Wednesday 7 April 2021

First Impressions: Godzilla Singular Point

Godzilla Singular Point

Despite it not being an anniversary year, 2021 is looking to be a big year for Godzilla. As well as finally facing off against King Kong in American Monsterverse sequel Godzilla vs Kong, over in Japan the King of Monsters is also starring in a brand new anime series. Godzilla Singular Point is a co-production between studios Bones (Fullmetal AlchemistEureka Seven, Mob Psycho 100) and Orange (Land of the Lustrous, Beastars), and has been licensed by Neflix much like the Godzilla anime movie trilogy produced by Toho and Polygon in 2017-18. While the series began airing in Japan at the beginning of April, Netflix's preferred binge-model for the rest of the world means that its official intentional release is still unknown outside of "some time later in the year".

Yun & HaberuMei Kamino

As a mysterious song plays from an abandoned mansion, two parties attempt to investigate its source. While engineers Yun Arikawa and Haberu Katō trace the song from the mansion back to the Misakioku Radio Observatory, the observatory themselves have brought in researcher Mei Kamino to determine its source. She manages to trace it to a single piece of equipment installed by Outaki Factory - which is exactly where both Yun and Haberu work.

Outaki Factory is owned by Gorō Ōtaki - a genius engineer who talks of "protecting the galaxy" and has even built his own robot, Jet Jaguar. But as Jet Jaguar goes on display at a local festival, a giant monster suddenly appears. Meanwhile, the Old Tsuguno District's bureau director Tsunetomo Yamamoto appears to have secrets of his own.

Jet JaguarRodan

It’s pretty amazing how it’s only now in 2021 that we’re getting a full-length Godzilla anime series. Polygon’s movie trilogy from a few years ago was a step in the right direction, but it’s fair to say that the reception of those was divisive at best. They certainly have their fans, but I struggled with them to the point that I still haven’t actually seen the third one. However everything about Godzilla Singular Point immediately filled me with hope. A reasonable length/episode count should allow concepts and characters to fully develop in a way films wouldn’t let them, and the series was being handled by two studio juggernauts that have done some especially stellar work in the last few years. Sure the average anime fan isn’t going to have many positive things to say about Netflix’s international release model, but that’s nothing new.

Contrary to what some fans would have you believe, the human element has always been integral to Godzilla’s films. Whether it’s avoiding nuclear disaster, battling against aliens or travelling back in time to WW2, it’s them that drive the plot and allow those monster showdowns to be all the more titanic. However with each film being largely standalone with their own separate casts, as well as the limited running time of a theatrical production, it’s no surprise that many attempt to pass these characters off as “forgettable” or “unnecessary”. Godzilla Singular Point is in the rare position where it can truly flesh out its characters, and it hits the ground running with this entirely character-focussed first episode. It’s interesting that despite the series being written by celebrated Japanese sci-fi author Toh EnJoe rather than someone more adept in the medium, the show already gives off strong vibes similar to that of Steins;Gate or Robotics;Notes.

Mei has a computer disagreementYun Arikawa

This is in part due to the characters, both their relative age and the overly curious nature they display in this episode. Think Scooby-Doo, but replace costumed crooks with spooky Showa mysteries and giant monsters. It’s not hard to make such a comparison when the episode quite literally opens with Yun and Haberu searching an supposedly-haunted house only to find a hidden room and a crystal radio (which doesn’t rely on a power source). It’s clear that Yun is the eccentric one here and that Haberu is just being dragged along for the ride, but they make a good duo. Equally eccentric is their boss Gorō  a crotchety old man who just screams “mad scientist”. If there’s one thing that can be said about Singular Point’s characters, it’s that they certainly aren’t your average Joe.

Meanwhile Mei is drawn to the mystery from a different angle, brought in directly to investigate the broadcast at its source. She’s immediately likeable with a strong personality - studious but a bit scatter-brained as well. Not to mention that she’s sure to be the kaiju “expert” of the show, having dedicated her research to fantastic creatures which for all she knows might not even exist. Her scene arguing with Yun’s Assistant AI creation was a particular highlight. Whilst the mystery of the song has brought her in contact with Outaki factory, it’s interesting that she already knows Haberu from school as well - a good opportunity to get some more insight on the already overshadowed one in this trio. Seeing how she plays off Yun’s own curiosity into the abnormal is going to be a lot of fun.

Gorō ŌtakiMei & Tsunetomo

But if you are watching in desperation for that monster fix, the end of the episode’s got you covered as Rodan makes his appearance! He’s been slightly redesigned for his animated debut, but is still instantly recognisable as the iconic kaiju. Plus even if he wasn’t, that roar immediately lets fans know exactly who it is. This looks to be a world largely unaware of kaiju and one that certainly isn’t victim to regular monster attacks yet, so there’s a visible confusion in festival goers before panic sinks in. Even Gorō seems pretty shocked by his arrival, and he’s one the who’s been spouting on about protecting the peace - and boy does he have the best way to do it. Despite only appearing in Godzilla vs Megalon, Jet Jaguar is a firm fan favourite so another onscreen outing is long overdue. Compared to Rodan the robot has gone through considerable change for the anime, transformed from a sleek Ultraman-like robot into a stocky-piloted mecha akin to real-life robotics developments. It’s a strong look that’s certainly going to divide opinion amongst Godzilla fans, but suits the tone and setting of the series perfectly (as well as digging even deeper into the Robotics;Notes vibes the series gives off). Plus it’s early days in a world that doesn’t even truly know Godzilla yet - who’s to say Jet Jaguar won’t be upgraded and evolve into a more familiar silhouette? It’s entirely speculation but it’s a way to see Jet Jaguar grow as a character just as the human cast would.

The kaiju (and mecha) action is where Orange’s involvement in the series kicks in, showing off their CGI prowess for these titans. It’s a little jarring seeing Orange’s typically impressive CGI models set up against a fully 2D background, but the elements fit in well enough as seeing the two blended together is almost second nature by now. It doesn’t sound out as exemplary, but fits the colourful stylised look the series is going for.

Piloting Jet Jaguar!Rodan attacks

This is a very promising start for Godzilla Singular Point. Much like SSSS.Dynazenon it’s wisely opting for the slow burn route - giving the audience a chance to be properly introduced to the characters before going all in on the kaiju action. This premiere also sets up a strong mystery element that will entice viewers to come back for the next episode. But above all else, it’s just nice to see Jet Jaguar get some love again. Godzilla Singular Point has the advantage of serialised storytelling that no other Godzilla project has ever had before - let’s all hope that it doesn’t waste it.

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