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  • Author: KeSean Johnson | Banner: Landon Soto

    Glimmering, beautiful lights lit up the overcrowded city. The land itself was full of excited life. Yet, during another dazzling night in Las Vegas, there was only one word that could describe the events occurring at that very moment: Chaos.

    Terrified, citizens ran as fast they could and screamed their loudest. Vehicles honked their horns continuously as people ran in their way of driving. Gamblers in nearby casinos rushed themselves to gain the luxurious money they believed they so well deserved. The entirety of Sin City was in a state of panic.

    The night sky was suddenly filled with airborne monstrosities. The reason why they converged on Las Vegas was unknown. All four kaiju flapped their gargantuan wings in order to stay afloat. They glared into one another’s eyes with shady intentions. The first was a creation of an ancient civilization who then went corrupt and attacked the world. It possessed navy blue flesh with shades of beige. Its bat-like wings and disturbing facial structure were definitely something to be afraid of. This creature was dubbed the “Shadow of Evil”. The second was the Lord of the Skies himself. An ancient predator who ruled the skies of the Earth. A lava red covered his body. Long veins were visible on his saurian wings. This menace only cared for dominance. The third was a majestic moth who’s only purpose was to protect. Soft, white fur with orange stripes consumed her frame while patterns of red, yellow, & black made up her wings. She was the “good”, but for every good was the bad. That “bad” took the armored form of the insect’s “brother”. A product of the Earth itself that became a vengeful demon. Black armor covered his body while crimson orbs protruded out of his abdomen. Lightning-like shapes of red filled half of his menacing wings.

    The bloodthirsty Gyaos, the speedy Rodan, the guardian Mothra, and the vengeful Battra were ready to begin a dogfight that’d be one for the history books.

    A quick burst of a sonic beam shattered the stare off and broke the silence. The monsters went into a frenzy. Crackling heat charged within Rodan’s three horns and the pteranodon vomited his uranium heat beam at every monster in sight, releasing pained chirps and shrieks from each of them. Mothra returned the favor and fired her pink colored antenna beams at the prehistoric menace. Battra blasted Rodan as well with his concentrated prism beams. The radioactive creature echoed out a bellowing cry of agony as tiny bits of burnt flesh fell from his body. Gyaos swooped in on Mothra and sank its sharp talons into her thorax, blood spilling from her new wounds. The guardian insect cried out in chitters of agony. When the Gyaos demon went for his next attack, Battra soared by and tackled him off of his sibling. The angered moth threw the Gyaos bird aside and blasted it in the back with his prism beams. Gyaos disturbingly shrieked in pain all while losing control of his flight. He needed to recuperate.

    A spiraling beam of radiated power carved into Battra’s abdomen, catching him off guard and forcing a deep roar of agony to escape his mandible. Rodan flapped his mighty wings and began to peck at the armored insect. Its long beak bashed into his skull over and over. Small, flurries of sparks erupted as he bashed his cranium. Rodan was unrelenting. In a sudden flash, Battra blasted the pteranodon point-blank in the chest, sending him hurtling backward to recover. Mothra closed in on Battra’s location. When the furry moth flew over him, strands of gold lightning fired from her majestic wings and zapped her sibling all over. Battra twitched in pain and screeched continuously as his body was being electrocuted with no remorse. To speed up the process, Mothra shed golden scales from her wings, which singed and nearly paralyzed Battra’s nerves. Out of the blue, Rodan struck Mothra in her right wing with his magenta-hued blast made of uranium heat. The guardian moth chirped in sudden agony and seized her assault on Battra, letting him free.

    Rodan dashed under her thorax and bit down onto one of her fluffy legs. The pteranodon spun in circles to dizzy the giant bug and succeeded in smashing her against her own sibling. The moth pair spiraled out of control but didn’t fall from the sky, they were only dazed from the rough impact. The Hyper Gyaos returned to battle, shrieking in horror before latching onto Rodan’s back and pecked at his skull. Now he had a taste of his own medicine. Rodan chirped in stinging irritation, trying his hardest to dislodge the savage bird. Mothra flew in and smacked the reptilian vulture with her left wing, causing it to swiftly, scurry away as it was disoriented. Two beams fired from her antenna and carved into Rodan’s flesh. The radiated beast angrily turned around and spammed his uranium heat beams onto the Infant Island Goddess. Mothra backpedaled from the scalding blasts, but fired off more antenna beams at the pteranodon. Battra soared through the battling duo and whacked them both with his dark wings.

    He sent prism beams of plasma into Mothra’s thorax to scorch her fur and more into Rodan to do the same to his flesh. When he turned about 80 degrees to his right, the vicious Gyaos spat its energy beam composed of focused sound. The sonic ray shot through Battra’s left wing like tissue paper and shred a good chunk of it from the edge of the appendage. Battra’s lowered screeches of anguish escaped his mandible as he slowly fell from the night sky. His wings were still usable, so the armored moth carefully landed on top of a residential hotel to rest. Gyaos swooped down with its brilliant speed to go for the final blow, but Rodan used his excellent quickness to block off the bird and blasted it with his spiraling atomic ray. The flesh on Gyaos’ chest was cooked. With several hurricane flaps, Battra was back in the sky and grasped Rodan with his insect feet. Electrical surges zapped the pteranodon and burnt his skin. Battra flapped his wings as fast as he could and flew at his top speed. The vengeful moth released Rodan and let the prehistoric flyer to collide into the infamous Stratosphere building. With screaming tourists at the very top, the needle structure collapsed because of the force of Rodan’s collision. Both the building and the monster crashed to the ground below in a destructive manner.

    The horrible Gyaos focused sound into his vile maw. With a terrifying shriek, the reptilian vulture released a sonic beam at Mothra. The devastating ray hacked her left antenna off of her head. Another quick burst of sonic energy and the beam carved a hole into the middle of her left wing. Mothra spun backward, agonizing chirps of anguish coming out of her brown mandible. Battra zoomed in on the Gyaos and held it captive as he singed its nasty flesh with his energy touch. Battra thought to himself, screw it why not? The armored insect bellowed chirps at Mothra. He was speaking to her in a language only they would know. Mothra listened to her younger sibling’s commands. Echoing out an angelic chirp, the guardian moth shed more golden scales from her massive wings. Battra tossed the helpless Gyaos into the pile of scales. Gyaos horribly shrieked in nerve-stabbing anguish. Once trapped, there was no escape. The flaps of its bat-like wings became slower and harder as its limbs painfully tightened. Mothra sent strands of electrifying lightning into the trapped bird to scar it even worse. A remorseless Battra fired countless prism beams into the scale payload. The purple energy rays dashed around in different angles until carving into the paralyzed Gyaos one by one. A deadly combination of prism beams, lightning, and paralyzing scales were all too much for the zombie-like reptile.

    After about two minutes of unrelenting assault, the moth duo seized firing. The scales dissipated and a putrid stench rose into the air as the fried carcass of the Hyper Gyaos plummeted from the sky. The overcooked creature smashed into the surface below with a rumbling thud. Both Mothra and Battra released their respective cries of triumph to fill the night sky. They gazed into each other’s bulbous eyes and turned around to go their separate ways. As they flew away from one another, Battra wickedly twitched his head and clawed feet. He tried to control himself, but he couldn’t. The urge of vengeance was all that mattered most. Battra swiftly spun around and soared toward the exiting Mothra. He quickly flew above her and past her. A brilliant flash of orange energy consumed his form, zaps of electricity releasing. When the blinding flash faded, Battra plummeted fast in his larval form! The angry caterpillar smashed perfectly into Mothra’s body and sent her falling as well. The aching bug let forth a loud, chirping cry.

    As quick as a speeding rocket, the monsters smashed into the streets below. A powerful shockwave of dust violently erupted. Battra completely crushed Mothra underneath his armored frame which broke his fall. The guardian moth was deep in an impact crater they’d created. Parts of her exoskeleton shattered beneath her fur. She painfully flapped her beautiful wings, saddening chirps of distress releasing from her mandible. Her baby blue eyes dimmed on and off like dying light-bulbs. All she ever wanted was to protect the Earth at all costs. She never wanted it to end like this, not by her own relative. Battra slithered off her demolished body. What kind of pitiful creature actually wanted to protect humans?! She was no sister to him. Only an arch-rival who got lucky in defeating him more than 12,000 years ago. That was payback for what she did to him. Another flash of orange illumination covered Battra’s body and the menacing insect was back in his imago stage. Battra flapped his evil wings to increase his altitude.

    As he glared at his “sister” with disgust, the sounds of sonic zooming cluttered his ear holes. An atomic blast of scorching fury struck the top of his thorax. Rodan was back! Before Battra could even make his move, Rodan soared directly above him. The sharp spikes all over his torso scrapped Battra’s back ferociously. A blue flash shined and a series of singing sparks showered everywhere. The infuriated demon bellowed in agony as he began to plummet once again. Battra horribly crashed into a huge casino with greedy gamblers running around inside. Radioactive energies crackled within Rodan’s horns as they glowed with burning essence. The pteranodon vomited the ultimate barrage of uranium heat beams. The spiraling blasts of atomic properties smashed into Battra’s fallen form and the decimated rubble around him. With no remorse, Rodan unleashed blast, after blast, after blast until everything below him went up in sizzling flames. Singing fumes rose into the night sky. He couldn’t see anything beneath the destruction. There was no sign of Battra.

    The glorious smell of awesome victory filled the nostrils in his beak. His opponents should have never counted out the quick trickster that Rodan was. With his three enemies down for the count, the radiated pteranodon dashed off into the dark horizon where the Moon was full, letting out that last mocking bellow.

    It was all about dominance, and Rodan was dominant.

    Winner: Rodan (Heisei)

    K.W.C. // July 11, 2019
  • Author: Zeb Dennis| Banner: Dao Zang Moua

    It was night as the moon shined over Tokyo. But the city was in chaos as King Kong was attacking the metropolis. People were running for their lives as King Kong destroyed everything around him. Kong was smashing buildings, stepping on vehicles, and killing people. The Japanese Self Defense Force had sent in tanks, helicopters, and Type 88 SSMs to destroy the giant gorilla or force him to leave Japan; however, the weapons and the soldiers within them met their end, they were no match for the legendary beast. The only thing the weapons did to the giant ape was trigger him into a berserk state.

    But why was King Kong here in Tokyo?

    As King Kong continued his destruction in Tokyo, policemen, firemen, and soldiers were helping civilians evacuate the city. The scream of a woman caught the ape king’s attention, causing the beast to see a woman looking through a window in a nearby structure. The brown gorilla took a peek, wanting to examine the woman. He got a closer look and saw that she did not meet his standards of beauty, so Kong thrust his enormous hand into the room, ripping out the chunk of the building and sent woman plummeting to her doom. With a powerful heave, he pushed against the looming skyscraper and sent it falling to where it crushed fleeing refugees, upping the casualties and body count tenfold.

    King Kong looked around, still seeking to find a place to call home, until he heard a familiar screech. It registered that it was not made by any living creature. He turned to see his mechanical double, Mechani-Kong, marching through Tokyo and heading toward him. The metal ape stopped at a distance, holding its arms up and screamed a digital roar at the living gorilla. King Kong’s brows narrowed, angry to see his old enemy. Drumming his chest with his fists, he roared back at the robotic primate.

    Within his hidden lair in the North Pole, Dr. Who sat at his desk with his computer in front of him. On the monitor, Dr. Who saw King Kong and Tokyo through the cameras inside Mechani-Kong’s optical sensors.

    “Kong, if I had known you would be this much trouble to catch, I would have sent Mechani-Kong to Mondo Island, instead of relying on that fool,” the doctor commented.

    Dr. Who had hired a game hunter to capture King Kong, so the evil scientist could use the giant ape once again to mine for Element X. In spite of his success, knocking out the colossal ape with a non-lethal knockout gas, Kong broke free and took revenge against his captives. However, he was aimlessly drifting somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and the closest island to swim to was Japan. By the time Kong reached Tokyo Harbor, the JSDF was already prepared to drive him back. In the wake of the bounty hunter’s failure, Dr. Who found out the primate had escaped, and thus sent Mechani-Kong in pursuit.

    Just as Kong and his mechanical rival were about to start another one of their scuffles, they heard the sound of jets above them with a looming shadow overhead. The two gorillas looked up, witnessing two Shirasagis descend with a mechanized dragon tethered by two sets of cables. A robotic force made from the skeleton of the first Godzilla that devastated Tokyo in 1954, constructed by the JSDF to protect Japan from the second Godzilla and any other threat crawling out of the woodwork. The Shirasagi jets planted Kiryu into the wreckage left by Kong, firmly holding its own weight due to its mass, unhooking their cables from the cyborg titan.

    Piloting within the Mechagodzilla was the beautiful Akane Yashiro. While the female pilot came here to fight King Kong, she was surprised to see his robot counterpart was here as well. From what Akane had heard, Mechani-Kong was an enemy of King Kong that was created by some mad scientist, and had caused trouble for Tokyo in the past. Akane couldn’t help but wonder if Mechani-Kong’s creator had something do with King Kong being in Tokyo. Either way, she knew both these gorillas needed to be taken down.

    “Let’s show these monkeys what a real robot can do,” Akane said to Kiryu.

    The Mechagodzilla responded to Akane by letting out a digital roar.

    King Kong’s animal senses was telling him that this newcomer was a threat to him. The primate could see it was like Mechani-Kong, but at the same time, had the appearance of his other enemy, Godzilla. Whatever this new enemy was, King Kong wasn’t going to back down from it.

    “So the Japanese Self Defense Force had sent their Mechagodzilla to interfere with my capture of Kong. No matter. This will only show the world how superior my Mechani-Kong is,” Dr. Who proclaimed as he glared at Kiryu on his computer. The evil scientist grabbed a microphone that allowed him to communicate with Mechani-Kong. “Mechani-Kong, destroy Kiryu, and complete your mission of bringing me Kong.”

    Mechani-Kong let out a roar as it obeyed its master.

    Before the three giants could start their battle, they heard a large roar that echoed across the city. King Kong, Kiryu, and Mechani-Kong looked at where the roar had come from. The three saw something far away, but it was heading toward them. However, Akane and King Kong recognized the roar as it belonged to Godzilla, but yet there was something different about it.

    As the forth monster got closer, Akane and King Kong got a clear view of it, and both were shocked as they saw it wasn’t Godzilla. Well, not the Mutant Godzilla anyway. This monster happened to be the Ancient Godzilla.

    Akane had heard about this Godzilla before. Where the first two Godzillas were once Godzillasaurs that were mutated by radioactivity, this ‘elder’ Godzilla was an ancient creature that had existed in a time before the dinosaurs. According to scientists, they believed the species of the Ancient Godzilla were ancestors of the Godzillasaurus family, which would explain why the Mutant and Ancient Godzillas were so similar. But unlike the Mutant Godzilla that caused destruction, the Ancient Godzilla was a symbol of nature that protects the balance of the planet from danger. One of the good monsters like Daigoro, Frankenstein, Gomora, King Caesar, Mothra, and Sanda.

    However, Akane had seen footage of the Elder Godzilla causing damage in Hawaii and San Francisco while hunting for the MUTOs. This Godzilla was a loose cannon like Gamera. While the giant turtle defended the Earth, he caused mass destruction to cities and brought death to people just to kill the Shadow of Evil. In Akane’s mind, the Ancient Godzilla was a threat to humanity like the mutant one. A monster that needed to be destroyed.

    Godzilla stopped at a far distance from King Kong, Kiryu, and Mechani-Kong. There was anger in Godzilla’s eyes as he looked at King Kong. The same thing was said for King Kong as his blood boiled at the site of this Godzilla.

    Dr. Who could see the angry looks that Godzilla and King Kong were giving each other. “Hmm… There seems to be bad blood between these two.”

    Unfortunately, Dr. Who was right. The reason why Godzilla came to Tokyo was because he sensed King Kong was there, as their species were natural-born enemies. Before, Godzilla had always thought the species of the giant gorillas had went extinct along with the rest of his kind. But like Godzilla himself, King Kong was the last member of his species that had survived for eons. Even though this was the first time the Ancient Godzilla and King Kong had met in this era, it was in their instinct to hate and to kill each other. It was why King Kong hated the Mutant Godzilla, as he saw the radioactive dinosaur as a shadow of his species’ true enemy.

    While Godzilla kept his focus on King Kong, he noticed the two silver giants. Godzilla could see that one of them looked like King Kong, while the other one looked similar to his species. Even though Godzilla knew these were man made machines, he couldn’t help but feel there was something more about the one that was like his kind. It was as if Godzilla was sensing that the robot was another one of his species, or at least one of his descendants. The King of the Monsters didn’t know how something like that was even possible.

    Unknown to the Ancient Godzilla, the spirit of the First Mutant Godzilla was inside Kiryu as the bones of the dinosaur were built inside the Mechagodzilla.

    Godzilla inhaled deeply before he let out a loud roar at the three giants that seemed to go on for an eternity. While Kiryu and Mechani-Kong showed no emotions to the roar, Akane stayed brave. However, she couldn’t help but feel a chill up her spine. As for King Kong, the only thing Godzilla’s loud roar did to him was build up his rage. Kong let out his own roar and beat down on his chest before he came charging at Godzilla.

    The fins on Godzilla’s back glowed blue as he opened his mouth and fired his atomic ray at the incoming gorilla. But King Kong ducked under the ray, and as he got closer to Godzilla, he punched the ancient beast below the jaw, shutting off the beam. Godzilla roared in pain and anger. Godzilla stopped another of Kong’s punches by grabbing onto his arms. Then, the alpha predator slammed his head into Kong’s skull, causing the great ape to cry in pain. Godzilla used his foot to kick King Kong in the stomach and knocked the giant gorilla down to his back.

    “Mechani-Kong! I need Kong alive! Don’t let Godzilla kill him!” Dr. Who ordered his creation.

    After Godzilla kicked King Kong to the side and made the primate roll across the ground, Mechani-Kong got behind the ancient reptile. The metal gorilla grabbed one of its grenades on his belt and threw it at Godzilla. As the grenade hit against Godzilla’s back, it exploded, causing the ancient creature to roar in pain. Godzilla turned around and fired his atomic ray at Mechani-Kong. The robot ape let out a digital roar as the atomic ray slammed against its chest and knocked the machine down to the ground.

    Before Godzilla could make another attack on Mechani-Kong, he felt something grab onto his tail. Godzilla turned his head to see King Kong yanking on the appendage. Godzilla’s eyes narrowed in anger and he used the strength in his tail to swing King Kong to the left and made the giant primate roll across the ground, until he crashed into a building. While Godzilla was looking at Kong, Mechani-Kong came in and punched the monster king in the side of his face. Godzilla roared angry as he turned to Mechani-Kong and used his jaws to bite in between the robot’s head and right arm. The monster’s teeth sliced through the ape’s armor, creating sparks within the behemoth’s jaws. Mechani-Kong used its left hand to grab Godzilla’s neck and hammered down on top of the monster’s head with the other, trying to get itself free of the kaiju’s grasp.

    “Time to show them what you can do, Kiryu,” Akane commented aloud as the Mechagodzilla fired the payload of its two shoulder launchers. King Kong got up and was going to attack Godzilla and Mechani-Kong, until the rockets exploded against all three of them. Godzilla and King Kong cried out in pain, while Mechani-Kong ended up falling to the ground, letting loose a muffled, sonic cry. Godzilla turned to face Kiryu and fired his atomic ray at the Mechagodzilla. Kiryu let out a digital cry as the beam slammed against his chest and pushed him backward. Akane held on as the cockpit shook due to the beam attack. After Godzilla ended his ray, Kong came in charging at Kiryu. Before Akane had time to react, Kong’s body slammed against Kiryu, and the two slammed into the ground with a climatic boom.

    Godzilla snarled in contempt, contemplating his next move until Mechani-Kong lunged atop his backside. Mechani-Kong wrapped its left arm around Godzilla’s neck and hammered away at the monster’s head with his mechanical fists. Godzilla roared as he tried to shake Mechani-Kong off him, but the robot refused to relinquish its grip. After grabbing Mechani-Kong’s left arm, Godzilla flipped the robot off his body and slammed the machine down to the ground on its back. Mechani-Kong sensors refocused merely to discover Godzilla’s foot descending on its head. With his processors assessing the danger of letting the strike hit, Mechani-Kong focused all of its power on rolling out of the way, allowing Godzilla’s foot to hit the ground instead.

    Kiryu was down on his back, while King Kong was sitting on top of him. The Eighth Wonder of the World was hammering his fists down on Kiryu’s chest.

    “Get off of us, you damn dirty ape!” Akane yelled as she made Kiryu hold his hands to King Kong’s chest and unleash a barrage of his wrist’s laser cannons. King Kong roared in pain as the yellow lasers exploded against his chest, which forced him off and away from the metal monster.

    After Kiryu got back up to his feet, he unloaded another set of rockets at the giant primate, lighting the cityscape aflame. King Kong roared in pain as fire washed across his body from every direction. The ape came in charging and wrapped his arms around Kiryu, pinning the cyborg’s arms to his body. Kiryu roared as he felt bones slowly cracking from King Kong’s strength. Akane knew Kiryu was taking damage as sparks flew out of the walls of the cockpit, but how could she break free?

    The electric blade? No, it would strengthen Kong. The Maser could do the same. Maybe, offense wasn’t what she needed. Soon Akane came up with an idea as she extended the thrusters in Kiryu’s legs.

    The boosters across Kiryu’s body all lit up in unison. The Mechagodzilla burst into the sky with a thunderous echo, King Kong still holding onto him with eyes wide with shock. The mighty living god roared in confusion as both titans were launched into the sky. The ape kept his grip tight on the robot monster, refusing to release him and fall to his doom. Kiryu finally stopped as he reached the highest altitude he could attain.

    “You’re going down!” Akane yelled at Kong as she launched missiles from the sides and back of the rocket pack. However, all the missiles went past King Kong, which made the ape wonder why Kiryu would miss him, since he was so close to the robot. King Kong got his answer as they turned around and exploded against the gorilla’s back. King Kong roared into the heavens, letting go of Kiryu from the sheer agony, falling toward the city. Akane watched in awe the beast struggle on its fall before crashing through a skyscraper.

    Godzilla and Mechani-Kong’s bodies slammed against each other, but the robot gorilla soon found itself being pushed backward by the ancient beast. Mechani-Kong tried to stop itself from moving, but no matter how hard it tried, Godzilla kept on pushing. Mechani-Kong’s feet was tearing up the roads and knocking away vehicles. Finally, Mechani-Kong’s eyes flashed, unleashing bright lights right into Godzilla’s eyes. The predator let out a roar as the lights blinded him. He ceased pushing Mechani-Kong as he covered his eyes. Even after Mechani-Kong turned off the lights, Godzilla was having trouble seeing straight as spots appeared before his vision.

    Taking this opportunity, Mechani-Kong began punching Godzilla like a punching bag. Godzilla roared in pain as he tried to back away from Mechani-Kong, but the ancient monster couldn’t escape the metal fists as the robot gorilla moved forward and kept on punching away at the giant reptile. Mechani-Kong grabbed Godzilla by the head, and slammed its metal head against the monster’s forehead.

    Before Mechani-Kong could attack Godzilla some more, Kiryu came flying down from the sky, and dive-bombed the robot ape and ancient reptile down to the ground. Kiryu flew back up in the sky, and turned around to look down at the downed duo. As Godzilla’s vision cleared up, he and Mechani-Kong stood back up and looked up at Kiryu. The Mechagodzilla used the rocket pack to fire rockets down at the King of the Monsters and the creation of Dr. Who. Godzilla and Mechani-Kong let out roars as the rockets rained down upon them, causing explosions against their bodies and setting the landscape ablaze.

    Mechani-Kong used his right hand to grab two grenades and throw them at Kiryu. The Mechagodzilla let out a digital cry as the grenades exploded against his body, but the robot clone managed to stay up in the sky. Kiryu returned the favor by firing more rockets down upon Godzilla and Mechani-Kong, but before the rockets could reach their targets, Godzilla fired his atomic ray up at the bombs and destroyed all of them with one shot. The atomic ray didn’t stop there and crashed into Kiryu. The force and power of the beam was so strong that it knocked the Mechagodzilla out of the sky. Akane yelled as Kiryu crashed down to the ground at a far distance from Godzilla and Mechani-Kong.

    Mechani-Kong let out a digital roar as it marched toward Kiryu to attack him. but Godzilla had other plans as he fired his atomic ray at Mechani-Kong’s back, knocking the robot gorilla down. Sensing no further threat from the machine, Godzilla headed for Kiryu and went past Mechani-Kong, his tail smashing the back of the metal ape’s head.

    By the time Kiryu got up, Godzilla used his jaws to bite into the robot’s neck. Kiryu roared as sparks ignited within Godzilla’s maw.

    “You want to fight dirty?” Akane growled.

    A large blade burst out of Kiryu’s right wrist gauntlet and stabbed Godzilla in the abdomen, causing the Monster King to let go of the Mechagodzilla’s neck as he roared in pain. Kiryu discharged electricity through the blade, engulfing both in a storm of electrical bolts.

    Mechani-Kong was getting up to join the fight between the Godzilla’s, until King Kong jumped on its back and knocked the robot back to the ground. King Kong bellowed in contempt of his mechanical doppelganger and hammered his fists down on Mechani-Kong’s back. Under a barrage of thunderous blows, the machine ape performed a pushup and swung his right arm back to hit King Kong’s head, knocking the gorilla off the robot. After Mechani-Kong got up, he began stomping his right foot down on Kong’s chest, causing the Eighth Wonder of the World to roar in pain. Kong finally grabbed Mechani-Kong’s foot and rolled his body to the right, dragging the artificial ape to the ground.

    As Godzilla was electrocuted by Kiryu, the Monster King reached out and grabbed the blade. As he pulled it out of his stomach, Godzilla held onto the blade as it still discharged electricity through his body, and brought it up close to Kiryu’s face. Godzilla used his hand to break the blade like a twig, which ended the electric attack. Akane was so shocked by what happened to the blade, she didn’t react in time as Godzilla fired a powerful atomic ray that blew Kiryu away, and sent the Mechagodzilla sliding across the ground.

    King Kong was knocked backward by Mechani-Kong, his back slamming against a building. Mechani-Kong came in charging at King Kong and was going to punch him. But King Kong jumped out of the way, and Mechani-Kong punched the building instead, with its arm going inside of it. After Mechani-Kong got its arm out of the building, it came charging at King Kong again.

    This time, King Kong and Mechani-Kong locked their hands against one another, the earth beneath their heels shattering from the immense force. Mechani-Kong swung its leg up and kicked King Kong in the stomach, breaking the hand lock as King Kong’s maw swung open, all the air venting from his lungs in a violent burst. Mechani-Kong swung its arm to hit King Kong, but the Eighth Wonder of the World grabbed the metal limb and swung the robot down to the ground onto its back. King Kong got down on Mechani-Kong and beat away at the machine, until the robot punched the giant animal off his body.

    Both King Kong and Mechani-Kong got up and moved away from each other. Mechani-Kong grabbed a grenade and threw it at King Kong, which exploded against his chest, causing the living monster to cry out in pain. As Mechani-Kong marched toward King Kong, the Eighth Wonder bent down to grab the machine by its legs and flipped his doppelganger over to the ground. Kong turned around to attack Mechani-Kong, but the robot got up quickly and wrapped its arm around Kong’s arm and wrist. The primate roared as Mechani-Kong gave him a crushing bear hug. Kong tried to free himself, but couldn’t break the robot’s hold. So King Kong reached down and grabbed one of Mechani-Kong’s grenades and dropped it down on the robot’s foot. It exploded, making the machine loose its balance and let go of the gorilla. Now free, King Kong punched Mechani-Kong in the face, knocking the robot backward.

