Netflix’s Godzilla Singular Point is the latest animated reimagining of the classic Kaiju franchise, and doesn’t make a turbulent splash into viewers’ homes like the shoreward migration of Toho’s Godzilla to cinemas in 1954. The legendary behemoth’s cartoon relatives have never proven buoyant. As readily apparent in the first episode of Godzilla Singular Point, the story is far too adrift, and the pacing is stagnant.
Godzilla Singular Point commences in the city of Nigashio. The year is 2030 and paranormal disturbances are coming from inside a mansion that overlooks the city’s cape tunnel. Do-it-all Otaki Factory dispatches its two most diligent workers, Yun Arikawa (Johnny Yong Bosch) and Haberu Katō (Stephen Fu), to investigate. Yun swiftly deduces that the disturbances are power fluctuations and radio wave emissions stemming from Misakioku radio station. Meanwhile, graduate student Mei Kamino (Erika Harlacher) arrives at Misakioku to address an alarm system abnormality. In unison, Mei and Yun conclude that the alarm is connected to the song emitted by the radio tower. Informal introductions are made; however, this meeting of the minds is cut short as the police arrest Yun and Haberu for trespassing. Mei does some digging into Otaki Factory and downloads Naratake, an AI assistant created by Yun, which she renames “Pelops II,” a tool that proves to be useful in learning about singularity points. In the meantime, Otaki Founder Gorō Ōtaki (Keith Silverstein) bails the boys out. Anticipating more trouble ahead, Ōtaki tells them to see to the speedy completion of Otaki’s latest project, Jet Jaguar (a robot), and defend the people of Earth.
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Over the coming weeks, a red mist begins to form worldwide, and pterosaur-like birds, dubbed Rodan, ascend from the oceans. Around this time, Professor Li Guiying, an expert in computational chemistry, contacts Mei believing that Mei’s research on nonexistent creatures is paramount to the study and full realization of archetypes, nonexistent material which can contain light and amplify contained energy. Li’s fellow scientist, Bearach “BB” Byrne (Sean Chiplock), also requires Mei’s help in the creation of the Orthogonal Diagonalizer, a device that can harness the power of the red mist and defeat the Kaiju. Yet, not everything is at it seems, and Mei finds herself entangled in industrial espionage and alternate time line theories. As these events transpire, Team Otaki, Jet Jaguar and the military become preoccupied with the quest to exterminate the hordes of ever evolving Kajui and the King of Monsters himself, Godzilla.
Rather than setting up scenarios that entail battles with Spacegodszilla, Godzilla Singularity Point draws inspiration from the Godzilla Showa era formula of old. It’s a formula best known for believable settings, anti-nuclear proliferation, technological advancements and exploration of the human condition. Toh EnJoe, a speculative fiction writer turned screenplay scribe, tweaks this formula, switching from nukes to singularity theory and mathematical probabilities, with a huge emphasis on technology. A lot of time is spent is explaining MD Hash codes and how the Orthogonal Diagonalizer is the 13th stage in the archetype evolution, serving as a catalyst for forcing an alternation in all the other archetypes. As complicated as all of this sounds, confusion further compounds as the characters arbitrarily branch off into other tangents, without first fully explaining the original postulates. By the time that an endless stream of scientists talk about hyperspace and alternate shadow realities at nauseam, and every news guest appears to be an expert on Rodan, one might wonder why EnJoe didn’t just write Singularity Points and Kaiju for Dummies instead of a seven-hour animated info dump.
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Little is revealed about the human characters’ motivations. While eye popping character designs are on full display, the same cannot be said for characterization. They lack finesse and speak stiff dialogue. The screenplay writer, EnJoe, pours a considerable amount of time in making sure that all his characters are well versed in paleontology, biology, natural history and literally every aspect of artificial intelligence, but differentiating skills sets are not to be found. At times, Bearach “BB” Byrne recites Dante’s Inferno, while others recite the likes of William Blake. The literary exposition is more pretentious than entertaining. The revelation that Haberu and Mei are fellow high school alumni is surface level fodder, not leading to any discovery of shared past experiences of significance. EnJoe’s characters are no more than an extension of his own beliefs and hobbies, merely inconsequential vehicles to exposit scientific facts.
The pacing, even for a science fiction show, proves too sluggish for its own good. Director Atsushi Takahashi unsuccessfully attempts to break up the sheer length and volume of EnJoe’s expository dialogue by way of talking heads and internet chat rooms. For the more complicated technical aspects, “Pelops II” is used as an animated go between, creating graphs and emoting various cartoon expressions. Yet, this proves tiresome as well, particularity in episode four, when she gives a five minute lecture on MD hash tags.
On a more positive note, Studio Ghibli alumnus Eiji Yamamor excels in bringing the monstrous rogues to life. Each creature has a distinct look and feel. Rodan is speedy and loose. Its head and walking movements have the characteristics of a vampire bat, but its wings and the way it screeches have paleontological precision. Godzilla is very distinct as well. His first stage is similar to that of a sea serpent with razor-sharp spikes. The second stage is reminiscent of Showa era poster art, with the added nightmare fuel twist of flammable ice vapor, which drools slowly out of its mouth and blood tentacles that burst from its wounds. His ultimate form is reminiscent of a demonic foo dog (Chinese guardian lions). The way his scales illuminate electric blue as he blasts his enemies with atomic breath never gets old. Finally, there is Salunga, a mixture between a baboon and wild boar. The way it hops and runs around is reminiscent of Ganon, dark beast from The Legend of Zelda. Speaking of video games, the extraordinary detailing of Salunga in certain lighting creates a nightmare inducing uncanny effect, one that can typically be found in 3-D entertainment media. The animation team does a fine job with Jet Jaguar’s fluid movements. All the primary human character models are sufficiently distinct. It’s just a shame and a disappointment that most of the monster brawls involve Jet Jaguar fighting the monsters, leaving Godzilla (the main title character) with only about five percent screen time.
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At the start of Godzilla Singular Point, EnJoe chooses to attract the viewers’ attention not through the ominous starling roar or volcanic blasts — both key Toho calling cards — but rather by way of subterfuge and mystery. A mob of what appears to be children start proclaiming in unison “This is a story before we got smarter… and became confused…The present is a changed future.” At first glance, one might assume this is beginning a path to higher enlightenment, similar to David Bowman’s journey in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but instead it quickly turns into a typhoon of white noise and confusion. Previous incarnations of Godzilla worked best by implanting ideas that were tangible. However, in the world of Godzilla Singular Point, the ideas prove to be non-existent, as do the inhabitants.
Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25) is a 2016 Master of Arts – Film Studies graduate of Columbia University School of Arts in New York City. His interests include film history, film theory and film criticism. Ever since watching TCM as a child, Peter has had a passion for film, always trying to add greater context to film for others. His favorite films include Chinatown, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia, A Shot in the Dark and Inception. Peter believes movie theaters are still the optimal forum for film viewing, discussion and discovering fresh perspectives on culture.