Tag Archives: Tokusatsu

Toku Jukebox – Zyuranger

For today’s jukebox installment we feature the theme from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger.

This is the opening theme song to the show which formed the basis for the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The show features five warriors from the ancient past engaging in battle with Bandora the Witch using the mighty Guardian Beasts who combine to form Daizyuzin – the physical embodiment of the God of their ancient tribes.

daizyuzin
Yes, the Megazord was not a piloted mecha but a sentient being in the original Japanese. Yes, it is as completely boss as it sounds.

The theme itself is a real delight. The early rhythm is low and and steady, building in intensity before strings come to aid the crescendo. Then blaring trumpets reset the pace just before the real theme starts in with lyrics, which takes on a joyous feel with a hint of melancholy as the lyrics weave over a subtle layering of strings and keyboard. Much like the show itself, it is clearly for a childrens’s show(it repeats the show’s name dozens of times) but shows the kind of texture and complexity you would not normally have in this sort of programming (the bridge section has haunting polyphonic chants followed by violins). Like the show itself, this theme really stands out as one of the greats. After two listens you will be humming it to yourself for the rest of the day – you have been warned.

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Power Rangers Part 1 – Background

In preparation for the impending Power Rangers film, I will be writing this series on the long running series. Monday I laid out a basic primer in tokusatsu terminology, and for part one of our series I will be discussing the basic background of Power Rangers as a franchise.

No discussion of tokusatsu and worldwide fandom would be complete without Power Rangers. Based on and using footage from Toei’s long-running Super Sentai series – specifically the Zyuranger ­team – it effectively brought the Japanese style of superheroes into mainstream US consciousness, and later the world. Because the Super Sentai suits use full face-covering helmets, the American producers dubbed English dialogue over those scenes. Any plot points or situations involving Japanese actors was cut, and new footage was put in its place with the American cast.

To say Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was a success would be an understatement. It was the property of 1993, and continued to grow until it even landed a Hollywood movie in 1995… though by that point its star had already begun to wane. After stretching Zyuranger to its absolute limits, having Toei shoot brand new footage, cannibalizing elements from Kakuranger, and various other methods, by the end of the third season MMPR finally began to follow its source material and introduce new suits and themes with seasonal regularity. Power Rangers may not be the all-encompassing cultural force that it was twenty three years ago, but it has continued to run almost without stopping in the intervening years.

Having watched a fair amount of Super Sentai and Power Rangers, it is not hard to see that the former is generally of a much higher quality. If you were to pick a random episode of either and compare them, there is a good chance Super Sentai is just a better put together show than Power Rangers. On the basic tenants of how we usually judge the media that we consume, Power Rangers comes out looking the worse for wear. Whether it’s plot, set design, character development, you name it, Super Sentai is usually a more solid program.

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In MMPR this was a neat two part episode. In Zyuranger this was one of the most incredibly tragic and awesome plot points.

However, Power Rangers is not without its merits. To completely disregard Power Rangers because it is typically inferior to its older sibling is not entirely fair. Power Rangers has immense personal and cultural significance. Next time in part two I’ll go into why this show made me into the fan I am today.

Talkin’ Toku

Tokusatsu is an enormous component of worldwide media fandom, and its visibility has increased drastically in recent years. Before I get into some more US-centric news in upcoming posts, I want to lay down a few key terms that run through tokusatsu so that everyone is on the same page.

Tokusatsu – A term that essentially means “special filming,” and roughly refers to anything that involves special effects and would be categorized in the west as science fiction/fantasy. For most people, tokusatsu is “live action things which are exciting and cool.” If you watch an eastern program that has live actors and some things that you want to own a toy or figure of, then it is probably tokusatsu.

Daikaiju – This basically translates to “great monster” or a rough equivalent. This is explicitly referring to film series like Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and other giant monster movies. In the west we often simply say kaiju, though in Japanese that term is broad enough to encompass any monster from a werewolf to King Ghidorah.

Sentai – This term means “task force,” and the is part of the title of Toei’s long-running series. This basically refers to the familiar teams of primary colored spandex superheroes.

