Yuki Moriyama still remembers the first time he saw Pacific Rim. He was a bit of a latecomer, and he ended up catching it in theaters with some friends who had already seen the movie multiple times. It wasn’t long before Moriyama — an art director at animation studio Polygon Pictures — was hooked as well. “It’s the type of film that, once you get into it, it becomes quite addictive,” he says of the straightforward mech vs. kaiju battles.
Now, Moriyama and the team at Polygon are releasing their own take on the franchise. Created in collaboration with Legendary Television and writers Greg Johnson and Craig Kyle, Pacific Rim: The Black is an animated series on Netflix that explores a new time period. It’s set after the two films and takes place in a version of Australia that has been largely abandoned and is now overrun with terrifying kaiju. The series had to change in some ways — but the action-heavy core that first inspired Moriyama is still there. “Every battle is an unrefined, unrelenting, fist fight,” he says.
Polygon is a prolific studio, best known for its 3D anime style. The studio has worked on adaptations of everything from Ghost in the Shell to Star Wars to Transformers. The team even has experience with giant monsters, having created a trilogy of animated Godzilla films on Netflix. For Moriyama, there’s one thing in particular that makes Pacific Rim stand out from the many other franchises about mechs and / or kaiju: the weight and scale of the world.
“The first thing I think of when it comes to Pacific Rim is that the robots are insanely huge and heavy, and so they move very slowly,” he explains. “In order to pilot these massive machines, the human pilots need to make use of an unusual technology called drifting. I find it to be highly limiting for the pilots, but that’s what makes the Pacific Rim universe what it is. I can thoroughly feel the persevering strength of the human race as they fight for survival time and time again, barely outlasting the kaiju every time.”
One of the challenges for The Black was figuring out how to translate that aesthetic from live action to anime, while also carving out a distinct space in the Pacific Rim universe. The show takes place in the future, but because of the almost post-apocalyptic setting, it’s not necessarily a more advanced world. Similarly, while the films focus on well-trained pilots, The Black stars two siblings who stumble upon a training mech — called Jaegers in the Pacific Rim universe — that they learn how to pilot. Put these aspects together and you have a story with a much bleaker vibe.
“In the Pacific Rim world, humankind has managed to thwart the attacks by the Precursors. However, there is no doubt that people are exhausted at this point,” explains supervising director Hiroyuki Hayashi. “We came up with the idea that the social gap between different groups would widen under these circumstances. Especially in the frontline areas left behind, people would only see advanced technology when it is necessary. The people in Pacific Rim: The Black are survivors who have been abandoned by the magic of advanced technology. If anything, they are depicted to have a technology level closer to what we have today, except for the Jaeger technology.”
The new creatures from concept artist Yuuki Morita are a highlight of the show. But they also presented a challenge, as the production team had to find a way to make those more realistic designs work with anime visuals. “I remember us racking our brains trying to figure out how to apply color tones to the designs within the limitations that exist with the anime-style look, yet still maintain the highly detailed shapes Morita had created for us,” says Moriyama.
Hayashi adds that, because of the collaborative efforts between Polygon in Japan and Legendary in the US, the designs also have a somewhat international flavor. “It was interesting and gratifying to see that the concept of kaiju, born in Japan — although some may disagree — has diversified and developed in different parts of the world. This is what makes it really interesting to have artists from diverse cultural backgrounds come together to create a single work.”
Pacific Rim: The Black is available to stream on Netflix now, and the seven-episode series represents a way for fans to dig a little deeper into the Pacific Rim mythos — including those fans who worked on it. It’s still full of giant robots punching towering monsters, but for Moriyama, it was also a chance to expand on the ideas that inspired him so much. “It’s cool that we’re able to tell a story about characters and villains not at the forefront of the greater Pacific Rim universe, and this has led to a greater understanding and expansion of the world in my mind,” he says.