Publisher: Random House
1954 - Tokyo, Japan, is leveled by a gigantic rampaging monster – a force more powerful than a tsunami, more devastating than an atomic bomb. The creature is supposedly killed. But the few who survive his attack are forever haunted by a paralyzing fear that he could rise again…
1996 – Brian Shimura, a Japanese-American college student, has just arrived in Tokyo to work as a newspaper intern. His first assignment is to help investigate the so-called “return” of some legendary dinosaur monster. But when the fiery destruction begins, Brian’s skepticism is quickly transformed into awesome dread. This mythic monster is no myth…
GODZILLA HAS COME BACK TO RAGE AGAIN!
Godzilla Returns is the first book in what would become a planned series of five by Marc Cerasini under the Random House label—although as of this writing, only four of the books were ever released. I first encountered the Cerasini series when I stumbled upon Godzilla at World's End, the third book in the series, and enthusiastically snatched it up. After reading that action-packed story that was chock-a-block with monsters, I hunted down the rest of the titles, although I was the least excited about Godzilla Returns. Being the first book in the series, the only monster featured was the Big G, and the story sounded like a rehash of The Return of Godzilla (1984). Returning to the book years later after my time in Japan, I find that many of my old criticisms remain the same, with a few new ones besides, but the book is a decent introduction to the series and, as the only Godzilla title published under the Random House Sprinters line, is also the shortest by far, making the novel's faults easier to take.
The story follows Brian Shimura, extreme sports enthusiast and new intern at INN, a large news syndicate with an office building in bustling Tokyo. Brian proves to be the story's main protagonist, along with his strong-headed loudmouth roommate Nick Gordon. Their fairly dull intern lives are injected with a frightful level of excitement when Godzilla, who had been presumed dead since 1954 (though how he died is never mentioned), suddenly appears again, awakened presumably by further nuclear tests by the French. As Godzilla approaches Japan, heading straight for Tokyo, the nations of the world futilely plot how to stop the monster with their considerably advanced modern technology, and Brian and Nick are caught in the middle when INN receives exclusive rights from the Japanese government to cover the biggest and most dangerous news story of their day—provided, of course, that they can even survive.
The plot for Godzilla Returns follows The Return of Godzilla (1984) fairly closely, being a direct sequel to the original Godzilla (1954), casting news reporters as protagonists, and utilizing the Heisei Godzilla design—albeit in this case Cerasini describes the suit that appears first in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). The story, therefore, feels overly familiar, without a lot of new ideas to hold interest. Just like in The Return of Godzilla (1984), Godzilla is described as a mutated dinosaur rather than simply a reawakened one, just like in The Return of Godzilla (1984) he needs to consume nuclear power and actively searches out and destroys nuclear power plants, just like in The Return of Godzilla (1984) cadmium missiles are used against him and fail to stop him. The book even has an amusing nod to the character of Steve Martin and Raymond Burr. Highlights from The Return of Godzilla (1984) like the Shockirus monsters and the Super-X, however, are excised. New elements, like the specially designed harpoon that is fired into Godzilla's neck so as to retrieve valuable data through fiber optic cables, and the increase in detail that the novel format affords, can be interesting and exciting, but sometimes difficult to believe when the news interns have to suddenly save the day.
In spite of their action prowess, however, the characters can't entirely save the story. Brian is passably interesting as a bland personality who is trying to get over his mother's recent death and learn about his original homeland, but these aspects of his character are not well explored and, once Godzilla shows up, are largely dropped. Even his aptitude for extreme sports never really plays into the story. Nick Gordon is positioned as the funny man to Brian's straight guy manner; he constantly makes quips and irreverent, mocking statements, but he is more likely to touch a nerve than tickle the funny bone, coming across as more annoying than endearing. Frankly, I didn't want him to get back together with his hot ex-girlfriend, May, who also works at INN. Furthermore, Brian and Nick are more than willing to do incredibly stupid things just so they can remain in the thick of the action and, therefore, at the center of the narrative. The young cameraman, Yoshi, fares even worse, as he is mostly a stereotype character who speaks sometimes in awkward, but grammatically accurate, sentences and hits all the usual "quiet, reserved" Japanese clichés.
Spoiler warning! The most unbelievable part of the story, however, is Prof. Nobeyama and his miraculous understanding of Godzilla. Much like any number of other stories of this kind, whenever Prof. Nobeyama makes a guess as to Godzilla's nature, inevitably he is proven absolutely right, without exception. If the government or other scientists make any conjectures about Godzilla, on the other hand, you better believe they are going to be wrong, again without exception. One might start thinking that Nobeyama created Godzilla, considering how well he understands the beast. Towards the end of the novel, Nobeyama constructs a bird-song device cribbed from The Return of Godzilla (1984), and of course it works on the first try. Cerasini also tries to recreate something like Dr. Serizawa's tragic sacrifice in the original Godzilla, but instead Prof. Nobeyama and Brian's military uncle come across as merely suicidal, their deaths holding little of the weight of Serizawa's. And, just like in the movies, it's best not to expect the bird-song device to ever be used again in the sequels, despite its absolutely astounding effectiveness.
