Godzilla: A History in Animation
Author: Andrew Nguyen
Ever since Godzilla first appeared in theaters in 1954, there have been over 30 plus films produced by Toho or under Toho’s auspices. Nearly all the films were produced in the live action format with special effects that have mostly remained unchanged since the beginning of the series.
However, 2016’s SHIN GODZILLA (シン・ゴジラ, Shin Gojira) was produced with the latest advancement of Japanese special effects including a Godzilla portrayed via CGI. That and other factors helped with the blockbuster success that SHIN GODZILLA had at the Japanese box office and gave Toho confidence to try new filming methods. In the aftermath of SHIN GODZILLA’s release, Toho announced plans for a trio of new Godzilla movies coming out in 2017 and 2018, but in part due to contractual conditions relating to Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ American Godzilla films, the movies would be produced as Japanese animation.
While the “AniGoji Trilogy” would be the first Japanese animated movies in the series, it would not be the first time that the monster had appeared in the animation format. First in America and, to a lesser extent, in Japan, Godzilla and his fellow kaiju would appear in shows and specials in animation starting from the 1970s. Also due to the popularity for the series, Godzilla and the other monsters would have cameos in other animated entities both in America and in Japan.
An Odd Film Experiment for Godzilla
The first appearance of Godzilla in animation would take place in the west in a form of a student film titled BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA. Produced, directed, and written by Marv Newland in 1969, it is a one minute and 30 second film consisting of Bambi lounging around in a field as the credits are playing before Godzilla suddenly crushes Bambi while the final message acknowledges the city of Tokyo for the use of the monster. Since its initial release, the short film has played in festivals and was attached to GODZILLA 1985 for that movie’s American theatrical and VHS release. It was selected for film preservation by the academy film archive in 2009 and has undergone restoration to a HD format in 2013.
Godzilla Joins Hanna-Barbera
A full-blown attempt to portray Godzilla in animation came when Hanna-Barbera and Toho co-created the animated series GODZILLA. Premiering on NBC in 1978, it ran for 26 episodes for two seasons in its initial airing and would continue in reruns until 1981, sometimes paired up with other shows.
The show came about from discussions between Joseph Barbera and Henry G Sarpestein, who served as the main Godzilla licensing agent in America. The show was produced by Doug Wildey (JOHNNY QUEST) and developed by Dick Robbins and Daune Poole with Ray Patterson and Carl Urbano handling the main directorial duties.
In the vein of earlier shows like SCOOBY DOO and JOHNNY QUEST, the premise of GODZILLA deals with a group of scientists who travel the world aboard their boat, the Calico, to investigate unusual phenomenon which usually takes the form of monsters. Along for the ride is Godzooky, who turns out to be the cousin of Godzilla. As explained in press materials for the series (but not depicted in the show), the crew of the Calico rescued Godzooky, earning them the friendship of Godzilla. Whenever the scientists encounter more trouble than they could handle, they use a communications device or Godzooky to summon Godzilla for assistance.
In transitioning from Japanese live action to an American animation format, the show underwent changes to deal with legal issues and comply with S&P rules (mainly toning down the violence and destruction usually seen in the movies). For Godzilla, the changes include substituting the monster’s main roar with a new one (supplied by ADDAMS FAMILY star Ted Cassidy), actual red flame instead of an energy beam and a new power in the form of energy beams from his eyes. With the inability to use other Toho monsters, the series created its own. Some served as stand-ins for Toho’s monsters, which was the case of Godzooky filling a role similar to Godzilla’s son, Minilla.
Ownership of the series was transferred to Toho in 2003. Toho licensed home video rights for Season 1 to Classic Media who released the episodes on DVD in 2006 and 2007. As of this writing, Season 2 has never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Godzilla’s First Anime and Kids’ Education
Toho Studios would get its turn to produce a Godzilla centered anime as part of a trivia show entitled ADVENTURE! GODZILLAND 2 (冒険！ゴジランド, Booken! Gojirando), which aired as lead-up to the release of GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA 2 (ゴジラvsメカゴジラ, Gojira Tai Mekagojira) in 1993. The 13 episodes (each lasting 15 minutes) were a sequel to the 1992 show ADVENTURE! GODZILLAND, but the first season to have animated chibi (cute) versions of the monsters interact with the live action segments.
