Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Jetman 8-11


EPISODE 8

This is a weird episode with a resolution that I find doesn't make much sense. It's the first one so far not written by Inoue -- its writer is Kenichi Araki, who ends up doing a lot of episodes, the most of any of the sub-writers. What I like about it, though, is the unlikely, yet successfully compatible duo that Kaori and Ako make.

The plot of the day is that the Vyram place one of their Dimensional Bugs on a diamond with a bloody history, and people can lose their mind and rampage in a blind greed after looking at it. The Vyram are like the Vader Clan or Volt in that their plans go for more sadistic kicks and "punishing" society for things they don't like about it. The end result for Vyram is to destroy and take over the world, but they want to enjoy it -- the show makes it clear it's a game to them, which is a motivation A LOT of early '00s characters end up having, so Jetman was way ahead of them.

Kaori's a bit embarrassed to take Ako to a snobby jewel exhibition, but it results in the episode's best bit, which is when Ako politely asks Kaori for permission to go ahead and kick some possessed dude's ass, and Kaori just quickly grants it in a polite manner. There's quite a few moments of quick little interplay between the two like that that gives this episode more...

Because, otherwise, it's just kind of a bland Machineman-level plot. Ako gets possessed and the solution is for Kaori to buy out all Japan's jewels and just throw them at a greedy Ako, and when that doesn't work, a simple slap does the trick. Say wha? I guess, in keeping with being a Machineman-level of plot, it was a Catharsis Slap.

Random note: This episode's guest star, as the dude who's running the jewel exhibition, is Masaki Terasoma. When I first saw this episode, I was like "Who's this Hiroshi Miyauchi wannabe guy?" I had no idea at the time he was the voice of Shadow Moon, and Kintaros in that one terrible show that pretends to be a Kamen Rider.

EPISODE 9

This episode's written by Hiroyuki Kawasaki. Whoever he is, it's the only episode he does for this show. For the most part, the secondary/sub-writers will do episodes that aren't focused on the show's soapier elements. Inoue's main focus is on Gai, Ryu and Kaori (in that order), and the team's clashing. Other writers will focus on the other characters or just have them in a temporary truce to deal with that episode's dilemma.

This is a sweet episode, depending on your viewpoint. (For me, it doesn't completely work since I don't think Naruse is as likable as Raita's supposed to be.) The villain plan belongs to Toran, who brings to life a sewing machine that makes clothes that will cause the person who wears them to take on the attitude of the design. (Dress like a gangster? You're a gangster.) I can imagine a cheesy trailer voice being like "Someone's taken 'the clothes make the person' one step too far!"

The heart of this episode is Raita meeting up with a childhood friend, Satsuki. Satsuki was just a kind girl who treated him nice, and she holds a special place in Raita's heart, and he wants their reunion to run smoothly. The joke is both are pretending to be what they're not -- him a big spender who knows his way around town, and her a stylish city gal. But when she falls victim to Toran's plan, it's up to Yellow Owl to show his genuine self to wake Satsuki up, and she then is more honest with herself before going home. Satsuki ends up appearing in the finale (SPOILER ALERT!), which is a nice touch. She and Raita have a nice chemistry, so I like that the show is smart enough to remember her. This could have easily been a one-off, especially since it's from a one-time writer, but Inoue's smart enough to callback to it.

Random note: the guy in the bar who tries to hit on Satsuki by buying her a drink is hilarious in his trying-hard-to-be-cool-but-is-unintenionally-a-big-damn-dorkness. And what the hell drink does he buy her, anyway? It looks like NyQuil!

EPISODE 10

Ugh. I'm the one Jetman fan who doesn't like this episode. This episode marks Naruhisa Arakawa's Sentai debut. And Arakawa's one of my favorite writers, but...I really don't like a lot of his Jetman episodes, and he has a spotty record when he's not main writer.

I know a show needs to have the occasional all-out goofy episode -- I'm one of the only people who loves Flashman #26, a bonkers episode that proves that, no, I'm not a fanboy who wants "grimdark" all the time -- but so much of this episode is just stupid and the humor falls flat.

Vyram's winning plan is to show those "stupid" humans who dare rely on the speedy dependability of a good old cup noodle how stupid they are, by making an evil cup noodle monster who causes the people who eat its noodles to, like, go bonkers and become impatient, YEAH! Pfffffft. This is a goddamn Fiveman plot. Just dumb and low.

That's not getting into the way that Evil Big Cup Noodle finds a ramen otaku to do his bidding. That's not getting into the fact that this ramen otaku somehow knows Ako to be obsessed enough with her to name his creation after her. (All we're told is he's her sempai. But he's obviously not in school with her, because he's at home eating old ramen when she's seen leaving school with her friends. And he's also, like, a good 15 years older than her. This guy, who appeared in a Turboranger as the annoying dude whose face gets switched with Youhei's, looked 15-years-too-old to play a high schooler THEN, so two years later? Yeah, he can't be a classmate. So how do they know each other?)

