November 3 is a significant anniversary for fans of Japanese science fiction and fantasy media: it’s the birthday of both Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga, and Godzilla, King of the Monsters. The history of Godzilla is intertwined with the history of manga, but not often discussed in the west… which is why stuff like this winds up seeming really weird from a gaijin fan perspective:
Okay, that still might be sort of weird no matter what. But keep in mind, Godzilla stories had been popping up in manga form since 1954. In fact, by the mid-1950s, Godzilla already had an extensive roster of rival monsters (like Anguirus) who only exist in manga form:
Those images are from a manga by Shigeru Sugiura, who wikipedia tells me was an influence on Fujio Akatsuka (Himitsu Akko-chan), Isao Takahata (Pom Poko), Yasutaka Tsutsui (The Girl Who Leapt through Time), and Hayao Miyazaki.
This got me thinking: we make a big deal about the many famous, influential writers and artists who have contributed to Godzilla comics in the English-speaking world, superstars like Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe, Alan Moore, Mike Mignola, Geof Darrow, Randy Stradley, Art Adams, Eric Powell, John Layman, James Stokoe, Cullen Bunn, etc. Deservedly so. But what if one were to take a cross-section of Japanese comics icons? Tezuka himself never worked on anything Godzilla that I know of (though he did a King Kong manga), but what about some of his major artistic descendants?
These illustrations are cool, but there’s a difference between a single drawing and a full story. Who all worked on actual Godzilla manga stories, you ask? Well, pretty much every movie had a manga adaptation at some point, and a few of those had big names (or future big names) attached:
- Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen is a seminal work of manga, often assigned as school reading. But before his opus about growing up in post-bombing Hiroshima, Nakazawa did a story about an explosion with decidedly less dire consequences: the manga adaptation of Son of Godzilla.
- Most of the Heisei Godzilla manga adaptations were done by Takayuki Sakai (giving them nice continuity), but not the first two. The Return of Godzilla manga (confusingly printed multiple times in English as either Godzilla or Terror of Godzilla) is unremarkable, but the Godzilla vs. Biollante adaptation, titled Godzilla 1990, was done by Toshiki Hirano, the creator of Vampire Princess Miyu and Iczer 1, character designer for Megazone 23, and director of numerous anime including Dangaioh, Zeorymer, Devilman Lady, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Apocalypse Zero… let’s just say he knows a thing or two about giant monster action. (Iczer 1 also makes a cameo during the omake art in the back of the book!) This manga boasts a pretty different Biollante design, making me wonder whether Hirano wasn’t privy to the monster’s look or if he just decided to do things differently.
- While Gunhed isn’t technically a Godzilla movie, the film’s script was initially conceived of as one before it was turned into a giant robot flick. Because of this, I think it’s fair game to mention that the Gunhed manga adaptation was done by Kia Asamiya, the mangaka of Silient Mobius, Steam Detectives, Nadesico, and more. Also, it’s one of the few Toho movie-to-manga adaptations that’s available in English. (We’ll get back to Asamiya in a moment…)
There have also been a bunch of completely original stories not based on any of the films, which I find even more interesting. A few significant mangaka who’ve worked on these include:
- Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura is loaded with allusions to Toho movies, particularly in the anime version (probably thanks to director Mamoru Oshii), but earlier this year she published It Could Happen Some Day, a two-page omake about her experience with the movies in the Big Comic Original Godzilla special. Since it’s short and fairly simple (also out of print and most likely never going to be translated in any official capacity), I took the liberty of doing a rough scanslation.
*The usual translation ethics apply: if for some reason this gets translated officially, stop distributing this version and buy the official release (I’d suggest buying the Japanese release as well, but I don’t believe it’s available any more). Oh, and to mirror the Japanese layout, page 1 is on the right.
- Moving along, Getter Robo co-creator Ken Ishikawa wrote a short story called Godzilla vs. Chief Yamada, a comedy where a salaryman battles against the monster. It seems like the human characters in this might be preexisting from other Ishikawa work, but I’m not certain.
- Shinobu Kaze might not be a household name, but he holds the distinction of being the very first manga artist to have work published in English. He also wrote Warning from G, one of the most infamously insane Godzilla short stories ever published. It begins with a martial artist leaving his wife to go take on Godzilla head-on, since he knows some sort of super killing technique. Much later, as the wife is visiting the guy’s grave with her infant son, and the baby starts talking, revealing that it is the reincarnation of Godzilla out for revenge. The kaiju-possessed kid attacks the woman, sending her on an adventure through the afterlife. Needless to say, it’s pretty wild.
- In addition to creating Moldiver, Hyper Dolls, and Marika Seven, Shinpei Itoh has written a few Godzilla stories. Examples include The Tokyo Godzilla Group, spoofing the various bureaucratic round-table anti-kaiju strategy meetings that populate the franchise, and Battle of the Blitz, which I mentioned when talking about the Big Comic Original anthology. I’m quite fond of the light tone and clean art in his work.
- Hitoshi Yoshioka is the creator of a few Japanese sci-fi franchises, most notably Irresponsible Captain Tylor. His Godzilla manga, Day of the G, features a naval battle between Godzilla and the American military, apparently for the first time.
