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Reaper's Reviews: 'Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters'
Original title: Gojira: Kaijuu Wakusei
Production: Polygon Pictures
Format/Length: Movie; 88 minutes
Release: November 17, 2017
Considering Godzilla's country of origin, it's a little bit surprising that the legendary "King of the Monsters" got his first true anime adaptation only last year. After all, Godzilla is among Japan's most notable icons, alongside anime itself. Thus, combining the two would seem to someone like no-brainer.
This wasn't helped by the fact that for the longest time the franchise was made somewhat irrelevant thanks to several lackluster sequels and a bizarre 1998 American adaptation that was anything but Godzilla.
This was finally put to an end in 2014, when Legendary Entertainment released another American adaptation, this time more well-received. This success was followed by Shin Godzilla - directed by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno - in 2016, all which finally led to a renewed interest in Toho's flagship franchise.
And thanks to all that, Godzilla finally got the anime adaptation it so desperately clamored for decades. The first in an epic trilogy, in fact. But how well did it go for the King in his animated debut?
Story & Characters
By now, I assume that if you have the slightest piece of knowledge about Godzilla, you would know the usual premise and formula of the franchise: humanity harms nature, which leads to the resurface of our title monster, and humanity is terrorized as all hell breaks loose and mankind is reminded that for all our crimes and sins, nature has one hell of an answer.
Planet of the Monsters takes an interesting spin on the entertaining but aging (I mean, it’s only 6-decade old) formula by driving humanity out their planet due to the King of the Monsters’ wrath, only to return thousands of years later, still under Godzilla’s fierce reign.
It’s an intriguing set-up, and it makes up what is probably one of the darkest Godzilla movies yet, if not the darkest. Aiding humanity are two alien species who were too driven away from their homeworld, the soft-spoken and religious Exif and the much more aggressive-looking Bilusaludo. Sadly, little is given about them and at times it’s easy to forget they are a different set of humanoids.
With that, I’ll bring up that Planet of the Monsters’s strongest asset is without a doubt its setting. While this is not the first portrayal of humanity escaping earth due to it becoming uninhabitable (a la the beautiful 2008 Pixar-animated movie Wall-E) or overrun with hostile forces (similar to the 2017 action game Nier: Automata, which was released about eight months before PotM), it is the first time I personally witnessed those two major premises combined, and it is done rather masterfully.
Humanity’s declining society and their constant striving to survive is genuinely heartwrenching and tough to watch, and the sight of the increasingly devolving earth comes off as haunting and frightening. The movie’s dark tone and bleak nature might alienate some potential viewers, but if there’s something Planet of the Monsters does well, is in conveying its characters’ horrors and fears to the viewer.
Which is not really surprising, considering it was written by Gen Urobuchi. The same Urobuchi was behind Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero. You know, the guy who viciously torments his creations through an unforgiving world? Yeah, that one.
That said, the characters themselves are forgettable and nothing to write home about. I understand that this is only the first installment in a trilogy, but it presents a rather one-dimensional or cliched cast - not to mention a fairly large one for a 88-minute movie - that fails to become memorable or relatable beyond the fear of losing the top stop of the food chain. Hell, beyond main protagonist Haruo Sasaki, I struggled remembering the names of any of his fellow soldiers and commanders.
As for our hero, Haruo Sasaki is a bland protagonist that can be even annoying to watch. While I can see that the movie seems to take some influence from Moby Dick, Haruo comes off as generally unpleasant and frustrating lead that is rather hard to root for. He’s like Eren Jaeger from Attack on Titan, but lacks the heart and more positive aspects of Jaeger’s character.
The story itself is an entertaining one, focusing on a multi-layered plan to stop Godzilla once and for all. It’s as silly and over the top as one can imagine from Urobuchi’s works, but the sheer intensity of the action and the complex, multi-layered planning, not to mention the tactics used and the death toll presented, make it a very engaging and memorable experience. It occurred to me more than once to utter "oh shit" several times through the second half of PotM.
And I have to admit that this movie had one of the most shocking and jaw-dropping conclusions I’ve ever seen in anime, and what’s best is that it didn’t really come out of nowhere, but was carefully foreshadowed beforehand. I wouldn't spoil it, of course, but let's say that it sets up the next chapter quite brilliantly.
Unfortunately, 88 minutes just don’t cut it out, guys. As I said earlier, I’m well aware that this is only the first installment in a trilogy, but the sad feel is that it certainly feels like that.
A lot of things remain unknown, there has been near zero development for the characters, and I’m a little disappointed the movie never really touched about humanity’s state and the hardships in living in space beyond a 10-minute exposition intro. There is still so much left to see, so much left to explore, so much left to find out, but it is only hinted here and there.
