Sometime after what has become known as the Uprising War from the last movie, a third Precursor invasion happens in Australia decimating the continent and forcing the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) to abandon the continent and retreat. 5 years after the invasion, as Hayley and Taylor Travis (Gideon Adlon and Calum Worthy) await rescue from the PPDC in a hidden sanctuary with diminishing hope of rescue. After Hayley unearths a disused training Jaegar named Atlas Destroyer, the activation of the mechnisms inadvertantly alerts a Kaiju to the sanctuary's location destroying all but Hayley and Taylor. With their home destroyed and no rescue in sight, Hayley and Taylor must now venture through the ruins of Australia with their Jaegar venturing into the harsh wastes know to Survivors as The Black.
Back in 2013 Guillermo del Toro graced multiplexes with Pacific Rim, a fun take on Japanese monster films and super robot anime filtered through the lens of a big budget blockbuster. While the film garnered respectable box office numbers, it's digital footprint didn't translate to the level of success the studio was hoping for and most likely would've been written off as a disappointment had it not been for the film's massive success in Asian markets, particularly China, which eventually opened the door for the sequel, 2018's Pacific Rim: Uprising, with del Toro stepping back into a producing role and handing the reins to Spartacus and Daredevil director Steven S. DeKnight. Uprising is very flawed movie, it has some good elements in it and I like how it's tone is less apocalyptic (to a point) but without the gravitas del Toro added to the first one, Uprising came off in many ways like a big budget fan fiction including creating a previously unmentioned brother for Mako Mori with Jake Pentecost and not even addressing the previous protagonist Raleigh Beckett. Pacific Rim: The Black takes place some indeterminate amount of time after Uprising and while it does build upon elements from Uprising, it's not required viewing to understand or enjoy Pacific Rim: The Black. While the format may have changed for Pacific Rim: The Black, it still manages to deliver on the series' strengths while expanding the universe in new and interesting ways.
From the outset, The Black despite being animated is clearly taking its inspirations from the first film as many times the Jaeger/Kaiju battles are shot from street level views to give a sense of scale and weight to the battles and it's opening sequence where Australia is being invaded is very well done. The show also goes back to the first movie's themes of survivors guilt and carrying shared weight as it focuses on a brother and sister who've grown up in a world without their parents. Taylor is overly serious and no nonsense being a former Jaeger cadet prior to the fall of Australia, and takes a hardline stance when it comes to his sister's well being, while Hayley is more impulsive and brazen in her actions. It's a good dynamic that makes for rich familial drama but doesn't teeter over the edge into melodrama. The sequence where the Hayley inadvertantly activates the Jaeger and alerts a nearby Kaiju to the sanctuary has some absolutely haunting moments of terror as their friends and loved ones are massacred and the survivor's guilt felt by Hayley makes for compelling viewing especially in the friction it causes in their relationship.
While the characters are certainly rich and have some great exchanges, it helps that the world The Black creates feels unique (at least in terms of the Pacific Rim universe). Being set in Australia, it should surprise absolutely no one that there's more than a few passing similarities to the world of Mad Max with roving gangs of scavengers and marauders which surprisingly mesh really well in a world of monsters, giant robots, and other sci-fi gadgets. The show does a good job of creating an ongoing mystery as Hayley and Taylor search for their missing parents and introducing elements such as a mute albino boy, what seems to be a Jaeger/Kaiju hybrid, and many other dangling plot threads that are given just enough intrigue and answer to keep you wanting more.
What issues I do have with Pacific Rim: The Black are fairly minor, but I'd be remiss if I didn't address them. The animation is really good at the Kaiju/Jaeger battles, but the show struggles with the human moments every so often. For the most part the human models are perfectly serviceable, but being a CG series with anime aesthetics sometimes facial features will seem unnaturally flat or feel somewhat doll like in how they interact. There's also some situations where they attempt to do more dynamic and complex camera movements with the humans such as an instance involving a 360 degree arc shot inside a damaged Jaeger that gave the appearance the character in the fore ground was floating. As many have pointed out the show is only 7 episodes long. To the writers' credit the story never feels rushed or anything, but some of the emotional crescendo and dramatic payoffs may have elicited greater impact had they been allowed more time to develop.
Pacific Rim : The Black is a good addition to the franchise. While the compressed storytelling and somewhat rough animation at certain points can be distracting, the show continues building upon the interesting world built in the first tow films and populating it with interesting characters and compelling narratives.
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