The settings of the boy hero featured in Kosoku (Light Speed) Esper should have been attractive and inspiring enough for children viewers who would find a hero around the same age as them to play the active and leading role in a tokusatsu TV show along with the other tokusatsu heroes played by child actors.
It should have spearheaded current special effects products in the idea of the powered suit, and the concept of the versatile suit which could make anyone strong once he/she puts it on should have spurred the imagination of the kids watching it back then.
Although the suit looks quite cheap by today’s standards, I think I was one of the kids who were excited about it.
While checking up the information on this show online I found the powered suit had two types: the normal version and micro version as the latter seems to have been used in an episode in which Esper shrank himself when necessary.
Although his suit has a part which looks like Ultraman’s Color Timer on his chest and I found it fun as a kid, I don’t think it had any particular function such as letting him know the approach of his energy limits.
Furthermore I found he had Esper 2 as his fellow who seems to have appeared in the midst of the series while I don’t remember him at all.
As I have talked about in my previous posts, I spent my happy childhood with a variety of tokusatsu TV shows, and it makes me feel proud of it to find the exactly pioneering products which have formed the basis for today’s tokusatsu even with a great popularity abroad started in my childhood making us the forerunner who have enjoyed them.
Among those TV tokusatsu series Kosoku (Light Speed) Esper (1967-1968: 26 episodes; produced by Senkosha Company) is one of the unforgettable products while I completely forget the details of each episode and what kind of characters appeared in the series except the hero Esper.
Esper, in this series, is not meant to be someone with psychic abilities in himself, but a boy hero who puts on a sort of almost versatile powered suit and fights against the villains.
While I didn’t remember at all, Esper fought against aliens named Alien Giron regularly while it’s not likely strikingly characteristic monsters showed up in the series.
I remember well he has a fellow robot bird named Chika who always appears suddenly on his shoulder and gives him advice.
Esper is a boy named Hikaru Higashi (acted by Kiyotaka Mitsugi: 1953-present) and transforms into Light Speed Esper (puts on the powered suit instantaneously) yelling after jumping in the air, “E S Per! (ee, es, per)”
The characters I dimly remember are Ganmar (gan is the Japanese word for eye along with me in the same line as Ganmons and Gan-Q), Kubi Ningyo (head doll) and Perorigon, all of which are from Akumakun while I forget the ones of Kappa No Sanpei completely.
Among the characters above I found Kubi Ningyo so horrifying as a kid that is a single-eyed mannequin which, if my memory is correct, is chasing the leading characters persistently (I don’t remember how) like Terminator.
I think it was destroyed into pieces when it was closing in on people and was sucked into a giant vent fan accidentally with a creepy scream (that reminds me of the scenes in which Terminator got crushed in a press machine).
And the scary sight of the doll kept me from going to the bathroom at night for a while as you may imagine. It was truly scary, much more than Android Zero One of Ultraseven.
While Tohl Narita made sure not to design yokai-like monsters with a distorted human body in his kaiju design principles, it should also have been meant to make Ultra Kaijus fully distinctive from the yokai characters or yokai-like monsters featured in the shows produced by the other production companies.
Yokais were characters featured in tokusatsu products in my childhood along with kaijus.
We had two tokusatsu drama series with yokai characters featured which were strikingly impressive: Akumakun (1966-1967: 26 episodes) and Kappa No Sanpei Great Operation Yokai (Yokai Daisakusen) (1968-1969: 26 episodes).
Both of them were based on the manga products created by Shigeru Mizuki and produced by Toei Company.
Akumakun is about a boy nicknamed Akumakun (akuma means devil/demon/satan; kun is a Japanese honorific title) who can summon a devil named Mefisto and fights against evil yokais and kaijus with his help.
Kappa No (no is the word showing possession) Sanpei is also about a boy named Sanpei gifted with supernatural ability from the kappas whose member Sanpei saved depicting his fights against evil yokais during his trip searching for his mother captured by those yokais.
All of them were produced by Toru Hirayama, Toei producer, including Giant Robo (1967-1968: 26 episodes) and Masked NInja Akakage (1967-1968: 52 episodes).