I wouldn’t mind some extra 20, or even 10, minutes to the overall running time of Planet of the Monsters just to flesh out the cast and setting a little more. What we got is still decent, but it could be a lot more than just that, and I can’t wait to see how will it continue.
Animation & Art
Planet of the Monsters was primarily produced by Polygon Pictures, a studio best known for being one of the few anime studios to produce fully-3D anime. Perhaps their best-known works to date are Knights of Sidonia and Ajin, although I haven’t watched them myself yet so I can’t compare it to Godzilla. They even worked on some American projects as well, including a few Transformers shows.
As 3D art in anime can be a rather controversial topic, one can only think what will be the opinion on all-around 3D anime films, but I’ll let you know that Planet of the Monsters is rather… good. It can be rough in the edges and with some stiff animations, not to mention some clanky shots and recycled scenes, but on a whole… It’s a rather okay-looking film. It definitely hits a high mark in regards to its action sequences, which seem to have drained the majority of the film’s budget.
Thankfully, Polygon manages to cover up the majority of their lesser scenes with some clever choreography and beautiful art design; PotM starts off as far more sci fi-oriented movie in its design but it quickly jumps to a more post-apocalyptic tone with a desolated and nature-ruled earth that is just stunning to look at. Moody skies clash with lush yet deadly and muted-colored forests, while the dazzling action later on fills the screen with vibrant colors and explosions, and let's be honest: Godzilla is simply jaw-dropping.
I’d also use this opportunity to point out how good the character expressions and animations are. The facial movements and character emotions are nothing short of great, and I was actually surprised at how good it was, from tiny nuances to flexible expressions and eye movements. And Godzilla… Oh my. Godzilla’s uncanny appearance… Hell, the simple human-like look of his eyes, is mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time. Something tells me that this was intentional, and it only helps in turning him into an even scarier specimen.
Audio & Sound
The soundtrack of Planet of the Monsters was composed by Takayuki Hattori, who is perhaps best known for his work on the Slayers franchise. Fun fact: he even composed a couple other Godzilla movies in the past.
What I like about the soundtrack is that it’s in the spirit of the series while also seemingly taken from a video game. There is an extensive usage of brass instruments, alongside some beats and even some strings; giving the soundtrack a sense of urgency and suspense. Hattori’s style is not always my cup of tea, but he has done a solid job here.
As for the voice acting, I first watched this movie in the Japanese dub, which stars Death Note lead Mamoru Miyano as our protagonist Haruo; as you can expect, Miyano always provides an excellent job. And the rest of the cast is pretty impressive as well, featuring the likes of Takahiro Sakurai (also known as Suzaku in Code Geass) and Daisuke Ono, who played Jotaro Kujo in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders.
When I rewatched the film in the English dub, I was actually impressed with the quality of the dub and how good does it hold up against the original dub. Chris Niosi does a wonderful voice work as Haruo, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, and the English dub is filled with solid voice acting such as Lucien Dodge’s calm and chill voice and Ray Chase’s more commanding tone.
Whether you’ll choose Japanese or English, Planet of the Monsters got you covered.
As I stressed out much earlier in this review, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is only the first third of a trilogy, and the final product feels like that. Its intriguing setting and mysterious, hostile atmosphere are somewhat bogged down due to time constraints, paper-thin characters and questions that are kept for its sequels.
But I can't deny that this film was tons of fun to watch. It's amusing how the dark atmosphere and bleak progress of the events were combined with insane and sometimes ridiculous action, and I can't point out enough how much I love the entire premise and how it toys with the usual Godzilla formula. It's far from perfect, yes, only because it's merely an appetizer.
Planet of the Monsters doesn't go out of here without a recommendation, even if it's not of the highest order. I can only hope that the two future movies will build upon the foundation here to create a truly whole and satisfying Godzilla experience, but even if that won't be the case, Planet of the Monsters is not bad for what appears to be a simple experiment.
Not bad at all.
- Interesting take on the usual Godzilla formula
- Absorbing setting that begs to be explored
- Beautiful art direction and fun action sequences
- Human characters are bland and ultimately forgettable
- 88 minutes just feel too short for a movie of this scope
- Animation can be rough around the edges
& The Ugly:
- So Batman got an anime adaptation back in 2008 and Godzilla is only getting one now?!
As for alternate recommendations, let me direct you towards...
- Attack on Titan, which is really unsurprising given the similarities between Titan to the entirety of the Godzilla franchise. Not to mention... Have I said already that Haruo is basically Eren Jaeger in space? Because that's basically him.
- My second recommendation is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which again, might not be that surprising as Hideaki Anno worked on both franchises. Similar to Godzilla, it's a much darker tale than most other monster anime out there, and a good one at that. It might be a little old, but it's good. Very good.