(Originally Published in ORIENTAL CINEMA Issue # 4 November 1994)
Revised version published in ULTRA-FAN Issue # 1 January 1996
RYUSEI NINGEN ZONE (or Human Comet Zone, Meteor Man Zone or, simply but unofficially, Zone Fighter) was a 1973 television program produced by Toho Eizo Co., broadcast on Nihon TV from April 2, 1973 through September 24, 1973. Consisting of 26 half-hour episodes, it was Toho’s principal effort to break into the science fiction superhero genre then popular on TV and dominated by the likes of Toei’s KamenRider and Tsuburaya Productions’ ever-popular Ultraman. Toho president Tomoyuki Tanaka, producer of the original Godzilla among many other movies in the same genre, was the architect behind the show; he brought in such golden age collaborators as directors Ishiro Honda and Jun Fukuda to help realize the show, as we!l as the special effects directors Teruyoshi Nakano and, in his first assignment as director, Koichi Kawakita (Godzi!la vs. Destroyer). For a more detailed synopsis of the episodes featuring Godzi!la as a guest star, see John Rocco Roberto’s article “The Lost Godzi!la Episodes.”
With or without cameos by Godzilla, this is one great show. Definitely inspired by the likes ofUltramanMirrormanand other Tsuburaya programs, Zone tells the story of a giant, android-like superhero who flies, fires beams, and, of course, battles giant monsters. The special effects feature the usual monster costumes, superimposed laser beams, pyrotechnics, spaceships and, naturally, miniatures which range in quality from superb to laughable. Many, including the Godzilla suit, were leftover from the movieGodzilla vs. Megalon, released less than a month before the show premiere.
Most Americans might consider the look of the show cheesy, if only because its Japanese; they’d be less likely to criticize a Western production no matter how it looked. But I don’t see Zone’s costumes and miniatures as cheap; all these props suffice, never detracting from the excitement of the show itself. While I think Zone stands out from the other post-Ultraman shows, it’s more or less remembered just as another Ultraman wannabe. But it’s much more than that; with its human-sized team of superheroes taking on henchmen outnumbering them two to one, the show is actually way ahead of Toei’s Sentai genre! I suspect the fights, acrobatics and shootouts ofZone Fighterhelped inspire the likes ofGoranger(which eventually mutated intoPower Rangerstwenty years later). But the duels aren’t as clean and polished as some of those later, generic tangles. InZone Fighterthe villains are quite acrobatic themselves; a single Garoga can be almost a match for any one of our heroes. These invaders have personalities (or, rather, invaderalities); they’re not the weakling caricatures common to later programs, standing in the background until it’s time to step forward and get their asses whipped.
Unfortunately, the show’s star Kazuya Aoyama (the kid brother from 1974’sGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) isn’t a great martial artist. He’s athletic and not afraid to go all-out, but he’s obviously not from Sonny Chiba’s Japan Action Club! His kicks and punches lack the proper form and specific striking points; his kicks don’t look all that graceful or effective. The stuntman in the Zone Fighter giant-size costume more than makes up for Aoyama’s deficiencies; but the little kid Akira (a.k.a. Zone Junior) spends too much time running under the bad guys’ legs.
What many people remember this show for is, of course, the guest appearances of the Toho monsters Ghidora, Gigan and Godzilla. If only Toho got along better with other companies, Godzilla might have teamed up with Ultraman or Kamen Rider, the true classic heroes of Japanese TV. But Toho being Toho, the generally obscureZone Fighterwill have to do. At least in the shows in which Godzilla appears (episodes 4, 11, 15, 21 and 25), he looks and behaves a little differently than he does in the movie series. In one episode his breath ray is done with some kind of smoke shooting from his mouth like a firehose, in a way never seen in the movies, pretty effective.
