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The Monsters of MM9

MM9 is out now! some of our contest winners have already received their books, and we’re getting great word-of-mouth. To add to the fun, we asked author Hiroshi Yamamoto if we could reprint the essay from his Japanese website on the topic of the MM9 universe, and the giant monsters—or kaiju—we all love. MM9 translator Nathan Collins translated the essay also added some handy annotations for non-Japanese. Check it out!

The World of MM9

by Hiroshi Yamamoto
translated and with annotations by Nathan Collins

This is a world just like ours except for one difference—kaiju. Periodically, giant monsters attack populated areas and leave many victims. In this world, destructive kaiju are considered natural disasters, the same as earthquakes or typhoons.
In Japan, a section of the Meteorological Agency known as the Monsterological Measures Department, or MMD, stands against the Kaiju threat.

The men and women of the MMD never fire weapons, as battling the kaiju is the role of the Japan Self-Defense Force. Instead, the MMD’s cause is to prevent disaster, by hurrying to the scene, uncovering the monsters’ true nature, exploring potential countermeasures, and predicting the paths of the kaiju.

Their work is thankless, with heavy criticism from the outside world, as inaccurate forecasts sometimes lead to people ending up in harm’s way. But their efforts have undoubtedly saved the lives of many Japanese.

MM stands for Monster Magnitude, a scale of kaiju size. Any monsters over MM5 pose a natural threat to humanity, and upon nearing a populated area may be terminated unconditionally.

MM8 signifies a body volume equivalent to 1,600 to 4,000 tons of water. In the archetypal bipedal reptilian monster, this would equal a body length of between 40 and 50 meters. The largest recorded kaiju in history was an MM8.9.

An MM9-class kaiju has never been confirmed by modern monsterological science, only mentioned within ancient legends and unreliable eyewitness accounts.

***

The seeds for this story came over twenty-five years ago, from a silly conversation I was having with a friend, who was a tokusatsu [live-action movies and TV featuring special effects] genre geek.

The question came up: “Who names kaiju, anyway?”

Week in and week out, new kaiju appeared in tokusatsu TV shows like the Ultra Series. Some of the giant monsters were named for reasons made apparent in the episode, for example: Kurumanikurasu hated cars [kurima = car; nikumu = to hate] or Gomes’s scientific name was Gometeus. But other names seemed to have just been doled out to the creatures.

Take Kaiteigagan from Ultraman Ace. There’s no scene where the monster is named, yet everyone calls it Kaiteigagan. Who gave it a name like that? Yapool [the series’ antagonist]? Someone in the TAC [Terrible-Monster Attacking Crew]?

Then the answer popped into my head: “It’s gotta be the Meteorological Agency.”

In a world where kaiju appear every week, the people would surely regard the monsters as though they were natural disasters. A kaiju forecast might even be broadcast at the end of the evening news. The first kaiju of the year would be called Kaiju One and eventually be assigned a name. Talking about it, my friend and I became animated.

I always kept that silly discussion in the back of my mind, wanting to use it in some form, some day.

The other hint for my story came from a doujinshi [self-published] series called M-HUNTER. In the world of M-HUNTER, giant monsters and space aliens were commonplace (although there’s no Ultraman). The stories follow the Hunters, who specialize in the capturing and killing of kaiju, and I enjoyed seeing familiar kaiju appear in unexpected roles.

M-HUNTER inspired me to want to write more, but the series had well covered the kaiju hunter setting. Then I realized I could write not about the people who killed kaiju, but rather about the people whose jobs were to counteract the monsters.

This novel, MM9, is a heavily-revised compilation of serialized short stories originally published in the mystery periodical Mysteries!

When I first proposed the stories to my editor, I was turned down. The editor said, “This is a mystery magazine.” Accepting that, I made my next submission more mystery-like.

But soon after, I received the issue and was surprised at what I saw. They had printed a mystery with a time machine by Taku Ashibe, and a science fiction piece with a robot by Hiroe Suga!

When I protested, “Why are time machines and robots acceptable but not kaiju?” I was given the okay without any further trouble. You never know until you ask. Thusly I accomplished the heroic feat of getting a kaiju story into a mystery magazine.

