Slow pace and conflicting characters overshadow the potential for incredible villains and giant robots.
Circle of Fire: The Black, Netflix’s new anime in partnership with Legendary Pictures, is another attempt to continue the legacy left by Guillermo Del Toro’s Circle of Fire. Even without the direct involvement of its creator, the production manages to reinvent itself successfully, despite a long, endless story.
While the original film brought a fresh Western twist to the century-old kaiju culture explored by Japanese culture, The Black goes the other way and ends up drawing unfair comparisons to great anime classics, like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Despite the stumbles, The Black lays a solid foundation for a bright future.
Title: Circle of Fire: The Black
Creation: Greg Johnson and Craig Kyle
Director: Masayuki Uemoto, Susumu Sugai and Takeshi Iwata
Number of episodes: 7
Synopsis: After traumatic events, brothers Taylor and Hayley search for their parents in post-apocalyptic Australia, but things start to go wrong when they are captured by a group of bandits.
A lost Australia
At first, Circle of Fire: The Black feels like another generic story of giant robots defending the world from an alien invasion – or in this case, just Australia.
The story takes place years after the events of Circle of Fire: The Uprising. And while it’s possible to understand the plot without any prior knowledge of the franchise, The Black makes no effort to explain the concepts explored by the previous films. Therefore, it is recommended to watch all productions in the order of release.
Australia was completely dominated by the Kaiju, and when the Jaegers failed, the only solution was to bomb the Lost Continent – giving rise to the Dark Zone. It is in this desolate post-apocalyptic country that the protagonists Hayley and Taylor emerge. After a series of tragedies, the brothers are forced to search for their parents on a journey into the unknown.
Del Toro’s difficult legacy
Black’s big challenge is to put the kaiju back into the center of the story after the events of Circle of Fire. The film was not designed to have sequels and, therefore, puts a definitive end to the question of kaijus. But stopping fighting these monsters is out of the question, after all, it’s an essential part of the franchise. The question is: how to save them?
The Uprising chose to take the more difficult route by accepting the ultimatum left by Guillermo Del Toro, but The Black prefers to take a bold hybrid approach: bringing back the Kaijus without failing to explore scientific alternatives for the enigmatic creatures.
Based on this, the narrative weaves an intriguing web of mysteries that manages to carry audience interest through much of the story, even when the characters fail to entertain.
If, on the one hand, mythology arouses curiosity, personal relationships could not be more generic. And that’s a big deal when they’re tasked with balancing big action scenes.
Circle of Fire is all about overcoming personal trauma, being vulnerable to others, and trusting your allies to solve giant problems. It’s almost a meditation in the form of an action movie. But in The Black, the protagonists forget their traumas when the story needs to move forward and the whole emotional issue loses much of its impact.
To make matters worse, the behavior of some characters shows no consistency. There seems to be a certain lack of coordination among the writers, which particularly affects Taylor. In one episode, he is extremely careful with strangers. In another, he ends up in trouble for having too much confidence. It’s less noticeable as the plot progresses, but it breaks the immersion when the story struggles to engage.
This is yet another symptom of the constant problem that the series demonstrates by finding a tone, which is only resolved with the introduction of the kaiju smugglers. The antagonists bring much needed attention to the narrative that makes the risks much more present.
Even though there aren’t many battles between kaijus and Jaegers, the couriers bring remarkable tension that anything can go wrong if the good ones break the line. Much of this is thanks to Shane’s passive violence, controlling everything with major threats that are even more intimidating when done – similar to Kingpin in the Daredevil series.
His sophisticated methods of manipulation incorporate the mythology of the series and help expand notions of what is possible in this post-kaiju world. He dominates every episode he appears in and elevates the anime to a level of excellence that is maintained until the last moments.
It is only in these final moments that we have the long awaited battles between the Jaeger and the Kaijus. The anime does a great job of forging a personal issue between the brothers and the giant monster that culminates in a glorious final battle.
Throughout its seven episodes, Circle of Fire: The Black is very concerned with leaving a solid foundation for the future of the franchise. The biggest concern of this first season is to put all the pieces in place, by raising the expectations of what is to come.
Despite the issues, this is a great anime to watch. When engaged, The Black brings an engaging mystery with interesting battles and promising characters. It won’t surprise the most skeptical, but it will entertain those who watch without high expectations.