Fights, FX, gunplay and car chases punctuate this story of the Sakimori family, righteous heroes who come from a planet called Peaceland to live with a human family. The family consists of a father (played by Shoji Nakayama, who played Captain Kiriyama onUltra 7), as well as a mother and grandfather, but it’s the three “alien” youngsters who take center stage as the Zone Fighter Trio. Among their weapons are a flying car called the Mighty Liner, and a spaceship called Smokey (don’t laugh! It lies hidden in a cloud of smoke until needed, okay!). They’ve got these little flare-like rockets they throw in the air, which have built-in tape recorders and act as life-saving messengers in each episode. And Zone Angel, being female, has that special feminine intuition.
The other two heroes are male: the irritating cute kid Akira (Zone Jr.) and the main hero, Hikaru, who can grow giant. In his spare time, Hikaru manages to be a race car driver; assuming that alien space monsters called Garoga-Baran aren’t attacking at the time. The leader of the aliens is called Gold-Garoga; the nasty bunch destroyed the Zone Family’s home planet of Peaceland and are now bullying the Earth. They’ve got the usual futuristic weapons and vehicles and giant-size sidekicks like the enormous “Terro Beasts.” Some look cool, some look stupid; some have monster capsule missiles which themselves turn into Terro Beasts! Zone Fighter seems to do handsprings in their presence, resulting in double-footed drop-kicks which send the rubbery fiends sprawling. It’s still major fun to watch this series. Zone came out ten years before censorship ruined Japanese TV and it is superheroism at its best – this is where it’s at.
RYUSEI NINGEN ZONE
Produced by: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Planning: Hiro Domon
Photography: Mototaka Tomioka, Takeshi Yamamoto
Lighting: Ryohei Ikeda
Fight Choreographer: Haruhiko Hashimoto
Pyrotechnics: Mamoru Kume
Wire Works: Koji Matsumoto
Art Director: Gen Kobayashi
Music: Go Nizawa
 DESTROY THE TERRO-BEAST MISSILE! (2/4/73)
Written and directed by Jun Fukuda
Our hero Hikari Sakimori is attacked (within the first minute) by Garogan henchmen disguised as gun-toting mobsters. For the first time, our heroes must reveal their outer space forms on Earth, and fight their way out of a dark warehouse. Giant-size Zone Fighter eventually battles the monster Red Spark and the magnetic cyborg Jikiro.
 BEAT DESTRO-KING! (9/4/73)
Written and directed by Jun Fukuda
A photographer accidentally stumbles across some Garogans planning fiendish plots, namely: (A) trying to kill Hikari with a time-bomb and (B) sneaking into hospitals disguised as surgeons. This relatively talky episode concludes with Zone Fighter battling the mecha-hydra called Destro-King. Guest starring Hiroyuki Kawase, child star of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon and Dodes’kaden
 DEFEAT GAROGAIES SUBTERRANEAN BASE! (16/4/73)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Some kid’s father (a scientist, what else) gets kidnapped by Garogans and held captive in what appears to be a weird dimension. Zone Fighter rescues him right before his appointment to destroy a two-headed reptilian hunchback called Dorola.
 ONSLAUGHT! THE GAROGA ARMY: ENTER GODZILLA (23/4/73)
Directed by Ishiro Honda; written by Jun Fukuda
Zone Angel falls for Sachio, apparently an old boyfriend from Peaceland, now a toy freak and secret Garoga spy; his toys attack people! Sachio eventually becomes the monster Spylar, who teams up with Wargilgar against Zone Fighter. Godzilla pops up out of absolutely nowhere to join in the amusing final tag-team match.
 BLAST KING GHIDORA AT POINT BLANK! (30/4/73)
Directed by Jun Fukuda; written by Juro Shimamoto
Even before Zone Fighter’s climactic fight with King Ghidorah, this immensely entertaining episode has the Zone Family and assorted Garogans fighting over a magic crystal.
 KING GHIDORA STRIKES BACK! (7/5/73)
Directed by Jun Fukuda; written by Jura Shimamata
King Ghidora is still at large (pun intended), so Zone Fighter has a few more battles with him, one on a moonlike planet (ala Monster Zero). Another gripping scene has our hero fighting to save his kin from Garogans who’ve tied them up near rapidly advancing saw blades! Will Zone Fighter make it in time? Is the pope Catholic?
