COMPULSIVE FRANCHISE DISORDER- “Gamera: The Heisei and Millennium Eras (1995-2006)

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Toho decided to end Godzilla’s reign as King of the Kaiju with “Godzilla Vs Destroyah” in 1993, by explicitly killing off its titular monster, something Godzilla hadn’t experienced since his original movie. It was truly an end of an era…I mean, it ultimately wasn’t as Godzilla was rampaging again less than a decade later, but at the time it seemed like a big deal! I’m not sure why Daiei chose to view this as an opportunity to usurp Toho as Kaiju providers, as Gamera at that point was only famous for being the Mystery Science Theaters’ punching bag. But even before that, the turtle was the joke of the genre…and before that, he was just another poor man’s Godzilla. Gamera only had his moment because of the successes of better films, so it was strange that anyone thought he’d survive alone…I did some research on the conception of “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe”, because I wanted to know “why”,but I wasn’t able to uncover any concrete answers. I suppose it doesn’t matter, but risks were taken and decisions were made to give Gamera a respectable budget, talented filmmakers and a darker tone. Children would not longer be the target audience…in fact, one could even argue that this trilogy would not be designed for children at all based on some of the grisly and risque content. But did their ambitions pay off? Could audiences take Gamera seriously enough to accept a bleaker, edgier and more respectable Gamera series? My more personal reflections of this era will be uncovered throughout the duration of this writing, but it should be interesting seeing how well these films hold up, as I do consider myself to be a fan of the Showa era of Gamera and I don’t believe that ‘darker=superior’.

GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995)

(Directed by Shusuke Kaneko)

(Written by Kazunori Itō)

(Starring Shinobu Nakayama, Tsuyoshi Ihara and Ayako Fujitani)

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” might seem to be the most conventional Gamera flick on the surface, but it’s really the most bizarre, surreal entry within the entire franchise. What can be stranger than flying turtles, death rainbows, toxic nipple gas, shuriken snot…children performing monster abortions…giant, flying turtles chasing animated space trains- Okay, maybe “Guardian of the Universe” is not the franchise’s most bizarre entry, but it is absurd in a way that is completely new to the Gamera franchise. “Guardian of the Universe” is…a…GOOD MONSTER MOVIE YAY! In the context of 1995, Shusuke Kaneko’s take on Gamera completely caught the Kaiju fandom off guard and even impressed mainstream critics, with many feeling that the giant, flying, fire breathing turtle was now a legitimate rival to Godzilla. Some even felt that he had upstaged the King of the Monsters, as the Heisei Era was somewhat divisive for Godzilla and his next appearance would be in the highly controversial American remake and/or the mediocre “Godzilla 2000“. Interesting bit of trivia: Allegedly the director, Shusuke Kaneko, had actually wanted to do a Godzilla flick but Toho had refused him. Yet Daiei decided to snag him up and his Gamera trilogy was so successful that Toho ended up hiring him to direct “Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack“…which might boast the worst title of all time, but is one of my personal favorite Godzilla flicks and is generally considered to be the best of the Millennium era. When I watched it in 2003, I had actually drifted away from the franchise and Kaiju flicks in general, but rented it from Hollywood video because nothing else was available and fell in love once more. I immediately decided to pursue Shusuke Kaneko’s other available works, such as “Crossfire” and the Gamera trilogy. “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” was actually the first Gamera flick I ever watched…at least all the way through, so it does hold a special place in my heart.

