So, 1993's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II isn't a sequel to 1974's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (that was, of course, 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla). Toho decreed that to be the official English title solely as a way of making it minutely easy on us poor anglophones to distinguish between a pair of movies that aren't so easy to tell in Japanese, either; the difference there is that the character ๅฏพ is replaced by the Roman characters "VS", both of which mean the same thing. And if we can peek ahead, we find that they did it again nine years later, this time replacing ๅฏพ/VS with "X". The point being, Toho hates us all.

And as if to make it even clearer, Mechagodzilla II doesn't merely include the fan favorite title monster in its second of three totally distinct incarnations. In what looks like quite a robust dose of fan service (it having been clearly established as policy not to introduce new monsters, though this would soon change), the film features no fewer than three classic Godzilla monsters making their '90s debut in newly conceived versions: the giant pteranodon Rodan is the second, and the third is the deathless (unfortunately) Minilla.

Okay, not technically. Officially, Baby Godzilla makes his first-ever appearance in this film and is a wholly different character from the cutesy-poo little shit who stank up so many films in the late '60s. But if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a horribly out of place, overly cute, kiddie-friendly attempt to humanise Godzilla by making him a protective daddy. And to top it off, he's repellently designed: cute and gross mashed up in a way that doesn't work at all, and he looks like a live-action version of Gollum from the Rankin/Bass The Hobbit.

The mere existence of Baby Godzilla would be enough to dispose me against Mechagodzilla II, though I think there's solid other reason for finding it the more irritating and in several ways the worst of the VS Series films up to that point (which we must qualify thus, for the franchise was unknowingly dancing right on the edge of a cliff ). In fairness, it is in some - fewer - ways, the best. The visual effects aren't consistent, but for the most part they're really terrific, and the first full-on "Godzilla vs. tanks" scenes in the franchise since the 1960s is frankly a masterpiece, violent and fast, with lots of top-notch explosions, and in the Godzilla suit, Satsuma Kenpachiro reach a new height in his steadily-improving performance of the character, flailing in a panicked way that perfectly expresses the rage and terror of an animal caught in a confusing, hectic situation.

And at a conceptual level, I sort of adore the plot. We learn that the governments of the world have banded together to create G-Force, a team of superintelligent guinea pig spies a task force solely designed to devise and execute new anti-Godzilla technologies. Accurately noting that the closest anybody or anything has come to defeating the monster was the cyborg reincarnation of King Ghidorah back in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, G-Force opens the movie by recovering the mechanical portion of that monster from the seafloor, and reverse-engineering it to create a host of weapons, of which the most promising by far is a Godzilla-sized and -shaped robot piloted from within. At which point we must either agree that this makes sense when it patently doesn't, or not even bother trying to engage with the film at all. G-Force also has a battle plane called Garuda, and yet a giant Mechagodzilla is where they decide to sink the best of their best technique? I will confess to finding it less befuddling when it was simply "Damn, alien gorillas sure do some crazy shit". It probably helped that I like the '70s Mechagodzilla suit better than its '90s offspring by a tremendous margin, and would forgive almost anything on its behalf.

The main character in a film emphatically not driven by its characters is Aoki Kazuma (Takashima Masahiro), a somewhat bumbling Everyman who has lately joined G-Force despite bombing an interview that consists of him identifying his personality as consisting, in its entirety, of a weirdly outsized affection for pteranodons. Which ends up having a lot less to do with anything than you might suppose, given that Rodan is in the movie, and all. Hold onto that, because we're coming back to it later. Kazuma's chief interest on the job seems to be flirting with biologist Gojo Azusa (Sano Ryoko), who has her own, somewhat more germane plot line, when the giant Rodan egg brought in from the site where the giant pteranodon made its presence felt hatches. It proves to be an entirely different species altogether: it turns out, in fact, to be that selfsame Baby Godzilla, which has already imprinted on Azusa while still in the egg. I might also point out that, beyond the playful detail that Godzillas are cuckoos, colonising the nests of other species, everything about this plot line contradicts the backstory presented in King Ghidorah.

