Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Zenkaiger: who's likely to return?


When Gokaiger was ready to air, and everyone was excited about the idea of returning heroes,
I once made a post at HJU about a "where are they now" with up-to-date pictures of cast
members and their standing in showbiz. It's a topic that a lot of people have written to me
asking me to update, but I've never really been interested. I figured since then there's
been so many past performers popping up on social media that there really wasn't a reason
to update it -- if you're a fan and on social media at all, chances are you're aware what
a certain actor looks like now or what they're up to.

But I thought maybe for Zenkaiger, since rumors are that we'll be seeing some old heroes, I supposed I'd finally do something similar. Instead of scouring blogs or Twitter for recent photos, I'd just want to stick to text -- I want to focus on the actors and the likelihood of them appearing in Zenkaiger. Because A LOT of actors have resurfaced since Gokaiger aired, and while some of them are still outside of showbiz, I think there's a chance some could pop up in something...if they're asked. People like Ginga Red, Tyranno Ranger, Blue Mask and Shaider's Naomi Morinaga have proven that there are performers who have left showbiz but are still willing to return for an appearance. So I'll say who I think is more likely of the retirees to return and who from each time is the most likely choice. (And who I'd want to see back the most of each team.)

First, I just want to give a few thoughts on Zenkaiger. I'm not all that hopeful. Producer Shinichiro Shirakura's far too irreverent for anniversary specials and has gotten too obsessed with riling up fans for his own amusement. Don't expect warm and fuzzy and logical "tributes" in a show from him. He's probably going to kill off everybody and declare Ninja Captor the first and only Sentai. And then you have main writer Junko Komura, whose previous anniversary series, Zyuohger, was a major letdown in terms of being an anniversary series. (As well as a letdown of just being an entertaining series.)

Like Gokaiger, I expect all of my favorites -- the good shows -- to be ignored because entertainment is still too damn afraid to focus on older folks. So I'm definitely not expecting the show to get back at least one person from each show the way Gokaiger did. And the premise of parallel worlds is worrisome -- it makes me think that we're just going to get scenarios that suggest certain Sentai shows, but aren't the actual shows. (For example, there's a militaristic world that could cover any military-themed Sentai, and they could just get one actor as a new character to represent all of those shows. That's just not exciting sounding to me.)

If I'm wrong and we see a lot of returning actors as their old characters, let's take a stab at who they might be...

GORANGER

Aka Ranger's still active in showbiz, he appeared in Gokaiger and just took part in the Sentai
memorial at the Tokyo International Film Festival. I think he's likely to appear.

Ao Ranger's actor has had health issues in the past several years, but I think he'd be up for
a small appearance and, if not that, then at least voiceover work.

Mido Ranger's actor makes a lot of appearances at fan events, but I don't think he has an
interest in returning to perform.

Ki Ranger's first actor is deceased, and the second Ki Ranger actor has health conditions that
might not make an appearance easy. (His character was short-lived and killed off, too.)

Momo Ranger's actress makes a lot of fan event appearances and would probably be up for appearing if asked. (That would be awesome if they got her, man. Peggy and the Pink Senshi are as important to Sentai and its legacy as the Red, so it would be nice to honor her.)

Most likely to appear: Aka Ranger
Shougo would like: Momo Ranger

JAKQ

Spade Ace's actor continues to act. He was pretty popular and mainstream for a while, but
never turned his back on his Sentai past. He was even interviewed for the JAKQ Mook that came
out a couple of years ago. If you want to include JAKQ in your show, he's your best bet.

Dia Jack's actor was active on stage for years after the show, but I haven't read much about
him for a while. I remember some fans saying there's controversy over some comments he made
about geek fandom, and if it's true, maybe that would keep him from being asked back.

Clover King's actor seems to have been out of the industry for a while and I haven't heard
about him lately.

Heart Queen left showbiz long ago and is supposedly an English teacher -- I don't think Zenkaiger's going to make her want to leave that. (It would be nice for her to pop up somewhere, though. Give an interview about JAKQ or something. Mitchi Love rocks!)

Big One -- see Ao Ranger.

Most likely to appear: Spade Ace
Shougo would like: Heart Queen

BATTLE FEVER J

Battle Japan -- Quit acting in the '80s. He most recently popped up in the news for legal troubles. (If you're wondering, it sounds like he's into real estate now and there were some issues regarding him allegedly forcing someone into selling him a building that was a landmark, which he supposedly had torn down despite saying he wouldn't.)

Battle Cossack 1 -- See Mido Ranger

Battle Cossack 2 -- The legendary Daisuke Ban would probably be up for appearing, but his character is a late-series replacement and not considered a classic character.

Battle France -- Still acts, still does a lot of fan events, would probably appear if asked.

Battle Kenya -- Sadly suffered some health setbacks and has been quiet for a few years. On a sidenote: I remember being pretty pissed off when Gokaiger decided to do Gokai VS Gavan, when it had treated so many Showa Sentai shows so poorly. In retrospect, it's kinda cool, since it ended up being a tribute to not just Gavan, but Kenji Ohba himself, and since he's in a place where he might not be able to appear in Sentai's 45th...

Miss America -- First Miss America has practically vanished after her time on the show, and the second quit acting and hasn't been heard from for a while.

Most likely to appear: Battle France
Shougo would like: Battle Japan (long shot, I know)

DENJIMAN

Denji Red -- No longer acts. This info's old, from the Denji reunion in Toei Hero Max, but
at that time he said he no longer lived in Japan.

Denji Blue -- See Battle Kenya

Denji Yellow -- No longer acts, but does fan events.

Denji Green -- Mainly a voice actor now, has appeared as a voice performer in quite a few Sentai at this point, would definitely make a voice appearance. He's also taken it upon himself to perform the Denjiman songs at live events since original singer Ken Narita's passing.

Denji Pink -- Still in the biz, mostly as a model.

Most likely to appear: Denji Green (as a voiceover)
Shougo would like: Denji Green (in person)

SUNVULCAN

Vul-Eagle 1 -- Has a presence in the entertainment world as a radio personality and has done
numerous fan events. I think they could get him, and that would be interesting, IMO.

Vul-Eagle 2 -- Still acts. Did Gokai. He's Sunvulcan's best bet.

Vul-Shark -- No longer acts but has made appearances at fan events.

Vul-Panther -- No longer acts and has a criminal record that would prevent him from even being wanted on the show.

Likely to appear: Vul-Eagle 2
Shougo would like: Vul-Eagle 1

GOGGLE FIVE

Goggle Red -- Quit acting in the '80s, hasn't really been heard from since.

Goggle Black -- Still acts. Did Gokai, would return in a heartbeat.

Goggle Blue -- No longer acts, but has made a couple of fan event appearances.

Goggle Yellow -- No longer acts, but seems fond of his time as a toku hero.

Goggle Pink -- Hasn't been heard from since getting married and retiring in the '80s.

Likely to appear: Goggle Black
Shougo would like: Goggle Yellow (for a change)

DYNAMAN

Dyna Red -- Now a businessman, has done a few fan events, but still seems to lay low. I don't think it would be likely for him to pop up.

Dyna Black -- See Goggle Black

Dyna Blue -- No longer in showbiz, but has done a ton of fan events and would probably do
something if called.

Dyna Yellow -- No longer acts, does A LOT of fan events. I think he'd be up for an appearance if they wanted him.

Dyna Pink -- Appeared in Gokai, is often at fan events, I think she'd appear again.

Likely to appear: Dyna Black
Shougo would like: Dyna Pink (in a bigger role than Gokaiger)

BIOMAN

Red One -- Had a well-documented fight with cancer, but has made a few fan event appearances
since. I'd normally say he's a lock to appear, but maybe he'd want to play it safe with COVID.

Green Two, Blue Three, Yellow Four #2, Pink Five -- No longer act, but they've made a lot of
fan appearances. Pink cameoed in LupinVPat. Who knows? Bioman's the rare Showa team where all five members have regularly reunited for fan events. They're the only Showa team, really, that you have the best shot of seeing all together again. (Unless you're like me and only count the main three Liveman as the whole Liveman team -- I think they could get those three together again.)

Likely to appear: Red One, even if just a voice-only appearance
Shougo would like: Yellow Four #2

CHANGEMAN

Change Dragon -- Still in the business, but sticks to just voiceover narrations.

Change Griffin -- Still acts, did Gokaiger. Changeman's best bet.

Change Pegasus -- No longer acts, but has popped up and been more into the toku fan scene
in the past few years. He's said to be pretty busy with his business, so I wouldn't
expect an appearance from him.

Change Mermaid -- No longer acts, hasn't been heard from in years.

Change Phoenix -- She quit acting in the late '80s, but does a lot of fan events and has even taken a couple of acting gigs within the past couple of years. (She just cameoed in LupinVPat, too.) I would love to see Mai return.

Likely to appear: Change Griffin
Shougo would like: Change Dragon, but since that's unlikely and I don't want just a voice-over appearance, seeing Change Phoenix again would be pretty awesome.

FLASHMAN

Red Flash -- Still in the business, still very fond of his Flashman days. Was rumored to appear in Gokaiger, but his schedule didn't permit it.

Green Flash -- Still in the business, did Gokai.

Blue Flash -- No longer acts, but has done a fair share of fan events.

Yellow Flash -- No longer acts. She did one fan event for Flashman's 30th where it was requested that pictures wouldn't be taken. I wouldn't expect her for Gokai, as cool as that would be.

Pink Flash -- No longer acts, but has done fan events and toku-related interviews.

Likely to appear: Green Flash
Shougo would like: Red Flash

MASKMAN

Red Mask -- No longer acts. He has resurfaced since Gokaiger and is heavily involved in toku
fan events and waving the banner for Maskman. I suspect he'd be up for a voice appearance, but...c'mon, Takeru. Make a full appearance.

Black Mask -- No longer acts, is a businessman, but has done fan events and has made his presence known to the toku fandom.

Blue Mask -- No longer acts, is a martial-arts instructor, but he did Gokai, so I imagine he
could be talked into appearing again if they wanted him.

Yellow Mask -- No longer acts, but does fan events and cameoed in LupinVPat.

Pink Mask -- No longer acts, and has only just recently resurfaced for fan events, so I don't expect her to be willing to start filming stuff just yet.

X1 Mask -- In the business, mainly as a director now, but has done a lot of toku events and and would probably be totally up for reappearing as X1.

Likely to appear: Based on Gokai, Blue Mask.
Shougo would like: Red Mask. It was his show, man. Although a special crossover with sixth heroes that brought back X1 would be shocking and cool.

LIVEMAN

Red Falcon -- Still in showbiz, came back for Gao VS Sentai and made a voice-over appearance in Zyuoh VS Ninnin. Loves Liveman, would come back in an instant.

Yellow Lion -- Still acts. He did Gokai, he appeared in Kamen Rider Ghost. Since he was once a more mainstream actor, his availability might be limited.

Blue Dolphin -- Has just resurfaced and does a lot of fan events. I could see her reappearing
if they wanted her.

Black Bison -- Quit acting long ago, doesn't seem to want to be in the spotlight.

Green Sai -- Quit acting long ago, hasn't really been heard from.

Most likely to return: Yellow Lion
Shougo would like: Red Falcon

TURBORANGER

Red Turbo -- Still in the business, still obsessed with Turboranger, he'll be there already
dressed as Riki if called.

Black Turbo -- Resurfaced to do a movie a few years ago and showed up for Turboranger's
anniversary event, but I don't know if he'd be up for appearing as Daichi again.

Blue Turbo, Yellow Turbo -- No longer acting, but still fond of their Turboranger days, have made many fan event appearances, and would probably appear if they wanted 'em.

Pink Turbo -- No longer acts and has been absent from any Turbo get-togethers.

Most likely to return: Red Turbo
Shougo would like: Red Turbo (in a bigger role than Gokaiger)

FIVEMAN

Five Red -- Still acts, still trying to get people to like Fiveman. He'd appear if asked.

Five Blue -- No longer acts, but fond of his time on Fiveman, has appeared at fan events, has
a very popular bar which draws past toku folks and would probably appear if asked.

Five Black -- Has resurfaced in the past several years, appearing at events. Seems a little
reserved, I don't know if he'd come back.

Five Yellow -- Was said to have one foot out of showbiz before getting the Gokai call. She'd
probably be up for appearing again.

Five Pink -- Has been quiet for quite a while.

Most likely to return: Five Red
Shougo would like: Five Red, just because Fuji is cool and deserves another shot at playing
Gaku.

JETMAN

Red Hawk -- Quit acting, but recently resurfaced as a model. Extremely fond of his time
on Jetman and since next year's Jetman's 30th anniversary...I can imagine a scenario where
they'd get him back.

