My elementary-school friends and I in Hawaii in the late 70s would rush home on Wednesday afternoons to watch this show. It started at 3 p.m. and my sister Joy and I would go directly to the waiting school bus at Pearl Ridge Elementary School, sit right behind our kind and friendly driver named Ben, and start to imagine what challenge Jiro would face today.
The ascent up to my house made the yellow school-bus engine groan and the ride seemed extra long on Wednesdays. Our bus went all the way up first, round about and back down to stop in front of my crooked mailbox on Kahapili Street. Saying bye to Nancy, Sandra and Sun Kim as they hopped off and wondering if Steven was ever going to notice me as I watch him jump down in front of his house at the hachi-papa very top of the hill, was a nice distraction from the anticipation for Jiro’s newest adventure.
A pastor on a flexible schedule, My Dad would usually be home pruning the bougainvillea cascading down our steep front lawn, mowing the back yard, or battling the crab grass in his garden. I remember shouting “Hi Dad!” as we burst through the door of our breezy house, gave a couple hugs and kisses to our terrier named “Cindy” and headed to the back room where our mini black and white TV waited soundlessly for the Kikaida festivities to come.
My Dad hated TV. He hated how we would sit glued to the screen in a daze of absorption. One year, he gave up our TV for Lent and our family life improved so much we kept it tucked in the attic for about a year. I did feel behind my friends in the current TV trends, but at the same time, the board games and fun with family more than made up for it. But… just around the time the TV was re-set in the back room where the only reason you would go was to watch it (we never had the TV as a focal point in our living room), Kikaida came to Hawaii.
I think this might be where my interest in Japan started, even though I had no idea whatsoever exactly what I was watching. The only thing I knew was, it was extremely cool, unique and absolutely “twitipated” my brain.
In 2014, I was at my hana buddah (friend from childhood) friend’s wedding and she declared “There was a display of Japanese cartoon heroes at the San Francisco airport recently, and even though every hero was supposed to be there, I could not for the life of me locate Kikaida! What’s up with that!!!??” Exactly right she is on that point. To us Hawaii-grown fans, more than Ultraman, Kamenraider or Godzilla, Kikaida Rules!
Or so I thought. An executive at TV Asahi who is in the know about the background of Kikaida’s popularity around the world confided that he knows someone grew up in Hawaii in the 70s whenever they ask about Kikaida. Hawaii was the only place overseas the show hit the big time. It seems the popularity of the show in Hawaii even surpassed Japan. I mean, I have asked many of my Japanese friends about what they love about Kikaida and the blank stares that follow tell me the show was not as well known here as it was in my hometown Aiea.
The same thing happens when Japanese people speak lovingly of Steve Mcqueen or Agnes Lum. Although well known and loved by their respective fans, I wouldn’t say that either of these starts is known universally in the States. It is intriguing how popular culture can export so well and not be fully known or appreciated by its own birthplace.
So, here is a quick rundown of Kikaida and the story behind the story for all the Hawaiian fans out there who sang along in Jumbled Japanese, learned “Change, Switch On, One-Two-Three, Toooooh!” but never really “got” the story.
1. Jiro is a Robot.
Jiro is a robot who has a “ryoshinkairo” or conscience circuit that is not perfectly functional. His enemy organization “Dark” sells high-grade weaponry and military equipment including androids to foreign countries and with a high-pitched flute can manipulate Jiro’s imperfect conscience circuit. You will see Jiro holding his ears and head as he tries to fight the power of the flute. In some episodes he is unable to resist and destroys a temple ground, etc. I always thought it was just giving him a headache.
2. Jiro is able to turn into Kikaida by “switching on” the two nodes on his right and left chest (thus the “One-Two!” part of his changing shout). Once he turns into Kikaida he is no longer manipulated by the flute and can courageously fight all the evil monsters sent by Dark.
3. The story ends when Mitsuko and Masaru are finally re-united with their Father (who was kidnapped by Dark) and they decide to go overseas. Mitsuko is in love with Jiro but for obvious robot-related issues that would make it hard for Jiro to actually be in a relationship with Mitsuko, Jiro decides to stay in Japan and continue his search for how to perfect his conscience circuit in order to become more human. A pretty tearful end to a much loved robot-human, fighting against dark temptation, motorcycle riding, guitar playing drama.
4. Kikaida’s design is utterly unique among the superheroes popular at this juncture in Japanese TV history. There was a great deal of uproar when it first aired alongside “Hachi Ji Da Yo, Zenin Shugo!” which was getting 26 percent ratings at the time. Viewers disliked the transparent aspect of the design and were appalled by the sexiness of some of the androids in the show. Shotaro Ishimori, in charge of the concept and design explained his interpretation of Jiro/Kikaida as being caught in a constant battle with his conscience. Most robot heroes at the time had perfectly aligned color coordination but Kikaida’s red and blue half zigzags down his body and his head is off-kilter too. As Kikaida gets closer to a perfected conscience his body was slated to become 100 percent blue since the blue represented his good side and the red represented the evil side he fought against.
Maybe it was that the depth of what was going on, communicated to me despite the language barrier. There was something deep happening in Jiro, we feel that that loud and clear even without dubbed English or subtitles. He was fighting against the bad guys and against himself. Fighting for himself and for those he loved. I did not understand anything that was said on the show, but I understood Jiro was doing his best and I knew something extremely cool had come out of Japan. Many of us from Hawaii who are now nearing or just past 50 years old were introduced to Japan via this unique, eccentric and confusingly wonderful show. For me, and here in Deep Japan, that discovery continues with each new and unconventional minute in this Land of the Rising Sun.