At the time, I only had two stories conceptualized. As I tried to come up with more, I was really worried about what I would do. I ended up writing each piece while still thinking of the plot ahead.

For some time I had been dissatisfied with the dearth of kaiju fiction, especially when compared with the large number of kaiju movies and kaiju fans. Even among light novels, kaiju are rare—even though the novels are filled with main characters using superpowers or supernatural abilities to defeat monsters, and with giant robot battles.

What surprised me when talking to people from the generation after me—people who grew up in the 80s and 90s—was that they felt almost no connection to the Ultra Series or kaiju. Having never watched the real thing, their knowledge of kaiju or Ultraman comes only from The Science Fiction Textbook [a popular book series examining the science of science fiction works]. So to them, kaiju seemed ridiculous.

Tokyo turned into a sea of fire by the first Godzilla, Tokyo Tower snapped apart by Mothra, Fukuoka devastated by Rodan, the pure cool of King Ghidrah’s destructive beam, the horror of Hedorah, and the great tornado summoned by Seamons and Seagoras…Any who never experienced these scenes on the tube or the screen can’t possibly imagine the sense of wonder contained within those moments, and how they excited us and filled us with fear.

Kaiju are ridiculous? Then so are giant robots and super powers and time travel and the sinking of Japan! Aren’t silly settings entertaining because they are written with a serious approach?

As I wrote, the biggest questions I had yet to answer were: “Why do giant monsters exist when science states they shouldn’t?” and, “Why is the history of this world exactly like our own?” A world where kaiju have always existed couldn’t possibly have exactly the same history as ours. But I had decided to write the story with a straight approach, and I didn’t want to ignore those points.

That’s why I introduced the fictional parallel anthropic principle, which ended up being very useful. I was happy myself when everything held together through the end.

[Warning: the following are notes on each section of the book and will be best enjoyed after reading. Plot spoilers ahead!]

Part 1: Crisis! Kaiju Alert!
A SDF submarine collides with a kaiju in the waters of Ogasawara. The kaiju—possibly an MM9—is confirmed heading for eastern Japan. If the monster is allowed to reach land, Japan could see devastation equal to the great disaster of 1923. Ryo Haida and the MMD Mobile Unit hurries to the kaiju’s location.

This is the first story, a simple introduction to the setting and our characters. After I wrote this, I read Hiro Arikawa’s The Bottom of the Sea, and became depressed by the overlap between our stories. To make things worse, hers was more interesting.

Part 2: Danger! Girl at Large!

A twenty-meter-tall girl has appeared near Gifu City—she is Kaiju Six, codenamed Princess. She can’t understand our speech and is too large to hold in custody. The MMD agonizes over whether to give the order to kill. Meanwhile, a cultist plot lurks behind the scenes.

The seed for this story came from Ultraman Tiga’s “Monster Zoo.” I hated that episode, hated it. It made me think, “If you have that useful a power, why didn’t you ever use it on other kaiju!”

[In “Monster Zoo,” a giant mutated mole-rat kaiju appears at a zoo, but is seemingly docile. GUTS forces, taking pity on the creature, decide not to kill the kaiju until the creature makes an aggressive move. At nightfall, the kaiju’s eyes turn red and its fangs grow, and the giant monster turns violent. Ultraman Tiga battles the kaiju, but as he is about to deliver the killing blow, Officer Rena yells for him to stop. Tiga then sends out a cellular transformation beam that tames the kaiju and shrinks it down to normal size. The creature joins the other animals in the zoo.]

I like that they approached the issue, but I think you mustn’t run away from the conclusion. Creatures that endanger the lives of many must be killed, no matter how tragic it seems. Actually, the episode of Ultraman Taro with King Tortoise and Queen Tortoise takes on this theme with more sincerity (even if the ending is fairy tale).

[The two kaiju and their offspring are victim to poachers and betrayed by the military, but in the end, Ultraseven is able to bring the only two survivors, King Tortoise and Mini Tortoise, to a safe place in outer space.]

Another inspiration was C.L. Cottrell’s novelette, “Danger! Child at Large.” It’s one of my favorite SF works, a suspenseful story about a young girl with incredible super powers who escapes a secret military lab. The title to this section is a reference to this novelette.

