My Own Review Of The Metal Hero Franchise: Super Sentai's Long-Cancelled Sister Show!
Yes, Super Sentai has gone into its 40th anniversary... we're all growing old!
As a child, I used to have memories of the Metal Hero franchise. Back then, I just watched them and didn't know how to categorize them except as "kiddie shows". I only knew the terms "Tokusatsu", "Super Sentai" and "Metal Heroes" and learned Kamen Rider is a genre of Tokusatsu only when I was a teenager. Now it's time to see how the Metal Hero genre ended up as a mixed bag. This would just be very limited considering I'm yet to see all of them, something that I believe won't happen.
Space Sheriff Trilogy, Juspion and Spielban
The Metal Hero franchise started out with the Space Sheriff era starting with the Space Sheriff Trilogy. What I can remember are both Gavan and Shaider while I've seen some episodes of Sharivan. The three of them were known for wearing metal suits, they had a lightsaber with them, a gigantic combat robot, they fought against enemy organizations where the Big Bad was stuck to a wall (I always laughed at that) and their ability to fight in another dimension where monsters get an extra boost. Later, a "sequel movie" was made featuring the next generation Space Sheriffs though no new series was made. All these ran from 1982 to 1984 which the Super Sentai series of that time were Goggle V, Dynaman and Bioman.
The story of Gavan starts with the son of Voicer (a humanoid alien living in the Planet Bird) who marries an Earth woman siring the main hero Retsu Ichijouji. Retsu is chosen to become the first Space Sheriff to fight the evil Maku Empire. Maku arrives on Earth to create their own evil criminal empire and turn the Earth into a criminal haven. I always sort of wanted to WTF over Don Horror's status as an immobile but extremely powerful character. Even I'm wondering how in the world did Don Horror end up that way? I'll admit my extreme favoritism for this series is still up and afloat. Maybe it's because of Kenji Ohba himself that makes me like this series a lot. I just thought that the sequel movie wasn't good and I'll confess, I've only watched it for Yukari Taki. Retsu Ichijouji would later appear in several crossovers like Gokaiger vs. Gavan, Go-Busters episodses 31-32 (where his successor Geki Jumonji has taken over his mantle) and in Super Hero Taisen Z.
After the defeat of Maku Empire, Den Iga who appeared later in Gavan becomes Gavan's successor. Den Iga is trained to become Space Sheriff Sharivan to battle the Space Crime Syndicate Madou. I always thought what in the world are the producers thinking in making the Big Bad of the series who are stuck on a wall? Madou uses psychological attacks as their means of invading planets. One may also recognize this was also Yuki Yajima's debut in Japan Action Club. She was written off after a few episodes so she could be in Bioman the following year but soon went Missing In Action. Towards the end of the series, Retsu would appear to help Den Iga vanquish the evil Madou Empire once and for all.
The third and final Space Sheriff series is Shaider. I still can't help but flaunt my opinion of it as a weaker series. The story starts with Dai Sawamura (who died together with his actor as revealed in the Shaider sequel movie) an archaeologist who gets drawn by fate. Unlike his predecessors, his was almost fate and not much about having a missing father or his people to avenge. I thought the Fuuma wasn't all that interesting. Even this series had me WTFed with the main villain Kubilai is now merely reduced to a head? I didn't find this series all that interesting either.
After the three Space Sheriffs, we had Juspion. Juspion's actor Seiki Kurosaki originally appeared in Bioman (as a guest) prior to his debut as a Henshin Hero. The whole series was unique as he fought giant monsters with his giant robot Daileon. His mission is to save the Earth from the evil Satan Goss' Megabeast Empire. This aired in 1985, the same year as Changeman. I'm now scheduling myself to watch this series when I get the time.
Then later, we had Spielban in 1986 where Tokusatsu legend Hiroshi Watari returned. I only remembered this design used in VR Troopers which I personally dislike now. Spielban featured Soga Machiko as the main antagonist Queen Pandora. This would be the end of the Shouzo Uehara era as a head writer and a new genre came in.
The second era... it's time for a change of theme
So Metal Hero took another face lift trying different formulas for better or for worse. The second era would involve Metalder, Jiraiya and Mobile Cop Jiban. This is were the theme changed for the first time.
