Short Answer: Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala are equally good while Shinn Asuka can still learn some things from them.
To be clear when we say who is the better pilot, we’re not only considering the fighting skills of the individual but also exploring their: personality, background, emotional stability, special awareness, compassion, composure, loyalty, integrity, decisiveness, and determination.
Each of these traits play a role in any battle these characters engage in, and any fluctuation in these traits can influence to a great effect – the performance of the mobile suit pilot (take Athrun as an example, unable to access SEED for the most part In Destiny because of his doubts).
So let’s get to it and compare these traits for our favorite pilots Kira, Athrun, and Shinn!
Given the birth name Kira Hibiki, he is twin brother of Cagalli Hibiki and the son of Ulen Hibiki and Via Hibiki. Kira was born from an artificial womb to achieve the dream of his father in creating the ultimate coordinator. That is the being of Kira Yamato. He is the ultimate coordinator. Other than this, Kira is a peaceful young man who is a student at a technical college of Orb attending the Kato seminar.
It is clear that although Kira gains knowledge regarding robotics machinery from his education at Orb, he has no formal military training prior to his involvement with the Earth Alliance assault battleship, the Archangel.
Kira never wanted to fight in the war. He clearly states it to the captain of the Archangel that he and his friends do not want to get involved any more than they already have.
However, with the situation they were facing at that time, Kira had no choice but to continue to fight and defend the Archangel in order to protect his friends who are aboard it.
Just like Kira, is also a coordinator who lived in Orb. Not much can be seen from Shinn’s life before he becomes a soldier of ZAFT. However we can see traces of his life from the past from the he gets while reminiscing those times.
Based on those flashbacks we can see that Shinn is a cheerful and happy teenager and a caring big brother but after witnessing the death of his family before his very eyes, after seeing their mutilated corpses lying on the ground before him, something in him changes, as would any person if they experienced the same fate. Shinn becomes arrogant, impulsive, cocky, and hot-tempered.
The son of Patrik Zala and Lenore Zala, on the other hand, is a coordinator and a soldier of ZAFT. Military training in combat and leadership between Kira and Athrun differ greatly because of this. Athrun is also Kira’s close friend which makes it hard for them to fight each other, especially for Athrun as he has been instructed to destroy the Strike.
Loyalty for a soldier is the upmost importance. Wars cannot be won without loyalty. When we compare Kira and Athrun’s loyalty we can see that Kira is more loyal than Athrun. Since the start of Gundam Seed and even in Gundam Seed Destiny, Kira has always fought for what he believes in.
Kira Yamato fights to protect those he cares about and later fights to stop the war. His loyalty in the beginning of Gundam Seed was with not with the Earth forces but with the Archangel, and then later on with the Clyne faction.
Shinn’s loyalty compared to three is greatest. Although his faith in ZAFT wavers a few times as he hears Athrun’s words, he does not leave ZAFT. Shinn firmly believes in ZAFT and he firmly believes that he is doing the right thing by fighting for ZAFT.
It can also be said that Shinn’s loyalty to ZAFT stems from his inability to see the war from another perspective. Athrun tries multiple times to change Shinn’s view of the war, but to no avail.
However at the end of the war, Shinn meets Kira and he starts crying while gripping Kira’s hand, we see that he finally understands Athrun and Kira’s words and view about peace and war.
Athrun’s loyalty for ZAFT on the other hand grew less and less in both Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny because of his encounters with Kira and Lacus as well as his doubts about the true intention of chairman of the PLANT supreme council. Athrun is even shown to go against his father who was the PLANT supreme chairman during the first Earth Alliance – PLANT war.
Athrun grew to question what is it he was fighting for? What is it that ZAFT was fighting for and is it really the right choice to fight for ZAFT?
Later on he decides to leave ZAFT and join the Clyne faction along with Kira and Lacus.
Battles With Each Other
The Strike vs The Aegis – Kira Vs Athrun
… The Battle near Orb and The Marshall Islands
In this battle Kira and Athrun are fighting with mobile suits of relatively equal capabilities. Both pilots were determined to kill each other and both had activated their seed. Both pilots were also fighting driven with revenge as Kira had killed Nicol Amalfi a friend of Athrun, and Athrun in turn killed Tolle Koenig, one of Kira’s friends.
As the battle came to a close, the Aegis shifted to its Mobile armor attack mode and managed to grab the strike with its four limbs while charging its main energy cannon before running out of power and then self-destructing. It can be said that if Athrun did not run out of power during the fight, he would have won and it would be clear that he is a better pilot than Kira but then again maybe the reason why Kira still had power was because Kira managed to budget his power outputs better compared to Athrun.
