Movies Significantly Better Than Eva 3.0: Pacific Rim

(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?


  1. “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.”

    I have heard this on numerous websites, and I have been wondering: what is it about giant robots that would drive people away? I can understand people not being interested in robots, but from the way people describe this phenomenon, it’s sounds like an outright aversion or even hatred. Like it’s some form of pornography.

    Is it snobbery (e.g., “I can’t take this seriously if it has robots in it”), or is it a dislike for the conventions of the genre (calling out super robot attacks, monster-of-the-week, or in the case of real robots: whiny angsty protagonists, “War is bad and we shouldn’t fight!”, etc).

  2. Actually, there was a scene where the pilots’s suits fill up with an orange fluid which turns clear after filling up the suit completely.

    Also, another anime-ism that I noticed was how they’d reveal a new weapon for the main robot in each fight scene, which is withheld until the end of the fight and completely saves the day, but is almost completely useless or disabled in the next fight, kind of like in an actual Super Robot show. (ie: photon blaster -> coolant -> sword -> breast fire)

    And, yeah, the movie made me think a lot about Gunbuster. I was hoping that at the end of the movie the main character would rip one of the nuclear cores out of the Jeager and jam it into something, a la Gunbuster’s ending, but alas.

  3. Also, “all the power gets shut off, but the hero robot remains working because it’s *GASP* nuclear” is directly from Giant Robo.

  4. To Zump…no, it’s not snobbery, what it is is a difference of how the West looks at robots in general.
    This was best explained in the animated feature, Iron Giant. The West, and honestly, the European nations as well, see the robot as a abomination.
    Most of this is due to a mix of uncanny valley and the old style horror of the silent killer type, eg. The Terminator, any story of the golem, etc.
    A robot can not be seen as a compliment to a hero or their cause, only an antagonist. The Japanese, and to an extent Koreans, view the robot/mecha as a utility…dare I say extention.

  5. May I ask what the screenshots you used for reference are from? Are they from a specific Ultraman movie or tv show?

  6. “I have heard this on numerous websites, and I have been wondering: what is it about giant robots that would drive people away?”

    I watched Suisei no Gargantia with my wife, and she loved it. However, after the first episode, which starts up looking like your run-of-the-mill “space war” robot anime, she confessed to me that in the first minutes she tought, “does he _really_ expect me to watch this through?”

    Perhaps it’s the military thing? Gargantia had robots on-screen nearly all the time, robot battles every other ep, and generally spot-on science trivia, but in structure it was more of a fantasy anime (average guy thrown in different land, finds out he can do things others can’t, gets involved into the natives’ conflicts) than what we have come to recognize as a “robot anime”.

    Or is it the BS factor? Ever since EVA, robot anime stories have become bloated with pointless plot devices. Again in Gargantia, it was refreshing how straight-to-the-point the anime was overall. So Chamber was “just” a robot, not a device for pruning parallel universes or some such; likewise Ledo was just a pilot, and even the Hideauze – despite their oh-so-shocking origin – in the end turn up to be little more than animals reacting to what they perceive as an invasion of their living space by a competing species, lacking any unfathomable (and unexplained) motivations.

    The good news is that, if my very unscientific one-sample population is any guide, the problem is not with not the robots themselves: over these years we watched the three Transformer movies and the three Iron Man movies, and she loved it each time.

  7. You know, that line “I think of you like a little sister” from the Gunbuster ED just doesn’t have the same meaning these days.

  8. @Noah: The screenshots are from the 1989 film ROBOT JOX. More on the film here:

    Great piece on PR, CD…loved the film, and yep, I had to grit my teeth in frustration when reading the clueless “EVA rip-off!!” comments. This film has more of the 1970s Super Robot anime flavor, and of course adds elements from the Godzilla/Kaiju films of that time. This is a love-letter to that time, and I had a damned fine time watching the movie.

    I’m p’od that it’s not doing well in terms of box office, but you know what? Go Nagai loved the movie. As far as I’m concerned, that settles it for me.

