Giant robots and monsters duking it out in the city has always been very popular with robot fans, as evident with such mainstream brands as Ultraman and Godzilla. Everybody knows about these two giants, from their various tv shows, movies, and merchandise. A lesser known brand, however, but equally entertaining, is my personal favorite, Spectreman, and if you haven’t seen or heard of him, you’re really missing out.
With its debut in Japan on Fuji TV, Spectreman was on the air for only about one year, from January 2, 1971 to March 25, 1972, but it premiered in the US in syndication in 1978 across various television stations. Dubbed in English and consisting of 63 episodes all together, Spectreman told the story of a robot cyborg from the Nebula Star 71, who came to Earth disguised as a human being named George and showcased his adventures fighting evil.
Unlike other kid shows during that period, Spectreman was probably one of the first kid shows to tackle the environment. Spectreman, aka George, worked for the Japanese government in a special environmental protection agency department, whose task was to investigate and clean up all of the pollution in and around Tokyo. In its rise to become the economic powerhouse Japan is today, during the 1970s and 1980s, Japan concentrated its efforts on industry and manufacturing, especially in its automobile industry.
Much like General Motors and Ford in the U.S., in Japan, hundreds of car plants were set up around the country with thousands of its citizens working the assembly line. Eventually, Japan would become a major contender in the world automobile industry, with Japan developing a reputation even in the U.S. as being not only a more affordable car, but better quality too. This lead to a lot of tension, bigotry, and flat-out racism in the U.S against people of asian descent. In fact, if you grew up in the 1980s, you probably recall seeing a lot of “American-Made” bumper stickers on peoples’ cars.
However, with so much success in its industry, Japan also experienced negative side effects, as factories and smoke leads to damage to the environment, and Japan, especially Tokyo, quickly became one of the most polluted places on Earth during this period and Spectreman not only cashed in on this pollution, but also addressed it. Each week Spectreman’s arch-nemsis Dr. Gori and his henchman Karras, who were both talking gorillas, would conjure up giant monsters directly from this pollution and waste that filled Tokyo. Accordingly, one week a monster would be a giant eyeball that developed from the chemical waste leaking from a factory. Another week a monster would come from a landfill. Another week, a madman would be exposed to too much radiation from the electric plant and mutate into a giant monster. All of these monsters developed out of the waste and pollution that mankind had created for itself.
Like Ultraman and the many other Japanese tv Ultraman clones, Spectreman would then ditch his human colleagues, transform into the giant Spectreman, and would then battle with each monster every week on tv. Specifically, he would cross his hands and do his signature Spectreman move, gain the power from the Nebular Star, and then be armed to do battle. Among his weapons and powers included 1) razor sharp multicolored ninja stars that he would pull from his belt buckle, 2) giant blades that would come out of his forearms and that he would use to slash his opponents, 3) an energy beam that he would shoot from his hands, 4) a gun that would shoot a energy blast, and lastly, 4) both a sword and shield. What was neat about Spectreman was that he didn’t have a whole bunch of weapons or tricks that were unexpected or pulled out of a hat. Spectreman relied on his core weapons and skills, and as the viewer, that’s what you could expect.
What was also interesting were the two bad guys, Dr. Gori and his henchman Karras. Even as a five or six year old kid, you can tell that this was bad acting. Dr. Gori wore a blonde wig but had a gorilla mask on, and he would often wave his arms and hands up and down excitedly as if he were stranded on an island trying to flag down an airplane with SOS. Dr. Gori felt he was intellectually superior to that of the humans, and wanted to enslave mankind and take over by using mankind’s pollution against them through the creation of giant monsters. His henchman, Karras, was the muscle for Dr. Gori, who often acted as his Igor, with Dr. Gori constantly belittling and screaming at Karras every time their plans were disrupted by Spectreman.
By today’s standards, I suppose the special effects of Spectreman could be considered comical. Back then, there was no CGI, so all of the monsters were made of giant rubber suits, the buildings that were destroyed were giant models, and the tanks that were destroyed were toys or models too. Spectreman flew in the air using pulleys and ropes with careful camera angles and shots to create the illusion of flying. However, even by today’s standards, you can see the real work and effort that was put into each show, and into making sure the explosions looked real, that the fight scenes were exciting and action-packed, and that the monsters didn’t look cheap. This was definitely not an Ed Wood production.
Every now and then when I’m playing on my tablet, I think of the Spectreman theme song and I go to youtube to remind me of how it goes. Don’t know the theme song?
Hear the flash
Like a flame
Than a plane
With the name
Power from space
The human race
Yet they’ll never
Know the face
We will never know the source
Of his power and his force
As he guides this planet’s course
So if you’re looking for true old school robot versus monster fighting, take a look at Spectreman. Although you may not have heard of it before, it’s definitely worth watching a few episodes or clips on youtube to see what it’s all about. Before you know it, you’ll be humming the theme song yourself.