9 monster movies and mecha anime better than Pacific Rim
So, you saw Pacific Rim and you liked it. Or you at least liked something about it, and now you want more.
Even if the movie itself didn’t wow you, something got you hooked. Maybe it was the giant robots, or the monstrous kaiju, or the epic battles on a skyscraper scale.
Whatever’s got you curious, we’ve put together nine highly recommended works for anyone who wants to delve a little (or a lot) deeper into the mecha and monster genres.
Top 10 list – hashin!
9. Robot Jox
We just about left this one off the list, but if you’re looking for the very beginnings of live-action giant robots in the West, this is it. The movie focuses on gladiatorial combat between two massive mechs, each one piloted by a champion of the Earth’s only remaining superpowers in a post-apocalyptic world.
It’s hard to figure out where the $10-million budget went on this one – most of the movie looks like it was shot on the set of American Gladiators, and the ’60s-style stop-motion special effects make for some pretty sub-par robot battles.
Still – while Robot Jox’s outdated effects and cheesy Cold War story might seem ridiculous today, some of the concepts were groundbreaking for the time. Watching it now, you can feel its influences on Pacific Rim’s Jaeger design and cockpit controls.
Hate it or love it, Cloverfield did at least one thing really well: big monsters. The sheer awe-inspiring scale of the Cloverfield creature itself earns the polarizing movie a spot on our list.
This is one of the few giant monster movies out there that, rather than showing an hour and a half of battles and big-scale carnage, focuses on the civilian experience during the early stages of a kaiju attack. Hell, you could even consider this is a spiritual prequel to Pacific Rim if you really wanted to.
If you’re craving serious kaiju material, and you can stand the shaky cam, give it a shot.
7. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack
Forget the mechs for a minute – if you’re after some epic kaiju-on-kaiju beatdowns, you could do a lot worse than Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. As the exhaustingly long name suggests, it’s basically two hours of three of the most iconic Japanese monsters fighting to the death as the world watches in horror.
If you’re new to the whole Japanese monster movie thing, this relatively recent installment of the (so far) 26-movie Godzilla saga might seem a little silly at times. Give it a chance, and it might just grow on you.
With rubber suit and model techniques that have been artfully developed over the last 50 years and the addition of key CGI effects, this Godzilla flick should satisfy anyone looking for vintage-style kaiju carnage on a grand scale.
Arguably the only respectable attempt at true live-action mechs prior to Pacific Rim, Gunhed is a cyberpunk cult classic that happens to include some very cool giant(ish) robots. Mind you, these mechs are of the sentient-machine (think Skynet, The Matrix) variety – not super robots piloted by rock-star badasses out to save the world.
This film should be required viewing for anybody into realistic, techy mechs.
5. The Big O
(1999 – 2000)
Now, if you’re looking for a real twist on the sometimes repetitive mecha genre, you won’t go wrong with the steampunk-styled The Big O. This anime series has the unique distinction of combining a detective story, giant robots, and a film noir/art deco visual style.
Some of the people involved in this iconic anime also worked on Batman the Animated Series in the ’90s, which is probably why the show’s main character is so often compared to Bruce Wayne – if he decided to pilot a mech instead of jumping rooftops in a Batman suit, that is.
The Big O’s mechs – called Megadeus – are analogue-operated, piston-powered bruisers with none of the speed, sleek designs, or ultra-futuristic style of their Gundam or Gurren Lagann contemporaries.
4. Blue Gender
(1999 – 2000)
If the idea of mechs as humanity’s last hope against an unstoppable alien invasion gets you going, but you’re looking for something darker, sadder, and altogether less optimistic than Pacific Rim – Blue Gender is your ticket. A 26-episode anime by the same guy who did Gasaraki and Armored Trooper Votoms (both very sober mech series in their own right), Blue Gender follows a group of humans fighting for an Earth overrun by a monstrous race of insect-like creatures called the Blue.
Saturated with violence and sex, Blue Gender is serious business. Not to be watch with the kiddies around.
Godzilla’s debut film is less about an awesome giant monster wrecking a cardboard mock-up of Tokyo, and more about a force of nature and destiny that takes the form of a vengeful monster god, descending on a Japanese society that has yet to answer for its recent war-time sins.
If you thought Godzilla was just a shlocky monster flick from the drive-in days, you might be surprised at what you see in the original Gojira. When properly viewed (pick up the restored original, not the Americanized, Raymond Burr cut) and reflected on, it’s a poignant and dark film that has very little in common with its many b-movie tokusatsu sequels.
2. Mobile Suit Gundam
(1979 – ongoing)
What can you say about Mobile Suit Gundam that hasn’t already been said? It set the standard in mecha anime more than 30 years ago, when the very first Gundam series debuted. Angsty, gloomy, but also hopeful in tone, it’s one giant lesson in the pointlessness of war and still the go-to production for anyone who wants some giant robots in their life.
Gundam did it all first – the mentally tortured teenage pilots robbed of their childhoods, the flamboyant and mysterious rivals, and the mechs that seem like maybe, one day, they could be real.
If you haven’t seen at least one or two of the three decades worth of TV series and films under the Gundam umbrella, you don’t really know mechs.
Specific Recommendation: Before you go and buy every single Gundam series out there, start with something manageable, like the 12-episode mini series Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, or the recent Gundam Unicorn mini series.
1. Neon Genesis Evangelion
If you see one other giant robot production in your life, make it the disheartening, enthralling, and haunting masterpiece that is Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The basic premise goes like this: giant, inhuman monsters called Angels besiege humanity, and our final hopes rest on the Evangelion project – monsters of man created to fight the monsters of God.
Newcomers be warned, diving right into Evangelion can potentially be a serious trip down the rabbit hole. With endless “WTF” moments, fan-community theories to read up on, and a heaviness to the narrative that requires keen attention and thought, think of the Evangelion universe as a grand mystery to reflected upon and unraveled over time.
Of course, you could always just watch it as a show about mechs fighting alien monsters, but where’s the fun in that?
Specific Recommendation: We’re tempted to tell you to take the easy way out and watch Rebuild of Evangelion, an ongoing four-film reboot (or is it…?) of the series, but … no. Do yourself a favour and start with Neon Genesis Evangelion, episode one. You can thank us for all the sleepless nights spent trying to figure WTF is going on later. You’re welcome.