Top critical review
A thoroughly mixed bag.
January 15, 2017
This collection does have a few gems but it also has some major problems. The first issue is that almost all of these stories are dark and depressing. There are no Pacific Rim or Godzilla (2014) style stories in here. Even the few stories that have a less bleak outlook do not have any Godzilla or Nemesis like Kaiju. None of these stories gave me any monster I could cheer for. Now, I don’t mind dark stories or kaiju being portrayed as humanity’s destructors, but when I buy a collection as large as this I expect a variety of stories and themes rather than just the same bleak outlook over and over.
The far bigger problem though is that a good number of the stories in this book do not actually contain kaiju. When I bought “Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters” I expected that, at minimum, every story in this collection would at least fit the “kaiju” part of that title. Not only is this not the case, but one of the stories doesn’t even have any monsters in it. I am glad I didn’t find out about this collection until after the Kickstarter was over because if I had helped fund this book’s creation I would want my money back. That said, this book may still be worth buying if you know what you are getting going into it.
Fair warning, some very minor spoilers may lurk ahead.
Big Ben and The End of The Pier Show:
This Story is one of the good ones. It has some action scenes, and some good characters. It’s not really deep but it does touch on the unique economic issues present in a world where kaiju attacks are common.
This story is a tale of the futility of faith in gods or men in the face of a kaiju attack. Despite its somewhat heavy handed approach I enjoyed this story. It is well written and has a cool scene with the kaiju near the end.
Day of The Demigods:
The point of this story is basically a big jab at Hollywood. This is one of the few stories with a more upbeat tone, but it also has a plot with little connection to logic or sense, and is full of gross and vulgar imagery. I found this story a little fun to read but way more silly than I was looking for in a kaiju story, and there were a few parts that grossed me out.
The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island:
This story is set in a world where kaiju exist but are only visible to a small number of people. It is a pretty cool story with some deeper emotional themes. Even better it is the one of the few stories with a possibly non-evil kaiju.
This story is probably supposed to have a message about humanity or maybe faith, but it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. This is also the first of several stories that I think cheated their way into this collection. This isn’t a kaiju story. It does have a creature that could be called a kaiju in it, but it only shows up right at the end and doesn’t actually do anything “on screen” before being destroyed. This isn’t an awful story but it shouldn’t have been included in this collection.
One Last Round:
This is one of the Kaiju combat tie-ins in this collection. It is about a mech crew trying to keep their robot working while battling both kaiju and budget cuts. It’s a pretty good story and features some of the creative kaiju from the game as well as some new creatures.
The Serpent’s Heart:
This is a very good story. It is both well written and very interesting. Unfortunately, it isn’t a kaiju story. The monsters in this story are just ordinary sea serpents, and can be hurt or even killed by humans wielding swords and spears. Again, great story, but a monster that can be killed by a guy with a spear isn’t a kaiju.
This story features kaiju attacking earth under the orders of mysterious aliens. Unfortunately, the main character is an idiot who doesn’t understand that good intentions don’t justify sacrificing dozens of civilian lives in order to execute an irredeemably stupid plan. The “hero” of this story, in an attempt to spare a single life, trades a tried and true tactic for killing kaiju for a stupid plan that would increase the death toll by dozens if not hundreds even if it somehow managed to work perfectly. The hero is an idiot and the kaiju is barely shown so this story doesn’t really have anything worthwhile to offer.
This is an okay story, but it isn’t a kaiju story. There are kaiju in this story but they are some of the blandest and most generic creatures in this book, and they are barely even mentioned. This story is really about the mechs that were created to fight these monsters, and about the terrible cost society pays to make these machines work. I personally found the plot about the human “cost” of the mechs to be really contrived. Neither computers nor human brains work the way this story portrays them. Altogether though this story is decent, but it should have been in Mech Age of Steel rather than this collection.
The Greatest Hunger:
This is yet another story that seems to have added kaiju to a non-kaiju story just to fit in this collection. The kaiju in this story are weak and tiny, by kaiju standards, and they could have been replaced with ordinary animals and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the story at all. The story is actually pretty good but it is all about greed and the distinctions between being a monster in the physical sense or in the spiritual sense. Not that there are any really good people in this story; human or monster everyone is pretty cutthroat in this one. The problem is that it doesn’t spend any time at all on the kaiju. We only get vague descriptions of the monsters and even briefer descriptions of their battles. Even what descriptions we do get are mostly pointless since, as I said above, the kaiju are completely pointless in this story.
Same as the previous story. A decent tale of humanity’s flaws and virtues as seen through the lens of an extreme situation; with a kaiju tacked on so that it will fit in this collection. The monsters in this story are some kind of nature spirit things that demand human sacrifice. In my opinion these things don’t count as kaiju at all, but even if they did, you could shrink them down until they didn’t without changing the story at all. We never get to see them do anything, and they are magical in ways that makes their actual size irrelevant. So any kaiju traits they do or do not have are completely irrelevant to the overall story.
