I loved Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as a kid.
Was it cheesy at times? Sure. But to a pre-adolescent boy? The show was about as awesome as it got. It was to me what I’m sure Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers are to young ladies today, if you could have forcibly lumped the four of them together like Zords. (Now that’d be scary.)
I can’t tell you how many days I wasted pantomiming karate kicks and punches, assuming ridiculous poses and wearing the same colored shirt until it grew mold as a result of that action-packed show full of superheroes in spandex fighting monsters. I’m sure many of you did that very same thing. The show originated in Japan and if you enjoyed it as much as I did then here’s a few other shows from the Land of the Rising Sun that you should consider:
5. Gokaiger (Super Sentai)
Pirates + Ninjas = Mind Blown. And the end to that silly debate of which is better.
You might know that the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with which you’re familiar featured hodgepodges of footage taken from the Japanese show Super Sentai, or Special Task Force. Each year the show would bring in a new cast, theme, suits and mecha; hence why the Power Rangers had to change in accordance with available footage. In particular I’m recommending the Sentai series Gokaiger or Pirate Sentai, one that hasn’t yet been adapted as a series outside Japan.
It opens with an epic battle between all 199 previous spandex-laden, color coded heroes up to that point (the series has been going since 1975 in Japan compared to 1993 for Power Rangers) so there’s plenty of characters you won’t recognize, but the show features the myriad fight scenes and mecha fighting sequences that you know and love.
If you want to see said battle of epic proportions or just really enjoy Skittles commercials, partake:
As YouTube user MrJUSTL337 describes it:
This gave me a chill through my spine and brought tears to my eyes. Manly tears… #FuckingWorthIt.
Although I wouldn’t go that far and I’m unsure why he’s using hashmarks on YouTube, I do appreciate the man’s sentiment.
Gokaiger tells the story of five (later six) pirates who come from the far reaches of the universe to Earth in search of the “Greatest Treasure in the Universe” (or 宇宙最大の宝 Uchū Saidai no Takara.) They have in their possession the “Ranger Keys,” magic keys that harness the power of all previous Sentai teams after they relinquished their powers during the great battle. The Gokaigers can use the power of these keys to transform into the past heroes themselves, gaining all their abilities. When they unlock the ultimate power from each team, their mecha also obtain power upgrades as well, ultimately forming a giant pirate ship that flies around in the sky which (of course) can also take robot humanoid form.
The main antagonist is Zanyack, an evil entity defeated in the great battle that has returned to destroy the planet. One thing that sets this team apart from the previous ones is they don’t necessarily want to save the planet. Mangy pirate bastards. What they do want is to find their treasure, although to find it they have to obtain the previously mentioned ultimate power of each previous Sentai team. Basically meaning they have to search out previous team members to get them. It basically adds up to a series full of fan service, not that you’re likely to know the Japanese actors, although their character stories are far more interesting than the American counterparts. So hey, it’s not Zack breakdancing or Tommy and Kimberly flirting in the most awkward fashion possible, but they do wear t-shirts that correspond to their Ranger power, you know, so you can keep track of things.
35 years worth of spandex.
If you’re curious in expanding upon what you saw as a kid then give Zyuranger, DaiRanger and Kakuranger a try, the three series the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series used footage from; in particular the story and death of the Dragon Ranger (Tommy’s Japanese counterpart) and Kiba Ranger; who’s actually a young child (if you ever wonder why Tommy acted so hyper as the White Ranger.)
4. Rescue Force
Rescure Force, now with free Nintendo DS!
Perhaps you’ve heard about Takara Tomy or Tomy Toys as they’re known in the west. They make various toys for young kids generally aged a little younger then the Power Rangers market. In Japan they made a few TV shows to promote these toys, Tomica Hero Rescue Force being one of them. The show has all the makings of your average battle-suited fare, but brings more to the table then the formulaic fighting villains/rinse/repeat each week. The premise lies around a specialized team of rescuers authorized to deal with “super environmental disasters”, however in this show the super disasters are caused by Neo Thera, an organization formed to create disasters that will “reset the Earth.”
Although the team naturally has to deal with the bad guys, they also have to deal with the super disasters and this is where the toys, er… machines come to the rescue. They have a Rescue vehicle to cover everything you could ever dream about, (except for Sybians) giving the show a Japanese Thunderbirds vibe. Also I will note it has some of the best CGI I’ve seen in a television show. The heroes also actually wear practical battle armor instead of spandex in sight which grounds which adds to the realism. Also, big tanks with water cannons are slightly more believable then 50 foot giant robots…oh yeah, and it has really catchy music in the opening credits. Hear the opening that won my heart:
With the show essentially being one big toy commercial, it comes off admittedly as a little kiddy at times, moreso than Super Sentai. But with the threats of environmental disasters it evokes a different feeling than the standard “rescuing people from a guy in a monster costume.”
