Every kaiju fan ever has pondered which of these two headline acts would win in a head-to-head face-off. Supposedly a version of this has been pitched every few years, but the fact that they’re owned by competing studios has made it heretofore impossible. How would you let one win over the other while saving face? It’s the issue with most hero-versus-hero stories, a problem rarely solved to anyone’s satisfaction. (We’ll see about Godzilla vs. Kong, whenever movies happen again.)
So outside of a short onstage gimmick in the 1970s, anyone who cares about the biggest battle in kaiju has been left to ponder.
Here are my thoughts.
Across 50 years and multiple eras, both Gamera and Godzilla have had very distinct shifts in their characters. Their appearances, abilities and general dispositions toward humanity have all changed drastically. Godzilla has had nearly three times as many films as Gamera and just as many different versions. So it’s not a matter of which character would win but rather which version of which character would win over the corresponding version of the other.
Showa Era Godzilla was a big asshole until roughly Destroy All Monsters, after which Honda, Fukuda and Banno entered into a more open “protector of the Earth” phase. Because the first film, Gojira, is the start of a roughly continuous story until Destroy All Monsters, we’ll consider it a single character.
From these initial 10 or so movies, I would pull what I call two Godzillas.
Showa Godzilla 1 is angry, mean, sometimes cruel and always crotchety. He got woken up from a long nap and wants someone to pay for it. He can occasionally be recruited to join humans in a battle against a common foe. But he’s not a monster who will go out of his way to help.
Showa Godzilla 2 is the lighter, friendlier version whose presence puts humans’ minds at ease when they’re under siege from giant pollution monsters or alien space-apes.
Likewise, Gamera has two Showa Era forms.
Showa Gamera 1 encompasses his first two films in which although children empathize with him from the start, he’s still something of a menace.
Showa Gamera 2 is the friend of all children, who flies around the earth with his own theme song and beats up giant space fish. Children love him, and he always appears in the nick of time to save them from their misadventures. He’s a parental figure.
Godzilla’s Heisei Era form is the same character between Godzilla Returns and vs. Destoroyah. But thanks to time-traveling villains tampering with the past, he is technically two separate monsters. Let’s not get into that too deeply because it doesn’t really make much sense. Later in that era he gains a child, Baby —- the cutest kaiju to ever exist —before melting down against Destoroyah and dying his final death.
I think it’s fair to just ignore the continuity stuff and call this Heisei Godzilla — an angry, powerful beast whose energy is off the charts and whose evil instincts are somewhat leavened by the birth of his offspring. He’s far less physically capable than his two Showa Era counterparts and not particularly mobile.
Gamera also has two Heisei Era forms — the Kadokawa creation, which I will call Heisei Gamera, and his Gamera the Brave form, which I will call Brave Gamera but remove from the discussion altogether because he’s simply too cute to ever get into a fight with Godzilla (even though he would, however, win any matchup). As with his Heisei Era Godzilla counterpart, Heisei Era Gamera actually changes form through the story. In this case we’re going to just use his ultimate form from Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.
Here’s where it gets tricky: After the Heisei Era, Godzilla entered into his Millennium era, wherein each movie reimagined him for its own storytelling purposes. Many of these are relatively interchangeable with the Heisei Era take on Godzilla with minor backstory or aesthetic differences, save for one: the GMK Godzilla, developed by Kadokawa himself.
GMK Godzilla is a supernatural Godzilla whose creepy white-eyed visage is the embodiment of Japan’s vengeful wartime dead. He is the villain of his movie and a total fucking badass.
Additionally, Toho released its own Godzilla film in 2016 — Shin Godzilla — after the success of Legendary Pictures’ 2014 American reboot (whose character we won’t bother considering here, although I do love my Chonky Boi). Shin brings yet another original approach to Godzilla, this time depicting him as a demonic multi-stage monstrosity who pushes modern Japan crisis management to its limits. Rather than an allegory for nuclear warfare, this Godzilla embodies the fears of manmade domestic nuclear disaster. Shin is one of the best kaiju films ever made, too, and the creature design is top-notch.
Thus, Shin Godzilla is another contender in this hypothetical matchup.
To review, we have the following:
Disclaimer: I know there are differences within these eras for each character and that there are multitudes of other versions of both kaiju that I could use for my matchups. But I choose to not consider them.
Fight 1: Showa Godzilla 1 vs. Showa Gamera 1
Setting: Japan, 1965
Director: Jun Fukuda
A tropical storm caused by French nuclear testing awakens Godzilla, who heads toward the Japanese mainland to wreak retaliatory havoc. Gamera is also awoken by the blast and hungers for some delicious nuclear delight. The two cross paths and destroy Tokyo, all while an enterprising young scientist — along with his goofy best friend and his will-they-or-won’t they pretty girlfriend — try to stop a mobster whose selfish schemes spell certain doom for the testing of weather devices that might keep Godzilla at bay. I’m picturing something of a hybrid between Fukuda’s more colorful and goofy approach to Godzilla and the more down-to-Earth, human-interest elements of Honda’s Godzilla and the early Gamera pictures.
Although Showa Gamera 1 has more theoretical maneuvers — fire breath as well as fire-flight — the pure cruelty and resourcefulness of Showa Godzilla 1 would definitely give him a run for his money. Both are at their meanest and most destructive in the mid-1960s. Japan would probably end up in flames by the end of their bout as the Japanese Defense Force rushes to evacuate major population centers. I’m sure the good guys would succeed at beating the mobster during their little subplot but truly, who gives a fuck?
In my mind, Showa Godzilla 1 and Showa Gamera 1 would probably fight until Gamera’s decreased ground mobility lets Showa Godzilla 1 get the upper hand and the victory. But in classic Showa Era fashion, Showa Godzilla 1 would suffer an ambiguous fate at the hands of his plucky human adversaries — trapped in an iceberg or some shit.
