I tend to use this blog to highlight kaiju/tokusatsu-focused video games in an attempt to showcase the strong variety and quality of kaiju/tokusatsu content out there in the interactive space. I aim to showcase the connection between the video game and tokusatsu worlds and how strong it can sometimes be. And one of the best ways to do that is by highlighting the people who work in these industries and what kind of overlap there is. When I start to go down the rabbit hole of who worked on what, it seems like there are even less than six degrees of separation when it comes to video games, tokusatsu, and anime and this little find was a great example of that!
In 1989, SEGA was preparing for the release of their brand new 16-bit home console, the Mega Drive (known in North America as SEGA Genesis). A popular gaming magazine, BEEP! had been covering their master system years and wanted to create a Mega Drive specific magazine and thus, BEEP! Megadrive was born.
And in the very first issue of that magazine was a multi-page pictorial feature featuring an original character crafted to showcase how cool and exciting the Mega Drive was: Megadriveman! This was a fairly transparent Ultraman homage and, thanks to translations provided by Mega Drive Shock we can dig into the character’s history and inspiration in depth!
Mega Drive Man 89 (as the inserts call him) is a hero from the M-G7 Nebula with a variety of super powers. These include being able to identify the contents of a game cart simply by looking at it (isn’t that what the label is for?), firing a 16-bit beam by crossing his arms, being able to increase or decrease his size, and the ability to hear game rumours from 10,000km (!) away. All in service of his mission to “defend Earth’s games.”
Just like Ultraman, Mega Drive Man has a human host in form of Lt. Iida (based on a real life SEGA employee according to this great medium article by Attract Mode) who can transform into Mega Drive Man by inputting a code on a gamepad-like device.
The magazine gives us a look at his home planet, the Mega Drive Star, and even a look at his Ultra Brothers analog- the Mega Drive Brothers! These are, interestingly enough, based on combinations of previous SEGA game consoles and old school Tsuburaya giant heroes! Some elements appear based on SEGA SG-1000-II but other than that are apparently generic gaming devices. However, from left to right we see homage to Mirrorman, Ultraseven, Ultraman Ace, Ultraman Taro, and Jumborg Ace.
Later illustrations would show us Mega Drive Man 93 (based on the newly released Mega Drive Model 2), and Genesis Man (based on the American version of the Mega Drive – the SEGA Genesis!). We also see a “Hyper Attachment Mega-CD” being used to combat a PC Engine CD-based kaiju! Oh, and Sonic the Hedgehog and Blaze Fielding (from Streets of Rage) join the Special Experimental Game Association- the team that protects Earth from cyber kaiju (could this be an inspiration for Tsuburaya’s Gridman?). Other members include the Harrier from Space Harrier, Nei from Phantasy Star 2, and “S” who was an old advertising mascot for the Mega Drive in Japan.
SEGA’s arsenal is based off of their games as well- After Burner and Thunder Blade in particular.
Naturally the kaiju are inspired by classic Ultra kaiju crossed with funny game concepts. Like the Metron Seijin-inspired Shotan, a game critic who “manipulates the mass media to create a loss of trust in individual game developers” or Bugtron, a kaiju mish-mash that causes bugs to appear in games in a 50km radius. They’re quite fun and even include details about the “episodes” they first appears in (further parodies of classic Ultraman series episodes).
Later illustrations include an “S Fami Robot” and even a capsule kaiju styled after Miclas and the Game Gear!
I was very pleased to find this great parody character, but I had to ask myself: what kind of madmen would make this? Surely just some tokusatsu fans, right? I mean, Hideki Kamiya and Hideo Kojima are famously obsessed with kaiju and tokusatsu, squeezing them into near every game they’ve worked on- so it’s safe to assume these guys were just unrelated fans, not necessarily people involved in toku programs, right? Let’s see.
BEEP! Mega Drive’s Megadriveman cover was painted by the talented Ryō Nakamura, while the interior illustrations are credited to Reijirō Katō.
Nakamura is an illustrator who did a lot of book and magazine illustration, including a Legend of Zelda gamebook and a cover illustration featuring a “famicom man” eerily similar in concept to Megadriveman. He also appears to have done a lot of work on RPG books and modules. Seems reasonable!
However, Katō is an illustrator and mangaka who has other familiar work as well, such as the Kinniku Bancho manga series, the Tiny Godzilla story in Godzilla: The Comic alongside longtime Ultraman series veteran director Akio Jissoji (check out the translation for this over at maser patrol!), and more recently worked on Kaiju Mono in the art department as well as on Minoru Kawasaki’s Monster Seafood Wars. It appears Katō and Kawasaki are good friends as he has made cameos in a large number of his films! So Katō was (and still is) involved in tokusatsu productions!
While some might find it surprising to see such overlap between games and tokusatsu like this, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise!
