Tokusatsu series seem to consist of most (if not all) of the following characteristics:
- Bad/good monsters/alien of the week (or of other specified set period of time). There enemies are often related to each other, or at least seem to originate from the same source (or has the same head boss). There are exceptions, but I can't seem to pinpoint them at the moment. Tokusatsu enemies are usually not humans, unless perhaps they are humans with supernatural powers or are fused with monsters/aliens/other worldly creatures in some way.
- Produced/marketed by one of the companies specialized in tokusatsu shows. Most, if not all of toku shows, also have toys/games inspired out of them. Or, in some cases, the toys/games have led to the productions of these shows in the first place.
- Use special effects in some way, whether real, such as stunts, or more along the line of computer generated, such as CG. I talked about this earlier, that I'm less inclined to accept a show as toku if using special effects is its only claim to fame. However, I won't dismiss it out of hand, even though I'm kind of biased toward not liking this definition. It is ironic, though, that tokusatsu means special effects, but I've more or less associated the word with shows like Ultraman, Sentai, Kamen Rider and more or less ignored probably million other live-action shows which would have fit this definition, at least in the broadest sense from my point of view. (Yes, I'm operating under very narrow views, but it's the way I've been accustomed to; I'm not up to a total reboot on this subject, even though I personally find the English wiki entry very eye-opening.) In the end, I think maybe I've simply neglected to cover every possibility and would probably prefer to decide on a case-by-case basis.
- Settings usually don't seem like real world settings. I don't know how to explain this well. But I guess any world with monsters and/or hero(es) in gaudy costumes (seriously, I'll be too embarrassed to get caught dead in one of those; why do superheroes seem to have no shame whatsoever as far as their costumes are concerned?) with or without special powers could not be considered quite normal.
- Related to the previous point, most damages sustained, either to the buildings/settings or to people/humans usually disappear by the next episode or even later in the same episode. And as long as the protagonist(s)/the good guys win, no one seems to truly care about those damages. There are exceptions, of course. But generally people's perception and behaviors in the toku world don't seem to follow/correlate to the behaviors of the people outside of it. This is part of something I probably would call "toku logic" (sure that I hadn't come up with the term, but don't know who to credit).
- Toku shows, out of necessity, usually contain fightings to some degree. And that is where the "special effects" part might come into play. The fights may be realistic/violent. Or maybe they are more implied and/or magical in nature. (For example, enemies simply disintegrate, rather than explode like from a bomb.) If not fights, though, I think toku shows usually have plenty of actions in some other way. Again, there are exceptions, but I just feel in general being slow-paced is not really a toku characteristic.
- This is kind of a weird reason, and
I'm still innocent enough to believeinstances of such are probably more likely coincidences than not, but I find familiar faces sometimes across different toku shows I watch. I realize it is probably not an indication of anything other than the director(s)/producer(s) like what they see of those actors, ergo, they are in those shows. But for some actors, though, they seem to be in almost every show a particular company has produced. Anyway, if everything else is uncertain, me recognizing particular actor(s)/actress(es) might help decide the matter whether a particular show is toku. (This point almost always does not work for me because apart from someone I know well, or have seen recently, I mostly fail to recognize faces. I am not proud of it and dearly wish for a cure, if one does exist. Now, voices and names I seem to have less problem with, but I digress...)
- Related to the previous point, I notice the same settings/locations being used across different toku shows too. Again, it is no real indication of anything other than the director(s)/producer(s) find those locations fit what they have in mind for the show(s). But I just can't help thinking of some locations as "toku locations" because I never seem to see them outside of toku shows. (Granted, I don't watch much of other types of shows, and I probably shouldn't expect something like the Nexus/Mebius dam in more "normal" dramas, but still it is kind of weird.)
With all that said, though, there are shows known to be tokusatsu, which may not look like ones at the first glance.
I believe every Japanese live-action show with one or more superhero(es) in it is toku, but the converse doesn't seem to be necessarily true. There are some toku shows, such as Ultra Q and Godzilla, I believe, which don't have superheroes in them, just regular humans. Still, I don't consider such shows to be any less toku shows than shows such as, say, Ultraman.
Anyway, by superhero(es), I mean those who don different costumes/change appearances in the way that no one should be able to tell their normal civilian identities just from looking. Whether they keep their superhero(es) identities secret or not is up for debate and what I tried to make sense of some time back. They may be stronger/have more power in their transformed states, or they may be the same as their untransformed state in terms of strengths and instead rely on weapons and the fact that they are disguised to do damage to their enemies.
Usually tokusatsu shows with female hero(es) are easy to spot since their names often come up whenever one expresses an interest in such shows. Also, most of the time, it helps that they do not differ so significantly from the toku shows with promidantly male hero(es). I'm not going to talk about them, though, except perhaps Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon.
PGSM is pointed out to me in a comment by capncosmo here as a borderline show, which is true, I think. It appears to be less accepted as tokusatsu (at least going by what I've seen around English language forums/message boards) than other toku shows with mostly male protagonists/heroes in groups. I find that somewhat ironic since I read somewhere that the creator of Sailormoon actually took the concept of team heroes from sentai in the first place.
Still, the complaints that the sailor senshi usually just dance around and don't exactly do any real fighting are not without merits. Toei could have made the fights look more realistic, perhaps, other than the sort of no contact fight scenes they have. But then again, the original Sailormoon seems to rely more on magical powers than true physical strengths, so in some way, I suppose, perhaps naively, that Toei is sort of being true to the source material.
In general, that led me to think of Magical Girl anime, a genre Sailormoon seems to fall into (and pioneer?). Most of these shows have episodes which are standalones, with (most of the time) different (supernatural) threat(s) in each episode, have one or two regular transformation sequences which are then repeated in almost every episode, their worlds usually defy logic, and they have toys or something for the fans of the series to collect at least. In other words, if these animes were adapted into live-action versions, they really should be considered tokusatsu, at least by my definition. (And shojo anime/manga series usually are adapted into live-action dramas, because they are about relationship, but I digress...)
There is this one very short (six episodes), and rather cute, Tsuburaya (yes, the Ultraman Tsuburaya, not the other less well-known company) show called Otasuke Girl, which seems like it steps right out of a shojo manga pages. As the title says, the protagonist is female, as well as her two close friends. (I believe they are in high school.) To these days, I'm still not sure if it is really toku; it just feels more like a normal, everyday drama to me. I don't recall seeing much of special effects (CG thing, I mean) done in this show, even though it does deal with supernatural stuff. Still, it does have actors from other toku series. (There is Rina Akiyama, who is Naomi in Den-O, Mana in Agito, and probably also someone in some other shows I don't know about. And there is Shigeki Kagemaru, who is probably in too many shows to list, but notably Officer Shinjo in Tiga and Kadokura in Mebius.) Also, all other indications seem to point to it being a tokusatsu show. (For instance, familiar settings: I think I see the same location in part 1 of the GARO Specials (the sort of outdoor mall, shopping district; come to think of it, maybe it's also the same place as the one in Mebius 28. Either that, or I'm just hallucinating), not that I can actually verify it.)
In conclusion, to make my life simpler, I should probably just go with my so-called marketing theory. If the company making the show identify their show as toku, then tokusatsu it is for me.