Tokusatsu and Its Biggest Anime-Inspired Titles, Explained

While anime might be perhaps the most popular media output from Japan, it’s not the only way in which the country permanently influences the popular culture of other countries. Tokusatsu is another big aspect of Japanese media, affecting movies, TV shows and of course, anime as well. Despite this, not many people in the West really know what the term entails or just how encompassing it is.

Meaning everything from giant monsters and robots to brightly-colored teams of superheroes, tokusatsu is most synonymous in countries with a certain Big G and a few powerful rangers. Largely confined to live-action, the genre has had an undeniable effect on the evolution of anime and manga, namely the outlandish concepts that fans associate with anime. Here’s how the house that Godzilla built was instrumental in making the mansion that is anime.

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What Is Tokusatsu and What Does the Word Mean?

In the most literal of translations, “tokusatsu” simply means “special effects.” Any movie or TV show that involves some sort of high-flying extravagant special effects can thus be classified as a tokusatsu feature. At the same time, the Japanese genre has garnered several sub-genres that are more explanatory of what the term has become known for. For instance, there are “kaiju/daikaiju” productions, with these terms translating as “mysterious beast” or “giant monster.” The granddaddy of this genre would of course be the original godzilla and its sequels, which brought its gigantic monster to life through miniatures that made his rampage through Japan look grimly realistic. The monsters themselves are typically portrayed by people in suits that range from the garish and goofy to the hi-tech and horrifying.

Beyond this giant variety of kaiju, smaller versions also exist as the per-episode enemies of the superheroes in tokusatsu TV shows. Said TV franchises include Ultraman, Kamen Rider and Super Sentaiwith the latter eventually being adapted in the West to create the Power Rangers series. Ultraman is also an example of another sub-genre: Kyodai Hero, wherein the protagonist changes their size to fight off equally humongous threats. These shows all came out of the “Kaijin” (strange person) hero wave that began with the series Super Giant and Moonlight Maskwho were in many ways the Japanese equivalents of Superman and Batman.

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How Has Tokusatsu Influenced Anime and Manga?

Several of the biggest tokusatsu hero franchises have at one point or another been adapted into manga and even anime. One example would be Himitsu Sentai Goranger (also spelled Gorenger) — a manga based on the original Super Sentai series. Likewise, the mature-rated tokusatsu series garo received an anime follow-up, while the ’90s tokusatsu show gridman was recently rebooted into a mecha anime franchise. The 2007 anime The Skull Man was an adaptation of the manga of the same name, which itself was franchise creator Shotaro Ishinomori’s true vision for Kamen Rider. Even that series is making the jump to anime, with Kamen Rider W receiving the anime sequel Fuuto PI.

Beyond outright adaptations, there are other ways in which the anime industry has reflected tokusatsu. In the case of Sailor Moon, the character of Tuxedo Mask is very much inspired by the aforementioned Moonlight Mask. The magical-girl genre as a whole is essentially a more feminine take on the tokusatsu setup, with the live-action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon bringing things full circle. The Ginyu Force of Dragon Ball Z heavily parodies the over-the-top antics of team-based tokusatsu such Super Sentai. Saint Seiyaaka Knights of the Zodiacis likewise an original anime take on the trappings of tokusatsu.

Mumen Rider from One Punch Man is very obviously based on Kamen Rider, while Samurai Flamenco is a sort of cross between tokusatsu concepts and American superheroes. There’s also a lot of crossover in terms of acting talent, with certain suited actors in tokusatsu finding themselves become voice actors in anime as well. Given the acrobatics and outrageous names of the attacks in tokusatsu shows, it can even be argued that similar concept in shonen anime and manga find their roots there.

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