Manga: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla


Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Japanese Comic Title

[Gojira tai Mekagojira]


Mitsuru Hiruta, Shinichi Sekizawa


Mitsuru Hiruta
Mitsuru Hiruta





King Caesar
King Caesar


By: Nicholas Driscoll

Those who do not like little kids with their giant monster stories definitely should not delve deeply into the world of monster movie manga adaptations. Whereas the so-called Kennys of kaiju films were more prevalent in the Gamera series of films (after all, the terrible terrapin is the friend to all children), Godzilla manga started featuring elementary-age stars even before Gamera was created—going as far back as the adaptations of the first Godzilla film in 1954. In some of the adaptations of that movie, Shinkichi (an Odo Island native orphaned by Godzilla in the film) is made to appear much younger than in the film and given a more prominent role. This general pattern of either changing the age of some of the protagonists (such as the leads in the illustrated story adaptation of Rodan, and the Mothra manga), or the introduction of a new child character (such as in one of the 1992 Godzilla vs. Mothra adaptations, which introduced Miki Saegusa’s little brother), children are constantly taking center stage. And to some degree that was also true in Mitsuru Hiruta’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla manga adapation, recently reprinted in volume 11 of the Godzilla All Movie DVD Collectors Box series. In this case, cave explorer Masahiko is re-cast as a little brat to give the kiddies someone to identify with—but thankfully chibi-Masahiko does not take center stage in the story, which nevertheless diverts quite a bit from the final filmed version while keeping the same basic structure.

In the manga version of the story, kid Masahiko is tagging along with his super-cool older brother Keisuke, an archeologist, on a work trip to Okinawa. They are about to explore a cave when Keisuke is called away to a construction site where a chamber filled with ancient goodies has accidentally been uncovered. Keisuke leaves Masahiko to explore the cave by himself. Inside the cave, Masahiko finds a piece of space titanium, and Keisuke (in the chamber at the construction site) finds a statue of King Caesar. As Keisuke is puzzling over the statue and a mural on the wall, a mysterious dude whose name literally means Countryhead Heaveneye appears in order to school Keisuke on local legends, soon followed by his granddaughter Nami. As in the movie, minus the sudden crippling vision and bizarre spliced-in footage of King Ghidorah, we learn of a prophecy in which an evil monster will appear, only to be defeated by the appearance of two other monsters. For some reason Mr. Countryhead allows Keisuke to take the statue to be studied, and chibi-Masahiko has the space titanium coin that he found tested as well by a Prof. Miyajima.

As our heroes and the local scientific and archeological eggheads are conversing in Tokyo about the mysterious finds, suddenly Godzilla emerges from Mt. Fuji and starts ravaging the city. Shortly thereafter a second Godzilla appears, and the two have a truncated showdown that ends with the two of them falling in the ocean.

The next night, a burglar sneaks in to the laboratory where the statue is being kept and is caught by Keisuke, who... was waiting for him to arrive. The burglar pulls a gun, and Keisuke punches him in the face, prompting the mysterious intruder to… self-immolate apparently, and it is revealed that he is a (rather charred) alien monkey man. At this point, the scientist from before, a Prof. Miyajima, has deduced based off a piece of space titanium found where the two Godzillas were duking it out, that one of the two was actually a giant robot that he calls Mechagodzilla, and was built by aliens. The archeologist then explains that he has figured out the hieroglyphics on the statue, and that the statue can be used to awaken King Caesar when the sun rises in the west. Our heroes then dash off to Okinawa to save the day.

Manga: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
A really wild-looking King Caesar jumps forward and destroys the alien base.

Meanwhile, the alien gorilla leader (who goes unnamed) is informed about the death of his minion M2 and that the secret is out vis a vis their alien invasion plans. Thus, the gorilla leader alien guy sends forth Mechagodzilla (who is still disguised, uselessly, as Godzilla) to stop King Caesar from getting awakened from his slumber.

Keisuke and co make it to Okinawa before Mechagodzilla does, and just as they arrive at the spot where they need to set up the King Caesar statue, a mirage of the sun rises in the west. Keisuke dashes forward, affixes the statue to its spot just in time, and gets the desired result: a massive explosion that reveals King Caesar standing in a pile of rocks and dust—but unmoving, still not completely awakened. Just then Mechagodzilla (still wearing the Godzilla costume) bursts from the ground, and almost simultaneously the real Godzilla arrives, blasting the fake Godzilla with his nuclear breath and FINALLY revealing Mechagodzilla’s true form! Mechagodzilla starts blasting the crudola out of Godzilla with his hand missiles and nostril lasers. As Godzilla appears about to fall, Nami makes her grand entrance and pleads with King Caesar to wake up already (she is the only one able to awaken the furry beast because of her family line). It works, and the feral frenzy of fur dashes forward, chomping onto Mechagodzilla’s tail, and giving Godzilla the opening he needs to smash open the robotic terror’s robotic noggin. This one mighty blow is all it takes to cause the Bionic Monster to explode. King Caesar then bounds over to the ape aliens’ base and summarily wipes it out, killing all the ape aliens inside with a huge explosion. Then, before the dust has even settled, King Caesar is sleeping again, Godzilla is going out to sea again, and all is right with the world. The end.