At first, I had a different ending for this section, but as I developed Princess’s tale, I realized I could use her to foreshadow the final story. I know I’ll get criticism that I’m “too soft,” or that I’m a “writer of convenience,” but I find the story believable, and I hope the exciting finale will earn me forgiveness from my readers.

I made Gifu City the setting because I went there with my family when I was invited to a science-fiction convention. The Mobile Unit first encounters Princess behind the hotel where we stayed.

Part 3: Menace! Attack of the Flying Kaiju!
In early 2006, a kaiju flies to Japan across the Sea of Japan—Kaiju One, Glowbat. Because the monster is only a MM1.5, the MMD are off guard. But a shocking discovery reveals that this kaiju is not going to be easy to deal with. Meanwhile, Ryo is off-duty, enjoying an evening with his date…

I wrote this story specially for the novel.

I had four elements I wanted to include when writing this piece:

1) Ryo is supposed to be the main character, but he doesn’t stand out, so make the story feature his efforts.

2) Write about the daily lives of the members of the MMD, which I hadn’t been able to get to in the serials.

3) Present a flying kaiju.

4) Explain to the reader that the world contains not only kaiju but yokai.

Putting those four elements together, I got the story of Ryo, off-duty, getting drawn into a kaiju incident.

In truth, through each installment of this series, I put less thought into how each kaiju would be defeated as I did into how to make it difficult to defeat each kaiju. If the SDF were able to launch an all-out attack, a smaller kaiju would be defeated easily. In order to make the stories more interesting, I needed to create situations where they couldn’t be attacked without due care. The same is true in this section as in part two with Princess, part four with Megadrake, and part five with XXXXXX.

Glowbat is a kind of kaiju that used to appear frequently but has recently not been given much screen time in Japanese TV shows. I wanted to at least give it a place in the novel. I pictured Glowbat not as live-action costume kaiju but rather a Harryhausenesque stop-motion animation monster.

Also, I was allowed to tour the back halls of The National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno, which was a great help in the writing of this section. For security purposes, I’ve changed the layout a little bit from the real version.

Part 4: Scoop! Twenty-Four Hours with the MMD!

A documentary crew comes to the MMD. Chief Kurihama is worried about making a mistake on camera. From Suita, Osaka come reports Kaiju 5, Megadrake, from Suita, Osaka.

From the start I had the idea to have a TV crew come in. I also needed this section to insert an explanation of the parallel anthropic principle through Yuri’s dialogue.

But I had some struggle coming up with the concept for the kaiju itself. After all, an unconventional monster would be more interesting. Then I had the thought that not there haven’t been many notable plant kaiju, and I created Megadrake.

Before I started writing the story, I tried to draw the monster to solidify an image in my head.


Megadrake!

Normally, the focus of plant kaiju is on the aboveground portion, but I went the opposite route and made the roots take the majority of the kaiju’s body. I thought of the design so it could be made into a kaiju suit and worn, not that the decision mattered for anything. I didn’t retain the mandrake form, but well, kaiju are like that.

I wanted to scout for locations for this section, but I didn’t have time for a scouting trip, and instead made do with the area around the Midosuji Line’s Esaka Station, only a twenty-minute walk from my house. It felt good to destroy a place I knew well.


Part 5: Arrival! The Colossal Kaiju of the Apocalypse!

A MM9-class many-headed dragon is discovered dormant beneath the ground on Kojin Island in the Seto Sea. Is the monster the legendary Yamata-no-Orochi? Faced with the impending danger of unprecedented catastrophe, the MMD goes on full alert, while a mysterious organization makes its move. The curtain rises upon a great kaiju battle to determine the fate of the world!

This is the final section.

The novel had heretofore been limited because I couldn’t let the kaiju go on too big a rampage. One of the kaiju causing great damage would mean a defeat for the MMD.

But thinking that the climax needed a colossal kaiju running amok, I ended up with this story.

I had the idea from the beginning of the series that the final kaiju would be Yamata-no-Orochi [an eight-headed dragon of Japanese myth], but when I tried to draw what the monster looked like, I couldn’t come up with anything good.

