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Back in 2018, Cartoon Network/Turner Broadcasting filed a trademark for Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Primal”. At the time, no one knew what this was other than it being a new project being made by Genndy and presumably the same team that put together “Samurai Jack” season five. Fast forward to earlier this year and the first teaser trailer for Primal dropped and it looked amazing and it seemed to be a new direction for Genndy. A much more grittier and bloodier tone permeated that entire teaser and while the teaser did tell you what the basic idea was there was still so much more we didn’t know about. How long was it gonna be? Would it be going to Toonami? Will this show feature voice acting? Over the weeks and months we would get answers to those questions. As stated in a previous article Primal would not be going to Toonami instead Adult Swim would be premiering it as a special series. During Annecy an animation festival held in France, Genndy premiered the first episode of Primal. It was confirmed that the show had no dialogue and would be completely silent. Then a few months later Adult Swim dropped a full trailer on their social media pages and confirmed that Primal would be a five night mini series comprised of thirty minute episodes. To say the least, Primal had a lot to live up to considering that this is the next project from a creator that tends to experiment with new styles and storytelling techniques, but this would mark the first shift from working on mostly TV-Y7 series to a TV MA one. So does it live up to those expectations?
The story of Primal is very simple, it’s about a caveman and dinosaur teaming up and surviving in the world. There is not a lot here in terms of a deep narrative, but that isn’t the driving force with Primal. The idea of survival being the sole driving force means we can spend less time thinking about their being an antagonistic force and focus primarily on the two central characters. When it comes to storytelling, Genndy Tartakovsky is a master storyteller, his previous works like, Samurai Jack had very little in terms of dialogue, instead focusing on how to tell the story with just visuals alone. With that he manages to create a great pace along with detailed facial and body expressions accompanying sounds such as music to set the mood. Their is a lot of quiet time but when the story wants to get wild it gets intense at the right moments. Not a moment passes that something isn’t amazing to take in. Such as the beautiful music. Tyler Bates who worked on “Sym Bionic Titan” and the final season of Samurai Jack, is the main composer for Primal. His compositions for the show are great. He manages to creates a mood and atmosphere that complements the actions on screen. When the scene demands intensity the music builds up and creates this intense feel like these characters are fighting for their lives. Same applies for when there’s a more somber scene the music becomes melodramatic and sets the tone nicely. Without it, the show would be lost and would end up crippling the final product since without any words being said music is necessary to set the tone of the scene.
Of course that would all be meaningless if the show wasn’t good at telling the story, which thankfully it excels in. Genndy manages to tell the narrative in a very smart way most cartoons don’t tend to do. The central characters that being the caveman and dinosaur manage to have this dynamic relationship despite the fact neither talk. It’s all done in the details, but the way Genndy and his team can get down the most basic of emotions and it managing to hit hard is just a testament to how well they know the medium of animation. One scene in particular from the second episode where they are hunting for food, but the dinosaur keeps taking the food from the caveman. You can see the anger and frustration within the caveman’s eyes and you can feel and understand that type of frustration. Even the little things like the fight sequences are done in such a stylish and unique way that makes Genndy’s previous attempts feel like warm ups. For example, in many of the episodes the caveman manages to find items in the environment around him to use as a weapon, just in case he didn’t have his spear. Speaking of the action, this show can be pretty brutal. Like from the first episode alone a dinosaur rips another dinosaur’s face off and it only gets more brutal from there. It doesn’t get super gory but it certainly isn’t for children.
The animation and art in Primal is also incredible. Genndy has always enlisted the same talent with all his projects since Samurai Jack and it is no different here Scott Wills is the art director for Primal and it looks great. If Samurai Jack was a moving painting, I would describe Primal as more of a moving graphic novel. The line work is more sketchy, characters have think outlines, and the graphic violence reminds me a lot of Frank Miller’s work such as 300 and Sin City specifically. Colors pop, the background art is breathtaking, and overall the art direction is wonderful. The color red stands out the most in Primal. It is not just used for the blood, but also the lighting. It tends to contrast a lot to either the lighter backgrounds or the silhouettes of the characters or enemies in various scenes of the show. While the art direction is great, the animation done by French studio Studio La Cachette is outstanding. The animation team who put this together manage to convey the damage done to the enemies and having this sense of weight to the weapons.
As for any criticisms there aren’t many. If the only negatives I have are that the first couple episodes can be a bit slow and that there are some obvious animation shortcuts used, those tend to be very minor since Primal overall is great. For the four episodes that I have seen, each episode tops the last with its visual storytelling. It is an evolution of what Genndy managed to do with Samurai Jack’s presentation taken to the next level. This show could have been a fifteen minute short series that consisted of maybe ten episodes, but the fact that these are full half hour episodes and are fully realized, that have moments of levity along with intensity makes this series an engaging watch from beginning to end. It is a show I highly recommend and one that I can say is easily one of the best Television shows of this year.
Primal Premieres on Adult Swim October 7th at Midnight/11 PM CST