Longtime Godzilla fans will have already noticed a great deal of plot discrepancies from the movie, many of which I think are improvements. There is no magnetic super pipe to take out the alien base, which always felt like an awkward way to wrap things up anyway. Anguirus never shows up, which is probably fine as his appearance was rather nonsensical to begin with. Godzilla does not mysteriously develop super magnetic powers, either, which, again, I count as an improvement. King Caesar plays a more pivotal role, too; in the movie, he did not seem very powerful and, despite all the build-up to his appearance, did not strictly seem necessary for the defeat of the Black Hole aliens and their giant robot. In the comic, Godzilla is nearly defeated until King Caesar comes and, due to their united efforts, Mechagodzilla is put down. I like the fact that King Caesar also is the one who destroys the alien base, which kind of makes sense given that both KC and the aliens were ensconced underground and it does not seem like such a stretch that a supernatural monster god might have been able to hear the gorilla aliens and figure out what was going on. King Caesar’s laser-reflecting eye ability is gone, but this seems like a small loss in exchange for the gains in plot utility.

Manga: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Mechagodzilla attacks the Big G with lethal nasal spray.

However, some of the story changes don’t work as well. Making Masahiko a child falls apart fast because Keisuke comes across as an awful older brother when he lets Masahiko explore the mysterious cave alone. But after finding the coin and turning it over to Prof. Miyajima, Masahiko basically falls out of the story anyway. Worse is the treatment of Mechagodzilla. The first fight ends in the most cliché way imaginable—it’s a draw because everyone tripped and fell in the water. MG does not defeat Godzilla, and thus no dramatic tension is built up. Even worse, Mechagodzilla’s grand entrance is removed and replaced with the most boring reveal in the history of cliched boring reveals—a scientist proclaiming through dull exposition that he has deduced one of the Godzillas is in fact a robot built by aliens. This alternative reveal is so disappointing because MechaG’s entrance was one of the highlights of the original film. When Mechagodzilla finally is revealed in his mechanical glory, it almost feels like an afterthought. This manga adaptation is much shorter than the film, and thus MG’s arsenal is also much smaller, the fight is over much faster, and as a consequence the Bionic Monster comes across as much weaker.

Still, I love the ape alien commander’s awesome cape in this version!

The art by famed Go Nagai collaborator Mitsuru Hiruta, who also did work on Ultraman manga as well as Getter Robo among others, is fantastic, detailed, expressive, and exciting. The backgrounds boast great detail, the panel layouts are dynamic, and the vehicles are excellently rendered. Monsters are inconsistent, but vicious looking and sometimes scary—and Mechagodzilla even squishes innocent civilians underfoot. Godzilla, though, has at least one really goofy-looking shot, and King Caesar sometimes looks like an insane, frolicking dog. The human characters are very dynamically drawn, though sometimes I felt their facial expressions were too limited. I did love how the characters sometimes poke out past the borders of the panels, giving the layouts a more wild, alive feel.

This particular manga was previously reprinted in the collection Battle History of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and that collection definitely has a few advantages over this reprint. For one, the paper is much better—to keep costs low, the manga reprinted for the DVD box sets is made from extremely cheap paper, the kind one might find being used for a newspaper or for the weekly manga magazines. It is not really made to last. Of course, the Battle History volume has better paper, a better cover with a dust jacket, and the distinct advantage of containing a variety of other manga adaptations and materials. However, this newer reprint is printed on much larger paper so that the art is much bigger, and amusingly the advertisements that run along the sides of almost every page from the original Shonen Champion publication from April of 1974 are also retained. These advertisements include ads for the movie coming out soon, promotions about the “gekiga” (dramatic comic) roadshow, and ads for specific titles such as Sexy Ai and the manga adaptation of Japan Sinks. They definitely add to the sense that you are reading something out of history.

Frankly, this was one of the most fun manga adaptations of a Toho film I have read yet, though I wish the story had been afforded a few more pages. While the DVD Box Set reprints are printed on such deplorably low quality paper I could spit, I just love the chance that fans can now read these classic comics without needing to shell out ghastly sums for the originals. If you love old comics, this adaptation is a great read—but you might be better served just buying the Battle History of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla collection, unless you want to get the DVDs and other bonus materials that come with the box.