Black Condor -- Still acts, loves Jetman, did Gokai. You don't think they'd ignore the most
popular Jetman on the 30th anniversary, do you?

Yellow Owl -- No longer acts and hasn't been heard from in a while.

White Swan -- Quit acting, but still grateful for her time on Jetman, has made numerous
appearances at fan events. I think she'd be up for coming back if asked.

Blue Swallow -- Never made a big deal about retiring from acting, but has been quiet for quite
a while. With next year being Jetman's anniversary, and with Shirakura having worked on that
show as an assistant producer, and with what a fan favorite it is, and how fond everyone who
worked on it is of the show, I could imagine them getting the whole team back.

Most likely to return: Black Condor
Shougo would like: Blue Swallow. If I thought Tanaka was a lock, I'd say that I think seeing
the triangle interact after all of these years would be interesting.

ZYURANGER

Tyranno Ranger -- No longer acts, but that didn't stop him from returning as Geki in that Kyoryuger movie. He's also done a ton of fan events and conventions and likes keeping involved with the fandom. I think he'd totally appear again.

Mammoth Ranger -- Still acts, did Gokaiger and just popped up in...what show was it, Lupinranger? Ryusoulger? One of the new boring ones.

Tricera Ranger -- No longer acts, but is finally FREE of the prison that being a manager for
SMAP kept him in. Has since done fan conventions and would probably be happy to appear and
show his face again and get his name out there again. (He went uncredited for his voice work
in the Kyoryuger movie.)

Tiger Ranger -- No longer acts, but is into the toku fandom and would probably return.

Ptera Ranger -- No longer acts, but does fan events and remains a popular personality.

The main five all did voiceover work for Kyoryuger. They all seem like they would come back
if asked, but would Toei really want to recreate their ancient wardrobe? We all know they're
too cheap for that, c'mon.

Dragon Ranger -- See Change Pegasus. Except, I'd like to add, it would be freaking awesome
if they could get him back as Burai, but as mentioned, he's said to be too busy.

Most likely to return: Tyranno Ranger or Mammoth Ranger
Shougo would like: Dragon Ranger

DAIRANGER

Ryu Ranger -- Still in showbiz, still popular with toku fans, still willing to appear. If you
use him, Zenkaiger, treat him better than you did in Gokaiger, huh?

Shishi Ranger -- Deceased. RIP.

Tenma Ranger -- Still acts, mostly on stage. Ran a toku-themed bar, still fond of his Dai
days, cameoed in Gokaiger.

Kirin Ranger -- Still in the business, still does a lot of fan events. Cameoed in Gokaiger.

Houou Ranger -- No longer acts, but has done a lot of fan events and would probably appear
if asked.

Kiba Ranger -- No longer acts, but has appeared at fan events and would probably appear if
they wanted him.

Most likely to return: Ryu Ranger
Shougo would like: Never thought I'd say this, but it would be fun to see Kiba Ranger all
grown up.

Since Zenkaiger's chief producer Shirakura's only other Sentai experience was working on Jetman, Zyuranger and Dairanger, I expect these three shows to receive some preferential treatment.

KAKURANGER

Ninja Red -- Still acts, had no problem doing Gokai.

Ninja White -- No longer acts, but that didn't hold her back from cameoing in Gokai and lending her voice to Super Sentai Saikyou Battle. I wouldn't count her out from making another appearance.

Ninja Blue -- Mostly a voice-actor now, would probably most likely make a voiceover appearance.

Ninja Yellow -- Hasn't acted much recently, but has appeared in Kakuranger-related get-togethers.

Ninja Black -- Still acts, but seems he might be too "big" to appear. Throw some money at him, Toei!

Most likely to return: Ninja Red, Ninja White
Shougo would like: Ninja Black

OHRANGER

Oh Red -- Still acts, appeared in Gokai, would return without a problem.

Oh Green -- I don't think he ever "retired," but I don't know of much he's done recently. Has
made fan appearances, though.

Oh Blue -- Still acts and, while he was mainstream for a while, he had no problem returning
to his Sentai roots in the Shinkenger movie.

Oh Yellow -- No longer acting, but has appeared at get-togethers with the Ohranger cast.

Oh Pink -- Still acting, did Gokaiger, would probably appear as Momo again.

King Ranger -- No longer acting, and while he made a couple of fan event appearances years ago, I don't imagine him returning.

Most likely to appear: Oh Red
Shougo would like: Oh Red, not looking like a chump this time.

CARRANGER

Red Racer, Green Racer, Blue Racer and Yellow Racer are more or less all still in showbiz and
ready to go if you need Carranger back. While Pink Racer's still in the business, she's had
some negative press and hasn't seemed to associate much with the rest of the cast.

Most likely to appear: Red Racer
Shougo would like: Green or Yellow Racer.

MEGARANGER

Mega Red -- No longer acts, so Gokaiger got him at a good time. Too bad that couldn't have been a better episode, eh?

Mega Black -- No longer acts. Was mainly an athlete prior to Megaranger, so I don't imagine
Zenkaiger being enough to want to lure somebody back to a profession they didn't intend to be
in to begin with.

Mega Blue -- Mostly a voice-actor now.

Mega Yellow -- Still in the business, still attends fan events. Has worked with Zenkaiger's producers previously in Changerion.

Mega Pink -- Still in the business, has made appearances in toku since.

Mega Silver -- Outside of the business, but still eager to appear at fan events. Since he's
entered the world of politics, I'm not sure I see him returning.

Most likely to return: Mega Blue or Mega Yellow
Shougo would like: Mega Pink

GINGAMAN

Ginga Red -- No longer acting, but still returned for Gokaiger. Has done numerous interviews
and fan events pertaining to Gingaman since. Would probably appear again if asked.

Ginga Green -- Still acts.

Ginga Blue -- Still in the business. Was popular for a while, so I don't know if he's still
basically too "big" to come back.

Ginga Yellow -- Quit acting and hasn't been heard from for a while.

Ginga Pink -- Has resurfaced and attended numerous fan events; just appearead at the Tokyo
International Film Festival Sentai event with Red.

Black Knight -- See Ninja Red

Most likely to return: Ginga Green or Black Knight
Shougo would like: Ginga Red, in a larger role than in Gokaiger.

GOGOFIVE

Go Red -- No longer acts, but has donned his orange jacket for numerous event appearances.

Go Blue -- Still acts, and since he's just popped up in a couple of Toei productions, I expect
we'll see Nagare return.

Go Green -- Has stepped back from acting, but is still fond of his GoGoFive days and has made
appearances along with the rest of the cast.

Go Yellow -- His well-documented health issues doesn't seem to prevent Kenji Shibata from
wanting to keep waving the GoGoFive banner. I think he'd be up for reappearing, I just don't
think Toei would be that open-minded.

Go Pink -- Still in the business, appeared in Gokaiger, appears at GG5 fan events.

Since all five Tatsumis appeared at the Tokyo International Film Festival's Sentai special,
I'm expecting them to make some kind of appearance next year.

Most likely to appear: Go Blue
Shougo would like: Go Red

TIMERANGER

Time Red -- Still acts. Was for a time too busy and "big" to return to Sentai, but he's since
returned in Kyoryuger. Can Shougo let you in on a little secret? If you notice, around a lot
of these big anniversary seasons, the previous show might haul out a past actor you haven't
seen for a while and it's a giveaway that they're going to be returning. Remember the Goseiger ep that pointlessly had Ninja Red and Ninja White guest star, and then they both ended up appearing in Gokaiger? Or remember how Takumi Tsutsui was in Dekaranger 10YA for NO reason, only to end up soon appearing as Jiraiya in Ninninger? Master Black was such a nothing part, so I'm expecting Tatsuya to be seen again.

Time Pink -- Once quit acting, but then returned...she hasn't really been in a project for a
while, but I don't think she'd not be up for returning.

Time Blue -- Still in the business.

Time Yellow -- Still acts. Did Gokaiger.

Time Green -- Still acts.

Time Fire -- Still acts.

Most likely to appear: Time Yellow or Time Green
Shougo would like: Time Pink. I might not be a fan of Yuuri, but she IS a fan favorite, and
I think Zenkaiger should honor more of the heroines than Gokaiger did.

GAORANGER

Gao Red -- Still acts; was once pretty in-demand and mainstream. His tight schedule led to his
brief appearance in Gokaiger. But he also just popped up in Super Sentai Saikyou Battle and
the Tokyo Film Festival thing, so...I'm thinking he'll be popping up in Zenkaiger.

Gao Yellow -- Still in the business, primarily behind-the-scenes. But since he just appeared with the three other Gao guys at the Tokyo Film Festival...

Gao Blue -- Still acting.

Gao Black -- Still in the business, a toku fan who's still fond of his Gao days.

Gao White -- No longer acting.

But let me say this. Four of the five Gaoranger appeared at the Tokyo Film Festival. While White no longer acts, I could imagine her being invited, but declining due to COVID concerns. Four out of five Gaoranger...I'm really thinking we're going to be hearing from the five Gaoranger next year, whether it's in Zenkaiger or a new Gaoranger special or both.

Gao Silver -- Still acts, but got so popular that he reached the "the douchebag agency doesn't
like him to talk about his toku past" level. (Though it's been said that he's gone against
their wishes and done so in interviews. Still, don't expect to see him back.)

Most likely to appear: Gao Red or Gao Blue
Shougo would like: Gao Yellow

HURRICANEGER

We know all of these shitheads are still in the business and still come back for guest appearances no matter how much you hate 'em or don't want 'em to.

Most likely to appear: Any of the rotten bastards.
Shougo would like: Shurikenger

ABARANGER

AbaRed -- Still acts, came back for Kyoryuger's movie.

Abare Blue -- Still acts, came back for Kyoryuger's movie.

Abare Yellow -- No longer acts, couldn't even be gotten to do a voiceover for Kyoryuger's movie. Don't expect to see her.

Abare Black -- Last time I looked him up, he hadn't seem to have done anything for a while,
but I don't think that means he wouldn't do Zenkaiger if asked.

Abare Killer -- Still acts, did Gokai.

Most likely to appear: Red or Blue
Shougo would like: Black, because he's owed after Bouken vs Super Sentai, and it would mean
possibly bringing back Jeanne, which would be really cool.

DEKARANGER

See Hurricaneger

Most likely to return: Any of these shitheads.
Shougo would like: Deka Gold

MAGIRANGER

Red, Green and Yellow still act; Blue kinda went on a break, Pink doesn't act (though cameoed
in Gokai), Shine left acting to teach. All six of them appeared at the Tokyo Film Festival event, so...I think they're cooking up something Magiranger at Toei.

Most likely to return: Red or Yellow
Shougo would like: Magi Mama

BOUKENGER

Black and Yellow have left showbiz, with Yellow the more likelier to return if needed.
Red came back twice for Gokaiger, Silver's been back, and Blue's actor just popped up in
Saber for no reason, so I think we'll be seeing him in Zenkaiger. (Which makes sense considering the blue Zenkaiger is modeled after Boukenger.)

Most likely to return: Red, Blue or Silver
Shougo would like: Blue

GEKIRANGER

Blue, Yellow and Violet have quit acting, and I don't think it's likely any of them would
return so soon. Red and Chopper still act, as do Leo and Mele if you wanted to go that
route.

Most likely to return: Red or Chopper
Shougo would like: Yellow for a change

GO-ONGER

All of these clowns are still active in showbiz and up for returning. Fans spread rumors
after Go-onger 10YA that Yellow must "hate" Go-onger since she barely took part. She returned
twice for Gokaiger! She was under no obligation to appear in either Gokai or 10YA. Go-on 10YA
was fast-tracked and Aizawa's schedule was packed, so she did what she could.

Most likely to appear: Go-on Red, who you know is already camping out at Toei to appear.
Shougo would like: Go-on Black, the defective detective.

SHINKENGER

All are still active in showbiz. Tono is too high profile now to appear. (As for the other
Shiba? Kaoru's actress has quit acting.) Pink seemed for a minute like she was going to break
out and become bigger, but I guess her buzz has cooled.

Most likely to appear: Anyone who's not a Shiba, but probably Yellow.
Shougo would like: A Shinkenger movie focusing on the previous team.

GOSEIGER

Red has gotten a little too in-demand to reappear. Black and Blue quit showbiz, but Blue
seemed to have returned. Yellow's still active, while Pink left acting under those mysterious circumstances.

Most likely to appear: Yellow or Gosei Knight
Shougo would like: Not Gosei Knight

GOKAIGER

All six are still active in showbiz. (Even Pink, who left her agency, but is freelance at the
moment. And Yellow seems to prefer voice-over work now.)

Most likely to appear: Any of 'em.
Shougo would like: Not too much focus on 'em since they got to come back for Zyuohger.

