Since the advent of literature, epochs of man fighting monsters has been a popular storytelling genre. Greek legends feature the exploits of figures thwarting mythical creatures, medieval knights vanquishing dragons to save the princess, and motion pictures such as the Godzilla franchise are a byproduct of that storytelling to the present day. The 2013 American mecha film Pacific Rim is no modern-day exception. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see it compared against other flicks of the same premise, whether it’s Power Rangers‘ use of human characters unilaterally patrolling a giant robot to fight evil forces of nature, or Transformers (both the 1980s animated flick and Michael Bay’s explosive live-action version); but more-so with an anime some consider it spiritually succeeds: Neon Genesis Evangelion.
This comparison, understandably warranted, can be found on popular corners of the Internet (Reddit, Quora, CBR, YouTube), and fan-fiction websites which have paired the two franchises together. After all, both stories involve giant robots fighting beings from another dimension amidst a broken world; so it’s hard not to see a connection. This time around though, I’m going to take a look at these shows to determine which has better leverage over its source material.
Eastern Competitor #19: Neon Genesis Evangelion
In 1995, Hideaki Anno was an emotionally struggling animator with newfound studio Gainax, and was fresh off the company’s first major work, Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water and a Royal Space Force film which flopped massively. In order to revamp the studio’s image, he set out to produce Neon Genesis Evangelion, the story of three teenagers – Shinji Ikari, Asuka Langley Soryu, and Rei Ayanami – as they maneuver machines known as Evas against a horde of deity-beings known as Angels to prevent a cataclysmic event known as the Third Impact from happening. Little do they know though, that there lies more secrets to this whole charade…
What started off as an innocent endeavour became a production muckfest – budget cuts, development hell, and Anno’s struggles with depression became the stuff of legends, turning the series from a man .vs. monster story into a psychological exploration by the series’ midway point. Nevertheless, the show’s run concluded itself with the infamous 1997
greatest film of all time film End of Evangelion, which depicted what REALLY happened in the last two episodes, and elevated the series’ prestige even more. To this day, its legacy remains a hotly-debated topic of discussion among people, with some calling it a life-changing masterpiece and others seeing it as a Freudian mess. Needless to say, it cannot be denied that the impact it had on anime as a whole was quite big.
Western Competitor #19: Pacific Rim
Humanity, in Pacific Rim, faces its greatest threat yet: a series of seaborne monsters named “Kaijus” began to materialize on the Pacific coast years ago, laying waste to cities on the Pacific coast. In order to combat this growing menace, world governments teamed up to build giant machines to combat them, known as the “Jaeger Project”, which were operated by two individuals neurally-linked to each other in sync. Initially successful, as time went on the cost of maintaining and building these weapons in rapid succession became untenable, forcing its advocates into semi-seclusion. Raleigh Becket, one of the project’s pilots, goes into retirement after his brother and battle partner, Yancy, dies during a battle. He is later re-recruited by his former commander, Stacker Pentecost, and teams up with Japanese pilot Mako Mori and the loose-cannon Australian Chuck Hansen, to fend off these monsters and close off the connection between their worlds.
Inspired by the vivid imagination of Travis Beacham (of 2010’s Clash Of The Titans), he teamed up with award-winning director Guillermo De Toro on this film, which instantly became a blockbuster following its 1 July 2013 release. It was praised by many for its storyline, the good use of extra-plot elements and visual effects, for which it won several screen awards.
Neon Genesis Evangelion and Pacific Rim are both alike and unlike in certain ways. Insofar as the basic premise and story goes, I agree that they’re similar. It is the format of their executions which differ, and Del Toro has denied that his film was inspired by the former, instead basing it off franchises like Godzilla and Gundam and heavily modeling the animatronics from them whereas film crew and critics were more open to their familiarity with it. With that being said, let’s dive in to which parts each show prevailed in.
Category #1: Atmosphere
One of the overarching parts of both films is the atmosphere of dread, hopelessness and futility. Since the dawn of the extraterrestrial threats in both Tokyo-3 and the Pacific coast, life has been on-edge for inhabitants. Frequent arrivals of Angels or Kaijus routinely disrupt life in the area, which lead to mass evacuations, bunker shelters and an impending sense of death coming anytime. Military and civil attempts to curtail these threats prove futile or useless, as Angels become stronger and more impervious to even the strongest nukes launched while Kaijus instill hopelessness as they easily breach a sea wall built to keep them out. It can be assumed that billions of dollars’ worth of cleanup is required after all the damage left behind during battles – meaning that nothing is safe and everything is valuable in both cities.
