I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

JTM's Playlist - Tokusatsu Theme Song Edition

While deviating a little bit from the topic of J-Pop/Kayokyoku music, I wanted to post this entry covering my favorite Tokusatsu TV Show theme songs from the 70s and 80s.  These particular songs are not only very nostalgic but each hold a special place in my heart. Some of the songs/shows on this list may be familiar but others may be new to readers.

A word of caution however for those expecting to see entries for 「レッツゴー!!ライダーキック」/"Let's Go Kamen Rider Kick", 「ウルトラセブンの歌」/"Ultraseven No Uta" or even ゴーゴー・キカイダー」/"Go Go Kikaider".  As great and iconic as those songs are, I decided to not include those songs in this list as I wanted to focus on other theme songs that might not be as well known or beloved. I also selected songs for shows that in my opinion represented some of the best of Tokusatsu TV.  While some may question the inclusion of some of these entries, I feel this list has a good balance and that the various song selections are very unique and represent an interesting, diverse and eclectic sampling of theme song styles.  So without further ado here is my Tokusatsu Theme song list:

Theme from 『ジャイアントロボ』/"Giant Robo" (1967) - Performed by My Star Singer(s)/マイスタージンガー 
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One of my favorite shows growing up as a kid in the San Francisco Bay area was this show which aired as part of an anthology of dubbed Japanese Tokusatsu shows which included ウルトラマン』/"Ultraman" (1967), マグマ大使』/"Magma Taishi" (AKA "Space Giants"; 1966) and スペクトルマン』/"Spectreman" (1971) and shown during the "Captain Cosmic" Kids' TV show hosted by then popular Horror/Sci-Fi reviewer and local TV personality Bob Wilkins, who also hosted the popular cult late night B-Movie/Horror film movie show, "Creature Features" which aired Saturdays on KTVU Channel 2.  

『ジャイアントロボ』/"Giant Robo" was first broadcast in Japan by NET/Toei in 1967 and was adapted from a story by famed manga writer/artist Yokoyama Mitsuteru/横山光輝 which appeared in the weekly boys comic publication "Shonen Sunday".  Yokoyama is said to have combined elements of the Daiei movie "Daimajin" (1966) with elements of rival studio Tsuburaya's "Ultraman" series to come up with the story.  The TV series further included elements of James Bond "super spy" intrigue along with ideas taken from Yokoyama's own landmark 1956 Super Robot manga series 鉄人28号』/"Tetsujin Ninjyu Hachi Go" which was adapted to an animated series in 1963 (and aired in the U.S. as "Gigantor").

The English-dubbed version of the series (which was developed for American television by Reuben Guberman and produced by American International TV), credited Salvatore Billitteri as line producer and Manuel San Fernando as primary director, and was given the somewhat campy title of "Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot" (perhaps as a spoof on Hanna Barbera's cult cartoon series "Johnny Quest"?).

Precocious and adventurous elementary aged schoolboy Kusama Daisaku/Johnny Sokko (Kaneko Mitsunobu/金子光伸) is traveling the world alone (it is hinted that he is an orphan) when he meets up with handsome, Japanese Super Spy Minami Juro/Jerry Mano (Itoh Akio/伊東昭夫) AKA Agent "U3".  Minami is an agent for the Global Peacekeeping Force "Unicorn" which is devoted to stopping the evil galactic invaders "Big Fire" (AKA the "Gargoyle Gang") lead by the alien depot "Emperor Guillotine". Aiding Guillotine in his plans of world domination are a cadre of strange alien mutants (Dr. Over and Mr. Gold) as well as traitorous and sadistic human mercenaries (Spider, Black Dia) and deformed, altered henchmen (Red Cobra, Mummy Man and Dr. Snake).
 As part of the vanguard of Big Fire's invasion force is the Super Robot, "G1" codenamed "Giant Robo", who sported a peculiar Egyptian Pharoah/Sphinx appearance.  Built by a kidnapped foreign scientist (Professor/Dr. Lucius Guardian), the robot stands nearly 100 feet tall (30 meters), weighs 500 tons and is powered by an atomic/nuclear power source. Armed with nearly limitless array of weapons and virtually indestructible, Big Fire hopes to use the robot to destroy all humanity. However the Professor sacrifices his life by giving Daisaku the control watch that commands Giant Robo. Once Daisaku speaks to Giant Robo via the wristwatch controller, he is forever tied to the robot and no one else can command the robot from that moment forward.  Daisaku joins Minami and Unicorn in battling Big Fire and their army of monstrous, behemoths, rogue robots and mutant giants including "G2", Big Fire's own Super Robot machine and Calamity, an identical clone robot of Giant Robo controlled by a doppelganger of Daisaku.  

While not as groundbreaking as "Ultraman"(which debuted in the previous year), "Giant Robo" none-the-less inspired and paved the way for future Super Robot shows such as
大鉄人17/"Daitestujin 17" which shared many similarities. The stories, while obviously geared towards juvenile audiences, were played relatively straight-faced and the monster action and SFX were quite good for the time.  The finale stands as one of the most riveting and saddest endings in Tokusatsu history and proved that even though a kid's program, it still had the ability to move adults.
The series was re-visioned in Anime form in a seven part OVA series in 1992 by Imagawa Yasuhiro under the title ジャイアント・ロボ - 地球が静止する日/"Giant Robo: The Animation - The Day The Earth Stood Still". While the story bared little resemblance to the live action series it however featured various homages to creator Yokoyama's catalog of work and even included parody versions of various other Yokoyama characters in the story.  Another unrelated Anime series GR ジャイアントロボ』/"GR Giant Robo" also was made in 2007.
The striking title theme was composed by the great composer Yamashita Takeo/山下毅雄 who also composed such memorable themes to such shows such as ルパン三世』/"Lupin III" and プレイガール』//"The Playgirl", with lyrics supplied by writer Igami Masaru/伊上勝 who wrote for such shows as 仮面ライダー』//"Kamen Rider".  The Men's Choir group "My Star Singer(s) save the song and gave the theme an almost military sound to it with their booming, tenor vocals (the lyrics included some of the voice commands Daisaku would tell Giant Robo).

