Manga: Godzilla vs. Hedorah

 

Godzilla vs. Hedorah


Japanese Comic Title

ゴジラ対ヘドラ
[Gojira tai Hedora]

Authors:

Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura, Shigeru Kayama

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

Daiji Kazumine
Daiji Kazumine
Daiji Kazumine
Japanese
2016
Kodansha
71

Covers:

Daiji Kazumine

Comic

Monsters

Godzilla
Godzilla
Hedorah
Hedorah



Review

By: Nicholas Driscoll

While Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) has never been one of my favorite Godzilla movies, it is certainly one of the more interesting films in the Godzilla catalog, and the fact that it is one of the few with hand-animated sequences makes it seem ideally suited for the world of manga. Luckily for smog-o-philes, Godzilla vs. Hedorah rated one of the lengthier manga adaptations as well, coming in at an impressive 71 pages drawn by Daiji Kazumine, a manga artist well known for his tokusatsu adaptations from Ultraman to Spectreman. This particular manga was published in Bessatsu Shounen Champion in August of 1971, and was recently republished in volume 9 of the Godzilla All Movie DVD Collector's Box series, which has yielded so many manga treasures for collectors these past few years.

A policeman tries to walk a disintegrating man out of the park.
A policeman tries to walk a disintegrating man out of the park.

The manga version takes a lot of liberties with the source material, so it is probably worth going over the story in some detail first before giving a few critical comments. The manga opens with a policeman who has found an unresponsive man collapsed under a statue in the park. The policeman thinks the man is dead drunk, and starts walking him out of the park so that the fellow doesn’t catch a cold. However, as they walk together, suddenly the man’s flesh rots right off his skeleton, scaring the policeman half to death as well. Before he can get very far away from the statue, it also comes crumbling down. The policeman uses a public telephone to call for help, but has trouble describing the incident. Before he can fully explain, he sees that the smokestacks from surrounding factories are also disintegrating before his eyes.

Next we cut to scenes of pollution around Japan, followed by a poem written by a child named Ken about how Godzilla would react if he saw all the horrible pollution being thrown into the seas. Ken supposes that Godzilla would likely be pretty angry. We then cut to Ken in his bedroom after he has just finished writing his poem. Ken starts talking to his Godzilla action figure, telling the toy that he understands Godzilla’s feelings and that he can feel what Godzilla feels as well. Then Ken is called to eat.

Over the dinner table, Ken and his family chat when a special bulletin comes on the news. A television helicopter by chance was flying above a fuel tanker when suddenly an enormous tadpole-like monster charged the tanker and smashed it in half, sinking it. The news broadcasters ask whether this is a mysterious monster from the sea, or a secret weapon built by humans. Ken is so shocked by the images that he drops his rice bowl. When asked what is wrong, Ken claims that he has in his possession the very same organism that destroyed the boat!

Ken and his father, Mr. Yano, go to his room, and Ken shows his father a petri dish swimming with tiny tadpoles. At first his father says that these are too small, to which Ken says they are the same shape as the monster that destroyed the tanker—and that they cannot be tadpoles because he found them in the ocean, not in freshwater. As they watch, the tiny tadpoles begin to combine into one, much-larger tadpole. His father, disturbed, asks Ken where he got the tadpoles, to which Ken replies that he found the tadpoles in a part of the ocean that was heavily polluted.

Together Ken and his father go to the docks, and in the filthy water below they see a number of the tadpoles—albeit much larger specimens. Ken’s father postulates that the tiny tadpoles have been combining and getting bigger steadily since the time that Ken caught the smaller version. Pondering to himself, Ken’s father realizes that even after many years of studying sea life, he has never seen a creature like these mysterious sea beasts. He has seen fish that have had mutated fins by pollution, and wonders if these “tadpoles” might be something similar.

Suddenly, all of the tadpoles head out together into deeper ocean, combining together on a point against the horizon and forming into an enormous glowering monster. Pollution continues to pour into the ocean, and sludge disintegrates a lamppost. Hedorah approaches the shore and moves down a polluted inlet. Locals are horrified at its appearance, and the monster suddenly leaps from the gloomy waters and flies over the city, frightening teems of men on the streets. The monster lands atop a factory, consuming the smoke rushing from the twin smokestacks. A local man says that the monster is eating the smoke from the smokestacks, and another man shouts that the smoke contains poison.

