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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Series Report Card: Godzilla (2018) Part 1

33. Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle
Gojira: kessen kidô zôshoku toshi

The response to the first animated Godzilla movie, “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters,” was largely negative. At least in the American fandom, very few people seemed to actually like the movie. However, Toho's deal with Polygon Pictures and Netflix to produce an animated trilogy was clearly set in stone from the beginning. Less than a year after the Japanese release of “Planet of the Monsters,” and only a few months after it came out in America, the second film was released. “Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle” was released in Japan on May 18th, with its stateside Netflix release following in July. No, the original Japanese subtitle – which translate to something like “Battle Mobile Proliferation City” – is no less awkward. Though it does sound less like a “Star Trek” spin-off

Following the events of “Planet of the Monsters,” Haruo and the rest of his team are stranded on the hellish remains of the Earth. Haruo is rescued by a strange humanoid girl. The others soon encounter her twin. The sisters are part of an entire underground civilization. The telepathic humanoids coat their weapons with nano-tech metal. This metal is derived from the remains of the original MechaGodzilla. In fact, what was once MechaGodzilla has become an entire city. Haruo and his team soon realize they can use this technology, that has evolved over the centuries, to defeat Godzilla.

“City on the Edge of Battle” picks up right where Polygon's first “Godzilla” movie left off. This is a problem because, in the months that have passed since I saw it, I had forgotten almost every about the earlier film. The events of the first anime “Godzilla” movie were not especially compelling and did not linger in the mind. However, the creators of Polygon's trilogy are clearly really invested in this stuff. Their second kaiju flick follows from the first almost as if this was a television series and not a trilogy of films. If “Planet of the Monsters” didn't make much of an impression on you also, I'd recommend re-watching it before diving into “City on the Edge of Battle.”

Right from the beginning, I was disappointed in Polygon's decision to create their “Godzilla” films with that ugly, cel-shaded, CGI animation. In the second film, this still proves super distracting. The limitations of this style is most apparent during several of the action scenes. When the evolved humans or robots are leaping around, things sometimes turn a little choppy. The long dialogue scenes, of which there are many, feel even more stiff and unnatural when delivered by such artificial looking characters. Once again, I wish Toho and its associates had just made these films with traditional animation, instead of this unappealing half-way point between full-blown CGI and the usual anime style.

I will give “City on the Edge of Battle” this much: It is slightly better than “Planet of the Monsters.” The introduction of a technologically primitive but psychically advanced race of humans is interesting. They call themselves the Houtua. They speak telepathically, in a way that crosses all language barriers. Despite that, the twins quickly begin to pick up on English by the end. Though the Houtua appear to be human, their bodies have evolved in the thousands of years since Earth was abandoned. They have a strange powder on them with healing capabilities. Some of the characters suspect they may have insect heritage, which is a somewhat nonsensical idea. The Houtua put a cool, sci-fi twist on the many primitive civilizations that appeared through Toho's original “Godzilla” flicks.

The first movie was overly invested in its own convoluted mythology, confusing and boring the viewer. Some of the contributions to the lore made in part two are more interesting. Aside from the Huotua, we also learn that all of Earth's biology has evolved to imitate Godzilla, its reigning species. However, the mythos and self-involved back story remains crushing. Eventually, a conflict between the regular humans and the Bilusaludo, another alien race accompany them, emerges. The Bilusaluo believe they should fuse with MechaGodzilla's nanotech, an idea that disgusts the humans. Meanwhile, the Exif – the other humanoid aliens – are searching after a minor MacGuffin. This stuff isn't just boring. It's actively annoying.

The mythology being perplexing and the plot being uninteresting would be one thing. An interesting cast of characters might have redeemed these things. Sadly, the heroes and villains have not grown anymore interesting since “Planet of the Monsters.” Main hero Haruo, for one example, remains boring. Haruo is motivated by a singular desire to destroy Godzilla that borders on obsessive. He believes Earth belongs to humanity and it should be reclaimed from Godzilla. I was wondering if “City on the Edge of Battle” was going to make Hauro an Ahab figure, with Godzilla as his white whale. But, no, that might've been interesting. Instead, the film is soon absorbed by the excruciating conflict between the humans and the Bilusaludo.

