(We’re going to spoil Pacific Rim all the way through in this post, so if you’re averse to that kind of thing, just read the title. If you read Colony Drop, you should see this movie. And in 3D.)
We can only effectively express how anime Pacific Rim is by telling you exactly what happens. In the film’s most anime moment, our hero robot is helpless, beaten, being carried thousands of feet above the ground by a winged Rodan-like beast. Pilot A says they’re out of weapons to use. Pilot B, the girl with blue hair, corrects him. There is one. The control panel’s display lights up with SWORD, and from the body of the robot emerges a segmented whip-blade. Our blue-haired heroine takes that sword and screams “For my family!” The robot’s body twists upward from Rodan’s grasp and slices the monster magnificently in half. Pacific Rim is very, very anime.
Don’t tell anybody, though. Anime is a poisonous word in our popular culture, and let’s not kid ourselves here, it was a poisonous word long before it became fashionable to lust after one’s younger sister. Pacific Rim’s publicity campaign didn’t even breach the subject; nobody even asked you to remember Voltron. Normal people aren’t interested in that kind of thing. Anime isn’t something you talk about with people until you know it’s safe to do so.
So you say “anime” to a room with a thousand people in it and 900 of them walk out. Say “robot anime” and 90 of the remaining hundred will walk out. It is an even more poisonous phrase. So don’t be sad that Pacific Rim couldn’t tell anybody outright how anime it is. That’s just how things are.
(The Japanese dub of Pacific Rim features an all-star anime cast (Tomokazu Sugita, Megumi Hayashibara, both Char and Amuro). The trailer is devoted entirely to the robots, and how sweet they are.)
But Pacific Rim will remind just about any culturally aware observer of anime: comparisons flew as soon as the first reviewers and test audiences saw the film, and derisively. Anime was a bad rumor dogging the film in the run up to its release. Variety compared it to Power Rangers. Like comparisons to Evangelion, which director del Toro’s never seen and which the film does not even accidentally resemble, these statements are unfortunately being made cluelessly. Let’s talk about what robot anime and Japanese superhero stories Pacific Rim actually resembles.
It’s the 70s stuff, guys. Pacific Rim’s sensibility comes from Mazinger Z and from Ultraman, from a guy in a suit slugging it out with an absurd giant monster over a three-quarters-wrecked city. Nobody yells “Rocket Punch!” or “Breast Fire!”, but both of those things happen. This movie draws from the simple stuff, the classics. It takes place too early in robot history for Eva’s resigned depression.
Nor is it Gundam: the world is a simpler place. The robots are not practical military equipment, and they do not try to appear as such. People are essentially good. Courage and trust win the day. They’ve spent a lot of time building and considering this world… but none of that is ever allowed to get in the way of fun.
You could even call the characters in Pacific Rim kind of anime. Not so much the lead: he’s there for audience identification, to anchor the viewer adrift among all this anime. The really anime characters are the heroine Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi, who’s been in several Mamoru Oshii indulgences) and her gruff father figure Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Mako has little blue streaks in her hair, is a piloting prodigy, and sometimes watches the hero shyly from the peephole of her room. Pentecost is a cold, authoritative commander who, in maybe the second most anime part of the film, reveals that he’s suffering from that old anime standby: radiation sickness. You may remember it from Yamato, and from the time Gunbuster reused it from Yamato. All three of these characters speak Japanese sometimes, because of course.
So that’s what’s anime about Pacific Rim. You’ll have to ask someone more knowledgeable about the kaiju stuff (that first monster is totally Guiron, though, and the monster music is pure Godzilla). And you know what else? Drawing from that pool of influence is what makes the movie special, among Hollywood blockbusters and even among nerd cinema. Pacific Rim isn’t afraid to be anime no matter how toxic the word is in our mainstream popular culture. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but it has pride. It never sneers at itself. It has genuine love of its influences and no use for shame. Pacific Rim argues that anime is not a pejorative, and that if you hear someone snicker about it, you should scream “For my family!” and shove a box of Giant Pocky so far down their throat that they split in half. Because fuck those guys. Anime is alright.
(Colony Drop LLC is not responsible for the legal consequences of your shoving a box of Giant Pocky down anybody’s throat)
The script’s a little rough, though, huh?