Theme from 『スペクトルマン』/"Spectreman" (1971/1978) - American version performed by .Jerry Winn, Bob Todd and Gregory Sill.
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This is probably one of the few instances where the American song actually was better than the Japanese theme.  『スペクトルマン』/"Spectreman" first aired in Japan on the Fuji TV network and was produced by Animator turned TV producer Ushio Souji/うしおそうじ and his maverick Tokusatsu company "P-Productions"/ピー・プロダクション or "P-Pro"/「ピープロ」 for short. While P-Pro didn't really have the money and production advantages of its larger rivals Toei, Toho and Tsuburaya, P-Pro made up for it by creating high concept, wildly inventive and incredibly entertaining Tokusatsu shows such as "Magma Taishi" (AKA Space Giants)/マグマ大使(1966), "Kaikestu Lion Maru/快傑ライオン丸』(1972), "Tetsujin Tiger Seven"/鉄人タイガーセブン』(1973) and "Denjin Zaborger"/『電人ザボーガー』(1974) among others.

The story was very intriguing and surprisingly adult in theme - The brilliant but hopelessly evil simian/humanoid genius Gori (think Grodd from the DC Comics "Flash" series), is ostracized and banished by his people for numerous crimes against his homeworld, Planet E. Driven by force from the planet, Gori and his brutish but fiercely loyal henchmen Laa (Gori and Laa as in "Gorilla") seek out a new world to call their own and take over. They happen upon Earth and deem it a suitable and worthy planet for takeover however they are repulsed and shocked by the rampant pollution that surrounds the planet. Vowing to rid the Earth of the pollution and the humans who have caused it, they set about to turn the toxic chemicals against humankind by transforming the materials into monstrous and inhuman abominations which they then unleash upon the Earth.

The benevolent aliens of Star Nebula 71 having witnessed Gori's madness sends one of their super cyborg enforcers, Spectreman to intervene and protect the world from Gori and Laa's monster army.  Disguising himself as a normal human, Gamo Joji (George in the American version), Spectreman joins the Japanese Anti-Pollution Task Force, "Kogai G-Men"/「公害Gメン」 (Pollution G-Men) to stop the invaders.

The stories were surprisingly dramatic and dark for a children's program. For example one episode was a play off of the story "Flowers For Algernon" in which Gori amplifies the intelligence of a Mentally-Challenged youth but instead of turning him into a genius, he is corrupted into a monsterous Super-Intelligent giant (his pet dog is also transformed into a 
monster dog).
Even the finale had a fairly dark tone.  As Spectreman and Gori face off in battle one last time, Spectreman pleads with Gori to use his intelligence to help humankind and give up on his ambitions of conquering the universe.  Yet despite Spectreman's pleadings, Gori refuses to submit, arrogantly exclaiming that he would rather die than be a benevolent force in the universe and promptly destroys himself.

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Produced by Richard L. Rosenfeld in collaboration with character actor turned producer Mel Welles (1960 version of "Little Shop of Horrors"), the American version (which aired several years later in 1978) surprisingly kept most of the dark story elements intact only minimizing the level of violence shown in the show. 

The theme song with was sung by a trio of Folk/Rock musicians - Jerry Winn, Bob Todd and Gregory Sill (whose credits include the soundtracks to a few Soap Opera dramas), had a very eclectic sound and resembled a somewhat trippy, 60s rock anthem but was very fun although the absurd lyrics were a bit overly campy.  It certainly was memorable and was actually better than the original theme - "Spectreman - Go Go"/「スペクトルマン・ゴーゴー」 which was sung by studio musicians, "The Honey Knights" along with the Misuzu Children's Choir and the "Studio Orchestra".
"Spectreman" underwent several title changes during its run - shifting titles from "Uchuu Enjin Gori"/宇宙猿人ゴリ(Episodes No. 1 - 20), to "Uchuu Enjin Gori vs. Spectreman"/宇宙猿人ゴリ対スペクトルマン(Episode No. 21 -39)before finally settling on just "Spectreman"/スペクトルマン for the remainder of the 63 episodes.

Theme from フラワーアクション 009ノ1 』/"Flower Action Zero Zero Kunoichi/Oh Oh Nine One" (1969) - Music by Kobayashi Asei/小林 亜星

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(I'm sorry but the video has been taken down.)

While not technically a Tokusatsu show, フラワーアクション 009ノ1 』/"Flower Action Zero Zero Kunoichi/Oh Oh Nine One" did have some roots in Sci-Fi and was one of Toei's early action/comedy series in the same style as "The Avengers" and "Man From U.N.C.L.E.". It featured the popular 60's talent group "Nishino Bellet Dan Go Nin Musume" (The Five Gals of the Nishino Ballet Group) which had a young 由美かおる/Yumi Kaoru as one of its members.

Very different in style and story to Ishinomori Shoutaro's original manga and the 2006 Anime adaptation "Zero Zero Nine One" OVA, the story featured "Spade" (金井克子/Kanai Katsuko), "Heart" (由美かおる/Yumi Kaoru), "Club" (原田糸子/Harada Itoko), "Dia" AKA Diamond (奈美悦子/Nami Etsuko), and "Monkey" (江美早苗/Emi Sanae) as a  the five women team of ZERO ZERO KU NO ICHI AKA Zero Zero Nine One, a "super secret" team of beautiful spies who are part of the Japanese branch of the TRUMP organization (no, not the Donald Trump one), a secret international police agency dedicated to battling evil around the world. The beautiful agents report directly to their boss, the allusive magician/trickster "Joker" (引田天功/Hikita Tenko) and operate out of a small, "groovy pad" in the heart of Tokyo. Sometimes the mysterious "Jack of All Trades" (松山英太郎/Matsuyama Eitaro) also assists in their missions. Their most frequent nemesis is Mr. Suji (AKA Mr. X) and his minions of the sinister criminal organization DARK SYNDICATE.

