A mysterious threat has risen in the form of titanic monstrosities whose only interest is to destroy mankind. The nations of the world put aside their differences (this is how we know it’s sci-fi) and decide that their only hope for survival lies in the form of equally titanic mechanical battle suits. The main character has to be convinced to get back in his mecha, and a blue haired Japanese girl helps him out a lot. Now what am I talking about here, Hideaki Anno’s masterpiece Neon Genesis Evangelion or Guillermo Del Toro’s also stunning Pacific Rim?
The answer is, if I were to delve no deeper into their respective stories, either one. Many have called Pacific Rim anything from a spiritual licensee of Evangelion, to an homage, to a complete rip off. I was chatting with a friend a while back about the long running rumors about a live action Evangelion movie, to which he replied, “You mean Pacific Rim?” The question is then, if these claims are accurate. And the only way to see if they are is to individually analyze each one.
Pacific Rim is the story of the giant mechs called Jaegers and the people who pilot them fighting against the Kaiju, monstrous beasts which rise from the depths of the sea to bring about the end of the world. Whether intended or not, this has the apocalyptic symbolism of the Leviathan, a beast which, according to several ancient legends, would awaken at the end of the world and destroy everything. The Kaiju have come to destroy mankind. They open portals to various worlds then kill everything there, take the resources, and move on. To the Kaiju, humans are nothing more pesky bees which stand in the way of their honey.
The hero of the story is Raleigh Becket, a man who loses his brother in the first few minutes. This precipitates him going into a self-imposed hobo life for some time. His personal arc is about him striving to regain the old fighting spirit. He’s a bit of a wildcard, he has to learn to work as a team and overcome his past trauma. Mako Mori plays the residential blue haired girl (Cue people calling her a Rei Ayanami clone. Would that make her Rei IV?) who is demure but also spirited. She has a close, fatherly relationship with Commander Stacker Pentecost, who saved her life when her family was murdered by the Kaiju. She has a lot of friction against Raleigh at first, but he proves himself to be more than a washed up has been, and together they overcome many of their faults. A big part of the story is no one is ever alone in the fight.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is the tale of humanity fighting against the Angels, but not really. The Angels are a powerful force, but the true players in this game are the humans against each other and themselves. It is much more blatant and intentional in its usage of apocalyptic imagery. The Angels are actually more like the Angels mentioned in the book of Revelations, otherworldly beings on a goal to wreak havoc against humanity (No offense intended to anyone.) on the behalf of God. What begins as a gritty version of the usual kid hops in a giant mecha and saves the world show quickly becomes darker, deeper, and much weirder.
Left to right: Shinji Ikari, Asuka Langlet Soryu, and Rei Ayanami
It’s main character is Shinji Ikari, the fourteen year old boy who is coerced by his absentee father to get in the robot called Evangelion. Unlike most anime youth in his state, who would be excited and constantly shouting out how much they believe in X, he is a more realistic child forced to battle against otherworldly horrors. He has an odd relationship with piloting his Evangelion. On the one hand, he is afraid of what will go wrong next (justifiably, a whole lot of things do), and on the other he only finds his self-worth through the praise he receives when he pilots well, particularly from his father. He is often mislabeled as a coward. I say mislabeled not because he is brave, but because he has fears but chooses to fight through them, demonstrated by his mantra “I mustn’t run away.” Rei Ayanami is the quiet, submissive, blue haired girl who is his fellow pilot at the start. Many mysteries surround her. Slowly, she opens up to Shinji and talks to him, rather than just being present in missions. Asuka Langley Soryu, the third pilot, joins the show about a third in. She is brash and impulsive, but underneath as desperate and dysfunctional as Shinji. Misato Katsuragi is a military commander who fights against the Angels because they killed her father. She is an alcoholic who is tasked with being Shinji’s guardian.
Now, from all that, they already sound pretty different, but of course there is more. The two stories are completely different in focus. Neon Genesis Evangelion is about inner battles and the effects of isolation. Pacific Rim is about, as Raleigh Beckett put it, “In a Jaeger, you can fight the hurricane.” Pacific Rim is a story of people fighting against the seemingly impossible and surviving. Another noted difference is the mental condition and age of the characters. In Pacific Rim, all of the characters are adults, and although they are tired from the fight, they are not insane. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the main pilots are teenagers, and even most of the adults mentally are no older. Almost everyone has some form of psychological problem. Pacific Rim is about adults protecting what they have. Neon Genesis Evangelion is about children learning to grow up. The characters are almost nothing alike. Shinji is a mentally unstable youth who has too little experience with war, whereas Raleigh is a battered soldier who has had too much. Despite being Japanese and having blue hair, Rei and Mako have little else in common. Mako is a determined fighter who just wants vengeance against the Kaiju; Rei fights without emotion and just wants to know what humanity is like. If anything, Mako is more like Misato.
And to mention spoiler material about the end of the respective stories (Skip to the next paragraph if you have not seen either of the stories discussed.) Pacific Rim is about humans stopping the apocalypse. In Evangelion, selfish humans exploit the apocalypse for their own ends. Human’s greatest enemies in Pacific Rim are the Kaiju, in Neon Genesis Evangelion their enemies are each other, and especially the fear in their own hearts. The day is saved in Pacific Rim by strength of arms, in Evangelion, it is a young boy gaining the will to live.
With all these differences, why are they called similar? It has to do with the way we as a species perceive things. Genetics tells us that every human is made of 99% the same material, the 1% accounts for the visible differences. People are often judged based on those tiny bits of them which are visible, in a mild way people’s preference for aesthetically pleasing bodies, and in a major, destructive way racism. This isn’t even scratching the surface of the mental differences people have.
Stories are often judged the same way. For instance, people who are, for lack of better word, muggles say that all of a certain type of geeky story are the same, for argument let’s say superheroes. But the high-flying heroics of Superman are a far cry from the everyday troubles of Spiderman. The same is true with Neon Genesis Evangelion and Pacific Rim. Both are stories about giant robots saving humanity, and both share a few thematic elements, but nothing else. Both are great stories. Which is better? To quote the beautifully weird last episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, “There are as many truths as there are people, but there’s only one truth that’s yours.” Whichever one is better is whichever one resonates to you better. For me, it is definitely Neon Genesis Evangelion, because it speaks to me about so may areas in my life (Secretly, I’m a deranged mecha pilot.) But I love Pacific Rim too.
So what on Earth is my point to all this? The two stories are in the same genre, but both different and good for it. If you have seen them, then kudos to you. Let us together revel in the awesome robot fights and psychological trauma. And if you haven’t, well why not?
Let me know what you think about this below. Do you agree that they are different? Do you disagree? Do you know the secret of why kids love cinnamon toast crunch? Let us know below. Thanks!
(Video by Youtuber Elet88-VTP)