Gamera has the general configuration of a turtle, albeit a tremendously large one that is capable of walking on two legs and flying. He does occasionally walk quadrupedally in his first three films. Gamera demonstrates the ability to manipulate objects with his forefeet. He possesses a pronounced sagittal crest on top of his head and his mouth is filled with teeth, which is unprecedented in turtles – with the exception perhaps of the prehistoric turtles Proganochelys and Odontochelys – plus a pair of large tusks protruding upward from the lower jaw.
In the Shōwa era series, Gamera was a titanic, fire-breathing, prehistoric species of turtle who fed on petroleum-based material, presumably giving him the ability to breathe fire and fly by "jets" ignited when the monster retracts its legs – it can propel itself by spinning through the air with all four legs in and (as shown in later films) can fly straight with just the rear legs drawn inside its shell.
The original movie begins showing bombers of the USSR being intercepted by American fighters over US air space in the Arctic. The Soviet pilots refuse to be forced down because of the presence of atomic bombs on board their aircraft, so they attempt to leave the area. However, the fighters launch an attack and one of the bombers crashes. A nuclear blast ensues, releasing a giant turtle from suspended animation in the ice.
The incident unfolds over the heads of a Japanese research team who have stumbled upon an Eskimo tribe in possession of an artifact, an ancient stone etching, that suggests the giant turtle (maybe more than one) had been observed and duly noted at some earlier time in mankind's history. The tribe refers to the turtle as "Gamera" in their legends.
In the Heisei series, starting with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), the origin of Gamera was tweaked to make the theme much more directly heroic: a bioengineered Guardian of the Universe created by Atlantis with the purpose of defeating Gyaos, another ancient creation capable of killing all human life. The giant turtle is found floating adrift in the Pacific, encased in rock and mistaken for an atoll. Within the rock, investigators discover a large monolith explaining Gamera's purpose, as well as dozens of orichalcum magatama, which allow a psychic link between Gamera and humans.
In the third film of the series, Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999), an undersea graveyard is found with many other Gamera fossils, suggesting that Gamera was not the only member of his kind created. One character in the film refers to these fossils as "beta versions" of Gamera, possible failures in Atlantis' attempts to create the final version. Another scene provides Gamera with a link to Asian folklore, with a character relating a story in which a giant turtle is considered the Guardian of the North, with separate rival creatures defending the East, West, and South.
Gamera's continuity was rebooted again in 2006 with Gamera the Brave. The film begins with the original Gamera sacrificing himself to destroy several Gyaos in 1973. 33 years later, a young boy finds a strange, glowing red rock near his home with a small egg lying on top of it. A fairly normal-looking baby turtle soon hatches from the egg, but begins to grow at an alarming rate. The turtle, now named "Toto" by his pre-adolescent owner, quickly develops Gamera's classic abilities to breathe fire and fly, and attempts to ward off another attacking monster, Zedus, but is too weak to succeed. Only after eating the glowing rock found with his egg does the new Gamera achieve his full power, defeating Zedus and flying off into the sky.
A new film is planned for release in 2016, being a third reboot to the timeline. A trailer was released by Kadokawa on October 8, 2015, showing Gamera fighting a horde of Gyaos ten years before the present day, and challenging a new monster ten years later.
Gamera's shell is extremely resilient and strong. Missiles and other weaponry merely bounce off it, along with most of his opponents' attacks. There have been a few times where his shell has faltered, most notably when the alien Guiron hammered at the same spot several times and began cutting through. The flying monster Gyaos' sonic beam, the alien shark Zigra's paralyzing beam, and the mutant lizard Barugon's rainbow ray could not penetrate Gamera's shell, shown in the films when he withdraws into his shell to avoid the attacks, although Gamera will involuntarily stretch his neck out of his shell if his shell is hit hard enough, once again seen during the fight with Guiron. Gamera's underbelly, however, is softer and not as resilient and he has been cut and gouged in his stomach to the point of violently bleeding.