There's some funny stuff once Raita gets taken over after pigging out on some Ako-brand ramen, but it doesn't come from Naruse, but instead Yellow Owl suit-actor Hirofumi Ishigaki, who does a real Yasuhiro Takeuchi-level of performance trying to sell the hell out of the situation. (The reveal that Yellow Owl's become so annoying in his impatience that the Jetman tie him up by the time they build Jet Icarus should have been hilarious, but so many of the jokes in this episode fall flat, especially when it's left up to Naruse to just keep screeching.)

Random note: The jingle in the Ako-chan Ramen commercial was composed by Toshihide Wakamatsu and sung by Rika Kishida. I always found that weird.

Random note #2: Gai comes across a woman who's under the influence of the Evil Ramen, and gets her to calm down but punching her in the gut. This is common not only in Jetman, but a lot of toku. But rewatching this episode, it was just the umpteenth reminder that the show has forgotten that the Jetman are supposed to have superhuman strength even out of suit. (There's been some civilian-hitting in the past couple of episodes.) So, while it's gross that that woman -- and anyone else who ate Ako-chan Ramen -- were eating pieces of Noodle Jigen, I think Gai could have easily punched right through her, so Noodle Jigen wasn't the only danger here.

EPISODE 11

Kunio Fujii's one script for Jetman. (And boy do I know why.) If you're familiar with me, you know I'm a big fan of Fujii's. He's done many-a great standalone episodes, but was sadly never given his own show to steer as main writer. I always thought he was similar to Inoue, but not as extreme or over-the-top as Inoue can be. His sensibilities should have meshed with Jetman perfectly. How he ends up turning in this one...

I get why the idea of having this nontraditional line-up of heroes on the team changing personalities would sound fun for a writer, but there's problems in the way it's executed here. First, it's a bit too early to do an idea like this. It reminds me of Star Trek's "The Naked Time" or TNG's "The Naked Now" -- those episodes were about characters having their personalities altered, and the episodes fell far too early in the show's run. We didn't know the characters as they were meant to be to understand or care about these drastically different depictions! Same with this episode, pretty much.

And the changes are just a little too vague to really tell you anything about the characters. Ryu becomes a slacker. Gai becomes a good soldier. Raita becomes a Gai imitator. Kaori becomes a spoiled brat. Ako becomes weepy. And then they eventually learn that it's not just a monster's spell causing them to act like this, but that these are traits they secretly harbor. Fujii can't just come in and write an episode like this. It's interesting to examine Gai or Ako in this way, but Ryu and Raita's not believable, and Fujii is way off in his assessment about Kaori. Inoue repeatedly tries to make the point about how everyone has Kaori pegged wrong, but in comes Fujii being like "Yeah...nah, she secretly loves being rich and materialistic and worshiped." And even if that's true -- and it's possible, to some extent -- the way it's depicted here is just lazy and obnoxious. And that's the case for the way they depict ALL five's personality flips. It's an episode that's trying to be serious in its examination of these flawed characters, but is played in a way that comes across as something Carranger would poke fun at. (I can easily imagine a similar scenario where Dappu shoves Kyousuke out of a helicopter to try and cure him of some Bowzock-caused suffering.) If anything, the point of the personality shake-ups should have been about the types of people the characters FEARED they could be, rather than saying it was a deeply buried part of their actual character. I guess people think the latter is more "complex," but...not in the manner it's handled here.

A sad misstep for Fujii, but I'm not surprised this ended up being his only episode of the show. He should have probably been given another shot, but maybe what he said about the heroes (especially Kaori) pissed off Inoue as much as it does me.

Random note: Not to be all Scott Evil, but the Vyram had the chance to bottle up bubonic plague or battery acid or the black goo from Prometheus or something, and stock the vending machine with THAT, but they chose to go with Gatorade that alters your personality? Bah!

Random note #2: I gotta try to stop complaining about Tanaka, but I can't stand him in this episode. First of all, he's acting like a bad comedian. Secondly, when the Evil Gatorade takes effect, the characters hiccup. Tanaka, for some reason, doesn't even hiccup; he does this thing where he acts like he's about to puke on whoever is in the scene with him.

Random note #3: People who complain about Ibuki in Changeman training them too harshly probably forget about Odagiri here. She not only pulls a gun on the mind-altered Ryu, but throws him out of a helicopter in the hope he'll come to his senses. Quite a gamble there, with the one guy who's actually supposed to be on the team and is irreplaceable.

