Kyodai Hero Profile: Zone Fighter
Hey kaiju fans, I'm Les, and today we'll be taking a look at the Meteor Man himself, Zone Fighter!
A refugee from Peaceland who seems to spend most of his time getting into fights, Zone Fighter was Toho's answer to the popular Ultraman franchise in the early 1970's. After the destruction of his home planet by the evil Garogas, Zone and his family traveled to Earth and took up the identities of the Sakimori family. In keeping with his love for danger, he found a job testing cars as Hikaru Sakimori. But when the Garogas turned their evil Terror-Beasts against the Zone family's new home, he called upon his alien powers to transform into the hero Zone Fighter and defend the Earth. Zone and his family were assisted in their crusade by the Monster of Justice himself, Godzilla. The Garogas, not to be outdone, recruited two of Godzilla's greatest nemeses, King Ghidorah and Gigan, into the ranks of their Terror-Beasts. Unfortunately, low ratings led NTV to cancel the show after 26 episodes, leaving the conflict unresolved.
"Zone Fighter" began as a Godzilla project, but was reoriented early in its development. Kunmei Takahashi and Godzilla creator Tomoyuki Tanaka penned the first outline for the series. The pitch served to establish the show's concept and characters, but with a few key differences. Zone Fighter's sister, Zone Angel, also had the ability to become giant-sized, while his younger brother Akira couldn't transform at all. In addition, Fighter and Angel needed to perform handshakes with a member of their family before transforming, and the Garogas had nothing to do with Peaceland's destruction.
Of filming for television, special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano commented: "We were shooting footage not only for a small screen instead of a large one, but also for a standard size one instead of a wide one [...] I think the best screen size for monster movies is standard size. Giant monsters seem to be huge not because they appear to be so wide, but instead because they appear to be so tall." Director Jun Fukuda's opinion of the medium was starkly different, stating that "television is not the right medium for giant monsters," since "people watch television on a small screen in a well-lit room instead of a large screen in a dark theater." Fukuda, who'd been displeased with the kaiju films he directed for Toho, thought even less of "Zone Fighter," exclaiming "You don't have to mention that show!" in the same interview.
Zone Fighter was designed by artist Nobuhiro Okaseko, who was instructed to come up with "something similar to Ultraman." The hero's mask was modeled by Toho veteran Nobuyuki Yasumaru, and, as with other kaiju productions of the time, a stiff prop was used for flying scenes. That prop, along with the upper half of the suit and a miniature Hikaru, are still around today. Kazuya Aoyama played Zone's civilian form, while Tatsumi Nikamoto and Kinichi Kusumi donned the suits for his superhero and giant forms, respectively.
For my sanity and yours, I'm not going to recap all 26 episodes of "Zone Fighter." Consider this a taster.
In episode 1, Hikaru Sakimori watched as a strange red capsule fell from the sky. Three Garogas emerged from the wreckage of the capsule, with the gold alien reiterating their orders to destroy the Zone Family. At home, Hikaru's grandfather, Zone Great, explained to Hikaru and his siblings, Hotaru and Akira, who the capsule belonged to and the destruction they visited on their home planet, Peaceland.
The next day, Hotaru spotted a security guard with webbed fingers at an amusement park, a telltale sign of a disguised Garoga. Hikaru traveled to the crash site, where another Garoga knocked him unconscious. As the invader removed him from the trunk of their car, he activated his transmitter, which flew off to the Zone Family as he led him into his hideout. The third infiltrator, a taxi driver, abducted Hotaru, Akira, and his friend Junichi. The security guard Garoga convinced their parents that they suffered a traffic accident, using this pretense to also take them hostage.
From his space station orbiting the Earth, the Baron Garoga applauded his underlings' success. As a precaution, he dispatched a Terror-Beast Missile containing the robot Jikiro to aid them. They certainly needed the help: before they could be executed, Hikaru, Hotaru, and Akira transformed into Zone Fighter, Zone Angel, and Zone Junior. In their armored forms, they were easily able to repel the aliens' machine guns and defeat them in hand-to-hand combat as everyone else escaped. As a last resort, the Garogas merged into the massive Red Spark. Zone Fighter responded by assuming his giant form. Red Spark threw the hero around for a time, but was blown to pieces by his Meteor Missile Might attack.