When I went to design the kaiju, I imagined King Ghidrah, but the monster’s elegant design relied on the balance of its giant wings. Without the wings, the kaiju’s torso was too long and appeared lacking. When I thought about it, I realized that The Birth of Japan [a 1959 fantasy epic featuring a battle between Susano-o (Toshiro Mifune) and Yamata-no-Orochi] and The Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon [a 1963 animated feature film] almost exclusively depicted Yamata-no-Orochi’s necks, and almost never showed the monster’s full body. But with wings, the Orochi would simply be King Ghidrah.

After much worry, I revised the plot to contain a kaiju that looked like Yamata-no-Orochi but was different. After dozens of sketches, I placed something besides wings on the kaiju’s back, providing balance and impact to the design. For the monster’s backstory, I stitched together pieces of Japanese lore and biblical stories and Greek legend [and a dash of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu!], but I’m personally pleased with my preposterous explanation of Susano-o and the slaying of the giant serpent.

I scouted the location for the last battle, Kobe Port Island, just before the amusement park was closed down. As I wrote in the book, the park closed in March, 2006, and is currently being torn down.

Other References
I wouldn’t go so far as to call MM9 an homage to the Ultra Series, but there are homages to that and other special-effects works scattered throughout. Almost every mention of a historical kaiju attack references something.

For example, the Great Kanto Kaiju Disaster of 1923 was of course modeled on Godzilla. Eve was from Reptilicus, Eugene from Gorgo, Ray from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Glenn from The Amazing Colossal Man, Allison from The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Arnold from Tarantula, and Niuhi from Gamera vs. Jiger. I’ve mixed together bits and pieces from the kaiju and special-effects movies I’ve seen, including Them!, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Deadly Mantis, Ultra Q, Spectreman, and on and on. Note that for purposes of the novel, the dates of each kaiju’s appearance don’t match up with each film’s release date.

As for the names of the author Hideyo Tomono or Dr. Akihiko Inamoto, anyone who is a special-effects fan will immediately know who they are. [Actors Hideyo Amamoto and Akihiko Hirata, perhaps?]

But this kind of pastiche is not only for fun. I think if you read to the end, you’ll see the book has meaning. At the very least, I’m extremely satisfied with what I was able to write.

This is love!

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Loups-Garous—Teen Girls Who Actually Do Stuff

Loups-Garous is probably one of our more challenging titles. it’s a mix of SF and mystery in the Japanese mode, with endless tiny elements slowly coming together to create a major total and final effect. In the past I’ve described it as a 600-page haiku. At the same time , however, it’s about a handful of teenage girls—a super-genius; one who dresses all in pink, even down to her contact lenses; an illegal immigrant martial artist; a poor li’l rich girl; and…well, that last one is a spoiler. And they don’t spend all their time talking about boys either.

So, intense and thoughtful social satires written with an avant-garde rigor, but featuring teenybopper protagonists…how does one “slot” that in the marketplace? Our friends at The Innsmouth Free Press, an online magazine of Lovecraftian fiction, has a suggestion in its positive review of our book!

I heartily recommend it to parents with teenagers. It’s bound to produce more interesting dialogue than “Who does Bella love: Edward or Jacob?” Hell, at least there’s a super-genius hacker girl who does stuff. A hell of a lot better than smelling tasty.

Well parents? You have your orders! Go save your children from Twilight with a little Loups-Garous!

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“Spherical Geomtery” by Ken Asamatsu

Haikasoru is, of course, your ultimate source for Japanese SF in translation, but we’re always happy to see others taking up the charge. I was tickled to read “Spherical Geometry” in the new anthology Cthulhu’s Reign. As the title suggests, the story isn’t actually about Cthulhu but instead riffs on “The Hounds of Tindalos” by Frank Belknap Long. “Hounds” is both a classic in that it introduced the fun and frightening concept of time-spanning monsters from another dimension that can enter any room with an angle—and it’s a piece of hackwork because the climax involves this sentence that was supposedly written down by a character as he died:

Smoke is pouring from the corners of the wall. Their tongues—ahhhh—

If only Long had been writing in the age of tape recorders or webcams!

