If there’s one thing we know about Gamera—the old Gamera, that is—it’s this: He’s a friend to all children. As the rating on Netflix’s new anime series, which premiered September 7, makes abundantly clear, however, this animated kaiju is now only pally-pally with kids aged 12 and up. Go figure, huh?
For those not acquainted with Gamera—and hey, you’d be forgiven, Godzilla tends to steal all the Titan-based press—this fire-breathing turtle is … well, he might look like a bad guy to the untrained eye, but he’s actually the opposite. He’s a protector of humanity, an ally to justice, and, as mentioned, a friend to all children. So, yes, you better believe that Gamera Rebirth leans into this last point with an uncannily Stranger Things-style aesthetic. You know the score: misfit kids on bikes, one idyllic final summer vacation as elementary school students, xenophobic bullies galore, scientists in hazmat suits doing shady stuff on the moon, and a terrifying attack on a city by … monsters. Lots and lots of monsters. Classic stuff.
Let’s not get too bogged down in plot, okay? All you really need to know is this: Monsters bad, Gamera good. Boco, Joe, and Junichi unexpectedly join forces with Daniel (one of the aforementioned bullies, who attends the local international school and is a complete asshat), in a bid to find out why Viras, a truly ancient kaiju, is on a mission to murder a not-so-casual 5 billion people. And no, he wasn’t inspired by Marvel’s Thanos and the Snapture: Someone woke this beastie up. But who? Who is behind this diabolical plot? And how on earth will a group of plucky kids and their ’armless turtle (that joke will be funnier once you’ve seen the series, trust us) figure it all out before the credits roll on the final episode?
Let’s focus on the positives for a minute: Stranger Things tropes aside, a lot of love and care has gone into the character-building of this one, which means that all of our child heroes are pretty damn likable, even if the adults around them aren’t. All of the monsters, too, are seriously out there in the best possible way. From thunderbirds (strange pterodactyl-like beings from Native American lore) to a beast with a ... sword for a face, each is more creative than the last, which helps to keep the stakes feeling pleasantly high.
The show’s core theme of friendship, too, is a universally appealing one. And that, coupled with the sweet coming-of-age tale playing out against all of the kaiju-inflicted carnage, keeps the story feeling grounded, a necessity in a series as chaotic as this one.
We’re fans, too, of the way that Gamera Rebirth uses the kaiju (and the bullies and woefully inept American forces, obviously) to serve as a metaphor for the United States’ continued—and unwelcome—presence in Japan, even if it gets a little heavy-handed at times. And don’t even get us started on Gamera himself: All of that shell-spinning action makes for a lot of fun fight scenes.
So, what’s the biggest negative of Gamera Rebirth? Sadly, it’s the animation itself, which feels clunky and a lot like a low-res walk around of The Sims. Oh sure, the monsters are fun, and the scenery is pretty spectacular, but all of that means diddly-squat when our leads are jittering around the screen like they’re on their eighth espressos.
Which brings us to our next point: While the storytelling in this one is usually the perfect blend of simplistic good fun with a dash of political allegory, it does get a little repetitive at times. The kids find themselves in a spot of kaiju-based bother, Gamera turns up, takes a battering, saves the day, repeat. Repeat forever and ever, actually, until the end of time. Annoyingly, this puts a damper, too, on our oh-so-creative combat scenes, as it means they all hit the same damn beats, right down to Gamera’s signature moves. (Shake it up, turtle! No wonder you keep getting knocked down!)
All that being said, this one makes for an easy, scroll-on-your-phone-style background watch–once you get over the fact you’re rooting for what look like PlayStation 2 characters, that is. No, we wouldn’t rush to binge it all in one go. And no, we certainly wouldn’t recommend dropping whatever series you’re currently watching/rewatching to dive on in. This one will wait. Still, who doesn’t love the idea of a Stranger Things/Godzilla mashup? We certainly don’t.
Gamera Rebirth premiered September 7 on Netflix