I will admit that I only learned about Pacific Rim about a month ago. I was having a coffee with a friend and she mentioned that there was a giant robot movie with Idris Elba coming out over the summer and I thought I was hallucinating because I knew a movie like that would only happen in my imagination. She also mentioned that it was a Guillermo del Toro movie and while I appreciate his work as a filmmaker, that wasn’t the draw for me.
I am about that giant robot life. From Macross/Robotech to Voltron (both lions and cars) to various iterations of the Gundam saga (the Gundam franchise is an institution in Japan, it’s like Star Wars for us in the U.S.) and have longed for a live action giant robot movie franchise to hit it big in the states, because mecha never stops being cool.
No, Transformers don’t count. They are sentient beings, rather than giant robot that are piloted by humans, a distinction that differentiates mecha as its own science fiction genre, which I’ll get into in a little bit more detail later.
Generally, I’ve found that other movie fans haven’t shared my enthusiasm for Pacific Rim. When I mention Pacific Rim to friends and colleagues they mostly give me this look:
And I don’t blame them, while the U.S. has dabbled in mecha in film and video games most American’s familiarity of robots is connected to Transformers and associated with children and toys. While you can go back to War of the Worlds for examples of giant robots in Western science fiction, as a genre, Japan really made giant robots into a thing, way back in the 1950’s, and really hit a fever pitch when Mazinger Z established and popularized the mecha genre in Japan. (The U.S. got a taste of this through the Americanized version of the show, Tranzor Z.)
The popularity of mecha (and giant monsters) in Japan was in some ways a reaction to (and commentary on) fears about nuclear war, and a statement about the uneasy relationship between humans, the environment, and technology. Mecha is aspirational, which is why humans are crucial to the story. The appeal of pretty much any Gundam series (and Macross and Evangelion) for many audiences is partially about the impressiveness of the robots but mostly about the personalities and relationships of their pilots. Mecha is aspirational, even now, at a point where technology has become so ubiquitous in modern life, there’s something fantastical, magical about a giant robot, and the possibility of a human being able to harness the power of such a mighty being. Great mecha stories really tell the stories of people. And sometimes the slow unraveling of the sanity of its writers.
So while I imagine some people looking at an ad for Pacific Rim and seeing some dumb Transformers bullshit, what I am hoping is that Pacific Rim can bring the mecha genre to the U.S. in a real, compelling way. And then, selfishly, I hope it opens the door to the Robotech live action movie franchise I have dreamed of for my entire life.