 ZONE FAMILY’S CRITICAL MOMENT! (14/5/73)
I lost count of all the fights in this one! After Zone Fighter defeats the Dragon King (not, the one from the Monkey King stories), Zone Angel is kidnapped and impersonated. Clearing this mess involves plenty of action, including the destruction of Gilmoras.
 SMASH THE TERRIFYING INVADER! (21/5/73)
Written and directed by Jun Fukuda
That weird little guy who played the native translator Konno in King Kong vs. Godzilla (Senkichi Omura) acts a cameo as a fisherman, right before Takeru and Akira get kidnapped by Garogans, resulting in another tension-filled escape from a saw blade! Also featuring the sea monster Gellderah.
 SEARCH FOR THE SECRET OF RED SPIDER! (28/5/73) Written by Juro Shimamoto
This exciting entry seems to be nearly all fights, as Garoga sics its Red Spider on zoo animals. The arachnid may look something like a store-bought toy, but its poisonous bite changes an ordinary, everyday gorilla into the huge mutant, Goro Gorilla! If that’s not enough for you action fans, Zone Fighter stages and all-out battle royal with Spider Uros (another giant).
 ZONE FIGHTER ANNIHILATED! (4/6/73)
A talky, confusing episode about “shadow monsters” Jipudoro and Shadorah. In order for Zone Fighter to defeat them, our heroes must first destroy a control panel at Garoga’s underwater base. Watch for an underwater explosion I suspect to be stock footage from Latitude Zero (a 1969 Toho production directed by Ishiro Honda, special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya).
 IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE: THE ROAR OF GODZILLA! (11/6/73)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Jealous racecar driver Sasaki helps Garoga to trap our hero in a car about to be demolished, so it’s Godzilla to the rescue! The giant villain is none other than Gigan, who gets beaten up first by Godzilla, then again by Zone Fighter.
 TERROBEAST HQ – INVADE THE EARTH! (18/6/73)
Directed by IshiroHonda
Zone Angel and another pretty girl are kidnapped by Garogans, who are also using chickens to breed their almighty chicken monster Barakidon. Tons O’ fun!
 ABSOLUTE TERROR! BIRTHDAY OF HORROR! (25/6/73)
Directed by Ishiro Honda; written by Jun Fukuda
An exploding birthday cake, hypnotized baker and electric-giant Garaborg are among the instruments of destruction the Garogans use against the Zone Family in this superb episode.
 INSANE WITH ANGER! THE GAROGA BOYS SQUAD (2/7/73)
One of my least favorites, featuring another obligatory scene of a kid being bullied at school. Garoga gives him a secret power formula for revenge. The liquid is also tested on a small bird, allowing for more on-screen cruelty to animals. The formula also turns kids into Garogans, before Zone Fighter eventually takes on Deadragon.
 SUBMERSION! GODZILLA, SAVE TOKYO (9/7/73)
Here’s a weird but watchable episode, featuring a community-sponsored footrace, a funny scene where a Garoga blatantly marches in a traditional Japanese parade, a kid and his monster doll, a mysterious man in black played by Japan-bom Turkish actor Osman Yusuf (the hulking henchman in Mothra among scores of other movies and TV shows), and even Godzilla himself. After the subterranean earthquake monster Zandolla tries burying Zone Fighter alive (after an impressive underground duel), it’s Godzilla to the rescue. This was the first episode to feature different opening credits.
 COUNTERSTRIKE OF TERROR! GAROGA-ROBOT (16/7/73)
Written by Susumu Takeuchi
Despite a lengthy duel between Moguranda and Zone Fighter, this slow-paced tale of a crashed meteor and a possessed family is as exciting as watching paint dry in slow motion.
 GO! FIGHTER EMERGENCY TAKE OFF (23/7/73)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Garoga seems to want all the Zone Family’s vehicles: the spaceship Smokey is stolen and stored on a desolate planet, and they also try (unsuccessfully) to get hold of the Mighty Liner. Strangely, after Zone Fighter kills Barugus to get the Smokey back, a cross and an angel’s halo materialize in place of the monsters! You just gotta be fluent in Japanese to figure this one out.