The Freedom vs The Savoiur – Kira Vs Athrun
… The Battle of Crete
In this fight, there isn’t much to say. Kira was more determined here while Athrun was once again indecisive of what to believe in. That indecision cost Athrun this battle as Kira easily tore down the Saviour into shreds.
The Freedom vs The Impulse – Kira Vs Shinn
… Operation Angel Down
While many would argue that Shinn is better than Kira because he is the only pilot who has ever been able to defeat the famed freedom, it should be noted that Kira wasn’t fighting at his best. Kira was fighting with no intention of killing Shinn while at the same time trying to defend the Archangel. Shinn on the other hand studied Kira’s moves before their fight. He fought with a plan devised by Rey Za burrel on how to defeat the Freedom. As such, Shinn entered the fight prepared and determined to win. Shinn knew exactly where to defend and where to attack.
It should also be noted that in this fight Shinn activated his seed while for some reason Kira did not. Although some fans claim that Kira had his seed active all through the fight as Kira’s eyes were the same eyes as when a person activates their seed. However, even though it shows that Kira had, “seed eyes”, he was never really shown to activate his seed during the battle. Whether Kira had his seed active during this fight is up for speculation.
So all in all, we can conclude, that even though Kira had the superior mobile suit, the fight wasn’t really fair because Kira was not even trying to fight Shinn and he was distracted by protecting the Archangel.
However, Kira Yamato, who is the ultimate coordinator, piloting the Freedom, being unable to dodge a straight frontal attack from an enemy is what we call one big plot hole.
The Destiny vs The Infinite Justice – Shinn Vs Athrun
… The Battle of the Messiah
Although this battle is short, it shows us the difference in fighting experience between the Shinn and Athrun and it also shows us how the Justice is more suited for melee combat compared to the Destiny. Many would say, that with that big anti-ship sword of the Destiny together with its speed, makes it the best melee mobile suit, slicing through all in its way, but compared to the Infinite Justice in melee combat, it is outclassed.
Both legs of the Infinite Justice have its own beam blade and it has two additional beam boomerangs, all that while it holds two beamsabers combined into one, and a shield on the other hand. In close quarters combat, the Destiny is no match.
In the Gundam SEED universe, this trait is one of the biggest influencers in the overall battle performance of a Mobile Suit pilot as this trait can make the other traits or characteristics permanent.
In other words, if you are peaceful by nature, then it will follow that you are also compassionate, loyal, and you do the right thing, but if you are ill tempered by nature then it follows that you might not be as loyal, you might not do that right thing, and you might not be as compassionate.
Although both Kira and Athrun are exceptional pilots, they do differ in their personalities. Athrun can be seen as more composed and determined in the battle field compared to Kira Yamato. This is greatly due to the fact that compared to Kira, Athrun is a red uniform mobile suit pilot of ZAFT. This gives Athrun a huge edge over Kira when it comes to military combat training and leadership skills.
Athrun also shows some determination by repeatedly disobeying orders to destroy the Strike as he believes that Kira is not an enemy and he is determined to capture the Strike rather than destroy it.
Kira on the other hand is more emotionally unstable and more reserved with regards to the war. It cannot be stressed enough that Kira wants nothing to do with the war.
Kira’s emotional instability can be seen during battle as he gets more and more traumatized by the death that surrounds him, especially those that he has killed and let’s not forget he just lost his homeland, Heliopolis.
This emotional instability drives Kira to fight with the intent of not killing, giving a disadvantage in the battlefield. When it comes to a reason for fighting, Athrun’s is mainly for the death of his mother which happened on the event known as the bloody valentine and as well as to defend the PLANTs during the first and second Earth Alliance – PLANT war.
Kira fights alongside the Archangel for the sole reason of protecting his friends, and later on the whole crew, who are onboard the ship. Later on, both Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala seem to develop a new reason for fighting and that is fighting to stop the war.
Shinn however is in contrast with the two other pilots. Shinn is impulsive and arrogant. He even talks balk to his superiors like Athrun when he feels that the superior is making a mistake or is not making any sense. Shinn can also be seen as a fighter who is emotionally unstable; he lets his emotions take control of him when he fights. His rage however, mixed with his determination, to win enables him to activate the SEED mode.
One key difference between Shinn Asuka and the other two pilots is that he is focused on getting better as a pilot, unlike Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala who, although were exceptional, had a lot of other things to think and worry about. Shinn’s main drive for getting better is so that he can take revenge for his family’s death, especially his sister’s – and to never feel powerless again.
In conclusion we can say that Kira and Athrun are on par with each other while Shinn can still grow.
I would have loved to see a sequel in Gundam Seed: Destiny, as in the final scene (Special Edition Version) – Shinn finally comes to accept the drive to fight similar to that of Athrun and Kira’s!
I hope this information helps, if you have questions and clarifications, or just plain thoughts to share – leave a comment below!