posted by Renegade1765
However, among all these juggernauts of animation, the one that intrigued me the most was without a doubt Genndy Tartakovsky's newest series - Primal. It's a prehistoric fantasy show about a caveman at the dawn of evolution, and a dinosaur on the brink of extinction. Bonded by tragedy, this unlikely friendship becomes the only hope of survival in a violent, primordial world. It'll be for a more mature audience, will feature no dialog whatsoever, and it's being made by one of the greatest cartoonists of all time. Needless to say, when I first watched the teaser trailer for it back in May of 2019 I was beyond hyped.
I made it no secret in the past that I'm a massive fan of Genndy's work. This is mostly due to the fact that the cartoons he created were a big part of childhood, and contributed a lot to the person I am today. Samurai Jack is my favorite childhood show and to this day it still is one of my all-time favorites. He collaborated with George Lucas to make the 2003 Clone Wars cartoon, which was my introduction to Star Wars. He also created other shows like Dexter's Laboratory and Sym-Bionic Titan, and was also the director of all the Hotel Transylvania movies - all of which hold nostalgic value to me. While I don't want to sound like I'm worshiping the man, he's my biggest inspiration as an artist and animator. Anything that he makes is guaranteed to be great, or at the very least peek my interest.
From what I've seen from the promos, the trailers, the sneak peeks, Primal looked amazing! I eagerly waited for this series to finally premier. And when the day finally came...I forgot about it...Yeah, as hyped as I was to finally see this literal bloody epic, I forgot what the date was.
It was a Monday night. I secretly stayed up late as usual to do some extra work, until I suddenly remembered what date it was. I looked the series up on KissCartoon (one of the sites I use to watch cartoons and other animated content from the west), and Primal's first episode was on the front page. I was sitting in a chair, all by myself in a dark room, with the only source of light being the screen of my laptop that was in front of me. After I was done watching it, I knew that this show is going to be one of my favorites.
Having binged the show at least 5 times, I can safely say that Primal's first season is a modern masterpiece. This show is everything I asked for in terms of an adult cartoon, as it uses its age rating to tell a compelling story that can entice people, rather than just being another dime-a-dozen raunchy comedy, that tries to emulate the success of The Simpsons and Family Guy, and failing miserably at it. There were exceptions, of course - but the reason why Primal stood out to me the most is because it sort of resonated with me that very few shows do, and I'll elaborate why that is.
I'll sort this review in a few segments, because there's a lot to talk about in terms of this fantastic cartoon and why I love it so much.
How it came to be
If you're wondering why Genndy and crew decided to make a show like this, we need to back one decade. Around the year 2008, when Genndy finally opened-up his own studio he felt burned out and didn't really know what to do. So, he doodled some sketches and maybe create a short comic. The drawings were of a much younger Spear and Fang going on adventures together, drawn in an Osamu Tezuka inspired style.
During the airing of Samurai Jack's final season, the scenes that got the most positive feedback were the quiet ones. As a result, Genndy pondered if he could make an entire show with zero dialog. Seeing how well people responded to the quite moments in Samurai Jack, and because his tastes have matured, he used his old sketches as a template for Primal. So, he started storyboarding it, and figured it's just going to be an 11 minute short, that's going to be adult and with no dialog. Maybe even doing it freelance, and nothing would come of it.
When Samurai Jack's fifth season ended, their producer and boss, Mike Lazzo asked "So, what's next?" On a whim, Genndy showed his storyboards and sketches of Primal, and Mike loved it so much that he green-lit the project, and gave him carte blanche to do anything with it.
Genndy is also a big fan of Conan the Barbarian, and he basically wanted to do his own version of Conan.
This isn't the first time he referenced both Conan and the author Robert E. Howard's other works.
In Samurai Jack, the main villain Aku is voiced by the late Mako Iwamatsu, who played a wizard in the 1982 Conan movie. And in the beginning of every episode, Aku gives an epic opening monologue, in a similar way his voice actor Mako did with his iconic "Between the times when the oceans drank Atlantis..." monologue.
In Sym-Bionic Titan, the character Solomon is inspired by Solomon Kane, another one of REH's creations. (For those who never heard of the character, Solomon Kane is puritan adventurer who travels the world and faces off against the supernatural forces of evil with his sword and two pistols, vanquishing them in the name of God and Christ.)
Finally in Primal, the main duo are named after the very first book that REH ever wrote, "Spear and Fang". Spear's design is also based on Frank Frazetta's depiction of Conan. The episode "Coven of the Damned" also has some similarities to the story "A Witch Shall be Born", since both Conan and Spear are crucified in the same x-shaped position.
One of the goals of Primal was to give it a strong horror theme. To accomplish this, the crew drew influence from multiple sources, not just Conan the Barbarian, but also Osamu Tezuka, Frank Frazetta, Jean Giraud, Mike Mignola, Ralph Bakshi, and Heavy Metal Magazine.
According to art director Scott Wills, nature documentaries were also a significant source of inspiration for Primal. On first glance this seems ridiculous. After all, the world of Primal has humans, dinosaurs, giant animals, ape-men, witches and zombies co-existing with one-another. However, what he meant was that the information they gathered from nature documentaries helped influence the behavior and nature of the various creatures and animals in the show. Essentially trying to make this fantasy world feel as real as possible.
There are other aspects of how this masterpiece was made, but I mainly wanted to talk about the stuff that I found the most interesting about its production. I'll talk about behind the scenes stuff further down below.
Show, don't tell
One of the best things I appreciate about Primal the most is that the series has no dialogue, focusing purely on visual storytelling. The only exception is a vocal accompaniment of grunts, screams, and roars. There's also the season finale "Slave of the Scorpion", the one time any spoken words or language is used in Primal.
Everything that you need to understand about the events that happen are told purely though the visuals and the actions of the characters. It sort of creates this new form of language that doesn't require a single word in order for it to be understood. It's pure cinema at its finest.