Toho would follow up with RECOMMEND! GODZILLAND (すすめ！ゴジランド, Susume! Gojirando), an OVA (original video animation) series of four 30-minute Godzilla shorts with two episodes each in 1994 and 1996. Produced in collaboration with the educational company Gakken, it mainly starred monsters from the Showa series with revised personalities and designs to make them all friendly to each other. Later episodes introduced another character for Godzilla to interact with in the form of a female pink Godzilla named Gojirin. The focus of the OVAs were educational in nature, like that of Barney in the United States. The first two episodes dealt with letters of the Japanese Hiragana alphabet and counting while the remaining two episodes dealt with math. In the transition period between episodes 2 and 3, the OVA underwent a change in animation style which allowed for more detail in the characters and the surrounding area.
As of this writing, the RECOMMEND! GODZILLAND OVAs are only available on (long out of print) Japanese VHS.
An Animation Show Heals a Disaster
As with several major movie franchises in the United States, the 1998 Sony Pictures produced GODZILLA would spawn an animated series tie-in. Most of the production companies involved with Godzilla would also participate in the creation of GODZILLA: THE SERIES. Adelaide Productions, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Television that had already produced well-regarded animation such as EXTREME GHOSTBUSTERS and MEN IN BLACK, would handle the direct production duties. The show would be produced by Audu Paden, with the main writers Robert Skir and Marty Isenberg. Jeff Kline who Richard Raynis served as executive producers alongside GODZILLA filmmakers Dean Devlin and Ronald Emmerich.
In the lead-up to the show, its producers conducted negotiations on multiple aspects of the creative process. The other parties involved gave the producers and the directors a good amount of leeway, particularly on Godzilla, that would benefit the show when it premiered. While the show was still aimed for kids, it still had more freedom in portraying violence in comparison to the Hanna-Barbera series.
Planned from the start for a forty episode/two season run, GODZILLA: THE SERIES picked up from the final scene of the movie where a surviving egg hatches a new Godzilla. As it gows quickly towards its full height, Godzilla would find Nick Tatopoulos (lead character from the 1998 movie) and attach itself to the scientist and his colleagues. The story would then operate in a similar manner to Hanna-Barbera’s GODZILLA series with Nick and his team traveling the globe to solve mysteries that often took the form of monsters for Godzilla to fight. The show would even attempt its own interpretation of Mecha-Godzilla when the original Godzilla from the movie is resurrected with alien and human technology to form Cyber-Godzilla.
Three actors from the movie: Malcome Danare, Kevin Dunn, and Michael Lerner would reprise their respective characters of Dr. Mendel Craven, Major Anthony Hicks, and Mayor Ebert in the show. Overall, the monster and the human characters that appeared in the movie would get an overhaul in personality that improved them to the audience in comparison to their movie counterparts. Audiences generally reacted more favorably to the series in comparison to the movie it is based on due to the portrayal of Godzilla being more like his Japanese counterpart.
As of this writing, GODZILLA: THE SERIES has received a DVD release on Mill Creek Entertainment.
Japanese Animation: The Changing Times
During the 1950s to 1970s, Godzilla and the films of Akira Kurosawa were the most famous representation of Japanese film. However times changed and although both still retained some prominence, a new category arrived on the scene to become the premiere representation of Japanese entertainment: anime.
Although Japanese animation had already arrived in the United States during the 1960 and 70s with the likes of ASTRO BOY (鉄腕アトム, Tetsuwan Atomu), SPEED RACER (マッハGoGoGo, Mahha GoGoGo) and SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (宇宙戦艦ヤマト, Uchuu Senkan Yamato), the profile rose significantly with the theatrical releases of AKIRA (アキラ) and GHOST IN THE SHELL (攻殻機動隊, Kookaku Kidootai). The big change came 1997-1999 when Japanese animation truly began to arrive in America and the global market with DRAGON BALL, POKEMON, and DIGIMON.
From 1999 to 2004, Toho released six live action Godzilla films under the designation of the Millennium Series. Three of the Millennium films had accompanying HAMTARO (とっとこハム太郎, Tottoko Hamutaroo) anime shorts that aired before the main movie in the hope of attracting more kids. Sadly however, the Millennium Series did not perform as well as that of the preceding Heisei Series films. It finished with the financially disastrous GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (ゴジラ ファイナルウォーズ, Gojira: Fainaru Uoozu), which earned back only half its production budget at the Japanese box office. After the end of the Millennium Godzilla series, Kadokawa and independent producers released their own theatrical kaiju films, but they too did not have success.
At the same time, Japanese animation was riding a wave of success as the medium entered the mainstream all over the world. Despite the mix of the 2008-2009 economic crisis and the fall of the big anime distribution studios in the United States such as ADV films and Bandai Entertainment, Japanese animation has grown immensely popular due to the movies by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli and series such as DRAGON BALL, NARUTO (ナルト), POKEMON, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shinseiki Evangerion) and ATTACK ON TITAN (進撃の巨人, Shingeki no Kyojin). Anime gave studios an avenue to advance into the world.
Toho itself has been a long-time participant in the Japanese anime scene whether it has produced animated theatrical films in collaboration with other companies or focused on the distribution side for animated films produced by the other studios. Alongside the Miyazaki films, Toho has produced the financially successful Detective Conan (名探偵コナン Meitantei Konan) film series which is based on the manga and anime of the same name. Other films include several from the Lupin the 3rd (ルパン三世, Rupan Sansei) anime and manga series, GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (攻殻機動隊 イノセンス, Kookaku Kidootai Inosensu), and the legendary movie AKIRA. On the distribution side, Toho participated in the screening of other Miyazaki movies and Lupin the 3rd movies that it did not directly produced and the financially successful Pokemon movies.
A Legendary Animation Director Restores the Godzilla Series in Japan.
In December 2014, following the international success of the Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures GODZILLA, Toho began to lay plans to restart the Godzilla series in Japan. A key decision came in March 2015 with the selection of NEON GENESIS EVANGELION creator Hideki Anno and his longtime friend and collaborator Shinji Higuchi (The Gamera Trilogy, SINKING OF JAPAN, ATTACK ON TITAN) as the co-directors of the new movie. Due to the immense popularity of Anno’s EVANGELION work, they continuously played up (particularly during April Fool’s Day 2016) ideas for a movie entitled “Godzilla vs Evangelion”. The concept became a promotional and merchandising campaign that continued long after the movie’s debut in cinemas and on home video.
Shin Godzilla also partnered with the anime series CRAYON SHIN-CHAN (クレヨンしんちゃん, Kureyon Shin-chan) for an episode which aired just before the release of the movie. Titled SHINNOSUKE vs SHIN GODZILLA, it dealt with Godzilla attacking Shinnouske Nohara’s hometown of Kasukabe. The main characters make severaal oddball attempts to defeat the monster using weapons that were inspired by the Godzilla series, including one designed like Oxygen Destroyer, although not as dangerous as that infamous anti-Godzilla weapon.
A Long Overdue Transition
In the aftermath of the incredible success of SHIN GODZILLA and the inability to produce any new live action Godzilla films until after the conclusion of the Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures deal, Toho would make the decision to finally bring Godzilla over to theatrical animation. Deciding on a trilogy, Toho would co-produce the movies with Polygon Pictures (THE SKYCRAWLERS, STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE) while Netflix would distributef the movies worldwide after they had run in Japanese theaters. As with SHIN GODZILLA in 2016, the movie trilogy would not be constrained by previous entries in the Godzilla series.
Kobun Shizuno (KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA, SOUL BUSTER, DETECTIVE CONAN) and Hiroyuki Seshita (AJIN, HALO LEGENDS, KINGSGLAIVE: FINAL FANTASY XV) would serve as co-directors of the trilogy while Gen Urobuchi (FATE/ZERO, PYSCHO PASS, BLACK LAGOON, KAMEN RIDER GAIM) was the lead writer. Takayuki Hattori (MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN, GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA, GODZILLA 2000) returned to the Godzilla series as composer. The Japanese cast included such well-known voice actors such as Mamoru Miyano, Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Sugita and Daisuke Ono. On the English side, the trilogy was dubbed by Post Haste Digital. Its roster includes voice actors such as Christina Vee, Jamieson Price, Doug Stone and Keith Silverstein that have worked on animation dubbed by studios in LA and New York.
The anime trilogy begins at the end of the 20th century, as huge monsters appeared to menace the entire world. At first it was at a stalemate as the humans managed to win several battles against the monsters although soon the monsters gained the upper hand. The situation turned catastrophic when Godzilla, this time a plant- based monster appears and begins to destroy both mankind and monster. Even the arrival of two alien races as well as extreme measures are unable to stop Godzilla and the humans along with the aliens evacuate Earth towards a potential new world. Sadly, the search for a new world did not work and instead the human and alien survivors return to Earth to find that it has changed in 20,000 years with Godzilla still very much alive and in a sense the ruler of the planet. Lead by a human named Haruo Sakurai who had lost his parents to Godzilla in the final days of the evacuation, the human and alien survivors wage war against Godzilla to retake Earth from the nigh invincible monster.
Released on November 17, 2017, GODZILLA: PLANET OF THE MONSTERS (GODZILLA 怪獣惑星, Gojira Kaijuu Wakusei) had a rough start with a so-so box office (far less than that of SHIN GODZILLA) before heading to Netflix on January 17, 2018 to polarizing reviews.
The second movie of the trilogy, GODZILLA: CITY ON THE EDGE OF BATTLE (GODZILLA 決戦機動増殖都市, Gojira Kessen Kidoo Zooshoku Toshi),, arrived in Japanese theaters on May 18, 2018. It takes place immediately after the events of PLANET OF THE MONSTERS as the combined human and alien forces regroup after their devastating defeat at the hands of Godzilla. They soon find that there are descendants of the humans left behind during the exodus from Earth. The descendants, named the Houtua, also attempted to defeat Godzilla once before through the help of their god but Godzilla destroyed it although it left behind an enormous egg. The two groups join forces and soon discover a city that served as the production center for a weapon named Mechagodzilla, long thought lost in the 21st century. With the city’s technology at their disposal, the combined human forces and their alien allies attempt another decisive battle with Godzilla. As with the first movie of the trilogy, it struggled at the Japanese box office as well as dividing critics. Netflix made the film available for streaming on July 18, 2018.
The third film, GODZILLA: THE PLANET EATER (GODZILLA 星を喰う者, Gojira Hoshi wo Kuu Mono), opened on November 9, 2018 after a premiere screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival on November 3, 2018 (the 64th anniversary of the Godzilla series). The final film in the trilogy sees Godzilla face off against a new version of his arch-rival King Ghidorah, whose appearance was hinted at the end of GODZILLA: CITY ON THE EDGE OF BATTLE. As the human and alien survivors from the battle at the end of the second movie struggle to cope with their losses, Ghidorah descends from the stars to battle Godzilla for the fate of the Earth.
Despite the lackluster performance thus far with the anime movie trilogy, it is hoped that Toho can continue this avenue as it seems to provide better opportunities for Godzilla stories and a far better chance for popularity while avoiding some of the complications that have plagued the live action versions.
Cameos in Other Animation
As with other famous entertainment properties, Godzilla and the other Toho monsters have had cameos in one form or another in live action and animation on both film and television. In the case of animation, the appearances range from outright references in THE SIMPSONS, COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG, FUTURAMA, DRAGON BALL and other Akira Toriyama created series, and URUSEI YATSURA (うる星やつら). Most recently Godzilla made a cameo appearance under the name of ‘Godzillo’ in the Toho-produced animated movie MY HERO ACADEMIA: TWO HEROES (僕のヒーローアカデミア THE MOVIE ～２人の英雄～, Boku no Hiiroo Akademia THE MOVIE ～２-ri no Hīroo～). His appearance is based on the design from the Heisei Series and his quirk, which is the name for a character’s power in the movie, is appropriately named ‘Toho’. Godzilla parodies and imitations include appearances in shows such as RUGRATS, SAILOR MOON (美少女戦士セーラームーン Bishoojo Senshi Seeraa Muun), STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, SOUTH PARK and EVANGELION.