I know I’ve mentioned in previous Monster Spotlights how the subjects of this article series are close to my heart, but believe me when I say that none are closer to my heart than the subjects of this one. These are the monsters that made me a monster fanatic, the towering titans of terror who filled me with fascination and wonder when I was young and, in many ways, shaped me into the person I am today. That’s right, we’re casting the Monster Spotlight on the kaiju of Toho studios – Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and their monstrous friends, foes, and distant relations!
Of course, that’s a LOT of monsters to look at, so we’re going to break this into parts. In this first installment, we’re looking at the monsters from what fans call the “Showa” era of Godzilla movies (even though some movies in the next era were still in the Showa era of Japanese history – look it’s complicated, let’s keep it simple), i.e. those made from from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
We start with the King of the Monsters himself. I don’t have to tell you have recognizable this design is, as countless cartoon parodies and homages have already told you that. A chimera of sorts – blending Tyrannosaurus, Iguanodon, and Stegosaurus into one animal – Godzilla evokes the imagery of prehistoric life without solidly belonging into any one real category, while having subtle touches of the mythic (his pronounced eyebrows and catlike ears and nose give him a visual connection to Asian dragons and shisa lion dogs). Those strange ridges on his dorsal plates – the ones that give them a sort of maple leaf/christmas tree look – make his silhouette particularly distinct, passing one of the most common tests for a unique character design.
Godzilla’s design doesn’t just look good, though – it’s tailored to his character. His jagged and rough scales are designed to resemble both alligator skin and the keloid scars caused by radiation burns. In his original suit, his eyes were painted so he was looking down at the humans he was attacking. Godzilla isn’t just a big lizard like so many other movie monsters – he’s a big lizard with a vendeta, a creature who was hurt badly by mankind’s radiation tests and wants retribution.
As the star monster of several films, Godzilla didn’t just have one monster suit or puppet to his name, so let’s look at how he varied through the ages a bit, shall we?
In his second outing, Godzilla didn’t change too much. His suit was a bit slimmer (the original Godzilla suit was notoriously heavy), and his head has a somewhat goofier grin, while the puppet used for closeups was a little less wall-eyed.
The third Godzilla suit, made for King Kong vs. Godzilla, was the first to be shot in color, givings us a good look at Godzilla’s beautiful pale orange yes. Godzilla lost his ears this time, and his feet went from having four toes to three. His head is a bit more lizardy this time around as well, and this Godzilla suit has by far the most jacked arms of any Godzilla design. It’s like he knew he’d be fighting a monkey and decided he needed to get level the upper-arm strength playing field. This suit is a fan favorite, and for good reason, but while I think it’s a great suit, it’s not quite my personal favorite. No, that honor goes to our next suit, the fourth in the line, and one whose entrance was so iconic I’m going to try and recreate it for you with still images.
What’s this? A puff of smoke emerging from the earth? Well, we’re on dry land, and Godzilla is a sea monster, so we should be fine.
I’m just gonna gush a bit here, ok? I mean, Monster Spotlight is all about gushing anyway, but I’m REALLY gonna do it here. I just adore this design. Those big, grumpy eyebrows, colored a different shade of gray so they stick out! That lumpy upper lip that feels lizard-y, Asian dragon-y, and bulldog-y all at once! The neck, which is just a bit longer than the previous Godzillas, giving him a bit more serpentine elegance when combined with the slimmer torso and long tail! Those big, inward pointing teeth! It’s such a beautiful Godzilla, oozing personality from every angle, and the fact that it stars in two of my favorite Godzilla movies makes it all the sweeter! (Ok, if we want to get technical, it was slightly retooled between Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah the 3 Headed Monster, but the changes are REALLY slight so I’m just treating them as the same design.)
Godzilla’s next suit is similar to the previous one in a lot of ways, though I think his face reads differently here – it’s less the surly, seething fury of the “Mosu Goji” suit, and more an active “come at me bro!” sort of anger. Godzilla’s always gonna look a little grumpy, but the flavor of grumpiness changes. Starring in the beloved Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and the underrated Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, this suit participates in some of the best fight scenes in monster history, and has a plethora of charming character moments.