Tartakovsky himself isn't a stranger to this type of show. Samurai Jack also featured very little in terms dialog, only being used when it was actually needed. For the majority of the time, Samurai Jack focused on building an atmosphere that it would break-up via a bombastic action sequence or moment. Allowing the audience to patiently and attentively wait for something to happen, as they're caught off-guard and will want to see what happens next. Primal does the same, with a good example being the first scene in the show when Spear is patiently fishing, only for him to get ambushed by a giant crocodile, as it cuts to the title of the show.
Primal is sort of like a modern animated equivalent of a silent film. Its obsessed with movement and rythm than anything else. Stripping away unnecessary dialog and letting the images guide us. I would argue that quiet sequences like these are one of the most key defining characteristics of his work. Holding onto a silent moment for sometimes uncomfortably long amount of time, and then have the audience rewarded for their patience with a moment of epic proportions.
A brilliant example of this would be the scene in episode 2, when Spear is trying to sleep but is unable to because Fang is snoring too loudly. He gets visibly frustrated, to the point of throwing pebbles at Fang to make her shut up. As she goes back to sleep and continues snoring, Spear does shadow puppets to cheer himself up. He glances to his side, as we see his two children watching him do his trick of mimicking various animals. Spear is reminded of the moments of joy he had with his family, trying his best to go back to how things were not so long ago. Sadly, this brief moment of levity is cut short, as the shadows take the form of a horned T-Rex that devoured his children. Shocked by this, he glances back and they are gone. The only thing that exists on that spot is Fang, who resembles the same beasts that took his family away from him. His grief turns to pure anger, as he snarls at Fang. Having woken up she notices how Spear looks at him, and she snarls back at him. Setting up the animosity these two will have for one-another, and the inevitable fight it's going to turn into. Without a single word spoken, Primal manages to convey this much in such a short time.
The name "Primal" (meaning first, original, or something primeval), has a lot of meaning behind it. On one hand, it feels like Genndy is going back to the very fundamentals of visual storytelling while applying the modern techniques of today. Episode 4, "Terror Under the Blood Moon" can be boiled down to a story of directions. Act 1 opens on our caveman and dinosaur duo fleeing from a pursuing pack of Velociraptors. The further to the right these two go the more dangerous the situation becomes. In Act 2, Spear and Fang are facing-off against giant, red bats and a ginormous spider. And finally in Act 3 they turn around and run back to the way they came, while also finding a solution to take out two birds with one stone. It's a simple but effective piece of action storytelling, not entirely unlike Mad Max Fury Road, which basically told its plot the same way. Start in this direction, stop, turn around and run back the way you came.
On the other hand, it speaks to the primal feelings we all have - no matter what culture and spanning across most ages. It has no exclusive factors.There is no language barrier, and there are no cultural strereotypes. It also leaves a lot to the imagination of the individual watching. You fill in the gaps with your own interpretation, rather than having it spoon fed to you. In episode 9, "The Night Feeder" it's never explained where the titular creature that stalks and kills anything it sees comes from. It's either a common animal that exists in this world, or maybe it's some sort of anomaly and is super-natural. Same thing with the virus from "Plague of Madness".
For however much the show emphasizes a sense of simplicity, it's packed with unfathomable nuance. Most deceptively, it suggests a barebones approach to its storytelling by lacking any spoken dialogue, substituted instead for grunts and roars. Even so, the narrative is just as compelling, if not more compelling outright, because we're no longer stuck reading between the lines of dialogue or having a character's feelings explained to us. No, Primal reaches directly into the emotional core of its characters through its quieter moments, a combination of Tartakovsky's simple but expressive animation and Aaron LaPlante's performance as Spear, both going hand-in-hand to reveal everything about a character's inner state with something as minute as a twitch or a blink. We get more didactic flashes of their inner turmoil, especially in the form of Spear's despair over his slaughtered family, but the subtle interactions between Spear and Fang, two characters who need each other to survive, are among the most evocative.
Going back to episode 2, it begins with Spear and Fang hunting the same prey together, but in a way that shows that the two are still separate. This creates tension between the two, eventually resulting in a skirmish in the rain. It's only when they have to defeat a common enemy that they realize how much they need each other. After they settled their differences, the episode ends with them hunting the same prey again, only this time they're working together as a team. Fang let's Spear ride on top of her, thus allowing them to catch the warthog much faster while he uses his weapon to finish the prey off. It follows a simple but effective structure. It's a story of rising antagonism that dissipates into friendship.
One of the best aspects of this is that people usually don't watch a show, but rather have it in the background as just noise, or listen to it while they're working on something else. With Primal, however, the way it's structured and the lack of dialog basically commands our full attention. And because the stories are both simple but very effectively told, you don't get bored or confused by what's going on.
Episode 10, "Slave of the Scorpion" is the only episode in the series so far to feature any dialog whatsoever, with the introduction Mira.
After Spear frees Mira from her shackles, she embraces her newfound freedom and introduces herself to both our duo and the audience. Making her the first character on the show to actually talk. However, even with the introduction of spoken words, Primal still keeps a consistent way of communicating through its visuals.
Mira is speaking in Arabic, a language that's just foreign enough that most people might not understand what's she's saying. It puts us in the eyes of Spear, we have no idea what she’s saying and can only interpret through the pictures and gestures. Instead of resorting to subtitles, Genndy found a way that helps clue both the audience and Spear on what Mira's trying to say, without losing the "pure cinema" factor that Primal is known for.
Since I ragged on about how well it uses its visuals, it's time I actually talk about the look of the show. Primal is drop-dead gorgeous. Despite all the bone-breaking, decapitation and disembowelment, Primal is a visual marvel. You can just take a screenshot of any random scene or moment, and it would make for an epic looking wallpaper. The environments from each episode vary, managing to look both desolate and beautiful at the same time. From frozen tundras, to a desolate landscape, to a dense forest, to beaches, and so on. They are not only gorgeous to look at, they genuinely feel alive. These environments are done by background designer Christian Schellewald - who used to work at Dreamworks and helped bring many classics to life: The Road to El Dorado, The Prince of Egypt, Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda, Flushed Away, and Over the Hedge.