    Kiryu opened his maw and unleashed a concentrated blast of his Maser cannons, but to Akane’s shock, Godzilla countered with his own blast. The atomic ray pieced through the maser with ease, engulfing Kiryu in a vale of smoke and fire. Godzilla roared in victory, turning his attention away until missiles rained down upon his position again. As the smoke faded, Godzilla gazed back to discover Kiryu, and if he could see through its damaged armor, he would discover the confident smirk of Akane.

    “You wanna dance? Let’s dance!”

    Akane activated all six of Kiryu’s main rocket boosters. Godzilla cried in surprise, but caught the flying robot, sliding backward from the immense amount of force. Building after building fell as Godzilla rocketed through it, until a large enough pile finally halted Kiryu’s charge. With a roar, Godzilla slammed the MechaGodzilla down upon the ground and grabbed its tail. With a mighty heave, Kiryu carved through an entire city block until resting in a pile of rubble.

    After Mechani-Kong punched Kong across the face, the Eighth Wonder bent down to grab the machine by its wrist. Before Mechani-Kong could counter, King Kong slammed its doppelganger head first through a building, its going wide as it discovered Kiryu’s buried form on the opposite side. The might ape took a few steps back merely for a roar to capture his attention.

    Godzilla and King Kong looked at each other, noting that the other had beaten their mechanical doppelgangers. Now it was time for the Kings to settle their ancient rivalry.

    Kong beat down on his chest before he came charging at Godzilla. The King of the Monsters roared as he lumbered forth as well. After Kong went past Kiryu and Mechani-Kong, he and Godzilla slammed their bodies against each other. Godzilla used his right hand to grab King Kong’s right arm, while the ape repeated the action with his free hand. The two kings tried to get their arms free as well as push their bodies against each other to overpower their rival, but sheer willpower ensured no monster gave an inch.

    Godzilla got his arm free and used both his hands to push Kong away. Then the Monster King turned around and used his tail to hit Kong in the chest. The blow sent the ape sliding along the ground on his back. Kong got back to his feet in an instant and made a run toward Godzilla. Then the gorilla body slammed Godzilla and pushed the alpha predator against a nearby building. Kong grabbed Godzilla by his neck and right arm and threw the Monster King down onto his chest. The primate bent down to grab the back of Godzilla’s head and began to slam the reptile’s face into the ground, creating an impression of the Monster King’s face with every earth shattering strike.

    Kiryu and Mechani-Kong gradually arose from their early graves merely to discover the other. Without losing a second, each charged toward the other. The robotic creatures locked their hands against one another, trying to push each other to the ground. Mechani-Kong broke the hand-lock to punch Kiryu in the chest. The Mechagodzilla returned the favor, swiping its claws across Mechani-Kong’s chest. Then Kiryu turned around to swing his tail to hit Mechani-Kong, only for the robot primate to duck under it. As Kiryu turned around, Mechani-Kong swung its left hand to punch the Mechagodzilla, only for the metal reptile to block it with his right arm. However, Mechani-Kong was able to use its right hand to punch Kiryu so hard that it knocked the robot dinosaur backward. Mechani-Kong came rushing at Kiryu, but the robot reptile swung his tail and hit the metal Kong, which sent the silver ape crashing into a building.

    “It’s time to put this tin can on ice,” Akane stated as she activated the Absolute Zero Cannon.

    Kiryu’s chest opened up and three yellow bolts of energy appeared. After Mechani-Kong got up, he saw the bolts morph into a bright, blue orb of light. Dr. Who watched on his computer as the blue orb grew bigger, radiating a blue aura around the Mechagodzilla’s chest. The evil scientist was worried now, remembering the test footage of the chilling results of the Absolute Zero Canon.

    Dr. Who yelled into the microphone, “Mechani-Kong! Don’t let Kiryu fire that weapon!”

    Mechani-Kong grabbed two grenades and threw them at Kiryu. As the grenades hit Kiryu’s opened chest, the bombs exploded, causing the Mechagodzilla to roar, as the blue orb disappeared.

    On Akane’s monitor, a message appeared, describing the damage sustained to the Absolute Zero Cannon.

    Akane gritted her teeth. “You may have stopped the Absolute Zero Cannon, but you still won’t beat Kiryu!”

    After Kiryu closed his chest, the cyborg unleashed a bust of his wrist laser cannons at Mechani-Kong. The silver Kong roared as the yellow lasers exploded against his body. After that, Kiryu bent down, fire engulfing everything behind it as the rocket pack launched off his back and at Mechani-Kong. But before the rocket pack could reach its target, Mechani-Kong dodged out of the way allowing it to fly out of sight.

    Godzilla and King Kong angrily growled at the other as both caught their respective breaths. The King of the Monsters ceased his bellows when a gradual hiss neared his location. Before either could react, their battleground ignited into a blaze which consumed them both, launching a monstrous plume of fire straight into the air.

    As Dr. Who watched Mechani-Kong fight Kiryu, he looked at the bottom right hand corner of his computer to see the loading bar. During the four-way battle, Dr. Who had been hatching another scheme. The evil scientist smiled as the bar reached 100%.

    Mechani-Kong roared as it was pushed back by the cyborg’s Maser cannons, but without warning Kiryu ceased its attack. Akane scrambled to correct the error, cursing under her breath as she tried to access the control panel.

    “What? Why did you stop, Kiryu?” Akane asked as she tried to get Kiryu to fire again. “What’s going on?”

    Suddenly, the screen on Akane’s monitor changed, showing Dr. Who himself. “I’m sorry my dear, but I’m afraid you’re no longer in control of your Mechagodzilla.”

    At first Akane was shocked, but anger quickly morphed into rage. “Who are you?!”

    “I’m am the genius behind Mechani-Kong. I am Dr. Who!” he proclaimed.

    “Funny, I thought you were British?”

    “Very funny,” Dr. Who growled sarcastically.

    “What have you done to Kiryu?” Akane asked.

    “It is simple, my dear. I have planted a virus into Kiryu’s system. Your Mechagodzilla is now my weapon, and it will only obey me as his new master,” Dr. Who explained with confidence.

    Akane was mixed with shock and anger. “I don’t know how you did it, but I will find some way to free Kiryu of your control.”

    “You are welcome to try. But until then, enjoy the ride.” With those words, the screen changed, showing Mechani-Kong once again.

    Dr. Who, now able to talk to Kiryu with the microphone he used to communicate with Mechani-Kong, spoke to the metal saurian. “Kiryu, this is your new master. Your orders are to help Mechani-Kong to fight both Godzilla and King Kong. You can kill Godzilla, but I want Kong alive.”

    Kiryu let loose a metallic roar in obedience to his new master.

    Kong swung his right arm to punch Godzilla in the face, but the alpha predator dodged and bit into the ape’s arm. Kong roared in pain and anger as Godzilla’s teeth cut into his arm. The Eighth Wonder of the World grabbed Godzilla by his neck and was able to push the reptile down to the ground. After getting his arm free, Kong sat on top of Godzilla and grabbed hold of the Monster King’s jaws. Godzilla grabbed Kong’s arm, trying to get his jaws free, but the primate began to slowly pull them apart; however, Godzilla was doing his best to keep his mouth from breaking. Kong kept on trying to pull Godzilla’s jaws apart, until he saw a blue light building up inside the Monster King’s mouth. Before Kong could react, Godzilla fired his atomic ray, not only burning the gorilla’s fingers, but hitting the ape in the chest and knocking him off the alpha predator.

    Godzilla licked his teeth as he arose and roared at the fallen, smoking ape of its foolish move. Godzilla readied to finish the battle until two grenades came flying through the air, each hitting a side of the monsters and exploding against the two giants. The two ancient giants roared in pain and turned to where the grenades had come from. Far away from the duo stood Mechani-Kong and Kiryu, standing side-by-side. The living monsters were surprised to see the two metal giants had teamed up. Kiryu pointed his arms at the two monsters, firing his wrist mounted laser cannons at them. Godzilla and Kong roared in pain as the scorching blasts exploded against their chests.

    Kong jumped at the pair through the barrage and smashed his fists into the robot’s chests, knocking them backward. Kiryu rushed at Kong to punch the ape, but the Eighth Wonder was fast enough grab the metal arm. After Kong turned around and swung Kiryu down to the ground, Mechani-Kong grabbed the primate’s shoulders from behind. While Mechani-Kong was holding Kong still, Kiryu got up to attack the living ape. However, Kong used his left foot to kick Kiryu away, before swinging his arms back and knocking Mechani-Kong away. Kiryu swung out to punch Kong, only for the gorilla to block it with his hand. The Mechagodzilla tried to complete the task with his other fist, but King Kong ducked under it, rushing behind Kiryu and slamming both fists into the robot dinosaur’s back, knocking the machine away from him.

    Mechani-Kong tried to punch Kong, only to be blocked like Kiryu had been by the ape’s palm. However, Mechani-Kong was able to use his other fist to punch Kong in the face, punching the ape to the ground. As he stood, Kong found himself surrounded, with Mechani-Kong in front of him and Kiryu behind him. Kong turned around to attack the metal Godzilla as Kiryu turned around and used his tail to hit the island god in the chest, sending him tumbling toward Mechani-Kong. The robot ape punched Kong in the face so hard that it sent the gorilla flying toward Kiryu again. The Mechagodzilla punched Kong’s chest, which knocked the primate away, sending him rolling across the ground, away from the metal monsters.

    Inside Kiryu’s cockpit, Akane was working on the control panel, trying to get the Mechagodzilla to obey her again. But no matter what she did, Kiryu wouldn’t follow her orders. Suddenly, Akane felt the entire mech shudder as Kong rammed his shoulder into the cyborg’s back, knocking the Mechagodzilla to the ground. Tired of the ape’s insolence, Kiryu fired its Maser cannon at the primate. Kong roared as the beams pushed him away from Kiryu. But then he felt himself getting stronger as his body absorbed the electric attack.

    Akane looked at her monitor, her eyes going wide with worry. “Kiryu, stop! You’re only making him stronger!”

    But it was too late.

    Kong pushed his way through the beams as he marched toward Kiryu. When he got close enough, he threw a punch at Kiryu’s chest. As soon as his fist made contact, yellow electricity appeared from his hand that sent an electric shock through the Mechagodzilla’s system. Kiryu turned off the Maser cannons as he let out a roar and was knocked backward.

    Kong looked to his hand, watching golden bolts course across his fingers. His hand exploded in power as he closed it into a fist, ready to smash all who stood in his way.

    Kiryu came at King Kong and grabbed the ape’s shoulder. King Kong grabbed Kiryu’s arms and sent electricity surging through the Mechagodzilla’s limbs. Since Kiryu was made of metal, the electricity was easily conducted across his body, electrocuting his system. Kiryu roared and pulled his arms free from the ape’s grip. This gave Kong an idea. The ape wrapped his arms around Kiryu and sent electricity from his hands coursing through the Mechagodzilla’s body. Kiryu roared as his circuits were fried and tried to break free, but Kong’s grip was too strong. Akane yelled as sparks flew across the cockpit. As Kong pumped more electricity into Kiryu, the robot’s yellow eyes went dark. Akane looked around to see everything in the cockpit powering down as Kiryu went offline. After Kong let go of Kiryu, the Mechagodzilla ended up falling to the ground. King Kong beat down on his chest and let out a victory roar over the defeat of one of his three opponents.

    Godzilla and Mechani-Kong rushed toward one another. Mechani-Kong jumped up at Godzilla and hammered down on the Monster King’s head with its fist, knocking the reptile down to the ground. The metal primate grabbed Godzilla’s neck and pulled the lizard back up, punching Godzilla twice in the face, before a third punch knocked the ancient beast back to the ground. Godzilla looked to see he was near a construction site, and there he saw a tower crane. The ancient monster grabbed the crane while he was getting up, tearing it from its foundation. Mechani-Kong was about to attack Godzilla until the King of the Monsters swung the crane across the robot’s face. Godzilla swung the crane again, the crude weapon breaking apart after hitting Mechani-Kong’s face again, but it was enough to make the mechanical monster fall onto its hands.

    Mechani-Kong saw two buses near him, and grabbed each of them while getting itself back up. With the bus in its right hand, Mechani-Kong punched Godzilla in the face. It followed up by slamming the buses into both sides of Godzilla’s head, causing the monster to roar in pain, while the vehicles fell apart in the robot’s hands. Mechani-Kong kicked Godzilla in the stomach, before it grabbed the Monster King by the neck and threw the reptile to the ground.

    Before Mechani-Kong could attack Godzilla some more, Kong grabbed the machine from behind, surging electricity from his hands into the robot’s body. Mechani-Kong roared as it sensed its circuits getting electrocuted. Kong hoisted Mechani-Kong over his head and threw the metal ape into a building. As Godzilla tried to get up, King Kong grabbed the lizard’s tail and sent electricity through it. Godzilla roared in pain as the crackling power surged through his form. While still sending electricity through the tail, King Kong began to spin Godzilla around, thanks to his charged-up strength. After picking up momentum, the god ape let go of Godzilla, sending the alpha predator crashing to the ground.

    After Godzilla got up, he looked angrily at King Kong as he remembered the giant ape species’ ability to absorb electricity. Godzilla looked past Kong to see Kiryu on the ground, not moving. There was no doubt to Godzilla that Kong had been charged-up from Kiryu’s electric attacks.

    Kong beat his chest before he came charging at Godzilla. As Godzilla and King Kong’s bodies slammed against each other, the Eighth Wonder discharged electricity from his hands; however, Godzilla did his best to hold his ground against the empowered ape.

    After Mechani-Kong got up, it noticed Godzilla and Kong standing in front of a very large building. This gave Mechani-Kong an idea. The silver ape used its hands to grab four grenades and threw them at the building. After Godzilla pushed Kong down, the grenades exploded against the building. Kong looked up in time to see the upper part of the building coming down. The giant gorilla rolled away, but Godzilla wasn’t as lucky as the top of the building fell on top of him, burying him in rubble.

    When Kong got up, he noticed Mechani-Kong, and went charging at his doppelganger. But Mechani-Kong was ready for King Kong, as the robot used the light bulb on top of its head to emit the hypnotic light. Kong stopped in front of Mechani-Kong as he saw the flashing light. Remembering what it had done to him, Kong tried to look away from it, but it was too late. King Kong couldn’t take his eyes off the hypnotic light. He could not fight it any longer, falling into a hypnotic state.

    Dr. Who smiled as he saw King Kong was now his slave. “At last, Kong is mine.” But Dr. Who’s victory was cut short as he heard the sound of rubble moving from his computer. King Kong and Mechani-Kong looked to see Godzilla bursting out of the rubble. Godzilla let out a roar and looked around for his enemies, only to be surprised to see Kong and Mechani-Kong standing next to each other, instead of fighting one another.

    “That foolish Godzilla doesn’t know when to give up. It’s too bad the hypnotic light only works on Kong. Otherwise Godzilla would be my slave as well,” Dr. Who grumbled. Then the evil scientist thought of something. “If Mechani-Kong and Kong killed Godzilla, then the world would fear me.” He hurriedly grabbed the microphone.

    Mechani-Kong opened his mouth, which revealed speakers in it. “Kong, this is your master speaking. I want to you and Mechani-Kong to beat Godzilla to death,” Dr. Who commanded through the speakers.

    King Kong roared as he obeyed Dr. Who.

    Mechani-Kong and Kong went charging at Godzilla. After Godzilla pulled himself out of the rubble, he fired an atomic ray. The beam stopped Mechani-Kong in his tracks, but Kong kept on charging. As the distance was closed Kong grabbed on Godzilla’s left arm restraining it as he bit into the limb. Godzilla roared and punched Kong in the face, getting his left arm free from the humanoid’s mouth. Before Godzilla knew what happened, Mechani-Kong punched him in the face. Joined by Kong, the primate duo turned Godzilla’s body and slammed his back against a building. Kong used his fingernails to scratch the left side of Godzilla’s face. Godzilla opened his mouth to fire his atomic ray, but Mechani-Kong grabbed Godzilla’s jaws and forced them shut, stopping the ancient beast from firing the beam. The Monster King lashed out in response, catching Kong’s head and slammed the ape’s skull against Mechani-Kong’s head. After Mechani-Kong fell down, Godzilla grabbed Kong by his waist, picked him up and threw him to the ground. Kong tried to get up, but Godzilla stomped down on the primate’s chest. However, Kong grabbed Godzilla’s right leg and sent electricity into the limb. Godzilla roared in pain before Mechani-Kong punched him and knocked him off Kong.

    Back inside Kiryu, Akane did everything she could to get the Mechagodzilla back online. “Come on, Kiryu! You’re going to let some crazy guy and an overgrown monkey get the best of us?!” Akane yelled as she slammed her fist on the control panel.

    After Godzilla stumbled back, Mechani-Kong was on one side of the Monster King, hammering his metal fists on him, while Kong was on the other side, punching the lizard with electrically-charged strikes. Godzilla was in too much pain to formulate a counter-attack, letting out an agonized cry.

    While Kiryu was still in his powered-down state, Godzilla’s roar echoed in his mind. Memories of the First Mutant Godzilla echoed within Kiryu’s computer brain. Memories of living peacefully in the ocean, attacking Tokyo, and being killed by the Oxygen Destroyer.

    Kiryu’s eyes lit up, their color changed from yellow to red. Inside the cockpit, all the power came back on, but before Akane could do anything, she felt Kiryu getting up on his own.

    After Kiryu got back up, he saw Mechani-Kong and King Kong holding Godzilla by his head and feet. Both primates threw the Monster King, sending him rolling across the ground. The Mechagodzilla let out a loud, Godzilla-like roar at the two gorillas. Akane was shocked when she heard the roar, and knew it could be only one thing: Kiryu’s Godzilla side had been awoken.

    King Kong and Mechani-Kong heard the roar as well, and turned around to see Kiryu was back up. Kiryu activated his four remaining boosters and came flying toward the two gorillas. Before Kong and Mechani-Kong could do anything, Kiryu flew in between them with his arms hitting their faces, knocking them down.

    Dr. Who was shocked by Kiryu’s actions, and grabbed the microphone. “Kiryu, what are you doing?! Kong and Mechani-Kong are on your side! Stop attacking them!” Unfortunately for Dr. Who, Kiryu was acting on his own, as his Godzilla side had overridden the mad scientist’s computer virus.

    Kiryu grabbed hold of Kong’s and Mechani-Kong’s feet and carried the two gorillas up in the air. The Mechagodzilla spun the ape duo around before he let go of them, sending the apes crashing to the ground together.

    Kiryu landed next to Godzilla, who was still lying on the ground. Godzilla looked up at Kiryu, waiting for the metal giant to attack him. But to Godzilla and Akane’s surprise, Kiryu grabbed the ancient creature’s arm and pulled the monster back onto his feet. Godzilla wondered why Kiryu would help him back up. Godzilla got his answer as Kiryu roared. At first, Godzilla was shocked as the machine made a roar that was similar to the one his species used. But not only that, but due to Kiryu’s Godzilla side, the Monster King could sense the robot was indeed a descendant of his species. Godzilla understood what Kiryu said, and roared back at him.

    “Kiryu, what’s going on?” Akane asked.

    On Akane’s monitor, words appeared on the screen: ‘Two Godzillas are better than one’.

    After Kong and Mechani-Kong got up, they saw Godzilla and Kiryu were standing together. The two Kongs could see that the two Godzillas had teamed up as well. Godzilla fired his atomic ray at Kong, while Kiryu fired his Maser cannons at Mechani-Kong. The two primates roared as they are struck by the beams. Kiryu flew up and grabbed onto Godzilla’s hands, and carried the ancient beast toward the two primates. As the two apes recovered from the beams, each of them got hit in the face by one of Godzilla’s feet and were knocked down.

    Kiryu landed Godzilla and himself at a far distance from the gorillas. King Kong shakily got up and came running toward the two Godzillas. Godzilla roared as he raced toward Kong. As the two monsters closed the distance to one another, King Kong pulled back his left hand to punch Godzilla. However, Godzilla bent down and went past Kong, with his hard, sharp fins cutting across the primate’s left arm. Kong roared in pain as he stumbled to a stop, clutching his wounded arm. He could hardly move his arm as it was cut badly, blood pouring out of the deep wound.

    With their backs facing each other, Godzilla jumped backward, his fins cutting into Kong’s back and knocking the gorilla to the ground. Godzilla began to slam his tail up and down on the primate’s back, right where the cuts were. Kong howled in pain and turned his back to the ground. The humanoid managed to grab Godzilla’s tail and sent electricity surging through it. Godzilla screamed, but began to spin around with Kong still holding and electrocuting his tail. Kong couldn’t hold on to Godzilla’s tail for long, and was sent rolling across the ground when he lost his grip.

    When he pushed himself up, Kong noticed a bus near him. Godzilla marched toward Kong to attack him. But Kong stood up and pushed the bus into Godzilla’s mouth. He strained to push the bus deeper down Godzilla’s throat, but the Monster King kicked the Eighth Wonder in the stomach and knocked him backward. Godzilla fired his atomic ray, which launched the bus out of his mouth. The bus flew like a shooting star and exploded against Kong’s chest.

    Kong roared in pain and anger as he came rushing toward Godzilla, and was going to punch the lizard in the face. However, Godzilla opened his mouth and bit down on Kong’s hand. The gorilla roared in pain and sent electricity from his hand into Godzilla’s mouth. Even though the inside of Godzilla’s mouth was electrocuted, the King of the Monsters did his best to ignore the shocks. Godzilla’s fins glowed blue as he opened his mouth and fired an atomic ray with Kong’s hand still in his mouth. Kong roared as the nuclear blast not only scorched his hand, but the rest of his arm.

    The ape pulled his hand out of Godzilla’s mouth and backed away from the atomic ray to save his arm. As the burst of atomic fire died, he looked at his arm and saw it didn’t get too badly burnt. But what shocked Kong the most was that his right hand was burned to a crisp from taking most of the atomic ray. He tried to move his burned fingers, but they wouldn’t respond. Not only that, Kong was feeling a burning pain coming from the hand. With his left arm cut up, and now his right hand badly burned, Kong couldn’t use either of his upper limbs to fight.

    Meanwhile, Kiryu and Mechani-Kong were fighting each other. Kiryu swung his right hand at Mechani-Kong, only for the robot Kong to block it with its left hand. However, Kiryu used his free hand to scratch across the robot ape’s chest, sending sparks flying, and knocking the humanoid machine backward. Kiryu spun around and smashed his tail across Mechani-Kong’s chest, forcing the silver gorilla further back. Mechani-Kong rushed at Kiryu and punched the Mechagodzilla in the chest, driving the cyborg backward. The metal Kong rushed at Kiryu again, but the metal lizard dodged out of its way. Mechani-Kong turned to Kiryu to kick him, only to be blocked by the Mechagodzilla’s left arm. Kiryu rammed his shoulder into Mechani-Kong, knocking the other machine backward and spun around to use his tail to knock Mechani-Kong back even further.

    Mechani-Kong removed a grenade from its belt. But before Mechani-Kong could throw the grenade, Kiryu fired the Maser cannons. The electrical beams hit Mechani-Kong’s right hand and coursed through his arm. Mechani-Kong roared as it sensed the circuits in its arm fry. Unknown to Mechani-Kong, the grenade was being charged up by the electricity, and before it knew it, the bomb exploded in its hand. Mechani-Kong roared from the explosion and looked at its arm to see its hand was gone. Wires were sticking out, along with sparks flying out where Mechani-Kong’s hand used to be.

    This gave Kiryu an idea. The Mechagodzilla fired the Maser cannons at Mechani-Kong again, this time at the grenade belt. They struck the belt, along with sending electricity all through Mechani-Kong’s body. With the grenades taking on most of the Maser cannons’ power, they began to go off. Soon Mechani-Kong was engulfed in a large explosion. Fire and smoke went up in the sky, while metal, oil, and wires rained down. Mechani-Kong’s head hit the ground and rolled next to Kiryu’s foot. Lifting his foot, the metallic dragon crushed Mechani-Kong’s head, along with the hypnotic light, under his heel

    On Dr. Who’s computer, the screen went black displaying the message ‘Signal lost’.

    “Damn them!” Dr. Who yelled as he slammed his fist on his desk.

    Kong was down on his back with Godzilla’s foot on his chest. But then King Kong was snapped out of his hypnotic state, thanks to the hypnotic light being destroyed. King Kong found himself in shock: one minute, he was going to fight Mechani-Kong, then the next, he found himself on the ground with Godzilla pinning him down. Kong tried to use his arms to get Godzilla off him, but as soon as he moved his upper limbs, he felt pain coursing through them. The Eighth Wonder of the World was horrified to see his left arm cut up, and his right hand badly burned.

    Godzilla held his breath before he let out an atomic ray pointed at Kong’s face. His ancient rival roared as the blue beam burnt into his face. The giant ape tried to move his body and use his legs to push himself free, but Godzilla’s foot was holding him in place. The flesh on Kong’s face began to burn away by the heat of the beam. His eyeballs dried up before they were burned away. It seemed like forever as Godzilla kept on firing his atomic ray. After Godzilla noticed King Kong was no longer moving, he stopped firing the beam. He looked over Kong’s lifeless body, the gorilla’s head nothing more than a burned skull. With the last of his natural-born enemy dead, Godzilla roared in victory as he proved his species superior to the giant gorillas.

    The Monster King noticed the sky was no longer dark, the sun rising up with its light shining on the battlefield.

    Godzilla looked for Mechani-Kong, only to find the robot’s crushed head on the ground next to Kiryu, who was looking back at the ancient creature. Now that the gorillas were gone, Godzilla wondered if he and Kiryu would start fighting each other again. Godzilla got his answer as he saw Kiryu powering down, due to the Mechagodzilla running out of energy. The King of the Monsters knew the battle was over. Since the Mechagodzilla did become an ally in the end, Godzilla no longer saw the machine as an enemy, and no reason for him to destroy the robot.

    Not knowing if Kiryu could hear him, Godzilla went ahead and let out a roar, telling the Mechagodzilla, “Thanks”. Godzilla turned away from Kiryu and began to leave Tokyo.

    The hatch on the left side of Kiryu’s neck opened up as Akane got out of the giant robot and stood on the Mechagodzilla’s shoulder. Akane watched Godzilla leaving the city as he headed back to the ocean. The beautiful woman couldn’t help but cross her arms and smile.

    “Maybe you’re not so bad after all,” Akane whispered.

    Winner: Godzilla (Legendary), Kiryu

    K.W.C. // June 30, 2019
  • An interview with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019) actor Justice Smith, who played Tim Goodman in the film. Conducted by phone on May 3rd, 2019, and transcribed by Jeremy Williams.

     

    Justice Smith: Hey Chris, how’s it going?

     

    Chris Mirjahangir: Hey, congratulations on breaking the video game curse for films. This is the best one I’ve ever seen.

    Smith: Oh wow, that’s so good to hear, thank you, man.

     

    Mirjahangir: I’m someone who only has a shadow of knowledge of Pokemon. So it’s something I can enjoy.

    Smith: Alright, because that’s what we wanted, that’s awesome.

     

    Mirjahangir: You’re a big Pokemon fan?

    Smith: Yeah, I’m a big Pokemon fan. I have all the original cards, I had the games, the video games. I had Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Crystal. I watched the anime, I was a huge fan and it had an impact on me and my childhood.

