Thursday, June 6, 2013

Japanese superheroes






In science fiction, we have a word for it.

"Schlock."

But it's just so much fun.  To what am I referring in such a roundabout way?
Japanese superheroes.  That's what.

They've got their own way of doing it over there as they do with so much else.  I first learned about the breadth and depth of this unique and obscure sub-genre of science fiction at...where else...a convention for Godzilla fans back in 2011.  A speaker gave a lecture on the subject.  No really, this stuff actually goes on at these things.  Here's a bit of a rundown on the luminaries of the sub-genre:

Starman
He actually had what we would today call a "franchise" of films back in the 1960s.  I actually own two from the series, Atomic Rulers of the World and Invaders from Space.  I am still on the lookout for Evil Brain from Outer Space (and how can you go wrong with a title like that?)  As you might imagine, the stories are fairly straightforward.  Bad aliens (like the Salamander Men from the planet Kulimon.  Squee!) threaten Earth whether it be through nuclear destruction or what have you.  Starman must stop them.  So what are the powers and abilities of Starman?  Well, rather generic really.  Maybe even Superman or Captain Marvel-like.  Flight, excellent combat prowess, packs a gun, not much more to tell.  You can still find these in the $5 bin.

Ultraman
There are buttload of variations and incarnations of this series.  It will take a more serious Otaku geek than me to tell them apart.  Therefore, I'll talk about the one I used to watch after school in the days of my youth.
A man named Hayata works for the Science Patrol (another great name.)  As he is flying his SP-issued VTOL plane, he collides in mid-air with a spaceship.  Hayata is killed.  As fate would have it, the spaceship is piloted by a superhero named Ultraman.  This being greatly regrets causing the death of the hapless human.  Therefore, he merges lives with Hayata and brings him back to life.  Hayata lives out his own life most of the time...that is until he and the rest of the Science Patrol are menaced by giant monsters.  Hayata then activates his Beta Capsule, turning himself into Ultraman.  Ultraman, as it turns out, can vary his size from giant to humanish.  He shoots multiple types of energy beams and can karate chop giant monsters with the best of them.

Infra-Man
(pictured above)
This one is actually Chinese, but it often gets lumped in with the others.  Plus, if Wikipedia is to be believed (and come on, when are they ever wrong?), this is the first superhero film ever produced in China.  So it's a piece of history.  I guess.
The Demon Princess Elzebub (hey, I couldn't make that name up) is making a bid to control the Earth from her underground, Inner Earth kingdom.  So at least it's not aliens.  They decided to go the Richard Shaver route.  Anyhoo, cities fall to ruin as she unleashes her army of "Skeleton Ghosts" and her Ice Monsters.  One scientist at Science Headquarters (really, that's its name) has a plan to save us, but it requires the sacrifice of a young man named Lei Ma.  Lei must transform his body into a red and yellow cybernetic one.  This will grant him all manner of deadly weapons and super abilities that seem a bit like those of The Six Million Dollar Man.  He is now...wait for it...Infra-Man!  The monsters of Elzebub are no match and are defeated by Infra-Man at Mount Devil.  Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's not a spoiler.
I think I dated Demon Elzebub.

Kamen Rider
I've never seen this series, but I think any discussion without it would be incomplete.  Kamen Rider deals with "a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world." No.  Not that one. This one is called "Shocker." Apparently their M.O. is to kidnap unsuspecting people and then brainwash them and turn them into cyborg warriors for the Shocker cause.  Well things backfire when they take a freelance photographer named Hayato Ichimonji.  He fights off the brainwashing and escapes...but not after the fine folks at Shocker have given him all the tricked out, neato keeno cybernetic powers.  The "rider" part of the name comes in when he teams up with a motorcycle racer.  Oh and an FBI agent.



No, I will not talk about The Power Rangers.


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