An anime spinoff of the cult hit will satisfy all your robot v. kaiju fighting needs.
Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 sci-fi blockbuster Pacific Rim certainly has its core group of dedicated fans, but I was never among them. The characters fell flat, the jokes never landed, and even the action sequences lacked suspense. Far from the worst action films, but also nowhere near among the most memorable, I went into Netflix’s anime twist on the story with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Imagine my surprise, then, when one episode into Pacific Rim: The Black when I found myself on the literal edge of my seat.
The Black is set in the same universe as the films, but here’s a refresher: a portal called the Breach is unleashing terrifying Godzilla-sized monsters into the world where they’re wreaking havoc. Humanity’s only line of defense are giant mechs called jaegers, each operated by two pilots who control it through a psychic link between each other called the drift.
If the terminology is sending your head spinning, then all you need to know is that at its core, it’s an apocalyptic world where big robots have to punch mutant dinosaurs to save the world.
Where the films focus on the pilots, The Black begins by focusing on the families they leave behind, specifically a brother and sister named Taylor and Hayley. Their parents pilot a jaeger together, and young Taylor can’t wait to be just like his mom and dad. But after a brutal kaiju attack, his parents go off in search of back-up, leaving their young children with the other survivors and promising to return. Cut to five years later and it’s clear it was a promise they couldn’t keep. When a terrible accident destroys Hayley and Taylor’s village, they realize their only choice is to hop in the abandoned training jaeger they’ve found and go out in search of help—and their parents.
Unsurprisingly, the story is a natural fit for the anime style of animation, which also uses pops of CGI to stunning visual effect. The kaiju pop off the screen in a way that renders them more terrifying than in the live-action films.
Unsurprisingly, the story is a natural fit for the anime style of animation, which also uses pops of CGI to stunning visual effect.
In fact, the show overall surpasses the film. Everything works just a little better here, which may in part be due to showrunner Craig Kyle’s previous work in Marvel Comics and as writer of one of Marvel’s best movies, Thor: Ragnarok. Partnered with Greg Johnson, the duo have a clear understanding of action, art direction, and story.
Hayley and Taylor have clearly responded in wildly different ways to the loss of their parents. Taylor holds out hope that they could still be alive out there, that they’re coming home, while 14-year-old Hayley is almost certain they’re dead.
It’s going to be interesting to watch the relationship between brother and sister evolve as the show goes on, and The Black makes it clear fairly early on that this is something it wants to explore. Especially as they pilot the jaeger together, which requires them to share each other’s thoughts and memories through the drift, in effect sharing things they may never have intended to tell one another.
As the episodes go on and as Hayley and Taylor begin their journey, their world expands. We begin to meet some of the shadier characters that exist in these outlands, and see how the kaiju have been evolving. There are also hints at greater mysteries, particularly when another orphaned boy joins their crew.
Ultimately, the show feels like an improvement on its source material. While I watched the film mostly feeling pretty disengaged, halfway through the first episode of The Black had me actually (much to my dog’s dismay) shouting at my TV. Don’t get me wrong, though—while the show hits the right notes when it comes to drama, it’s not the most emotionally intelligent narrative. There’s still a pretty shallow understanding of grief and psychology on display. In short, it isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it also doesn’t need to be to succeed.
It’s exactly what the movies were striving for (or succeeding at, depending on who you ask): a tight little action-adventure romp packed with thrills and a few laughs, too. It’s well worth checking out regardless of your relationship with the movies.
Pacific Rim: the Black premieres on Netflix March 5th.