Space Ironman Kyodain (宇宙鉄人キョーダイン and also written as Space Ironman Kyodyne) is another series in the Toei Tokusatsu World Official lineup with some big Kamen Rider connections. Co-created by Shotaro Ishinomori and Toei producer Hirayama Tôru, the 48-episode series starred Yūsuke Natsu and Takeshi Sasaki (Hayato Ichimonji/Kamen Rider 2) in the lead roles. Its heroes were also among the first classic Toei properties to be reimagined for modern Rider movies, appearing in 2012’s Kamen Rider Fourze the Movie: Everyone, Space is Here! – albeit as villains and a brother/sister duo rather than two brothers.
The episode starts with scientist Dr Hayami celebrating his youngest son Kenji’s birthday, along with his older sons Joji and Ryuji as well as his assistant Etsuko. All of a sudden the party is crashed by the Robot Army Corps from the planet Dada, who kidnap the doctor, Joji and Ryuji. Kenji is left to watch, powerless as his father and brothers leave Earth in a flying saucer.
A year passes and Kenji is now in the care of the Earth Defence Force, a UN coalition that’s been preparing for the robots’ return. When the invasion finally starts, Kenji sneaks out to take his revenge but is soon overwhelmed. Suddenly a second flying saucer lands, revealing Skyzel and Grounzel – heroic robots sent by Dr Hayami imbued with the personalities of Kenji’s older brothers!
While some Showa era heroes still look just as good today as they did forty years ago, others are very much products of their time. For those a bit less unaccustomed with the shows from way back then, the first thing you’d probably remark about Space Ironman Kyodain is how cheap it looks. After arriving on Earth the Robot Army Corps soldiers merge together through bits of tinfoil sinisterly travelling across surfaces and their leader (Dadaroid Officer Bazookoid) has an expression that can only be best described as Pingu’s “Noot Noot” face. It’s a lot to take in, and there’s every chance the silliness of the visuals will overtake what’s otherwise a pretty dark cold opening to the series.
However, if you’re still willing to press on with the episode, you’ll quickly find that the show has quite a lot to offer – and those wacky visuals are actually more charming than they are off-putting. As silly as the dancing soldiers of the Robot Army Corps may look the planet Dada mean some serious business – blowing up buildings left right and centre in a very impressive display of miniature pyrotechnics work. The human race is very much overwhelmed, which creates the perfect entry point for our heroes to come in and save the day.
The first thing you’ve probably noticed about the brothers is how their suits are covered in various vehicle parts and paraphernalia – Skyzel has a nosecone head, while Grounzel has wheels for ears and exhaust pipes across his torso. This is because as well as kicking robot ass on a ground level, the pair can also transform into vehicle modes! We get a good look at this later on as the Grouncar and Sky Missile shoot into action to fight off against some enemy vehicles, getting another look at some of the great miniature work this series has to offer. If you don’t find joy in watching a talking jet beat up a blinking tank with two giant arms whilst a talking truck tries to ram it off a cliff, this probably isn’t the show for you.
The interesting thing about the Kyodain is that although they have the memories and personalities of Kenji’s brothers, the pair do not transform into them at any stage. Instead their faces open to reveal the brothers on screens, which is a nice little distinction from other henshin hero shows. It’s a little strange how Kenji doesn’t really question this set up further (how did his father manage to build the pair in secret? Where are the actual brothers?), but there’s plenty of time for that in later episodes.
For this episode at least Kenji is very much the star of the show, which is another hurdle to pass if your tolerance for child actors in tokusatsu is relatively low. Despite the somewhat dark setup the episode isn’t short of light moments – ranging from Skyzel quite literally losing his head to the introduction of Gobesu, a big round robot who acts as the brothers’ personal repairman and chaperone.
The final thing that’s worth mentioning about Kyodain is its rather disorientating edit style. The episode is filled with quick multi-angle shots, frenetic jump cuts and sequences played in reverse. While it isn’t the only tokusatsu of this time to dabble in such things Kyodain really revels in it, making it a particularly novel example.
Though perhaps not the perfect gateway into Showa era tokusatsu, Space Ironman Kyodain is a series that looks to exemplify all the best qualities of that era. Though the visuals might be dated it more than makes up for this with charm, not just boasting an interesting story set up but also some weirdly wonderful miniature work. Many will likely check this series out just for the Kamen Rider connection, but I hope they end up sticking around for more as well.
You can now find Space Ironman Kyodain, as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the Toei Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.