GO-BUSTERS

All still active in showbiz, all just appeared at the Tokyo Film Festival shindig. Since Go-buster producer Naomi Takebe is the sub-producer of Zenkaiger, I expect some favoritism towards her Sentai shows, and with the four of them just reuniting...expect the Go-busters to appear no matter how much you don't want 'em to.

KYORYUGER

The guys are still active in showbiz, but Pink retired. Kingoo's gone mainstream, so don't expect to see him return any time soon.

Likely to return: Black or Gold
Shougo would like: Deathryuger

TOQGER

All are still acting, but Red and Yellow have tried to move on to the next level. (That's just
my way of saying "I'm tired of typing 'gotten big' or 'gone mainstream.') It looked like Green might have begun to take off, but I'm not sure if that worked out for him.

Most likely to return: Pink or Orange
Shougo would like: Orange, I guess.

NINNINGER

All still in the business. Since it's a Takebe series, don't expect this show to be ignored just 'cause you hate it.

Best bets to return: Red, Blue or Gold
Shougo would like: White

ZYUOHGER

All still active in showbiz, though Green's legal troubles might forbid him from returning.

Most likely to return: Red
Shougo would like: No comment

And from then on, mostly everyone is still active in showbiz and nobody's really broken out to the point where they're probably too "big" or in-demand to return. I mean, they've tried like a sonuvabitch to launch Pink from Patranger, but that show's so new that she's probably still under contract to make more appearances for Toei, so...just when you think you're out, they pull you back in.

I'd like to keep an open mind about Zenkaiger. I'd love for it to be a big, fun anniversary series bringing back a ton of people. While Shirakura keeps me worried, Komura's supposed to be a big Sentai fan, so maybe she'll balance it out and temper his prankster instincts. It would be nice to see old heroes return and actually DO something. There's rumors of old villains returning, which could be really cool, too. (And since Shirakura, like Inoue, liked casting Yutaka Hirose...could Shirakura lure him from retirement?!) Shirakura tends to put more money into his shows than the other producers, so maybe he'll surprise us with a lot of upper-tier talent, remade villain suits and explosive cameo-packed movies. I'm skeptical, but there's room for surprise since it's so unprecedented for him to be heading a Sentai at this time. With his ego and his being sent to "save" Sentai, I kinda expect Shirakura to try to "outdo" previous anniversary installments, especially Gokaiger.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Bird Songs

 

I've gone over this through the course of my Jetman episode breakdowns, but it's something I've wanted to gather in one post. I see a lot of complaints -- A LOT -- about Jetman's love triangle. I've read it called not only one of the worst romances in Sentai, not only one of the worst romances in toku, but somehow one of the worst romances in ANY media. (Watch more stuff, people!) It's also INFURIATING when someone will say "Yeah, the forced drama in Jetman was cheesy, and that's why I like it." If you're a "fan" like this, just know that I think YOU'RE cheesy.

Look, I know Jetman's become popular to dump on. Hey, I can understand wanting to take things down a peg. But people have lost their minds in their Jetman hatred. The show was a smash and is a fan favorite for a reason, and maybe it's hard for the younger generation of viewers to keep in mind how fresh and different its approach was at the time.

We had never seen toku heroes who could have such self-centered motivations. And we never saw heroes who had a real animosity towards one another, this being most represented by the love triangle of Ryu, Kaori and Gai. The love triangle was main writer Toshiki Inoue's primary focus of the show, and he really had it worked out. If you look at the episodes he wrote, it's a really solid, layered, well-constructed arc. It builds onto itself, it has a logical progression and pace, there are character payoffs, it's consistent and probably the most serialized a Sentai storyline has been. (Everybody complains about one-off "fillers," yet they also hate this super-serialized storyline. Go figure.) Take away any of the episodes Inoue wrote, and you're missing a lot. The triangle also ends by about episode 30, so that's 21 drama-free episodes for you complainers!

I think a lot of people project what they feel are the "right" views of something onto the show. They're judging a 20+ year old work from another country with modern, Western viewpoints. So they warp or misread what the Gai character is all about. People act like he's just some sort of sleaze who's humping the leg of any female character who walks by on screen, who is constantly tormenting a supposedly oh-so-timid and frightened Kaori. That's not even close to what the show is presenting.

Gai is supposed to be a hoodlum, yes. He's a womanizer. He's a passionate guy, he's upfront about what he thinks, what he wants -- there's no bullshitting with him. For what a rough thug he's supposed to be, he's also supposed to be quite charming. He knows what he wants and will do whatever he can to get it, but he does have principles and a strong moral code. He's a cynical guy, but a guy who can still find things to enjoy in life, whether it's women or music or even just booze. He has a dark outlook on life, but still wants to enjoy life on his terms.

Gai is NOT some sociopath, psychotic, homicidal, depraved, soulless piece of shit criminal. I'm so tired of people patting themselves on the back for thinking they're so cool or in or PC for "calling out" Gai's behavior as being so awful and reprehensible and what a terribly sexist stalker he is. "OMG, he doesn't get the hint that Kaori's not interested, but he keeps after her, he's practically a rapist!" Well, you can say that about Kaori in regards to Ryu, too. And you'd be wrong in both cases.

Gai is no different than Captain Kirk or James Bond or Batman or Wolverine or Tony Stark or Tyrion Lannister or Don Draper or Barney Stinson or...I could keep going. Why do those characters get such worship, but Gai's the one you have a problem with? And I know some of you will say "OMG, he's a superhero from an LOL KIDSBOP, he can't be compared to dramatic characters from Game of Thrones or Mad Men or some sitcom," but...hey, that's why it was a different approach for a toku at the time! That's why Gai was so refreshing and why people liked him. We didn't see a character like that before Jetman, and try as they might, we haven't seen one since. There's more to Gai than being the cool ladies' man, there's a lot of subtleties to the character that's in the writing, but also a lot of it due to actor Toshihide Wakamatsu. In the hands of a lesser performer, Gai COULD be obnoxious, and that could have influenced the way he was written, but Wakamatsu's, thankfully, a talented performer.

They obviously want Gai to be smooth -- and yet dangerous -- like James Bond, but Inoue loving his grey characters, wanted to put Gai on the other side of the law. It works to Jetman's premise that, in dealing with four people who aren't meant to be the heroes, who are chosen at random, that the writers made one of them be a rebellious thug who plays by his own rules. He's a lone wolf, so I can't exactly imagine him joining the yakuza or anything. And since he does have morals and a line he won't cross, I don't even think he can really be called an "antihero." (Even though I've referred to him as such in the past.) He's a reluctant hero. Gai's also just rock 'n roll -- live fast, have fun, and know that such a lifestyle's gonna quickly catch up.

All that said, onto the triangle. While there's obviously a component to Gai who enjoys the pursuing of women, I never felt like it was completely meaningless to him. I think he's genuinely interested in the women he goes after, I don't think he just rushes towards every woman he sees. And while I think that maybe his initial interest in Kaori was a way to prove that he could attract any woman he wanted, even someone so far from his social stratosphere, I think that was only briefly -- I think he quickly and genuinely fell for Kaori, in a way that she wasn't looking for. That doesn't mean the old "she wasn't interested, Gai's a creep for not backing off!" I meant that Gai really wanted to protect and coddle her, and that's not what she wanted or what she sought by being a Jetman. And that's what draws her to Ryu, is that he DOESN'T baby her. He was really harsh with her when she was suffering psychosomatic symptoms, he treated her as an actual person, an equal, and not some porcelain figure protected by her wealth and status, not someone to be treated special because of her beauty.

Gai's care for Kaori is genuine, and one of the first indicators that there's more to him than meets the eye. He seriously puts his ass in the line of danger for Kaori again and again, and some heartless punk isn't going to bother doing that after a certain point in the hopes that this unbreakable woman will sleep with him. Gai had no shortage of women for that. He sees something special in Kaori, and just can't understand what she sees in Ryu. Ryu and Gai are just two personality types that clash. From Gai's perspective, Ryu is just a big dumb Boy Scout who probably doesn't even believe half of the bullshit speeches he makes. He thinks Ryu's a dork -- the guy walks into a small, dark jazz bar and orders milk, for cryin' out loud! He thinks Ryu's a big bore who doesn't even notice Kaori or would even let himself be with her if he did. He doesn't think Ryu cares about Kaori, especially not the way he does, and just finds it infuriating the way Kaori shuts him out as she pines for Ryu.

Little does Gai know the pain that Ryu is in. But Ryu is a professional and, sticking to his word, wants to keep his private life private, as he feels a soldier and hero should. The four others are all in his care, and it's his job to whip them into shape and keep the team going. Kaori's just a fellow soldier, he doesn't see her the way she sees him. And he won't, because he just lost the love of his life in Vyram's invasion. The love who, by the way, would be in Kaori's position on the team, so that has to be a torturous reminder to him. So, he's really cut himself off in that way of thinking and feeling and just keeping his mind on the job. So, it's an unignorable big splash of cold water in his face when Kaori makes such a big deal about his birthday in episode 13. He realizes the way Kaori feels, and tries to be quick and to the point about it -- he appreciates her gestures, but it's inappropriate and no, thanks. It's the straightfoward, honest and logical reply from a guy like Ryu. There, he let her know...

And here's more proof that Gai cares about Kaori as a person and not a conquest -- he gets mad at Ryu on her behalf about his reaction! If Gai was really such a one-track thinker, he could and WOULD have taken easy advantage of that situation. He does catch up to a crying Kaori and try to tell her to forget Ryu and pay attention to him, the one who ACTUALLY notices her, and forces a kiss on her, and she slaps him. This has become a "controversial" scene in the English-speaking fandom, that he forces a kiss on her, but...the way the scene plays, I think it's just supposed to be emotions running wild. I think he's trying to show her how assertive he is compared to the seemingly oblivious and uncaring Ryu. She slaps him and that's that. He doesn't keep trying or anything. Geez.

And this is the episode that begins with Gai accusing Ryu of being some unfeeling robot who's never loved, and that visibly affects Ryu and brings all of the stuff with Rie to the surface, so he's certainly within rights to just firmly let Kaori know to keep it professional. Again, the guy's in pain and mourning. (He didn't even really have time to mourn -- Odagiri punches him and tells him to get over it, ASAP.) Gai and viewers have it wrong that he's a dummy with blinders on for the sake of perpetuating drama.

When the dust settles from this situation, a frustrated Gai just needs to know -- does Kaori see anything in him or not. So he pulls her away from the others while shopping, confronting her in an elevator, in another scene that the English-speaking fandom overreacts about. Kaori's obviously not threatened by him in this situation, just kinda startled and thinks it's awkward. By this point, we've seen Gai take beatings from Grey as Grey pursued him and wheelchair-bound Kaori, we've seen Gai plead with Maria to return the captured Kaori, Gai went and fought Camera Jigen on his own to get Kaori back. He's made it clear how he feels about Kaori, Ryu's made it just as clear. Kaori's never said squat about Gai, so he just wants to hear her say something, anything, even if it's that she hates him. He feels like he's just stuck in limbo.

And he still doesn't even really get what he's after, because Kaori soon rushes off and the team encounters Juza; the episode ends with him taking a hit for Kaori, the one that causes painful crystals to burst through his skin, which will end up killing him! Here he technically gives his life for Kaori. And here's where some of Gai's armor chips away, because he's initially distant with Kaori, not wanting her pity, but he eventually breaks down and just says he's scared and you know, a guy like Gai, he doesn't want anyone to see him in a state like he's in -- in pain and frightened.

And I think -- other than the fact that a string of episodes written by the sub-writers follows this arc -- once Gai's saved and they deal with Juuza, Gai probably keeps quiet and keeps his distance for a while. His pining for Kaori goes on the back burner as he lets things try to get back to normal, but it's something that's going to rear its head in. It's always in the background, which leads Ryu to confront Gai...

Ryu's a character who's in pain. The biggest love of his love was taken from him, and he wasn't allowed to mourn her. He had to keep pressing forward and slap on a professional face for the sake of this team of amateurs he had to lead into battle. He's not a superman, he has his own emotions and feelings, but he gets by the best he can, and he can't let go of Rie. For the sake of the team's efficiency, he decides its best that everyone puts their cards on the table -- for Ryu, he's not interested in Kaori. He knows Gai is, and he urges him to pursue that if he's serious and cares about her. Ryu's being completely honest and straightforward, but this all rubs Gai the wrong way. He doesn't think Ryu's being caring enough of Kaori, he thinks Ryu's just playacting at being the nice, stand-up leader he claims to be. Gai even gets a dig in that he thinks Ryu's never loved anyone before, which hurts him, since Rie's often on his mind.

