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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Robotack

Robotack begins as most of these robot buddy programmes do… without any context as to where the robots came from. This one is a dog and a detective as well, though, so I guess everything is alright? Tetsuwan Tantei Robotack (テツワン探偵ロボタック) is actually the last of the Metal Hero Series’, bringing to a close the franchise after seventeen series. It was a sequel, somewhat, to its predecessor B-Robo Kabutack in that some of the characters carried over and the cute, loveable, small bots can transform into larger fighting machines but, from what I gather, the similarities pretty much end there.

The premiere begins with the titular character, Robotack, roaming the streets in search of food. He stumbles into the office of the Shardock Private Detective Agency where the agency’s president, Kaoru Sugi, is also hungry and begging money from his nephew, Kakeru Yukiyanagi so that he can order takeout. Now indebted to Sugi, Robotack joins the detective agency. This begins to work in Robotack’s favour quickly as young Kakeru resolves to help the robodog with his mission: find the Land Tool, the secret treasure of the Harappa Land.

Robotack and Kakeru happen upon a clue in the search for the Land Tool while on an errand of Sugi but, in the same vein as Kabutack, they are thwarted by two other robots called DarkCrow and Kabados and are whisked away to undergo a trial in order to earn the Congra Trophy, essential trinket fodder to find the Land Tool. In charge of the challenge is Master Ranking, a Ganesh-like elephant robot, who will award the winner of the Ranking Game with a trophy and dole out a failure game to the loser.

In order to help them complete challenges, the robots can Magnet Change into larger, more nimble forms. The evil robots seem to be able to do this at will, for a limited time, but Robotack’s transformation is linked to an instrument called the Magnet Flute. More will become of that as the series progresses, I’m sure.

Robotack is another in the line of fun-loving buddy robot tokusatsu that we’ve looked at a lot during these Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews. I think, at this point, you either like this style of show or you don’t. They were clearly very popular with Japanese audiences because they just kept them coming! Robotack, much like Kabutack, had some cute, colourful characters that were designed to sell toys. I’d say it’s worth a watch especially for those keen to watch all of the Metal Hero Series.

You can watch Tetsuwan Tantei Robotack and all of the other Metal Hero Series (that weren’t adapted by Saban) on the Toei Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel.

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Janperson

The Toei Company sure love their robot detectives and police officers, especially in the Metal Hero Series, and so here’s another one: Tokusou Robo Janperson (特捜ロボ ジャンパーソン). Unlike other Metal Hero Series, and tokusatsu in general, Janperson doesn’t follow the usual monster of the week format with the title character instead opposing semi-regular criminal forces, including three crime syndicates over the course of the series. Janperson is more like a cop drama than a tokusatsu but has a sentient robot, augmented villainsm, mecha and lots of explosions, so it is a tokusatsu. Got that? Good.

When Janperson arrives on the scene, we see that he is completely robotic. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t transform, though… the robot cop takes off his jacket and puts on a mask! Dramatic stuff. Speaking of dramatic (although genuinely moreso in this case), the three cyborgs that oppose our hero in episode one – members of the evil crime syndicate, Guild – throw two burning cars at him. Janperson catches them, forces them apart and walks through the fiery, dilapidated machinery to continue the fight. Our hero.

The villains in this programme, or at least the first episode, leave a little to be desired in my book. The three brooding cyborgs that wreak havoc in this episode do so without any explanation and mostly just stare blankly at people while their arms flay open and shoot people. They shoot little rocket bullets from their mouths, too, but this effect is poorly executed and would have looked out of place in the earliest fifties tokusatsu, let alone in the nineties. I can’t be alone in wanting the villains to get a little exposition in the opener that explains why they’re trying to kill us all. It’s the least they can do before getting all homicidal, frankly.

The special effects and villain choreography are a little dated, especially for a 1993 production, but this isn’t too jarring and can be chalked up as the chuckleworthy kitsch regular toku viewers will be used to. Something else toku fans may be used to is the amount of kit that Janperson has to do his job. With over 15 weapons and a couple of vehicle mecha in his arsenal, there are obviously a lot of toys available for this series… a lot.

The soundtrack continues in the tradition of music in the vein of seventies and eighties American cop shows like CHIPs and Hawaii Five-O but there’s also a fairly blatant cover of the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme song in here, too; as both a massive trekkie and a massive otaku, I appreciated it… but it’s very cheeky!