Now I have to admit that the film isn’t quite as great as I remember it being…The story, despite building up a mythology around its monsters, is somewhat flimsy and awkwardly presented. Initially, the focus is on the investigation into the Gyaos attacks, but once Gamera arrives on the scene, the protagonists become bystanders. In the past, the human leads were usually in immediate peril or drove the plot in some way, but here they just…watch…and if anything, the obstructive bureaucrats are more important than our heroes are, as at least they do have an impact on the narrative. The protagonists also spend the majority of the running-time safe from direct harm, so there isn’t any reason to fear for them. I’m also still not sure why Gamera needed to form that physical bond with the kid, outside of the filmmakers wanting to shoehorn a kid into the story. It also doesn’t help that these characters are boring and the only one who stands out is Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) and that is mainly because she glares at the camera at one point and I got scared…For when I looked into her eyes, I saw that they were the eyes of a Steven Seagal, presumably because the actress is his daughter…Seriously, look it up! The acting isn’t bad or anything, even if some of the dialogue is kind of hokey…not necessarily as hokey as the lines from the Showa Era, but they seem more out of place here because “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” is a lot darker and edgier than anything from the Showa Era…except maybe when Gamera got raped by Jiger and the little children had to abort the fetus…That was pretty f@cking dark and edgy. Actually, if I have anything else negative to say about “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe“, it’s that it trades in the suck of the Showa Era with a feeling of normalcy, as if the cost for quality was to be somewhat generic. I kind of miss seeing the military using unconventional tactics to combat these monsters, as they now just rely on traditional firepower. I kind of miss the colorful characters, the wacky gimmicks and absurd situations. “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” has a script that could’ve easily been written for Godzilla or any other Kaiju, but then I have to remember that the eccentricities of the Showa Era’s Gamera were designed to distract us from how shitty those movies really were, so maybe I shouldn’t complain. The purpose of “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” was to reinvent the titular character and his franchise, giving it a broader appeal so adults could enjoy it just as much- if not moreso- than the kids.

Gamera’s redesign is perfect, staying faithful to his Showa Era origins, while giving him some bad-ass, menacing updates. I liked how battle scarred he looks and the animatronics do a great job at conveying his personality. He doesn’t just come across as a monster, but seems like an ancient being, carrying a certain amount of wisdom, dignity and maybe even some bitterness towards his own existence. He’s much more of a wild card than his Showa Era self, causing a lot of collateral damage in his quest to destroy the Gyaos and the one unique aspect of the story is how the Military views him as the bigger threat, even though he is technically trying to save the world. Gyaos isn’t anywhere near as interesting as she used to be, as she no longer regenerates, releases toxins from her nipples and the filmmakers tone down- if not outright remove- her ‘vampire bat’ characteristics. The Gyaos (there are three of them) are simply ravenous beasts and while some characters view them as tragic, the monsters themselves don’t showcase any characterization or personality to earn that observation. Yet they’re still effective because their new designs are creepy and their behavior is unsettling. Furthermore, their obsession with devouring humans makes their attacks a lot more intense, so they work within the context of this film. The miniatures are phenomenal, containing so much detail because the monsters aren’t THAT much bigger than the buildings they are destroying. Remember that when monsters are presented as significantly larger than the cityscape, it just means that the models are smaller, cheaper and less detailed, so this is better. Much like the original “Gamera: The Giant Monster“, the cinematographer uses a lot of close-ups, making the audience feel like they’re a part of the destruction. Yet unlike “Gamera: The Giant Monster“, there are a lot of wide shots showcasing the extent of the destruction, because this movie had a budget. These visuals usually look great, even by todays standards, although there are a few really bad composition shots. You can sometimes tell that the filmmakers are struggling with limited production values, but they still managed to deliver surprisingly good special effects and exciting action sequences. The clashes between Gamera and Gyaos are awesome and fast paced, leagues above the plodding clashes from the Showa Era. The editing and the soundtrack are exceptional as well, so “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” is a lot of fun for Kaiju geeks like myself. The script might suffer from cliches, but it never drags or gets in the way of the spectacle and this is the type of movie you watch to appreciate the spectacle. This is EXACTLY what Gamera needed in order to come back, so even if I kind of miss the campy style of the Showa Era, ‘good’ generally beats ‘interestingly bad’ and “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” is good.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Rating: 7/10 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF THE LEGION (1996)