Ryu doesn't get through to Gai, so he tries Kaori. Maybe his method is extreme, but I think he felt the need to convey his intent by whatever means he could. Words weren't getting through to these two. And not only does Ryu have to keep the professional front up, but I feel like he's kind of a private person on top of it. Like, it's not right or professional for the Jetman members to know any business of his personal life, as the one pro there, as their leader. He's a military soldier, he can't afford to show any cracks. Some viewers criticize him for seeming hypocritical in that he lectures others on separating their professional and personal lives, when his private life is very tied up into his professional one, but I feel like the point is that Ryu IS flawed, he doesn't have all of the answers. But that's what's expected of him, so he tries, and tries his best.

At the start of the show, Ryu's shown to be a bit of a hotshot and risk taker; he endangers himself in order to put a stop to that rampaging android. He's in a relationship with a co-worker, which isn't exactly professional, and he knows it, because he brings up his concern to Odagiri if the two becoming Jetman will mean they'll have to break up. While Ryu IS a good and talented soldier, there's a lot he buries for the sake of putting up that professional front and...well, soldiering on. He might be the only qualified one on the team, but he's having to make adjustments, as well. Just because he was a Sky Force officer and chosen to be Red Hawk didn't mean they still weren't going to train and grow more into their roles -- he's thrown into things as quickly as Gai and the others.

So, as drastic as Ryu taking Kaori to Rie's grave is, I think it's a kind of big move for someone who wants to keep his personal life to himself to open up like that in such a big way. And since Kaori wasn't listening to him, it's the big bucket of cold water required to get her to listen. He wasn't trying to be malicious, he just thought that would get through. "You think I'm a coldhearted guy, that I'm ignoring you? No. If you want to know, here's where the body of my true love should lie, she only just died a few months ago, so...let me be. Let me grieve."

Kaori's right to be upset by that display, as she storms off home by foot and ignores Ryu, but...I also think she should have been able to sense Ryu's mood on the drive to the cemetery! She was so wrapped up in thinking it was a date and that he was taking her to meet his parents, that she should have paid more attention to Ryu's demeanor and felt the mood. Ryu's move was the best option! She really wouldn't have listened otherwise.

(And for everyone saying what a stalking, creepy harasser Gai supposedly is, they seem to forget the sweet scene where he's trying to console Kaori later that evening. She's still upset and talking about Ryu, but Gai's there for her. And when she admits that maybe she might have been better off falling for Gai, before leaving, he just smiles and says he'll win her over yet. There's nothing nasty or creepy or manipulative or anything about him here. He's genuine. He offers her words of encouragement and lets her go on her way. There's growth from the pushy guy/Gai who would have made some upsetting remark or gotten frustrated with her.)

And guess what? You might think Ryu's a jerk for the way he went about breaking the news of his heartbreak, but it still doesn't quite get through to Kaori! She's more upset than she was before, but she decides to make her next play getting Ryu to get over Rie. And while I think that's pretty cold and disrespectful to Ryu and what he felt like he had with Rie, it's at least an honest and believable reaction, and interesting in the way that the show doesn't always want to paint the heroes in the best light. (It's a bold choice. I noted in my series coverage that it's a Kaori moment I don't like, but I do still consider myself a fan of the character.) She's upset and not exactly happy with herself for going about it this way, but she wants to make it known that she's not a quitter and she wasn't broken by Ryu's revelation. Ryu just kind of throws his hands in the air at that point, wanting to move on. He ends up further agitating Gai by regifting Kaori's concert ticket to him, but honestly hopes it's the thing that can get the two to spend some time together and maybe have something spark.

I think the motivations here are solid. Ryu just wants to move on from this hindrance, Gai's frustrated and feels like Ryu's just careless and patronizing to both him and Kaori. There's been so many times in this show where feelings bubble up, but are cut off or held back, that it finally explodes and becomes an ugly fight between Ryu, Gai and even Raita. And before any of it can even be resolved -- and maybe that's for the best, because the fight was brutal and with no end in sight -- the Vyram attacks. And from then, they get pulled into the intense battle with Semimaru, and I feel like their seeing the Dimensians all get killed is what gets them to once again dial back their own resentments or unhappiness with one another. It shakes them out of their selfishness for a time. The Dimensians were a happy, functional team, showing a better Jetman in that Rei and Kanna were a happy couple and that even goofy young Dan had their love and respect. They had things worked out, but look what happened to them -- what chance do the Jetman have against the Vyram when they're at each other's throats all of the time? So, I think that causes things to blow over for a while...

The next events mark a big, big turn in The Triangle, and effect the rest of the series...

It all starts when Gai helps Kaori pull an all-nighter as she [TECHS THE TECH] on her mechas. Genuinely appreciative, she tries to make it up to Gai by treating him to a relaxing lunch in a beautiful location. (By a fountain at the Kawaguchi Green Center -- a lovely looking place that I've always enjoyed seeing in Super Sentai, even when I was a kid.) Kaori uses the opportunity to try to crack through some of Gai's armor, recognizing that he's a better person than he lets on, than he'd like people to perceive him. But this is cut short by an attack from Radeige, before the Majin Muu arrives and kidnaps Kaori -- he senses she's the true warrior he seeks in order to resurrect his comrades via blood sacrifice.

A panicked and upset Gai tracks down the Majin's cave; Kaori's been placed in a chamber, ready to be sacrificed. Gai offers his own blood instead, taking a straight razor and slashing his hand with it. The Majin's comrades pick up the scent of his blood and begin to drain Gai. He falls to his knees, shaking, he's turning pale...Kaori witnesses this through tears. It doesn't look good for him, this could very well be the time he dies. And it makes Kaori think of all of the other times he endangered himself for her sake. Emotions are running high, and she tells Gai that she's his. He gives her a smile, but is still incredibly weak.

Some critics think Kaori is just telling Gai what he wants to hear here, to encourage him. But I think with what Kaori was preparing to say at their lunch, I think she WAS going to bring up the idea of maybe trying to start something with him. But, of course, it didn't go the way she planned it would -- I always imagined she was going to try to feel him out and confirm he was genuine in his love for her -- and it all ended up happening in a really fraught situation...

But it happens. From here, Gai and Kaori -- Gaori -- are a couple. The triangle is over, people, and the relationship between Gai, Kaori and Ryu takes a new, interesting, surprising direction from here on.

Gai and Kaori, now an item, are just trying to enjoy themselves. For Gai, he bared his feelings for her. He placed himself in danger. This isn't early Gai, the thug, the James Bond type who could easily charm a woman he wants by just words or attention; he was intrigued by Kaori. He began to care and love her. His love for her was genuine. Maybe, unlike his past flings, it was the first meaningful relationship for him. So Gai just wants to make the most of it, even if it means they run late for Jetman briefings and business. After one too many lectures by Odagiri and Ryu, Gai storms off, dragging Kaori with him. In an angry outburst, he hands his Cross Changer over to a worried Raita. (Note that Kaori keeps hers.) Gai and Kaori ride off, cutting ties with Jetman, leaving Jetman to be a Sunvulcan/Liveman style of the classic Red, Blue and Yellow line-up.

And something funny happens on the way to Gai and Kaori's leave of absence. The Majin are different opponents for the Jetman -- and the Vyram! Not being prepared to face such adversaries, an attack causes Maria to revert to Rie. Ryu's not prepared for this, it really throws him. But there she is. And while Ryu noticed the resemblance early on, he dismissed that Rie could be the coldhearted Maria. But I also think that he's the kind of guy who just sees things logically -- what are the odds that Rie survived and became this Maria foe? It doesn't make sense, so he doesn't think about it. (Or maybe even buries the possibility because it's just too out there and too much to contemplate.) But there's the solid proof and confirmation -- Maria is Rie, and Rie is alive. Any of Ryu's most absolutely far-fetched hopes and dreams are actually real. The only woman he's ever loved is alive! Here's the chance to find happiness again, to get back to a sense of normalcy. But before he has time to deal with her, he puts aside his own needs and is off to fight as a Jetman. And before he can get back to her, Radeige finds her and transforms her back to Maria...

Having had that chance to reconnect with Rie and missed it, having that hope grabbed away as she's turned back to Maria, it completely breaks Ryu. He withdraws into himself, he falls into a deep, deep depression. He isolates himself, he practically goes catatonic. I think of two things here. I think of the Joy Division lyrics "Just for one moment/I thought I'd found my way/Destiny unfolded/I watched it slip away." (That whole song, "Twenty Four Hours" probably fits Ryu's mindframe well in this section of the show.) The other thing I think of -- to lower the bar from Joy Division -- is Spider-man 2, when a downtrodden Peter, having been so selfless and sacrificed so much as a hero, sees his personal life in shambles and is just like "Is this it? Am I not supposed to be happy? Am I not supposed to have what I want and need?" I think some of Gai's way of thinking creeps into Ryu's head.

A big point of Ryu/Red Hawk versus Gai/Black Condor comes down to Inoue's examining the motivations, beliefs and philosophies of a hero. It's a clash of personalities. Ryu is the traditional hero -- selfless. Bound by honor, duty. He cares about others and puts their safety and happiness above his own. As a soldier, he's most likely been trained to see beyond himself and focus on what needs done, and the tools required to get it done. This is what bugs him about the drama Gai stirs up, and why the set-up of the show is interesting in that the Red is the one guy who's supposed to be there, but the other four are just average folks who really need guidance and who don't have the training, so they're not going by the book and, initially, aren't even that good on the field. Ryu has his hands full, and he does a pretty damn good job of being the driving force of the team and look how well he whips everyone into shape! They become such good heroes, and a lot of it is because they look to Ryu. He has the heart and compassion and belief in others that most classic superheroes have and require, even if he himself is traumatized. That's the thing -- he's that classic superhero, and he's every bit the brave, good, decent guy the show says he is, but he's not invulnerable or perfect. He has his own faults, that's what Inoue does and likes to write, that's what makes characters like Ryu interesting.

And then you have Gai. You can't be more opposite. It's the difference between Cyclops and Wolverine, isn't it? One's the one who gets dismissed as being a square, order-following soldier, the other's the rule-breaking, pissed off, booze-guzzling troublemaker. Gai looks out for number one. He's selfish, but he's not uncaring. He has a desire to help people, he'll fight when he sees something he knows is wrong. He thinks there's more to being a hero than just the standard speechifying of "protecting justice!" Gai presents this slightly more realistic take and I'll just quote what I said about him one time at HJU.

I says:

"I also think Gai was supposed to be a more 'realistic' tokusatsu hero. As selfless as we think a superhero should be, here's Gai who says no, a hero needs to take care of themselves or else they can't take care of anyone. Here's Gai, who wanted to hang on to what was seen as just selfish behavior because he was afraid of losing himself to the demands of being a Jetman. Here's Gai, who knows it takes more than just repeating 'We're soldiers, we protect the world' to actually protect the world."

Gai's someone who's probably only ever fought for personal reasons. Being in a street brawl defending yourself or a principle or someone else's honor is quite different from what a soldier like Ryu experiences. Ryu can separate himself from his work, Gai can't...but here's a situation that makes it impossible for Ryu to place that divider any longer. It's the confirmation that not only is his long lost love alive, she was taken by the villains and he's been fighting her all along. Ryu can't take this, so he shuts down. And I feel like this coinciding with Gai's leave of absence from the team is Inoue's comparing and contrasting the two's differences, with Ryu taking on a Gai kind of thinking and reaching that whole Spider-man 2 bit I mentioned. His world, what he knew, and the rules that got him through it are upside down.

While Gai initially calls Ryu on what he sees as hypocrisy -- "A soldier's not supposed to let their personal life interfere" -- seeing Ryu in such a state really shakes him. While I think the show goes a little too far in having Ryu imagine he sees Rie next to him, it's probably the kind of thing that caused Gai to stop in his tracks and see the trouble his teammate's in. It's bonkers. He thinks Ryu's a lot of things, but bonkers ain't one of 'em. Gai doesn't know what to make of it, he wants Ryu to snap out of it. It even looks like Gai's about to strike him, but seeing a tearful Ryu look over at what he thinks is Rie stops him -- it's a sad sight, and he hugs him instead. Gai knows that the only person who can save Ryu from such trouble is only Ryu himself, so he lets him know that he'll give him the time to recover and resume his Jetman duties in his place. Gai, being a passionate person, knows the human spirit. He knows Ryu needs to cope, grieve, heal. He allows him the time that Odagiri and The Rulebook didn't allow him. He knows that Ryu is strong enough to overcome this ordeal; he returns the faith in Ryu that Ryu always had in Gai, which Gai is proving by setting off to help his teammates in the absence of their leader.

