It should be noted here that just after the release of Godzilla vs. Megalon, the heroic Showa version of Godzilla appeared several times on Toho’s super-hero TV series Zone Fighter, The Meteor Man, which aired on Japan's NTV network from April 2 to September 24, 1973, for a total of 26 episodes.
In fact, this series was Toho's attempt to cash in on the extremely popular slew of live action sentai (monster-fighting super-hero) TV shows which were then taking the small screen in Japan by storm, and first popularized by Tsuberaya Productions' mega-popular Ultraman franchise of TV shows, as well as other popular shows featuring sentai characters such as the Space Giants, Kamen Rider (a.k.a., "Dark Rider" in English), Mirrorman, Spectreman, Rainbowman, and even a Japanese version of Spider-Man (this version having a gigantic robot he controlled to enable him to get physical with the giant alien monsters whom this version of the famous web-slinger frequently found himself up against). Zone Fighter, the Meteor Man was Toho's contribution to this genre, and though the character is today considered little more than one of the many rip-offs of the Ultraman character and formula who appeared during the early 1970's, the show nevertheless made a few headlines in G-fandom by establishing itself as part of the world inhabited by Godzilla and company (Toho produced a few other sentai series for TV that were said to take place in the Showa Tohoverse, and these series included guest appearances by Gorosaurus and Sanda; the series covered in this section is the only one that featured Godzilla himself, however, and is probably the most well-known of Toho's sentai series for the small screen).
Designed for a young, undiscriminating audience, and featuring low budget but sometimes impressive sfx, the show featured the exploits of a family of three humanoid aliens known as the Sakimori, or Zone, family. Forced to flee their own world (referred to as “Peaceland” due to its respect for peace) as the result of an attack by a war-mongering, shape-shifting alien race known as the Garogain, the Zone family relocates to Earth. Settling in Japan with a kindly human family, the Sakimoris consist of Hikaru, the elder brother, his sister Kei, and kid brother Akira (obviously assumed Japanese human names). They bring with them a spaceship dubbed “Smokey,” due to its ability to project artificial cloud banks around itself, and a flying car known as the Mighty Liner. Each of the Zone family can transform into costumed, super-heroic identities, which they use against the Garogain race, who follow the Sakimoris back to Earth and attempt to conquer the planet using bizarre but advanced technology, and (what else?) giant monsters (generically referred to as 'Terro-Beasts' in the show).
Hikaru has the greatest gift of all, being able to transform into Zone Fighter, a 40 meter tall super-being who, along with his incredible martial arts and acrobatic skills, battles dai kaiju with several weapons, including his Proton Beam (his most powerful weapon, deriving its energy from the sun), Comet Kick, and Missile Might (which are missiles fired from his wrist gauntlets). Kei and Akira can also assume super-heroic identities, as Zone Angel and Zone Jr., though unlike their older sibling, neither of them can attain gigantic size. Zone Angel had the gift of keen "feminine intuition" (perhaps similar to Captain Marvel of the DC Universe's ability known as the 'Wisdom of Solomon', an attribute that his equally powerful twin sister Mary Marvel has proven even more proficient at utilizing). Akira was simply adept at outwitting many of his Garogain opponents in his own inimitable manner, as he was more or less just along for the ride as the token "Kenny" of the series (including getting himself into various perilous situations in which his older brother would have to bail him out of, thus making him an important plot centerpiece in many episodes).
In the course of the series, the Zone family finally managed to defeat the Garoga aliens and their numerous monster minions.
What made this series memorable, and less obscure than it would have become otherwise, were the appearances of Godzilla in several of the episodes, King Ghidorah in a classic 2-part episode, and Gigan appearing once as well. In addition, many of the episodes were written and/or directed by G-film legends Ishiro Honda and Jun Fukuda. The episodes featuring Godzilla (including the one with Gigan) are given very brief synopses below, along with the official title for each episode. For the purpose of completeness, I have included the 2-part King Ghidorah episode, despite the fact that Godzilla didn’t appear in it. My source material comes from an article written by Andre DuBois in JAPANESE GIANTS #7 and another article written by John Rocco Roberto in G-FAN #9. For those who wish to see a complete episode guide for the entire Zone Fighter series, try to acquire a copy of the now defunct ULTRA-FAN (later KAIJU-FAN) #1. Also, please note that the spellings of the monsters' names (and sometimes even the names themselves) will vary from source to source, due to the difficulty in translating a proper noun, particularly an imaginary one, from Japanese to English, along with the individual aesthetic preferences of various kaiju-fans.
All of the episodes are available from Video Daikaiju in VHS format, though they do not yet carry English sub-titled versions or DVD editions at this writing.
