Following the events of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, Haruo Sakaki is rescued by Miana, a girl from the indigenous Houtua tribe, who tell him that Godzilla killed their god and left eggs behind, proving the theory that Godzilla is able to create offspring. Meanwhile, the leader of the Bilusaludo race learns that the Houtua tribe’s spears are made from the same nanometal used to build Mechagodzilla, a weapon they built several millennia ago and long thought destroyed. Does humanity have a new weapon to destroy Godzilla once and for all?
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is the second of a trilogy of films by Toho Animation and Polygon Pictures, written by Gen Urobuchi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass, Aldnoah.Zero) and directed by Kobun Shizuno (Knights of Sidonia, Soul Buster, Detective Conan) & Hiroyuki Seshita (Ajin: Demi-Human, Blame!). This film carries on from where the first film, Planet of the Monsters, left off; our main protagonist, Captain Haruo Sakaki, is discovered by an indigenous girl. Miana takes him to her tribe, the Houtua, where he and his team discover that they have their own tragic connection with Godzilla too, when it killed their god. This massive animated Godzilla project by Polygon Pictures simply cements their working relationship with Netflix, and their plan to bring their work to a global audience. Netflix already have exclusivity to stream their more well-known shows, Knights of Sidonia and Ajin: Demi-Human, not to mention their original Netflix movie Blame! I personally cannot recommend Knights of Sidonia more as a forward-thinking and innovative sci-fi mecha show that tells a tale of humanity at the edge of despair. While Polygon Pictures do rely on 3D animation a lot in their work, their scripts are still not something to laugh at.
When the first movie was in its production, co-director Kobun Shizuno said in an interview with Sci-Fi Japan that they were given total freedom in what they wanted to do by Toho, the company that own the Godzilla franchise:
“…From the start, we had the blessing of Toho to not be constrained by previous entries in the franchise, and with the freedom of imagination offered by animation I feel we have come up with a cool new form for Godzilla…”
If you’re not familiar with the initial story, large monsters (kaiju) arrived on Earth at the end of the 20th century. In time, humanoid alien races the spiritual Exif and the technologically-advanced Bilusaludo arrived offering to help them eradicate the kaiju in exchange for sanctuary on Earth. When they failed, all three races chose to abandon Earth for the stars. Low on resources and resorting to killing off the elderly to save the remaining crew, military captain Haruo Sakaki proposes a plan to return to Earth, kill Godzilla once and for all, and retake their home. Left with no other options, central command agree and send a team to the Earth’s surface. There they discover that 20,000 years have passed on Earth, and Godzilla has evolved into something far more monstrous, and isn’t alone either.
Writer Gen Urobuchi already has a loyal fan base who praise his unpredictable stories with powerful ideas. Amiably given the nickname “The Urobutcher”, he was a member of Magica Quartet (along with Shaft senior member Akiyuki Shinbou, character designer Ume Aoki and producer Atsushiro Iwakami) who created the iconic Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which took the magical girl genre and put it in a blender. He was also the creator of innovative sci-fi shows Psycho-Pass and Aldnoah.Zero, both of which tell tragic tales of humanity at its lowest ebbs. If I want to be a true fanboy, then I’ll mention his controversial visual novel horror game Saya no Uta as well, in which he pays homage to H.P. Lovecraft and creates psychotic and villainous lead characters we end up sympathizing with.
The first movie, Planet of the Monsters, made me so happy when I first saw it back in January on Netflix. I already loved Polygon Pictures’ animation style, and so that mixed with Urobuchi’s history of writing stories of tragedy and despair gave the Godzilla franchise a whole new lease of life, avoiding the cheesy movies of the 60s and 70s and the more recent Hollywood remakes (another one of which is due next year). Here in City of the Edge of Battle, the humans, Exif and Bilusaludo left on Earth are, effectively, all that remain, and are the only hope to destroy the now-evolved Godzilla for good. A lot of people will be put off by the abundance of 3D animation, that much I accept, but at the same time, it would be fair to say that without this 3D animation, the story would not work as well as it does.
It would also be fair to say that not all of the characters in this Godzilla trilogy are all that interesting either. Neither the Exif or Bilusaludo races exude that much in the way of superiority or authority, and are just as doomed as the humans are. We sympathize with Haruo’s cause, and his personal mission to destroy the creature that killed his family long ago, but it feels like the rest of the cast are totally expendable and just another speck of dust in Godzilla’s eyes. Saying that though, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was Urobuchi’s idea all along, and simply reinforces the theory that humanity really isn’t all that special. The humans come to take their planet back, and learn that they don’t have a hope in hell, and in the 100 or so minutes of running time, we are reminded of this constantly.
One of my favourite Japanese voice actors, Mamoru Miyano (Steins;Gate, Durarara!!, Chihayafuru, Persona 5), comes back to play Haruo, which also makes me happy. Not just this…the same English dub team that worked on Planet of the Monsters return for City on the Edge of Battle, and it’s a dub that really works. Even though I prefer subs to dubs, I think that this English dub has its own identity that is not just separate from the original Japanese, but gives us characters that we can sort of warm to, as opposed to just hearing generic lines that sound like a translated script. Chris Niosi steps in to play Haruo, with Lucian Dodge as his Exif priest friend Metphies, and veteran VAs Cristina Vee, Keith Silverstein and Ray Chase also a part of the main cast. The main theme is “The Sky Falls” by XAI.
Here’s the Japanese-language trailer Netflix used for Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle:
By the end of City on the Edge of Battle, you may be left questioning who is the real monster here. Kaiju movies have always been so cut-and-dry, firmly separating humanity with the gigantic beasts that roam the planet. I like how both the Exif and Bilusaludo question Haruo’s motives, and whether he is a monster for being so possessive on destruction that could well lead to something much worse for Earth. Well, we are certainly given a story that will keep us on the edge of our seats when the third movie comes, titled Hoshi wo Ku Mono (which can translate as either Planet Eater or Eater of Stars). It’s scheduled for release in Japan in November, meaning Netflix will have it sometime in 2019.
One of Polygon Pictures’ signature traits in their works is the great detail to accurate science and technology, and it’s just as evident here. It tells us that technology is not necessarily humanity’s saviour and may not be enough to defeat not just Godzilla, or whatever else is out there. Despite the somewhat dull character design flaws, this Godzilla movie trilogy deserves a lot more exposure. I was hoping that Netflix would help in this, but it’s still something that is hidden deep in the ‘Recently Added’ list, where the big shows and movies take priority. If Netflix were able to market and advertise this more, then I’m more than certain that this would well be better received. Regardless of this, City on the Edge of Battle is still worth checking out, especially if you enjoyed Planet of the Monsters. Just…don’t be afraid of a little 3D animation.
I love kaiju movies, no matter how good or bad they are. Thankfully, this doesn’t disappoint. By picking up where the futuristic Planet of the Monsters left off and bringing the action firmly back to Earth, City on the Edge of Battle has the same non-stop action the first movie had. Unfortunately, the dull character designs return, plus 3D animation is absolutely everywhere here and its abundance might grate on you. Fair to say 3DCG isn’t for everyone, but Godzilla really does work as an anime, and Polygon Pictures prove it.