The next Godzilla suit is… well, let’s say “controversial.” They were explicitly trying to make Godzilla look a bit more friendly here, as by this point Godzilla’s character arc had almost finished its journey from sympathetic antagonist to full on hero. I think there’s a bit of what I call the “Precious Moments Effect” at play here, where the aim to make a character design super cute and friendly makes it a little unsettling instead, but I still find this Godzilla lovable in his own way.
The Godzilla suit that followed is a bit more beloved, and also one of the more hard working suits in the series. With four films under his belt, this Godzilla endured some of the most brutal battles the Big G ever fought. He led the charge when Earth’s monsters defeated King Ghidorah once and for all in Destroy All Monsters, lost an eye and had the flesh melted off his hand while battling the Hedorah, and survived the dirty and blood-spilling weaponry of the cyborg monster Gigan! And he did it all with an adorably grumpy face.
Our final (for now) Godzilla starred in the last three films of the Showa period (as defined by fans, anyway), and was basically a superhero in a giant atomic lizard’s body. This was the first Godzilla I ever saw, and I have a great deal of love for this design as a result. Nostalgia, man. Like previous Godzilla’s, he’s got big, expressive eyes, and while he’s a bit sweeter looking here than ever before, there’s still a bit of grump to him. This suit also performed the infamous tail slide, and, look, you may think that moment is cheesy, but you had to appreciate that it’s a bit of a technical feat too. Those suits are freaking HEAVY, it took some damn good puppetry to get this move to work.
Alright, so that’s the Godzillas, all of them good, good boys. Let’s get to the rest of the Godzilla gang!
Godzilla will always be my number one favorite Toho monster, but Anguirus here is a close second. Like Godzilla, he’s a chimerical creature, technically based on an Ankylosaurus*, but mixing in bits of crocodile and ceratosaurus as well, which results in another creature that feels prehistoric without being easy to place as any one real prehistoric creature. Toho got REALLY good at that aesthetic REALLY quick, as you will see shortly.
*(His name is basically a loose phonetic translation of it: ankylosaurus = ankylus, the only difference between the “g” and “k” sounds is whether or not you take a breath while pronouncing them, and likewise “l” and “r” are very similar sounds, both being classified as “liquid” sounds by linguists, so ankylus is very easy to translate as anguyrus, which brings us to Anguirus.)
The first Anguirus suit had a very feral quality to it, which fit the savage rivalry he had with Godzilla in Godzilla Raids Again. When he made his next appearance over a decade later, Anguirus’s new suit was much friendlier, with big sweet eyes and an endearing Eeyore-like frown. Godzilla had gone through his turn from antagonist to hero at this point, and Anguirus was now turned from his vicious rival to a loyal friend. And god, it’s amazing how few changes they needed to make to sell him as that – Anguirus is friend shaped.
Rodan (name origin: pteranodon, Radon, but since “radon” is an element in the English language, American distributors switched two of the vowels, giving us Rodan) was the first Toho kaiju to appear in color, and god did it look glorious. That rich reddish brown is beautiful, and the tan spikes of the monster’s belly armor really stick out against it. I’ve always been fascinated by the thick muscle above Rodan’s fingers, it’s a detail you don’t see in any other pterosaur monster, but it kind of… feels right? It implies something interesting about how Rodan’s wings work, I guess. The baby Rodan we see in the first film also deserves mention, as it’s really cute despite starring in one of the scarier scenes of the flick.
Subsequent Rodan suits lost a lot of the sleekness that made the first one so pretty to look at, though I still think they have a charm to them. The hand puppets tended to have better heads than the full on suits in my opinion.
Often overlooked, Varan has one of the most beautiful suits Toho ever made. Stills don’t do it justice – you have to see this fella in motion, with that long, elegant tail curling with serpentine grace as it swings behind him. It might be speculation on my part, but I think there’s a bit of Galapagos Iguana in this monster’s design, and obviously there’s some flying squirrel influence as well, which makes it all the more weird that he still ends up nailing that prehistoric monster vibe. Varan’s not explicitly based on any one real world dinosaur, and yet he still feels like he would fit in the vague pop culture idea of “dinosaur times.”
The first (but not the last!) mecha/giant robot of the series, Moguera was initially intended to be a flesh and blood mole monster, but was changed to a robot to differentiate it from its kaiju peers. You can still see the mole influence, though. It’s very hard to see in the film itself, but Moguera actually has a sort of “jaw” underneath its drill nose, which I think is a really cool touch.