Although its inventive, campy tone and 60s Mod styling were very cool for the time, the show was canceled due to low ratings lasting only 13 episodes but as evidenced by the awesome OP sequence, the show was a visual delight. Ishinomori eventually used many of the elements here in his Tokusatsu Sentai 1977 series ジャッカー電撃隊』/"JAKQ Dengeki Tai".

While similarities to "Girl From U.N.C.L.E." and "Modesty Blaise" were evident, the show was also a precursor to the much more adult themed "Playgirl" which would follow a few month later.

While most of the actresses may be unfamiliar to Western Audiences, Yumi Kaoru is perhaps the best known among Godzilla fans for her work in Toho's cult spy thriller "ESpy".

An OVA anime series that was a bit closer to the Ishinomori manga and had the girls as cyborgs similar to Ishinomori's famed 
サイボーグ 009/"Cyborg 009" series was released in 2006.  Also to celebrate Ishinomori's 75th birthday, a low budget Toei action film based on his manga - 009ノ1 ゼロゼロクノイチ THE END OF THE BEGINNING』 was also released last year (2013).
The rousing and infectiously vibrant theme song was composed by prolific composer
Kobayashi Asei/小林亜星 whose credits include numerous CM/Advert songs, anime tunes and movie themes.

Ending Theme to 秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー』/"Himitsu Sentai Goranger" (1975) - Performed by ささきいさお & こおろぎ'73/Sasaki Isao and Korogi '73
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(karaoke version)

The Grand Daddy of all the Sentai Shows, 秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー』/"Himitsu Sentai Goranger" started it all and helped build one of Toei's longest running genre series. "Goranger" debuted on the NET TV network (now Asahi TV) in 1975.  It ran for 84 episodes and spawned six special "Manga Matsuri" featurette movies during the course of its run. 

With its gimmick of uniting a group of "henshin" superheroes under the banner of a "superhero army" and its incorporating a combination of super spy action with children's hero fantasy and gag elements in the story, "Goranger" not only became a monster hit on TV (earning an unprecedented 22% audience viewership at the time) but also helped to cement a story formula that has continued on for nearly 40 years. It was a series that not only entertained its kid demographic audience but also captured the imagination of their parents.

"Goranger" was heavily influenced by Tatsunoko Pro's landmark 1972 anime series
科学忍者隊ガッチャマン/"Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman". Creator/producer Ishinomori Shotaro/石ノ森 章太郎 borrowed elements liberally from that anime series including copying the character prototypes of the team members (the stoic young leader, the brash and rebellious loner; the jovial comedian; the happy-go-lucky youngster and the beautiful token female) as well as other plot details.

When Ishinomori pitched the idea to NET and Toei, he referenced his popular 「仮面ライダーシリーズ」/"Kamen Rider Series" of shows that were airing at the time and said that this new show would feature a team of "masked" Kamen Rider-type heroes.  Ishinomori also said that he would use the color aspects of TV and in inspiration of the cult 1967 Samural action show 『仮面の忍者 赤影』/"Kamen No Ninja Akakage" play up the "color" gimmick of that show and have the individual members take on a color themed aspect.

There was a bit of discussion between Ishinomori and his producers on what to name the team.  While there was a consensus on naming the group "Rangers" (conceivably taken from the idea of "Texas Rangers" a la "The Lone Ranger" Western series), there was a bit of back and forth on giving them a more flamboyant name.  For a while they considered "Guts Ranger" and "Five Ranger" or "Go Nin Ranger"  (inspired by the classic Edo play "Shironami Go Nin Otoko").  This was eventually cut down to simply "Gorenger" (or "Gorangers"). 

Playing on that mix of Japanese with English, the individual members (who at that point hadt been referred to as Red One, Blue Two etc.) were given names using the Japanese readings of the colors (Aka/Red Ranger, Aou/Blue Ranger, Ki/Yellow Ranger, Momo/Pink Ranger and Mido/Green Ranger).  Their unique intro monologue when they confronted their opponents took elements of the "Shironami Go Nin Otoko" plays and further tied the concept to classical Japanese stage drama.

The story was a mesh of "James Bond" super spy elements with gag elements inspired by the pages of the kid's "Shonen Sunday" manga stories which Ishinomori enjoyed writing in his youth --

"EAGLE" is a United Nations led secret international anti-terrorist organization based in Geneva, Switzerland and has bases across the globe.  Their main adversary is the shadowy, evil terrorist group known as "Black Cross Army" whose leader is the supernatural entity known only as Black Cross Führer. Employing an army of faceless, masked thugs and colorful yet psychotic, costumed operatives, Black Cross Army seeks to destroy all civilized humanity and control the world. In a preemptive strike, Black Cross Fuhrer sends his five agents - Ogon Kamen/Gold Mask, Musha Kamen/Warrior Mask, Seido Kamen/Bronze Mask, Hisui Kamen/Jade Mask and Doku Gas Kamen/Poison Gas Mask to attack various bases of the Japanese branch of EAGLE. 

After the brutal surprise attack, EAGLE Japan is seemingly decimated.  However, five young individual EAGLE operatives survive the attacks - stoic EAGLE officer Kaijo Tsuyoshi (from Central Japan), Archery expert and lonewolf, Shimei Akira (from North Eastern Japan), burly, curry-loving Judo Champion Oiwa Daita (from Kyushu), tall and leggy Japanese-Eurasian Peggy Matsuyama (from Hokkaido) and happy-go-lucky 17 year-old "boy wonder" Asuka Kenji (from Kansai).  Seeking to avenge their fallen comrades, they are recruited by EAGLE Japan commander, Edogawa Gonpachi,to become the "Secret Task Force Goranger". Donning experimental battlesuits and wielding advanced super weapons and battle vehicles, they strike back at the Black Cross Army.