Where the two films diverge is on these points: Evangelion‘s use of bright visuals in the city contrasts the aroma of secrecy that shrouds it – from NERV’s underground central facility to Gendo’s true motives behind the Eva units, while Pacific Rim is monochrome in hue, but things are more open and straightforward to understand; characters have no ulterior motives here. Civil life is briefly touched upon with Dr. Gottlieb’s time in Hong Kong and Raleigh’s brief construction stint in Pacific Rim, while in Evangelion we see Misato’s home life and Shinji, Asuka and Rei’s school days get some spotlight. The world of Evangelion is dystopian as can be, ruined after the events of a cataclysmic event 15 years prior which wiped out Antarctica and spilled the world to nuclear war, while Pacific Rim is, apart from the Kaijus, mild compared to that. Even if we take away the latter’s happy ending, there’s just more vibrancy to enjoy in Evangelion, and the whole two-faced nature of the danger impending was far more penetrating to witness. I would hate to be consigned to life in Tokyo-3 and wouldn’t wish it on my enemies – that’s why it excels in atmosphere.
EVANGELION 1-0 PACIFIC RIM
Category #2: Mechas
If you think such a post on these two flicks would be complete without acknowledging their mechas, please touch some grass. Evangelion‘s titular units and Pacific Rim‘s Jaegers, like their beastly counterparts (which will be explored next) have often been cited as the main factor to the comparison. Their sizes are comparable, their designs are on par with each other, and their control systems, save for a few minor differences (Evangelion units require one pilot, neurally linked through a substance named LCL; Jaegers require two, neurally linked pilots in sync with each other a la Evangelion episode 9) and some sort of plugsuit requirement are what catches most people’s attention. There are differences however to them: Eva units are nothing more than captured Angels plated over with metal parts and mechanically subdued, while Jaegers are completely mechanical, just like you’d think of a Gundam or Transformer. In addition, Eva units are more diverse in what they can do – shoot giant firearms, knife objects, and lunge projectiles; but their power is extremely limited when off-battery. Jaeger units use hand-to-hand melee to reduce civilian casualties, but are supplied with unlimited energy thanks to their nuclear core.
The complexity of Eva units become moreso when you realize that it is only through the pilot’s connection to the units’ souls – which is their mother’s – that allows them to operate, and even go to great, berserk lengths when extremely threatened. Not only then, are they fearsome, but alive and motherly as well; their A.T Field also adds to a layer of individuality for them. In contrast, Jaegers have no defense, and require the two pilots to suppress their bad memories, a tactic Raleigh quips with “Don’t follow the rabbit” in one scene to potential co-pilot Mako before everything’s smooth sailing. Rather than the pilots relying on the mecha to save them, the pilots become one with the machine, while also enforcing a layer of tangentaility with each other as humans.
Conclusively, the mecha that caught my attention the most was the Jaegers of Pacific Rim. As fantastical, powerful, and supernatural the Eva units may be, I couldn’t really get over the whole mecha/Angel hybrid that they were made of; it seemed a little over-the-top. On the other hand, I was quite fascinated with how intricate the Jaeger’s structure was and how symmetrically, and aesthetically pleasing to the eye they looked. To be honest, I couldn’t really care much for the Evas as battle devices considering what the pilots go through themselves, and not to mention I’m not a fan of the plugsuits themselves, while the latter film made sure to put as much stock to making them what’s up about Del Toro’s summer blockbuster.
PACIFIC RIM 1-1 EVANGELION
Category #3: Monsters
The opposing villains of the respective series are on a different category; unlike the mechas which share some semblance to each other, the origins of them are quite at odds. The Angels of Evangelion are mystical beings who sequentially come one after another in many different shapes, sizes, abilities and colours; but each have a common goal to penetrate NERV’s central hub to trigger the Third Impact and bring about the end of the world. Kaijus are basically dinosaur-like creatures who pop up from an underwater source known as the “Breach”, and have a mission to take over Earth and make it into their own paradise. Design-wise, little differentiates them from each other, save for a few different attacks; one of them, during a battle in Hong Kong, is capable of spitting acid out of its mouth but most look fairly indifferent compared to other similar beasts like Godzilla.
If the mechas of Evangelion were not to my liking because of how flashy and jarring they looked, one might assume the same for me regarding the Angels; not so. The Angels of Evangelion were much more iconic and unique; even also more fearsome than their robotic counterparts. It was fun to see a new monster come up every episode, complete with its own identity and attributes – extensible hands that can slice through metal, classic octahedral pyramid look, literal suicide bombers, and heavenly birds with mind-invading powers.
EVANGELION 2-1 PACIFIC RIM
Category #4: Battle Sequences
Note here that I will only be talking about the physical sequences of the battle, subtracting any extraneous elements that might interrupt their flow. Pacific Rim and Neon Genesis Evangelion have their fair share of fights, which make up their advertising budget. Both of them are well-choreographed (animated in the case of the latter) and throw in bits of twists, turns, and strategic parts. Especially in the case of the latter – alongside Asuka’s climactic bout in End of Evangelion, episodes 8, 9, and 18 and 19 had bouts I found most compelling to watch, with all the passion and heart put by the Gainax folks into making them come to life. From the moment you hear the series’ iconic battle theme with its menacing drumbeats, to the buildup, conflict and conclusion, you’ll be left satisfied after seeing them.