Toho’s second greatest success, Mothra is almost as big an icon as Godzilla himself, and the only other kaiju in their canon to be the headliner of multiple movies. Explicitly a protective and benevolent creature, Mothra is the first “good” monster in the canon, and the one who leads Godzilla and Rodan to abandon their cruel ways and become protectors. Like Godzilla himself, her design is made to fit her role. Mothra’s larval form, which many deride as being “ugly,” is based on a silkworm caterpillar, a species of insect that has not only been domesticated, but produces valuable silk for those who take care of it – an important connotation, given that Mothra is ultimately a boon to humanity despite her inhuman nature. Her imago form is a bit more chimerical, with the large colorful wings of a moth attached to a body that’s far more similar to a bee’s, particularly when it comes to her facial structure. While indisputably pretty, I think it’s important to note that the Mothra from this period still has an earthy feel to her – her fur is a mix of tans and browns, her wings are a mix of muted oranges, mustard yellows, off-white, and black. It’s a very natural sort of beauty, firmly establishing Mothra as a natural creature despite her supernatural size and strength.
I think it’s also important to note that Mothra was FUCKING HUGE by the standards of 60’s kaiju, and has to be shrunk down a bit when she fought Godzilla – though, as the screenshots above show, her Imago form still dwarfed him quite a bit. Mothra has been proportionally shrinking ever since, getting smaller and smaller in comparison to her co-stars, which I think is a shame. I like the idea of the peaceful moth monster being one of the biggest creatures in the entire series.
Toho’s King Kong often gets written off in favor of the many different Hollywood King Kong designs, which I feel is a bit unfair. While probably the least convincing from a “giant gorilla” angle, Toho’s Kong has a wonderful sasquatch feel, with that beautiful orangey fur and a very charmingly gruesome face. I like how they extended the actor’s arms a bit to give it an extra ape-ish quality – with the man-in-suit approach, it gives Kong a slightly unsettling vibe, as his movements are really close to but not quite human.
By 1963, giant monsters were doing so well that Toho started insisting they be put in stories that otherwise weren’t structured to be kaiju flicks, which is where Maguma comes in. Though it looks like a walrus, Maguma is supposedly a prehistoric reptile of some sort, which is a damn weird thing to contemplate. Its debut film Gorath is primarily focused on an attempt to stop a giant meteor from destroying the world, with Maguma attempting to attack an earth-bound station that’s helping the astronauts destroy said meteor, because a kaiju attack had to be in the plot regardless of whether it fit or not. Though no one save for the studio executives wanted Maguma in the film, the monster was loved enough to be considered for inclusion in Destroy All Monsters, although Maguma was ultimately left out. Poor one out for this sad, unwanted walrus-like lizard.
Like Gorath, Atragon is more of a exploration-focused sci-fi story than a “giant monster runs amok” story, but that doesn’t stop the ancient civilization of Mu from setting a giant Asian dragon loose on the human protagonists! Manda’s original puppet looks like it came straight from a myth, complete with horns and whiskers. Her second puppet is a bit more “natural,” ditching the horns and whiskers and having more lizardy eyes. Both version of Manda are still a bit subdued, however, with a dull blue-grey color scheme instead of the bright colors their mythic counterparts are usually portrayed with.
I love Manda’s tiny little legs. They didn’t have to be that tiny – most Asian dragons are depicted with pretty large limbs compared to hers – but their small-ness sells her as a creature that’s more snake than lizard, and they’re just endearingly cute.
Of course, if Mothra is going to make Godzilla and Anguirus turn good, we need a new monster to threaten the world, which is where King Ghidorah comes in. While I think most of the reasons King Ghidorah rules as a monster design are pretty obvious (big three headed dragon = awesome, that’s just math), I think he particularly shines when you look at him in contrast to the monsters that came before him. Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus, Varan, Mothra, they’re all very natural looking creatures with earth tone color schemes. Ghidorah is fantastical, with a bright gold color scheme, three heads, and two tails. He’s the kind of idealized creature people would put on heraldry, a golden dragon to grace the emperor’s robes, while Godzilla and Rodan are, well, lumpy down to earth (and even Manda looks mundane by comparison). Ghidorah is a precious metal – other kaiju are dirt.