I don't really think Odagiri's all that good at her job. She started off so strong and take charge, but at this point of the show, actress Mikiko Miki plays her like a big worrywart. Any time the Jetman start arguing with one another, she'll be like "Oh, no! At this rate, the team will disband!" When Ryu cowers in fright at her gun in this episode, she's like "I'd rather kill you than see you be a coward!" She just doesn't seem like a reliable chokan -- she especially doesn't seem like she has ANY control or authority of anyone on the team. Even Ryu acts like he outranks her, putting her on the level of a Peebo or Magu. I think Miki's age really is a problem; they definitely needed an older Odagiri who couldn't be overshadowed, who seemed to have some experience. (Miki's only a couple of years older than Tanaka and Wakamatsu.)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Jetman 4-7


Episodes 4 and 5

I like these episodes for the Kaori moments, and for the further building of the team. Kaori here is unable to handle piloting her mecha, which causes Ryu to berate her and mock her acting like a spoiled princess. She storms home and ends up meeting again with a childhood friend, Richie Rich, D.B. (douche-bag). She considers listening to him and getting married, where they can go off and live one obnoxiously classist life. This guy is a truly despicable piece of shit, and Gai tells him as much. They could have been a little more subtle with the guy, especially with casting -- while the actor really captures the guy's obnoxiousness, he just takes it too far. Maybe that's a good thing for some viewers. Maybe he's good at his job -- I'm pretty sure I've seen him elsewhere, and because of his appearance here, I hate his guts there. He looks like he could be Nobuhiko Akizuki's nerdy older brother.

Anyway, Kaori shines here. She kinda steps back and looks in on herself, really listening to how horrible the guy is. Anybody who dismisses Kaori as being some spoiled, whiny princess doesn't pay attention to the show, because the words coming from Sojiro disgusts her and nearly bring her to tears, and strengthens her resolve to do her best as a hero. There's more to it for her than her initial claim that she wanted to be a Gentleman to escape her daily routine; she has a heart, is a good person and wants to help. Also: she kicks Nerdy Nobuhiko in the nuts and leaves him at the altar. That instantly makes the episode a four-starrer.

These two episodes really drive home the Vyram's ultimate motivation: shits and giggles. They've conquered other worlds -- although it's hard to believe petty Radeige, kid Toran and RoboBoozer, with all of their snide remarks and infighting, had their act together enough to do so -- and make a friendly wager that whoever defeats Jetman first gets to rule Vyram. What a booby prize. They go on about their plans, their attacks being "games." This is something that went on to be an undying trope in early '00s tokus -- from Kuuga to Ryuki to Abaranger -- and I'm still tired of it.

But I like here that all of the Vyram stage their own attacks on the team. We have Radeige still sending a monster of the week after them, but Toran shows up to torment Red, Yellow and Blue while Grey stalks Gai and Kaori like the Guardnoid Gash rip-off he is Michael Myers. Thus begins Gai's rivalry with Grey. Oh, and then Maria shows up to be a pain in EVERYONE'S ass. And while Ryu realizes she resembles Rie, he instantly dismisses it, realizing the unlikelihood that Rie survived.

And why wouldn't he dismiss it? Because it makes no sense for the Vyram to have taken Rie! So he has no reason to believe it could, somehow, be her. Maria's one big, glaring, jumble hole the show always had for me. Now, you're going to tell me that it's NOT meant to make sense -- it's keeping with Vyram's shits-and-giggles, everything's a game outlook. But...what sense does it make for them to take Rie? She's sucked out of the Skyship and they're sitting in their ship like "Yeah, let's grab on to her. She can be our new member." And then they turn her into Maria, and she struts out acting like she's always been some Vyram big-shot and...they're OK with this? Why add another competitor to their stupid game? Why kidnap an Earthling they despise?

They don't know her connection to Ryu, so that point's moot, and something never used to their advantage. No, they capture her because...Inoue knows it will bring some drama down the road. They capture her because the writer told them to. That's it.

EPISODE 6

I love the concept of the monster of the week in this one; a Dimensional Insect is placed in an apartment complex and the whole complex becomes the monster. Not only do you get pretty cool scenes like monstrous tentacles attacking people and pulling them into a dimension, but you get Radeige pulling Ryu into that dimension for a showdown.

But I'd like to take this time to complain about the Jetman monster designs. They're done by the late Ryu Noguchi, who also did designs of the Denjiman villains and a lot of early Metal Hero villains. Fans love the guy's work, but I've never really liked his designs. Especially the monsters that are just ordinary objects, which is every Jetman monster. I always assumed the idea behind the Vyram monster designs was meant to be more realistic, they're animating inanimate objects -- while also serving as a throwback to older kaijin designs of the '70s and early '80s -- but it just doesn't work with what Jetman's trying to do. Noguchi's inclination is to make the monsters far too silly, and most of them are cutesy in the end. These are monster designs more suited to Fiveman. (I've never been too crazy about the Vyram designs, either, which are reminiscent of the Vader villains' designs.) I always thought Fiveman had better villains, villain designs, villain actors and monster designs than it deserved -- swap them around with Vyram and THEN we'd be talking. (Imagine the Billion actor as Radeige! Awesome.)