Should you be watching this series? Probably. If you enjoyed the other cop based offerings of the Toei Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel, like Exceed Draft, Robot Detective, Jiban or Blue SWAT, then you’re going to like this. At the same time, the cop motif, especially the robot cop motif, is a little done in the Metal Hero Series and I’d forgive you for seeking out something a tad more unique.

Tokusou Robo Janperson is one of the many, many cop based Metal Hero Series available on the Toei Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel. The first few episodes are ready to view with English subtitles.

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Jiban

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Robocop was a tokusatsu show, the answer is Jiban. Mobile Cop Jiban (機動刑事ジバン) is the eighth Metal Hero Series, coming after Jiraiya chronologically but tells a completely different story to it’s predecessor, as Toei’s programming often does. Despite coming out in 1989, this show is very nineties using such hallmarks as floppy disks and video playback via 5mm jack. Classic.

About that floppy disk sighting; I love a good floppy disk in television… it’s a lost prop, sadly. Whipping out a USB stick or doing a data transfer just doesn’t have the same appeal. These villainesses were pretty miffed to have lost their floppy disk and I can’t say I blame them. Sad times, indeed.

Though it’s not explained in the first episode, Jiban is a man named Naoto Tamura whom, after being killed in the line of duty, is brought back to life as a cyborg. While he spends most of the episode in his robot form, he is able to transform into his human form to and does so at the end of the episode. I don’t quite understand if he’s a dude in a suit or whether his human form is just an illusion but, if he is a dude in a suit, he sure moves robotically. I guess the goal was to emulate the movements of Robocop as well as plagiarise its story. Robocop was super popular at the time so I suppose you can’t blame Toei for wanting a piece of that pie.

Some things are thrown in just to make Jiban seem more robot-y… like, I’m not sure hiding away his badge / warrant card in a hidden waist compartment, behind a red button, is completely necessary. Not to mention it takes him several second to lift his arm but he has a super-speed mode in which he can cross a room in less time. Just seems like they might have been trying too hard…

The villains are a touch generic. The Criminal Syndicate Bioron, led by Dr. Giba, are your run of the mill, take over the Earth kinda bad guys. The first episode did little to explain their motivations for that but did establish that their modus operandi is bio-weaponry, which I don’t remember seeing a whole lot in other toku genre shows. The suits are fairly nifty and slightly ahead of their time in comparison to other shows of the late eighties. It probably would have made a great Saban adaption of it want going to get their pants sued off by Orion Pictures.

Overall, if you can get over the fact that this show is basically the Adventures of Robocop in Tokuland then I’d say it’s worth a watch. I’m not sure you’re going to get too much in the way of character development but making that assessment based on the first episode alone may be grossly unfair. I’ll watch it all one day and let you know.

You can watch Mobile Cop Jiban as well as the other Metal Hero Series, and so much more, on Toei Tokusatsu World’s official YouTube channel.

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Blue Swat

Blue SWAT (ブルースワット) is the 1994 Metal Hero Series immediately preceeding Juukou B-Fighter, one of the last Metal Hero Series adapted by Haim Saban. With this in mind, I’m keen to know what it is about this show that made it unadaptable in the eyes of the Saban brass and, obviously, is this a series that is going to grip me enough to watch it in full as Toei continue to drop it on Toei Tokusatsu World Official.

The show revolves around the invasion of an alien race whom are eventually referred to as the Space Mafia but in this episode are imaginatively referred to as ‘alien’. They are able to “invade” humans and posses their bodies; a plan they will use to put themselves in positions of power, stockpile resources and gradually take over the planet. In this episode, our title team expose a bank manager who has been “invaded” before going back to their headquarters in time for their chief to be “invaded,” kill everyone and destroy the building. The team are generally undeterred (save for one of the trio who is pissed he won’t be getting his wage bonus) and take to the streets to defeat an alien with their extensive range of weaponry. I expect the story will develop from here and Blue SWAT will form their own agency to help them, as often happens in tokusatsu.

I find myself particularly enamoured with the female SWAT member, Sara Misugi. She’s strong willed and doesn’t take any crap from eccentric, money-minded Sho Narumi. When leader, Sig, is reunited with the team at the bank, Sara serves as an excellent second, communicating well with him. She’s all business; I dig that. It will be interesting to see how this already strong character develops over the course of the series, should I stick with it.