The oasis from the beginning of episode 5 has got to be my favorite location in the entire show. Mostly because it has everything anyone could ask for in terms of a paradise: peace and quite, sunny and warm weather, fish that you can catch with ease, water to swim in, no enemy to bother you, and sand to play in.
The animation is done by French studio "Studio La Cachette", who didn't really do much aside from a few animated shorts. Genndy saw potential in them and sent an email if they were interested in helping make his new show a reality, which of course they accepted because they love the man's work and consider it an honor to help bring his vision to life.
The style of the series is also not-overly pretty that it would feel out-of-place with all the bloodshed going around, but also beautiful enough to make you appreciate the environments and designs of the characters.
The action scenes are also fantastic. The way Tartakovsky stages them is mesmerizing. Not an endless barrage of punches and kicks, and no snarky banter. Different characters with different physiology moving violently and dynamically through a purposefully-designed environment.
A good example being when Spear and Fang hunt the elderly mammoth in episode 3. I bring up this particular fight sequence because it perfectly shows how well this show executes its action scenes. Spear and Fang most likely saw this animal approaching, so they planned ahead on how to kill it. They saw the slope and thought they could take advantage of the terrain. Spear would hide and then ambush it when the mammoth is on its knees, and once it's brought down the two of them can kill it much easier.
The aspect ratio of the show is also similar to what you'd see if you were watching a theatrical movie on a computer or TV screen. This gives Primal a more cinematic feel to it, making it seem as you just watched a 22 minute movie, as oppose to another episode to a show.
Primal has the potential to be a show for everyone due to its simplicity, the primeval subject, and the blunt way it is presented. This includes the fairly simple artstyle, the lack of spoken words, and easy to understand stories and motivations of the characters.
The sounds of silence
While Primal's most defining characteristic is its lack of dialog, to only acknowledge it as just a visual marvel is to look at half the picture. The show's sound design by veteran engineer Joel Valentine, is an auditory spectacle of the highest degree.
It's not just the effectively horrific squishing and crunching he layers in - but it's how this sound design helps create a nuance within the edit of each episode. There's a powerful sense of both texture and patience in the build of each mix. From Fang's footsteps, to the rain hitting their bodies, they sound and feel genuine. It truly makes you feel the speed and weight of every impact or movement.
One of the best examples I can think of is the Night Feeder from episode 9. While chasing its prey, the Night Feeder utters a high-pitched, shrill screech-like roar. This not only helps make the creature sound spine-chilling, but also has a ghostly, almost demonic feel to it. Joel Valentine managed to achieve this by dragging a piece of styrofoam on a large piece of wet glass. There are also instances where they use King Ghidorah's sound effects from Godzilla: The Planet Eater.
Another great example is episode 8 "Coven of the Damned". The magic that the witches use has swooshing, crackling, and bubbling sounds that feel alien, borderline lovecraftian. Coupled with the eerie music, and the sounds the witches make that go from deep grunts to banshee-like shrieking, it further reinforces a sense of otherworldly dread and horror.
They also added-in some neat details into the sound effects. For example, Fang and other dinosaurs tend to produce some chirping noises, which is a neat way of referencing that dinosaurs and birds are related. Or when Spear drinks the black serum and turns into a Hulk, his roars still have bits of his regular voice in them.
I also have to give credit to the voice actors. While Primal is a show that doesn't focus on words, there's still dialog, only in a different sort of language. The vocal performances that the actors give are very well done. Especially since they're given the bare-minimum, and all they have to do is scream or roar their lungs out. The one I really have to give credit for is Spear's voice actor, Aaron LaPlante. What Aaron has is something that Genndy always tends to find in his voice actors and that's a natural sense of timing and sincerity in his voice delivery. Even though most of his "dialog" is just yelling, screaming and grunting, he knocks it out of the park. He definitely gets both the cadence and the emotion of the moment right. Every time he roars or yells, he feels genuinely angry and frustrated. He has just the right amount of deep, bellowing masculinity, as well as raspiness and roughness in his voice that it fits perfectly for a primitive man like Spear.
I also have to give credit to the other voice actors on the show, such as: Tom Kenny and Jon Olsen who voiced several of the ape-men that appeared, Amanda Troop who voiced Lula and the other witches in episode 8, and Laetitia Eido-Mollon who voiced Mira.
While it is true that a good chunk of the roars in the show are stock, they're well integrated and sparingly used, so they rarely take away from the experience. The roars that the Infected Sauropod makes are stock, but with the right effects and tuning they feel terrifying.
The sounds effects are a joy to listen to, but they wouldn't be nearly as impactful or effective if it weren't the right type of music. Primal's OST feels less like orchestral pieces on an album and more like emotions or feelings of the moments were given an auditory form. The visuals, sound effects and music compliment each individual scene perfectly. It knows when to stay silent and let us take-in the atmosphere, and when to incorporate the right music for the moment. The song "Sickness" is present during the Sauropod's transformation into a zombie. The track perfectly represents the sound of a gentle mind that's descending into madness. It also contains a riff that sounds like going through a disgusting kind of gut feeling and you're on the verge of throwing up.
The soundtrack is composed by Tyler Bates and Joanne Higginbottom. The former did the music for 300, Sucker Punch, John Wick, and Dawn of the Dead, while the latter did the music for Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool 2, and The Punisher TV series. They did a phenomenal job here, and created one of the best OST's to a cartoon ever. My favorite tracks are: Tragic Death, A Witch's Tragedy, The Death, Family Death, and Jackal Fight.