Anyway...

This episode has a fun concept, but it also shows that there's more to Gai than meets the eye. He's bothered that Ryu goes missing after he rescued him. He dives into the other dimension to save Ryu in return. If Gai was the piece of shit that modern fans like to paint him as, he wouldn't have bothered.

EPISODE 7

Some of Inoue's favorite things: tennis, arranged marriages, characters losing hands, booze, heroes swapping powers or heroes going bad. This episode includes the first two, and is a mostly lighthearted standalone episode after the jam-packed and serialized first six. (And begins a block of similar episodes.)

Ryu's grandmother arrives, fixing him up with a woman from his hometown who she thinks would make a fine bride. In this we learn Ryu comes from a small humble farm life from Kyushu. This, along with the idea of Ryu marrying anyone not Kaori, tickles Gai. But more importantly, this episodes lets Kaori's interest in Ryu out of the bag, after Gai only suspected it in episode 4. That it's immediately picked up by Ako, to the three's embarrassment, is pretty funny.

I used to think Kaori's interest in Ryu happened a little too fast in the series, but it obviously goes back to episodes 4 & 5, when she was injured and he was the one who didn't baby her. It angered her at first, but the whole Jetman thing has put Kaori out of her comfort zone, which was her initial motivation for jumping aboard. And, in that situation, Ryu treated her in a way she's probably completely unaccustomed to being treated. He didn't kowtow to her based on her status or who she was. He treated her like an equal, based on her own actual abilities and merit. She's in this thing to prove her worth, and he's judging her solely on that. Compared to even Gai, who's still kind of coddling in his treatment of her. Even though Gai comes to like her for who she is, I definitely always thought his initial interest in her was just to prove he could woo any woman, no matter how out of his league she might be or in a different social stratosphere.

And while Kaori's becoming romantically interested in Ryu, he's meant to just be professional and still stuck on Rie. Even when Ako brings up the burgeoning love triangle, he has no reaction. It seems like a thought that hasn't formed in his mind at all. Is he in denial? Simply loyal to Rie? Not interested? The pro that he is? Is it too hard for him to see anything in Kaori, when she's in what would have been Rie's position on the team? (SEE?!? Ryu's working on layers that a stronger actor would hit.)

What's funny about this episode is the way the bad guy plot of the week takes a backseat to...our heroes instead devoting their time to trying to get Ryu out of his meeting with the woman he's been set up with. There are funny moments in this episode that don't completely fly or aren't taken as far as they could. Raita pretending to be a sleazy thug trying to get Ryu to pay? Tomihisa Naruse does nothing with that scenario. And Tanaka's just blank-faced throughout. Also, the woman playing the grandmother -- who's supposed to be brassy and funny -- is such a big caricature, she ends up NOT being funny. (So when Gai is like "What a funny lady," you're just like...no, Gai. Put down the booze.) She's so broad and stereotypical that I'm surprised it's not a young dude in drag playing the part.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Let's fly! Jetman 1 - 3


EPISODES 1, 2, 3

The Toei Hero Club edit was impressive, but cut out a couple of crucial scenes from these episodes, like Ryu and Odagiri's initial failure at recruiting Gai and the heroes laying eyes on the Vyram at the end of episode 3.

These episodes are impressive at setting up the hero side of things, but not so much the Vyram, who just kind of come out of nowhere and have unclear motives. (The biggest being...why turn Rie into Maria?!?!? One of the franchise's biggest mysteries, IMO.) Their big showing is targeting the Sky Force's Skyship, which is meant to be more impressive than it comes off. (It's basically like the Justice League's Watch Tower, but with random Sky Force guys instead of the Justice League.)

I mean, compare it to Gozma's show of force in Changeman's premiere, how brutal their assault on the military was, until Japan's troops-in-training was whittled down to five. And the Sky Force just seems unprepared and unprofessional -- they take the hits, jump ship, and lose control of their important Force Gun, which held the Birdonic Wave.

It always seemed strange to me how unclear the show is about the Sky Force. A lot of people escaped the Skyship, and that surely didn't hold every member. So why does the show act like only Odagiri and Ryu survived, with Skycamp their only location? Changeman did it better by having their base seem fully staffed by the Soldier Group. And the Sky Force is obviously a bigger organization than, say, what Maskman's Sugata was working with. Sugata and the Maskman had government-backing, but they were obviously small-scale for secrecy's sake.

While it does make things seem dire for our heroes, I don't think Ryu and Odagiri seeming so cut off and isolated is intended. However, the Force Gun breaking and sending the Birdonic Waves out at random does create a nice feeling of being backed-against-the-wall for our heroes. I like how downtrodden and out of it Ryu is at first; when he's recruiting Kaori, he ain't making a convincing case, thinking mainly of Rie and being constantly kept in check by Odagiri. I think it takes Gai to get Ryu out of his despondence; hearing Gai's pessimism, his whole "Who cares about the Earth? People are horrible" speech shakes Ryu out of it, and reminds him of what's at stake and what's important. That Gai's a total time-consuming pain-in-the-ass to recruit also likely gives Ryu less time to mope; the way I see it, Gai's stubbornness in being recruited distracts Ryu enough to get his mind off of Rie and begin leading the team that desperately needs leadership.

