Column: Why We Need More Tokusatsu Web Series

More different types of Amazons are set to appear in Kamen Rider Amazons Season 2 @ TOEI & Amazon Prime Japan

The Internet has become such a necessity in our daily lives that more and more people are ditching television for online video-on-demand (VOD) out of convenience over the years. Online VOD services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have been beating television at its own game in recent years by creating more compelling & entertaining content that is free from the usual restrictions of conventional television networks.

Then came Marvel’s Daredevil.

The critically acclaimed Netflix series gave rise to the possibilities of quality storytelling in the superhero TV genre. This inspired Shirakura Shinichiro, who famously produced some of Toei’s early Heisei Kamen Rider series, to create a Kamen Rider series in the same vein, aimed at adult fans of the genre. Shirakura’s claim was that the franchise in recent years has lost its edge.

Kamen Rider Amazons @ TOEI & Amazon Prime Japan

His latest work, Kamen Rider Amazons, made its debut on Amazon Prime in April 2016, becoming the first Japanese Tokusatsu program to be made specifically for an online platform. Amazons was an instant hit with fans of the genre, receiving a 5-star rating. Not long after, Tsuburaya Productions took a leaf out of Toei’s playbook and debuted their very own Prime series with Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga in December 2016.

Here are some reasons why I think we should have more Tokusatsu web series:

1. Quality Over Quantity

If you were given a choice between a 50-episode series where the main storyline is constantly interrupted by filler episodes or a 13-episode series where every episode is integral to the overall plot, which would you choose?

Take the current Ultraman franchise for example. Tsuburaya has started producing TV series again, starting with Ultraman Ginga (2013), but with a lower episode count than previous years. This is the usual practice with most higher quality Western programmes, such as Daredevil (13 episodes), House of Cards (13 episodes) and Stranger Things (8 episodes). This approach allows for higher budget allocations and focused storylines, which generally turn out with better quality than 50 episodes where nearly half of which are filler-types.

There are still fans who complain about the lower episode count, but we really don’t need silly irrelevant fillers do we?

Ultraman Orb The Origin Saga @ TSUBURAYA & Amazon Prime Japan

2. Storytelling, World Building and Character Development Over Toys

Nobody can deny that the Tokusatsu genre has been profoundly plagued with the obligation to shove toys into the audience’s faces every second on the screen. Even an adult-oriented series like Garo is trapped in that never ending loop where Keita Amemiya is forced to pacify sponsors by pumping out action figures, fashion accessories and Pachinko slot machines.

While toy sales are still a very important part of creating a Tokusatsu TV series, what sets Tsuburaya apart is their approach to integrating the toys into the storyline. While Toei productions normally use the toys to manipulate the direction of the story, Tsuburaya does the complete opposite by having the toys serve the direction of the story. The creative team at Tsuburaya clearly don’t see a need to fit every toy into their series. This allows them to tell a coherent storyline and flesh out the characters at the same time. If you were given a choice between a 50-episode series where it is 95% toys and 5% storytelling and a 13-episode series where toys are nearly non-existent, which one would you choose?

With the medium of a web series, the creative team can freely choose to include minimum amount of toys or throw them out completely without Bandai breathing down their faces, allowing the freedom to focus solely on the story and characters.

3. Binge Watching is the Way to Go

It used to be extremely fun looking forward to the same day, same time every week whenever our favourite TV series came on. Now? The Internet has made us impatient. We must have all the episodes available to watch at our own leisure, be it over the weekend in one sitting, or to watch as much as we can on the go. While Japanese online series still choose to oddly obey the weekly release rule, there is a high chance that they will eventually follow in the footsteps of their American counterparts.

As the trend goes for most adult weekends these days, we Netflix and chill.

If you have your very own reasons on why we should have more Tokusatsu web series, as well as which genre/series is due for such a treatment, let us know in the comments below!