Sunday, March 7, 2021

Netflix's Pacific Rim: The Black Expands The Franchise's Lore in Intriguing Ways

Kaijus, mechas, anime-style action and Idris Elba. That was what made “PACIFIC RIM” the 2013 creature feature directed by Guillermo del Toro, so much fun to watch. And also Idris Elba. Mmmmm, yes ... Red Dot Diva has to mention him twice.

Five years later, the sequel “PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING” did not fare so well. It was missing the magic touch of Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham. Despite the loud action sequences, the story was flat and souless. Thankfully, Netflix's new anime series “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” sets things right for the franchise.

The anime series is set in Australia, where various kaiju have taken over the continent. After a terrible battle with a bunch of kaijus five years ago, the jaeger pilot parents of siblings Taylor and Hayley decided to leave them and a few other children at a remote natural sanctuary near an abandoned base of operations. They then went off with their jaeger Hunter Vertigo looking for help, with a promise to return. Since that day, the Pan Pacific Defense Corp, who are in charge of the Jaegers, had implemented an initiative called "The Black". What exactly that is, no one really knows.

Rebelling against her brother's overly-protective stance, the younger Hayley yearns to travel out of the camp to search for her parents. As Hayley secretly leaves the camp, she accidentally falls through a crack in the ground and discovers a weaponless training jaeger called Atlas Destroyer and its sardonic AI (Erica Lindbeck). Both siblings learn how to Drift with the jaeger quickly enough, but the activation of Atlas Destroyer attracts a kaiju to the campsite and things turn bloody. Taylor and Hayley had little choice but to leave their home and pilot the jaeger as far as they can, in an attempt to find their parents.

There is a lot to unpack within the first three episodes of “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK”. Right from the start, the series careens into an explosive Kaiju-Jaeger battle. After that, the resilient siblings barely escape from nimble footed jackal-like kaiju in a city called Meridian, encounter a ginormous red-eyed kaiju-eating kaiju, discovers a mysterious mute boy in a secret tank, and stumble upon a dangerous Aussie warlord Shane (Andy McPhee) and his posse dealing with black market goods like rare power cells.

It is a darker, bleaker, and more violent dystopian landscape, even though most scenes are filled with the bright azure skies of sunny Australia. The contrast can be jarring but compared to the first Pacific Rim movie, “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” provides an interesting dimension about the sort of menace that prefers to bask in the light of day, akin to a Western monster show. There is even a classic Mexican standoff in episode 3.

When it comes to the action sequences, the animation is impressive, making all the monster thrashing and mecha smashing look seamless. It is unfortunate that, in general, the character animation is bland and lack emotional quality. Most of the times, it seems that the animators have forgotten to add facial expressions to the human characters. That said, the interactions between the siblings are earnest and moving, their actions depicting the different ways each deal with trauma and violence. It is a waste that they do not seem to have more meaningful relationships with other secondary characters in the show, other than the enigmatic 'Boy'. Credit has to given to the voice actors (especially for Hayley), whose emotive lines make up for the flaw.

What is best about “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” is the surprising depth that it offers in the franchise's world building. This makes it very binge-worthy, as you feel propelled to find out more about the intriguing concepts that have been posed.

For those who love monsters, mechas and anime, you have to include “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” on your Netflix watch list. It has already started streaming from 4 March 2021, and consists of 7 half-hour episodes. Even though it is a more desperate take on the Pacific Rim apocalypse, it is really enjoyable and there is much to appreciate in this new anime series.

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