Saturday, November 8, 2014

Maskman: The Face of Zeba

(From left to right) Actor Takeo Shinkai, Zeba, and suit actor Hideaki Kusaka.
Early promotional material for Maskman often had a still of Zeba unmasked; as I wrote previously, one of the keshigomu figures even represented this image. It's not a goof or the suit-actor; in the first few episodes of Maskman, Zeba was played by actor Takeo Shinkai, while voiced by seiyuu Seizo Kato. Shortly into Maskman's run, Japan Action Club's Hideaki Kusaka took over the role of Zeba (who was still being voiced by Kato).

Shinkai unmasked as Zeba in a publicity photo.

I always wondered what the original plans for Zeba would have held. Shinkai wasn't a suit actor or action guy, but a character actor who mostly plays villains, so it's odd to have cast him in a role that ordinarily would have just been a JAC suit actor, and even odder to just have regular villain voice-actor Kato providing the character's voice. That's obviously common practice with suit actors, but a regular actor like Shinkai? It's easy to understand why he was just replaced with Kusaka four episodes in. (There must not have been bad blood or anything, because Shinkai ends up guest-starring in a later Maskman episode -- episode number 16 -- as Kenta's kung-fu master.)

Actor Takeo Shinkai as Kenta's old kung-fu mentor in Maskman episode 16.

I've always thought that maybe the original plan was to have Zeba be revealed to be a former friend of Sugata's, one who followed a dark path, and THAT is how Sugata knew about Tube; the show obviously planned to have Sugata do more, but actor Hayato Tani was an in-demand performer and there were scheduling conflicts. Early on, Zeba clouds the world in darkness with a manuever called the "Dark Holon," which sounds like it could have been the opposite of Sugata's Aura Power. Zeba only used that move once, in episode 2, when Shinkai was still playing the character. Was writer Hirohisa Soda's plans to have had Zeba be secretly human, and a former colleague of Sugata's, and when all that fell through, he came up with the Lethal Dogler storyline?

I think the Lethal Dogler storyline ends up working out better. A scientist VS scientist showdown would have been a little too repetitive for Soda to have as much impact; Lethal Dogler's revenge for his monster mother's murder by the underground empire out of their fear gave everything an interesting twist, especially when it came down to Igam's prejudice at having been working for a monster all along helping sway her.

Here's something funny: Shinkai ends up guest-starring in a Winspector episode (episode 43) alongside Keijirou Shiga, who played Baraba. Shinkai's character is a criminal ringleader who murders Shiga's character -- Zeba's revenge!

Far left: Keijirou "Baraba" Shiga. Far right: Takeo "Zeba" Shinkai, from Winspector episode 43.


  1. Oh wow. Very good stuff. I live for these last minute production changes. As you pointed out, I think they made the right call on this one.

    The vinyl figure of Zeba from the Tube set had the masked face atleast. I think the mask makes the suit pretty awesome. I never understood why white face=evil in Sentai shows. They did it to Birugenia and he just ended up looking like a clown afterward. Hahaa.

    1. I always just thought the white face thing meant ghostly/supernatural to the Japanese, that it was supposed to be spooky. I've seen it used in quite a few horror movies. I prefer Birugenia's KISS make-up to his original, though -- the original make-up made him look like he had a bad liver.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.