Warning! The following contains spoilers for the Netflix anime series Pacific Rim: The Black. Read at your own risk!
Pacific Rim: The Black is an exciting new addition to the franchise's universe, and it's currently on Netflix for subscribers and fans alike to indulge in. The short and sweet anime series offers all the Jaeger vs. Kaiju action one could hope for and actually features what seems to be a meaningful and relevant tie to the movie universe.
For the record, we don't have explicit confirmation one way or another whether Pacific Rim: The Black is a canonical addition to the Pacific Rim film universe. With that being said, there is a connection introduced in a couple of key scenes, which makes me optimistic that this series (which has already been renewed for Season 2) may someday be referenced should another film happen.
Herc Hansen Is Responsible For The Events Of Pacific Rim: The Black
The events of Pacific Rim: The Black start with a large-scale Kaiju breach in Australia and the attempts of several Jaeger pilots to help citizens evacuate. Eventually, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps declared the continent "lost" and no longer able to justify spending resources in trying to fight off an overwhelming amount of beasts in the area.
Later in Pacific Rim: The Black, we learn that Pacific Rim character Herc Hansen played a large part in "Operation Blackout," a mega missile strike on the continent. The story explained that the mission was Herc's final mission, so this occurred after the events of the first movie. The scene ends with Hansen pinned under a dead Kaiju in his Jaeger as missiles flew overhead, so it would seem the implication is that he died.
For those needing a refresher on Herc Hansen, he's the Australian pilot of the Striker Eureka alongside his son Chuck in the first movie. After an injury to his arm, Herc was forced to sit on the sidelines while Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost teamed up with Chuck in an attempt to close a massive breach. While both ended up perishing while closing the breach, humanity was temporarily saved by their efforts. Herc went on to become the Marshal of the Shatterdome, though that's not explicitly mentioned in Pacific Rim: The Black.
Taylor Merges Memories With Herc Hanson
Herc Hanson comes into the story when Taylor Travis needs to pilot his Jaeger solo to save his sister Hayley. Hanson is one of a few names in the Jaeger's A.I. records that has successfully piloted without another individual to share the strain, and Taylor is shown the aforementioned events of Operation Blackout. Armed with the knowledge of how Hanson completed his mission, Taylor is able to briefly solo pilot his Jaeger to save Hayley and his friends.
Unfortunately, the ordeal does not come without cost. Taylor's "ghost pilot" venture merges his mind with that of Hanson, and he later realizes that he retains some of Hansen's memories as a result. Taylor later laments the loss of two pilots he knew back in the training academy upon finding their Jaeger, only to be reminded by Hayley he didn't experience any of that. Taylor gets upset because the memories feel as if they are his own, even though he knows they're not.
Though it's presented as a downside in Pacific Rim: The Black, the memory of Herc Hansen will likely be the teen's greatest asset as they continue to traverse Australia in search of their parents and other humans. Both Taylor and Hayley essentially lived in isolation for the past five years, so they can use about all the extra knowledge they can get from Hansen on the state of the world at large. Given Hansen's ties to the Pan Pacific Defense Corps., one would think he could know a great deal.
Pacific Rim: The Black Nods At Other Prominent Pacific Rim Characters
Beyond the heavy nod to Herc Hansen, Pacific Rim: The Black does make some fleeting references to other characters in the Pacific Rim movies. When Taylor gets the data for the pilots who have successfully solo drifted a Jaeger, we see that Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost and Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Becket are both listed as other pilots to successfully solo drift.
Becket's solo drift is actually highlighted in Pacific Rim, in which audiences see him successfully defeat a Kaiju and make his way to safety despite losing his older co-pilot brother Yancy in the midst of battle. Pacific Rim: The Black doesn't get into what became of Becket or what he's up on at the time the series takes place, which leaves the mystery alive of whether he's alive following the events of Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Beyond the mention of prominent Pacific Rim pilots, Pacific Rim: The Black also references a few notable Jaegers fans may recognize. Taylor and Hayley's Jaeger falls into a deep pit, at the bottom of which they find the vacant Jaegers of Valor Omega, Titan Redeemer, and November Ajax. All three of these Jaegers were featured in Pacific Rim: Uprising in some capacity, so their being vacant in the bottom of some pit presents a lot of questions.
What's notable is all these Jaegers were featured in an adventure that introduced the possibility of a Kaiju-Jaeger hybrid, which is exactly what the teens encounter while they're down in the bit. It looks like these Pilots bit off more than they could chew and were forced to abandon their Jaegers after a battle gone awry. The good news is the Jaegers still seem in relatively good shape in the episode, so they could be retrieved at a later date with the right resources. It will certainly be interesting to see how much of that is referenced in Season 2 and if a rescue effort may be put together in order to retrieve some very valuable weapons for humanity.
Overall, Pacific Rim: The Black does a pretty good job telling a self-contained story. The nods to Pacific Rim are great supplemental knowledge to anyone familiar with the franchise, but in no way mandatory to know in order to enjoy this unique and dark animated tale from Netflix. As a fan, I'm personally looking forward to seeing this story deepen in Season 2 and explore some of the weirder elements of this unique property.