Home > Reviews > Thoughts on GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT (Spoilers)

Thoughts on GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT (Spoilers)

Godzilla is back on Netflix, and in animated form again. The first attempt at an anime Godzilla, the 2017-18 3D-animated film series known as the Godzilla Earth trilogy, proved to be ponderous, pretentious, and disappointing. This time, we get Godzilla Singular Point, a 13-episode series in 2D animation (with cel-shaded 3D for the kaiju and vehicles), written by Toh EnJoe and directed by Atsushi Takahashi. This series goes in a very different direction — not only set in the very near future (2030) instead of the distant post-apocalyptic future, but far more lively, fun, and conceptually dense.

The lead characters include the staff of the Otaki Factory, a catchall fixit service run by eccentric scientist Goro Otaki to fund the construction of his robot Jet Jaguar (about one story tall, with an operator’s cockpit in the chest and short, apelike legs), which he believes is needed to defend the Earth against UFOs, kaiju, ghosts, or whatever. Its employees include Yun Arikawa, a Holmes-level deductive genius and programmer who prefers to communicate through his AI assistant Yung because it’s more accurate than he is, and Haberu Kato, who initially seems like a muscular everyman but turns out to be quite scientifically knowledgeable himself, like most of the characters in the series. They’re investigating a radio signal transmitting a mysterious song, which turns out to come from the Misakioku radio observatory. Mei Kamino, a nerdy-cute, purple-haired grad student, is called in by the observatory staff to troubleshoot the problem on behalf of the professor she assists.

Mei’s connection to the other leads is tenuous: She and Haberu went to high school together, and Mei happens to download a free copy of Yun’s AI assistant, which takes over her computer like a friendly virus and customizes itself into a cute avatar she names Pelops II after her late dog. It’s weird that a computer-savvy grad student would be so cavalier about downloading unknown software, especially after its malware-like takeover of her laptop and casual invasion of her privacy to build its personality profile. But it’s played as cute and friendly and propels her into the larger plot, so whatever.

To pay the bills, Otaki and his employees display Jet Jaguar to the public as a novelty for kids at a local summer festival, when a pteranodon attacks out of nowhere. Otaki comes to the rescue in JJ. The battle is comical, but the pteranodon is seriously dangerous (and impressively designed — also a realistic size for a pterosaur, unlike past versions of Radon/Rodan), forcing Otaki out of the cockpit and almost killing him before Yun takes remote control of JJ from a tablet. The fight is a draw, and the pteranodon retreats… and suddenly drops dead.

More pteranodons begin to appear, and are dubbed Radons because they emit radon gas. (In the original, Radon was short for “pteranodon.” It was changed to Rodan for the English dub because Radon was the brand name of a laundry soap or something.) They begin swarming en masse, unable to survive long at first but apparently evolving to fit the environment, and are accompanied by a “Red Dust” with strange properties. Yun, Haberu, and Otaki try to draw them away with a radio signal and protect the citizens from them, with help from a robot drone remote-piloted by Pelops II, leading to online contact between Yun and Mei.

Meanwhile, Pelops II continues to cutely take over Mei’s life, organizing her loose research notes into extra-dimensional biology into a preprint paper and publishing it under both their names without asking Mei first. Mei is oddly unoffended by this, and her paper quickly attracts the attention of a Chinese professor named Li Guiying. Mei flies out to Dubai to meet Dr. Li and assist in her work. (Oddly, everyone in Dubai and later in other countries speaks fluent Japanese.) We learn that Mei specializes in “Biologica Phantastica,” the conjectural science of nonexistent species in hypothetical alternate worlds and what rules they would follow (e.g. living backward in time, flying in a 2-dimensional world, etc.). Mei learns that Li has been developing a material called Archetype that seems to violate physical law, and Mei realizes that it transcends time, able to draw energy from the future. She doesn’t think it can be native to our universe.

