|Kikaida - An Introduction
On July 8, 1972 at 8 p.m., the Japanese channel NET aired the first episode of a live action superhero series called Jinzo ningen kikaida ("Mechanical Man Kikaida"). The series debuted in prime time on Japanese television, which was unprecedented for a program aimed at children.
A classic good-versus-evil tale, the show pitted a guitar-playing, denim-clad young biker named Jiro, played by actor Ban Daisuke, against the evil DARK, a shadowy criminal organization bent on wreaking havoc upon Japan.
Professor Gill (Ando Mitsuo), the mastermind behind all the evil plots, has kidnapped brilliant robotics scientist Dr. Komyoji (Izu Hajime) and forced him to build a battalion of android monsters to serve Gill's malicious ends. The only one who can save Japan from Gill's evil designs is Jiro, himself a Komyoji creation. Jiro, actually the human form of an android, can transform into the mechanized superhero Kikaida.
For most of the series, the Kikaida episodes follow a predictable formula:
- Gill's evil henchmenmasked androids outfitted in gray jumpsuits and black hightop sneakers are led by an android monstercommit some heinous crime in the name of DARK, usually snuffing out the life of an innocent victim along the way.
- Dr. Komyoji has managed to escape from Gill but has suffered a severe case of amnesia. The brilliant scientist wanders from town to town in a mental fog, taking jobs varying from gardening to driving a cab, even tending bar.
- Komyoji's daughter Mitsuko (Mizunoe Jun) and son Masaru (Kamiya Masahiro) are desperately trying to track down their father. Mitsuko and Masaru are usually assisted by the bumbling detective Hattori Hanpei (Ueda Shun).
- The DARK "Destructoid" monster and drone androids attack but the familiar strains of Jiro's guitar interrupt their mischief. He denounces the monsters, flings his guitar away, and plunges into the frayusually in what appears to be a quarry. The pulsating Kikaida theme song plays in the background. The Destructoid monster and drones retreat, and Jiro rides off on his bright yellow motorcycle, Sidemachine. Left behind, a shaken Mitsuko, Masaru and a survivor of the first scene's mayhem are left to carry on with their angst-ridden missions.
- Later in the show, the Destructoid and drones mount a second attack, and again Jiro appears. Unfortunately, Jiro has one major weakness: an incomplete conscience circuit. This Achilles' Heel renders him vulnerable to Professor Gill's mind-controlling flute, and Jiro suffers excruciating pain resisting the flute's shrill strains wooing him to the Dark side.
- Invariably, a fortuitous explosion or ear-splitting noise will momentarily block out the evil flute, providing Jiro the window of opportunity to perform a transformation sequence that was mimicked by youngsters on playgrounds all over Hawaii in the 1970s: "Change! Switch on! 123!!"
Kikaida Comes to Hawaii
As soon as Joanne Ninomiya, then the general manager of Japanese-language station KIKU-TV, saw Kikaida for the first time, she started negotiating to bring the series to Hawaii.
"I watched it on one of my trips there, and knew immediately, 'This is the one,'" Ninomiya said. "It was cute, had a story-line, and clearly a 'good versus evil' themeperfect for Hawaii," she added.
Kikaida debuted on the "old" KIKU in February 1974, and by the summer of that year, it was clear that the program was a smash-hit.
Local stores sold thousands of Kikaida dolls, t-shirts, and LP records. A Kikaida stage show at Hawaii's 50th State Fairthen staged at Sand Island on Oahuattracted hordes of Island kids with parents in tow. Later stage shows played to frenzied capacity audiences at the Honolulu International Center (since renamed Blaisdell Center).
Kikaida's Combat Techniques and Trouble at School
Not surprisingly, Hawaii youngsters began mimicking Kikaida's combat moves, which were potent variations of karate, judo and aikido techniques. His Double Chop, a two-handed karate chop, often severed limbs off of monsters. Kikaida also utilized a Spinning Attack move in which he knocked a monster down and hammered it with punches. And to finish a monster off, he leapt at the monster with arms crossed and cried out Denji Endo ("Electromagnetic End"), unleashing an electric spark that exploded the monster into pieces of metallic shrapnel. (Note to trivia buffs: Kikaida actually shouts out "The End!" (Za Endo) in the first episode, before switching exclusively to Denji Endo thereafter.)