Jikiro arrived immediately thereafter. The fight against Red Spark left Zone Fighter weakened, and he was quickly overwhelmed. Still, as the machine used its magnetic ability to pull an airliner towards the ground, he regained his footing just in time to save it. His family came to his aid, with Zone Angel and Zone Junior summoning their hidden aircraft Smokey and Zone Great calling down Bolt Thunder to blast off one of Jikiro's arms. Smokey then recharged Zone Fighter's energy, allowing him to launch a furious assault against Jikiro and destroy it with the Meteor Missile Might.
Zone Fighter, being a tokusatsu hero from the 1970s, has an ungodly number of abilities. But we're gonna go through 'em all, so buckle up!
Transformation: Hikaru Sakimori and his siblings can assume their Zone forms by shouting "Zone Fight Power" while pointing toward the sky. In this state, his crazier feats include resisting Goram's attempts to step on him and an energy beam from Spideros. Hikaru can further transform into his giant state by shouting "Zone Double Fight," and is the only member of his family with the ability to do so. Hikaru may also transform from his human state directly into giant form and can willingly shrink back down again. He may also be forcibly returned to regular size if he runs short on power or sustains too much damage, the latter being the case during one of his battles against King Ghidorah.
Physical Abilities: Though smaller than most Terror-Beasts, Zone Fighter generally equals them in strength, and certainly exceeds them in combat ability. He periodically calls out Meteor Punches and Meteor Kicks, although these blows don't seem to be any deadlier than normal. The July 1973 issue of "TV Magazine" specifies two other melee attacks seen in the show: Meteor Meteorite Press and Meteor Roundhouse Kick. The "TV Magazine" issue gave Zone Fighter three more abilities: Meteor Chin Lock, Meteor Rotating Press, and Meteor Chop. It also specifies that his Zone Eyes can see Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture from Tokyo, his skin can withstand temperatures from -150 degrees to 1,000 degrees, and he can regulate the force that his Bayonet Boots exert, to lightly kick off of a building or leap 53 times the height of the Earth. His maximum running speed is a whopping 800 kilometers per hour. Other feats include Terror-Beast appendage removal, which he does pretty often, and moving an entire hill.
Zone Fighter can achieve flight similar to Jet Jaguar, by raising his arms in a 'Y' shape and levitating off the ground. While in the sky, Zone can perform an attack known as Meteor Windmill, where he loops in the air multiple times, building up speed, before ramming an opponent. In his human-sized form, he can perform an Astro Dash, used to travel to fourth-dimensional space, arrive at the site of a Terror-Beast attack by flying into his TV set, and spring high into the air. A similar technique called Meteor Dash allowed him to pass through a locked door. In his giant form, Zone Fighter also possesses increased jumping ability. This is used in a maneuver called Meteor Meteorite Collapse, where he leaps over his opponent and punches them in the back. During his final battle against Ghidorah on Venus, he charged himself with energy to move at incredible speeds for a short burst, called Meteor Jet.
Zone Fighter can unleash a barrage of missiles from summonable, wrist-bound gauntlets, dubbed the Meteor Missile Might. Used in all but two episodes, it's his most recognizable attack, and often a lethal one. After his first battle against Super Jikiro, Hikaru was surgically implanted with pieces of the Terror-Beast to upgrade his gauntlets to counter its Anti-Missile Might technology. The upgraded attack was called Double Anti-Missile Might.
Zone Fighter's other prominent finisher is the Meteor Proton Beam, fired from the antenna on top of his head. Like the Meteor Missile Might, sometimes it blasts kaiju to pieces and sometimes they shrug it off. He can also use it in his human-sized form.
Zone can use a series of shocking energy waves in an attack known as Meteor Proton Cut, which he used to thwart Dorola's fourth dimensional abilities. Zone also harnesses a pair of monster-dismembering arrow beams called Meteor Slice Chop and Meteor Zone Slice. By rubbing an object rapidly against his body, Zone Fighter can use his Meteor Static Power to charge it with deadly amounts of electricity.