     

    Mirjahangir: Do you keep current and watch the current ones they put out?

    Smith: I haven’t seen the current ones, no, I stopped after like generation three. But I do play Pokemon Go now and I plan on getting the new Pokemon Sword and Shield when it comes out on the Switch. Just cuz, I’m… It’s kind of consumed my life now that it’s a part of my career. So it’s kind of like made me get back into it.

     

    Mirjahangir: Pokemon Go I think was the one that was responsible for people losing weight.

    Smith: Yeah. I mean, yeah, they’re still doing it. I still see people, like grown men too, like out about fighting at the gyms and stuff.

     

    Mirjahangir: We got a park nearby where a whole bunch of them would be, right. And I looked around and there are people with strollers like almost walking into a pond.

    Smith: *laughs* Yeah.

     

    Mirjahangir: But you’re also like an anime fan as well right, do you have any favorites?

    Smith: Yeah I love Death Note, I love this one anime Darker than Black, I really like Devilman Crybaby. I like… Those are really dark ones. I like the Miyazaki films as well.

     

    Mirjahangir: What about Dragon Ball?

    Smith: My older brother was into Dragon Ball. Um, so I tried to get into it, but I never was never into it. But I did like playing the Dragon Ball games. I also like One Piece, I was a fan of.

     

    Mirjahangir: Assassination Classroom was good, I heard.

    Smith: Oh, I haven’t seen that one yet, I’ve heard that one is good, too.

     

    Mirjahangir: So back to the movie, you have a lot of dialogue with Ryan Reynolds. You know ‘cuz you have to kind of have to bounce off to match for the animations of Pikachu. What was that process like?

    Smith: So, we had like a week of rehearsals before we started shooting where we found our dynamic. And he wore a motion capture helmet. And kind of just went throughout the whole script, and changed what wasn’t working, and did all this stuff. And then Ryan went away to go record in a booth. And I had to remember what he did and recreate my side of that, um, on set. But the short time I actually did get to work with him was… I mean, just the nicest dude, hilarious and it was cool to see that he’s not just funny on camera. He’s just like that, he just likes to make people laugh and he’s really authentic, too, which is refreshing.

     

    Mirjahangir: When filming scenes with Pikachu, how did you keep your eye line correct and get your reaction time perfect?

    Smith: We had a reader that we casted, who would improvise with me and say Ryan’s lines. And then Matt would kind of help us keep timing and also help us keep it loose. And then Ryan, once we shot everything, would go back and dub Pikachu’s voice and make sure it was in line with what I had shot on the day. So it was just both of us collaborating to make it seem like we were in the same room.

     

    Mirjahangir: So this is like the start I guess of an expanded universe, are you signed on for more or?

    Smith: I mean I would love for there to be a sequel, you know there’s eight hundred and seven Pokemon I believe. So we definitely have a lot of content. *laughs*

     

    Mirjahangir: Yeah, were there ones you wanted to see in, but they didn’t make it?

    Smith: I mean without spoiling which Pokemon are in the movie and which ones or not, yes, the short answer is yes.

     

    Mirjahangir: Are there ones you’re gonna try and push for if there is a sequel?

    Smith: Yeah, I’ll try to get the ones I want in the sequel.

     

    Mirjahangir: Yeah, I saw a little bit of Paper Towns. You had like a scene where you were singing the Pokemon theme song. Did you even have to memorize it?

    Smith: Yeah.

     

    Mirjahangir: Or was it just burned into your brain.

    Smith: Well it was burned into my brain and also, funny enough, that song was originally supposed to be Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” But we had to cut it and we had to change it to a different song, and as cast, we were trying to come up with what song we should sing. And I suggested the Pokemon theme song, and that’s the song we ended up doing in the movie. And then here I am years later, leading the first live action Pokemon movie. Which is a crazy coincidence.

     

    Mirjahangir: Did you audition for this or did they call directly, how did it work?

    Smith: Well, I had a meeting with Rob and he kind of showed me his vision for the film, and then they flew me out to London to audition. There were other people they were considering as well. But as soon as I saw his vision, I just knew that I had to be a part of it.

    Interviews // June 28, 2019
  • The latest Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, has now spent four weekends at the box office. As we are now well past any normal grace period for avoiding spoilers, the staff of Toho Kingdom is giving their full thoughts on the latest movie. As expected, stuff will not be held back, so if you haven’t seen the film and are still looking to avoid spoilers, this article isn’t for you. So without further ado, the staff’s impressions after seeing the film.

     

    Nicholas Driscoll
    I was excited to see GKOTM. I went out of my way to go see it in IMAX on the Friday the film was released in Shinjuku with a nearly full theater because I wanted to get the audience buzz and excitement (unfortunately, there wasn’t much). I had along with me a homemade Godzilla hat my mom had made for me. I had read the graphic novel, listened to the soundtrack, and even started reading the novel version. I was primed for a good time.

    But much to my shock, I did not have a good time. Quite the opposite. Please understand, I usually like crazy and silly monster movies. I even liked Rampage and Pacific Rim: Uprising, and I thought Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) was a lot of fun. The reviews for GKOTM were bad, but I still figured I would just have a good time with the movie.

    Yet when all was said and done I hated this movie–and I have never hated a Godzilla movie before. Certainly I didn’t hate the film because it had lots of monster scenes–I love monsters. Certainly not because I thought it needed more human scenes–it had plenty. But from start to finish I felt like the movie was undermining its own tension, that despite sometimes fantastic effects the film felt slipshod and rushed, that nothing really seemed to gel. I don’t say this to make anyone angry, but just… that’s how the film felt to me.

    Sure, one can complain about the human characters, how Kyle Chandler’s character always seemed to know exactly what to do (I figured he was still receiving tomorrow’s newspaper today), how ineffectual the military was even against a small group of terrorists, the groan worthy lines, or the way that the characters often say or do things that make no sense, etc, etc. I liked the conceit of having the family drama in the middle of the monster attack, but it is VERY hard to understand or buy into a character who, after losing her child, decides it’s a good idea to destroy all of civilization and allow for the deaths of millions and billions of people. And whose daughter initially goes along with this plan (she admittedly didn’t fully understand the plan, but she had a general idea of how giant monsters would be released to change the world, and it’s made clearer in the novel). And then we are just supposed to accept when she and her daughter think, oh, maybe killing millions of people might NOT be the best way to handle their personal emotional problems. But I often felt like there were many plot elements that just were barely put together, not just the characters, but events and monsters as well. I could go on and on.

    Even the monster action felt uninteresting to me. King Ghidorah looks cool… but he runs away from his first fight, and is losing the second until Godzilla gets hit by the Oxygen Destroyer, which is now just a green bomb for some reason. Over and over again, almost every time KG is about to attack, another monster appears to stop him at the last moment. It becomes like a bad drinking game, and happened so often that I was waiting for it to happen. KG is our big bad, but he comes across as a big wuss! Godzilla, meanwhile, is “killed,” but not really, and in his nearly-dead state he swims far away to a regeneration room to heal. Our heroes find him there, and decide to nuke him to charge him up faster (you know… the same method they were using to KILL Godzilla and the MUTOs in the previous film is now used to bring Godzilla back to life), and even though drones are conked out just by approaching Godzilla due to the high radiation, an old man (the least capable person on the whole ship for the mission) volunteers to go alone with barely a peep of protest, then handily manages to deliver the missile payload instead, and he feels good enough even after taking off his mask right next to Godzilla that he has the energy to caress the monster’s face instead of instantly dying. To me, Serizawa’s sacrifice just felt forced and ridiculous. (I was hoping he would emerge from the explosion as a giant monster ala a certain Dreamcast video game, but alas.)

    And the last fight… wasn’t interesting to me. The fight tended to be quick snippets rather than a sustained battle sequence. It felt like a string of money shots interspersed with humans yelling and carrying on rather than a fight building upon itself. Also, the monsters just kept developing new powers whenever they needed them, with little build up. KG has the power to regenerate, but we don’t really see him use it during the fight. Mothra fights Rodan and suddenly has a giant stinger that she uses to kill Rodan… who then comes back to life to grovel at Godzilla’s feet later anyway, further undermining the stakes of the battle because monsters can just resurrect at will. KG suddenly in one really short scene has the ability to suck energy out of Godzilla, and nearly sucks him dry somehow. Godzilla, after nearly getting sucked dry, suddenly goes thermonuclear and implodes, but is completely fine afterwards and enjoys a nice KG-brand cigar. For what it’s worth, it is implied in the film that Godzilla’s transformation into fire Godzilla is facilitated by Mothra’s death, though this, too, follows the same problem as above—a monster conveniently manifesting just the power it needs in just one scene to make things work out. It’s a total deus ex machina move, made all the more confusing because the movie already set up fire Godzilla via the effects of the Serizawa bomb underwater and the fact that the image of fire Godzilla hearkens back (for fans) to Godzilla dying in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). It’s confusing and, to me, poorly done, and it all felt like flash and bang without any real excitement or tension. It also kind of feels like Hollywood saying, “our Godzilla is better than yours because he can survive the Oxygen Destroyer AND blowing himself up—and he is bigger than Shin Godzilla, too, so there!” (I have read the novelization, which makes a lot of aspects of the plot clearer… but the novel makes no explicit connection between Mothra’s demise and Godzilla going Super Saiyan.)

    The King of the Monsters

    The King of the Monsters

    I left the theater confused and shocked at how much I disliked the film. Upon reflection, there were things I liked, such as the references to the original Rodan (1956) and the music and the monster designs (especially Rodan), and particular scenes, such as Mothra webbing Ghidorah. I liked seeing the extra Titans, though I wish there had been more of them. But as for the movie as a whole, I left feeling like it was a huge missed opportunity. I wished that the action could have more real tension and excitement and build-up. I wished that the story could’ve had more clever twists and fewer (to me) lousy one-liners. To me, the whole affair came across as a slapped-together monstrosity with a heavy sprinkling of what seemed to me almost ironic, haphazard fan-service.

    And I say all this with great regret because I absolutely wanted to enjoy the film and embrace it like so many fans have apparently done. But I just couldn’t do it. Even though I have found many of the “dumbest” Godzilla movies in the past were also my favorites, and they often had similarly nonsensical plots. But for me, they also had a straightforward charm that this film lacked. I mean, I enjoyed the anime trilogy more than I did GKOTM.

    I don’t say any of this to discount your opinion if you loved the movie. If you did, that’s great. And I really want to thank the director and the makers of the film for all their hard work, and I really wish them all the best. I don’t want to write this to be hateful or anything of the sort. These were just my impressions, my honest emotional reaction. They could change upon further viewings.

    Maybe someday I can revisit the movie and just enjoy it for what it is, but for whatever reason, this time I just couldn’t. To those who could, I am glad you did, but… I just didn’t, for the reasons listed above and others. It’s tough to say it, but at least after one viewing, I have to give GKOTM a big thumbs down.

     

    Chris Mirjahangir

    My impressions?

    Well…

    Godzilla King of the Monsters Trailer Quotes

    Still from a TV spot

    I’m not sure how much I can elaborate on that quote in the lower left corner without over explaining.

     

    Andrew Sudomerski

    From director Michael Dougherty comes the anticipated Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), the long awaited sequel to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) and connected to Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (2017) in the greater universe of films known as the MonsterVerse. So how does it hold up?

    In my first and only viewing, combined with the weeks that have passed since then, I find myself mixed about it. I’ll be one to fully admit that the trailer hype may have set up something of a false expectation to what the film actually is. Even with that in mind, it doesn’t mean that the film should be excused for its flaws, no matter how much fan service is thrown in.

    Aside from false expectations, it still feels like it’s missing something. To me, all the right ingredients are in place that could rival that of an Avengers movie in terms of scope and scale. I feel, at least for the theatrical edit, it boiled down to sloppy execution. The breakneck pace combined with the human-focused sequences in the middle of the monster action I think are two of the biggest sins that hamper the spectacle it’s trying to go for. And the contrivance of the human story just to get the ball rolling or to act as set pieces for action sequences takes away any tension it could have had. While I didn’t mind our leads playing the Russell family, some aspects to their character and character arcs could’ve been handled much better for a truly emotional story about a broken family in the aftermath of discovering monsters.

    The fan service I think is also a major contributor here… Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty I’m truly appreciative of. The score from Bear McCreary is utterly gorgeous and to hear the Godzilla and Mothra themes modernized is truly a treat in of itself. Even the reinvention of the Burning Godzilla concept in the form of Fire Godzilla is also a surprise return, let alone in an American production. Kudos to the team for that. But I feel the excessive amount of the fan service hinders it as well and all could’ve been either removed or replaced with something that doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. The Oxygen Destroyer I think is a prime example of what I mean, only being haphazardly used as a one-time plot device to render Godzilla useless with none of the build up to justify its spot there.

    As a whole, I still got a nice bit of enjoyment out of the film. Even if it’s a little bit forced, I think Dr. Serizawa’s sacrifice was one of the more emotional moments of the film. But a lot of it is undercut by the pacing and the editing (sans the Serizawa scene, which I felt was handled really well), and leaves much to be desired. My only hope is for the alleged Director’s Cut that has 40-something minutes of footage could clear up the issues I have currently.

    And now, for the kick of the curb and for perspective’s sake, this is my personal ranking between all stories in the MonsterVerse canon, so that’ll include the comics.

    1. Kong: Skull Island (2017)
    2. Godzilla (2014)
    3. Skull Island: The Birth of Kong (2017)
    4. Godzilla: Aftershock (2019)
    5. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
    6. Godzilla Awakening (2014)

    Going off that list, it becomes abundantly clear I find KOTM to be the weakest of the MonsterVerse movies. It’s a bit of a shame, because I want to have good reason to place it higher. But compared to the two movies that came before, despite their flaws, they’re still much better constructed movies; even the comic book tie-ins (for the most part) told more structured and coherent stories.

    And who knows? Maybe a second viewing of KOTM may change my stance on it. As it currently stands, I’m mixed about this long-awaited sequel and hope the next entry doesn’t disappoint. I await with mild curiosity how Adam Wingard and crew handle the even more anticipated crossover event.

    Mixed

     

    Noah Percival

    Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a dream come true. Seeing Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah on the big screen in a new film is something I’d been dreaming about since 2004 and in some ways never expected to see.

    So seeing these old friends onscreen was terrific but what about the film itself? I have some issues with it. I loved the human cast although I thought some characters were poorly used in particular Dr. Vivian Graham. Many people have mentioned that the story isn’t particularly new or deep. It’s nowhere near as deep or nuanced as Gojira 1954 or GMK. However is that a bad thing? I agree the story could have used more depth but I don’t think a Godzilla film that errs on the side of pure entertainment more than a deep philosophical approach is a bad thing. This is what makes Godzilla such an enduring icon. He can be many things and his movies can be infinitely diverse in tone. Looking at KOTM in that perspective does the film work? ABSOLUTELY! This movie is the closest Godzilla movie to match the energy and soul of the classic Showa films like Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) or Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) more so than the last attempt to do so with Godzilla Final Wars. The greatest achievement of Godzilla 2014 was making its version of Godzilla FEEL like the Godzilla character we know and love. KOTM only improves on Legendary’s success as Godzilla’s power is only matched by his personality. The film makers knew that Godzilla isn’t a monster but a CHARACTER and they treat him as such. KOTM also revitalizes the characters of King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan like never before. So much personality has been reintroduced to these characters that I loved so much. Rodan is a truly frightening sight in mid air and his volcanic entrance was amazing. I was afraid that the lack of her two priestesses would remove the humanity and hope of Mothra as a character but I couldn’t be more wrong. The fact she has become so popular across the internet from Facebook posts to fan art or memes is testament to her character and appearance in the film. King Ghidorah is perfectly terrifying in a way unseen in any Godzilla film since Invasion of Astro-Monster. His is truly an apocalyptic presence in the film. The choice to have a separate motion capture actor for each head was inspired and gave him a new depth of character never seen in the character before.

    The visuals are breath taking. The scope of the fights and destruction are beyond what I expected from the film going in and I couldn’t have enjoyed them more. The visuals are only matched by the sound design and soundtrack. To hear the classic Ifukube themes on the big screen in an American production was beautiful and moving. McCreary’s original score work is just as good blending these themes in with his own original compositions in a perfect mix.

    While not ground breaking I thought the human cast and characters were more than serviceable. I enjoyed just about every performance and each character regardless of their depth or lack thereof.

    As a Godzilla fan I truly feel blessed to be alive now. It’s hard for me to think of a better time for the Godzilla character. For those who wanted more from KOTM’s story or something new from this movie can enjoy the Anime Trilogy for creating something never seen before with the character. If you want more political subtext in your Godzilla films then Shin Godzilla is one of the greatest examples of Godzilla as political commentary. If you were disappointed in Shin Godzilla (2016) or The Anime Trilogy for their lack of action then you have King of The Monsters to turn too. Each new Godzilla releases complements the last by taking separate directions for the character. I believe that Godzilla King of the Monsters is on the way to being one of my favorite Godzilla movies and a wonderful introduction for the main stream audiences to this tremendous character.

     

    Thomas Fairchild

    Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is a thermonuclear-sized gift to monster cinema. The monsters may be the stars, but we are the beneficiaries of their cataclysmic feuds. Generally, monsters are portrayed as being mindless forces of destruction, meant only to challenge the humans caught in their wake. It is nice to see that trope elegantly subverted here; in this film, monster and human are equal.

    Mothra vs. Rodan

    Mothra vs. Rodan

    Godzilla has never been better. The aesthetics of his design evoke a delicate balance of power, savagery, and grace, casting him as a majestic god while simultaneously humanizing him. This film and its predecessor rekindled my long-lost appreciation for Godzilla as a good guy; I loved Godzilla’s hero journey in this story. Mothra is truly a divine monster, and every scene she’s in is awe-inspiring. Give this Mothra a solo movie. Rodan is nearly perfect, with a design that could very well be my favorite. I loved his molten feather-like scales and how sparks of ember shot out of his wings whenever he took flight. My single regret is they didn’t let him keep his classic roar. Out of all of the monsters, King Ghidorah arguably benefits the most. Despite being Godzilla’s archenemy and one of the most dangerous kaiju around, Ghidorah has never scared me — until now, that is. Each Ghidorah has a unique personality that makes every scene he’s in memorable. I must say, the part where he regenerated one of his severed heads like the hydra of old? Yeah, I’m still picking my jaw up from the floor.

    Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) are compelling, each bringing dignity to their respective roles. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) was endearing, and I hope she continues to evolve as a person in future installments. In a film teeming with amazing scenes, Serizawa’s heartfelt goodbye to Godzilla is without question my favorite. For me, it’s an inspiring scene. Serizawa, while holding his father’s watch from Hiroshima, faces his inner demons by turning the very same weapon that has haunted his people for generations into a life-saving instrument. Beautiful.

    Unfortunately, some of the human characters were generic, namely the human antagonist: Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga). Her genocidal plan—delivered in an excruciatingly long villainous monologue—and the onus placed on us to sympathize with her plight made it all but impossible for me to forgive her, which is a shame because Vera is an outstanding actress. Some of the humor felt forced and was unnecessary (i.e., “I record everything, man,” and “Gonorrhea?” was eye-rolling). Ultimately, more time spent on developing the principal human cast would have significantly benefited the film. Monster scenes are great, but compelling human drama in these kinds-of-films is a necessity. No story has ever suffered for giving us relatable human characters to follow.

    All good films have a music composer orchestrating the emotional journey of its characters. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack awakened the emotional Titan within. Bear’s homages to the legendary works of Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki brought a smile to my face. Every time Godzilla’s iconic theme boomed, I felt like I was discovering Godzilla for the first time. Bear’s rendition of Mothra’s Song was perfect. It’s a beautiful melody to listen to by itself. I thought the beatings of the drums juxtaposed with Godzilla leading his human allies into battle was beyond impressive. Who wouldn’t follow Godzilla into battle? Just make sure you let him go first.

    Michael Dougherty is no stranger to directing creature features (e.g., Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus). Here, his Godzilla-loving credentials are on full display. There are a few discrepancies I have with the film, like how I think Emma’s villainous monologue speech should’ve been left on the cutting room floor, or how the Oxygen Destroyer was shoehorned in as a convenient plot device. Don’t get me wrong; it was a cool scene and, as a fan, I was smiling ear-to-ear. However, when you incorporate the Oxygen Destroyer for only a few minutes, it comes across as a missed opportunity. Nitpicks aside, I’m satisfied with what Mike and his crew set out to achieve, and I hope he returns to the kaiju genre.

    At the end of the day I cared about the characters—both human and monster alike—and I know I’ll be enjoying Godzilla: King of the Monsters for many years to come. Long live the King!

     

    Tyler Trieschock

    With what I would consider one of the best trailers of 2018, Godzilla: King of the Monsters finally roared into theaters in May of 2019. After waiting nearly 2 weeks to see it with a friend, I can definitively say Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a mixed bag that I enjoyed. A collection of some jaw-dropping set pieces that barely overcomes elements as endearing as nails on a chalkboard.

    To get the worst out of the way, the family in the film begin as sympathetic characters, but by its end, I wished for Ghidorah to disintegrate them all where they stood. Not to say their acting is atrocious, as all give solid performances, but Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell, Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell and Vera Farmiga as Emma Russell can’t overcome one opponent in the film, the script. Motivations change on a dime, characters are looked to for advice even though experts fill every square inch of the screen and every moment the family appeared I felt myself despising the movie more and more. Aaron Taylor Johnson’s character of Ford Brody in Godzilla may have proven dull, but I did not actively wish for his death by the film’s conclusion by comparison. The other side characters proved more engaging with Charles Dance as Alan Jonah and Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa being my personal highlights, the latter receiving a wonderful sendoff scene with Godzilla.

    Speaking of Godzilla, wow does he shine in this movie whenever he appears. Mothra, Ghidorah and Rodan have also never come to life in such a spectacular fashion with Rodan’s awakening in particular stealing the movie for me. Whether its Mothra illuminating the horizon or Ghidorah battling Rodan high above the clouds, these moments put a genuine smile on my face in the theater and are easily the highlights of the film. I’d even argue some of the action is the best in the three movies of the Legendary series, but for every peak that the film achieves, the characters take you to a valley you wish went undiscovered.

    King Ghidorah

    King Ghidorah in Mexico

    I could nitpick other elements like the unexplained use of the Oxygen Destroyer, or praise certain details like Ghidorah’s personalities or McCarthy’s fantastic score, but what I’m left with at the end of the day is a film at odds with itself. A film I’d praise and tear apart in the same sentence. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Yes, and its easily superior to the Anime Trilogy or Shin Godzilla, but for someone who wanted a film to stand side by side with the classics of Godzilla, I can say what we got is a flawed, good Godzilla movie, just not a great one.

     

    Marcus Gwin

    If you had told me that one day I would watch two Godzilla movies back to back, and Godzilla 2014 was the one I enjoyed more, I would’ve said “Ohhhhhhhhh no…”
    Yes, as someone who didn’t like Godzilla 2014, I was hoping that this would be a step up, but to my shock Godzilla 2014 is better on every level. The special effects in Godzilla King of the Monsters are nothing short of underwhelming, the animation is terrible, and worst of all the story is awful. While there may not be as many plot holes as in Godzilla 2014, it more than easily makes up for it with terrible dialogue, nonsensical logic, and a complete lack of understanding towards any aspect of science, natural or otherwise. The film simply has no idea of what animals are actually like, and the behavior exhibited by the Kaiju is distinctly non animalistic. Seriously, Godzilla 1998 does a much better job portraying Godzilla as a real animal.
    There are also many things i didn’t like on a more subjective note as well. For example, “Titans” is the most awful way of referring to Kaiju throughout any film that needs a term for the monsters. It just sounds pretentious and stupid the way they say it. Also, what if we wanted to bring Titanosaurus into the monsterverse? This term would make all the more awkward.
    Suffice to say, Godzilla KOTM is a failure on every cinematic level, and competes with Godzilla Planet Eater for the position of worst film in the entire franchise from an objective standpoint.

    Anthony Romero

    Having enjoyed the cinematic entries in the MonsterVerse to date, my anticipation and excitement for this latest film was pretty high after the 2018 Comic Con trailer. Many months later, those expectations were brought back down to earth as the review embargo lifted and the movie took a critical thumping. So I went into the theater with excitement, but with expectations I thought were in line for what I was about to see.

    Sadly the movie didn’t meet those lower expectations, and instead was a film I would give 2 or 2.5 stars out of 5 to. In fact, I found the latest MonsterVerse entry much more forgettable than anticipated, although not nearly to the degree that the Anime trilogy suffers from. I think my biggest complaint with the production was just a lack of highlights. I loved King Ghidorah carrying Godzilla into the sky and also the brief moment when Mothra and Godzilla teamed up against King Ghidorah… but that’s kind of it. Sadly there just isn’t a lot of moments where I go: “oh yeah, I want to see that again”. This is in contrast to the earlier films, where I was thrilled by the build up the first time Godzilla used his atomic ray in 2014 or the tense sequence on the bridge with the MUTO. Similarly in Kong: Skull Island (2017), the final battle itself was packed with great moments. I was not expecting this lack of highlights at all, as the trailer did a great job at showcasing Rodan’s arrival from the volcano or King Ghidorah emerging from the clouds, yet in the final product these sequences just didn’t carry the same gravitas. Not sure if that’s pacing or just general editing, but I wasn’t wowed like I was expecting to be.

    As for the human cast… couldn’t care less for them. When Emma Russell unveils her big plan to let the titans rule the earth, returning it to glory, I was ready for the film to develop her as the villain. Instead? She heel turns pretty much immediately to regret her actions due to her daughter and, it would seem, not thinking the plan all the way through. It’s the kind of turn of events that gives the viewer new found respect for Emmy Kano from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), whose badly handled confusion over the Futurians’ plan was at least executed better than this. Speaking of poorly executed, the death of Vivienne Graham was a joke, and it felt like someone looked over the film and said “crap, we kind of glossed over this… let’s throw her face on a computer monitor and note she is deceased just so it’s clear she is dead.”

    Overall, I don’t want to dive too much into the film, as to avoid a full review, but I can say this did temper my excitement for Godzilla vs. Kong a bit… hopefully the trailers for that turn things around. On the plus side, at least Rodan lived to see another day… which did bring a smile to my face, even if it was in a role that sees him more as a lackey.

    Mixed

     

    Have your own impressions related to the film? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

    General // June 25, 2019
  • An interview with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019) director Rob Letterman. Conducted by phone on May 3rd, 2019, and transcribed by Jeremy Williams.

     

    Chris Mirjahangir: How did you come onto the project? Was it in development or were you there in the beginning?

    Rob Letterman: It was in development, so Legendary Pictures and the Pokemon Company were already sort of set on making Detective Pikachu a live action movie. The game was also in development so it was kinda of a parallel track. So that was already happening when I got the call.

     

    Mirjahangir: How long did it take you to work on the story and everything before getting ready to shoot?

    Letterman: I first engaged like at the end of 2016. And then we started shooting in 2018. So I was on it for like a while. Like it was a lot of development, a lot of not just writing on the script but also just like developing the Pokemon characters in advance. You know we put a full year of work into the designs of all the Pokemon. Working hand in hand with the Pokemon Company to get all the characters right. And have that all set and locked in before we started shooting.

     

    Mirjahangir: Was it Legendary you worked with or was it also Legendary and Toho and Warner Bros? Like a big group effort?