Much to the consternation of local schoolteachers and administrators, playgrounds became the scene of many a staged battle between keiki Kikaidas and what local kids took to calling the "Get'um" guys--the evil drone androids (who were actually chirping their leader's name"Gill").
Ninomiya, now the president of JN Productions, remembers getting many an irate call from school principals. "They would complain, 'You know, all my boys are doing 'Double Chops' on each other!'" she laughs. "They didn't think it was funny at all."
But at a time when Americans were beaten down by the daily news of the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, perhaps Kikaidawith its clear-cut depiction of 'good-versus-evil'filled a void in the local psyche.
The roster of DARK Destructoid monsters was one of the most memorable features of the show and a bountiful source of trivia for Kikaida fans. On each episode, Professor Gill would dispatch yet another ill-tempered monster to commit dastardly crimes: Gray Rhino King, Green Mantis, and Orange Ant, just to name a few.
In 1974, the spray-painted, polyurethane-and-rubber outfitted monsters were plenty scary to three and four-year-olds, but they may appear downright comical to today's sophisticated young viewers of computer generated images and special effects.
Some of the monsters were more formidable than others, and many displayed human-like complexity. Perhaps one of the most poignant episodes involved the monster Black Spiny Anteater, who was accompanied by Tiny Spiny, a sidekick child repair android. After Kikaida destroys the monster, the distraught Tiny Spiny sobs pitifully for her father figure and leaps to her own death.
To the series producers' credit, they remained more or less faithful to the complex vision that late Kikaida creator Ishinomori Shotaro created in the original manga, or comic-book version. The story may have been formulaic, but it was not simplistic, and resisted a Disneyish happily ever-after pattern.
"Creator Ishimori wanted Jiro to be 'human,'" noted Ninomiya. "So the storyline resembles a drama, compared to the action-packed Kamen Rider (superhero series)."
Sometimes good people, even Jiro/Kikaida, could be manipulated and driven to commit evil acts. Innocent victims died violent deaths. There was even an undercurrent of unrequited love, most notably in the romantic tension between Jiro and Mitsuko.
The storyline of the series became even more nuanced with the appearance of Kikaida's archenemy, Hakaida, the most powerful DARK android. Even the Hakaida character (played by Mayama Kenji and menacingly voiced by Izuka Shozo) is layered with complex emotions and motivations. He is determined to kill Kikaida but will not harm innocent bystanders to carry out his mission. Many Kikaida fans have noted a resemblance between Hakaida and Darth Vader, the archvillain in the epic film series Star Wars.
Kikaida's Legacy and Impact
In fact, keen Kikaida enthusiasts pick up on many classical themes in the show. There are echoes of the folk tale Pinocchio, with a wise man building a creation in the image of a human. In Dr. Komyoji's case, he built Jiro in the image of his dead son Taro, who was slain by DARK.
In 1975, a Time magazine article describing the Kikaida phenomenon in Hawaii theorized that Professor Gill's evil flute was a device seemingly lifted straight from the movie A Clockwork Orange.
During his visit during the summer of 2001, Ban noted that Kikaida explored issues involving sentient artificial beings grappling with human emotions.
"I saw (Steven) Spielberg's movie A.I.," Ban said. "And only now is he covering the themes of a mechanical man like we did in Kikaida 30 years ago!"
Related Web Links
Anime in the Limelight
Ban Daisuke's Home Page
Go Go Kikaider
Henshin!Online - Kikaida
Kewalaka's Kikaida Page
Kewalaka's Kikaida 01 Page
Kikaida Fan Club
Marauder Slade's Kikaida Page
The Xenorama Patrol
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