Here's a link to the full soundtrack they released back in October of 2020: link
Unfortunately, it doesn't contain every piece of music that's featured on the show. Some tracks that I really wanted to see official releases for include: when Spear and Fang are running from the raptors, giant bats, witches and the Night Feeder. Or the theme that plays when Spear is building a makeshift stretcher for Fang and is struggling to carry her away.
While it's certainly a shame that not all pieces of music were officially released, Primal is just as much of an auditory spectacle as it is a visual one.
Spear and Fang
Up until this moment I think it's been made clear that from a technical and story point of view, Primal is a exemplary show. However, to ignore discussing our favorite caveman and dinosaur duo would be doing the cartoon a great injustice. For you see, Spear and Fang aren't just the main characters of Primal, they are its heart and soul.
While the image of a caveman riding on top of a T-Rex is certainly epic and eye-catching, Primal in its essence is about the suffering of two grieving parents. The unending strive for something better, the pain of the journey and the fragile fruit it labors at the end. After everything Spear has done to help and protect nothing is guaranteed that it will all be well in the end. The scene where he was about to jump and just couldn't may be seen as a moment of strength but I saw it as weakness and fear, absolute torment and loss as if he said; "What's the point? I'm already dead with out them" And the moment his family looks at him from the ever present sun kinda symbolizes that they are and always will be there for him. People forget and get a nasty reminder how just hard and difficult it is to be a human(not morally speaking but existentially). Even an absolute alpha male as Spear, and an apex predator like Fang suffer beyond what words can describe, and its simply just better to suffer and struggle with someone who is close by your side.
One of my favorite aspects of Spear and Fang as protagonists is their intelligence. Despite their primitive natures, they have both demonstrated observational and critical thinking skills, managing to both get out of difficult situations, and defeat a multitude of ferocious enemies.
There's no denying that when it comes to survival, Spear is as smart as he is strong. Some of the best examples throughout the series that reflect this include: figuring out that the mammoth herd attacking him and Fang wanted the tusk of their fallen kin, use the dead spider's web as a rope for him and Fang to get down, luring the bats into the raptor infested grass, drinking the black serum so he could become strong enough to save Fang and stop the apes, using spike-armored bugs as makeshift knuckle-dusters to fortify his punches against a pack of wild dogs, crafting a more manageable lift to move the wounded Fang without damaging his hands, figuring out the weakness of the Night Feeder and forging a plan on how to kill it, and using Fang's strong bite to free Mira from her shackles when he saw how uncomfortable she was from them.
I also love how, in the season finale, Spear doesn’t come across as less intelligent. He processes the world differently but he’s not dumber. He takes a look at the bow and realizes exactly how to use it with pinpoint accuracy and that being stronger he can launch a much bigger projectile. Essentially creating a makeshift ballista. He also uses drawings in the dirt to communicate with Mira, such as drawing the scorpion symbol on her head, his way of asking what it was and what it meant. After Mira is abducted and taken by the slavers, Spear speaks Mira's name, his first real word, demonstrating his comprehension of names.
As an experienced hunter, he is not bothered by violence and feels little empathy when slaughtering animals and dinosaurs. Despite this, he is still shown to care for his family, sympathizes with Fang when he sees her offspring attacked, risking his life to protect them and feeling devastated when he fails, and taking pity on weak and helpless creatures.
Despite being a primitive animal, Fang possesses keen intelligence with deducing when to fight back and when to maintain self-preservation. Fang is quite cognitive to the degree that she can communicate with Spear, a caveman, and hold an entire conversation by physical expressions. Nevertheless, Fang, unlike Spear, is quite audacious and straightforward about her preferences; she will behave stubbornly about it until she is satisfied.
Fang is astute, for she realized Spear was supporting her. She was also clever enough to play possum in order to be taken by the bats so that she could save Spear. She’s intelligent and has the capacity to understand how to fight like Spear, by jumping on the red bats. Furthermore, she even tries to warn Spear about the Night Feeder.
Complementing her fierce nature, Fang has strong loyalty to her allies and family. Numerous times Fang has proven to be extremely loyal to Spear and does not hesitate to rush to his side to protect him from more brutal opponents. She loved her offspring deeply and those who helped her family earned her respect, as shown when she was grateful to Spear for saving her offspring, then reacting in both rage and despair following their death by the Alpha Tyrannosaurus.
On the surface, Primal's story is nothing original. The relationship between man and beast has been done to death, so has the male hero losing his wife and children. However, what makes Spear and Fang as characters, and their relationship so compelling is because they aren't just friends, they're a family. In spite of their shared tragedy, they chose to move forward. Even after they've killed the pack that took their families away from them, it didn't bring them any happiness. Their children are still gone, and they are still alone, with seemingly nothing to live for. However, through empathy and respect, Spear and Fang filled the hole in the other's heart and have a new reason to live.
I don't know why, but I really enjoy the scenes where it's just the two of them walking side-by-side, or sitting together at a campfire. Though very simple, these moments reinforce a sense of closeness and intimacy that these two have.
The comedic moments that result from the occasional disagreements they have are both genuinely funny, and very clever. In episode 5, when two are at the beach and Spear has collected a lot of fish, he bites into one and looks around the surrounding area, and when he looks back Fang ate all the remaining fish. But instead of being angry at Fang like he was in episode 2, his sour expression turns into a smile. Showcasing how he has grown as a person, and that his views on her changed. When the world wants you dead, or you're going through a lot of pain, having someone close to you that make things a little better, even if they can annoy you sometimes.
Setting it in a fantasy, prehistoric world was a brilliant choice, because the savagery and danger Fang and Spear will go up against has been pushed to its maximum level. Thus, making it all the more satisfying when they make it out alive.
There's a sense of stakes and complete unpredictability that keeps you perpetually on the edge, never ready for what could come next, and the series wields that power like nobody's business.
