Primal Season 2 Review: Genndy Tartakovsky's Epic Series Is Big, Bold, And Bloody

"Primal" is back with a bloody bang, bringing more prehistoric mayhem to screens via Adult Swim and HBO Max. The epic story, created and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky ("Samurai Jack," "Star Wars: Clone Wars") continues directly from the season 1 cliffhanger ending — but what actually transpires in the two subsequent episodes defies expectations both narratively and artistically, setting a new bar for the outstanding animated series.

I pity the fool who tweets that cartoons are "for kids"; as "Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal" and the Adult Swim late-night block are out to prove, cartoons are also very much for grown-ups. In the case of "Primal," that content is best-suited for an older demographic not just because it's violent, but because its artistic expression, nuanced themes, and complex interpersonal conflicts are better understood by a more mature mind. Yes, there is blood — and lot's of it — but there's also a story of grief, familial love, and selfless determination. Spear is primitive, but he's not simple. 

"Primal" is an almost dialogue-free series, with Neanderthal Spear (Aaron LaPlante) mainly communicating with a mixture of grunts and gestures. His traveling companion and de facto family is the Tyrannosaurus Fang. The two were brought together by a shared tragedy and thirst for vengeance: both lost their entire family to a pack of horned Tyrannosauroidea. After working together to vanquish this foe, Spear and Fang began traveling together and eventually formed their own unlikely bond. Season 1 ends with them adding a third member to their pack, only for her to be whisked away by boat in the dead of night. This is where the story of season 2 begins.

Strange, new world

At the end of "Primal" season 1, Spear speaks for the first time, heartbreakingly uttering "Mira" — the name of his new companion who has been kidnapped by strange men. These are clearly a more advanced civilization: they wear shoes, use bows and arrows, and have developed sea-faring boats. Although the situation seems hopeless, season 2 reminds us that Spear is a warrior, damn it, and he's not about the back down from a fight — even when there's a literal ocean between him and his opponent.

What follows is another chapter in the already epic story. Spear and Fang make new friends, fight off fantastic beasts, and are generally badass, beating their way through every obstacle seemingly by their sheer force of will. They arrive on foreign territory, and — if the trailer is any indication — things will get weird by the end. In the two episodes screened for this review, the action is intense and the new dangers both imaginative and frightening. One of the great aspects of "Primal" has always been its willingness to blend its anachronistic prehistoric setting with elements of fantasy — and there's no shortage of that here. 

Visceral and vicious, "Primal" focuses its story on the two leads' unending struggles in an unforgiving world. Fang even gets a surprising solo story that is sweet but ultimately tragic. This is a recurring theme in "Primal" — punctuating the long stretches of unimaginable adversity are all-to-brief moments of tranquility and joy, and it's these temporary respites from struggle that give life meaning. Yes, Fang and Spear travel together out of convenience and even a sense of loyalty or debt to each other, but at the root of it all is genuine affection between them, fostered by the rare instances in which they aren't literally fighting to survive.

It's an Emmy-winning series for a reason

While some have labeled "Primal" the "most brutal cartoon of all time" (I personally disagree — both the Adult Swim series "Superjail" and "Metalocalypse" are more relentlessly gory and cynical), this unforgivingly violent nature isn't what makes Genndy Tartakovsky's so compelling. It's not hard (or particularly creative at this point) to make an animated series that hinges on its willingness to depict gore for gore's sake. Anime has been doing that for decades. "Primal" uses its bloody conflicts artfully — it's a rhetorical tool as much as part of the story. 

"Primal" communicates its greater themes through visual language, conveying a fantastic otherworld where sharp lines and vivid colors (including blood) affect mood as much as the non-diegetic score. Although Spear does not speak his motivations are clear, thanks to Tartakovsky's deep understanding of the medium. Fang is a terrifying and powerful apex predator, but is also made vulnerable; to be completely blunt, in the two episodes screened for this review, Tartakovsky does more to make a dinosaur sympathetic than Colin Trevorrow managed across his entire "Jurassic World" trilogy (sorry Blue).

"Primal" is undoubtedly violent, and there are those who will not be able to enjoy the series because of it. Personally, I enjoy the level of bloodshed: the series leans into a very hand-drawn, two-dimensional aesthetic wherein the copious blood and viscera feel exaggerated stylistically, rather than reveling for "gross-out" appeal. The violence is just one component of the compelling visuals that makes "Primal" so fun to watch. The story, however, is really what makes the series special. 

"Primal" season 2 returns to Adult Swim on July 21, 2022, and the next day on HBO Max.