Editor’s Note – This is another entry in my continued effort to chronicle major Tokusatsu franchises for newcomers looking to try them. However, while I’m very experienced with Kamen Rider and Ultraman, I know almost nothing about the other major Toei-produced toku properties – Sentai and Metal Heroes. In order to make articles for them, I put out a call for other toku fans around social media to contribute to these pieces!
This one comes from @SunshineMoonRX, who also graciously provided the screencaps for the piece. Go shoot them a follow on Twitter!
Space Sheriff Gavan (1982)
The show that started Metal Heroes in the first place, made by a team fresh off from creating some of the earliest Sentai, with a lot riding on it. Rider was off the air and Sentai only recently returned, and more or less the continued existence of Toei tokusatsu depended on Gavan doing well.
Thankfully, it was a huge success and is still remembered as a classic. I can see why – its film-making style is something no other toku I’ve seen has ever managed to recapture. When added to amazing visuals and music, it makes Gavan a really incredible aesthetic experience.
It’s not perfect–there’s a bit of “You’re a MAN, aren’t you?!” that hasn’t aged too well–but it remains a true sci-fi epic, and Gavan himself is brought to charming, athletic life by actor Kenji Ohba, a master stuntman in his own right who may well be the most emotive and the most acrobatically-gifted person ever to play a superhero.
I could go on and on about the other things I love in this show: Dolgiran (a ship that becomes an incredibly cool robot space dragon), Makuu Space (a dimension created by the villains where the laws of physics are completely disregarded), the Laser Blade (the coolest toku weapon in my estimation, with music to match), or the two episodes guest-starring my favourite actor Miyauchi Hiroshi, etc. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll just give it a hearty recommendation, especially if you’re interested in the continuing story of the Space Sheriffs. That arc spans this show, the two seasons following it, and several movies made in more recent years, which includes multiple crossovers with the Kamen Riders and Super Sentai.
(Subbed by Millionfold Curiosity)
Special MegaBeast Investigator Juspion (1985)
This was the first non-Space-Sheriff Metal Hero show, and because of that, it’s still quite stylistically similar to one. That’s not to say it doesn’t do anything original. It’s the most fast-paced Metal Hero I’ve seen, for one, so if you’re one of those who find older series’ tend to be a bit slow, it may be worth a shot.
It’s also extremely fun in its patent ridiculousness, from the hero’s outlandish getup to treating extremely silly concepts like the ‘Galaxy Bible’ and a villain named ‘Satan Goth’ very very seriously. The music is, again, fantastic, with almost every song extremely hummable (the theme for the giant robot, Daileon, is my personal most-sung).
The main thing with Juspion, really, is that it changes direction a lot. It spends a few episodes as a space-faring episodic affair, going from planet to planet sorting out giant-monster-related troubles, then settles on Earth and almost immediately acquires some recurring villains (and between evil-Metal-Hero Mad Gallant and space-witch Gilza, Juspion has some hella memorable villains over its run), mixing in more human-sized action and gaining more sense of an ongoing plot, or indeed, any plot at all.
So, not the most focused show, but always extremely fun.
(Subbed by MegaBeast Empire)
Dimensional Warrior Spielban (1986)
Like Juspion, Spielban still bears a fair few Space-Sheriff-esque stylings, but of the two it’s a lot more confident in what it is and goes at its extremely grand main concept full-force right from the first episode. Not that it doesn’t contain any silliness or anything, but it’s generally darker in tone than the preceding seasons, following the fates of an extremely tragic space-family forced into conflict and trying to reunite in the face of a great evil.
It’s also the first Metal Hero show to have multiple transforming heroes, and in a welcome rarity for a tokusatsu hero team, two of the three characters who appear across the show’s run are women.
The show’s handling of said women is…uh…kind of a monkey’s paw? There are, alas, some very blatantly fan-service-y outfits, particularly for otherwise-amazing character Diana. On the other hand, the camera doesn’t act like a hormonal thirteen-year-old like in many modern shows that do this, and there’s more female characters than male, with their own distinct storylines and goals. Because of that, they’re not beholden to the dudes’, so… I guess what I’m getting at, is while there are things I didn’t enjoy about it, I overall did enjoy it.
Anyway, what I’ve seen of the show so far tells an excellent and hard-hitting story, with solid large-scale action and affecting character drama…but I haven’t finished it, or anything close, so I can’t say what happens in the later episodes, if it gets drastically better or worse or what.
Also Machiko Soga, better known as Witch Bandora/Rita Repulsa, gives possibly the best performance of her career as the villain.
I would still recommend it based on what I’ve seen, though…alas, though, no subs past the first episode yet.
Superhuman Machine Metalder (1987)
Another darker entry, this one takes a drastic leap away from the Space Sheriff style and is really a big old Kikaider tribute, right down to the hero’s suit. (Kikaider being a very famous 70s manga/toku series by Rider/Sentai creator Ishinomori) This one is also very good, taking its robotic hero on a very emotional journey to learn how to be human, but where it really distinguishes itself is with its villains.
The Neros Empire is unique among tokusatsu because every single monster suit was made by the time the first episode aired. This allows them to shoot scenes of the entire army mobilizing, or intricate court-intrigue plotlines, and contribute generally to make the villains feel more like a mass of individuals with competing goals than almost any other group I’ve seen. Many of them are very engaging characters, too, making it quite tragic when they have to fight Metalder to the death.
Overall this is just an incredibly unique show, and you can watch just about the whole thing subbed if you don’t mind the quality varying from ‘decent’ to ‘garbled’. It’s definitely recommended, especially if ‘sad robots’ is your jam.