Netflix has announced that it is making an anime series based on Pacific Rim, the live-action giant robot movies that were very heavily inspired by giant robot anime series. It's a kaiju-sized ouroboros, but for the series to succeed and feel like a Pacific Rim anime, it's going to have to resist the impulse to be too cartoonish.
The anime, which will be produced by Legendary Entertainment, the studio behind the two live-action films, will be helmed by Craig Kyle and Greg Johnson, who are known for their work on Thor: Ragnarok and X-Men: Evolution, respectively. According to Deadline, which broke the news on Thursday, the series will follow two siblings, "an idealistic teenage boy and his naïve younger sister — who are forced to pilot an abandoned jaeger across a hostile landscape in a desperate attempt to find their missing parents"
Two orphan kids piloting a giant robot trying to find mom and dad? Sounds a little rote, especially if one of the showrunners worked on the X-Men cartoon that made Rogue goth and Shadowcat speak with a valley girl accent. The thing is, though, that Pacific Rim itself is extremely derivative, but it turned that into a strength — or at least, the first movie did. Pacific Rim's jaegers are assembled from cliches, the characters all just a degree or two off from being stock archetypes.
But, those one or two degrees of difference, along with Guillermo del Toro's obvious love of the genre, made Pacific Rim into something more than the sum of its parts. It wasn't just another spin on the giant robot narrative, it was a passion project. Stacker Pentecost, in no small part due to Idris Elba's performance, left an impression when he canceled the apocalypse. Mako Mori is a fully realized character, and her relationship with Raleigh Becket is a rare one in fiction, a love built on trust that appears to be platonic rather than just an expected romance between the attractive male and female leads.
Sure, the giant robots were punching giant monsters while their little human pilots shouted about using swords, but Pacific Rim felt grounded. This came across visually, too, in a quite literal sense. The jaegers and kaiju in the first movie look like they're truly gigantic and weigh tons. Their movement is slow, the CGI deliberately animated in such a way as to make them feel like more than just a weightless collection of pixels.
In the first movie, del Toro also strive to only use organic lighting to illuminate the jaegers and kaiju, meaning they would only be lit by neon street signs or whatever helicopter spotlights flew overhead. This made for some dark, hard-to-see fight scenes, but it also made the giant monsters and robots seem more realistic — to an extent, obviously.
Pacific Rim was never trying to be an "accurate" take on the giant monster genre. The concept is inherently ridiculous, physics wouldn't allow anything that big to live, and the characters have names like "Stacker Pentecost." Still, Pacific Rim feels real, even if it isn't necessarily true. The sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, less so. Perhaps in part because del Toro wasn't at the helm, Uprising is a lot more generic and much more brightly lit. Our heroes, Jake Pentecost and Amara Namani, can't quite rise above cliche status. It's a fun movie, but it's weightless in a way the original movie wasn't, and not just because the Jaegers in this movie move like they're hyper-agile featherweight boxers rather than multi-story robot war machines.
Pacific Rim: Uprising had the same vibe as an episode of a thrice-rebooted giant robot anime series. What then, will the actual Pacific Rim anime feel like? It's not as if giant robot anime is a bad thing — far from it. Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Netflix's own Voltron series are just a few great examples of good giant robot anime. Cartoons are awesome, and by no means does animation as a medium mean that something is just for kids (and it's great that there are things for kids!) The difference is that the first Pacific Rim worked because of the specific way it embraced and tweaked the tropes of the genre that inspired it, not reinventing the wheel, but refining it.
The Pacific Rim anime will be a worthy continuation of Pacific Rim's spirit if the "idealistic teenage boy and his naïve younger sister" have more depth than those three-word descriptors initially let on. It'll work if the entirely animated show follows in the first movie's heavy, slow jaeger footsteps instead of the sequel's impossibly acrobatic ones. Pacific Rim worked because it blended del Toro's storytelling chops and specific realism with the visuals and tropes of a classic anime genre. Hopefully, those two influences will be Drift-compatible for the upcoming anime.