Kikaida: Hawaii's Favorite Superhero
After all these years, Hawaii’s favorite superhero is still kicking monster tail and inspiring local fans.
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Earlier this summer, The Avengers saved the earth and destroyed a few box-office records in the process. Here in Hawaii, though, there will always be only one truly super superhero. Decades before Batman became a dark knight, before Spiderman had girlfriend problems, Kikaida was kicking robot ass. Every Saturday night at 8, Hawaii kids tuned in to watch the half-man/half-machine android use trampoline-assisted leaps, double chops and a death blow called denji endo (electro end) to destroy a monster every week and save Japan—and the rest of the world—from the DARK forces. Featuring a catchy theme song, a matinee-idol star and monsters that looked like giant chew toys, Kikaida first aired on Honolulu’s Japanese-language television station KIKU in February 1974, two years after its debut in Japan on the NET network. It was an immediate hit here, eventually attracting more than a quarter of Island viewers and routinely winning its Saturday night time slot by beating network shows such as Mission Impossible and Chico and the Man.
In an era before the Internet or even the VCR, fans couldn’t get enough of their robot hero. They flocked to public appearances that featured star Ban Daisuke, costumed characters and even an occasional polyurethane monster. An August 1974 autograph session at Pearlridge Shopping Center was shut down after a crowd of 10,000 showed up and clogged the mall’s thoroughfares, creating a fire hazard.
Kikaida’s run lasted 43 episodes. Reruns followed, along with a sequel, Kikaida 0-1 (pronounced zero-one), as well as a succession of other Japanese imports: Rainbowman, Kamen Rider V-3, Denjin Zaboga and Inazuman. However, none of the other heroes won the hearts and minds of Island kids like Kikaida had. Viewership numbers tumbled and only three years after it all began, KIKU’s kiddie experiment ended. The station’s Saturday night schedule returned to a reliable lineup of sumo matches, samurai dramas and detective shows.
The series may have concluded, but Kikaida never died. The show was rebroadcast here in 2001, and a nine-volume DVD set was released in 2002. This year, Kikaida turns 40. By today’s standards, the show’s special effects seem primitive and the costuming unfortunate. Yet, despite its age, the show continues to hold on to a loyal core of fans while picking up a steady stream of new devotees. What is it about the robot hero that inspires such love and loyalty? We spoke with some of the show’s most ardent followers to learn how Kikaida captured their imaginations so many decades ago and why their robot hero will live forever.
Hawaii has Joanne Ninomiya to thank for bringing Kikaida into Island homes, and many people—mostly nerdy men in their 40s such as the author—often thank her profusely. Ninomiya, the godmother to a legion of local fanboys, was the longtime general manager of KIKU. In 1972, she went to Japan to purchase new shows for the station when she heard of a new tokusatsu (literally “special filming,” but refers to a television show or film that features superheroes) that was about to air in prime time, a first in Japan at the time.
Ninomiya quickly learned that the bold scheduling wasn’t as risky as it sounded; the show had pedigree. It was created by Shotaro Ishimori, an already famous tokusatsu writer and manga author, as a high-tech cross between Frankenstein and Pinocchio. Kikaida’s Dr. Frankenstein/Geppetto is a scientist named Dr. Komyoji, who is kidnapped by the evil Professor Gill and ordered to create an army of robot monsters. Komyoji’s last robot is his best, Kikaida, who is designed to protect Komyoji’s children, Mitsuku and Masuru, along with the rest of Japan.
Kikaida is actually two robots in one. Most of the time, he is the dashing, guitar-playing, motorcycle-riding Jiro. When evil androids and monster robots attack, he transforms himself into a multi-colored, yin-yang robot with a half-transparent head and lethal karate chops.
“When I first saw the show, I knew immediately that it would be a hit. The story was simple, the characters were strong and there was all that action,” says Ninomiya. “We beat the network shows. That never happened at KIKU before.”
Ninomiya left KIKU in 1980 to start JN Productions, which, in the ’80s and ’90s, produced videos for the tourist industry but now translates manga and anime for distributors on the Mainland. Twenty years ago, Ninomiya started to get calls from fans urging her to bring back Kikaida. She didn’t put much stock in the occasional requests. But she eventually changed her mind when her staff of Generation Xers put down their collective foot and demanded their Kikaida. In 2001, Kikaida was back on the air, and a year later, JN Productions released the first of nine volumes of the show. In 2003, it released Kikaida 0-1 on DVD.