Decades before he contributed an illustration for Criterion’s Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films box set, Katsuya Terada was making brilliant illustrations for The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest) guides in Nintendo Power. He’s also the character designer and cover artist for (most?) of the Tantei Jingūji Saburō (Jake Hunter) series of games. I should also mention that Terada was responsible for designing Monster X and Keizer Ghidorah for Godzilla: Final Wars. And the director of Godzilla: Final Wars was hired to direct the cutscenes of the Canadian-made Silicon Knights-developed Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes.
Interestingly enough, Terada shared illustration duties on Criterion’s set with Takashi Okazaki, most famous for Afro Samurai but also the art director for the indie game Furi.
Yuji Kaida, one of the most famous kaiju artists of all time, is no stranger to the world of video games either. In fact, he has created illustrations and covers for the some of the most popular games out there! Including but not limited to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Battle Garegga, Strider, Snatcher, E-Swat, and Magic: The Gathering!
Noriyoshi Ohrai might be the most famous Godzilla poster illustrator, well known for his heisei and millennium series posters. However, he also did a lot of video game work, including Metal Gear Solid, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and an obscure direct-to-video Dragon Quest movie! Interestingly, Ohrai’s first Metal Gear Solid illustration was for The Twin Snakes– the Canadian developed Gamecube-remake of the PS1 classic. This game featured cutscenes directed by none of other than Ryuhei Kitamura, director of Godzilla: Final Wars!
Kaiju fans know Mahiro Maeda as the fantastic character designer behind films like Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (and its two sequels), Shin Godzilla, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ultraman Powered, and SSSS. Gridman. While the man’s credits extend far beyond that (including a canned anime adaptation of Mad Max: Fury Road, The Animatrix, and Kill Bill Vol. 1) he also worked on boss design for Grasshopper Manufacture and Digital Reality’s shooting game, Sine Mora.
Next is Yasushi Nirasawa– who among kaiju fans is most famous for creating the Gigan and Xilien designs for Godzilla: Final Wars (there’s Kitamura again!). And while that Gigan design alone is one of the most popular Godzilla kaiju designs out there, the man is famous for much more than that. He contributed to ACRO’s Kaiju Remix Series of high quality vinyl reimaginings of famous Tsuburaya Productions kaiju, and contributed character and creature designs to Golden Knight Garo, Kamen Riders Blade, Kabuto, Den-O, Decade, and G, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Tekkouki Mikazuki, and more! However, the man’s history with the video game industry spans all the way back to the early 90s where his model work with Hobby Japan landed him cover art gigs on A-Rank Thunder Tanjouhen and Beast Wrestler/Beast Warriors on the SEGA Mega CD and SEGA Mega Drive respectively. Nirasawa worked as a concept artist on Soul Calibur, BlowOut, and most recently Shin Megami Tensei IV. The man even contributed a design for poor Bagan back in the day.
He wasn’t alone on Shin Megami Tensei IV, however, as he was joined by another Tokusatsu alum: Tamotsu Shinohara. Shinohara is responsible for some of the most iconic and recognizable tokusatsu characters in the world as he supplied the costume designs for Zyuranger (and thus, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers!). He also worked on Zeiram 2, Kamen Rider ZO, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Kamen Rider Build, and almost every Super Sentai show since Turboranger.
As a fun aside: Masayuki Gotoh, designer on the new generation Ultraman shows, designed Mewtwo’s restraining armor from Pokemon. Which kind of explains why Zero has his “Techtor Gear” in Ultra Galaxy Legends: The Movie!
And it doesn’t stop there- did you know that Maki Takarada, the daughter-in-law of Akira Takarada, has been working as a graphic designer for SNK, Square Enix, Capcom, et al- for decades? Keep that in mind next time you see her at G-Fest!
The overlap in these two worlds is so strong I could write until my fingers hurt, and it doesn’t stop at visual artists either. Kow Otani and Michiru Oshima, both G-Fest veteran guests, are as acclaimed for their kaiju and anime soundtracks as they are for their video game works. They both worked on Team Ico games (Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, respectively), while Otani worked on the Heisei Gamera Trilogy, Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, and Sengoku Basara 3 while Oshima worked on Godzilla x Megaguirus, Godzilla x Mechagodzilla, Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess!
Koichi Sugiyama might be a household name among monster fans for his work on Godzilla vs Biollante (the man also composed the theme music for Return of Ultraman), but in his native land Sugiyama’s contributions to the Dragon Quest series far eclipse anything else he has done. In fact, the Dragon Quest theme he composed is among the most recognizable pieces of Japanese music ever made. No wonder Godzilla vs Biollante would be his last feature film score.
Anyways, I have to stop myself for now otherwise this article will keep ballooning and ballooning into something I will never finish. If there’s one takeaway from all of this, it’s that the creatives behind your favourite tokusatsu shows and movies are probably also behind some of your favourite video games.
Big thanks to Mike Lambert (@jakten on twitter) for helping out with this article and pointing me in the direction of Megadriveman!