As reported by The Tokusatsu Network, English dubs of the show Armor Hero XT are now being posted and it’s time to take a look at the first week’s worth of episodes.
Back in 2009, there was a new tokusatsu on the air, Armor Hero. What set this show apart from others was that it wasn’t Japanese, it was a Chinese production airing in China. Armor Hero was the first truly successful Chinese hero tokusatsu show, leading to two sequels, Armor Hero XT (2011) and Armor Hero Lava (2013). The original show was subbed by the fine people over at DoReMii a few years ago, including the follow up movie, Armor Hero Emperor (2010), but no subs ever appeared for the second series. Well, now that problem has been remedied…sorta.
The official YouTube channel for Armor Hero began uploading English-dubbed episodes of the second series last week. As of this writing, ten episodes are up. The episodes are released daily, usually around 2 AM EST. So, one week’s worth of episodes in, how does the show fare?
Well, you need to keep in mind that the dubbing isn’t fantastic. I know what you’re thinking, seeing the original format would have been better. Unfortunately, you would still be out of luck if things like inconsistencies in voice-character matching and lip flaps bother you. As is the tendency with a great majority of shows produced in Chinese, the initial broadcast featured a Mandarin Chinese dub. This means that the voices you hear, even if you watch it in Chinese, aren’t actually the voices of the cast themselves. Something to do with the varied dialects spoken across China and its territories, leading to Mandarin Chinese being the most widely recognized.
If you’re looking for a quality dub, you’re probably out of luck here. The voices can come across rather stiff at times and it’s quite obvious that English is no one’s first language here. That said, it’s not outright bad. If anything, the voices match their characters better than the Mandarin counterparts. It’s strange to hear a 19 year-old character speak with the deep voice of a 30 year-old man. At least here, everyone actually sounds their age for once. (this bugged the heck out of me in the original show as well when I watched the subs) The dialogue can be a bit strange at times as well. For the most part, the English is fine, but it’s pretty clear in a few instances that there’s a mix of colloquialisms going on throughout the dub. Again, if you’re fine with this or learn to accept/ignore it, you’ll be okay.
My biggest gripe when it comes to the quality and technicalities of the dub isn’t the voices, it’s actually the ambient sounds. This is something the Mandarin version is guilty of as well, but to a much lesser degree. So what do I mean by ambient sounds? Things in the background. Punches and kicks connecting tend to have a sound to them in visual media, otherwise it’s a little awkward. Here? There are a lot of instances of a fight having little to no ambient sound. You don’t get the sensation these characters are actually outside, it all sounds like it’s recorded in a studio. Probably my biggest issue is that there aren’t a lot of battle cries. Too many and it’s weird, not enough and the fight sounds lifeless. The monsters rarely growl, this is a problem in the original version as well, but even then, there are more instances of that happening. Here? A monster takes a punch and just flails back without so much as a yelp. It’s one of those things that can sap the energy right out of a fight.
Now, finally, the show. With all of those qualifiers out of the way, how is the show itself?
Side note: I’m going to be using the dub names for these characters, their original names are all listed in the credits.
The largest exposure I’ve had to Chinese media in the past, before the first Armor Hero, had been kung-fu films. I had no idea what a Chinese TV show would actually play out. They’re…interesting. I get the feeling these shows are going to be a whole lot easier to swallow if you know what the Chinese method is. I’ve seen a few Chinese TV dramas now and they all sort of follow the same pattern of starting out in medias res. This essentially means that the show starts out with the story already moving, but in a manner that a new viewer should theoretically be able to jump into either way. It’s strange and sometimes can be offputting if not done right (see Power Rangers Samurai “Episode 1”) The first Armor Hero show was difficult to get into – you pretty much have to wait 10 episodes to find out who these people are and why they’re fighting. Thankfully, XT moves a lot faster.
XT allows itself to be pretty free from any sort of rigid formula. In combination with the fact that it moves faster than its predecessor, this is some great stuff. The main hero? We don’t see a lot of him until episode four and he doesn’t even transform until episode six. Something like that would be absolutely unheard of in Sentai or Kamen Rider. For as much as these shows have been criticized as being cheap knock-offs of Japanese hero shows, they do a good job of letting the story come first.
So we have three heroes, one represented by the sun, one by the stars, and one by the moon. The third episode discusses this and gives you a bit of insight as to how these things correlate to the characters. The three guys rent rooms above a small restaurant owned by a mysterious girl named Alice, who we’ll get to later.
Our main character, who the dub calls Tim, is one of your quiet guy heroes. He’s a tad introverted, socially awkward, can be seen as cold, but cares for people deep down inside. His two great loves are taking pictures and…delivering stuff to people. Something about delivering happiness, I dunno. He’s one of those guys that never lets people cut in line and never lets money sway him – he won’t deliver your item just because you’re paying him double what the person in front of them is willing to pay. He’s the most reluctant in becoming an Armor Hero, which is why it takes him six episodes to transform. It’s strange not seeing the hero transform in the first handful of episodes, but this method really sells you on the idea that he doesn’t want to be a hero. And why doesn’t he want to be a hero? I dunno. Something about heroes needing to be saved before they can save anyone else. I get the feeling he’s got some emotional baggage to work out and doesn’t feel like he’s in the right place to be a hero. His first transformation seemed to be a fluke as well. You’re not supposed to be able to transform until you sign a contract and, somehow, Tim was able to transform without needing to sign the thing.
