Animation has really opened up as a medium in the last couple of years. Shows like Castlevania, and Invincible have shown that animation can be a fantastic medium for stories to reach the screen, especially when they won’t be able to have the budget of The Rings of Power, for example. Animation doesn’t have to be exclusively aimed at kids either, it can be for people of every age. Let’s review Pantheon, the first original animated series by AMC+ and one of the best science fiction shows of the year.
Pantheon is created by Craig Silverstein and is based on a series of short stories by Ken Liu as they are found in The Apocalypse Triptych, which is a trilogy of anthologies about apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Ken Liu is regarded as one of the best fantasy and science fiction writers. His stories have been adapted before in shows like Love, Death, and Robots. It is great that Ken Liu’s imagination has found its own home with its own series. It feels right.
Although the inspiration for the show comes from a series of anthologies, the show tells one single narrative throughout its 8-episode run. Each episode runs about 40 to 45 minutes in length. So we are seeing something closer to what Invincible did in terms of presentation than what other animated shows do. Each episode feels full and complete. It is really like watching a live-action show in terms of quality. The only difference is that the characters are animated.
Speaking of the characters, Pantheon has an amazing cast, full of veteran actors that bring their voices to the table. Among the cast we can find Katie Chang, Paul Dano, Aaron Eckhart, Daniel Dae Kim, Kevin Durand, William Hurt, and Maude Apatow. The characters are one of the best aspects of the show. They feel real and interesting, even among the plethora of sci-fi elements. The show never forgets that we will only care about all the cool sci-fi concepts if we care about the characters experiencing them.
In terms of visual presentation, Pantheon falls into a lower tier than shows like Invincible. Pantheon so far hasn’t flexed the animation budget the same way Invincible did in its first episode, and it doesn’t really need to. Pantheon doesn’t go for superhero spectacle, but for methodical storytelling. The budget and animation quality is enough to make the characters feel like they are part of their world. You won’t be seeing spectacular animated sequences, but you will get a lot of fantastic character moments for sure.
The main source of “wow moments” for Pantheon comes from ideas. On this occasion, we are dealing with the search for immortality through technology. This is something many other shows, like Black Mirror, and Upload have already tackled. However, those shows skip the fascinating process in which their magic immortality technologies were developed. Pantheon makes this essential step the focus of its story, and it goes without saying that it goes to dark places really fast.
Pantheon adapts The Gods Will Not Be Chained, and its sequel, The Gods Will Not Be Slain, throughout its season. These two stories deal with many subjects, such as bullying, life, death, and love, and even further anticipate the frightful future where the singularity becomes real. The fact that the series is willing to explore such a hard topic in the way it does is quite remarkable. Not many series are willing to go behind the scenes and really explore how technological advancements are created.
However, even when the series is telling such an amazing story, it is clear that the show will not hit everyone. Some members of the audience will find the animation to be a turn-off, as they would prefer this story to be told in live-action. Others will find the story is maybe too dark and mature to be an animated show. The stigma that animation should only be for kids is ever-present.
Another thing that puts the show at a disadvantage is the fact that it came out exactly the same day as Amazon’s Rings of Power series. Everybody is going to be so excited to be back in Middle-Earth that this amazing animated show, which is many times better than Amazon’s lavish fan fiction, will probably slip through the cracks and be forgotten or maybe never really discovered at all. The series is also trapped on AMC+ which is not the most popular streaming service at the moment.
Pantheon goes out of its way to tell a story uniquely. It really proves that there are many books out there that can serve as source material for great shows, but just keeping adapting the same old authors over and over again feels like a disservice. We need more shows like Pantheon, not less. However, if we really want shows like this to have a chance, we need to give them that chance. Releasing this on the same date as The Rings of Power was a fatal error.
Pantheon is filled with amazing characters and an amazing story that will make you think about where we are going. The animation style won’t be for everyone, but if given the chance, audiences will find themselves watching one of the best shows of the year.