3. Ultraseven X
Because adding an “X” to something always makes it cooler.
Ultraman is another Japanese entity you’ve probably heard OF for a while now, but don’t really know anything about. Ultraseven X is a departure from the child-oriented motif common with these shows, being aired at midnight with an adult audience in mind.
This series has a lot of parallels with the BBC Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood in premise, with the team being comprised of alien hunters who can be called action at any time. The show is also set in a dystopian world with obvious homages to Blade Runner apparent in the look of the city. Unlike other Tokusatsu shows, while transforming into the titular Ultraseven is a necessity of the series not all episodes include contrived fighting. When the fighting is done there is proper build up and it’s done very well, which adds to the payoff. It’s a drama that puts its plot before anything else and each episode tells a fascinating story.
If you’re completely against cheap costumed superheroes then this could be the show that breaks the mold for you. The men in monster costumes are kept on the low and the show is dark and gritty; seems like natural progression for anyone who finds Power Rangers and its ilk too kiddy in nature.
2. Kamen Rider W
Yeah, real inconspicuous detectives here.
Like the Super Sentai shows this is another show that changes annually. Kamen Rider Black RX might seem familiar, as the show was adapted into Masked Rider in the States around 1997 and 2003’s Kamen Rider Ryuki was adapted by Steve Wang last year into Kamen Rider Dragon Knight (which was awesome but got taken off air due to lack of viewers.)
The Kamen Rider series tend to be based around one titular character that will Henshin into a Kamen Rider to save people from a particular threat. Though at least one more Rider is normally introduced mid-season to stir up trouble, it’s never a team like Sentai. Here is a Kamen Rider W/Dark Knight Rises Trailer parody because… why the hell not, that’s why:
My recommendation here is Kamen Rider W (Double), which has a very noir detective feel. Set in the city of Fuuto Shotaro, a detective and Philippe, a boy magically connected to the planet combine forces to stop the production of Gaia memories, devices sold to people that transform them into monsters. The two protagonists actually both transform into W, with Shotaro becoming the main body and Philipp’s conscious mind moulding with him.
This is my favorite Rider series and I’ve started many off with this show to introduce them to the Kamen Rider franchise. This series in particular isn’t scared of killing people off and in many instances the villains are just normal people who have succumbed to the temptation of power; not hokey, mustache-twirling cliches. There’s a strong element of family within both the protagonists and villains of the series, as well as motifs of revenge and retribution.
If you find tight-wearing heroes a bit corny, this is another show for you. The Rider armor actually looks like it could actually protect you from something, as opposed to being torn during a rousing game of freeze tag. Also, the villains are less formulaic and more pragmatic; instead of sending wave after wave of grunts, the main baddies will often team up to outnumber the Rider, which gives off a more serious sense of threat and danger throughout the series.
“You go straight to Hell, spandex. Though you were oh so comfy… you still go to Hell!
Garo, or Golden Knight Garo (黄金騎士ガ Ōgon Kishi Garo) tops my list. The show is similar to Ultraseven X in that it features mature themes and was aired at midnight, but it takes everything up a notch, with nudity, constant deaths, heavy action, and fantastic CGI. The plot, thanks to Wikipedia:
Garo focuses on the life of Kouga Saezima, who has assumed the title of Makai Knight to protect humanity against dark demonic manifestations called “Horrors.” In his quest to purge them, he encounters a young girl named Kaoru whom he saves from a Horror, but who is stained with its demonic blood. As a rule, those that have been stained by the blood of a Horror shall be cut down, or else they will die painfully in approximately 100 days. Kouga spares Kaoru and tries to find a way to purify her before her remaining time expires. Thus, the series focuses on Kouga’s developing relationship with Kaoru and his stand in protecting humanity in accordance with the wishes of his father, the previous Garo. In the process, encountering another Makai Knight named Rei Suzumura who eventually becomes his ally, Kouga confronts his father’s former disciple who is also the cause of recent string of Horror attacks in preparation of a more sinister advent of the Horrors’ originator Messiah.”
There are so many outstanding elements of this show; incredible action with the actors doing their best Jackie Chan impressions by performing many of the stunts themselves; the Horrors being formidable villains that are actually frightening in both appearance and action; enriching character development with the antagonist struggling with his feelings for Kaoru and testing his beliefs against a rival Makai Knight. In my opinion, it’s the best that Tokusatsu has to offer so make sure if you see only one of them, this is the one:
David Wyatt is a lover of Japanese culture and entertainment. You can find more of his reviews and musings on his website, Ryatta Reviews.