Are you one of those people who stay up at night wondering how the Dragon Ranger can play an instrument with a helmet on? In this article, we delve into the interesting costume work of tokusatsu.
Ever since 1975, the Super Sentai series has become a household name all over the world. One of the most appealing aspects that makes the franchise unique is perhaps the colorful costumes that create a palette on your television screen. There is one designated base color per member of every team with little designs here and there. The material used to create these costumes are primarily spandex, with designs patterned, cut out, and overstitched atop the base fabric. The helmets are most likely made out of a hard rubber and then painted over with coats of spray paint for an even touch.
Looking at these costumes on television, you can tell that most of the costumes are all handmade. It’s very apparent that they really are just people wearing a thin layer of spandex, rubber gloves and boots, and a helmet, although the material does seem rather indestructible during fight scenes. However, unlike regular clothed material, these costumes aren’t put on one leg at a time, but rather, our heroes “transform” and are fully clad in their costumed uniforms after they activate the powers of their morpher or device. If they really were just costumes though, who washes them? Can they lend it to their friends? When it’s torn in battle, do they go to a tailor?
Perhaps these costumes aren’t just typical suits, but rather, something else entirely.
Before I go on, let’s take a look at a much older series from the tokusatsu genre. The monstrous giant Godzilla, the iconic creature originating from a series of Japanese films of the same name, was made by a costume using latex material. However, to the characters in the movies, Godzilla is a giant monstrous beast that towers even the tallest buildings. To those who watch the films, it’s obvious that Godzilla is just someone in a costume moving around a miniature set of Japan.
Now let’s return to the Super Sentai series. Do you ever wonder why everyone runs away at the sight of the monster of the week despite seeing something that is made from costume shop material? While we see a person in a monster costume, the people in the show itself probably see something much more grotesque and intimidating. Let’s take a look at some of the monsters from the series, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. One of my favorite creature designs from this series is Dora Argus, a monster literally made up of various eyeballs. In the concept art, you can see that this being probably has no joints that allow it to bend his arm or leg. All the eyes are the same color and some eyes look like they’re growing over other eyes. Perhaps this is the image of the monster every scared civilian were running from. That is not to say that the practical suit was not scary at all, it just looks like a costume.
The Dora Argus that appears on screen actually looks less like the concept art but that’s not to say that the designers took some artistic liberties. The eyes on this practical suit actually have different colors and the pieces of the head appear to make a face that sort of resembles the Ninja Turtles. In addition to that, whenever this monster attacks, it actually looks rather appealing. Whenever the monster attacks, a hand-drawn animation of an eye shooting laser appears over the live action scenes, which is something you could never predict by just looking at the concept art. I like to believe that some things just weren’t able to transfer to the screen with the budget available and perhaps that’s what happened with our colorful heroes.
So why is the Dragon Ranger able to play the Zyusouken outside of his helmet? Perhaps the human features of the helmet are actually…Burai’s actual face. Although the mouth shape looks nothing like the actor’s mouth shape, it’s the only way to explain the ability to play an instrument through what seemingly looks like a helmet. As mentioned previously, due to the limitations of practical suit-making in the tokusatsu world, there are many aspects of a costume that cannot be transferred over to live action. Although the Zyurangers obtain their power from creatures resembling prehistoric dinosaurs called Guardian Beasts, they are actually Gods from each individual’s respective tribe. Therefore, the suits we see are not technology based at all, in contrast to another sentai team such as the Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters but rather, a transformation that is mystically based. When looking at the helmet design, you can see a Guardian Beast’s motif head design such as the eyes, the nostril, as well as the teeth. The design of the helmets is similar to how warriors in the past would wear the hide of an animal that they have hunted as garments to battle, only showing off part of the wearer’s facial features.
When watching tokusatsu, it is important to keep in mind that there is a budget that can limit to the costumes. However, I would like to believe that that is part of its charm. Next time you watch a movie or show, like Godzilla, or Super Sentai, use your imagination and take the visuals to the next level. Sometimes believing is seeing.