- Daijiro Morohoshi’s works have been adapted into movies like The Wall Man and Hiruko the Goblin, and his Yokai Hunter series has been cited as one of the inspirations for Evangelion. He recently published a short story titled The Boy who Saw Godzilla, about a boy who claims to see Godzilla whenever disasters occur. Is it some sort of weird ESP manifestation, or an over-active imagination, or is Godzilla really there?
- Nozomu Tamaki is best known for Dance in the Vampire Bund and other fan-service heavy content, but he’s also known to dabble in superhero/robot content. Together with Kenichi Matsuzaki, he drew a manga story titled Godzilla: Nightmare Option, which sees Godzilla battling a dragon creature named Gandora. It ends with Godzilla turning extra disfigured, a precursor to the Super Godzilla/Burning Godzilla/Mega Mutated Godzilla trope that frequently occurred in the mid-90s. Actually, by the end, he sort of resembles the Millennium Godzilla design.
- Katsuhiro Otomo is a powerhouse in both anime and manga, responsible for Short Peace, Steamboy, Roujin Z, and the film that defined anime for a generation: Akira. But way before all that, he worked as an illustrator for a short Godzilla story serialized in Starlog, titled A Space Godzilla (way before the 1994 film, bear in mind). Written by House director Nobuhiko Obayashi, the story is an unending cavalcade of WTF, from the page 1 death of Godzilla by diabetes, to the reveal that Godzilla’s actually a pregnant alien, to a voyage through space and a battle against a race of sphinx monsters. If you avoid the Hanna Barbera Godzilla cartoon as being too far from the original, this isn’t for you, but if you’re intrigued by a Toho-authorized Godzilla story with Godzilla spaceships and flamethrower breasts, well…
Like Nobuhiko Obayashi, not all of the famous folks who worked on Godzilla manga are necessarily famous for making manga; there are definitely a handful worth mentioning for their involvements elsewhere in the entertainment industry. A few examples include:
- You may know Shinji Nishikawa from his work at Toho in the 1990s and 2000s, on the special effects and art departments of Gransazer, Tokyo SOS and Final Wars (or maybe as the creator of the 90s anime series YAT Anshin Luxury Space Tours). However, he got started way back in the early 1980s, with a series of comedic Godzilla doujinshi called Godzilla Legend under the pen name MASH. After his work with Toho, when he also did a Gransazer manga, he made a somewhat autobiographical comic called Godzilla Kyou Jidai (Godzilla Enthusiast Epoch) dealing with the production of the films. Coming full circle, this year he released another MASH doujinshi called Legendary Godzilla Legend.
- Akio Jissouji, director on some awesome Ultraman and Ultraseven episodes, as well as for the Ultra Q movie, wrote a very Ultra Q-ish short story called Chisana Godzilla (which I would translate to “Little Godzilla”, but then it would get confusing with the later character by that name). The plot is full of twists, but it’s basically about a cameraman who gets romantically involved with a mysterious woman… and… well, she’s an alien using Godzilla for nefarious purposes. That’s not the twist ending, though.
Also: it’s got the best sex-in-outer-space scene this side of Bye Bye Jupiter.
- Daiji Kazumine, creator of Spectreman and National Kid, wrote Godzilla’s Resumed Earth Defense Battle, a story about Godzilla battling Gigan and King Ghidorah at the south pole. Also, Mothra’s there.
- Minoru Kawasaki has directed a number of comedic kaiju films, including Monster X Strikes Back and Earth Defense Widow. Together with Kia Asamiya, he wrote a short manga story called Godzilla^2, where Godzilla rampages until he’s pacified by a pop idol. The following year, Asamiya did a short called Godzilla^2 2, which plays like a serious battle between Godzilla and King Ghidorah, only they’re portrayed as plush dolls.
- Hurricane Ryu is a suit actor, known for playing Battra, King Ghidorah, and Godzilla Junior; he was even on the shortlist of possible actors to take over for the Godzilla role when Satsuma retired. He’s also an accomplished mangaka, having put out works like the 1-volume 1994 Gamera manga. These specialties collide beautifully in the two Godzilla stories from him that I’ve read. The first is a collaboration between Hurricane and Minoru Kawasaki, titled Kaijuu Baka Ichidai (a play on the Sonny Chiba movie Karate Baka Ichidai AKA Karate for Life), about a hot-blooded up-and-coming suit actor training to be the very best through mentorship/rivalry of the crusty old suit-acting great Mr. Uejima (a pastiche of Haruo Nakajima).
This story is hilarious, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Hurricane’s other story, Kaiju Senshi Godzilla. Full of anthropoid Toho monsters, that short cranks things to eleven and breaks off the dial, as Godzilla is a medieval sword-wielding warrior who also uses a jetpack to go fight human spaceships. Plus, Jet Jaguar goes full Kamen Rider, plowing through buildings on a giant motorcycle. As a result of these shenanigans, this is one of the most frequently posted examples of Godzilla manga, and definitely belongs in any countdown of weirdest things in the franchise.
That concludes this talk about Godzilla manga and the celebrities who’ve made them. This is a subject that I don’t think has been particularly documented in English before, so I’m sure that there are examples that I’ve missed or mistakes in the translations. If you notice something wrong, or know of a great famous mangaka that I completely overlooked, please, by all means, leave a comment; it’s exciting to discover this stuff!
Also, keep in mind, this is just the manga from famous authors; there’s a lot of other cool stuff from folks that we’ve probably never heard of…