Today, I’m going to take a look at the bizarre live action manga adaptation, The Guyver.
The plot of The Guyver is described on IMDb as follows:
A young man discovers a mechanical device that merges with his own body, turning him into a cyborg superhero. When strange creatures start appearing, trying to take the device back, he begins to uncover a secret plot to genetically engineer terrifying monsters.
The source material for The Guyver is the manga series Bio Booster Armor Guyver, which was created by Yoshiki Takaya. The series first debuted in a serialized format in 1985, as part of the magazine Shonen Captain.
The Guyver had two directors, who both had extensive careers as special effects and makeup artists: Screaming Mad George, whose credits include Predator, Space Truckers, Children of the Corn III, The Dentist 2, Jack Frost, and A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, and Steve Wang, who worked on DeepStar Six, Harry and the Hendersons, The Monster Squad, Arena, and Hell Comes To Frogtown. However, neither man had any significant directing experience at the time. Years later, Wang directed 1997’s Drive and one episode of Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy, but neither man has done much in the way of directing outside of that.
The cast for the film included Mark Hamill (Slipstream, The Big Red One, The Flash, Batman: The Animated Series, Star Wars), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners, From Beyond, Doctor Mordred, Castle Freak, Fortress), David Gale (Re-Animator, Bride of Re-Animator), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Linnea Quigley (Witchtrap, Night of the Demons, Return of the Living Dead), Vivian Wu (The Last Emperor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III), and Jack Armstrong (Days of Our Lives, The Bold and The Beautiful, All My Children).
The Guyver had two primary editors: Andy Horvitch (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, Stuck, Arena, American Ninja, The Pit and The Pendulum, Beeper, Demonic Toys, Edmond) and Joe Woo Jr., who was an assistant editor on The Fog, The Abyss, The Beastmaster, First Knight, Tuff Turf, and The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.
One of the producers for the film was Brian Yuzna, a renowned horror director and producer who is known for working on films like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dolls, Dagon, The Dentist, and The Dentist 2, among others.
The Guyver received a sequel in 1994, titled Guyver 2: Dark Hero. This iteration was directed solely by Steve Wang, and had a markedly darker tone than the first film. It was also far better received than its predecessor, and is a bit of a cult movie in its own right.
The source manga, Bio Booster Armor Guyver, has been adapted a number of times over the years. On top of this live action film and its sequel, it was turned into a 2005 26-episode anime series, a 1989 12-episode OVA series, and a short 1986 OVA titled Guyver: Out of Control.
If there is anything that can be said about The Guyver, it is that it is a movie filled with unique and ambitious effects. Honestly, the effects work here looks like stuff that you would find a much higher budget feature: these guys clearly knew what they were doing when they made these suits, and they look pretty impressive, particularly for a cheap movie.
One of my favorite aspects of The Guyver is that it is populated with lots of recognizable b-movie character actors, likely due to the directors’ connections from other productions, and the influence of Brian Yuzna. Guys like Jeffrey Combs and David Gale just know how to ham up a performance, and can add a lot to depth roles in a cast.
Live action movies with manga or anime source materials face distinct issues of tone and style, and The Guyver is no exception. It is by no means as weird and awkwardly done as Ricki-O: The Story of Ricki, but there are definitely some characters and dialogue moments that probably fit right in on the page, but didn’t translate quite right to live-action. Exaggerated motions and behaviors come off as particularly slapstick when acted out, as opposed to when they are drawn, which causes more tonal whiplash than when sequences are animated. For The Guyver, those comedic elements offset a style that should be more purely horrific, and the contrast creates a lot of jarring discord that just doesn’t belong on screen, even if it flowed well on the page. The best example of this is the first Guyver transformation, in which a goofy street gang harasses and cracks jokes at the protagonist, before they are quickly dispatched. Their antics belong in a Saturday morning cartoon, rather than a body horror superhero flick, and they cheapen the impact of the initial transformation sequence.
Overall, I think The Guyver is worth checking out, if only for the effects. Particularly for b-movie fans, the cast here is kind of a delight as well, even if the screenplay is a bit lacking. As I understand, the sequel is actually quite a bit better, and deals with a lot of the tonal issues that bothered me with this one, so I may check that out soon and cover it here.