For his terrible puns, Judge William Lee should be put in a zoo, man.
Summon Massive Power! Summon Supreme Power!
When college student Watari Goro rescues two kids from an attack by a team of goons, he is recruited into a secret organization of freedom fighters. The Youth League is comprised of "mutants:" humans with psionic abilities that let them use telekinesis and super strength to battle the Neo-Human Empire. Unleashing his natural psionic skills, Goro becomes Inazuman to defend the human race as a blue moth with lighting bolts painted on his arms and legs. Fans of tokusatsu—that Japanese sci-fi/fantasy genre featuring stunt performers fighting in large, rubber monster suits—will enjoy the resurrection of this 1970s television show.
Facts of the Case
In each half-hour episode of Inazuman, a different Neo-Human monster is dispatched to battle our hero. The episode titles provide a hint to the identity of each monster.
Viewers who spent their impressionable years with the Power Rangers might recognize something familiar in this tokusatsu series. Older viewers should think back to classic Gojira and Ultraman movies to put you in the mood for spandex and rubber-suited mayhem. Originally aired on Japanese television in 1973-74, and briefly on television in Hawaii, Inazuman is available to North American audiences again on this four-disc set from JN Productions and Generation Kikaida.
Ban Daisuke (Kikaider, Ringu) plays the title role with as much conviction as can be expected for the genre. By playing it straight, he lends the manga storylines more than an ounce of dramatic credibility despite the goofy costumes and phony-looking special effects. When trouble arrives, Goro crosses his arms and says, "Summon Massive Power" to morph into Sanagiman. This is a transitional stage where he resembles The Thing from Marvel's Fantastic Four with a zipper down his back. Once his power belt is fully charged Sanagiman exclaims, "Summon Supreme Power" to complete the transformation to Inazuman. In this ultimate form, a blue moth with bug eyes and antennae, our hero can jump great heights, fly and shoot lighting from his hands. His magic yellow scarf can take the shape of various tools. Inazuman also has a psychic link to Raijingo, a flying car with a powerful bite.
The Neo-Humans are after the psychically gifted Youth League members. They want to either use the kids in their army against humanity or destroy them so they won't be a threat. Emperor Bamba has an army of grey-suited soldiers with claw hands who are typically employed early in each episode so Inazuman can warm up. Each episode's monster of the week shares the same family name: Water Bambara, Clay Bambara, Sand Bambara, etc. The variations on the monsters are inspired and their costumes range from the ridiculous to the grotesque. There is a camera-themed baddie as well as one that's just a giant eyeball.
Many individual episodes work as stand-alone stories wherein the events of that installment don't alter the larger continuity. Consequently, this makes the chronology of the episodes irrelevant. Once the novelty of the costumed fighting has passed, the stories are rather forgettable. However, just as the series is starting to feel tedious, Inazuman's story makes an interesting course correction towards the end of Disc 2. There are a couple of sequential episodes where Goro learns the Neo-Humans have made his mother into one of their agents and his battle against them takes on a personal angle. The consequences of one episode carry over into the next and Goro comes away from the experience with a slightly new attitude. It doesn't significantly change the tone of the show, which remains pleasantly cheesy, but it's an added dramatic dimension that kept me interested to see where it was all headed. The series plays best in small doses though, as the series' charm is spoiled in a marathon viewing.
The fights between rubber-suited performers are the joys of this genre and Inazuman doesn't disappoint. The showdowns are choreographed with lots of energy but stay in the realm of fantasy fighting. It never looks like anyone is getting seriously hurt (sometimes the punches don't even connect) but there's enough acrobatics to make it an enjoyable display of agility. Special effects are cheap looking and the big set pieces (exploding buildings, crashing airplanes) look even cheaper. But that's another of the charming qualities of this show; it looks like it was assembled out of your toys.
The remastered video on this DVD set looks good, with a cleaned-up picture that isn't pristine. There are a few instances of physical blemishes to the image and it's grainy at times (noticeably in darker scenes) and soft in some moments. Colors aren't nearly as punchy as they are on the cover art. Perhaps it can't be helped that the image looks like it has some age to it, but it's not distracting enough to mar the experience. Sound is delivered in a workable mono soundtrack. Dialogue and the funky music score sound fine.
There are some handy bonus features that introduce the characters to new viewers and provide some historical perspective. Character profiles and episode factoids are simply text screens but they're informative. There is a new interview with actor Ban Daisuke who talks about working on this production and Kikaider simultaneously. The Karaoke feature lets viewers play the opening and end credits songs with or without vocals. The trivia quiz tests how well you paid attention during the shows and delivers a ranking based on your score. The fan interviews assemble a group of folks from the "Kikaida Generation" to recall their youthful impressions on the show. The four discs are packaged in two slim cases that fit into a cardboard box.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Having never seen Inazuman before now, I wish the bonus features were better integrated into all four discs. Rather than putting everything on Disc 4, it would have been helpful to have at least the character profiles on Disc 1 where new viewers can quickly get an introduction to the characters and the basics of the show. The episode factoids contain a lot of information about the various actors, locations and other details of each installment but they're compiled as a single feature on each disc for their respective episodes. If I wanted to learn more about Episode 7, for example, I would have to flip through 30-plus screens of text before finding anything about that episode. It would have been great to see this wealth of information made more interactive and accessible during each episode.
Those who remember the show will love having the entire series on one DVD set, though they'll probably be anxious to hear when the follow-up series will appear on disc too. Beyond the nostalgia factor, Inazuman stands up as a fun slice of Japanese monster silliness. Fans of rubber suit fights who are discovering the series for the first time are in for a treat. The picture and sound aren't top notch, but it's a decent preservation nonetheless.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Generation Kikaida
• Episode Factoids
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