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Lock up your kids, charge up your phonecams and crank the terror alert level up to red: giant, metropolis-mashing monsters are headed for cities throughout America.
The organizers of Kaiju Big Battel -- multimedia events that feature "live monster fighting" -- don't refer to their costumed combatants as men in suits. This is serious stuff, they maintain. Those beasts spewing toxic ooze all over the audience are the real deal.
Shortly after the troupe formed in 1997, creature clashes began in Boston, Philadelphia and other East Coast cities, in clubs like New York's Roxy and Roseland.
Popularity was largely web-driven: In addition to the live shows, creatures also interact digitally with humans through websites, message boards and social-networking services such as Tribe.net and Friendster, where one can find character profiles.
Since those modest monster beginnings, Kaiju Big Battel has evolved into an expanding series of media offerings. A DVD series from Redline Entertainment will spawn a new title in late 2004. A forthcoming book from Hyperion is due out in February; a 15-city U.S. tour will follow. Even a television pilot is in the works.
A related merchandise line includes "real monster meat," which is presumably Atkins-compliant.
Kaiju, which means "monster" in Japanese, draws its material from sources as diverse as Japanese monster movies, Mexican wrestling, lowbrow '70s TV action shows and the theatrical punk-metal band Gwar.
While references to Japanese pop culture abound, the group reflects the eclectic tastes of its American creators.
"We're not snobs -- if you're unfamiliar with the history of Japanese monster culture, you'll still get 90 percent of our jokes," says Bill Woods of Studio Kaiju, the Boston-based group behind Big Battel. "It's not like, 'Dude, if you didn't watch Godzilla part 1 through 48, you'll miss everything."'
Their next live event is slated for Los Angeles on Sept. 8, and promises an immersive, loud, messy experience for all.
Upon entering the venue, showgoers are surrounded by screens displaying videos that tell the purported story of how the monster league came into being. Monster minions circulate through the crowd, passing out evangelical tracts to convince audience members to root for their team.
Oversized stage props include a towering "Danger Cage" and a miniature cityscape, to be demolished during the show. The immersive spectacles also include live musical performances from hip-hop, techno or indie rock acts.
A human announcer kicks off the show, warning audience members in the first few rows that they'll soon be covered with toxic slime and building rubble. Soon, fighting explodes onstage, spliced with music and video segments. There are also side antics, such as one documented in a Kaiju.com report from a recent Boston show, in which a faux pop idol named Chikako "wowed the crowd with her stellar rendition of (the monster) Silver Potato's tribute song, 'Peel Me Now,' despite a wardrobe malfunction."
Between matches, an "urban renewal expert" pops up to reconstruct crumbled cityscapes on the fly.
The current roster of 30 monsters includes both male and female entities. Since inception, 75 characters have belonged to the league, and 20 are expected to participate in the upcoming Los Angeles show.
They include the blue alien-glutton Sky Deviler, the factory worker turned soup can known as Kung-Fu Chicken Noodle, a duo of freedom-fighting plantains from Central America and the square-headed mad scientist considered the league's most deeply despised villain -- Dr. Cube.
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