As for my question in the opening… this show focused heavily around guns, heavy weaponry and military style operations, something that would never make it to air in an American kids show. The tone overall is a lot more adult, the aliens are a lot darker and gruesome than most other Metal Heroes, most of the first episode (and I’d assume the majority of the series) was spent out of suit and there’s no mecha or marketable toys of note. The series looks like it may be a compelling one but it doesn’t take long to realise that this footage wouldn’t be a whole hell of a lot of use for an American adaptation.

Overall, Blue SWAT is fairly straightforward. As the name might suggest, it’s more of a cop show than your regular Metal Hero Series but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s got a kind of gun nut meets Dekaranger vibe to it; make of that what you will. I’ll probably give this a few more episodes to really grab me but I liked what we got from the first episode and if you’re looking for a slightly darker toku with creepy-ass aliens, Blue SWAT is the Metal Hero Series for you.

The first few episodes of Blue SWAT, as well as a selection of other Metal Hero Series, are available to view now on Toei Tokusatsu World Official on YouTube.

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Solbrain

Tokkyuu Shirei Solbrain (特救指令ソルブレイン), or simply Solbrain, is exactly the kind of Metal Hero show I was expecting and I enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s the kind of show I expected Winspector to be but didn’t get but it still defied some of my expectations.

solbrain that guyWe kick off with a seeming alien invasion and the Special Rescue Command scrambling to combat the threat and assist civilians. There’s a real Gerry Anderson vibe going on and I really appreciate that. A familiar-looking commander dispatches his top agent, Daiki Nishio, to interrogate a professor who created the space station that is suddenly going mental above the city.

solbrain professorTurns out that Dr Inagaki has gone full mad scientist and is allowing his AI creation to run amok in the name of scientific progress, consequences be damned. He even tries to sacrifice his son to his new AI overlord and I can’t believe he doesn’t get arrested immediately afterwards. It baffles me that his realisation that maybe he was a bit wrong to create a murderous AI and want his son to have his brain scooped out is enough for the Solbrain team and he isn’t in cuffs.

solbrain teamThe Solbrain team is pretty cool. You’ve got Daiki (aka SolBraver), your typical hot-blooded hero, Reiko Higuchi (aka SolJeanne), the medic/support heroine, and then there’s Jun Masuda who, surprisingly, isn’t the pilot of the yellow construction suit. Why? He seems cool! Give him a suit!

The Solbrain team also has a Thunderbirds-esque vehicle called the Solid States piloted by a bunch of no-names and is essentially a giant fire engine that can fly. That’s brilliant and I immediately went looking for a toy version!

solbrain peaceAfter the day is saved, and Daiki takes off his helmet to reveal a sweat-drenched horror grin, is when I realised that the commander is the same guy from Winspector. I thought he looked familiar but didn’t want to say because “all Japanese toku commanders look alike” isn’t a great stance to have but blow me down, it was! This is a sequel to Winspector! The episode ends exactly the same way!

solbrain brain attackSolbrain is the better version of Winspector to me. It plays out in much the same way as Winspector’s first episode does but with better pacing, establishment of threat, and no comedy robots. Even the sole child actor serves a purpose!

It’s a fun first episode and I may continue on and see where it goes and I encourage you all to check it out for yourselves!

You can now find Solbrain, as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Juspion

The eighties was a special time in history: Ghostbusters, David Bowie, Back to the Future, Guns N’ Roses and… Juspion. Megabeast Investigator Juspion (a portmanteau of the words justice and champion) is, well, a champion of justice, roaming the galaxy looking for trouble caused by show antagonist Satan Gorth – himself a physical portmanteau of Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Transformers’ Megatron.

For some unknown reason, Toei distribute this show as Jaspion, with an a, despite that not being how justice is spelled. We must remember, though, that this is the same production company that has since brought us such wonderful translation as Gord Drive, rather than gold, so you’ll forgive me if I give their official romanisation a pass in this instance.

Our story begins on the planet Ejin with a bearded, King Lexian-looking cave dweller, Ejin, reading prophecy from the Ancient Galactic Bible at just the right time as to foretell the coming of Satan Gorth, whose arrival will send the Megabeasts into a frenzy and unleash their rampage on the universe. Ejin sends his student, the titular protagonist, Juspion, out into space to fight the rampaging kaiju and generally give Gorth a hard time.

