A Brief History of Mechagodzilla: Do Dead Kaiju Dream of Mechanized Titans?

Let's look over the history of one of Godzilla's most prolific antagonists: Mechagodzilla!

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Mechagodzilla

A Brief History of Mechagodzilla

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Let’s look over the history of one of Godzilla’s most prolific antagonists: Mechagodzilla!

King Ghidorah tends to be considered the ultimate nemesis of Godzilla, the Joker to his Batman. And while it’s true that both of them have fought in several films, it’s rarely been personal; in fact, the first time an actual rivalry was hinted at was in Godzilla: King of the Monsters from 2019.

On the other hand, Mechagodzilla is designed to be Godzilla’s equal (if not superior) and to destroy him once and for all. As is the case with the other kaiju (and the Big G himself), there have been many versions of Mechagodzilla through the years, but the antagonism remains intact.

With Mechagodzilla’s appearance in the recently-released Godzilla vs. Kong, the Toho’s Big Five (which consists of Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla) have all received the “Legendary” treatment. It’s no small feat!

After Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) failed to start a franchise for TriStar/Sony, it was only a matter of time before another studio attempted the same feat.  Even so, who could have imagined we would see Godzilla fighting his mechanical foe in a Hollywood movie? With the MonsterVerse’s future currently up in the air, I’m not taking it for granted by any means.

Without further ado, let’s explore the history of one of cinema’s most iconic robots. Fair warning, there are spoilers. Some of these movies are older than a decade (or many decades), but if you haven’t seen them, they’re more than worth the watch with a set of fresh eyes. 

RELATED: How We Almost Lost Ultraman

Showa Era (1954-1975)

History of Mechagodzilla
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)

The first Mechagodzilla, debuting in 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, was created by the ape-like Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens as their main weapon to conquer planet Earth. The robot went on a rampage disguised as Godzilla, wearing fake skin. Godzilla’s loyal friend Anguirus didn’t fell for it and attacked Mechagodzilla, nearly getting killed in the process – but it wasn’t for naught, as that brief skirmish revealed the aliens’ deception.

The idea of a robotic doppelgänger was inspired by Mechani-Kong (from Toho’s 1967 film King Kong Escapes), which in retrospect is rather fitting, considering the original King Kong was one of the main influences behind the creation of Godzilla. History is indeed a circle.

Designed by Akihiro Iguchi, this Mechagodzilla is a bulky fellow with a look reminiscent of European plate armor. I truly love that even though it’s supposed to be an advanced extraterrestrial machine, it’s got a “rough around the edges” vibe, not all that refined but certainly ready to bring the pain.

I couldn’t help but wonder why the aliens wanted to disguise Mechagodzilla as Godzilla in the first place, as the movie doesn’t give a specific reason, and the twist comes fairly early, in the first minutes of the film. Maybe the idea was to confuse and demoralize Earth’s inhabitants – why would their protector be attacking them? And there could’ve been some arrogance to it as well, the notion of building something superior to Godzilla himself. Destroying Godzilla with a Godzilla of their own would’ve been the cherry on top of their world domination dreams.

As a concept, Mechagodzilla works as Godzilla’s polar opposite: Mechagodzilla is a cold-hearted machine that doesn’t flinch when performing violent actions like breaking the jaw of Anguirus. And Mecha is efficiently ruthless, having no time for silly theatrics. No taunting, dancing, or amusing flying kicks.

Though Mechagodzilla is ultimately repaid in kind when Godzilla destroys it with the help of King Caesar, getting its head explosively separated from its body, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see the villainous mecha.

Following the success of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, a direct sequel titled Terror of Mechagodzilla came out in 1975. The aliens come back to rebuild Mechagodzilla and try to take over the world one more time, this time with the help of Shinzo Mafune (Akihiko Hirata), a marine biologist who wants revenge against humanity.

The Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens’ plan was pretty straightforward in the first movie, but here it gets a bit more complicated, as the robot (now dubbed “Mechagodzilla 2”) was given a brain that allowed it to keep going even after getting decapitated once again by Godzilla. Not only that but its control device was hidden inside Katsura Mafune (Tomoko Ai), a cybernetic human who the aliens modified after she suffered a lab accident. The moment she’s able to regain her free will and realizes how she’s been used, Katsura sacrifices herself to stop Mechagodzilla.

Terror of Mechagodzilla was sadly a box office bomb, which prompted Toho to put the franchise on ice until The Return of Godzilla in 1984. Thus leading us to the second era of Godzilla: The Heisei Era.

Heisei Period (1984-1995)

A Brief History of Mechagozilla
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was released in 1993, during the Heisei era (1984-1995) of Godzilla films. Despite what the English title may imply, it is neither a sequel to the Showa period film nor is it the second time Godzilla faced off against his mechanic foe – it was likely an attempt to differentiate it from the 1974 movie, as the titles would’ve been the same otherwise.

Aliens had nothing to do with it this time around. It was the United Nations!

Or rather, a branch of the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center (UNGCC), the G-Force. The remains of Mecha-King Ghidorah were used to create not one but two anti-Godzilla weapons: Mechagodzilla and Garuda, a flying gunship.

The movie’s development has a very interesting history, as there were intriguing ideas that were discarded in the end. For example, Toho initially had plans to remake King Kong vs. Godzilla, their most successful movie at the time. The rights to Kong proved elusive, so the idea was scrapped. Mechani-Kong was floated as an alternative, but Toho would’ve needed to face similar legal hurdles, so that didn’t get too far either.

Mechani-Kong was supposed to have injectors that would get people inside Godzilla. So while the robot battled him on the outside, the human characters would fight him from within while exploring the many different strange worlds…inside Godzilla. Now that would’ve been trippy!

Godzilla vs. Berserk was a proposal that apparently got a bit farther before joining the “Kong” ideas in the paper bin. Berserk was a Mechagodzilla-like creature that would get stranger-looking as it assimilated metal and machines, eventually turning into a deformed mass of metal and wires.

Finally, the decision was made to bring Mechagodzilla to the Heisei era. Though there were concepts that wouldn’t make it to the final product, they helped to give it shape, such as Mechagodzilla being composed of several aerial and terrestrial vehicles able to engage in combat individually or merged as one giant robot. That concept was simplified with Garuda being capable of attaching to Mechagodzilla. The “transforming” Mechagodzilla was immortalized in Noriyoshi Ohrai’s advance poster nonetheless, and it was released as an S.H. MonsterArts figure, as well.

Heisei Mechagodzilla, designed by Minoru Yoshida, has a more futuristic look than its Showa Predecessor with a lot of rounded parts and a shiny, silver coat of paint. Still looking heavy and tough like a tank, though with a more defined body and less like a suit of armor, that’s to be expected from something designed to fight Godzilla.

The Heisei Mechagodzilla kept the spike on its head and the dorsal plates, which are seemingly ornamental but give the design an extra oomph. Plus, without the plates, it wouldn’t resemble Godzilla all that much.

In battle, it proved to be an efficient fighter, but its Super Mechagodzilla form (when combined with Garuda) was lethal. Godzilla discovers this after getting his secondary brain destroyed, rendering him crippled, much like Batman after Bane broke his back. This was accomplished with the aptly named G-Crusher, an improved version of the Shock Anchors, harpoon-like weapons created to blast the opponent with electricity.

As is the tradition in the series, when Godzilla’s on the ropes, his friends and allies arrive to save the day. It was thanks to Rodan’s sacrifice that he was able to get back on his feet and strike back at Mechagodzilla, obliterating it with a beam (of course, its head was separated from the rest of the body in the process).

For all its arsenal, which included a rainbow-colored beam (denominated “Mega Buster”), laser cannons, missiles, and plasma grenades (a neat ability that allowed Mechagodzilla to absorb Godzilla’s beam and return it to him with increased force), the mecha shied away from physical hand-to-hand combat and preferred to attack from afar. There was a practical reason for that: the suit was difficult and time-consuming to service, so the filmmakers made sure it took as little damage as possible. 