  9. Not trying to revise history or anything here, but… Pacific Rim is not a “failure”. Even if we subscribe to the cult of the opening weekend (which, although being BS, a lot of peeps pay attention to) Pacific Rim was only about $4 mil off from the success of The Sequels That Shall Not Be Named. Of course, the Sequels did not cost as much to make as PR, but unlike those already forgotten flicks, PR is actually good enough to get word of mouth, and has nearly doubled its domestic earnings in a week. Factor in its fairly solid reception overseas, and the film’s already made back most of its official budget at this point. Plus, the movie isn’t even out in Japan yet, and as we learned from Blade Runner, American movies that vaguely emulate Japanese popular culture do gangbusters over there. Anyway, who cares? We’re movie fans, not business fans.

  10. I’ve seen this movie twice already, and I plan to see it again a third time.

    I’ve got a huge amount of respect for the practical setpieces and special effects–everything looks wonderfully lived in and busted-up and it’s great to see that in a sci-fi movie again. It’s also great to see a movie where everything feels honest and uncynical with its portrayal of these robots and big ole kaiju.

    In my experience, everyone who was squawking “EVA RIP OFF, GURREN LAGANN RIP OFF HURR NGE AND TTGL IS THE ENTIRE MECHA GENRE” ended up shutting up after actually seeing the film.

    It really is a big love letter to Godzilla/Ultraman/Giant Robo, and how about dat Mazinger-Z style pilder docking at the beginning? Super cool.

  11. So is Pacific Rim the spiritual successor to Robot Jox with a bigger budget. I guess it can’t be, it lacked a robo-chainsaw penis.

    @THATBIRD: If your saying this is like Gunbuster, then it might be a retelling where Toren Smith lives to co-pilot the Jager (Gunbuster) with Mako (Noriko).

    I have had high hopes for this film when I first heard about it, and I was not disappointed. It was everything I expected it to be with a little more to it, a Saturday morning cartoon with a big budget and a big heart.

    What made my experience better with this film was I went in with a custom iTouch playlist of super robot show themes that I would play when the robots fought or did anything cool. It of course ended with this while the credits were rolling in front of me:

    I wouldn’t have a problem seeing this movie a dozen times as long as I can tweak my playlist a bit for each viewing. But, maybe Toro might do a live action Patlabor perhaps?

  12. It was sort of fun trying to sort out a couple of the influences here and there and dwell on whether or not they were intentional. Aside from the Mazinger stuff, which is definitely something that’s meant to be there (Don’t forget that their cockpit’s located in the head and has to be attached separately!)

    The Russian’s pilotsuits also bore a great resemblance to Votoms’ Scopedogs. And part of me has to wonder if the hero robot’s nuclear engine making it the only operational mecha wasn’t taken from Giant Robo…

    It’s easy to get wrapped up in that sort of thing though. Whatever it is, you’re right – anime, particularly robot anime, is definitely a new and welcome frontier for Hollywood to borrow from. If anything it’s given me the chance to point at the things I like to some of my friends and shout at the top of my lungs “THIS IS PRETTY COOL STUFF, EH?”

  13. Me and Jeff definitely got a snicker out of the “Gipsy Danger is NUCLEAR! SHOCK!” reveal. The movie may be anime as hell, but you can tell it’s still fundamentally Western simply by the characters’ nonchalant reaction to that line. In a Japanese-made movie, there would be some (usually quite reasonable) token hand-wringing over the whole nuclear-power become-Death-destroyer-of-worlds are-we-righting-a-wrong-with-a-wrong angle. But since this is a Western film, Becket and Mako are just like “Well, duh. Let’s go blow up another dimension.”

    Honestly, the only two minor issues I took with that fun little film were (1) how long they waited to pull out the sword…seems like it’d be more efficient for monster-killing than just punching them to death, assuming they need to conserve power and ammo for the projectile weapons, and (2) Charlie Hunnam’s barely-passable American accent. Dude sounded like he was running out of oxygen just trying not to append R’s to words ending in vowels. Rinko Kikuchi’s English was MUCH more impressive.