With the former, what it did best at was how much emphasis it put into the visual effects and the sound editing of the scenes. The quality of such theatrics was impressive! You could feel every roar, punch, metallic collisions, and crash-landing of each of the combatants: see the battle between Raleigh and Mako’s unit, Gipsy Danger, and the ferocious Leatherback in Hong Kong Bay. It, like Evangelion, thrives on a dramatic start and finish, but unlike Evangelion, keeps the action strong and continuous, allowing the viewer to focus solely on it and its surrounding environment. As much as I love the creativity of Evangelion‘s fight scenes, it is lacking when compared to the high intensity that Pacific Rim offers. Think of it this way: watching an Eva bash an Angel was a mid-game NBA scuffle after a foul, while the Jaeger’s equivalent with Kaijus possess the adrenaline levels of a UFC or NHL brawl.
PACIFIC RIM 2-2 EVANGELION
Category #5: Character Relationships
Pacific Rim‘s main characters are your standard war hero types. Stacker Pentecost, the head of the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps (PPDC) organization, fulfills his role as a charismatic tactician, a cool-headed, yet honorable military veteran and responsible. Pilots Raleigh Becket, Chuck Hansen and Mako Mori bring clashing personalities to the table. Raleigh starts off as the reluctant hero, bearing the scars of his brother’s death five years prior, who over time regains his fighting resolve. His partner aboard the Gipsy Danger, Mako, takes the female front-man role with her impressive fighting and analytical skills which highlight the former’s decision to partner with her, and a silent desire to avenge her family’s death during a Kaiju assault on Tokyo (which leads to her adoption by Stacker). Chuck Hansen, the arrogant hothead with a bit of a mean streak and a complicated relationship with his father Hercules, makes up for it with his formidable fighting skill and excellent track record in battle. PPDC scientists Hermann Gottlieb and Newton Geizler play the comic relief, their interactions limited to them putting up with each others’ opposite principles.
In like manner, Evangelion‘s cast has many faces and unique vibes. Shinji Ikari, the main protagonist, is a young depressed boy who serves no purpose in life until one day he is picked up by Misato Katsuragi, a colonel working at NERV, the organization that fights the Angels, and is roped (or rather, blackmailed, however you want to see it) by his estranged father and NERV’s leader, Gendo, into piloting Eva Unit-01. He is joined in this respect with two girls – Asuka Langley Soryu, a snarky girl and self-proclaimed best
girl pilot of Unit-02, and his mom Rei Ayanami of Unit-00, a silent yet uncompromising girl who he and Gendo get along best with, ironically in the latter’s case. At school, his friends Toji Suzuhara and Kensuke Aida are there to relax with him, while adults like Misato and her lover/government spy Kaji give him room to be himself and a source of parental comfort to make up for his father’s neglect.
It doesn’t take much to recognize the parallels in their characters – Shinji with Raleigh in their sense of duty and shared biological traumas – Shinji’s mother and Raleigh’s brother Yancy both dying in a freak accident they see before them; Asuka and Chuck’s brashness and strained parental relations; Rei and Mako’s perfectionism (plus, in the case of Pacific Rim‘s Japanese version, THE SAME VOICE ACTRESS); Toji/Kensuke and Hermann/Newton’s wholesome, light-hearted brotherhood and Misato/Kaji/Gendo reflecting Stacker’s split personalities as fighter/father/leader respectively. Pacific Rim, however, thrives overall with introducing the characters, their respective actors’ portrayal of their emotions, lines and motives, and giving them a role to fill. Dr. Gottlieb’s mission to find Kaiju dealer Hannibal trumps Kaji’s undercover adventures and Toji’s brief piloting stint; Mako and Raleigh get more vibing than Shinji with anyone; and Stacker is best dad and role model, unlike Gendo. Unfortunately, it slips at synthesizing the characters and humanizing them – this is where Evangelion valiantly succeeds and distinguishes itself.
Everyone – and I mean, everyone – is subjected to a massive deconstruction where their backstories, intentions, philosophies, and thoughts are exposed for the viewer. Remember for example, Shinji’s orange train scenes or Asuka’s mind-rape in episode 22? THOSE are what defines this series, not the action. Save for a few characters like Kaji or Asuka’s friend Hikari – nobody is who they are on the outside; they have their own demons to face, and the way in which they react is different, ultimately driving the conclusion. Watching them interact with each other felt like a case study to their psychologies, and is engaging and satisfying as can be. How they changed with relation to the story’s progression excelled in a manner on par with what Digimon Tamers, Puella Magi Madoka Magica or Steins;Gate could mimic. If you expected me to put Evangelion on top in this category, don’t be surprised – now you know why.
