I can't believe it's already October, and I'm only on the fourth or fifth Tokusatsu monster post after having compiled hundreds and hundreds of examples I deemed review-worthy.
TOKUSATSU MONSTER DESIGN:
13 Favorites from the Yokai Army Corps
The Yokai Army Corps of Ninja Sentai Kakuranger are another toku villain force that merges folkloric creatures with motifs of the modern world, as spirits attempt to adapt to and overthrow human civilization. Several of these monsters were actually repurposed for America's "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," but unfortunately stripped of this key context and effectively becoming pure nonsense creatures to Western audiences.
OOMUKADEOomukade, the giant centipede, is one of the fiercest and most terrifying figures in yokai myth, so huge and and so powerful that even dragons were no match for it; but in a surprise twist, ordinary human saliva was a deadly poison to the creature. None of this really factors into Oomukade here, whose visual motif is an American football player and whose evil scheme involves...disguising himself as Santa Claus to hide mind-controlling parasitic centipedes in Christmas presents.
...I...genuinely don't know how any of these elements factor together.
Power Rangers version: Centiback was supposed to be a Centipede monster, but the villainous Lord Zedd accidentally drops his football into the mix, because he owns a football. The resulting football playing centipede monster is capable of transforming human beings into footballs.
I was actually a TV-watching kid when the Power Rangers version aired, and for some reason it was the moment kid-me thought "this is kind of stupid" and changed the channel, never really watching the series again while it still aired. Why do some of us get so uptight as children!? I even thought the design was boring, simply because I didn't care about sports.
But it really isn't boring. It's a football player at first glance, yes, but the entire upper body, all the armor padding, it organic looking centipede exoskeleton with wonderfully biological textures and a fleshy seamlessness between its components. The pecs, abs and other torso muscles are all bulbous, barb-tipped nodules reminiscent of a centipede's venomous forelimbs, which are often misunderstood as "fangs." Most interesting is the "football helmet" as its actual head, with glassy orange eyes on the sides. Instead of a human face, there's some kind of glowing blue visor within the helm. I also love the word "LEGS" on one of the pecs, and of course the number all over his suit is 100! Duh!
Is he a "football player" JUST because Centipede means 100 Feet? That's hilarious, actually. It feels like the yokai itself took an interest in football for that reason alone. I'm still vague on the Christmas aspect, except I guess the fact that there's always a big game around the holidays.
KASABAKEI'm sure you know the Japanese "umbrella ghost!" A household object that became a monster after being cruelly discarded. Though originally a paper umbrella, this one has merged with a modern, colorful plastic Umbrella. The umbrella he carries also functions as both a sword and a gun, and he can just plain conjure umbrellas, to just sort of get in the way I guess.
He doesn't properly have a Power Rangers counterpart, since he was almost always seen in the presence of a character not present in the American show!
Design: lovably deranged, his body is mostly covered in a black and white suit, but with gory looking chunks scooped out of his sides, shoulders and thighs. His arms and legs look like clusters of exposed bone and muscle, his legs in particular resembling multiple bounds bundled together with tape! He's also got big red rainboots, and drippy-shaped fish fins dangling off his elbows. His head and face, set into his upper chest, is also fishlike with large, lipless jaws full of sharp fangs. He only has one eyeball, which he wears a monocle over, and the top of his head flares into a huge, rainbow colored, tattered umbrella! He comes across more like a maniacal, elderly, alien clown than just an Umbrella Guy, and it just works.
KARAKASANot content with just one umbrella ghost, the series brings in a whole other, entirely different one said to be Kasabake's younger sister. Despite looking more human, she's significantly more sinister: she can force humans to dance if they're wearing cursed shoes, and she intends to serve the livers of multiple children to her boss.
Design: Karakasa looks like a woman in a skintight blue, red and white striped outfit, oddly enough meant to invoke Western style racecar drivers. She wears an umbrella like hat, but she has also has transparent plastic umbrella "fins" that encircle her forearms, her face, and form a large flaring skirt. She also has strange blue petal-like or leaf-like things coming off of her shoulders, and at least in concept art, her "hat" can twist shut like a flower bud, which causes the fin around her face to stiffen into an array of webbed needles!
There's obviously some fish or sea creature in her motif, more explicitly than her older brother, but it doesn't seem to factor much into her powers or her personality, nor does the "racing" aspect exactly.