While "Goranger" wasn't one of my favorite shows as a kid, I was absolutely smitten with actress/singer 小牧 リサ/Komaki Risa who portrayed Momo Ranger/Peggy Matsuyama. She was definitely my first schoolboy crush and I absolutely adored seeing her in her 70s attire consisting of tight "hot pants" and "go-go boots". 
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The opening theme song 進め!ゴレンジャー」/"Susume! Goranger" became a surprising million hit seller when it was released on vinyl record during the height of the series run in 1975.  The ending theme song 秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー」/"Himitsu Sentai Goranger" which was the B-Side, was also quite popular and would go on to become even more beloved years later partly owing to its unique "scat-like" intro.  Composed by Toei studio musicians working under the all-purpose pen name 八手三郎/"Yatsude Saburo" (which is also used as the pen name for the Toei's Script Writing Department) and performed by legendary genre singer ささきいさお/Sasaki Isao, "Himitsu Sentai Goranger' is a fun song which really captures both the humor and the dramatic tone of the show.

Theme to 超電子バイオマン/"Cho Denshi Bioman" (1984) - Performed by 宮内タカユキ & こおろぎ'73/Miyauchi Takayuki and Korogi '73

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While I mentioned that "Goranger" wasn't my favorite Sentai, that distinction handily goes to this trendsetting 1984 series.  超電子バイオマン/"Cho Denshi Bioman" (which aired on Asahi TV) and was the eighth Super Sentai iteration (not counting "Goranger" and "JAKQ Dengeki Tai") and in many ways has always been seen as the "black sheep" of the Sentai series as it was quite the departure from the rest, breaking with the various established genre conventions of previous entries.

For instance, it was the first series to buck the trend of having the word "Sentai" in the title. In addition, it is the only sentai series to date to have its team members designated only by their number rankings (i.e. Red One, Blue Two, Green Three, Yellow Four and Pink Five). "Bioman" also created history by being the first series to introduce two female members in its lineup (breaking ranks with all previous series).  Lastly it was also and still stands as the only series to have opted to have reoccurring villains as opposed to the standard "villain-of-the-week" formula.

According to Wikipedia Japan, the original concept story for "Chodenshi Bioman" was even more radical. The intriguing original story involved having various mythical and legendary Japanese folk heroes (Momotaro, Ishunboshi, Kaguya Hime and Kintaro) time traveling to present day Japan where they would meet and team up with a modern Japanese girl against a threat on Japan.  The Toei writing staff quickly ditched the mythical, folk lore elements and opted on introducing the concept of using heroes with "Biotechnology" who were coping with the problems of being cyborg entities (not fully human). During the course of their adventure they would meet an alien who would bring them 500 years in the past to help battle an evil force confronting Japan during that timeline. It was to be a much darker story than previous Sentai series. 

"Chodenshi Bioman" didn't start to gel story-wise until creative producers looked at following the concepts established by prolific writer 長浜 忠夫/Nagahama Tadao's popular quadrology of 70s Anime comprised the "Super Robot Romanic" Anime series - 超電磁ロボ コン・バトラーV』/"Chodenshi Robo Combattler V" (1976),  超電磁マシーン ボルテスV』/"Chodenshi Machine Voltes V" (1977),   闘将ダイモス/"Toshou Daimos" (1978) and 未来ロボ ダルタニアス』/"Mirai Robo Daltanius" (1979).  With their focus on a charismatic anti-hero villain and having a romantic love story as part of the main plot, "Chodenshi Bioman" finally started to take shape into the story we know today.

Producers "cherry picked" elements from the previous drafts to come up with the final story (which had a very Anime-like feel) - 

Centuries in the past, the once prosperous and peaceful planet "Bio" is literally ripped apart by a destructive global war that erupts over the scientific discovery and use of an all-powerful bio-energy source called "Bio Particles". The war decimates all the inhabitants of the planet, save for a small group.  They use their advanced technology to capture all the  Bio Particles in existence and transfers that energy into the gigantic super battle robot, Bio-Robo.  Along with a human-sized, artifical intelligence droid named Peebo, the two are sent across the galaxy to ensure that the Bio Particles are preserved and kept safe. They are pursued by a number of "Anti-Bio Particle" eternal robot hunters which include the sinister cyborg Silvar who is created for the sole purpose of destroying anything infused with Bio Particles.  

Bio Robo and Peebo arrive in 15th Century Japan, where they are approached by five young individuals including a noble samurai, a courtesan, a maverick ronin, a shadowy female "kunoichi" ninja and a woodsmith.  Bio-Robo then showers the five with Bio Particles which graft onto their DNA.  Peebo and Bio Robo then hide themselves within a mountain range and lays dormant in suspended animation.  Five centuries later, they are awoken by the global threat of the "New Gear Empire", led by the corrupt and mad robotics genius Kageyama Hideo AKA Doctor Man, who believes that humanity has become so desolate and weak, that only true salvation can be found in cybernetics and thus is determined to eliminate all things organic and usurp control of the world where only he and his perfect cyborg society can rule.  Confronted by this imposing threat, Bio Robo and Peebo seek out the descendants of those five individuals they has showered with Bio Particles.  The five modern descendants turn out to be: - NASA pilot Go Shiro; race car driver Takasugi Shingo; marine sportsman Nanbara Ryuta; combat photographer Koizumi Mika and concert flutist Katsuragi Hikaru. Activating their Bio Particle laced DNA, they become the superhuman fighting force Bioman.  During the course of their battles with New Gear Empire, Mika is tragically killed by Doctor Man's inhuman henchman Mason, who had developed an Anti-Bio Particle gun.  However Mika is replaced by another descendent of the Female Ninja, an Olympic-classed archery athlete, Yabuki Jun who becomes the new Yellow Four.

Still later, Bio Particle Hunter Silvar finally tracks down Peebo and Bio Robo on Earth and seeks to destroy them and Bioman.