(Directed by Shusuke Kaneko)

(Written by Kazunori Itō)

(Starring Miki Mizuno, Toshiyuki Nagashima and Mitsuru Fukikoshi)

Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion“, also often known as “Gamera 2: The Advent of Legion“, improves upon the strengths of its predecessor while also patching up its flaws. The miniatures have even more detail, the music is more emotionally charged, the camerawork more sophisticated and the CGI less…shitty…I mean, it’s still pretty bad by today’s standards, but its use is limited and the CGI never took me out of the experience. From a technical standpoint, Shusuke Kaneko and his special effects team had more money to work with and they craft many ambitious visuals that makes the monster suits and miniature cities look so much more lively. I should warn you that the pacing is a little slow, as while the story is quite busy, there didn’t seem to be quite as much action. Yet I thought they built up to the mayhem very effectively, making me more excited to see the monster showdowns, while the pay-off satisfied my cravings. Gamera’s design remains mostly unchanged, but the animatronics in his face seemed more expressive. This helped me continue to view the monster as a character and not just as an effect. I can’t say the same about his new nemesis, Legion, who has absolutely no characterization but they make up for this by coming up with one of the most complex monster designs in Kaiju history. Legion reminded me a lot of Biollante in that you can tell a lot of work went into bringing the suit to life, requiring an abnormal amount of coordination and puppetry. Yet while both were obviously complicated effects, Legion can actually do…things…It’s mobile and can trade blows with Gamera, while also having it’s own arsenal of abilities. Like Gamera’s original rogues gallery, Legion is layered with gimmicks. Unlike Gamera’s original rogue gallery, you can take said said gimmicks seriously and Legion is quite the menacing antagonist. I found myself liking the tone because it seamlessly alternates between ‘darker’ and ‘lighter’ without creating any kind of mood moodlash. On one hand, Legion causes a lot more death and destruction than Gyaos did. On the other hand, they really play up how kids adore Gamera and it can be quite moving. Legion’s onslaught inspired dread, while the kids faith in Gamera inspired hope. By doing this- “Attack of the Legion” is paying tribute to the Showa Era, while also forging its own edgier path.

The story surrounds the military and scientists investigating a mysterious Meteor site, where said meteor appears to have just…walked away…It turns out that they were actually witnessing the early stages of an invasion by a strange entity they call ‘Legion’. Most of the story surrounds the biology of this creature, as the humans try to figure out what it is, what it does and how to defeat it. Eventually Gamera shows up and the military is conflicted as to whether or not he should be treated as an ally. This isn’t a particularly strong story-line, but at least it doesn’t feel like it was written around the set pieces, which was the vibe I got from the first one. The characters are still underdeveloped, but the cast is given more to do so the performances are better than they were in “Guardian of the Universe“. Miki Mizuno (Midori) won me over with her charm, as her character is presented as somewhat socially awkward in an adorable kind of way, even though that’s the extent of her character. I thought she was a more interesting protagonist than the last one and she has chemistry with everyone she shares the scene with. The writer learned from his previous mistakes and puts the characters in constant, immediate peril, so we feel a lot more tension when Legion strikes. Ayako Fujitani reprises her role as Asami, but she is probably the films’ weakest link. Asami was underdeveloped in the first film and yet her screen-time and function within this story have been reduced so much that she’s practically a glorified cameo. Yet we’re still expected to care for her and I hope the third entry of this trilogy actually does something new with Asami. Nevertheless, the script is solid enough to support the spectacle…and the spectacle is f@cking awesome. Unfortunately, I have to end this review on a bittersweet note. “Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion” is a lot better than “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe“, but I don’t like it THAT much more. It’s currently my favorite of the franchise, yet I’m not passionately in love with it and I’m not sure why. I think the problem is just that these movies provide nothing more than superficial entertainment. Neither “Guardian of the Universe” or “Attack of the Legion” resonated with me very strongly on an emotional level, which is odd coming from me, as I’m generally content with simple fun. I have a theory as to why I feel this way, but I’m going to withhold it until either the ‘overall’ summation or my review of the next movie…So can “Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris” break this glass ceiling?

