According to Wikipedia, “tokusatsu” translates as “special effects” or “special techniques”. In other words, they’re heavy on special effects. While this can technically included movies like the Godzilla franchise, in the west this is mostly used to refer to live-action superhero programs (much like “anime” actually is just short for “animated” but Westerners use it to describe Japanese animated programs specifically).
Japan’s live-action superheroes have made cameos here in the Spotlight before, from Linkara’s History of the Power Rangers (with his permission) to the Japanese “Spiderman” and the recent Kamen Rider Dragon Knight series getting a spot in the Saturday Night Showcase. With a new Power Rangers series on the way, and another Kamen Rider series showing up in the Showcase this weekend, I thought “why not explain to those readers who don’t follow Japan’s superheroes a little bit about them”? So I’ve prepared a brief primer. The night before this post goes live at BW I posted a rough draft to my fanblog space over at That Guy With The Glasses.com to get some feedback from other fans. Remember, this isn’t a complete history but a brief overview for non-tokusatsu fans to get an idea as to how the Japanese do superheroes.
The ones that have earned international appeal (despite a lack of international release) can be broken down into four categories. This primer will contain a brief history, some examples that have been translated (either with a straight dub/sub or inserting US footage) for the West, usually by Saban Entertainment, common characteristics of the format, and the closest American equivalent I can think of. My hope is that we may get some more official American releases or perhaps even an attempt that isn’t Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills. Man, that show was crap.
Since this is a long list, I’m going to create pages, all part of the same article like the This Week’s Cracked entries, with a page for each genre.Page 1: intro (here)
Page 2: Sentai (or Super Sentai) Page 3: Ultraman Page 4: Metal Hero Page 5: Kamen Rider