The monster, seemingly listening in, suddenly shoots glop from a tube-like protrusion on its body. The glop splatters on the ground, and some of the slime gets on a well-dressed man’s leg, almost instantly reducing his leg to bone and spreading across his body until all that is left is a smoking skeleton. Hedorah flies away, and its mere passing disintegrates the smokestacks. It flies towards a construction site for a skyscraper. A construction worker sees the monster coming, but the monster passes through the unfinished part of the building, knocking the man down. He is a skeleton by the time he hits the ground. Hedorah continues on, unhindered by the construction site’s various metal struts and metallic skeleton, which falls apart after the monster passes through. Hedorah continues spraying its muck, which continues to disintegrate local bystanders.

Crowds run past Ken’s house, and Mr. Yano tells Ken to run away, too. But Ken refuses, saying that he is not scared of Hedorah. His mother asks who Hedorah is, and Ken says that the monster was born from the sludge in the sea (hedoro), and so is called “Hedorah”. His father says it doesn’t matter what the monster is called—they have to run. Ken says Godzilla is coming to save them, he can feel it clearly in his head—but his father grabs his hand, yanking the boy along. Ken stumbles on a rock and falls, accidentally throwing his Godzilla toy through the air. At that very moment, Godzilla appears from the sea, much to the boy’s delight. The monsters face off, and Hedorah charges Godzilla in its flying form. Godzilla grabs the monster from below, then swings it around with such great momentum that the Smog Monster rips in two, with the larger portion tumbling to the ground. Godzilla lets loose with his heat ray, but misses, blasting up rocks and throwing a car with the force of the explosion. Hedorah counters, spraying Godzilla in the left eye and melting it away. Godzilla wobbles on his feet, then collapses into the sea.

Ken and his father are aghast, and note that Godzilla has not come back out of the water. Hedorah, meanwhile, is much less upset; over the rising bubbles from the sea, the Smog Monster chortles and flies away.

In the next scene, the newspaper reports about the attacks of Hedorah (taking up Ken’s name for the creature), and back in the laboratory Ken’s father tells the boy that he is furious because it was via the irresponsible pollution of human beings that Hedorah was birthed—as if human beings themselves birthed the monster! Ken says that it is as if human beings, by their own hands, strangled themselves. Mr. Yano laments that humankind did not do more to avoid causing such harm. Ken redirects the conversation to finding a way to fight Hedorah, and Ken’s father claims that he has found sulfur in the piece of Hedorah’s body that Ken picked up. It must be sulfur, and sulfuric acid, that is melting people and buildings. Ken’s father theorizes that the strong sulfuric acid could also reduce Godzilla himself to bones.

Luckily, Mr. Yano has already set up a pair of electrode walls (that look like mirrors) that he thinks may be able to dry out the Smog Monster if they can build a giant-sized version in Hokkaido. He places the (now single) tadpole version of Hedorah and its petri dish in between the electrode walls, hits the switch, and fries the tadpole so that, when Ken’s father gingerly picks the creature up between thumb and forefinger, the tadpole crumbles into dust. Ken is ecstatic and insists that they go to the Japan Self-Defense Force and try to build a giant-sized version. Ken’s father seems reluctant at first, unsure if the device will work on the full-sized monster, but Ken convinces him, and soon the giant-sized version has been built—with the monster only two kilometers away and approaching as the device is being finished!

The plan is to use a helicopter (and later ground vehicles) to lure Hedorah in between the electrode walls, into which they will pump 10,000,000 volts of electricity in order to microwave Smoggy into dust. However, Hedorah soon blasts the helicopter out of the sky while chortling to himself. Hedorah continues to come closer, however, and they realize the monster has grown from 40 meters to 60, and now Ken’s father is not sure that the plan of attack will work. However, the military is determined to try. Hedorah steps closer, and the trucks and military vehicles shine their lights. Hedorah retaliates with splashes of acidic muck, eliminating trucks and melting through the wiring for the electrode walls. As Hedorah walks closer and closer, the military rushes to repair the electric cables. Hedorah steps closer, and the military men fire up their welding torches. There are a series of images of Hedorah approaching, the repair work in progress, and the general worrying and yelling. Somehow, the team manages to fix the cables, and they fire up the device, roasting Hedorah in the middle.