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Rating: 7.5/10 ★★★★★★★½☆☆ 

GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS (1999)

(Directed by Shusuke Kaneko)

(Written by Kazunori Itō and Shusuke Kaneko)

(Starring Shinobu Nakayama, Ai Maeda and Ayako Fujitani)

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris” is often considered to be the best of the trilogy, with some even hailing it as among the best Kaiju flicks of all time, but my own memory of it was never that enthusiastic. When I first saw this a decade ago, I remember spending my viewing experience bored in parts, confused in other parts and frustrated with the abundance of CGI in all of its parts. I didn’t necessarily see it as a bad film, but I thought it was the weakest of the trilogy…It’s strange that my tastes have changed so much since then, as my opinions have nearly reversed! “Revenge of Iris” is probably the best movie to be found within this trilogy, as the characters are a lot more interesting and the story feels a lot more complex…Maybe even too complex, as there are still a few points I’m not entirely clear on, such as the motivations of a shady duo who love cryptic exposition…But the writers have a better understanding of what makes a compelling narrative. The conflict puts its human characters in the center of the danger, so they are in peril and we have reasons to fear for them, especially as the tone is dark enough to put their plot armor status into question. They also have emotional stakes in this struggle, so it no longer feels like the humans are just bystanders in Gamera’s story…even if technically, they are just bystanders in Gamera’s story. Speaking of whom, I love how time is spent on the downside of having a giant, flying turtle as our guardian, as even though he might seek to vanquish those who will destroy the human race, he causes a lot of collateral damage in the process. The film challenges Gamera’s status as ‘the friend of all children’ by lingering on his destruction. There is one powerful scene of Gamera ‘saving’ a kid, but the way it plays out suggests that the just got lucky and Gamera probably never even realized he was there. Yet the kid assumes Gamera saved him, making us wonder if he was ever really ‘friendly’ or if humanity had just perceived him as ‘friendly’ because he wasn’t aggressive towards humans like Legion and Gyaos were. It’s a fascinating subject and I think it’s fitting that Gamera’s current nemesis is ultimately one of his own making. The plot mostly surrounds Ayana (Ai Maeda), whose parents were slain by Gamera during the events of the first film. She encounters a strange monster who bonds with her, which she names Iris, but it shows a malevolent side and inherits her desire to kill Gamera. There is also a lot of world building, where we learn Gyaos attacks are occurring throughout the country. Shinobu Nakayama reprises her role as Nagamine and even though I still find her to be a rather dull character, the script utilizes her more effectively and surrounds her with a colorful supporting cast. They even do a little bit more with Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) and I was happy to see Yukijirô Hotaru return as Osako, the bumbling inspector turned…bum…He was the only person who kept my interest in “Guardian of the Universe” and I was disappointed when he just vanished half way through that movie. They complete his character arc here, which was nice.