Yun and Haberu soon encounter an ankylosaur kaiju, Anguirus, that appears able to predict bullet paths and deflect them. Otaki and Jet Jaguar are able to bring it down by firing a harpoon gun at point-blank range (so it has no time to dodge), but Anguirus recovers and trashes JJ, leading Yun to install his digital assistant Yung to operate what’s left of it. Yun and Mei begin to figure out that the Red Dust associated with the kaiju is related to Archetype — and Li eventually lets on that the dust is the basis of the substance. I love how scientifically literate the script is as Mei discusses the physical improbabilities with Dr. Li and with Yun.

So where’s Godzilla in all this? Well, at the end of the first episode, we were shown that the Misakioku observatory has a Godzilla skeleton in its basement. It gradually comes out that it somehow emitted the musical signal that triggered the Radon attacks and the emergence of other kaiju like Anguirus and sea serpents called Manda. The skeleton emits the same Red Dust that’s spreading with the kaiju, allowing them to survive better, as if the swarms of Radons spreading worldwide are terraforming the world for the kaiju.

Along the way, the Factory crew find an ancient artwork which was displayed at the local festival, showing Radons alongside a whale (kujira)-like kaiju named Gojira, said to come when the sea turns red. About halfway through the season, this creature makes an appearance, though it looks far more aquatic than any previous Godzilla, and is recognizable only by Akira Ifukube’s iconic Godzilla fanfare. Yet when it comes ashore, cloaked in Red Dust so it’s hard to see, it begins transforming to fit a land environment, much like in Shin Godzilla. (The initial form is officially called Godzilla Aquatilis; its first mutation is Godzilla Amphibia.)

Other characters and threads are introduced along the way, like a blond guy named Kai who initially pretends to be a journalist but knows about the Godzilla skeleton in the basement, which apparently dates from 80 years before (which would be 1950 — perhaps rounded from 1954?). It’s connected with a crazed-looking scientist from 50 years ago named Ashihara, who had insights ahead of his time about Archetype that nobody understood, but that Mei is able to figure out. Ashihara predicted the evolution of kaiju from the dust’s interaction with living organisms. Red Dust/Archetype is based on a multidimensional, trans-temporal construct called Singular Points. There are 13 levels of complexity for it, of which Li has mastered three. The highest, theorized by Ashihara, is called the Orthogonal Diagonalizer, having something to do with the higher-dimensional physics of the material. (The shared initials with “Oxygen Destroyer,” the weapon that defeated Godzilla in the 1954 original, are no doubt intentional.)

There’s also a group called the SHIVA Consortium operating out of India, led by a creepy white-haired woman named Tilda whose eyes are all black. The SHIVA research director is named BB, and he’s trying to keep a kaiju named Salunga from escaping an underground complex containing a vast pool of Red Dust. These guys apparently have Ashihara’s full research and are closer to building a working Diagonalizer, a prototype of which BB uses to temporarily crystallize the pool of Red Dust to delay Salunga’s escape.

Meanwhile, the Otaki Factory staff rebuilds Jet Jaguar into a 2-story giant with the AI Yung controlling it (and adopting its name), so now JJ has a mind and a voice, an autonomous robot rather than a piloted mecha. It also has a spear made from a future-predicting Anguirus spine, which Otaki believes will give it the edge to defeat Godzilla. But the Otaki team gets sidetracked battling a horde of giant spiders (Kumonga) at the pier. Godzilla apparently self-immolates, but its charred “corpse” turns out to be a cocoon in which it mutates into Godzilla Terrestris, a green form closer to its familiar appearance, but still with a more lizard/fish-like head, and not quite able to summon its atomic breath, instead generating a sort of energy smoke ring. But it’s not done evolving yet.

Li takes Mei to Ashihara’s London home to decipher his notes, and Mei learns that he was using Singular Points as supercalculators to predict the future, but ended up getting conflicting answers as the Points competed with each other, the “Ashihara Catastrophe.” Mei realizes this isn’t just a computational catastrophe, but a real end-of-the-world scenario as physical law breaks down — and Ashihara predicted it happening in 2030, just days away. Mei rushes to warn Li, but she’s talking with the SHIVA people, who seem less concerned about the end of the world than with completing the Diagonalizer to eliminate the Red Dust. As Mei flees a Radon attack on London, she realizes that Godzilla is a Singular Point (ohh!!) and the Catastrophe is centered around it. Dr. Li is lost in the attack due to an ill-timed act of kindness on her part.