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With a surprisingly taut, adult and dramatic storyline, "Chodenshi Bioman" not only delighted Japanese fans but was also an international hit when the program was distributed in other countries. It was a particular favorite in both in the Philippines and in France, where the show inspired remakes/spoofs in those countries. 
宮内タカユキ/Miyauchi Takayuki and こおろぎ'73/Korogi '73 performed the by-the-numbers title theme song for the series entitled unsurprisingly 「超電子バイオマン」/"Cho Denshi Bioman".  Written by 康珍化/Kan Chinuha and composed by 加瀬邦彦/Kase Kunihiko with arrangements by 矢野立美/Yano Tatsumi (both of whom have had extensive experience working on Anime and Tokusastu themes) the song has a surprisingly melodramatic feel to it and even though it invokes the standard Tokusatsu theme song flourishes, it is a very catchy and rousing anthem, almost like a "battle cry".  While a bit tongue-in-cheek, it definitely captures the whole seriousness of the series and stands as one of my favorite theme songs.
One last bit of trivia, before she found huge success as an HK film star, Japan Action Club member and martial artist Oshima Yukari/大島由加里 first caught everyone's attention by playing the villain Farrah (Feral?) Cat, in this series. Oshima certainly stole the show whenever she appeared and proved to be quite the match for the Bioman team.  Here's an interesting video interview with Oshima as she recounts how she came about going to Hong Kong to become a film star.

 Theme to 『快傑ズバット』/"Kaikestu Zubat" (1977)  - Performed by 水木一郎/Mizuki Ichiro
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If Quentin Tarantino or Miike Takashi were to have directed a Tokusatsu show, I would reckon it would very much resemble this gonzo, crazily demented and over-the-top campy show.  More like an American comic book fantasy than a "Masked Rider" type adventure show, "Kaikestu Zubat" (of "Magnificent Zubat") takes elements from Samurai "Chambara" drama, cowboy Westerns, the cult 60s American drama show "The Fugitive" and Japanese melodrama to come up with this surprisingly adult kid's show.  

Based on a concept by Ishinomori Shotaro and written by Nagasaka Shokei, Takizawa Mari and Taguchi Shigemitsu, "Kaikestu Zubat's" story is rather dark and at its core is a rather twisted revenge tale and mystery:  When flamboyant and cocky private detective Hayakawa Ken visits his childhood friend and fellow country bumpkin Asuka Goro, little does he know that he will become embroiled in a complicated web of mystery and terror. The worldwide criminal syndicate Dakkar (or "Dagger") and its sinister kingpin "Fuhrer D" attempts to kill Goro's younger sister Midori by setting a bomb underneath the bus she uses to transport her students to pre-school.  Thanks to Ken's super-sensitive hearing, Midori and her students are saved but Goro is severely injured trying to save the children by driving the bus to a remote location. 
Dagger again attempts to kill Goro by attacking the hospital that he is recuperating in and as Ken and Goro try to escape the facility, Goro is savagely shot down by a unknown assassin. The only thing that Ryu hears is the kiler's psychotic laughter as he leaves the scene. Vowing to avenge the death of his childhood friend, Ken discovers that Goro had been working on a top secret project involving developing a "super suit" for future use by NASA for space travel.
Using Goro's notes and prototype blueprints, Ken creates the "Zubat Suit", a super powered battle suit that gives its wearer superhuman abilities.  However due to the incomplete notes and imperfections of the building process, the Zubat Suit can only function optimally for five minutes time.  If the wearer doesn't turn off the suit within that time frame it will kill its wearer.  Ken dons the suit and becomes the "Magnificent Zubat" to track down the killer(s) of his friend.  Along the way he encounters an army of bizarre foreign assassins, deformed and scarred killers and mysterious and eccentric individuals.  

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Possibly taking its que from Kawauchi Kohan's legendary Japanese pulp hero 月光仮面/"Gekko Kamen", "Kaikestu Zubat" is a fun show to watch and is made all the more enjoyable by lead actor 宮内洋/MIyauchi Hiroshi's hammy, deliberately campy and unrestrained performance as hero Hayakawa Ken. Decked out in full leather cowboy gear and frequently strumming a bass guitar, Miyauchi's Ken character is one-part singing cowboy Roy Rogers and the other part Tyrone Power's Zorro. Miyauchi was already well known among kid audiences, having played some of the most iconic Japanese superheroes on TV at the time including Shimei Akira /Aoranger in 秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー/"Himitsu Sentai Goranger" (1975), Banba Soukichi /Big One in the Sentai series (ジャッカー電撃隊』/"JAKQ Dengekitai" (1977), Shiro Kazami in 仮面ライダーV3/"Kamen Rider V3" (1973). "Kaikestu Zubat" was clearly made to be a starring vehicle for Miyauchi and showcased his talents not only as a dramatic actor but also highlighted his humorous side, as his Ken/Zubat character frequently bested his adversaries with humorous taunts, trying to one-up his foes (somewhat similar to Marvel's Spider-Man character).  The running gag of the series was Ken's innumerable talents and boasts of being "No. 1" in every conceivable skill set from firing guns, to wielding katana blades, to throwing daggers.  There seemed to be nothing that Ken couldn't do expertly.
Many of the “Dagger” Agents appeared to be parodies and/or satirical stereotypes of various famous Japanese Samurai, 70’s icons including historical and fictional film characters.

Although not outwardly stated, the series was allegedly inpsired by the Nikkatsu Film Series “Watari Dori” (Wanderer – Lit. Migratory Bird) 8-Part Film Series (1959-1962) starring Shishido Jo as a guitar playing/gun wielding wanderer who battles various thugs and assassins as he roams the Japan Countryside, longing to return to his daughter and his previous peaceful life.

