Kids, let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a Super Sentai season with a solar theme called Taiyou Sentai SunVulcan, and it was good.
End of the story.
Full disclosure, while I do like to talk about Japanese Super Heroes (a lot), one of the most emblematic franchises in the genre, the Super Sentai Series, has always remained in an odd spot for me; I am not into it as much as I am into other, similar franchises, but I do watch a lot of it and if you catch me in a good mood, I wouldn’t mind having a casual, in depth conversation about Mechas and spandex-clad heroes.
I guess you could say I am a casual Sentai fan, and before you ask, yes, hardcore Sentai fans are a thing that exist, but while I don’t count myself among them, there are still a few Sentai seasons that I enjoy more than the average Internet-monger, chief among them the always divisive Solar Squadron SunVulcan.
Airing in 1981, SunVulcan is the story of three young men who are assembled into a special military unit that uses solar powered suits and weapons in order to fight against the threat of the Machine Empire Black Magma, because plasma is far more rad than molten rock.
I could dedicate the rest of this article to explain all the hurdles this show went during its production, or I could go into a long winded explanation about why I love this season so much in spite of the fact that the English fandom doesn’t seem to care too much about it (hint: it’s because they have no taste), but since that would require actual thinking, instead I am going to tell you all about the final episode of the show, arguably one of the best endings in the history of Super Sentai and one of my favorites episodes in Tokusatsu, ever.
Without further adeu, here’s the final episode of SunVulcan: The Shinning Aurora Borealis!
The episode begins with Amazon Killer, the last remaining commander of the machine empire, sneaking around their North Pole’s base in search of Black Magma’s Omnipotent God to assassinate him, because apparently doesn’t know what omnipotent means. Soon thereafter, she stumbles into a hidden Ice room, something that a base in the freaking North Pole clearly needed, and inside she discovers two things:
- A brain in a glass sphere, because what else would you hide in an ice room.
- The former Leader of Black Magma, HELL SATURN!!
We then cut to the SunVulcan base where, after receiving news of a military patrol plane being destroyed in the artic, our heroes finally discover the location of Black Magma’s base and prepare for full frontal assault to end the threat of the Machine Empire once and for all AND rescue Misa-chan, their mandatory female sidekick that was kidnapped in the previous episode.
However, given how this battle would decide the fate of the earth and all, they are joined on this final mission by the best possible back up anyone could ever ask for; Misa-chan’s father and their de facto leader, Commander Arashiyama as played by the late and great Shin Kishida.
You don’t know who Shin Kishida is?
Well kids, sit around the fire and let me tell you all about Shin Kishida, the legend who walked like a man.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I say that Shin Kishida is one of the greatest actors in the history of Tokusatsu, which is made even more impressive when you consider that there was no reason for him to be in Tokusatsu at all; unlike many Toku alumni of the time, Shin Kishida already enjoyed a certain level of fame thanks to his career in theater and his breakout role as The Vampire in the Chi wo Suu film series, a performance so good that he’s often compared to the also Great Christopher Lee.
For the record, if you are so good at something that people start comparing you to Christopher Lee, you’ve basically won at life.
Point is, even outside Tokusatsu, Shin Kishida enjoyed of a successful acting career and was highly respected among his contemporaries thanks to his many roles in cinema, including classics such as Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, Blue Christmas and Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby cart in Peril.
Of course, if you know your Toku then you probably recognized him for his role in Return of Ultraman (1971), where he played Hideki Goh/Ultraman Jack’s crippled mentor Ken Sakata, a performance that became quite memorable thanks to the levity he brought to a show that had a mayor emphasis on personal drama and his tendency to act the hell out of every scene he was in.
Of course, like most men of his talent he also dabbled in voice acting (he was the narrator in Ultraman Ace!) and even wrote several screen plays, including the script for episode 35 of Return of Ultraman AKA the one I was pretty sure I had dreamt.
I think it goes without saying that Commander Arashiyama was my favorite character in SunVulcan, though admittedly that had more to do with his performance than with his actual role in the show; he is just one of those actors that has such a presence on screen that he owns every single scene he is in.
But back to the episode, after arriving at the North Pole and infiltrating the Black Magma base without much of a resistance, our heroes are confronted by the voice of the Omnipotent God himself who faces them with a proposal: he will tell them where Misa-chan is, but only if they defeat Amazon Killer in Mortal Kombat!!!
Of course, this being a plot by the God of Black Magma, there is much more than meets the eye to this duel; if Amazon Killer were to defeat SunVulcan, she would be officially recognized as the true Queen of the Machine Empire, earning her the respect and loyalty of the remaining Zero Girls and the rest of the android troops.
Surprisingly, even though this is a three men versus one woman duel, because the 80’s, Amazon Killer manages to hold her own against SunVulcan, and is even capable to withstand the power of the Vulcan Sticks, quite possible the strongest weapons in the known universe.
This is no exaggeration by the way; be it by design or as an in-joke from the production staff, SunVulcan’s signature weapon, the all mighty Vulcan Sticks, are such a practical and versatile weapon that they can be used to solve literally any problem.
A robot is using his telekinetic powers to throw machines at you? Throw a Vulcan Stick at it!
Is the monster using hypnosis to make one of your partners attack you? Break the spell with a Vulcan Stick to the face!
Is an enemy Helicopter trying to gun you down from the sky? You guessed it!