We humans consider ourselves superior to other animals because of our intellect and ability to communicate verbally. But when spoken words are removed, we're not that much different. Despite the fact that one is a human and the other is a dinosaur, they're the same. They're both animals who lost their respective offspring, and are very brave, skilled, strong survivors. And by combining their respective traits and talents, they can become a nigh unstoppable team. It reminds of this one quote from The Clone Wars (2008): "Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole."
Spear also resonated with me as a character, since we're both short, hairy men who don't talk much, and have violent tendencies, but make up for it with cleverness, strength, and empathy for others around us.
He's the combination of two of my favorite character types: The short one, and the quiet one. The reason why I like these two type of characters because they each compensate for a lack of something that's usually very important. The short ones proves that height doesn't matter, and it's the great things that a person can accomplish is what's important. While the quiet ones compensate for a lack of talking by showing the audience that actions speak louder than words.
Due to being a Neanderthal, it makes sense why he'd shorter than a Homo Sapien like Mira. He's also not yet familiar with the concept of spoken language, but in this case his actions speak louder than his words.
I know this sounds superficial, but I still mentioned it because this is how you do representation correctly. Unlike nowadays where most of it feels forced, or is done for the sake of pushing politics, here it feels natural. It's merely a bonus that, for some people like myself, can make it easier to connect with him.
The scene where Spear is contemplating suicide, but chooses not to take his own life is probably my favorite scene in the entire show. The best thing he could do was the only thing he could do, for it would be the best way to honor his family and help their memory live on. It was to decide to keep on living. To keep on living even when there seemed to be nothing to live for. Deciding to live is sometimes the hardest decision you will ever make. One might say that Spear is a coward for not jumping. I say that it takes true courage to face the deepest depths of hopelessness and despair and choose to step back from the edge.
I won't lie, this moment resonates with me the most. This is due to the fact that I've been in a similar place like Spear before. I wanted to end my life on multiple of occasions, because I considered myself a failure, a loser, and a burden to everybody else. All I wanted to do is to grab a knife and stake myself with it. But, despite all the hardships and humiliation I face every day, I choose to live. It's not easy, and I still get depressive episodes from time to time, but my dream and goals are far beyond any little set-back, and the only thing I can do is to push forward, hoping that things will get better. Sometimes to live, is an act of courage.
Also, Tyrannosaurus Rex is my favorite dinosaur of all time, and seeing one portrayed not as a villain but as a hero warms my heart greatly!
While not the most complex of stories, their relationship is something that anyone can understand, on some level. We can't relate to having a dinosaur as our best friend, but we can relate to living in a crazy and unfair world, losing someone close to us and experiencing grief, and looking out for one-another, despite our differences, to bring out the best in us.
The construction of a dark narrative
There has been a lot of debate about what makes a story truly dark and gritty. There has been a concensous that for a story to truly be dark and gritty, it must be serious and grim throughout, and I find that take to be inaccurate. Primal is a good example of a grim-dark story that's not just doom and gloom all throughout, and manages to balance levity with the death and violence that it features.
Grim-dark stories revolve around being grim and dark, and tend to be filled with blood and cruelty - where the line between good and evil are blurred, and our protagonists do things that morally questionable. This is usually the same opinion people usually have when it comes to serious stories: no humor, no fun, just a seemingly endless fight to a morally ambiguous end.
Primal wastes no time setting up its life or death narrative, as the very first episode features the brutal death of children and hatchlings. It's easy to look at it from face value and judge the series as a completely humorless, and depressing show that's endlessly dark and gory. But that's completely untrue. The very first scene has Spear fishing before getting attacked and almost swallowed hole by a giant crocodile. This scene provides a great micro-snapshot of the show: tranquility, death, and danger.
Primal is a fight for survival in a world that doesn't want you to survive, and this one small scene cements a great deal of what the show is about: there's always a bigger threat. This is a brutal world. Even the names of our duo reflect this. Spear is always wielding his signature weapon and is usually reliant on it. Fang as a T-Rex possesses the strongest bite-force out of any animal, while also having one tooth sticking out that's bigger than the others. They're named after their weapons of choice in this hostile environment, while also being a reference to REH's very first book.
Primal isn't just endless scenes of violent action scenes, brutal deaths, and serious moments. There's also beauty, fun, tenacity, and grace in its storytelling.
There aren't any casual deaths in Primal, as the violence is centered around necessity. Generally needing to kill in order to eat, or avoid being eaten. Primal never revels in its violence, however, more often it's portrayed as tragic and makes no allusions to it being fun.
Perhaps the best example of this is one of my favorite episodes from the show, episode 3 "A Cold Death". It opens on an old woolly mammoth, well passed its prime and fading into the confines of a blizzard as its herd moves on without it. There's a silent dignity to the mammoth struggling through the snow. Just from the design alone, you can tell that this is an elderly mammoth who has experienced many battles, to the point that its skin is covered in patches, one of the tusks is missing, while the remaining tusk is damaged. Then, Spear and Fang attack it. We've seen these two hunt before; the previous episode was about them killing boars and fighting over who gets the food, but this hunt is different...this is tragic. We see things from the mammoth's perspective, a sudden assault and the end of an already weary life.
The tragedy is enhanced when Spear has a flashback of when he was teaching his son how to hunt, and we see the empathy these two display as they pay respect to the animal that they had just slain. Its death is tragic, but it's also needed, and the least one can do in that situation is to honor the life that was snuffed-out. Spear and Fang didn't kill this elderly mammoth for fun - they both need meat, and Spear needs its pelt to survive the harsh winter.
Later in the episode, the rest of the mammoth herd discover the remains of their fallen member and mourn its death. However, this sorrow quickly turns to revenge when the matriarch of the group discovers the missing tusk, and ambush Spear and Fang who have taken it. This episode wasn't really about Spear and Fang, but rather this mammoth herd. In this episode they're the interlopers, the villains who killed a member of this community, and they must pay.
