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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Kikaider

Android Kikaider (人造人間キカイダー), or simply Kikaider, is the 1972 series that was created by Ishinomori and is one of the quintessentially iconic tokusatsu shows, being one of the first to air in the West.

It sees the android Jiro fight for justice, and revenge for his creator, against the despicable DARK and their Dark Destruction Corps. It’s basically another Kamen Rider except this one looks really, really daft.

kikaider rhino

I know I’m supposed to give the show the benefit of the doubt because of it’s age but I’ve put up with a lot of Ishinomori’s nonsense over the course of these past two months and having to watch his best idea but worse isn’t exactly endearing to me.

kikaider entrance

I will say that Jiro, played by Daisuke “Battle Cossack” Ban, looks good in the role and I now have more of an appreciation for Rento Makina, the Rider homage to Kikaider in Kamen Rider Zi-O. They nailed that 70s denim and flairs aesthetic that looks really cool for some reason. I can’t really speak to the other cast members because they’re not given a lot of lines to work with.

The fight choreography is really stilted and that’s a massive drawback for me. I’ll forgive a lot of nonsense for cool action but Kikaider’s got nothing in a fight except a lacklustre chop. You’re a machine man, throw a punch! I did like the rhino monster and the stylised tease of the monsters we can expect as the show goes on but I wonder if Kikaider suffered from monster recycling like more modern toku does?

kikaider end

Kikaider is an iconic tokusatsu that you will no doubt recognise from look alone so while you’ve got access to a subbed version, I recommend checking it out so you can say you’ve watched it at least. You might as well, eh? Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Kikaider 01, which was due to be reviewed by me but since it has no English subs (not even auto-generated), I skipped it in favour of this show.

You can now find Kikaider, 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: Daitetsujin 17

Daitetsujin 17 (大鉄人17) is what you get when Shotaro Ishinomori decides to make his own version of Giant Robo and it is fantastic. The 1977 series ran for a total of 35 episodes and even made its way over to the US, albeit in a rather unique fashion. Several of its episodes were edited into a movie, which was then released under a number of different titles – including “Brain 17” and “The Defenders and the Giant Brain”. The titular robot has also had numerous toys over the years, many of which I’ve been heartbroken to discover are inordinately expensive now. If you haven’t already realised, I REALLY liked this show.

The show opens at the International Peace Corps Research facility, which houses Brain – a giant supercomputer designed to help protect the Earth from disaster. However all of a sudden Brain goes haywire and starts firing at its guards, causing mass destruction as it up and leaves the facility. Already the show feels like a massive flex when it comes to visual effects. Brain is this elaborate construction of gears and globes, lit up like a neon-coloured monstrosity. Its escape comes at the total destruction of the Research Facility, already setting a high bar for miniatures and pyrotechnics. And this is only the first three minutes.

Both Brain and the renowned scientist Professor Hastler have gone missing, and its up to the International Peace Corps (also known as the Red Scarves, because Ishinomori loves a red scarf) to find them. A year later and they still haven’t had any luck, but on a routine patrol they meet Saburo and his family. His sister is off to get married, but the family’s truck has gotten stuck. The Red Scarves help out and everything seems normal.

But on their journey of course leads to disaster, when a landslide throws their truck off a cliff – killing the family instantly. Saburo is left as the only survivor, noticing a robotic cylinder at the top of the cliff before passing out. When he wakes up at a Red Scarves camp Saburo immediately runs off, making his way back to the cliff. On the way he falls into a cave, where he finds both Brain and its Nazi-esque bodyguards.

While making his escape he inadvertently activates a giant robot also being stored into the cave, which comes to life and brings Saburo to the surface. Saburo thinks he’s about to die, but the robot just offers him a strange helmet. This is another instance of the show excelling at visual effects, not just from the robot itself (complete with transformation sequence and vibrant disco light eyes) but also the camera trickery used to illustrate the sheer size of the machine.

After leaving the robot he’s found by the Red Scarves, and the group begin to theorise that maybe Brain has chosen to turn evil of its own volition. They don’t have much time to think about it though as a giant steamroller robot begins destroying the city, in an EXTREMELY impressive display of miniature destruction.

The military’s efforts seem futile, but then the giant robot appears to save the day! As it celebrates victory and turns to our heroes, is the robot friend or foe? The episode ends on this fantastic cliffhanger, and immediately I wanted to click over to episode two rather than writing down my thoughts.

