Based on Legendary and Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim and its sequel film, Pacific Rim: The Black follows the emotional journey of two siblings as they struggle to survive in a continent overrun by giant Kaiju and abandoned by the world at large, while at the same time continuing to deliver the towering and awe-inspiring robot vs. monster action that has come to define the franchise courtesy of CG animation veterans Polygon Pictures. With the first season released to fan and critical acclaim and a second season announced, Anime News Network had a chance to talk to showrunner Greg Johnson about the inspirations behind the series, his collaboration with Polygon Pictures, and what viewers can expect from the second season.
Pacific Rim: The Black marks the franchise's first major spinoff for the small screen. How did you and Craig Kyle come to work as showrunners on the project? Were you fans of the movies beforehand?
Craig and I go way back, having worked together on a number of animated series and movies. We have always collaborated well on story development, so when Legendary decided to produce an anime series based on the Pacific Rim films, Craig asked me if I'd be interested in developing a pitch together. We both loved the films, and once we had a concept that we both liked – one that lent itself to the framework of an animated series – we went in and presented it. About six months later, ours was the last idea standing and we were asked to pitch it to Netflix, and it all moved forward from there.
From its inception, the Pacific Rim franchise has been steeped in a reverence for Japan's legacy of sci-fi anime and Tokusatsu films. Were there any specific series or movies that especially inspired Pacific Rim: The Black?
We very much appreciated the lineage of material that had influenced the Pacific Rim movies, so we felt comfortable taking our inspiration directly from the films. With anime and Tokusatsu films baked into the concept, we proceeded to create a world with all those ingredients in a way that would not impact any continuity being explored for possible Pacific Rim projects. Cutting off one continent from the rest of the world gave us what we needed.
Was the plan from the beginning to have Pacific Rim: The Black be a computer-generated anime? Were there any particularly exciting opportunities or unexpected challenges that you encountered in the switch to a new medium?
At the start, we were open to doing the series in either 2D or CG or a combination of both. It was pretty clear right up front that we'd need the Jaegers, and likely the Kaiju, to be handled in CG because to get the effect we wanted in 2D would have been prohibitively expensive. Some of the high-tech sets would also benefit from being CG to have more creative flexibility in camera moves. Add to that the holo-systems in the Conn-Pod, and it just started to make sense to include the characters in CG as well. But we wanted to keep the 2D look as much as possible, so we talked with Polygon because they're masters at this approach.
What was it like collaborating with Polygon Pictures? Did they have a lot of input on the creative direction of the show's visuals, or was that decided more by the Western production team?
We had discussions with many studios in Japan and Korea, but it's when we met with Shuzo and Jack from Polygon that we knew they were the right partners for us. They were so excited by the property, and their enthusiasm for our series was unparalleled. We were confident the series we'd get from such dedication would be a visual treat. Of course, there were challenges in the process of such an ambitious project; but they all boiled down to understanding what was and was not possible to execute. Fortunately, we were all on the same page and equally as eager to make sure the vision was not compromised.
Polygon handled the bulk of designs, with some assistance here and there from our Supervising Director, Jae Hong Kim. Ultimately, the look of the show grew from a visit we had with Polygon in Tokyo where we worked closely with their talented group of artists and geniuses to land on a visual style. Once that look was locked, other designs really started falling into place.
Taylor and Hayley Travis are heroes with a unique perspective of the Pacific Rim universe, and they have far less experience and fewer resources than the pilots of the movies ever did. What elements of their sibling dynamic and journey across the Black were the most rewarding to develop this season?
I personally love the idea of a sheltered pair of siblings, neither of them with a realistic perception of what real life is outside of their tranquil and picturesque sanctuary, being catapulted into a landscape so hellish that it would test them to their very core. The behavior of a bossy older brother and a defiant younger sister is a very familiar dynamic. But play that against the life and death struggle of crossing a hostile country, and we see consequences far beyond what would normally be experienced.
Who and what Taylor and Hayley thought they were as people is quickly ripped away, and they are forced to own up and grow up. Taylor had wholly defined himself as his sister's keeper only to realize his over-protectiveness had fractured their relationship, and in fact drove Hayley out of the camp on an irreversible course of action.
In contrast, Hayley continually saw herself as the victim of Taylor's smothering control, confident that if she could only do what she wanted, she'd be proven right. When she finally decided to make her move, she set in motion a catastrophe so severe she may never fully recover.
I was particularly interested in the story of The Boy that Hayley and Taylor rescue, especially with the wild directions that it takes near the end of the season! What hints can you drop about what is to come for our trio of unlikely heroes?
Oh, I wish I could tell you more. Just know that the last scene of Season One will have a strong influence on what's ahead for the mysterious bOy.
Were there ever any concepts or plans that you had to reign in, or were you allowed to take the Pacific Rim Universe in pretty much any direction you wanted?
As far as story goes, both Legendary and Netflix were very supportive of our ideas. They gave us a lot of freedom, and as such, we made sure not to betray their trust. As for the demands of production, there is always that point where unbridled ambition meets hard reality. I always write those 25-minute episodes like they're 40-million-dollar movies. My reasoning is that you never know what kind of creative gymnastics a director can perform to actually put that vision on the screen without breaking the bank. And many times, that does happen. But most likely, cuts must be made to keep the episode to length and on budget. What I find is that such parameters can inspire a creator to dig deeper for other options that are just as creatively fulfilling.
There is a very cool and surprising role for one of the original movie's pilots, Hercules Hansen, to play in Taylor and Hayley's story. Can we expect more appearances from the live-action characters in future episodes?
As we continue to develop the series, if there are places where the live-action characters make sense in our world and in our story, we definitely hope to include them. How's that for avoiding the question?
The Australian setting of The Black has a very grungy, Mad Max vibe to it. What about that specific setting made you decide on it as the ideal fit for the series? Are there any other cool and/or new locations we can look forward to exploring in Season 2?
As mentioned earlier, we wanted a landmass we could cut off from the world completely. Preferably a small continent. And since Australia has been featured in the Pacific Rim films, and since the outback is known to be one of the more dangerous places on Earth, and since desert landscapes are friendlier to the production than highly populated cities or heavily overgrown forests, Australia kind of ticked all the boxes. We'll certainly be exploring new and unusual locations in The Black in Season 2, so stay tuned.
Godzilla vs. Kong is only a couple of days away at the time of this writing, and Steven S. DeKnight has spoken about the possibility of the franchises crossing over, so I have to ask: Who are you putting money on in a three-way prize fight? Godzilla, Kong, King or Atlas Destroyer?