The rousing and infectious main theme was entitled 「地獄のズバット」/“Jikoku No Zubato” (Zubat of Hell) and was composed by Kyo Kesuke with lyrics supplied by Ishinomori Shoutaro himself. Kyo Kesuke is also the composer behind the music of the Toho Movie “ESpy” (1974) and the Tokusatsu Series “Kagaku Sentai DynaMan” (1983).  The song was performed by Mizuki Ichiro who is very much a legend in Tokusatsu and Anime music.  With its unique Biwa intro, "Jikoku No Zubato" and narrative lyrics, the song sounded more like some twisted Enka/Cowboy song than the song to a kid's show. Yet it stands as one of the most memorable of Tokusatsu songs and really captured the eccentric nature of the show. The above clip is a recent clip of star Miyauchi Hiroship taking a stab at singing the song dressed as his Hayakawa Ken character from the show.

[Monkey Magic] Theme to 『西遊記』/"Saiyuki" AKA Monkey (1978) - Performed by ゴダイゴ/GODAIGO
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The 1978 Nihon TV drama series 『西遊記』/"Saiyuki" (or "Monkey" as the series was called in the UK) was based on the on the timeless novel, "Hsi yu ch'i" (Literally: “Record Of A Journey To The West”) by Wu Ch'eng-en (1505-1580), which in turn was based on the semi-legendary pilgrimage of the priest, Hsuan-Tsang (602-664 AD) also known as Tripitaka, to India in the 7th century.

While the pilgrimage is historical fact, in time certain liberties were introduced to the story, turning it into a “supernatural adventure” of spiritual exploration.  These legends told that Hsuan-Tsang was helped on his journey by a trio of supernatural animal spirits (the Monkey-King, a pig-spirit and a fish-spirit -later developed into a Kappa or Water Goblin).  The Monkey-King became a legend onto itself, becoming a folklore icon (the Monkey-King character which may have been based on the Hindu Monkey God – Hanuman).

Wu Ch'eng-en took these folk stories and made a definitive version, combining satire, fantasy, comedy and allegory. Hsuan-Tsang's pilgrimage to India became an allegory for man's pilgrimage through life.

The Novel was brought to the West under the title "MONKEY" by Arthur Waley, originally published by Allen & Unwin in 1942.
This series combined elements from the Chinese fable but also modified the folktale a little bit for Japanese audiences ---  Centuries ago, Stone Monkey is born from a rock by the ocean.  His “irrepressible” nature and arrogance soon causes quite a commotion on earth (he even proclaimed himself King of the Monkeys).  In search of the secret of immortality, he learns martial arts and spiritual magic from the Buddhist monk Subhuti, who duly renames the Monkey, Sum Wu Kong (Son Goku - Lit.: Awakened To Emptiness).
Goku returns to his mountain to find that demons have taken over in his absence.  The Demon King’s Brothers trick Goku into stealing a magic staff from the heavenly halls of Dragon King Palace.  Goku is soon brought before the Jade Emperor for punishment.  If things weren’t serious enough, Goku foolishly eats one of the “Fruits of Immortality”.   Chased from Heaven, Goku encounters Buddha and mistakenly tries to match wits with the God.  For his arrogance, Buddha imprisons Goku beneath a mountain for 500 years.
A young Buddhist Priest, Sanzouhoshi/Tripitaka takes pity on the Monkey and releases him from his imprisonment.  He asks if Monkey will accompany him on a journey of enlightenment to Gandhara in India (the modern Punjab).  Monkey balks at the offer but is tricked by Sanzouhoshi into wearing a golden circlet, which slowly tightens every time he recites the Buddhist Sutra.  Grudgingly the Monkey King agrees to accompany the Priest on his journey.
En route they meet up with the “Pig Spirit” Chohakkai and the former Heavenly Servent, Sai Gojo. Together this unlikely group go through adventures involving conflicts with supernatural demons, mythical entities, misguided humans, Chinese ghosts and other spirits trying to stop them from going to India and Ghandara.

The path to India from China is often referred to as the “Silk Road”.  
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Popular comedian, singer and all around entertainer, Sakai Masaaki (who portrayed the heroic Monkey character Goku) was a member of the influential 60’s Japanese Mod Band, “The Spiders” and this was one of first forays into TV acting.  Even now, decades after his debut, he is still frequently seen on Japanese TV hosting various entertainment programs, and has even hosted NHK’s yearly special the “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (Red-White Song Contest) on many occasions..

Popular comedian and singer, Nishida Toshiyuki (who portrayed Chohakkai) is another familiar face on Japanese TV and film.  As a singer he garnered some respectable hits, one of the biggest being the melancholy "Moshimo PianoGa Hiketanara (If I Could Play Piano)".

Nishida’s film credits include "Gakko I" and "Gakko II" ("A Class To Remember" and "A Class To Remember II") as well as the very popular "Tsuri Baka Nisshi" series of films ("A Fishing Fool's Diary").
Kishibe Shiro (who portrayed the water spirit Sai Gojo) was a member of the popular 60’s “GS Idol” (Group Sounds) band “The Tigers”.  Fellow band mate, lead singer Sawada Kenji would later go on to dominate the 70’s music scene (following the lead of David Bowie, Sawada would also take on an androgynous alter ego persona named “Julie”).

Kishibe would go on to host the Japanese Morning TV show “Look Look, Konnichi Wa” for a number of years.

The beautiful model and actress Natsume Masako (who portrayed the male priest Sanzouhoshi) passed away of Leukemia in 1985 at the shockingly young age of 27, a mere 6 years after her work on "Monkey". 
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The tall and perky Natsume was a Campaign Girl for Kanebo Cosmetics and appeared in a couple of TV dramas and movies, among which were Nihon TV’s “Ai Ga Mimasuka” (1976) and Toei’s “Truck Yarou – Ippiki Momo Taro” (1977).

