Fans of tokusatsu are probably familiar with the medium as home to giant monsters and transforming superheroes, but that isn’t always the case. Shotaro Ishinomori, father to Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, was also behind an interesting show that features heroes who don’t transform: Akumaizer 3.
Akumaizer 3 is a show from the 70s, an era in which you saw a ton of tokusatsu shows being made, probably more than at any other period in time. Akumaizer 3 hit airwaves in the same year as shows like Kamen Rider Stronger and Himitsu Sentai Goranger, both dramatically different concepts than what had come before. Kamen Rider Stronger gave viewers a main character who was arrogant and self-assured while Goranger featured the first team of transforming superheroes. To help set itself apart, Akumaizer 3 needed something different: heroes who don’t transform.
Yeah. These guys. Those are the heroes of Akumaizer 3, they’re full of that fun, bizarre 70’s inspired Ishinomori style that contemporary viewers think of as weird. And they are, they’re definitely weird. None of the suits are particularly inspiring as heroes but there’s a very good reason for that – the heroes of Akumaizer 3 were originally the bad guys.
Whereas a lot of tokusatsu shows have the heroes being innocent bystanders being given the chance to defeat the bad guys, Akumaizer 3’s heroes were the bad guys. Xavitan, Evil, and Gabura, were all once members the Akuma Clan, an empire existing below the surface of earth seeing to take over the human territories. The series begins with Xavitan, our righteous hero, defecting from the Akuma Clan to protect the humans. Why? He’s half human. Xavitan’s mother is a human herself, leaving our hero with conflicting emotions that eventually led to him defecting in the first episode.
And then the other two, Evil and Gabura, are sent to hunt him down. Xavitan defeats Gabura but ends up saving his life and is then taken in by Evil, who eventually sees things his way and, along with Gabura, joins Xavitan in fighting against the Akuma clan. The stars of the show carry a strong sense of justice, which comes from the idea that Akumaizer 3 is in part based on The Three Musketeers.
That’s the set up for Akumaizer 3, but it’s a much more interesting show than even this. Because the heroes don’t transform you have to rely on the voice actors to provide emotion and substance to the lines being delivered. With tokusatsu you often need strong voice actors capable of providing these emotions, but those cases don’t usually involve the stars of the show. Akumaizer 3 featured Makio Inoue, of Captain Harlock and Lupin III fame, as Xavitan, Koji Yada, Dragon Ball Z’s Dr. Gero, as Evil, and Joji Yanami, the narrator of the Dragon Ball series, as Gabura.
The three lead voice actors delivered stellar performances and brought their characters to life in interesting ways. Xavitan was your hero of justice, stoic and unrelenting, Gabura was your big brute with a heart of gold who is actually just a cuddly teddy bear on the inside, and Evil was this awesome badass of a character. Evil was my favorite of the trio right from episode one – particularly a moment that involved him pointing his gun in Xavitan’s back and casually asking “Mind coming with us?” as he gives a nod of the head.
In addition to the leads of the show, Akumaizer 3 also relies on a handful of human supporting actors. (including the single most annoying kid in tokusatsu history, what with his doushites in what felt like every other line) The main attraction in the supporting cast was an actor who you might know if you watched the original Kamen Rider series, Jiro Chiba, the actor who played Taki Kazuya. You might also know Jiro Chiba as the younger brother of martial arts star Sonny Chiba.
There’s also an interesting character introduced later on named Darunia, yet another demon turned human ally. Darunia serves as the love interest to Xavitan and is voiced by Rihoko Yoshida, again another lead character who doesn’t seem to have a human form. In a show where our heroes look the way they do, she is definitely the weirdest element to be found.
Introduced with Darunia are also a slew of other demons, part of a demon peace group, joining the good fight and putting themselves in danger to foster a better relationship between the humans and demons.
Sooo, I have to make a bit of an admission here. This show isn’t completely free of transforming heroes. At one point in the series, Xavitan decides to take on the human form of Chiba’s character to better integrate into human society and spy on suspicious people and situations. This is the really rare occasion of a hero’s human form being the disguise. Points for originality. (okay, maybe not, Ultraman did it before)
Oh also Gabura eventually learns to transform into a giant ostrich because that’s a thing the show absolutely needed.
While it didn’t set the world alight, Akumaizer 3 did manage to net itself a sequel in the form of Chojin Bibyun whose heroes are…very spoiler heavy so we’ll save that for another day, but hey, Kamen Rider Stronger and Apollo Geist’s actors play lead characters!