Daitetsujin 17 has it all. It has action, tragedy, strong protagonists and the kind of unbridled action we all love to see in tokusatsu. If you’ve ever watched a Super Sentai series and wanted a little more focus on the mecha action rather than the costumed heroes, this is the series for you. There may be a wealth of anime out there to get your mecha fix from, but it’s not quite the same as seeing the style and craftsmanship of it all in live-action. Usually I save the majority of my miniatures praise for Tsuburaya Productions, but Toei seriously brought their A game on this.

Daitetsujin 17 is the last series I’ll be writing a review of for this project, and rather unexpectedly it turned out to be far and away my favourite. I loved every second of this episode and definitely want to see more. If the Giant Robo tokusatsu can get a fully subbed DVD release, then I can’t see any reason why this can’t as well.

You can now find Daitetsujin 17 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: 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: Yojutsu Bugeicho

Yojutsu Bugeicho, or… Something, I can’t find anything about this nuts-o chambara show online other than it’s soundtrack so your guess is as good as mine when it comes to release and the history of the show. Shout-out to one great commenter on the video though for giving me the name of the leading man! Arigato, Daniel de Souza Celestino!

yojutsu bugeicho titleYojutsu Bugeicho is a 1969 samurai tokusatsu that puts me in mind of the Journey to the West homage Monkey (aka Monkey Magic) from 1979. It looks pretty cheap but the narrative style, gory effects, and colourful aesthetic really make this show pop, especially for it’s time. It follows a samurai who combats an evil Brahman sorcerer named Bisho Dojin alongside a chaotic neutral monk and a wise shogun lord.

yojutsu bugeicho kidoKido Makoto-no-suke, the aforementioned samurai, is played by none other than Isao Sasaki! Yes, the man who sung the opening themes to Goranger, JAKQ, Daimos, and dozens of others as well as dubbing Sylvester Stallone and Christopher Reeves is their most seminal movies! He barely talks in this but he’s got a real screen presence and big Elvis Presley energy. That hair is something to behold.

The Brahman forces are an odd bunch, employing all manner of weird magics and coming across as almost Naruto-esque in their utter reluctance to just be cut in half by a sharp blade. Right bunch of weirdos and I can only assume they get weirder as the show goes on.

There’s maybe 5 minutes of plot, which is to thwart Bisho Dojin’s plan to steal a princess, and the rest is mostly Kido and Kakuzen, the DiEnd-like monk, fighting a bunch of his men in a weird supernatural plain. There’s good banter between the two and I can see their friendly rivalry being a fun component of the show.

yojutsu bugeicho strangeYojutsu Bugeicho is a no frills supernatural samurai show that doesn’t demand too much brainpower but rewards the viewer with interesting visuals and some genuinely cool fights so I recommend checking it out!

You can now find Yojutsu Bugeicho, 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: Guy Slugger

Glacier Warrior Gaislugger (氷河戦士ガイスラッガー), or simply Guy Slugger, is a 1977 Toei animation that feels like a parody of Japanese anime of the 70’s. The characters looks like something out of Cyborg 009, they’re a sentai-esque team, there’s a child and animal mascot duo, and the aliens are green and spiky. It’s proper generic anime and is charming despite that.

Due to a hibernation experiment gone wrong, five Solon cybernoids find themselves awakening 30,000 years in the future on modern day Earth, just in time for their Inbem enemy to return to invade! It’s dead simple plot-wise but it’s not boring and feels like the time passes quick with it.

Each of the characters are fairly stock. Red Hero, Arsey Blue Hero, Girl, Child & Mascot Duo, Robot, and Human Scientist With Beard, all the old tropes you’re familiar with but with some quirks like Kaya’s face being looking the way it does and Ken having the name “Ken” and 70s anime hero hair.

The alien Inbem look like the villains from Gatchaman and pilot saucers and blimps because why not? I’m sure they’re you’re standard warrior race bent on conquering Earth because there’s not a lot to indicate otherwise.

I really don’t have a lot to say about this because it’s so utterly generic that you’ve probably seen half a dozen shows similar (hell, I think Voltron stole the Solon crest thingy) but I do recommend giving it a shot if you want to see an old animated show from the 70’s that isn’t bad at all.

You can now find Guy Slugger, 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: Magical Girl Chukana Ipanema!

