With “Godzilla” now fully rebooted for a new generation in the movies, a lot of people are probably going back and re-watching all of the old Japanese Godzilla movies made over the last 60 years. Most of them can be found on DVD now, even if it’s a little much to think that someone would watch almost 30 different Godzilla films in some kind of record binge watch. Nevertheless, most people who once saw them probably haven’t seen them for a long time. And some have never seen them, which might make the new movie work better, though make the older movies look amateurish in comparison.
As popular as Godzilla has always been in Japan, translating him to TV hasn’t necessarily been an easy task. Most of the prior attempts were through animation, including here in the United States back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. In Japan, however, the real Godzilla would occasionally show up in one particular show that featured various oversized monsters every week. It gives credence to the idea that someone is inevitably going to bring Godzilla back to TV in live-action form either in Japan or here in the states.
The History of “Zone Fighter”
It’s a challenge finding any surviving clips from a show called “Zone Fighter” produced in early 1970’s Japan. One reason is because it was fairly short-lived, yet a popular show with Japanese kids at the time that never crossed the Pacific to America. This was a live-action show featuring all of the popular monsters of the day kids were seeing in Japanese films. Produced by Toho Company, they’d been producing all of the Godzilla movies for close to 20 years at this point. Their first wave of Godzilla films (the Showa series) was about to come to a close in 1975 until the series resumed with a new wave of films starting in 1984.
But it was in several episodes of “Zone Fighter” that brought the only live-action cameos of Godzilla ever done on TV. Why Godzilla wouldn’t be seen in live-action form again on TV is a bit of a mystery, if perhaps because animation would better distinguish Godzilla on TV from the movie series.
By the late 1970s, Toho was coaxed into making an animated “Godzilla” that ultimately did make it to American TV for a fairly healthy run.
“Godzilla” in Animation Up Through the 1990s
If you happened to be watching Saturday morning TV in 1978, then you probably remember going wild over the first “Godzilla” series ever produced in America. The publicity for it was enormous, even if the animation on the show was very cheaply produced through the Hanna-Barbera production arm. The famous Godzilla roar even had to be annoyingly altered due to trademark issues.
The stories, though, were compelling enough where the typically cheap animation style from Hanna-Barbera wasn’t too distracting. This series ran in different incarnations on Saturday mornings for four more years until finally being canceled. It didn’t spell the end of Godzilla in animation form, though. In Japan, a “Godzilla Island” series in 1997 was considered a direct follow-up to above “Zone Fighter” 24 years earlier, except all in animation. It was extremely popular in Japan, despite only lasting one year. Nevertheless, it tells you a lot about how even the most popular shows there don’t necessarily designate decade-long runs.
Whether you choose to accept Fox’s animated “Godzilla: The Series” in 1998 is a matter of how you feel about the Roland Emmerich 1998 Godzilla reboot. With many hating that reboot in comparison to the 2014 take, it doesn’t take away from the reality that the Fox TV series ran two fairly successful seasons.
Now that there’s a much more terrifying version of Godzilla in live-action form, can he be brought back in a live-action form for TV? Toho may not want to allow it in America out of fear of some kind of exploitation. It’s why a joint production in the mold of the new movie reboot would be ideal. In a fantasy world, having Bryan Cranston as a regular in the show would be even better.
In America, perhaps such a show would be laughed off, which might have been why animation was done here in the first place. Nonetheless, with the new movie franchise showing that Godzilla can still be intimidating and not laughed off the screen, it still could be an interesting TV experiment. Considering we have no shows that take place in Japan, it could potentially bring a new link of arms between us that we’ve lost somewhat since rebuilding our strong economic ties.