In the first part of this look at anime versions of tokusatsu series, we looked at three fairly well known in the West series that have all either been released here or adapted for release here. In this installment, I would like to take a step back and look at three lesser known series and their anime equivalents. Let’s start with a show going back all the way to 1958:
Moonlight Mask a.k.a. Gekko Kamen (月光仮面) was the first TV tokusatsu hero, debuting in 1958. Moonlight Mask was a mysterious hero who rode a motorcycle and carried two revolvers, a whip, shuriken and moon-shaped boomerangs in his war against crime and those who would take advantage of the innocent. Though his identity was never out and out revealed in the course of the series (he is only ever credited as ? in the opening credits) it was clear to the audience at home that he was most likely a detective name Juro who would vanish mere moments before the hero would roar in to save the day.
Moonlight Mask was aired as a series of serialized episodes, much like the movie serials popular in US Cinemas in the 40s and 50s. His 131 episodes were divided into 5 stories entitled: Skull Mask, The Secret of the Paradai Kingdom, Mammoth Kong, The Ghost Party Strikes Back and Don’t Turn Your Hand to Revenge. The show was also the basis for several theatrical pictures, which were the first live-action superhero work of Toei Studio.
Sadly, the series came to an end because children began to emulate Moonlight Mask’s stunts and fights. Some became hurt in the process including the death of young boy imitating one of his jumps. The series was cancelled in 1959 from television and the last movie was released in August of that year. Sadly, a lot of the TV episodes are missing or too damaged to ever be shown again, leaving the latter day DVD release with some big holes.
However, it returned as an anime in 1972, entitled The One Who Loves Justice: Moonlight Mask (正義を愛する者 - 月光仮面). It was produced by Knack Productions (now ICHI Corporation) and aired on Nippon Television with a total of 39 episodes. The hero’s costume changed a bit as the turban became an open-faced helmet and his cape now had a clasp but the general style of his adventures remained the same. This series was also divided into three serialized stories: The Claw of Satan, a remake of the Mammoth Kong story and The Dragon’s Fang.
In 1999, there was also a comedic version of the hero made into an anime entitled We Know You, Moonlight Mask (ごぞんじ!月光仮面くん). It lasted a total of 25 episodes and treated the subject manner as a spoof including a super deformed main hero.
Masked Ninja Akakage
Masked Ninja Akakage (仮面の忍者 赤影) was Toei’s very first color tokusatsu TV series as well as the first live-action Ninja series in color on Japanese television. The series was created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama who also created Giant Robo which premiered later that year (for more on Giant Robo see the first installment). The series revolves around the adventures of superhero ninja Akakage (Red Shadow) and his two sidekicks, AoKage (Blue Shadow) and ShiroKage (White Shadow) as they use their Ninja skills and a collection of oddly high-tech gadgets to battle evil warlords and giant monsters.
The series is set in the 16th Century, during the Sengoku Period of Japanese History when rival Daimyo were battling each other for the right to rule all of Japan. The three heroic Ninja work towards bringing Peace and battling those who would use the chaos of civil war to advance their own power at the expense of others.
Each of the heroes has a different skill set that aids them in battle. Akakage is the best at swordplay and stealth, able to disguise himself to gain access to enemy fortifications. He also has a beam that fires from the crystal in his mask for finishing off hard opponents. Aokage is an explosives expert and proficient with the use of the chain to bind and hold his does. Lastly, Shirokage use a long pole arm in combat as well as using a huge kite to fly.
The series ended in 1968 but an anime version premiered on Nippon Television in October of 1987. It followed much the same plot as the original tokusatsu version though with the freedom of animation, the plots could get a bit more wild without worrying about budgets. This was actually the version I saw first as a friend of mine had a collection of tapes recorded off of Japanese TV in the 1980s including the first 12 episodes of the Akakage anime.
This is the OP to the anime version:
I have mentioned Golden Bat a.k.a. Ogon Bat (黄金 バット) on this blog before. He predates all other Japanese superheroes and even the rise of the superhero in the US coming debuting in 1931, seven years before Superman would see his first adventure in the pages of Action Comics #1. However, the tokusatsu version would have a very different origin and story from the paper theater original.
The character appeared in three live action films, the first of which debuted in 1950 under the title Ogon Bat: Matenrou no Kaijin. There was also a comedic biopic of the hero in 1972 titled Ogon Batto ga Yattekuru. However, the tokusatsu version I would like to focus on is the 1966 film Ogon Bat a.k.a Golden Bat produced by Toei which featured legendary martial arts actor Sonny Chiba as a scientist.
In this film, our hero is a remnant of Atlantis put into a form of suspended animation for the day when his skills will be needed again. All that is needed to bring him back is water and the tears of a young woman who’s Father has been taken do the trick. Now, she can call upon Golden Bat when she is in danger and he will come to her aid.
Unlike a lot of superheroes, Golden Bat is rather vicious in the way he deals with his foes and isn’t above casually killing hordes of goons to get to their boss. He is also apparently immortal and invulnerable to bullets. He can also fly and is an expert at hand to hand combat.
After the success of the movie, a TV anime was commissioned and debuted on April 1, 1967. The series ran for 52 episodes on both Yomiuri TV an Nippon TV (who had produced the series) and was successful enough to get several overseas releases. The series is known as Fantaman in Italy, Fantasmagórico in Mexico and Fantomas in Brazil (not to be confused with the criminal genius created by French author Marcel Allain). It never saw an official English release.
I will venture to say that the look of the character may be why he was popular in Italy and other countries that shared the tradition of masked criminals and outlaw heroes. Anti-heroes like Diabolik (who had been inspired by the previously mentioned French Fantomas) were all the rage to the point where even Spider-Man was turned into a villain for a Turkish take on the genre thanks to his masked look. A character with a skull mask and flamboyant clothes would fit in perfectly with those cads, even if he was a hero.
Strangely, this brings us right back to Moonlight Mask as one of his first villains had a very similar look to the original, pre-tokusatsu Ogon Bat, that being Skull Mask from the very first series of episodes!
I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the two of them, too shocked by the scene in front of me to think, nonetheless speak. My eyes flitted from Cat´s rad nails in his hair, to the way Sam had gripped her waist, pulling her flush against him. Just from the way they stood it was clear to me that this wasn’t the first time this had happened, Sam wasn’t the type to just randomly pick out a girl, especially not after just coming home again.