Just like with anime, current Toku has been giving me some issues lately. I still liked some of the Kamen Riders like Wizard and Gaim, but with Drive and Ghost I lost interest. The last great Sentai for me was Gokaiger, but I will admit watching Kyoryuger still felt like it was worth my time. After Kyoryuger, I gave up on Toqger not even half way and Ninninger got no interests from me at all. I am hearing great things about the recent show from my good friend Fantasy Leader, so I will give it a shot when I can. For now I want to go backwards with Toku and watch the ones that caught my interests and most of those shows are Metal Heroes. The Metal Hero franchise has some great concepts to their heroes like Jiryaya, B-Fighter, the Space Sheriffs, and the show in question today, Metalder.
The story of Metalder is that long ago the robot known as Metalder was built, but it was kept in hiding for many years. The inventor, Dr. Koga decides to awaken his creation after the discovery of God Neros, the merchant of death. Neros wants complete control of all criminal organizations and with these high finances and strong military power, he will soon control the world. Koga’s plan goes successful, but at a cost. When the android, Metalder woken up he was given the name Ryusei Tsurugi and yet this android has not been given any purpose yet. Koga sacrifices himself by having himself get killed by God Nero’s troops and as they begin to attack Ryusei, his rage activates him. Ryusei suddenly transforms into his battle form known as Metalder and after surviving a battle against the army, he starts to question why he was brought to life by Koga. Throughout the show, Metalder starts to experience life as Ryusei and as Metalder. With Ryusei, he starts makes bonds with real life people and as Metalder he bonds with the people he fights or fights with.
Metalder himself is a strong character and I know this show was heavily inspired by Kikaider, anyways, the show really dives deep in the philosophy of robots and fighters in general. A great way to describe this is that Metalder feels like a strong war story collection. There are many stories being told in this one show and while some can easily mess this up by simply focusing on certain parts, Metalder knows how to give make the stories connect together. This is thanks to how side characters were implemented into the show. Many of them have their roles as Ryusei’s friends start to teach him about being a human and actually learning about emotions. As Metalder though he starts to learn how these warriors are, some who are sadly forced to fight, some fight for their dreams, or some simply love the mayhem. Metalder learns many things about emotions and conflict and it actually shows since the actor knew how to show that in the character. In the beginning he is heavily robotic and bland and then later on he starts to smile and even shows other expressions like confusion, anger, and even sadness.
Along with Metalder himself there are a large amount of villains in this show and I have to say, these are the best villains I have seen in Toku. Kamen Rider Double with their Dopants is a close second, but the Neros Empire is full of amazing characters. There is the emperor himself as he is the most threatening man I have seen. He knows what to do on day one! He quickly learns what Metalder looks like and have assassins after him. Neros even knows how to utilize his men. He upgrades and repairs his men even if they failed, because he knows they will have use still. He quickly gets rids of traitors though because he wants no one to stab him in the back. I even love how he keeps his plan B all the time. A great example of how this man thinks is that his best warrior suggests he should go to kill Metalder, but Neros stops him because if he loses him, he loses his strongest warrior. This has been a problem with current Toku and that is that the villains stopped feeling threatening. Neros puts many villains to shame since he his evil, smart, and strong at the same time. My favorite moment of his is when he tries to make the perfect robot that can take Metalder’s attacks and even keep the musical aspect of what the robot originally was because Metalder was built with the love of the arts, the biggest one being music. This is a villain that analyzes his foes and tries new ideas around them and each one can be effective.
Now for the Neros Empire in general there are many names to mention here, but I will pick my personal favorites. Top Gunder, Neros greatest assassin who soon starts to learn about what he is actually fighting for and does not kill with no purpose. He is often seen as the lone wolf and has a hard time working with anyone in the army, except for his commander and emperor. He even slowly becomes Metalder’s ally thanks to how Metalder shows mercy to his opponents and saved his life from when Neros tries to kill him. Hedogross was a mutant that never got any help from anyone and was always looked down upon. A slave of the empire named Wisdom was his wife and he promises to make both of their lives better and he gets his chance by fighting Metalder and I was surprised on how much his story opens to other characters’ stories like Wisdom and his son, Junior. Ben-K of the Armored Army, one the first foes of Metalder and was spared by Metalder as well. After being left alive and being told to value his life, Ben-K became a traveling monk living in peace with himself and when he notices the Neros Empire and Metalder, he decides to help Metalder protect a family from being murdered to atone for his sins.
