Given that fans of tokusatsu these days are prone to not realizing that the genre exceeds Sentai and Kamen Rider, we need to spread some light on some of the lesser known shows out there. This is going to be the first in a series of…series reviews, covering shows that aren’t Super Sentai or Kamen Rider. Now, this isn’t a knock against either franchise as they have both produced some great shows. But it’s always good to get a deeper understanding of the wide world that is tokusatsu. So while Kamen Rider and Super Sentai are great, they are far from being the only tokusatsu shows out there and it’s time to start our focus series!
Tokkei Winspector is the first series we’ll be covering here, it’s the 9th entry into the long dead Metal Heroes franchise and boasts some unique traits for a tokusatsu series. Now, since there isn’t a gigantic fanbase for the Metal Heroes franchise, it’s difficult to gauge reaction to Winspector. But, for the most part, it seems like it went over very well with people. It’s been said that the show can be a little boring, but this is one of the only shows you’ll find that dives so deeply into its theme that certain standard tokusatsu elements are forgone (for the most part). So what exactly is the show’s unique trait? Next to no monsters appear throughout the series.
Winspector was a show that focused heavily on police investigation and rescue, and because of this, we rarely saw any monster fights. Boasting a grand total of three monsters, Winspector finds itself being a very unique entry not only into the Metal Heroes but into tokusatsu as a whole. A typical episode would have the main characters following up on leads related to whatever their current case is and eventually have the heroes completing their case for that episode. The show goes one step further in trying to be as rigid as it can to this formula – there are only a handful of fights in the entire series. That’s right, for the most part these beautiful suits are used to rescue people. Winspector’s action is less about fights and more about the spectacle it can create during the rescue scenes of the episode.
One would think the lack of fighting in a tokusatsu series would be odd, but it works amazingly well for Winspector. The series is graced by some great action directing that helps carry across some of its more ambitious scenes. Though there are times you feel this show could benefit from a fight or two, they’re few and far between. Winspector is so busy creating a feast for the eyes that you just don’t care too much about the fights. This is a show that absolutely takes its specialty and runs with it, creating a very interesting shake up to the tokusatsu formula. You literally never know what each new episode will give you as far as action is concerned.
Masaru Yamashita heads up the cast as Ryouma Kagawa, leader of the Winspector team. Ryouma isn’t the greatest lead in the world, he can be quite boring at times and it really takes a special episode to see the emotional investment he actually puts into the job. But when those episodes roll by, they are flat-out amazing. As a character, Ryouma isn’t flat out boring, he’s dedicated to the job and knows how to goof around. But, you do get the feeling that these are two Ryoumas, one who only appears at the start and end of the episode. You kind of get the feeling that flatness of the character can be attributed to Yamashita as an actor. Winspector was his first big role and it absolutely shows, especially in those early episodes. You do get to see the evolution and growth of the actor as the series trucks along and I always think this is a really interesting thing to be able to see happen. That said, you do wonder how much better the series could have been had Yamashita been a better actor from the get go or had someone more talented been cast in the lead role. And talent is really what the series needs the most.
Known as Fire when he transforms, Ryouma is the only human hero in the entire series. His two partners, Walter and Biker, are robots and…well they could be worse. The two robots are considered brothers and neither one of them is exactly human-like. Now, this sounds odd because they’re robots, but their personalities are very…boisterous. These are the sort of characters you might expect to find in a comedy show arguing with each other. Given that everything else in the series takes itself so seriously, you definitely get the feeling that these guys are here just for that comedic balance. They’re not the worst bunch of characters, I actually enjoyed them quite a lot, but they do isolate Ryouma as the sole serious hero in this show and you have to wonder how things might have played out with actual humans in these suits.
In the way of other cast, we don’t have too many other players in this show. Ryouma’s sister plays a key role for a handful of episodes and then suddenly disappears around the end of the first coure of episodes. We don’t see her again until the last two episodes or so and it’s just odd. The two lost their parents in a fire as kids and so Ryouma takes on a bit of a fatherly role to her. It’s always been peculiar that the show simply wrote her off for the longest time. Maybe Toei didn’t think a hero character who also has to act as his sibling’s guardian would interest people? Either way, this strikes me as a pretty big loss for the show. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the girl cast in the role, she did add this other layer that Ryouma really needed, one that could have helped flesh out Yamashita’s acting chops much earlier on in the series.
Mami Nakanishi plays Junko Fujino, Ryouma’s human partner out on the field. She isn’t too great as a character, not because she doesn’t do anything offensive, but because she really is just a set piece. Junko is only given two focus episodes, and good as they are, you kind of forget she’s even in the show at times. Nakanishi herself is an okay actress and it certainly isn’t her fault that the show forgot to actually flesh her out as a character.