 DIRECTIVE: DESTROY THE JAPANESE LABORATORY (30/7/73)
Written by Koji Amemiya
First of two parts. An unusual episode featuring a brief glimpse of Hiromi in a bikini, and a cameo by Daita Oiwa (Yellow Ranger on Goranger). Monstrous Gondargilas swallowed a powerful new bomb, so Zone Fighter is reluctant to fight him at first in case it explodes. Their alternatives to fighting are pretty silly.
 ORDER: CRUSH THE EARTH WITH COMET K (6/8/73)
Written by KojiAmemiya
Second of two parts, and one bizarre part it is. There’s a nice fight, and Hiromi still looks good in a bikini. But before Zone Fighter’s rematch with that bomb-swallowing monster, they playa game of horseshoes! Then suddenly, unprovoked, Zone Fighter tears out his new playmate’s eyes! Talk about sore winners! I don’t know what to make of this one; while the two giants played their little game, there’s also a meteor heading toward Earth.
 DESPERATE STRUGGLE! CAN YOU HEAR FIGHTER’S SONG? (13/8/73)
Kidnapped kids facing certain death by guillotine are bait for luring Zone Fighter into battle with the two-headed giant Goramu. It turns out the kids are locked inside one of the monster’s heads!
 INVINCIBLE! GODZILLA’S VIOLENT CHARGE (20/8/73)
Our heroes get hold of one of Garoga’s precious monste; capsules; Garoga retaliates by kidnapping Akira. So there’s an exchange: the heroes get Akira back, and the Garogans activate their giant jellyfish Jurah. When Godzilla tears one of its tentacles off, it becomes a whole new Jurah! So again Godzilla and Zone Fighter team up for another tag-team match against the two blobs. Not only that, but the two giant heroes playfully spar at the beginning, and the villains shoot several construction workers to death with machine guns. Slick episode.
 COUNTER ATTACK! STRIKE DOWN SUPER-JIKIRO (27/8/73)
Shortly after Zone Fighter’s sea duel with giant robomonster Super-Jikiro, Hikari gets in an auto wreck. He forgives the other driver because she looks good in a bathing suit. However, their little beach frolic is short-lived because they’re promptly attacked by scuba divers toting spearguns. At another point, our heroes throw scalpels in the eyes of murderous surgeons (who are yet more agents of Garoga in disguise!). All this plus romance, a ship hijack, and innoc~nt bystanders killed by machine-gun fire!
 SECRET OF BAKUGON -THE GIANT TERRO-BEAST (3/9/73)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
This nifty episode features a duel of laser-firing cars and a stupendous fist fight in a field near a pond. The tale centers on a female Garoga who uses illusion to convince kiddies that an old Junkyard is actually the Garden of Eden. Giant monster Bakugon turns up, a fire-spitting cross between a dinosaur and an aardvark.
 SMASH THE PIN-SPITTING NEEDLAR! (10/9/73)
Directed by Ishiro Honda; written by Koji Amemiyao
An eerie corpse found in a secluded house leads to an investigation resulting in: (1) discovery of giant monster Needlar; (2) a Garoga arsenal which is controlling local villagers; (3) good honest hatred, guns and kicks! When Needlar takes on Zone Fighter, the weird villain suffers the goriest decapitation I’ve ever seen in a superhero series!
 BLOODBATH! ZONE & GODZILLA VS. THE UNITED TERRO-BEAST ARMY (17/9/73)
Zone Fighter’s girlfriend is injured, and is being nursed back to health while Garoga plants monster capsules all around a residential neighborhood. Zone Fighter manages to destroy most of the newly hatched monsters, but when Garo Borg and Spider Uros team up against him, Godzilla shows up to save the day.
 PULVERIZE OPERATION: GAROGA GAMMA-X! (24/9/73)
A bright-eyed agent from the elite task forceof Garogan “X-Agents” blinds achildand unleashes a giant called Grotogauros. So begins the final confrontation between the Zone Family and Garoga.
Article © 1996, 2003 Damon Foster/Visagraph Films International