Shakespeare once said a rose by any other name smells as sweet, but that does not make any other thing smell as sweet when called a rose. For a while now, fans of Pacific Rim and giant monster movies have wanted another installment in the franchise. Some even hoped Pac Rim might cross over with the Godzilla franchise. Sadly none of these came to fruition, but Netflix did give us something this week with Pacific Rim: The Black. The question is – is this a rose or something else merely called a rose?
In The Black, the kaiju return and take over Australia. Two siblings, Taylor and Hayley get marooned in an isolated desert oasis with their parents, Jaeger pilots. The base that should have been there is abandoned, but the oasis provides all they need. The parents leave with their Jaeger to find help, leaving the kids behind. Five years pass and no one returns.
Haley then stumbles upon a forgotten base tunnel that leads her and her brother to an abandoned Jaeger, a stripped-down training Jaeger. The discovery attacks the attention of the main villain of the show, a kaiju called Copperhead. The base and everyone in it gets destroyed, leaving the children with a non-weaponized Jaeger as their only tool to cross the desert in search of help. With the help of the Jaeger AI, Loa, the kids head towards Sydney in search of help and their lost parents.
The Black – Is This a Rose?
The Black gives up kaiju and Jaegers and the rift and drifting, but is this really a Pacific Rim product? In many ways, I would argue no. This is not a Pacific Rim product. It feels more like a fantasy anime using the trappings of the Pac Rim name to garner attention. For most of this anime, the Jaegers are background decoration or plot device until the end. The ending does a great job of giving us a true Jaeger V Kaiju fight, but at the end that is all that feels ‘Pac Rimmy’.
Rename the kaiju dragon or demon or whatever you like. These monsters feel more like magical beasts of destruction than the scientific monsters of an invading species. Copperhead especially because his energy radiates red instead of the typical kaiju blue. Call him a demon hound for that’s all he is. The kids are even chased by ‘kaiju’ that look like hellhounds, about a quarter the size of a regular kaiju. They look straight from something D&D.
The Black – The Kid in the Jar
Then we come to Boy. Taylor and Haley stumble upon a boy in a confinement vat used to hold kaiju parts. Naturally, they free him and call him Boy. This is where we gain to leave the tracks of the scientific and enter the world of mysticism.
The kid is found in a vat. We know there is something different about this kid. He proves to be bulletproof. He can pick up vipers without being bit, and he never speaks. Not until the final episode do we discover his true nature, and it defies all sense of realism Pac Rim uses in the movies. Then we meet a bio-mech – half Kaiju, half Jaeger. Still, think it’s grounded in reality?
The Pacific Rim movies used a reality base to drive their narrative. It was science and what if. Everything about it was based on what really happens if events like this ever took place. They never used lasers or quantum guns or anything that could not be made or designed should a crisis ever really happen. The Black uses far too much fantasy un-reality.
The Black – Does It Smell Sweet or Sour?
As a Pac Rim, The Black is a moderate success, but if you strip away the title and look at it as a standard anime I think The Black is an incredible anime! Just because a product does not live up to the name it was given does not make it a bad product. In fact, from an anime point of view, I really love pretty much everything the creators did.
The siblings make a nice duo in the traditional anime dystopian world it always seems to create. Taylor wanted to be a Jaeger pilot and began the training before everything fell apart, so his piloting ability is believable. Haley would seemingly be a good fit to drift with her brother despite not having training, but she brings her own demons into the drift. They do a good job balancing each other.
The Black – Bogan
Then we get to the outpost of Bogan. Not only does it land our heroes in a world of trouble, but it also introduces three amazing characters, Joel, Mei, and Shane. Shane is altogether evil. He can penetrate and manipulate minds. This would seem very mystical, but because of drifting, it can be accepted as a Pac Rim possibility. I will not detail what Shane does, but he is cold, demanding, and cares not a wit who lives or dies. His purpose is the law!
Joel is the group’s tech expert. He spends most of his time in a beer bottle, safe in the fact only he knows jack about Jaegers. Mei pilots Jaegers, but because of her complicated past, she refuses to drift with anyone. Her past makes a wonderful character. All we know at first is that she’s Shane’s adopted daughter, but as the truth comes out, Mei loses all sense of direction. This inner turmoil makes her a much deeper character than most. When her world unravels, you never know which way her loyalties will break. Her relationship with Haley gets especially interesting.
Bogan and its merc crew take up most of this 8 episode story arc, but thankfully Pacific Rim – The Black will run a minimum of 2 seasons. In the end, I do highly recommend this series. While I give it a bit lower mark as a Pac Rim title, its qualities as an anime sci-fi/fantasy more than makeup for the lack of brand accuracy. The anime follows its Netflix anime predecessors. The characters are anime while the bigger creatures like the Kaiju and Jaegers are more computer anime.