Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ultraman Ace vs. Henshin Ninja Arashi: A tokusatsu tale

Tokusatsu refers to live action movies or TV shows with costumed heroes and villains. It's a venerable form of entertainment in Japan, going back more than half a century to cinematic trailblazers like Toho's Godzilla (1954) and small screen giants like Tsuburaya's Ultra Q (1966) and then, immediately, Ultraman that same year.
Godzilla, 1954

Ultra Q, 1966
In the 1970s, there was an explosion in new tokusatsu shows. The decade got off to an impressive start with Toei's Kamen Rider (1971), which was created by legendary artist Shotaro Ishinomori. In fact, many of the decade's most famous shows were created by Ishinomori, whose family name at the time was Ishimori - but that's another story.
Kamen Rider, 1971
Following Kamen Rider were other Ishinomori creations like Kikaider, Inazuman, and Gorenger. Then there was Henshin Ninja Arashi, which brings us to this story.
Henshin Ninja Arashi, 1972

Arashi, a Toei release, follows a similar pattern of other "henshin" tokusatsu of the period. You've got your hero (Hayate), a pair of children, an arch nemesis (in this case, Majinsai), legions of incompetent henchmen (who tend to do somersaults as they go down), and a weekly main villain (sent forth by Majinsai) with a bloodlust for taking down our hero.

When trouble calls, Hayate strikes a pose and becomes Henshin Ninja Arashi, a karate expert with a mean sword and a blazing purple scarf. By the end of the show, Arashi saves the day, sometimes with the help of his trusty steed.

Henshin Ninja Arashi debuted on April 7, 1972. Its timeslot was 7:00-7:30 on Friday evening, a great way for kids to wrap up the school week and get ready for the weekend. So far, so good. Well, maybe not.

Unfortunately for Arashi, Tsuburaya released its newest Ultraman series - Ultraman Ace - that year. You may be thinking that's OK - a little competition can be a good thing, right? It gets worse. Ultraman Ace debuted....yep, you guessed it, on April 7, 1972 - the exact same date as Arashi.
Ultraman Ace
Well, that's OK, right? Kids could watch two shows on one day - awesome! Nope, not so awesome. The Ultra juggernaut slotted in at the EXACT same time as Henshin Ninja Arashi - Friday night from 7:00-7:30, on another channel.

So if you were a kid in the early 1970s, before VHS, DVD, or other recordable media, you had to choose between one show or the other. The person I heard this story from told me that he wanted to watch Arashi, but he ultimately chose Ultraman Ace. And so did the majority of a generation of kids, no doubt. Score a victory for Tsuburaya.

And so things go in the competitive world of children's entertainment. Arashi lasted 47 episodes, which wasn't too bad, but the show became something of a footnote in the legacy of tokusatsu shows. Ultraman Ace went on to broadcast 52 episodes, and the Ultraman franchise continues on in various forms and media to this day.

Toei wasn't down and out by any measure. Its flagship series Kamen Rider carried on strong in various incarnations, through new series and movies, and it never left the popular imagination even when there were no programs airing. It remains an iconic series and there are no doubt epic discussions on forums in many languages about which is better: Ultraman or Kamen Rider. Now that would make a fine Epic Rap Battle of History!

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...