Pacific Rim: The Black Review: The franchise return for some more epic fights and slightly improved storytelling
The Pacific Rim franchise returns for more Jaeger versus Kaiju action with the new Netflix animated series Pacific Rim: The Black.
Pacific Rim has always had the same problems that most giant monster movies have – incredibly epic monster fights are upended by weak human characters and storylines. The Black isn’t too different as a whole but is a noticeable improvement with the personal motivations of its protagonists and the way it builds out its world. The series centers on siblings Taylor (voiced by Calum Worthy) and Hayley (voiced by Gideon Adlon) who are left on their own after their parents are forced to abandon them after Australia becomes overrun by Kaiju. Years later, the two are surviving in a gulch where they find a training Jaeger named Atlas Destroyer with a snarky AI operator named Loa (voiced by Erica Lindbeck). With the Jaeger improving their chances of survival, the two embark on a journey to find their parents and see how the world has changed with new forms of Kaiju and new enemies roaming The Black.
The Australian Outback is such a unique setting for the series since it creates a barren wasteland for the Kaiju to roam and visually represents the destruction they’ve brought. The iconic wildlife of the Outback is now gone, and people are forced to live in dangerous encampments simply to survive against the Kaiju that have decimated the area. It’s really great to see the series move out of dense city settings and create an environment that speaks to the devastating force that the Kaiju are, but I wish there was more of an effort to make this big cultural and environmental shift more impactful. Frankly, if we weren’t reminded that these two are headed to Sydney, it would be easy to forget that this series takes place in Australia. It’s also disappointing and odd that there’re so few Australian voices for the series. I really like Worthy and Adlon here, but it’s just feels off to have so many American voices without even the hint of an Australian accent.
The animation style is also a little odd and takes some getting used. The mouth movement isn’t all that detailed so a lot their talking is just their mouths moving up and down. The character designs look like your bargain bin anime characters. The shading on the animation is also a little distracting and makes the Kaiju and Jaeger designs a little less detailed than they are in the movies. The Kaiju and Jaegers are still cool and it’s incredible to see them fight, but they just don’t compare in the slightest to seeing them in the film. Things did improve as the episodes went on and the character designs grow on you, but it’s certainly not as good as animation in other anime.
There’re some cool new aspects that build out their lore and create intriguing moments that even connect to the films. Now, some of this could be mentioned in the comics and other mediums that take place in the Pacific Rim universe, but I’m solely familiar of films so it’s at least new to anyone who’s knowledge only comes from the films. It’s interesting to see smaller Kaiju in the form of Rippers also be a fast footed threat to anyone left roaming in The Black. The Atlas Destroyer Jaeger is actually pretty unique compared to most other Jaegers in the series since it’s a training Jaeger – meaning that it has no weapons. This makes for some fun hand to hand combat and creates battles that don’t rely on glossy weaponry and explosives to be cool. We also get another moment of ghost drifting that calls back to other characters in the franchise and the way this series does the neural handshake sequences is visually stunning and adds some good emotional depth to the characters.
At the center of Pacific Rim: The Black is Taylor and Hayley’s journey together to find their parents. It’s definitely where the series has its strongest emotions and captures your heart from the very beginning. The rest of the series though can be chalked up as either bland or frankly unfinished. Taylor and Hayley’s journey to find their parents as least has some resolution and it’s easy to appreciate their arc in learning to drift and control Atlas Destroyer. As for some of the other characters and storylines presented, they either fit into the under-handed criminal antics we’re used to seeing in this series or, in the case of a Kaiju Boy (voiced by Ben Diskin), are basically shelved for a second season storyline. There’s this whole thing with Taylor and Hayley finding a young boy in a lab that shows some pretty wild powers and could quickly get fan theories going like crazy. However, it just happens in the finale and then is totally left hanging for a second season and it just leaves things on an underwhelming and incomplete note.
Pacific Rim: The Black delivers the usual goods of giant robots fighting giant monsters and even presents some stronger character moments and world-building that fans will enjoy but suffers from lackluster storytelling and subpar animation that keeps it from being something completely better.