Godzilla is THE King of Monsters. What else can be said about one of the most beloved nuclear nightmares ever spawned? Born out of the cultural fears of radioactive fallout in Japan after World War II and nurtured by the directorial genius of Tomoyuki Tanaka, the Godzilla franchise has fascinated adults and children of all ages with its spectacular powers and incredible fights (not to mention the unending, gratuitous destruction of Tokyo). Coincidentally, it has also became the father of every single creature born from nuclear energy gone awry from the Incredible Hulk to the Toxic Crusaders, they all owe their existence to Godzilla himself.
Of course seeing its popularity, American studios couldn’t wait to cash in on this Japanese hit and among its adaptations to the USA market the character received two cartoon series. The first was spawned by Hanna-Barbera in 1978 and, in a way, was closer to the original films. The series was based on the original Japanese monster, though it was given a more kid-friendly, Johnny Quest-type treatment by making the monster follow a ship of scientists who traveled around the world with Godzilla’s son “Godzooky” as a member of their crew.
The idea of adding a team to lead the series made it easier to follow as using Godzilla alone would make it difficult to create scenarios and situations that would make the monster a hero by itself instead of simply being a force of mass destruction and fear. The addition of Godzooky also made it logical why such a mighty monster could be controlled by a simple bunch of humans. There was also the logical 70’s cartoon pattern simple and short stories framed within 10 minutes per episode: The crew would go to a new place, discover a new monster, run from it, call Godzilla to trash the monster, then rinse and repeat.
There were a lot of elements present from the original idea of Godzilla that were modified for an American audience such as breathing fire instead of an atomic breath, having laser eyes and having his trademark roar portrayed by Ted Cassidy (due to the inability of licensing Godzilla’s trademark roar from Toho Studio). Even though it had its faults, the Hanna-Barbera series could be considered a worthy link in the Godzilla franchise for demonstrating that Godzilla was more of a wondering animal than a beast born with a single purpose.
The second emerged 20 years later by Sony Pictures Family Entertainment. This could be called a “bastardization” of the franchise since it used “Zilla” from the 1998 movie, Zilla being the name given to the American Godzilla by Japanese fans of the original.
Let’s start with the basics: Doctor Nick Tatopoulos accidentally stumbles upon the only surviving egg from Godzilla and once the baby is born it confuses the doctor as his parent due to the doctor’s scent and flees to feed. The doctor then gathers his friends and colleagues to follow and study the creature while being aided by Monique, a French secret agent sent to keep or kill the beast depending on its behavior. Fast foward and the new Zilla’s behavior proves instinctive, but not malevolent, and with the help of his friends and the USA military Tatopolous manages to keep Zilla; studying and training him to stop a new breed of giant mutations appearing all around the world.
Even though the series doesn’t use the “real Godzilla,” it does an amazing job of creating a conflict beyond the simple battle against monsters by making Zilla not only a hero, but also an issue to deal in and of himself. The series constantly addresses the matter that even though Zilla may help humanity, and believes Dr. Nick its his father, but also puts a Damocles Sword over everyone by stating that Zilla may one day decide to act on his own to become a threat to humanity.
The series does gains extra points by having Zilla breath the trademark “Atomic Breath” as well as replacing the bland and forgettable Matthew Broderick with Ian Ziering as Dr. Nick, making the doctor more serious and believable. The crew also provides some vivid personalities that struggle with the dilemmas of having a giant monster on their team, fighting the impulse of profiting from the beast or betraying their friends. In fact, they all share in the responsibility of Zilla and take care of him by assisting in research, healing Zilla and even finding ways to stop the monsters without Zilla risking its life. This is, for me, a really mature step for Godzilla as an animation that really makes you love the beast while fearing the worst. It also made me really forget the movie and say: This IS how a the American Godzilla should have been.
In a way, both series have left their legacies and introduced new ideas (some better than others) to the Godzilla franchise. However, in the end there can be only one and I claim Godzilla: The Series to be the better cartoon. Even though it didn’t have the real Godzilla it lifted a seemingly ruinous reinterpretation of Godzilla from the mud and made it a story worthy of a movie itself. Not only does the series have great fights, but there’s also a great moral and made the human characters more than a simple way to introduce the monster to a lengthy story. Overall, its a great cartoon that should be praised by its accomplishments and should live beyond its era.