Devil’s Cap Brawl:
This story is one of the better ones. Set in the old west, it does contain some racial slurs, but this language, while nasty, is appropriate for the period. The monster in this story is a little wimpy, but overall the story is interesting and the monster’s design is very cool.
This story is told mostly from the perspective of some civilians after aliens and a kaiju arrive from another dimension. I liked this story because it took an idea that was just annoying in most of these other stories and made it into a clever plot point about the kaiju’s indestructibility.
Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea:
This is one of the best stories in this collection. Steampunk British conquerors vs. mystic Japanese kaiju, with a little kaiju on kaiju fighting thrown in the mix. This story is just awesome.
The Flight of the Red Monsters:
This story isn’t even close to meeting the definition of a kaiju story. While most of the other stories that arguably don’t belong in this collection at least included a kaiju somewhere, this story doesn’t have any kaiju at all. The “Red Monsters” are only about the size of a semi and they can be taken out by a bunch of civilians wielding IEDs. Not only does this clearly contradict the idea that these things deserve to be called kaiju, but it also undermines the premise that these monsters could actually be a real threat to human civilization. A squad of soldiers with RPGs could take a whole herd of them out; to say nothing of tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. This is not a kaiju story, and even as a B-movie horror story it fails to be even slightly credible or at all interesting.
This story doesn’t have a lot of action but it does have some interesting ideas. The monster design is Godzilla meets Lovecraft. This is an interesting premise and I would love to see more stories written on this idea.
With Bright Shining Faces:
Much like Heartland, this story tries to pass off supernaturally indestructible monsters with little to no other kaiju traits as actual kaiju. Also, much like Heartland the monsters only appear at the very end of story. Unlike heartland, the pre-monster parts of this story are not interesting or insightful. The entire story is just painfully obvious buildup to a disappointing climax.
The Banner of the Bent Cross:
Set during world war 2, this is a pretty good story with mythical monsters reimagined as kaiju.
Fall of Babylon:
This is probably the worst story in the whole collection. It is very offensive, particularly to Christian readers. I personally found this book more disappointing than offensive. While it is extremely offensive, the author had what could have been an interesting premise, the book of revelations playing out with kaiju, and then ruined it by purposely twisting the story to be as anti-Christian as possible. The author started with a good idea but a kaiju story that has pedophilic rituals as a key part of the hero’s plan has gone off the rails somewhere along the line.
Dead Man’s Bones:
This is a cool story of magic and undead monsters in world war 1. The monster is like a world war 1 version of Godzilla, in that it embodies the worst terror weapons of the day. The world building is also very good; quickly dropping the reader into a version of world war 1 fought with magic as well as weapons, and I would like to read more stories set in this world even if they didn’t included kaiju.
Stormrise: (Spoilers in this one)
This is probably the second worst story in the whole collection. This story doesn’t have a single kaiju in it. It can’t possibly have a kaiju because it doesn’t even have a monster in it. This story is like the backstory to Terminator if Skynet had decided it wanted to rule as a god rather than just wipe us out. This story is short, pointless, and delivers nothing that you would want from a kaiju story. The author’s few concessions to making this fit the definition of this collection are so minimal and lazy that they feel more like an insult to the reader’s intelligence than anything else. The closest this comes to being a kaiju story is one scene that is very obviously tacked on to the beginning where a large machine crashes into an oil platform. The AI also builds a body for itself, but it’s just a stationary tower that does nothing, and never gives any signs of being able to do anything. The worst part though has to be the ending. This story sets up the idea of a clash between two AIs (from the context this would probably be a digital clash not a physical one but I have seen other authors make cool stories out of battles in the digital realm so that alone wouldn’t have been a problem), but the story ends before that battle starts. The author teases the idea of two purely digital kaiju clashing and then ends the story without showing that or giving the reader any sense of closure.
This story is set in the aftermath of world war 2 and features American battle mechs against Japanese kaiju. This is a very cool story and this is another world I would gladly read more stories set in.
The Great Sea Beast:
This story is set in ancient Japan and is the tale of a disgraced samurai’s quest to slay a sea monster. Much like The Serpent’s Heart, this story is incredibly well written and engaging, but features a monster that can be killed by medieval weapons. Unlike the serpent though, the Sea Beast feels like an alien kaiju, instead of just a generic sea serpent. Although the monster is a little wimpy this is a pretty good story
Animikii vs. Mishipeshu:
This story is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand this story contains some of the best kaiju vs military and kaiju vs kaiju battles in this collection. On the other hand, this story has an incredibly heavy handed environmental message. While messages about humanity’s arrogance are a tradition in the kaiju genera, there does need to be some degree of subtlety. The main human character in this story might as well be a cackling captain planet villain, and the second half of the story left me with the impression that the author was trying to use ‘concrete’ as a pejorative.
The Turn of The Card:
This is the second kaiju combat tie-in in the collection. It’s a pretty good story. The only downside is that this story is pretty heavily dependent on the mythos of the game so anyone who doesn’t already know the game’s mythology will be a little lost if they don’t pay very close attention while reading this story.
As I said at the beginning, this collection has some good stuff but it is up to you if it the cost is really worth it for a collection with more misses than hits.