Inspired by the success of KRTV’s Moonlight Mask (a series largely held up as one of the earliest tokusatsu superhero shows), the NET Network – now known as TV-Asahi – turned to Toei to create their own version. Sponsored by Matsushita Electric (now Panasonic) to promote their “National” brand of appliances, Toei came up with National Kid (ナショナルキッド). Released in 1960 and running for a total of 39 episodes across three different story arcs, National Kid is currently the oldest show available on the Toei Tokusatsu World Official channel.
This first arc opens with a fighter pilot encountering a UFO during some routine training, which he pursues and is eventually shot down by it. The classic UFO design immediately gives the serial a wonderfully retro feel, with the black and white presentation only adding to that. The show had a huge budget for its time and that really shows, as the miniature work looks fantastic and the lack of colour does a good job of hiding any obvious behind the scenes trickery.
As Japan gathers a UFO task force to combat this strange new threat, they call upon an expert, Ryusaku Hata – the son of a world-renowned scientist who recently passed away. The story then cuts away to Ryusaku at his lab, whose taking the time to educate children on the universe and the possibility of extraterrestrial life out there. Ryusaku immediately comes off as an extremely likeable character, with plenty of educational value too!
Ryusaku heads off to the UFO task force, where he spots the UFO fly over Japan’s Diet building. Once he arrives at the meeting the task force discover a threatening message by the aliens – revealing themselves as ambassadors for Inca Venus. Their demands – stop all nuclear weapons testing. The rest of the universe has decreed that nuclear testing be regulated and any attempt to defy that will result in Earth’s destruction. National Kid comes at a time when the effects of nuclear war was still very much in the hearts and minds of the Japanese, and immediately the series is bringing it to the forefront of the story.
Elsewhere, Ryusaku’s students (the “Boy Detectives”) are heading home, and immediately there’s some positive messaging about treating others equally and not judging people solely based on gender. The group decide to follow a suspicious character, eventually leading them to an encounter with the Inca Venusians! From their pointy headdresses to the elaborate Z logos on their uniforms, these are classic sci-fi aliens at their very finest. Simple, but oh so effective.
Ryusaku hears the children’s cry for help as the Inca Venusians take them hostage, so in true Superman style he ducks into somewhere and comes out as the masked hero National Kid! Flying onto the scene, National Kid makes short work of the aliens who eventually make a hasty retreat. The day is saved…for now at least. The Inca Venusians have sworn revenge and the first step in their plan is to kidnap scientist Professor Yamada. The episode ends on this cliffhanger, which came as a big surprise as I wasn’t expecting this kind of serialised storytelling. What National Kid lacks in flashy effects, it certainly makes up for in capturing the spirit of a real superhero epic.
Product placement is a big part of tokusatsu these days but flogging toys sounds like a much more seamless job than having to randomly throw some electrical appliances into the mix. Given his name and the fact National Kid flies past a National banner at the beginning I was preparing for the worst, but it played into the story much less than expected. The only obvious bit of shilling is where National Kid gives the children a “Magic Radio” to contact him on – which is of course just a National radio with the make very clearly in-shot. Visually it’s pretty hilarious but story-wise it works perfectly, and here at least it isn’t lingered on enough to be particularly off-putting. Whether that’s true for future episodes I don’t know, but for this one I’m very pleasantly surprised.
Knowing very little about it other than its age and sponsorship going in I really didn’t know what to expect from National Kid, but I was very pleasantly surprised by this first episode. This isn’t the kind of henshin hero tokusatsu fans are used to, but quality pulp sci-fi in the vein of 50s Superman. If you’re interested in the foundations of tokusatsu as we know it today, definitely take the time to check this out. Having it readily available with English subtitles is a real treat.
You can now find National Kid, as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.