ITTAN-MOMENThis well known yokai is usually depicted as a long, white ribbon that can fly of its own volition, and attacks humans by wrapping around their faces. The kakuranger version, for some reason, is instead a motorcycle-riding hitman who can transform his arms into guns. Due to his realistic firearms, he was excluded from the Power Rangers TV show, but he did receive an associated action figure under the name "Calcifire," so the decision to drop him must have come relatively last-minute.
Design: a humanoid covered in beautiful white and purple armor, made mostly out of swooping organic shapes, very much like flat pieces stretched and wrapped around him to form an exoskeleton. From his shoulders up, the armor stretches into a long neck and pointed, almost shark-like face with a large crest or fin down the back, formed from several layers of white, fleshy ribbon connected by purple membranes. He's also got a curl on his head like a pompadour, and eyes that look like sunglass visors. Undeniably cool and threatening, but equally hilarious and laughable even before we get to the bike, which also has some organic ribbon-flesh parts. The front of it even looks like it has its own face with clenched-shut eyes.
You may have caught on by now that a lot of these yokai aren't just combined with "modern" things, but things Japan tends to think of as "American." This one even says "baby" an awful lot, which, just as it was over here, was popularized in Japan mostly by the Terminator movies back then.
ONBU-OBAKEThis one based on a youkai that usually goes by Obariyon, with "Onbu-Obake" simply being a blunt description of it as a "piggyback ghost." It's an invisible little yokai that likes to jump on your back and ride you around, but grow steadily heavier until you can no longer move. Usually regarded as a minor prankster, this one is actually one of the true main villains of this series and by far the absolute worst, to such a degree that it won't even be all that fun to explain: it not only has the power to immovably pin people down like its inspiration, but can drain energy and steal people's souls by licking them, and this particular one is characterized as a grody pervert who goes after human girls. More unfortunately, they give it a human disguise that mashes up a sort of "evil clown" with a "flamboyant cross dresser" archetype, so it's kind of a double whammy of canonically unpleasant and narratively mean spirited.
Power Rangers version: elegantly distancing the monster from its roots, "Impursonator" is a lady monster brought to life from a crudely hand-made purse. You'd think her powers would revolve around some kind of shapeshifting or mimicry, from the name, but mainly she just deflects energy attacks.
Design: all that aside, I couldn't really leave out such a weird one, even if it really just looks like a slightly modified Oogie Boogie. Take Oogie, color him bright pink, give him a two-pronged dracula hairdo, a zipper mouth, and a few plastic buttons sewn on and there you go. Both characters even have a lecherous angle, though Oogie's wasn't shown to be nearly as predatory. What really makes this one interesting as a monster is more the fact that such a big deal of a villain is so undignified. It's based on a lower-tier mischief-making spirit, it's ridiculous looking and it's a giant incel, so everything about it should be one big joke. Give something like that any actual power and you kind of instantly have something terrifying, though maybe in some of the wrong ways.
NURIKABEThe yokai famous for blocking paths with its wall-like face or body, this Nurikabe has a more modern urban aesthetic and the power to control walls within a massive maze, as well as launch bricks from his body and reconfigure himself into a "battle mode." He's also the twin brother of another monster, the two of them competing against one another.
In Power Rangers, he was known as "Brick Bully," who could absorb building materials into himself and transform people INTO bricks!
Design: in his initial form, Nurikabe resembles a rectangular chunk of brick wall complete with a metal support beam, graffiti and a couple of small advertising posters or stickers, but there's also a tangle of various nude, human bodies half-merged into the front surface. One guy's whole head is exposed, dangling upside down and backwards to serve as the face of the whole creature, and it uses the arms and legs of what have to be four different people. Every one of these bodies and appendages follow the same texture of the bricks, metal or posters behind them in a downright mezmerizing effect! It's eerie, complex and damn near gorgeous.
...But, he's also got a "battle mode," in which the wall becomes heavily fractured, and oddly enough the interior doesn't look like brick and metal at all, but like carved wood! Are the other materials just painted on?! Most of the human bodies, graffiti and decor is all gone in this mode, except for the four appendages and the upside-down guy, but where his eyes should be, his head splits open into a howling mouth with a new set of glaring, glowing blue eyes within its pitch dark throat! It's an equally killer look, and almost feels more like the "original" yokai is taking more of the form back from the "modernized" elements.
