For some years now I have been aware that Toho made quite a few tokusatsu television shows in addition to their (now legendary) suite of kaiju and special-effects films. Of course the most famous of their toku TV must be Zone Fighter from back in 1973—a program that featured a family of alien heroes, a flying car, a size-changing hero—and an occasional visit by Godzilla and some of his kaiju compatriots. However, even Zone Fighter garners relatively little attention, even with the Godzilla connections—so other Toho tokusatsu TV shows such as Warrior of Love Rainbowman, Megaloman and The Gransazers (2003) tend to get even less. Today I want to look at one of these programs a bit, with a review of the first episode—Guyferd.
While I have been aware that Guyferd exists for years, mostly I just noticed it because of the name. “Guyferd” makes me imagine a pompous or bloviating knight figure, someone attempting to strike a pose as a fine hero in a comedic chivalric situation. The actual program appears rather different from my imagination—but this review is only of the first episode, so I can’t speak with much detail about what happens later.
First, to give some context: Shichisei Toshin Guyferd was released in 1996, the year after the Heisei Godzilla series concluded with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), and the same year as the first Rebirth of Mothra (1996) movie. This would also be amidst the time when the Gamera trilogy from Daiei was releasing, and would be released around the same time as Gekisou Sentai Carranger (which would later be adapted as Power Rangers Turbo)—Guyferd would run from April to September of the year. Other tokusatsu programs of that era included Ultraman: Tiga (infamously released in the USA with cheesy dubs) and B-Fighter Kabuto (later adapted as Beetleborgs Metallix for the Western market). However, the plot feels a bit more akin to the original Kamen Rider to me, and the series is often compared to Fist of the North Star and The Guyver—for reasons that will become clear once we dig into the story (note that the two American Guyver films released before Guyferd—in 1991 and 1994 respectively).
Guyferd episode 1 opens with an incident going down at a mysterious laboratory. As a fellow in a white lab coat tries to call for help, what appears to be a mutated human creature (a colleague of the scientist) bursts through a set of armored doors and attacks. The creature can release energy blasts from its hands and nearly kills the scientist, but several soldiers in metallic armor (later revealed to be cyborg fighters called “Guyborgs”) manage to stop the creature. The scientist meets with colleagues and protests the dangerous experiments being carried out, but his superiors (part of a sinister organization called Crown) take things out of his hands and a nasty woman named Shion is put in his place to continue the work.
Meanwhile, at a “Ken’nou-ryu” karate dojo, the youngsters are being rigorously put through their paces by a gruff and muscle-bound sensei named Taki. A mysterious traveler appears, one Go Kazama, looking for his brother, who apparently used to teach and/or train at the dojo. The teacher gets into a fight with Go and is summarily humiliated (Go is highly accomplished at Ken’nou-ryu). The students inform Go that his brother was probably kidnapped…
Soon, we learn that Crown has two lines of super soldiers in the works—the aforementioned Guyborgs, and a new line being pushed forward by evil-girl Shion with a mutating slime called Fallah (that stuff created the energy-throwing creature at the beginning of the episode)—somebody changed into a monster by a Fallah blob is called a Mutian. The members of Crown discuss how they want to create an army of these super soldiers (both Guyborgs and Mutians), but they can’t just use any normal shmuck because their bodies won’t be able to take it. The villains discuss how they have recently learned of a new proper candidate to be transformed…
It turns out Taki was so upset after being defeated by Go that he went to Crown to turn the protagonist in to become a victim of experimentation. Go fights with a Guyborg and gets tazed, but then the Guyborg tazes the sensei, too. Soon Go is adapted into a Guyborg, and Taki is mutated into a Mutian called Jarks, a brown monstrous creature with sharp teeth and a bad attitude. Jarks goes on a rampage, and Crown uses the ensuing chaos as a means to test or train their Guyborgs and see who is the most powerful.
Jarks tears apart and destroys several Guyborgs before facing off against Go. Go doesn’t want to fight, but Jarks has it in for him, and when the Mutian nearly kills a scientist, Go goes on the offensive. Jarks is just too powerful for Go even in his Guyborg form, however, and it looks like all is lost when, mysteriously, Go transmogrifies into Guyferd (the aforementioned scientist names him, realizing that in some fashion Go has taken on properties from the Fallah and is now a Guyborg PLUS Mutian). Guyferd makes short work of Jarks with his astonishing new powers (he uses a move called a “kyokuseiken” or “ultimate star fist”), and escapes the trashed facility.
Of course, the members of Crown are very interested in Go/Guyferd and his strange transformation. Go is just trying to figure out what happened to him, and still wants to find his missing brother… What will happen next?
From the first episode, the comparisons to The Guyver and Fist of the North Star are obvious. Of course we have the name Guyferd which seems openly inspired by “Guyver” (I mean, frick, they just took the name and changed one letter and added another). The Mutians seem just as openly inspired by the Zoanoids from the Guyver mythos—the Zoanoids also are transformed normal human beings used by a mysterious and evil organization, and the Guyver himself feels like a mixture of cyborg and mutation abilities. Even Zarks’ design could just about pass as a Zoanoid (perhaps inspired by Ramotith). The fact that Guyferd feels similar to Kamen Rider, too, may just be because Guyver itself was apparently heavily influenced by Rider and other 70s tokusatsu. Meanwhile, while the Fist of the North Star are nearly as obvious. The full title of Guyferd is Shichisei Toshin Guyferd (七星闘神ガイファード), which literally means Seven Star Fighting God Guyferd. Fist of the North Star also features a celestial theme—“North Star” is referring to the Big Dipper, and the series features a wandering warrior who utilizes a fighting style called Hokuto Shinken to execute his enemies. (I assume Fist of the North Star’s name, Kenshiro, is also a pun, as “ken” can mean “fist”). Anyway, the fact that Guyferd’s human protagonist practices an unusually powerful version of karate, that he is a wandering warrior, that when he is in a human form he looks pretty similar to Kenshiro, and that he executes Mutians with superpowered versions of his martial arts moves (the moves for which include the name “ken” or fist) spell out the close inspirations very clearly.
