While he is probably known most in the world of tokusatsu for creating Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, Shotaro Ishinomori was behind a number of other tokusatsu shows. One of the shows Ishinomori created goes by the name Kaiketsu Zubat. The series, a rather short one from 1977, ran just 32 episodes but managed to become one of the most iconic tokusatsu series of all time.
As we see in the first episode, our main character, Ken Hayakawa, is a unique sort of hero. Ken has the whole “heart of justice” thing going on, but he is definitely the sort of cocky guy that makes one believe he is always in control of the situation, even when he isn’t. He’s arrogant because he’s good, and he wants to use that to the benefit of those around him whenever he can. Also, he loves aggravating his enemies. During the climactic scene every episode, Ken will appear and announce that the villain of the week, who is typically skilled in some art or technique, is only the second greatest in Japan – when they demand to know who the greatest is, he simply laughs and points to himself.
Cheesy, corny, and just awesome.
Zubat is a series that loves mixing from opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side of the coin, you’ve got a larger than life character that by all means should be dead countless times in the first episode, but he’s just that awesome. The guy can dodge bullets and blades, outsmart the most cunning of enemies, and do most of it before he even suits up! By the way, that’s a good thing. One of the most interesting aspects to the show is that hero’s suit is actually sort of working against him, in a manner of speaking. The Zubat suit can’t be worn for more than five minutes without it essentially killing its user, so Ken has to be on his toes at all times, leaving that thing for only the most dire of situations.
And this is where the flip side of the coin comes in. For as cartoony and extravagant as the show’s core themes can be, Zubat is a show that plays itself much straighter than a lot of other tokusatsu shows out there. While the head villain for the week is usually skilled in some unique trait to an extraordinary level, the rest of his gang members are just that, gang members. Guns and knives are the weapons of choice here, nothing super about them at all.
Zubat is one of those rare, and I mean rare, tokusatsu shows where the hero doesn’t fight monsters – he’s fighting people. In this case, he’s fighting gangs spread around throughout the country of Japan. As we see in the first episode, his best friend is killed after the baddies blow up a hospital and said friend’s sister completely blames Ken for the death, knocking our confident hero off his high horse for a bit. As confident as Ken can be, he cares for people and he cares when people are wronged against, making him something of an awesome hero. He’s calm, cool, and collected – most of the time, and he’s going to use that to find the people who killed his best friend, Asuka, and get his revenge.
Speaking of getting his revenge, it’s going to take Ken a while. He takes down an entire villain organization in the first episode alone and that’s just the start of his quest.
If that isn’t enough to hook you in, Zubat is known as Hiroshi Miyauchi’s favorite role. Miyauchi, already famous for having played the title character in Kamen Rider V3 as well as the Blue Ranger in the first Sentai series, is said to have been the impetus for the creation of the show. Told that no other person could play the role, Miyauchi had some major influence when it came to the character. From the personality to the poses, Miyauchi was said to have infused a lot of his own personal flare and style into the character to make him appear larger than life. (though the overall look of the character was by a movie made in 1959)
And an interesting little note to end this one on, many of Miyauchi’s future guest appearances in various tokusatsu shows would all be based on the character of Ken Hayakawa. From his two episodes in the Spider-Man tokusatsu to his guest role as, essentially, Space Sheriff Zubat in Space Sheriff Gavan, Zubat was a role that would influence Miyauchi long after the show had come to its conclusion.