    Letterman: It was a big group effort between Legendary and the Pokemon Company during the development and production phase. That was all integrated together and all the different divisions of the Pokemon Company, and you know for sure Toho and Warner Bros. during the whole marketing and distribution. And getting the word out, like everyone just sort of went big on this. It’s pretty amazing and humbling to see it.

     

    Mirjahangir: Were you a fan of the series and everything, the games and stuff going in?

    Letterman: Well I’m slightly older, so I just missed it. But my kids are huge fans, so I as a parent, I went deep on Pokemon. My kids love the cards, the toys, the games. The T.V. show was just hitting Netflix so they binge watched that and all the movies. You know I watched the Pokemon First Movie with my kids and you know, so, I was inundated with it via my children.

     

    Mirjahangir: Did you try playing the games as well to try and get a feel for it?

    Letterman: I played the games, my son and I play Pokken DX. He always chooses Mewtwo, I always lose. I mean it’s crazy. We’ve gone to the Pokemon world championship when it was in Anaheim. And you know it was, it’s fun as a parent to like connect on anything with your kids. So it’s great.

     

    Mirjahangir: Well this is suppose to… If I remember correctly, this is gonna be part of like an expanded universe. Are you in talks for another one?

    Letterman: I mean I would love to do another one, you know I’m very superstitious so I don’t want to jinx anything. The first movie has to work before that happens. But yeah, if we’re lucky enough to be able to do another one, I would jump at the chance.

     

    Mirjahangir: How did you decide which Pokemon would go into the movie and were there ones you wanted to put in but you couldn’t?

    Letterman: Well there’s… I mean a hundred I wanted to put in, but I couldn’t for budgetary reasons. We just we just ran out of money. But uh, you know the ones that are in there are a combination of them, because it’s based on the Detective Pikachu game, there’s a certain set of Pokemon that are inherent in that. Like Ludicolo and the Aipom are baked into the game. And then beyond that, I wanted to get a lot of the first generation Pokemon characters so that you know there’s a nostalgia factor for people in their twenty’s and thirty’s who grew up on it. And you know having the Pokemon that they remember and love being represented in the movie, and then you know just working with the Pokemon Company and all the original creators on kind of narrowing down the list and working with Eric, our visual effects supervisor, on which characters we could best represent in photo real live action. You know, just kinda combing through the list that way and it was a combination of all those things.

     

    Mirjahangir: Ryan Reynolds having him play Pikachu. I’m curious because you know he does a lot of, you know there’s a lot of jokes in there. Some jokes work, some don’t. You have a test audience to see what’s working. And I’m curious like what his process was cuz I saw he was on set for what, three days running lines?

    Letterman: Yeah, he was on set for three days and so the pivotal scenes that you know we thought we would need him there for just to get the chemistry between him and Justice right. But before all that, we rehearsed quite a bit and Ryan, you know, he scrubbed through the script to make sure that Pikachu’s dialogue was fitting with, you know, his ideas. So he played a part, um, in just the script stage. Then Justice and I worked with him, we kind of workshopped for two days in L.A., the script, and just try to you know land the characters and the chemistry that way. And see, you know, improv and let Ryan riff and let Justice riff and then I took all that and reworked the script so it reflected those workshop days. And then we had a… he was there a week before we started shooting and we did a full stage play with the… He had a facial capture helmet rig thing on. And then we just kind of went through the whole movie, let them act it out like as a stage play. With Justice, Ryan, Katherine Newton, and a mime. Um, and so by the time we had those days on set while we were shooting we had… there was a lot of work that lead up to getting to that moment.

     

    Mirjahangir: The stage play aspect I think would be a great Blu-Ray extra *laughs* just to see it.

    Letterman: You’re right, I don’t know why we…

     

    Mirjahangir: Just to see it that way would be great.

    Letterman: Someone’s got to dig it up! You’re so right, it should be in there. It would need to be like edited into something, but uh, the whole movie is, there’s a version of the whole movie with those guys just sitting in chairs, walking around, a weird mime performance, Ryan with a crazy thing on his head. It’s a strange version of the movie. *laughs* That exists.

     

    Mirjahangir: Can you request that, like you know what, let’s make this available for everybody.

    Letterman: Probably, but we’ll see how the movie does.

     

    Mirjahangir: That would be great.

    Letterman: If it’s worthwhile, maybe we’ll dig it up.

     

    Mirjahangir: How many versions of Pikachu were there in the design process? How long did he take to get right?

    Letterman: He took about a year to get right. There’s a lot that went into Pikachu designing. Oh my gosh, fur, no fur, short fur, long fur, different fur. You know all the slight variations of the color yellow. I mean endless work, I mean there’s what people probably never know is that there is a skeleton with muscles on it, a skin on the muscles. You know, the fur is every hair of Pikachu is interacting with every other hair and you know the eyes have like really sophisticated computer simulation with light that refracts, all real world physics are happening in there. It’s a really really sophisticated CGI character that took a full year to develop. And this is before we start shooting.

     

    Mirjahangir: Oh yeah I mean it looks great, yeah, oh wow! So did you hone it kind of a little more in post just to kinda…

    Letterman: A little bit but we had to nail it.

     

    Mirjahangir: Yeah.

    Letterman: Otherwise, the performance from the actors would be, if it was off by a millimeter it would just, the whole thing would fall apart.

    Interviews // June 23, 2019
  • Author: Tyler Trieschock | Banner: Tyler Trieschock

    [Continued from Match 245]

    Millions of stars glistened in the endless void of space. The only guidance given to a crimson comet which burned across the cosmos at an unfathomable speed. Solar systems flashed by for the being as he pursued a demon created by his absence. As a broken planet came in sight, the being within the aura halted his travel to gaze upon the destruction.

    Crystals and rock floated in what once was the upper atmosphere of a planet which held life. Now, thecorpses of the flora and fauna floated throughout the void of space. From his view hundreds of miles above the surface, the interstellar being watched continents crack away from the planet and seas bulge, creating juvenile deserts. No life existed on the helpless world from SpaceGodzilla’s wake, and Ultraseven felt his shoulders gain the burden of all the vanquished lives.

    The Ultra focused on the carnage, allowing it to embed itself within his memory which rivaled the life cycle of stars. In his absence on Earth for the last fifty human years, creatures of great power spawned. Monsters he could have killed if not for the great evil which challenged him and his garrison. An enemy once called friend.

    The Ultra slowly peeled his sight away and transfixed on a single glowing star. On a planet that orbited around that star, he would find the planet’s killer. SpaceGodzilla would partially terraform the planet, infecting it with his crystalline menace, but even in his fortress, the monster would fall before the might of an Ultra. SpaceGodzilla would perish for the injustice the alien abomination brought upon the universe.

    The Earth would never fall under Ultraseven’s watchful eye.

    *****
    Deck of the U.S.S. Cowpens – 7 Days After SpaceGodzilla’s Defeat

    Zone Fighter’s body flashed as he reverted to his human form, dropping down upon steel deck of the U.S.S. Cowpens as Ultraseven, his size now matching Hikaru’s human form, landed just beside him. Crewmen, their weapons lowered yet ready to use if the new being proved hostile, approached, but Hikaru waived them down before turning to Seven and bowing slightly.

    “You’re Ultraseven, correct? I’m honored. My father, Yoichiro, knew many of your garrison.”

    A flash overtook Seven, revealing black hair and pale skin. A blue, short sleeve, collared shirt covered his upper body while khakis and brown running shoes overtook his lower half. A smile formed on the very human face of Seven while his right hand stretched out.

    “The honor is mine to meet a Peacelander who still lives. My condolences for your people and your planet.”

    Hikaru arose and outstretched his hand, grasping the warrior of light in unity as the two alien fighters took delight in their meeting. The chatter of the naval officers behind Hikaru snapped him out of his daze and he signaled Seven to follow him into the interior of the vessel.

    *****

    The command center of the U.S.S. Cowpens, usually the center of activity for the ship, contained only a single member of its normal crew. The Captain of the warship, in his finely kept, wrinkle free blue uniform, stood speechless as an outcast in a group of figures that ranged from the understandable to the impossible.

    To his immediate right, Monique Dupre and Elsie Chapman stood in preparation for the coming meeting. The captain kept his eyesight away from Monique’s gaze, unwilling to test her fierce glare, and instead focused on the hand movements of Elsie. Her fingers insistently tapped on the console behind her. A tactic to distract her mind which, as the speed of the twitching increased, Cole could only assume was failing.

    To his right, one of the supposed guardians of Earth, Moll, sat upon a command console in a meditative trance. Out of the group, the five inch tall figure caused Cole’s heart to race. Her colorful kimono, fine jewelry and tranquil nature radiated a sense of peace, but all of her good intentions could never overshadow the monstrous being she worshipped as her god, which still persisted just outside the U.S.S. Cowpens.

    And to his front, the crimson humanoid alien called Ultraseven in a form that mimicked human appearance and clothing. His body seemed unusually rigid, his eyes unflinching even as he expressed a confident smile.

    “I’ve cleared my deck, now what are you?”

    Seven’s gaze pivoted to the Captain. “My name is Ultraseven. I’m a being from the Space Garrison, which you can think of as an interstellar defense force for all life. My directive is to protect this world at all costs, as it has been my goal for nearly five human decades. Sadly, I’ve been away most of that time fighting a being which threatened all life in the universe.”

    Cole’s eyes rolled from intrigue to disbelief.

    “This is going to be one hell of a report…”

    “For humans, you all don’t seem surprised by my arrival?” Seven commented as he swept his hand from side to side.

    “With your arrival, you’re actually the fourth humanoid extraterrestrial species we’ve run into, and unlike the last…” Elsie paused for a moment. “Actually, most encounters with extraterrestrial life, we’re happy you’re not trying to kill us upon first contact.”

    Seven’s brow raised in concern and the alien glanced toward the captain. “Are there others joining us? I would assume the Peacelander?”

    “Where is the last of your team and the other alien?” Cole remarked as he checked the antique watch on his left wrist. “I cleared my men for this, and I’m damn sure I want them back to their posts as soon as possible.”

    Moll’s head tilted slightly to the left as she concentrated in her meditative pose. “The teammates you call Randy Hernandez and Audrey Timmonds are overlooking your injured friend, Anthony Hicks. Hikaru Sakimori, the being from space you call Peacelander-”

    “I am here!” Hikaru shouted as he dashed into the room. As he came to a halt next to Seven, Hikaru’s eyes swept across the room with a look of remorse.

    “I went to gather the others, but the Major…” Hikaru’s words fell silent.

    Elsie’s brow raised in curiosity. “Why? What’s going on?”

    A single tear began to drop from Moll’s right eye as she felt the emotion of the duo a few floors below her. “Major Hicks has fallen unconscious. He is in immense pain.”

    Monique’s gaze remained focused while Elsie’s fingers stopped cold. The biologist’s eyes widened in shock and the scientist turned to depart, merely for Seven’s hand to block her exit. Elsie turned her head, her eyes unleashing a new rage as Seven’s smile tilted into a grim frown.

    “We need to discuss the events that have unfolded,” Seven explained. “I apologize for not arriving sooner. I could have ended this situation with far less death and pain for all, but to ensure this agony does not spread, please tell me what occurred so I can resolve what remains.”

    Elsie took a step back, the fury in her eyes subsiding slightly.

    “Where should I begin?” Elsie remarked as she placed her right index finger on her chin. “Right! A madman kidnapped me, my friend over here and another teammate. Our team leader, Nick Tatopoulos, along with the man dying a few floors down helped our escape. Sadly, we couldn’t stop him from calling SpaceGodzilla, who in his death destroyed the island and ripped two holes in space and time. How’s that? Oh,” Elsie emphasized as her harsh gaze moved to Hikaru, “and he’s the one responsible for shooting my friend who, as the priestess said, is in immense pain, which you don’t seem too concerned about.”

    An annoyed expression emanated from Seven before Moll recaptured their attention.

    “The tears that emanate light and darkness are not only the fault of SpaceGodzilla. In trying to save the past, I traveled with my sister through time, and upon our return, we were caught off-guard… The battle that followed created what now exists on the island and I fear has taken the life of my sister.”

    “I hate to cut you off, but you’re staying, Dr. Chapman,” Cole asserted before asking her, “Is what they say possible?”

    A scowl burned across the room to Cole, sending a well hidden shiver down the old man’s spine.

    “Maybe, I don’t know, sure! Why not? You keep forgetting, but I’ll emphasize it again. My doctorate does not apply to quantum physics and the manipulation of time. Put simply, my primary focus is on biology, and it’s why I’ve spent the last seven days confirming if it’s possible to safely pass through those anomalies. But yes, I agree the hypothesis that an exploding space-reptilian when too close to an insectoid deity exiting a temporal anomaly generates dimensional gateways.”

    “How do we close them?” Seven inquired, ignoring the scientist’s final comment.

    “Okay,” Elsie countered as she turned to Seven, “that I can help with. I think the anomalies are stabilized by the crystalline structures still growing across the island in some type of feedback loop. The growth of the anomalies and the crystals is increasing at a near exponential rate putting some weight behind the notion of perpetual growth, at least as long as the crystals gain access to new resources.”

    “Closing them is not the priority,” Monique countered. “Dr. Tatopoulos and his creature passed through the rifts and their retrieval is our concern. We shall be departing soon to retrieve them both if they still live.”

    Hikaru nodded in approval and stepped next to Monique. “With my help, we should be quick to rescue both of them, so I,” Hikaru noted as he gazed to Elsie, “can set the failures I’ve made right.”

    Seven’s smile faded as he heard the pair speak, drawing his attention to the agent.

    “I believe you fail to see the lives at risk by allowing these tears to remain open. I have seen what those crystals can do to a planet. If they continue to spread, the Earth will not survive.”

    Monique’s eye raised slightly in curiosity.

    “Is it not hypocritical to lecture on protection if you have been absent for decades?” Monique retorted as she took a step toward Seven.

    Seven took a step toward Monique. “I have been fighting an evil far beyond your comprehension, one I thought I could call my ally. It was not my choice to be absent, and I regret every moment I was away.” Seven’s fist clenched in hidden fury. “Every time Belial fought my garrison, I could have saved lives on this planet. Now that I have returned, I assure you this is my only goal.”

    “And the doctor?” Monique inquired as she moved her head to mere inches from Seven’s.

    Seven’s eyes remained still, unfazed by the agent’s actions. “The technology of my garrison is far beyond what is possible on this planet. I can request aid in retrieving your friend and your sister,” Seven noted as he turned toward Moll, “as I think it’s better than endangering the Earth. Would you not agree?”

    “Threading life-saving needles while the Earth is at risk is kinda what we do,” Elsie countered, attracting Seven’s gaze. “Look, I’ve been flying drones into this thing for the last few days. Both anomalies open approximately for two hours every twenty-seven hours on the dot. The next opening will be in less than forty minutes. We go in, twenty-seven hours later, we fly out. Do what you want with the island after, how’s that?”

    Seven glanced away from the group. His eyes twitched, thoughts flowing through his mind as he weighed both sides. As he began to open his mouth, a feminine voice echoed.

    “You fail to think about the consequences of entering the tears,” Moll noted as she remained still with her voice as loud as a whisper. “I know of this arrogance, and I will no longer let it blind me. As the guardian of the Earth, I should never have taken that risk, and even with all the guilt I feel, I cannot allow your group to enter the void.”

    Hikaru took a step toward Moll, blanketing her in his shadow as her face turned pale.

    “How can you stand aside and do nothing to save-”

    Darkness encompassed the bridge and all within the vessel. A resounding chirp echoed from beyond the U.S.S. Cowpens from a wary god, ready to unleash its fury if the alien took another step. As Hikaru gradually retreated from Moll, the great shadow of Mothra Leo parted as well.

    “I can,” Moll affirmed with tears swelling in her eyes. “As an Elias, a guardian of Earth. Mothra still needs time to recover, but Seven, do what you must.”

    *****

    Hikaru’s fist slammed against a metal wall, allowing the clang to reverberate across the medical ward. As he prepared to throw another punch, Monique’s palm intercepted Hikaru’s blow, halting his fist mere inches from the agent’s hand and the wall.

    “This will not solve anything,” Monique critiqued, lowering her arm.

    Hikaru stumbled backward, glancing across the room to all that resided within.

    Major Anthony Hicks lay unconscious to his left. His body remained motionless and nearly silent, only the sound of intense breathing from the oxygen mask over his face giving any sign he still clung to life.

    Beside him, staring at the dented wall, a man with curled, black hair and slightly lighter skin inspected the dent. The comical smile he expressed showed no sign of letting up as he commented, “Wow, I bet the Captain felt that one.”

    The joke deflected off of Hikaru’s frustration, forcing him to gaze upon a woman whose eyes showed as much rage as his surely did while also suppressing an immeasurable amount of anxiety. Audrey Tatopoulos’ long, golden hair ran past her shoulders, forcing her to move it as she gazed over Hick’s bedside.

    Feeling sorrow from looking at the wife of the man who saved him, Hikaru shifted his vision past Audrey, Monique and Elsie to a lone, old man who tirelessly worked in the back of the room, repairing his greatest creation. For two days, he refused to sleep, yet his movements seemed to be as fluid as the first. Hikaru’s right hand clenched shut, envious of Goro Ibuki’s resolve.

    “So, how do we proceed?” Hikaru inquired to the group.

    “Yeah, how we saving Jefe?” Randy reaffirmed as he gazed to Monique and Elsie for the answer.

    “With the priest’s approval, Seven will begin destroying the crystals in the next fifteen minutes,” Monique stated with ire. “He hopes to use his garrison to retrieve Nick, if he still lives, in the next month or two.”

    “We’re not waiting that long!” Audrey snapped with fury. “We need to go, now!”

    Elsie rubbed her temples in frustration. “Technically, the two aren’t wrong. These crystals are acting like a persistent infection. If they spread too far or too deep, things could get horrible fast. Not to mention destroying so many could have unforeseen results themselves. Anti-gravity distortion the most-”

    “Yo, I think Jefe is the focus. Not flying crystals,” Randy retorted.

    “I agree. The crystals would be easier to eliminate with Zilla, Jet Jaguar, Ultraseven and myself all focusing on the task,” Hikaru affirmed.

    “I got it!” Randy proclaimed with fanfare as he clapped his hands together. “Look, the giant moth is looking out for the incredible shrinking woman, right? So, all we gotta deal with is the red guy, and we got our own superman to punch him out.”

    Randy walked next to Hikaru, placing his elbow on the alien’s shoulder. “You knock him out, we go in. By the time he wakes up, we’ll have flown back out with Jefe and the Z-Man. We get yelled at by the military and red lantern, claim we’ll never interfere again, maybe cry a little in regret – actually, Mendel isn’t here so maybe skip that part – and float back to the mainland.”

    Hikaru took a few steps forward in silence. His head tilted upward, glancing at the metallic lights hanging from the ceiling.

    “If I fought Ultraseven, there is little chance I could win. Even with Jet Jaguar, I doubt I could do so reliably.”

    A blond blur entered the bottom of Hikaru’s vision. Gradually, the alien warrior lowered his vision to gaze into the eyes of Audrey. Tears overflowed their ducts while a certain rage coursed just underneath the look of grief.

    “Talk to him, fight him. Either way, all I’m asking is for you to try. Please, just… try.”

    Audrey’s eyes closed, desperately trying to hold back any sorrow merely for a confident hand to rest upon her shoulder.

    “Mrs. Tatopolous,” Hikaru asserted, drawing Audrey to look upward once more. “I ensure you, you won’t lose your world. I promise you this.”

    Randy’s hands fell upon Hikaru’s and Audrey’s shoulders causing both to look at him.

    “Now that you two had your moment, how we picking who goes where?”

    “Well,” Elsie exclaimed as she gathered everyone’s attention. “I’ve received no visual data from the drones I’ve sent, only basic atmospheric data due to interference. I can confirm that these anomalies, if they do displace space and time, lead to worlds that possess Earth-like atmospheres with temperate climates. Oxygen, Nitrogen and other gases are nearly equal in ratio to that of our own. I can also confirm that whenever they take place, it’s after August, 1945.”

    “Ahh yes! Obviously a lack of German in the air, or would that be too much?” Randy quipped.

    “No but, you’re close,” Elsie retorted, causing Randy to look at her with astonishment. “Atomic bombs dropped in that year released a certain radiation that I can pick up. It’s actually still in the air today, so I can also say the history of these times are similar to our own as well.”

    Audrey’s right hand rose as it spun in the air, her mind racing with questions as she decided the best to ask. “So, if it’s like our own, shouldn’t we be getting drones or things flying back through?”

    Elsie’s body leaned against the back wall. “Well, yes and no. The black portal’s carbon is in surprisingly low amounts in the air, suggesting that either humanity isn’t polluting the atmosphere, somehow removed it… or there is no longer any humanity.”

    “Is there really a choice among your options?” Monique rhetorically inquired.

    “Well, on that positive note,” Elsie continued, “the other is far worse. Radiation levels are consistently elevated close to the anomaly and a few hundred meters in every direction from it, to the point where prolonged exposure could lead to serious health complications. If Nick traveled to this one, he is easily already experiencing symptoms of radiation poisoning.”

    “Jefe’s got a fifty-fifty shot of being in that one though. He could be chilling in the other while the Z-Man eats some fish that glow in the dark. Probably way~ easier to catch, right?” Randy quipped with a grin toward Monique, her glare remaining unbroken.

    Monique’s eyes closed as she stated, “Or they are both in one rift or they could be dead in the other. We must be prepared for all scenarios.”

    Audrey’s face gradually turned away from Hikaru, stopping as her right eye focused on Monique, the agent’s eyes still closed.

    “He’ll be fine.”

    The elderly voice drew the group’s attention. The balding part of his head shined for all to see as the inventor continued to focus on Jet Jaguar’s socket. Without moving his gaze, Goro continued. “Your friend is right, you should be prepared for any loss, but I believe you will find him. Call me a fool, but faith always seems to defy even the most logical of arguments in my experience.”

    As he finished talking, Goro let loose a breath days in the making. Tools dropped from Goro’s hands. A ping which reverberated across the room as Jet Jaguar rose from the slab of metal he lay upon. The machine looked toward his inventor, a permanent smile which was countered by the toothless grin of his inventor.

    “Jet Jaguar is ready,” Goro affirmed as he turned and began to walk toward the door. “I’m far too old to go, but I’ll keep the captain distracted. No better way than the ramblings of a senile, old man with far too much time on his hands.”

    As he reached the door, Goro looked at the group with a toothless grin which seemed to expel optimism. “Good luck, my friends. I wish you all a safe return.”

    “And Hikaru,” Goro noted as he pointed toward the Peacelander. “Do not doubt yourself.”

    *****

    Seven’s body flashed with power, reverting from a humanoid appearance to his classic design. Bulbous, immobile eyes gazed upon the island from the command deck of the U.S.S. Cowpens before glancing at Cole.

    “Keep your vessel at a safe distance. Destroying these crystals may cause unforeseen effects.”

    Cole nodded and looked to the island. “Don’t have to tell me twice to stay away from this mess. You do realize the group below the deck isn’t too happy about the decision?”

    “Do you think it’s best?” Ultraseven inquired.

    “To be blunt, no. But what I think isn’t relevant. What I know is those things are a danger. If I were ordered to destroy them, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I doubt the seventh fleet will when it arrives tomorrow.”

    Ultraseven nodded in agreement and turned toward the exit.

    “Ultraseven. Would you have done this without my approval?”

    Ultraseven’s movement came to a complete halt, shifting his gaze toward the tiny guardian of Earth, whose eyes barely possessed the strength to open and look up at the alien.

    “With the Earth at risk, without question.”

    *****

    “So, we need teams, and since I’m making myself a leader, I call the robot!” Randy yelled as he walked over and placed his arm over Jet Jaguar’s shoulder. “Going to need to figure out a new name for yah, metal man. Jet Jaguar is a few decades out of date.”

    “Your preferences aside, we need to base our groups on dealing with either scenario,” Elsie affirmed.

    “Actually, we do not,” Monique noted as she opened her eyes. “The creature, while not Godzilla, still absorbs radiation. Therefore your surveillance would have shown signs of inconsistent radiation levels. Since this is not the case, he could have only gone in the black rift. The robot, Randy and I shall proceed through with our stolen transport from Winter. Hikaru will go through the other when he finishes his fight.”

    “What if he doesn’t? What about me and Elsie?” Audrey demanded.

    “You will do nothing. We lack a second, reliable transport and it is foolish to contaminate yourselves merely to feel better. You will only place yourself-”

    Audrey’s body twisted around in seconds, closing the distance between Monique faster than most people in the room could react. Her face stopped inches from Monique’s, meeting one cold stare with another while Audrey’s nails embedded into her own thigh.

    “-in danger,” Monique affirmed as she uncrossed her arms. “You lack training and are compromised with emotion.”

    Randy, Elsie and Jet Jaguar stood silently, waiting for an explosion of fury from Audrey while Hikaru took a few steps to break the pair up. Audrey’s palm bolted up, waiving Hikaru off as her glare remained steady, matching Monique’s.

    “You know, Monique, I don’t have those things. I’m not trained and stability… not on my mind right now. I’m just an ex-reporter, not a ruthless killer, but you know what that gives me? The ability to call bullshit when I see it and it’s coming from you more than anyone here. That and a shit ton of guilt.”

    Monique’s eyes dilated slightly, transforming the scowl on Audrey’s face to a slight grin. A smile she kept as she stormed out of the room in silence.

    “Dr. Chapman, monitor the crystals while we are gone and ensure Audrey stays,” Monique ordered, snapping Randy and Elsie out of their daze.

    “That was pretty cold, French Fry,” Elsie acknowledged. “You sure–”

    “I am,” Monique responded, leaving the room without another word.

    *****

    The whistling wind across the barren landscape made the only noticeable sound as Zone Fighter, in his powered form, touched down a few meters behind Ultraseven. The warrior of light kept his back to Hikaru, his gaze transfixed on the growing white plague which infested all the land in front of him to the ocean’s edge.

    “You’ve come to stop me?”

    “No. I’ve come to ask you for time.” Hikaru pleaded.

    “Anyone could have asked this,” Ultraseven countered as he pointed to Hikaru, “But only you could threaten me if you ask for restraint and fail. Restraint which could jeopardize the Earth. I will not take that risk for two lives which can be saved by my garrison after I do what needs to be done.”

    “And what if they don’t have that time!?” Hikaru snapped. “What if they both die?”

    Ultraseven hesitated a moment, his mind flashing to the helpless alien beings whose dead bodies filled the space above their broken planet. “I do not wish to consider that possibility. If they do perish, then it will my failure, and I will carry that burden as I continue to protect his world.”

    “A burden?” Hikaru whispered, clenching his teeth as the statement echoed throughout his mind.

    “What gives you the right to demine their life?”

    Ultraseven’s voice remained calm as he responded, “Tens of thousands of years protecting life from those who wish to corrupt it. I’ve never deviated from this goal, unlike yourself.”

    Hikaru’s fist squeezed ever tighter while Ultraseven waived his hand from left to right, extending it toward Hikaru.

    “A being too focused on your selfish path of redemption to see he will cause the destruction of another world he wishes to protect.”

    Hikaru’s eyes parted in disbelief. His fists opened while the wind blew across his twitching face. In a flash, the astonishment faded as pure rage overtook Hikaru.

    “How… How dare… Zone Double Fight!”

    A shockwave of wind overtook Ultraseven’s body before a flash overtook his sight. As the sensory overload ended, a fist far greater in size than him slammed perpendicular into his body, launching Ultraseven like a pebble across a lake. His body bounced repeatedly, shattering a few random crystals which blocked his trajectory before his arms extended toward the sky in defiance.

