The Netflix series’ co-creator, co-writer, and co-executive producer reflects on his show’s final set of episodes that honor Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’ film franchise while telling compelling stories about new characters and their adventures in the world of Jaegers and Kaiju.
It’s been an epic journey for both creators and characters, but now it comes to an end.
Pacific Rim: The Black, a Legendary Television anime series based on Guillermo del Toro’s famous Pacific Rim film franchise, first hit Netflix last year; it followed the adventures of siblings Taylor and Hayley as they navigated the Kaiju-ruled continent of Australia with a weaponless - and previously abandoned - Jaeger, trying to find their lost parents.
Season 2, which premiered yesterday on the streamer, is the final chapter in Taylor and Hayley’s quest as they aim to reach the safety of Sydney aboard Atlas Destroyer, the training Jaeger left behind in the continent-wide evacuation when Kaiju overtook Australia. With teenage assassin Mei and the mysterious human/kaiju hybrid “bOy” joining the siblings, this makeshift family must cross dangerous territory controlled by the bloodthirsty cult Sisters of the Kaiju who believe bOy is their long-awaited Messiah and will stop at nothing to indoctrinate him into their dark circle -- something Hayley would sacrifice everything to prevent.
We got the chance to talk with Greg Johnson, who alongside Thor: Ragnarok writer Craig Kyle, co-created, co-wrote, and co-executive produced the series, and take a stroll back in time to discuss the series’ origin story, honoring del Toro’s Pacific Rim legacy while still blazing its own path, animating with Polygon Pictures, and what fans can look forward to with the show’s second, and last, season.
Victoria Davis: Let’s hop back to the beginning for a second. What made you and Craig decide to create an animated continuation of the Pacific Rim films? Was this a project you’ve wanted to do since Guillermo’s films first released?
Greg Johnson: Sometimes a series springs to life when a writer/producer approaches a studio about one of their existing titles. But that’s not what happened here. The idea of a Pacific Rim series saw first light well before Craig or I were asked to pitch a take on it. There had even been some development on an idea years before ours, but it didn’t move much beyond that, which means Legendary clearly had the appetite to explore a series. When they decided to accept pitches on a new concept, Craig asked if I wanted to work on one together. I loved the movies, so I said yes.
Together, Craig and I strove to take advantage of the world-building that the movies offer, while not getting in the way of any movie that might follow Pacific Rim: Uprising. The series had to be its own creation, not a continuation of anything the films introduced, and it had to fit the streaming model of larger story arcs.
Pitching an animated series requires a different approach than pitching a movie. We essentially went in with the pilot story figured out because it sent our characters into an unknown environment with lots of emotion and little experience. We touched upon some loose ideas about what would happen during their journey to the shore, and then how we thought it would end. But what likely sold the idea was that first episode where we end on an untested Taylor and Hayley facing an unknown Outback full of Kaiju with a weaponless Jaeger. It offered so much potential. That was enough to get Legendary, and then Netflix, excited.
VD: You both have been a part of big animated series before. But Guillermo del Toro is a tough act to follow. Was there an added sense of responsibility that came with creating Pacific Rim: The Black? What were some of the main goals you had when creating the series?
GJ: It’s very easy to get psyched out when the expectations are huge. The financial investment, the eager fandom, and yes, the original creators. But that level of anxiety is just not healthy for a creative environment. Craig and I had to ignore all of that. What was directly in front of us was this captivating, exciting world, and our goal was to find a different way into it. Doing so without retelling the same “saving the planet” stories in the films or continuing the lives of established characters. It needed to be unique to allow us the freedom to create what we wanted.
Kaiju. Jaegers. The Drift. Breaches. How could we take those elements and do something different with them that wouldn’t betray their roles in the franchise? The Jaeger, for example. It’s built to fight monsters. But what if it also becomes home to two young heroes-in-the-making? As well as a vehicle for getting across half a continent? Or an object of desire for someone wanting it for their own? We started to realize that we could create something entirely new that was right at home with what Guillermo del Toro had established, expanding on his brilliant ideas to add more dimension to what’s already there.
VD: What was the audience response when the first season released? Did it add some extra fuel in the creative tank for this second season?
GJ: I would say the Season 1 response has been overwhelmingly positive. I believe new and established fans have found something in the series that mattered enough to continue the journey with us. At the core of it all, they saw characters that resonated truthfully with real emotion, a brother and a sister struggling with impulsive actions and bad decisions, yet it’s clear they have good hearts, so we cheer for them.
VD: The series has received a lot of attention for its visuals, which is a new animation style produced by Polygon Pictures. Talk to me about what went into the design decisions for this series. What was it like getting to work with the Polygon team, known for the Netflix original anime series Levius, the Ajin: Demi-Human series, and the Godzilla Netflix original anime movie trilogy?
GJ: I’m a big fan of the people at Polygon Pictures. They delivered a series so beautiful that my jaw would drop sometimes while watching dailies. We initially met with half a dozen animation studios, but only Polygon asked us one telling question: Why anime? Not to suggest another route, but to get an understanding of what our motivations were. I found that very refreshing, a glimpse into the integrity of the company as a creative partner compared to that of just a service provider. We explained that since anime and manga had inspired del Toro when creating the world, we were essentially bringing Pacific Rim full circle back to its roots.
VD: Did you encounter any new production challenges that were unique to Season 2?
GJ: Most production challenges arise from budget or schedule constraints. As in all series, Pacific Rim: The Black needed to be produced within those kinds of parameters. And sometimes problems didn’t present themselves until it was time to animate. Take the Sisters, for example. They wear long robes. You’ll see in Season 2 that some of the Sisters ride Rippers, their horse-sized Kaiju. Putting someone in a floor-length robe astride an animal becomes complicated to animate.
Would they ride side-saddle? No, they’d look ridiculous. Do they pull their robes up and expose their legs? That would also look silly. Polygon suggested giving the Sisters full-body undergarments so they could shed their robes before riding. In a way, it’s like they’re getting into battle mode when they do this, so it works nicely.
VD: What can you tell us about what fans of the first season can get excited for with this second season?
GJ: Our hope is that the obstacles facing our heroes get resolved in ways the viewers don’t see coming. There will be reveals about Taylor and Hayley’s parents, backstory on Loa, and acts of heroism from people you don’t expect.
VD: Looking back at the whole journey, what’s been your favorite part about working on Pacific Rim: The Black? What will you miss most now that the series is ending?
GJ: I’m going to miss writing the characters. Their complexity, their emotional baggage, their undying devotion to what they believe in - even if it’s wrong or misguided. Creating scenes between characters where each brings a unique perspective and then seeing how they defend their points of view is the stuff writers dream of. I’m also really going to miss Bunyip Man. You’ll have to watch the new season to meet him.