The Vault of Error: Attack of the Super Monsters
Anime heroes vs. rubber-suit dinos!
By Paul Thomas Chapman
Like Emperor Tyrannus, the supreme commander of the super dinosaurs, my editor Patrick Macias is a master of mesmerism. It’s the only explanation for how some of the silly things that Patrick does on the Internet have such a profound effect on my conscience. In 2011, he published a video on YouTube entitled “Bring Me the Head of Mechagodzilla," in which Patrick and fellow uber-otaku Matt Alt perused the tokusatu props in the private collection of special effects artist / director Tomoo Haraguchi. And thus my damnation began…
One of these props was the Polar Borer, a vehicle from a film called The Last Dinosaur. One glance and I was hooked. I couldn’t stop thinking about the Polar Borer: its blunt, cylindrical design; its over-sized drill bit; the poetry of its name, so functional and descriptive, and yet also strangely musical. For weeks I lay awake in a feverish sweat, muttering “Polar Borer, Polar Borer, Polar Borer” to myself as the hours stretched and sleep became an impossibility. Ultimately, I acquired a copy of The Last Dinosaur from the Warner Archive, and it was everything I wanted it to be—drill bits and dinosaurs and a drunken Richard Boone.
Then in 2014 on his Facebook page, Patrick riffed on the new Jim Jarmusch film, Only Lovers Left Alive, by posting cryptic pictures of rubber dinosaurs rather than pictures of stylish vampires. He tweaked the title to read Only Aizenborg Left Alive, and once again I was trapped in Patrick’s fiendish psychic web. It was the Polar Borer incident all over again, only this time I was drawn inexorably into viewing the dinosaur / drill bit assault on the senses that is Attack of the Super Monsters.
Some context: from October of 1977 to June of 1978, Tokyo 12 Channel broadcast Dinosaur War Aizenborg, a visual oddity mixing animation from Studio DEEN with special effects and suit-mation from Tsuburaya Productions. Aizenborg is half Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, half Thunderbirds. It’s a peculiar mash-up in which the cartoon protagonists pilot live-action model ships in hellacious combat against the aforementioned rubber dinosaurs. All that is strange enough, but the actual plot of the show—which involves an underground empire of dinosaurs led by Dinosaur Satan and a brother / sister cyborg team that can meld into a single gender-bending super form—is even stranger. Strangest of all is that in 1982 some company called Associates Entertainment International published a compilation movie condensing the highs (and lows) of 39 episodes of Aizenborg into the film known in the United States as Attack of the Super Monsters.
Attack of the Super Monsters is an exercise in the bizarre, and not just because of the jarring combination of traditional animation and tokusatsu special effects. It’s startling because there’s some real talent brought to bear in the English voice work—including such veteran voice actors as Cam Clarke, Dan Woren, and Mike Reynolds—and everyone delivers their lines with great sincerity. It’s odd because the dialog, while a bit stilted and clearly rewritten for an American audience, provides a surprising degree of technical detail when describing the mad science at work in the film. And even the watered down version of Attack of the Super Monsters is shockingly violent.
In the opening reel of the film, a plague of mind-controlled canines prompt a security guard to exclaim: “All the dogs in this sector have turned into red monsters!” The dogs then savagely devour the guard. Hordes of giant bats swoop down upon the unsuspecting populace. A fire-breathing tyrannosaur stomps on a school full of screaming children. The Gemini team’s first battle with the hyper-evolved dinosaurs from the underground empire concludes with the human heroes using a giant saw blade to slit the monster’s throat. The mortally wounded dinosaur suffers a moment of clarity before slumping lifelessly to the ground, and then it explodes for no reason in a hellish conflagration, because apparently that’s what dinosaurs do when they die. Never mind that the stated goal of the dinosaurs is the wholesale slaughter of humanity, a goal that they pursue with gusto as they shout: “Crush! Kill! Destroy!”
This was all packaged and marketed as good, clean family entertainment.
You know, for the kids.
The Eighties were rife with this sort of thing. North American film and home video distributors ran roughshod over Japanese live-action and anime titles, sanitizing and localizing them mercilessly in an effort to remove any trace of their country of origin. This was the era that gave us Magnos the Robot, Ninja the Wonder Boy, Fugitive Alien, and Roger Corman’s take on Galaxy Express. It gave us the Clash of the Bionoids version of Macross: Do You Remember Love and the Warriors of the Wind cut of Nausicaä. It also gave us Attack of the Super Monsters, and for that we should be grateful, lest we as fans should become too complacent. We now live in an era of online streaming and simulcasts, where the hottest new shows are available for the consumption of Western audiences at the click of a mouse-button. But that’s not how it used to be, and movies like Attack of the Super Monsters remind us of our humbler beginnings. They remind us of a time when bowdlerization was the name of the game.
And Attack of the Super Monsters reminds me of The Last Dinosaur, since the same goofy rubber tyrannosaurus features prominently in both.
Damn it, Patrick Macias. You’ve done it again. Your social media reign of terror has destroyed my mind, killing off all of my other obsessions, with only Aizenborg left alive.
Distributor: Associates Entertainment International
Originally released: 1977
Running Time: 83 minutes
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