Over the past couple of years, I've been getting more into mecha, both in anime form and model kit form. This has caused me to brush up against mecha's older live-action cousin, tokusatsu. For those unfamiliar, tokusatsu ("toku" for short) is a Japanese TV/film genre that tends to prominently feature superheroes, monsters, and giant robots. Power Rangers and Godzilla are two of the most popular examples in the West.
Whenever I've been in hobby stores shopping for Gundams, inevitably see some toku kits on the shelf too. And whenever I watch mecha anime, toku shows are often something streaming services recommend I watch next. And you know what? I think it's working.
So I've had my eye out for a toku on-ramp for a little while now. When I heard about Hideki Anno's (of Evangelion fame) recent Shin tokusatsu film trilogy, I figured I finally had a way in. I've now seen all 3, so here's some thoughts on each:
Shin Ultraman - While I had seen a few random episodes of Ultraman Tiga back when it was on TV in the US, I didn't really know what to expect from this movie based on the original 1960s series. To be honest, I found this film a bit hard to get into due to how much of a love letter it was to its source material. By trying to cram as many plot arcs from the TV series into one movie as possible, I found it hard to get invested as a newcomer. However, the passion that was put into Shin Ultraman was enough to have me interested in watching the next Shin movie.
Shin Kamen Rider - For this one, I came in almost completely blind. Other than knowing that Kamen Rider is a superhero with a green mask and a motorcycle, I had no idea what I was getting into. What I found was that this was easily the most uneven of the three. For starters, the movie is quite gory, which I was not expecting. The other thing is that the tone fluctuates abruptly from corny or zany to very dark and serious. I'm not really sure how much of this is a reflection of the source material versus a bold stylistic choice on the part of the filmmakers. Despite this, unlike Shin Ultraman, Shin Kamen Rider developed its characters in such a way that helped me get to know them as a newcomer and get invested in their personal struggles. I'm not sure if I can say this was a "good film" per se, but it was definitely successful in piquing my interest in the franchise.
After having this tokusatsu sampler platter with these three films. I'm still trying to decide where to go from here; have I sated my curiosity or do I want to go deeper into the toku rabbit hole? As I wait for Godzilla Minus One to come out, I think I'll keep an eye out toku model kits that look like they'll be nice additions to my shelf. I'm also tempted to look for a shorter Kamen Rider series to try out. Let me know if you have any suggestions!