Movies featuring kaiju, giant monsters, are almost a staple in Japan. The 1954 Gojira, imported to North America as Godzilla, set the standard, with the kaiju stomping through Tokyo. Several more kaiju followed, including Rodan, Mothra, even Reptilicus, most a threat to humanity. Not all, though; Godzilla defends the Earth, though not necessarily humanity. Mothra can be summoned for help. One kaiju is known for defending humanity, especially children – Gamera.

in the first film, Gamera: the Giant Monster, Gamera, like Godzilla, was birthed in the blast of an atomic bomb. Instead of the Pacific Ocean, the giant turtle monster came from the Arctic. Gamera was the threat in his first movie, heading to Japan to wreak havok before being lured into a rocket and sent to Mars. However, there is a point where he catches a young boy, Toshio, who had fallen off a cliff and returns him to his home. The sequel, Gamera vs. Barugon saw Gamera defend Japan from Barugon, a giant lizard. As the series continued, Gamera became a friend to all children, defending them and the Earth from alien threats, cementing a niche in kaiju films.

The appeal of a kaiju movie is watching the kaiju destroy an urban area. King Kong wreaked havoc in New York City. Godzilla regularly stomps Tokyo into rubble. When there are two kaiju fighting, the city gets destroyed. The kaiju is either portrayed by a performer in a monster suit or performed by a team of puppeteers. The audience is expected to suspend their disbelief at the special effects and the kaiju‘s appearance. If there isn’t buy-in, the film seems goofy. With Gamera, it’s not the giant turtle that threatens disbelief; it’s what Gamera can do that pushes the limit. In Gamera, the giant turtle flies to Japan. In Gamera vs Barugon, Gamera uses his internal rockets to spin like a flying saucer. Then there’s Gamera vs Guiron, where Gamera performs a routine on the horizontal bar. Guiron is also an odd duck, having a heavy blade for a snout. Viras, from Gamera vs Viras looks like a giant octopus with tentacles top and bottom.

Gamera got a 6 from the Japanese judge but a 1 from the Russian. (Clip from Gamera vs. Guiron)

Gamera’s defense of children began in the first movie, rescuing Toshio. Letter sent to the studio about the rescue convinced the creators to shift into the idea of Gamera being a friend to all children. This move made Gamera unique and allowed the series to appeal to younger audiences.

In 2023, Netflix released Kadokawa Corporation’s first animated Gamera work, Gamera: Rebirth. The six episode series brings back Gamera to defend the Earth and its children, acting as a reboot. The first episode introduces the point of view characters, Boco, Junichi, Joe, and Brody. The first three are good friends who stick together through mutual interests. Brody, however, is the son of an American general stationed in Japan and starts as a bully but is brought into the group after Gamera’s first appearance. Boco, with the help of Joe and Junichi, rescues a small turtle that bears a passing resemblance to Gamera from being stuck in a tree branch. When the Gyaos attack Tokyo, thanks to that connection, Gamera steps in to protect Boco and his friends.

That very same connection turns Boco and his friends into primary targets for the kaiju that follow, the dinosaur-like Jiger, the aquatic Zigra, the blade-faced Guiron, and the octopodal Viras. Each kaiju is a challenge to Gamera, but random damage cannot hold up a kaiju with a mission. With each kaiju that appears, the research corporation Eustace Labs gathers more info about the monsters and Orylim, a crystal that appears to power the creatures. Ultimately, a conspiracy is discovered and it is humans that are the greatest threat to the planet and the children.

The advantage of animation is that the special effects won’t cost extra to the animation budget. The mass of the kaiju can be shown without hampering a performer in a heavy suit or dealing with the wires of puppetry. The animation can also take what looks odd and turn it into something awesome and/or frightening. Guiron’s somersault attack with its heavy blade could be silly, but in the context of the series, it is brutally effective as the blade whips around and cuts through buildings. Gamera’s flight, both as a flying turtle and as a spinning UFO, is done well, allowing for the suspension of disbelief even when Gamera outflies the US Air Force.

In kaiju, monster animal, and even horror movies, there are characters who earn their deaths. in monster movies, these deaths come at the hands/claws/teeth of the titular character. This is done to keep the audience on the side of the monster at least long enough before the hero can stop the devastation. Gamera: Rebirth is no exception, though Gamera is the hero of the series. The giant turtle doesn’t do any munching of humans, being the defender if humanity, but is responsible for dealing with the people behind the conspiracy. The one character whose actions were unforgiveable gets a karmic eating, the benefit of having other kaiju for Gamera to fight.

One problem that can crop up in kaiju movies is that the title monster often gets pushed aside by plot and antagonist kaiju. Gamera vs. Barugon is a prime example in the Gamera series, with the giant turtle appearing at the beginning and the end but out of commission for the bulk of the film as the human plot takes over. The audience is there for the kaiju and the collateral damage it can wreak in an urban environment. If there are two or more kaiju, then the audience wants to see them fight.. Gamera: Rebirth manages to avoid the issue, giving the kaiju battle equal billing to the human plot while still telling the story. Even when there isn’t fighting, especially near the end of the series, the focus is still on Gamera.

The tone of the series is grimmer than the films. There is acknowledgement of the death and destruction caused by kaiju and their battles. People are eaten or crushed. The deaths are a key plot element. Swaths of Tokyo and other cities are leveled and left in rubble. However, the theme of Gamera being a friend to all children is kept, even with the darker tone. Gamera has a connection to Boco, and does not harm anyone on purpose. Instead, Gamera is the one being standing between the enemy kaiju and humanity. The tone is grim, but still has moments for the audience to cheer.

The battles are well animated. They are the reason for the audience to watch, so the fighting has a rhythm to it. Gamera never has an easy time of it. Guiron inflicts massive wound on Gamera, and the kaiju before him get their licks in. There is a tension built up during the battles before Gamera uses his energy breath, and that attack isn’t always effective.

Overall, Gamera: Rebirth takes the goofier aspects of the Gamera films and turns them into moments of awesome. The series doesn’t flinch or hide the elements that fans expect from a Gamera work. The animation isn’t the best but isn’t the worst at the human scale, but at the kaiju level, it brings out the best of all of the monsters. Gamera: Rebirth works as a reboot, allowing for a more serious approach while still maintaining Gamera as the defender of children.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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