Tokusatsu and me

This is a topic that I’ve been thinking for a long time if I should tackle or not here…. Honestly, it is mostly due to a fear of embarrassment. Yet I get this urges to ramble about some of the tokusatsu series I’ve been watching or  watched from time to time. And although there are good forums specifically to discuss it I’ve been feeling to self-conscious to join them. I’ve finally decided to at least make this post about it though. After all there are far worse things to be ashamed of and tokusatsu is certainly not a bad thing. Plus writing it on my blog means I can write giant blocks of text without feeling guilty! Mwahahaha!

*clears throat* Anyway, putting the melodramatic aside, perhaps an explanation of what  this tokusatsu things is might be in order. To put it in simple terms tokusatsu is a live action show with super-hero like types aimed at children. Think Power Rangers and you are not too far off. In fact Power Rangers is not only based, but also use costumes and concepts, from one of the oldest tokusatsu franchises, the Super Sentai. It is much more broad than the team of super-heroes fighting the monster of the week though. For instance, Ultraman and Godzilla also fall under the tokusatsu genre.

Even though it is aimed at children they usually have themes that can be appreciated by adults too with some even having plots more complex that you would expect in a children’s show. There are also a few tokusatsu shows that have been trying to aim at an adult audiences too with some relative success. Garo is probably the poster child for this type of tokusatsu.

Ok. Definitions out of the way, let me ramble on about how I got into tokusatsu, rediscovered it and why I love the genre.

I was born and grew up in the 80ies. Like pretty much any child of that time, here in Brazil, I watched the tokusatsu shows that were broadcasted on TV. I honestly remember very little about them besides loving them to death, the names of some of them and what each show was generally about. It was a good time to be a tokusatsu fan here too as there was a wide variety of shows. Some names I can remember of the top of my head are Jaspion, Spektroman, Jiraya, Jiban, Changeman, Flashman, Kamen Rider Black (which was renamed here as…. Black Kamen Rider for some reason… <shrugs). Each of them had their own style and considering that I still remember their names might be the ones who marked me the most during my childhood. In case someone is curious, yes I knew of Ultraman even back then but remember being frustrated because it wasn’t shown anywhere in the local TV channels.

Among those, my favorite definitely has to be Kamen Rider Black. For the time it was a pretty gritty show, with realistic (again, for the time) monsters and a very interesting plot. Basically, it went like this. An evil space empire has a kind of rule that every 100 years a new emperor gets chosen, this guy is called the Century King. Two adoptive brothers who were born during an solar eclipse are kidnapped by the evil space empire to be reconstructed as something better than humans and brainwashed. The idea is that after that they would fight each other to decide who would be the Century King.

One of the brothers though was able to escape right before the brainwashing part. So he decides to use his new powers to fight against the evil space empire and save his brother. He adopts the name of Kamen Rider Black, due to the people who transformed him calling him Black Sun. The only problem is his brother who wasn’t so lucky to escape eventually gets brainwashed and becomes the leader of the evil space empire, adopting the name Shadow Moon. The biggest tension in the series is that even though Black doesn’t want to, he knows that eventually he will have to fight against his brother, Shadow Moon.

That kind of plot fascinated me. Until then in all the shows I knew it was simply a fight between the good guys and the evil guys. The good guys battled the evil guys because the first were good and the later were evil. None of them had  the personal stake in the battle that Kamen Rider Black did.

Other tokusatsu shows also had similarly complex plots for the time and target audience. They were a huge factor in shaping what I consider heroes to be, what a good story is and provided tons of entertainment after coming back from school.

Eventually as I became a teenager my interests waned and I moved on to other things. Occasionally I would look what the current tokusatsu was about but it never got my attention the same way. Plus by then the channel that showed it was pretty much already on its last legs and tokusatsu shows wasn’t shown here ever again. Power Rangers came (and a few other american shows that tried to do the same thing) came and I got a few glimpses of it, here and there. But again, not to my tastes.

Years later while in an anime convention, while waiting for a friend, I saw a fansub of a Kamen Rider show on one of the booths. This at the same time amazed and confused me. The quality of the image and special effects looked too modern to be Kamen Rider Black. Plus I didn’t remember any of the stuff that was being shown. At the time I thought Kamen Rider Black was a one-time show. Well, it did have a sequel that was Kamen Rider Black RX that I knew about…. But still, I never imagined it was actually more like a franchise with each year having a new series, with a new story and new characters.

That was something I was only going to find later. That fansub gave me a lot of nostalgia for the old tokusatsu shows and off I went to the internet to see if there was any group out there doing fansubs of those shows. Initially my searches bore no results. All I could find were some fan sites about tokusatsu. Although they weren’t what I was looking for, they provided me with some interesting history about the genre and I was able to get some glimpse of what the current series were about.

After much persistance I was able to find a fansub group that has been doing work on current tokusatsu series for a while. Even better they were doing fansubs of Kamen Rider shows!

To restart on it I looked for the oldest shows I could after Kamen Rider Black. Unfortunately they only had a few episodes of Kuuga fansubbed with Faiz being the second oldest, I think. I watched the episodes of Kuuga they had and fell in love again. The FX were, obviously, better than those shows of my childhood while the story and characters appealed more to my adult tastes. After those few episodes I went to watch Faiz. That series was completed by then. Watching it from start to finish just confirmed my renewed love for the genre.

At first I kept watching just Kamen Rider shows, assuming in an arrogant manner that other tokusatsu shows were childish thus actually not worth my time. Curiosity due to the fansub news page as well as the forum discussions though made me give a try to other shows. Starting with Super Sentai. That made me see the error of my ways and after that I did try to sample a bit of every show tokusatsu show I could find a fansub for. Some were good, some others… not so much.

I still keep watching tokusatsu shows as every year there is a new one and fortunately a fansub group willing to do the work of bringing it to people like me. My only lament is that there aren’t as much variety nowadays as there were in the 80ies. But I guess that is unavoidable as, from what I hear, the costs are much higher nowadays with a much lower return.

Oh, well, at least they are still around in some form and still evolving as a genre. That is enough to keep me happy. 🙂

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