Himitsu Sentai Gorenger. Space Sheriff Gavan. Space Wolf Juspion. They’re all icons of Tokusatsu, the Japanese effects-driven genre that has given us iconic, cult sci-fi superheroes for decades. And, for the most part, impossible for people outside of Japan to experience in an official capacity. That’s about to change in a huge way.
After this week’s earlier news that the legendary toku series Kamen Rider would be making a splashy U.S. debut as part of a new linear streaming channel from Shout Factory, Toei—the company behind stalwarts of the genre like Super Sentai, the series that provides the action material for Power Rangers—has announced a brand new internationally-accessible Youtube channel that will bring classic Tokusatsu series from its back catalog to English-speaking audiences for the very first time.
At launch this April, Toei Tokusatsu World Official will feature 70 shows from the studio’s back catalog of series from the 1960s-1970s. For Sentai fans, this includes the very first two series in the beloved superhero franchise, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger and JAKQ Dengekitai—before the franchise officially became Super Sentai with the addition of giant mecha in Battle Fever J (thanks to inspiration from, of all places, Toei’s Marvel-sanctioned take on Spider-Man). But it goes far beyond that, including entries in the Space Sheriff franchise like the aforementioned Gavan and Sharivan, other “Metal Hero” legends like Juspion and Special Rescue Police Winspector, and even animated mecha shows like Chōdenji Robo Combattler V and Voltes V.
At launch, only the first two episodes of all 70 series will feature English subtitles, with the rest of the series available in Japanese. But Toei is planning a weekly rollout of adding newly-subtitled additions for each series that will then continue to roll out on a set schedule, and is even going to begin soliciting translation support for future releases in English and other languages beyond that. The channel’s even got its own cute little mascot in the form of Contenmaru, a Ninja Fox inspired by elements of Toei Studio’s opening credits placard who loves, well, rice balls and Tokusatsu content. He’s adorable.
But cute fox ninjas or otherwise, this is an unprecedented step forward in making these series accessible to fans of Tokusatsu across the world, in their original forms, and for many shows the first time such a thing has ever happened. Toei has long been recalcitrant of acknowledging or officially supporting non-Japanese Tokusatsu fans with its material. It doesn’t crack down on fan groups disseminating and translating its shows for them, sure, but official, legal access to them has long been off the table.
It’s a stark contrast to Tsubaraya Productions—the owners of another icon of Tokusatsu, the Ultraman franchise—who have long taken strides to make its most popular shows available to Western audiences, and continues to make them. It’s only been in recent years that Toei has, almost begrudgingly, started licensing out its own franchises for official release outside of Japan. When it comes to Tokusatsu, it’s only primarily been Super Sentai, Toei playing on the Power Rangers connection with its collaboration with Shout Factory to release the original shows that inspired Saban’s superhero series on DVD. And even then, it’s only been relatively recently that those releases have been able to delve into Sentai shows that came out before Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger (the show that provided the source footage for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers), too.
All that said, there are still plenty of questions about how far Toei is willing to support the initiative—we don’t even have the full list of 70 shows available at launch right now, which countries the Youtube channel will actually be accessible in, what other languages beyond English the company is willing to translate them into, or if the speed of adding new subtitled episodes will increase beyond the current rollout of a few episodes a week Toei has planned for April.
There are bigger questions beyond the immediate release, too. What are the plans to expand beyond the 70 launch series? Will Toei begin adding more recent shows from its catalog, like Heisei and Reiwa-era iterations of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai? If Toei is willing to extend an arm to fan groups and translators who have worked to share these shows out of their own passion for the source material to solicit them to help translate, are they also willing to pay them for working in an official capacity?
We’ll have to wait and see on those answers—some of which will come at launch, some of which will have to be asked of Toei for the foreseeable future. But for now, at least, this is a huge leap forward for bringing the Tokusatsu genre to new audiences around the world. Toei Tokusatsu Worldwide launches on April 6, but for now, you can check out the (currently very empty) channel here.
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