The boys who starred Akumakun and Kappa No Sanpei were Mitsunobu Kaneko (1957-1997) and Yoshinobu Kaneko (1955-present) respectively. Although both of them are Kaneko and their first names also sound alike, they are no kin.
Mitsunobu is also well known for his starring role as Daisaku Kusama in Giant Robo and Yoshinobu also gained popularity for his leading role as Aokage (blue shadow) in Akakage.
Incidentally Sanpei’s fellow kappa Rokubei in Kappa No Sanpei was acted by Fuyuhiko Maki who also regularly played Shirokage (white shadow) in Akakage.
Many monsters featured in the Toei and P Production were characterized by their weird appearances unlike the Ultra Kaijus.
The Tsuburaya products, based on Eiji Tsuburaya’s concept to avoid showing children anything ugly and weird, stuck to featuring monsters which are more straight-ahead while, as you know well, Tohl Narita’s monsters with statuary looks got to make the monsters attractive enough so that they are highly reputed even today.
On the other hand, the Toei and P Production monsters had no restraints like that unlike Tsuburaya that had to defend the Tsuburaya brand.
As the result, it is undeniable that the weird but unique-looking monsters which appeared in those series ended up having their attraction in their own way.
As a matter of fact we had other characters as much popular as kaijus back then which were yokai.
Yokai (literally suspicious mystery/suspicious mysterious being; kai is the same Chinese character as kaiju while the latter means mysterious beast) is a specter which looks like a goblin or imp which had been traditionally talked about in Japanese folktales while kappa featured in Episode 41 of Ultrasevenis one of the yokais.
Along with the anime Gegege no Kitaro (1968-1969) based on the manga created by Shigeru Mizuki well known for his yokai manga with much popularity among people, yokai characters have been frequently featured in manga and anime products alongside of kaijus in Japan although kaijus managed to win much more popularity.
Yokais were featured even in movies such as the 1968 Daiei (known for the original Gamera series) movie Yokai Daisenso (Yokai Major War) in my childhood and I remember I fully enjoyed it as they had their own attraction.
When watching Ultraman Gaia with my kids as it aired for the first time and seeing Gan Q appear in the show, the first thing the monster reminded me of was Ganmons.
Gan is the Japanese word for eye while the word me (/meh/) is more customarily used, and, as gankyu means eyeball, Gan Q is a sort of phonetic equivalent or pun of the term.
While I don’t know much about Gan Q featured in the recent series after Ultraman Gaia, I think the Gan Q that appeared in Gaia didn’t have its eyelid (I may be wrong).
Ganmons of Giant Robo, however, had its eyelid and it was forced to be closed by Robo with his reacher-like equipment coming out of, if my memory is correct, his buckle before being beaten by him.
Actually we had another eyeball monster which appeared in Masked Ninja Akakage and is called Hitotsume (single eyed).
This is a monster regularly summoned by a villain ninja through his yojutsu (mysterious skill), and, as Akakage and Giant Robo were produced by the Toei Company, Ganmons might have been a developed form of Hitotsume in terms of the idea.
It is fully thinkable that the Tsuburaya people could have created Gan Q inspired by Ganmons although I don’t think they publicly referred to it.
Alongside of the Toei products including Giant Robo, there were tokusatsu TV shows produced by the P Production in the 1960s and 1970s.
As previously posted, Magma Taishi (1966-1967; Ambassador Magma) was produced by them and started being broadcast as the first home-made color tokusatsu TV show just one week before Ultraman started being aired.
Magma Taishi also featured unique-looking monsters, and I dimly remember Balzas, Dacoda and Umibozu (please note that the spelling of each monster’s name is inaccurate; the monsters photos are alphabetically ordered ) although I don’t remember the episodes at all.
While I checked them out online to write this post, I don’t remember most of the monsters featured in Magma Taishi unfortunately including their names although it’s not that I have covered all the Magma Taishi monsters here on this post.
