Gamera is essentially a giant turtle that flies by spinning around and saves Earth from danger on a regular basis. Unlike most other monsters, he was extremely benevolent toward humans.
It all started with the Showa series. Aside from the first movie, the movies were in color and usually had Gamera fight other monsters. While not as popular as Godzilla, Gamera managed to become a moderate success. The series abruptly stopped in 1971 when Daiei filed for bankruptcy. Apart from Gamera: Super Monster, a 1980 film that was little more than a Clip Show, the Gamera franchise would be dormant for many years.
The legacy of Gamera modestly carried on and particularly in America. After Gamera's first film premiered in U.S. theaters in a somewhat modified form, the first five sequels were shown constantly on local television stations in the '70s and '80s. The aforementioned eighth film Gamera: Super Monster aired on MTV at a time when they rarely showed movies and, was also released to local television. In the late '80s, the seventh film Gamera vs. Zigra had its long overdue release along with differently edited/dubbed versions of four other Gamera films via airings on USA Network and local stations as well as video releases from new distributor Sandy Frank. Gamera was introduced to a new audience when the Sandy Frank versions aired as episodes of the series Mystery Science Theater 3000. On the show, the films were derided for having too many cringe-worthy moments (one infamous scene had Gamera swing up and down a pole, Gymkata style), bad dubbing, and too much emphasis on the kids.
Then, the Heisei series came. After a long wait, it was decided that the Gamera series should be revived. Shusuke Kaneko, who would later become famous for the Death Note movies, was chosen to direct a new Gamera trilogy. What we got was a drastic change from the previous series. The movies became much darker in tone, and the monsters were much more abstract than anything previously seen in a kaiju movie. The trilogy has been acclaimed by critics from both sides of the Pacific.
After the Heisei trilogy ended, it took seven years for a new Gamera movie to come. Gamera The Brave, the fourth and long-thought-to-be final Gamera film of the Heisei era, held no relation to the previous three films, instead going for a full reboot of the franchise. It attempted to be more like the Showa films while still keeping the Heisei trilogy's tone. It tells the story of a younger Gamera named Toto by a young boy called Toru Aizawa, who raises him from a hatchling, having to rise up to face the threat of a frilled lizard monster called Zedus. While reception for this new film was positive, a sequel never materialized and the series once again fell back into hibernation.
He was to get a new film in 2015, produced by Shigenori Takatera of Kamen Rider Kuuga and Daimajin Kanon fame, but restructuring of Kadokawa has led to a delay in the project. However, a 50th Anniversary short film doubling as a proof-of-concept trailer for a new feature in 2016-2017 was released at New York Comic Con 2015, directed by Katsuhito Ishii, who is also writing the new film.
Films in the Gamera Franchise include:
These are the Japanese titles of the official films. The names vary in regional release.
Showa Series (1965-1980)
- Giant Monster Gamera (1965) (a.k.a. Gammera The Invincible)
- Gamera vs. Barugon (1966) (a.k.a War of the Monsters)
- Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967) (a.k.a. Return of the Giant Monsters)
- Gamera vs. Viras (1968) (a.k.a. Destroy All Planets)
- Gamera vs. Guiron (1969) (a.k.a. Attack of the Monsters)
- Gamera vs. Jiger (1970) (a.k.a. Gamera vs. Monster X)
- Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)
- Gamera: Super Monster (1980)
Heisei Series (1995-1999)
- Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
- Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996)
- Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys (1999) (a.k.a. Gamera 3: Incomplete Struggle)
- Gamera the Brave (2006)
The Showa series contains examples of:
- Ac CENT Upon The Wrong Syl LA Ble: The earlier "Roman" ELDA dubs (War of the Monsters and Return of the Giant Monsters) insist on pronouncing Gamera's name as "Guh-MARE-uh", as does Super Monster's Hong Kong Dub.
- Adults Are Useless: Embarrassingly so. This is most evident in Gamera vs Guiron, although the adult characters of course are much more competent in the earlier films before the series became more geared towards children.
