Book: Do Your Best, Chibi Godzilla


Do Your Best, Chibi Godzilla

Japanese Book Title

がんばれ ちびゴジラ
[Ganbare Chibi Godzilla]


Chiharu Sakazaki







By: Nicholas Driscoll

Here in the West, we’ve actually been pretty blessed with Godzilla books for little kids—although not so many recently. Back around the release of the 1998 Godzilla, we had a huge spate of Godzilla picture books. First we had original stories, and some with fantastic art by Bob Eggleton, and then later some picture books based on the 1998 movie itself. Since then Godzilla-themed picture books have mostly dried up over in the USA, although the 2014 movie had an iPad picture book that wasn’t that great.

That may not sound like much, but when you look at Godzilla-themed picture books in Japan, at least within the last twenty years or so, you don’t get a lot. Yes, there are a number of non-fiction books aimed at elementary kids, but I am talking picture books to read to your very little ones with stories. I have looked for them, and until last year I only found the pop-up titles from Kumon publishing—one with Mothra, one with Gamera, and one with Godzilla that I still haven’t gotten my paws on.

Things changed a bit last year with the release of Ganbare Chibi Godzilla by Chiharu Sakazaki, translated roughly as “Do Your Best, Little Godzilla.” Sakazaki is a veteran author and illustrator of picture books, with thirty titles listed on her website—the most famous apparently featuring a cute penguin character, who appears in such books as Penguin Style. I haven’t personally read her other books yet. I have spent some time translating quite a few children’s books for my niece, but not Sakazaki’s stuff. Still, her work is pretty famous in Japan, so it was a big deal when she released an original story about Godzilla. I picked up my copy at the Godzilla Festival in November of last year, where Chiharu Sakazaki actually appeared for a signing event. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized the event was happening—otherwise I might have signed up!

(Actually, this might be a good time to mention that book signings in Japan don’t really follow the same rules as the ones we have in the States. It’s really important to know the difference if you want to get something signed in Japan. From signings I have seen in the USA, often anyone can show up with any edition of the author’s works and get in line for a signing. I am not usually one to go out of my way just to get the signature of a famous person, but the examples I have seen fall into that category. In Japan, on the other hand, you apparently need to sign-up for the book signing (or whatever) in advance. Plus you CANNOT necessarily bring just any book to the signing, such as your heirloom copy of a novel passed down to you by your parents or something. Even buying something new at the store might not be enough—from what I have seen, you need to buy THE NEWEST RELEASE. I discovered this when I went to a manga artist signing. I had some of the artist’s older publishings, so I figured I would just bring them. I quickly found out I needed the new release, and even saw some people joking about how funny it would be to buy some of his older stuff new at the store and bring them to be signed. This was funny because apparently it’s completely unacceptable. I had no idea!)

Anyway, Sakazaki’s original tale that she penned for Chibi Godzilla is extremely simple. The front cover boasts that the book features the appearance of a strong and cute new hero, and that the book is about the secret of Japan’s number one most famous monster.

What is the secret?

The secret is that Godzilla is a crybaby!

The story is narrated by Godzilla, who says he is strong and big (we can conclude that Godzilla is male in this story from his chosen personal pronoun “boku,” which usually indicates male). Godzilla brags that he can spit fire, but admits that he cries really easily. For example, if he trips on a stone, or bumps into something too hard (such as a tree in this case), or reads a sad story, or comes in last in a footrace, invariably he will start bawling. (Godzilla is not monster sized in the book, but appears about the size of a human child.) When he cries, he also can be seen spitting fireballs or little gouts of fire (which here looks like red fire rather than nuclear beams of energy). If Godzilla really starts bawling, he can even blast off a huge jet of flame—a flame so powerful that it can cause fireworks to go off in the night sky. When he does that, then everyone gets happy! (Everyone in this case being King Ghidorah and Rodan, who were seen earlier in the story defeating Godzilla in a footrace. Yes, in a FOOTRACE.) The story then concludes, with Godzilla declaring that he is strong and energetic. A final image of Godzilla over the copyright text features the monster actually spitting what appear to be firework sparks!

When I first read this story, I was ever so mildly disturbed by what I thought the message of the story was. My interpretation was that Godzilla would at times get really upset, and in those times he would really cry hard and shoot of the ChibiGoji equivalent of a red spiral ray, which would then make his friends happy. The message seemed to be, “It’s funny when kids get upset, and you can make friends that way!” After all, up to this point we saw Godzilla crying over and over again and spitting flame, and that eventually leads up to his huge wailing eruption. The word used for when he spits the big flame at the end is also a conjugated version of “naku,” which can mean “to weep.” This message actually seemed really negative and could even encourage kids to whine and shout!

However, on my current reread of the story, I wondered if there could be a different interpretation. The verb “naku” can also mean “to cry” like an animal—that is, when you hear a wolf’s cry, that doesn’t mean the wolf is blubbering and choking on his tears! Looking at the illustrations when Godzilla spits the big flame, too, he doesn’t look like he is weeping and wailing here. In the scene where we can see the fireworks going off, Chibi seems to be having a good time. At any rate, the meaning of the text probably was not meant to be interpreted as, “If you wail and cry a lot, you’ll make good friends.” But it’s vague enough that I can easily see kids interpreting it that way.

Ah, well, enough of that. What about the art? Sakazaki draws very clean and simple depictions of Godzilla, King Ghidorah, and Rodan in the book. Godzilla is perhaps the strangest-looking of the lot, given that Sakazaki renders the well-known dinosaur with a peculiar white schnozz. Godzilla has never had a white muzzle in the past, and it looks really odd here, as if Goji is a kind of dog or something. Rodan, meanwhile, is brown and has little claws on his wings and apparently is either constantly squinting or keeps his eyes shut. KG looks the simplest of all to me, with barely any detail, though I appreciate that each head seems to have a separate personality or emotion.

Other than the character designs, backgrounds are mostly nonexistent, with objects such as a tree, a rock, or a book (Chibi Goji can read) appearing for the narrative’s sake. This is minimism, folks, and the minimalistic tendencies extend to the text itself. Each page has a bare minimum of words, sometimes less than ten. Ganbare Chibi Gojira is meant for the very, very young.

Aaaanndd if I am honest, I prefer some of the unfortunately long out-of-print Godzilla children’s books from the west. I think their art was more detailed, and at least with books like Who’s Afraid of Godzilla?, we also have more interesting stories and more monsters making their appearances. (Godzilla Likes to Roar, probably aimed more at the same audience as Chibi, has no real story, but we do learn Godzilla likes coconuts!) Still, it is a lot of fun seeing a book like this made, and I hope to see more in the near future, from Sakazaki or other authors. (Actually, a sequel was just released from Sakazaki, and I picked it up on my Kindle, so expect a review in the not-too-distant future.) For all of Chibi’s faults, I still think this book is better for kids than the aforementioned Kumon pop-up books, which are much more violent. At least after reading this book I can tell all those fans who love to argue about how incredibly powerful Godzilla is and how he can beat up anybody that Godzilla is actually a big crybaby, so there, na-na-na-na-naaah!