Hi, this article was written by me, DownatFraggleRock. If you want to see some of my fanfiction writing, you can read it on my Ao3 at: https://archiveofourown.org/users/DownatFraggleRock And if you want to see a mess of mostly reblogs with some of my own ramblings mixed in, you can check me out on my tumblr at: https://downtofragglerock.tumblr.com And if someday I get the courage to publish my own original fiction, I’ll probably make a post about it on either of those.
I’ve been a fan of tokusatsu for a long time now, and my favorite element of the genre is still what brought me into it in the first place: the entire menagerie of unique and wonderful monsters. But while the kaiju of the Godzilla, Gamera, and Ultraman series receive and have received love and adoration for decades, the monsters of the week in the countless Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series have seldom seen this affection, at least from my experience. The uncountable hordes of beautifully unique creatures that appear in these shows rarely get any attention from said shows fanbases, those fans too focused on the human-sized heroes who cut them down every week. But I amend to help change that and put the spotlight on these guys and give them the appreciation they deserve.
While the ever-expanding monolith of these shows can look daunting, they are always split into their own seasons/series, each with its own identity, and consequently, its own unique foes and monster designs. I’ve decided to pick 2009’s Shinkenger as the subject for this article, primarily because its creatures’ wonderful aesthetic and supernatural nature make them a perfect fit for this time and place. Shinkenger’s season motif is that of samurai & traditional Japan. Its heroes are explicitly samurai, and the monsters thusly share a similar source of inspiration. They’re called the Ayakashi, which traditionally is a sort of collective term for shipwreck ghosts, but in practice the group’s design inspirations lie in a general grab-bag of yokai, as well as some other things I’ll bring up later.
The Ayakashi come from this red-filtered demonic hell realm, which is defined by the Sanzu River. In Japanese Buddhist tradition it’s simply a river that dead souls cross to enter the afterlife, much like the Styx in Greek Mythology. But here it’s basically just an evil demon river these demons come from. Now a fun quirk about the Ayakashi is that they cannot survive without the waters of the Sanzu, they begin to literally dry up if not in contact with it for extended amount of time, i.e., when they’re in our world. This is a problem for them, as being malevolent spirits, they love causing, inflicting, and feeding off human sorrow and misery in a variety of creative ways. However, the misery of human souls adds to the Sanzu’s water, causing the river to raise. This manifests as the villains of the series overarching scheme: Cause so much human misery that the sheer amount of extra Sanzu water generated from it causes the river to flood into our world, allowing the villains to do whatever they please.
Also, they emerge in our world through any crack, crevice, or gap, both natural and artificial. Didn’t know where to put that in but it’s kind of important.
Now, there’s a lot of Ayakashi, and I do mean a lot, so many that there’s no way I can do them all justice. So instead, I’ve created a top ten list of my personal favorite designs of the bunch. I’ll try to cover what each of them does in the show, my personal thoughts on their design, as well as their yokai inspirations and how they correlate. And let’s begin with-
Rokuroneri is one of the early monsters in the series, and while his design looks a bit generically ogreish, there’s still a lot of interesting things going on with him. He’s a bruiser and a brawler, made of real tough stuff. He also has the ability to stretch out his fists for great distances, for some long distance roughing up. But you’re probably wondering “Why does he have those two hands grabbing him from behind?” Well, let’s look at his concept art.
While toned down in the final product for practical “this has to be wearable” reasons, the concept shows the main design motif of Rokuroneri; a clay figure, being molded and shaped by some unseen entity’s pair of hands. You can even see the ripples and grooves of prior places the fingers pinched, and also on his non-covered thigh, what appears to be a handle, like you would find on a ceramic mug. This begs the question, if Rokuroneri is still being actively shaped, what will he look like when he’s “finished”?
Rokuroneri is also based on the yokai Tsuchi-Korobi, who rolls around as a ball of soil and only has one eye. Not much of a correlation there, but the Ayakashi aren’t as direct counterparts to their yokai inspirations as other yokai-based Sentai monsters, hence why they don’t share names with the yokai they’re adapted from.
This guy doesn’t actually appear in the main series, rather he’s the central foe in a crossover special with Kamen Rider Decade. His main claim to fame is when he manages to steal one of the rider’s transformation devices, and uses it himself. The results are…well…
Yeah, this isn’t so much of a glowup as a “makeover scene where the after looks unintentionally worse than the before” but to Chinomanako’s credit, a monster of the week stealing a hero’s transformation device and using it to turn into a warped version of that hero is a great concept. And also they use all the gaps in that chest armor to summon the season’s grunts, a stellar play.
