Since I am covering many of Shotaro Ishinomori’s works this month, I think it would do to explain a little bit about how he also made a good deal of Tokusatsu shows in his time. Tokusatsu usually stands for “special effects” and in this context refers to live action children’s programming such as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, which Ishinomori helped create. There were Tokusatsu productions that did not belong in those two camps, and Kikaider was one of the more well known ones in the 1970s. The series left a nice impact, and it eventually spawned an animated adaptation that aired from October 2000 to January of 2001.
Dr. Komyouji is a brilliant robotics expert that is on the verge of finishing an android he calls Jiro, also known as Kikaider, but an explosion interrupts him and destroys his lab. Jiro, with no real memories of his own, eventually meets Mitsuko and Masaru, Komyouji’s children and learns from them about his android nature and the Gemini circuit inside him, which acts as his conscience. However, the shadowy organization that bombed Komyouji’s lab is still after Jiro, and if they can’t bend the android to their will, then he will be destroyed, along with anyone else that happens to get in their way.
Though this is an action series, the themes in this show are more bleak and dark, which is apparently more in line with Ishinomori’s manga of Kikaider then the more colorful live action series. Jiro constantly wonders why he was created and whether he is nothing more than a monster or not. It does present an interesting point of how a robot with feelings would act, but a lot of the time it just feels like things are angsty and dark just because they can be. A good example of this is the character of Golden Bat, who mentions anguish in his lines one too many times and comes off as tortured, which he is, but it gets to be a bit much since Jiro comes off as that for the whole series.
That leads us into the characters, with me first going over the protagonists, which include, Jiro, Mitsuko, Masaru, Hanpei, and Etsuko. Though I got on Jiro earlier, he does show some growth as the series goes on and does not angst as much by the end, and that is mainly thanks to Mitsuko. Her character is rather hit or miss, as she can be competent in some areas, but also plays the endangered heroine a few times too. Masaru really only serves to help Jiro become more “human” and doesn’t contribute much beyond that. Hanpei and Etsuko are more or less side characters, but they do help the Komyouji siblings find Jiro and help with other tasks through out the series. They are more or less tolerable.
The antagonists in this series are the DARK organization, led by Professor Gil. He uses an army of robots at his disposal, which all seem to based on animals or insects, usually with a color as a prefix to their name, which leads to Yellow Jaguar, Carmine Spider, and so on. Gil shows himself to be a rather manipulative individual in the series, and he staunchly believes that robots are nothing more than tools. You learn next to nothing about him, however, so he comes off as a bit bland. The only other antagonist of note is Saburo, also known as Hakaider. His rather aloof nature and interesting android design makes him a well done evil counterpart to Kikaider, in my opinion.
On to the animation and sound side of things, this show is average. The animation has the same retro design as Cyborg 009, which emulates Ishinomori’s own designs. It might be a bit distracting for some, but I feel it helps make the show unique. However, animation for the actual fight scenes are a bit sparse. Their are some good fights here and there, but others are one hit wonders and make you feel a bit cheated. On the sound side of things, the OST is actually pretty good and fits in line with the tone and feel of the show. The opening in both versions is a short, but haunting instrumental piece, but it does seem fitting. As for the English dub, which there is one, it is a better dub than the one for Cyborg 009, though a few characters sound flat.
In short, Kikaider can be an interesting watch for those that are fans of the character through the live action show and want a different take on it, or those that want an action series that explores some themes that deal with robotics. However, the dark tone and sometimes cheap animation could turn some people away, so there is that to consider as well. The series is still currently licensed by Bandai Entertainment, but is very hard to find, with a re-release unlikely at this point.