'Cause they need all the help they can get. Kaori's just looking for something to do. Raita's rude and turns them down. Ako needs to see some green to get properly motivated. And Gai's a nightmare. But they're all decent people, deep down. I like that Kaori and Raita get on board fairly quickly with becoming heroes, but they're really not prepared, they're not confident, they don't know what they're doing. Ako realizes mid-battle that she's in something bigger, a part of something important, so she doesn't want a payday. Gai's initial transformation is for the sake of saving his ass, and getting revenge on the monsters who attacked him. I like how confident and capable Red Hawk is in battle; he's instructing everybody on what to do, what move to make, what weapon to use. And he's a one-man army in himself, taking down grunts and giant monsters. Ryu also benefits from having Kazuo Niibori in suit, but that's a given. Because, thanks to Tanaka, Ryu needs all the help he can get.

I really like the character of Ryu. As written, he's one of my favorite Reds. Inoue gave us a traditional hero who's a genuinely good person, who is moral and believes in right and all of the things a good hero should. He's shown on his early mission with Rie as being a hotshot bad-ass who will throw himself into the eye of the storm to save the day. He's supposed to be cool, command respect. Part of what Gai hates so much about Ryu is how GOOD he is -- good at his job, good as a person. I think that Ryu is cooler than Gai; he always bests Gai. On the surface, Ryu might look like a generic Red or typical hero. But Ryu is hiding a lot of pain, and yet he soldiers on. He's haunted. In typical Inoue fashion, he's flawed. His world's fallen apart. And yet he soldiers on, he has to. And he's dealing with a team of bickering amateurs on top of it!

I think Ryu's a rich character, who would been one of the all-time greats if they had a performer who could hit all of those notes. I still stand by my casting choice of Hiroshi Watari. HE'S a guy who you can believe is an elite soldier, who's smart, knows his shit, inspires confidence. (Tanaka is so bland and has no real presence; therefore, he doesn't exactly inspire confidence.) And by having seen him in so much toku, it would be a shock to see someone like Watari, as Ryu, when he eventually loses it and caves in to his depression in the middle of the series. If Jetman was going to be the last Sentai, think of how cool it would be for Ryu to have the stunt-casting of a Watari-like performer.

And I don't want to beat a dead horse about Kotaro Tanaka, but he's just weak. I tried, Ringo, I tried real hard to keep an open mind about him and pay attention to his performance on this rewatch. (Same with Tomihisa Naruse, and same with Daisuke Tachi.) And you know what? He has good moments which I'll acknowledge, but he's still, for the most part, just off of the mark. The only thing he really brings to the part is a sense of maturity and seeming like an average dude, an Everyman, which works for Jetman's attempt at wanting to be more dramatic and realistic in its depiction of the heroes. Viewed in that way, I can SORTA let Tanaka off the hook more. Also, if Jetman really was trying to evoke the feel of a trendy drama, Tanaka's totally reminiscent of the types of bland leads a lot of those shows had. (Like a Yousuke Eguchi, for example.)

The big, big problem with Tanaka -- other than just not playing all of the layers Ryu's working on, which is obviously huge -- is the way he plays Ryu often makes the character come across as a simpleton. He'll at times be aloof or he'll make goofy faces or have a strange and dorky reaction in a scene. Ryu's not supposed to be foolish or unintelligent. And it's something that ends up working against the character in that people will misconstrue Inoue's intentions and think he's making a statement about traditional heroes and their values being stupid. That's definitely not the case here. Ryu's supposed to the head honcho, the guy with all of the answers who can always be depended upon. (Which is why it's meant to be so scary when he loses it to the point where even Gai feels bad for him.)

While I think there are some later characters of Inoue's who are meant to be the big-hearted hero, but because Inoue became cynical over time or because he just didn't write them well, the character will seem insincere or disingenuous. (For example: In The First, Hongo feels really phony to me. His speeches about snowflakes, his answer in class that life is the most beautiful thing. It just doesn't seem genuine. Likewise with Faiz's Keitaro, who's meant to be earnest, and the heart sandwiched between two cynical grumps -- who ridicule what they see as his being naive -- but the actor's weak and turns Keitaro into a cartoonish blockhead.) But Ryu, and certainly a character like Shouichi Tsugami, are meant to be genuine and from the heart. Agito lucked out with Toshiki Kashuu being good (and supposedly a lot like Shouichi in real life). Jetman wasn't so fortunate.

