Review

by James Beckett,

Pacific Rim: The Black Season 2

Synopsis:
Pacific Rim: The Black Season 2
At the conclusion of the first season of Pacific Rim: The Black, sibling Jaeger pilots Taylor and Hayley made a shocking discovery: “Boy”, the mysterious orphan that has been tagging along with the Travis kids on their journey to find their parents, is actually human-kaiju hybrid. If that weren't enough, their quest to cross the treacherous Australian terrain of The Black has become even more fraught with the arrival of the Sisters of the Kaiju, an insane cult that has dark plans for Boy's monstrous talents. Now, Taylor and Hayley aren't just fighting to reunite their family; they have to work together to put a stop to the next stage of the Kaiju apocalypse.
Review:

I enjoyed the first season of Pacific Rim: The Black, imperfect as it was, though some of its most interesting elements only arrived at the very tail end of its short seven-episode first season. The fairly generic “find our lost parents” quest that Taylor and Hayley set out on was offset by some very strange and bold expansions to the lore established in the two theatrical Pacific Rim features. Now, a full year later, the series concludes with an equally short final season, and the question is whether or not the show will manage to tell a complete story while wrapping up all of its dangling plot threads and cliffhangers with so little room to spare.

Overall, I was surprised with how effectively Pacific Rim: The Black managed to do all of those things, more or less. This is still a very flawed series, and this second season of the show suffers from some unique issues compared to its first, but my main hope for Season 2 was that it would allow itself to get really weird with the Pacific Rim IP, and that's exactly what I got. Not only do we have kaiju-human hybrids and literal dark-magic cults to deal with now in this universe, but we also get to play around with the unique sense-memory interface of the Jeagers' Drift mechanics in a way that I really loved. Plus, we get a delightful cameo from Rhys Darby as an ecctric outback hermit known as Bunyip-man (among other things), and anything that has the good sense to take advantage of a Rhys Darby cameo gets a couple of bonus points in my book. All of these flourishes help give this animated corner of the Pacific Rim franchise its own unique identity compared to the billions of other giant robot anime out there.

Speaking of, when it comes to the actual animation factor, Pacific Rim: The Black acquits itself about as well as the first season. It's not the greatest example of an all-CG production around, but it works well enough to tell its story and even get the audience excited over the action scenes. Funnily enough, I'd argue that this season isn't quite as much of a kaiju-bashing spectacle as the first. Some of this has to do with the fact that the plot is so concerned with wrapping itself up that we don't have time for battle after battle, especially considering that the primary antagonists of this series have turned out to be humans, for the most part.

It also doesn't help that so many of these final episodes are confined to vast, samey-looking expanses of the Australian desert. Giant robots and equally giant monsters generally work best when you've got a lot of normal-sized human things around to emphasize the scale of the things—why do you think these monsters are always invading densely populated metropolises and not, like, farmland in the middle of Kansas? Point being, without even the ruins of the old cities to frame a lot of the Jaeger-on-Kaiju action, a lot of the fights just don't feel big enough, which is a shame.

The only other major complaint I have about the show comes down to its ambitions, or lack thereof. Despite introducing some truly game-changing elements to the franchise lore, a lot of Pacific Rim: The Black still feels very safe and straightforward. This is only that much more evident when you only have a scant seven episodes to work with. Character redemptions feel rushed and unearned, major sacrifices don't land with as much impact as they should, and you barely have time to process the story's biggest reveals before we're moving on to the next climax or cliffhanger. Mei and Shane's character arcs, specifically, is one of those storylines that technically has all of the pieces in the right places, though the full picture never works as well as it should. Also, while I won't spoil the details of the fates of Taylor and Hayley's parents, I will say that I was both pleasantly surprised and underwhelmed by where the show eventually goes with them. You'll understand when you see it for yourselves.

Given that this is supposed to function as both a second and a final season, you can forgive some of the shortcuts that Pacific Rim: The Black needs to take to arrive at a decently satisfying ending, but you can't help but imagine how much better the story would have been if it had been afforded even a half-dozen more episodes across both of its seasons to let its story breathe a little. Still, given how much Pacific Rim: The Black was throwing at the wall at the end of its first season, this finale could have easily been a huge mess, and yet it mostly worked things out for itself. If nothing else, the series has proven that this whole universe is ripe for expansion and exploration, so even if this is the last we see of the Taylor siblings, I hope we get to revisit the world of Pacific Rim again someday soon.

Grade:
Overall : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B

+ Gets even weirder with the lore of Pacific Rim, provides a solid conclusion to the story, Rhys Darby gets to mess around for an episode
Several plot points and character arcs have to be rushed in order to make it across the finish line, the barren dessert of the Outback doesn't always serve the mecha-monster battles well

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Production Info:
Episode Director:
Takeshi Iwata
Susumu Sugai
Masayuki Uemoto
Art Director: Yuki Moriyama
Supervising Director:
Hiroyuki Hayashi
Jae Hong Kim
Executive producer: Shūzō Shiota

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Pacific Rim: The Black (ONA)

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