Millennium Period (1999-2004)

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

Mechagodzilla came back in the fourth movie of the Millennium period, simply titled Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. Released in 2002, it featured one of the most popular incarnations of the character, Kiryu.

The Anti-Megalosaurus Force (a branch of the Japanese Self-Defense Force) built the bio-mechanical robot around the remains of the original Godzilla that attacked Japan and was defeated with the Oxygen Destroyer in 1954. Its purpose was to answer to the threat of a second Godzilla, but as the proverb goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

The original Godzilla’s spirit remained in his bones and was awakened when hearing the roar of a living member of his species. Taking control of the machine that now housed his remains, he went berserk and leveled the city Kiryu was supposed to defend.

It was a bad start for the Anti-Megalosaurus Force’s shiny new toy, but luckily that wasn’t the end of it. To be fair, there was no alternative but to try again. Otherwise, Godzilla would’ve won.

Designed by artist Shinji Nishikawa, Kiryu sports a sophisticated and sleek look despite being a war machine that’s armed to the teeth – quite the far cry from its bulkier predecessors. With a longer tail and a closer appearance to its organic rival, Kiryu is equipped with a variety of weapons that include railguns, a twin maser cannon, homing missiles, and a blade. Kiryu’s ultimate asset, however, is the Absolute Zero cannon, a beam that instantly freezes the target.

This version of Mechagodzilla is the first and only one to have a nickname to date. Kiryu means “Machine dragon” and is the name characters use to refer to it in the film. Its officially designated name is MFS-3 or Multipurpose Fighting System Type-3.

Curiously enough, in the Pipeworks’ video games Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee and Godzilla: Save the Earth, Kiryu is named “Mechagodzilla 3.” This, however, was changed in Godzilla Unleashed, where the character received the Kiryu moniker.

Probably to avoid being “more of the same,” Kiryu was made the underdog and given a more heroic feel. Its pilot, Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku) is a disgraced soldier who seeks redemption after accidentally killing around eight of her JSDF colleagues during a battle against Godzilla.

It’s not the most original setup (a character who’s initially hated or underestimated eventually earns the respect of those around him/her), but it works really well and you can’t help but to root for Akane and Kiryu. Also, the casting of a woman as the main character and the one who pilots the mecha to fight the king of the monsters and sees most of the action cannot be understated. It’s something the MonsterVerse has yet to do – and don’t get me wrong, I think there are great female characters (Jia being a recent example), but their roles have been supporting ones. The leads have so far been men.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about Kiryu is that it’s the one (and only to date) Mechagodzilla that has defeated Godzilla (albeit not by killing him) not once, but twice.

Despite its significant flaws (limited battery life and having a literal ghost in the machine), Kiryu put a stop to Godzilla’s rampages by forcing him back to the sea in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and by gravely injuring him in the direct sequel Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. with the help of the twin Mothra larvae. The mecha refused to finish him off, however, taking him to the sea instead.

After saying farewell to its second pilot (Yoshito Chujo), Kiryu plunged into the depths together with Godzilla, presumably to resume his sleep, this time permanently. And without losing its head!

Kiryu is a fan favorite and it’s easy to see why. It sports a modern and badass look, some impressive weaponry, and (most importantly) it’s not the villain for once.

The Millennium series was short-lived, but it’s interesting to note that in the most memorable films of that period (for me at least), GMK and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, the big fella was the villain and his foes were the good guys. I’d love to see the roles reversed again in the future.

Reiwa Period (2016-Present)

Mechagodzilla History
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Mechagodzilla has (so far) appeared in Polygon Pictures’ animated trilogy (specifically in the second entry Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle) in what’s perhaps the most radically different take on the character yet. Designed by director Hiroyuki Seshita, it was inspired by sea urchins and the concept art reflects that – it’s all spikes and pointy edges. And though it keeps a dinosaur-like shape, its head is nothing like Godzilla’s, looking flat and elongated, with tusk-like spikes sticking out from its jaw.

