Kafka as a Kaiju in Kaiju No 8

Kaiju No. 8 Defies Expectations in the Best Way Possible

Each season always has that one title that everyone wants to watch and is hyped to hell and back for. Last season it was Solo Leveling, which initially met its lofty expectations but struggled after its first three episodes. This season’s most anticipated title is undeniably Kaiju No. 8 and while I’m a bit hesitant to fully commit to saying that it had the best premiere of the season (that honor would go to Go, Go, Loser Ranger) it was a pretty strong one. 

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But Kaiju No. 8’s premiere was strong in a way I wasn’t anticipating. For most major Shonen series, their premieres will usually feature some grand action spectacle or soaring emotional drama. I think back to the premieres of Jujutsu Kaisen and Demon Slayer and how they offer over-the-top melodrama to hook viewers in. But Kaiju No. 8 is the exact opposite. Instead of showing off the glorious monster battles that we’re almost certainly going to get in the series, we’re given a slower and more mundane introduction that is far more concerned with worldbuilding than action. 

Full disclosure – I have not read the manga for Kaiju No. 8, but I assume that the premiere is more or less faithful to the source material given the reactions I’ve seen online. In a world where giant monsters, aka kaiju, can randomly appear and lay devastation to Japan, you would think that our hero would be one of the Kaiju Defense Force that are responsible for putting them down. While our protagonist, Kafka Hibino, will eventually become one of these Defense Force operators, he’s nowhere near that by the end of the premiere. In fact, he’s on clean-up duty. 

Kafka as a cleaner in Kaiju No 8

Kafka’s an interesting protagonist for a Shonen series for a number of reasons, chief of all being his age. While most of the supporting cast we’ve met so far in the series are in their early to mid-20s and most Shonen heroes are usually even younger, it’s made abundantly clear that Kafka is old, at least relatively speaking. He’s 32 years old and has a career disposing of monsters after the Defense Force kills them. He gets along well with his co-workers, has an income, helps to mentor the new clean-up recruit Reno Ichikawa, and seems relatively content with his life. Sure, he wishes he could be a part of the Defense Force and he does have some regrets about failing the application exam numerous times, but he still is more or less okay with how his life has turned out. 

Most of the episode just follows Kafka as we see what it’s like in the life of a normal person in this world of monsters. People celebrate the Defense Force, but defeating monsters is just a common occurrence. And when these monster bodies are just lying on the ground decomposing, it only makes sense that we see how society rebuilds after an attack. Disposing of monster corpses has its own efficient system in place and the people in these areas don’t seem to mind being displaced for days, if not weeks, while the clean-up crew does their job. Of course, it’s still terrifying when a kaiju attacks, but the people who live in Kaiju No. 8’s world seem to have adapted pretty dang well to it. 

It makes me think of Universal’s recent Monsterverse movies and especially Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. While those series put all of the emphasis on the giant monsters and watching them fight, which is totally entertaining in its own way, it does tend to get kind of boring after a while. You can only watch giant monsters destroy cities for so long before you start to get bored. I didn’t think like this until I saw Godzilla Minus One, which had an incredibly strong character drama about survivor’s guilt and tying that into Godzilla’s rampage across Japan.

Even then, Godzilla Minus One, and the Monsterverse to a lesser extent, make it a point that these monster attacks are abnormal and not the norm. But in Kaiju No. 8’s world, when a giant monster attacks, it just comes across like this is just another day. So showing the mundane reality of this world only serves to make it more believable and not just another generic dystopic society living in constant fear of these monsters.

A Kaiju attacks in Kaiju No 8

For all of the trailers that showcase the action that will eventually come, the premiere had a surprisingly small amount of action. We see a giant monster battle in the first scene with a pretty large kaiju and we have a second, longer chase scene toward the end with a much smaller kaiju, but the episode is still lopsided in favor of establishing setting and character more than delivering the kind of action one would expect from a Shonen series. 

Truthfully, I’m all for it. We’ve seen plenty of times when a Shonen series tries to rush into the action as soon as possible and quickly establish their setting, only to struggle with more meaningful world-building later on. For as beloved as it is, Jujutsu Kaisen falls into this trap of trying to get to a lot of cool action scenes as quickly as possible at the cost of explaining how its world and power system work. Kaiju No. 8 is the exact opposite, prioritizing elements that will be more important in the long run rather than short-term satisfaction. We know that there are action scenes coming. The trailers, screenshots, and praise of the manga promise this, so it’s nice to see a Shonen action series that is perfectly content with taking it slow. 

I acknowledge that this may not be for everyone though. If you went into the premiere of Kaiju No. 8 expecting the kind of stellar animation that Production I.G is known for and several major battles to showcase what the series is capable of, you may be disappointed. But I get the sneaking suspicion that Kaiju No. 8 is a show that will definitely benefit from watching its first three episodes in one sitting. The episode ends with a cliffhanger of Kafka gaining kaiju-like powers yet retaining his humanity, with a stinger indicating that his former childhood friend, who is now one of the head officers of the Kaiju Defense Force, is on her way to eliminate him, unaware that this kaiju is actually her old friend. Then again, we know next to nothing about what happened to Kafka and her since their childhood, so there’s some anticipation regarding that as well. 

A childhood flashback in Kaiju No 8

No matter how you slice it, Kaiju No. 8’s premiere is unconventional, to say the least. You would expect a series that is getting such a huge push of publicity from Crunchyroll would take the safe route and deliver thrilling action scenes and a standard Shonen protagonist, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Kafka is unconventional, and taking an entire episode to focus on the most mundane elements of a world where giant monsters roam should put off anyone who expected an epic action series, and yet by taking the slower approach, it’s going to make those glorious action scenes all the better. So if you were put off by the slower and more character-focused intro, then at least give the show the three-episode rule because I can guarantee you that if this setup pays off, it’ll make Kaiju No. 8 the breakout title of the season.


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Author
Jesse Lab
Jesse Lab is a freelance writer for The Escapist and has been a part of the site since 2019. He currently writes the Frame Jump column, where he looks at and analyzes major anime releases. He also writes for the film website Flixist.com. Jesse has been a gamer since he first played Pokémon Snap on the N64 and will talk to you at any time about RPGs, platformers, horror, and action games. He can also never stop talking about the latest movies and anime, so never be afraid to ask him about recommendations on what's in theaters and what new anime is airing each season.