Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Anime Review: Kaiju No. 8

An unexpectedly fun, feel-good, action-comedy.

2024 is becoming a kaiju celebration with stories like Ultraman Rising, Godzilla Minus One, and Crunchyroll’s anime contribution, Kaiju No. 8. Kaiju are giant monsters or powerful creatures who appear and wreak destruction in urban areas. One of the season’s most popular new anime, Kaiju No. 8 is the story of an underdog, clean-up worker, Kafka Hibino who rises to become a heroic protector by accidentally becoming the very thing he is fighting against—a kaiju.

As young children, Kafka and his friend Mina dream of joining the Anti-Kaiju Defense Force when their town is devastated by a kaiju attack. Through flashbacks we see the two comforting each other in the wake of their mutual loss. Kafka and Mina navigate their ensuing PTSD, while encouraging each other in pursuit of their goal of being officers together in the Anti-Kaiju Defense Force, the elite military-style team that fights the giant attacking monsters. Years later, the former friends are both thirty-two years old and estranged. Mina has risen to the rank of captain as a fierce fighter in the Anti-Kaiju Defense Force and is celebrated publicly for her victories. Kafka, on the other hand, is working with a local sanitation team to clean up kaiju carcasses so the surrounding areas can be rebuilt. The work is disgusting but also essential and he is paid decently. But Kafka wonders how he ended up on this side of the equation as a forgotten clean up worker, while his former childhood best friend Mina has risen to fame for her fierce heroics.

Things change when Kafka supervises an idealistic new young worker, Reno Ishigawa, whose determination to join the defense force causes Kafka to rethink giving up on his dreams. Kafka and Reno are unexpectedly attacked by a kaiju while off duty and the two show surprising strength and bravery in protecting each other until they are rescued by Mina. However, another unexpected attack transforms Kafka into a small scale kaiju, which terrifies him and Reno. Despite his terrifying appearance, Kafka holds on to his own consciousness and sense of humor. He is able to use his newfound transformation for good until he reverts back into a human. The series follows Kafka’s attempts to hide his kaiju side (with the help of confidant Reno) from the government while trying one last time to pursue his application to the defense force—whose job is to kill creatures like him. The hidden identity / secret hero trope results in an extremely funny story despite the fighting and carnage.

Many anime main characters fall into one of two categories: the lonely, abused outcast or the strong, good-looking, determined hero. Kafka is neither of these. He is normal, a representative of most of us as ordinary people, slogging through a day job that is essential but not glorious, working hard, going home to dinner and tv and a messy home. He is not particularly good looking and is somewhat out of shape as he navigates the field tests for the defense force in his human form. Kafka’s appeal as the center of the show is his infinite relatability. His ordinariness dramatically changes by the end of the first episode as Kafka experiences a Kafkaesque metamorphosis of his own. But the show still feels like an allegory for all of our lives: changed by disaster but maintaining a sense of grace and humor under pressure.

Another appealing aspect of the show is the persistent presence of both humor and kindness as a contrast to the intense action and violence of the show. Kafka’s cynical jokes and occasional hysterics are balanced out by Reno’s loyalty and deadpan pragmatism. Kafka and Reno’s co-workers on the clean-up team tease each other but are ultimately supportive. Their fellow competitors in the defense force tryouts are initially cynical but become ultimately loyal and encouraging of Kafka.

Kaiju No. 8 benefits from a good ensemble cast. Although Kafka’s humorous struggles are the heart of the show, Kaiju No. 8 surrounds him with a memorable team, including Reno who constantly refers to Kafka as “sir” or “senpai” and becomes Kafka’s protector as the only one initially who knows about his kaiju transformation secret. Reno is a classic cinnamon roll hero who worries about being strong enough to protect those he cares about. Kikoru Shinomiya is an arrogant young candidate who acts like a spoiled princess but is by far the strongest fighter in their cohort. Super strong Aoi and mega-rich Haruichi develop a close friendship despite the significant differences in their backgrounds. All of the characters have their own backstories and internal struggles as they chase the dangerous duty of protecting their community.

In addition to great characters, Kaiju No. 8 is filled with heavy symbolism and metaphors that connect the fantastical story to the reality we all live in. The kaiju attacks are representative of real life disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, or the trauma of war. When a giant monster attacks and crushes buildings, people in neighboring areas calmly check their phones and speculate on which division will respond to manage things. The vibe feels like the arrival of FEMA after a hurricane or tornado. The potential for devastating loss is an accepted aspect of the characters’ lives. Kafka’s transformation into a kaiju symbolizes his transformation from a clean up worker to a fighter. Ironically, it is his background as a clean up worker that repeatedly gives him the intel needed to save his friends during critical moments. And, it is his innate internal strength and humanity that allow him to use the kaiju state for good instead of becoming a rampaging evil. The season ends in a powerful showdown that emphasizes these themes.

Overall, Kaiju No. 8 is an unexpectedly fun action-comedy with a nice balance of grim adventure and laugh-out-loud humor. The high-energy closing theme song, "Nobody" by OneRepublic captures the positive essence of Kafka and his friends. But the sharp character development is what will make the show appealing to so many people and have viewers binging and rewatching this hit series on Crunchyroll.


The Math

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

  • Laugh out loud humor
  • Intense action scenes
  • Relatable hero with a great ensemble cast

POSTED BY: Ann Michelle Harris – Multitasking, fiction writing Trekkie currently dreaming of her next beach vacation.