Although he would continue to frequently reappear as Jiro/Kikaider in Kikaider 01, 1973 saw tokusatsu legend Daisuke Ban take on the mantle of a second hero as well. In Inazuman (イナズマン) he plays Goro Watari – a college student and mutant with powerful psionic abilities. Another creation of Shotaro Ishinomori, Inazuman is a cornerstone of the 1970s tokusatsu experience and among the series that proved especially popular in Hawaii. As well as appearing in his own manga series and crossover with Kikaider (both in animated and print form), the original Inazuman makes a cameo appearance in OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let’s Go Kamen Rider alongside other Ishinomori heroes. Not long after, a brand new version of the character was also reimagined for Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Wizard & Fourze: Movie Wars Ultimatum.
After helping to defend some children against an attack from the Neo-Human Empire’s Phantom Army, Goro is introduced to the Youth League – a group of gifted young mutants fighting back against the evil empire and their leader Emperor Banba. After agreeing to help fight their cause, its discovered that Goro also possesses immense mutant powers – powers that he can use to transform into the colourful psionic hero, Inazuman!
If you’re thinking that the above was a surprisingly quick summary of Inazuman’s origin then you’d be correct, because this is a series that doesn’t try to get too bogged down by backstory and detail. While it has more than enough for the series to work off of, it’s far more preoccupied with the exploits of Inazuman himself and the psychedelic visuals that go along with it. So if you’re looking for something rich in lore Inazuman might not be the series for you, but if you want something that prioritises being entertaining from start to finish then you should definitely stick around for this.
A lot of the series’ charm comes from just how fantastic Daisuke Ban is in the lead role. Much like his role on Kikaider, Ban flawlessly embodies those classic “hero of justice” principles that personify Showa era tokusatsu. Accompanying him are the strange and somewhat cult-like Youth League, complete in matching orange suits that they clearly ripped off from Ultraman’s SSSP. They play a big part in this episode but their role would be significantly diminished as time goes on, with their adult Captain never even appearing again after episode one.
Inazuman is particularly cool among the pantheon of henshin heroes as you’re basically getting two heroes for the price of one. Before he’s able to fully transform into the titular hero, Goro must first become Sanagiman – a pupa-like hero who soaks up power in order to unlock his full transformation. This is then done in utterly spectacular form, with the Sanagiman suit literally exploding onscreen to reveal the colourful moth-themed Inazuman.
His fighting style plays into the show’s strange visual style, which heavily features jump cuts, slow motion shots and seemingly just an all-out effort to keep the suits in good working condition whilst still putting out an entertaining show. Half the fun is waiting to see what crazy ability Inazuman is going to pull out next, since the range of what falls under “psionic power” is seemingly limitless.
But it’s also fair to say Inazuman wouldn’t have become such a classic without great villains either, and it definitely has that in the cackling Emperor Banba. He’s not just so obsessed with his name that he’s named all his monsters after himself, he’s also incorporated it as part of his evil laugh!
I had the pleasure of watching all of Inazuman earlier this year (the first half of the series is available on region 1 DVD via Generation Kikaida) and absolutely recommend checking it out. Colourful, imaginative and just downright fun – it’s everything you could want from 70s tokusatsu.
You can now find Inazuman, as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.