All Earth was but one thought – and that was death. Lord Byron perfectly encapsulates the darkness humankind has threaded, even in its earliest period. That is even more evident in the newest Adult Swim series. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal marathon ended with its fifth episode and what a grand season finale it was. With that said, it’s finally time to analyze and give our opinions on Primal. Be advised, spoilers ahead!
A Darker Narrative
The story of Primal takes place in an alternate Mesozoic Era, during its inevitable end. Spear, a primordial man, lives an ordinary life, being a carrying father and mate. However, his paradise soon comes crashing down, as he witnesses the death of his family by a pack of T-Rex’s. Devastated by his inability to protect, he spirals into depression, going as far as to almost committing suicide. Tho broken, Spear decides to move on with his life, honoring the memory of his loved ones. It is then that he stumbles upon Fang, a female Tyrannosaurus, defending her offsprings from the same pack of dinosaurs. Befallen by the same tragedy, the two team up in an attempt to avenge their fallen kind.
Bound by the same misfortunes, Spear and Fang become traveling companions in hopes of better chances at survival. Both devoided of any humanity, they mercilessly kill and hunt just for a moment of rest and a piece of food. There is no objective to their travel, no end goal, and slaughter is its own reward. A chance to look upon the sunrise the next day is the only aspiration these protagonists have in a bleak and bloodthirsty world.
However, the need for survival carries its own burden. Supplies are short, and with two mouths to feed, tensions rise. A breaking point that tests the strength of this uneasy partnership, one they manage to overcome, but only due to an equal foe. An encounter with a river of snakes strengthens their bond and reminds them that separated they don’t stand a chance.
As winter slowly engulfs the world, new challenges await even the mightiest. Slaying an aging mammoth might have given them warmth and food but at a price of inviting its own kin to their nest. Spear finally reflects on the nature of all living creatures, a need to kill and spill blood, all to a pointless cause. While his encounter with the woolly mammoth pack might have left him physically broken, Spear manages to find the humanity he once abandoned. Every creature in this world has its own family and goes to great lengths to protect it. However, some creatures bow down to more sinister abominations.
Terror Under the Blood Moon is an episode brimmed with monstrosities that evoke fear and terror. There is nothing more horrifying than a horde of savage beasts servicing a much greater one. Though initially taking her partner for granted, Fang demonstrates just how far she is willing to go for an ordinary caveman. Facing batlike creatures and a gigantic spider, the two once again ride into the sunset. Nevertheless, even one broken guard down can cripple the entire team effort. Man is its own greatest enemy, and in the final episode, this is even more evident.
A massacre concludes the season’s last episode, but with a cliffhanger, we are eager to unravel as soon as possible.
Themes and Emotions
Tartakovsky stated that his new animated feature is meant to be horror-themed, so that’s precisely what you should expect. While viewers won’t be treated to jumpscares and boogiemen, the sense of dread follows each episode. The world the protagonists inhabit while beautiful is on the verge of decaying, maintained only through violence and savagery. There doesn’t exist a good or evil character in this story, all decisions are based simply on the means of survival. Kill or be killed is how both of their journeys begin and end. That being said, Spear and Fang, both express other emotions rather than just senseless violence and rage.
While neither speaks a single syllable throughout the show, their grunts, roars, and shrieks are enough to resonate with viewers. Savagery and anger take up the better part of their travel, but that is not always the case. An episode like A Cold Death showed a more gentle side of both characters. Their doubts, gilts, and insecurities all well displayed by simple gazes and touch. Over time the two actually begin to care for each other, considering themselves as one unit. And although these tender moments give a sense of security, it is nothing but false, as these moments are usually broken by the harsh reality they find themselves in.
Much like its title, Primal is its central motive. Violence and gore is the core philosophy of the primordial world. Everything is out to get you, and you can either become a predator or prey. As everything collapses and dies out, it beckons the question, when and how does it all end? Mankind is nothing different than the beasts that inhabit this world, and will boldly charge to their deaths to just eat.
Abandoned by the hope of a brighter future, all creatures can just give into and revel in this darkness. While humble at first, Spear is no different than anyone he encounters during this show. Fang is by birth a predator, and she easily blends into the world she finds herself in, while her companion struggles with his own personal demons. Giving in to his primal nature or maintaining his humanity, is the actual conflict throughout the series.
Though the project is mainly Tartakovsky’s, the art style and animation are mostly done by Scott Wills. Willis previously worked with Genndy on multiple other projects, yet his most famous is Samurai Jack. The same art direction is back in Primal. Extended sceneries accompanied by a vivid palette that drives a different emotional response depending on the situation. Its wilderness expressed through a variety of colors, yet slightly hinting at its decay with muddier shades.
Harsh winters drawn with darker blues, grays, and browns, all in the presence of polar lights. Jungles, on the other hand, have more vibrant colors with mixtures of pink, green, light blue, and light brown. During more action-packed scenes darker red, greens, and orange perfectly highlight the impending danger of the prehistoric world.
As a veteran of the industry, Willis gives a lot of attention to smaller details. Scenes are shoot with a greater emphasis on pausing, for a more dramatic purpose and for showcasing all the small accessories one scene can have. This is displayed even more in the opening of the final episode, Rage of the Ape Men. The episode starts off with Spear and Fang reaching an oasis. Both protagonists bask in the oasis’s beauty, and Willis takes the perfect opportunity to lower the viewer’s guard with his bright colors and calm ambiance.
Much like his landscapes, the design of creatures equally astounds and terrifies. Spiders, bats, dinosaurs, mammoths, each one with their own distinct personality. Besides that, during more violent scenes, the artist doesn’t shy away from showing as much gore as possible. Bones, guts, and organs all with gallons of blood. Coupled with an intense soundtrack, Tartakovsky successfully sets the mood he envisioned from the beginning.
In a world were most studios still rely on heavy exposition and cheap animation, it’s nice to see something fresh and new, yet familiar. From beginning to the end, Primal is a wild ride, filled with some truly emotional depth. It’s not just an adult cartoon, but rather a complex series that raises questions about our own humanity. In each man beats a primal heart, and although we try to calm it, it will inevitably burst out.
An engaging story that’s not meant to be taken lightly, yet is meant to trigger an emotional response due to its subject and imagery. Primal is admittedly a distinct approach to storytelling, and something future animators should aspire to. With absolute certainty, we consider this prehistoric animated series a must-watch in 2019. We are still left with five more episodes to come in the future, so stick around with us for the second review, when they release.