GAKITSUKIGaki are often translated as "hungry ghosts," but it's really more like they're living humans reincarnated into an invisible, alternate world where they're doomed to starvation for decades or centuries until their next life, usually portrayed like emaciated ghouls with bloated stomachs. This one, to my utter delight, is capable of transforming into a fly and entering a person's stomach to take over their body!
In Power Rangers, the "Ravenator" does the same sort of thing, but only by disguising himself as ordinary food. I guess they thought the parasitic stomach fly bit was too gross. COWARDS.
Design: nothing like the mythical counterpart, this "hungry ghost" is a muscular man with blue jeans, clawed sneakers, a filthy apron and a ton of long, black, greasy, unkempt hair. Instead of a head, he just has a gigantic, grotesque set of gums and teeth set into his upper chest, fused to a giant trucker hat that just says "HUNGRY" on it. Creepy, menacing and funny all at once; the best sort of Toku creatures. Also gotta love the hot dog tattooed on his bicep beneath the words "SO HOT."
MOKUMOKURENThis is Nurikabe's twin brother, despite being an entirely unrelated yokai: the Mokumokuren is known for being entirely covered in eyes, usually depicted as a flabby, wrinkly humanoid with eyes peering between every fold. When you see into this one's eyes, he can make you see whatever he wants, which is cool I guess; I might have given him some more disturbing powers, maybe one of those eye creatures that can steal and control other people's eyeballs?
Power Rangers called him the "See Monster," who could simply fire beams or give people headaches.
Design: AMAZING, and incredibly unsettling! They combined the yokai with the image of a pervert "flasher," resembling a large man mostly covered by a trenchcoat...but that trenchcoat already has an unsettlingly organic, veiny appearance, and his "human head" is just a pale knob of flesh with perfectly circular, black holes for eyes, a few smaller random holes and deep pits for ears. No mouth, no nose, no hair, only humanlike from a distance or in the dark.
So of course, when he opens up his coat to "flash" you, the inside is nothing but glaring eyes in raw, red flesh! If there's one thing I always fall for, it's an eyeball or eye themed creature with eyes anywhere but where they're actually "supposed" to go.
OBORO GURUMAThis yokai is traditionally a haunted chariot, but this one adapted into a taxi cab to fit into the modern world, and he's actually a really nice guy! Unfortunately, he turns violent after being betrayed by a human, specifically a human whose apparent kindness had convinced Oboro Guruma that mankind still respected yokai. Other than transforming between a human in a car and a humanoid car monster, he attacks with "bullets" from his exhaust and an attack called the, uh, "honking flatulence."
Power Rangers called him "Crabby Cabbie," and just gave him the hilarious persona of a rude New Yorker.
Design: really cool and fun! He's an entire little chunky taxi with headlights like grouchy eyes, tiny front wheels and oversized rear tires. From the steering wheel on, the car forms a big hump-backed mechanical body with the driver's head and arms sticking out of it, the head covered up in a hat, goggles and mummy-like bandages but still smoking a little cigar. The way his arms rest on the back wheels is cute, kind of wheelchair-like, and the words "HELL CAB" on the hood are pretty funny.
ROKUROKUBIThe original Rokurokubi is a woman whose head can extend on a sometimes limitlessly long, thin neck. In human form, this one operated an arcade at a Tokyo Amusement park, but causes trouble when she kidnaps a couple of kids who remind her of her own deceased son. Instead of a long neck, her head can completely float away and fight independently of her body. She's also the wife of the very lucky (until they both die) Kappa.
Power Rangers skipped over this monster, but used the headless body as a background creature.
Design: ridiculously cool, her human body in monster form is just a woman with bright white skin showing through the many stylish gaps in her black leather bodysuit, while her shoulders and upper chest are hidden by poofy white feathers. Her head, on the other hand, is an intensely pink octopus with with large, colorful cephalopod eyes on the sides, but a bright white human face on the front with blue lips and sunglasses. The hole in her severed neck is also the mouth of the octopus, with yellow fangs kind of resembling a triple cephalopod beak!
It has no immediately obvious connection to the yokai version, but it's a killer concept in any context, and the sheer style is awesome through and through. The brightly colorful, tentacled head is a great contrast to the mostly dark monochrome body, and the sort of punk rock or biker motif is great, not to mention the obvious point that this monster's just a total babe???