I've seen some episodes of Metalder raw and a few subs. Unlike the previous Metal Heroes, the main hero who goes by the name Ryusei Tsurugi is actually an android built after Dr. Koga's late son. The show only lasted for 39 episodes. By 1987, we have the first android superhero who battled the evil Emperor Neros. The whole show felt like it showed an economics lesson considering Emperor Neros himself had sought to control supply and demand to rule the world with his army of evil warriors which had humans, androids and some genetically engineered monsters. This was a pretty serious series.
Then we had the ninja warrior Jiraiya. Now I haven't seen Jiraiya and the actor Takumi Tsutsui (now in his 40s) showed up in Ninninger (the same episode where Yoshi Sudarso made that surprise cameo). I still want to see this series. In 1994, Ninja Sentai Kakuranger made its debut as the first ninja Super Sentai series. So I wonder, why didn't we have a samurai Metal Hero?
In 1989 two years after the premiere of the Robocop film, Jiban was created. The story has rookie detective Naoto Tamura who gets Killed In Action by a Bioron monster. Dr. Kengo Igarashi whose failed experiments gave birth to the mutant race called Bioron (led by Doctor Giba who was born entirely out of a laboratory accident) revived Naoto as a cyborg to fight the Bioron. While there's the Robocop feel to him being a man revived as a cyborg (but his death is much milder) but the series isn't too much like Robocop. He's more of a monster-slaying Robocop than a Robocop proper, something Toei would later explore in the 90s with Janperson. The Heisei era of Kamen Rider would later create its own cop motif with Kamen Rider Drive.
The Rescue Police era (1990-1993)
The Rescue Police era started where Noboru Sugimura was the head writer of Winspector and Solbrain. Before that, he was Jiban's headwriter. The third one Exceedraft was written by Junichi Miyashita who would proceed to write more Metal Hero series after that. The first three Rescue Police era series are Winspector, Solbrain and Exceedraft were pretty unique. The reason was that all three series had NO MAIN VILLAIN. Instead, they were tackling on the issue of what if criminals in real life had more power than they already had. They may have influenced some of Dekaranger's episodes where some Alienizers had no connection to Abrella whatsoever. I haven't seen much of them and I haven't seen enough Solbrain to actually make a comment.
By 1993, the Robocop concept was explored again with the arrival of Detective Robot Janperson. While Janperson may be a rehash of older robotic heroes like Detective K but the appearance, feel and just everything is a shoutout to Robocop. But unlike his spiritual ancestor Robocop, he wasn't formerly human but may have been in draft but the implementation had him as a mysterious robot that upholds the law. The show itself had some Super Sentai actors guest starring in certain episodes which I failed to notice this show was also by Toei's. Back then, I thought Robocop came after Janperson but I was dead wrong since Janperson came after the Robocop films. But it can't be denied that this show makes a lot of references to its inspiration Robocop especially the first episode seems to have the tagline, "There is a new guy in town and his name is Janperson."
During its broadcast in ABC-5 there was the tagline in Tagalog (which I'll translate for English readers) saying, "If America has a Robocop, Asia also has a Robocop." The whole show for me was better than the Robocop TV series (which came after Janperson). The main hero battles three major criminal organizations namely Tatewaki Konzern, Neo-Guild and Super Science Network. Each of the three villains is pretty much a throwback to villains either from Robocop or DC Comics. Ryuzaburo Tatewaki acted by Shun Sugata ends up as Japan's own version of Clarence Boddicker while Reiko Ayanokouji acted by Atsuko Takahata ends up as a more evil version of Juliette Faxx running her own evil science network. Midway, Robocop 3 screened in theaters which eventually brought the show's own version of Dr. Marie Lazarus in Kaoru Saegusa. Later, Janperson gains a sidekick in the cowboy robot Gun Gibson in the fight to destroy crime in Japan.
Three years after this really cool show, another Robocop-inspired character would appear in the form of Signalman in Carranger. Only that, Signalman was a parody version of Robocop instead.
Blue SWAT came after Janperson and honestly, I'm so in the blank with the series. All I knew is that this was a space police against alien criminals. Hmm did this show really inspire Dekaranger in the year 2004? I wish to check this series out soon.
The B-Fighter era of Metal Hero (1995-1996)
Aside from Super Sentai getting localized into Power Rangers, Saban and Toei also remade B-Fighter and B-Fighter Kabuto into Beetleborgs and Beetleborgs Metallix. I haven't seen much of either though to make a full comment.
