Manga: Space Amoeba

 

Space Amoeba


Japanese Comic Title

決戦! 南海の大怪獣
[Kessen! Nankai no Daikaiju]

Authors:

V Pro, Katsutoshi Suzuki

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

V Pro, Katsutoshi Suzuki
V Pro, Katsutoshi Suzuki
-
Japanese
2017
Kodansha
54

Covers:

V Pro, Katsutoshi Suzuki

Comic

Monsters

Gezora
Gezora
Ganimes
Ganimes
Kamoebas
Kamoebas



Review

By: Nicholas Driscoll

Space Amoeba (1970) remains one of the more overlooked titles in the Toho tokusatsu oeuvre. It came out during a time of transition, when movies were making less, and productions were struggling under smaller budgets in Japan. And despite holding quite the pedigree, being directed by Ishiro Honda, with three original monsters, and a high-concept sci-fi script… it seems few fans remember the movie very fondly in the West. So it may come as some surprise to those fans that, despite the film’s relative obscurity, it received a manga adaptation published in the summer edition of Bessatsu Bouken Ou that year.

The manga was created by the combined talents of V Pro (who also worked on the manga adaptation of All Monsters Attack, which I reviewed here), and Katsutoshi Suzuki. Suzuki also worked with V Pro on the manga adaptation of The Valley of Gwangi (yes, there was one!) and he was responsible for a manga adaptation of what might be my favorite Showa Gamera film, Gamera vs. Zigra (1971). The Space Amoeba manga was re-released (on really cheap paper) in the Godzilla All Movies DVD Collectors Box Vol. 37, and that is the version which I will be reviewing here.

An action packed shot, but Ganimes kind of gets the shaft.
An action packed shot, but Ganimes kind of gets the shaft.

Let’s start with the story.

The story opens with shots of Selgio Island and a narrator pointing out how it is isolated, volcanic, and is said to be the home of monsters… We then get quick profiles of those monsters, such as Gezora with his freezing tentacles, Kameobas with his head-butting powers, and Ganime with his ability to capture enemies with his spittle before crushing them with his claws. These first few pages are in full color, before switching to black and white.

Next we see the Helios 7 taking off into outer space. The interstellar spaceship passes by an unspecified planet, and from that planet emerges a goop-like living creature that envelops the ship and directs it back to earth.

We then cut to a photographer (I guess—it isn’t very clear in the manga what his profession is) named Kudo who is flying in an airliner over the ocean. He spots the Helios 7 descending through the atmosphere on parachutes and is shocked because the Helios 7 should not be able to return and was unmanned. But when he tries to point it out to people on the plane, the Helios 7 has disappeared. Still, Kudo is so upset about what he has seen that, after landing in Japan, he immediately goes to the Weekly Topic to try to get them to publish his story. The editor, however, thinks Kudo is nuts, especially since he has no photograph of the supposed incident. Kudo storms out, but is then pursued by a young woman who tells him of a certain island…

Soon, at the office of the Asia Development Company, he meets a suspicious-looking guy who tells Kudo about his plans to develop the aforementioned island, identified as Selgio Island, into an incredible resort to thrill the world. Kudo wants nothing to do with the project, though, saying that nature itself is more beautiful left as it is. But just as Kudo is about to leave, a Prof. Miya enters the room to talk with him. Apparently Kudo knows Prof. Miya, though for the life of me I don’t know from where. The manga doesn’t really explain this connection. For that matter, I don’t understand why this group wants Kudo’s help so much! In any case, Prof. Miya explains that there have been legends of giant monsters on Selgio Island in the past, and just that morning a fishing boat utterly disappeared near the island after a brief broadcast for help. This despite the utterly calm weather and peaceful waves. Kudo gets out a map to show Prof. Miya. On the map, Kudo has drawn an X. Prof. Miya says, yep, that’s where the incident occurred—and Kudo then claims, “That’s where I saw the Helios 7 descending to the earth!!!”

DUN-DUN-DUNNNNN!