The flying scene is confusingly staged in the book.
The flying scene is confusingly staged in the book.

At first the device seems to be a success, and the giant monster begins falling apart. However, Hedorah manages to step out of the space in which the electrode device is effective. The general proclaims that there was not enough electricity, that the attack was too weak, and so the tanks and artillery open fire on Hedorah. The bullets and shells, however, go right through the monster’s body. In desperation, the general throws his pistol. Ken, who has been carrying around his Godzilla toy, yells in frustration (though the speech bubble makes it look like the toy is speaking) and, imitating the military men, he throws his toy threw the air. At just that moment, as Ken’s toy flies in a broad arc, Godzilla also appears, again as if summoned by the action figure—but this time the monster is flying as well, now propelled by his nuclear heat ray!

Coming out of his flight, Godzilla delivers a flying kick to the back of Hedorah’s head, prompting Ken and company to rejoice. However, Hedorah continues his hateful chortling. Suddenly, Ken is upset again—this time because he is convinced that Godzilla is on the road to self-destruction! Ken knows that Godzilla is planning to run into Hedorah regardless of the acid and sludge—Ken can feel it in his mind! Mr. Yano thinks to himself, “Is this telepathy?”

Hedorah and Godzilla clash, and Hedorah picks up Godzilla, flying the monster up into the air, and then dropping him from a frightening height. The king of the monsters crashes to the ground, creating a Godzilla-sized crater. Then Hedorah sprays his sludge into the crater and across Godzilla’s prone body. Godzilla seems helpless, and Ken provides something of a running commentary, worried that Godzilla is going to get his right eye burned out as well—and it appears that Hedorah is indeed aiming for that eye!

Finally, Godzilla has had enough, and he seems to want revenge for that missing eye! As Hedorah continues squirting noxious sludge, Godzilla lunges forward, digging both hands behind Hedorah’s enormous eyeballs. Hedorah pulls back, but Godzilla surges forward despite his body being covered in sores from the sulfur attack. The Big G then rips both eyes out, though our monster hero does not come out unscathed: Both of his hands are reduced to bones by the sulfur inside the Smog Monster’s body. Nevertheless, Godzilla grabs Hedorah and tosses the muck-beast between the giant mirrors, and then blasts one of the mirrors with his atomic breath (apparently by accident). However, when his nuclear halitosis, enhanced by the electrode walls, noticeably fries the pollution powerhouse, Godzilla is surprised and delighted. He swiftly takes advantage of the boon. Godzilla blasts the mirrors again, further microwaving the monster of muck, and then the Big G dramatically leaps above the Smog Monster while continuing to spray the mirrors with nuclear death! Hedorah is soon reduced to ash, and Godzilla stands triumphant above his opponent’s presumably very stinky remains, bony hands clenched in fists of triumph.

Our boy Ken proclaims Godzilla’s victory, and the military leader pronounces that Godzilla has done well. Our favorite irradiated dinosaur overhears their praises and looks down upon his human fans, who are frightened by his gaze. However, Godzilla turns away and begins walking unsteadily back out to sea as a narrator proclaims that the nuclear tests awoke Godzilla, and the pollution birthed by human folly then deeply injured Godzilla as well. Godzilla’s turned back and silent figure is a stern rebuke to humanity. And if we continue to pollute, Hedorah is sure to rise again! The end.

Let me just give a few comments about the story here quick. I haven’t seen the Godzilla vs. Hedorah movie recently, so I have forgotten some of what happens, but still there are some pretty obvious and pretty huge differences from the movie version. Many plot aspects are trimmed away, such as the bizarre fish-head acid-trip scene and the rocking teenagers and their protest rock party on the side of the mountain. However, the additions to the story are more interesting to me. While Godzilla vs. Hedorah (the movie) was surprisingly dark and featured some of the most graphic on-screen human deaths of the Showa period, the manga takes things to another level with the graphic opening sequence and dramatically staged death sequences of melting men. Though cutting the scene of Hedorah’s attack on the doctor, nevertheless the manga still feels more horrific than the source material, perhaps doubly so as Godzilla’s eye is melted away more grotesquely here, and the flesh of his hands completely singed away. Bizarrely, Godzilla retains complete use of his bone-hands despite the complete lack of muscle, and nitpickers (like me) will wonder why the rest of Godzilla’s flesh was not melted away when he was given the slimy sulfur bath.

