I've been thinking again. This time, about what exactly make a show a tokusatsu show.
Well, on the surface, a show appears to be tokusatsu when one simply knows that it is one. There are the standard shows that one takes a first glance at and can identify them as tokusatsu like sentai, ultraman, kamen rider. There is no real need to know anything about these shows except being able to recognize their stereotypically outward appearances: bug eyes, colorful spendex, zipper back, etc. Even non-Japanese people not familiar with this type of shows might have thought of them as power rangers or something. But then things become less straight-forward with shows like GARO or some other late night toku shows.
Either way, I suppose my question is, how does one define tokusatsu? Is it by the uniform(s) the hero(es) wear? Is it by the superpower, mostly non-human enemies the heroes fight? Or is it by something else?
It is possible that the restrictive format of these shows defines--or more like confines--them to being tokusatsu. Most toku shows seem to have some kind of "monster of the week" episodes, where, as the name implies, different monster(s) make appearances every week (or in some kind of set time period, like two weeks). Some would also have different guest star(s) (i.e. either humans/aliens in distressed or humans/aliens who can save themselves and possibly shame the hero(es) in the process or both) for each episode as well. Either way, most, if not all tokusatsu shows tend to be episodic, so the viewers usually can catch almost all episodes (except perhaps the beginning, the ending, and the few key episodes in between) in any order without becoming too confused or lost. I'm not saying that they are no stories connecting toku episodes, but perhaps they are not as obvious as shows in some other genre.
Building on the previous point, most toku shows seem to be made with kids in mind, so most of the time, the story is not complicated and usually resolved within an episode or two. Long story arcs can exist, but possibly not the norm and more likely have to be broken into several shorter arcs.
Toku shows are also usually cliche in some way. Good ultimately triumphs over evil, for instance. There is not really any shade of gray. Even so-called dark toku shows such as GARO haven't managed to escape from this trap. When it comes right down to it, the world is still clearly either black or white. I may be wrong, but I don't think there is any toku show which ends with the hero(es) dying and the bad guys live to wreck more havoc. (Actually, there probably isn't any show like that around, toku or otherwise. ^^;;) True, there are at least a few toku shows with the good guys dying or their fate unknown by the end, but their enemies are also dead/eliminated.
Or perhaps I have been mistaken all this time. Tokusatsu simply means 'special effect' in Japanese. So any live-action show having some kind of special effects should have been classified as tokusatsu, their content notwithstanding. But I find I don't like that logic, even though it sounds reasonable enough. What if there is a drama with a character or more having special powers, but they are not fighting evils or anything? Special effects are used to simply demonstrate said powers. Do I have to accept that show as tokusatsu, when nothing else about the show seems to fit toku's "characteristics"?
My other (but perhaps not very likely) theory is a show is tokusatsu simply by external influence(s), like how the show is marketed, including the TV station(s) on which it is aired and the time-slot(s) it gets, and if toy companies like Bandai is one of its sponsors. If one of the companies known for toku like Toei, Tsuburaya, or Toho brings out a show, and it is obviously not a normal drama (where the people and the settings seem ordinary), chances are it would be toku. (And I'm not even going to touch on how toys (or, more accurately, their makers) can dictate the storyline of a toku show itself.)
With all that said, I still can't answer my own question with certainty or with any level of satisfaction. Aside from a few ambiguous exceptions, it seems easy enough to identify toku shows, but I'm still not sure exactly by which set(s) of criteria I use to separate the toku from the non-toku.
ETA: Sort of a sequel, if I haven't already bored you to flinders...