As I mentioned last time, Polygon's “Godzilla” series features more in the way of traditional anime tropes than expected kaiju movie tropes. Look no further than those Houtua twins. They are named Miana and Maina. One is immediately enamored of Haruo, showing a child-like personality, while the other is grouchier and tougher, more of a proud warrior type. They both have really cute designs too. In other words, they are cute girls with genki and tsundere personalities, exactly the kind of characters otakus will want to buy resin statues of. It's also suggested they might have a crush on Haruo, who is already receiving romantic attention from pilot Yoko. Anime revolving around bland male heroes, surrounded by attractive women who love him is a trope unto itself.

No stereotype is more associated with anime than giant robots. Don't worry, “City on the Edge of Battle” has that covered too. The terrestrial mechs from the first movie get an upgrade in this one. They are retrofitted with wings and renamed “vultures.” Much of the second half of “City on the Edge of Battle” are devoted to these flying robots. There are many long sequences showing them flying through the air, testing their agility and weapons. During the climax, they turn their laser cannons on Godzilla. Still, the vultures get so much screen time that you feel like the directors are far more interested in them than Godzilla.

Yes, the king of all kaiju has about the same amount of screen time here as he did in the first episode. He basically shows up for a few scenes here and there before becoming the focus of the climax. What makes this frustrating is that Polygon's take on Godzilla is truly impressive. The design has really grown on me. Godzilla's rough angles, wolf-like snout, and jagged skin makes him look more like a mountain than ever before. His powers are more destructive than ever, as his atomic breath has evolved into a giant annihilating ray. As cool as he is, Polygon's Godzilla is still largely lacking in the personality he usually has.

Most of “City on the Edge of Forever's” advertising was built around MechaGodzilla. The first movie teased Gojira's mechanical double with a few brief glimpses. The plot is built around the robot dinosaur's existence, as its remains provided the nanobots that become so integral to the plot. They even made a toy of him. You might think all of this is leading up to a big fight between Godzilla and the anime MechaGodzilla. A version of Godzilla's mechanical foe made from nanobots sure would've been interesting to see. But it's all one big tease. The credits roll on “City on the Edge of Battle” without MechaGodzilla himself actually appearing on screen. This is yet another Godzilla movie where the king goes without fighting another giant monster.

The score for “City on the Edge of Battle” is provided by Takayuki Hattori. Aside from scoring “Planet of the Monsters,” Hattori previously composed the music for “Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla” and “Godzilla 2000.” Though Akira Ifukube's iconic theme is conspicuously absent, Hattori's music still has that classical Godzilla-feeling. There's definitely a novelty to watching an animated film that still sounds so much like a typical Toho Godzilla film. Hattori, however, tries to add some flair to the soundtrack. There's at least two scenes where a techno song plays, a very odd and distracting decision. Hattori also throws in some wailing rock guitars from time to time. A J-pop song plays over the end credits, which is pretty easy to ignore though.

Much like the first part of the animated Godzilla trilogy, “City on the Edge of Battle” ends on a cliffhanger. Aside from that, the film hints that other monsters may appear in the next installment. (Which came out in Japan earlier this month.) The presence of mystical twins and the Houtua worshiping a giant egg seem to suggest Mothra may appear. Ghidorah, meanwhile, is name-dropped after some melodramatic build-up. Seeing these iconic adversaries brought to life in animation might've been exciting if the first two parts of Polygon's “Godzilla” trilogy weren't so underwhelming. A slight improvement over its predecessor, thanks to some intriguing sci-fi ideas, “Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle” is hugely self-important, derivative, and even manages to lack the cheap thrills associated with the kaiju genre. [Grade: C]

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