TV Review: Genndy Tartakovsky's PRIMAL is a Masterpiece

Genndy Tartakovsky, director of the Hotel Transylvania films, and creator of such classic animated shows as Dexter’s Laboratory, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network), and Samurai Jack (as well as others) has returned with a five-part miniseries on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line up with: Primal (officially Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal). Primal is the story of two unlikely allies: Spear and Fang (an obvious homage to Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s short story), brought together by loss and trying to survive in a brutal world set in an age of cavemen, dinosaurs, and Pleistocene era megafauna. Simply put, this show is a masterpiece. There is no equivocation needed, this miniseries is a masterpiece and is a must watch for fans of Robert E. Howard style fantasy. (More after the jump)


This show lives and dies with the visuals. This is not to say that the story lacks at all, it clearly doesn’t, but there is no dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, Fang roars and “purrs” while Spear grunts and sreams, but there is no dialogue. You follow these characters by their actions and body language, not what they say. It completely relies on universal understandings of human emotion and the human condition. This is reflected in the muted color palette that is juxtaposed with just a few points of saturated tertiary colors. The background and set pieces have a painterly dry brush aesthetic that is off-set with the harsh black of the illustration lines that define the world and the characters.

Where many modern cartoons have chosen to go with thinner, more delicate, linework Primal goes in a different direction. The draftsmanship in Primal’s illustration is reminiscent of Hellboy artist and creator Mike Mignola’s comic work, but instead of being smooth and refined the linework is rough. It is similar to the Xerography style of animation seen in Disney’s Bronze Age films like 101 Dalmatians which allowed the pencils to be animated instead of finalized inked pages. This bold and ragged illustration style gives Primal a very raw quality that is driven home by the only consistently saturated color: blood red.

The only saturated primary color in Primal is the red of blood. When a character is bleeding or has blood on them it completely covers the object, save for the black of the linework which serves to underscore how rough and raw the cartoon is… both visually and thematically. But there is one final point I must make about this show, how it sounds. Due to the lack of dialogue the ambient sounds of nature, the birds, rustling grass, all move to the forefront and is as crucial to the story as the visuals. Without the distraction of people talking we become sonically immersed in this environment. This sounds like a real world removed from out interference, the insects and flowing water take center stage, until the drums start. Don’t get me wrong, the musical score is orchestral, but the omnipresent kettle drum is almost as sonically defining as the ragged, black linework and the unflinching red. It is loud, constant, unforgiving; a musical heartbeat as brutal as the show itself. Like life itself, Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal is slow, brutal, beautiful, horrific, visceral, and nuanced… in short a masterpiece.


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