1973’s 'Godzilla vs Megalon' is my favorite showa era Godzilla movie. It’s not a particularly great movie in the classical sense but there is some impressive camera work, and the detail in the kaiju costumes is standard Toho excellence, but the plot is clunky and the characters are annoying. I don’t really like Megalon, I think the Seatopian costumes are incredibly stupid, and Hiroshi the racecar driver makes me irrationally angry for reasons I can’t quite explain. But it’s my favorite, because it introduced me to my favorite monster. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Jet Jaguar.
In the early 70’s there was big craze for giant robots/tokusatsu heroes, brought on by shows like Ultraman and Mazinger-z. Something about giant metal people punching the shit out of weirdo monsters really resonated with the kids, they couldn’t get enough of it. Toho saw this and wanted in. In 1972, they held a contest for fans to design a new hero for a new movie and eventually a tv show. The winning submission was a drawing of a robot named Red Alone. Toho tweaked the design a bit to distance it from Ultraman and christened him Jet Jaguar, the greatest and truest hero Japan had ever seen. He even got his own theme song, which happens to be the greatest song ever written. They put a lot of thought into this, really pushed Jaguar to be the next big sensation. But they weren’t totally confident in him. Toho wasn’t sure that a brand new, completely unknown character would be able to carry the film on his own. So, with a few small rewrites Toho added Jet Jaguar to the wildly popular Godzilla franchise with the title 'Godzilla vs Megalon'.
The film follows inventor Goro Ibuki, his nephew (or kid brother, depends on who you ask) Rokuro, and their friend Hiroshi Jinkawa. Goro has been working on a brightly colored robot named Jet Jaguar (for some reason...He never explains why, and no one asks). Goro’s lab is ransacked by agents of the subterranean civilization Seatopia, who aim to steal JJ so that he can guide their personal monster rhinoceros beetle Megalon so that he can destroy the earth, starting, of course, with Tokyo. They manage to take control of JJ’s computer control console and successfully lead Megalon to Japan, but Goro regains control of Jaguar, and sends him to go get Godzilla to defeat Megalon and save the world, but mostly Japan (Again). JJ returns with Goji, and reveals that somewhere between here and Monster Island, he reprogrammed himself and can now grow to kaiju size. He then floors Megalon with one punch! Knocks him right dead in the jaw. The Seatopians realize that this might not go their way, and call the M Space Hunter Aliens from the previous film and ask if they can borrow Gigan, who comes right away for some reason. He lands, Godzilla punches him right in his stupid beak mouth, and the fight really kicks off.
So when we first meet him, Jet Jaguar is 5’ 11”, weighs three hundred pounds, and is capable of flight. He’s equipped with a kind of learning computer that allows him to alter his programming on the fly (buh-dum-tish) to the point of giving himself limited sentience and somehow granted himself the ability to grow to incredible size, to better drop-kick the bad guys. In the film, he grows to 50m, equal to Goji, Megalon, and Gigan. He also learns japanese, though he can only respond with an enthusiastic thumbs-up. He has a vast knowledge of hand-to-hand combat, though instead of the semi-traditional judo, JJ seems to have learned all his moves from professional rasslers. He chops! He kicks! He sets up Goji for team attacks! He snaps Gigans goddamn arm! Seriously! Breaks it at the elbow on his knee! And then he lifts Gigan over his head and tosses him straight up in the air so Goji can hit him with atomic breath. Keep in mind, showa Gigan weighs around 25,000 tons.
It’s a tough fight (that feels a little long), but Goji and JJ come out on top. Gigan bails and returns to space, they beat the living shit of Megalon, the Seatopians give up, and JJ returns to a quiet life until he is called upon again to defend the good people of world in a weekly series that unfortunately never happened. We actually didn’t see much of Jaguar after that until the 'Godzilla Island' tv show in the late nineties.
He was featured in various video games, most recently in the PS4 game 'Godzilla' which came out in 2015. The game demonstrates his impressive speed and agility; he’s able to easily outflank his opponents and pull off somersaults and backflips. He also takes off his forearm and fires a laser beam. And that's pretty neat. He’s also a major character in IDW’s Godzilla: Rulers of Earth comic series where he’s beaten everyone up at least once. He’s laid out enhanced Gigan, knocked Goji out with a single punch, he even beat Destroyah, after big D beat Goji handily, though he did have to use Kiryu’s absolute zero cannon.
So yeah, he’s surprisingly powerful and could have been placed as a sort of liaison between humans and monsters. He’s a real missed opportunity, given what he represents. He’s the first time in the Tohoverse that humanity builds a weapon that can really defend us from the monsters that seem to show up on at least yearly basis. We had Godzilla, but he just kind of….showed up whenever he felt like it. He always came to Japan on other business. Mothra likes us, but I feel like she likes the fairies more, and maybe she just fights bad guys cuz the fairies ask her to real nicely. And Anguirus is, let’s face it, kind of a follower. Jet Jaguar is genuinely on our side. He loves us, he’s one of us, born right down here among human society. He can see these threats from a human perspective. He can actively try to mitigate collateral damage, which is a big deal, the national economy must tank every time some radioactive cockroach climbs the Tokyo Tower. He would have been a huge asset in studying these creatures. The level of technology that went in to him, assuming Goro would be willing to replicate it, could have revolutionized the world. This robot learned how to change its size! Goro accidently discovered the Pym Particle! With the ability to shrink and enlarge things, space doesn’t become quite so big an issue in an overcrowded place like Japan. And the implications of a machine making decisions, teaching itself new things seemingly out of nowhere, are almost frightening. Had they kept Jet Jaguar around, Toho could have been sitting on a cyberpunk dystopia waiting to happen. Just imagine grinning, primary-colored police, arresting Godzilla for wearing a leather jacket and wrap around sunglasses, and everything’s lit by neon lights….
I’m holding out for Jaguars return. With comics and video games, he’s finally getting the respect he deserves. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a dark and gritty JJ, made from the bones of Goro’s dead nephew (or kid brother), powered by the souls of the victims of Hiroshima, armed with the oxygen destroyer, and also he’s a zombie, with a cocaine addiction that's tearing his family apart. Or maybe not. Maybe a dimensional portal will transport JJ from Showa into our darkest timeline and he can be horrified at his big scaly friend’s new look. He shakes his hand, it falls off. I’ll let you all know which genius idea Toho buys from me.