January 27, 2008

The Mechakaiju War

Every kaijuphile's dream almost comes true in Marc Cerasini's fourth and final book in his Godzilla series. I'm sure we all fantasized about the ginormous tussle that would take place if Toho's stable of robot monsters were to come together in one story. While budget constraints may have prevented Toho from realizing this dream, it's no extra cost to include many complex kaiju in a book. Unless you count licensing fees. Godzilla vs. The Robot Monsters employs Mechagodzilla, MOGUERA, and Mecha-King Ghidorah, each metal monstrosity controlled by a different nation for their own purposes. Throw in Godzilla, Anguirus, and a couple others, and you have the makings of a man vs. nature epic unlike any kaiju story before it. But something went wrong.
While Godzilla at World's End was awesome because it had one great plot, Robot Monsters takes a hit because of the problem that plagued Godzilla 2000: One too many storylines going on at once. Although the problem wasn't as bad as 2000's, plus most of the storylines eventually combined with the main one. So while it starts out in branches, it heads to the same path.
This book contains forty pages less than the previous one and offers one less kaiju. Well, technically two, since I consider Ghidorah and Mecha-Ghidorah to be one.

Kaiju Cast
Godzilla- After clawing out of the earth from an active volcano, Godzilla returns home to Japan to defend his turf from a "new" foe.
Mecha-King Ghidorah- The extraterrestrial terror is revived and suited with mechanical components. Now a cyborg under control of a ruthless Mongolian warlord, the tri-headed dragon is more evil than ever.
Anguirus- Russia's own kaiju threat, this time the spiked beast takes on the role of destructor rather than savior.
Baragon- Awakened by an underground mine blast, this dinosaur-like kaiju has a monster-sized hunger that seemingly can't be satisfied. With a glowing horn and incredible jumping and burrowing abilities, this mythical beast terrorizes an Indian reservation.
Mechagodzilla- A robotic double of the King of the Monsters, developed jointly by America and Japan. This super-weapon is operated via mind control for top maneuverability.
MOGUERA- Mobile Operation Godzilla Universal Expert Robot Aero-type. A mechanical monster built by the Russians for defending their homeland.
Fire Rodan- Mutated pteranodon with the ability to fly at Mach 1.5. Suspiciously fertile.