To bring the fight to Satan Gorth and his corrupted Megabeasts, Juspion is equipped with a Metal Tech Suit made of a supermetal, Ejinium (that guy gets everywhere) and the Ultra Planetary Battleship Daileon which both carries him through space and transforms into a super robot to fight his giant enemies with.

Juspion is accompanied by Anri. Anri is a gynoid – that’s a female android to you or I – created by, you guessed it, Ejin to be Juspion’s companion. After the first episode, the pair are joined by Miya, an alien creature that saves Juspion and Anri from evil dudes with bows and arrows on the planet, Beezee. Miya’s friend is killed in the process and Juspion abandons him so I’m not quite sure why this cute little critter wants anything to do with our “hero.” Juspion is a bit of an ass, actually. He is overacted pretty egregiously by Hikaru Kurosaki and, in the first episode at least, doesn’t really look outside of his own views and desires. It seems like he starts to understand the responsibility on his shoulders as the episode closes so perhaps the character will mature and develop as the series progresses.

Continuing the borrowing of styles from other franchises, the Megabeasts are kaiju plucked straight from the Godzilla design book. The first episode’s monsters of the week, Marigos and Hanedar, are Juspion’s answer to Gamera and Rodan. The battle between Battle Giant Daileon and the Megabeasts was more like something you’d see in Super Sentai and I’m very surprised that Haim Saban didn’t utilise the footage from this show when he was running out of Metal Hero to adapt. The Juspion suit is very similar to the Spielban suit used by J.B. Reese in VR Troopers so perhaps they felt they couldn’t go back. Either way, if you like your toku in the form of robots fighting monsters, pull up a chair.

While I have a few gripes with Juspion, mostly with the main character, this first episode was enjoyable and I think the series will take the best aspects from its debut and run with them. The monster designs, despite being blatant plagiarism, are very good and the giant battles are well filmed and choreographed for the time. I’m looking forward to seeing if Juspion himself grows as a character; it desperately needs to happen, and fast.

If you end up enjoying Juspion, you can look forward to a remake movie produced by Brazilian filmmakers, Sato Company. The show was insanely popular in Brazil so it will be interesting to see what they do with it. The new Juspion movie is due for release this year.

You can watch Kyojuu Tokusou Juspion, and other Metal Hero Series, on the official Toei Tokusatsu World YouTube channel.

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Uchu Keiji Sharivan

Hey boy! Uchu Keiji Sharivan, a.k.a. Space Sheriff Sharivan, is the 1983 sequel to Space Sheriff Gavan and second installment in the metal heroes series. It follows Den Iga and Lily on their mission to protect earth from the evil Space Crime Syndicate Madou. 

To do this they travel to Den’s home world of earth after training on Planet Bird to become a Space Sheriff having been taken there to treat his injuries by Gavan in the previous series. Like Gavan he has an enormous ship (the Grand Birth) apparently only staffed by himself and Lily that can transform rather underwhelmingly into a robot with a skirt rather than a space dragon. 

While you’d expect some similarities between Sharivan and Gavan, considering they’re part of the same series, Sharivan opts to just do the same thing but slightly worse. It’s the same premise with minor differences and lower stakes since Makuu wreaks more destruction and is further along with their conquest of Earth than Madou. 

The characters as well are less engaging initially despite being introduced much sooner than their counterparts in Gavan and Den comes across as a much less dynamic character as he just stumbles across Madou’s forces rather than actively tracking them down. 

While I may seem like I’m ragging on the series I don’t hate it. If this was the first Metal Heroes show I’d seen I’d probably love it. However, I’ve been spoiled by Spielban. 

The special effects are good, though again Gavan’s were more impressive (it’s hard to top a skyscraper flying around a nightmare dimension). Unfortunately any praise I give the show will end up with the caveat of “x did it better though.” 

The cameos of the cast of Gavan, however, are very nice and give a rather rare connected universe for a Showa Toei series (aside from the first two rider shows and their team up movies).

Sharivan’s greatest sin is just being mediocre, nothing much stands out initially for good or bad. Unlike Gavan, Spielban fails to put it’s best foot forward. You could do a hell of a lot worse but you could always do better too. 

If you’re a die hard Metal Heroes fan then this is for you. If not though then I’d recommend coming back to this after watching more stand out shows first. 

The first two episodes of Uchu Keiji Sharivan, as well as a great number of Metal Hero Series, is available from the Toei Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel.

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Jiraiya

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.