If you read Nerdist with any frequency—or you follow me on Twitter—you know that I’ve become rather obsessed with tokusatsu lately. This is the tradition in Japanese film and TV of live-action special-effects showcases. They’re a whole lot of fun and have some really entertaining hallmarks. Usually there are cool costumes, often neat model effects, slightly silly or wacky fight scenes, and overwrought emotions. They’re a blast. But one of the best things about them are the amazing sci-fi theme songs.
While there are great tunes from any era of tokusatsu (the original Kamen Rider theme and the most recent season of Ultraman are examples), the ’80s had pound-for-pound the best, catchiest, and ass-whippingest tunes of the bunch. As I started listening to a lot of these songs, I noticed most of my favorites had the same singer. Akira Kushida has an absolutely amazing voice for this kind of song. To prove it, here are some of the best songs he ever sung for tokusatsu.
Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan
Kushida’s first foray into tokusatsu is Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan, the fifth in the seemingly endless Super Sentai series (which birthed Power Rangers). I include this one here because it’s from 1981 and gives you a taste, an amuse bouche, of the amazing pipes on this guy. But the greatness is still to come, believe you me.
Space Sheriff Gavan
Just one year later, Kushida sang what may well be the greatest sci-fi toku song of all time. The theme to Space Sheriff Gavan—the first in the Space Sheriff trilogy, itself the first in the long-running Metal Heroes imprint—is exactly what you want. It’s got funky bass, a catchy hook, and plenty of places for Kushida to belt like nobody’s business. Also the opening shows you Gavan in all his glory, fighting baddies with his robot space dragon (natch).
Space Cop Sharivan
A fitting sequel to Gavan, if a little bit more…serious, I guess I want to say.
Space Sheriff Shaider
And finally we have the third part in the saga. This one’s a little bouncier than the one before, perhaps trying a bit to recapture the magic of Gavan.
Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together!!
While Kushida is basically the voice of Metal Heroes in the decade, he did make a brief jaunt over to Toei’s long-running Kamen Rider franchise. Kushida’s glorious pipes grace the opening theme, “Dragon Road,” and the closing theme, “Forget Memories,” from the Japanese TV special designed to introduce Kamen Rider ZX, the tenth hero in the series. It’s got a kind of a James Bond vibe to it, especially with the “Endless fight!” lyrics.
Anyway, back to Metal Heroes.
Space Wolf Juspion
While Kushida didn’t provide the opening thing to Juspion (which is a delightful fever dream), he did sing one song on the soundtrack, a rocking tune devoted to the Daileon, the large space battleship the heroes use. It also turns into a giant robot, obviously.
World Ninja War Jirayia
By the late ’80s, the Metal Heroes series started to go a bit weird. Forgoing the relative safety of space sheriffs and future VR Troopers, with 1988’s Jirayia, which is just about a modern-day ninja with a special suit of red armor. Not particularly sci-fi, really. It’s pretty cool, and has some awesome stuntwork. Akira Kushida, who hadn’t done a toku theme since 1985, is back to his old tricks again here, and it still slaps.
The Mobile Cop Jiban
For his final soundtrack of the ’80s, Kushida sang the opening and closing tunes for 1989’s Mobile Cop Jiban. The opening feels right out of the Magnum, P.I. or Knight Rider playbook. The show is Toei shifting toward a RoboCop inspired theme for their Metal Heroes. Jiban looks like a pretty great legally different version of Alex Murphy, even if he apparently got his powers from a magic little girl with a flower? I mean, it’s better than gang members shooting you to pieces, right?
Akira Kushida continued singing themes and album cuts again in the 2000s, singing various tunes for the Super Sentai series. In 2010 he provided the voice of the transformation device for the series Kamen Rider OOO. It’s a perfect fit; he really is the voice of (or one of them) of sci-fi tokusatsu.
Featured Image: Toei