    “Dwuwah!”

    Ultraseven’s true size, over eighty five meters in height, crashed feet first onto the ground and continued to slide across the surface until the shattering earth beneath his heels finally subsided his movement. No longer affected by Zone Fighter’s blitz, the warrior of light stepped out of the trench his feet dug from the strike and faced his opponent.

    Ultraseven’s whole body ached from the force of the strike. If he hadn’t blocked the punch at the last second, the blow surely would have crippled him. No matter, he could still move, and if Zone Fighter wished to end their dispute with a sparring session, he would oblige the few moments it would take.

    A battle cry roared from Zone Fighter, whose sprint lasted a second before he brought his right fist down upon Ultraseven. With his right palm, Ultraseven caught the blow before taking a step backward and dodging a second move as Zone Fighter launched a palm strike aimed at the warrior’s head. Infuriated, Zone Fighter lunged forward, merely for Ultraseven to duck under the attack and thrust his palm outward. The warrior of light’s hit impacted Zone Fighter’s chest, launching him off his feet and onto the ground a dozen meters away.

    Zone Fighter rolled across the barren earth, recovering to his feet just as fast as his fall and propelled himself at Ultraseven once more with a high kick. Ultraseven’s head jerked to the left at the last second and the mighty warrior grabbed ahold of Zone Fighter’s legs before launching him at the crystal fields which sprawled behind the warrior of light. Zone Fighter spun in the air, colliding with a few crystal formations before rolling across the ground and stopping at the basin of another crystal at least thirty meters tall. Zone Fighter hands dug into the rock in frustration as he pushed himself upward, revealing an unnaturally bright green hue as his color timer’s light shined against the black dirt.

    What was he thinking? Ultraseven wasn’t a monster he could pummel with little thought. In fact, with their respective experience gap, he was the monster in the brawl!

    Ultraseven’s shadow draped over Zone Fighter’s unmoving form, his right arm extended in a show of chivalry. Zone Fighter eyes looked upon the good natured display, but his fists remained clenched. In defiance, a mighty scream echoed from Hikaru.

    “Meteor Jet!”

    A sapphire aura exploded around Zone Fighter’s body, catching Ultraseven off guard as the Meteor Man’s right hand slammed onto Seven’s face. Both warriors took off at a blinding speed, the inertia of Zone Fighter’s launch allowing him to thrust Ultraseven’s head through pillars of crystals. Each formation shattered with ease, exploding into a fine white dust until a shockwave of telekinetic power from Ultraseven’s palms launched Zone Fighter skyward. The meteor man rotated in the air merely to shout, “Meteor Missile Might!”

    Silver bracelets snapped onto Zone Fighters wrists, but instead of pointing his arms toward Ultraseven, the azure alien pointed his hands to the sky and unleashed the entire barrage in a single shot. An explosive blaze engulfed the air above Zone Fighter, who used the concussive force of the blast to launch himself downward at Ultraseven, his legs pointed to deliver a crippling strike. Yet as he approached Ultraseven’s body, still sliding backward from the initial hit, the scarlet being vanished into thin air. Dirt rocketed upward as Zone Fighter touched down, implanting himself in the ground up to his knees until Ultraseven reformed from his teleportation and collided back into the unaware warrior fist first.

    Zone Fighter skidded backward from the impact, but a sudden flash of blue aura quickly overtook his form once more. The distance between the two warriors vanished in the blink of an eye before Zone Fighter unleashed his Meteor Punch. A dozen strikes bombarded Ultraseven’s body, pummeling him to the ground and allowing Zone Fighter to extend his hand outward toward the fallen protector.

    “Meteor Freezer!”

    A stream of white, coolant-like material vented from Zone Fighter’s hand’s tip toward Ultraseven, who began to roll away from the substance. The freezing coolant spewed across the black earth as Ultraseven hid behind a crystal to regain his bearings. A familiar flash overtook the warrior of light and his body teleported behind Zone Fighter.

    The Meteor Man spun in disbelief.

    An extended long kick to his abdomen returned sense to Zone Fighter.

    Zone Fighter continued to counter-attack, but every miss gave Ultraseven the perfect opening. As his strikes tore into Zone Fighter, Seven couldn’t help but notice the difference in experience.

    How many sparring sessions against fellow Ultramen did he undergo in his lifetime? How many monsters fell before him in battle? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? If not for this, Zone Fighter’s superior strength and varied arsenal could have proved threatening. But in the end, if HIkaru thought he could match a veteran of the Space Garrison…

    Zone Fighter yelled in defiance as he launched his fist forward, slamming it into the palm of Ultraseven’s left hand. Rock splintered beneath the warrior of light’s feet before Ultraseven’s right hand slammed into Zone Fighter’s chest cavity, unleashing a gurgled gasp from Hikaru before propelling him backward at least one hundred meters. Alien energy swirled atop Zone Fighter’s forehead crest while Ultraseven took a knee in preparation for a Wide Shot.

    …he would prove himself to be a pale imitation.

    Steam vented off Zone Fighter’s battle damaged body as the bright light faded from the ray’s collision. His legs trembled, his muscles stressing just to keep Hikaru upright, but the azure alien warrior would, no… he could not yield! His back legs stretched out, striking something which caused Zone Fighter to turn and discover the edge of a crystal sea.

    Hundreds of crystals, roughly fifty meters tall, stretched a half mile until the ocean’s waves. A rhythmic glow flowed from one edge of the formation to the other, a sign of the power they channeled to the anomalies he swore to protect, but as Zone Fighter returned his gaze to Ultraseven, his failure revealed itself.

    Ultraseven stood confidently within a blackened landscape devoid of any crystal structure. Shattered pieces of crystals rolled in the wind, evaporating into dust over the span of seconds, but no crystal stood undamaged from the battle. Zone Fighter’s fists clenched in anger..

    If the battle continued, not only would he lose to Ultraseven, but the crystals would surely be destroyed in the resulting confrontation. He couldn’t lure Ultraseven away like a rampaging beast, and while the crystal’s power kept his energy reserves replenished, at some point, his body would physically give out to the strain. As Zone Fighter thought, he moved his right leg backward into a defensive stance, merely to feel his leg’s weight disappear.

    Ultraseven burst forward, his steps launching rocks into the air merely for them to hover as he approached Zone Fighter. Hikaru felt every footstep of his adversary, yet his senses were instead trained on his back leg. Zone Fighter’s Zone Meter flashed from blue to red, immense power channeling through his body in preparation for what he needed to do.

    Ultraseven’s fist flew forward.

    Zone Fighter’s hands slammed against the ground.

    “Meteor Proton Cut!”

    Energy waves erupted from Zone Fighter, fracturing the earth beneath his body before the ground cracked in every direction like broken glass. Ultraseven slid backward from the force, watching the rock fracture, upheave and bend like water. The crystal sea behind Zone Fighter flowed like a wave as the rock they grew from split apart, releasing dust clouds into the air.

    A weary breath escaped Zone Fighter before a swift kick propelled him against the basin of a crystal, revealing the Zone Meter which blinked a dire red light. Zone Fighter’s head gradually tilted upward, discovering an extended hand from Ultraseven for him to grasp, but Hikaru shook his head side to side, causing the hand to raise into a striking pose. With swift movement, Ultraseven brought his right hand down upon his fallen adversary, yet an expected cracking sound stopped his attack mere inches above Zone Fighter’s head.

    Ultraseven glanced to the landscape behind him, hearing the ground screech and moan as rock upheaved through the fractured earth. Further cracks erupted across the already splintered earth as rock and crystal gradually began to take to the air.

    “Meteor.”

    Ultraseven’s gaze shifted back to Zone Fighter, the forming fissures’ echos nearly deafening all other sound.

    “Storm.”

    A violent crack thundered around Zone Fighter and Ultraseven. In a dark flash, their vision became an endless wall of black.

    Rock overtook Ultraseven’s body, bouncing him around in every direction as it smashed against him. Cracks of light beamed through the ocean of rock only for the flowing earth to seal the breach as more fissures formed. With every second, Ultraseven’s body shook, convulsing as super-heated air flowed through the cracks. As a crystal smashed against his face, Ultraseven’s fists clenched. Energy surged through his being before he blasted through the earth around him. The concussive force tore apart the ground around the alien, allowing him to recover to his feet. As he arose, Ultraseven glanced in every direction to discover a sea of ascending rock.

    Chunks of blackened rock, crystal and smaller debris floated in the atmosphere like an asteroid field as far as his eyes could see. Some pieces the size of his fist while others dwarfed even Ultraseven, with large, crystalline structures attached to their form like an inorganic cancer. As the crimson warrior walked to the edge of the ground he stood upon, shock coursed through the being as he noticed himself now miles above the Earth’s surface. Shock gradually replaced rage.

    How could he let this happen? To risk the Earth to allow someone to vent their foolish rage. He was reckless in sparring with Zone Fighter, but wher-

    A steady yell drew the attention of Ultraseven to a massive chunk of floating rock a mile out. Red lightning swirled in the distance against a being growing in power. Shockwaves erupted from the blinding display, vaporizing chunks of earth floating too close. As harsh winds began to flow past Ultraseven from the display of power, the crimson warrior channeled immense energy into his right arm for the Wide Shot.

    Ultraseven felt sorrow in his actions, but he couldn’t hold back any longer. If Zone Fighter wished to escalate the battle, to endanger the world he held so dear, Ultraseven would regrettably oblige.

    Zone Fighter relinquished his scream, staggering forward while his head hung low. Glowing veins of crimson power flowed across his arms. His light timer emitted the brightest blue light he’d ever seen. Lightning danced across the warrior’s body, striking the ground and the tips of nearby, floating crystals.

    Critical Mass.

    There was no doubt within Hikaru’s mind he attained the form. A power he could use to rival an Ultra, to fulfill the promise he made to Audrey and ensure her world would not be lost. A few scattered tears rolled from Hikaru’s yellow eyes as he briefly remembered the promise he made to himself years ago. Gradually, his mind returned to the present, noticing the red figure of Ultraseven in the distance.

    Ultraseven was right. Selfishness did drive Hikaru.

    “Critical…”

    A colossal blue aura enveloped Zone Fighter, unleashing a shockwave of energy which launched pieces of hovering earth in all directions no matter the size. Red lightning intensified across the azure alien’s body, his muscles expanding as he focused his power, creating a constant stream of azure energy which flowed around his body like water.

    The desire to be a hero who kept their word. To ensure no human or creature felt the pain of losing all they cared for. He would be the only one to feel the sorrow of a world lost!

    “Meteor…”

    Zone Fighter’s body moved to a sprinting position. The earth beneath his back foot cracked violently from a simple step, sending fractures throughout the one-hundred-meter round sphere of rock he stood upon. The tears across his face evaporated into steam and flowed around the determined eyes of Hikaru who solely focused on Ultraseven.

    Ultraseven’s body snapped to a pose with his right arm pointed upward as his left arm touched his right elbow. Blinding power erupted from the length of Seven’s right arm, pushing the rock Ultraseven stood upon backward as it vaporized all in its way toward Zone Fighter, who remained as rigid as stone in a ball of uncontrollable aura.

    No matter the opponent, Hikaru knew he couldn’t turn away from this battle. If Ultraseven wished to challenge him, to test how far he would go to ensure no one felt the despair within him…

    “Jet!”

    The one hundred-meter round sphere Zone Fighter stood upon shattered like glass as he blitzed off its form into the incoming ray. The blue meteor trailed across the sky and struck the ray, yet instead of detonating, Zone Fighter’s form rocketed through the attack in a second. Ultraseven’s eyes went wide, an almost silent gasp echoing as time slowed to a crawl in the presence of the Meteor Man. Beneath the sapphire aura, the defiant eyes of Zone Fighter stared back. Hikaru swung his right arm outward, shattering the Wide-Shot in a single swipe and forming a fist, glistening with unfathomable power.

    …then he would regrettably oblige.

    “Meteor Fist!”

    *****

    Moll’s eyes burst open as she felt the agony of Ultraseven, pivoting her gaze to the darkened sky littered with rock and lightning. Her mind raced with questions and statements. Her eyes twitched, tears forming across the perimeters of her eyes before she reasserted her stern expression. The Elias’ eyes closed, a calm breath flowing softly from her mouth as she returned to a meditative position. As a second breath exited, Moll opened her eyes to discover her folded hands shaking ever so minutely. Without any further hesitation, Moll closed her eyes once more and focused not on the two battling warriors, but a figure thousands of miles away.

    Glowing specks coalesced within a cavern filled with little light and an overwhelming amount of mechanical contraptions. Robotic creatures, not active, but their insides spilled out for all to see, lay randomly scattered across the cavern floor as a lone figure, with short black hair draped over her goggles, welded armor. The female’s attention gradually focused on the forming light a few feet from her, and as Moll’s appearance formed, the mechanic pulled off her goggles and unleashed an annoyed glare.

    “Hello sis, wondered when you’d finally get back,” Belvera noted as she pulled herself from underneath one of her newest creations. Her hands brushed across her abdomen, wiping away dust which revealed long, embedded stains of grease across her over designed leather dress. As her uncaring glare returned to Moll, Belvera leaned against the machine she just worked beneath. “So, what mess you get yourself in?”

    “How did…” Moll stated with shock in her voice. Belvera rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m not dumb. You’d only speak to me if there was a problem or if you weren’t attached to the hip with…

    Belvera’s brow raised as she looked around her home before returning to the glowing form of Moll.

    “Oh.”

    “Fairy is no more. Lora’s gone, or she might be lost and to search for her could risk the world. I need your help, sister.”

    Belvera let loose an annoyed breath, her eyes closing from the overreaction as she walked to a damaged Garu-Garu. “No. You don’t.”

    Moll’s eyes widened, her face changing from sorrow to anger. “How can you turn your back on your sisters? How can you be this childish in the face of global-”

    “Shut it!” Belvera snapped, refusing to look at her sister as she looked over the damaged machine. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on. I honestly don’t care, but the childish one isn’t me, it’s you. Always been you.”

    Moll’s eyes focused, her fury increasing as Belvera continued, “The moment you lost Lora last time with Grand King Ghidorah, you decided to risk changing all of time by sending Mothra to the past. For someone so put together, you didn’t think to request aid of the humans or other guardians. No, risk changing all of time. Great plan, sister!”

    “Lora and the children would have died if I didn’t act!”

    “But you didn’t. You froze, sis,” Belvera asserted. Slowly, the dark Elias turned to her sister, her hand placed across her forehead in frustration. “You two rely so much on each other, you freak out the moment you’re not side by side. So stop talking to me and do something productive.”

    The fury from Moll’s eyes gradually vanished as a soft smile of appreciation formed across her face.

    “Thank you, sister,” Moll responded as she began to fade. Sparks of energy flowed from her form, deconstructing her essence as Moll stated, “I too hope you will heed your own words.”

    In a flash of light Moll vanished from the room. Light drained from every corner of the cavern with her departure, leaving Belvera staring off in a dark void. Without any hindrance, Belvera walked back to her Garu-Garu. Tools clanged as they dropped to the floor. A soft thud echoed as Belvera sat down and maneuvered beneath her mechanical companion, yet as her hand moved to grab a tool, a fist formed which smacked across the cold ground in frustration. As quickly as the fist was created, the priestess’ hand extended, allowing Belvera’s fingernails to tap against the floor while she thought.

    *****

    Randy looked to the sky in awe for a moment, watching red lightning encompass the congested blue sky, but the sound of helicopter blades spinning attracted his attention back to a sleek, black helicopter to his right. With a quick jump, Randy dived into the boarding bay which housed an already seated Jet Jaguar before the vehicle took off. A look of ire projected to the pilot, but he knew deep down she didn’t really care.

    “Trying to ditch me?” Randy yelled.

    “Take a seat,” Monique retorted without batting an eye.

    Randy climbed atop a seat merely to glance out of the ascending helicopter and spot a woman with flowing, blonde hair. Even as she grew smaller, the dot proved unavoidable to Randy’s sight. A breath of resentment vented from Randy who slammed his head back against his seat in visible protest.

    *****

    In a sea of floating rock, a cone-shaped void suddenly formed with Ultraseven at its apex, the impression of Zone Fighter’s fist still embedded into the right side of his face. Shaking off the attack, the warrior of light jettisoned into the debris field, unsure where his foe hid, until the sky cracked with thunder. Crimson missiles illuminated the floating rocks above Ultraseven, sending shivers down the warrior’s spine.

    The storm descended upon Ultraseven with unending fury. Fire and red bolts obliterated the debris field Ultrasven traversed through while the warrior felt the shockwaves ripple through his body, his flight mere meters away from the full explosive wrath of Zone Fighter. Bolts of energy lanced across his form, scorching his armor. Yet Ultraseven defiantly flew on.

    Seven’s eyes darted across the debris field for a place to turn the tide. He needed a place to get his footing, to think to… there! Ultraseven’s body spun ninety degrees, allowing himself to kick off a rock and jettison to the rotating chunk of mass below him while the debris field behind him vanished in a shockwave of fire.

    Nearly five hundred meters in diameter, the largest chunk of what once was half the island rotated gradually as the small cluster of crystals across its edges sparked with cosmic power. The floating mound of rock shuttered as Ultraseven crashed upon its surface, its rotation stopping briefly from the force of the warrior’s impact before another impact reversed its rotation.

    Ultraseven’s gaze shifted to a sparkling, sapphire aura that encompassed all in front of his vision. For a brief moment, he watched as the azure field diminish, Zone Fighter’s piercing, furious glare burning the memory within Ultraseven’s mind before he burst forth and slammed his right, glowing fist against Ultraseven’s abdomen. Ultraseven gasped violently, bending to the gut punch, but the blow proved the first of many. A series of earth shattering punches in the span of a second slammed across Ultraseven’s body. Transparent, circular voids of superheated air materialized with every hit until a final strike against the Ultra’s face sent the crimson warrior cresting around the floating mound of rock and allowed the sonic booms which formed to violently echo like thunder.

    Ultraseven’s body circumvented the spherical mass of rock, his arms extended forward from the shear force of the strike, but with a turn, his flight became a sprint, running at full speed with a plan formulating on how to end his defiant foe.

    Zone Fighter’s head gradually crested over the rock’s horizon, acting as the target for Ultraseven who leaped into the air for a high kick. The Meteor Man’s right arm collided with Ultraseven’s strike, flipping and rotating the crimson figure through the air. Upon rotating to face Hikaru while upside down, Ultraseven detached the weapon attached to his forehead, the Eye Slugger, and launched it like a boomerang. The Meteor Man evaded just out of the weapon’s range, sidestepping the projectile to launch a fist into Ultraseven’s head. In a flash, the crimson warrior vanished, reforming behind Hikaru and continuing his body’s rotation, to slam his right foot into the back of Zone Fighter’s head.

    Ultraseven hit the ground rolling, looking behind himself to see the Ultra Slugger crest the horizon before turning to face Zone Fighter as he charged towards him.

    Seven seconds. It was all the time he needed.

    Ultraseven’s shoulders glowed as he gathered power, channeling it into his right arm which surged forth with an open palm and hit air, yet a dozen meters away, Zone Fighter stopped in place. Telekinetic powers froze the Meteor Man where he stood, but willpower pushed him ever closer to Ultraseven. Finally, Zone Fighter’s Meteor Jet returned with a surge, pushing him so close he could clearly see his shadow over Ultraseven, the red bolts cascading across his body singing Seven’s armor. With a simple hand gesture, the crimson warrior raised his left hand, lifting his fingers in unison.

    Realizing something amiss, Zone Fighter redirected his propulsion to the left side of his body, moving a dozen meters to the right before a familiar weapon burst forth from the ground beneath his feet. The Eye Slugger sliced open Hikaru’s chest, making the red lightning bolt on his armor run red with his own blood before it flew past the spot his head use to be.

    Hikaru screamed for the heavens to hear, staggering backward merely for Ultraseven to cross his slash by cutting across Zone Fighter’s chest from right to left. Another echo of anguish resonated from Hikaru before he fired a Meteor Zone Slice. The golden arrow struck the Eye Slugger’s energized blade, shattering upon impact into an explosion of sparks.

    Miniature projectiles blanketed Ultraseven’s form, piercing his crimson armor in dozens of locations. Beams of pure light that encompased his very essence shined out of the warrior of light while his Eye Slugger sparked with dysfunction, forcing Ultraseven to sheathe the weapon. Drained from the fragment’s damage, Ultraseven turned toward Zone Fighter as the Peacelandian slammed into him using his Meteor Jet.

    Zone Fighter’s hands clutched Ultraseven’s throat and squeezed with all his might, smashing the warrior of light through the endless floating debris field as they plummeted to the surface. With every rock which Ultraseven’s head plowed through, he smashed his fist against Zone Fighter’s body. A strike against the slash across his chest prompted Zone Fighter to release his grip, allowing Ultraseven to spin and slam his left foot forward. Zone Fighter’s body vanished into a dust-filled haze, prompting Ultraseven to slow his descent. Hikaru reappeared in an instant, grabbing ahold of Ultraseven’s head and launching himself downward once more.

    The warrior of light’s body flashed, fading out of existence and forming behind Hikaru, placing Zone Fighter into a chokehold. Zone Fighter’s right elbow slammed into Ultraseven’s side. Again and again the mighty blows struck Ultraseven until finally he gasped in pain. The choke hold’s strength melted away and Zone Fighter spiraled to deliver a mighty blow across Ultraseven’s face. Keeping pace with Zone Fighter’s strike, Ultraseven returned the blow with one of his own.

    Ultraseven’s left hand smashed across Zone Fighter’s head.

    Zone Fighter slammed his fist into Ultraseven’s nose.

    Ultraseven screamed in defiance, uppercutting Zone Fighter’s chin.

    Hikaru bellowed with fury, launching his knee into Ultraseven’s abdomen.

    The blows continued to trade, each savage hit more violent than the last. Rocks exploded from the two’s trajectory, each unwilling to focus on anything other than the other fighter. Ultraseven and Zone Fighter’s hands slammed together, each trying to force the other back, but sheer willpower kept both on equal standing. Each let go of the other, smashing their respective right hands into their opponent’s head before putting some slight space between their foe to unleash their signature weapons.

    Hikaru screamed in fury as the jewel atop his head channeled immense power, shining as bright as a star.

    Ultraseven bellowed in rage, forming an L with his arms that glowed with insurmountable energy.

    The Earth silenced them both.

    Two, monstrous plumes of dust trailed into the air while the island trembled from their respective impacts. Rock rained across the landscape, creating a thin cloud of dust just above the ground which now barely possessed enough land to stay above sea level. From the silence that encompassed the isle, a red humanoid slowly rose from his crater.

    The once stoic Ultra staggered onto higher ground, his movement sluggish compared to just a few moments prior. Seven gradually scanned the landscape for any sign of Zone Fighter, expecting to see him in a similar state or unable to stand within his own crater; however, as Ultraseven finished glancing over the area, he discovered no trace of the Meteor Man

    Surely Zone Fighter’s body couldn’t have been completely vaporized from the ensuing impact. Could it be another ability? Cloaking, perhaps, or speed great enough to to prevent-

    Ultraseven’s face snapped right. A shockwave of force rippled across his head while his body stumbled backward in response. The warrior’s arms flailed through the open air as he fumbled, trying to strike whatever hit him but as he recovered, Ultraseven glanced across the blackened landscape, watching a human-sized being wearing azure, alien armor touch down upon the Earth.

    An endless repetition of harsh breathing plagued Hikaru’s ears. He lacked the strength to stay in his monstrous form, but even without his size or Critical Mass, he still possessed the strength of Zone Fighter, the will to press his body far beyond its limit and the foolishness to continue a fight he surely couldn’t win. No matter the odds, for as long as Ultraseven still threatened the world he promised to defend, he could not allow Ultraseven to win. With a defiant scream, Hikaru jettisoned himself toward Ultraseven and swung his right fist in defiance.

    *****

    Inside the cockpit of a transport helicopter on the U.S.S. Cowpens, Audrey desperately searched for some type of guide or easy start up booklet for the craft she wished to commodere. She needed to understand the dozens of switches, buttons and levers across the control panel. If she didn’t Nick could… Audrey banished the thought and continued her frantic search.

    She only had a few minutes until some crew or Elsie found her, and she couldn’t convince them to join her. With the vehicle marked as hazardous from damaged rotors from Cyber-Godzilla’s attack and its filters infiltrated with remnants of ash, no sane person would dare fly with her even…

    “Hello, Mrs. Tatopoulos.”

    Audrey’s body spun ninety degrees in fright, slamming against the side of the craft. Terrified eyes looked over the tiny human who stood upon the seat next to her, but as quickly as terror entered her, anger returned in force. Veins popped from Audrey’s forehead as she leaned closer to Moll.

    “Give me one reason I shouldn’t throw you out of this thing.”

    Moll’s hands shook briefly. Her gaze remained unfocused, shifting with every breath but gradually her hands became rigid, her posture every more defiant.

    “I have failed as a protector of Earth for the days that have past. My selfish desire to avoid the mistakes I’ve made has placed lives, innocent and good-natured, in peril that I can not ignore any longer. To correct these mistakes, I will help you search for those that are lost.”

    Audrey’s face turned white in shock, but her composure quickly recovered, unamused at the shift.

    “How exactly, are you,” Audrey exclaimed as she pointed to the priestess with her index finger, “going to help me? Can you fly this thing? No, then how?”

    A confident smile appeared on Moll’s face, vanishing into a great shadow which blanketed not only the helicopter, but the vessel as well.

    “I would recommend you hold onto something Mrs. Tatopoulos.”

    Audrey rapidly strapped herself into her seat merely for the entire craft to shutter, shaking wildly as it flew off the ground in the grasp of Mothra Leo. The U.S.S. Cowpens swayed from the hurricane force winds. Men screamed in fright, with some firing their guns in self-defense, but the ship remained upright, allowing its members to watch the guardian fly toward the white anomaly with a helicopter in its grasp.

    Deep breathing echoed inside the craft from Audrey while the steel hull creaked from Mothra’s claws.

    “Wait, what about Hikaru? If Mothra’s carrying us in, who’s going to help him?”

    Moll jumped atop the console and glanced over the horizon to the crimson, humanoid figure in the distance. Her eyes closed once more in concentration, focusing upon Zone Fighter’s mind and the memories within. She could perform no action to help the struggling warrior, only words and they would need to be enough.

    *****

    Hikaru’s human-sized right arm collided with Seven’s right fist, creating a shockwave of air to erupt. The ground beneath Seven cracked in all directions from the force while pressure jettisoned Hikaru back toward the ground as a sickening snap echoed for both to hear. Hikaru touched down at an angle and continued to slide across the ground at a pace he couldn’t control, creating a dust trail as he desperately tried to slow himself with his extended left arm merely for a pile of rock to intercept his path.

    Jagged rocks smashed into Hikaru’s back and cranium. All the air within his lungs immediately vacated as blood spewed from his jaws. The mighty warrior fell forward, colliding with the charred earth without any attempt to catch himself.

    Harsh breathing escaped from Hikaru’s lips. Sight became nothing more to Hikaru than a constant blur. Blood seeped across the earth from his horribly fractured right arm and ruptured bruises across his body. If he could actually feel the full damage his body sustained, Hikaru couldn’t imagine the immense agony he’d experience. The warrior pressed against the ground in defiance, desperately trying to lift his minuscule weight with his left arm, but pain and fatigue chained him against the ground. Repeatedly Hikaru tried to raise himself, screaming against his inability until tears gradually began to fall from Hikaru’s eyes.