Henshin – This can mean “transformation” or “metamorphosis” and refers to any hero switching from their normal form into a their hero mode. The ultimate example of this trope is Kamen Rider, who shouts henshin before changing into his heroic self.

With our vocabulary lesson finished, here is a ridiculous video to whet your appetite for more spandex, explosions, and monsters – the glorious train-themed Ressha Sentai ToQger.

 

Upcoming Events

So today’s post is just a quick rundown of some things that are going on in Blade Licking Thieves-land.

First off, expect some extended Super Sentai/Power Rangers discussion over the coming days. I have a number of thoughts related to not only these shows but specifically my thoughts on the upcoming movie and what these franchises represent in both Eastern and Western pop culture. There is a lot of fertile ground for discussions related to tokusatsu and broader anime topics.

Secondly, the Blade Licking Thieves are continuing to produce new podcasts though this weekend’s recording will most likely not happen. Life! It tends to get in the way of fun. In any case we will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon enough.

Lastly, we are working on a number of collaborations at this time. We have a few projects that we are moving forward on that should produce some great crossover content with other podcasts and names in the community. This is really, really exciting, and I personally and stoked to see what comes of that. Hopefully this encourages more opportunities for us to work with the rest of this great community in talking about the things that we love.

Have a good weekend gang, and look forward to some tokusatsu talk come Monday.

Ultraman – Respect the Red and Silver

Ultraman turned 50 years old this year. The brainchild of Godzilla special effects director Eiji Tsubaraya, the original series aired in 1966 on Japanese television and has had the kind of impact one would expect from a spandex-clad giant wrestling lobsters on mainstreet. One of the early tokusatsu works, this show cleverly blended superheroes, spies, kaiju, and a dash of Twilight Zone/Outer Limits style strangeness. It is really no surprise that it was such a smash hit.

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Of course you choose this over the evening news, honestly it’s probably less crazy.

His cultural importance in the eastern hemisphere cannot be understated. With over 25 series in the Ultraman franchise and 8 movies, as well as countless video games and other merchandise, he truly is an endearing cultural icon. Much like Superman and Batman are infused with popular western conceptions of what a superhero is, Ultraman is the mold from which many eastern superheroes are forged.

Why is he such an unknown here in the west, then?

Part of the problem stems from the fact that to many he is “just another superhero.” Essentially viewed as a something of an off-brand Power Ranger, Ultraman seldom gets taken very seriously here in the west.

Another issue is syndication and visibility. In the United States, Ultraman has not been on the air in 20-30 years. While many Latin American countries have a much stronger history of showing Ultraman (and a lot of other things, like Mazinger Z – bless you Latin America), and I am unsure of Europe, there is always something to be said for keeping a property alive in the U.S. market because it will inevitably filter out to others due to the sheer number of viewers and amount of money involved.

Most distressing is the consistently frustrating legal battles that Tsubaraya Productions has had with Chaiyo over licensing issues. The agony here is worth a few blog posts in and of itself (and perhaps I should do that at some point, though far greater men than I have explained it quite thoroughly).

Ultraman Sad

The mask hides my Ultratears.

Thankfully, the Ultra franchise is in one of the best places it could possibly be in terms of access. The original series is on Hulu, Shout Factory has both the dvds and free streams for a number of Ultra shows (including the magnificent Ultra Seven), and Crunchyroll has a metric ton of Ultra shows ready to be watched. In fact, Ultraman Orb is releasing new episodes every week as of this posting. I love everything about the classic series and many of its successors, either for the strange aliens, awesome kaiju battles, or sometimes outright corny special effects.

Lawl

Behold, in episode 11 Ultraman faces down a foe while waiting for the bus.

So Rogues Gallery, I leave you with this. To celebrate 50 years of Ultramannery, have any of you watched or enjoyed the red and silver hero from a distant nebula? Have you tried and not liked it, or completely passed it over? Let me know in the comments below, Rogues! (Or just give me the loudest SHA! you can muster).