The Gai who was once at his throat, who's made clear that he thinks little of him, the selfish one, the hedonist who ran off because he was tired of being lectured...he ends up showing mercy and compassion. He does the right thing and steps up in the stead of his pained comrade. That has to be a "Holy shit, things must be looking bad if GAI is that worried" moment of self-realization for Ryu. Gai cares about him. And rather than retreat into delusions or thoughts of the past, he doesn't bury it any longer. His next encounter with Maria isn't denial, but a vow to save her, before he embraces her and goes off to help his friends. So, at this point, Ryu is healed of some of his trauma and heartbreak, Gai and Kaori have decided to date, and for the first time there's true harmony amongst the team. Gai notes that it feels like the true beginning for them.

For the next several episodes, we're shown glimpses of Gai and Kaori being close to one another. In the episodes where Odagiri takes the team for R&R to Yamada Ranch, Kaori notes that it would be nice to return there, just the two of them. (When Gai is later showing two women golfers some stances, Ako tries to get Kaori to admit she's angry at the display. While she's visibly bothered, Gai doesn't make a big deal about it. Fans make a big deal out of this scene, too, and it's not like he saw them and pursued them. They asked him! And he doesn't give a shit once Hirose comes along and steals them, either.)

There are several episodes where the two are supposed to be dating, it's just a given. And when it's put in the forefront again, it's the signs that it wasn't meant to last. Kaori trying to teach Gai proper dinner etiquette doesn't go well. The final straw, though, is when Gai is having a meal with Kaori's parents. Her parents are snobbish, constantly quizzing Gai on his place in society, his pedigree, his WORTH. That's when it finally sinks in to Gai. He excuses himself and leaves. Kaori's such a sweet, nice character. She's worried about Gai fitting in with her circle, hence the etiquette lessons, but she's still open minded, she knows Gai's actual worth, and expects her parents and their world and her circle will understand. Gai knows she's wrong, that they won't, and he rides off.

Kaori mentions to Ako that they're having trouble, knowing it's looking bad. Gai has gone about his business, going over his thoughts, and just knows it's not working and realizes a person can't just change -- he and Kaori could have made it work, but he's just not a part of her world. He can't be, he doesn't want to be. In his head, love should be enough, but that's not the real world, is it? And Kaori's the rare kindhearted, open-minded and understanding type of person in that world, who knows that worth goes beyond the monetary or materialistic, and she's trying her damnedest to make an effort. She thinks she has a chance at getting her parents to accept Gai once she can explain the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together, but she also can't have Gai completely change who he is, it's not right. She has to know it's a losing battle. KAORI NEVER CAVED IN OUT OF GAI'S PERSISTENCE! She appreciated how much she apparently meant to Gai, and felt like she should see if there was anything there. She gave him a chance. It ends up not working between them...

The next we see of them, Gai is entering the command center of Skycamp and catches Kaori's glance. They smile to each other and then get about their business. Coming after the scenes where they each, separately, realize the romance isn't looking good, it's plain that this is acknowledgement that the two have broken things off mutually, off-screen. It's such a nice, subtle way to address it, especially for how explosive the feelings and beginnings of this romance were, just how boldly the show depicted them. It's an interesting storytelling and stylistic choice. The exchange says, without words, "We gave it a shot. Can't ask more than that, but let's not make it weird so we can stay friends." And they don't let it affect their friendship or teamwork, and things remain harmonious for the Jetman from here through the finale.

I also like the growth of Ryu and Gai by this point. Gai, originally so dismissive of the type of person he thought Ryu was. He thought he was just an empty-headed, yes-man soldier who followed instructions and didn't have a thought or feeling of his own and was an android and big old nerd. However, he respected Ryu as a fighter, in combat, and so was willing to follow his orders when it came time to fight Vyram. (Which is another criticism I see of the show: "Gai hates Ryu but always falls in line for henshin scenes and attacks!") And here's the cool thing about Ryu: Gai had always misunderstood Ryu and had him pegged wrong from the start. Ryu, on the other hand, knew what Gai was like underneath -- that he was a good person. He had a soldier's intuition and a confidence in Gai, a respect for Gai, even if that respect wasn't shown towards him.

So in the Veronica two-parter, it's really interesting to see how far the two have come, how much Gai has evolved. Compare it to the Camera Jigen episodes, when Gai is so lost and unable to calm himself about Kaori's being taken that he's NO help to Ryu in the building of Fire Bazooka. With Veronica, the two are working together nonstop, with Gai even risking himself to hold together some of the mecha's faulty wiring in order for Ryu to finish the fight. They're in the trenches together, as they've been many times before. Ryu's turned them into good soldiers, and they've not only become good soldiers and heroes, but friends. Has a toku show ever shown a journey like Gai's? Not even the one from a thug to a hero, but someone who starts the show so antagonistic, hating our lead hero so much, and ending up best of friends?

The door is then open for Kaori to pursue Ryu. I think that scene in the penultimate episode between the two in the shack is well shot and acted. I'll admit I do think it could have used a tweak in the dialogue, but overall it's still emotionally honest and believable as a first step in getting the two together. People have a problem with how quickly it goes from Ryu-still-being-hung-up-on-Rie to his marrying Kaori, but take into account that the finale makes a THREE YEAR time jump, and that Inoue purposely avoids showing the two together in order to keep the groom's identity mysterious. He doesn't say right off that the wedding is between Ryu Tendo and Kaori Rokumeikan, the characters don't say anything until the reveal.

I find the show's romance is all done in a believable way that takes its time. It rewards your viewing patience, but it's all done at a believably steady pace. Nothing is rushed or unearned. There's growth and payoff. It works.

Look, it's OK if you don't like Jetman, if it's not your thing or if Toshiki Inoue's style isn't to your liking. But stop trying to act like it's poorly made or misconstrue its intentions or warp what it does to fit your modern senses and act like you're the one on the pedestal instead of this show. Jetman's a giant for a reason. Its flair for drama and the romantic clashing was a draw, and was INOUE'S WHOLE INTENT BEHIND THIS DAMN SHOW! It's supposed to be big and explosive and dramatic and messy and ugly and complicated! We've never seen heroes act this way in a toku before! (And as hard as they've tried, they haven't come close since, either.)

One more thing. Something I've always wanted to note, but it couldn't quite fit in anywhere here, is the way Gai acts around Odagiri. For all of his problems with authority, he always listens to her. He never smack talks her, he doesn't give her grief, he doesn't hit on her, he always shows her attention and respect. (I recall one episode where he practically stands at attention as she enters, as if he's an actual soldier.) If he was really the misogynistic monster modern fans paint him to be, I don't think this would be the case.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A New Pain, a New Pride (The Book of Gills)

 

Kamen Rider Agito is a show overflowing with mysteries, with most of them either being totally resolved or leaving enough for the viewer to make their own conclusions. However, one of the more mysterious aspects is the character of Ryou Ashihara/Kamen Rider Gills. And a lot of that is by design; we're pretty much sharing Ryou's journey, thrown into the mix. If the point of Shouichi's storyline is that he's such a genuinely good person that he remains that person even with amnesia -- he's someone who knows himself that well, on a spiritual and emotional level if not on a memory level -- then Ryou is someone who has to find himself, his place, his meaning, throughout the show. (Duh, his theme song is even called "Searching For Myself.")

Series creator and writer Toshiki Inoue has often said that he's a fan of mysteries -- Agatha Christie being a favorite writer of his -- and that he often likes to leave certain things mysterious. And does he ever with Ashihara and Gills! But I think there's enough there that you can either come to your own conclusion or come away from the show with a decent understanding. I've seen a lot of criticism against the character, with people feeling like he's out of place or pointless, but those people aren't getting what Inoue's saying with this character.

We're first introduced to Ashihara as he's trying to bounce back from a nasty accident -- from the flashback, his motorcycle appears to have collided with a truck head-on. He's a talented swimmer for his college team, or was -- he's facing difficulty getting back in his old shape after recovering. We learn in several episodes that Ryou, prior to his accident, wasn't the nicest, most caring guy. His ex-girlfriend, Mayumi, talks of how poorly he treated her, putting his swimming before her, pretty much leaving her to focus on his sport. His dad talked about what a rude punk his son was. His accident upends things for him, but he apparently thinks he can continue with his swimming, and his attitude probably hasn't changed much...

And then it happens. For his first race back, he comes to a painful stop in the middle of a lap, eventually needing hospitalized. His body is transforming, as he'll soon discover. Why does it hit out of nowhere? I think it's in reaction to Shouichi's Agito power awakening and the appearance of the Jaguar Lords and the Oparts. For the first few episodes, like many werewolves before him, all Ryou knows is that his body's transforming and he doesn't like it. It hurts him. It mutates him. It frightens him. It breaks him.



Ashihara begins to really isolate himself. In the past, it sounds like he was a bridge-burning loner, but this is different behavior -- he's scared. He hides in his apartment, he dodges phone calls. His persistent coach finally gets Ashihara to open up, and the truth terrifies the coach so much that he cuts ties with Ashihara. Ashihara reaches out to his ex, Mayumi, for support. Still stinging over his past behavior, Mayumi is also targeted by the Unknown, who successfully killed her dad, putting her next on their kill list. She witnesses Ashihara's first full transformation into Gills, and it frightens her; she fears that Ashihara is no different than the monsters who are after her, and she leaves town, abandoning HIM this time.

This transformation is painful for Ryou. It physically marks him -- often times looking like it ages him -- and he often falls into unconsciousness. At one point, a passed-out Ryou is saved by the black-clad Mysterious Youth, who heals him. Ryou awakens and finds he has an instinctual reaction of fear to the Mysterious Youth, and attempts to attack him. The Youth notes that Ryou is not becoming an Agito, but "Gills," calling the form a "rarity." If you want to believe the story that Toei came up with for the tapestry that's shown in the opening credits, it says that the very first Gills was the offspring of the white-clad Mysterious Youth and a human woman. So, I guess that means Ashihara's a descendant of a demigod. BUT I remember fans at the time trying to guess what Gills could mean, and a lot of theories at the time was that the Gills power was the opposite of Agito's -- Agito's came from the white-clad Youth of Light, while this theory floated that Gills could have been the result of the black-clad Youth of Darkness trying to create his own army once upon a time, and is the reason why he goes to the trouble of saving and healing Ryou.


Shortly afterward, Ryou receives news of his father's death. His father, who we'll see later on, is the complete opposite of the way his son has been described. The elder Ashihara is warm, kind, eager to help out when something's going wrong. After the passengers of the Akatsuki-gou became traumatized from their experience, the elder Ashihara seems to become a vagrant, dying on a park bench with few possessions. One of the possessions is an address book, with the name of everyone who was aboard that ship. This begins Ryou's journey to find out more about what happened and what he's becoming. Most importantly for the character, this sets him on the path to meeting Shouichi Tsugami...

At this point, Ryou retains some of his old attitude. He's gruff, he's quick to get violent. But he's afraid, he wants answers, he wants to understand, he wants to break down his walls and find company with others. His first real meeting with Shouichi isn't that great; Shouichi wants to push his hippy philosophy on the severely depressed Saeko character, whose brother perpetuates a fantasy for her to live in so she can find SOME comfort in her shattered life, after she broke down from the trauma of the Akatsuki-gou. Ashihara relates to her and knows too well the need for a distraction, an escape plan, that reality can be too ugly to face. His viewpoint totally clashes with Shouichi's, and it earns Shouichi a punch.

After Saeko's death-by-drowning, Ashihara continues to seek out the names in his father's notebook. He attempts to meet with a certain Kino, but when he can't be found, he moves on to Aki Sakaki. Aki, who's feared being found by monsters since the events of the Akatsuki-gou, initially seeks Shouichi (knowing he's Agito) for protection, before settling for Ryou once she finds out he's able to transform, as well. They're two broken, frightened people, and they make a connection, the first real connection Ryou's made since his transformation. But before they can go anywhere, Gills is gunned down by Hojo's police squad and presumed dead by Aki. After this brutal attack by the police, including a rough fight with G3, Ashihara's physically worse off than ever before; he's often unconscious, but he begins to hear voices calling for him to do harm. (The voices he hears is a BIG thing that I think the show should have attempted to answer, but they don't. But it certainly lines up with the fan theory that the Gills powers came from darkness.)



Ryou eventually recuperates, finding Aki when it's too late and she now has blood on her hands, killing the police officers she thought had killed Ryou. When Agito is seen holding the corpse of Aki, who had been killed by an Unknown, a heartbroken and furious Gills attacks Agito, believing him responsible. (Hey, if the cops thought Agito was an Unknown early on, then there's a chance Ryou would, too. This is the first time he's seen Agito.) After an intense battle with both Agito and G3, an inconsolable Ryou resumes his search for the people who knew his father. He eventually contacts Masumi, who's seen to be close to fellow Akatsuki-gou passenger Katsuhiko, and they both are in contact with Kino. Masumi seems paranoid and claims that Kino orders the death of Ashihara, but we eventually learn that she's possessed by the El of Water, a high-ranking Lord. After attempting to kill Ryou, Ryou strikes back in self-defense, seemingly injuring Masumi, angering Katsuhiko, who eventually kills Ryou with his newly-enchanced super-powers.