    I also do kinda wonder about the effect of the underwater nuke explosion near the end. The water is temporarily expelled by the force of the blast and then comes rushing back in. I’m not much on my physics, but wouldn’t that much water rushing back in at that oceanic depth crush the Gipsy like a soda can? Although I guess when your robot is presumably built from Super Alloy Z, a few thousand tons of water suddenly crashing on your back really doesn’t amount to much.

    Fun film. Wish anime was this fun these days.

  14. I’m unlikely to write a full article about it (Jeff?) but I thought Eva 3.0 was legitimately terrible.

    Eva 1 – Slavish self-imitation, who cares
    Eva 2 – Often fun, don’t like the new “normal anime” characterization but maybe something interesting will happen
    Eva 3 – Unbelievably stupid script. I’m definitely not the dude who can’t stop looking at plot holes but holy shit, a collection of some of the smartest scientific and tactical minds in the world spend the first twenty minutes of the film provoking the most volatile and powerful entity in the universe for no particular reason other than ShinjiAnno’s victim complex.

  15. The only similarity folks that I’ve seen between this and Eva is that Del Toro and Anno look somewhat alike.

  16. @Ben Reed

    Your right about the physics sir. Gypsy should have been crushed, but surprisingly, they did their homework. That IS the effect of a 1 MT popping underwater. Sad we’ll never see real footage of it 🙁

  17. @Dave

    While the premise of 3.0 certainly is contrived (I think they “needed” Unit 01 to power the ridiculous super-ship), you’re missing the point.

    1.0: Slavish self-imitation, yes, but up until the point the series deviated from its original direction.

    2.0: Fun but cliched but it jumped the rails in exciting ways.

    3.0: A self-indulgent deconstruction (or a middle finger to the fans) of the original series and premise. And then they sorta weirdly put all the pieces back together.
    I’m withholding full judgement on it until the last one but I felt like there was something interesting there. And the visuals are unrivaled.

    If I can say something about Eva and Pacific Rim: I’m convincing all my friends to watch Pacific Rim. I don’t think I can convince them to start watching Eva.

  18. Also seen this movie twice and still itching to see it again. I’m really pissed that my theater didn’t have the Yoji Shinkawa poster, but oh well.

    This review is excellent, by the way. It’s definitely the “review by an anime fan” that the movie needed, hitting all the right points. Like the Gunbuster Area ’88 post, it’ll live in my collection of links to send to people when I try to get them to watch it.

    RE: Eva 3.0… I want to like it but goddamn is it stupid. I full-on enjoy the first two Rebuild films, despite hating Mari with a furious passion. But 3.0 is just such a jump into mindless bullshit, and not in the “good” EoE way.

  19. >Movies Significantly Better Than Eva 3.0

    Dude, you’d need to review the new Adam Sandler’s movie to make 3.0 looks good by comparisson. It’s not fair.

  20. I noticed how the promotional posters for the mecha seemed inspired by some of the 1/100 Gundam kit box art. Not a coincidence I suppose!

  21. I hate to be that guy but there were some parallels that could be drawn to Eva. Instead of sync rate you’re got drift compatability. Then there was the test sequence gone wrong that nearly destroyed the base with clutch power line pull. Then there was the first suit up sequence where you see their suits fill up with fluid.

    These are only surface comparisons at best but I hate how one guy I know only acknowledges it as an Eva rip off but he refuses to look past the surface and see it is its own thing.

  22. Saw it last Saturday.

    Man. And I do mean, MAN.

    When I was six years old, and watched my first Transformers episode, at that point I knew what I wanted to do with my life: I would bring those robots to life. Fast forward thirty-odd years, and the best I managed was to fool around with a Lego MINDSTORMS kit – but I did carve up a career in computing.

    I fully expect that twenty-odd years from now, if you apporach a class of computing or engineering bachelors, at least one of them will say, “when I was six I watched Pacific Rim, and…”

  23. …But why are all the screencaps of Robot Jox? Awesome movie though. Pacific Rim was pretty cool too.

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