Goonies, but make it kaiju. That’s the easiest way to sum up the latest Netflix Original Anime series, Gamera Rebirth (Stylized Gamera -Rebirth-). This new kaiju anime is directed by Hiroyuki Seshita with Keisuke Ide serving as co-director, while featuring Seshita Kenta Ihara, and Hiroshi Seko serving as the series head writers, and is animated by studio ENGI with the original concept provided by KADOKAWA.
Gamera is a monster featured in Gamera: The Giant Monster, a special effects film released in 1965 by Daiei Film (now Kadokawa). A big turtle that packs a punch, Gamera is portrayed as a protector of humanity from dangers on Earth, a friend to children and an ally of justice. This is a different understanding of kaiju when compared to what we’ve seen in Legendary and Toho’s Monsterverse. Using it’s shell to spin and fly, this kaiju has an overtly humorous approach to combat that needs to be grounded in order to come across as epic, and ultimately, Gamera Rebirth captures that.
In Gamera Rebirth, being a steward of humanity and protecting children is a large focus of the story. Set in the summer of 1989, sixth graders Boko, Joe, and Junichi are on their last summer vacation as elementary school students, only it’s far from perfect when they find themselves falling victim to a bullies from one of the international schools.
But the daily routine is broken up when the kaiju Gyaos attacks Tokyo, destablizing the city and throwing everyone into a scramble to survive. As the children try to stay alive, with the help of their bully, they realize that Gamera is a protector. Gamera may be a kaiju set to fight the others but it becomes clear that there are more out there beyond the thunderburds that first showed up with Gyaos, thanks to ruthless military experiments, turning their vacation into the “Summer of Kaiju.”
From a narrative perspective, the series leans heavily into the American xenophobia and racism and uses the kaiju to explore the oppressive and continued United States presence in Japan, particularly when it comes to the military. From the international school bullies to the hawkish American generals who don’t seem to care about Japanese lives, Gamera Rebirth is able to use the kaiju genre to explore these concepts at a high level, and its better for it. Fitting into the long history of kaiju exploring military choices, and how they prioritize advancement and violence, Gamera Rebirth fits into the larger history of the genre.
Unfortunately, Gamera Rebirth’s‘ 3D animation is more awkward than fluid, specifically when it comes to the scenes of the children alone, or when the monsters aren’t present. While some series like Godzilla Singular Point have blended 2D and 3D animation stules, the use of handrawn 2D backgrounds with the 3D CGI foreground is rather jarring. This comes not from the choice to blend the two animation styles, but from the choppiness of the chosen framerate that affects the clarity and tone of much of the human elements of the series.
Skill goes into any animation from any studio, and its clear that there are talented animators at studio ENGI, particually where shader aplication and rigging is concerned for the kaiju elements as well as the depth of the backgrounds created. That said, the choices made in the disparate styles also extends from the highly detailed and textured kaiju to the rather simple takes on human form.
The most important part of the series, or at least the one that will make viewers tune in are the amount of kaiju, and there are five main kaiju fights total that Gamera, our big turtle boy, must fight. ENGI’s best work is in how the studio renders the kaiju, focusing on depth, and the recreation of textured skin, as well as detail in the eyes of the monsters. There is a care put into crafting the kaiju that carries the series far beyond the initial aesthetics.
In addition to the extremly tactile kaiju, the sound design that captures the monsters’ communication, screeches, and everything else are stellar in a way that makes it feel mammoth, from a roar to a dying whimper. Additionally, finishing moves, particularly Gamera’s shell spin captures the absurdity and excellence that comes from kaiju fight choreography that has made it a genre favorite. But these kaiju aren’t just bombastic, they also feature solid personalities that the children respond to that makes the kaiju, particularly Gamera feel like more than just a monster.
What Gamera -Rebirth- lacks in aesthetics, it makes up with compelling characters and stellar creature design. The series may struggle to build a cohesive visual narrative across kaiju and humaity, it does manage to tell a story that will keep you engaged beyond just fantastic monsters—and it’s only five episodes, which is an easy watch for any and all kaiju lovers out there.
Gamera -Rebirth- is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
What Gamera -Rebirth- lacks in aesthetics, it makes up with compelling characters and stellar creature design. The series may struggle to build a cohesive visual narrative across kaiju and humanity, it does manage to tell a story that will keep you engaged beyond just fantastic monsters.