Like I've always said -- Tanaka's not the worst actor to play a Red. But Ryu desperately needed someone stronger. If Tanaka had played a blander, one-dimensional Red like Gaku Hoshikawa or Goro Hoshino, an eye wouldn't be batted. But he got a great Red role and didn't have it within him to make it soar. Since he does have some moments throughout the series where he can be good, and will be unpredictably hit-or-miss, I've come to the conclusion he just didn't take the role seriously, not understanding -- or deserving -- of a special Red role like Ryu or a show like Jetman.

BTW, I need to make a minor correction here to a couple of my past posts. For YEARS, I remember reading on a Jetman fan site that Kotaro Tanaka was a member of the Japan Action Club. (You could obviously see that with how much action he does in the show.) So, I repeated that he was a member of the Japan Action Club. And then, years down the line, I saw people say he wasn't, that he was never listed as a member of the JAC -- that he trained with them early on, but was never a member. So, I had to go correct myself, and have stated that Zyuranger's Yuuta Mochizuki was the first JAC to play the star of a Sentai. But, no, apparently Tanaka WAS a member of the JAC, making him the first JAC to play a Red out of suit, so...thanks for the mess you made, internet wannabe know-it-alls! (Don't you hate them?)

Random note: The very first lines of the first episode belong to the narrator, telling us the show takes place in 199X. Remember that. Because the show won't. (Including: two minutes later, when one of the monitors displays the date as being from late 1990. See also: Posh Boy Ryu's jacket, which says 1991.)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Birdonic Soldier: Chojin Sentai Jetman (intro)


Jetman. We all know its reputation. For Toei, for a lot of Japanese fans, it's the Golden Child. For a long, long period in the English-speaking fandom, it was the Golden Child, as well. But opinions among that last group have changed over time; a lot of people have turned on it, and a lot of the new eyeballs the show attracts finds that it doesn't live up to the hype. There's still a devoted fan base, but Jetman's taken some beatings. (It's only right for it to be taken down a couple of pegs; but I hate when it's trashed because of it being an Inoue show, and the popularity of trashing him. The guy used to be good! Just 'cause Faiz and Kiva are weaker works doesn't erase his good shows! And, at this point, Faiz and Kiva look more Kamen Rider-like than anything in the post-W world.)

Jetman used to be really close to my heart. My introduction to it was a Hero Club video that edited together the first three episodes -- I was blown away by it. After sampling around some of the '90s Sentai shows I thought were weird, to see Jetman was a treat, because it felt so close to the Sentais I had grown up with. But it also had some stuff you didn't see in those shows -- especially, of course, Gai, who was kind of like...if Denis Leary was a member of the Justice League. And I was drawn into just how unprepared the heroes were, how much they screwed up initially, how they were shown figuring everything out.

I finished Jetman all scattershot -- it was expensive to buy lousy quality VHS tapes from sellers, so I'd hop around -- and really liked the show, it was in my top five at one point. I liked its seriousness, the drama. It so influenced me, that when I tried doing my own Sentai fan-fic in the late '90s, it turned into such a whiny emo-fest that it made Jetman look like Goggle V.

But the more I'd go back to the show, and the older I got, and the more I saw of all of the older Sentai shows -- once I watched all of them in their entirety -- I became more and more...disillusioned with the show, I'll say. Like, I've written why I think Ryu's such an interesting character on page, but he never was at the top of my favorite Reds. Once I was older, I recognized that Koutarou Tanaka's limits as an actor is the reason Ryu never made my list of favorite Reds. Similarly, I liked the idea of Raita, but actor Tomihisa Naruse would start to bug me the more I watched the show and picked up on little things he'd do that made the character not the good-natured guy he was meant to be.

I liked how cruel the Vyram were, but came to notice how weak Daisuke Tachi was as Radeige -- often making what's (supposed to be) a vicious character laughable. Yeah, even when I loved the show, I always had a problem with Vyram. More on that story as it develops...

The last time I felt a ton of love for the show was when it hit DVD for the first time, in '05, and my family bought it for me as a gift. (I got volume 1 as a birthday gift that year, along with a Cross Changer. It was awesome.) It was the first Sentai show that I loved and cared about to hit DVD, and I was REALLY excited about it. My tapes were mostly awful quality, so it was also great to watch the show with a crisp picture.

After that, though, Jetman kind of slipped for me. Whenever I'd try to rewatch it after that, I'd get bored just several episodes in, or think of how much better I'd find the show with some recasting, or I'd just keep thinking of the ludicrous and infuriating finale. I never fully turned on it, the way a lot of fans did, but it kinda made me sad that I found my love for it so diminished. I'd really like to like Jetman as much as I used to. Even so, I've still taken some lumps defending the show.