Episode #4: “Invasion! The Attack of Garoga’s Army”
While investigating a fallen meteor near their house, the Zone family discovers one of their race, Tatsuo [this must be another assumed Japanese name!], who claims to have escaped from the Garoga aliens. Hikaru is suspicious, but Kei welcomes him into their home. Unfortunately, Tatsuo turns out to be a Garoga agent, who attacks Kei with a bunch of deadly toys, and summons the monster Wargilgar to attack Tokyo. Later, Tatsuo transforms himself into the radiation monster Spilar, and teams with Wargilgar against Zone Fighter. Kei and Akira, in their super-heroic identities of Zone Angel and Zone Jr., send a distress call to Godzilla over on Monster Island, who arrives in time to help Zone Fighter defeat the deadly duo.
Episodes #5-6: “The Arrival of King Ghidorah” and “The Revenge of King Ghidorah” (2-part episode)
Baron Garoga, the leader of the invading Garogain, develops the insidious Dark Prism Operation, a plot designed to deprive Earth of the nourishing energy of the sun. However, a human scientist devises a way to circumvent the alien scheme. As a special defense against Zone Fighter and Godzilla, Baron Garoga has called upon his ultimate kaiju servant, King Ghidorah himself [I guess the Nebulans fired him], and he sends the tri-headed beast to kill the aforementioned scientist. Zone Fighter intervenes, but he is soundly defeated by the overwhelming power of Godzilla’s greatest foe. As Zone Angel and Zone Jr. uncover a means of thwarting the Dark Prism Operation by utilizing electrical waves, Zone Fighter initiates a difficult recovery, and ultimately leads King Ghidorah away from Earth, where he had been wreaking havoc (with the assistance of his improved gravity-manipulating abilities, courtesy of Garogain science), to an asteroid elsewhere in the solar system.
Although King Ghidorah still appears unbeatable, Zone Fighter finally manages, via an assist from his two siblings, and with the use of his wits and full power, to topple and defeat the space dragon, thereby scoring his greatest victory ever.
Episode #11: “In the Twinkling of an Eye--The Roar of Godzilla!”
Baron Garoga causes a famous race car driver to be killed, knowing that Hikaru Sakimori will be primed as his replacement in the upcoming Grand Prix. Thus, when Hikaru begins his test drive, he is trapped in a duplicate car created by the Garogain. Unable to become Zone Fighter, Hikaru is about to have his bogus car placed in a scrap metal crusher. Alerted to the trouble, Zone Angel and Zone Jr. send out a distress call to Godzilla, who arrives in Japan just in time to knock out crucial power lines, thus disabling the scrap metal crusher. While Hikaru works himself free, Baron Garoga sends Godzilla's old foe Gigan down (in parachutes!) to deal with the King of the Monsters. However, Gigan seems to have suffered a severe power loss after his last defeat, as he appears incapable of using his power of flight (hence the parachutes), his laser beam, or his buzzsaw. To compensate for this serious power loss, Gigan is given the new ability to release explosive charges from the tips of his hand scythes upon impact with a solid object. Immediately after his arrival on Earth, Gigan is attacked by his arch-foe Godzilla, and is easily beaten by him due to the cyborg monster's power-depleted state. However, as soon as the Big G leaves the area, Gigan rises again, where he's finally confronted by Zone Fighter. Despite Gigan's new ability to release explosives from the scythes on his forearms, it once again proves no substitute for the several formidable powers that he lost, and Zone Fighter promptly destroys the cyborg monster with a full power display of his Missile Might, thereby ending the career of the brutal alien kaiju once and for all.
Episode #15: “Submersion! Godzilla, You Must Save Japan!”
Investigating a spate of earthquakes, which threaten to level Tokyo, the Zone family discovers the source to be a huge mechanized monster with a drill-like head called Zandolla, a bionic creation of the Garogain aliens. Zone Jr. is trapped underground by the mecha-beast, and in order to save him, Zone Fighter engages in a fierce subterranean battle with Zandolla. Trapping the sunlight deprived super-hero underground when his power diminishes (due to his dependence on the “proton energy” of the sun for power), Zandolla rises from the ground, only to be challenged by Godzilla, who was attracted to the area by the earthquakes. Zandolla fights Godzilla to a standstill, but when Zone Fighter eventually frees himself and renews his power, the heroic duo join forces against the deadly robot, finally destroying the bionic kaiju and ending his reign of terror.
Episode #21: “Invincible! Godzilla Enraged!”
This episode seemingly opens with a battle between Godzilla and Zone Fighter, although this turns out to be nothing more than a training session for the two giant heroes on Monster Island.
