PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace fights back.
2013’s Pacific Rim is a certain sort of film: the unrepentantly silly blockbuster that makes no pretense to being deep or profound. Even some of the Marvel movies and shows try to make a moral or social point; The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had a lot to say, and that show was all the better for it. Not so with gigantic monsters fighting gigantic robots along the edge of the world’s largest ocean. In some ways, Pacific Rim was the apotheosis of the kaiju film and of the mecha film, bringing it to the lofty heights of Washington atop the dome of the Capitol of the United States.

But like that founding father atop the dome, Pacific Rim has seen complete chaos unfold beneath it. The sequel released in 2018, Pacific Rim: Uprising was polarizing (full disclosure: I seemed to enjoy it a lot more than much of the internet - it helps that I just like John Boyega), and the other tie-in media has not made many waves. But then came that which many people fear: a Netflix anime adaptation.

Pacific Rim: The Black is very much anime, albeit one much more American than usual. The writers are American, but it was animated and directed in Japan. Much as the original film combined Asian and Western influences, this series brings them together in a very literal way. Perhaps that is the wonder of film and of animation: it brings people together.

How ironic, then, that a series that brought so many people together starts with people being ripped apart. In the chaos of the first kaiju attack on Australia, two siblings, Taylor (Calum Worthy) and Hayley (Gideon Adlon), are left by their mecha pilot parents in an oasis with others so that they may remain safe from the havoc of war. The parents leave, and they are never seen again. Some years later, Taylor and Hayley decide to make their way out of the oasis to see if they can find a new home and find out what happened to those that had nurtured them.
Perhaps fitting for a show set mostly in the Australian Outback, this series can be best described as ‘Pacific Rim meets Mad Max.’ The utter desolation of the center of that continent is on full display, and much of the drama comes from social groups that have formed in absence of a functioning state. Some of the best characters in this show are marauders, like the malevolent Shane, played with tremendous screen presence by Andy McPhee. Like many apocalypse stories, it becomes a drama of who can trust who, but the characters are well enough developed to make it compelling.

For a franchise based around gigantic monsters doing battle with gigantic robots, Pacific Rim and its spinoffs generally have had very good character development; to its great credit, this series continues this winning streak. The standout relationship is between Taylor and Hayley. They are, in their own ways, each deeply distraught by the loss of their parents. They cope in different ways and interact with the blasted ruins of Australia. Their relationship is easily one of the best parts of the show.

The writers of this show clearly knew what they were doing, and it is shown in no better way than the way that the narrative handles the mecha. I will not spoil it, but the individual mech most involved in the plot is given interesting limitations that both feel very plausible and affect the narrative in ways that drive the story along and provide depth to the characters. This is a genre that usually makes its points with the subtlety of a robotic fist, but the writers knew when to hold back. I appreciate that. Furthermore, implications of certain aspects of the mecha introduced in the original film are relentlessly probed, providing a depth previously unseen in the franchise.
One minor complaint is that I can’t help but wonder if they underused the Australian setting. Pretty much all of this plot could have happened in the American Southwest. It’s also worth noting that the accents of our two main characters are American, but many of the post-apocalyptic bushrangers have heavy Australian accents. Maybe I’m reading too much into this but I feel like this could have been better handled.

But that is a small thing. Pacific Rim: The Black is a worthy addition to that great franchise of battles between robots and monsters, and it is essential watching for anyone who considers themselves a fan of such. A second season has already been confirmed; I eagerly await it, if this season is any indication.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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