Anyway, Asamatsu’s book uses the same monsters and gives it a wonderful Japanese spin. As one character explains, “The black magicians of the West treasured the pentacle because it held five angles. The mandalas of the East were round, curves without angles…The ancient Chinese knew the esoteric meaning of triangles, and so named the triangle formed by the triangle of Sirius the ‘Evil Stars’ for just that reason.”

Also, Asamatsu wisely observed that if the Earth were ever besieged by angle-traveling monsters, Tokyo’s City Hall would be in beeeeg trouble:


Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Angular enough for ya?

It’s a cute story with a goofy ending, though not nearly as goofy as Long’s original. If you’re interested in J-horror, I’d recommend giving “Spherical Geometry” a look…if your eyes can stand it!

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Who is the King in Yellow?

“Then let us call it by a different name. The good of the Hero shall be called the ‘hero’ as you have always thought of it. And the dark side of the Hero, that which is evil, shall be called the ‘King in Yellow.'”

—from The Book of Heroes

Sound familiar? It may. The King in Yellow is one of the most intriguing persons, no, it’s a two-act pla—nooo…well, what is the King in Yellow? Well, for one thing it is the title of a collection of short stories by Robert W. Chambers. Chambers was once a very popular writer but today only his fantastical material is still in print, thanks in part to the enigmatic King, who has served as a muse of sorts to many since. Within the stories of The King in Yellow, there are two identifiable kings. The first king is a play in two acts by that name. And it’s a doozy:

It is well known how the book spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent,barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit, censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked.

—from “The Repairer of Reputations”, by Robert W. Chambers

Actually, we’re told, the first act is all right. A little boring, even. The second act though, if you manage to sit through it, will render you completely insane enlightened insane. (Well, there’s some controversy on this point.)

And the king is also a supernatural figure associated with rulership, madness, the fine and practical arts, and a certain bohemian dabbling in the unknown and unusual. There’s little more than a few hints as to the aspects of the play and the king in the stories, but they were popular enough, and tantalizing enough, to gain a measure of literary immortality. H.P. Lovecraft made a few references to the King—and to the related Yellow Sign, an especially persuasive seal for those in the know—and some mistakenly believe the King to be a Lovecraftian invention. Alexander O. Smith, who translated The Book of Heroes for us, called me one day to say, “The King in Yellow is from Lovecraft.” “Robert W. Chambers, ack-chew-ally,” I said, because I’m not above such pulp snobbishness.

Once out in the world, there was no limiting the King. Much like the diabolical play, he pops up everywhere. Here’s a photo of him hanging out in Portland earlier this month at the H.P. Lovecraft film festival:

Photo by Sarah L. Gerhardt of She Never Slept, with permission. Note the baby Cthulhu and the Yellow Sign banner.

See, the King clearly hasn’t quit show business.

The King has appeared in many other stories, songs, and games though even Wikipedia’s list is not exhaustive. One of my favorite allusions is in the title of the short story by Haikasoru friend and Otsuichi fan Briane Keene, author of “The King, In: Yellow.”

So I was thrilled when The Book of Heroes came in and I saw that the King played a role. Miyuki Miyabe’s fantasy for children isn’t as horrific as Chambers or Lovecraft of course, but her novel does take a good look at the dark side of stories, the futility of escapism, and the eager desire we all have to make sense of our lives through narrative. The King in Yellow is not just an occult figure but a symbol of the power of the state to tell us how to think with this or that pleasing story. The King, according to Chambers, wears a “Pallid Mask”, but late in the first act when asked to take off the mask, the King simply explains that he isn’t wearing one at all.

And though it’s not a factual story, it surely is a true one. We all may believe ourselves able to tell the difference between reality and propaganda, but in the end the power of story is insidious and omnipresent. Miyuki Miyabe, who writes for adults as well as children, has with The Book of Heroes has taken the usual type of fantasy story—that of a eager bookish young protagonist finding a wonderful fantasy world waiting on library shelves—and turned it on its head. Or at least revealed the flipside of the coin. It’s a good thing too; the first step in the King in Yellow’s takeover is to convince the world that he doesn’t exist except in the babbling of madmen. The King in Yellow has made it over to Japan and early next year he’s headed back to our shores. Be sure to arm yourself with a copy of The Book of Heroes!

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