The series boasted some pretty impressive visual effects complements of Arikawa Teisho, who worked on a number of Toho Movies including "Matango" (1963), "Kaitei Gunkan" (AKA Atragon –1963), "Godzilla vs. Mothra" (1964), "Frankenstein vs. Baragon" (AKA Frankenstein Conquers The World –1965), and "Latitude Zero" (1969) and Nakano Teruyoshi, who worked on a number of Toho Movies including "ESPY" (1974), "Nostrodamus No Dai Yogen" (AKA Last Days of Planet Earth –1974), "Godzilla vs. Mecha Godzilla" (1974) and would later go on to provide technical support to the 1984 "Godzilla" reboot.

The dubbed version of "Saiyuki" was a huge hit in the U.K. where it played on the BBC Network from 1979 till 1981.

There have been many adaptations and variations of the "Saiyuki" story in Japan, with the  most famous being of course the "Dragon Ball" series (1986-1996).  Here are some of the other notable versions:

Saiyuki (AKA Alakazam The Great)-1960

(Movie Based on Tesuka Osamu’s Manga “My Son Goku”).   
Directed by  Shirakawa Daisaku

SF (Science Fiction) Saiyuki – Starzingers (AKA Spaceketters) - 1979

(73 Episodes – Toei Animation) – Written by Matsumoto Leiji.  Directed by Serikawa Yuzou, Morishita Kozo, Fukushima Kazumi.

Monkey Magic -1998

(13 Episodes – S. Matsushita Co./B-F/Monkey Magic Productions/Tokyo TV)

Directed by Konahara Tameo   Character Designs by Matsushita Shin

Manga creator Terazawa Buichi also incorporated elements of the Saiyuki Legend in the Sci-Fi Manga series “GOKU”.
The "Saiyuki" series was eventually remade and broadcast as a series of drama specials in 2006.  The cast included such well known personalities including 香 取慎吾/Katori Shingo of SMAP as Goku, 内村光良/Uchimura Teruyoshi (Unchan of popular Comedy duo UnchanNanchan) as Sai Gojo, chubby comedy actor 伊藤淳史/Uto Atsushi as Chohakkai and beautiful 深津絵里/Fukatsu Eri as Sanzouhoshi. In a bit of an inside joke, Canadian/Japanese J-Rock band Monkey Majik (who modeled themselves after Godaigo and took their name from their song) were chosen to sing the theme song for the series.  They even did a pretty funky revision of the Godaigo song - 

The 70’s Japan Pop Band, ゴダイゴ/GODAIGO, who provided the infectiously catchy theme song to the Saiyuki, has quite an interesting history. J-Canuck briefly covered both this song and the group's history in his past post but I'll go ahead and add some additional trivia.

Godaigo was formed in 1976 by keyboardist Mickie Yoshino (who as a teen was a member of the Japanese Vocal Group, the “Golden Cups” and a graduate of the Department of Music University of California, Berkeley) and Yukihide Takagawa (a singer song writer who had previously done solo work and was at the time attending the Tokyo Foreign Language School where he was studying English-Japanese studies).   They initially began doing work mostly in the area of CM (Commercial) Song Writing, Movie scoring and Drama themes  (Mickie Yoshino had previous founded the rock group called “Yoshino Group” (of which Asano and Fox were a part).

With the recruitment of former Japanese Rock Group “M” guitarist, Asano Takami, French/American drummer Tommy Snyder and Yoshino’s Berkeley classmate, Bassist Steve Fox, Godaigo became something of a sensation in Japan (their unique mixing of foreign born musicians and Japanese nationals would later be used by future groups such as Globe and 1986 Omega Tribe).  Most of Godaigo’s songs were unique at the time in that they were done either completely in English or used a great deal of English lyrics (owing to everyone’s fluency in the language).

“Monkey Magic” was their first real hit, soon to be followed by a string of others including “Ghandara” (the ending theme of Saiyuki), “A Beautiful Name”, “Ginga Tetsudo 999 – A Galaxy Express” and “Port Pier”.  From 1978 –1980, Godaigo was one of the top rock bands of Japan.

However by 1980, the somewhat folksy rock of Godaigo soon fell victim to the pop idol trends and so the members of Godaigo split up to pursue their own individual projects.

Mickie Yoshino has gone on to found his own school of music, called the Pan School of Music. Yukihide Takagawa has gone on help collaborate with other artists such as Nakamori Akina, Sakai Noriko, Hikaru Genji and Matsuda Seiko. Steve Fox has been doing Christian ministry work both in Japan and the U.S. (Hawaii) periodically producing albums in Japan.

Theme to 炎の超人メガロマン 』/"Hono No Kyojin Megaloman" - Performed by 水木一郎/Mizuki Ichiro
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(cover version)

炎の超人メガロマン 』/"Hono No Kyojin Megaloman" (1979) is perhaps the most obscure Tokusatsu series on this list but was in many ways the best of the lot.  It was Toho’s last entry into the Tokusatsu TV show genre. Unlike rivals Toei and Tsuburaya, Toho wasn't quite able to generate a hit Tokusatsu series in the same vein as Toei's "Kamen Rider" or Tsuburaya's "Ultraman" but it wasn't due to lack of trying. Toho released a number of interesting and insanely inventive series including: “Yuke! Godman” (Go! Godman – 1972), “Ai No Senshi, Rainbow Man” (Warrior of Love – Rainbow Man – 1972), “Ryusei Ningen Zone” (Human Comet Zone – 1973), “Hikari No Senshi – Diamond Eye” (Warrior of Light – Diamond Eye – 1973) among others but they seemed derivative of other already existing shows. 
"Megaloman" combined elements of Toei's Super Sentai and Tsuburaya's giant hero concepts to come up with its base idea.  The story also shared several similarities with the Toei Anime Super Robot show “Chodenji Machine Voltes V” (Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes Five- 1977-1978). As in "Megaloman", "Voltes V" told the story of five martial arts students who were recruited to fight off the advancing alien invasion.  Also similar to "Voltes V", "Megaloman's", the principal villain turns out to be the brother (half-brother) of the hero.
Here's the story --- The Black Star Tribe has conquered the Rosetta Star System.  Led by the Masked Despot, Capt. Dagger, these “Invaders” have now set their sites on Earth’s star system.  Shishido Go, a member of the Tategami Tribe and an Earth native, sends his son, Takeshi along with his wife Mari (Rosemary) to Earth in the hopes that they can prevent the Black Star Tribe’s impending invasion.  Escaping to Earth, Takeshi and his mother meet up with family friend, Martial Arts Sensei Takamine Sougen and his school of students.  Under his tutelage, Takeshi prepares for the eventual day the Black Star “Invaders” come to earth.  On that faithful day, Takeshi dons the Megalo Bracelets to become the Fire Titan "Megaloman".  Together with his mother and five fellow students of the Takamine Dojo, Takeshi battles the various monsters and menaces unleashed by Capt. Dagger.