Big Wayne was a former general of the robot army and when one someone close to him is almost sent to death, Big Wayne frees him by entering the battlefield once more. Rhapsody, a musical robot who is forced to be changed into a fighting robot, after his fight with Metalder he gives him a performance and barely survives from Neros attack and continued to be the performer he always was. Valski, the commander of the Robot Army, always thinks the best of his troops and never wants them to die; he will always defend his own and is actually jealous of Metalder in a specific way. Coolgin, the commander of the Armored Army and the right hand man of Neros, he is the most loyal member where he vows his life to Neros and becomes a strong rival for Metalder. Geldring, the commander of the Mutant Army and easily the biggest scumbag of them all! He always takes the cheap shots to win his battles and would abandon his men or send them to die in a heartbeat. The overall presentation that many of these characters have is amazing and I only have a sample of these characters.
The biggest aspect of the story is the tone of it. I will admit the show can be straight up depressing at many times. Again this is why I would call it a collection of war stories, usually they never end well. Now the show does have happy moments, but at many points they are bitter sweet at best. The final three episodes in particular left me a broken man. The overall philosophy they explore with all of their characters and the final three really reveals what some characters’ thoughts were. The show has a powerful sense of sadness and it really creates a sense of beauty with it as well. Metalder shows the true bitterness of the battlefield, people die in battle and sacrifice themselves for others, their dreams, and their own desires.
The action of Metalder is even a high value of the show since the show had a high budget and it even blew that! There are times you can see it with some certain uses of characters. Even though some can be repeated, they find new ways to use these characters which really helps to keep things fresh. My favorite example would be how the ninja master soon becomes a master stage magician. What also helps the action is that each foe has a new aspect of fighting. One simply put Metalder into a dream state and was not much a fighter in general. Again this was the beauty of Neros, he knew many aspects of his army and used that to the highest potential. Metalder is constantly on the run or put to the test in his abilities. I really love when Neros uses certain armies for training or just to send an all out attack on Metalder. There is a constant surprise to the fights and how Metalder learns to embrace his human spirit he actually learns new ways to fight. The big advantage of having a robot super hero is that the show can really show the damage the hero goes through one time being his arm falling off and yet uses that as a weapon! The movements of the fights are strong as well and you clearly feel the power of many fighters, like when Metalder can destroy boulders or bash off his opponent’s heads with his kicks. Overall it was one of my favorite experiences in terms of action because of the constant surprises and how well Neros knew how to use his troops. The other saving factor for the action; is that it was not just limited to Metalder even if he is the main character. There are many fights between different members of the army and each other. It just build this nice world making you remember that there is more than just the main character.
Some may know what I think of Metalder already, but I finally got this review done and I can easily say this is my favorite Metal Hero show, but just one of my favorites in general. As a personal best, I will put it with Kamen Rider Double and Dairanger, but on the critical side of things this is probably the best of the three. Kamen Rider Double and Dairanger have many aspects that Metalder has as well like the great action and strong stories that really built their worlds well. With Metalder though, the constant philosophy the show explored and kept it consistent and kept true to its tone. I know many shows that tried to have too much in terms of philosophy and just having it is the end of a show because it jumps around too much with the tone. Metalder was just beautiful with how great the characters felt and how sad some of their stories turn out and yet leaves so happy that a show had the audacity to do the things it did. The 80’s and 90’s of Toku were simply amazing! Metalder gets an A+ in my book!
Finally, to end things on a personal note, what I feel what Metalder was trying to explore into was the philosophy of our fate. The show explores with robots, mutants born into battle, and humans forced to fight or even some feeling they need to offer their lives to a man who saved them and gave them a home. Metalder was even originally made to be used for combat in World War II and he ends up having to save the world, but in the end our fates our undetermined. We simply must live doing what we think is right and hopefully that will bring us the happiness we need. That happiness can even just be giving happiness to someone else, but it is what we want to do. Man, machine, or mutant, it does not matter, we all live in our own ways. We interact and bond who we want to and being able to have those is life itself and again anyone can have it and experience it in their own way. I just found this beautiful as the core concept of the show and I would love to bring that to a deeper focus for another time.