Primal Review: An Intense Masterpiece

Genndy Tartatovsky's name has been attached to some of the most prolific projects in animation, [...]

Genndy Tartatovsky's name has been attached to some of the most prolific projects in animation, and some of the most varied. Incredibly popular franchises like Hotel Transylvania and Samurai Jack, and even less popular attempts like Sym-Bionic Titan come to mind, and hopes rise higher and higher with each one of his new projects. But even still, Primal seems like the most ambitious undertaking yet. A completely dialogue-free animated series set in the prehistoric era, Primal is putting its complete trust in the audience that they'll be able to fully immerse themselves in this world. A trust that also comes with a lot of pressure.

Luckily for both sides, the trust put between the audience and Primal is completely rewarded. Allowing yourself to completely sink into the series' environmental storytelling results in a visceral, brutally unrelenting, and emotionally refreshing experience.

The series follows a caveman, dubbed "Spear" by the credits, a powerful hunter who's soon struck by tragedy. Happening upon a tyrannosaurus, dubbed "Fang," that suffers the same unfortunate tragedy, the two form solidarity in their losses. This leads them to unexpectedly work together and put their new-found bond to extreme tests as the various violent, unyielding, and sometimes supernatural threats continually make it harder to keep fighting.

Survival is the thematic throughline for the series. Spear and Fang's journey is all about finding the hope in daily life as a way to keep living in a bleak world, and the streamlined presentation of the series helps zoom in on that theme. The lack of dialogue initially seems like a hurdle needing to be overcome, but ends up becoming one of the biggest strengths. It's almost as if dialogue was an unnecessary distraction filtered out.

Characters emote gorgeously, and each frame of the series is fluidly animated. The storyboarding of the series makes physical movement especially prominent as physicality is mined for emotion. With lots of zoom-in shots on eyes, for example, there's a deeper and more intense connection to the characters. It's impressive considering most of the characters are ancient beasts and prehistoric animals, but it all feels natural.

As the natural result of the experimental delivery of Samurai Jack on occasion, each layer of Primal is excellently crafted. Environments are varied across the series' five episodes, and each new setting helps to emphasize how wide Spear's world is. The color palette is rich with vibrant colors boldly framing each action. Striking reds for blood, pastel skies, deep greens, and more further mystify the setting. The same goes for the sound production, scored by Guardians of the Galaxy composer Tyler Bates, and lighting, that cement a great tone for the series. There's one particularly effective shadow puppet scene, for example, that's a perfect showcase for how well everything is married in the final product.

There's an inherent beauty to be found even within the series' brutal displays of violence. It never breaches the realm of grotesqueness, and though there might be an excitement in seeing it play out from time to time, violence is a means to an end. It's an unavoidable facet of living in this savage world, and thus feels as natural as the rest of the presentation. As one would expect from such a set food chain, there's a consequence to each violent act⁠—emotional or otherwise.

Primal is the culmination of years of experimentation, and it's an incredible project densely packed with a wide range of emotions. Portraying the surprising serenity to be found in savagery, this series has an honesty that continues to reveal itself the more times you watch. It's an intense, powerful, and brutal masterpiece.

Rating: 5 out of 5

This review is based off of Primal's initial five-episode limited series run. The series is now airing Saturday nights on Adult Swim.