Manga: Godzilla, Minilla and Gabara: All Monsters Giant Attack

 

Godzilla, Minilla and Gabara: All Monsters Giant Attack


Japanese Comic Title

ゴジラ・ミニラ・ガバラ: オール怪獣大進撃
[Gojira, Minira, Gabara: Oru Kaiju Daishingeki]

Authors:

VPro, Shinichi Sekizawa

Pencils:
Inks:
Colors:
Language:
Release:
Publisher
:
Pages:

VPro
VPro
VPro
Japanese
2017
Kodansha
54

Covers:

-

Comic

Monsters

Godzilla
Godzilla
Minilla
Minilla
Gabara
Gabara
Gorosaurus
Gorosaurus
Kumonga
Kumonga
Kamacuras
Kamacuras
Manda
Manda
Baragon
Baragon
Ebirah
Ebirah
Varan
Varan
Rodan
Rodan
Mothra
Mothra
Anguirus
Anguirus
Maneater
Maneater



Review

By: Nicholas Driscoll

For me, the most exciting thing about the Godzilla All Movie DVD Collectors Box series is the reprints of the manga which often come inside. For those not in the know, the Godzilla All Movie DVD Collectors Box series is an elaborate tokusatsu nerd dream come true, in which Godzilla-related movies and TV shows are being re-released as cheap DVDs (no subs, none of the usual video extras) with LOTS of extra printed content, from old articles, advertisements, posters, reprinted sonorama books, and the aforementioned manga and illustrated stories. Being a huge fan of manga, I was totally stoked to be able to collect many old Godzilla (and other Toho) manga without resorting to purchasing the originals at auctions for exorbitant, mind-blowing prices. The manga reprints are often on some of the worst paper imaginable, but just getting to read these comics is a real treat to me.

Although it may sound strange, one of the manga adaptations I most wanted to read was the manga adaptation of All Monsters Attack (1969)—a Godzilla film which has received considerable fan hate over the years, albeit with a resurgence of respect more recently. That respect has partially come from reappraisals from the likes of David Kalat (his review is pretty positive in his memorable A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series) and the more widespread knowledge that Ishiro Honda considered the film one of his favorites in the Godzilla canon, due to the efforts of Peter Brothers (who covered this fact in detail in his book on Honda’s films), and more recently in the fantastic Ishiro Honda by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski (which I have been slowly reading and savoring). I have always loved this movie, albeit a bit ironically. Nevertheless, I honestly find it one of the most rewatchable of the Godzilla films, and yes I even love the moronic voice given to Minilla (“Guy, no! I’m chicken!”) in the English dub. I love it. I just love it.

So when All Monsters Attack received its release in the aforementioned Godzilla All Movie DVD Collectors Box volume 21 in 2017, I was super stoked to see that the manga adaptation was included! Having read the manga recently, I can say the end result was an uneven but entertaining twist on the kid monster classic.

The manga features a nice full color spread in lieu of a decent cover, and this also gives a good overview of the character designs used.
The manga features a nice full color spread in lieu of a decent cover, and this also gives a good overview of the character designs used.

First a few words about the artist. This adaptation was drawn by a group called VPro rather than an individual manga artist (although even “individual” manga artists often have assistants doing much of the work for them). While I am far from an expert on manga artists from the 1960s and 1970s, VPro apparently was fairly obscure even then—when I went digging for information, at first I found very little. But even the Japanese fandom apparently found VPro mysterious. I stumbled on a blog in which a Japanese fan, curious about VPro after reading the All Monsters Attack manga much as I did, went on his Google journey again like me, and had to dig deep before he found much—and what he found was a company that had changed a great deal over the years, working on various commercial art, and only functioning as the manga group VPro for a few years.

If I am honest, the art featured in All Monsters Attack is rather uneven—but from what I have seen of manga from that time frame, “unevenness” could almost be named an integral part of the general style. I have been working on a review of a collection of Godzilla manga from the 1950s, and one of my reoccurring complaints has been the often extreme changes to the Godzilla design from panel to panel. With the monster work here, too, VPro follows that manic template. While sometimes Godzilla looks quite consistent, with an emphasis on his more dinosaurian features over the mammalian ones, and a penchant for close detail, at other times it appears that the artists at VPro just traded off who was drawing which monster on each page. Sometimes Minilla looks startlingly close to his suit counterpart, while other times he looks more like a pile of potatoes, or a misshapen bag of trash about ready to rip apart when he is depicted fleeing from danger. Gabara mostly looks great, menacing and bumpy and nasty—although missing his hair. Many other monsters appear, such as Ebirah, Rodan, Manda, Anguirus, and Gorosaurus, among others, and VPro does a fine job rendering them usually—barring an embarrassing Baragon early on, and some of the aforementioned Minilla work. Personally, I like their take on Gorosaurus, who here has no pupils ala GMK Godzilla, and comes across as super menacing.

