Japan is the king of Tokusatsu (special effects) series, none more so than Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. While adaptions of these series have appeared outside Japan for years (the most famous of which being Power Rangers) it’s rare to see an original Toku hero from outside Japan. We’ve had some attempts like Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills in America, Sportranger from Thailand, and even a sequel to the Japanese series Shaider named Zaido in the Philippines, to name a few.
However, all of these series had one thing in common. They were like “rip offs” or “bootlegs” of their inspirations. All of them were marked by low budgets and less than stellar action.
This seems to be changing however, with a brand new series out of Korea. That series is Gunblade, a new action adventure show that comes from director Koichi Sakamoto. If you don’t know the name, you’ve certainly seen his work if you’re a fan of Tokusatsu. From Power Rangers, to Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, Koichi has worked on nearly every major Toku hero franchise in the world. So to hear he’s partnering with a brand new show is a wonderful surprise.
The story of Gunblade is as follows:
“Dr. Dexter, a genius evil scientist, fused himself with the super computer ‘OLYMPUS’ and reborn as ‘FAUST”. He declared the extinction of humankind and he woke up the enemy of humankind ‘GOTHIC’. To fight back against them, the humankind formed a special force ‘ENCOUNT’. In this special unit, there is the fierce ‘GUNBLADE’ team, consisting of expert members with the natural abilities, high technology and advanced combat training. The only hope left on humankind is the GUNBLADE.”
(Thanks to Rangercrew for the synopsis.)
Along with this summary, an eight minute pilot was unveiled at the Licensing International Expo and it gives us a sneak peek into the show.
All of the Koichi staples are there. Forty-five degree angles, flips, kicks, explosions (lots of explosions) and thigh shots. Most importantly though, the action is what stands out. Any “story” in the trailer is just set up for some damn dynamic action scenes that are over the top in only the way Tokusatsu can be. The CGI is horrific in some places (looking more like it came from PS2 game) but in the smaller areas like the transformation device itself, it’s serviceable. The actors are nothing to write home about (especially since they will be replaced in the series proper) but really, who cares about them when you’ve got the Gunblade suit?
Sleek, the suit stands out, especially with the non-symmetrical chest plate. It evokes the look of Guyver more than anything but seems much more based in technology. Suffice it to say, it’s not a cheap looking knock-off. With a twenty million dollar investment being put into the series, it appears as though there is finally a company outside of Japan that’s ready to take the making of a brand new Toku hero seriously. By bringing on Koichi, the show is certain to have some of the best action out there, as recent Super Sentai series, Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, was well praised for its high quality action choreography. While the story could be hit or miss and so far seems pretty by the numbers by Toku standards, a fifty episodes commitment gives the writers time to flesh out the universe briefly presented in the sneak peek and to develop not just Gunblade but the other heroes promised.
Oh yes, there will be a team of Gunbladers. Alpha, Delta, Gamma, Beta, Zeta, Epsilon, and Prototype. I’m excited to see how all the suits differentiate from one another and just what the personalities of the whole team are like. It’s exciting to know a Toku series is coming where we can’t exactly predict what we’ll be getting.
The show’s other calling card seems to be from the transformation device itself. In the sneak preview we see Jay activate the Gunblade app, with a beautiful Toku cry of, “APP, LAUNCH! EVOLUTION!” A real world app is already available in Google Play and will be available in iOS shortly. I wonder how much integration the app will have when the series itself premieres. While many media companies have utilized smart phone technology with toys and social media, it would be fascinating to see if Gunblade can finally pull off the sort of toy/TV integration that was promised as far back as Captain Power and the Soldiers of The Future.
The only downside to all this news is that we won’t be seeing Gunblade for quite awhile, at least in America. While filming is planned to start in August of this year, it won’t premiere in Korea until March 2015 and isn’t planned to hit Europe or America until January 2016. At first some questioned whether it would be brought over as an adaption ala Power Rangers but the producers instead hope for a dub of the series.
While dubs of Toku have been extremely popular in other areas of the world, the Philippines, France, and South America especially, dubs have never been that popular in America outside of various gag dubs. Attempts have been made, such as Night Flight Dynaman in the ’80s and Ultraman Tiga that aired on the FoxBox line up in the early 2000s. Dynaman was an out and out parody while Ultraman Tiga could never quite decide if it was taking the material seriously or as a joke. The most successful English dub of a Toku series in America is without a doubt the original 1966 Ultraman that was supervised by the same team that worked on Speed Racer.
While anime dubs have had great success, especially the Miyazaki films, dubs of live action foreign movies have always been met with some resistance. Whether it’s the mismatching of lips, or just the generally bad actors sometimes hired for these roles, it’s been historically difficult for a general audience to take dubs seriously. Whether Gunblade can change that is questionable, but I’d love to see them try.
Gunblade is exciting because it looks to be something different. Toku fans have been getting pretty much the same stable of shows in recent years with little variation. It’ll be nice to see a new show from a whole other country try and make its mark. Gunblade could be a complete failure, but I’ll give it points for knowing the genre well enough to get one of its best directors to make sure it starts off the on the right foot. I’m also happy to hear that Gunblade carries on the Toku tradation of being mostly geared towards children. Koich describes it as follows:
“GUNBLADE is an extension of popular superhero programs that have appealed to audiences of all ages for years,” explains Sakamoto. “As a child, we looked up to superheroes because we wished we could be one ourselves. With superhuman powers, they saved the world from evil and got to wear cool costumes. As an adult, I believe our inner child still possesses that same feeling of admiration, which is why I believe superheroes have exploded in popularity and is what I hope to achieve with GUNBLADE.”
I for one am excited for Gunblade and I hope we get to learn more information about it in the coming months as filming begins to ramp up!