There's still so much that Jetman does that I like, and it -- along with a lot of Inoue's other shows -- falls in line with a lot of my sensibilities. And Jetman always felt like the end of an era to me -- going from the militaristic, villain-heavy shows to the nuttiness Sugimura brings to the franchise with his run, and then the Power Rangers influence. (Little did I know that Jetman WAS close to being the end of an era -- the end of Sentai, period.)

And even though Jetman owes a lot to some of its predecessors -- especially Denjiman, Changeman, Maskman, Liveman -- it still brings a lot of new things to the table. Namely, it was the first Sentai to focus on such an unprofessional, rag-tag group of heroes. The generic summary of a Sentai team will usually mention "five strangers from all walks of life." And while that's usually true, pretty much every hero prior to Jetman was either a professional soldier, a scientist, a martial-arts master, or someone disciplined in some sport. (Sometimes, you got a Gary Stu who was practically all of the above!) Jetman gave us a high-society type who wasn't used to doing things on her own; a bratty high-schooler (who hated phys-ed); a stocky, pacifist farmer; and a street-brawlin', pessimist thug. The only professional soldier, the only one meant to be there was Ryu/Red, and even he had issues.

There's just been so many Sentai shows, so many toku shows since, that I think it's been kind of lost on younger fans just how innovative and fresh Jetman was at the time. A lot of subsequent shows enviously want to be it, a lot of people have tried to duplicate it -- including Inoue -- and never quite reached what it did. With my rewatches of Liveman and Black, I wanted to try to work through some mere frustrations. Jetman's fallen more out of favor with me than either of those shows, so I started a rewatch in hopes of truly rediscovering my love for the show, but also hoping to point out where it soared and where I think it legitimately went wrong. Let's go (tobidase)!

But before I start, a complaint -- already. Since I just quoted it, I have to talk about the OP theme. I've said before why I don't like it. But I wrote that post before I found out that producer Takeyuki Suzuki, Toei and the show's staff was pushing for "Toki o Kakete" to be the OP, while Hironobu Kageyama and Columbia pushed for the OP we got. I'm surprised they won over Toei, but it's unfortunate they did. Not only do I find "Toki o Kakete" to be the best song from Jetman, but it would have made for an AWESOME opening theme. It would have been one of those curveball choices like Metalder's OP or Blue Swat's OP, in that it's atypical for an OP, but unlike those songs, it's actually fast-paced, but has a sound which suits the show far greater than the fluffy OP we ended up with. (I've watched the Jetman credits set to "Toki o Kakete" and it's awesome. BTW, Toei's wanting it for the OP is supposedly the reason it plays during the show's first promo instead of an instrumental of the OP.)

TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

One Good Scare: Flashman's The Zobaruda


Two scares for the price of one. The Miran episode of Flashman always spooked me when I was a kid, and I still think it's a creepy, off-putting episode. The sole episode of Flashman -- or any tokusatsu -- written by well-known anime scribe Michiru Shimada is a tragic, quiet (not a lot of dialogue, only those spooky and non-heroic BGM tracks), eerie episode that lets you know from the top that it's not your ordinary episode. The whole thing has such a different tone to it, almost kind of like it's off-rhythm... (The episode is directed by Takao Nagaishi, who certainly liked experimenting with atmospheric episodes like this throughout the series -- from the strangely-lensed ghost episode, number 24, and episode 40, which is really reminiscent of this episode in terms of style. Credit also goes to designer Yutaka Izubuchi for coming up with this strange, unique monster design.)

It begins with Mess's two-headed monster The Zobaruda attacking the city at night; Sara, alone on patrol, investigates and is attacked, leaving only a puddle of blood behind. The way this scene is filmed, with a wounded and sweaty Sara pinned by a building's debris, is really uncomfortable and tense. She awakens to find herself bandaged and being brought back to health by...Change Griffin! (Or at least the dude who played him, Hiroshi Kawai aka Kazuoki.) He's a mysterious guy, but friendly, bringing Sara supplies. Suddenly, he doubles over and flees the room, locking himself out, while an understandably freaked out Sara bangs on the other side, wanting to know what his deal is. Well, if you've seen any werewolf movie, Sara, you'd recognized his symptoms as "about to turn into a werewolf/monster thing," because that what it is. (Kawai/Kazuoki makes some awful sounding screams here.) He tells Sara that he knows she was kidnapped as a kid and he thinks she's his kid sister. He disappears, leaving behind a childhood photograph of him and his kid sister.


Let's cut to the spoiler -- Miran ends up being The Zobaruda, who gets captured and tortured by Kaura and the Mess regulars for insubordination. This scene's filmed a little disturbingly, there's a real mean-spiritedness coming through it and the performances of Jouji Nakata (Kaura), Yutaka Hirose (Wanda) and Sayoko Hagiwara (Neferu). The villains just love to taunt the chained and bloodied Miran -- first by Kaura just casually tossing off that his sister's dead and by Wanda liking to point out how Miran is no longer human, despite his desperate declaration otherwise. Miran and his real sister were also kidnapped by Kaura twenty years ago, with Miran successfully being spliced with a Beast Warrior creating the two-headed freak The Zobaruda.


