It’s been a long time since us kaiju fans have gotten any new Gamera material to sink our beaks into — the last live-action film, Gamera the Brave, came out nearly twenty years ago, and it’s been nearly thirty years since the character’s most popular trilogy of movies arrived to challenge Old King Goji for the grand kaiju throne — so a brand new anime series is the kind of thing that sounds like a perfect reintroduction of the franchise to a new generation of fans. What’s more, the series is out on Netflix, which means (in theory, at least) that there is a bigger opportunity than ever before to reignite the flames of the Gamera fandom. Then you see the name of the man directing Gamera -Rebirth-, and suddenly the series’ prospects seem awfully shaky.
Now, I don’t want anyone thinking that I am declaring Hiroyuki Seshita to be a terrible director or anything; to be frank, I’ve not seen enough of his series through to the end to make such a sweeping, definitive statement. However, I can tell you that he’s the guy who has been in charge of pretty much every one of those Polygon Pictures-produced CGI anime series that Netflix has been pushing over the years, from Ajin, to Knights of Sidonia, to their very divisive trilogy of Godzilla movies. I don’t think that everything Seshita has touched is awful, necessarily, but I think it’s fair to say that the work he and Polygon Pictures have produced is…well, let’s say it’s “inconsistent,” at best.
Even though Gamera -Rebirth- is a Studio ENGI production and not a Polygon Pictures joint, it bears all of the hallmarks of the latter studio’s (in)famous approach to 3D animation, so let’s get this out of the way right now: Gamera -Rebirth- looks janky as hell. The fight scenes between Gamera and his various kaiju enemies all look pretty solid, and the background work/set design gives the period-piece flavoring of the setting a lot of life. Still, the character animation is just awful most of the time. Characters all look like they’re made out of cheap plastic, and their herky-jerky movement is not helped by the decision to chop the framerate in half.
I am begging Japanese animators working with 3D rigs to come to terms with the fact that mimicking the limited animation of traditional 2D anime doesn’t just automatically make a CGI series feel “like anime.” Don’t go assaulting our eyeballs with this uncanny valley nonsense just because Studio Orange and the crew making those amazing Spider-Verse movies are talented enough to get away with it!
It’s a shame that the ugliness of Gamera -Rebirth-‘s visuals will likely turn away a good many potential fans because underneath all of that jank is a solid kaiju adventure. The biggest draw, for me, was the shockingly likable and well-developed cast of kids. From the jump, the show’s got some powerful summer hangout vibes, which are bolstered by its hilariously profanity-laded English dub, combined with the genuinely excellent performances of Ryan Bartley (Boco), Robbie Daymond (Joe), Sean Chiplock (Brody), and Abby Trot (Junichi). It honestly feels as if a classic Stephen King story like IT or The Body got invaded by a bunch of freaky, human-eating giant monsters, and I’m here for it. Each of the kids has their little arc to go through as they navigate this weird world of government conspiracy and monster fights, and I felt very attached to them all by the end of the series.
That’s a good thing, too, because if there’s one area in which Gamera -Rebirth- falters outside of its visuals, it’s with all of the sci-fi conspiracy stuff that gets stuffed in between the coming-of-age fantasy and the sick monster fights. You might be thinking, “Gee, James, that can’t possibly take up too much of the runtime…” though I’m sad to inform you that it really, truly does. This season of the show is only six episodes long, but each episode runs nearly an hour long, and the monster battles only take up a few minutes of each episode. That means whenever we aren’t spending time with those rascally kids, we’re stuck with characters like Tazaki and Emiko, who are wrapped up in the hokey Foundation storyline that sucks a lot of life out of the show. It gets awful in the final two episodes, where major plot twists get dropped with absolutely no emotional payoff, and the show proceeds to handwave the biggest “whats” and “whys” of its premise with a bunch of gobbledygook.
At the end of the day, though, Gamera is a franchise that has always been about the big flying turtle’s bond with the kiddos that he protects from the baddies, and when Gamera -Rebirth- focuses on those elements, it’s a fun time. I don’t think complete newcomers to the genre will easily overlook the show’s glaring flaws, but hardened tokusatsu fans have weathered their fair share of crappy production values and stupid sci-fi stories. I don’t think this one has the juice to get the flames of the fandom roaring brighter than ever before, but it can probably keep the embers burning long enough until the next Gamera reboot comes around.