If you’re a mild tokusatsu fan, you know of Super Sentai. If you’re a bit more hardcore, you know of Kamen Rider and Metal Heroes and, if you’re really into this stuff, then you know about Toei’s other other tokusatsu franchise: the Fushigi Comedy Series.
While many fans of tokusatsu know what Super Sentai and Kamen Rider are, and while a smaller bunch know what the Metal Heroes are, there are even less who know what Toei’s fourth line of long-running tokusatsu shows were: the Fushigi (Strange) Comedy Series.
The Toei Fushigi Comedy Series came as Toei was looking to expand its library of tokusatsu as Kamen Rider was once again coming to an end. The first five shows had run concurrently to each other with a break of a few years in between before returning for two more years. The first show in the Fushigi Comedy series, Little Robot 8, premiered the day after Kamen Rider Super-1 finished its run. At the time the still relatively new Sentai shows were the only tokusatsu productions from Toei that premiered a new show year after year. Metal Heroes would begin in the next year with Space Sheriff Gavan, making these three franchises the face of Toei’s tokusatsu programming in the 80s.
The shows, created by Shotaro Ishinomori, one of Kamen Rider’s creators, were ratings success in an era when that sort of thing factored quite heavily into the success of a show. Throughout the years, only a single entry into the franchise lost out to Super Sentai when it came to series ratings average. This was the only one of Toei’s four tokusatsu franchise whose every entry aired in the same time slot – 9 AM on Sunday mornings.
Unlike Metal Heroes, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, the main characters in the Fushigi Comedy shows were cute robot and monster-like creatures in the first six years of the franchise. Fushigi itself is a word meant to espouse a sense of mystery in the bizarre. Any viewer can clearly see this working out quite well in some of the earlier shows, featuring strange characters that would never be taken seriously in any other series. (not that they were taken too seriously in their own shows) Ishinomori is known for some of his bizarre stories and ideas; these were probably better visually represented in this line of shows than in any of the others he has had a hand in creating.
Also unlike the other Toei shows, none of the shows in the Fushigi Comedy series are meant to connect to each other. There was one show that was a sequel to another, but it was more along the lines of what Inazuman F was to Inazuman: essentially the exact same show given a new title and an upgrade to the hero to mark the start of a new story. There was actually no name for this line of shows until the 12th entry came along. This was the longest it has taken Toei to brand a franchise of shows, but there’s probably a good reason for this.
For almost exactly half of its run, the main characters in the shows are these strange, cute robot and monster characters that get into all sorts of slapstick adventures with a group of kids. (a group of kids is found in almost every Fushigi Comedy show) A change came along with the eighth show, Eager Detective Squad Hadogumi, a show that featured a young group of detectives (kids) tracking down a strange masked man throughout much of the series. This was the first show to transition into something a little more reminiscent of Toei’s other hero shows. Although the main masked character in this series was a bad guy, it’s a show whose iconic character could probably stand alongside others from Toei’s other shows.
The next series, Make Believe Detective Squad , featured a traditional hero character in the lead role for the first time in the history of the franchise. This show, while not an actual sequel or continuation of Hadogumi, had many of the same things: a group of detective kids solving crimes revolving around a strange masked figure. While the series was relatively well received, the formula didn’t stick around and the next series introduced what would become the face of the Fushigi Comedy series for the rest of its life.
The major change to the franchise came when a new producer and writer team was brought on for the 9th show, Magical Chinese Girl PaiPai. Hikasa Atsushi as producer and Urasawa Yoshio as writer brought the series into a new direction. Urasawa, who readers might know as the head writer on Gekiso Sentai Carranger, had actually written for many of the Fushigi Comedy shows in the past, serving as head writer for nine of the Fushigi Comedy’s 14 shows. Urasawa and is the only tokusatsu writer who can claim to have written every single episode in more than one show. Urasawa loved to write, if he didn’t write every episode in a show he worked on, he would write a majority of them.
The new identity of the franchise that these two minds were able to concoct was a rather unexpected one for tokusatsu: magical girl. Starting with the 9th show, the lead character in every future series would be some sort of magical girl who transformed and “fought” bad guys who caused all sorts of strange incidents. I say “fought” because…being as the character actresses were pretty visible in the suits they wore; they didn’t get to do as much action as something typical of one of Toei’s other tokusatsu franchises. The fighting in the Fushigi Comedy shows at this point involved a lot of regal movements, swooshing of the cape to confuse the enemy and so on. The final show brought on an even stranger twist by having its heroines (one played by Kakuranger’s Satomi Hirose, whose costars would appear in an episode of Kakuranger) grow into giants to fight enemies – they’re even joined by Ultraman at one point!
The line of shows came to an end in 1993 as magical girl anime had become more popular, specifically Sailor Moon, another Toei production. By this point, Toei was going through some financial difficulties and it was thought that ending the franchise rather than simply retooling it yet again was for the best.
One of the shows, Pretty Mask Poitrine, saw a resurgence in popular culture last year with the release of Movie Wars Ultimatum, which featured a reimagined version of the titular character. There was also a pseudo remake of Poitrine in the form of Beautiful Celeb Panchanne in 2007.