Story
The story begins a year after King Ghidorah's defeat at Godzilla's hands. Apparently, he was too battered to survive, especially since he lost his middle head. It's unknown how he did manage to live for twelve months, and where he spent this time, but he crash lands in Mongolia in a comatose state. On cue, a brutal Mongolian tyrant and his troops appear and claim the fallen space monster. Meanwhile, a weakened Godzilla wanders beneath the Earth's crust following his duel with Biollante in the previous book. While looking for a way out, he collapses in a river of lava and would surely have perished if he didn't flow into an underground chamber rich with radioactive ore.
A Russian oil drilling station in the Caspian Sea draws the attention of Anguirus, who plows through the naval defense force before wiping out the structure itself. This prompts the Russian government to launch their kaiju-like war machine MOGUERA ahead of schedule. Their intention is to capture him alive in a containment facility to symbolize the power of the new Russia.
While MOGUERA is given a few test runs through an obstacle course in preparation, another mech is being built in a Mongolian robot factory. In the three years since the remains of King Ghidorah is seized, he was slowly being turned into a cyborg. The intention is to use a young girl to link her mind with the gold dragon's in order to control it. But there are difficulties, as the free-willed monster snaps out of its electronically induced trance and nearly trashes the facility. A few lives are lost before its half-conscious state is restored.
Anguirus climbs out of the Caspian Sea after being attracted by the sounds of a pumping oil field. It was merely a trap to draw the spiky shelled dinosaur into battle with MOGUERA. The two monstrosities begin to grapple, with the flesh and bone kaiju overwhelming his metal attacker. After being stunned by electricity-based mazer attacks and falling over after destroying a tower, Anguirus is finally injected with a sedative by MOGUERA, which quickly takes effect and puts the aggressive creature to sleep.
A volcano on the island of Krakatau explodes, unleashing the King of the Monsters to the surface of the Earth once more. When he heads into the water, he is immediately tailed by a French warship, the captain of which was inadvertently responsible for waking Godzilla about a decade earlier. After difficulties in getting Godzilla at the proper distance in order to safely launch their nuclear payload, the radioactive dinosaur creeps upon the ship and smashes it like a brittle piece of Styrofoam.
The unconscious Anguirus is tied to giant helium balloons and transported towards the containment facility by helicopters. But while flying over the city of Moscow, terrorists fire rockets at the airborne supports, taking out enough of them to send the quadrupedal lizard plummeting to the busy capital below.
On an Indian reservation in Montana, an explosion in a uranium mine disturbs the rest of the prehistoric kaiju known as Baragon. After such a long hibernation period, he begins to seek out food to satisfy his hunger, terrorizing animals and humans alike.
Fire Rodan is spotted flying towards U.S. soil from the Atlantic Ocean, taking out a naval destroyer on the way. He eventually heads to Pittsburgh, landing in a baseball stadium and causing many casualties among spectators and ballplayers. He eventually decides upon a peak in the Appalachian mountains to build a new nest.
Now awake, Anguirus starts to tear Moscow up while Russian military units try to lead it toward the prepared containment unit. They are successful, and MOGUERA shows up to put him down once more and lock him up at last.
When the Chinese military starts to strike the border of Mongolia, Mecha-King Ghidorah appears and easily devastates the whole of them. The Mongolian warlord decides that his super cyborg has the ability to conquer the world, and begins by attacking Beijing.
In the town of Denning, the medicine man of the Blackfoot Indian tribe stands up to Baragon. Using the magic arts possessed by his ancestors, he strikes the large lizard with a concentrated bolt of lightning from the heavens above, sending the monster into retreat. But Baragon's troubles are only beginning when Mechagodzilla confronts him. Despite a valiant effort to take the heavy robot down with bites and leaps, the mutated dinosaur is injected with shock cables and zapped with millions of volts of electricity. Unable to overcome the King of Robot Monsters, Baragon escapes by burrowing miles into the Earth from whence it came.
The Mongolian dictator declares war on Japan, prompting Mechagodzilla and MOGUERA to fly to Tokyo to fight off the cyborg kaiju as a team. When Mecha-King Ghidorah finally arrives, it's an all-out war of colliding metal and searing beams. The phenomenally powerful Ghidorah fights off his enemies very well... until Godzilla, who has finally returned "home", joins the battle. The kaiju king resumes his battle with Ghidorah, this time in the capital of Japan instead of America. But to the surprise of all, MOGUERA turns its attack towards the newcomer and fires injection needles into Godzilla's flesh, pumping him full of a powerful toxin. It turns out the Russian Colonel, who commandeered the controls from the main MOGUERA crew, has killing off the King of the Monsters as his top priority. But the battle is far from over as Godzilla overtakes the traitorous robot, pinning it against a building and tearing it to pieces with his claws and radioactive fire. As this happens, Mechagodzilla is getting trampled by Mecha-King Ghidorah, but the distracted Mongolian machine is eventually knocked down by Godzilla. With his powerful foe down, the nuclear dinosaur starts to tear him to bits as well, as the uprighted Mechagodzilla chips in with a barrage of explosives. In a last ditch effort, Mecha-King Ghidorah breaks away and flies towards the Sea of Japan. The young girl who piloted the three-headed cyborg finally comes to her senses and crashes her vessel into the flagship that housed the Mongolian dictator, taking him out, as well as herself and King Ghidorah once and for all.

Analysis
There seemed to be no less than six storylines going on at the same time, although equal time was certainly not devoted to all of them: Godzilla's return. Rodan reproducing. Ghidorah's revival. Baragon grazing. Anguirus and MOGUERA's feud. Mechagodzilla's controller impatient about finally getting to control Mechagodzilla. The only monster battles in the entire book are Anguirus vs. MOGUERA, Baragon vs. Mechagodzilla, and Mecha-King Ghidorah vs. Mechagodzilla, MOGUERA, and Godzilla. Disappointing after World's End, which had more fights than the line-up of Wrestlemania 2000.

The main monsters, according to page time they received, were Baragon, MOGUERA, and Anguirus, in that order. And Baragon only appears after half the book is over. But if we want to talk about who stars in the book as far as exposure goes, it has to go to the crew members of MOGUERA and the Indians of the Blackfoot tribe. To borrow and alter a quote from Ian Malcolm of the first Jurassic Park movie: "Now eventually you might have MONSTERS in your MONSTER book, right?" That might be a slight exaggeration, but really, why did we pick up this book in the first place?

