Unlike any other species of turtles, Gamera has the habit of walking bipedally rather than on all fours, though he occasionally walks quadrupedally in his first three films. Gamera was capable of using his upper limbs in the same manner as Godzilla, as his forelegs had appendages much closer in construction to hands than feet, and was capable of grappling with opponents and manipulating objects. His mouth is filled with teeth, unlike any living modern turtle (several types of extinct prehistoric turtles were toothed, however), with a pair of large tusks protruding upward from his lower jaw. Gamera is also usually seen with very large human-like eyes, adding intelligence to his overall appearance.
In the Shōwa series films, Gamera was a gigantic, prehistoric species of tortoise who fed on flames, reawakened by an accidental atomic blast in the Arctic during a dogfight between US and Russian fighters. The film mentioned that Gamera had appeared before, from pictographs depicting Gamera, and warning of his ability of flight. Gamera's original origins are largely unknown in the Showa era, as there is no indication that he was a mutation in his original film. Gamera was already capable of flight and breathed true flames, rather than radioactive energy when he was reawakened. And while it was known that he fed on flames (and even radioactive materials such as plutonium, much like his counterpart, Godzilla), no explanation for these powers was given. It was also left unexplained as to why he attacked most of humanity in general, yet spared the life of (and indeed actively saved) a young boy who became central to the original film's plot. This later led to him being referred to as the 'friend to all children in the world' in future films.
In the Heisei series films, however, the origin of Gamera was retconned, giving him a much more directly heroic themed origin: A bio-engineered guardian of the Earth created by the lost city of Atlantis with the purpose of defeating Gyaos, another ancient creation capable of killing all human life. The giant turtle is found floating adrift in the Pacific, encased in rock and mistaken for an atoll. Within the rock, investigators discover a large monolith explaining Gamera's purpose, as well as dozens of magatama, which allow a psychic link between Gamera and humans. In the third film of the Heisei era, an undersea graveyard is found with many other Gamera skeletons, suggesting Gamera was not the only member of his kind created by Atlantis. One character in the film refers to these skeletons as "beta versions" of Gamera, possible failures in Atlantis' attempts to create the final version. Another scene provides Gamera with a link to Asian folklore, with a character relating a story in which a giant tortoise is considered the Guardian of the North, with separate, rival creatures defending the East, West, and South.
Gamera's continuity was rebooted again in the first (and currently only) film of the Millennium series. The film begins with the "original" Gamera (whether this is intended to be the Gamera from the earlier Shōwa era series is unknown and unlikely, as the film mixes elements from both continuities) sacrificing himself to destroy a flock of Gyaos birds sometime in the 1970s. Decades later, a young boy finds a strange, glowing red rock near his home, with a small egg lying on top of it. A fairly normal looking baby tortoise soon hatches from the egg, but begins to grow at an alarming rate. The turtle, now named "Toto" by his child owner, also quickly develops Gamera's classic abilities to breath fire and fly, and attempts to ward off another attacking monster but is too weak to succeed. Only after eating the glowing rock found with its egg does the new Gamera achieve its full power, defeating its enemy and flying off into the sky.
Gamera made his first appearance in 1965's Gamera, which was also the only Gamera film to be in black-and-white. This film also was the last kajiu movie to be in black and white. Subsequent films, usually directed by Noriaki Yuasa and written by Nisan Takahashi, quickly became a big hit with children, who loved watching Gamera fight monsters Barugon, Gyaos, Viras, Guiron, Jiger, and Zigra. A seventh sequel was slated for a 1972 release, tentatively titled Gamera vs. Garasharp. Gross mismanagement of Daiei, however, put the company into bankruptcy, and the Gamera films were forced to cease production.
After Daiei was purchased by Tokuma Shoten in 1974, the new management wanted to do a new Gamera film in 1980, so Gamera: Super Monster was produced. The majority of the film used stock footage (with limited new scenes of Gamera flying), and acted as a "recap" of Gamera's history. However, Yuasa and Takahashi felt that they had done all they could with the monster, so they respectfully killed off Gamera at the end of the film.
Through the years, on both sides of the Pacific, fans of Gamera or Godzilla have debated which monster is better. The latter would generally be considered the victor, in that Godzilla was considered to have "higher standards" than Gamera, who was just a monster for kids. The giant turtle thus often became the object of ridicule, especially on the American TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, which lampoons B-movie's and featured five of the original seven Gamera films during their third season. It should be noted though that the series also featured and mocked two Godzilla films a year before.