KEUKEGENI'm pretty fond of the Keukegen as a yokai; it's depicted as nothing but black hair, like a disembodied beard, with funny little googly eyes, but it's usually thought of as a spirit of illness associated with dirty, damp homes. Pretty much a mildew yokai! The Kakuranger version even poses as a crackpot doctor pushing his own dubious original medical treatment, actually his own gross little hairballs he makes people eat to spread disease. This is another one just left out of Power Rangers, other than in the background of a couple episodes that called for large crowds of monsters.
Design: The googly-eyed beard look is discarded, but in its place, an unsettling humanoid covered in brown hair, with only a small hole where a head should be attached. Throughout its body are what look almost like large red claws protruding from the fur, many of them clustered on the clublike bulges it has in place of hands, but these spikes are textured like they're just knots of redder fur themselves. Finally, it wears multiple colorful wooden masks around its chest and shoulders, as though collected from a variety of tribal cultures. The hoarding of "indigenous" artifacts (or poorly made replicas thereof) has been a stereotype of psychic healers and other quacks for decades, and it's a shame this created an association between these cultures and nonsense superstition because, truth is, a lot of them very correctly identified what natural compounds had medicinal properties. The same compounds now harvested or synthesized for the same modern medicine the Crystal Hippies tend to reject.
All that aside, the characterization of Keukegen as a homeopathy scammer is pretty clever, and the design actually manages to be weirder than the more traditional nonhumanoid takes! It seems like just a fuzzy humanoid beast at first, but it's something much more alien on closer scrutiny, something you can easily believe is tied to infection and may very well be made of fungus.
AZUKIARAIThe Azukiarai is a yokai known only for terrifying mortals by loudly washing beans in a sieve where nobody would logically be doing so. You never actually see the monster, but you hear the spine-chilling sound of beans being shaken around in water!
This has absolutely nothing to do with this particular monster, whose lizardlike form is combined with a garbage can that can project an illusionary form or suck things up like a vacuum. Beans never come into play AT ALL!
Power Rangers dubbed this monster "Garbage Mouth," and gave him a more thematic toxic smoke attack.
Design: despite the gross lack of bean washing, this is easily one of my favorites both for my love of garbage monsters and that adorable face. He's a slimy blue-green humanoid with a scattering of orange warts, webbed hands, a segmented and flattened tail that reminds me of either a salamander or the end of a leech, a toothless grin of nasty little human-like yellow teeth, a huge yellowish wart to either side of the mouth that may represent his eyes, and no other facial features other than, for some reason, the words "WELCOME TO 'J'LHOUSE" on his forehead.
And then, of course, the top of his scalp flares out to fuse with a rusty trash can lid, like the cap of a mushroom, allowing him to close up in the rest of the can when he's hiding out in it. In or out of his can, I love his vibrant color scheme, the simplicity of this slimy mutant with a trash-can-lid head, and especially that weirdly adorable face. When you read the orange spheres as huge eyeballs, the simple placement of his mouth directly between them gives his face this sweet, innocent gecko-like look that's instantly endearing.
NUPPEFUHOFUThis one's based on one of my favorite yokai, actually; a creature that usually appears as a doughy, lumpy blob of rotten, smelly flesh with stubby limbs, and in some stories, eating part of it can grant you immortality. The monster is sometimes associated with Nopperabo, and sometimes their names are accidentally mixed up, but the latter manifests only as a faceless human, sometimes one that can steal the faces of others. This monster combines aspects of both, as it can steal people's faces by licking them off with his massive tongue!
Power Rangers actually did a good job with this one; though the yokai references were lost, they simply called it Face Stealer and wrote it as a legendary bogeyman-like figure who appears during the Blue Moon to steal human faces along with their souls.
Design: this is a good one in SO many ways, since he's also been combined with a theme of Halloween! His short, squat body looks like greenish plant matter, but he wears overalls and a shirt covered in comical badges of various facial expressions, what we would now liken to emojis. His head, at first, appears to just be a huge Jack O' Lantern, but it can actually split down the middle and flip up like a pair of giant "wings" or "ears," revealing his true face:
Beneath the pumpkin, he's got a blobby, wrinkly, sparsely hairy head almost like a paler naked mole rat, but with more catfish-like mouth full of blunt, sharp teeth and an enormous slimy tongue/ Most notably are the two humanoid faces where his eyes should be, their features almost vestigial as they're presumably still absorbing into his flesh!
It's a fun hybrid of yokai concepts, but even removed from that, it's one of the more disturbing monsters in either its original or "Mighty Morphin'" context, and generally one of the coolest, most memorable pumpkin-faced creatures out there!
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