Destoroyah, a weapon molded in the eyes of desperation.

Hello everyone,

A month ago I did a lengthy piece on the Heisei Godzilla and his characteristics as an animal. If you have not read it, I strongly recommend you do before reading this piece.  Today, I’m going to do the same for his final adversary, Destoroyah! This analysis is going to be a little different from what I did for Godzilla. This is going to be even more of an argumentative piece that illustrates my own perspective on the monster and its role in the film. I feel there’s an angle to Destoroyah’s characterization that gets overlooked a lot by other fans, so I’m going to share my own thoughts on this kaiju while also discussing some physics and light chemistry. Now as I stated in my last post, feel free to critique this if I get anything wrong regarding the information from the movies or the science facts I’m citing. Especially in this case because I have yet to have taken my required physics courses, though I have gone over the concepts I described here in my chemistry courses. Though keep in mind, I’m trying to provide a basic explanation for how fantastical pseudo-science events occur, so be mindful of this to avoid unnecessary nitpicks. Now let’s begin on one of my favorite kaiju of all time!

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Before getting to Destoroyah itself, let’s begin with an analysis of the weapon that spawned it, the Oxygen Destroyer! Knowing more precisely how this device works will improve our understanding of how Destoroyah was birthed from it. This part of my analysis will mainly involve paying close attention to the dialogue of the original 1954 film and combining that information with some basic physics and chemistry concepts.

We know the Oxygen Destroyer… destroys oxygen, but how? The first clue is that when describing to Emiko how he came upon his invention, Serizawa mentions a strange ”energy” that he encountered when studying oxygen from every angle. Coupling this knowledge with how he claims that the Oxygen Destroyer ”splits” oxygen atoms (assuming the splitting of the nucleus rather than simply removing only the electrons from the atom), it can be interpreted that the Oxygen Destroyer functions by emitting enough of this unique form of energy to meet the nuclear binding energy of oxygen atoms. Nuclear binding energy is the energy required to overcome the strong interaction between the protons and neutrons of the atomic nucleus. Strong interaction is one of the four fundamental physical forces along with weak interaction (the force allowing for atomic decay), electromagnetism ( attraction and repulsion between charges), and gravity (attraction between masses). Evidence supporting that the Oxygen Destroyer is emitting energy is that the Oxygen Destroyer’s reaction in the water appears to be exergonic. Exergonic reactions are chemical reactions that result in the net release of free energy. This is because the products of the reaction are energetically lower than the reactants. This means that they don’t require the input of energy to occur like endergonic reactions, and can occur spontaneously. As we see with the Oxygen Destroyer fragment in the fish tank, it begins bubbling almost immediately, a trait often seen in many exergonic reactions.

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Now the next thing to establish about the Oxygen Destroyer is that its effects on the surrounding environment follows a specific sequence, rather than occurring all at once. Serizawa specifically claims that the Oxygen Destroyer first destroys the oxygen present within the water, which then causes the fish to suffocate and die, and the dead bodies then disintegrate. Now this follows some inherent sense. Naturally, the oxygen molecules that are dissolved in the water are likely to be destroyed before the oxygen atoms present within the molecules composing the organisms’ bodies. This is because being chemically bonded in compounds alters an element’s physical properties. And on top of that, all of the very numerous chemical reactions that occur within living creatures probably interfere with the efficiency of the energy-based splitting of oxygen atoms. That is likely why the disintegration of the fish and Godzilla’s bodies occurs only after they have died from suffocation.

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Now, establishing that the Oxygen Destroyer likely emits energy and has only shown to disintegrate already-dead organisms allows us to better understand how Destoroyah survived and mutated from the Oxygen Destroyer. Since Destoroyah is an anaerobe, a creature that does not require oxygen to survive, it was able to bypass the suffocation step and gained increased resistance against disintegration, atleast more than that of an aerobe. Furthermore, it is possible that whatever mysterious energy that the Oxygen Destroyer emits mutated its genome in a similar way that nuclear energy mutated Godzilla’s. Now having theorized how Destoroyah’s monstrous origins occurred, let’s start talking about what kind of animal Destoroyah was and how that contributes to its characterization and ties into the original Godzilla film in a way most fans don’t consider.