If I have recounted plot details in such a willy-nilly way as to make it totally unclear how things link together or why, then I am happy to have accurately re-created the storytelling experience of Mechagodzilla II. Having perhaps finally looked over the previous 19 Godzilla films and discovered how many of them involved long, aimless slogs before the monster action finally started up, the filmmakers (in this case, screenwriter Mimura Wataru, a franchise newbie, and director Okawara Takao, returning from the previous year's Godzilla vs. Mothra) decided go to as far as possible in the opposite direction, making a movie that is, to its credit, jam-packed with kaiju battles. And by the logic that the best part of every Godzilla film since the mid-'60s is its depiction of maurading giant beasts, this one certainly acquits itself, though I am inclined to think that the fights are not as individually creative as in any of the three preceding movies - Mothra, King Ghidorah, Biollante. Nor are they as effectively executed: the tank battle I have already mentioned as something I quite love, and the fight between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla is sprawling and exciting and ambitious, but the first encounter between Godzilla and Rodan is a befuddling mess of choreography, editing, and narrative, not helped in the least by the highly detailed but frankly shitty prop portraying the pteranodon (who had, till this point, always been portrayed by an actor in a suit), with its grumpy, cartoon-character face and unyielding body, enough to make even the stiffest Mothra puppet looking expressive and nuanced. Monster design is, anyway, the film's Achilles heel: if you're going to put all the chips on a movie that has such visible disdain for the human scenes as Mechagodzilla II, the monster scenes need to be flawless, and none of the Big 3 fighters live up to that - Mechagodzilla itself is the best, but its slickness comes off as acrylic rather than futuristic, and it is nowhere near the triumph of Pop Art madness of its '70s predecessor. Godzilla, meanwhile, is done in by a really lousy suit that makes its legs absolutely gigantic, and its pectorals so puffed out that it makes the monster's arms look like stubby little T-Rex arms, flailing around uselessly. And its head - boasting some admittedly sublime articulation and flexibility - is so small for its body that it's almost funny, while the new red-orange eyes give it far too much human expressiveness; it does not come anywhere close to the crabby Muppet-style creature that ended the '70s films on a low note, but that's the direction it's facing, and it is a bad direction altogether.

That said, the effects work is good more often than not - for no reason that I can satisfyingly articulate, Godzilla's atomic breath is composited on his mouth better here than in any preceding film. So it manages to redeem itself somewhat as eye candy. But too much candy and you start to feel sick, n'est-ce pas? And what Mechagodzilla II teaches me, something that I'd have never expected to impugn a daikaiju eiga for, is that there can be such a thing as too many monster scenes, at least when they are stuffed in to such flimsy effect. The plot of the film really does sum itself up as "human beings pilot anti-monster devices", wasting a genuinely affable performance by Takashima as the workaday protagonist, and wasting Odaka Megumi in the first of her (to that point) four appearances as Godzilla-fighting psychic Saegusa Miki that feels like she has a legitimate reason to exist in the movie. The bulk of the human material is literally just watching people piloting superweapons, or preparing to pilot superweapons, or flying an idiotic pterandon-shaped hovercraft around the arboretum where Baby Godzilla is being kept hidden.

And with so little connective tissue of note, the monster scenes feel airless and aimless, existing solely as generic spectacle without context or weight. The Rodan scenes especially; the flying beast serves no apparent function beyond "throw one more famous monster at the movie", until the climax where it facilitates a most peculiar denouement that leaves it genuinely difficult to say if the series still meant for Godzilla to be a villain or not by this point.

The one thing I can unequivocally praise is yet another top-notch Ifukube Akira score, this one with a magnificent theme for G-Force that exploits the composer's gift for military marches to outstanding effect. As always, the music props up the action and makes it seem like the most damned exciting thing in the world; and some of the individual scenes throughout even live up to that kind of musical hype, presenting some genuinely effective action beats. For the most part, though, it's a slap-dash, sloppy collage of random moments that never builds up any kind of steam, and while a great deal more works here than in a sorry bit of nonsense like Godzilla vs. Gigan, taken as a whole this is easily the loosest, sloppiest, and least-interesting film of the VS Series as it stood at that point.