Meanwhile, the Garogain develop an amoeba-like monster called Jellar, who can resist Zone Fighter’s mightiest weapon, his Proton Beam. Despite the Zone family’s attempts to prevent it, Jellar is released successfully by the Garogain, and Zone Fighter finds himself hard pressed to defeat the gelatinous kaiju. However, Godzilla is then summoned from his cave on Monster Island (in an incredibly silly scene, the cavern is shown to open like a sliding door when Godzilla leaves it in full Star Trek fashion!), and the King of the Monsters arrives to lend Zone Fighter a hand against Jellar. When one of the creature’s pseudopodia is pulled from its body by Godzilla, it instantly transforms into a “brother” monster to Jellar called Kastam-Jellar. Despite that turn of events, Godzilla and Zone Fighter manage to rout and destroy both Jellar creatures.
Episode #25: “Gruesome! Godzilla and Zone Fighter vs. The Horrible Allies”
In the next to last episode of the series, the Garogain launch their ultimate scheme: they place dozens of monsters in capsules, and prepare to release them all over Japan in an attempt to completely overwhelm Zone Fighter through sheer force of numbers. Although the Zone family manage to intercept most of the capsules before they can be activated, the twin kaiju called Kabutoji and Galobug are nevertheless released. Fortunately, Godzilla comes out of absolutely nowhere to confront the two monsters. Despite the fact that Godzilla is initially outnumbered two to one, Zone Fighter soon arrives to aid his titanic friend, and together they defeat the “Horrible Allies.” This defeat would mark the beginning of the end for the Garogains' invasion attempt of Godzilla’s Earth.
I included this guide to Godzilla’s appearances in the Zone Fighter TV series in the entry immediately following the section on Godzilla vs. Megalon since he appeared in the show just two months after that movie was released. Not only was the same G-suit used for both the movie and the TV series, but Godzilla was portrayed in an identical fashion, as a bumbling but brave defender of the Earth against evil monsters and aliens, and a devout ally to any super-hero or monster who shared his goal. In other words, he completely stole the thunder from Gamera, who played the heroic monster role primarily in the '60’s, when Godzilla’s role as a defender of the Earth was questionable (as the late '60's was the time of his ambiguous relationship with the human race). Many G-fans resent Godzilla’s small screen depiction in this series, as it elucidates what is often considered an ignoble period in the King’s career. To directly quote Andre DuBois on this matter: "This series marked the first [live action] appearances of Godzilla on the small screen, and let's hope they remain his last."
Godzilla is depicted here as a campy figure who utilizes human-like fighting techniques and motivations in challenging his foes. Most of his enemies in the series were ridiculous in design and largely ineffectual in power compared to the majority of his big screen foes (with the exception of Zandolla, as the Big G didn't get to go the distance with King Ghidorah during the 2-parter where the mighty space dragon guest-starred), and he was plagued by a low budget and weak scripts, as was also so often the case in the G-films of the '70’s. The effects used to portray Godzilla’s atomic breath were cheap but interesting; Andre Dubois noted in his aforementioned article that they varied from “a fine, smoky spray coming from the inside of his mouth to a strange, fragmented beam that appeared purple.”
King Ghidorah’s appearance, however, was excellent, despite the worn condition of the costume, and the heavy utilization of the small flying model from Godzilla vs. Gigan that Andre's article noted was bereft of any mobility. The three-headed kaiju horror was depicted as a completely overpowering force of evil, virtually undefeatable, and with competently executed battle scenes.
Gigan’s pathetic portrayal on the series is best left with as little said as possible.
The special effects in the entire series were of varying quality, with city and vehicle miniatures looking anywhere from very well constructed to "who do they think they're kidding?" when they appear onscreen. The alien costumes and masks blatantly looked as if they were made on the cheap, and the obviously plastic faces of the Garogain were completely stiff and expressionless. As for the Terro-Beasts, who were supposed to be the highlight of the series, most of them were utterly ludicrous in appearance, worse even than some of the monsters seen early in the American Power Rangers franchise, and certainly below the quality we would expect to see on a rival sentai show produced by Tsuberaya Productions. Many of them looked as if they were thrown together by a few six year old kaiju enthusiasts using material that they found in their attics or rescued from the garbage cans in their back yards, along with some low grade monster masks and latex kits their parents purchased for them from Captain Company, who advertised in the back pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and other Warren mags from the late 1960's to the early '80's (yep, Captain Company, now bereft of Jim Warren's ownership, still advertise in the last several pages of the current version of that exhalted monster mag that is today published by Ray Ferry!). For those who may believe I'm being too harsh on the monster suits used for the series, then simply take a gander at the screen captures of all of these creatures in the Monster Bios section of Toho Kingdom that were expertly and painstakingly created by James Webster.
As for the actor who portrayed Zone Fighter, he appeared to be an accomplished martial artist and acrobat who executed wonderful moves during the battle sequences. In fact, Andre DuBois described the actor who played the title role as "very agile" and asserted that he "easily surpassed all of the Ultraman actors except for Ultraman 80."
Although the series can be considered entertaining on some levels, adult audiences would most likely run screaming from it, though die hard sentai fans, and even some G-fans, would possibly consider giving the show a look.
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