Changérion, aka Choukou Senshi Changérion (超光戦士シャンゼリオン) is notable for a number of different reasons. Written by Tokusatsu royalty Toshiki Inoue, the 1996 series had video game giant SEGA attached as its main sponsor – who has previously worked with Toei to co-produce Mechanical Violator Hakaider. It stars Takashi Hagino in his first lead role, who would in a few years time go on to portray Takeshi Asakura/Kamen Rider Ouja in Kamen Rider Ryuki. Finally the show was originally planned for a full 52-episode run but cut short at 39 due to low ratings.
It’s been said that Inoue didn’t get a full handle on quite what he wanted Changérion to be until a few episodes into the series, which certainly feels to be the case watching this first episode. While certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, Changérion’s debut is a bit all over the place. On top of the considerable amount of setup it crams into a mere 23 minutes, there’s a huge juxtaposition between its semi-serious setup and overly goofy characters.
Those familiar with Hagino from Ryuki may be shocked to see him completely the opposite to what they’re used to. Here he plays Akira Suzumuru – a down on his luck detective who spends most of his time hunting lost dogs. He think he’s struck it big when an elementary school asks him to look into some missing children, but on top of being ridiculed by children for his poor teaching skills he also ends up being pulled into a strange dimension filled with the bodies of the missing children and slumbering monsters.
At the same time, a transport convoy is attacked – causing its truck to veer out of control. Said truck crossed paths with Akira (following his ejection from the alternate dimension), resulting in them both ploughing off the edge of a cliff. In the blaze Akira is bathed in strange particles whilst a monster looks on.
After some brief respite at the hospital Akira is back on the case, but this time also catches the attention of a secret military organisation. They inform him that these monsters are known as Dark Zide – a race that are the natural enemy to humanity. Rushing back to the school, the team are able to expose a pervert amongst the staff before finding the real culprit behind the disappearances – who promptly turns into a monster. Luckily those particles Akira were bathed in are actually Crystal Power – giving him the ability to transform into the Super Shining Soldier, Changérion!
Though the focus remains squarely on Akira throughout the episode showcases almost all of the show’s extended cast, even if many of them don’t receive proper introduction. The sheer amount of characters can be a little overwhelming at times, but they’re distinguishable enough by role simply for the time being. Despite his idiocy Akira is a very easy hero to get behind though and that’s what matters the most. He has possibly the most relatable reaction to becoming a costumed superhero I’ve ever seen, and is swayed into action by the monster hitting a defenceless puppy – what’s not to love?
Visually the show might be a little disorientating at first for those not used to late 90s/early 00s, with it being shot in 30i (60fps) much like other shows from around that time (e.g. Gridman and Kamen Rider Kuuga). It’s also very much a product of the 90s, so be prepared for some extremely dated CGI right from the very start. But while Changérion may have a grittier, lower-budget feel to it compared to some of the more established franchise offerings it doesn’t still doesn’t feel cheap for the most part. As ridiculous as the monster’s human disguise featuring some oversized novelty fangs is, the little we see of Dark Zide’s actual monster forms is rather promising – especially for those who like their toku monsters a little more on the grotesque side.
It would remiss though not to talk about the Changérion suit itself, which is certainly an experience all on its own. Beyond its glittery armour and curvaceous butt plate, it’s a well-documented fact that the suit weighed over 200 pounds – making it one of, if not the heaviest Tokusatsu hero suits out there. While this episode merely offers a teaser of Akira fully suited, knowing the sheer weight of the thing definitely commands major respect to suit actor Jiro Okamoto.
Though a bit of a muddled premiere, there’s definitely the makings of an interesting show in Changérion and its distinctly 90s visuals make it a really interesting piece on what tokusatsu was like at the time and how it developed into what we know today. Inoue is a writer that many find to be hit or miss, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he hit the mark or not with this one.
You can now find Changérion, as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the Toei Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.