A particularly dramatic shot of Gezorah after the cuttlefish performs a sneak attack on the human heroes
A particularly dramatic shot of Gezorah after the cuttlefish performs a sneak attack on the human heroes

We then cut to the island, where two youthful friends are fishing—Yokoyama and Sakura, both male. As they are fishing, they are struck by a sudden coldness, and the waves begin to pick up, and Sakura notices glowing lights under the water. Gezora strikes, snatching Sakura and pulling him into the waves! Yokoyama runs away screaming, and finds the local chief. Yokoyama explains what happened, and the chief yells about how Gezora is angry and how we must not make him angry anymore, ever again!!!!

We then cut to what appears to be a cruise ship, and Kudo, his little brother (who looks about eight years old), and Ayako (the girl from before) are on their way to Selgio Island, discussing whether they really think that giant monsters exist. As they are chatting, a suspicious looking dude named Makoto Kobata approaches for some reason. Kobata introduces himself as a traveling researcher interested in native folkways and that he is also planning to visit the same island. As they are talking, Prof. Miya appears (everybody is on this trip), telling Ayako that an engineer named Sakura (the young man from before) was apparently killed by a monster! The sneering Kobata claims he is interested in studying the giant monsters, too.

After arriving on the island, Kudo starts taking photos, and Ayako makes a wisecrack about how the monster would look really spectacular if it sticks its head above a mountain in the distance. (Godzilla reference!) A native boy chastises her for making fun of Gezora, because, according to the boy, the giant monster can understand people! Kobata is impressed by the native’s Japanese, and Prof. Miya explains it’s because Selgio Island was under the jurisdiction of the Japanese army during the war. The native makes an upset face, and then claims that Gezora is mad because of the Japanese! When our heroes express astonishment at his words, the native says he will go get a man named Yokoyama (from the previous fishing scene) to explain.

Instead of waiting around for the native to return, our heroes continue to explore, and find an eerie inlet where they witness creepy underwater lights, get splashed with water, and find a wristwatch just sitting on the stones. While they are looking at the watch, Yokoyama appears (drenched in the water as well—did they wait for him after all???), and Yokoyama recognizes the watch as belonging to the unfortunate Sakura. Yokoyama then flees the scene in a jeep, planning to return to Japan to let everyone know what happened. The native from before rebukes Yokoyama, warning him not to defy Gezora, but Yokoyama cannot be dissuaded. Just then, strange lights appear, and Gezora appears, snatching up Yokoyama and dashing him to the ground, then lifting the young native as well before dropping him and retreating into the ocean.

Our heroes come upon the scene, and discover the native with frostbite on his body, which they attribute to the giant squid being cold-blooded. As they are checking out the destruction, Kudo finds Kobata stealing plans for a hotel. It turns out Kobata is a spy trying to find out what his competitors are doing on the island. Then Gezora appears again to menace Kudo’s younger brother!

After a brief skirmish, Prof. Miya throws gasoline on the giant squid, followed by a flaming torch, which ignites the monster, killing it in moments. As the beast burns to death, the monster’s flesh dissolves into goo and wiggles away, unnoticed. Also taking this opportunity, Kobata makes a run for it. The natives bring out a huge machine gun left over by the Japanese military and shoot a rock wall with it, which enrages Ganimes the giant crayfish monster. Ganimes overturns Kobata’s lifeboat with Kobata inside, then attacks our heroes. Bullets cannot repulse the monster! Kudo’s little brother tries to run away, but he trips, and Ganimes is close behind. Kudo starts shooting the killer crustacean in the eyes. Just as the monster is about to kill everyone, it stumbles and falls down a cliff, at which point Kudo shoots some adjacent fuel cannisters, blowing the giant monster to bits.

One of the claws lands on the ground and melts into a space amoeba that then wriggles its way to the prone form of Kobata, who has been thrown from his little raft onto the shore. The space amoeba takes over his body and tells him all about itself.

Surprise from the deep!
Surprise from the deep!