But even though “Revenge of Iris” might be the best movie of the trilogy, it’s probably the weakest as a monster movie…and I should probably explain that. When I praise a film for being a good ‘monster movie’ or any kind of genre based flick (martial arts, horror, etc), it’s because its’ successes are entirely rooted within the required areas to satisfy a specific audience. A comedy might have a weak story, thin characterizations and plot holes, but if it’s funny, it meets the requirements of being a good comedy…even if it’s not necessarily a good movie. Kaiju flicks generally require cool looking monsters and lots of destruction and can survive a subpar script if it delivers the kind of spectacle that its fanbase desires, which is what the previous two Gamera movies did. “Revenge of Iris” doesn’t feel any cheaper than its predecessors, but made some questionable creative decisions as to how the action scenes would unfold. Even though there are still suits and miniatures, the filmmakers rely a lot more on CGI and I have mixed feelings on this. The quality of the CGI is an improvement and at least Kaneko and the effects team crafted some pretty cool visuals out of it that probably would not have worked with practical effects. Yet it still hasn’t aged well and stands out awkwardly when placed next to the suits and miniatures…which are at their finest, making the CGI seem even phonier. The editing is…not very good…There are some abrupt cuts that left me confused as to what had just transpired and it feels like a lot of content was removed, because some important events are briefly explained to us after the fact. The editing becomes so tight during the monster brawls in order to make the CGI and practical effects look more seamless, but it just made it difficult to follow the action. The camera is constantly shaking and digitally inserted dust and debris always appear to be blocking the viewers’ vision. Kaneko probably intended to do this to make us feel like we’re part of the attack, but I grew exhausted and frustrated with continuously feeling disoriented. That isn’t to say that the film fails in this regard though, as I liked how the humans always seemed to be interacting with their environments as they crumbled all around them. It made the effects seem more convincing and the suits are at their coolest. Gamera has a new design that looks even more menacing than his previous menacing looking design did and it works perfectly within the context of this story. Once again, the animatronics are so expressive and Gamera has never looked so lifelike. Iris is also impressive to behold and I love how he/she looks like he/she should be the hero of this story. Gamera is a lot uglier and meaner looking, while Iris is designed to resemble a Knight in shining armor. His/her posture is more regal, his/her skin is vividly colorful and is this monster wearing f@cking armor? COOL! Of course the irony is that Gamera is trying to save humanity while Iris sucks the life out of it. I might’ve struggled to tell what was happening during their fights, but at least their clashes were grisly, almost to the point of being gory. “Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris” does stumble somewhat when it comes to the monster action, but it does finally offer the emotional core lacking in “Guardian of the Universe” and “Attack of the Legion“. I really do like it and appreciate that the filmmakers took some risks, exploring territory that had yet to be covered within this franchise and taking it in a new direction. I should warn you that  the dense plot is a little hard to follow because the subtitles are rife with misspellings, vague translations and are sometimes even absent while a character talks. This can add to the frustration, but personally, I think it’s worth it.

Rating: 3/4 ★★★☆ 

Rating: 7.5/10 ★★★★★★★½☆☆ 

GAMERA THE BRAVE (2006)

(Directed by Ryuta Tazaki)

(Written by Yukari Tatsui)

(Starring Ryô Tomioka, Kanji Tsuda and Kaho)

Gamera the Brave” opened to positive reviews, but divided the fanbase and flopped at the box office, effectively killing the franchise. Perhaps its failure was due to mainstream audiences losing interest in the genre, as even Godzilla had to retire two years prior due to the bombing of “Godzilla: Final Wars“. Or perhaps “Gamera the Brave” failed because someone had the ridiculously stupid f@cking idea to kill off its titular monster in THE. FIRST. FIVE. MINUTES of the f@cking movie, before following a new giant turtle named…Toto…in a movie called “Gamera the Brave“. Seriously, every time I think this franchise cannot surprise me anymore with its bat-shit insane ideas, it becomes determined to prove me wrong. But what is even stranger than switching out Gamera with a new turtle named…f@cking Toto…is “Gamera the Brave” being…really good, easily being the best movie to ever grace this franchise, while also arguably being the worst Gamera movie…A lot of fans were alienated by this reboot, mostly because it decides to traverse a path which could not be any more different than Shusuke Kaneko’s trilogy. Gamera had appealed to a new generation by being dark and gritty, while this was more optimistic and family friendly and fans weren’t ready for the shift in tone. I’m also sure a lot of people felt that this was less of a Gamera movie and more of a coming-of-age story that happened to have Gamera in it- something else the fandom wasn’t in the mood for. The plot follows a young boy named Toru (Ryô Tomioka), who’s going through a difficult time in his life, as he can’t seem to connect with his Father (Kanji Tsuda), his best friend Mai (Kaho) is dying and requires a risky operation and he’s struggling to accept the death of his Mother. Yet things change for him when he finds an egg, which hatches a bizarre flying, fire belching turtle whom he names Toto. 30 Years prior, Gamera sacrificed his life in order to destroy the final Gyaos and monsters have not been seen since then. Because of this, Toru refuses to accept that Toto is a monster, despite the turtles’ magical abilities and baffling growth spurts. Yet when a terrifying Dragon named Zedus attacks Toru’s coastal town, Toto must become the new Guardian of the Universe.