In the end, it's shouldn't be surprising that they prove no match for entire herd of mammoths, but they come out alive because Spear offers the fallen mammoth's tusk which he had used to pull a sled he made out of its remains. This episode doesn't end triumphantly or with bloodshed, but rather in empathy as the mammoths accept the peace offering and bring the tusk to a mammoth graveyard to mourn the loss of their eldest member.
The central focus of "A Cold Death" wasn't about Spear and Fang fighting a herd of woolly mammoths. It's a story about empathy and community, life and death, and it's told through the lens of a bitter fight for survival in a freezing winter. This episode highlights Primal's strength in storytelling, contrasting the death of the world with its quiet moments of life.
Speaking of, this contrast is also one of Primal's biggest strengths. For every bloody, vicious struggle to stay alive, there are also quiet moments. Times of empathy, joy, community, and family. Sometimes these moments are small, like when the albino caveman gives back Spear his signature weapon because he earned his respect when he fought the bats. Or when Spear cooks the spike-armored insects and then feeds them to Fang. Other times, this sense of empathy is what makes the episode.
In my personal favorite episode, "Coven of the Damned", Spear and Fang are captured by a coven of witches who want to sacrifice him and use his life force to create a new baby for them. The pair are only freed at the end by Lula, one of the witches who also lost her child in a tragic accident. Having seen Spear and Fang's memories, she's reminded of the time she also lost her child. She only took her eyes of her for a couple of seconds, and then she's gone forever. When she's painting the symbols on Spears body, you can tell that she doesn't want to do this because its not fair that this father lost his children and now has to lose his life as well. We also get to see two other witches walk passed her with their respective daughters, and one of them scowls at Lula. The death of her daughter most likely made all the other coven members shun Lula, as they lack any empathy for her sorrow and only see her as a terrible and irresponsible parent.
Spear and Fang only manage to escape because Lula shows empathy for their shared loss and wants them to have a better life than hers. Even though both Spear and Fang lost their respective families, they at least have each other - whereas Lula has nothing to live for. She's shunned by the rest of her community and lost the most important thing in her life: her daughter. However, by sacrificing her life, Lula found redemption and is rewarded in the afterlife by being reunited with her daughter. Spear even shows empathy to the deceased witch, because even though he doesn't understand why she decided to help them, he owes her his life.
There's also a lot of humor in Primal. Turns out if you pair a primitive human with a giant, death lizard with a big appetite, it lends itself to humor quite well. Probably the funniest episode so far is episode 2, "River of Snakes". Mostly because it has Spear constantly getting annoyed at Fang's antics. The jokes don't feel forced, because they make sense for the characters. The humor is also relatable, because anyone who is either a pet owner, or knows people who can get on your nerves, can relate to Spear's frustration with Fang. As someone who lives on a farm and thus, have multiple animals to take care of, including a big Saint Bernard who likes to get in people's way or faces, I definitely understood what Spear was going through. It could also be interpreted that Fang was trying to assert herself as the Alpha of the group, which is why she was constantly humiliating Spear, even taking a giant dump right next to him (which is easily the funniest part of the episode for me).
Episode 5, "Rage of the Ape-Men", is another great example how it uses contrast. Right of the bat, this episode doesn't open with a bombastic action sequence, but rather with peace and tranquility. Spear and Fang are walking through a jungle, only for them to stumble upon a gorgeous and peaceful oasis. The episode spends 9 minutes of its 22 minutes runtime with our duo just simply relaxing on this paradise. This serves not only as a rest from all the death and violence they've been through thus far, but it's also a kind of preparation for the bloody horror of what comes in the story's later 13 minutes.
The whole place is so peaceful that when Spear goes into the water to catch fish, they don't even bother to swim away. Probably because this place is so isolated and quiet that they don't have to worry about predators. So, Spear just grabs and bites into them with ease, even throwing one over for Fang. Within these 9 minutes, Spear and Fang finally found a place that they could call home, where they don't need to fight for their lives to survive, or worry that something bad is about to happen.
They both turn around and look at the water, while Fang notices that Spear has left a hand-print on the sand, so she leaves a footprint right next to it. The image of the two's hands right next to each other in the sand is the symbol of how close these two have become.
Finally, as Fang looks at her footprint, there's a worm coming out of it, only for her PTSD to kick-in and be reminded of the snakes. This serves to show that even an apex hunter like Fang can have fears, even if they might seem silly at first. It's also forshadowing, because worms eat dead meat, and she's almost beaten to death near the end. But to contrast with this serious moment, Spear grabs the worm to show Fang it's not a threat, and then just throws it in his mouth and eats it like its a french fry.
Much in the same way that Spear and Fang are relaxing, we also feel a sense of relief after everything we've been through with them. However, everything also feels too quiet. There's a creeping sense that something sinister is coming, and we don't know what. Like you need to look over your shoulder because something just doesn't feel right. Shots are drawn-out, and there's absolutely no music here. It's honestly one of the best example of "edge-of-your-seat" film-making that I've ever come across. And when the horror of those last 13 minutes comes, boy does it ever... I can only describe it as a gory ballet the likes of which puts Primal's other violent moments to shame.
All of this illustrates how Primal crafts its story. By contrasting the violence with these light moments, it adds texture and contrast to the show. Had the series just been an unrelenting sequence action, blood and death, Primal would've become a meaningless gore-fest and the show would become a single dull tone. Merely something to satisfy the inner gore-hound inside of you, and nothing more. But these contrasting moments add layers and texture to everything.
Another one of my favorite episodes, "Plague of Madness, has Spear and Fang running from a sauropod that was infected with a flesh-eating virus that essentially turned it into a zombie. Sauropod's are often times depicted as gentile giants, but this episode depicted it as a ravenous beast that can only destroy. However, none of it is its fault, as the poor and unfortunate creature is merely a victim of a deadly disease that turned it mad. It lost complete control of itself, and its suffering was beyond compare as it slowly melts away and falls into pieces. It's the most terrifying thing that Spear and Fang have ever encountered, and this experience will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Despite everything they fought, killed and defeated, this is the first opponent they couldn't reason with or defeat, and were only saved by pure luck.