In the Showa series, Gamera fed on fire and was attracted by other heat sources, such as power plants and Barugon's rainbow ray attack. He could breathe intensely hot streams of flames from his mouth when caught in a more serious situation. The Heisei version, on the other hand, could blast off mighty plasma fireballs from his mouth, usually very quickly, and with varying accuracy; they were highly explosive. The Heisei version could also absorb a great deal of mana, or the living essence of Earth, and release an extremely powerful stream of pure plasma from his chest. In the final film of the Heisei series, Gamera blasted his own arm off and absorbed plasma fireballs shot by the Southern Guardian monster Iris and used his stump to grow back his arm in a plasmic form.
Gamera also has the ability to fly. Generally, Gamera pulls in his arms, legs, head and tail into his shell, fires flames out of his arm and leg cavities and spins around like a flying saucer. This mode of flight had an added advantage in the later films, where he used the sharp edges of his shell to cut enemies while spinning, similar to a circular saw. He has a second way of flying, where he only pulls in his legs and/or tail, fires flames from the leg cavities and flies like a jet. In the Heisei era films, Gamera's arms would extend and stretch out into wing-like limbs similar to the flippers of a sea turtle whilst using this form of flight, giving him added aerodynamics and control.
The Heisei films gave Gamera one more additional weapon: a pair of sharp spikes protruding from his elbows. In his first Heisei appearance, these spikes were hidden during the majority of the film, extending only when needed in battle. In later appearances they were permanently extended.
When seriously or gravely injured, Gamera can enter a coma-like state in order to heal. This often fools his opponents into thinking that he is dead. This ability has been used in almost every Gamera film.
Gamera's only major weakness is cold. Barugon was able to achieve success against Gamera using his freezing spray and scientists nearly defeated Gamera during his first appearance using special freezing bombs. This weakness was only shown in Gamera's first two films.
Gamera made his first appearance in 1965's Gamera: The Giant Monster, which was also the only Gamera film to be shot in black-and-white. In 1966, the movie was released in America as Gammera the Invincible. Subsequent films, usually directed by Noriaki Yuasa and written by Nisan Takahashi, quickly became a big hit with children, who loved watching Gamera fight monsters. A total of 7 films were produced between 1965 and 1971. An eighth entry was slated for a 1972 release, tentatively titled Gamera vs. Garasharp. Gross mismanagement of Daiei, however, put the company into bankruptcy, and the Gamera films were forced to cease production.
After Daiei was purchased by Tokuma Shoten in 1974, the new management wanted to do a new Gamera film in 1980, so Gamera: Super Monster was produced. The filmmakers were forced to make the movie because of the contracts for one more Gamera film they owed at Daiei. The majority of the film used stock footage (with limited new scenes of Gamera flying) and acted as a "recap" of Gamera's history. However, when production of the film began, Yuasa saw how poorly Tokuma Shoten was handling things and knew that Gamera could never come back from the film. So he had Takahashi re-write the ending to where Gamera was killed at the end.
Starting with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), three Gyaos are discovered on a remote island. The Japanese government discovers that they are all female and decides that since they are the last of their kind, they should be captured and studied. Meanwhile, a search has been assembled for a moving atoll in the Pacific. They find it, small gems made of an unknown metal, and a stone sticking up out of the center of it. They manage to take pictures and collect some of the strange gems, but the stone crumbles and the atoll takes off towards Japan at high speeds. It ends up that the atoll is actually an ancient monster, made by the Atlanteans, called Gamera. He attacks the Gyaos, killing two, but one escapes. The remaining Gyaos grows to Gamera-like proportions and the two battle. Gamera manages to defeat his foe, and heads back to sea.
In Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996), Earth was attacked by an alien force known as Legion.
In Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999), Gamera had to face hordes of Gyaos and his ultimate foe, Iris.
Gamera the Brave (2006) returns Gamera to his Showa roots, but with a modern twist. In the film, Gamera is first seen defending Japan back in the 1970s from three Gyaos, but sacrifices his life to destroy them by self-destructing. In the present, the child of a man who witnessed that battle finds a turtle egg that hatches into a baby Gamera that he names Toto. When a giant lizard monster named Zedus appears, Toto tries to fight the beast, but ends up being gravely wounded and taken by the military for study. He ends up escaping and growing to a larger size to try and fight Zedus again, this time succeeding against the monster.
