September 30, 2007

Godzilla Returns... In A New Medium

Godzilla Returns is the first in a four (almost five) novel series by Marc Cerasini. All are original stories featuring an all-star cast of kaiju that have co-starred with Godzilla over the years. Published in 1996, but set in 1998, this book takes place 44 years after Godzilla's first rampage in Tokyo back in 1954 (in case you didn't want to do the math). Apparently the events of the Showa or the Heisei era of Godzilla films didn't take place in what we'll refer to as The Cerasini Era. So things have been quiet in the near half-century since the kaiju king last appeared. This particular book seems reminiscent of the movie The Return of Godzilla, or Godzilla 1985 on our side of the ocean (if you're reading this in America). Aside from the similar sounding title, Godzilla is the sole monster in this book, who awakens and revisits his old stomping ground of Tokyo.

A Russian nuclear submarine is crushed by a U.S.O. (unidentified swimming object, I made that up) after their missile defense and evasive maneuvers fail. Excavators observe that the radiation emitted from the "decommissioned" sub is gone and can offer no explanation on what occurred. Two years later, more unexplained ocean disasters take place, but it isn't until one such wreck leaves survivors behind that the world discovers that Godzilla lives.

Brian Shimura is a a young Japanese-American who has lived in the United States for his entire life. It's when his late father beckoned him to revisit his homeland that Brian decided to take up a newspaper internship at INN (Independent News Network) in Tokyo. He meets American teenager Nick Gordon, a science correspondent in training at INN who is also going to be his roommate. While Brian doesn't have much of a distinct personality, Nick is a brash and girl-crazy delinquent. I suppose the writer expected the reader to get into a character like this, but you'll probably hate him.

The day following an evening of experiencing the Tokyo nightlife, Brian meets May McGovern, the boss' personal assistant who we discover is the former love interest of Nick. May introduces Brian to Everett "Boss Gaijin" Endicott III, the chief of the Tokyo news bureau. It turns out that the boss hates Nick Gordon as much as you will by the time the book ends. Then Brian meets Yoshi Masahara, a young Japanese man who is one of the best cameramen on their side of the Pacific.

As soon as the Japanese government learns that Godzilla has been causing trouble in the Sea of Japan, Brian, Nick and Yoshi are secretly put on assignment to cover the monster's advance. A meeting is held in Endicott's office, and we are introduced to the world's two top Godzilla experts: molecular biologist Dr. Hiroshi Nobeyama and Admiral Maxwell B. Willis, who turns out to be Brian's uncle. After a briefing by Dr. Nobeyama's assistant, Lieutenant Emiko Takado, the crew is relocated to a research vessel in the Sea of Japan to monitor the King of the Monsters as he does battle with the Japanese Self-Defense Force. The radioactive dinosaur is unfazed by the barrage of missiles and gunfire by the various ships and helicopters, and the attack is called off after he destroys a few of them.

A meeting is held where Dr. Nobeyama concludes his theory that conventional weapons can't harm Godzilla are correct. Meanwhile, the gigantic antagonist finally lands on the Japanese island of Honshu, where the army opposes him with shells full of cadmium, a substance used to contain nuclear fires. But both those and napalm attacks did little more than to enrage the Big G as he fought back and took away the lives and habitats of thousands of Japanese.

After they were split up to cover Godzilla's path of destruction from different angles, Brian, Nick, Yoshi, and Lt. Takado are reunited. However, it is only temporary as Brian and Nick are fired from INN, Endicott claiming that it was a measure to be taken to protect both their lives as well as their imminently successful futures. But instead of taking a helicopter back home as they were ordered, Nick and Brian hop in a car to follow Godzilla's expected march through Tokyo. The monster finally does emerge in Tokyo Bay and trashes the Self-Defense Forces' pitiful attempts at repelling him, including knocking down a barrier of high-tension wires that we've seen used against him so many times before. The story details the chase of the two former INN interns as they "tail" Godzilla at close range and the high danger they face. The living nuclear weapon soon takes out Tokyo Tower, where a small crew of INN reporters, camera people, and Yoshi Masahara were broadcasting. Nick and Brian soon come upon INN Headquarters, now nothing more than a pile of rubble. There they discover Endicott, who said he sent everyone home except for May McGovern, who was in the building when it collapsed. Nick and Brian dig through the debris to find her and they manage to pull her out of the elevator where she was safely trapped. A helicopter containing Yoshi, who managed to escape Tokyo Tower before its collapse, sets up a camera to broadcast a final news report.

Since they failed to convince various politicians and special interest groups about Godzilla's powers and intentions earlier, Dr. Nobeyama and Admiral Willis secretly concocted a plan that they were certain would lure Godzilla away from their homeland. A device which imitated the call of birds was loaded onto a plane and flown over the invincible kaiju. Godzilla's brain, like that of dinosaurs in which they are bird-like, started to follow the plane as Nobeyama and Willis flew towards the Mariana Trench. They dive bombed into the water, taking both their lives and Godzilla with them.

All in all, a very worthy edition to Godzilla lore, although it does exist in its own chronology. As I said before, you can tell Marc Cerasini is a fan of the big guy and it shows. You'll probably want to read the three sequels, especially since familiar kaiju from the movies show up in droves. Bob Eggleton, himself a major Godzilla fan, created a fantastic cover for this and most other Random House books for this franchise. Cerasini does an awesome job describing what it feels like to take a direct hit from Godzilla's radioactive breath. Burning clothes, melting skin, the works. It's a slow and painful death that will make you wish you were squished under his massive foot instead.

There are some homages paid to the scenes that American distributors inserted into the films Godzilla and The Return of Godzilla when there were released in the States. For those who aren't in the know, Raymond Burr's Steve Martin character is not in the original Japanese films. Anyway, Nick Gordon makes reference to a movie documentary and book based upon Steve Martin's point of view during Godzilla's original invasion. It even mentions that Martin was portrayed by Burr in the documentary. And as a nod to Major McDonahue in the 1985 rendition, he occasionally refers to the Big G as "Wonder Lizard", giving you another reason to hate Nick Gordon.

Most of Godzilla's journey takes place in the ocean, starting with his awakening, his initial destruction of several commuter and fishing boats, his first assault with the JSDF, and the instances when he was completely submerged, leaving the world wondering where he would strike next. Joe Mauceri of World of Fandom calls it "a high-sea adventure" and "an homage to Herman Melville's Moby Dick", in which the big black leviathan is a stand in for the big white whale. Once again drawing comparisons to The Return of Godzilla is the ending, although there is the slight twist of the heroes who utilized the bird-call device sacrificing themselves.

And in what can be seen as a sad ending, main character Brian is the only one who doesn't end up with an Asian girlfriend, and for that, he has my highest level of sympathy.

And that's just the way it is.

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