And here's where I need to talk about episode 28. The sore-thumb episode. The episode filmed in full-screen, setting off the tug-o-war between the show's aspect ratio. The only episode of the series not WRITTEN by Inoue, although he's credited as overseeing it. There's a lot of criticism against the so-called randomness of this episode. I, personally, thinks it kinda slows the momentum of the show a bit, but I wouldn't say it's a bad episode. Taken at face value, it's about an incident a few weeks back when Ryou saves a kid from the Unknown who killed his parents and teaches him how to take responsibility and face death. Now...

Ryou's still on a path of growth and coming to accept his own situation. If this episode takes place a few weeks ago, then this just doesn't really jibe with where the Ryou character's at. He's not at a place himself to be dispensing this learned knowledge -- but he gets there. Just not yet. So I've always taken this kinda reading of the episode in that...we see Ryou dying in the river. He's flashing to events the series has shown us, yes. But we're getting this new adventure, one that's meant to stick out as being something different and special in the way they're filming it and presenting it. So, my reading of this episode is...

This episode is a journey of Ryou's spirit. Ryou's joyful, open and happy in this episode. This is a Ryou unlike any other time we've seen him in the series, because he's free. Free of his pain, free of his sadness, free of his burden. The boy he encounters, who's run away from his parents' funeral, he's actually dead, too. Ryou encounters this spirit and saves him -- not only from the Unknown, but from the suited guys who pursue him. The suited guys are trying to get the kid back to the funeral, but look at the way they behave for most of the episode -- they don't act like guys just trying to find the kid and help him return to a service, no. The way they act is highly unusual; they're rough, they're fierce. They CHASE him throughout the city. I think they're entities trying to convince the kid's spirit to accept his death, that his soul needs to join his family in the afterlife to rest. The Unknown we see chase him represents, of course, The Bad Place. The suited guys seem unnecessarily rough, but see their demeanor once the kid willingly returns to the "funeral." They're smiling. They're happy to see the kid, they offer him calming words. He's made the right choice in joining his parents. When the kid says he doesn't know Ryou's name, one of them tells him that he'll be seeing him again...



It doesn't all fit -- hello, random appearance by Shouichi, to remind us all of whose show we're watching! -- but the best way for me to make sense of episode 28 is to view it as an afterlife tale. Ryou helps a kid's spirit and finds some peace as he dies, especially once that kid moves him by crying for Ryou's unhappy life. Ashihara's a guy who would probably have been happy to die, but Tetsuya Sawaki has other plans for him. (Sawaki actually apologizes to the lifeless body of Ryou for this reason.) Sawaki seeks to build an army of Agitos for war, wanting to resurrect Ashihara. He first recruits Katsuhiko, who fails, and then Mana, who ends up succeeding, despite it initially seeming to fail. (That this takes a toll on Mana and her arms age the way Ashihara's does makes me wonder if Mana would end up being a Gills instead of an Agito.) As Ryou regains life, he keeps getting vague images of Mana and is soothed by the light she shines. Once revived, Ryou feels indebted to Mana, wanting to help her at any cost. (I love that she enlists Ryou to help protect Shouichi when he breaks down at seeing the El of Water again.)


Ryou is resurrected and has a new outlook on life. (Also: after he revives, he no longer suffers any side-effects of being Gills.) Ryou is more open to people and their help, he sees everyone who's seemingly happy with a place of their own -- especially Shouichi, the life he's made with the Misugi family, and their love for him -- and he aspires to find his own place of peace. He's spent so long in solitude and pain -- some of that solitude out of his own behavior and attitude. And then when Kino arrives, with false promises of using his power to protect people with supernatural and/or Agito powers, Ryou eventually takes on Kino's false promise, but makes it a truth. Kino ends up severely injuring Ryou, but he's saved by Akatsuki-gou member Majima's sacrificing his Light of Agito for his sake. This results in the nearly dead Ryou becoming Exceed Gills. (So, if you want to follow the story that the designer of the tapestry came up with, then...Gills is already a direct descendant of the Power of Light. But now that he has an Agito seed within him, shouldn't that make him even more powerful?)

As Exceed Gills, Ryou's first action is to defeat Another Agito -- he looks to nearly kill him until stopped by Majima. This leads Ryou to instead save Kino, and later tell him that Kino's initial words, although Kino didn't mean them, inspired Ryou and gave him a new purpose. I think this act of mercy by Ryou is crucial to getting Kino to abandon his power-hungry rampage and turn him into an ally, one who ends up responsible for saving Shouichi's life. Ryou gives Kino the help that he desperately sought for most of the show. Through his mercy and telling him that he had been an inspiration, Ryou helps Kino push past his trauma and become more like the good, decent man he used to be.

And I also like that Ryou's the one who gets through to Mana, when she comes to dislike the Agito power, telling her that she can't blame Shouichi, the Agito power or Yukina on her dad's death, because Yukina was probably scared like he was when his powers started to wake. This results in another important moment in that it spurs Mana to plead for Shouichi to reclaim his power and fight the Youth of Darkness. (And that's one of my favorite moments of the show, man. Especially when Shouichi charges and G3-X breaks through the Mysterious Youth's barrier in order for Shouichi to land a punch.)


Before I get to Ryou's final arc in those weird feeling, time-jumping final five episodes, I'd like to point out a moment that goes right in Agito, but wrong with Inoue in Faiz. After Ryou is resurrected and learns that Agito -- who, remember, he's kicked the ass of a couple of times -- is Shouichi, the guy he's sworn to look out for, Ryou has some questions. He asks Shouichi what the hell happened with Aki way back. And Shouichi tells him. And Ryou believes him; Ryou knows what type of person Shouichi is and that he was incapable of hurting, much less killing Aki. And that's that! A big complaint of mine with Faiz were all of these forced clashes that, if the characters were behaving as actual human beings, would be easily brushed aside with a simple chat. Now...

A lot of confusion, a lot of characters fighting and being antagonistic with Takumi is just the type of person he is; the gruff exterior he's putting up. So, fine, some scenarios there can fly, like his clashing with Kusaka. I can even get why Takumi would feel so let down by his failure to protect Mari that he goes along with being accused by Kiba, whatever. The character's young, it fits with how bottled up he keeps himself and his emotions. But then there's silly shit like Kusaka running around and pretending to be Faiz and beat up Kiba and then pretend to attack Takumi as Kiba and that kicks off a frustrating 17-parter where the two friends hate each other, when it should have been resolved quickly, easily, with WORDS between the two. "Hey, man. Did you henshin and beat me up yesterday? I thought we were pals, that didn't seem like you." "Well, actually...hey, this sounds like a Kusaka plot!" Kiba was certainly mature and wise enough to have seen through this, but, no, we get this forced scenario that's just time-wasting and makes your characters seem dumb.

Ryou's supposed to be 20/21 in Agito, so he's not that much older than Takumi, and he's even actually younger than Kiba. But he's written like a person who thinks and uses judgment and character assessment and...look at the difference! So, I basically think Inoue approached writing Agito as if he was writing a prime time series for adults, and he approached Faiz as if he was writing an afternoon teen soap. Anyway...I need to move on from this.



The final arc focuses heavily on Shouichi and Ryou, to an almost shocking degree. Nearly every other main character -- Mana, Hikawa -- is pushed aside as we follow Shouichi and Ryou a couple of months after chasing off the Mysterious Youth. (Hikawa's absence is sort of explainable; I've read that Jun Kaname had begun to film another show at this point, which is why Hikawa goes completely missing for two episodes, being injured. But WHY ignore Mana?!) Ryou's started to work for Showa Rider suit actor Tetsuya Nakayashiki -- the ORIGINAL Mr. Kamen Rider, not you, Seiji Takaiwa, not YOU -- at his motorcycle garage and crosses paths with a female biker, Risa. Ashihara's experience as Gills has not only toughened him up, but has kind of aged him, giving him new viewpoints on life that he didn't have previously. He recognizes the reckless punk he used to be in Risa and they're drawn to each other, with him trying to guide her to a better path -- providing the guidance that he himself could have used in the past.

Ryou's more open to Risa, less short with her, when he first meets her. I think this is because he finally feels a chance to make a connection, look for love, in this period where the Unknown have been absent, maybe even defeated. Remember, the Mysterious Youth has gone into hiding and the Unknown haven't been seen for a couple of months. But soon after, the bubble is burst, and Ryou faces the first Unknown in all that time, an El at that. He gets beat up and soon after that, he starts to act shorter and colder to Risa. I know some people question his attitude here, why he seems to treat her so badly, but to me it's obvious that he realizes that he tends to lose anyone close to him when the Unknown are around. (This guy went from mistreating and flat out abandoning Wendinu to focus on his own thing, his swimming, to willingly separate himself from someone like Risa for her own good. He's willing to sacrifice his own happiness and reputation for her safety. He's on a path more Shouichi-like: selfless.) He thought maybe he was beyond that, but he was wrong, and so he's worried. But Risa's tough, she's not going anywhere. And Ryou was right to be worried, as she ends up being one of the sacrifices the Mysterious Youth makes to set in motion his attack on humanity.



It's a shame these final episodes are so rushed, specifically what happens to Ryou at this point. He's, of course, enraged and shattered to find Risa dead, directly taking on the El responsible, pretty much with a death wish. The El looks to mortally wound Gills, stabbing him through the throat and throwing him off the bridge. We're shown Ryou sinking, we're shown Ryou wash ashore (in a style most likely to intentionally evoke Shouichi's washing ashore) and then he shows up for the final battle with the Els. The way it plays makes it seem like it's there for shock value only -- just to make you think Ryou was dead and went out in a dramatic fashion typical of his character, but surprise, he's not dead, and...it's a bit of a mistake, especially when they end up trying to pull the same "Is he dead?!" thing with Shouichi just a few minutes later. I think we needed another scene with Ryou pulling himself together. It's just too sudden, and makes the whole thing with Risa, the time devoted to it, seem unimportant.

But I imagine Ryou woke up ashore and just took stock of everything. The last time we see him in the show, he's relaxing, taking in a sunset, going on a journey. Looking for peace. He wants to live a life like Shouichi, but that's not who he is, that's not the cards that have been dealt him, but he's going to try his best to look for his place, for that peace, and persevere. He went into that fight with the El after it killed Risa, urging the El to kill him; he woke up to find he's still alive, showing up to that final battle saying he's immortal. And maybe that's true. As Shouichi keeps evolving his Agito abilities -- the Mysterious Youth being scared of his ability to "endlessly evolve," maybe Ryou's reached a point where that's the same for Gills. Maybe he could one day become closer to an Agito.

I remember Inoue once saying of Shouichi that he's the type that, even if he knows the world is ending tomorrow, he's still going to plant his vegetables and hope for their future. So I think Ryou reaches a point where he knows that he's going to be dumped on, but he's got to hold out hope for his future, for his peace. I think the mutated and monstrous form of Gills is an indication of what type of person is wielding the power; if Agito is the highest, purest form, a holy power, the power of light, and someone like Shouichi -- pure, selfless, caring, worthy -- is the type to best wield that power, then I think the Gills form is a mutation that happens to people with darkness in them. That doesn't necessarily mean they're bad or evil people, but that could just mean perhaps selfish, depressed, traumatized, unbalanced, or someone not at peace. I think what we see with Ryou over the course of the show is this power -- which comes from a higher place -- being used as a way to humble a person, maybe even make them pay a penance.


And I think that's why Kino, despite being called an Agito, is as monstrous looking as he is. He's caught between being an Agito and being a Gills. Kino didn't start out as a cruel man, but he is in a profession that's accused of playing God, so there's probably always been an ego on him. But he becomes warped and traumatized after the incident on the mountains where he loses his little brother, and then that's further compounded by the terrifying ordeal on the Akatsuki-gou. That pushed him over the edge to where he wanted to take care of and save everybody, in his mind to make up for failing Masato. So when his powers manifest, he's caught between the two powers, and is deformed.

Ryou Ashihara has a character journey. One that relies on drama, conflict, characterization, and NOT Bandai toys or stupid gimmicks. (It must yet again be said: damn, I miss when Toei took Kamen Rider seriously.)

Ryou Ashihara fits the classic Kamen Rider mold. Being a Kamen Rider isn't supposed to be fun. It's not a blessing, it's damnation. It's tragic. It's a curse. But some folks have the strength of character to use that curse to their advantage, using it to fight to protect people from evildoers who are too much for the law to handle. And for the Riders in Agito, the powers don't just come with setbacks, but for the Agitos and Gillses of the world, it's a target for which the Unknown will seek you. 


