full metal tracksuit: space sheriff shaider

Back in 2000 or 2001 I started writing for a site called Kung Fu Cult Cinema. I’ve posted about it here before, and it’s long dead at this point, but yeah, that’s where I got my start. By the time 2004 hit I was full-on obsessed with Japanese tokusatsu shows and kaiju movies, so I started a semi-regular column called Full Metal Tracksuit. One of the columns covered a favorite of mine, Space Sheriff Shaider, and I finally booted up my old laptop to unearth it.

At the time this was published not many people were bothering to write coherently in English about most of this stuff, so feel free to pat me on the back after I’m done doing it myself.

BON APPETIT.

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SPACE SHERIFF SHAIDER 
(Uchuu Keiji Shaidaa)
~1984 Toei TV series~

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Metal Heroes is another sub-genre of tokusatsu (special effects) shows that’s working its magic to drill a hole in my heart with its intrinsic insanity. Starting with Space Sheriff Gavan in 1982 (a series which you’ll find yourself much more informed on upon reading Patrick Macias‘ column in Animerica), Toei had a new hero in the form of steel-clad galactic detectives that would drop kick their way through multiple spinoff series through the ’80s and some of the ’90s. After Kenji Ohba tore through the the evil Makuu and their leader Don Horror in Gavan, Space Sheriff Sharivan took over to dish out justice upon Madou and Demon King Psycho. The series in question, Space Sheriff Shaider, ‘blue-flashed’ onto the airwaves the following year, and upholds the same obligation to be as bizarre and action-packed as possible.

Just like most other tokusatsu shows, the Space Sheriff series has an overall successful formula that is slightly tweaked from series to series. More is deemed better, as popular mainstays will roll over to new shows, while more and more insanity is piled upon what was already established. To give a general idea, any given series will typically feature the sheriff, under command of his superiors who have sent along a hot female to help him out and/or serve to be captured. All sheriffs have a flying base that transmits their combat suit from above, and also dispatches other vehicles such as the requisite bike with sidecar (a la Syberian in Gavan) or other possible tools like Drill tanks and such. The antagonist is typically a diabolically devil organization overflowing with drug-induced creature creations and run by your everyday “Demon so big he’s immobile” leader.

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Shaider adheres to many of the rules set by its predecessors, but is such an intensely surreal experience it’s really hard to describe a single episode without sounding like an exasperated preschooler choking on cocoa puffs. More stuff happens in the first five minutes of this show than I’ve seen in whole seasons of others. In the first episode, Dai is chosen to be the next Space Sheriff, a true defender of the universe. While he’s not nearly as manly as Kenji Ohba in Gavan, his slick parted hair is likely a hit with the ladies. He drives a vehicle almost identical aside from color to Gavan’s classic red Suzuki Samurai. His suit is full of all the expected bells and whistles, and it looks like he shines that badboy on a regular basis. Usually fighting alongside or rescuing his pseudo-sidekick Annie, Dai takes all enemies out with quick and engaging fights that are so off the wall you have to give ’em the respect they deserve.

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The series really belongs to the demons within, lead by the Great Emperor Kubilai, who is essentially a giant face in the wall with three eyes. Served by a bevy of cantina rejects and a transvestite grandson named God Officer Poe, Kubilai gives Shaider hell by birthing aliens and sending them to Earth to wreak havoc. The most insane moments are when they perform the birthing ritual. Hypnotic music cues up as the monsters and servants of the Emperor begin a trancelike dance, and Kubilai’s vagina-like third eye peels open in a disturbingly sexual sequence that ends with Poe removing pulsating orb from Kubilai’s mouth. The ball falls into a blood-filled birdbath and becomes a giant egg that houses the Double Monster of the week. It’s hard to believe what you’re watching 90% of the time Shaider is playing.

Fighting Monsters in Shaider follows the same formula as previous Sheriff shows. Just when it looks like the enemy is down and out, Kubilai sends Dai and his opponent to Strange World Fuuma (which is identical in appearance to Gavan‘s Makuu Space). The scenery changes more in this world than I have to change my pants while watching it. Once the enemy is taken out by Shaider’s ‘Blue Flash!!’ attack, he ends up fighting the enemy base itself via his transforming base Babylos. Babylos triple times as a flying Mothership, an enormous mech (with a Macross look to it) and a giant gun that Shaider can magnify his image to hold and blast away with. The design of everything in the show is unforgettable and a stretch of the imagination to say the least.

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I really need to catch all of the Space Sheriff shows, as each one seems to get better and better. While Kenji Ohba reigns supreme in Gavan, Shaider takes everything up a level. Hopefully someone will give these shows a deserving release like the one Kikaida is currently enjoying. The way these shows take their situations so seriously in the face of how ridiculous everything appears to be is one of the chief attractions, making every episode fast paced and intense.

The madness continues in following series such as Megabeast Special Investigation Juspion, Dimensional Warrior Spielban and Super Man Machine Metalder, many of which were all chopped together to be imported to the US in the form of VR Troopers. Later series added more heroes to the mix, like 1995’s Heavy Armor B-Fighter, which partially came to Western shores under the moniker of Beetleborgs. All we can do right now is hope that someday we’ll get some great subtitled releases of shows like this so I can stop sounding like I’m out of breath on the playground flapping my lips about Saturday morning cartoons (which I may as well be).

Coming up next time, I’ll talk about Megaloman, which would really be more popular if they advertised the fact that it’s essentially Ultraman with a mullet. 

Joseph Luster
4-12-04

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