Today we continue our snapshot series with one of the more dramatic shows to come out of the 80s era of tokusatsu. Also, now that I’ve mentioned it, try not noticing that the main guy has all the same facial mannerisms as the lead in Ultraman Mebius from now on.
Doctor Koga Ryuuichirou has returned from America to visit Japan. The doctor supposedly made the trip to visit the grave of his son, Tatsuo, who died in the war way back in 1944. At his grave, he tells his son that terrible things are happening all over the world and that he finally knows the identity of the person behind these terrible acts. The person behind these terrible acts? It’s a very rich businessman by the name of Kirihara Gozo. He has his secretaries send a nuclear submarine to protect his investments in the Persian Gulf – and only his investments.
Beyond being a pretty despicable person, Kirihara Gozo is also secretly God Nero, leader of the Neros Army that exists in a different dimension. He has the ability to transform and transport himself to a location known as the Ghost Bank where all of his monsters, split into various branches, reside. Here we learn that Gozo is trying to drive up the price of oil all over the world by having his monsters destroy any oil rigs that aren’t his. He also plans to let loose his monsters and create a survival-of-the-fittest scenario, with his empire sitting at the very top of it all. There’s just one person standing in his way, Doctor Koga Ryuuichirou.
God Neros has a few of his monsters attack the doctor, though the doctor is able to escape them after the initial attack and finds his way to a secret base that once belonged to the Japanese army back during World War II. In the base sleeps Chojinki Metalder, the doctor’s greatest creation, a robot that looks just like his son. The doctor informs Metalder, who also goes by the human name of Ryusei Tsurugi, that they’re under attack and that his powers are driven by emotions. Then he goes off and gets himself killed in an attempt to bring Ryusei’s anger out. Ryusei rushes to the battlefield where he sees the doctor dead and surrounded by the monsters. He has no conception about life and death just yet, but he does get angry when the monsters attack him. This rage triggers his transformation and a battle begins! He does fairly well as Metalder until Coolgin, one of the Neros generals, appears and defeats him before returning to the Ghost Bank to inform God Neros of the new threat.
The first episode of Metalder plays as probably one of the best premieres a tokusatsu has ever gotten. You get a ton of information, but none of it really feels like an info dump. By the end of the episode you know who everyone is, but you still feel like you have so much more to learn. That’s what I love so much about this episode, it satiates the basic yearnings of an audience in the first episode and it gives you a reason to want to watch more. Not too much, not too little, you know exactly what you need to know. Even if there isn’t a ton of mystery left in the end, you know the joy in this series is going to be watching how our hero lives as a human while knowing he’s a machine.
It becomes clear pretty early on that Ryusei is a character with a conflicting persona. As a human, he’s kind and gentle, as Metalder, he’s a fierce fighter. These aspects are visualized in his blue and red split color scheme, an homage to a much earlier tokusatsu series, Kikaider. When he transforms, his voices changes, as in, there’s a different guy doing the Metalder voice. This change kind of bugs me, but at the same time, Ryusei doesn’t seem like he could pull off being a very angry person. He’s also got this sort of…sad puppy air about him. He just doesn’t seem threatening. This was a first for Metal Heroes and I wanna say tokusatsu as a whole. These soft-spoken characters are quite common now, but Ryusei was the first of his kind and what I love is that the series seems to place this in conflict with his other half. (fun fact, even his transformation call is simply just “anger!”)
The villains are an interesting lot as well. Gozo is slimey as heck and there isn’t anything subtle about it. This guy is a villain through and through. I love that he’s using monsters to drive up the price of oil, his goals are all very realistic ones. As God Neros, he actually looks pretty cool and creepy. His face has a ton of movement, so it isn’t just a static mask. One thing that did bug me, and kind of always does in tokusatsu, is that his mouth doesn’t seem to move a ton when he speaks, so it sort of ruins something for me.
The Neros Army themselves are an interesting group. Split into four branches, we have the Armored Warriors, the Robot Warriors, the Monster Warriors, and the Armed Warriors, each with their own general and unique look. One thing you do get out of these guys is a sense of presence. You see them all over the place in great numbers and they actually have this imposing sort of nature to them. No super-imposing the same grunt over and over here, there are actually a couple dozen different people in different suits and it’s amazing. And, the visual appeal to his guys is always there, they each represent their group’s title. Monsters look like monsters, robots like robots, etc. And, no one looks like they were thrown together at the last minute. There’s a very clear sense of design going on for everyone here, there was definitely a higher lever of craft going into this show than most of its time.
Metalder is basically trying to reinvent the Metal Heroes franchise – and I wanna say it’s probably the birth of the idea of the Metal Heroes. Confusing? Yeah. Basically, the first five series, even if the fourth and fifth weren’t them, all had the similar Space Sheriff aesthetic. Visor eyes on the helmets, patches of different colored armor all throughout their bodies and a very armored look. Metalder looks like it’s a robot. This guy isn’t wearing a suit of armor, that metal is his true form. I think this is when Toei got the idea that they could make a franchise of shows where the main draw is a character whose transformed state can change wildly as long as it has a metallic look.
Here’s another show I really like the idea of covering in the future. It’s a great show and probably one of the best tokusatsu of its era. (maybe only behind Flashman) Hopefully I’ll come back to it some day because I would love to give it another watch and share my thoughts on it. But for now, we’ll stop here – and hey! If this review made it sound interesting at all, I recommend trying to find it and watching it if you can. Sadly, Metalder was canceled and I’ve always been surprised the Metal Heroes did survive. But, I think Toei did want to keep a fully in-house franchise going for themselves and figured they could salvage it as long as everyone looked like they were wearing metal.