‘Godzilla Singular Point’ Review: The Jet Jaguar Show

Godzilla Singular Point is a gorgeously designed, beautifully animated sci-fi show that often feels like arriving mid-lecture to a physics class. This, somehow, is part of the appeal. The 13-episode anime series is weird and dense if not weird because it is so dense, cramming a prodigious amount of information into a franchise that historically just kind of waves its hands around whenever the science comes up. Stories about stopping some rampaging giant monsters tend not to foreground this much math. But to summarize exactly how granular the series gets about concepts like the passage of time would require me to dive into ideas that I only half-understand myself, so to give a quicker and more digestible impression for just how odd, how left-field/galaxy-brain out there the first Godzilla TV anime is, we need to talk about Jet Jaguar.

A blatant take on Ultraman, Jet Jaguar is a colorful humanoid robot whose first and only film appearance is in 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon, which was originally conceived as a solo Jet Jaguar joint and tends to be unfavorably regarded by anyone allergic to the sillier Godzilla movies. It is, among other things, the one where Godzilla slides forward on his tail to somehow deliver a drop-kick, an immortal image forever enshrined in the opening credits for early seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Whereas the film’s bug-like Megalon tends to be well-regarded, Jet Jaguar remains, at best, a kitschy inside joke, recognizable mainly for his terrifying rictus grin and a theme song that keeps repeating his name and also the word “punch.” He was even the basis of an official 2019 April Fool’s video.

Jet Jaguar is also one of the main characters in Godzilla Singular Point.

Godzilla Singular Point

Punch Punch Punch

Certainly there are more prominent figures in the show; cryptid researcher Mei Kamino, for example, plays a central but often separate role, running around the globe with other scientists to research the red dust that follows in the wake of each newfound kaiju. We see her camped out with her laptop, her bangs tied messily out of her eyes to pore over information and chat with Pelops II, the AI companion that appears on her screen as an orange cartoon dog-cat-thing. There’s Otaki Factory, too, the small-town company that seems to take on any odd job that comes its way — the first episode finds them searching for the source of strange activity in a creepy mansion, under the impression that ghosts are to blame. Besides its theatrical elderly founder, the main employees are eccentric genius Yun Arikawa and musclebound Haberu Kato, who are always wearing matching company jackets stamped with the Otaki Factory logo, which is a picture of their drivable robot Jet Jaguar. The series would not have been remiss to put Jet Jaguar’s name somewhere in the title; he’s more prominent than the fourth employee of Otaki Factory, a goth receptionist that the series never quite figures out how to use.

But Godzilla vs. Megalon is a film where the sunken denizens of Easter Island unleash their monster, who the initially human-sized Jet Jaguar fights by simply reprogramming himself to a comparable scale. Conversely, Godzilla Singular Point regards its science with the utmost sincerity, devoting huge chunks of its runtime to explaining problems and then talking through solutions and then starting back over again when new problems inevitably emerge. Where other kaiju films, including the recent Godzilla vs. Kong, tend to include scientists as some nebulous authority to lend the thinnest shred of credence to nonsense logic, Singular Point immerses itself in scientific process, an onslaught of calculating and hypothesizing, trial and error, bouncing ideas off one another. Like any vaguely merchandiseable figure, Jet Jaguar goes through multiple incarnations over the course of the series, but rather than simply leave the changes at that, showing him with wheels after his legs get torn away in the previous battle, the series goes into why he has wheels instead, the posture control algorithm, the composition of the spear he carries. This machine-learning sets the stage for the gradual development of Jet Jaguar’s AI.

With just a few tweaks in wording, I could characterize all these details as a bad thing, a tedious, miscalculated bore of too many calculations. But there is, I think, a tangible difference when a work seems to believe its extrapolations are necessary as opposed to when they are totally obligatory time-fillers or the result of having a low opinion of audience comprehension. Godzilla Singular Point unequivocally trusts its audience, to the point where it maybe even trusts them too much. It’s a little like Hunter x Hunter in that sense, which is itself a granular deconstruction of the Dragon Ball-esque battler, reveling in elaborate systems to explain its extravagant powers and the rules of its world. Generally, that requires laying an enormous amount of groundwork; it does want us to follow along, operating under the belief that our immersion in the process and the minutiae will dial up our investment that much more. 