If there’s one thing to take away from the Toei Fushigi Comedy Series, it’s that Shotaro Ishinomori was rocking the whole magical girl thing long before Sailor Moon became the cultural icon she is today. Among these is Magical Girl Chukana Ipanema! (魔法少女ちゅうかないぱねま!), the tenth entry in the series and direct sequel to Magical Girl Chukana PaiPai. Since both shows ran in 1989 for roughly six months, you could consider it the second season of a year-long piece on the Chuka Magic Realm.

Ipanema opens with our titular magical girl arriving on a deserted beach, proceeding to ask a number of sea creatures if they’ve seen her missing parents. Rather surprisingly a pair of them answer, revealing themselves to be Tigris and his son Euphrates – two other denizens of the Chuka Magic Realm. Neither character offer Ipanema much help, and neither show up in the episode again but it’s good to know they’re around I guess?

The action then switches to Takayama family, who aren’t properly introduced at any point in the episode but are immediately identifiable as the family Paipai lived with. This confirms Ipanema as a direct sequel, but the lack of introductions doesn’t really help anyone who’s jumping in with this series first. Turns out their battle-axe aunt Sangenjaya is making a comeback, so they’re in the market for another surrogate mother-figure.

This eventually leads to the kids crossing paths with Ipanema, who immediately spots the pendant Paipai left with them – a symbol of graduating Chuka Witch Academy. This causes a traumatic flashback where Ipanema was refused graduation because her parents are poor. Bit harsh really.

To cut a long story short Ipanema asks to live with the Takayamas just as Pai-Pai did, and all-male family being so desperate for someone to do their chores they quickly accept. Sangejaya however puts Ipanema through a number of impossible housewife duties to prove her worth, all of which she makes spectacularly worse by trying to use magic. Maybe she didn’t graduate for a reason other than being poor then?

Ipanema runs away and turns on the waterworks, so the youngest son tries to cheer her up with Paipai’s pendant. Doing so transforms her into Magical Girl Chukana Ipanema, and she makes puts her new powers to the test by turning the annoying old aunt into a walking gate.

After giving the pendant back Ipanema tells the kid that her identity as a magical girl must be kept a secret, to which he not only agrees but even pinky swears. So what’s the first thing he does? Tell his brothers of course! Until then it felt like the series had just been going through the motions, but that joke got a huge laugh out of me. The perfect note to end the episode on as well.

The lack of proper introductions make it really hard to recommend this series without having seen PaiPai first, but the general plot was easy enough to follow otherwise. For a comedy series a lot of it seemed to be surprisingly dramatic – Ipanema’s parents are missing and she cries an awful lot over the course of the episode, and not of it is ever played for laughs. These hints of a bigger story have me interested, but I am wary about just how reliant it’ll be on its predecessor.

You can now find Magical Girl Chukana Ipanema! 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: Utau! Dairyugujo

Utau! Dairyugujo (うたう!大龍宮城 Sing! Great Ryugujo) is the 13th entry in the Toei Fushigi Comedy Series, running for a total of 51 episodes in 1992. However, even among the rather unique selection of tokusatsu that make up the Fushigi Comedy Series this series is particularly unique, being a musical extravaganza loosely based on the fairytale of Urashima Taro. In this story, the titular hero was a fisherman who helped rescue a turtle and was rewarded by travelling to the Dragon Palace (Ryugujo) beneath the sea. There he spent what he thought was several days in the company of the princess Otohime, but when he returns home he discovers he was actually away for 100 years. Worse still, When he opens the forbidden jewelled box given to him by Otohime on his departure, he transforms into an old man.

However in this version of the story, Taro is a schoolboy who saves a taxi driver from a rather irksome television reporter. When the taxi helps Taro make his getaway, he discovers the driver’s name is Hiki Kameyama (Turtle Mountain) and jokes that now he should take him to Ryugujo like the old story. Of course, Taro didn’t expect to be quite so on the nose with this.

Arriving in Ryugujo he meets the princess Otohime, who proves her legitimacy by temporarily transforming Taro into an old man using the flute of the forbidden jewelled box. She explains that Ryugujo used to be a happy place full of fun and musical numbers, but pollution from mankind has thrown the kingdom into chaos. She begs Taro for help, and he agrees to think about – suddenly arriving back in the real world.

Meanwhile his parents are getting ready to jet off on a business trip to Fiji for a whole year like all Japanese parents tend to in these stories, but they can’t leave because they have Taro. Taro wants to get out of studying, and Otohime is looking for a new place to live so it looks as though everything is falling into place. Nice to know his parents are happy to leave him with a complete stranger.