- Alien Invasion: Destroy All Planets, Gamera vs. Zigra and Gamera Super Monster. Subverted in Gamera vs. Guiron when a pair of kids "invade" an alien planet, forcing Gamera to come and rescue them.
- Artistic License Physics: Gamera is 60 meters tall, but weighs only 80 tons. This mass ratio is ridiculous when compared to other kaiju, such as Godzilla, who is at least 50 meters and weighs at least 20,000 tons.
- Atlantis: Where Gamera comes from. Only briefly implied in the first movie.
- Batman Can Breathe in Space: And so can Gamera. (The rocket exhaust from his leg-holes works without air, too.)
- Beware My Stinger Tail: Jiger in Gamera vs. Jiger. Gamera learns this the hard way.
- BFS: Not quite a sword, but Guiron does have a big effin' blade sticking out of his head.
- Big Budget Beef-Up: Gamera vs. Barugon was made as an A-list film and it clearly shows compared to all the other films. No kids, darker and edgier, the suits look awesome, and an attempt at forming an actual story !
- The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Gamera does this to Guiron's head and it leads to the beast's destruction. He also does it to Jiger, and attempts it on Zigra as well. In the later films, this seemed to become one of Gamera's favorite techniques.
- Breath Weapon: Gamera breathes flamethrower flames from his mouth, Barugon unleashes a freezing mist from his tongue, and Gyaos can spit a sonic beam that slices things like a razor.
- Captain Ersatz: The Xenon/Zanon mothership in Gamera Super Monster isn't even a Captain Ersatz of an Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars, it just IS one.
- Darker and Edgier: The first sequel, Gamera vs. Barugon, didn't feature any children, opting instead for a plot that starts out with three men trying to recover a giant opal (which is actually Barugon's egg) from the New Guinea jungle, and ultimately had some pretty grim material including a graphic death by scorpion sting.
- Death by Materialism: Onodera in Gamera vs. Barugon.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The Showa movies (except, debatably, "Barugon") tend to be regarded as early installment weirdness by fans of the newer works, thanks to their bizarre monsters, annoying and irrelevant child characters, low-budget special effects, and indifferent scripts.
- In the context of just the Showa Era, Gamera vs. Barugon could be seen as weird since it's Darker and Edgier compared to the later sequels, with a more serious story focused on adults, less anthropomorphic Gamera, and no token child character.
- Everything's Better with Rainbows: Barugon.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Inexplicably, if a giant turtle spins fast enough, it becomes capable of controlled flight. To be fair, he isn't just spinning. He's firing rocket jets out of each of the four holes of his shell, causing spin-fight much like your standard spinning UFO does.
- Everything's Even Worse With Sharks: Zigra.
- "Fantastic Voyage" Plot / Swallowed Whole: In Gamera vs. Jiger, Jiger injects Gamera with her parasitic offspring that turns Gamera's skin a sickly white. The kids must venture inside Gamera's body to hunt down the baby.
- Flipping Helpless: This is attempted several times in the series to try to stop Gamera:
- In the first film, the army attempted to invoke this to stop him. In their defense, no one could have anticipated the giant turtle would fire rocket boosters out of its shell and fly away.
- In Gamera vs Viras the giant turtle Gamera is trapped lying on his back (shell) and a giant alien with a pointed head repeatedly spears him in the stomach while he's helpless.
- In Gamera vs Jiger, Jiger fires spears into Gamera's arms and legs, preventing Gamera from pulling them into his shell (and thus activating his rockets), then knocking Gamera onto his back, leaving him helpless.
- Flying Firepower: The Gyaos are able to shoot blasts of high-frequency soundwaves while flying that are able to slice through steel.
- Follow the Leader: The Godzilla series, of course. Although it's worth mentioning that after Gamera started to catch on, the Godzilla series also began featuring children more prominently than it ever had before, and eventually, gore into the monster battles as well (The Godzilla films of the 1970s frequently had Godzilla bleed, something that had never happened in the series before). Some would also say the decision to utilize heavy amounts of stock footage in later Godzilla films such as All Monsters Attack, Godzilla vs Gigan and so on, was also inspired by the Gamera series' successful use of such.