Godzilla Singular Point

Science Patrol

The script for Singular Point is credited to former physicist Toh EnJoe, an award-winning sci-fi novelist who, if he is known to English-language audiences at all, is probably for writing the most headache-inducing episodes of Space Dandy, which exhibit a similar fixation on fluidity of time and dimensional perception. Broken out into a 13-episode series, his dense and what I can only assume is mathematically plausible storytelling gains the breathing room it really needs, creating spaces between the physics gobbledygook for things like characters and relationships. There’s little in the way of interpersonal drama to get invested in, but the characters all have a pleasant, collaborative dynamic that makes them a charming wrapper for each extended explanation. They’re never squabbling over petty details or getting into heated rivalries; there simply isn’t any time.

The characters are always moving around and always doing things, never just standing in front of screens and whiteboards to vomit exposition. When Yun and Haberu search a mansion’s library, they’re absently musing about food before getting on the bike to follow a radio signal along the shoreline, eventually ending up in a police interrogation where Yun tries to convince the officers to address his monotone AI companion app instead. The scenery changes constantly, with Mei in separate locations and keeping contact through emoji-laden text messages. The characters perform visual demonstrations with objects on hand and shadows on the wall; Singular Point is something of a masterclass in how to liven up material that could easily devolve into tedium if presented poorly. These flourishes are all in noted contrast to the other attempt at anime Godzilla, the CGI film trilogy by Polygon Pictures (which is also on Netflix). As scripted by Gen Urobuchi, those films are parodically dour in their attempted gravitas, with jargon-y explanations that are totally insufferable because they aren’t staged nearly so dynamically and tend to repeat themselves for a perceived audience of people who won’t get it the first time.

But any distaste for the CGI trilogy aside, they’re consistent with modern Japanese reinventions of Godzilla. Where the American films keep to the most recognizable, sequel-friendly depiction of Godzilla as a defender of Earth, the Japanese versions consistently portray him as an even greater threat, an ideological challenge as much as anything else. Shin Godzilla centers bureaucratic incompetence, creating a political satire that reorients Godzilla around then-recent natural disasters in Japan and their related fallout. The anime versions go further, seemingly intent on depicting scale in ways that no live-action film could feasibly handle. The Polygon movies portray an Earth inherited by Godzilla, where people have fled into space and, upon their dejected and empty-handed return, encounter a creature that is not only still there but has grown so large that the ecosystem has contorted itself around him. The Godzilla in Singular Point is not nearly that big, but he presents an even greater threat to reality itself, a harbinger of the end of the world as well as the end of everything that contains the world — if you want some idea of how Toh EnJoe conceptualizes catastrophe, one character worriedly reports that space and time distort around Godzilla to such an extreme that a triangle’s interior angles no longer add up to 180.

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Godzilla Singular Point

Evolution

Godzilla, it seems, must expand alongside the understanding of what constitutes an overwhelming force — Singular Point draws comparisons to climate change, with monsters remaking the earth in an apocalyptic trail of red dust that stains the oceans, chokes communication lines, and hinders visibility. It’s a striking image, another way the show tempers its pure density; a captivating visual sensibility realized in bold colors, exaggerated yet highly distinct character designs, and vibrant CGI monsters that blend uncommonly well with the rest of the show’s more traditional animation. There’s a considerable focus on additional monsters in different incarnations than we might be used to, from Rodan as whole flocks of the same, smaller creature to a roughly dinosaur-sized Anguirus even more obviously patterned after an ankylosaurus, only now with some ability to perceive the future.

The result is sure to be a bit contentious: another piece of Godzilla media that doesn’t center Godzilla very often. Other Godzilla cartoons have been monster-of-the-week fights for this reason (including, for example, the perennially underrated series based on the 1998 American movie). I have argued before that the human segments are integral to the overall project of a kaiju film, unfairly maligned when they add texture and identifiable stakes. Singular Point takes this idea to the extreme, zeroing in on collaborating scientists and thus spending half the show with its star player as no more than a flickering suggestion in an astonishing opening credits sequence (featuring, by the way, an alt-rock anthem by a group called Bish, which is a great name on its own that gets even better when you learn it somehow stands for “Brand-new Idol Shit.”) The human scenes are exactly what gives Singular Point such a distinct quality, that makes it so compelling to follow through concepts and plot points that few other takes on the character would even try to conceive. Rather than a simple translation of what works, Godzilla Singular Point is a huge swing, a gutsy reinvention of an increasingly malleable icon.

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Steven Nguyen Scaife

Steven Nguyen Scaife has written about pop culture for Slant Magazine, Polygon, Buzzfeed, Rock Paper Shotgun, and more.

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