First it tells him that Kobata is no longer a normal human being, but that he is being controlled down to his very cells, and that it can change his cells into anything it wants… but that it won’t make him into a giant akin to Ganime or Gezora because there is no need to do so. The space amoeba’s power can increase in its body infinitely according to how much food it eats. The space amoeba is planning to cover the entire world, but there are some enemies of the amoeba that they want him to destroy. Now rise, Kobata!

Kudo and the others find Kobata just then, and they tell him that they think the monster is really a being from outer space, that it clung to the Helios 7, and that it by some means is able to take normal animals and change them into giant monsters as a weapon against humanity. They also figured out the alien’s weakness—ultrasonic waves! They figured this out now because earlier in the story, Gezora ran away from a cave full of bats.

As they are discussing all of this (and revealing it to us the reader for the first time, while also revealing it to their enemy inadvertently in the form of Kobata). In the very next scene, the native guy from before comes running up to let them know that he knows where a bunch of bats can be found that were mysteriously killed. (Presumably some time has passed here, though the manga is confusingly structured so that it isn’t really clear.) Our heroes go to another cave and find more bats destroyed. Suddenly Kamoebas emerges from the jungle to menace them!

Our heroes rush into a nearby cave, only to discover Kobata killing bats with a flaming torch. They guess correctly that the alien has taken over his body, and alien-Kobata, unmasked, obligingly explains to them what is going on. Kobata says he is a wandering asteroid alien, a being that has evolved to such a significant degree that it no longer requires arms or legs and lives parasitically on other beings. The space amoeba could do nothing but float in space until the Helios 7 came along!

As Kobata monologues, apparently Kudo’s little brother was able to round up a bunch of bats in a big bag, which he lets loose. The bats fly around Kobata, and the alien-man collapses and comes back to his senses. Professor Miya waxes eloquent about how even though the aliens may be able to control every cell, the human being has a heart or spirit beyond that control, and human beings cannot be explained as mere cells alone, but have deeper mysteries!

Meanwhile, due to the interference of the bats on Kobata, apparently all the monsters on the island have also gone nuts. Kamoebas and Ganime start fighting each other. Kamoebas gets his arm ripped off by Ganime, which we see twitching in the dirt. Then both monsters fall into a volcano and are burned alive. Kobata then jumps into the volcano to join them, thus saving the world from the space amoeba.

This shot of Kamoebas makes him look a lot scarier than in the movie
This shot of Kamoebas makes him look a lot scarier than in the movie

On the last page, our heroes reflect on how human beings working together with the bats could overcome the aliens, and Kudo’s little brother wonders if his school friends might ever believe such a story.

So how was the adaptation? It follows some of the familiar tropes we have observed so far. As usual, the main story remains unchanged except with some minor tweaks and a much quicker pace. Once again a child character is introduced that did not appear in the movie, presumably to appeal to the children reading the books. This child character, though he plays an important role in the story (ultimately vanquishing Kobata-alien), cannot be said to be the main character though—I didn’t even see the kid named in the book!

And that is one of the big weaknesses of the adaptation—it’s confusing! When I first read through the book, I got several characters mixed up. It was hard to keep everyone straight. Not only is the kid never named, but the Japanese-speaking native as well. There are quite a few characters, period—Ayako, Prof. Miya, Kudo, Kobata, Kudo’s brother, Sakura, Yokoyama, the editor, the scheming guy wanting to make a resort, the native, the native chief. And the art style, for me, failed to distinguish some of the characters from each other very clearly, making the book even more confusing.

The big reveal of the bats-as-a-weapon (and the existence of the space amoeba) is so sudden. It feels like it comes out of nowhere, and then the next few pages as the bats are exterminated are bewildering. In my opinion, this is one of the weakest adaptations I have read so far, as far as storytelling goes.

The monsters, though, for the most part look great. Kamoebas especially looks vicious and actually dang cool in some of the shots. Ganimes also looks grand and menacing. Gezora for me was a slightly weak link, but all three monsters look pretty close to their costume counterparts, and I can’t complain too much.

Space Amoeba is considered a lesser Toho kaiju film, and for me, the manga deserves a similar reputation. Of course dedicated fans will enjoy the comic, but it’s not an especially engaging read on its own.