- Giant Flyer: Gamera, Gyaos and Jiger.
- Gratuitous English: Almost every scene with the Inuit Chief in the first movie has him speaking in a particularly embarrassing dialect of Engrish. To a lesser extent in the scenes with U.S. Air Force personnel.
- It doesn't help the General sounds like Buddy Hackett.
- His Name Is...: Happens during the opening scene of Gamera vs. Viras. Just before the Virians can finish their distress signal, the ship explodes and the title card (Gamera) appears on screen. More or less ruined in the AIP TV version, where the American title card (Destroy All Planets) appears instead.
- Infant Immortality: None of the child characters are ever in real danger (as these are technically children's films), although some viewers may find that a bad thing, since the child characters are generally disliked. Implicitly Gamera's rampage in the first film would have killed many unseen children.
- Kill It with Fire: Curiously averted for most of the series, despite Gamera's flame breath. Only Zigra, the last monster Gamera faces, is burned to death by Gamera's breath. (Guiron is technically killed by a missile shoved into his head, simply detonated by Gamera's breath, but it's close) This is especially noticeable compared to Godzilla, who frequently defeats his opponents with his breath weapon.
- Kill It with Water: Barugon.
- Lighter and Softer: All the Showa films after Gamera vs. Barugon (see the "Darker and Edgier" entry above).
- Lost in Translation: The alien women in Gamera vs. Guiron repeatedly refer to the planet they're on, and the other planets in space, as "stars," much to the chagrin of Tom Servo in the MST3K audience. Japanese, like German, doesn't have separate words for "star" and "planet"; it uses the same word for both.
- Market-Based Title: Similar to many Godzilla films of the time, Showa Gamera films almost always had their titles changed when they were shipped to America, often into something generic and nonsensical, and rarely even mentioning Gamera at all!
- Gamera: The Giant Monster was retitled as Gammera, The Invincible.
- Gamera vs. Barugon was retitled as War of the Monsters.
- Gamera vs. Gyaos was retitled as Return of the Giant Monsters.
- Gamera vs. Space Monster Viras was retitled as Destroy All Planets (probably to try and cash in on Destroy All Monsters, and also nonsensical since Earth is the only planet shown).
- Gamera vs. Guiron was retitled as Attack of the Monsters.
- Gamera vs. Jiger was retitled as Gamera vs. Monster X (also nonsensical considering Jiger is never called that, but at least they finally mentioned Gamera and spelled his name correctly this time).
- Gamera vs. Zigra was the only one spared from title change.
- Gamera: Super Monster was retitled as simply Super Monster.
- Meaningful Name: Guiron/Guillon is named after the guillotine. Considering what he does to Space Gyaos...
- Gamera's name is a combination of the Japanese word for turtle ("kame") and "ra", the character that ends the names of so many other Japanese monsters (Gojira, Mosura, Gidora, Mogera, Gaira, Gezora, Hedora, etc.).
- Likewise, Barugon's name is a combination of baru (an extinct genus of crocodile) and dragon.
- Monster Is a Mommy / Female Monster Surprise: Jiger.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot / Recycled For Space: Gamera vs. Guiron's Space Gyaos.
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Barugon, the lizard with a battering ram tongue, freezing breath, and rainbow rays from its back; Viras, the spear-headed alien squid; Guiron, the alien knife-headed bulldog-lizard with telekinetic ninja stars; Jiger, the tusked salamander that shoots spears and disintegration rays, can implant an egg into you facehugger-style, and which can fly by jet propulsion from its neck; Zigra, the alien, laser-beam shooting Hitler shark...
- ...and most importantly, Gamera, the prehistoric, fire-breathing, rocket-propelled turtle with a soft spot for children.
- Seriously, is there any monster in this series that isn't totally bizarre? Probably the most "normal" of them is Gyaos, which is essentially a giant bat... but it spits laser beams from its mouth.
- Sea Monster: Viras and Zigra (alien sea monsters, to boot).
- Smug Snake: Onodera in Gamera vs. Barugon is an exceptionally unpleasant man. Waving a gun at some friendly New Guinea villagers is the least of his crimes in the film.