Now first, we need to take a step back and realize that Destoroyah is the only opponent the Heisei Godzilla has ever faced that was also simply a naturally-occurring animal that was mutated. Biollante and Ghidorah were both genetically engineered in lab-settings ( also, Biollante had a human spirit in her); Mothra and Battra were divine entities, Mechagodzilla was a robot, and Spacegodzilla was explicitly characterized with malevolent intent, similar to the Showa King Ghidorah. Fans normally describe the parallels between Godzilla and Destoroyah based on the man-made inventions that altered them, nuclear energy versus the Oxygen Destroyer. However, I feel that is too reductive, and it is during times like this when we should turn our heads toward good ole Dr. Hayashida.

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We need to keep in mind that these creatures are more than the weapons that created them, they are animals in of themselves first and foremost. It is reflected in both their explicit origins and their displayed behavior. Now while I may point out how fundamentally similar Godzilla and Destoroyah are, they simultaneously represent two different kinds of animals. To better understand this, I’m going to elaborate on the significance of Destoroyah’s origins as a Precambrian organism.

The Precambrian era is not exactly a specific time period as much as it is a broad and old term that has once been traditionally used to describe the time period before the oldest known fossils, which marked the Cambrian period about 500-600 million years ago. Nowadays, we have found fossils showing evidence of life on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. The Precambrian era takes up the largest portion of the Earth’s history, the first 4 billion years in fact. Most of the more complex forms of life that we know of only began to exist within the last 13 percent of the Earth’s timeline. Even though life has been shown to exist on Earth for roughly 4 billion years, oxygen didn’t accumulate in the atmosphere until about 2.3 billion years ago. So for almost 2 billion years, life had evolved on Earth without the need for aerobic respiration. Destoroyah’s Precambrian origins help define it as a very evolutionarily-distal creature compared to Godzilla and accentuate how Godzilla is fundamentally closer to humanity as an animal.

The Heisei Godzilla is described to be a dinosaur. Specifically, he is similar to the kind of theropods we would see from the Jurassic or Cretaceous period within the Mesozoic era. This era is much more recent, spanning from roughly 250 to 65 million years ago. Evolutionarily speaking, humans and dinosaurs are much closer to each other than to any Precambrian life form, sharing a common ancestry through the first amniotes, about 340 million years ago. The reason I’m pointing out this biological similarity between Godzilla and humans is that the original film draws attention towards it to a degree.

Some of us may be aware of the seemingly humorous line during Yamane’s lecture from the 1954 film, where he describes the ”Jurassic era” as only being a mere 2 million years ago. In their commentary of the original film, Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski mention how the author for the story of the original film, Shigeru Kayama, was very well-versed in paleontology, which makes this inaccuracy all the more distracting. It was very much suspected by the screenwriter, Takeo Murata, that this change was intentional and was meant to align Godzilla’s origins with the origins of humanity. Specifically, it was possibly meant to correlate with the approximate age of the ”Taung Child”, an Australopithecus africanus specimen that was discovered in southern Africa in 1924. The discovery of this specimen was very controversial because it displayed an upright homonid whose cranium size is comparable to a chimpanzee’s. Before this discovery, many scientists suspected humans diverged from great apes as far as 30 million years ago, which they believed was needed to allow for our unique skull shape. It was a very devastating blow to our egos to discover that our ancestors likely sported very chimp-like skulls less than 3 million years ago. It took twenty years for Australopithecus to be widely accepted as being part of the recent human phylogeny. Today we still recognize through genetic and fossil evidence that the last common ancestor of modern apes and humans was likely less than 10 million years ago. Over the last 2 centuries, humans are becoming ever more disillusioned in how far-removed we are to animals.

 

The way Godzilla is killed in the 1954 somewhat ties to this, where the Oxygen Destroyer represents how Godzilla, despite being an allegory for nuclear weapons, is still ultimately an animal with conventional needs. Humans and Godzilla are both bound by our need to breathe air, a homologous trait, one that we both inherited from the same aerobic ancestor. What ultimately kills Godzilla is a device that targets this shared vulnerability. The Heisei Godzilla is more modernized, where he represents a more challenging view of animals, specifically their emotional capacities. Ever since he adopted Junior in Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II, we’re given hints to his behavior as a socially-dependent animal, like humans. In Godzilla vs Destoroyah, we see how Godzilla actively ignores a nuclear reactor to reunite with his companion, Junior. We then see him mourn over Junior’s apparent death in a manner that very closely mimics the grieving rituals of real-life social animals. This is made more clear with Miki Saegusa, who as an empath that connected with the minds of both Godzilla and Junior, represents the sentimental extreme that is overwhelmed by the realization of the Godzillasaur’s emotional and social traits. Real-life scientists and philosophers have debated for years over recognizing that animals truly possessed emotions. The reason why this view is challenging is partially because humans have traditionally distinguished themselves from animals through the traits that we believed to be superfluous to our survival, typically our emotional complexity. So when we start seeing evidence for true emotional range within animals and how it even serves an adaptive role in their own survival, we once again are disillusioned like we were with the discovery of the Taung child.  We may have to view our emotions in an analogous sense to photosynthesis, gills, and claws.