Back to the better Chinomanako design, there’s actually a lot of subtle details going on here that I really like. His legs remind me of tree roots, while his shoulder pads and hair look like autumn leaves. But the front of his hair also looks like an open maw, with pupilless eyes and the leaf points acting as teeth. There’re also tendrils hanging off him. I can’t really figure out what they’re supposed to be, but they kinda look like catfish whiskers.
Yokai-wise, Chinomanako is based on a rather notable one, the Mokumokuren. These spirits appear in the wrecked walls of rundown or abandoned houses, manifesting as an endless series of eyes. The Mokumokuren is also used as inspiration in the two other Sentai with yokai-themed monsters. In 2015’s Ninninger, they’re a keyboard monster, while in 1994’s Kakuranger, they’re a serial flasher.
This fella actually doesn’t work with the main villains of the series, rather a separate guy who shows up later with his own agenda. He can pretty much eat anything through his hands, even eating one of the heroes’ transformation devices. This doesn’t come into play until he’s defeated and grows giant size, upon which all the energy his arms devoured transform said arms into giant impenetrable gauntlets that he can bring together to form one massive wall.
While the wall his gauntlets form is clearly meant to evoke his yokai inspiration, another design aspect of Futagawara I noticed was his resemblance to the Dogū statues and other neolithic Japanese figure art. His shoulders and waist almost look like they were flat out copied from the detailing of some of those statues, with the curves and studs. But for the life of me I can’t figure out where the, for lack of a better term, silly string detailing all over his body comes from. Nor his head, which looks like it’s supposed to evoke something.
Futagawara is based on the Nurikabe, another famous yokai. They’re basically living walls who appear on roads and paths to block travelers and wanderers. You may also recognize them as the inspiration of the Whomps from the Mario series.
In regards to giving fun new names to the monsters, Power Rangers Samurai, Shinkenger’s American adaptation, is sadly lacking most of the time, like it is in pretty much everything. And of the actually good names they did come up with, a lot of them don’t belong to monsters on this list. Thankfully, this is an exception. He’s called Skarf. Y’know, ‘cause he eats everything. I like it.
I’m sorry this image is such bad quality, but all of the full body pictures of this guy are bad quality, and this pose looked too cool to pass up. Homurakogi is another Ayakashi who doesn’t appear in the main series, rather he’s a more minor threat in the annual “Sentai team of the current series partners up with last year’s Sentai team” crossover. Despite being on the back half of the list, this guy is actually one of the designs I almost immediately think of when the Ayakashi come to mind. There’s just something about him, maybe it’s his flame motif, maybe it’s his cool introductory pose, maybe it’s his giant ass chakrams. Seriously those are rad as hell.
I already sort of gushed about Homurakogi’s design in the last paragraph, but now that there’s an actually clear image, you can see what I was talking about. There actually isn’t too much going on with this design, especially compared to the others I’ve talked about so far. But sometimes it’s better to have a more simplistic design that’s just cool. Although the face on his chest actually reminds me of the monsters of a different Sentai series, Gekiranger, which would make sense, seeing as how both series, as well as several other Sentai, Kamen Rider, and other toku series monsters were designed by the great Tamotsu Shinohara.
Homurakogi is based on the yokai Wanyūdō, who appears as the severed head of a tormented man affixed onto a burning wheel. What I find most interesting about Homurakogi in this context is that it’s the flaming wheel that’s given prominence and anthropomorphized, rather than the human face. Which is basically the opposite of the original yokai. Before, we had a screaming man’s head on an ultimately unimportant flaming wheel. Now, we have a flame elemental who’s gotten a screaming face tampographed to his chest and is clearly not happy about it if his facial expression is anything to go by.
And now onto this quite literal edgelord. Hyakuyappa is said to be the master of 100 blades, and no, that’s not hyperbole. While he only wields two swords in his hands, all the blades and edges that surround his body can extend and be used as sharp tendrils to pierce and slash opponents. His motive for wanting to fight the heroes is actually quite personal. You see, he was a good friend of a monster the heroes killed in a prior episode, and now he’s out for pure bloody revenge. You kind of forget that these monsters are their own people with personalities, preferences, and friends, only for them to all sort of be treated as the same cannon fodder by the heroes.
I really love the detailing in this design. The fusion between tattered robes and sword blades is nigh-perfect, and the red limbs and gold accents really help keep the design from being too monochromatic. It’s just an unequivocally cool design, the kind you would see get a ton of fan art if this character had literally been anything but a monster of the week in a Sentai series.