After a brief musical number Taro discovers his plan wasn’t quite so flawless, as Otohime is actually really interested in studying since she isn’t allowed to do it back home. Not that she’s going to have much chance here either though, because her parents King Whale and Queen Coral have also decided to come and live here! They also partake in a rather jaunty musical number, and then everyone has a dance to Otohime’s magic music.

At the same time, the reporter from earlier has tracked the taxi driver down to Taro’s house, and witnesses the Otohime’s magic powers. So she kindly responds by turning him into a baby, and then dumping him far away until the magic wears off. And so the story and obvious shenanigans begin!

Utau! Dairyugujo certainly isn’t your conventional tokusatsu (when it comes to Western expectations of the word anyway) so will likely be overlooked by many, but if you’re into musicals and Japanese folklore adaptations this first episode suggests it should be a pretty good time. Otohime’s slow musical number does break the flow of the episode a little, but it’s a beautiful piece of music so can be forgiven. The characters are all extremely likeable and the show has a great sense of humour and uses the original Urashima Taro cleverly, so definitely feels like a winner in my book.

If you’re looking for something a little different from the norm (not that there isn’t plenty of that available on the Toei Tokusatsu World Official channel), then I highly suggest giving Utau! Dairyugujo a go!

You can now find Utau! Dairyugujo 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: Combattler V

Chōdenji Robo Combattler V (超電磁ロボ コン·バトラーV) is the first instalment in Toei’s Robot Romance Trilogy, first airing all the way back in 1976. The series also made a name for itself in America, where the robot was a big part of Mattel’s Shogun Warriors toy line and released under the name “Combattra”. Shogun Warriors even had its own comic book mini-series, with the Combattler issues featuring a guest appearance from the Fantastic Four. That’s right, Combattler V has crossed over with Marvel’s first family. That’s pretty damn impressive even before you get into the first episode.

Millions of years ago, aliens arrived on Earth long before the evolution of humans and buried themselves deep underground – waiting for the opportunity to take the planet for themselves once more. Now these ancient aliens, led by the ruthless Garuda, are ready to attack with their army of giant Slavebeasts. Thankfully, the genius Doctor Nanbara anticipated this attack, building the giant super robot Combattler V and bringing together five candidates to pilot its various components. Though they don’t all get along just yet, Combattler V is able to save the day and show Garuda that the Earth is defended.

Though the specifics might be a little different, this is pretty much the same basic plot line you’ll find across all the super robot shows from the 70s and 80s. But if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and it’s those specifics that make Combattler V stand out from the crowd. The introduction to our motley crew of heroes is insanely fun. The situation is so desperate that each of them have been given a special pass that not only means every government department has to follow their orders, but they’re allowed to break any laws if it means getting to Nanbara’s lab.

So what do they do? We see hot-headed Hyouma trash some police cars in a dramatic motorcycle chase, sharp-shooter Juuzou take a loaded gun on a bullet train, wannabe artist Daisaku demand a lift to the lab in a fire engine and child genius Kosuke ignore all airport luggage laws. These guys may all be heroes deep down, but I respect the way they’re being complete asses about it. Rounding off the team is the doctor’s granddaughter Chizuru, who the whole team immediately seem to fall in love with because of course they do.

The sequence in which the pilots take to their vehicles was ripped straight out of Thunderbirds, and as a huge fan of Gerry Anderson’s works I’m always pleased to see just how his work influenced the worlds of anime and tokusatsu. The Combattler V components have all been carefully designed to match their pilots, with each of them getting to show off in the fight before coming together for the big combination. Another fun element of all these super robot shows is seeing how they explain away the pilots all being near-perfect at controlling it – this time their helmets download the controls into their brains. Simple, but certainly effective.

Finally we have the Campbellians – our rather strange bunch of alien villains. Garuda’s motivation to conquer Earth is so that he can finally address his mother as “mother” – and said mother also happens to be a giant statue. He starts out as a beautiful green skinned man, but quickly turns into a fierce bird man for no real reason. Also it looks like none of his subordinates have any legs. The deep underground is clearly a strange, strange place.

If you’re a fan of classic super robot shows, then Combattler V is a must-watch. While it doesn’t exactly break the mould, it gets all of those popular tropes right to create the perfect package.

