Giant monsters have existed in film ever since King Kong fell in love with Fay Wray in 1933. Japanese cinema has been the prime producer of giant monster, or kaiju media, from Godzilla in 1954. The Godzilla franchise has produced a rogues gallery of kaiju, including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Godzilla isn’t the only kaiju; Gamera has his own franchise and gallery of fellow kaiju. Other nations have tried making their own kaiju works; the 1961 Danish film Reptilicus is such an example. Giant robots are also a mainstay of Japanese media, through live action sentai works and anime. The mecha can range from large but still human scale, such as in Armored Troopers: VOTOMS and Bubblegum Crisis to towering units such as those from the Gundam franchise.
Naturally, works will inspire creators. Guillermo del Toro was inspired by the various kaiju and mecha productions, including Godzilla and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and HP Lovecraft’s At the Moutnains of Madness, leading to the 2013 film, Pacific Rim. The cast includes Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, Idris Elba as Marshal Stacker Pentecost, Charlie Day as Newt Geiszler, Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, and Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb.
In the film, the Earth is under assault. Kaiju are coming through a breach in the the Pacific Ocean, wreaking havoc and destroying coastal cities. Conventional weapons are ineffective and the use of nuclear weapons would destroy more than just the kaiju. To combat the kaiju, giant mecha called jaegers were developed, capable of standing toe-to-toe with the monsters. However, the jaegers are too much for one pilot to handle. Two pilots must mesh in the drift, a merging of minds, and each handles one hemisphere. The nature of the drift means that a pair of pilots need to be close. One of the jaegers, a Mk III called Gipsy Danger, is piloted by brothers Yancy and Raleigh Becket and is dispatched to stop a Category-3 kaiju codenamed Knifehead from destroying Anchorage, Alaska. Gipsy Danger‘s victory is Pyrrhic; Knifehead is stopped, but Yancy is pulled out of the cockpit, leaving Raleigh to finish the fight on his own.
Five years later, and the battle isn’t going well. A new defense is in the works, known as the Life Wall. The idea is that with the Life Wall in place to stop the kaiju, the jaegers would no longer be needed. Raleigh, though, is already out of the service, his brother dead and Gipsy Danger too damaged. He’s now one of the labourers working on the Life Wall in Alaska. Before his latest shift begins, a military helicopter arrives with Marshal Pentecost. Pentecost has an offer for Raleigh, a return to action.
In the Shatterdome in Hong Kong, the last four jaegers are waiting for their standdown orders. Three have crews – Crimson Typhoon piloted by Chinese triplets, Cherno Alpha piloted by a husband and wife team, and Striker Eureka, piloted by father and son Herc and Chuck Hansen. The fourth, Gipsy Danger rebuilt, has no pilots but Pentecost is hoping that Raleigh can find a partner. After testing several potential partners, Raliegh chooses Mako Mori, a survivor of a kaiju attack on Tokyo.
The Shatterdome is also the home to kaiju researchers. One, Newt, has figured out a way to drift with the hindbrain of a kaiju. After a somewhat successful first drift, he discovers that the kaiju are planning on moving to Earth en masse, to destroy all life here and then to find a new home to invade. Pentecost is informed of the breakthrough and tells Newt to get in touch with Hannibal Chau, a black marketer dealing in kaiju organs and parts. It’s Chai that realizes the problem with Newt drifting with the kaiju brain; the kaiju have a hive mind. What Newt knows, every kaiju knows, including the plan to use a nuclear bomb to seal the bridge between the kaiju‘s world and Earth.
Two more kaiju attack, the target being Hong Kong. All four jaehers are sent to stop the Category-4s. Both Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha are destroyed in the attack. Herc in Striker Eureka is injured, but the attack is stopped, with one kaiju laying dead in Hong Kong. Newt grabs the opportunity to get more information and, with Hermann as co-pilot, drifts into the the dead kaiju‘s hindbrain.
The plan to seal the bridge between worlds is still a go, though. Gipsy Danger and Striker Eureka are repaired and re-armed. Since Herc is out of commission, Pentecost steps up to co-pilot with Chuck Hansen. The Marshall had been a pilot of a Mk I jaeger, having been the one to stop the kaiju stomping through Tokyo. The two jaegers head out to sea, marching underwater to the breach. During the trip, Marshall and Newt return to the Shatterdome to pass along new information – the bridge won’t open unless there’s kaiju DNA.