- Strictly Formula: More or less all of the films strongly follow most of the same plot points:
- A monster appears and causes destruction.
- Gamera appears to fight this new monster and is beaten.
- The humans attempt to kill the monster by themselves with some weirdly contrived plan and fail.
- Gamera recovers for the final fight and kills the new monster.
- At least one child character who is completely obsessed with Gamera and constantly puts themselves in harm's way.
- Extensive use of stock footage from previous films (either in flashback or even to reuse scenes to save money).
- Stock Footage: Every film uses some.
- The recap in Gamera vs. Barugon.
- The end credits in Gamera vs. Gyaos.
- In Gamera vs. Viras, there is a scene where the Virans watch stock footage of Gamera's fights in previous films in order to find out his weakness. Later, they mind-control Gamera and make him destroy things. Nearly all of the footage of Gamera rampaging is taken from the first two films.
- In Gamera vs. Guiron, the space babes probe a kid's mind in order to find out who Gamera is. Stock footage ensues.
- Gamera vs Jiger has stock footage of Gamera's previous battles during the opening credits.
- All of Gamera Super Monster's fight scenes are taken from the older movies. And unlike Godzilla's Revenge, there aren't any new fights mixed in. The film also manages to incorporate footage from Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999. Wait, what?
- Swiss Cheese Security
- Too Dumb to Live: Onodera from Gamera vs. Barugon. That's right: Try and snatch the giant diamond... The one explicitly being used as monster bait.
- Many of the children in the films have this problem as well. Toshio from the original Gamera is probably the worst such example. The kids in Gamera vs Guiron think it's a good idea to hop inside an unoccupied UFO and just start playing around with the controls. Even the kids in Gamera vs Jiger, who are brave enough to venture inside of Gamera with a mini sub in order to find Jiger's baby or larva inside, don't bring any weapons or think of what to do when they actually encounter said baby kaiju, and are nearly killed because of it.
- Too Long; Didn't Dub: The children's nickname for police officer Kondo, "Kon-chan", was left untouched in the Sandy Frank dub - where it makes no sense. This led to a running gag in the MST3K episode he appeared in where the cast mishears it as "Cornjob".
- Underdogs Never Lose: The plots of the Showa films usually involved Gamera's opponent have a major advantage over him then engage and defeat him in combat, Gamera retreats. The protagonists discover the opponent's Achilles' Heel and attempt to defeat the opponent with it but it only weakens it or backfires. Gamera returns and uses the opponent's weakness to his own advantage, defeating the monster.
- Wolverine Publicity: Gamera gets top billing in Gamera Vs. Barugon, even though he has almost nothing to do with the plot.
The Heisei trilogy contains examples of:
- Alien Invasion: The Legion in Gamera 2: Advent of Legion.
- Arch-Enemy: Gamera and Gyaos. Also, depending on your interpretation of the mythos, Gamera and Iris.
- Artistic License Physics: Like the Showa example above, Gamera is ridiculously light for his size. In his Heisei incarnation, Gamera is 80 meters tall yet weighs only 120 tons.
- Ascended Extra: Not an extra per se, but in the Showa series, Gyaos was just another member of Gamera's Rogues Gallery, no more or less prominent than the rest. In the Heisei films, Gyaos is elevated to full-on Arch-Enemy status.
- Atlantis: Where Gamera, the Gyaos, and Iris came from.
- Battle in the Rain: Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.
- SFX director Shinji Higuchi stated in an interview that the main reason he wanted to do the rain scene was so he could see the female characters get their clothes wet.
- Bee People: Legion.
- Big Damn Heroes: In Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera thrusts his hand over Nagamine and the others, shielding her from Gyaos' sonic beam.
- Blade Below the Shoulder: Gamera can extend spikes out of his elbows, though it isn't really used much.
- Breath Weapon: Again, Gamera and Gyaos, though Gamera's flamethrower breath has been turned into exploding projectile fireballs.
- Butt-Monkey: Osako, who, no matter what he does - an inspector, a security guard, or a wino - monster events will come to him. He does grow a pair and applies to work again on a case in the middle of Gamera 3.
