Saturday, July 4, 2015

Godzilla: The Series

It's July 4th! Independence Day! That great big ol' celebration of all things America! As such, I've selected something special just for today. Not only that, but it's the first time I have done something like this so I hope I don't bugger it up too badly. So, yesterday we covered the notorious failure that was America's first attempt to bring Godzilla stateside. Sure, it did well enough financially, but time has proven that ticket sales do not equate a quality product. If they did then Michael Bay would be the king of Criterion.

Yes, I know he's had two releases from them. Only one of those do I actually agree with, mostly because of Nic Cage.

But, the late 90s were an interesting beast and we got some strange things during that time. A few cartoons based on a fairly obscure comics like Sam & Max and Big Guy & Rusty the Boy Robot, Weird Al hosting a kid's show where he made lima bean cookies, and we got some cartoons based on films. Evolution got one, Men in Black got one, and so did Godzilla. But here's where it gets weird because, where the movie has received a lot of hate and dismissal...the cartoon actually didn't. Why? Well, that's what we're here to talk about in my very first series retrospective where I break down the series as best I can to get to the meat of why it succeeded or failed. And since Zilla Jr. is America's kaiju hero, he deserves to be spotlighted on this day more than any other.

I will keep reusing this image to my heart's content, because it makes me happy in the stupidest of ways.
Getting into the basics, what is this series about? Who are the main characters and what is their motivation throughout? Well, to go into that we have to revisit the movie and it's mostly non-characters. Yes, because this is technically a sequel and that means we have returning characters. But in a shocking twist, where the movie characters often had little to no personality and were mostly just there to distract you from bad CG lizards, the show's versions have defined personalities and...(gasp!) decent acting! Yeah, I'm shocked too, because Mr. Sharknado himself, Ian Ziering plays Dr. Nick and does a better job than Matthew Broderick. Probably because he's not being written like a goober who says stupid things about fish.

I'm still not saying it! Get out of here with that shit!
Outside of Dr. Nick, we also have his sorta girlfriend reporter lady and her cameraman bestie, but thankfully they're not really any sort of primary focus this time. Also we have Major Hicks (hey, he got a change in rank!) returning to be Nick's military get-out-of-jail-free card and Elsie and Craven (two minor characters from the film who were also scientists) are brought in to join Nick and his lab assistant Randy. But wait, what about our favourite Frenchman? Well, he's not in the show...much. Yeah, he does actually cameo from time to time but is sadly no longer played by Jean Reno (although he does still look like him). Instead of him, we get his best agent, Monique. She fills the badass French person slot on the team. Each member of the group (collectively known as H.E.A.T.) has their own defined purpose and are all fairly interesting. This being a kaiju centered show, they really could've ignored giving the humans all of this, but thankfully they didn't and it makes the characters really stand out next to other giant monster shows (like Kong: The Animated Series or the original Godzilla show from 1978).

But what about our hero? Where does a giant mutant lizard fit into all of this?
Yes, while the human cast is compelling on their own, we all know we're here for Zilla Jr., because this is his show and not Dr. Nick and Friends. Character-wise he's set up pretty well in the initial two part intro arc where we see him hatching and his egg goo getting all over Nick. This leads to him basically bonding with Nick, believing the human to be the parent. I can only imagine the hemorrhoids squeezing out an egg that large would cause. The doc figures this out fairly quickly along with the fact that Zilla wasn't the only animal that got mutated over the years and that the environment in many places is show the effects of these mutations. Zilla Jr. becomes both protector and ace in the hole for the H.E.A.T.  team, fighting off the other giant monsters they find around the world. Unlike his mother (because Zilla did squeeze out eggs) he's smaller and leaner with longer arms and also has the ability to breathe fire, much like the classic Godzilla. He's also got a pretty clever mind and seems to understand what Nick tells him and does seem to feel a sense of family almost towards the other humans in the group.

BEST FAMILY PHOTO EVER!
This sets up our basic premise: humans find monsters, Zilla Jr. fights monsters to protect humans, humans sometimes help Zilla Jr. fight monsters (and other humans). It's a fairly straight-forward concept and that's why it works so well. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, but rather it just takes that wheel and rolls with it. Every single week we get our heroic kaiju fighting other kaiju and that's why people really seemed to like this so much more than the film it followed. It was a show that gave kaiju fans solid action, interesting characters, and creative monsters. In many ways, this series felt almost like an apology for how bad the movie was.

"Throw giant monsters at them until they forgive us!"
As a fan, I was incredibly disappointed with the film. It promised something it just didn't deliver and left me feeling like we'd never get a good American version of the franchise. That's fine too, honestly, because I've never really understood the desire we have for Americanizing everything. Can't we just enjoy what is already there and make something new? And when this series started, I was ready to right it off, but I decided to give it a shot and was really glad I did. It gave me what I wanted our of the film and delivered it on a weekly basis every Saturday morning. Hell, for us fans they even did a tribute to the truly legendary Destroy All Monsters via a multi-episode story arc that saw aliens come to Earth to control various monsters Zilla Jr. had faced thus far in the series. As if that wasn't enough, we even got a mecha equivalent too as it was revealed the same aliens rebuilt Zilla into a big cyborg referred to as Cyber-Zilla.

I tell you no lies, this really did happen.
What the people who worked on this show did was nothing short of amazing, in my opinion. They salvaged what I and many others thought was unsalvageable. Granted, it doesn't make the movie any better, but it does make me grateful for it in a way. If not for the bad movie we wouldn't have gotten this entertaining little series and that would've been a shame. The animation is also some of the better animation to end up on network television, but there was quite a bit of that at the time. In a period where comics were getting really bad and forgettable music clouded the collective consciousness, we got some pretty good animated series that are mostly forgotten. Among those series walked this one, reminding us that kaiju could be done right for a Western audience.

Not that we didn't have a least one other good giant monster series.
In closing, while it doesn't erase the many mistakes made by Emmerich and company, it does soothe the burn. And watching this series now, I still feel that the animation holds up rather well. It's a shame the show didn't last longer, but at the same time it also didn't wear out its welcome either. I guess you could say it left before the party went south, yes? If you have young kaiju fans or are one yourself and are looking to check this out, check this out. It's a pleasant surprise and worth snapping up for the low price it tends to go for. So, until we get to see Zilla Jr. and Godzilla team-up to take on a giant mutated Michael Bay Turtle monster, I'll be here remembering how cool Saturday mornings used to be. Later days, bleeders!

Now get off my lawn!

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