Confusingly, this is followed with a flashback where Li and Mei discuss how to send information back in time without violating the laws of physics: by encoding it in a form that wouldn’t be recognized as information. This theory becomes real as Yun and Haberu discover that Ashihara (who observed the first Godzilla destroying a fishing village and being defeated 80 years before, then built the observatory over its skeleton) predicted the current events and encoded them in his journals using a numerical code that wouldn’t be invented until the 1990s, after the journals were written. The Jet Jaguar AI decodes dates and times correlating to specific lines in Yun’s text chats with Mei, including one they haven’t had yet — so they won’t be able to understand the message until that conversation happens in 4 days.

Mei arrives in India and meets BB’s daughter, who takes her to meet him. It becomes clear that SHIVA and Tilda have no interest in preventing the imminent Catastrophe, wishing instead to control the power of Archetype and the Diagonalizer. So BB, who turns out to be working with “freelance spy” Kai, goes rogue, stealing the Diagonalizer prototypes and sending them around the world, then fleeing SHIVA with Mei and taking her to where Ashihara found the first Singular Point — which leads to the Supercalculator (the underground complex where Salunga was captive), which Mei plans to ask how to stop the Catastrophe, as only something not of this universe can solve a problem not of this universe.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, Ifukube’s original Godzilla theme (the main title theme to the 1954 film) is heard for the first time in the series as the king of the kaiju finally Gojivolves to Godzilla Ultima, the gray form that most closely resembles the classic Godzilla design, though with more pronounced fangs, a heavy lower body reminiscent of Legendary Godzilla, and an incredibly long tail like Shin Godzilla. Godzilla Ultima finally fires its atomic breath, with multiple rings of light forming before its mouth to herald it, and it’s a devastating, laser-straight beam that does massive damage to Tokyo’s skyscrapers — not quite as cataclysmic as the corresponding scene in Shin, but more targeted, with striking animation of the damage done to the buildings as the ray burns through them. It’s also an ongoing thing as Godzilla battles other kaiju and does more and more damage to the abandoned Tokyo.

Otaki, Yun, and Haberu take Jet Jaguar to Tokyo by boat to fight Godzilla, but the JJ AI is somehow triggered to start upgrading itself over and over, until it wakes up making baby talk and swiftly re-educates itself from first principles, renaming itself Jet Jaguar PP. I think it’s just achieved its own Singularity (in the Kamen Rider Zero-One sense of an AI gaining sentience).

Mei, Pelops, and BB reach the Singular Point supercalculator and try to find the code to shut down the Red Dust and stop the kaiju, while the Otaki gang hook up the military and get the Diagonalizer that’s waiting for them to enter the code that Mei has been predicted to send in a few hours to a location currently contiguous with Godzilla’s body. The military hooks a propeller pack to JJ to send him up there while Yun awaits the code — but Pelops is having trouble finding it because of the way the future keeps branching and producing contradictory solutions. Space is warping more and more around the calculator, and around Godzilla as well. (I love how this is expressed — a soldier reports that the angles of a triangle no longer add up to 180 degrees around Godzilla.)

Pelops tries going to the past to get more time to do the calculation, as the Catastrophe starts and Mei and BB have to leave Pelops there. Yun flies up in Jet Jaguar PP to get the Diagonalizer code, dodging Godzilla’s atomic breath and ultimately landing on its back, while JJ seems to be trashed. The code doesn’t come through in time — but in cyberspace, Pelops sees a vision of Ashihara in the past, which catalyzes something they were already working on but had forgotten until the right time — a program to “make Jet Jaguar invincible.” Which means inexplicably turning it into a giant nearly Godzilla’s size. (I guess this is an homage to Godzilla vs. Megalon, in which the original JJ somehow “reprogrammed” himself into a giant.) JJPP fights Godzilla and monologues about being the descendant of Pelops II and JJ, and that thanks to the time loop, it’s not only had the Diagonalizer code all along, but is the code. It’s a Pyrrhic victory for JJ’s robot body, which Godzilla destroys, but that destruction catalyzes the Diagonalizer, which turns all the Red Dust into stable blue crystals (instead of the red crystals the partial Diagonalizers turned it into temporarily). Godzilla has vanished, and the narration from the beginning of the season repeats now that we understand it’s the incarnations of Pelops/JJ telling the story to each other. Yun and Haberu finally meet Mei face-to-face, and she’s wearing an Ouroboros/infinity t-shirt.