Sachiko Oguri plays Hisako Koyama and Shin’ichi Nonoyama is played by Masaru Oubayashi. Hisako is again another set piece, but she actually manages to become slightly more important to the series later on. Somehow, it feels like Hisako is even more relevent to things going on than Junko – which given her connections to the inner working of the series (her father helped create the Winspector branch) makes sense. She still feels a little oddly placed, going from another set piece to someone important isn’t the smoothest of transitions. But, because of this you do get to see Oguri in a few pretty interesting action scenes and this isn’t the worst thing in the world. Nonoyama is the team’s mechanic of sorts, he creates gadgets for them to use but is generally in the background, rarely venturing out into the world. I can’t even remember the guy getting a single focus episode, so he might have gotten it worse than any other character in the series.
The team also has a tiny robot by the name of Demitasse who helps at times. More than Walter and Biker, this guy really feels like his only purpose was to be comedic relief.
And of course we get to Shunsuke Masaki, played by the legendary Hiroshi Miyauchi. He’s the team’s commander and doesn’t leave the base a whole lot, but when he does, you’re in for some great action. Miyauchi wasn’t incredibly old back then, so he was able to pull off stunts rather nicely. At one point or another, he helped with the creation of the Winspector suits and it’s hinted that he was the original user for the Fire suit before being hurt on the job. (And this ties into a big revelation regarding Junko.) I’m not actually too fond of Miyauchi, people seem to love the guy, but the roles I’ve really enjoyed him in are the ones where he isn’t the hero. So, obviously, I loved him as Captain Masaki here. He is the seasoned badass who only comes out when everyone else is screwing things up.
It might sound like I’ve been trashing a lot of these characters, but I actually enjoyed them all quite a lot throughout the series. Granted, there are those times when the show missed opportunities to really stand out, but despite that they were a fun cast of characters to watch. The actual cast themselves worked nicely off of each other.
Winspector is one of those shows where I need to take a step back and realize what it’s trying to do. For all my complaining that certain characters felt wasted and rather dry, this wasn’t a show about the main cast. This was a show about the cases. There was more care put into making nearly every case interesting than the cast. Was this a bad idea? Depends on your take and how you like things. I’ve generally been one to take serial stories over episodic fare, but I really enjoyed the approach that Winspector took.
And when the show did try to go a little grander, you ended up with some really memorable stuff. Ryouma’s Fire suit only allowed him a handful of minutes of use before it would overheat. You (and the characters) always have this in the back of your mind while the action is going on. This is the reason that we don’t get a lot of suit action. Yamashita is thankfully a pretty great martial artist in his own right, so when he does have to do action scenes or fights, he’s doing a great job with what he has to do.
One of the more nagging aspects to this series is that Ryouma doesn’t actually have a traditional transformation device. Ryouma’s car is his actual transformation item. This creates a few interesting scenarios every now and then, and it actually isn’t as forced as one might think. Ryouma typically manages to find his way to his car in a natural manner. Though there are the occasional flubs that make you scratch your head. The biggest of which took place somewhere in the middle of the series with Ryouma getting into his car, ramming through a building, getting out, yelling something at the crooks, then getting back into his car to transform. Winspector could be baffling at times.
Touching on the two brother bots again, they made for some fun action at times as well. Walter himself had the ability to fly and this is the sort of thing I love seeing pulled off when the show was at its best. Seeing this robot swoop down and then fly off after saving someone in his arms could usually make for great scenes. Biker wasn’t left out of the mix either, his chest being one giant bike wheel made him rolling on it an interesting sight. Though after a while Biker is given his own motorcycle and…strange thoughts come to mind.
These brothers, beyond their action scenes, were fairly legitimate characters in their own right. They’re often played for comedy, sure, but I think that’s the reason you feel a greater sense of empathy for them during their focus episodes. I mean, what’s more tragic than a robot falling in love with an evil witch trying to take over the world with what I like to call the Space KKK? And for as comedic as they are, they actually play an important role in my two favorite episodes in the series. Midseries we see their older brother, the original robot created for the Winspector project who was never used, go on a rampage trying to kill everything in its sight. Something about his creator’s daughter being killed and that drove him crazy. I’ve gotta admit, I always thought the show had balls for killing off the daughter in a fairly realistic manner and for what it did to her father.
Winspector also did a good job at bringing back guest stars that actually meant something to tokusatsu. The first villain they face, who also returns in the last two episodes for revenge, is played by none other than tokusatsu veteran Susumu Kurobe, better known for his role as the original Ultraman. Flashman’s Red Flash, Touta Tarumi, plays the father gone crazy that I just mentioned, and man do you really believe him as someone who has absolutely lost it and wants nothing but revenge. We even get an episode where Yutaka Hirose appears!
All in all, some would say that Winspector is a bit of a mixed bag, but it has more positives than negatives. It’s not the most progressive show out there for tokusatsu, but it brought a unique formula to the game that you can see Rescue Force tried to mimic over a decade later. While there are certain key areas that I would have loved for the show to have improved upon, such as more fights and deeper characters, I enjoyed Winspector for what it was – characters you do come to really enjoy watching on screen and a cop tokusatsu show with some slightly bizarre elements. There is literally an episode that involves a hawk being brainwashed that the team has to stop. And honestly? If that doesn’t tell you how far the spectrum Winspector is willing to play, nothing will.