    How could a hero break the promises he swore with all his heart to uphold?

    How could he fail when so many needed him…

    Ultraseven watched Zone Fighter’s human body remain stagnant, a weary breath venting as he realized the fight was finally at an end. The battle was one he never wished to fight, proving far closer than he ever thought possible, but at last, he could do what the universe needed. The anomalies represented a threat to all life on the planet, and a single human or a monster could not compare to the billions of lives at risk. If Zone Fighter lived, Ultraseven wished he would understand. The crimson warrior of light’s shoulder guards began to glisten with energy once more, his gaze turned to the sky and power sparked across his arms. With one final blast of his Wide Shot, the crystal blight upon the world would be brought to a swift end and the anomalies along with them.

    The ground beneath Hikaru’s face began to sharpen in detail as the dizziness gradually began to fade and the pain, long dulled by his state of mind, struck him with the force of a tsunami. An earth-shattering migraine took control of the warrior’s mind, nearly deafening all of his other basic senses excluding the pain, so much so his body barely registered a gentle wind which blew past the fallen warrior.

    “You’ve given up?”

    Hikaru’s eyes widened from the voice. His mind briefly cleared from the question and his head jolted back in response. A being of light, one a few inches in size took shape in front of Hikaru who barely registered the new form. As the spirit finished forming, Moll opened her eyes to gaze upon Hikaru’s struggling form.

    “How? Why?” Hikaru mumbled at a loss of words.

    “Your mind is not clear. I am here to mend those wounds, to help the woman you desperately seek to protect from the misery you know so well.”

    Tears and droplets of blood struck the rock beneath Hikaru’s head which sunk in despair. “I couldn’t keep my word… I never could… ”

    The priestess turned away from the Meteor Man, gazing upon the crimson humanoid who stood ready to obliterate the floating field of crystals hundreds of meters above them.

    “I can not deny your path in life is filled with despair. The great loss you’ve experienced, I would not wish it upon even the most heinous being. But from your dread derives a gift not even I possess. In your memories, and even today, I can see no matter how desperate or hopeless a fight, you always stood for those that can’t stand for themselves. I, in my times of weakness, can not say the same.”

    Moll’s stoic stance broke for just a moment, eyes wandering to the ground in self-doubt before her pose returned, her head held high.

    “Now, like you’ve done so many times,” Moll asserted, raising her right arm upward with a clenched fist and a smile glowing with confidence. “Stand once more, Hikaru.”

    Moll’s essence faded into glittering sparks of residual energy, revealing Ultraseven’s figure in the distance to Hikaru whose eyes focused upon him like a hawk. A spark of resistance flashed within Hikaru’s eyes. The warrior smashed his left arm into the ground, fracturing the rigid earth for dozens of meters in all directions as he easily pushed himself up, agony unable to halt his movement. Hikaru staggered to his feet, blood dripping off his form as he took a fighting pose. With Seven no longer focusing on him and needing a boost of adrenaline, Hikaru grabbed his shattered right arm and pressed against fractured bone .

    Broken bone impacted torn muscle, unleashing a shockwave of pain from the corresponding nerves. The desperately needed boost of adrenaline flowed hand in hand with agony through Hikaru’s beaten body. His eyes bolted open. Teeth scraped against the other. Slight growls echoed as Hikaru desperately held his breath before he unleashed a yell with the force of a monster’s roar.

    “SEEEEVVVVVEEENNN!”

    Ultraseven’s gaze pivoted to the destitute landscape as a war cry echoed past him and an explosion of dust jettisoned skyward. The warrior of light instantly brought up his arms in the form of an X, ready to deflect the incoming assault. He couldn’t see his adversary’s miniature form, but he knew a strike would be imminent.

    Hikaru felt himself rocket through the air at a speed never experienced in his human form. His left fist condensed so tightly that blood oozed from the open wounds across it.

    One final punch. With his right arm shattered and his adrenaline fading fast, he needed one definitive strike against his opponent and as his target neared, Hikaru brought his fist down with all the monstrous force of Zone Fighter.

    Inhuman strength shattered the earth opposing Hikaru’s punch. Fissures split beneath Ultraseven’s stance. The warrior of light’s defensive stature loosened, parting the warrior’s arms as Hikaru’s form jettisoned directly up and glided mere feet from the warrior of light’s chest. Hikaru’s legs retracted, his eyes remained focused upon his target and as Ultraseven’s jawline neared, Hikaru unleashed one final warcry of defiance.

    “METEOR STRIKE!”

    The defiant Peacelander’s war cry echoed as his legs jettisoned forward, striking the bottom jaw of Ultraseven. Seven’s head jolted back instantly. The crossed arms of Ultraseven flung into the air like a ragdoll, his body momentarily lifting into the air before crashing back down, head-first, with a colossal thud. Ultraseven’s head rolled to the right, his fingers twitched and subconsciousness gradually took hold of the valiant defender of Earth.

    A mere blue dot rotating high above the ground, Hikaru’s body spun like a leaf caught in the wind. His bloodshot eyes looked over Ultraseven’s fallen body with terror but as he remained stagnant, a smile of relief formed on Hikaru’s face. Tears of victory rolled from the warrior’s eyes as a new sensation suppressed the pain of his shattered body, intensifying as he noticed Mothra Leo fly through the white anomaly.

    The satisfaction of a promise kept and a world saved from destruction.

    Winner: Zone Fighter

    K.W.C. // June 20, 2019
  • Often remembered in her country as “The Eternal Virgin” (as well as “The Goddess of Militarism” and “The Goddess of Democracy,” depending on which section of her career one wishes to focus on), Setsuko Hara first appeared on cinema screens as a teenager when she was cast in 1935’s Don’t Hesitate, Young Folks, produced by Nikkatsu. Two years and ten films later, she rose to immense popularity with The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai, a Japan-Nazi Germany co-production whose success sent her on an international voyage and—it was hoped—a career in the west. For German filmmaker Arnold Fanck, the young actress (who he claimed to have discovered on the set of Sadao Yamanaka’s 1936 The Priest of Darkness), evoked a pure “Japaneseness” ideal for his picture’s heroine*; for the domestic co-producers, however, she embodied an opportunity to inaugurate a more prominent stream of Japanese film exports and establish the most globally recognized Asian actress since Anna May Wong.

    To a certain extent, the producers’ hope was realized. Regular exports of Japanese film did not become a thing for a while and Hara never enjoyed a career in Hollywood, but they’d found a star and gradually got her recognized abroad. In 1937, the press scrambled to cover Hara’s visit to Germany, for which she attended the Berlin premiere of The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai, stayed at the luxurious Eden Hotel, and shook hands with several of Germany’s top film stars as well as the Nazi politician Joseph Goebbels. And even though the film was not shown theatrically in the U.S., she ended up traversing to America to meet Marlene Dietrich and Spencer Tracy, even celebrating her seventeenth birthday aboard the Queen Mary. In 1939, she was chosen to embody “the face of Japan” at the New York World Fair.

    Hara remained in the Japanese public eye throughout the remainder of the ‘30s, soon seguing into films championing militaristic politics (as international tensions were escalating into what became World War II). Since Japanese screen performers were not persecuted by the western occupying forces who took over Japan after the 1945 surrender, she was allowed to continue working into the postwar years, now appearing in films favoring democratic ideals pushed by the Americans; and when Japan’s first post-surrender print poster (a colossal color ad for Shiseido Cosmetics) appeared in the fall of 1946, it was Hara’s face that was used to represent “the emergence of the postwar modern nation of Japan, including the Japanese new woman.” (In all of this, we can see why the actress obtained the two “Goddess” monikers listed above.)

    But, of course, it was mainly through the exposure of her work in the 1950s that Hara attained true international prominence. Though much of it reached foreign audiences after her sudden retirement in the 1960s**, these later films were the ones that came closest to realizing the sort of recognition the producers of The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai had hoped their starlet would receive in 1937. To this day, Setsuko Hara has been the subject of considerable attention in numerous film events, including the 56th Berlin International Film Festival in 2011; and back in 2000, fifteen years before her death at the age of 95, she was chosen by Kinema Jumpo magazine as the greatest Japanese film actress of the 20th century—her six films with Yasujiro Ozu no doubt having been first and foremost in the voters’ minds.

    It is because of this default association of Hara and Ozu that I have chosen to exclude their collaborations from this list. Despite my immense admiration for Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), Tokyo Story (1953), Tokyo Twilight (1957), Late Autumn (1960), and The End of Summer (1961), none of them will make an appearance going forward. Hara made a number of very noteworthy pictures with other directors in the course of her too-brief career (which lasted less than three decades), and it is a handful of those less-talked-about films which shall be saluted here.

     

    Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky

    #10. TOWARD THE DECISIVE BATTLE IN THE SKY

    The first movie to appear on this list is something of a nonconformist choice, as it is not a picture I would recommend to anyone on the basis of quality or entertainment. Like many of the “spiritist” propaganda films spat up by Japan during the second world war, Kunio Watanabe’s Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky (1943) is perfectly sufficient from a technical standpoint (well shot and put together) and boasts an array of very fine performances; unfortunately, it is also like many of its brethren in that it is cloyingly simplistic and so superficial in its “characterizations” that it ultimately proves to be ridiculous and, more often than not, simply boring.

    The story revolves around a family, the Marumatsus, who regularly receive visits from local military trainees. The cadets come by ostensibly to rest, but their primary purpose in stopping by is to share cheery stories from their training sessions—stories their hosts are all too eager to hear. The family is excited and proud to be in the presence of young men who’re not only prepping for war but who are actually excited to die in battle (as voiced in a song the characters themselves write***; none of these boys expect to come back alive). And in the picture’s absurdly jovial denouement, the Marumatsus beam with elation as the cadets depart for certain death in the Pacific—their pride further enhanced by the fact that the young son of the family has started prepping for military training himself.

    I chose to begin this list with a national policy film mainly to exemplify an important chapter in Setsuko Hara’s life and career. As touched on earlier, Hara was, due to her star status, a regular presence in nationalistic/jingoistic propaganda films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and she even had familial ties to people with aggressive wartime politics****. (Another curious detail: unlike other movie stars of her time, such as frequent co-star Susumu Fujita, she never, in any document I’ve come across, expressed regret for her involvement in military recruitment pictures or movies championing the Japanese invasion of the Far East.) Her character in Toward the Decisive Battle in the Sky is a textbook example of the Japanese “spiritist” woman: a movie stereotype of the time encompassing mothers, sisters, etc. who openly support the men in their lives (lovers, children, etc.) going to war—without expressing, even in private, the slightest ounce of sadness*****. These women are honored to see those close to them perish for the honor of the nation; when mothers cry upon learning of the deaths of their loved ones, they shed tears of pride, not sorrow.

    In the case of this film, Hara plays the oldest daughter in the Marumatsu family, whose unapologetic admiration for the army inspires a new generation of nationalistic fighters in the form of her little brother, himself transforming from a weakling into a proud soldier-in-training. Hara had played an imperial soldier’s sibling the year before, in Kajiro Yamamoto’s The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942), but in that picture, she was confined mostly to standing in the background and had no influence over the narrative or anyone around her; here, she is up front and center—ostensibly the star—giving a vivacious performance, and plays an active role in persuading her bedridden sibling to man up and enter the services. Viewed with a certain historical context, the character—and the film—has an air of fascination to it; and on that level, I’d argue it’s one of Hara’s most important movies and, therefore, worth seeing.

     

    #9. HERE’S TO THE YOUNG LADY

    After the surrender of 1945, Setsuko Hara’s reign as “The Goddess of Militarism” came to an end. For the next seven years, every film she made would be subject to an entirely different set of political agendas. More details can be found in my article on Kurosawa’s Those Who Make Tomorrow (1945), but in short: when the Allied Powers (namely, the United States) took over the Land of the Rising Sun from 1945-1952, it was with the intent of “democratizing” and “westernizing” the country and its people. This in turn led to some major restructuring of Japanese society and the complete and total supervision of Japanese media. Until the end of the occupation, everything from literature to the motion picture industry would be scrutinized in great detail prior to being released to the public.

    During this time, “feudalistic” traditions such as arranged marriages and miai (the practice of setting up meetings between prospective marriage partners) were frowned upon by the Americans (who wanted to push the idea of young people deciding on their own who they will marry—i.e., marrying for love as opposed to tradition), though there were some instances where films tackling these subjects could still receive a general release. The romantic comedy Here’s to the Young Lady (1949) begins with a successful automotive entrepreneur (played by Shuji Sano) being reluctantly talked into attending a miai. He’s 34 years old and needs to find a wife as soon as possible—or so says a business associate who hounds him into agreeing to meet the girl in question. Sano has no interest in marriage and shows up at the miai determined to make a disaster of it, insisting on an unromantic locale (a bar) and showing up in his work clothes. But when he sees the woman (Setsuko Hara) and is dumbstruck by her beauty, he rashly agrees to marry her and is surprised when she accepts his proposal.

    However, as it turns out, there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. The woman’s family, a once-wealthy aristocratic group, has since fallen into poverty and is looking to wed off their daughter in hopes of gaining an in-law who can provide a secure future for everyone. (Sano was chosen because of his success as a businessman.) Furthermore, the girl had a fiancé who died some time ago and, as she admits, she used up all her love on him and finds it difficult to express affection for anyone now. After many trials and tribulations regarding class and lifestyle differences, Sano, despite his love for Hara, calls off the wedding (but gives the family a check to save themselves) and departs for a visit to his hometown—only to have Hara chase after him, as she’s fallen in love with him as well. It might’ve been this portrayal of an arranged marriage being initiated by people interested solely in capital gain and the ultimate depiction of two people deciding to be together out of love that convinced the censors to let it get through. That the girl’s imprisoned father encourages her to ignore the family’s plans and find someone who makes her happy might’ve also played in the film’s favor. (Also possible is this unflattering portrayal came about per the censors’ suggestions, since the record shows they initially objected to some of the film’s subject matter******.)

    Here’s to the Young Lady marked the first and only time Hara worked with the versatile director Keisuke Kinoshita, and it is not one of her finest hours. While her unrivaled good looks certainly fit the physical demands of the part, Hara overplays (underplays?) the “ill-at-ease” aspect of her character to the point of not being very interesting. Instead, the strength of the film is evoked through the people surrounding her. Sano, in particular, is delightful, as is Keiji Sada as the brother with romantic woes of his own. The women who work at the bar where the miai takes place—which itself becomes a recurring setting throughout the film—are also quite likable. The movie ultimately fares as an enjoyable romantic comedy which just so happens to co-star Setsuko Hara—as opposed to an all-out great film exhibiting the actress at her peak.

     

    #8. THE BLUE MOUNTAINS

    Like a good many of the major Japanese film artists of her generation, Setsuko Hara had no childhood aspirations to work in the movies. Rather, her dream job in youth was to one day become a teacher; but, due to her family’s poor financial status at the time, she was never able to attain the education necessary for such a profession. It is strangely fitting, therefore, that fourteen years into her career, she would play a teacher in one of her most fascinating roles. Though one can only wonder: had her teaching career come to fruition, would she have become even half as progressive and challenging to the social norm as the educator she played in Tadashi Imai’s two-part drama The Blue Mountains (1949)?

    Based on Yojiro Ishizaka’s novel of the same name, the film stars Hara as a free-minded English teacher at an all-girls school. She works in a small town in which the residents are still reluctant to adopt the democratic views of the postwar era; this is a place where if two teenagers of the opposite sex are seen walking side by side in public, they become objects of scorn and mockery among their peers. When such circumstances befall one of her own pupils, Hara decides to take a stand, denouncing what she perceives to be the closed-minded views of the past; and this attitude, in turn, filters out to make the entire town question its own ethics and beliefs.

    The Blue Mountains was precisely the sort of film which would’ve appealed to the occupation censors: a liberal drama defiant of outmoded feudal values and loaded with unambiguous dialogue. Consider some of the lines used when Hara challenges the bullies in her classroom: “Walking with a boy or knowing boys is not some immoral act, and to think so is very old-fashioned. I would like you to stop thinking that way. Dating boys and being honest about your feelings is perfectly natural.” As the scene continues, she calls into question whether the tormentors went after their pupil for the honor of the school or if they used that antiquated notion as an excuse to bully. “To fetter individuals in the name of ‘the family’ or of ‘the nation’ [has] been the greatest wrong in Japan.”

    In another crucial scene, Hara is walking home with the town doctor (Ichiro Ryuzaki, who bears a certain resemblance to Toshiro Mifune) when he essentially speaks for the town with his conservative and nigh-misogynistic views. “I know there is a new constitution and new laws, but […] all the girls leave school and get married. Then they get bullied by their female in-laws. And their husbands will often hit them. They put up with this life, and just when they think they’ve got enough money to have it a bit easier, their husbands start drinking and chasing other women.” To which Hara responds, “It’s as if you’re saying you want to keep this town like that.” In scenes following their conversation, the doctor becomes an ally to Hara and fights alongside her in the struggle for acceptance and change within their town.

    Much like the wartime propaganda films of the early to mid-1940s, The Blue Mountains is a fascinating if not especially subtle time capsule reflecting political diatribes occurring within Japan at the time; but it’s vastly entertaining compared to many of those earlier films. The picture is full of lively characters, well-realized by the cast—which includes Michiyo Kogure and Setsuko Wakayama, who would later play the heroine of Godzilla Raids Again (1955)—and a vivacious performance by an adolescent Ryo Ikebe (far more impressionable here than in any of his science fiction endeavors). But most of all, there’s Setsuko Hara. Here, the actress is at the top of her form, taking what could’ve been a preachy, obnoxious character and rendering her into a truly fascinating individual. And in this we can see a fine example of her reign as “The Goddess of Democracy.”

     

    #7. THE BALL AT THE ANJO HOUSE

    In her first role after becoming an independent actress in 1947, Hara teamed up with the director Kozaburo Yoshimura for a story about an aristocratic family whose “days of glory” are coming to an end. With their wealth depleted by the postwar tax hikes and agrarian reforms, the Anjo family stages a final ball at the mansion that will soon no longer be theirs. For the father, Mr. Anjo (Osamu Takizawa), the ball is an opportunity to make some last-minute negotiations with a wartime associate in hopes it would allow him to keep his house and his way of life. His son Masahiko (a marvelous performance from the always dependable Masayuki Mori) seeks to humiliate his former fiancée (the daughter of that same man) upon discovering her father has no interest in Mr. Anjo now that his days of power are gone; mixed in with this is a subplot involving his affair with one of the family’s maids (Akemi Sora). The family’s oldest daughter (Yumeko Aizome) wishes the ball to serve as a final, lasting memory of her family’s noble past—but does not wish to see the presence of their former chauffeur, who’s continued to love her even after leaving servitude, and who is now a potential buyer for the mansion. A plethora of other stories intertwine within the narrative. And running through the entire film like a quiet stream of reason is the younger daughter, Atsuko (Hara).

    The Ball at the Anjo House (1947) is one of the most immaculately written films Setsuko Hara ever starred in and features one of her most well-rounded characters. From the beginning, Atsuko battles calmly and intelligently against the raging winds of arrogance, pride, and misguidedness within her home. The film opens with her adamantly opposing the titular ball and suggesting everyone simply accept the inevitable—in other words: try to make the most of their new life—while also being smart enough to recognize it might be tough, given most of them have never worked a day in their lives. She refuses to cling to the ways of yesteryear (brilliantly conveyed when a guest knocks over a suit of samurai armor—a symbol of Japan’s feudal past—and she tells a servant to leave it where it is) while taking serious the future. She acts against the wishes of her kin by trying to arrange their former chauffeur to purchase the mansion (knowing the father’s old associate has no interest in helping). And as the ball progresses and the various subplots erupt to climax, Atsuko regularly appears, constantly trying to keep things under control.

    The film’s final sequence is nothing short of perfect. After the ball has ended and the rooms have gone dark, Atsuko searches the home for her father and manages to stop him from taking his own life. After saving him, she pleads for him not to despair what’s been lost but to embrace the future. She turns on the gramophone and invites her father to one final dance. The picture ends with the father and daughter dancing as the morning sun comes up; and appropriately, the final shot is one of Hara venturing up close to the camera, her hauntingly perfect smile agleam, a glowing representative of Japan in a new age.

    The screenplay for The Ball at the Anjo House was written by Kaneto Shindo, but director Yoshimura claimed the idea came from his own personal experiences. As Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson recounted in their book The Japanese Film – Art and Industry, “The original idea was conceived when Yoshimura was invited to a dance party held at a peer’s mansion the night before it was sold, and many of the occurrences shown in the film actually happened that night. Yoshimura was so taken with what was happening that he stayed up until morning writing down ideas.” If the character of Atsuko was, indeed, based on a real person, one can only wonder how wondrous and inspiring her real-life counterpart must have been and if the girl was even half as charming and inspirational as Hara is in this picture.

     

    #6. TEMPTATION

    A year after The Ball at the Anjo House, Hara reunited with director Kozaburo Yoshimura for what this writer sincerely believes to be one of the most beautiful and touching movies ever made about a May-September romance. In my review for Takashi Minamoto’s Tokyo Tower (2005), I concluded with a recommendation: that readers skip over that picture and instead seek out Yoshimura’s Temptation (1948) for a superior story about love between people of different generations; and I stand by that suggestion to this day.

    From the beginning of Temptation, when a middle-aged father of two (Shin Saburi) runs into Hara, here playing the daughter of a colleague who died in the war, the relationship between the two is immediately fascinating. At first, Saburi holds no particular affection for Hara; he has sympathy for her becoming orphaned and feels obligated to look after her. As the story progresses, they spend more time together, their relationship naturally evolving from platonically mutual respect to special friendship to pure bliss—which comes through in one of the most romantic dance scenes ever put on film.

    In contrast to some of the pictures discussed thus far, Temptation is not overtly political. It contains some food for thought (a few observations regarding postwar Japanese society—such as poverty among the lower classes), but at its core, it’s a simple love story about two people who care for one another and who just happen to be separated by a few decades of age; it doesn’t sling mud at its subject or utilize it for a series of crass jokes; it just tells its story sweetly and sincerely; and it ranks with pictures such as Delbert Mann’s Middle of the Night (1959) as one of the most touching movies about such romances I’ve come across to date. The sooner a western disc/streaming label adds this lovely gem to its itinerary, the better.

     

    #5. NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH

    I’ve written extensively about Akira Kurosawa’s No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) over the last couple of years—including in an in-depth article back in January—so I’ll keep my thoughts here relatively brief. Although Setsuko Hara admitted to having had no particular interest in starring in this film (and likely only took the part due to being under contract to Toho at the time), whatever apathy she felt toward the project goes completely undetected in her simply remarkable performance. The actress’s versatility and Kurosawa’s interest in personal growth and self-discovery combine to form one of the most transfixing female characters in postwar Japanese cinema: an initially care-free bourgeois girl who comes to recognize the vapidity of her own existence and begins a quest to uncover a way to lead her life with meaning during one of the most intense chapters in Japan’s sociopolitical history.

    No Regrets for Our Youth is not one of Kurosawa’s masterpieces, but it is—I sincerely believe—his first truly special motion picture, and Hara’s performance stands firm as one of its most hauntingly perfect qualities.

     

    #4. SUDDEN RAIN

    In one of the best scenes from Mikio Naruse’s Sudden Rain (1956), Setsuko Hara, playing a lower middle-class woman trapped in a passionless marriage, arrives on a Tokyo rooftop, where she has agreed to meet her husband. When she reaches the roof, another couple starts advancing in her direction. The wife, she notices, is clad in elegant attire: quite the opposite of her own drab clothing which reveals her poverty-stricken lifestyle. Humiliated, Hara bows her head, clutches the lapels of her coat, and deliberately tries to avoid eye contact with the better-off woman as they pass one another (even after the other woman temporarily meets her gaze and gives her a long, somewhat contemptuous stare afterward). Poverty and loveless marriages were among the most recurrent subjects in Naruse’s oeuvre, and that’s true also of this extremely powerful film.

    Hara’s husband is played by Shuji Sano (of Here’s to the Young Lady) and this time both of them are at the top of their form as an impoverished couple who exhibit no love whatsoever for one another. The movie opens with them going through the almost comic monotony of their existence: he yawns, she yawns; he asks for his stomach medicine, she unenthusiastically supplies it for him; he complains about her cutting out recipes in the paper (leaving big gaping holes in the newsprint on the other side), she asks him to drop a letter at the post office only to find he abandoned it at the doorstep. When her niece (Kyoko Kagawa) comes by to visit and complain about the (very funny) nature of her not-so-happy marriage, the advice Hara and Sano offer results in them turning on one another, offering harsh critiques of their individual shortcomings. And then there’s the ending of the movie, in which the couple—having openly contemplated separation—engage in a juvenile game of toss, yelling and cursing as they swat a paper balloon back and forth (to the utter bewilderment of the children who accidentally knocked the toy into their yard).

    The neighborhood in which the couple resides is loaded with gossip and distrust; just about everyone spends their day griping about everyone else. Hara herself is hardly an angel and is rather prone to being critical of other people: about her husband, about her neighbors, about the proprietors in the town who only treat their highest-paying customers with any kind of special politeness. This recurring theme comes to a “climax” in the form of a town meeting, in which everyone congregates at the local school building, the adults squatting on the undersized chairs before engaging in another all-out complaint brawl.

    As all of the above description above would indicate, Sudden Rain is something of a comedy of manners, but more than anything it is an extremely bleak, pessimistic, and at times downright depressing film from the director who knew how to evoke such emotions like few others. The scenes depicting Hara’s loneliness and struggles with poverty are among the most gripping in the film. When her husband fails to return home one night—after she gives up waiting for him at the train station—she winds up sharing her dinner with a local stray dog. And whenever she ventures into the local marketplace, the entire world seems content in reminding her of her own poverty. The street vendors push her to buy expensive appliances she cannot afford, and while watching a salesman in action, she becomes the victim of a pickpocket.

     

    #3. SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN

    Continuing on a thematic note from the last entry: Setsuko Hara’s five-movie association with Mikio Naruse showcases the actress tackling a broad variety of roles and, even when working with scenarios that appear to be similar on a surface level, being able to evoke completely different characterizations each time out. As far as her work with Naruse is concerned: in the lost propaganda film Until Victory Day (1945), Hara was merely an entertainment act, someone who—literally—came popping out of an exploding “Entertainment Bomb” along with a plethora of other Japanese celebrities to amuse troops on a South Seas island. (For more information regarding this perplexingly bizarre project, see my article on The Lost Films of Mikio Naruse.) In the director and actress’s final collaboration, the 1960 color melodrama Daughters, Wives, and a Mother, Hara played a recently widowed woman juggling between love with a younger man and a more “compatible” marriage.

    And in between these two end points, Hara starred in a “miserable housewife” trilogy, if you will, for Naruse, in which she three times played an unhappily married woman whose drama often stemmed from a strained relationship with her husband (Sudden Rain was the third and final “chapter” in this series). However, despite some basic similarities between the three films, Hara didn’t replicate the same performance each time; no two roles or performances mirror one another in minute detail; each woman had her own assortment of personalities, agendas, and—most importantly—interactions with those surrounding her. For example, the protagonists of Sudden Rain and Naruse’s earlier Sound of the Mountain (1954) are diametric opposites of one another in many respects. To begin with the simplest of distinctions, the former resides in an impoverished, two-person household whereas the latter has married into a well-off upper middle class family; both are burdened by the duties expected of a Japanese housewife (in Sound of the Mountain, it’s because the family’s recently lost their maid), but that’s about it as far as similarities go.

