Gojira: Kessen Kidô Zôshoku Toshi (Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle) (2018)
Gojira: Hoshi Wo Kû Mono (Godzilla: The Planet Eater) (2019)
Though released in Japan as three films and available as such on streaming services, this is more like a miniseries – with Marvel-style post-credits stings hooks from film to film, and even after the end credits of the last movie. Though there have been a couple of American animated Godzilla series – the one that gave us Gadzooky (the Scrappy-Doo of kaiju) and a spinoff from the Roland Emmerich fauxilla big iguana movie – this is the first serious attempt to take Toho’s big monster franchise into anime form. It differs in many ways from every other version of the franchise, while growing out of seeds (unintentionally?) scattered throughout every incarnation of the character and his world.
Planet of the Monsters begins with a brief, precis-like prologue that gives us yet another revision of the basic premise – drawing mostly on the Millennium Era free-for-all kaiju scraps and Pacific Rim. It’s suggested that man’s nuclear testing, polluting and generally thoughtless advance of technological civilisation has brought about the rise of daikaiju (Hedorah is mentioned) to bring it all down. Godzilla is naturally the King Beast most responsible. In all the chaos of these end times, two separate alien races – the Bulisaludo (militarist technocrats) and the the Exif (spiritual weeds) – show up on Earth, fleeing from worlds that have been monster-trashed as part of the same cycle. The starship Aratrum, crewed by hardy pioneers from all three races, takes off and we skim through an exodus story that – as in After Earth or even Planet of the Apes – naturally comes back to a transformed home planet, a subjective couple of decades and an actual 20,000 years later, whereupon we get three separate acts for each of the films.
In Planet of the Monsters, a team from the ship lead by natural rebel Haruo Sakaki (a typically irritating, petulant anime ‘young chosen one’ character) go down to the blighted surface of the planet and try to destroy the still-active, 20,000-years-on Godzilla, who has become monumentally squat on the pattern of a sumo wrestler and is still devastating everything in its path. In City on the Edge of Battle, the returning refugees meet a primitive race of humanoids who distantly relate to the princesses from Mothra, then stray into a city that has grown from the nanobots the Klingon-type Bilusaludo used in their abortive Mecha-Godzilla project and experiment with using tech against the kaiju only to learn this is a literal double-edged sword. In The Planet Eater, the Exif get to be the bad guys, with shaman-type Metphies turning on his protégé Haruo as it turns out his long-term plan has to be to summon the Exif’s own world-destroyer, a rebooted Ghidorah, to end the Earth. The basic premise is new to the series and feels like the sort of thing that might have been a Doctor Who serial, with the rediscovery of Earth and a lot of politicking between the three (four, counting the primitives) races as they take different approaches to the problem of Godzilla, and philosophical issues raised by addiction to progress and civilisation. This Big G is evidently the biggest, most powerful yet seen – though it’s still an ask to believe it can suppress global civilisation while remaining next to what used to be Mount Fuji.
The design owes something to the Shin Godzilla behemoth, and so does its habit of hibernating for spells – which makes for oddly static battles, as the monster acts like an impregnable castle while flying soldiers (or the three golden necks of Ghidorah, extending from Black Hole spheres) assail it. In the final film, Godzilla technically stands still for the whole picture – and the hero’s against-the-odds triumph boils down to smashing Metphies’ evil contact lens while he’s wearing it. The look isn’t traditional anime, with some CGI aesthetic for Godzilla, but the human characters are on the bland side (and I got fed up with their clunky flight suits). The human drama is intricate enough for a long-running soap, and some strands – the hero’s self-sacrificing Grandfather is sent off with the Aratrum’s surplus old folks in a seeming B-Ark situation designed to kill off the useless, there’s a Bilusaludo coup on the mother ship in the last film rendered irrelevent when Ghidorah laserbreaths it in orbit – are hurried through, while we get a touch too much musing about What It All Means.
Toho, perhaps learning from the false step of Emmerich’s film, have done interesting things with their IP: recombining the old creatures, doing the Legendary deal to advance an internationalist monsterverse (to set up their Godzilla vs Kong) and making something genuinely fresh and surprising out of Shin Godzilla. This anime series also ventures into new territory, but for all the ambition the fun is stretched thin. Action scenes, which ought to take advantage of the opportunities offered by animation are a bit plodding. With Rodan-like minor beasties, a glimpse of the shadow of Mothra, something like the traditional G-roar, but no use of the Ifukube theme (which always feels like making a Bond movie without the Monty Norman riff). Scripted by Gen Orobuchi (who has worked in games, anime, manga and film – his big franchise is Psycho-Pass – and seems to be a proper science fiction guy); directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita.