If considering Godzilla a Horror character is a matter of debate (and discussions I’ve had with professors assure me that it is), then Gamera must really through Academia for a loop. His original series of movies are geared towards kids, and are simple and reassuring as a result. That doesn’t mean they’re not horror stories, though – contrary to what many adults believe, children experience horror quite often. Horror just takes on a different, surreal shape – one that the Gamera movie series addresses quite well.
In his debut film, Gamera is technically an antagonist, being a large, rampaging monster that has to be stopped from destroying the world. Yet the movie puts a creative spin on the old formula by having Gamera bond with a young boy – one who happens to love turtles almost obsessively. Gamera saves the boy from falling debris, and as a result the boy essentially becomes Gamera’s advocate, arguing that Gamera has a good heart deep down and doesn’t mean to hurt people. As a result, the adults in the movie deal with Gamera in a nonlethal manner, which proves to be very beneficial in the longrun. When more vicious monsters rear their ugly heads in the Gamera sequels, Gamera flies in to save humanity, proving himself to be a defender of mankind and the Friend of All Children.
Kids, being small in a world run by physically larger grownups, have an innate tendency for be afraid of things that are big. Likewise, kids like to pretend to be big themselves – it’s why so many kids get fascinated with dinosaurs when they’re young. Each Gamera movie save the first – at least of the original series – plays on this simple fear. There is a big, grisly monster that wants to hurt people. There is almost always a kid who gets caught up in the action and is threatened. Then there’s Gamera, the big monster who explicitly loves and protects all children, flying in to save the day. It’s a simple formula, but its effective, and Gamera’s almost inexplicable heroism becomes a power fantasy that many kids desperately need to cope with the fear in their lives. This is one of the ways Horror stories can be beneficial – by terrifying the kids with some grisly monsters (and make no mistake, many of Gameras foes are downright demented in their assault on humanity), and then providing a hero who can beat those monsters back, the Gamera films show children that all sources of terror, no matter how vast, can be overcome. It’s a simple story, but it’s also an inspirational one, and children need and deserve to be inspired.
People often remark on how strange the plots for these movies get, and how sometimes they make little sense. Those people need to read the webcomic Axe Cop, because the Gamera movies actually do make perfect sense if you’re a six year old. They are simple and strange and creative as all hell, and they are the tales of terror that every kid would delight to imagine. Fear and monsters are not exclusive to adults – kids just experience them slightly differently.
In his original series, Gamera was a simple yet effective character, a monster turned true blue hero who fights the wicked on behalf of the weak. He’d get significantly more complex in his second series – but that’s for another article…