Most of the episode is spend on this disgusting and horrifying creature trying to bite and infect them, and yet, when it's being submerged in lava and slowly burns to death, Spear and Fang don't look at it with hate and scorn, but rather shock and pity. When it's burned completely to ash and is blown away by the breeze, Spear mourns its death, mourns the life that had been before the virus overtook it. He catches a flake that came from that same tortured creature as its existence comes to an end in a sudden flash. And then he looks up and finally realizes in this doomed landscape, just how small and powerless he really is.
Putting in these moments of silence, empathy, contemplation, and fun don't detract from Primal's serious nature, rather they enhance it. These moments give meaning to the violence, to the struggle Spear and Fang face to simply trying to live in this insane, hostile world. The scenes with blood give context to the bright ones, making every victory greater because our heroes have something to live for.
Adding moments of genuine fun and emotion doesn't ruin Primal's serious nature, it makes it stronger. It turns a story that could've been a parade of spilled guts and broken bones into a story that reminds us no matter how horribly brutal and awful the world may seem, there's always an oasis to fall into.
My Top 10 Favorite Episodes of Primal
Even though I will be ranking which of the current 10 episodes I like the best, that doesn't mean I hate any of them. Every episode of Primal so far has been amazing in their own way, and liking one episode over the other can be a matter of preference.
I originally dedicated a whole segment to this, but it proved to be so long that when I tried to save it as a draft, it failed to save it all.
With that out of the way, let's begin the countdown:
10.The Night Feeder,
9.Terror Under the Blood Moon,
8.Slave of the Scorpion,
7.River of Snakes,
6.Scent of Prey,
5.Spear and Fang,
4.Rage of the Ape-Men,
3.Plague of Madness,
2.A Cold Death,
1.Coven of the Damned.
What to expect in the future
The season finale "Slave of the Scorpion" really opened up the world of Primal. It revealed that what we thought was a savage, prehistoric world was more akin to Skull Island from King Kong, only the size of a continent; whereas the rest of the world actually advanced. As a result of this direction, Primal basically went from prehistoric fantasy to full-on fantasy.
One of the things I appreciated about Primal the most is that it didn't restrict itself to just dinosaurs, and basically have any premise they want, as long as it's still somewhat prehistoric in nature. With this reveal, however, the possibilities of what sorts of danger Spear and Fang will face are practically limitless.
The two have grown very close to Mira, and having her be taken back by the slavers gives Spear and Fang a solid reason why they should venture out into undiscovered territory. There are two directions they can take this:
1.Spear uses his intellect to build a raft and sail over the ocean. We've seen how smart he is, especially for a caveman. In episode 6 he was able to build a stretcher that he used to carry Fang to a safer place. He also knew how to use a bow by just looking at how Mira did it, only he used his spear as a projectile. Meaning that his raft will have its own primitive twist to it. In episode 10, there's a scene where the three of them come across a lake, and Fang was able to swim underwater. This could set-up that maybe Spear will use Fang as a basis for the boat. He's going to built a raft around her body, and she will be able to use her legs and tail to swim, while all the wood keeps them afloat. Maybe they'll even come across sea monsters along their voyage as well.
2.The slavers will come back to the savage land and try to colonize it. Judging from Mira's expressions throughout the episode, it's quite clear that she has no idea what this place is, or what type of creatures inhabit it. This is new territory to both her and the captors. So, there's a high chance that they will return with more people and try to take over this new land, only to get ambushed by our duo. Spear and Fang is going to kill them, and take the boats for themselves. Or maybe they'll spare a few of them because they need someone to steer the ship. And while they're sailing, Spear and Fang can learn more about this new world and be prepared for whatever threat may come next.
Up until now Spear and Fang only fought animals and creatures, with the only exception being the witches. Now, they're up against other humans, who are much more advanced and intelligent then any of the foes we've seen up until this point. Meaning that this is going to be biggest challenge of their lives.
Since Spear is a Neanderthal, it means that he's shorter than the average man. However, let's not forget that he also possesses greater physical strength. Maybe he'll enter an arm wrestling, or just a plan wrestling competition, and this manlet mops the floor with men much taller than him. I don't know about you, but I find that very funny.
I also had this epic image in mind of Spear and Fang joining some sort of resistance who want to kill the Scorpion as well. The two are decked-out in armor, and they ride into the battle with an entire army behind them.
I was working in the garden one day when this idea came to my mind. Spear enters a bar for the first time and starts a fight to get information about The Scorpion and where Mira might be. He probably has a drawing of the scorpion symbol, so people could have a clue about what he wants to know. After they got the information they wanted, the two are thirsty and want to try out what this new drink tastes like, as they discover the joys of alcohol and get piss-drunk in the process. Or maybe they'll find the ale disgusting and just push forward.
Considering that the main villain of season 2 will be a scorpion themed warlord, maybe he has giant, pet scorpions that Spear and Fang will fight against.
After Spear frees Mira, maybe the two will fall in love and start a new family. I wouldn't be surprised if Mira gives birth to a baby boy, and Spear decides to name him Conan. The more we got to see and learn about Primal's world, the more it oozes of the of the Conan universe. Spear's design is also inspired by Conan, and revealing that Spear is Conan's father could be a great way to tie things together, and will come full-circle. Making the entire show a prequel to Conan and the adventures he will go on himself.
Another possibility is that the two will remain good friends, as Spear and Fang will continue on their journey and see what adventures this new land has to offer. I also wouldn't be surprised if the show will feature dragons, orcs, and maybe even aliens. A lot of people theorized that the head witch from episode 8 might be alien in origin, so the premise of Spear and Fang fighting visitors from another planet isn't out of the realm of possibility. Especially since the show pays homage to Robert E. Howard's work, and the man was good friends with H.P. Lovecraft.