In March 2014, Anime News Network reported that a new Gamera production is planned, with no release date specified. In October 2015, Kadokawa Daiei Studios' senior managing director Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and producer Shinichiro Inoue screened a proof-of-concept trailer at New York Comic-Con, revealing plans to commemorate the Gamera franchise's 50th anniversary by producing a new film reboot, simply titled Gamera, to be directed by Katsuhito Ishii. The proof-of-concept trailer featured a newly designed Gamera, Gyaos, and a new monster completely created and rendered via CGI.
ShowaGamera: The Giant Monster (1965)
Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)
Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)
Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)
Gamera: Super Monster (1980)
HeiseiGamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)
Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999)
MillenniumGamera the Brave (2006)
A version of the first Gamera movie, with footage of American actors Brian Donlevy and Albert Dekker, was released by Alpha Video in 2003 as Gammera the Invincible. In 2010, Shout! Factory acquired the rights from Kadokawa Pictures for all eight of the Showa Gamera films to release the uncut, Japanese versions on DVD for the first time ever in North America. These "Special Edition" DVDs were released in sequential order, starting with Gamera: The Giant Monster on May 18, 2010, followed by Gamera vs. Barugon and two double-features: Gamera vs. Gyaos with Gamera vs. Viras, and Gamera vs. Guiron with Gamera vs. Jiger. On March 15, 2011, Shout! Factory released the last of the series in a double feature of Gamera vs. Zigra with Gamera: Super Monster. Shout! Factory later released MST3K vs. Gamera, a special twenty-first volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes featuring all five Gamera movies from the show's third season. The three Heisei trilogy films were re-released on Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment on September 27, 2011. On April 29, 2014, Mill Creek Entertainment released the eight Showa Gamera films (1965–1980) on Blu-ray in two volumes, The Gamera Ultimate Collection Volume 1 and The Gamera Ultimate Collection Volume 2, featuring the original Japanese audio only with English subtitles and also the first 11 films (1965–1999) on DVD as The Gamera Legacy Collection: 1965-1999, featuring the original widescreen video and Japanese audio only with English subtitles.
Dark Horse Comics published a four issue miniseries based on Gamera called Gamera the Guardian of the Universe in 1996. The comic served as a follow up to the film of the same name and featured classic monsters including Zigra, Viras and the Heisei incarnation of Gyaos. The characters Mayumi Nagamine and Asagi Kusanagi were also featured in the comic, however, Asagi only maintained a minor supporting role.
Akira Toriyama's manga series Dr. Slump features Gamera in book 4, considerably smaller than he is portrayed in films or other comic books.
Gamera also makes an appearance in another manga by Toriyama, Dragon Ball. Here, too, he was smaller than usually portrayed. He is summoned to help Kame-Sennin traverse the ocean to Fry-Pan Mountain in volume 2.
Gamera also appears in the Kinnikuman manga series.
The Justice League Unlimited episode "Chaos at the Earth's Core" features a monster very similar to Gamera, in both appearance and abilities, that fights League members Green Lantern, S.T.R.I.P.E., and Stargirl. Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired Gamera vs Zigra.
Website ScrewAttack.com in their series "Death Battle" pit Gamera up against Godzilla for episode 35 of Season 2 of the web series. Godzilla won the fight.Gamera 2000 is a PlayStation game released exclusively in Japan in 1997.
Gamera: Daikaijuu Kutyu Kessen (Lit. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) is a Game Boy title released to coincide with the movie.
Gamera: Gyaos Gekinetsu Sakusen is another Japan-only game but this time for the Super Famicom released in 1995.
Gamera: The Time Adventurer is also a Japan-only game for the lesser-known Bandai Playdia released in 1995.
Side Note: A VMU (Visual Memory Unit) was released for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999 themed around Gamera.
The University of Maryland Gamera Human Powered Helicopter took its name from Gamera. Since the University mascot is a diamondback terrapin, the craft would be a flying turtle.
In July 2011, Washington State University veterinarians successfully fixed a prosthetic caster onto an African spur-thighed tortoise named Gamera, who was a single amputee.
The extinct Cretaceous baenid turtle Gamerabaena sonsalla was named for Gamera.