As a coming-of-age story, “Gamera the Brave” had some really powerful, emotionally charged content. It deals with some heavy themes for a kids film, such as our mortality and how we process it. I was surprised how much I was invested in Mai’s impending operation, as she shows a balance of resignation and fear, in complete contrast to her parents, who refused to accept the possibility that she might not survive. I have to confess…I was so moved that I sometimes sniffled…Toru is a unique protagonist because he comes across as cynical and bitter, without being bratty. So when Toto enters his life and starts to bring Toru out of his…*ugh*…I’m sorry about this…shell…I was happy to see him happy. I liked watching the kid struggle with understanding how the world works and I liked seeing him grow up at the end of his character arc. The cast is really f@cking good, with even the child actors being able to support the dramatic material. Ryuta Tazaki”s direction shines the most when focusing on the actors and their situations, as he frames scenes based on the mood and the visuals adds to the emotional weight. The cinematographer seems to have similar preferences, probably because he gets to film real environments and not just models, but the scenery is breathtaking. The score is very unique, having a magical and mysterious sound which fits snugly with the different genres of “Gamera the Brave“. I was going to say that the director and cinematographer seemed a bit unenthusiastic about the set pieces, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to appreciate their vision. The action scenes don’t have a lot of style and aren’t anywhere near as memorable as the equivalents from Kaneko’s trilogy, yet the miniatures always looked convincing. The actors interacted with them seamlessly and only the CGI brought me out of the illusion. But even though the CGI stands out somewhat awkwardly, I didn’t think it was that bad. The action is choreographed to be more character and story driven. Toto and Zedus are constantly trying to outsmart each-other, providing a creative alternative to the traditional Kaiju slug-fests that we’re used to.. Furthermore, the battle still focuses on the human characters and their reactions to Toto’s struggle and they end up playing a pivotal role in the resolution. If Shusuke Kaneko’s style was utilized here, I think it would’ve been more distracting than exciting, so Ryuta Tazaki’s minimalist approach was better for this kind of story.

Gamera the Brave” does have some flaws, such as a few examples of on-the-nose exposition, an awkwardly handled plot device and the lack of military, but they’re irrelevant compared to the controversial creative decisions made by the filmmakers. I don’t even think that the majority of these creative choices are ‘bad’, but you might perceive them as bad based on your preferences. When Gamera showed up for his cameo, I was completely put off by his more…realistic appearance? The effects team took the turtle influences a lot farther than any of the previous Gamera films did, but his monster attributes such as the mandibles just looked awkward on the realistic design. You might disagree with me, but I actually found myself preferring Toto’s look, as the conventional turtle aesthetic worked better with his softer and cuter features. He’s nowhere near as menacing or as memorable as Gamera, but the design works within the context of this story. Yet you might dislike it because he doesn’t look bad-ass enough and I wouldn’t blame you for feeling that way, as he doesn’t stand out as much as his predecessors. I was also irritated that they replaced Gamera’s iconic roar with something more generic and forgettable. Zedus is about the most mundane participant in Gamera’s rogues gallery, as his gimmick is bland and he doesn’t have any real characterization, but the design is very threatening and also works within the context of this story. You might dislike the slow burn pace or the decision to appeal to a younger demographic…Or maybe your problem is how dark it can be for a movie designed for a younger demographic, as Zedus does eat people. Maybe you’ll be unable to forgive the movie for killing off Gamera and replacing him with…f@cking Toto… As I said, I don’t think any of this is bad from an objective standpoint, but a lot of it can be seen as a betrayal to the formula that Gamera fans wanted to see continued. I personally have nothing but praise for “Gamera the Brave“, as it took some serious risks and I thought the final result was exceptional. But as a Gamera flick, its experimental nature will result in a wide variety of reactions and I can’t blame anyone for thinking that “Gamera the Brave” took too many liberties with its fanbase. I do think it would’ve been a lot more popular had it been made before Shusuke Kaneko’s trilogy redefined the genre. When you think about it, “Gamera the Brave” was just returning to its Showa era origins and “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” was technically the one that strayed from the formula…although I guess “Gamera the Brave” also strayed from its Showa roots by being…you know…good…I still prefer “Attack of the Legion” and “Revenge of Iris“, but I think “Gamera the Brave” is the superior movie and I hope history remembers it as such and not as the flop which killed Gamera’s franchise.