Here is Minilla dashing away in all his cowardly glory, plus a shot of bully Gabara riding monster Gabara.
Here is Minilla dashing away in all his cowardly glory, plus a shot of bully Gabara riding monster Gabara.

But I should not spend so much time discussing the monsters given that here the monsters are apparently all imaginary, and thus the human drama takes the most precedence. I am still not really a fan of the 1970s manga style that I have seen, and here the angular, awkward, stiff figure work with strangely overly detailed hands does not convert me. Ichiro looks perfectly generic, losing even the soft, wimpy childhood look of the actor. The art for the toy inventor, too, appears wooden and limited in expressiveness, with a subtly oversized head that appears to embody the expression “handsome homeless beggar,” and Gabara the bully seems stuck in a perma-sneer. Still, while perhaps not my favorite style of art, the panel layouts are easy to follow and easy on the eye with a wide variety of sizes underscoring the action. Those action scenes, though, are (like in the movie) rather few, and the fights themselves are not very dynamically staged.

The story of the manga follows the movie pretty closely, but with some fascinating diversions. For example, the comic opens with a full-color dream sequence of Monster Island, a group of children visiting via helicopter overhead. Gabara the bully is along to see Godzilla make fried shrimp out of Ebirah and also to mock Ichiro. Gabara is also interested in finding a new monster he heard about that he hopes is more powerful than Godzilla—Gabara the toad monster (as he is designated in this comic). The toad monster appears and menaces Minilla, and Ichiro suddenly wakes up in class, only to get scolded by his teacher.

By bringing Gabara the bully to the dream world, and having him deliberately look for (and ultimate befriend and actually ride upon!) the monster Gabara, the manga sets up an even more obvious dynamic in which Gabara IS the monster, and in which the monster defeated in the dream equates to the bully being overcome in real life as well.

The next scene also features a few shall we say tweaks, Ichiro is walking home with a young girl who goes unnamed in the manga (presumably Sachiko from the film). Gabara appears (alone) to give the pair a hard time in the trainyards, where he nastily whips up the girl’s skirt (though appears uninterested in looking at her panties), then twirls a bicycle chair around through the air menacingly at Ichiro. Ichiro, remembering the encounter between Gabara and Minilla in his dream and inspired to cowardice, grabs the girl and runs, only to get slapped in the face for being a wimp. Gee! In the movie, Gabara always operates with his gang, and they thankfully do not flip up Sachiko’s skirt, nor does Sachiko go so far as to slap Ichiro. In general, the manga takes things just a step further than the film did.

Frankly, mimicking the film, the entire comic has a sense of oppression to it, with the dark and dirty backgrounds, to the deliberate absence of the parents (while Ichiro’s dad makes a presence early on, it is mostly to announce that he is going to be out late to work, and his mother just leaves a note on the door and doesn’t appear until much later. Ichiro has no friends. No pets. A pair of absentee parents. No wonder he prefers to escape into the works of giant monsters, even when his friends and neighbors look at him with confusion-cocked eyebrows. But that monster obsession even souses Ichiro’s relationship with the toy inventor Shinpei, whom he calls “Old man Kamacuras”. (Whether there are kaiju in the real world is not really addressed in the manga either—we never see them in the world, not even in the form of movie posters or action figures. While his friends and family think he is very strange for obsessing over monster kind, it is not clear if the movies exist or if these monsters are Ichiro’s invention. Given that Ichiro calls the toy man Kamacuras, and that Gabara the monster is an extension of Gabara the bully, one can’t help but wonder if the other monster characters are supposed to have human counterparts as well.

However, even if ultimately Ichiro and Minilla are counterparts in personality and power, here their relationship is depicted somewhat differently than in the movie. Whereas in the film Ichiro always seems to think Minilla is pretty cool, in the manga version Gabara the bully mocks Ichiro, comparing him to the wimpy, cowardly Minilla. Ichiro takes umbrage to the comparison—he likes Godzilla and would prefer to be compared to the king of the monsters, as Ichiro, too, looks down on Minilla. Later, when Minilla pulls Ichiro out of the pit, however, Ichiro is terrified of Minilla, afraid Godzilla’s son will eat him! Minilla (who does not change size in this version of the story) assures Ichiro he has no such intention, and they become friends. (As a side note, it is further revealed that Ichiro can understand and talk to the monsters because he is a monster otaku himself. This connection was never made explicit in the movie itself, though it is a logical enough conclusion.)