Writer Kariya Tetsu, who had done work in Anime gave the series a bit of an Anime-like quality which was rather unique for the time.  He would later go on to write the trend setting, Gourmet cooking manga and anime “Oishinbo” (1980).
"Megaloman" was lead actor Kitazume Yuuki’s first starring role (he had actually auditioned for the part of Takamina Sougen, the Master of the Takagami School).  More of a martial artist than actor (similar to Chiba Shinchi and Sanada Hiroyuki), Kitazume would later go on to appear in a string of “made-for-TV” films.  He appeared in two movies, Kadokawa Haruki’s “Oedipus No Chitou” (Blade of Oedipus) and the Nikkatsu film “Rouge”.

Child star Houzumi Pe Pe (who portrayed burly team member Yuri Hyousuke) appeared in various programs such as Giant Robo (1968) and NHK’s SciFi Kid’s drama “Jyuichini Iru” (And There Were 11 – 1974).  As a teen and young adult, he would star in the high school drama “Tobidase!, Seishun” (Escape! My Youth-1972), the comedy “Ore Tachi No Tabi” (Our Journey –1975), and cult Tokusatsu favorite "Super Robot Red Baron" (1974).

Kurobe Susumu, who played the Capt. Dagger's evil henchmen Beroc, is best remembered as Hayata in Tsuburaya’s landmark series “Ultraman” [1966].  The slightly Caucasian looking actor can also be seen in a host of Toho movies including  “King Kong Escapes” (1967), “Son of Godzilla” (1967), “Destroy All Monsters” (1968) and “Latitude Zero” (1969).  He has also appeared in episodes of Tsuburaya Pro’s “Ultraman” (1967).

Sugi Madoka (who portrayed cute team member Takamene Ran) is the stage name for Sugimoto Minako.  Sugi has been taking Modern Ballet lessons since the age of 2 from the Hiraguchi Ballet School.  She won the title of Ms. University Japan in 1979. Sugi's first acting roles were in the TBS Drama “Korogi Bashi” (Cricket Bridge –1980) and “Aijyu Gakuen” (Academy of Sorrow – 1980).  After graduating from the Japan School of Performing Arts in 1981, she began performing with the Ichibangai (Number One Boulevard) Performance Troupe.  Sugi also did some work as a Gravure model.  During the later half of the ‘80s, Sugi performed in various musicals in Japan such as “Peter Pan”.  She later began producing musicals and musicals at the Aoyama Theatre, such as the Operetta “Merry Widow”. She is currently acting as Chair/Supervisor for the children’s talent agency, “Minny Story Dance” in Aoyama.
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Megaloman’s distinctive look was inspired by Japanese Kabuki Theatre and especially the "Shishi" or lion costumes. The extravagant makeup style in Kabuki Theatre is called “kumadori”. There are about a hundred of these mask-like styles in which the colors and designs used symbolize aspects of the character.

Another Tokusatsu Hero which incorporated the Kabuki Shishi style costuming is the obscure Tokusatsu Show "Shishi Kamen" (Lion Mask – Yamato Kikaku/Nihon TV, 1973).   

The opening theme song 行け! 行け! メガロマン」/"Yuke Yuke Megaloman" was written by Kariya Tetsu and composed by Tozuka Shouzou with lyrics by Kamakami Ryou. It is the second song on the list sung by the prolific 水木一郎/Mizuki Ichiro who along with Horie Mitsuko and Kageyama Hironobu are the "King", "Queen" and "Prince" of Tokusatsu theme songs (oddly rival ささきいさお/Sasaki Isao who sang such songs as "Uchusenkan Yamato" doesn't seem to be included in the list). Over the course of his 40 year career, Mizuki, who is known as "Aniki" by fans (a play not only on older brother but a shortened form of "Anime King") has recorded close to 1200 songs for various TV shows, anime, Tokusatsu shows, OVAs and video games. He contributed on nearly every anime and Tokusatsu theme song during the 70s with very few exceptions.  Even at age 66, Mizuki shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to sing solo and as a part of the Anime song tribute band JAMS Project.with fellow "anison" vocalists Kageyama Hironobu (Dragon Ball Z), Endoh Masaaki (The King of Braves GaoGaiGar), Sakamoto Eizo (vocalist of ANTHEM and Animetal), and Matsumoto Rica (Pokémon).  Here's a clip of Mizuki singing a number of the Anime songs he is known for -

1 comment:

  1. Hi, JTM. Good to hear from you again. And thanks for providing another Memory Lane through your tokusatsu article. I remember "Spectreman" from the original beginning; it was something that I had seen during my summer vacation in Wakayama Prefecture back in 1972 but never remembered the title. Also, you made an interesting point about the main villain of Gori preferring suicide as an evil figure than returning to the light, so to speak. I've just a similar plot turn in the anime, "Kill La Kill" and it also featured in J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" in terms of the antagonist Nero.

    Watching the opening credits for "009-1" was interesting to see not only an early appearance of Kaoru Yumi but also the actress Etsuko Nami as well. And of course, "Go-Rangers" was something that I had seen in some of the old manga although I never got to see the actual TV show. I always thought it cool how the heroes were able to hide their weapons of choice in their masks.

    Thanks most kindly for the article!


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