    Now, consider the characterizations. In Sudden Rain, Hara played a blunt and at times censorious woman; the character she plays in Sound of the Mountain, by contrast, is meek, shy, and extremely vulnerable: too passive to make a stand or speak out against anything, even her own unhappiness. Both women have to deal with an apathetic husband, but they respond in entirely different ways. Rather than complain about her situation or argue her way into a possible separation, the non-confrontational housewife in Sound of the Mountain suffers silently as her husband repeatedly comes home drunk and later impregnates both her and a mistress—until finally she decides to abort her unborn child and untie her marital bonds. Because she’s not as outspoken as her counterpart in Sudden Rain, Hara evokes an entirely different breed of acting, relying not so much on dialogue and shifting emphasis instead to physical nuances—facial expressions and movement—to demonstrate what her character is feeling, even when she’s trying to “mask” her emotions (as Naruse cleverly indicates in a scene where a character observes a Noh mask and realizes the face of the mask can appear ecstatically happy when viewed from one angle and depressingly sad when viewed from another).

    The most fascinating relationship in the film exists between the housewife and her caring father-in-law (So Yamamura). As Catherine Russell notes in her book The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity, the further Hara’s husband pushes her away, the closer Hara and Yamamura become. And at the end of the movie, the father-in-law exhibits a very progressive attitude in encouraging her to free herself completely and find what little happiness she can still achieve. They have grown close and are sad not to see each other anymore but realize this is the only way she can go on. Naruse considered Sound of the Mountain one of his favorites from his oeuvre and had personally pitched the idea of adapting Yasunari Kawabata’s source novel to Toho, and the end results are simply mesmerizing.

     

    #2. THE IDIOT

    In 1951, Akira Kurosawa assembled what is unquestionably the single most impressive cast in his entire filmography. In adapting Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot for the big screen, he recruited the talents of several people he’d worked with before (Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Yoshiko Kuga, Bokuzen Hidari, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Noriko Sengoku, etc.) as well as adding some impressive faces new to his cinematic canon (Chieko Higashiyama, for one). The entire cast is excellent and brings a tremendous amount of energy to this unusual and intoxicatingly watchable film (as this intro might suggest, this is a picture I hold with considerably higher regard than most Kurosawa aficionados), but it is Mori, in the eponymous role of a prisoner of war mentally scarred by his experiences, and Hara as a sinister yet sympathetic “kept woman” who really stand out.

    Despite her sinister appearance (perpetually dressed in dark clothing with her hair slicked back—an appearance reputedly modeled after María Casares in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus), Hara doesn’t play her character as a cold-blooded villainess, instead depicting a lonely person who has spent her life believing the world to be an unfriendly place completely against her and whose cynicism and at times unpleasant demeanor is a byproduct of said conditions. But at the same time, she is presented as still in touch with her own humanity and carrying a willingness to respond to someone capable of—or at least willing to try—understanding her and accepting of the truth that she did not ask for the miserable existence she’s stuck with. This becomes especially prevalent in the film’s marvelous “birthday” sequence: a twenty-seven-minute masterwork of cinematic storytelling in which the mentally damaged Mori converses with Hara and accomplishes what no “sane” person has managed.

    She invites him to her birthday party, having previously been touched by his innocence, and stands defiant of those scorning him. Over the course of the evening, Mori tells Hara about his experiences during the war and compares her to a fellow POW whose execution he witnessed; she reminds him of that twenty-year-old boy who seemed all alone and whose eyes, like hers, seemed to beg the question: “Why have I suffered like this?” In doing so, he sees straight into her heart and professes his belief that she is a good person who has simply endured a horrible life. “You see,” she tells him, “I’ve been waiting for somebody like you. Ever since I began this awful life as a kept woman, I’ve been waiting. I hoped and prayed, imagining someone like you. Hoping that a good, honest, kind man would appear [and say] ‘Taeko, it’s not your fault. I still respect you.’ How I longed to hear those words!” So moved is she that she ultimately decides not to let him take care of her. Even after all that has transpired, she still views herself as a damaged woman and doesn’t want to taint the life of someone so pure. Instead, she leaves with a man who has offered to pay a million yen for her “hand,” but not after taking the money and throwing it in a fireplace, burning it before the man who was to receive it.

    As with the movie itself, Hara’s performance in The Idiot is simultaneously unusual and electrifying: the actress consciously goes for an over-the-top acting style with exaggerated expressions and sweeping gestures while still maintaining control of her character. Although she had been cast against type before—such as in Hideo Oba’s crime picture The Woman in the Midst of the Typhoon (1948)—under Kurosawa’s direction, she completely sells the role, giving a much better portrayal of a promiscuous woman with shades of sympathy than she had in the dreary aforementioned Oba thriller.

     

    #1. REPAST

    Released in the same year as The Idiot was Hara’s second movie with Mikio Naruse and the first entry in the earlier mentioned “miserable housewife” trilogy. Based on an unfinished novel by Naruse’s favorite author, Fumiko Hayashi, Repast is one of the two or three finest Naruse films I’ve come across yet and is unquestionably the greatest film of Hara’s I’ve seen outside of the best of her collaborations with Ozu: a compelling character study revolving around a lower middle class woman so disheartened by the passionless repetition of her day-to-day existence that she ultimately tries to escape from it.

    Once again, on a surface level, all three films in this “trilogy”—Repast, Sound of the Mountain, and Sudden Rain—sound quite similar, but examined in greater context, we see three entirely different stories and three entirely different women. Whereas Sound of the Mountain presented the struggles of Hara’s character mainly through the observations of her kindly father-in-law (the actual protagonist of that film), the story of Repast is told predominately from the perspective of the housewife herself, sometimes in the first person. In the film’s beginning, she describes to us through voiceover her unhappiness as we witness the monotony of her daily life: relentlessly cleaning her cramped Osaka suburb home and tending to her husband (who mostly just lets her know when he wants something to eat). Every day is nonstop work for her, her life confined almost exclusively to the kitchen and family room 365 days a year. “I had hopes and dreams before,” Hara asks through narration. “Where have they gone?” (In one revealing moment, she takes advantage of an opportunity to get out of the house and meet with some old friends. One of them asks what she talks about with her husband all day, to which she replies, “I have a cat.”)

    The idiosyncratic details of the marriage in this film further distinguishes Repast from the other two Naruse pictures discussed thus far. For example, the husband in Repast is nothing at all like his counterpart in Sound of the Mountain. Both men are played by the same actor (Ken Uehara), but the characterizations are starkly different. Uehara in Sound of the Mountain was completely negligible, caring not at all about his wife’s feelings as he stumbled home drunk every night and regularly betrayed her trust in the arms of another woman. By contrast, the husband in Repast is, at his core, a decent and kindhearted person.  His central flaw is naïvete toward his wife’s feelings and his taking for granted the “duties” expected of a Japanese housewife. But he works hard and by the end of the movie becomes conscious of and more sympathetic to her unhappiness. And he no doubt becomes more appreciative of her hard work—which he initially took for granted—after she leaves home and he proves incapable of handling most of the household chores.

    In the third act, the estranged couple bump into one another in Tokyo. Uehara informs his spouse he’s been offered a better-paying job but won’t accept it without discussing it with her first—an acknowledgement of respect, that he cares what she thinks, an implication of willingness to treat her better going forward. (Meantime, Hara herself has gone through a journey of her own, being awakened to her own shortcomings—her brother calls her out for taking advantage of their mother’s hospitability—and witnessing first-hand the difficulties of surviving on one’s own in postwar Japan.) Before they leave for home, Uehara rubs his stomach and remarks “I’m hungry,” before suddenly looking up at his wife and apologizing, and they share a laugh.

    In this we can see another quality distinguishing Repast from, say, Sudden Rain, whose protagonists simply tolerated one another and nothing more. Despite the bumps in their matrimony, the protagonists of Repast still love one another (the key word being still: in Hara’s opening monologue, she confesses she married her husband against the wishes her family, out of personal desire). They just need to work out their differences—i.e., the husband needs to be more aware of his wife’s plights. Hara agrees to go home with him not only because she’s run out of options, but also because she hopes they can still find happiness together, if they work at it.

    The emotional climax of Repast is one of the most uplifting and beautifully filmed sequences in the annals of cinema. On the train ride home, Hara sits by the window as her husband lounges sleepily in the chair next to her. She reaches into her purse and withdraws a letter—presumably one asking for divorce—before glancing over at her husband and then tearing the letter to pieces, smiling as she does. Hara’s wordless performance here is nothing short of immaculate; she acts with everything from her eyes to her hands—every gesture, every glance timed exactly right—complemented by Naruse’s simple yet mesmerizing camerawork and Fumio Hayasaka’s hauntingly romantic score. As the picture comes to a close, Hara’s monologue returns, this time voicing optimism. “My husband sits beside me. I see the profile of an ordinary man, with his eyes closed. He is floating in the current of life, exhausted from swimming. Still, he will continue swimming and struggle through the current. I stand beside him as we share our lives together in search of happiness. Perhaps that is what true happiness means for me. Happiness for women is perhaps to live life in just such a way.”

    The ending of Repast is quite unexpected for Naruse, who almost always ended his pictures on a pessimistic “life goes on” note—and this upbeat denouement likely resulted from the fact that Fumiko Hayashi’s source novel had never been finished, thereby allowing someone at the studio to create the ending for her******. The film does champion a “life goes on” message but with much more optimism than is expected from this director. And yet this ending still ends up working. For Repast is not about a neglected woman who has no choice but to escape from her circumstances or die miserable (as in Sound of the Mountain) but rather about a woman who mutually agrees with her life partner to try and make a better future by working together, caring for one another, not simply accepting the status quo. And throughout the film, Setsuko Hara never strikes a false note, validating once again her status as one of the most important and gifted film actresses of the 20th century.

     


     

    * Fanck’s original intention was to cast Kinuyo Tanaka in The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai. Tanaka was already an established star in her home country and her work had been seen, to an extent, in Germany, but this casting prospect was never realized due to contractual issues.

     

    ** Not long after making her final screen appearance—in Hiroshi Inagaki’s 1962 film version of Chushingura—Setsuko Hara withdrew from the motion picture industry, claiming she had never enjoyed being an actress and only took on her career to assist with her family’s financial difficulties, which were now resolved. Over the years, people have speculated there might’ve been other factors in her decision, but regardless, she never returned to the silver screen and spent the rest of her life in Kamakura, shunning publicity and living under her birth name, Masae Aida.

     

    *** Young Eagle’s Song, the song used prominently this film, was a popular martial tune during the Pacific War, reportedly selling more than 230,000 records. It has since been used in movies looking back on Japan’s wartime involvement, including Kihachi Okamoto’s Japan’s Longest Day (1967).

     

    **** Setsuko Hara entered the film industry through the assistance of her brother-in-law, the director Hisatora Kumagai. Kumagai acted ostensibly as her manager while she was overseas promoting The New Earth / The Daughter of the Samurai and later cast Hara in his 1939 production Naval Brigade at Shanghai. In that picture, Hara played a Chinese woman who initially hates the Japanese soldiers occupying Shanghai but later comes to admire them for their “true” intentions in invading the Far East.

    It has been suggested—though not proven—through some accounts that Hara’s personal politics might’ve been influenced by her brother-in-law, who was an outspoken nationalist and a purveyor of Jewish conspiracy in Japan during the war. Tadashi Imai, who also directed Hara in the 1943 film Suicide Troops of the Watchtower, recalled: “One night, Setsuko Hara visited me with a letter from her brother-in-law, Hisatora Kumagai. The letter went something as follows: ‘Just when Japan must pour all its energies into securing its strategic position among the southern countries, the Jews start an intrigue to divert our eyes to the north. Suicide Troops of the Watchtower is clearly part of this Jewish plot designed to throw us into confusion. The film must be halted immediately.’” On a side note, it is worth noting that anti-Semitism had been somewhat prevalent in Japan during the war years; one survey reported at least thirty-eight Japanese books were published about “the Jewish attack on Japan” in 1938 alone.

     

    ***** Wartime Japanese films which depicted parents saddened or concerned about their children going to war were often attacked by the government. Keisuke Kinoshita’s Army (1944), for example, pleased the nationalist authorities with its depiction of two parents shaping their son into a soldier but angered them with its final scene, in which the mother worriedly chased her son through the streets as he went off to war.

     

    ****** It is also possible the film was allowed to get by due to the occupation censors being more lenient with subjects such as arranged marriages. While they strictly enforced policies of banning nationalistic and militaristic material, they had a record of being less strict with movies tackling arranged marriage. For example, the script for Ozu’s Late Spring initially ran into trouble because of its subject of a young woman being married off to someone she’s never met and a line of dialogue reporting that the prospective husband comes from a well-off family (making him a good match on grounds unrelated to emotion). The censors instructed this line be written out but for reasons unknown allowed it to be reinstated in the final draft and kept in the finished film.

     

    ******* Screenwriters Toshiro Ide and Sumie Tanaka intended the film to end with the couple divorcing, but the front office at Toho vetoed the idea, resulting in Tanaka walking away from the project.

    General // June 17, 2019
  • As Legendary Pictures moves past Kong: Skull Island (2017) and looks toward the future of the MonsterVerse, naturally news is starting to build for the next appearance of Kong, as the character is set to tangle with Godzilla in 2020.

    June 12th update

    In an article published by Deadline, Warner Bros. executives Toby Emmerich and Peter Roth brought up the possibility of Godzilla vs. Kong being delayed: “[Godzilla vs. Kong] might come out later in the year, so we can deliver an A+ movie,” Emmerich commented, noting that they “will deliver for fans in the way they were looking for.”

    June 1st update

    An early advertisement for Godzilla vs. Kong has appeared at Licensing Expo, paired with another of Legendary’s movie projects, Dune (2020). The image shows Godzilla and Kong locked in combat, with a tagline that reads “ONE WILL FALL”.

    March 15th, 2019 update

    Alexander Skarsgård was recently video interviewed by Collider, with the actor expressing his enjoyment working on Godzilla vs. Kong and how it will be “tonally quite different” from other films he’s been apart of in the last 2 years. Discussion of the movie starts around the 2 minute 53 second mark in the link provided.

    November 17th update

    As reported by Deadline, Lance Reddick is the latest addition to the Godzilla vs. Kong cast. Some of Reddick’s more well known portrayals include Charon from the John Wick movie series, Cedric Daniels from HBO’s The Wire, and Matthew Abaddon from the television series Lost. Reddick is also no stranger to giant monsters, having appeared in an uncredited role as a soldier in 1998’s GODZILLA.

    November 12th update

    With principal photography finally underway, an official press release for Godzilla vs. Kong has been made available, courtesy of Warner Brothers. The notes also include a long-awaited plot synopsis.

    WARNER BROS. PICTURES’ AND LEGENDARY ENTERTAINMENT’S MONSTERVERSE SHIFTS INTO OVERDRIVE AS CAMERAS ROLL ON THE NEXT BIG-SCREEN ADVENTURE
    “GODZILLA VS. KONG”

    Director Adam Wingard takes the helm to bring the long-awaited face-off between these two iconic titans to the big screen.

    BURBANK, CA, November 12, 2018 – Following the global success of 2014’s “Godzilla” and 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island,” and in the lead-up to the 2019 release of the highly anticipated “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” comes the next chapter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Entertainment’s cinematic Monsterverse: “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Beginning production today, the epic action adventure will pit two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong – with humanity caught in the balance.

    “Godzilla vs. Kong” is being directed by Adam Wingard (“The Guest,” “You’re Next”). The film stars Alexander Skarsgård (“Big Little Lies,” The Little Drummer Girl”), Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”), Rebecca Hall (“Christine,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”), Brian Tyree Henry (“Atlanta,” “Widows”), Shun Oguri (“Gintama”), Eiza González (“Baby Driver”), Jessica Henwick (“Iron Fist”), Julian Dennison (“Deadpool 2”), with Kyle Chandler (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Manchester by the Sea”) and Demián Bichir (“The Nun,” “The Hateful Eight”).

    In a time when monsters walk the Earth, humanity’s fight for its future sets Godzilla and Kong on a collision course that will see the two most powerful forces of nature on the planet collide in a spectacular battle for the ages. As Monarch embarks on a perilous mission into uncharted terrain and unearths clues to the Titans’ origins, a human conspiracy threatens to wipe the creatures, both good and bad, from the face of the earth forever.

    Wingard directs from a script written by Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean”). The film is being produced by Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Eric McLeod, and Brian Rogers, with Kenji Okuhira, Yoshimitsu Banno, Jon Jashni and Thomas Tull serving as executive producers. Jay Ashenfelter, Jen Conroy and Tamara Kent are co-producers.

    Behind the scenes, Wingard’s creative team includes director of photography Ben Seresin (“World War Z,” “Unstoppable”), production designers Owen Patterson (“Godzilla,” “The Matrix” Trilogy and “Captain America: Civil War”) and Tom Hammock (“The Guest,” “Blindspotting”), editor Josh Schaeffer (“Molly’s Game,” “Kong: Skull Island”), costume designer Ann Foley (“Altered Carbon”), and VFX supervisor John “DJ” DesJardin (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Watchmen”).

    Filming is taking place in Hawaii and Australia. A presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Entertainment, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is currently scheduled for release on May 22, 2020. The film will be distributed in 3D and 2D and in select IMAX theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures, except in Japan, where it will be distributed by Toho Co., Ltd.

    November 11th update

    Godzilla vs. Kong Storyboard TeaserCast additions for Godzilla vs. Kongcontinue to roll in. As reported by Variety and Deadline respectively, actress Jessica Henwick – known for her role as Nymeria Sand who first appeared in Season 5 of the popular fantasy/drama television series Game of Thrones – and Japanese actor Shun Oguri in his Hollywood debut will be starring in the 2020 sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). Like most of the cast before them, their roles are currently not known.

    Meanwhile, director Adam Wingard recently posted on his Instagram account a storyboard teaser for Godzilla vs. Kong. The picture shows only a fraction of a storyboard sketch accompanied by text briefly describing Godzilla’s reaction to something presumably just out of frame in the photo.

    No specifics regarding the picture were shared, though the enthusiastic Wingard did note how shooting for the movie was to begin soon: “This is the only part of the Godzilla Vs Kong storyboards that I can share. We start shooting this week after more than a year of preproduction. It’s finally happening!”

    November 3rd update

    The cast for Godzilla vs. Kong continues to grow as Rebecca Hall of The Prestige (2006) and Marvel’s Iron Man 3 (2013) fame, alongside Baby Driver (2017)’s Eiza González, have joined the movie according to exclusive reports published by Variety and Deadline respectively.

    October 26th update

    In an exclusive announcement from Deadline Hollywood, Emmy Award-winning actor Alexander Skarsgård will be starring in the 2020 movie. Like the previously-reported Demián Bichir, Skarsgård’s role is currently unknown.

    October 20th update

    According to the Hollywood Reporter, actor Demián Bichir of The Hateful Eight (2015) and The Nun (2018) fame is slated to appear in Godzilla vs. Kong. Bichir will be joining Millie Bobbie Brown and Brian Tyree Henry as one of the leads, though his role is currently unknown.

    October 10th update

    As shared in a video via Gormaru Island, the production of Godzilla vs. Kong in Australia was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Village Roadshow Studios. Filming is expected to start before the end of the year, with the movie employing 500 full-time staff and 600 casuals.

    11:05 PM – Actor Brian Tyree Henry of Atlanta fame will be joining the cast of Godzilla vs. Kong, as exclusively reported by Variety. While his character’s role is unknown, he is said to play “a significant role” in the plot. Henry will be starring alongside other confirmed actors including Millie Bobby Brown, Julian Dennison, and Kyle Chandler.

    September 14th update

    In the latest issue of Production Weekly courtesy of Gormaru Island, principal photography for Godzilla vs. Kong is slated to begin next month on October 1st. Currently, the only confirmed film locations are in Atlanta, Hawaii, and Australia.

    June 3rd, 2018 update

    As the project continues to develop, casting news is starting to come in. First off, Van Marten, who will appear in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Ziyi Zhang, Memoirs of a Geisha, are set to appear in the film. Ziyi will also appear in Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and will reprise her role from that movie. It’s also been announced that young actor Julian Dennison, from Deadpool 2, will appear in the movie as well in a yet to be revealed role.

    August 27th update

    Casting is still not revealed for the project, although director Adam Wingard noted that characters seen in the 2019 Godzilla film will also appear in the 2020 battle royale flick between the two titular monsters.

    June 2nd, 2017 update

    After moving Kong: Skull Island (2017) from Universal to Warner Bros. in 2015, Legendary Pictures announced the natural conclusion to that news in October of 2015. The company stated that a Godzilla vs. Kong movie was in the works.

    Since then, the company has focused most of their efforts on the 2017 King Kong film and the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters. However, with Skull Island released, eyes are now focused on the next movie to feature the character, which is coming on May 22nd, 2020.

    Naturally, some of the first news on the production is related to the staff who will bring it to life. The first major announcement came with the confirmation of the director. For this responsibility, Legendary Pictures tapped Adam Wingard, who has previously directed You’re Next and The Guest.

    Writing duties are being split amongst a writers room, which is being led by Terry Rossio, the scribe behind the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. He is joined by a huge group of writers, which include former comic author J. Michael Straczynski, who also worked on the Thor movie and World War Z. Lindsey Beer, who is an up and coming writer attached to assignments like Barbie, Patrick McKay, Star Trek Beyond, T.S. Nowlin, Maze Runner, Cat Vasko, Grrl Scouts, J.D. Payne, Star Trek Beyond, and Jack Paglen, Transcendence, are also in the writers room.

    News // June 12, 2019
  • Recently on a trip to Kyushu (one of the main islands of Japan, this one to the south of Honshu), I stopped over in Oita City to enjoy the local life and noticed there were a number of Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019) posters scattered around the local mall attached to the train station—this particular one roughly translated as “Find the Legendary Four Giant Monsters! Monsters Rally Campaign.” After further examination, I realized that they were part of a rally promotion for the movie. These “rallies” are a common form of promotion in Japan, and they are often featured in museum exhibits as well—I saw one at the Yokohama Godzilla exhibit back in 2016 as well. At the Oita mall I visited, there was a concurrent rally going on for the newest Detective Conan movie, and when I visited another mall in Kokura to see Kingdom (2019) with my friend, I saw there was a stamp rally for Avengers: Endgame (2019), complete with standees of some of Marvel’s more popular heroes.

    But what is a “rally” in this sense of the word? Here we are dealing with Japanese English, after all. It’s not like a point-to-point race, and it is not a protest or the like. Instead, a rally in Japan used in this way generally means a promotion in which you have to wander about a particular space (such as a museum, train station, or mall) in which a number of stations have been scattered. These stations can amount to just posters with parts of a word on each, and participants have to put the word together by finding all the stations. They can also feature little tables with rubber stamps at each one, and you take a particular paper with spaces for each stamp to each station and, well, stamp the designated areas. At a dinosaur exhibit I attended at a museum in Chiba, these stamps completed a message. At an advertisement museum in Tokyo, the stamps actually overlapped, with each stamp contributing a different color, and once all of the stamps were applied they created a complete image—in this case, a kabuki character. The aforementioned Detective Conan rally challenges participants to complete a crossword puzzle. And sometimes the rallies can also include a further promotion—collect all the parts of the word or put together the phrase or collect the stamps, and then turn in the finished rally to a website to enter a lottery to possibly win some goodies. Even a school I have worked at featured this kind of rally at their yearly festival.

    For the Monsters Rally Campaign, there were four monster posters scattered around the mall, and each poster has one hiragana character that, when put together, spells out “kaijuu” (the actual word “kaiju” includes an extended vowel at the end, unlike how we in the West tend to pronounce the word), with the Godzilla poster featuring “ka,” the Mothra poster featuring “i”, the Rodan poster featuring “ju,” and the King Ghidorah poster featuring “u”. After putting together the word, a fifth poster explaining the campaign can be found in an attached movie theater, and on that poster can also be found a QR code at which the contestant can enter the assembled word and hopefully win something.

    The goods that participants can win include the following, with ten winners for each: The “A” prize is a Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) tote bag. The “B” prize is a smartphone stand that looks like Godzilla’s tail. The “C” prize is a copy of the recent Ganbare Chibi Godzilla picture book. The “D” prize is a Chibi Godzilla jigsaw puzzle. Presumably the winners are chosen at random.

    The rally is taking place between April 26 and June 2, and is presumably only available to folks living in Japan. Obviously the contest is very much aimed at children rather than adults (though perhaps the smart phone tail and the tote bag are aimed more at older participants). Given how easy it is to participate, the chances of actually winning something seem pretty slim.

    Now… when I was in Oita, I tried my darnedest to find all four of the posters on my own. I found Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan pretty easily, but for the life of me I could not figure out where King Ghidorah was hiding out. I must have walked around the mall for an hour carrying my rather heavy bag looking for the three-headed dread beast.

    Now, looking at the pictures I took for this article, I notice that the fifth poster that explains the terms of the contest also features a small white column that… tells where all the monster posters can be located.

    King Ghidorah, as it turns out, was on the roof.

    Luckily, when I visited the Riverwalk Mall in Kokura, finding all four monster posters was a snap, with King Ghidorah actually residing right next to the campaign explanation poster in T-Joy Cinema. The posters in Riverwalk, though, were much smaller than the ones I found in Oita.

    I haven’t actually entered the contest yet. I feel a bit like if I actually won, I would feel like I was yoinking a gift from an innocent Japanese kid somewhere who was really hoping for that Chibi Godzilla Jigsaw. Still, that tote bag looks pretty tempting, and the Godzilla tail would go well with my Godzilla-themed smartphone cover. I tried to enter the rally at the Yokohama Godzilla exhibit and got nothing. Maybe this time could be my lucky day!

    General // June 11, 2019
  • Author: Matthew Williams | Banner: Matthew Williams

    [Continued from Match 106]

    A calm breeze blew by a small red monster, who stood a few steps away from the edge of a steep cliff, staring at the rising morning sun. Pigmon, the only friendly creature that inhabited the Lawless Monster Zone, was very relaxed due to the soothing weather. This was his favorite spot to rest at in a time like this, not just for its gorgeous view of the vast ocean, but of its significance as a sight of remembrance.

    Standing next to Pigmon were three man-made wooden crosses, with noticeable lumps of dirt in front of each. Years ago, there had been a group of scientists that had visited this tropical-volcanic island to perform research. The team went missing, with all but one of the members perishing from the vicious creatures that lurked on the island. Pigmon knew that in one of these graves where the remains of one of his ancestors, who befriended one of the surviving scientists and was remembered by the Scientist Patrol for his heroic act in distracting one of the most feared monsters that roamed the Lawless Monster Zone. A fiend that had been brought down from his pedestal of power by the combined forces of the Science Special Search party and Ultraman, but would later rise again to threaten another group of researchers that made their expedition to this land. That time, his reign of terror would come to an end by a robot that had come to rescue the explorers, Jet Jaguar.

    Pigmon would always remember that day when he met that friendly, size-shifting machine, who had saved him from that violent monster. But he wondered how many days have passed since he last saw it, and how it was doing right now. He hoped that one day, the machine and humans would arrive again, hopefully well prepared for the dangers that lied within the island.

    After spending a few minutes watching the morning sun and accompanying the graves of the scientists and his own kin, Pigmon skipped away to return to the lush jungles, where he needed to be cautious like always.