Fight 2: Showa Godzilla 2 vs. Showa Gamera 2
Setting: Japan, 1970 … but also outer space
Director: Noriaki Yuasa
It’s clear that there would be no battle between these two heroes. Fisticuffs? Try a handshake.
When I think of an early ’70s matchup, I envision something like Godzilla vs. Hedorah: It’s already a movie with a child who loves Godzilla, so why not add another kid-friendly hero into the mix? In Godzilla v. Gamera, the two would team up to defend two spunky kids kidnapped by a group of pretty alien women who have eyes on ruining the Earth’s atmosphere for future colonization. The monsters would defeat the alien women’s beast acrobatically, with a combination of Showa Gamera 2’s fondness for the high bar and Showa Godzilla 2’s patented atomic-breath flight maneuver.
No doubt the human characters would be in the classic Gamera mold of “two kids on an adventure with some boring, disbelieving and annoying adults back on Earth,” and inevitably the adults would learn a lesson from the cloying kids about how pollution is destroying the future of the planet. I’m in it for the friendship! Imagine Showa Godzilla 2 riding on Showa Gamera 2 as he flies, or the two combining fire breath to melt the avatar of all earthly corruption and grossness.
Fight 3: Heisei Godzilla vs. Heisei Gamera
Setting: Japan, 1995
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Heisei Gamera, the Absolute Guardian of the Universe — as he is referred to in the final moments of Gamera 3 — would wreck Heisei Godzilla right the fuck up. There is just no contest here.
I’m sure the story would find a pretense for the two to fight. Whatever. Heisei Godzilla is completely outmatched. Even if he went nuclear, I imagine Heisei Gamera would just eat all the energy as a light breakfast while chopping off his own goddamn arm just to score a win.
Fight 4: Heisei Gamera vs. GMK Godzilla
Setting: Japan, 2000
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
I actually envision this as a direct sequel to Kaneko’s first Godzilla v. Gamera, in which occultists use their dark powers to bring Heisei Godzilla back to life, albeit now in his GMK Godzilla form.
GMK Godzilla versus Heisei Gamera, to the death — crueler, bigger and more badass than ever before.
The plot would likely involve invocation of mythological bullshit to capture unspoken truths of trauma and the human experience, just like the Bible. It’s hard to say which creature would emerge victorious from a climactic duel of escalating dismemberment and evisceration. My inclination is to say that, ultimately, it would be Heisei Gamera. He would just barely withstand the super Gravitational Atomic Breath finisher unique to GMK Godzilla’s arsenal, and then rip out his foe’s heart and throw it to the bottom of the sea. Then Heisei Gamera would leave the field mortally wounded.
The characters would wax poetic about how powerful Heisei Gamera is at saving the world from humanity, but how can he ever be at peace when human pain can create something as horrible as GMK Godzilla? Then, as the credits roll, we see the heart on the seafloor start to beat. Yeah, I’m not that original, but so what? Why mess with perfection?
Fight 5: Heisei Gamera vs. Shin Godzilla
Setting: Japan, 2015
Director: Hideaki Anno
The ultimate apocalypse. An end-times kaiju death match.
Technically, Shin Godzilla and Brave Gamera are closer together in terms of real-world chronology, but again: That’s not simply a matchup worth considering; they hail from two very different styles of story and philosophical outlooks.
The brainchild of Hideaki Anno (who made the popular and depressing Neon Genesis Evangelion anime), Shin Godzilla is an absolute monster in size and power. He towers all over existing kaiju. His beam is multi-directional and infinitely powerful. Worse, his spikes spawn other creatures. His radioactive footprint is immense. He’s the living embodiment of human scientific hubris, much the same as the original Gojira. In this case, however, he doesn’t embody hubris in war but rather the everyday hubris of mankind’s choice to subvert nature for its own materialistic ends. GMK Godzilla is born from the worst of the human spirit whereas Shin Godzilla is the malformed miscreation of our collective mind.
Again: Heisei Gamera is the Absolute Guardian of the Universe, but does he hold a candle to Shin Godzilla? In this instance, I firmly believe Shin Godzilla would triumph over Heisei Gamera, but that the battle would destroy human civilization and possibly punch a hole in the planet. Earth would destabilize and blow apart, taking the monsters with it.
There’s a reason why Shin Godzilla will never return in future films: He’s a singular disaster whose very existence is the red alert that humanity has gone too far and can never turn back. Every measure taken to defeat him only causes a metamorphosis into something even deadlier. It’s no contest. This is the true Final War.
So there you have it. These are my ideal theoretical matchups for Gamera versus Godzilla. As I’ve said, there are any number of other permutations, but I think Heisei Gamera generally comes out victorious unless he’s facing off against Shin Godzilla, and I believe the conventions of Showa Era kaiju storytelling don’t lend themselves to easy victors and require heavy-handed participation of humans in the actual resolutions.
The Heisei Era has human participants, too, but the 1990s Gamera Trilogy and Shin Godzilla use them so well that I’m just assuming my versus films fall in those camps rather than the more-or-less atrocious Heisei Era Godzilla human stories.
Fans will notice I left out a number of elements for the sake of simplicity. No human mechs, super X vehicles, spaceships or mystical medallions. I’m sure they’d appear in their respective eras, but whatever.
Also: No villain kaiju outside of Hedorah. The problem is that Godzilla has a killer villain lineup, but most of Gamera’s suck ass. Even if I made a Destroy All Monsters 2 with both companies, the only creatures worth bringing in from the Daiei side would by the Heisei Era Gyaos and Iris. The Showa Era kaiju are silly and fun for both franchises, but even Guiron looks like a fucking moron next to a creature as majestic and full of life as Mothra.