- Call-Back: A number of major and minor characters from Guardian of the Universe return in Gamera 3: Mayami, Mr. Saito, the snarky "monster administrator" and the Butt-Monkey Osako.
- Deconstructed with the Hyper Gyaos: Gamera is the one to (accidentally) revive them from their millenia-long hibernation, and the battle scene in Shibuya is given a much darker, non-heroic tone.
- Cliffhanger: Gamera 3, and thus the whole Heisei trilogy, ended with one of these.
- Combat Tentacles: Iris.
- Comic-Book Adaptation: From Dark Horse Comics in the mid '90s. Taking place after Guardian of the Universe, it featured Gamera fighting another Gyaos and new versions of Zigra and Viras.
- Continuity Reboot
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Gamera's Mana Beam. While it's his most powerful weapon and capable of completely destroying the immensely powerful Legion in one shot, utilizing it drains the Earth's life energy and will result in the Gyaos' numbers skyrocketing to massive levels.
- Darker and Edgier: In addition to this series playing this role in relation to the Showa movies, Gamera becomes more savage-looking with each film.
- The final film in the trilogy takes this far further, with Gamera causing tons of collateral death and destruction protecting Earth from other monsters, and ending on a severely wounded and bloodied Gamera preparing to begin a fight he'll probably die in.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Very much played with. On the one hand the Gyaos and Legion are the antagonists, but it's made clear they are out to survive and don't do their stuff out of malice. On the other hand Gamera looks nicer compared to them and is out to protect the planet and saves people... until the third movie. He looks and acts far more savage when hunting Gyaos and is perfectly fine with killing humans that get caught in the crossfire, though he does his damndest to save Ayana from Iris and looks over her in concern when they try to revive her. Certainly averted in Ayana's nightmare with the evillest looking Gamera of all.
- Gamera 3 being the biggest, what with it explaining that because Gamera used the Mana Cannon in the preceding movie, more Gyaos are appearing around the world, as well as implying that even the use of simple fireballs costs mana. It also demonstrates that, for good or not, a monster out to kill worse monsters will cause major damage in a city. Gamera 3 is also more human-driven than even the other two movies; it's about people in a world with monsters, and Gamera is the best one.
- Demoted to Extra: Not so much extra, and he is VERY much a major force, but Gamera got a lot less screen time in the third film with only two major sequences. The intended effect is very much successful.
- While he's not shown much onscreen, it mentioned often he's fighting off the Gyaos all over the world for much of the film.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Each film is very different in terms of how the monsters are handled. In the first, Gamera and Gyaos were created by an earlier race, very fantasy-sci-fi like. The second, the ancient race is never touched upon and the Legion are space monsters, with a very sci-fi feeling. The third one heavily touches on mythology with comparing Gamera and Iris to the Four Beasts of Chinese mythology.
- Elemental Punch: Gamera's Plasma Fist in Gamera 3.
- Enigmatic Minion: Asakura Mito is partially this in Gamera 3 to the government. She tries to take control of Iris, thinking Gamera is the enemy... and gets crushed for it.
- Evil Counterpart: Iris and Ayana to Gamera and Asagi, though Ayana isn't evil so much as angry and misguided. Her kaiju... not so much.
- Expy: Legion and Iris bear strong resemblances to Shamshel and Zeruel, respectively.
- Fantastic Nuke: In Gamera 2, when the Legion Flower launches its seeds into space, it does so with the force of a nuclear explosion. Gamera stops one from doing so near the beginning of the movie, but when he tries to stop a second one, it literally blows up in his face, utterly destroying the city and killing the mighty turtle (he gets better).
- First Law of Resurrection: Gamera in Gamera 2.
- The Four Gods: Gamera = Genbu, Iris/Gyaos = Suzaku.
- Gag Dub: The ADV release features assorted scenes dubbed in this fashion as DVD extras (Gamera Texarkana).
- Giant Equals Invincible: Subverted. Gamera is easily shot down by missiles and military forces repeatedly cause notable damage to the Legion Queen.
