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Tokusatsu (Special Effects) in the US

December 13, 2009

Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight isn’t particularly my favorite adaptation of a Japanese intellectual property, but I’ll admit, the US producers were trying their hardest to make this adaptation entertaining.

However it would appear that CW4Kids doesn’t exactly agree. On December 26th, just two episodes short of the series finale, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight is being booted off the air. I suppose we only have ratings to blame, but then why would there be a Dragon Knight game released on both the Wii and DS if it wasn’t doing so hot?

Of course, I guess it helps that the game is basically a re-release (if slightly altered) version of the Kamen Rider Climax Heroes and Kamen Rider Climax Heroes W released in Japan. That makes it easy to produce and release. But still, if they thought the series wasn’t doing well, why put the money into it at all?

In personal opinion, Dragon Knight was probably dropped because Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is about to get re-aired. Could it be that there’s only room for one Tokusatsu on American Saturday Morning television? I think it’s possible. They know that Power Rangers was a huge hit, despite the obviously horrendous mash-up thrown together by Saban. It’s obvious they’re using Power Rangers (Mighty Morphin’, specifically) as their crutch, what with the re-release of the original toy series.

Actually, no, this ISN’T a re-release of the original toy series. It’s completely brand new. the toys don’t function or look the way they used to (let’s take for example that the pink and yellow rangers have butts and boobs… ESPECIALLY yellow, whose original toy was completely devoid of these features because the original came from the Japanese molds, where the original character was a man and not a woman). Toys like the Zords are obviously different, fitting together differently, the Dragon Dagger has two models (both of which are inaccurate, and supposedly only the smaller of the two plays music, and it isn’t even the right song), and suddenly for some reason they all have also been given motorcycles (when did THIS happen in Mighty Morphin’?).

It’s hard to say what caused this strange series of events, kicking Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight off the air, bringing Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers back on the air after nearly 15 years from the point where it ended, and completely remaking the original Rangers toy line… what was it that did this?

Personally, I think it’s all because of Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. Why? Well, after Engine Sentai Go-onger (which we produced as Power Rangers: RPG here in the US), Disney decided to cancel Power Rangers, even though Shinkenger was already in development. But just take one good look and you’ll see that there’s absolutely no getting around the fact that Disney would be taking a Japanese TV series and pretending it’s theirs. Look at that – the Japanese Kanji for wood, fire, water, heaven, and earth can all be seen on the masks of our heroes. How does an American company who tries their hardest to squeeze everything Japanese out of their imported material work around something so blatently Japanese? The answer is, they don’t. They just choose not to work with it at all, and instead re-release the show that gave them the most boom. Many people online think that Toei did this on purpose. Sure, selling their intellectual properties to Disney made them money, but wouldn’t you be sick of having your material shifted around and marketed as something completely different? Shotaro Ishinomori sure was, after Saban had ripped up, mangled, and shredded everything decent about Kamen Rider RX and turned it into Masked Rider.

Actually, there’s one question I’d like to ask, if I could. You spend all this money not only on obtaining Japanese IPs, but also on re-filming your own footage and acquiring recreation suits from the original series you’ve purchased… why do you bother to obtain the IP at all? Are you just that low in confidence, not certain whether or not you can create a winning idea of your own, that you need to borrow and rearrange somebody else’s idea? I can think of two or three other things you could do.

1) Just sub/dub the series you just licensed. That’d be millions of miles cheaper, and if you put it on the Internet to make ad revenue with, you negate people having to download it illegally, getting cease and desist orders from Toei, etc. You could even do this ON TOP of the rehashes you already do, and thereby hit up two different audiences – your children crowd, and your 20-somethings crowd who just wants to see the original source material (of which there is already quite the crowd, who loves purchasing the toys even when they don’t get your TV show legally).

2) Make your own damn TV show! Honestly, stop sinking your money into something that’s already FINISHED and is just going to get canceled ANYWAY (looking at you , Dragon Knight). Of course, I think many of us will fear that we’ll just end up with another Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills. But I think that Dragon Knight has proven that we can indeed get a little more serious these days and not make the show a complete joke. Can’t we? Is the expense really all that great when you’re trying so hard to completely recreate a show from the ground up in a different location? I’d love to see some decent American Tokusatsu. REAL American Tokusatsu, not something we had to borrow and alter. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Either way, maybe we’ll get the next sentai series after Shinkenger. Supposedly the next guys are card-and-dice based. That’s something Americans can get behind, right? Hopefully Tokusatsu doesn’t completely die out. I’d still like to see the original source material from Japan, and I’d like to see America make intellectual properties all their own. But when will that ever happen?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2009 9:49 AM

    Funny you should mention the dubbing option because Tsuburaya, the makers of Ultraman, recently tried out a third method:

    Their recent show, Ultra Galaxy: Mega-Monster Battle, was shot entirely on green-screen, meaning that they could totally re-shoot the whole series shot for shot using localized actors. It proved damned near successful but the show wasn’t picked up by anybody. Idiots.

    In regards to Dragon Knight, what it really came down to were the key marketing factors: Bandai and the CW itself.

    While I could blame their shoddy toyline which looks like it came from 1992, from what I’ve heard, Bandai aimed one digit higher than the audience they usually market to. The highest age in the marketing plan was apparently 10 years old. This means that once again, Bandai–Or rather, Bandai America–failed to realized that there’s a whole older age group that doesn’t mind shelling out money for exclusives. This wouldn’t be the first time Bandai screwed up in this regard; ask anybody who went to their panel at Power Morphicon and they’ll tell you how they dropped the ball.

    And then there’s the CW itself; random timeslot switching, barely any advertising, it took a lot of fan effort just to get people to watch. I mean Matt Mullins, Wing Knight himself went on daytime shows to get the word out about the series! That’s got to say something about how badly this went.

    Bitching aside, it’s a shame that the show is getting the axe but at least it’s going to finish in some form. As for American Tokusatsu efforts, there are some out there, just not the ones that people are thinking. If there’s a show/TV/webseries that cannot happen without special effects, things like Robocop or Star Wars, it’s Tokusatsu. Things like Thunderbirds, or even Battlestar Galactica at one point are considered Tokusatsu works. When you think of it that way, we’ve been producing tons of the stuff out here so there’s no real lack. But in the realm of Superheroes though, yeah, nobody’s really doing much, unless somebody localizes an Ultra show.

    It seems like no one can break past the Power Rangers Gag Reflex, and these re-runs of MMPR are almost like a cold reminder why they never dare to try.

  2. Andy permalink
    December 13, 2009 10:20 AM

    I like the making our own Tokusatsu. Yes they made Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills, witch I’ve never seen. However, they also made a great show by the name of Mystic Knights Of Tir Na Nog. I loved that show. Sure it’s cheesy as hell now a days, but back then it was awesome. It was a mix of Magic, Medieval Times and Power Rangers with out the robots. And you know what? It worked. Well, for one season at least. I remember seeing ads for the second season, but it got canceled. Why? I don’t know. I do know that if they tried something like that now, it would do really good.

  3. April 5, 2010 9:49 AM

    I’m currently writing my own Tokusatsu. I wanted to be something that was dark but meaningful. I really need help to push this. I you would like to look into my work please contact me

  4. April 12, 2010 2:24 PM

    Justice Kamen is already on youtube Diponível

    The first part of Justice Kamen can already be seen on youtube. This short is a production of the Hero Factory and is based on the fanzine Fernando Pereira Barbosa who also directed the film.

  5. BobbyRay permalink
    March 24, 2012 4:58 PM

    PR was given shark cycles in the 3rd season

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