Fortunately, a third kaiju attacks, a Category-5. Gipsy Danger barely survives, but with damage to oxygen tanks. Raleigh hooks his oxygen supply to Mako’s, then sends her up. He then pilots Gipsy Danger into the breach. Once through the dimensional barrier, Raleigh sets the time on the bomb, then escapes himself.
Pacific Rim delivers on the promise of giant robots fighting giant monsters. The effects show the mass of both, with plenty of collateral damage. Del Toro’s influences are obvious, but don’t get in the way of the story. Pacific Rim remembers that the key in a work featuring giant mecha is the characters. The audience is given a reason to root for the mecha over the kaiju. The worldbuilding is set up in the first fifteen minutes. Everything else is a visual feast with depth that one wouldn’t expect in a movie with giant robots and giant monsters.
Pacific Rim was popular enough to get a sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and a mockbuster, Atlantic Rim. There was enough interest that Netflix produced an anime series, Pacific Rim: The Black in conjunction with Polygon Pictures and Legendary Television. The work began in 2018 with the series released in March 2021.
The series begins with Australia under attack by kaiju. The Pan Pacific Defense Corps, or PPDC, orders all coastal cities are evacuated and the inhabitants moved inland away from the Pacific Ocean. The last of the evacuees are students, including Taylor and Hailey Travis. Their parents, Ford and Brina, are jaeger pilots who are covering the evacuation; they also trigger The Black, a way to try to stop the kaiju from going beyond Australia. The bus with the last of the survivors is able to escape to a hidden base. Ford and Brina, though, need to leave to fight kaiju and find more survivors.
Five years later, Ford and Brina have not returned. The base has grown into a community, with farms to feed the inhabitants. Scouts are being sent out to various locations to look for other survivors. Taylor, though, isn’t one of them. He is still waiting for he and his sister’s parents. Hayley is the more adventurous one. She explores and during one of her explorations of the base, she finds a jaeger, Atlas Destroyer that had been left behind when the base was evacuated. Activating Atlas and its AI, Loa, Hayley begins a very quick training. The activation of the jaeger also summons Copperhead, a Category-4 kaiju. Copperhead destroys the settlement, leaving only Taylor and Hailey as the sole survivors. They only survived because they piloted Atlas to fight the kaiju, but the jaeger is set for training and is unarmed. The fight is a draw.
With no home, the siblings decide to look for their parents and begin a journey to Sydney. The trip is dangerous. A stop to get a new energy cell for Atlas leads to finding Boy in a lab in an abandoned PPDC facility. Hayley insists on rescuing him, breaking him out of the glass tube holding him. An encounter with more kaiju leads to meeting a black marketer, Shane, and his right hand woman, Mei. Shane has his own designs on Atlas, but his machinations leads to Mei questioning her own memories. Taylor and Hayley escape and continue on towards Sydney, with the threat of Shane behind them. The final battle against Copperhead reveals more secrets, ones that have no immediate answers. The season ends with a victory, a loss, more questions, and another group of humans watching the siblings. A second season has been announced.
Like the original film, the animated series has several themes. Some it shares with the original; including not letting the past hold you back. The series also introduces the idea that humanity can be more dangerous than the kaiju. The story in the series is also personal, like the original. While there are battles between Atlas Destroyer and kaiju, the characters are the ones driving the story.
Taylor and Hayley are young, and their inexperience does lead them to make rash decisions. Loa provides a sober second thought, sometimes through snark. The supporting cast is three-dimensional; their motives dictating their actions. Even Boy, whose secret is foreshadowed through the series, has an arc.
Overall, the series adds to Pacific Rim, expanding the world laid out in the film. Animation allows for a lighter budget, especially on a streaming service, which then provides for more time spent on exploring the world. Pacific Rim: The Black builds on what came before, leading to a fuller experience of Pacific Rim and the dangers of the kaiju.
Pacific Rim: The Black expands the setting, showing more of the world introduced in Pacific Rim and the effects of the kaiju invasion on people. The core characters are young, venturing out from their safe home into the wilds of Australia, already a dangerous place to wander in even before giant monsters are added. The series adds to the overall setting of the film, expanding it, adding another layer of worldbuilding on top of what the movie provided. The animation style may not work for everyone, but that’s true of all animation. The result is a series that is worth watching for Pacific Rim fans.