Hey, gamers! Remember Keith Courage in Alpha Zones? The 1989 sci-fi/action platformer for the Turbografx-16 cast you as a heroic member of the Nations for International Citizens of Earth, wielding a mighty sword against invaders from the planet of Beastly Alien Dudes. When the going got tough, you could throw on your Nova Suit to ensure victory over B.A.D. for the agents of N.I.C.E.
Remember it now? Good, because it’s coming back in 2020… or rather, the anime it was based on is coming back in 2020. And the two have very, very little to do with each other.
Avid players of the game may have noticed that, while the box art depicts Keith Courage as a grown man in sci-fantasy armor, in-game he looks more like a nine-year-old anime boy. There’s a very good reason for that: originally, he was a nine-year-old anime boy. Meet the original Keith… a.k.a. Wataru, the young protagonist of the anime and toy franchise Mashin Hero Wataru:
Mashin Hero Wataru was the brainchild of Sunrise, the studio that brought us Cowboy Bebop and continues to bring us Gundam. In conjunction with Bandai and other toy-making companies, Sunrise has also released a variety of robot-centric shows for kids. GaoGaiGar, and the “brave series” franchise that preceded it, was one of their more popular endeavors. Wataru was much the same, featuring mighty mecha that you could pick up at your local toy store.
In the world of the anime, there were no acronym organizations. Rather, the grade-schooler Wataru was transported from our world to Soukaizan, a fantasy land shaped like a layered mountain and ringed by a circular rainbow. Traversing it to get to the top was (rather conveniently for their tie-in game) a lot like playing a platformer. And the Nova Armor? That used to be a clay model Wataru made in school — but in the world of Soukaizan, it grew into the mecha Ryujinmaru.
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The characters who appear in Keith Courage to heal and sell weapons to Keith along the way are also in Mashin Hero Wataru, but as party members who travel with our lead. How close they are to their American counterparts varies… though, like Keith/Wataru, Nurse Nancy (originally Himiko) is also a kid.
Episodes of the original series are coming out two at a time on YouTube, for those curious about the story in its original form. Better yet, it’s returning this spring for a continuation, more than 30 years after the series first aired. This time, Wataru’s trusty Ryujinmaru is split into seven separate entities (which means seven brand new robot toys to collect), and the world of Soukaizan appears to have a dark mirror image of itself hanging below it.
The new series will also be available to watch on YouTube. It may not be the heroics of N.I.C.E. vs. the monsters of B.A.D., but it still looks pretty sweet.