Made in secret by an alliance of humans and extraterrestrials, Mechagodzilla wasn’t able to live up to the hype surrounding it as Godzilla Earth destroyed the facility that housed it, taking out the machine as well. Mechagodzilla’s head survived the attack, nonetheless, and so did its A.I.

So, during the thousands of years that humanity was exiled from Earth, the mecha continued to function and grow thanks to its Nanometal composition. It spread around the area where it lay abandoned and eventually transformed into a colossal mechanized fortress that earned the name,  Mechagodzilla City. 

Shrouded in a mist of its own making, Mechagodzilla City remained hidden from Godzilla Earth while assimilating other life forms like the Servum.

My feelings are mixed when it comes to this interpretation of the character. On the one hand, it’s a tad disappointing we didn’t get to see Mechagodzilla in action. I think its design is fairly cool and its abilities (such as the Convergent Neutron Cannon, the Hyper Lance, and the Blade Launcher, to mention a few) would’ve been awesome to look at.

But, on the other hand, Mechagodzilla City is a bold, wildly unusual direction to take with the character. I really appreciate the effort to try something a bit more “out there,” even if it’s not what many fans (myself included) were expecting.

Mechagodzilla City came close to defeating Godzilla Earth but was foiled by Haruo, who, despite his burning desire to destroy Godzilla, realized that allowing Mechagodzilla to win would mean surrendering the entire planet to the Nanometal. Refusing to let that happen, he destroyed the City’s control room and created an opening for Godzilla to annihilate what was left of the Nanometal fortification. 

Ready Player One (2018)

Mechagodzilla Ready Player One
Ready Player One (2018)

Mechagodzilla made a surprise appearance in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One as a final boss of sorts. The film’s villain, IOI’s CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), picked Mechagodzilla as a summonable vehicle/avatar to fight the heroes and prevent them from winning the third challenge.

Designed by artist Jared Krichevsky, the movie version was an original take on the character, with some influence from Noriyoshi Ohrai. Giving it finger missiles was a nice touch!

In Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One, Mechagodzilla is referred to as “Kiryu”, but it’s unclear if the author had the incarnation from the Millenium films in mind or if he thinks the name “Kiryu” applies to all of them. It shoots blue beams and its eyes are blue as well, unlike Kiryu. The description is somewhat ambiguous, to be honest. There’s a mention of it having shoulder cannons, but that can be applied to the Heisei Mechagodzilla as well when Garuda gets attached to its back. I suppose Cline didn’t want to be too precise with Kiryu’s depiction to avoid copyright woes, but then again, he’s pretty explicit with other references so – who knows?

Gotta give some props to the author for beheading Mechagodzilla, a clear callback to the classic movies. The film adaptation takes a slightly different route, making the robot explode with a Madball grenade, but still, its head ends up rolling on the floor.

Also, while in the novel Mechagodzilla fights Ultraman, due to legal issues Tsuburaya was dealing with at the time it was changed to the Iron Giant and a Gundam in the film adaptation. With the movie being a Warner Brothers production directed by Steven Spielberg, no doubt that helped with securing a number of rights.

For fans of the MonsterVerse, the question of Mechagodzilla is a bit like the chicken or the egg one. Were the rights obtained for Ready Player One and then used for Godzilla vs. Kong or the other way around?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Nevertheless, if I had to take a guess, I’d lean towards Warner / Legendary getting the rights for Mechagodzilla for the MonsterVerse first, considering Toho sells the rights of each individual kaiju separately. It only makes sense they’d want it as the main villain for Godzilla vs. Kong, with the Ready Player One cameo being the cherry on top.

Though brief, Mechagodzilla’s Ready Player One scene is memorable and notorious for being the first time the mecha appeared in a non-Godzilla movie.

MonsterVerse (2014-Present)

Godzilla Vs Kong Mechagodzilla
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

The MonsterVerse iteration of our favorite “Robot Godzilla” (once again designed by artist Jared Krichevsky) introduced some new elements while keeping familiar character traits. According to director Adam Wingard, they were inspired by the blocky designs of old Transformers, and the final look evidences that.