And yet, Ghidorah’s the one that’s a total asshole.
It’s another thing that’s hard to convey with still pictures, but another detail I love about Ghidorah is the manic way his necks move. Look at how he sprays his gravity bolts in every direction at once, curling his necks around each other to do so. It’s like “aiming your shot” is a completely foreign concept to him – Ghidorah doesn’t give a shit what he destroys, so long as something dies. What a rotten fucker!
I love him.
As a counterpoint to Ghidorah, let’s look at one of the most obscure monsters in Toho’s canon, Dogora. An ethereal jellyfish-like being from outer space, Dogora’s movements are elegant and vaguely haunting, especially since its amorphouse body is never fully unobscured by clouds. It has an utterly unearthly quality to it that makes it at once beautiful and unsettling. It’s so different in both appearance and execution than any of Toho’s other creatures, and for that very reason I wish it had gotten to crossover with them. Can you imagine Godzilla looking up to see this eerie and partially visible gelatinous creature reaching out to him with its noodley appendage?
Moving in a very different direction, we have Toho’s Frankenstein. Yeah, Toho had a Frankenstein. His canon backstory is that the nazis gave the Frankenstein monster to Japan during WWII, and then it got caught in the bombing of Hiroshima, only to regenerate as a giant Frankenstein. Since this Frankenstein basically had to rebuild its body entirely, he doesn’t have the telltale scars and stitches that we associate with the character, but there’s still a ghoulish quality to him that I think is pretty rad.
Of course, by this point Toho knew that monster fights were a winning formula, so Frankenstein got a co-star named Baragon, who may be the peak of Toho’s prehistoric monster design. Like, nothing here really comes from prehistory – its a big chubby lizard with floppy ear-like armor plates, a shisa lion dog face, a curling horn that glows in the dark, and thick armor plates unlike any found in the natural world. Yet it still feels prehistoric. It’s the kind of thing a kid would call a dinosaur despite it not resembling any actual real dinosaur in the slightest.
Baragon is also just plain adorable, with his chubby round body and those big sweet eyes. You almost forget that he’s one of the few kaiju that canonically eats people!
Toho’s Frankenstein died, but his body parts regenerated into two distinct sons, Sanda the brown and Gaira the green. With more ghoulishly pronounced facial features as well as bodies clad in both fur and what’s either tumors, warts, or lumpy scales, these gargantuan sons of Frankenstein are marvelous monsters. While they view each other as family, Gaira is a human-eating cannibal, while Sanda thinks humans are pretty rad, so eventually they end up fighting, as family is wont to do. Jesus Christ that shot of Gaira preparing to eat a woman is frightening.
Frankenstein and Gaira would both end up fighting a giant octopus, which has a pretty rad puppet – albeit one that doesn’t have a lot of flourishes, looking pretty much exactly like a big octopus with no added bells or whistles. I mean, it’s an eight limbed puppet, that’s gotta be pretty hard to make functional, I can’t blame them for keeping it simple here.
Speaking of enlarged sea life, Ebirah from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster is one of the most unfairly maligned designs in the series, in my opinion. A lot of people write it off as “just a big lobster,” but, like, look at this guy. Those creepy eye stalks, the hairy mandibles, those asymmetrical claws – Ebirah’s freaky. The scene where he plucks an islander with his claws is genuinely scary even if the special effects aren’t convincing to a modern viewer. There’s a sort of unhinged quality to Ebirah’s face that I really like, and overall I feel it’s a monster that could use a lot more love.
The Giant Condor from Ebirah’s debut movie, by contrast, has recently gained a LOT of love, even if it’s mostly of the ironic meme kind. One of the most obscure monsters in Toho’s canon (not even having an official name), this scuzzy bird comes out of nowhere to battle Godzilla, and then is never heard from again. It makes a bit more sense if you know this movie was originally meant to be a Kong movie, since “giant monster comes out of nowhere to battle hero monster, then dies” is something that happens roughly three to five times in most Kong ventures. Despite being a minor cameo, the Giant Condor still has a lot of personality, with its scraggly feathers and skeksi-ish face.
