Let’s talk about the illustrious immense insect of the Godzilla franchise: Mothra. She occupies a peculiar place in the pantheon of giant monsters: She’s undoubtedly one of the top five most recognizable kaiju of film (behind King Kong and Godzilla, of course) and is very popular with women. However, she catches derision from many male fans because, well, she’s a giant butterfly who protects the Earth and communicates through tiny fairies. Some are probably wondering why I’m talking about some lame bug when I could gush about the King of the Monsters himself instead (Shin Godzilla this week, baby!).
Mothra is unique among kaiju. In most continuities (there are a lot), she’s not a rampaging mutant or an alien invader, but a benevolent guardian of the Earth and/or humanity. She’s without a doubt the most purehearted of the Toho Studios monster crew. Godzilla may be a symbol of terror, but she is a symbol of hope. And, strangely enough, she teaches lessons just as applicable to our mundane human lives as they are to the life of a lightning-shooting insect goddess with a 250 meter wingspan.
Fluttering Towards a Higher Calling
Few things keep a person motivated for and accountable to their goals like dedication to a purpose greater than themselves. As Batman said in Gotham Knights, “Nothing helps one put problems in perspective like allegiance to a higher cause.” In a franchise filled with seemingly invincible titanic terrors, Mothra is remarkably frail and, well, mortal. She has died on screen five times, always in battle, always protecting something or someone. She rarely has shown interest in causing destruction. She (or he, Mothra Leo in the Rebirth of Mothra films was a male) could probably spend her life peacefully on her tropical island with little disturbance. And yet, she follows her hero complex into a suicide mission movie after movie.
Moreso than any other monster, embodies the virtue of self sacrifice. She recognizes catastrophic situations, acknowledges capability to help despite danger to herself, and jumps into the fray without a second thought. Compassion and duty drive her, and her legacy lives on across hundreds of years and multiple universes.
Whether she’s protecting the diminutive inhabitants of her island (the original Mothra film) or all of humanity (Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth), she always serves a higher calling. She disregards her own safety to make the world a better place time and time, and always does it with a catchy song heralding her arrival
You’re welcome for the earworm.
Mothra herself has an amazing array of powers and abilities (especially Leo with his multiple transformations), but her most impressive ability of all is her talent at rallying monsters for a common cause. 1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster depicted a nightmarish, golden dragon with three heads (duh) descending to Earth to wreak havoc after annihilating civilization on the planet Venus. Mothra, in larval form, convinces the warring Godzilla and colossal pteranodon Rodan to put aside their differences and hatred of humanity to send the space demon back into the stars.
In the Heisei continuity of Godzilla films, she demonstrates peacemaking skills once again in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth. In addition to yet another damn Godzilla attack, Mothra clashes with Battra, another mammoth moth. This Mothra is a sworn guardian of humanity, but Battra swears allegiance to protecting Earth’s environment. As you’d guess, these goals don’t exactly mesh. In a three-way battle, Mothra recognizes Godzilla as the greater threat and heals Battra as a sign of good will. The two then team up and carry Godzilla out to sea away from Yokohama, at the cost of Battra’s life.
Her knack for monster teamups makes sense considering her role as a supernatural peacekeeper, but she also demonstrates the important leadership skill of appealing to common goals. In Ghidorah, Godzilla and Rodan state they don’t care about the fate of humanity, but Mothra argues they all share the Earth as a home. In The Battle for Earth, she successfully convinces Battra that Godzilla is just as much of a threat to Earth’s environment as he (she? it?) is to human society.
By appealing to common concerns, she turns enemies into allies…if only temporarily.
A Moth’s Example
Once you’ve assembled a motley crew of skyscraper-sized screwballs, you must confront another rule of leadership: it is most effective by example. In teamups with other monsters, Mothra leads from the front. She is always the first to jump into battle, with no expectation of others doing the work for her. Her example constantly inspires other kaiju to join her side, or take up the fight when she (once again) sacrifices herself in a blaze of glory.
For the finest example of this, we once again defer to Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Mothra, in her larval form, is the first monster to respond to King Ghidorah’s arrival after she is summoned by her emissaries, the Shobijin. She immediately recognizes she’s outgunned, but her early attempts to recruit Godzilla and Rodan fall flat. Undeterred, she charges into battle alone. She knew she’d stand alone, but someone had to stand for Earth.
The battle goes about as well as you’d expect. King Ghidorah flings the colossal caterpillar around like a rag doll with his ‘gravity beams,’ but help soon arrives from Godzilla and Rodan. Her bravery and selflessness inspired the two, and the three monsters stand as one and show the space demon the true might of Earth’s monsters.
Her willingness to take the fight all by herself reminds us that people and monsters alike respond best to a leader willing to jump down in the trenches and work alongside them, rather than bark orders from afar. Who knew you could get effective lessons in corporate leadership from a giant butterfly?
Mothra the Mentor
You and I have very little in common with an an ancient insect goddess the size of an aircraft carrier, but just morals and cautionary tales of Greek myth, this divinity has lessons to impart. Mothra has left her scales on all eras of the Godzilla franchise and reassures people in the films that not all monsters come to destroy, and at least one will always be on their side. She hasn’t been seen on film since Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004, but her enduring popularity ensures she’ll take to the skies once again to inspire hope in an age of monsters and mayhem.