Back in the days of 2014’s Godzilla (hard to believe it’ll soon be seven years since it was released, time does fly), I figured that if any potential sequel(s) kept the grounded and realistic tone of Gareth Edwards film, overly fantastic elements would be a no-no. I imagined that any hypothetical Mechagodzilla included in a sequel would look more like real-life military hardware (like an unmanned tank or a drone) than a dinosaur-shaped robot.

While it’s fun to theorize about a “grittier” universe, I’m glad the MonsterVerse earnestly embraced the fantasy roots of the franchise and allowed the kaiju to keep their spirit. Some things work better when toned down, but when it comes to giant monsters, I think it’s better to go over the top. “Go big or go extinct,” as the Pacific Rim tagline says. And speaking of Pacific Rim, turns out Godzilla vs. Kong has a bit more in common with that movie than just Hong Kong’s neon lights.

The Mechagodzilla of Godzilla vs. Kong is once again a creation of human beings, but this time, the government and the military aren’t involved. It belongs instead to Apex Cybernetics, a tech/robotics organization led by its founder and CEO, Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir). Apex’s goal is to eliminate Godzilla (and the rest of the Titans) so humans can become the “apex species” on Earth once more.

What I really love about this rendition of Mechagodzilla is how it pays homage to the ones that came before it without feeling like a “best hits” re-run. It’s got its own unique flavor, so to speak.

Indubitably made to resemble Titanus Gojira, the MonsterVerse Mechagodzilla is thinner and more agile than its Japanese counterparts which were bulkier and slower to move. 

Much like the remains of Mecha-King Ghidorah were used to build Heisei Mechagodzilla, here the skull that was purchased by Alan Jonah ended up in Apex’s Hong Kong HQ (bought by Simmons, according to the novelization) to be used as a neural interface for the mecha.

Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri) “piloted” Mechagodzilla via a neural link, something that reminded me a bit of the way Jaegers were controlled. I realize the idea isn’t really new and the comparison isn’t quite exact, but to see people using their brains to control giant robots in two high-profile Legendary kaiju properties is fairly exciting. This makes the idea of a crossover not sound too far-fetched, though the benefit of that actually happening (or not) for either IP is a different discussion altogether.

A possible reference to the Millennium Period (the original Godzilla’s spiritual awakening and taking control of Kiryu) is King Ghidorah’s consciousness lingering in his left head’s skull. When given the opportunity, Ghidorah took control of Mechagodzilla via the neural link, obtaining a new body to battle his old rival.

A preference for close-quarters combat is what makes this mechanized titan stand out from the rest of the pack. Powered by Hollow Earth energy, this mecha likes to punch and kick its opponents and practically mopped the floor with Godzilla (who was weakened after his brutal brawl with Kong). If it wasn’t for the big ape’s intervention, MechaG would’ve been victorious. Its Proton Scream (a red beam of pure energy) would’ve done to Godzilla what a hot knife does to butter.

As an interesting tidbit, screenwriter Max Borenstein had considered Mechagodzilla for King of the Monsters before Gareth Edwards exited the project. What it would’ve been, we’ll probably never know, but I’m happy that Mechagodzilla eventually found its way to the MonsterVerse.

The End. Or not?

Whether or not these movies continue, it can’t be denied that they have left a footprint in the Godzilla mythos and provided us with material to be enjoyed for years to come. Not only the movies themselves but also the soundtracks, the art, and the designs, the characters, and the lore. It’s an embarrassment of riches – and a testament of the love that the people behind these films have for the Toho monsters.

It hasn’t been the smoothest of rides amidst fierce competition with other large franchises and, obviously, the global pandemic and the constant delays it inflicted upon the latest release, but putting such matters aside and speaking solely as a fan, the MonsterVerse has given me some of the best cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. And hopefully to many other kaiju fans as well.

If there’s something fans know with certainty is that these larger-than-life characters can’t stay dead. It’s only a matter of time before a new movie from either Toho or Legendary is announced. And rest assured, Mechagodzilla will be ready to rumble.

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