Sunday, June 1, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Zone Fighter & Godzilla Island

Small screen adventures many Godzilla fans may not know about.

In response to audiences increasingly choosing to stay home and watch television rather than go out to the movies, Toho Studios got into the business of producing TV shows in the 1970s. Toho's kaiju films might have been drawing less crowds in the cinemas, but science fiction, superheroes, and giant monsters were still a hit on the small screen.

Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka developed a show called Zone Fighter, which had a twenty-six episode run in 1973, with several of the episodes being directed by Godzilla veterans Ishirō Honda and Jun Fukuda. The story dealt with the Zones, a family of human-looking aliens from the world of Peaceland, who must relocate to Earth after their planet is destroyed by a race of aliens called the Garoga. The Garoga set their sights on destroying Earth as well, but the Zones fight back to protect their new home.

To do battle with the Garoga forces, father Yoichiro Sakimori builds gadgets and vehicles; grandfather Raita Sakimori controls a lightning-blasting fake cloud; children Hotaru Sakimori and Akira Sakimori, in the superheroic guises of Zone Angel and Zone Junior, fly an aircraft called Smokey; and the oldest of the children, Hikaru Sakimori is able to grow to giant size and, as Zone Fighter, take on the giant monsters sent to Earth by the Garogas with hand-to-hand combat, wrist-mounted missile launches, and a proton beam fired from his helmet.

Every episode featured Zone Fighter taking on a giant creature controlled by the Garogas and referred to as "Terror Beasts", with nearly every one of the monsters having been created specifically for the show. But in some cases, familiar monsters from the Godzilla films would show up to do battle with Zone Fighter. Specifically, the giant hero had to face off against Godzilla foes King Ghidorah and Gigan, which makes sense, since they're outer space monsters and the villains of the show were aliens.

King Ghidorah and Gigan weren't the only connection to the Godzilla films in Zone Fighter. Although the show has largely faded into obscurity, the element that allows it to survive in some way to this day is the fact that Godzilla himself appears in five of the episodes.

Represented by the suit created by director of special effects Tokuyoshi Nakano for Godzilla vs. Megalon in 1972 and alternately portrayed by Isao Zushi, who would return to play Goji in the next year's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and Toru Kawai, who stepped back into the character's feet for Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975, Godzilla usually shows up in the episodes only near the end, arriving on the scene just in time to aid Zone Fighter in the climactic battle. These five appearances feature Godzilla doing battle with monsters Wagilar, Spyler, Gigan, Zandora, Jellar, Kastom Jellar, Spider Uros, and Garoborg.

The fights depicted on the show are quite fun to watch, and sometimes surprisingly hard-hitting. Zone Fighter and Godzilla cause some serious damage to their opponents, often killing them and blowing them to bits. Gigan counts among the show's casualities.

Zone Fighter is said to be canon for this era of the Godzilla series, this show is officially what the King of the Monsters was up to during the time between Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla.

Unfortunately, the majority of Godzilla fans have never seen Zone Fighter, at least not in its entirety. Clips of Godzilla's fights are available online, but the show has only been released on DVD in Japan, with no option for English subtitles. So if a fan were to want to own a copy of this canonical entry in the Godzilla franchise, they'll either have to understand Japanese to watch it, or be a serious completionist who doesn't mind not knowing what the characters are saying.

The exact same problem hinders the accessibility of Godzilla Island, a kids show Toho produced from 1997 through 1998.

The set-up of Godzilla Island is similar to the basic idea of Destroy All Monsters, which established Monsterland or Monster Island as the place where all of the world's monsters have been relocated to for the safety of the public. Operations on Monsterland stopped running smoothly when the alien Kilaaks invaded it. This show, set in 2097, also has an alien invade Godzilla Island, which is basically the same as Monster Island was, but here the attacking alien is a Xilien, which were the villainous alien race in Invasion of Astro-Monster.

The series was comprised of two hundred and fifty-six episodes that were only three minutes long, adding up to almost 13 additional hours of Godzilla action that most fans have never seen, or if they have seen it many weren't about to understand the un-subtitled dialogue. However, the way in which these stories were brought to life may also make some less interested in checking the show out. Rather the creating its monster characters through suitmation, the way the Godzilla films and Zone Fighter were made, Godzilla Island's monsters were played by action figures.

For the run of the series, the monsters of Godzilla Island and the island's lone security supervisor, aided by a young alien woman whose home planet was destroyed by the Xiliens, fight to thwart the evil plans of Xilien woman Zaguresu, who sends multiple space monsters to Earth to do her bidding.

It's a shame that these television incarnations of Godzilla aren't more widely available with more language options, as Godzilla fans and collectors would almost certainly snatch them up if they were given a proper international release.

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