As I’ve been looking at New Japan shows over the last few months I’ve been aware, especially with recent toy releases, that the characters of Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger originated in anime shows. I really wanted to look at the 1969 Toei Tiger Mask show, wherein a Japanese heel returns from America under a mask to become the biggest babyface in all of wrestling, fighting the evil faction he once belonged to, but YT and my usual sources are fairly bereft (although the intro is before the jump). Therefore, it’s Jushin Liger, the show that gave Flying Fuji Yamada an identity for thirty years, that I’m going to look at.
“The Raging Bio Armor, Liger appears!”
Intro: Worthy of comment individually, we zoom in on a fearsome figure from behind overlooking a flaming wasteland, before he turns around and the theme tune (Ikari no Jushin/Jushin’s Rage, which is the same theme as Liger used as a wrestler) kicks in. It’s energetic and rousing, even if it’s obviously dated. The protagonist stands for something to form around him while three friends (two female, one stocky male) run to join him and look up at a foreboding face in the sky. The hero, Ken, becomes the controller of a red-skinned giant with long, auburn hair and visible exterior bone armour, using a command helmet and sinews within the figure to motivate his movements. This warrior, who looks more like the original Liger wrestling gear, briefly battles a pretty-but-evil villain, a demonic warrior and a massive dragon in brief combat before evolving into a more feline form with Wolverine claws, standing once more with rested sword and shield while looking up at a monolithic being. It’s exciting, it’s constant movement, even though the incongruous translated lyrics come across as not helping deflect the OTT nature of the show.
Main episode: Interesting that the title card has a far more dated epic score behind it. So, young Ken is in the midst of a nightmare set against an atmospheric blue and pink sky and thunderstorm, chased by a massive four-eyed demon being not entirely unlike Metlar from Inhumanoids as well as a rhino-like one too. His grandfather, who’s seemingly both a doctor and a rancher, wakes him up and notices a lion-shaped birthmark on his hand, scolding him before they run outside due to an earthquake commencing. Ken starts crushing on a newsreader before tossing a burnt egg (not a euphemism) on his grandad’s lap before running off for school.
School’s not actually as much a priority as the journey there, on which he passes fit girl Yuki and her fat girl friend and rides his bike fast enough to make their skirts fly up – pervert! Seeming simp Dangoro jumps to their defence, a gripe that continues into school where Ken continues to try and flirt with the disinterested Yuki until another earth-shaking even occurs, the arrival of a dinosaur skull spaceship, commanded by an alien who has an extra face on his face who unleashes the two monsters that appeared earlier in Ken’s nightmare onto a path of destruction. The moody soft rock music helps punctuate scenes of devastation and people dying graphically.
The air force in their helicopters and the army in their tanks try to take down the monsters, but their shots only have the effect of splitting the one monster into two separate monsters. The kids abandon school for safety, but the helicopters crash in front of them and Yuki and her rubenesque companion perish, with Yuki’s journey to heaven shown symbolically. Doctor Grandad the Bareback Rider shows up on horseback to reveal Ken’s secret power to him via the birthmark, imploring with him to call upon the Liger. As one of the monster breathes fire at them, seemingly putting Gramps in a coma, a floating stone the size of a skyscraper appears, seemingly controlled by a priestess with a snake body and tail, signalling the possible return of the Dragon Empire. She connects with the two-faced general to see more blood and tears pouring on the streets as we go to a commercial.
Back, grandad gets his last words out about destiny and loses consciousness. Dangoro says not to worry, he just fainted, with about the same credibility as Scarlett saying similar about Duke towards the end of G.I. Joe – The Movie. Ken calls forth the Liger and begins a transformation to some sexy sax version of the theme tune. The giant Liger warrior forms, with Ken backflipping into a compartment in his abdomen and swimming up to a control centre where nerves attach to him to help mimic his movements and impulses. First action is to roar at the alien creatures while the general wonders where it came from.
Ken on the inside swears revenge for everyone hurt or killed this day, including the girl he was trying to metoo earlier. The twin monsters are destroyed first, one with a punch through the face and/or stomach, then the second with a snapmare and kick through the “lower abdomen” into a building. The inverted wishbone split sees him become two again, but dying not doubling. Finally, rhino gets some tentacles ripped off but splits his own hands in a nasty move to reveal blades. The Liger takes a few slashes, so calls upon his own sword from the sky, with a shield acting as the sheath. He calls his own Liger Slash with the Liger Sword, quartering the beast and dissolving him into nothingness.
The stone base returns to the earth as the sky clears, leaving silence, and the alien ship ascends and retreats. Grandad begins to recover while two girls on the side become Liger groupies. Ken’s soliloquy sees him reflecting on having avenged Yuki. We then cut to the credits, where Ken, Dangoro and the girls look from a windy mountain to see the Liger standing before them. The dubbed lyrics tell us that “I will fight them for the future until this life ends, I am the God Beast Liger”.
Preview of the next episode shows us Ken knocking up the skirt of one of the fangirls, who very much approves, but another monster arrives from the skull ship, plus the blonde villain from the intro will make his debut too.
Melting it down: A fun but bizarre first episode. I sometimes have the problem with Japanese shows that they are the slowest of slow burners. For instance, if He-Man was a Japanese show we would have five episodes establishing Beast Man as a big villain before we even got to Skeletor. Could be the same with this show. It’s the paradox of something happening and not a lot happening. You also have to work around the skirt-lifting flirting as a very dated and oddly specific thing. Overall, it was fun, but not something I’m going to spend much more time on investigating. The more enduring byproduct is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, who will feature in some of my upcoming reviews more.