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

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Pettonton

Joining the ranks of programmes on Toei Tokusatsu World to blatently plagiarise Hollywood blockbusters is Pettonton (ペットントン), the third entry in the Toei Fushigi Comedy Series. It starts as many of the Fushigi alien encounter series does… 1) Boy finds alien, 2) Boy inexplicably loses conciousness 3) Boy wakes believing the encounter was a dream, 4) Boy finds it wasn’t a dream and the alien crashes the family unit to much hilarity. In this case, step 4 is put on hold as the boy ditches the alien, or E.T. as they call him and he eats grass and gets sick. He’s taken to a veterinary surgery where he randomly injects himself with something and is miraculously better. Incredulous that his child has failed to appropriately ditch the alien, Dad shoves it on the back of a truck and allows it to be driven away. Stellar parenting and animal care going on here.

The joke is on Dad, though as the alien, Pettonton, find his way back to his home and is chased and attacked by the boy’s mother and grandmother. Resolved to prevent the destruction of Earth, because all mistreated aliens will eventually call for reinforcements and kill us all, the boy, Negita, tries to leave home with Pettonton in tow. This plan comes undone when Dad nearly falls to his death from a balcony, Pettonton saves him and the vet arrives to tell the family what a wonderful creature the alien is. Now, they decide to keep him, obviously. Thrilled, Pettonton swells up like a balloon and he floats up into the sky with a grinning Negita holding tight to him.

This show was an assault on my brain and, honestly, I don’t know how they’re going to drag this out for 46 episodes. Like many of the other Fushigi Comedies, the humour either goes over my head as a non-Japanese native or… it just isn’t very funny. Apparently, a bounty arrives to try and take Pettonton later in the series but, honestly, I don’t think that’s worth waiting for.

If you’re looking for a watered-down, Japanese version of E.T., then this is the show for you. If not… try something else.

Pettonton, as well as all of the other Toei Fushigi Comedy Series, are available to view on Toei Tokusatsu World’s official YouTube channel. There’s lots of much better stuff, too…

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Toei Tokusatsu World Reviews: Masked Rider Shin

Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue (真・仮面ライダー 序章 (プロローグ), also known as Masked Rider Shin, is a 1992 V-Cinema that came about in the period between what we now know as the Showa and Heisei eras. Technically part of the former, the V-Cinemas of Shin, ZO, and J are all stand-alone and really stand apart from both eras with their combined aesthetic.

masked rider shin henshin

As the 20th anniversary of the Kamen Rider franchise, Shin shares a lot of thematic elements with it’s progenitor, the original Kamen Rider series. A shadowy organisation, heavy influences of the military-industrial complex, cyborgs, grasshoppers, it’s got it all! Not only that but the version available on the Toei Tokusatsu World account is the uncut version so there’s a heaping helping of haemoglobin and some cheeky T&A so it’s got all the makings of an early 90’s B-movie monster action movie.

masked rider shin win against god

It’s a shame that it’s boring as sin. It’s plodding, it’s more padded than the Shin suit, and the characters are the blandest, one-note character archetypes they might as well be 2D. If you’ve seen any kind of Kamen Rider series, you know what this movie is about and if you’ve ever seen 1991’s The Guyver then you’ve seen a better movie than this and should really watch it again.

masked rider shin dream

Shin Kazamatsuri is a human test subject for his father’s cancer/AIDS research and, thanks to the manipulation of the higher-ups, is secretly fitted with a bunch of bio-engineered cybernetic nonsense to turn him into a really dumb-looking karate bugman. The transformation scenes takes obvious cues from American Werewolf in London and the main antagonist is basically a Tyrant from Resident Evil with a swiss army knife for an arm.

masked rider shin baby

There’s also this roach fetus because… Why not? That’s some horrifying Cronenbergian nonsense.

masked rider shin good shot

Technically, the film is serviceable and the effects are on-par with what you’d expect of tokusatsu of the time but it’s biggest deficit is the plot and if you’re looking for something similar, I’d say you’d have more fun watching Kamen Rider Amazons because they’re pretty similar but the latter has a better plot overall.

masked rider shin ishinomori

Oh, there’s also an Ishinomori cameo, which I found delightful.

Fellow Toei World reviewer, Alex, said that watching Shin is “an experience” and I’m certainly of that mindset right now. I definitely “experienced” this movie but I don’t think it’ll be a lasting one.

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