Speaking of Kong monsters, Gorosaurus here made his debut in King Kong Escapes, before immigrating to Godzilla’s world in Destroy All Monsters. A lot of fans don’t think much of him because his design is probably the most straight forward of all of Toho’s dinosaur monsters. I mean, you know why you’re thinking dinosaurs when you look at this guy – it’s a theropod. A Charles Knight style theropod, but still, a pretty standard theropod.
But – and I will cop to this quite possibly being my own personal biases here – I don’t think that should disqualify Gorosaurus as a good monster design. Yes, he may not be as hard to place taxonomically as Baragon or Anguirus, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a great deal of thought put into this suit. Gorosaurus’s posture does a remarkable job of hiding the human actor inside of him, his tail moves with a beautiful serpentine grace, and he has a bunch of subtle little touches that give him a great deal of character. Look at those baleful eyes! Look at that bright pink dewlap and those beautiful blue-green scales! He’s one of the most gorgeous monster suits Toho ever made – there’s a reason he was given a big part in Destroy All Monsters, gang.
I also think it should be noted that Gorosaurus is a tribute of sorts to the original King Kong. If you look at the 1933 movie’s T.rex, you can see how closely Gorosaurus resembles it – the bubbly scales, the dewlap, even the leap-focused fighting style are all pulled from that original film. Given how much King Kong influenced Toho’s kaiju films, I think it’s sweet they made such a faithful adaptation of one of its monsters.
So, yeah, some fans may think Toho didn’t need a fairly normal theropod in its pantheon of prehistoric monsters, but Gorosaurus will always be one of my favorites. Again, I admittedly have a pro-theropod monster bias.
King Kong Escapes also has a giant sea serpent in it,. It has a very neat noggin, with very pronounced needle-y teeth. But, like the Giant Condor and the Giant Octopus, it’s a minor cameo monster, so it doesn’t have a whole lot to do.
King Kong Escapes also started the kaiju trope of hero monsters having to fight robotic doppelgangers of themselves, pitting King Kong against Mechani-Kong! Which is a pretty good name, though I think it’d be better if it dropped a syllable. Mechakong. Mechani-Kong has a fun retro-robot look, with his pseudo-Batman-utility belt being a particularly eye-catching feature.
Giant insects and arachnids were fairly common in monster movies by the late 60’s, and for this reason a lot of people write of Kamacuras as just one in a sea of big bugs. But that would be folly, because if you know your insects, you know Kamacuras is doing some weird shit with their anatomy. Look at those jagged, saw-toothed beaks these guys sport – mantises don’t have those. Look at their asymmetrical arms – one built like a bread knife, the other like a serrated scythe head. Mantises don’t have those either! There guys are delightfully exaggerated creatures, and there’s enough real insect anatomy at work where you know it’s not a result of ignorance, but purposeful. They’re monster mantises, rather than just big mantises, and that’s an important distinction.
Their co-villain, Kumonga, is similarly more than just a big spider. Toho did their research – it’s got eight legs, two pedipalps, two pincers, eight eyes, and a mix of fur and chitin for covering. But all those good spidery details are warped in key ways. The lumpy abdomen and bright yellow warning stripes sell the toxic nature of this monster,while the glowing purple eyes and hairy maw give it a delightfully creepy face. I think Kumonga is one of the most underrated “villain” monsters of the franchise, although I also delight in the fact that the spider got to play an important role in helping the good monsters defeat King Ghidorah in Destroy All Monsters. Sometimes a big spider is MORE than just a big spider, y’know?
Kumonga and Kamacuras get their start menacing not just mankind, but Godzilla’s adopted son, Minilla. And, like the Godzilla suit that debuted with him, Minilla’s design is, aheh, controversial. Again, I think the Precious Moments Effect is in full force here, as trying to make a conventionally cute baby Godzilla resulted in a weird Godzilla man-baby that’s just a little bit creepy.
Still, maligned though this design may be, I do think there’s some genuine cuteness here. I like his droopy eyelids and pronounced browns, which are raised in a gleeful look to counter Godzilla’s constant angry-brows. I think it’s also important to note that Minilla’s scales are, for the most part, smooth. Remember how Godzilla’s scales are meant to resemble keloid scars? Minilla’s texture is how Godzillas are supposed to be – their natural state. It’s a really cool detail, and one that makes the importance of protecting Minilla all the more clear – Minilla isn’t just another of Godzilla’s kind, but a second chance for Godzilla to be what he was supposed to be before mankind hurt him.