 

And G3 certainly faces his own form of suffering, tragedy in the show. I've mentioned before that superheroes are needed for superthreats that ordinary folks and cops can't handle. And, well, I'd like to say...I'm fed up with the way the G3 Unit gets criticized by viewers for "not doing anything." I know this is a Gills post, not a G3 one, but it's my blog. Hikawa's struggle was the point. He didn't have superpowers, but he was going to put his ass on the line to fight the monsters and save people. People always wonder about the lack of law enforcement or military in toku when there's a crazy threat, but...what the heck are they supposed to do?! That's why we need a Sentai team or a Kamen Rider in the first place. Sometimes shit happens, and who you gonna call? Kuuga gets kudos for having "competent" police characters, but all of Enokida's inventions were basically stall tactics to hold back the monster until Kuuga could hit the scene. I don't see Kuuga's cops as being any more effective than Agito's, because they're after the same thing -- they're going to hold up their end until the superhero can step in.


The three Riders of Agito -- who Inoue says represent past (Gills), present (Agito) and future (G3) -- could each hold their own show. Agito's richer for having the three share the story, share the screen, but I do think any one of them could have been their own show, and it would still have been a great show and a worthy entry of Ishinomori's franchise.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

To Shin, with Love


Since the mid '90s -- probably even longer -- Kamen Rider's always had the reputation of being the "dark, brooding, mature, adult" tokusatsu. I was a Sentai kid of the '80s; I saw very little of Kamen Rider Black and remembered even less about it beyond commericals. When I finally tracked all these funky shows down via the power of the internet, my priority was diving into Sentais I missed. But the talk of this TV-MA-it's-so-grow'd-up Kamen Rider had me interested...

This was the late '90s. Kamen Rider had had only three new "movies" (two shorts and a DTV, fercryinoutloud); the last show was RX. Before that, Black, which I knew of. Before Black? A bunch of really old-looking shows. For me, toku shows from before the ones I grew up with in the mid-1980s seemed really old, and it took me a while to get accustomed to them. So I remember ordering the first volume of Black and the '90s movies.


I liked Black, but it wasn't exactly the SUPER DARK, BLEAK, ADULT! show people painted it and the franchise to be. The way people built up this franchise, they acted like all Sentai was Go-onger and to jump into Rider would be like jumping to GARO. I don't remember what order I watched Shin, ZO and J in, but I was initially bored by ZO and I HATED J. (I still hate J, really. I've come to like ZO's style but find its story is bare-bones, to put it kindly.) When I saw Shin, I was like, "Now THIS is more like what I had in my mind when people kept building up Rider." Before seeing the movie, I knew from his design that I'd like it, because it was just so different and monstrous and cool.

I've liked Shin from the first moment I saw it. Funny that Rider fans loathe the movie and reject it even though it was, at the time, the best representative of all of their claims regarding the franchise. Sure, it had infamy for the scene when Shin rips Goujima's head off, but for the most part, it was denounced as being a bad movie and un-Rider.


Being a big horror fan, the movie drew me in right from its start -- a couple in a parked car at night being bloodily slaughtered by a freak monster that can only be found in tokusatsu. (Meaning, it looked like a slasher, but instead of some dude in a lumberjack's outfit and a mask, it's a creatively designed, well-made monster suit. It even upends the slasher cliche by having that couple be undercover cops trying to capture the killer!) From then on, I was hooked. The movie doesn't have the highest budget. It has more than a few flaws, but I came away from it feeling pretty satisfied, wishing there was more to the adventure...

It wanted to be darker, edgier, and for adults. A genuinely great and inspired idea for an anniversary project: reward the longtime fans who grew up with Kamen Rider by giving them a for-adults take on the character and make a sincere attempt to ground the franchise, take it more seriously, make it more realistic. The movie was ambitious, but you can tell there's still an amount of fear involved, hence its low budget and the decision to have it be a direct-to-video release. (And while DTV releases don't have the exact same stigma in Japan that they do in America, they still aren't given the attention and don't have the amount of money poured into them the way a theatrical does.) 


To me, though, the low budget kinda helps in giving the movie a darker look, a closed-in feel that keeps things smaller scale -- personal. The dark way it's lit, things often being given an off, blueish tint...it's something that's lost when they spruced the movie up for Blu-ray. A lot of the lighting was intentional; the movie's meant to be dark and in the shadows, give it a mood and make it more suitably horror-like. Sometimes with restorations they just care about getting the crispest picture possible and will (wrongly) alter what was the filmmakers' original stylistic intentions. And, funnily enough, it's often horror movies that suffer when given the Super-Hyper-Ultra HD remastering treatment. Of course, you want to see your movie, but when you're turning the sharpness to 100 and brightening the picture so much it takes away all of its original darkness, what you're doing is ruining it, not remastering it.

Kamen Rider's always had horror in its DNA, and it's something the regular shows never delve into enough for this fan. So I love that Shin basks in it. Not only because of its gore (this movie probably has the highest body count of any tokusatsu) but the themes and its dark, visual style. It embraces the essence of Ishinomori's character -- the young man, cut down at the prime of his life, a pawn and guinea pig for a nefarious organization, a monster clinging to his remaining humanity and soul. Also, he rides motorcycles. Shin's obviously influenced by the types of quiet, intense, cerebral, introspective works of body-horror by the likes of David Cronenberg. (It's probably the only superhero movie Cronenberg would like.) It's the closest a tokusatsu has come to being a mood piece. I don't think it seems quite like any other toku project. It's its own unique thing.


Replacing the Nazi-based occultists responsible for capturing and transforming our hero is a more modern criminal organization using scientific research as a cover for their experiments. All in the name of curing some of the world's deadliest diseases, the organization is really trying to find a way to make the best supersoldiers to sell. But one really cool part of this movie? It still has some of that occult feel of the original series since renegade doctor Onizuka is shown to be dabbling in the occult, experimenting on and TRANSFORMING HIMSELF...! He's the one responsible for causing Shin's mutation because he wants a partner in crime and wants to start the next stage in evolution to overthrow the order of the world.

I love that what kicks off the movie's storyline is Shin's fear that his nightmares aren't nightmares but acts of violence he commits in his sleep. It reminds me of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, where Freddy Krueger made the main character sleepwalk and kill for him; the character dreamt of crimes he'd later find out were real. No, that movie doesn't have a silly gay metaphor. Like Shin, it's about the fear a person has about the potential within them to commit violence, potentially hurting the ones they care about. Shin's not afraid to go extra dark, though, and acknowledge the violence a person is capable of, that beast within -- the first time Shin henshins of his own will in this movie, it's to brutally kill human villain Himuro after he gunned down Shin's pregnant girlfriend, Ai. (Fun fact: Shin doesn't even transform until the movie's 50 minutes in.)


Shin dreams of the crimes and murders, fearing that he's responsible, eventually learning that he's seeing them through the true culprit, Onizuka, since they share a telepathic link. Onizuka's insane and a horrible person, but I always found there to be something sad about the way he calls to Shin for help when he's being hunted and then burnt alive by the CIA. That leads to Shin's first transformation, his sharing the pain and fear along with the transformed Onizuka. And while Shin retains control of his faculties while transformed, the fact that he, too, is a monster puts him next on the CIA's kill list.

Shin's between a rock and a hard place. His torments don't let up throughout the movie. Knowing that his father's work has led to people's deaths in the past, he volunteers to be his dad's newest guinea pig to spare anybody else. He doesn't know the extent of his father's research. So you can't really fault his choice. I think it's pretty heroic but also damning. He loses his humanity and everyone he loves because of it! He's thrown into a war with the shady organization behind the experiments, the CIA and their myriad conspiracies. Who can he trust?


Actor Katsuhisa Ishikawa (presently known as Shin Ishikawa -- no kiddin') is often given flak for being stiff in the movie, but I think he's just a different kind of lead giving a different kind of performance for what's meant to be a different kind of Kamen Rider. Remember, the movie wants to be grounded and realistic. You can't have one of tokusatsu's usually larger-than-life, grandiose performances from someone like Hiroshi Fujioka, Hiroshi Miyauchi or even Tetsuo Kurata. They wanted someone realer, and I think Ishikawa succeeds in making Shin real. He's lost, scared, and doesn't know where to go. His performance isn't loud or over-the-top. His Shin is a very sorrowful, very withdrawn man. Introspective, going over all of his torments in his mind. No bombastic speeches, no on-the-nose dialogue about what he's thinking or feeling. It's mostly all internal. And, c'mon. The dude actually changed his name to Shin in real life! That's dedication. (And he changed it well after the fact; he says he got tired of people not knowing how to pronounce his first name, so he changed it to Shin, since that's what he's best known for.)

What I think gives people the perception that Ishikawa is stiff is because he doesn't get teary or blubbery in scenes that call for it. Certainly, when Ai dies, you'd expect the actor to break down for at least that moment. But I think not having Shin be THAT emotional is a choice, either by Ishikawa or the production. They wanted to focus more on Shin's anger and anguish and physical pain. I think, wanting to be so grounded, wanting to be the "true" representation of the classic hero, and with the Shin character being older, that there might have been some hesitance to make him cry on top of it all. Not only for fear of emasculating him but to maybe avoid potential theatricality. Look at the poor actor from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 -- he lets it rip and isn't afraid to cry or scream or do anything to convey his character's horror and pain, and he's been unfairly made fun of for 35 years now.


I used to consider Shin's dad, Daimon, one of the movie's villains. Even though Shin volunteers for his experiments -- Daimon doesn't force him like some other past crazy Rider fathers -- it always seemed harsh to me that Daimon knew of his past failures, and yet still kept pursuing his research AND allowing his son to be involved. But Akira Ishihama gives the character this really tired, weary, put-upon aura. You can tell Daimon's a man who doesn't have the say or the power he believes he has, that he's pressured into continuing his research. He's forced into it, another pawn of the organization. Unlike his coworkers, though, he does have a genuine interest in the research as a means to benefit the world.


Similar with Ai, Shin's love interest. I used to think of her as a bit villainous, but she's really just naive. She's used as a way to keep tabs on Shin but ends up falling in love with him. She tries her best to eventually be honest with Shin, but it's a little too late. She herself isn't aware of just how far the organization she works with will go to reach their goals. She knows what their goals are, but still thinks they're capable of listening to reason or being fair. Actress Yumi Nomura perfectly conveys a quiet, hurt, haunted quality to the character, for all of the guilt Ai feels for her part in Shin's pain and what he's going through, his transformation. One of my favorite parts in the movie is Ai's first sighting of the transformed Shin; she nearly runs him over in her car, before getting out and instinctually recognizing the monster as Shin, running to him, embracing him, apologizing in tears as the mutate then embraces her. It's well acted, shot nicely at night. (This movie has a lot of great night shooting, which is appropriate for its mood and atmosphere.)

Mother and child.

This was suit actor Jiro Okamoto's third time playing the lead in a Rider. His second role, really, since Black and RX were the same character. But he does such an awesome job as Shin, perfectly capturing that he's just an ordinary man, but he also throws in these little inhuman, monstrous, bestial movements -- and his Berserker Rages are awesome. Okamoto will throw in these great touches; after he slaughters Himuro, he's hunched over, beast-like. But he slowly starts to stand upright as he looks over and sees his dad and Ai; the violent outburst was primal, but then he slowly regains his composure, standing tall as a human. It's something that occurs in, like, five seconds of screen time, but it conveys a lot...and that's Okamoto's skills and dedication. 

Kazutoshi Yokoyama is Goujima's cyborg form, while Jiro Okamoto is Kamen Rider Shin.

And I love the Shin design, it's a perfect realization of a grasshopper monster but still stylized and such a well-crafted suit that really does its job in conveying a grasshopper's body and skin coloring with its detailed painting. Nori Maezawa and Rainbow really outdid themselves with the quality of suit craftsmanship in this movie, but especially with Shin. And I love all of the various dummy heads they made for Shin, in order to let him have different reactions and expressions, it really adds to the realism and makes the transformed Shin seem that much more alive, that transformed he's a living being and not just a mask.


Along with Akira Ishihama, veteran actor Daijiro Harada was considered a bit of a get for this movie. As the movie's main villain, Himuro, Harada makes for a great, slippery villain. Eager to turn on the charm and tell you what you want to hear, he's sharpening the knife behind his back. You just hate the guy and might be a little too happy when Shin murderizes him. And Kouki Kataoka as the unstable Professor Onizuka makes for another entertaining villain; Kataoka's just one of those skilled character actors who can ace deranged, madman monologues about grasshopper-man civilizations.


