Let’s be honest, the large majority of tokusatsu fans in the UK, the US and the wider Western community are really only familiar with the modern, popular annals of tokusatsu history, like Super Sentai, Kamen Rider and, maybe, Ultraman, at a push. The release of so much classic content on the Toei Tokusatsu World YouTube channel allows such fans, like myself, to change that.
When I learned that Jiraiya was on the list of programmes that Toei were dropping, I jumped at the chance to learn more about it. If like me, you’ve never seen an episode of the show before, you may be at least a little familiar with the character from his appearance in Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and, by extension, the inclusion of Sheriff Skyfire in Power Rangers Ninja Steel. In Ninninger, Jiraya references the World Ninja War, a battle that took place 27 years prior (when Jiraiya was broadcast) but little more is told about this story. If you’re anything like me, you’re intrigued by this War, what it’s all about, and how similar Jiraiya is in style and production to the other Metal Hero Series’. Lets dive into episode one and find out, shall we?
Jiraya focuses around the Yamaji family and begins with Toha Yamaji – the adopted son of Tetsuzan Yamaji – training with dad in the Togakure-ryu Ninja Arts Bujinkan dojo. Later, in the family home, in which Toha is essentially the manservant to his adoptive family, a pot on Dad’s shelf starts to glow. Dad, remaining stoic, insists the family meet them at the dojo after lunch. From a scroll, he tells the story of the Pako which, according to their family traditions, must be protected when the pot starts to glow. The Pako is a time capsule from space which was drawn into the centre of the Earth generations ago. Tetsuzan, as the patriarch of his family, holds one half of a tablet that holds the location of the Pako. The other half is held by Dokusai: evil org ninja and all round bad dude, who summons the World Ninjas to help retrieve the other half of the tablet.
Dokusai and his minions descend on the dojo and kidnap Tetsuzan’s daughter, Kei, with a view to holding her ransom for the other half of the tablet. Toha, literally, leaps into action and jumps out of the window, holding on to Dokusai’s feet before being dropped to the ground below.
From a hidden compartment in the loft, Tetsuzan presents a ninja suit. He tells Toha to adorn it, become Jiraya, and rescue Kei from Dokusai’s minions. It’s the eighties, though, so this ninja travels to the agreed meeting point atop a mountain by motor vehicle and cable car, obviously. Toha fights the bad guys on top of said cable car and is able to rescue his sister.
With Kei safe, Toha puts on the suit and takes his place as Jiraya. He beats down the stripy pyjama mook of the week and forces him into retreat before being confronted by bin-headed knight ninja who, using broken English, compliments his Togakure-ryu and rides off into the sunset.
Future episodes, then, it appears will revolve around protecting the Yamaji clan’s half of the tablet and will likely develop into taking Dokusai’s half, and retrieval of the Pako. It’s clear Toha is very green and still has a lot to learn, both about being Jiraiya as well as his own history – during the episode he alludes briefly to avenging his father. Expect Toha to go on an emotional journey as the series begins to unfold.
In general, Jiraiya is very much a product of its time and if you’ve ever watched Ninja Sentai Kakuranger you’ll be very comfortable with the running amongst explosions, fighting in the darkness amongst fire style of ninja derived tokusatsu. The story itself, while somewhat formulaic, is fairly compelling and Takumi Tsutsui, as Toha, is a very likeable character. For the adopted child to inherit the family mantle is a refreshing break from a very traditional Japanese society and there’s a lot more to his origin than we get in this opening episode, one would assume.
This show is quite different stylistically from the other Metal Hero series preceding and succeeding it, lacking in the technological elements that the franchise is famous for but I personally think that adds to its charm and probably provided a welcome break as they transitioned from space cops to beetle warriors.
Overall, I’m going to be sticking with Jiraiya as more of it becomes available and I’d recommend you do too. The best is yet to come.
The first two episodes of Jiraiya are currently available to watch via Toei Tokusatsu World Official on YouTube.