Also, Minilla’s first puppet is genuinely adorable. I love its salamader face.
Kroiga/Black Moth/Griffon is one of the more obscure Toho kaiju, which, again, is a shame. A lion with a human brain and the wings of a condor, Kroiga’s design is strange even by Toho’s standards, a mythic creature created in a Frankenstein fashion. It’s a really striking design, don’t you think?
Gabara appears in perhaps the least loved Godzilla film of the 60’s, All Monsters Attack. Regardless of what you think of the film itself, though, I think Gabara is a solid addition to the monster lineup. He’s got warty, toad-like skin, a face like straight out of medieval Japanese monster art, and a crazy look in his eyes. You take one look at this guy and you understand his personality: he’s a sadistic bully, and one that delights in tormenting weaker creatures. Gabara is often written off purely because of the movie he debuted in, which is a shame, because he’s a really unique design that would be fun as hell to see again.
Remember how I said the Giant Octopus puppet, while impressive, didn’t take a lot of creative liberties with its real life inspiration to look monstrous? Well, apparently Toho’s monster makers eventually found their confidence, because Gezora goes for full monster power while having two more tentacles than its predecessor! This cuttlefish kaiju’s eyes are particularly interesting to me, as they look sort of glazed over – which, when you consider this kaiju is being mind-controlled by an alien parasite, makes a good deal of sense.
One of Gezora’s co-stars is Ganimes, a giant crab that takes everything that made Ebirah creepy and dials it up a notch. The eyes and mouth of Ganimes are probably its creepiest features, but I think its back carapace also deserves attention, as it’s really warped and oddly shaped compared to most real life crabs. Again, I don’t think you can write this guy off as just an enlarged arthropod – it’s a MONSTER crab.
But you know me – I love reptiles more than anything, so my favorite of the “Yog Trio” is of course Kameba. Loosely inspired by the Matamata turtle, Kameba has a uniquely rugged and spikey shell, an extendable neck, and just the cutest widdle face. Kameba has sadly only had a short cameo in a Godzilla movie, but I’d love for him (and the rest of the Yog Trio) to get the star treatment someday down the line. I mean, what I really want is for him to pal around with Anguirus. I think they have a lot in common.
An alien slime creature that feeds on pollution, people focus so much on how weird Hedorah’s debut film is that they often forget how deadly a creature it was. Melting people alive and drowning them in muck, Hedorah racks up an impressive on-screen kill count for a kaiju, all while sporting an eeriness to rival Dogora. Those glowing red eyes give the slimy freak a powerful sense of menace, and yet, despite being utterly alien, there’s a lot of personality in the creature as well – perhaps the most notable moment is when Hedorah slurps up the toxic fumes pouring out from smokestacks, closing his massive eyes in contentment like a smoker taking a drag. Adaptable and difficult to destroy, Hedorah is one of the more terrifying creatures in Toho’s canon.
Following up Hedorah was another distinctly alien creature, Gigan, a monster whose theme is “dirty fighter.” A cyborg creature, Gigan’s body is loaded with secret weapons, and the bird-like alien takes visible delight in brutalizing enemies while working for alien invaders. There’s so many fun details on this guy – the visor with the glowing “pupil,” those side mandibles that make Gigan’s face resemble an ant’s as much as a bird’s, those three big fish-fin wings on Gigan’s back, the big hooks for hands and feet, and of course, the buzzsaw built into the alien’s gut. This is a monster who really has no choice but to hurt people, and the suit actor inside made sure we knew he delighted to do so. Gigan’s vaguely rooster-like head may also be a nod to his other defining personality trait, cowardice, as the cyborg abandons his battle partners in each of his film appearances in the 70’s when the going gets too tough.
Like Gabara, Megalon gets a bad rap because his debut movie is considered, well, bad, and like Gabara it’s a shame. Megalon’s design is a stand out monster design, turning a hexapodal beetle into a humanoid biped with giant drills for hands. Look at those gnarly mandibles, and those big, dully-furious eyes! Hell, think about getting whacked by those drill hands – Megalon’s a wonderful brute of a monster, and could be just as beloved as Gigan if he was given another chance to shine.