Detractors of Godzilla vs Destoroyah often point out how Destoroyah’s lacking demonstration to act as an Oxygen Destroyer diminishes its relevance to the iconic weapon. And yes, I agree the movie does not bolster Destoroyah as a weapon that well, but I like that. Alternatively, I will say that Destoroyah’s origins from the Oxygen Destroyer still contribute very well to its characterization as a very non-challenging animal that does not invite comparison to humans like Godzilla does. Destoroyah is a creature that came from an era that scientists once thought to have predated life itself; it doesn’t even need oxygen to survive, removing itself from whatever relationship that connected Godzilla to humanity in the original film. It is through these ridiculously dehumanizing traits that the human characters become swept up in Destoroyah’s potential as an Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon. They disregard that it is ultimately still an animal that does not act to destroy but to fulfill its needs. With less than a week to find a means to prevent Godzilla’s meltdown, their desperation tricked them to see what they wanted, an Oxygen Destroyer.

This is where I see Destoroyah’s true depth. Even though Destoroyah’s name, origins and design would lead fans to treat him as this ”Living-embodiment of the Oxygen Destroyer”, or a ”Devilman” that’s a malevolent big-bad like Spacegodzilla or the Showa King Ghidorah, Destoroyah is ultimately driven by its own desire to feed, grow and multiply like most primitive creatures. And these basic desires are what lead to its ineffectiveness as an Oxygen Destroyer and subsequent defeat. Let’s look at how Destoroyah behaves throughout the movie.

I believe that Destoroyah’s attack in the aquarium serves as a good illustrator to see how this creature differs from the weapon that spawned it. Most people view this scene as an homage to the fish tank in the original, but keep in mind that Destoroyah is actually trying to feed. It gains nourishment from the flesh, but not the bone, and thus leaves the bones intact, unlike the actual Oxygen Destroyer, which would have disintegrated the bone. From the very beginning, it is observable how Destoroyah’s priorities as a creature undermine its potential as a weapon. We see how this also leads to its defeat in conflicts. During the raid against the Destoroyah colony nesting at the Tokyo waterfront subcenter,  we see an aggregate behave recklessly. No longer defending itself from armed intruders, one of the aggregates separates itself from the group to pursue the unarmed Yukari as food. We can see through its bumbling pursuit that it is very single-minded when presented with the opportunity of food. This withdrawal from the group allowed it to become vulnerable and surrounded by flamethrowers. This pattern is repeated in the next two major fights against Godzilla and Junior.

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In Destoroyah’s fight against Junior, the two creatures trade blows until Destoroyah gains the upper hand and pins Junior down under its body. Destoroyah then begins to try absorbing Junior’s energy. Now here is where I want to discuss Destoroyah’s design. Destoroyah very much resembles crustaceans, which while not quite reflective of the known anaerobes that existed in the early Precambrian, does evoke parasites such as the sea louse from Godzilla 1984. Parasitism differs from the regular predator-prey model where parasites keep their hosts alive as long as they can. This allows the hosts to act as sustained sources of nutrients. It seems that Destoroyah engages in a similar strategy when presented with a suitable food source. This feeding behavior, of course, backfires as Junior recuperates his strength in a similar manner as Godzilla did in his fight against King Ghidorah and the initial fight against Mechagodzilla (foaming of the mouth prior to the nuclear burst). Once again, Destoroyah’s instincts as a creature prove to be its folly in a fight.