- Giant Flyer: Every monster in the trilogy.
- Godzilla Threshold: Legion forces Gamera and mankind to cross this in the second film. She's so powerful and her kind such a threat to the planet that the military has to backup Gamera for them to have a chance to stop her. Even this proves to not be enough to stop her and Gamera ultimately has to resort to his strongest weapon, the Mana Beam, to kill her. This ironically forces him to cross it further in the third film because this act not only revives the Gyaos, but does so in such staggering numbers to the point Gamera has to disregard humanity to hunt them down and destroy them.
- Good Is Not Nice: For the first two films, Gamera smashed stuff, but he was doing it to stop monsters and he was good about not killing people. Come Gamera 3, and it seems like Gamera is more of a Knight Templar who isn't worried about people getting caught in his fights. Either a) he has become more savage because there are more Gyaos, b) his link with Asagi/humanity made him more savage, c) the places he trotted through were usually evacuated so no one expected him to get eighty-thousand people killed when he fought Hyper Gyaos one night, or d) some combination of the above.
- I Am Legion: Guess who.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Gamera in Gamera 3.
- Left Hanging: The trilogy's ending.
- Light Is Not Good: Iris, compared to the more savage-looking Gamera, looks like the more peaceful creature. It isn't. Also the large and powerful Legion was a rather nonthreatening light gray color, but was the antagonist of the story.
- Manipulative Bastard: Iris exploited Ayana's hatred of Gamera for its own personal gain.
- Metamorphosis Monster: Irys from Gamera 3: Revenge of Irys goes from a strange-looking yet somehow adorable snail-like creature with tons of tentacles to a giant bipedal monster with tentacles with spears on the ends, swords for arms, and a cone-shaped head with a single glowing eyeball.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Deconstructed and actually explained.
- Well, except for the Plasma Fist... Though it's not that weird it was merely Gamera re-taking his own element back - fiery mana he originally accumulated - and since he suddenly had a limb missing, he had a place to store it.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Gamera 3's Hyper Gyaos and the briefly-seen Nightmare Gamera.
- Not So Stoic: Legion, who, after getting its head damaged, uses energy whips and fights in a more frenzied manner.
- Oh, Crap!: Gamera when Legion gets mad and wields energy whips.
- Parental Abandonment: It is revealed through a flashback that Ayana's parents were killed in Gamera's final battle with Gyaos in Guardian of the Universe. By the third movie, she swears revenge and ends up releasing Iris.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: When Legion gets its head pincers ripped off, this is the only indication of danger before it gets pissed and uses energy whips.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Iris.
- The Gyaos population as well.
- Sea Monster: Gamera. The same goes for Iris, more than likely, considering both its mythological rivalry with Gamera and the fact that he's a squid monster who looks like he's swimming even when he's flying. note
- The Smurfette Principle: Surprisingly averted. While technically Legion, Gyaos (and by extension, probably Irys) are genderless, Gyaos was played by a female actor specifically to give it a feminine quality, while Legion tends to be referred to with female pronouns due to being the queen. In a sense, this means that all the monsters besides Gamera are female(ish).
- Wave-Motion Gun: Gamera's Mana Beam.
- We Come in Peace Shoot to Kill: In the first film, the military gets which of the giant monsters they should actually be trying to destroy very wrong. The Gyaos are not just a nuisance, and Gamera is trying to stop them — he's tremendously destructive and his victories come at a high cost in human life, but given that the Gyaos wiped out the civilization that preceded humanity, he's definitely the lesser of two evils.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Justified. Gamera has an extremely powerful weapon built into his chest that could utterly obliterate Legion, or anything else, in one shot. He uses it as a last resort because it drastically drains the Earth's life energy and causes the Gyaos' numbers to grow to staggering numbers.
- You Shall Not Pass!: Gamera holds off the Legion at Sendai.
See: Gamera the Brave
And, naturally, all incarnations contain:
- Turtle Power: Duh.
Gamera's the latest thing...
He fills our hearts with spring, spring, spring...
Anytime you want some moonbeams... Gamera is the thing.