Set after the two feature films, Pacific Rim: The Black is the latest in what is becoming a long line or Original Anime projects from the streaming giant. The series, which comprises seven half-hour episodes, follows Taylor and Hayley, children of Jaeger pilots who were evacuated to safety before their parents left to find help.
Shifting to 5 years after their dramatic rescue, the survivors have found an idyllic sport replete with running water and arable land from which they can eke out a simple existence. All this comes to an end once Hayley accidentally finds a training Jaeger in an underground facility. Once activated, the Jaeger attracts some very unwelcome company, and it's not long before they're on the move leaving tragedy behind them.
The show gets dark, fast.
I covered the first episode in more detail over on my blog, where I flagged the series as highly recommended based on only the first episode. The whiplash emotional journey of the opening salvo, capturing as it does life, death, hope, betrayal, youthful enthusiasm and heart-wrenching tragedy in only 30 minutes really puts other series to shame for how much it fits in. The rest of the series slows down a little, but doesn't hurt the overall pacing.
What I really liked about the show was the feeling that no character was safe. In a Tomino-esque "kill-am-all" fashion, there's a lot of death here, and while some goons are obviously killed off along the way, there are other characters which go out in very unexpected fashion given the build-up they're given in earlier episodes. In that sense, the show relays the danger of the landscape our heroes find themselves in extremely well.
In technical terms, it's a very sharp looking show, with Dolby Vision bringing lots of lovely details to life, especially the Jaeger cockpits, which literally dance with life. Hayley's discovery of the Atlas training Jaeger shows the controls lighting up as the camera swoops around her, youthful exuberance and delight at the box of wonders she has uncovered beautifully captured. It's a stark contrast to the show 10 minutes later as the resultant charnel house she's unleashed is writ large by the dead bodies of her friends. It's a punch to the gut, and the directors wring every emotional moment they can out of it.
Given this rollercoaster opening, a lot of the heavy lifting falls on Hayley's voice-actress Gideon Adlon, and her turn here was excellent. She provides a masterful performance, conveying a bratty, wilful teen as the show opens to a distraught survivor as things progress. I'm not usually one to gush over Western dubs, but I think she deserves real praise here.
The rest of the cast are solid if not quite as remarkable, the drama playing out with the appropriate gruff men and stern older sibling stoicism that the script requires. It's eminently watchable.
The CG is also good. There are times when the Jaegers and Kaiju seem disconnected from their surroundings, either due to unconvincing particle effects or slightly janky angles. Thankfully these instances are rare, and the level of detail on screen and the slow, lumbering fights that are Pacific Rim's calling card are all realised pretty well for the most part.
Jaeger designs are on-point
There's good use of unique ideas such as "the drift", represented as swimming in a sea of bubble-memories, and the results of what can happen when the process is abused. It is a bit of a literal Deus Ex Machina at times, but it's one of the few original ideas Pacific Rim brought to the table, so I figure it can play with it's own toys when it wants to. I also enjoyed the name-drops of earlier Jaeger pilots to tie things in a bit, even if that is a bit of a cheap win.
If there's one thing that did irk me a little, it's the changes in lore that have, it seems, evolved over time. Kaiju now appear from randomly placed rifts, not just one in a sea-floor. Multiple Kaiju are no longer unusual (remember the first film's big build up of a "triple event"?) and that robs them of their majesty. A single Kaiju had real presence before, now they just seem less of a threat. They also appear in miniature form, and while the plot has some "twists", every step it took away from what made it Pacific Rim also made it more generic. In fact I was struck at how remarkably similar the plot now is to the game God Eater, which has already explored every element this show moves into, to the point where a crossover seems genuinely plausible.
But let's not take away what the show gets right - the story is tight, it has some fantastic shocks and surprises to offer you and the cast is likeable. My favourite scene shows our characters dancing in an abandoned cafe, a beautifully directed reminder that despite the circumstances, these are children who can still find an element of joy in the most appalling circumstances. I loved their youthful optimism, however short-lived it may have been.
I wasn't expecting to like Pacific Rim: The Black - hell, I haven't even watched Uprising as I didn't think the first film needed a sequel, but I really enjoyed this. I'm not a fan of downbeat shows as I think real-life can be depressing enough, but it's the humanity in the face of such inhumanity that makes the show stand out, the mix of fantastical elements and real threat making for gripping drama.
As such, I recommend you check it out, especially if you're a fan of Legendary's Kaiju-mashing franchise!