The Heisei era Gamera films began with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. During the course of the first film, three Gyaos are discovered on a remote island. The Japanese government discovers that they are all female, and decides that since they are the last of their kind, they should be captured and studied. So a trap is set for them. Meanwhile, a search has been assembled for a moving atoll in the Pacific. They find it, staying still and searching the surface, finding many small gems made of an unknown metal. They also discover a stone sticking up out of the center of it, and they attempt to dig it out. They manage to take pictures and collect some of the strange gems, but the stone crumbles and the atoll takes off towards Japan at high speeds. It turns out that the atoll is actually an ancient guardian of Earth, made by the Atlanteans, called Gamera. He attacks the Gyaos, killing two, but one escapes. It feasts on the other newly born Gyaos and grows to Gamera-like proportions. The two battle and Gamera manages to defeat it, heading back to the seas.
In Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys, Gamera had to face hordes of Gyaos and the ultimate Gyaos, called Irys.Gamera: The Brave returns Gamera to his Shōwa era roots, but with a modern twist. In the film, Gamera is first seen defending Japan back in the '70s from the Gyaos, but sacrifices himself to destroy them by self-destructing. In the modern day, the child of a man who witnessed that battle finds a turtle egg that hatchs into a baby Gamera that he names Toto. When a lizard-like monster named Zedus appears, Toto tries to fight the beast, but ends up being gravely wounded and taken by the military for study. He ends up escaping and growing to a larger size to try and fight Zedus again, this time succeeding against the monster.
The idea of multiple Gyaos battling Gamera in the 1970s is a possible means of attempting to tie together the reboot of Gamera back to his Shōwa Era roots with the concepts seen in the first of the Heisei films, though it is also possible that Gamera battling multiple Gyaos in this film may simply have been because Gyaos is the only monster that has appeared in every era in film.
Gamera's shell is extremely resilient and strong. Missiles and other weaponry merely bounce off of it, along with most of his opponents' attacks. There have been a few times where his shell has faltered, most notably when Guiron hammered at the same spot several times and began cutting through. Gyaos' sonic Beam, Zigra's Paralyzing Beam, and Barugon's rainbow ray cannot penetrate Gamera's shell, shown in the films when he withdraws into his shell to avoid the attacks. Gamera's stomach, however, is softer and not as resilient, and he has been cut and gouged in his stomach to the point of bleeding (his blood is blue in the Shōwa era series, but green in the Heisei and Millennium era films).
In the Showa series, Gamera fed on fire and was attracted by other heat sources, such as power plants and Barugon's "rainbow" ray attack,and in his first movie he was lured to a rocket by fire . He could breathe intensely hot streams of flames from his mouth when caught in a more serious situation. The Heisei version, on the other hand, could blast off mighty plasma fireballs from his mouth, usually very quickly, and with varying accuracy; they were highly explosive. At the end of G1 Gamera absorbs fire and fires a "Super-powered" plasma fireball and in G2 he breaths in the oxygen produced by a Legion plant and fires an "Oxygen-Powered" plasma fireball. The Heisei version could also absorb a great deal of "mana", or the living essence and energy of life on Earth, and release an extremely powerful stream of pure plasma and fire from an opened, organic "cannon" in his chest. In the final film of the Heisei series, Gamera blasted his own arm off and absorbed plasma fireballs shot by Iris and used his stump arm to grow back his arm in a plasma form. Theoretically, he could do the same to other body parts as well. Seeing this, he has the ability to manipulate fire.
Of course, Gamera also has the ability to fly. Generally Gamera will pull his arms, legs, head, and tail into his shell, fire flames out of his arm and leg cavities and spin around like a frisbee. This mode of flight had an added advantage in the later films, where he would use the sharp edges of his shell to cut enemies while spinning, similar to a circular saw. He has a second way of flying, where he only pulls his legs and/or tail in, fires flames from the leg cavities, and flies like a jet. In the Heisei era films, Gamera's arms would extend and stretch out into wings similar to the flippers of a sea turtle while using this form of flight, giving him added aerodynamics and control.
The Heisei films gave Gamera one more additional weapon: a pair of sharp spikes protruding from his elbows. In his first Heisei era appearance, these spikes were hidden during the majority of the film, extending only when needed in battle. In later appearances they were permanently extended.
When seriously or gravely injured, Gamera can enter a coma-like state in order to heal. This often fools his opponents into thinking that he is dead. This ability has been used in almost every Gamera film.
Gamera's only major weakness is cold. The monster Barugon was able to achieve success against Gamera using his freezing spray, and scientists nearly defeated Gamera during his first appearance using special freezing bombs. This weakness was only shown in Gamera's earliest films, and has not been explored since.
ComicsDark Horse Comics published a four issue miniseries based on Gamera called Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe in 1996.
Gamera has also made an appearance in Akira Toryama's Shonen Jump Manga, Dragon Ball, considerably smaller than he is portrayed in films or comic books. He is seen after being summoned to help the Muten Roshi traverse the ocean to Fry-Pan Mountain in volume 2.
(All) Gameraaaaaaaaaa! Gameraaaaaaaaaaaaa!
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