A year or two ago, watched a japanese film on youtube, like many of the geekier amongst us, I knew that Saban’s Power Rangers were primarily made from imported and redubbed Japanese TV shows, with original linking scenes. As I hadn’t seen any, didn’t really think much of it. After watching this ridiculous film, which had a plethora of characters I had never seen before and had no context for, I suppose I should have been put off, instead I looked at it as ‘here’s another fictional universe I can dive into, looks fun’. This genre of special-effect heavy sci-fi/fantasy TV show (called Tokusatsu has been going since the 60’s and 70’s and fell into several catergories, the main three being.
Metal Heroes: Often space based, with armoured characters, an example is Space Sheriff Gavan, or Blue SWAT. This isn’t a sub genre I know about to be honest.
Sentai: Sentai translates as soldier, or trooper and is best known as the sub-genre that lead to the Power Rangers franchise, from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, we get Mighty Morphin. From Denji Sentai Megaranger, we get Power Rangers in Space and that kind of thing, also not something I want to get into here.
The third is Kamen Rider, which translates as Masked Rider. This follows a fairly formulaic format. There’s a threat (non-human in origin) and a motorcycle rider, who transforms into another form to battle said threat. Again, this goes back a good number of years, but is split into several eras.
The Showa era runs from 1971-1989, there was a ten year hiatus and the Kamen Rider came back into the Heisei era, then the second phase of the Heisei era. Seeing the Heisei era as a good place to start, I tested the waters with a few single episodes of different things and then started with the first Heisei show Kamn Rider Kuuga.
Kamen Rider Kuuga
First aired in 1999, this 49 part series followed Yusuke Godai (I’m going to do the first name/surname thing, simply for ease) a young slacker, who while a hard worker, viewed life as an adventure and travelled the world. He pops by to see his friend Sakurako Sawatari, who works at a local university in ancient cultures and languages. She is Yusuke’s oldest friend and when she is called to an architectural dig in Nagano Japan, he goes with her.
At the dig, there are several dead bodies, a horrible monster has appeared and escaped as well as 200+ new creatures who seemed to erupt out of the ground. The detective in charge Kaoru Ichijo brings Godai and Sawatari to the police station, which is attacked by the first of these creatures, referred to as unidentified creature #1. During the fight, a stone belt from the dig is thrown across the room and the curious Godai puts it on. He is transformed into some kind of armoured warrior and battles #1. He wins barely and is considered by the police #2. Realising this is going to be a thing, Ichijo as well as detectives Norimichi Sugita and Tsuyoshi Sakarai are assigned to a science police division under the command of Sadao Matsukura. When #3 comes along, Godai goes after him, needing more strength, he changes into the Mighty Form and defeats #3, but doesn’t kill him. He’s then seen by the police and considered #4. Ichijo recognises Godai’s value and the two partner up, whenever the police find out about an attack, the woman on dispatch Sasayama, tells Ichijo, who tells Godai, who changes into his warrior mode, which the creatures he battles call “Kuuga”. We have the formula in place and there battles follow on from there, with the bad guys (the Gurongi) killing off huge swathes of people for a game they call the Gegeru. The game is to kill off as many of the descendants of the Linto, or the rest of the human race, as possible. All under the watch of Ra-Baruba-De, who organises the game and creature #0 also known sa N-Daura-Zebu, who is another Kuuga.
Action: There is some form of fight scene with every episode, but not before a lot of regular people and a staggering number of police are killed. Seriously the police in this program get killed off so fast, you think they slagged off the show runner. The battles between Kuuga and the monstrous Gurongi often have Godai transform (or Henshin!) and use of the following forms.
The Mighty form was the default and most battles started with this guy, it’s main value was it’s strength.
The Dragon form was used for speed and leaping, this form could also take poles, pipes and other long objects and reshape it to a bo/quarter staff.
The Pegasus form had heightened senses and could transform a handgun into a ornated looking crossbow.
The Titan form was impervious to many attacks and could change a bike throttle into a broadsword.
Each battle ended with some sort of explosion, most often after a flying kick.
There was a sprawling supporting cast as well as the core cast.
Yusuke Godai: Perpetually cheerful and optimistic, greeting everyone with a thumbs up and strove towards gaining 2,000 skills
Kauro Ichijo: Strait laced and methodical police detective, married to his job, Godai mellowed him out a little.
Sakurako Sawatari: Studious and cautious, expert in ancient languages. She worries about Godai and works to translate any information from the dig to aid him along with her colleague Jean Michel Sorrel.
Police officers: Sadao Matsukura, Nozomi Sasayama, Tsuyoshi Sawatari and Morimichi Sugita. They were the main part of the science police tasked with ending the Gurongi threat. Supported ably by Shuichi Tsubaki and Hikari Enokida who worked medical and scientific respectively. Enokida was also charged with developing weapons to kill the Gurongi.
In his home life, Yusuke lived with his uncle Tamasatura Kazi, who ran a cafe, with a family friend Nana Asahina, an aspiring actress with a severe crush on Yusuke. Also there from time to time was Minori Godai, Yusuke’s sister, who was a primary school teacher, who’s class was often entertained by the entertaining Yusuke. There was also Yusuke’s old primary school teacher Shoji Kanzaki, who got Yusuke through a rough time and returned the favour when he could.
As you can see, this was a large ensemble cast and a narrative that went well beyond a monster of the week series. Themes looked at were social anxiety, the effects of terrorism, depression and work/life balance. Really the series was about how far you go to battle an enemy. Would Kuuga become as angry as the Gurongi, would the modern human race become more like the Gurongi as they battled them. The series ended with a battle between Kuuga and #0 and the last episode was very much an aftermath episode as we find out what happened to everyone.
I’ve gone on long enough and I’m glad I gave this odd duck of a series a go.
Might do more now.
Have Agito to try next.