I’m also angry that Jet Jaguar is often written off, though I can understand why a bit better. While Megalon could fit in pretty much any type of Godzilla story, Jet Jaguar really only makes sense in the more heroic style – he’s designed to fit with Godzilla the Hero Monster, and doesn’t quite make sense with Godzilla the Anti-Hero or Godzilla the Menace. And since purely heroic characters are kind of unpopular nowadays, it’s unlikely we’ll see Jet Jaguar anytime soon, which, again, is a shame! With a bold color scheme and a unique noggin that has all the weirdly-cute affability of a Halloween skeleton prop, Jet Jaguar is a great heroic robot design, and more importantly, a good friend for Godzilla to have.
On the villainous side of robotics, we have MechaGodzilla, the Terminator of 70’s kaiju movies. Hedorah and Gigan both upped the brutality of kaiju fights, but MechaGodzilla makes them look like sweethearts, reducing Godzilla to a bleeding wreck and nearly killing Anguirus with an array of powerful weapons. When I first saw MechaGodzilla’s debut movie as a kid, it freaked me the hell out – Godzilla was my hero at the time (still is, to be honest), and seeing him beaten up this badly left a mark on me. While King Ghidorah may be Godzilla’s arch-enemy, I’ll always view MechaGodzilla as his worst one – perhaps not the most powerful, but by far the most cruel.
Which, y’know, makes sense. Godzilla was turned into a monster because he was a victim of war – he’s the consequences of our cruelty to others personified. MechaGodzilla, however, is a literal weapon of war – he is WAR ITSELF personified, the embodiment of the evil Godzilla was lashing out against. I think it’s really fitting that MechaGodzilla was the last big enemy the Showa Godzilla faced – there’s a thematic unity to it, with Godzilla ending his story by destroying War Itself.
To go off of that thread, I think it’s interesting that King Shisa is Godzilla’s primary ally in the first MechaGodzilla movie. King Shisa is an ancient protector monster, a predecessor to what Godzilla has become by this point in the series, and an explicitly ancient and mythic one at that. His name comes from the Shisa Lion Dogs, a common monster in East Asian mythologies and iconography. Interestingly, King Shisa is designed to be a bit of an artificial monster himself – those scales on his body are meant to be red bricks, and his glowing red eyes are giant crystals that can absorb and redirect energy blasts. It not only gives Shisa a unique look, but plays into the commentary the MechaGodzilla movies are making about the nature of violence – if MechaGodzilla is a weapon made for evil conquest, then Shisa, the protecting god monster who sleeps until his people need saving, is the necessary counterpart, a machine made to defend rather than destroy.
The second MechaGodzilla movie introduces another layer to the reflection theme by teaming up the evil robot with a brain-washed prehistoric sea monster named Titanosaurus. That’s right – the first MechaGodzilla movie had Godzilla, a good prehistoric sea monster, team up with an ancient animate lion statue to fight an evil robot, and so the second MechaGodizlla movie has the evil robot team up with a prehistoric sea monster of its own. Layers!
Titanosaurus is intentionally a throwback to the older Toho monsters, being a lumpy reptile that feels like a dinosaur despite not resembling any real dinosaur known to man. The various fins on its body really sell it as an aquatic creature (I especially love the mohawk frill on its head), which makes the comparison to Godzilla all the more apt. If King Shisa is a “good” counterpart to the mechanical knowhow of humanity, then Titanosaurus is the “evil” counterpart to the natural world as represented by Godzilla, although in this cause Titanosaurus is less “evil” and more “exploited by evil.” Like Godzilla, Titanosaurus is a victim as much as it is a villain, brow beaten and brainwashed into serving as a flunky for the alien invaders when it would much rather be living alone beneath the sea. You can’t help but feel bad for the big lug, and here’s hoping Titanosaurus will appear again in a future Godzilla story and, hopefully, get the happy ending it deserves.
For two decades, Toho delighted film audiences by bringing a wide variety of beautifully strange and lovable monsters to the silver screen, creating a pantheon of giants with personalities as grand as their stature. Of course, they didn’t exactly stop forever after 1975 – after a decade or so, a whole new slew of monster creators would come and bring some new giants to the forefront, but we’ll get to them in part 2.