Since I mentioned dragons, maybe Fang will eventually encounter a male dragon, falls in love and mates with it, creating dragon/T-Rex hybrids.
There has also been a lot of debates about what type of place Mira's been taken to. According to what people were able to translate, Mira's been taken to a very cold and bitter place. The image she drew of The Scorpion also has him bearing horns and a sword. And if you factor-in the design of the boat we last saw her own, it's a pretty solid indicator that Spear and Fang will face off against vikings. Basically "How to Train your Dragon", only with dinosaurs.
Mira is speaking Lebanese Arabic, the same language they speak in Egypt. A lot of people think that those triangles she drew are actually pyramids, and the land is more Middle Eastern inspired than Nordic, or maybe it's a fusion of both.
An interesting thing I noticed is that Mira is from a group of people who worship the moon, whereas the symbol of the scorpion has a circular shape that resembles the sun. Meaning that Mira and the Scorpion are from rivaling religions or tribes. One worships the moon, the other worships the sun. This could hint to an interesting plot-point later on.
However, knowing Genndy's love of Conan and Robert E. Howard's other works, this horned overlord could be Hyborian, or least is from a civilization that's based on them. For those who don't know, Howard was swept up by certain ideas of the occult, like Theosophy. His most famous tales are set in the Hyborian age. It itself named after Hyperboria, the place the ancient Greeks thought lay behind the West Wind. He imagined this age to be the time after the sinking of Atlantis, but before the beginning of any historical record we have today. Here, he could mash together cultures and places and historical periods as he wanted. Creating magic and sorcery, and playing with some of those Theosophic ideas of elder civilizations and forgotten races. His work defined the "Sword and Sorcery" brand of fantasy, and was arguably some of the best of it.
Howard's writing were also a commentary on civilization. About how great nations and societies aren't destroyed from outside forces, but by the corruption that exists within. The Conan stories in particular had a theme of civilization vs barbarism, wherein the double-standards and hypocrisies of modern civilization are exposed. For example, in a civilized society all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. How rules can be bent to suit an individual's needs. How actions committed by an out-group are frowned upon, but if they're done by the in-group they're justified. As such, a character like Conan, who's a noble savage from a tribal society, is a contrast to civilization.
If season 1 had the theme of two grieving parents trying to survive in the face of a cruel and unforgiving world, then season 2 is going to have the theme of civilization vs barbarism. Wherein two primitives will go up against a more advanced society to save their new friend from slavery; one of the most corrupt products of civilization.
In a recent article from Polygon, Genndy mentioned that for season 2 they will try to avoid cliches as much as possible, and will also tackle themes of evolution. This could be interesting, because the fight for survival hasn't stopped, it just evolved. Now, our two protagonists will have to evolve as well.
Considering that dialog was introduced into the show, I hope they do something similar what they did in the season finale, and keep it to a minimum.
There are two things that every first season of a good show should do well:
1. Establish the setting: the world, the characters, and the relationships between them. Take your time and do it right, to make sure it's quality.
2. Proof of concept: prove that this is a series that can work, that is worth investing more time and money in.
Once these requirements are met, they can leave a hook for the series' overarching story, now that everyone is settled into the world.
Primal nailed these to a tee, and I cannot wait for what Genndy and crew have in store for us. Whatever Genndy and crew have in mind, I'll look forward to it, no matter what.
Even though the cartoon only has 10 episodes at the moment, Primal is easily one of the best animated shows I've ever experienced. It's my favorite thing to come out of 2019, and there were a lot of things that came out that year that I was excited for and loved, but Primal took the cake for me. It truly feels like the type of adult show that I've been wanting to watch for years. I love Primal so much, because everything down to the facial expressions and outward action masterfully colors a narrative without a narrator. I always recommend this show to everyone, not only because it's so good, but because it has such universal appeal that anyone can find enjoyment in it.
Animation let's us take the impossible, the incomprehensible and inconceivable, and allows us to see it on film. It can make accessible ideas our brains won't weren't really built to process, and help us grapple with the most hostile parts of our reality without putting anyone in real danger. Besides the animators facing the long-term effects of crunch. Adult shows like Primal, Samurai Jack Season 5, Bojack Horseman, Castlevania, and Invincible are all amazing examples of how animation is a tool that we should all appreciate and respect, and how it can be equally engaging for adults as it can be for children.
Before I end this article, I want thank all of you who took time out of their day to read this, and who also appreciate the art of animation as much as I do. It's a rarity that a masterpiece like this can appear, and I wanted to dedicate this article to it, that will most likely not be seen by anyone.
I also want to thank Genndy for contributing so much to my childhood, and for being such a talented, passionate individual who doesn't see animation as a stepping-stone, but as its own art-form. Primal isn't just another Genndy Tartakovsky cartoon, it's the product of every Tartakovsky cartoon that came before, the product of his entire career so far. I loved the show so much that I started learning about Robert E.Howard's literary work and life. How influential his writings and Conan are to fantasy, and to pop-culture in general. It even helped me discover the genius talent of Frank Frazetta, whose paintings were one of the biggest inspirations for Primal, and is probably my favorite painter of all time.
I don't want to sound like I'm putting him on a pedestal, but Genndy's my biggest inspiration as an artist and animator, and why I want to pursue this often thankless and exhausting job. Because if it means giving my ideas a tangible form, and creating stories that can resonate with people and inspire them to do great things, then it's all worth it. After all, if there's something that I learned from being on this adventure with Spear and Fang, is making the best out of an awful situation, and to keep moving forward, in spite of all the unfairness you will come across.
added by TheDarkEmpire
by CROWNED CRYPTID
added by TheDarkEmpire
by The Roundtable
added by TheDarkEmpire
by The Roundtable