Feature Story
Art showing the titular beast from Kaiju No. 8 has the giant creature looming over a scene packed with people fleeing his approach. As our perspective is closer to his, they look like bugs.

Making a Mess in Kaiju No. 8

This is a feature story from Unwinnable Monthly #176. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


An extremely close-up detail of a frame from the anime Kaiju No. 8, perhaps showing a single scale of the beast.

Coming into the Kaiju No. 8 anime series as someone who was already a fan of the manga, I knew this show was going to be one of the most eagerly anticipated anime of the year. However, the reception to the first episode was kind of shocking: the “controversy” was over how a number of first-time viewers felt it was something of a bait and switch, some even calling it an outright letdown, and upon reflection I do get it, to a point.

Let’s get on the same page though about this show: In an alternate history Japan, kaiju have regularly invaded and devastated the country for centuries, so much so that there’s an entire military branch devoted to fighting the giant monsters. While getting accepted into the Anti-Kaiju Defense Force is a dream for many, not everyone has the physical aptitude for it. Those who come up short though can still contribute to the fight in other ways, such as cleaning up the giant remains of the deceased monsters. One of these cleaners is 32-year-old Kafka Hibino, a man who is content enough with his job of glorified garbage man, but is still depressed that he’s been unable to keep his promise to a childhood friend that they would defend their home from the monsters together.

Now, this premise on its own has enough promise that I can see why people were annoyed by what comes afterward. We don’t see many anime series about someone who has to learn that sometimes your dreams don’t come true, and that you have to learn to appreciate where your path has led. And hey, a show about the misadventures of a kaiju cleaner? That sounds entertaining enough, right? So, imagine the “surprise” that came to a lot of viewers where at the end the first episode, Kafka is “infected” by a small monster that transforms him into a kaiju, imbuing him with immense strength which allows him to go toe-to-toe with the giant monsters.

So . . . yeah, standard superhero/shonen fare. However, while I understand why this might not be what people wanted to see from this show, if you take a step back and view Kaiju No. 8 for what it is, it’s still a wonderfully refreshing series: this is a show about someone in their early 30s who finds out that their dream is still achievable, even if it’s by unconventional means. In an anime genre dominated by teenage protagonists, where it’s rare to see protagonists who attend college, having someone this old in the lead role hits in a way we don’t see that often.

The eponymous beast from Kaiju No. 8 stares forward while preparing an attack of blue electricity, its face resembling a grinning animal skull.

As someone who just turned 30, it doesn’t feel like a big deal at first, but when you stop to think about it, it’s a moment you have to take in. You know that everything hasn’t been set in stone, but you can see the sun on the horizon. Your 20s are the last “easy” decade you get: your body can still take most of the punishment you throw at it, if you’re in college you’re not only in an environment where you can learn a new profession, but it’s also the last time where socializing and making friends is straightforward. When you hit 30, it all starts to get harder. You gotta start taking care of yourself physically. While you can learn new skills, you’re no longer the freshest face there; you really start to notice for the first time just what people younger than you are capable of. And not only does it get harder to meet new people and make friends, your social circle gets smaller over time too as everyone has jobs, families and other priorities that leave less time for doing stuff that “doesn’t matter.” Kafka Hibino, despite gaining superpowers at the end of the first episode, starts out in a job he had to settle for, pretty much only socializes with his colleagues at work, and has to watch on the sidelines as his childhood friend achieves “their” dream all on her own.

This can sound like a basic power fantasy, sure, but unlike others of its genre, Kaiju No. 8’s fantasy isn’t about someone who’s never had an experience with power gaining it; it’s about someone who already tried and failed, yet has lucked into a second chance after experiencing what it’s like to have “the stuff.” The funny thing though is that Kafka’s humbling career is what sets him apart from his fellow kaiju fighters. He’s the oldest guy in the class that’s learning how to take down kaiju, and it’s not his physical abilities that earn him a spot in the squad (as he has to keep secret about his new powers, otherwise he’d be dissected by the higher ups); it’s what he’s already learned by being around deceased kaiju bodies up close, and working with a group. He’s the one person there who knows what it’s like to work as a supporting unit and help others who are more capable than he is, he’s someone who gets what it means to contribute in any way he can. He might’ve felt like he was doing nothing, but without that overlooked job of cleaning up the bodies of giant monsters, he probably wouldn’t get accepted into the defense force.

As for Kafka’s kaiju powers, they do look simple on the surface, but in context of the rest of the show, I can’t help but wonder about the name. “Kaiju Number 8” refers to kaiju so powerful that they’re given special recognition of being numbered, and when Kafka transforms, he registers as one of the strongest kaiju ever encountered. However, he doesn’t transform into a giant monster on par with Godzilla in size, he’s more like a 9-foot tall, demonic Power Ranger. He’s not exactly a kaiju as we know them in the modern context, but he’s still a monster to be reckoned with. My favorite scene from the second episode is when he “fights” a standard kaiju for the first time, and I put the word fight in quotes because all it takes is one punch from Kafka to turn the opposing giant monster into paste. It’s a great juxtaposition to where he was in the previous episode complaining about how much of a mess the defense force makes that he has to clean up: now, he’s the one with the power to make a mess all on his own. That said, it isn’t how powerful Kafka is compared to other monsters that I think earns him the title of “kaiju,” it’s what he’s like compared to his human colleagues.

Kaiju Kafka is now joined by two members of the Anti-Kaiju Defense Force, the three of them seemingly ready to take on all comers.

As I said earlier, your 30s are when you start to take note of what people younger than you can really do, and the greenhorns that train alongside Kafka immediately show why he couldn’t make the cut earlier. There are some truly terrifying teenagers and 20-somethings that make you feel like the country’s future has to be in good hands, only to find out later on that even this promising crop of freshmen is a result of desperation. The reason that the age requirement was raised (and gave Kafka one more chance to get in) is because of the turnover rate that results from fighting monsters. The younger generation is getting better at a frightening rate because it has to, and the people in the chain of command are hardasses because they’ve seen so many of their colleagues fall in battle. We have yet to find out if there is a reason why that small creature found and infected Kafka, but as it stands, it feels like a monster was “needed,” for humanity’s sake. Not only is Kafka’s alter ego something the country badly needs, but humans that are monsters in their own right are required for (this) Japan’s continued existence.

As much as I love Kaiju No 8, I won’t deny that it does still have shonen qualities that dampen down how much of a breath of fresh air it is (if a woman finds herself in trouble fighting giant monsters, there’s a 90% chance Kafka will show up in the right place at the right time to save her). And if you just want to call this basic wish fulfillment, I won’t stop you. But, as I enter that fourth decade of life, it is so, so nice to get a reminder that old dreams are still possible, even if it’s by means we couldn’t have imagined. There’s still plenty of time, even if you need to work harder than you ever have before. Youngsters might run rings around you now, but you can now teach them a thing or two. You might’ve aged out of getting into a robot, but you can still become a monster.


Van Dennis is a film school graduate and now part time writer living in Portland OR. When he’s not writing about movies, TV or videogames, he spends too much time on twitter stressing out about the seattle mariners. You can follow him on Twitter or Bluesky.


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