The storylines that received the most page time were Baragon's ravaging of Montana and the MOGUERA unit itself. The giant horned lizard's attempt to turn the Blackfoot Indian reservation into his own all-you-can-eat buffet was the high-point of the entire book. Cattle, buffalo, cowboys, Indians, and business men were indiscriminately pounced on and devoured. With Mechagodzilla's crew on a promotional tour of Russia, there was no force in America that could fend the beast off, but then the book takes a mystical turn when one of the characters finally decides to take up the mantle of shaman for his tribe.

The motivation behind Anguirus' attack is never explained. Sure, a wild kaiju doesn't really need a reason to run amok, but in the previous story, he existed only in legend before surfacing for the first time with the sole purpose of defeating Gigan. He was an earth defender last time, so why does he start destroying real estate for the hell of it?

Fire Rodan returns from Godzilla 2000. It was his offspring that was featured in Word's End, remember? Papa Rodan had absolutely no reason to be in this book, as all he did was mimic his also pointless role from last time. He flew to America, destroyed a structure or two, laid an egg, and flew back home with his brood. That's it. He participated in no storyline, thus contributed nothing. His offspring had a much more limited role in the last book, but it actually played a part in the outcome by saving the humans from being grounded by Battra. But despite this gripe, what little he did was a bit of a good read. He landed in the new ballpark of the Pittsburgh Pirates, probably thinking it to be a concrete nest. Cerasini does a good job showing what would happen if this airborne kaiju were to touch down in a stadium, with much detail paid to the accidental death and destruction his mass and wings would cause. It's worth noting that Cerasini is a native of Pittsburgh, so this may be a tribute, albeit a twisted one, to his hometown. I'm sure if I wrote a story where the Boston Red Sox were crushed to death, my fellow New Englanders would string me up like a pinata.

My last major disagreement with the way this story was handled concerns Mechagodzilla, who only shows up towards the end. Mechagodzilla is one of the most popular monsters in Toho's kaiju catalog who should have had a lot more effort put into his first appearance in this Godzilla book series. The robot monster's pilot is given more attention, and as I stated in a previous review, no one looks at Godzilla media for the human cast, they want the monsters. The least we could have asked for was a first meeting between Godzilla and his metal clone so more time could have been devoted to them, as they are featured prominently on the book's cover. Speaking of the cover, another masterpiece by artist Bob Eggleton, it depicts Godzilla and Mechagodzilla facing off over a Russian landscape as Anguirus is bombarded with missiles in the foreground. So just by looking at it in the store, you'd probably expect a grand battle between the two akin to their movie counterparts somewhere within its fifteen chapters. But no, they don't even as much as scratch each other, but battle on the same side. This would have been fine, considering the fact that both monsters are varying degrees of "good" who face a common enemy, but again, the cover foreshadows a conflict, and the name of the book itself is Godzilla vs. The Robot Monsters, and the one monster he battled was only half robot. Everything about the presentation was misleading.

G-Force returns from Godzilla 2000, as The Big G is viewed as an immediate worry as opposed to the last book where there were more immanent kaiju threats to take care of. The flying ship Garuda from the film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II makes an appearance to aid MechaG in his travels. After three books, Nick Gordon is finally dropped even though his character was finally turned tolerable in the last book. But we do see the return of the first book's main character, Brian Shimura, who covers the conclusive battle and just happens to be the uncle of a member of G-Force.

There is a noticable error in the time line between this book and the predecessor. Godzilla at World's End ended on January 22nd, 2001, but this book begins December 13th, 2000. While I at first figured that the prologue featuring the discovery of King Ghidorah could have occurred during the events of the previous book, it tells us that "at that moment", Godzilla is wandering through the center of the Earth where he was left at the conclusion of the last book.

Something that caught my eye was a brief scene to illustrate Godzilla finally setting "foot" on Japanese soil once again. It featured two factory workers named Ken and Ryu. A reference to the two main fighters of the Street Fighter video game series? Then Ryu states "I'd rather be driving my car than spending time with my girlfriend, any day." There aren't really any guys who think like that, are there?

Once again, the book's main selling point occurs in the last couple of chapters. But overall, the story was still good, but it was a wasted opportunity. The Baragon and Anguirus segments play a big part in entertainment value. Godzilla and Mechagodzilla fight on the same side for the first time in any Toho endorsed lore. Unless you count video games where two players could choose those monsters and compete as a team. Which I don't and neither should you. This book is also the first in the series where Mothra doesn't make any appearance, but it's fine because her help wasn't needed. And despite everything going on, it would have been better if the book was longer to devote more attention to those storylines which received little. Generally, Godzilla vs. The Robot Monsters should have contained more scenes of Godzilla versing robot monsters.

