By Michaele Jordan: Who’s back?” you ask. Spear and Fang, of course! But perhaps you have not heard of Genddy Tartakovsky’s Primal? (Apparently, Mr. Tartakovsky has become such a big name since making the first three Hotel Transylvania films that his name must now be included in new titles.) I never saw the Hotel Transylvania films, but I thought Symbionic Titans was fabulous, and I loved Samurai Jack so much that I bought the disks instead of just recording them from the TV – which may not sound like much to you, but it’s a big deal to me. I’m a serious cheapskate. He’s won a lot of awards. (None of them Hugos.)
Which brings us back to Primal (Cartoon Network/Adult Swim). Season One first aired (or rather started to air) on October 8, 2019, with five episodes dropping in a clump. They did not appear online. They ran for four days, and vanished. The last episode shown ended unhappily, but Primal was a dark show. A tragic ending was plausible. So, when no further episodes materialized, I thought it was over. A mini-series.
Then, a year later, five more episodes dropped. They were not widely advertised (maybe not at all.) The show ran for a month, and stopped again. I tell you this because I looked it up on Wikipedia. I knew nothing of it at the time.
Season Two did not appear until July, 2022, this time preceded by multiple commercials. I eagerly set my DVDR, only to be utterly bewildered when I watched the first episode. The two protagonists spent the entire episode searching for a third character of whom I’d never heard. It turned out that the third character had been introduced in the season finale (episode ten) of Season One. That’s how I found out that there had been five episodes aired in 2020.
It took a bit of searching, but I did eventually manage to dig them out of On Demand. (Mind you, I’m glad On Demand exists, but it’s not always user friendly.)
By now, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim seems to have learned their lesson. (Or maybe some rich producer gave them enough money to upgrade.) Primal is now available on HBO Max, with each episode dropping the day after it premieres on Cartoon Network/Adult Swim. And HBO Max – bless their little digital hearts – is also carrying Season One, in its entirety.
Now that I have rolled my eyes at how easy you have it these days, and regaled you with the difficulties I had to undergo (Hey, I’m old. That’s what old people do.) let me assure you that watching Primal is worth your while.
You should be aware that it is nothing like what you normally expect of anime. There are no perky school-girls or gung-ho boy pilots in Primal. And there is absolutely nothing sweet about it –except that it is so beautifully drawn that it’s hypnotic. There are monsters, but they are not from outer space or another dimension, they are from the late Mesozoic. You should think carefully about whether the kids should be allowed to watch it. Not because of the sexual content – there is none – but because of the graphic violence, and the bleak, grim vision of life. Like Hobbes said, “Ugly, brutish, and short is the life of man.”
This is an alternate history story, in which humans evolved in time to cohabit the earth with dinosaurs. So there’s no clever dialogue. The Neanderthal protagonist, Spear, does not talk. He grunts. He has formed an unlikely friendship (there’s a back story for that) with Fang, whom the animators label as a Tyrannosaur (although she looks more like an Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus or Gorgosaurus).
The setting is not just an unspoiled earth, but an earth still young and raw, and only barely inhabited. Most of the flora and fauna look authentic (or at least like the pictures in the earth science textbooks). And Mr. Tartakovsy is a master of landscaping animation, as he plainly demonstrated in Samurai Jack. The imagery is intense and compelling
The stories are simple. There are so many dangers in in this gargantuan wilderness you don’t need to make much up. But, just in case, Mr. Tartakovsy throws in magic, too. Again, it’s not much like what you expect to see in anime. It’s dark and primitive – not so much evil as pre-good-and-evil.
As I’m sure you’ve already deduced, I love this show. I want to see it on next year’s Hugo list. But I have to admit, it’s very dark – maybe too much so for some. But, hey! We are fans! The brave and bold! Give it a try!