A creature with five faces belches flame from the top of a skyscraper. A young girl finds out she’s descended from an Egyptian goddess that fought demons. A superhero does battle against someone making counterfeit merchandise of them! The spectacular world of Toei’s tokusatsu TV shows have only existed on the periphery of mainstream US access for decades. While Hawaii saw broadcasts of Kikaider and Inazuman and many of these shows aired in South America and Europe, they've gone unseen in their original form in the US. Now Toei has launched a YouTube channel where the original versions of these shows, and many many more that have only ever reached the US in tape trading fan circles, are now readily, and officially, available with English subtitles.
Toei Tokusatsu World Official got off to a slightly rocky start, when Toei’s own system to check for unofficial uploads of their shows onto YouTube got their own website flagged and taken down for a few hours, but it is now up and running with over 100 individual episodes of shows. However for the most part it’s just the first two episodes of a wide plethora of shows rather than a complete run of any single one.
Many of the shows on here are the brainchild of Shotaro Ishinomori. One of the most prolific manga authors (possibly the most prolific), Ishinomori’s creations are in a realm of the impossible and fantastic and include Cyborg 009, Kikaider, and Kamen Rider. Inazuman, one of his original creations for Toei, sounds a little like X-Men on paper. A young man discovers that he’s a mutant, born with strange powers. A group of young people recruit him to do battle against a shadowy group of evil mutants with stranger powers. But once you see Inazuman in all its glory, you bear witness to one of the most frantic works of super-heroics on TV.
While much of Kamen Rider aka Masked Rider is missing from the service (though the original first series finally has a release in english on the service Tubi TV and Shout Factory TV) the divisive Masked Rider Shin joins the Toei Tokusatsu line up. Created as part of Kamen Rider’s 20th anniversary, Masked Rider Shin doesn’t wear a mask or ride a motorcycle, and is instead a Cronenberg-esque monstrosity. Worth looking up if you're a fan of the series Guyver. If you look through old issues of Hobby Japan you can find garage kits of this version sculpted by the late Yasushi Nirasawa.
Janperson is about a robotic crime fighter that faces off against an army of cyborgs. Not too outlandish of a premise, but the enemy cyborgs ripping their arms and eyes open to expose weaponry dips the show into almost Shinya Tsukamoto cyberpunk territory.
For those of you that grew up watching Sailor Moon, shows like Poitrine and Thutmose will feel familiar and comfy as an old slipper. As part of the Toei Fushigi Comedy series, these shows eschewed cyborgs battling monsters in favor of supernatural/sci-fi sitcoms and crime fighting magical girls. They aren’t quite as violent as the likes of Janperson and Inazuman, but they’re cute and quirky, and a major part of the magical girl genre. In Thutmose, a girl finds out she’s descended from an Egyptian goddess that fought demons. In her premiere episode Thutmose squares off against flying plates of soba noodles, transforming her wand into chopsticks and dipping broth to dispatch them. But in the next episode she has to face off against the ghost of Ludwig van Beethoven, who’s terrorizing the children of Japan!
Poitrine is just an ordinary school girl when a god (played by Branded to Kill director Seijun Suzuki!) grants her the power to protect her town as she squares off against jewel thieves and helping women detectives crack cases. The thing I truly love about these shows is that you really can’t guess what’s going to happen next, Thutmose and Poitrine just ooze early 90s charm.
At a time when you’re not supposed to be going outside, a lot of the Toei Tokusatsu shows are an imaginative breath of fresh air (with maybe a dash of crass commercialism).
Article and photos by David Namba
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