The movie is also the last time we've seen Kiyomi Tsukada in a toku. I don't understand why fans don't like her more. She was likable in Machineman and Juspion, and even memorable and funny in an episode of Shaider. I liked her, and it's nice to see her in this more serious role of CIA agent Sarah Fukamachi. I like that Sarah herself is pulled between her feelings and her duty -- she recognizes that Shin is good, unlike Onizuka, but she's following orders and still hunts him down. She's tough as nails and even fights past being shot up multiple times in order to still try and take down the helicopter carrying Shin...with a freakin' bazooka! (It's easy to make fun of all of the English they give her, but...Tsukada's supposedly lived in America and has taught English in Japan. I don't think her English is bad, I think she was told to deliver the lines slowly, and it leads to some strange word emphasis.)


The most fanciful the movie gets is in its depiction of Shin and Ai's unborn baby. (The official name Toei gives it? It used to just be "mutant baby," but now it's the creative "Rider Baby.") In a movie of this type, perhaps it was a mistake to show the baby, especially how it displays its power by emitting a golden glow from Ai. I do like the depiction, the design of the baby -- an ordinary human infant, but it has the third eye, and its back is the cocooned wings of a grasshopper -- but I think it's shown too much. I think they should have dialed back the SFX. (It's curious that longtime SFX director Nobuo Yajima was chosen to handle this movie's effects. A movie trying to be so fresh and different, you'd think they would have gone with a newer guy, someone like Hiroshi Butsuda, who had just taken over Super Sentai, or Katsuro Onoue, who ended up taking over the Metal Heroes.) I think it unfortunately has become something to mock about this movie when...it's a decent idea. And it's highly unconventional to depict the hero and heroine of a toku to have a child so early in their romance. (Read: out of wedlock. Sinning heathens!)


Back in the day, people rejected this movie for being too dark and different. Modern viewers now mock it. (Because they want their Kamen Riders to dance and dress up in fruit armor.) I liked the ambition of this movie, the genuine desire to take it so seriously. It's not done in a pretentious way, just a way of "Let's make Kamen Rider...but as real as possible. What would that be like? What would that feel like? What does that do to a person?" It's important to remember just how new and different this was at the time, how BOLD. Some people accuse it of a slow pace, but I like that it's an actual MOVIE-length movie, and that it's willing to take its time. Is it flawless? As much as I love the movie, no. But they made ten times the effort than they have in the past 15 years of Rider. The creators dived into their vision, sticking to their guns, telling the story they wanted to tell.

Late actor Reiji Andou makes for a memorably creepy and formidable foe as Goujima.

I've taken lumps for saying this, but I still say Shin paved the way for the Heisei Rider shows as we know them. (People are like "OMG, Shin flopped, how could it inspire the successful new shows?! Ultraman Tiga did!" Yeah, yeah...) But look at its grounded, realistic approach. That's what Kuuga tried for, filtered through an American drama style. Kuuga was even more fanciful. Shin strives for human, believable characters in an adult drama. Something like Kuuga was filled to the brim with too-hard-to-believe dudley do-rights, while subsequent shows like Ryuki or Faiz would lean more into heightened dramatics or even just melodrama. These shows had to play up the Kamen Rider character's being a superhero; Shin was free of that, but that doesn't mean the character doesn't have the capacity for being heroic.

There's also eschewing the typical type of song used for a toku theme for an emotional, orchestral song by mainstream idol Noriko Watanabe. "Forever" could have easily been a regular tune on the radio at the time; it's not just any ordinary anisong. It's a strong, melancholic song that I think is sung from the point of view of Ai. "Never forget your promise," one of the lyrics, obviously tying back to Ai's dying request asking that Shin take care of their baby. So, it's a really depressing song to be called "Forever" when it's, in my opinion, from the point of view of the doomed Ai. I'd really love for Watanabe to pop up at some Rider anniversary concert and perform the song sometime, but there's probably a better chance of TOM showing up somewhere to do the SD theme.

Ten years after Shin, Noriko Watanabe cameos in the franchise's 30th anniversary movie, Project G4.

And there's also the fact that some people who went on to be crucial staff members of the Heisei Rider series worked on this movie, including: Shinichiro Shirakura, sub-producer of this movie and chief producer of most of Phase 1 Heisei Rider shows; action-directors Osamu Kaneda and Kazuyoshi Yamada are the guys behind Kuuga and Agito's action, with Kaneda becoming a regular director of many Rider shows; designers Tamotsu Shinohara and Yasushi Nirasawa worked on the film in minor capacities.

Let's take a look at the movie's key staff members here...

The executive producer is Katsushi Murakami, the genius Bandai artist who's responsible for all of your favorite heroes if you're a '70s, '80s or '90s toku kid.

The planner of the project is longtime Toei producer Susumu Yoshikawa. Yoshikawa had already modernized Kamen Rider with Kamen Rider Black. He's the guy who was mortified that Kamen Rider was being parodied and pulled the plug on the franchise. So you know he's someone who takes things seriously. (RX was an unfortunate misstep.) Why haul out Rider so soon after mothballing it, if it was now a subject of parody? I always wondered if this movie was somehow inspired by the juggernaut success of Tim Burton's Batman. That movie itself rode the darker wave comics were taking at the time. So I kind of wonder if the thinking at Toei was, "Hey, let's take Japan's Batman equivalent and treat it as seriously as that movie." (Shin Kamen Rider: so dark, it's from the DC Universe.)

It's awesome that Shin utilizes make-up and prosthetic work when regular toku shows don't have the time or budget to do so. Also, it's really Ishikawa behind the make-up, when it could have easily been a double.

The movie's producers on Toei's side is Nagafumi Hori and the already mentioned Shirakura. Hori started as a director, but moved to producing, mostly doing the late '80s and '90s Metal Hero shows. You can tell he wanted to give the shows a more polished look, wanting them to look like regular drama shows on the surface.

Shin's director is Makoto Tsuji, who directed a lot of Metal Hero episodes in the '80s, but I always associate him with being the director of the first few episodes of Spielban and Jiraiya, which both have a unique, sweeping, big-scale dramatic feel to them. He also did the first two awesome episodes of Blue SWAT, which were so good, they edited them together and made them the show's theatrical short. Grounded, intense action in that show. Most importantly, Tsuji directed episodes 2 and 3 of Kamen Rider Black, which leaned heavily into dark, eerie horror vibes and imagery. Who can forget Koutarou and Nobuhiko's doomed birthday party?


Sharing writing duties are Jun'ichi Miyashita and Jou Onodera. Miyashita's done most work in the '90s Metal Heroes, but he handled a big chunk of Black's second half, a lot of its stronger episodes. Onodera is Shotaro Ishinomori's eldest son, the son who convinced his dad to make Kamen Rider a grasshopper in the first place, so who better than to help write the Kamen Rider who is the most grasshoppery you can make him? There used to be rumors that Jou Onodera has disagreed with his brother Shou Onodera -- an Ishimori Pro staff member, credited as "supervisor" for every Heisei Rider series -- about the direction the franchise has taken. If true, I take this to mean that Jou, as an admitted huge Kamen Rider fan, is a little protective of the character and his father's work, that he cares for the integrity of the character. So, again, who better than to help write what's supposed to be the TRUE/SHIN Kamen Rider?


I, of course, have to mention Keita Amemiya's involvement. He did some concept designs (the Level 2 cyborg is his design, which is such a cool and gruesome opponent) and storyboarded and oversaw the filming of the henshin sequences for the heroes and villains. (Shin's transformations, the length of the sequences and the pain the character endures, have to be more than a little inspired by An American Werewolf in London.) I know a lot of fans critical of this movie wished Amemiya had directed it (and some are under the impression he did), but I don't think he works well at emotional pieces. He's definitely more interested in the style and the visuals. So he was perfect for follow-up movie shorts like ZO and J. Those two movies were intended to be short, stylish, non-stop rides and were made in reaction to Shin and the criticisms against it for being slow-paced and too serious and so on.

Keita Amemiya's original concept for Goujima's cyborg form included a spider motif. A shame the idea was abandoned, since spider-kaijin are the traditional first opponent for a Kamen Rider to face.


I've already touched upon Noriko Watanabe's heartfelt theme song for the movie, but I'd hate to not mention the movie's BGM. Composers Ryudo Uzaki, Kaoru Wada, Takefumi Haketa and Yoshihiro Matsuura are credited for the soundtrack. It's a soundtrack I've always taken for granted, because I never noticed how truly great it is until I listened to the album. There are some seriously terrific, suprisingly big and stirring orchestral pieces which belie its DTV budget and genre trappings, but there are also some brief, sharp, jolting horn pieces which appropriately recall some horror soundtracks by the likes of Harry Manfredini. There's differing styles, from all of those different composers, but none of it ever clashes or feels out of place. They're woven into the movie well.

If you want a more polished version of Shin Kamen Rider, I'd recommend Ultraman The Next. I think there are a lot of similarities between the two. I really like The Next, but I find it to be even slower paced, and it's really only most rewarding when you have a knowledge of early Ultraman and even Ultra Q. Also, the Ultraman franchise has always played it a tad too safe for its audience and is too afraid to depict its human characters in too negative of light. Kamen Rider's world is a harsher, more cynical one. Rider used to not be too afraid to show characters' flaws or have them be antagonistic or villainous or lethal. And something about The Next makes it feel even smaller scale and more insulated than Shin, when it's dealing with cosmic events and giants! (Another superhero movie that reminds me of Shin in tone? Ang Lee's Hulk. I have a strange fascination with that movie, but it definitely falls into the "pretentious" side of things.)


Shin takes things seriously, it wears its heart on its sleeve, and that leads to things that make today's viewers either laugh it off or dismiss it. I've always thought people should be more open-minded with Shin. If fans were more open-minded, maybe the movie would have had a better chance back in the day. But it dared to be different, and people get too hung up on the small things, like Kamen Riders should always have a belt and a henshin pose and a scarf and speechify about justice. This movie was meant to be the first in a series. This was the "prologue." Where could it have gone?

Contrary to popular belief, Toei claims this movie *wasn't* a failure, that it made enough in video sales to justify a follow-up. Nevertheless, the movie was so controversial, was so off-putting to a lot of fans, that Toei just wanted to go back to what's expected of the franchise, deciding to focus on the more traditional and glossy ZO instead of a new Shin adventure. If Shin had had a follow-up, Ishinomori wanted to give him a new form -- a regular looking motorcycle suit and helmet, which was an unused idea for Kamen Rider Shin in the Prologue itself. It's reminiscent of his Kamen Rider Black manga, in which Koutarou would don an ordinary motorcycle suit and helmet in order to keep fighting Golgom at times when his power would be maxed out. I always liked that idea (and obviously, Ishinomori did, too), so it would have been cool to see something like that in a movie. (And since Shin would be wearing a mask, it would make him an even TRUER Kamen Rider. Ever stop to think that none of the Showa Riders really wear masks? They turn into their remodified monster forms. That's not masked! G3 is the closest to the "truest" Masked Rider AND that motorcycle-gear-dress-up idea of Ishinomori's, eh?) It would be even more interesting to me if Shin was meant to put this costume on over his monster form -- masking the monster in order to save people, but not frighten them.


I remember a fan in the '90s thinking a further Shin adventure would have looked like the '70s Incredible Hulk TV series -- a Shin on the run, trying to track down the organization, hunted and feared because of his being a monster. The logical thing to do at this point would be pick up Shin's story with his now adult child. (The gender's not known, it could be a daughter -- Aiko.) A real missed opportunity was to bring Shin back in around the time of W. Why? Shin's villain organization is just referred to "zaidan" -- organization/group/foundation. W's ultimate villains ended up being "Zaidan X" -- Foundation X. You could have had it be they were the new incarnation of the "zaidan" Shin fought or a rival faction. But, nooooooo, let's just forget about yucky old Shin, because that movie was too serious and he didn't say "henshin!"


Ishikawa would be up for reappearing, you know it. The dude's pushing 60, but he still looks pretty much the same. As much as I like the comedic short they made about Shin to promote the Decade movie (imagining a world where Shin was a hit and beloved by kids), a new movie -- that promised next chapter -- which catches up with Shin, made with the same seriousness and intensity, would be a mind-blowing shock. But Toei is no longer courageous or bold enough to take the risk. I guess I should be grateful that there was a time where they were bold enough to make this one. The new charge could learn a lot from Yoshikawa, Hori, Tsuji, Jun'ichi Miyashita and Jou Onodera.

It might have been a flawed experiment, one that fans were cold towards, but I always appreciated what it attempted. It's underrated. It's overlooked. It's unappreciated. *It's unique.* I think it honors the tortured, horror side of Ishinomori's creation. And, hey, it beats the henshin outta The First.

If this is your POV, say your prayers.

If you're a fan with an open-mind and you haven't seen it, it's currently on Toei's Tokusatsu World YouTube channel, uncut, subbed and free.