A number of other characters are introduced throughout the story as well, mostly in little vignettes painting what it is like to encounter Godzilla, and much like in many horror movies, a large number of them exist only to be destroyed by the monster, sometimes in a grisly manner. The main characters, meanwhile, who run into Godzilla and danger far more often than any of the hapless cannon fodder, and for stupider reasons, always miraculously escape with their lives—unless, of course, they deliberately want to kill themselves. The absurdity really mounts towards the end, when the holes start ripping open in the plot (How did Lieutenant Takado know where Prof. Nobeyama was planning to take off? How did Prof. Nobeyama know that Takado and Yoshi had become a couple?) and the luck of the characters is utterly astounding as THREE of them manage to survive collapsing buildings under Godzilla's attack. End spoiler warning.
The story itself, then, as a whole, is hopelessly bogged down with poor characters, creaky overused story elements, and distracting plot holes, but that is not to say that Godzilla Returns is without its strengths. Quite the opposite, actually. Much has been made about Cerasini's attention to military detail, and with good reason. When Cerasini describes the vehicles and weapons used against Godzilla, he doesn't just write that a helicopter flew through the air and shot rockets at Godzilla. Rather, Cerasini will note what kind of helicopter it is, usually with some description of the craft's specific physical details and the workings of its armaments, and almost every military vehicle that appears in the story receives such attention, without becoming overbearing. Cerasini's love for machines is obvious and of great benefit to the book itself, and it's not surprising that he went on to write non-fiction books such as The Future of War: The Face of 21st-Century Warfare and The Complete Idiot's Guide to the U.S. Special Ops Forces. His descriptions of Godzilla are also powerful, conveying the monster's size, strength and bestial rage exceedingly well, especially early on in the novel, such as when Godzilla's fiery radioactivity boils the ocean water surrounding him, cooking hundreds of fish alive. Cerasini doesn't flinch from the logical conclusion of what happens when Godzilla attacks cities and vehicles, either—people die a lot, sometimes quite horrifically, with melting flesh and vaporized bodies. As far as that goes, this is a much more realistic portrayal of what the existence of Godzilla would mean to the world, which makes for more gripping reading. The depictions of the military and Godzilla are easily the best parts of the book, although, since the military has nothing that can effectively fight Godzilla, their encounters begin to wear thin towards the end due to the fact that they inevitably all end the same way.
During this second reading, I had the benefit (or, perhaps, curse) of a much increased knowledge of Japan, which changes the way I read books that take place in that country. Cerasini manages to capture Japan better than Ciencin did in his very similar juvenile novel Godzilla King of the Monsters, with quite a bit more detail befitting the longer format. That detail isn't always accurate, however, as at one point Nick Gordon (consistently portrayed as a knowledgeable fellow) says that Tokyo "is divided into prefectures" (pg. 17), when Tokyo is actually itself a special kind of prefecture, as well as a city. (It's complicated.) It would have been better if Nick had said that the city is divided into wards. Cerasini also locates the city of Hakata in northern Japan, when it is actually on the southern island of Kyushu, where it is often referred to as Fukuoka. If I was to be especially nitpicky, I might also note a suspect use of the expression domo, as used by Yoshi on page 102. Domo is a shortened form of "thank you," more formally expressed in present tense as domo arigato gozaimasu. Domo by itself is most commonly used when thanking the service, such as when a waiter refills your glass. (One of my friends in Japan was actually reprimanded for using formal "thank you" language towards the service too much.) When speaking to a superior, domo is rude, which is why it is so out of place when Yoshi the cameraman says it to Lieutenant Takado, whom he secretly admires, thus adding even more reason why he would be careful to use respectful language around her. These minor details, however, are not very important to the story, and most of the book's audience would never notice them.
One cannot (or should not) write a review of Cerasini's Godzilla novels without mentioning the fantastic cover art by Bob Eggleton, who once again has produced a memorable painting for this novel, depicting Heisei Godzilla in the midst of a fiery maelstrom. Inside, however, at the beginning of each chapter, a black-and-white reproduction of the Eggleton painting used on the cover of Ciencin's Godzilla King of the Monsters book is used. For that painting, Eggleton painted the original Godzilla costume from 1954, and thus it doesn't fit nearly as well here.
Godzilla Returns is a mediocre beginning to a series that I look back on with fondness. The prose is pure pop-fiction and easy to read and the action is well-detailed and described, so those looking for well-realized crunchy Godzilla excitement should be satisfied, but the overall story is an unimpressive parade of leftover ideas. Nevertheless, for the undemanding reader, this is enjoyable fluff, and the action is exciting enough to get the reader involved. Cerasini's first Godzilla novel certainly has its moments, but after you're done, it's not likely that this Godzilla will return to your reading list again very soon.
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|Godzilla Returns | Godzilla 2000 | Godzilla at World's End | Godzilla vs. the Robot Monsters | Godzilla and the Lost Continent|