Next up is Edward, a fancy name for a fancy guy. Edward already has his powers by the start of the series and is the only guy to transform in the first two episodes. He’s Alice’s main partner and she seems to be the only one he’s comfortable being himself around. He’s rich, very rich, to the point of being able to buy cars at the drop of a hat. But there are signs that he has problems in his family. Namely, his dad cuts him off a few episodes in. For as egotistical as he can be, Edward is the sort of guy that wants to forge his own path and not follow in the footsteps of his father, which is the reason he lives in a pretty humble house as opposed to the mansion that his family owns. He’s my least favorite character of the three heroes. The guy just seems kind of bland by this point in the show, though I’m hoping more of his family history and the feud with his father comes into play at some point. Also, he’s a bit of a dick. He openly attacks Jason for getting in the way of his fights and not letting him be the one to finish off a monster.
Finally, we get to Jason! He’s my favorite of the heroes. He’s lively, friendly, and fun. Jason is a gamer who would rather risk it all on earning prize money than get any sort of stable job. He’s a little (very) irresponsible from time to time, actually going as far as to sneak off from his duties under the guise of visiting a sick relative just so he can spend some time playing games. Jason’s a huge fan of heroes, his room is adorned with all sorts of toys and models – he’s even a fan of the original Armor Heroes. Although this show is a sequel, it’s not a direct sequel, merely set in the same world. Jason’s reason for signing the contract with Alice is that he wanted to be like “this cool guy who saved the world a few years ago,”, so he says while holding up a figure of the Emperor Hero. While I enjoy his English actor just fine, he’s one of those guys that really makes me wish I could hear his actual voice and hear him emote. He’s got great facial expressions, being the best cast member of the bunch.
Rounding out the main characters is a girl named Alice. She’s not an Armor Hero, but has a bunch of psychic powers and comes from a family who has kept watch over a tower containing monster statues. Whenever the monsters come to life, their spiritual energy causes a gigantic bell to echo, reaching a miniature version of the bell that Alice has. She’s able to contact her crew by telepathy and give them the locations of a monster whenever they appear. I get the feeling she’ll be the one that holds the team together should any major squabbles every occur in the future. She’s very self-assured, extroverted and a little overbearing. But with three personalities that are liable to clash, that’s the sort of thing you need. Her actress really gets into the role after a few episodes, so don’t let the wooden acting in the first few be a sign of what she’s like throughout most of the series.
The rest of the cast is composed of a wealthy computer expert named Paul, who once almost brought down a satellite on top of China, his assistant Li, a mysterious girl whose name we don’t know but seems to catch the attention of Edward and Tim, and the enemy, only known as the Dark Lord. Our main enemy has the ability to possess people, choosing mostly to use Li and then Paul, and utilizing his resources to help further his ambitions, which we’re not to clear on just yet.
Overall, it’s an interesting show as of the first seven episodes. It’s a kinda slow burn, but moves at a brisk enough pace that you never get bored. The fights, if you’re into them enough, are all of decent length and offer enough of a spectacle to keep the viewer interested. Personally, I love the suits that these shows produce, especially the ones in this show. The hero suits each have a primary color (blue, red, bronze) broken up by thick pieces of white armor that accent each other very well.
It’s difficult to pin down the story as there’s no real formula. You’re not dealing with guest star characters like in recent Kamen Rider shows, you’re not dealing with people personally effected by the monsters like in Sentai, you’re just sort of dealing with the heroes and the villains. This show relies on the main cast to be the main cast, the people you care about enough to keep watching – I can’t even tell you how much of a joy that is after so many years of Kamen Rider seeming more about the guest stars than anyone on the main cast. The story revolves around these characters and you’re never going to feel like they’re just spectators in the series, they’re the catalysts that make things move and give the story a reason to feel fresh.
Right now, the show is surrounded by a lot of mystery. We don’t know a lot of Alice’s past other than her mother once did what she’s doing now, we don’t know anything about the Dark Lord, and we’re still getting to know the heroes. It might sound weird that it takes so long to get to know the heroes, but it works. We’re not given info dumps and we’re not left to wonder too much about them as the show does answer questions. It just takes a bit of time getting there because it likes to give everyone their fair share of focus.
So, as of the seven episodes? It’s been a great show to keep up with, a lot better than the original. I’m going to keep watching and I’d recommend it to anyone reading this as well. You just need to be aware of the differences in story telling between the Chinese and the rest of the world. You’ll also have to stomach a lot of the awkward dubbing, but if you’re like me, that won’t be a bother after a couple of episodes. It’s worth sticking it out to see a rather interesting take on the tokusatsu formula, something that allows itself to break away from formula like no other show I’ve seen before.
If you’re interested, you can check out the currently available episodes in this handy playlist.