Judging by the crazy advanced ticket sales for Godzilla, by this point many of you have already seen the movie. Given the ecstatic reviews that it’s been getting I think it’s safe to assume that the bulk of you are all hopped up on kaiju and desperate for more. And, thanks to the rabid fandom that has developed over the years for this particular brand of Japanese monster, there are plenty of cartoon lizards just waiting to be devoured online.
Godzilla has starred in two different animated television series. The first was simply titled Godzilla, and was co-produced by Hanna-Barbera and Toho. It aired in both the United States and Japan starting in the fall of 1978. Following a team of scientists as they travel the world on a ship, Godzilla is more of a plot device than a character. In the monster’s stead is Godzooky, his much more reasonably sized cousin. Godzooky is essentially a green, reptilian version of Scooby-Doo, hardly a surprise given the involvement of Hanna-Barbera. Actually, the whole show plays like a seafaring re-imagining of Scooby Doo, Where Are You! with much bigger monsters (and no shady criminals hiding inside). You can watch the first season of the show here, with a Hulu+ subscription.
The second series was launched twenty years later in the wake of the “success” of the Roland Emmerich film. It was given the creative title of Godzilla: The Series and aired on Fox on Saturday mornings. It ran for two seasons before it was canceled, never able to keep up with the cultural sensations that were Pokémon and Digimon. All 40 episodes are available to stream on Netflix.
In addition to these two official incarnations of Godzilla, however, there are a number of really excellent kaiju fan projects.
The first I’d like to feature is a strange, adorable short film that combines live action footage of Tokyo with a tiny, charmingly animated monster. Little Kaiju begins in a back alley somewhere in the Japanese capital, where a lone vending machine sits in the shadows. We hear a bang and then out pops a silent bobbling protagonist, given life by the team at Rabbit Animation. As the living toy stumbles about, finding joy and wonder in every aspect of the big city, it’s hard not to think of the opening sequences of Wall-E.
Directors TWiN (Jonathan & Josh Baker) have instilled their short film with a combination of tranquility and whimsy, two elements that can be hard to balance. Too much silence and the audience might be alienated by a sense of seriousness, while a too-playful monster movie might send them off equally irritated in the opposite direction. Little Kaiju is totally charming and entirely worth three minutes of your time.
That said, after the epic magnificence of Godzilla you’re probably looking for something a bit more grandiose. Negadon: The Monster from Mars is a futuristic, computer animated love letter to classic Japanese monster movies. It may be set in 2025 but it feels like 1965, complete with an opening sequence that pays homage to the fonts of an earlier era. The animators even mimic the look of old film stock.
The monster in question is Negadon, a creature unwittingly carried to earth in a giant rock by a scientific expedition returning from the red planet. Director Jun Awazu wisely uses the mediation of an old television set to introduce the enormity of the monster, at least initially. Then the military arrives, and its failure to contain Negadon is as entertaining as it is nostalgic and inevitable.
This animated short succeeds due to an understanding of its source material. The classic kaiju films persist not because the special effects in them remain impressive, not in the slightest. Rather it is the mood that we keep coming back to, the moving parts of a blockbuster machine that is much too regular to break down. Awazu takes the spirit of the original Godzilla series and runs with it into the frontier of computer animated possibility.