Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; It’s the 90’s. A guy walks into a video store and goes to the anime section. After looking through and not seeing a certain title, he goes up to the register and the following exchange takes place:
“Excuse me, I was wondering if you had any tapes of the Guyver?”
“Tapes of what?”
“No, THE Guyver.”
“…Okay wait, what?”
“OH! Now I know what you’re talking about!”
“Yeah, that show with that guy who makes bombs from Coca-Cola bottles?”
That’s right, thanks to Richard Dean Anderson’s legendary role in MacGyver, I could never properly explain to people what Bio Booster Armor Guyver was all about. This was made all the more difficult in 1996 when Toho decided to step up to the plate and unleash the 26 episode tokusatsu TV series, Shichisei Toshin (Seven Stars Fighting God) Guyferd. That’s right, Toho, the studio that gave us the Godzilla series, has had a stake in tokusatsu on television going as far back as the early 70’s. Their first show, 1973’s Ryusei Ningen Zone, was an attempt at cashing in on the Henshin Hero craze that started with Kamen Rider while at the same time trying to bring their movie monsters to the small screen. Alas, the show was cut short, thanks in part to the Oil Shock crisis, but Toho would be back in 1988 with Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop. You actually might remember Cybercop, as the toys appeared in the states as the infamous Power Force series. (Ironically enough THAT series had a Guyver look-alike too!) Guyferd marked Toho’s third attempt at competing with the bigger franchises but seemed all-too similar to Yoshiki Takaya’s sci-fi/action epic. There are also some accusations that it borrowed from Fist of the North Star but I continue to call shenanigans on that one, considering how there is a subtle lack of exploding heads and people walking through collapsing buildings, but I digress.
In Guyferd, it’s pretty much your standard tokusatsu hero plot; Gou Kazama gets mixed up with the “Global Criminal Syndicate” Chronos-I mean Crown and gets turned into a cybernetic soldier. Crown, naturally, wants to take over the world using symbiotic parasites known as Fallah. This doesn’t sit well with our hero and, luckily, he’s rescued by the defecting doctor Shiroishi (played by Gransazer‘s Shoichiro Akaboshi). In the midst of their escape, they’re attacked by a Zoanoi-I mean Mutian; an enhanced human who has merged with the Fallah parasite to bring out their true fighting potential. Thankfully, Gou has been conveniently infected by the Fallah (off-screen I might add) which merges together with his cybernetic body to become a “Guyferd”. Using his new powers, Gou strikes back against Crown, hoping that at some point, he can find his missing brother (DUN DUN DUN!!).
I keep thinking that somebody on staff was a Guyver fan as, again, there are so many similarities between both shows. Aside from a similar name and design aesthetic for the hero, the plot of the show itself sometimes sounds like something out of the later half of the manga. To recap, Chronos, the evil organization from Guyver, had plans to take over the world and turn all of humanity into Zoanoids. In Guyferd, it isn’t until the start of the second arc of the series in Episode 9 that we learn of Crown’s “Fallah Bio Project” in which all of humanity will be forcibly merged with the parasites with those incompatible or “unworthy” being killed by the process. I know it sounds like more of a coincidence, as it’s a pretty standard sounding plot, but how can you explain away the Mutian in Episode 3 who bears a very STRIKING resemblance to the Hyper-Zoanoid, Elegen? How about the Guyver III-esque look of Guyferd’s short-lived rival, Deathferd? It all skates too close to Guyver but without ever fully going that direction. Bearing all that, you’d think that Guyferd wouldn’t be worth your time save for a chuckle about how “plagaristastic” it is. (Whoa, I coined a new phrase.) That’d be true, if the show wasn’t actually pretty darn good.
I’m not calling it the second coming of Jetman or anything but Guyferd is actually a fun show in spite of the accusations. I know I like to throw around the phrase “old-school feel” but the low-budget, bare bones look and feel of the show has echoes of the 1970’s. Even the main cast format comes right out of said era. Back then, you’d always have the main hot blooded hero, the girl, and her annoying brother, who would always get into trouble. In Guyferd, Gou is our hot-blooded yet tragic lead, her brother’s young protÃ©gÃ©, Rei, (played by a young Asuka Shimuzu) serves as the requisite female, and her hacker of a little brother, Yuu, fills the annoying sibling role. Thankfully enough, that formula gets chucked out the window as the siblings aren’t trouble-prone, able to hold their own against the toughest minions that Crown can dish out. Heck, they even get their own battle gear in the form of the Power Accelerators which boost their individual strong suits. Along with the “Doctor”, the main cast remains solid throughout the 26 episode run, never getting annoying or dull and becoming a band of heroes that you find yourself rooting for ’till the end.
Also, Guyferd‘s fight scenes may seem like they’re lacking the flashiness of its competitors but they get points in my book because they actually attempted a degree of realism. With the show being grounded in martial arts, the battles between Guyferd and the Mutians seem more like practical matches between different styles. One monster will use Judo-like grappling and lock techniques whilst another will sprout nunchaku and go to town. Even Guyferd’s own fighting style is rooted in karate….amidst the energy projectiles of course. Compared against the shows of the time (including B-Figher Kabuto and Gekisou Sentai Carranger), the fights are another notch on the belt, helping this series stand out. This really comes into play come time for the second arc of the series where…What? Okay, alright already! I know I keep mentioning this second arc as if it was the Greatest Thing Ever. The truth is that…well…it is.
During the first eight-episode arc, it seems like Guyferd is still trying to get comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the cast is great and the story is still exciting but it really takes awhile for it to build up, making it something of a hard sell. This all changes during the two-episode finale of the first storyline; it tries to fix all the problems of the series with a small-scale “Kill ’em all!” Tomino Ending on the villain’s side. However, instead of giving a satisfying conclusion to the story arc, we’re given a very rushed resolution. For example, the fate of Gou’s brother comes out of left field to the point where it’s laughable, while the showdown with Mister Bycross, the first leader of Crown, lasts all of maybe two minutes. While this tactic is admirable, it left me personally wishing that they could have lasted another five episodes so that things could have been properly fleshed out. On the other hand, I’d really like to applaud The Powers That Be for pulling off such a maneuver in the first place.
But then suddenly, Episode 9 comes along and the show rewards the viewer for sticking with it during the remodeling; Gou suddenly has more depth, the fights get more creative, and Crown actually gets smart by making their own Mass Produced Guyferds called “MetalFerds”. There’s even a moment where Gou is almost persuaded to join Crown on account of his being the first of the new “master race” in the eyes of the new leader, Zodiac (who up until this point was just a giant face on Mister Bycross’ vest). Things are finally cranked up a notch and remain that way for the rest of the series, making you want to ask whoever was in charge, “Why the hell did you wait so long to truly make things this awesome?!” while shaking them violently. It could have totally jumped the shark here but in changing things around, Guyferd found its footing and ran with it, paving the way for better fights and a deeper storyline.
Okay, I know that’s all nice and dandy but in the end, is Guyferd nothing more than a total knock off of Guyver? Not really. Yes, it skates so close to it but never goes the route of The Asylum and give us the second coming of Transmorphers. (Or would it be the predecessor seeing as how this came before it?) Actually, I’d go so far as to say it’s the closest thing to an Aim for the Top! of Tokusatsu, something that obviously has roots in other material but knocks it out of the park and totally makes it their own. Whatever the case, Guyferd, though flawed in some aspects, is a simple yet fun series that’s worth looking into. All the while, you have to wonder what Yoshiki Takaya, author of Guyver, would have to say about it. Who’s to say that maybe even he got a kick out of it?