Also of interest is the explicit psychic connection between Ken and Godzilla. While the Twin Fairies and Princess Salno from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) arguably also had psychic abilities of some sort, Ken’s is perhaps the first in which a human achieves a psychic link to Godzilla and can read his feelings and intentions, presaging Miki Saegusa in the Heisei/Versus series and Asagi from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). Ken is perhaps especially similar to Asagi as both Ken and Asagi unabashedly support their respective monsters and can feel what the monsters feel, at least to some extent (Ken never takes “sympathetic damage”). Ken even seems to have some limited ability to manipulate or at least summon Godzilla via the use of his Godzilla action figure, which seems like a huge wish-fulfillment fantasy for some young G-fans. Given the psychic fad of the 1970s, it isn’t surprising that Ken was given explicit psychic abilities only hinted at in the film itself (shout out to my friend Sam Messerly, who also has a few Godzilla comics on TK, for reminding me of Ken’s dream sequences in the film).

Godzilla performs impromptu eye surgery. Note his bony hand.
Godzilla performs impromptu eye surgery. Note his bony hand.

Turning to the art, Daiji Kazumine’s art frankly reminds me of some horror manga I have read, such as Kazuo Umezu, one of the most celebrated horror manga who also happened to be active throughout the sixties and seventies within the industry. The intense facial expressions of the human cast, especially from Ken, reminded me a bit of Umezu. Of course the sense of horror comes out in various melting human scenes as well, though Kazumine mostly avoids extreme gore (except for the eye-yanking scene—ouch!).

Kazumine also favors large splash panels and splash pages and fairly basic, rudimentary panel layouts. Kaiju battle sequences especially tend to reduce the number of individual panels to around three or four per page. While his work maintains some dynamism, it rarely feels very creative in the staging, but each page is very easy to follow, with perhaps a smidge too much explanation of what is obviously happening by the peanut gallery watching the main monster action. The overall effect, to me, felt a bit workmanlike but satisfying.

As for the actual monster art, there is good and there is bad. Kazumine does a fantastic job of capturing the look of Hedorah and stays on-model consistently, capturing each stage of the monster’s evolution very well with comparison to the suit and props. Some panels look to be almost copied from promotional materials. Basically, old slimy is captured almost perfectly. Godzilla, on the other hand, looks (to my eye) pretty terrible. While there is a sort of theme in the manga in which Godzilla is connected to Ken’s action figure, I constantly felt that Godzilla himself LOOKS like an action figure, and a poor one at that. Somehow Kazumine manages to make our favorite nuclear dino look like he is made of plastic, with a stiff and unmoving face and sometimes I feel like I can see the points of articulation on his body! Kazumine is especially bad at capturing Godzilla’s dorsal fins, of which he only has two rows which are much smaller than they should be. When I look at Godzilla on the cover, even the way that he is holding his hands looks like a toy pose. Kazumine’s Godzilla art is one of my least favorite I have seen in any manga.

 Still, in some ways, Godzilla vs. Hedorah the manga is one of the better adaptations. With ten full-color pages at the beginning and a total of 71 pages altogether, the story is allowed to breathe a little without ever getting boring, and has plenty of monster action. Fans looking for deviations from the final script will find many to enjoy, and the action is more gruesome and more dynamic than what we got in the final movie. Also of note is that on the inside back page we are treated with a bonus Toho Champion Festival coloring page featuring Godzilla and the Smog Monster. Altogether, while certainly not my favorite adaptation, Godzilla vs. Hedorah the manga is as usual a lot of fun for nostalgic fans, and while the reprint (again) is on pretty shoddy paper, it’s hard not to recommend fans get their hands on this one while they can if they like 70s manga and don’t mind a smidgeon of horror with their monster mayhem.