It was also time to go back to defeating dangerous monsters with B-Fighter which well, designs were based on beetles and may have been loosely inspired by the trio formula used in the Rescue Police Trilogy. Unlike the American adaptation or localization, B-Fighter had a deeper story involving Earth Academia discovering the invasion of Jamahl. The three heroes infused their lives with insects which Sage Guru chooses the three warriors fit to become the B-Fighter team. I've seen some episodes of B-Fighter where I'm amazed with the action even if I can't understand the dialogue. The show is a very serious one indeed. Janperson and Blue SWAT appeared in the special finale which makes me think whether it was retconned or what considering most of these entries are self-contained.
Like Winspector and Solbrain, B-Fighter gets a sequel composed of different heroes called the B-Fighter Kabuto. After the downfall of Jamahl, the dinosaur themed Melzard Tribe rises up to cause trouble. What was weird was that Zyuranger showed up in 1991, it got adapted into Mighty Morphi' Power Rangers in 1992 and in 1996 we get a dinosaur themed villain for B-Fighter Kabuto. I haven't seen much of the series to say this is awful or not. Quite interestingly by January 29, 2006 we had Kamen Rider Kabuto.
The closing era... (1997-1998)
After several more serious series, the decided to try to do some comic relief with Kabutack and Robotack. I'm not really all that familiar with them and I was shocked to learn of their existence. Unlike the others, this was an attempt to get less serious than before. What was also interesting to know was that 1997 was the year after Carranger, Super Sentai's attempt to do a comedy. I guess these two series didn't really spark the interest as much as Super Sentai did. Carranger came out as a partly comedic series and still kept Super Sentai going. Did these two shows flop instead of save Metal Hero or did the people at Toei lose interest in continuing the franchise?
So what happened?
Unlike Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, there was hardly any unifying theme for Metal Hero. One can observe the previous sections that Metal Hero had the most number of changes to the point there was hardly a unifying theme.
While there's an incredibly huge gap between Kamen Rider Black RX and Kamen Rider Kuuga (Metal Hero, Super Sentai and Power Rangers were the dominant forces that time) but the Kamen Riders had the unifying theme of masked hero saving the world. Even if the writing styles of Showa Riders and Heisei Riders differed a lot, they still had that unifying theme with them. Kamen Rider Fourze had a TV special involving the Kamen Rider Club actually talking about the old school Kamen Riders which I hope Zyuohger will talk about old school Sentai as a post-series TV special or two, reference it like Boukenger did.
Super Sentai's 40 year long run might be proof of the hugest unifying theme - a team of heroes in spandex. While it seems to be that every 10 years a new era is born but still keeps the same theme of a team of heroes with their color codings, fighting against villains and their half-brained schemes for world domination, defeating monsters of the week and as of late the giant robots regardless what form they take have become a unifying theme.
Metal Hero influence on Super Sentai after its cancellation
In spite of Metal Hero's cancellation last 1998, it didn't mean that the series didn't play any influence on Super Sentai and Kamen Rider after that.
In 1999, Kyukyu Sentai GoGoFive ends up as the first rescue series Super Sentai, Before that, the rescue theme for Toei's Tokusatsu series got stuck in the Rescue Police era. While I'd still want to say GoGoFive is reexploring Fiveman's potential, it also did something new for Super Sentai by becoming the first Super Sentai show. The Tatsumi siblings perform rescue operations when they aren't fighting the Saima Clan's monsters. So think of a combination of the Rescue Police era and Super Sentai. In turn, Power Rangers also got lucky to be able to try the rescue motif in its own way in the form of Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue which may have had some references to the Rescue Police series with Commander Mitchell and Angela Fairweather as team mentors.
When I first read about Dekaranger, I didn't want to check it out immediately believing the show won't have a main villain then I later decided to check it out. While the show has Abrella as the main villain, he was more of a salesman than an actual Big Bad. Some of Dekaranger's episodes had nothing to do with Abrella's immediate intervention nor does he appear in every episode. Some of the episodes end up as a Rescue Police (and Dekaranger is a police Super Sentai) episode where the monster of the week was an independent villain. The show had plenty of references to Metal Hero references. For more information, you can check my article on Dekaranger/Metal Hero references.
Whether or not Gosei Knight can be counted may be a viewer's decision. His design feels like it has bits of Kamen Rider. I think his appearance in Goseiger makes him a Metal Hero reference even if the franchise has long been cancelled. He's got a laser sword and that amazing pistol of his.
But again would you want another Metal Hero series? I would but it better be in more competent hands. Otherwise, Metal Hero might as well remain canceled for good.