Also I should note here that in Power Rangers, this guy’s name is Steeleto, which yes, is a great pun name, or it would be if it weren’t for the fact that the guy is wearing flats. C’mon, he could totally pull off a pair of heels, just give him the ones with the knife points and he’d be fine.
Hyakuyappa is based on the Yokai Amikiri, which is described as sort of a combination between a bird and a lobster. They love to cut nets and net-like material with their claws, usually running amok in fishing villages. Other than the cutting thing, I don’t see that much of a correlation.
Oh, look at this fun little fella, he really looks like he has a pep in his step. Narisumashi has the ability to disguise himself as others, notably doing so with the yellow ranger in an attempt to sow discord among the team.
I love Narisumashi’s eclectically symmetrical design. How the red and green bounce back and forth from each side I think makes him stand out a lot more than most “half-and-half” monster designs. Also, no piece of him is identical to its other half, even the lower arms and legs are just slightly different. There’s a lot of little details in play here and this design runs wild with them, and he just happens to look like two bell peppers smashed together and that gives him additional points.
Narisumashi is based on the Noppera-bō, a yokai that typically appears as a human without a face. They love pranking humans, disguising themselves as people familiar to their mark before revealing their true faceless self and frightening off the poor human. Which actually correlates pretty well with Narisumashi’s whole schtick of disguising himself as one of the heroes, although he’s a bit more sinister with his intentions.
One of the last monsters in the series, as well as the only female monster of the week in the series (Which side note: there is a shocking lack of female characters in toei-made tokusatsu, there really need to be more, but knowing toei, it sadly will probably never happen) Yomotsugari is given the special task of outright assassinating the red ranger. To do this, she’s given these demon bead bullets (the thing hanging down her shoulder in the photo above) that she’ll fire from the giant crow mouth that is her right hand.
There’re a few things to talk about with this design. One, of course, is the giant bird head she has for a hand. And you have the bird wing draped over half of her head like it’s some cool hair style, although you can see her actual hair poking out of the other side. That’s honestly another great character design feature, something that isn’t hair, but is styled like it. Some of the plumage also makes up half of the kimono top she’s wearing. But honestly the way Yomotsugari’s design interacts with its bird elements is a bit peculiar. While she does have birdlike feet, the rest of her legs, as well as half of her torso and her left arm lack the bird theme entirely, looking more standardly demonic. And with the way that the wings are placed, it almost looks like the bird was once a separate demon that this gal killed and is now wearing. It’s not a sound theory, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.
Yomotsugari is based on the Onmoraki, a yokai who looks like a bird with a human face. They’re said to imitate voices to freak out people, often said people’s own voices. This correlates well with Yomotsugari, seeing as how she’s a bird monster with one of the most human looking faces out of all of the series’ monsters. The bird elements in her design were based on crows, who are known to excel at imitating human voice and speech, and that was probably done as a nod to her yokai inspiration. Also, while I can’t find anything that outright says it, basically every artwork I saw of this yokai depicts them spewing flames, and the demon beads she fires from her crow mouth are called the “Oni Flame Bullets”, so she actually matches up very well with her basis.
Ah, a good ol’ skeleman for this halloweeny list. Dokurobou also serves the same side villain that Futagawara from earlier in the list does. His main ability is that he can create shadow clones of himself to overwhelm and weaken opponents before he goes in for the kill. Not something you’d really expect from a ghostly skeleton monster, but cool none the less. While his design his pretty eerie, I think his concept art really sells it with just a few tweaks.
Yeah, he looks a lot creepier here than in the final costume. I think it’s mainly in the eyes. They’re a bit bigger here and look a lot more ghostly. The crimson color is clearly meant to be a bloodstain for this ghost and the concept art really goes through with it. I’m not sure exactly what is sticking out of his back, but it kind of reminds me of a steering wheel on a ship. I’ll touch much more on this in the next two entries (mainly because most of the monsters I picked for the list are the exceptions) but a lot of the Ayakashi have a sea/nautical motif to them, probably because their names derives from a term for shipwreck ghosts. And that’s exactly what this guy looks like to me, a shipwreck ghost. Also is it just me or does the concept art make the design look, feminine? The final design doesn’t give me the same impressions, but the concept art makes me think that this was a lady shipwreck ghost. Maybe it’s just that there’s so few women in this villain faction that my brain is simply trying to fill in the gaps, but I think there’s something there.
Dokurobou is based on the Kyōkotsu, a yokai that’s described as a skeletal ghost with tangled hair. They act as your standard vengeful spirit, but their physical attributes are clearly translated one-to-one to Dokurobou.