Rating: 3.5/4 ★★★½ 

Rating: 7/10 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

OVERVIEW

You might read these reviews and think that I’ve been too harsh, especially as I seemed strangely soft on the Showa era, but there is a good reason for this. I judged the Showa era of Gamera as bad movies, which happened to have some merit because they were charmingly terrible. I judged the Heisei (and Millennium) era of Gamera as good movies, which happened to have some flaws that kept them from reaching their full potential. “Guardian of the Universe” and “Attack of the Legion” are fun as monster flicks, but they don’t give you much of a reason to become emotionally invested. “Revenge of Iris” and “Gamera the Brave” give you reasons to become emotionally invested, but aren’t quite as fun as monster flicks. I liked them all, but I couldn’t bring myself to fall in love with them because…they’re movies, not people…No, they were held back because I felt like “Guardian of the Universe” and “Attack of the Legion” wanted to me more than just superficial entertainment, especially as there isn’t an abundance of monster action. They didn’t quite accomplish this goal, but they figured out how to do so for the following films, which had stronger stories and better characters. Unfortunately, the monster action just wasn’t quite as good, which is strange because they handled it so well in the previous films. For me, at least one of these movies should’ve excelled in both areas, but these are only my opinions and the world doesn’t necessarily agree with me. Many fans consider the Heisei era of Gamera to be amongst the best Kaiju flicks ever, even earning more acclaim than the majority of what Godzilla was doing during that time period. I do still really like Kaneko’s films and understand why they are held in such high regard, even if my enthusiasm is a little muted. I also understand why many deemed “Gamera the Brave” to be a betrayal of their beloved formula, even if I thought its creative decisions were a natural progression for the franchise. In the 1990’s, fans seemed more interested in the darker and edgier approach to Kaiju, perhaps because everyone was overexposed to the campiness that seemed to dominate every other genre at the time. But it was becoming increasingly difficult to tell what they wanted in the early 2000’s. Audiences had grown tired of the darker and edgier approach, as now every other genre was also doing that, but Godzilla’s attempt to return to camp and nostalgia ended in failure too. A hard reboot of Gamera that would try something completely different was perhaps the best idea from a creative standpoint, but fans rejected it and the franchise came to an end. Nevertheless, I think all four of these films did a lot to improve the image of the genre, especially Kaneko’s trilogy for making Gamera into a mainstream commodity. I’m glad I was able to revisit them, experience Gamera’s final outing for the first time and I’m even grateful to bearing witness to Gamera’s troubled ‘upbringing’. Each era entertained me, just in vastly different ways and I hope there is another revival. In 2015, a concept trailer was released and it looked amazing, so I’m disappointed there hasn’t been any news on the project since then. But with the success of “Shin Godzilla” and the rise of the MonsterVerse from Legendary Entertainment, we can have faith that our favorite giant, fire breathing, flying turtle will return one day…