Gabara shocking Minilla with his projectile lightning.
Gabara shocking Minilla with his projectile lightning.

Unlike in the movie, the monster fights in the comic are not mostly pulled from previous films. While Godzilla does dispatch Ebirah in a one-on-one fight at the beginning of the manga, he also later takes on Gorosaurus as a means of exercise or sport—a battle rudely joined by Kumonga. Minilla attempts to help his papa out by blowing smoke rings at Kumonga, and then Godzilla fries the monster spider with his atomic breath, then throws Gorosaurus on top of Kumonga while the latter is still burning! The end fight between Minilla and Gabara (and later Godzilla) is mostly the same as it was in the film, although shorter. Gabara also has the ability to shoot lightning out of his hands, not just grab and shock (the scene of Minilla getting shocked is one of the most poorly done in the manga). In one continuity error, Minilla never bites Gabarah in the dream, which makes the later scene in the comic in which Ichiro is inspired to bite one of the thugs because of his memory of Minilla chomping Gabarah a bit confusing.

The kidnapping and escape is also handled differently, and is much shorter. In the manga, the two thugs steal the inventor’s car, and manhandle Ichiro inside the vehicle—and our inventor witnesses the kidnapping! Moments later, Ichiro has fallen asleep in the back of the vehicle and is dreaming of his monsters (Ichiro is practically a narcoleptic). When he wakes up, Ichiro hatches a plot to get back at the thugs by snatching a suitcase full of cash and dumping it out the back of the car (which is a convertible). The thugs stop the car, and Ichiro runs away (he isn’t tied up). A thug grabs him, he bites the thug, and then is inspired by Minilla learning to shoot his atomic ray, and uses a nearby water spigot to douse the thug in the face. By this time he has stalled the two robbers long enough that the police (called by Shinpei) have arrived and they arrest the baddies. This truncated sequence significantly shortens Ichiro’s run-in with the thugs, which in the movie included an extended sequence inside an abandoned factory, a big hole in the floor, and antics that have always reminded me of a bizarre, monster-fueled Home Alone. The comic is shorter, and thus faster paced, but it feels too short and abrupt to work effectively here.

Perhaps the most controversial plot point from the original film was the conclusion, in which Ichiro beats up the real Gabara, becomes the new leader of the thuggish kids, and promptly plays a nasty prank on a painter. Some have argued that the conclusion actually encouraged bullying behavior. The comic sidesteps much of this—Ichiro does have his face-off with Gabara, but their face off is over with one punch. Ichiro wins, but does not take over as punk leader, his girl friend kisses him, and the story ends with Ichiro and Sachiko running through the city, apparently scared of something, with a backdrop of smoke-belching factories. As he runs, the narrator intones that Ichiro sees the smokestack-filled landscape as a world of monsters, and that he feels that those monsters are always with him, and therefore he can never be defeated. The moral of the story is kind of ambiguous, but not as counterintuitive as the film’s ending.

The worst part of this manga, though, is the terrible quality of the paper, which feels kind of like newspaper stock, or the kind of paper you might find in Weekly Shonen Jump—which is to say, not built to last. This sense of the throwaway nature of the book is sharpened by the nothing cover, which just features the name of the manga, when it was released, and the manga magazine it was released in (Bessatsu Bouken Ou). It feels like the paper could be ruined by the natural oils in your skin, and so collectors would do best to treat their printed versions with care. (The back cover is more interesting than the front, though, and features picks of the monsters that appear in the movie as well as a coupon for fifty yen off for three—parents included!—who go to All Monsters Attack at the Toho Champion Festival. So the Champion Festival was doing its best to encourage parents to spend time with their children, which is sweet and reflects part of the message of the movie.)

The All Monsters Attack manga adaptation is, to me, a fascinating remix of one of my favorite Godzilla movies, and while I think the movie version of the story ultimately works better as a story, the manga version at least arguably improves on the ending. The art is quite uneven, however. While the paper quality is a huge let-down, for fans the comic is still well-worth reading, and the comic book even has a few color pages. Overall perhaps not one of the more strongly made adaptations (and actually the writing is much weaker than most of the other adaptations I have read, with all the characters spouting the same expression again and again—the derogatory “che!”), it’s still great fun for the big fans and the completists, and for those looking to see how the story may have evolved over time.