EVANGELION 3-2 PACIFIC RIM
Category #6: Hedgehog’s Dilemma
Themes of heroism such as bravery, self-sacrifice, goal-oriented coexistence, and of course, self-improvement is obviously displayed in both productions. Yet I would like to focus on only one which has the strongest appearance of them all, and that’s the “hedgehog’s dilemma”. The term was first coined by psychologist Arthur Schopenhauer, and deals with one of the many challenges of human intimacy: trust amidst emotional vulnerability. At its core, both stories are really about letting go of our own defenses and learning to get along with people, even if that will consist of rough patches from time to time – but again, this is explored in different ways.
In Neon Genesis Evangelion, this theme is heavily prevalent: since characters struggle to open up their feelings to each other, and build invisible walls around them so they don’t get too emotionally attached to one another. The series flip-flops between characters progressing in a solution, before reverting due to issues. Shinji Ikari most famously displays this; he is sensitive to what others feel about him, which crumbles his self-confidence and makes him more prone to running away from problems than facing them; Gendo, Asuka and Rei also possess this, either suppressing their dark memories with a façade of power or egotism, or by isolating themselves from others to the point of social awkwardness. Things such as the A.T Fields of the Eva units, which is later revealed as the bane of individual existence, and its antithesis, the Human Instrumentality Project by which all life forms are Communistically merged into one giant soup of souls, are ways this idea is incorporated. The latter becomes Shinji’s final test in End of Evangelion by which he realizes that without pain, he cannot exist – and existence in a void is meaningless.
Pacific Rim also depicts not just “hedgehog’s dilemma”, but the solution – as Del Toro has admitted, his main focus for the film is to exude “We can only be complete when we work together”. How does it do this? The Jaegers’ control system is built in such a way that it forcibly syncs both pilots’ minds together, exposing and letting them feel each other’s pool of memories; a symbol to how no man is an island, and how communication is a key part of human nature. The movie has characters talk with each other about deep subjects, like Raleigh with Mako over their shared traumas after she overreacts to a traumatic memory from childhood, and Stacker informing Chuck about his own mortality, which inspires the latter to do the same with his father – collapsing the barriers between them, thereby improving their mental states and affecting the outcome of the final battle as a win for humanity. Having characters be more mutually understanding, and positive, opposes the framework Evangelion used to address its psychological dilemma. Guaranteed if the latter group of characters swapped places with Raleigh and company, the series would’ve ended in less than 20 episodes.
A series which explores human relationships is always a nice thing to have, especially ones that move away from standard tropes like the “friends doing crazy stuff” or the tried-and-true “misfits become lovers” shtick. They prove that you can have an action-packed flick that doesn’t shy away from addressing mature topics and details of an important facet of life. Which portrayal did this theme the most justice? Well… OBVIOUSLY EVANGELION. Let me preface: anyone who criticizes it as “too edgy, needs more robot fights” better stick their heads in the sand, because in doing so they miss the point of all that Evangelion is trying to tell. It’s not just a stereotypical mecha; it’s life in action.
Shinji, Asuka, and Rei brilliantly expounded the “hedgehog’s dilemma” through 26 episodes (and 1 film) of joy, sadness, and climactic battles both interior and exterior, and the visuals reinforce this too, subsequently enhancing the lesson-telling quality and contributing a brighter means of expression unlike any other anime before it. If one pays attention to all the in-show details, the series’ penultimate line, “Anywhere can be a paradise, as long as if you have the will to live.”, will take on a whole new meaning, one that is bolder to appreciate. Sure, Pacific Rim doesn’t avoid talking about communication, showing that regardless of our hardships, they can be overcome if we work with others, and has a happier ending to bear fruit; however noteworthy it gets obscured with all the effort used for other things.
FINAL SCORE: EVANGELION 4-2 PACIFIC RIM
Unsurprisingly, Evangelion comes out on top as the better picture. But honestly, did you expect anything other than a series with memorably multi-dimensional characters, a garishly apocalyptic backdrop, and well-encased underlying messages to rank lower than your typical “giant robots fighting aliens” flick?
There’s a reason why Pacific Rim has been compared by fans to Hideaki Anno’s 1995 classic: because the latter has something poignant to offer, an otherworldly message that makes one think, reflect on and gives something meaningful to look forward to – on top of its componential similarities to the former. With its great content and superb delivery, as well as the lasting impression it left on audiences across generations, it’s something that’ll ring fresh when seeing something that beckons to it. Whether or not you think the comparison is warranted or overblown, it doesn’t change the fact that they both exist, and are entertaining with their own, unique charm.