, only delayed. That further heightens the sensation of survival in the series, as the constant threat of a Kaiju which combines raw cunning with absolute unit power makes for an antagonist that even the most seasoned Jaeger pilots would prefer to steer clear of.
Visually, the series shines when it thinks big but there’s no getting around the absolutely alien disconnect one feels when seeing the strange 3D animation used to render characters, which most of the time results in stiff and lifeless models that don’t do the excellent voice-acting any justice. There also seems to be an issue with just how the animated is…well, animated, as frame-rates feature an inconsistent jump between smooth and stilted motion for no reason whatsoever.
Pacific Rim: The Black is also cruelly short, but it has me hungry for more on this alternate on a world plunged right back into a new Kaiju war. It’s a completely different exploration of a world where the only logical solution to extinction-level monsters roaming the planet are man-made mechanical monsters, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Travis twins.
Last Updated: March 11, 2021