    The peaceful sounds of birds chirping echoed throughout the overgrown jungle, while Pigmon wobbled onward. The friendly creature moved at a slow but steady pace, being careful with his navigation around the carnivorous plant life forms, Suflan. The sentient plant life had been responsible for the deaths of many Pigmons and one of the first groups of scientists that visited this place, for their vines could easily entangle around their prey and use the large leaf located on the tip to suck the blood from them like a leech. Pigmon kept a good distance away from the Suflan, not bothering to pick up the empty food cans and the blood-stained coat that the murdered scientist once owned. After a few careful navigations to get around the killer plants, the friendly monster was able to make a safe escape and hopped away.

    During his search for breakfast, Pigmon happened to stumble upon the spot that he tended to avoid, where the vicious monster lay buried within an avalanche that Jet Jaguar caused. Pigmon avoided that spot for good reason, for he feared that the beast would suddenly wake up at any time. Knowing the right decision, Pigmon turned around to waddle away.

    But only after taking a few steps, Pigmon squeaked when he heard rocks tumbling down from the cliff. Looking back, he saw the piles of rubble collapsing, with a familiar snarl accompanying it. A voice that Pigmon and any inhabitants of the Lawless Monster Zone dreaded to hear, echoing from within. The stacked-up rocks and dirt were launched into the air, revealing the awakening ruler of the island, Red King. Pigmon made panicked, monkey-like sounds when he saw the towering creature rising out of its supposed grave, flailing his hands as he retreated away as fast as possible.

    Red King didn’t notice the small, red creature, more concentrated in rubbing the dirt off his yellowish-green skin. The reptilian brute snarled in anger, remembering the day he was beaten for the second time. The day he was knocked out cold by Ultraman was embarrassing enough, but to lose to that colorful, humanoid machine was something he wouldn’t let go. He threw a tantrum by slamming his foot on the rocky surface beneath, shrieking in anger for how humiliated he felt. He now swore that he would resume training to become more powerful, and when the chance came if he saw either one of those two that defeated him, he would show no mercy to them.

    Red King’s tantrum soon came to a halt when he heard a shrilling cry, coming from a mile away. He had never heard this sound before. Perhaps from a new monster that he never seen before? The only way for him to find out was to climb his way up to the mountain and see for himself. Red King moved onward to find the source of the sound, but on his way to the top, he discovered the carcass of a Magular. Another species of monster that roamed the island that Red King had only encountered once. That individual met its end at the hands of the SSSP and their advanced weaponry, but something was off about this second specimen. Red King noticed several bite and claw marks across the underground monster’s motionless body, matching nothing he had seen from any of the island’s other residents. It was as if the killer had tried to strip the carcass’ flesh, but was unable to tear through Magular’s rock-like hide. Not only that, but Red King’s nostrils picked up a foul scent lingering around, and it didn’t take the brute long to find where it came from.

    The brute spotted a deep, cavernous vent a short distance away from the dead Magular. Falling in one of these volcanic openings would lead to a slow, painful death from the molten steam leaking out, and Red King was familiar of the dangers. But the foul scent seemed to drift from within the chamber, as well as several more unfamiliar scents. The trails of repugnant stenches made it seem as if demons had climbed out of the depths of hell and scattered about. Curious about this, Red King decided to follow one of the scent trails, which guided him across the valley to the broken body of Chandlar. Up at the top of his hill, Red King snorted when the gut-wrenching scent of the dead beast’s rotting corpse struck his nostrils. Lying in the exact same spot where he’d left it, the one-winged monster’s body had seen better days, with most of its flesh and skin rotted away. But for some odd reason, Red King noticed the corpse was twitching and shaking, which made him narrow his eyes.

    Unsettling sounds of aggression was heard when the visitor of the Lawless Monster Zone revealed itself, climbing on Chandlar’s corpse while licking the disgusting blood off its face with its elongated, triple-forked tongues. Despite being smaller, the body of this odd creature was unlike any monster that Red King had ever seen. It vaguely resembled a black lizard with long frontal legs, but lacked any hind appendages. Instead, it had a very long, serpentine tail that could be lifted off the ground. What caught Red King’s attention, however, since he had been dubbed as ”the Skull Monster” at times, was the creature’s skull-like head that resembled that of a mosasaurs.

    Unsatisfied by the foul flesh of Chandlar, it saw Red King as something that’ll control his unsustainable hunger. Not caring what the towering monster was capable of, the Skullcrawler released the same shrilling shriek that Red King had heard. Without hesitation, the lizard leaped high in the air before Red King could do something. The ruler of the island backed away when the subterranean fiend latched onto him with its coiling tail, attempting to deliver a nasty bite. But since the Skullcrawler was a small monster and lightweight, Red King effortlessly yanked the reptile off before slamming him head first against the solid rock surface below. The Skullcrawler shrieked from the painful impact and squirmed about before being kicked by its prey, but it instantly recovered its footing and hissed in anger.

    The fearless Skullcrawler swiftly zipped between the bumpy creature’s legs to avoid Red King’s swinging fist and began hastily climbing the green brute’s bumpy body from behind. The ravenous lizard’s talons left shallow cuts in his back, but Red King ignored it and reached back, grasping the small fiend’s head. The hypervore shrieked as it was easily dispatched like last time and tossed to the ground, flailing its arms and tail in an attempt to flip over as it made one more cry that was the loudest it had ever spoken.

    The cry, along with its life, was soon silenced when Red King slammed his left foot on its throat. Not only was its windpipe crushed, but the force was enough to make its spine snap like a twig, thus ending the Skullcrawler’s life. Red King snarled in disappointment as he removed his foot. The intruder was way too easy to kill, and hardly had a fair chance to inflict any real damage to him. This infuriated the savage giant, stamping his feet against the rocky ground as he sought out something to unleash his fury upon.

    Climbing on the cliff behind him, another Skullcrawler shrieked before it swiftly lunged forth, biting down on Red King’s leg. The green skull monster shrieked loudly when he felt the raw force of the black lizard’s bite. Although not enough to draw blood, it did cause a minor stress fracture on his leg. Red King reached out to clench tightly on his ambusher’s tail and forcefully yanked the lizard away before throwing it to the side, in which he just happened to throw it at yet another Skullcrawler. The two lizards groaned when they lay on the ground before they both got up, letting loose vicious hisses in an attempt to look threatening.

    Red King would have grinned if he could. If there were more of these famished monsters raiding his island home, then they could prove themselves as worthy opponents, not by raw strength but in numbers. Flexing his knuckles, Red King shrieked loudly before he made his first move, kicking a boulder at the two Skullcrawlers. The propelled stone struck one of the skull-headed lizards while the other dashed in, only to be struck in the chin by Red King’s lifted knee. The Skullcrawler whimpered from the force trauma to his lower jaw before falling on his side, where Red King lifted it up and mercilessly slugged the monster in the face.

    The second Skullcrawler pounced on Red King’s back, forcing him to release its bruised packmate. The latched-on reptile lashed out with its whiplash tongue, wrapping it around its intended prey’s neck and squeezing in a constricting grip. Red King shrieked and swung his body around to try and remove the tiny naga-reptile, but the Skullcrawler made it even more difficult when its tail snaked around the green brute’s left arm, pulling it away so that it couldn’t reach its binding tongue. The other Skullcrawler ignored its aching jaw and lunged in to attack, by biting down on Red King’s tail and shaking its jaws roughly.

    Red King coughed and gagged as he tried to breathe. He could feel the elongated tongue squeezing his neck so hard that it cut into his windpipe. But no matter how hard it constricted, it would never weaken his strength. Red King’s right hand slowly reached out to the tongue and clenched onto it for a second, before he suddenly pulled away, ripping it in half. The Skullcrawler made an agonizing scream as the organ was shredded like paper and it collapsed to the ground, flailing and screaming. Red King chuckled at the suffering devil, tossing the yanked tongue aside before he twirled around, tearing the other Skullcrawler from his tail with the momentum and flinging it away, where it crashed into the Chandler carcass.

    Rage and agony fueled within the wounded Skullcrawler’s mind as blood gushed from its jaw. The reptile knew that it was weakened without his tongue, but its determination to feed overrode the instinct to flee. As its pack mate crawled off Chandler’s body, both creatures rushed in at the same time, releasing high pitch shrieks from their jaws that revealed dozens of jagged teeth within. Red King swiftly turned around, whacking the second reptile’s skull-face to knock it aside before faced directly at the other, catching the Skullcrawler as it tried tried to pounce on the fanged giant. Without any effort, Red King easily slammed the Skullcrawler down on the hard surface of granite, throwing up chunks of stone and clouds of dirt with the impact. The black lizard shrieked from the harsh impact, its ribs cracking under the intense force of the blow.

    Red King, being the sadistic monster that he was, pinned the injured Skullcrawler with his foot and grabbed onto the tail. The gluttonous devil scrapped the rocky ground with its taloned forelimbs in the desperate attempt to crawl away, but its lightweight body was unable to slip away from the fifty-five thousand tons of Red King’s sole. After a few tugs, the green skull monster cried out in victory as the pinned Skullcrawler’s long tail was ripped off, snarling with cruel glee as he listened to the worthless monster’s cries. The second Skullcrawler got up and recklessly zoomed in without caring, springing up and extending its claws as its jaws opened for the kill. Red King quickly jerked to the side and wrapped his arm around the ravenous predator’s neck, shrieking as he used his favorite technique to finish off his opponent. Being a smaller creature that he was, the Skullcrawler felt his neck being crushed without resistance in the chokehold, only able to make a weakening wheeze that soon turned into gurgle when foam oozed out of its jaws, stained to a bright red color by the blood that gushed out of the stump that once was the lizard’s tongue.

    Within seconds, the second Skullcrawler met his end from the suffocation and blood loss. When his lifeless body was tossed away, Red King then ended the other’s life by kicking the injured creature’s chest, shattering the rib-cage completely as one of the broken bones punctured the heart. The tailless Skullcrawler lay on his side, lifting his head to make a weakening groan before its movements ceased.

    Red King’s fists pounded his chest and he roared loudly. The fight was still a little too easy for him. As fun as it is to crush these annoying pests, it was too easy to overwhelm them. Despite their crafty tactic of trying to suffocate him, they hardly had a chance.

    If only they were about as tall as he…

    Soon enough, Red King got his wish, when he heard another shriek from another one of those skull monster wannabes. However, it sounded a lot more different than the other three that he slaughtered, having a deeper voice that carried a more threatening tone. Red King turned to face the Skullcrawler that made the cry, narrowing his eyes when he saw it.

    The fourth Skullcrawler revealed itself, standing taller than before. Although she was a few meters shorter then Red King, the subterranean beast was way taller than the previous three. Like the monitor lizards it resembled, the naga-reptile flickered her forked tongue to pick up particles in the air, before looking down at one of her deceased smaller relatives and suddenly lifted it up with her prehensile tongue. With no haste that showed her kind’s sickening and gluttonous true nature, the big Skullcrawler gobbled up the tongueless lizard without chewing, gulping the entire lifeless body down whole. The Skullcrawler cackled when she gazed at the disgusted Red King, who swept his tail as he emitted an intimidating shriek.

    The two titans stared off at one another, seemingly understanding one another for how much they are alike. Both are dubbed as “skull monsters” with their skull-shaped faces and their sadistic nature to attack and kill any living beings they come across, with the shared preference to any creature within their height range. As much as they were alike, they saw the one thing from within each other that set them apart – their ideals.

    Red King is a violent monster, infamously remembered by many for how ruthless and destructive he is. But the only reason he chose to be a merciless beast is to prove himself as the strongest, always challenging anything that he sees to prove he is the best, hence why he had killed so many for satisfaction and not usually for hunger. The alpha Skullcrawler, and many of her lesser kin too, were merciless killers, always stalking any prey they find before instantly going for the kill. But instead of having the same goal that Red King wished to achieve, they hunt only for food, much like any other wildlife predators in order to survive. However, their extreme metabolism required immense amounts of food, forcing them to always keep on consuming, making them just as dangerous, if not worse than Red King. Much like a king cobra preying upon rat snakes, cannibalism on smaller Skullcrawlers is common for the bigger ones, as well as fights between one another over carcasses.

    Red King flexed his knuckles while the mature Skullcrawler scraped the ground, with both savage beasts letting loose a battle cry. They charged forth and slammed against each other, grappling onto the other as the two reptile wrested for dominance. The alpha Skullcrawler grabbed hold of Red King with her serpentine tail, wrapping it around the green lizard’s waist as Red King grabbed the naga’s neck, pushing the armored head away to keep those gnashing jaws at bay with one arm as he wrestled to break free from the constricting tail with the other. The weight of the alpha Skullcrawler forced Red King to the floor, but the green bully refused to submit, viciously pounding her skull-face with his fist. The giant Skullcrawler then snapped at Red King’s right wrist to loosen his grip and swiftly crawled away from the brute, with her tail still wrapped around his body. The Skullcrawler turned on the spot to swing her loosening tail and toss Red King, watching as her enemy was sent hurtling through the air before crashing to the solid surface of granite.

    Red King made pig-like squeals when he landed on the ground, flinching from the collision for a brief second before he started to stand, but in the time doing so, the big Skullcrawler had already moved up close to him. The hungry monster’s open jaws bit down on Red King’s bumpy neck, driving a loud shriek of pain out of the giant as rows of sharp teeth sank into his hide. Blood spilled out across the bumpy skin of Red King, who screamed loudly from the intense pain. The agony was worse than the time where the first Chandler bit his arm, an injury which took several months to make a recovery from that. In a desperate attempt, the bipedal, saurian-like beast slugged the skull-headed freak as hard as he could, ignoring the pressuring pain when the jaws chewed deeper. Despite that his powerful punches were unable to cause a crack on the bony head, he was able to get the Skullcrawler’s toothy grip to loosen. Red King’s gripped the blood-stained jaws, slowly forcing them apart to release his neck before he shoved the lizard away. The Skullcrawler shrieked angrily and tried to snap at his throat, but Red King rolled to the side to avoid getting bitten again.

    Just as his prey was about to rise up again, the naga’s tail moved around and yanked Red King’s leg, causing him to trip and fall again. The king of the Lawless Monster Zone shrieked again when the Skullcrawler’s tail dragged him back, but just then, Red King reached out to grab his opponent’s leg and pulled it out from under her. The big Skullcrawler cried out as she fell, slowly being dragged closer to her enemy.

    Red King gave the Skullcrawler a wrathful glare, his crossed eyes staring at the frightening eyes of the intruder of the island. Despite his bleeding neck, he still had plenty of energy left to continue the fight, determination pushing aside the pain coursing through him. And since the wound could take a long time to recover from, he decided to make sure that the reptile would regret coming here in the first place. Letting loose a wrathful scream, Red King repeatedly beat up the Skullcrawler with his fists, growing more and more violent with each punch landed on the dense skull head and the durable, charcoal-black hide.

    As a concussion began to develop in the Skullcrawler, Red King held onto her head with one arm while he reached the tail that was binding his leg, but the limb jerked back and knocked the brute off his feet. The alpha Skullcrawler shrieked and shook her head, but Red King was able to get back up and kicked her, causing the hypervore devil to roll away before the green giant could recover. The mature Skullcrawler let loose an angry scream as she jumped in the air, only to be knocked back in midair when she was slammed by Red King’s bulk.

     About a mile away, Pigmon squeaked as he felt the ground shudder from the Skullcrawler crashing into the ground and make another haunting shriek. The friendly monster was full of anxiety, but not because the most feared beast of the Lawless Monster Zone was back. He was being watched. During the battle between Red King and the invading Skullcrawlers, Pigmon had encountered one of the skull-faced monstrosities – a smaller one roughly about the size of a bovine, which was currently after his own blood.

    Pigmon couldn’t handle it. The eye contact with that horrific monster was just about as scary as being spotted by Red King. That moment when he gazed at the creature’s face, it made his pulse race, feeling like he was about to die at any second. By some fortunate or dumb luck, Pigmon was able to get away from the Skullcrawler, but he knew that it wouldn’t give up that easily. He knew that he wouldn’t stand a chance to fight it, but he knew that someone else would…

    Pigmon looked around while he kept waddling, looking to see if that two-legged devil was still after him. When he turned around, he saw it, approaching from a few miles away. As an act of cockiness or foolishness, Pigmon waved his hands and emitted his monkey-like cries, taunting the predator that it couldn’t catch him. Seeing the mocking creature standing there like a sitting duck, the Skullcrawler immediately went after him, emitting that terrible cry that would scare off anything smaller than it. Pigmon instantly skipped away as quickly as his legs could carry him, constantly making panicking noises. He navigated through the trees, hoping that they would get in the monster’s way and slow it down. But even as a newborn, the small Skullcrawler easily shattered through the trees, closing in on its fleeing prey. Soon, the hideous being extended its whiplash tongue and lunged to wrap around Pigmon, dooming all hope of survival for the friendly monster.

    When Pigmon was about to be lifted and pulled into the nightmarish view of the Skullcrawler’s mouth, something latched onto the predatory monster’s neck. It was a vine tendril of a Suflan. The Skullcrawler’s tongue released Pigmon and tried to tear off the plant’s appendage, but several more vines of the living organisms reached out and wrapped around the lizard’s limbs to make it impossible for it to escape, like how an octopus would easily restrain its prey’s movements. Pigmon got up and looked at the struggling Skullcrawler, listening to its unsettling screams as the leaves of the Suflan began to suck away its blood. Pigmon sighed in relief that his idea had worked. He never thought that the most dangerous plant in the island could unintentionally saved his life.

    The friendly monster hopped away, leaving his pursuer to slowly die by the tendrils of Suflan. But as he advanced forward, he heard two similar cries of those skull monsters from afar, making him aware that he was far from being safe.

    Staggering back after getting tail whipped, Red King’s bumpy back was slammed against the wall of a cliff, causing it to shake with several rocks falling on him. This was exactly what the green-skull monster wanted. Even though this big Skullcrawler was far tougher and smarter than he thought she would be, it was something that would provide an exciting challenge. Red King quickly moved aside when he saw the two-legged freak springing in the air, chuckling when he saw her crashing against the solid wall of rock.

    Red King quickly stomped on the Skullcrawler’s tail, pinning it down while he reached out to grab the lizard’s neck. Red King constantly roared to reveal his savage nature as he repeatedly slammed his enemy’s bony head against the smashed-up cliff, enjoying the peril cries of his enemy. Above the edge of the tall rock, a smaller Skullcrawler crept up, looking down at the alpha being dominated by Red King. Remaining silent, the lesser lizard jumped off the cliff and grasped onto the green monster’s head. Red King backed away and shrieked in surprise, but quickly recovered and pulled the small Skullcrawler off. Bringing the squirming creature closer, he bit down on its neck. His teeth tore through the glutinous fiend’s charcoal-black skin and snapped the spinal cord as he started to gnaw deeper, silencing the squirming Skullcrawler instantly.

    Red King tossed the lifeless creature aside, getting a little sick of the crafty devils that continued to interrupt him. But with how small and frail they are, he had nothing to worry about asides for the big one. Red King turned to face the alpha Skullcrawler, where once again, he was surprised by the tall bonehead as she jumped in to attack. Red King was brought down and pinned to the ground by the naga, making the same pig-like squeals when his bumpy skin on his chest was pierced by the Skullcrawler’s lethal claws. The hypervore predator hissed with delight, pleased that she could finally end this battle and take down her latest prey, which was sure to satisfy her for a long time. But even through his movements were restricted, Red King still refused to let this creature take him down, as he raised his left hand to grab his enemy by the throat. The Skullcrawler screeched in annoyance as she was pushed away, unable to reach her living meal’s throat with his jaws. Red King tried to keep the creature away, but with the Skullcrawler weighing down on him, it was but a matter of time before his strength would finally give in. He would need to find something to get this monster off, and fast.

    Thankfully, luck was on Red King’s side, as he looked down and discovered the severed arm of Jet Jaguar. After all this time of being isolated in this barren no-man zone, it had remained intact, despite having a few dents here and there. Not hesitating, Red King reached out and grabbed the metal arm. Upon grappling the appendage of the heroic machine, Red King gave out a loud scream and he slammed it at the Skullcrawler, striking her right eye.

    The Skullcrawler rolled to the side after being struck by the metallic limb, making a painful screech after receiving a black eye from the punch, which seems to fuel her anger just as much as Red King’s. The two skull monsters soon recovered and rose, continuing their vicious clash that just wouldn’t end.

    As the two giants resumed their violent battle, Pigmon cried out in fear as he was cornered by the cliff, watching two lesser Skullcrawlers move closer. One of them moved in for the kill, but the other shoved it aside as it tried the same, the overwhelming hunger felt by both lizards refusing to let them share the meal. The two hypervore predators glared and hissed before they instantly attacked one another, with such feral behavior seen by Komodo Dragons whenever they fight over carcasses. The first Skullcrawler bit down on his rival’s neck, only to lose its right eye as it was clawed in the face, which only made the starving creature viciously shake his attacker. Pigmon took his chance to sneak away from his stalkers, seeing that they were occupied with killing each other. As he rounded the corner, unfortunately, he came face-to-face with another Skullcrawler, far larger than the pair behind him.

    The naga opened its jaws and roared loudly, but was then interrupted when the steep rock face next to the duo burst, shrieking when it was rammed by something else. The two Skullcrawlers halted their fight while Pigmon fell from the rumbling vibrations of the ground, surprised to see the Skullcrawler’s ambusher was a Magular, a subterranean inhabitant of the Lawless Monster Zone. The friendly monster was confused. He thought the thorny devil-like creature had been neutralized long ago, but it seemed that the rocky reptile was not the only one of its kind. But this wasn’t the time for Pigmon to think about it. As he got back up, Magular chewed on the Skullcrawler’s throat, his dark-gray teeth and tusks spearing through the dense hide. Blood spilled out of the punctured throat and the maw of the hungry monster as its jugular was cut off, resulting in a painful death. The remaining Skullcrawlers watched Magular, who stood up and screeched in triumph. Before the duo could do anything, they were crushed when another Chandlar landed on them, easily crushing them to death.

    Magular faced the winged creature, and then looked at the left as another tall, but still young Skullcrawler made a beeline for them. The two beasts of the Lawless Monster Zone gazed at each other briefly, seemingly agreeing on forming a brief truce, so they could bring down something just as dangerous as Red King. With Magular dashing in and Chandlar taking off to the skies, Pigmon quickly retreated away as the two giants took care of the intruder of their island home.

    The alpha Skullcrawler cackled as she caught Red King in the grasp of her lengthy tail, spinning around to drag the monster across the rough terrain before flinging him afar, watching as he crashed down at the entrance of the jungle. The green kaiju groggily got up and rubbed his aching head, now having lost all his patience with his enemy, especially when he saw three more of the lesser skull reptiles approaching. He didn’t want to do this since they were easy to kill, but since he was getting tired and in bad shape, he had no choice but to use his secret technique as his last resort.

    As the alpha and her lesser subjects moved closer, Red King pounded his fists on his chest, concentrating as heat energy channeled through his palms. During this, he spread his arms as they combusted in an explosion, taking the lizards by surprise. Flames leapt across Red King’s fists, with no sign of discomfort from the bumpy beast as he smashed them together. When the lesser Skullcrawlers charged in, one of them was instantly killed as Red King swung his fist into chest, shattering the ribcage when the colliding fire fist triggered an explosion. The second Skullcrawler wrapped its tail around the gremlin-like creature’s leg, but ended up having his entire spine shattered when Red King brought his burning hands down, swiftly killing it like the first. The third Skullcrawler foolishly bit down on Red King’s hand, only to scream in agony as the flames charred the insides of its mouth. The green skull monster almost pitied the savage devil as he flawlessly twisted its neck. It amazed him how reckless these creatures were compared to him, if they thought biting down on fire was a smart decision.

    Dread crept through the alpha Skullcrawler when Red King looked right at her, feeling a bit intimidated as her gaze lingered on the blazing hands and how they killed off the smaller members of her kind. Seeing that her enemy was now too dangerous to bother with, the hypervore hunter began to make a retreat. Red King didn’t tolerate the creature’s cowardliness. She didn’t deserve to live, not after all the struggles and injuries he went through from their fight. Red King cried out and kicked a nearby boulder, sending the huge rock high into the air before it fell, diving directly at the back of the fleeing Skullcrawler. Red King listened to the shrill cries of the alpha as it impacted, cackling as he moved closer to the squirming lizard so he could end the battle.

    As the Skullcrawler regained her footing, she didn’t have the time to evade or counter the fiery uppercut from Red King, in which she felt the merciless brute’s incinerating punch strike her jaw. The big Skullcrawler screeched in agony from the force of the explosion, causing him to shrill achingly, leaving the titan wide open for Red King to finish her off in whatever way his twisted imagination came up with. The ruler of the Lawless Monster Zone decided to make the giant Skullcrawler suffer by pummeling him with his explosive fists. With each punch delivered, the Skullcrawler cried out in agony from the blasts. Not even her thick hide or dense skull armor could aid her in enduring the humiliating torture.

    Red King delivered a powerful uppercut to the hypervore predator’s gut, causing her to regurgitate a stream of blood and stomach bile, along with the digested remains of the deceased Skullcrawler that she had devoured. The alpha couldn’t withstand much longer, her legs trembling in fear and exhaustion. But she couldn’t lose. The need to consume was overwhelming.

    Red King’s eyes narrowed in disgust when the tall Skullcrawler opened her jaws wide and let out a weak, but fierce roar. Deciding it was time to finish her, Red King briefly concentrated his aim, channeled the fire that coated his right fist, and thrust it directly into the invader’s mouth. A loud cracking boom was heard when an explosion sets off within the Skullcrawler’s cranium, bits of burning bones and flesh thrown into the air and scattered around. The vision blackened instantly for the prideful and mighty alpha of the invasive Skullcrawlers, who made a faint wheeze before Red King shoved her away and watched the naga’s lifeless body crash onto the ground, no longer making any sounds or movements.

    Red King ceased the flames emitting from his hands and looked around, not seeing any more of the skull devils approaching. The victorious skull monster roared in triumph. His fight may not be quite as satisfying as he hoped for with those smaller devils being crafty but frail, but the brawl with the big one and the injuries he received did made the fight feel at least worth it, and being another step of progress to become the strongest kaiju on this planet.

    Red King looked at the side, snarling when he heard the victorious cries of Magular and Chandlar, as they too had managed to beat another Skullcrawler. Magular moved away and he picked up another Skullcrawler, dragging it into the hole he came out of, while Chandlar began to feast upon the dead lizard in front of him. Red King snarled at the giants that were like the ones he fought in the past, but did not rush in to attack as he usually would. He was feeling too sore to fight anyone, and would need to wait for the next few months so that he could make a full recovery. Red King limped away to the mountains, where he would hide so that he can heal his wounds. In time, he would rise and resume fighting to become the strongest of all.

    Miles away, Pigmon could see Red King’s figure disappearing into the mountains. As much as he feared him, he was glad that he won this grizzly fight. He would much rather have Red King roaming around then having the island being raided with the frightening Skullcrawlers, who would have eaten everything should the green lizard fall. Pigmon then skipped away, leaving the ravaged area so he could go somewhere far more peaceful and quiet.

    Deep in the seemingly bottomless vent, a series of shrilling shrieks echoed within the depths, as if the opening was like a gateway to hell where savage demons thrived. Should Red King have come across this, it would have been a hint that there were still more Skullcrawlers roaming down in the depths, slowly tunneling their way to a more suitable location with plenty of food to fill their empty stomachs. Should these devil-like lizards reach to the lands of civilization, humanity could only hope that Ultraman would come to defend them from the gluttonous swarm of the Skullcrawlers.

    Winner: Red King

    K.W.C. // June 10, 2019