Zone Fighter used a cold mist called Meteor Freezer to finish off Barakidon. He also employed a handheld canister to dispel Bakugon's illusions.
When in his human-sized form, Zone Fighter can protect himself using a red Zone Barrier. In his giant form, he used a Meteor Zone Barrier to thwart Wargilgar's flame breath. Finally, by tracing the outline of a shield, Zone created a Meteor Reflection Barrier to deflect King Ghidorah's gravity beams.
Equipment: In Zone's human-sized form, he carries a pistol called the Maser Shot, which is strong enough to dispatch Silver Garogas and even briefly halt Terror-Beasts. He and his siblings each possess a rocket-powered device called a Zobot, which they can use to send messages and even as a weapon in a pinch. Fighter can even use it in his giant form. His car is called Mighty Liner. Naturally, it can also transform, allowing it to fly, travel underwater, and battle Garoga forces with missiles and lasers. The invaders manage to steal it in episode 17, but Fighter takes control of it remotely with the Mighty Cut technique. He can even create illusory duplicates of the car with Meteor Clone Camouflage.
When at giant size, Zone Fighter runs off of proton power, supplied to him via the Zone Marker attached to his antenna. The belt buckle-like device attached to his waist, called the Zone Meter, indicates how much power he has, shifting color depending on the severity of the situation. This limitation can be overcome, however, and in a number of ways. Zone Angel and Zone Junior can recharge it using their own Meteor Proton Beams, or with a laser fired from Smokey. The craft is also equipped with spare Zone Markers which can be fired directly onto Fighter's head to replenish his energy, which they call a Zone Marker Change. However, Smokey has to fly within 90 meters of Fighter to do so. In episode 5 of the series, Zone Great gave Fighter the family's Proton Crystal, which he attached to his antenna in place of the Zone Marker. This granted him enough energy to lure King Ghidorah into space.
Traces of Ace: "Zone Fighter" shared a number of personnel with Tsuburaya's "Ultraman Ace", which aired its finale two days before the Toho show premiered. The list includes special effects directors Koichi Kawakita and Yoshio Tabuchi, kaiju designer Akihiko Iguchi, suitmaker Keizo Murase, and suit actor Kinichi Kusumi. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of parallels between the two, such as fight choreography, Spyler's whole design, and sound effects. Ace and Fighter themselves use some of the same grunts and shouts, performed by Goro Naya and Masao Nakasone.
Manga: "Adventure King," "TV Magazine," "Akita Shoten" and (2x) "Fun Kindergarten" all published "Zone Fighter" manga while the show was on the air. The "Adventure King" one featured at least Godzilla and King Ghidorah, while Ghidorah and Gigan turned up in the main "Fun Kindergarten" manga. Two additional, standalone manga were also published, entitled "Zone Fighter's Desperate Situation" and "Zone Angel's Critical Moment." An issue of Otomodachi's "Godzilla" manga teases Zone Fighter for the next installment, though we're not sure if that ever ended up happening, as it wasn't republished with the rest.
Daikaiju Legends: Toho seems to have shelved Zone Fighter for good, but Daikaiju Legends dusted him off in 2015. His fan series, now in its second season, transplants the hero into the world of Ultraman, with Team Meteor and the Monster Prevention Program backing him up instead of the Zone Family. It’s heavily influenced by the New Generation shows, except instead of trying to sell you toys, it uses them to depict all the monsters, superheroes, and aliens. Godzilla’s in it too, but only as in-universe toys.
Zone Fighter Translation: Despite Godzilla's presence, "Zone Fighter" has never been released on home video outside of Japan, and it didn't attract much interest from English fansubbing groups until 2018. Thanks to an Indiegogo campaign, the series has now been fully translated, and you can download them at…
[Garoga Underling:] "I have the shot."
[Baron Garoga:] "Take it."
"That concludes this profile on the accursed Zone Fighter. For more information on all things Godzilla, Gamera, and King Kong, head to wikizilla.org. Thanks for watching..."