Oh, I love this design, absolutely love it. It’s just the way every element just correlates and combines perfectly here. But enough gushing, Okakurage is an umbrella monster that can, quite fittingly, summon rains. These rains are supernatural in nature however, and anyone who gets caught in it loses all hope and gives into despair. Also, that umbrella on the top of his head is a part of his body, and can unfold and allow him to fly.
And now I can gush about his design. I love the big false eye on the center of his head. I love how the rip on the umbrella that exposes his face looks like a hood. I love the scarf/mask arm proboscis. And most of all, I love the aquatic vibe going on here. Okakurage, out of all of the Ayakashi, is definitely one of the most pronounced examples of this “sea creature” motif. The ends of the umbrella resemble webbed fins. The non-biological part of his skirt has a bubble pattern. His “third eye” resembles a pearl. And most obviously, his entire body is literally just a bunch a jellyfish. His arms are made up of a series of jellyfish bells, ending with some tentacles sticking out with his hands. The sides of his skirt, and as well as what we see of his legs, are much the same. And then his torso is just one big jellyfish, with the tentacles leading into the skirt. And while I couldn’t find large clear images of what he looks like with the umbrella unfolded, rest be assured, it also looks like a jellyfish. And his head, fully revealed, resembles a polyp, the adolescent form of a jellyfish.
Okakurage is, no surprise, based on one of the most famous yokai (at least in the west) the Kasa-Obake. Kasa-Obake are part of a whole class of yokai called the tsukumogami, whose origins lie in ordinary objects that were thrown away or abandoned. If these objects manage to reach 100 years of age, they turn into living yokai, with a grudge against humanity for throwing them out in the first place. Typically, Kasa-Obake have one eye, a tongue, and one foot. Although some depictions, like this image reference, have arms. As for how well Okakurage correlates with his yokai origin, well he is basically wearing one on his head. The umbrella is obviously the umbrella part of the yokai, the false “third eye” is meant to be the yokai’s singular eye, and Okakurage’s proboscis also looks like a limb, basically combining the yokai’s tongue and single leg into one body part. An interesting way to play with such a simple design.
Power Rangers Samurai proved that broken watch is right twice a day when they called this guy Desperaino. Which is a perfect name that not only perfectly represents this being and what he does, but manages to work as a pun on three different levels. You get a brownie point for this one Power Rangers Samurai, you don’t get many, but you do get one for this.
Now, I had some trouble figuring out who was going to be #2 and #1 on this list, because both are designs I absolutely love to death. But ultimately, I had to give the number one spot to-
There he is. I saw this design years ago and it has just stuck with me ever since. You’re probably wondering what this guy’s powers are. Well get this: he just spins. It’s literally all he does, which combined with the spikes all over his body, make him a devasting quick attacker. I love him all the more for it. You gotta appreciate someone who knows exactly what they’re about and just follows their dream. Also, he peppers everything he says with multiple uses of the word “Shaka”. Apparently, the word does show up in Japanese Buddhism, but the phrase is probably most known in the west for being associated with surfing, and I’m inclined to believe it’s intending to be a surfing reference, mainly because he’s based on a shark.
The concept art for Sogizarai doesn’t have as bright of a blue on his spikes, which is a feature that I think really helps complete the design. But here too you can see that “from the sea” motif I was talking about earlier. All of the spikes on his body are meant to resemble fins or shark teeth. His head looks sharkish (you can’t really tell here but it’s clear as day when viewed from the side). And of course, you have the giant shark jaw positioned on his shoulders, and I love how the head’s just peeking out of the middle there. What I think is also interesting is that this guy seems to based around shark teeth and a shark jaw, the remains of the shark that people tend to actually find due to the fish’s cartilaginous skeleton. There’s also the red fur, a feature that’s sort of dissonant with the rest of the design, but I think adds far more character. Gives him a bit of an otherworldly feeling. And of course the design in whole is just really, really cool.
Sogizarai’s yokai inspiration is the Yama-Oroshi. Much like the Kasa-Obake from the last entry, the Yama-Oroshi is a tsukumogami, in this case born from a disused metal grater. Its name is also apparently a two-way pun, both on the Japanese word for grater, but also the Japanese word for a porcupine, due to its spiny appearance. Other than it being spikey and spiny, there’s not much of a correlation between the yokai and its Sentai counterpart.
I had a lot of fun making the list, and I hope this inspires other people to do the same. There’s so much history in these shows and so many unique monster designs. Maybe I’ll make another one these lists some other time. Anyway, have a happy Halloween!