Because Guyferd is so influenced by The Guyver and Fist of the North Star, it shouldn’t be surprising that the first episode feels markedly darker than your average Ultraman or Super Sentai entry. Both Guyver and North Star glory in their gory battle sequences and body horror, with North Star famous for its exploding heads, and the transformations in Guyver featuring nasty flesh alterations and battles tending to devolve into bodies being torn asunder (no surprise that the two live-action Guyver features in the West were rated R). While Guyferd (in the first episode at least) never becomes outright bloody nor features organs volleyed hither and yon, still, when the Guyborgs attack Jarks, we see at least one is torn in half, and the scene in which Taki is transformed into a Mutian via a slime burning into his chest is at least mildly discomfiting. Certainly the idea of an evil corporation kidnapping and forcibly (and painfully) transforming their victims into remote-control monsters is pretty dark in itself.
That said, the fight sequences in the first episode are not overly violent for the genre—even back in the 60s, Ultraman was executing kaiju with bloody decapitations and the like. The action set pieces felt somewhat blandly staged, with sometimes uninspired fight choreography. For me at least, the overall production felt more amateurishly staged than your average Toei action show from the era, which had by then must have developed quite the pipeline for pumping out slickly-produced hero shows of every stripe. I didn’t think the show was inept, but just felt like it was lacking somewhat in its punch, which may be as much because of the story’s remixed origins as to the low-quality version of the show I ended up watching for this review.
It’s hard to say now whether the characters are going to gel or not. Go/Guyferd, played with some cool and poise by Hiroyuki Kawai (Lolisatsu, Midori-ko), manages a middling sort of charisma. My favorite scenes with him were when he was showing up the impressively-muscular Taki. Masako Takeda (Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop, Mikadroid) evinces a slimy superiority and viciousness as Shion, head of the experiments with the Fallah/ Mutians. I am not sure who played him, but Taki (who later becomes Jarks/Jerks) is probably the most memorable character in the first episode. His overly-violent style of running the dojo, followed by a truly nuts fight with Go in which he breaks some wood into dust, and his snarling/scowling performance provide the show with the very best moments of fun.
I like that the show sets up several mysteries, too. We don’t really know what happened to Go’s brother (though we can guess—if I had to put money on it, I would say the missing relative will come back as another super soldier to fight Guyferd later, like the Green Ranger did against the Red Ranger in the Kyoryu Sentai Juranger). I like that we don’t know much about the origins of Crown, or how Go transforms into Guyferd. I like that we can get a variety of crazy monsters through the Mutians, but we also have another set of enemies in the form of the Guyborgs and presumably their variations in future episodes.
Guyferd’s design is pretty cool, too. Avoiding the usual solid stern lip design of so many tokusatsu heroes (from Super Sentai to Ultraman to Zone Fighter), instead we get a detailed faceplate. His color scheme seems a bit overdone, with standard red-and-silver mixed with green and gold and even touches of white and blue (I think less-is-more when coming up with iconic hero designs). Still, his stature looks suitably intimidating and heroic and more original than, say, Iron King, who could have passed as another iteration of Ultraman back in the day—though geez, why do so many Japanese heroes have to sport the head crests?!
Moving on to music, the opening theme, “Eternal Vow,” is by Kenzo Fukuyama, is a catchy j-rock number, though not as memorable for me as classics like Red Baron’s theme. The lyrics are vague peons to chasing one’s goal in the midst of confusing circumstances, which fits the show, and we get at least one moment where “Guyferd” rings out with exaggerated dramatic fervor—maybe my favorite part of the song. It seems Fukuyama performed one other TV drama theme song, for “Seishun no Kage,” back in 1994, but in 1998 started working as an independent artist and moved to Kyushu. The end theme, by Kotono Shibuya, a number called “Befriend,” is a milder J-pop song featuring guitars and prominent pianos. The lyrics over the end credits is once again rather unclear, but seems to be about appreciating the kindness of a friend or lover through difficult times. The theme reminds me a little bit of themes from His and Her Circumstances—and if you listen to the full version, it’s even better. The end theme might be my favorite of the two with its cheerful and hopeful tones and anime-theme-stylings. The background music from the first episode, though, is grating and generic rock. It arguably detracts from rather than enhances the on-screen action.
I was inspired to check out Guyferd because of a recent release of the Toho Kaiju Club Acrylic Holder series 2, a Gacha Gacha vending machine toy line with the Toho Kaiju recast as colorful chibi characters. The current series includes Guyferd as one of the releases—and I got him, Zone Fighter, and “God Kaishin” (better known as Kaishin Muba) from Yamato Takeru (1994) on a recent trip to Tokyo. Other characters in the series include 1973 Godzilla, Gigan, Wargilgar and Spylar (together), and Gunhed. Guyferd really caught my attention, so I gave the show a spin—and I think the show deserves a little more attention.
Guyferd was also co-produced by Capcom, so a Playstation and Saturn game was produced alongside the show. Thankfully, Wikizilla has a lot of information about the show and surrounding music and etc, and the show itself has been fully fansubbed, but remains relatively unseen. I hope this review brings a bit more attention to the show. If you want to see more reviews of the other episodes, please let me know—while I probably won’t devote such a long review to each individual episode, I do want to continue covering the program and shining light on the less-appreciated sectors of kaiju fandom. For henshin hero fans who want something a little different but with diverse and decently implemented influences, Guyferd is not a bad choice.