Unfortunately for our villainess, the Vulcan Sticks were not the only weapon in SunVulcan’s arsenal; as they were being cornered, our heroes decided to bring out their Ultimate weapon, the New Vulcan Ball!
Amazingly still, the New Vulcan Ball was not enough to finish off Amazon Killer, but having realized that she was nothing but a pawn in the sick game of the Black Magma Omnipotent God, she chooses to die an honorable death by revealing to SunVulcan the existence of the Ice room before taking her life using her own sword.
With their opponent defeated our heroes return to the main base expecting to face the rest of Black Magma’s commanders, but instead they are meet with an unexpected surprise: both Hell Saturn and Queen Hedorian were already dead!
Actually, if you were watching along with the show you already knew this; while SunVulcan was completely unaware, the Machine Empire was being consumed by infighting and betrayals, arguably one of the most developed aspects of the show, as it was the norm for that era of Sentai.
See, when it comes to the Super Sentai series made in the 80’s, I think it’s fair to say that they were more defined by the villains than by the heroes; for the most, all the Sentai teams from that era were interchangeable, so it was the villains and their inner conflicts that really gave those shows their own identity.
SunVulcan is no exception: while I like the main cast, it was the Machine Empire who kept me watching, particularly during the final quarter of the show when Black Magma starts to collapse thanks to the inner power struggles between all the commanders, a conflict that I could dedicate an entire article to, but since that would be too much work I prepared this handy diagram instead.
Still, just because all the commanders are dead it doesn’t mean that the battle is over; in a final effort to defeat SunVulcan, the omnipotent good combines all of the computers of the Machine Empire to create the most powerful Monger of them all: King Magma!
After the Zero Girls board King Magma, SunVulcan launches the Sun Vulcan Robo for the final, decisive battle for the fate of the earth!
Except things won’t be that easy.
As the battle wages on, suddenly all light vanishes from the sky and Black Magma’s Omnipotent God full scheme is revealed: all of the events that transpired until now were perfectly calculated so that SunVulcan would engage against King Magma just as a Solar Eclipse occurred, robbing Sun Vulcan Robo of its power!
Having fallen into Black Magma’s God trap, Vulcan Robo is at the complete mercy of its opponent as it stands completely motionless, but just as all hope seems lost SunVulcan is saved by the most unexpected of miracles: the Northern Lights!
Using the aurora to reflect the light of the Sun and channeling it into the Vulcan Sword, because science, Sun Vulcan Robo delivers the killing blow to its opponent, and with it, the last forces of the Machine Empire are finally defeated.
Now all that its left is Black Magma’s Omnipotent God, but things won’t turn out to be that simple; following Amazon Killer’s final hint, SunVulcan find the Ice chamber that houses the Brain of the Omnipotent God, but along with him they find Misa-chan imprisoned by the Ghosts of Christmas past the fallen commanders!
This is Black Magma’s God final scheme, to use the bonds shared with Misa-chan to force Sun Vulcan, and by extension humanity, to surrender to his proverbial feet, proving once and for all that machines are the superior rulers of the earth!
As Commander Arashiyama ponders this impossible decision, his daughter’s pleas for mercy make him come to a stunning realization: he did not raise a coward.
Having figured out that the Misa-chan in front of him is a fake, Commander Arashiyama prepares one final gamble: he pretends to surrender to the Omnipotent God, but just as he is kneeling to the ground in a false show of submission, he takes the weapon in VulEagle’s hand with a swift movement and…
I apologize for the language, but it was THAT awesome.
Anyways, with the not-so Omnipotent God of Black Magma done for, our heroes hurry to save the real Misa-chan and make their escape before the Machine Empire self-destructs, because apparently back then all secret bases operated on Metroid logic, and manage to make it out just in the nick of time.
At last, peace returns to earth and with their purpose full filled, SunVulcan disbands as each member decides to return to their previous life, but not before Misa-chan rejects all of their marriage proposals.
And so the adventure of our heroes comes to an end, but worry not, even if the clutches of evil were to threaten the world once again, not even an omnipotent God can stand a chance against the might of humanity’s combined efforts and the unyielding spirit of Shin Kishida.
I don’t know if you can tell by now, but I love SunVulcan.
To be honest, the show is far from perfect and it is certainly showing its age; for all the good things I can say about it, I won’t deny that there is hardly anything this show did that it hasn’t been improved upon by later Sentai seasons.
Still, this is a show that I love very much and a lot of it has to do with its sheer energy; I often like to compare SunVulcan with Kamen Rider Black in the sense that both shows are flawed and are certainly products of their time, but the action sequences are so imaginative and so intense that they can lift up even the most boring episode.
Admitedly, having a killing OST does help.
As I mentioned back in the beginning of this article, episode 50 of SunVulcan is, for me, one of the best episodes in the history of Tokusatsu and arguably one of the best endings in the franchise. I know that sounds like a tall order, but you kind of have to live it understand it; the final episode of the show summarizes absolutely everything that made the show great, from villain drama to completely absurd fights, and still manages to deliver everything I could hope for a finale.
I am well aware that SunVulcan is not nearly as popular with the English fandom as it is in the land of the rising sun, and while I can certainly see why, I truly believe that if you are pure of heart and are willing to give this show the benefit of the doubt, SunVulcan can really be a great experience to be had.
That is all on my part, so be happy and don’t forget to follow the Sun!