Book Roles vs. Movie Roles
The norm of Cerasini's Godzilla novels is that he invents unique new origins for existing monsters. Here's some small descriptions of the parts they played in the movies that inspired their appearances here:
-Mecha-King Ghidorah was originally a hero. After Godzilla whipped his tail in a fight that also saw the three-headed monster lose his central head, visitors from the future revived the carcass with their modern technology, and a few robotic enhancements, to put a stop to Godzilla's rampage.
-The G-Force Mechagodzilla was created solely by Japan out of the scraps of Mecha-King Ghidorah. So this story could never occur in the Heisei series since one monster is made out of the remains of another.
-MOGUERA was also a Japanese G-Force creation. In the films, he could split into two different mechs; one airborne and a ground-based vehicle that could tunnel underground.

Godzilla vs. The Robot Monsters ends with several unique prospects for future installments. Godzilla is poisoned by a concoction cooked up by the Russians, leaving us to wonder how it will effect him in a sequel. Baragon is supposedly buried underground once more, but we can all assume that a massive monster who can burrow like a mole could resurface any time he pleases. Anguirus is contained within a pen in Russia, but you know such a hostile kaiju can't remain imprisoned for long. Mechagodzilla, MOGUERA, and Mecha-King Ghidorah are destroyed forever, but who's to say the two robot monsters can't be rebuilt again? And Rodan is home at the North Pole once more, waiting to appear in every other book to do nothing more than lay eggs. I just can't wait to see what's cooked up for the fifth book.

Sadly, waiting and seeing isn't even an option anymore. Although a fifth was planned, Toho's deal with Random House expired. It's too bad, because we'll never find out how much offspring a single Rodan can yield in its lifetime. Godzilla and The Lost Continent was the planned sequel, which would have seen the returns of Varan, Manda, and Battra. Though they got their tails (or abdomens) kicked, we never actually see them perish. I also wonder if Gigan or Megalon would have shown up, two others who disappeared without us truly discovering their fates. The premise is that a new Texas-sized continent surfaces from beneath the ocean. So naturally the world's nations decide to play "finder's keepers" with their weapons at the forefront. But the aforementioned monsters have already claimed it as their own. The hook here is that ancient ruins are discovered, as well as survivors of a nearly extinct race. Not only that, what's described as "a totally new monster" shows up with the power to devastate all the world's armies. Would this be a brand new Cerasini created kaiju? Or just a Toho creation that hasn't shown up in the novels yet? The idea of an ancient civilization coming back to life harkens back to Godzilla at World's End, the best book in the series, so I would like to think that this new story would have been at least as good. but I guess we'll never find out...

My favorite novels in this series from best to worst are Godzilla at World's End, Godzilla Returns, Godzilla vs. The Robot Monsters, and Godzilla 2000. You might probably judge by my reviews of a couple of these books that I hated them, but that is far from the truth. I've basically been reviewing them for what they were: Godzilla adventures. For what they were, the numerous human portions of the stories were excellent, but if I wanted a people story, I would have picked one out. I'll probably go back to these books and read them again someday. It's a crime to think these fantastic books were priced from 4.99 (the first) to 5.99 (the rest). For their quality, they were worth much more.

Then again, who's to say that a lot of the problems I griped about were even Cerasini's original intentions? If anyone's ever paid attention to the development processes of Godzilla ventures handled by outside companies, you would know how controlling (compassionate) Toho is about their lunch tickets. They are very particular about how their kaiju are handled, so who's to say that potentially great books like 2000 and Robot Monsters were heavily altered by the Toho reps? Sure, it's an unnecessary handicap when the franchise is in the capable hands of an obvious fan like Cerasini, but Toho's guidelines are also required to prevent Godzilla's good name to be sullied by the likes of Sony/Tristar's 1998 Zilla movie. The reason why it was such a blasphemous deviation is because Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich took the Godzilla guidelines and basically used them as emergency wipes in case their trailers ran out of toilet paper. So while admitted non-Godzilla fans like Devlin and Emmerich could have used the guidelines, I think giving Cerasini a bit more rope to do his own thing would have made his already awesome works far more enjoyable. Speaking of that abomination against Godzilla, rumor has it that the reason why Random House didn't release the final Godzilla book before their rights expired is due to the poor reaction to the Zilla movie. So not only did that mutated iguana kill the real G's image in America, it also made sure that the paper used to print out copies of Lost Continent remained in the trees.

And that's just the way it is.
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