But wait — there’s a post-credit tease. Kai the spy is working with others to turn the original Godzilla skeleton into Mechagodzilla (echoing the Kiryu films) — and Ashihara is with them!

Well. Godzilla Singular Point is an incredibly dense mindbender of a science fiction tale. I love how grounded it is in real physics, unprecedented in a kaiju production. I love it when I know just enough about the science to recognize that the writers understand it better than I do — as opposed to the usual thing where anyone with a passing grasp of grade-school science can easily recognize it as complete gibberish. The plot isn’t easy to follow with all the characters with mysterious hidden agendas cropping up, but I like the thoughtfulness, the energy, and the humor. The Jet Jaguar battles and the eccentric Otaki are a lot of fun. The story is driven more by plot and concepts than character, but the characters are still distinctive and appealing with subtle texture.

That makes it a massive improvement over the ponderous, pretentious, nihilistic anime movie trilogy that preceded it. Those movies were never fun. The CGI on the kaiju is vastly better done here, and the 2D animation and character design are much better than the video-gamey cel-shaded 3D of the trilogy.

It’s far from perfect, though. The physics and philosophy surrounding the Singular Point and Ashihara and transtemporal communication and all that are so intricate and complex that the bits about giant monsters attacking cities feel like a sidebar, even a distraction from the real story. By the time Godzilla finally mutates into Ultima form and starts trashing Tokyo, it feels like the story is just going through the motions of a kaiju plot. Godzilla isn’t well-integrated into the story except as a MacGuffin, a problem motivating the heroes to try to solve it. Indeed, Godzilla is more like an side effect of the real problem of the Red Dust and the Catastrophe. It feels like the creators had their own deep, complicated hard-SF story they wanted to tell and grafted Godzilla and other kaiju into it, rather than telling a story that was centrally about Godzilla. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story they told, but sometimes it felt like the cutaways to the kaiju stuff were just getting in the way.

Not only that, but Godzilla becomes kind of static in the last couple of episodes, settling down in the ruins of Tokyo and becoming a stationary goal for the heroes to reach. It’s the one thing about Singular Point that’s reminiscent of the Godzilla Earth trilogy’s weaknesses rather than improving on them.

Also, while I like the lead characters, they’re ultimately not much more than spectators in a story about Pelops II and Jet Jaguar — two incarnations of the same AI — acting out their predestined role in preventing the Catastrophe. Maybe that’s unfair — Yun’s and Mei’s intellectual problem-solving does a lot to lay the groundwork — but the human leads’ role in the payoff is peripheral. It’s the AI that has the most complete and significant journey out of all the characters in the season.

Singular Point is reminiscent of Shin Godzilla in some ways, with its mutating kaiju and its focus on media montages and the like — although it has what Shin lacked, an emphasis on ground-level civilians and scientists dealing with the kaiju crisis rather than just government and military officials.

One thing that surprises me is the absence of Mothra from the first season, except in the end titles, which feature a bunch of classic Showa-era kaiju designs. There is a bit in the penultimate episode with a swarm of golden moths, which I thought might be a harbinger of Mothra, but it had no payoff. Perhaps they’re saving her for next season.

All in all, Singular Point may be an acquired taste, too talky and conceptually heavy for people who just want to see Godzilla smashing stuff; but it’s by a wide margin the smartest Godzilla production ever, and I daresay one of the best, despite its weaknesses. The production values are excellent, the writing impressive, the concepts extraordinary. If the series gets a second season (not confirmed as of this writing), hopefully it will be able to keep what worked and improve on its shortcomings.

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