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Now in Destoroyah’s final fight with Godzilla, it attacks Junior in a reactionary retaliation for the defeat it suffered in the last battle and moves on to Godzilla as a food source. It initially tries to overwhelm and wear down Godzilla like it did Junior, but that proved fruitless. Destoroyah then changes its strategy by transforming into a swarm and quickly tries to absorb Godzilla’s energy before being temporarily subdued. After this, Godzilla heads over to inspect and grieve over Junior’s body. I believe this juxtaposition between the swarm and Godzilla’s grieving over Junior helps in contrasting these two animals. Destoroyah’s spontaneous division into multiple identical individuals parallels the asexual-reproduction seen in simple organisms like bacteria. We have seen these aggregates get destroyed before and we see no reaction from the others, they remain manically fixated on their food source. This reinforces the idea that these creatures are simply disposable clones and lack true individuality from each other, they are just extensions of the same being. This is quite literally the truth as the aggregates are capable of fusing into one being. Their behavior contrasts with Godzilla and Junior, who are not immediate relatives and likely from different origin populations. They are social companions. Their individuality from each other is highlighted in both their behavior and physical traits. Despite Junior possessing a very similar face to Godzilla, he is still quite distinct in size, pigmentation, and posture. They interact with each other as individuals and Junior receives Godzilla’s sole attention as the latter tries to save the former. Food has been the priority for Destoroyah while Junior remained Godzilla’s priority. Had Godzilla not been attacked by Destoroyah again, he probably would’ve spent his final minutes fixated on Junior, much like actual social animals. Grief over the loss of a companion proves to be the most convincing evidence of animal emotion, even more so than apparent happiness and fear. ”Happiness” and ”fear” displays are able to be explained through reward mechanisms and threat reactions. However, few explanations are able to adequately explain the fixation and behavioral changes observed in animals that appear to be mourning better than accepting that emotion is the driving force. Godzilla’s grieving ritual speaks volumes about his cognitive faculties when compared to real animals. One monster is a safe interpretation of a primitive animal while the other encourages comparison to human behavior.

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Returning to its final form, Destoroyah once again tries directly absorbing Godzilla’s energy. Its desire to feed off of Godzilla like a parasite rather than go for the kill ends up allowing Godzilla’s temperature to increase and stun Destoroyah with his strongest variation of the Red Spiral ray. Destoroyah withstands 4 shots from this attack before retreating. Mortally wounded, the JSDF uses the cryogenic weapons to freeze Destoroyah before exploding from the hot ground.

While the weakness to extreme temperatures may seem underwhelming to many, I personally don’t mind. Lowering the temperature of matter actually causes atoms and molecules to physically slow down. This makes it nearly impossible for chemical reactions to occur because they rely on reactants to physically collide with each other in the correct orientation. I honestly find physically slowing down the molecules in its body to be a fitting weakness as that is a very blunt way to kill something that does not rely on oxygen. Not to mention that the stated temperature necessary to weaken Destoroyah was -183 degrees Celsius. That’s literally the halfway-point between absolute zero and the coldest (not the average) temperature ever recorded in Antarctica. That could defeat a lot of things.

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So in the end, Destoroyah was killed because its instincts as an animal prevented it from acting as the weapon the humans were forcing it to be. Personally, I enjoy this view of Destoroyah, as it parallels with the 1984 film quite well as Godzilla was subdued there through the exploitation of his own instincts.

While Destoroyah may not have been that effective as a weapon, I believe its ineffectiveness helps draw attention that like Godzilla, it is an animal that ultimately exists for its own survival, not just for destruction. Humanity’s desperation tried to make this creature act like a weapon, but it only proved that it was going to act under its own needs, which backfired horribly. On top of that, its ridiculously primitive traits and behavior in comparison to Godzilla present a dichotomy for humanity’s perception of animal cognition: the ”safe” view of simple, reactionary creatures acting for their own survival, and the more complex, uncomfortable view that forces us to reconsider which criteria make human cognition special.

MAJOR EDIT: Adding a tweet where I discuss a revelation I made when searching through with chapter 4 of David Kalat’s A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla 2nd edition.

Also, some fun facts: I’ve watched this movie atleast for 10 years by now and I legit thought the official name was just ”Destroyah” until about 2 years ago. For almost a decade, I never noticed the first ”o”, which doesn’t make sense because the old DVD of the movie and the Bandai action figure label clearly had it there. I also own 7 copies of this film. 3 copies of the Tristar double-feature DVD, the VHS, a DVD from the Madman boxset from Australia, the Sony double-feature blu-ray, and the Japanese Blu-ray.

Sources:

Nuclear Binding Energy:

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/NucEne/nucbin.html

Fundamental forces:

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Forces/funfor.html

Gibbs Free energy

https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/energy-and-enzymes/free-energy-tutorial/a/gibbs-free-energy

Precambrian era

http://geo.msu.edu/extra/geogmich/Precambrian.html

Ryfle and Godziszewksi’s audio commentary of Godzilla 1954

 

Australopithecus africanus

https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/australopithecus-africanus

Animal Grief

https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/50/10/861/233998

Author: CallmeJoe

A 23-year-old College Graduate in Biology who's primarily a fan of Godzilla and other properties.

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