When looking at each of them, it’s amazing to find how well sculpted the suit of Aron is, and I also find many other attractive-looking monsters which make me feel like watching each episode again.
As the cyclops-like single-eyed monster with funnel-shaped head parts Balzas holding a ferris wheel reminds me of Kemur who yanked one out in his episode of Ultra Q, the Magma Taishi crew might have been inspired by it.
The P Production is also well known for their TV tokusatsu series Spectreman (1971-1972) that also started a little before The Return of Ultraman started airing while I’ve heard the former still has so many fans in France.
As Giant Robo was also repeatedly rebroadcast alongside of the Ultra Series in my childhood, I remember I enjoyed watching it every time it aired.
The product has not been publicly reviewed so much as the Ultra Series, I don’t remember the details of each episode unfortunately as I previously said.
But the monsters which appeared in the series remain in my memory quite vividly because of their unique appearances and characters.
Generally speaking, while it’s true of any other TV tokusatsu series back then, the monsters and villain characters looked so weird lacking the beauty and cleanness the Ultra Monsters designed by Tohl Narita.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that we were also drawn to such weird-looking monsters as a kid.
Giant Robo also had its unique-looking, impressive monsters which I can’t forget even now such as Ganmons, Glober, Iron Power and Ganger.
While each of them is a monster and robot with an enlarged human body part featured or distorted shapes of real-life creatures, they looked so striking with much impact in their own way.
It was fun to find a series of GR type robots controlled by the BF such as GR2 and Calamity appeared although, if my memory serves me right, Calamity didn’t move at all to the end because of the technical malfunction the BF suffered in the episode.
Getting it straight, it is “Giant Robo” who can be deemed as the rival of Ultraseven.
That’s another tokusatsu product which aired around the same time as Ultraseven from 1967 through 1968 on NET while produced by Toei Company (looks like it aired as “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot” in the US).
The product based on a manga series created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama was about a 30 meters tall giant robot named Giant Robo (GR1) as it is that was constructed by the BF (Big Fire), the secret alien organization plotting to conquer Earth.
While Robo is a robot which obeys a person who has initially recorded his voice on the control device shaped like a watch, Daisaku Kusama (acted by Mitsunobu Kaneko: 1957-1997), a team member of the United Nations Police Organization ‘Unicorn,’ got to record his voice onto the watch (although he looks too young to be the member).
Thus Robo ends up fighting against the BF in cooperation with the Unicorn members.
As Daisaku’s code name is ‘U7,’ it is said that it implies that the Toei people were fully aware of the presence of Ultraseven.
In a word, Giant Robo was a great product we children were irresistibly drawn to even no less than Ultraseven while featuring quirky and weird-looking monsters with totally a different feel from those of the Ultra Series.
While Toei produced a lot of TV tokusatsu series including Captain Ultraand Masked NInja Akakage I already talked about on this blog, I think GR was the most exciting product among them.
After I talked about the imaginary association between Pandon and kushikatsu, when we are at it, I will write about the Kaiju Bar in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture.
The Kaiju Bar is called “Kaiju Sakaba” in Japanese as sakaba means bar, the pun on “Kaiju Hakaba” (Kaiju Graveyard) that appeared in Episode 35 of Ultraman.
It’s located in the Kawasaki area noted in connection with the products directed by Akio Jissoji as it was used for the location shooting of his products such as Episode 7 and Episode 45 of Ultraseven.
Actually I haven’t been to this bar yet while I’m not very much fond of drinking, but I find the concept is fun and it’s a good thing for Ultra fans to have such a place where they can enjoy talking about Ultra over a drink.
When browsing through their website, what made me laughed is the fried shrimp shaped like Twintail with the green pea for its eyes which I find so funny while the accompanying explanation says Gudon recommends this apparently because Gudon is set to be the monster which feeds on Twintail.
It has been often talked about among fans since the explanation of Twintail to be fed on by Gudon appeared in a kaiju pictorial in the 1970s with the phrase saying Twintail tastes like shrimp when eaten.
As we children were very much fond of fried shrimp back then, it might have grabbed our heart.