The villains also take glee in letting Sara witness Miran's freaky transformation -- Miran can only take human shape for an hour a day, so they just passed the time torturing him until Sara could find him, see what he's become. It might not look like much now, but I thought this transformation sequence was real freaky when I was a kid. Beware and dread the times that Toei hauls out that purple backdrop. I think Kawai does a good job selling the pain of the transformation, there's that creepy gothic background music going and Miran's grunts are electronically altered, sounding like a golddurn Deadite from an Evil Dead movie.



And to spook you out even more, behind the photograph Miran dropped was a sketch he made, telling anyone to target the right head of The Zobaruda. So, Flash King basically decapitates it, Miran is at death's door, and they freeze him and ship him off to be healed at the Flash planet. It's supposed to be a sort of hopeful ending, but the way it's all filmed...yeah, it's weird. (Also: does Miran survive and develop the Anti-Flash on his time at the Flash planets? So does Sara still get him killed in the end?) When I was a kid and didn't know the language, I totally thought Miran was dead and they were burying him in space, Spock-style.



Another thing that's atypical about this episode is that, once Miran becomes The Zobaburda and tries to attack Sara, the Flashman show up in suit ready to fight, but Sara doesn't transform or fight. The hero who's hesitant to fight a friend turned enemy has become a common trope, but this was a pretty different episode at the time. There's no big henshin scene, no big pose down or introducing the team -- Sara doesn't transform, and the four others defeat the monster without her or Rolling Vulcan. She initially doesn't even take part in the mecha battle, leaving the other four to pilot Flash King themselves, until she thinks of the best choice of attack.

Yutaka Izubuchi's design for this unique, terrifying monster.

This is just a damn weird, off-kilter, unsettling episode, and I imagine the reason that this was the writer's only episode was that she turned in the script and the producers were like "Great, thanks, we'll get back to you. Please leave now...OK, guys, what is this freaky shit!?!" (With how messed up and weird this episode is, I have to wonder if the original plan called for Zobaruda's second head to be Miran's dead sister.) This is the kind of episode I expected Toshiki Inoue to turn in, but he instead did random stuff like Bun falling in love with a sukeban. This episode is probably too intense for even Inoue!

If you saw this episode when it aired, chances are it still gives you the willies. Along with Spielban's Youki, it's an episode that scarred me.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Viva Chiba


Sonny Chiba. The man. The legend. The fuckin' man. I'm a huge fan of his movies and admire the heck out of him -- he's a consummate entertainer. He can act, he can fight, he can sing -- he's at home in chop-socky exploitation movies, war dramas, yakuza melodramas, serious samurai epics or sweeping genre movies. He can do it all, and has. He always brings his best, expects others to bring their best, but also is loose enough to know when to not take things seriously -- in Street Fighter, I find his character Takuma Tsurugi to be extremely despicable for most of the movie. But then Chiba can turn around and be lighthearted and goof around in something like Yakuza Deka or The Executioner. He's just good at what he does, is dedicated, and a total pro.

Chiba was contracted with Toei, so when he started the Japan Action Club in the early '70s, Toei's productions benefited from it. With a hell of a knack for scouting talent, Chiba wanted to create action stars like him -- people who were physically talented and could do action, yes, but people who could ACT and ENTERTAIN, as well. It's Chiba's ethos that made the Japan Action Club what it is; even before I got into Chiba's movies, I was a big fan of the Japan Action Club through what I saw of their work in tokusatsu alone. You not only had talented performers like Kenji Ohba, Jun'ichi Haruta, Risa Komaki, Mitchi Love, Hiroshi Watari, Sumiko Tanaka, Mai Ooishi, Naomi Morinaga, Hikaru Kurosaki, Akito Oosuga, Yuki Yajima, Koji Unoki, Toshimichi Takahashi, Satoshi Kurihara, Yoshinori Okamoto, Makoto Sumikawa and so on wowing you with their acrobatic action each week, but a whole list of performers who would wow you with their costumed acting each week. (Chiba should also get credit for recognizing women can kick ass and be action stars, too -- shout out to action star Etsuko Shihomi here. Well before Michelle Yeoh won acclaim for doing so, Shihomi was headlining her own ass-kicking adventures.) Not to mention, discovering and putting Hiroyuki Sanada onto the path of superstardom.

The Japan Action Club's always been the best tokusatsu stunt group to me because of the way they're actually performers. They're not just stunt guys who have the suit thrown on; as per Chiba's goal, they're trained to be all around entertainers, actors, performers. When so many people mock the suit-actors in tokusatsu -- dismissing them as "dudes in spandex or rubber" or whatever -- I've always appreciated the talented ones. (I've always been a Suit-Actor-head. There was a time when I'd talk about them and get a "Who cares who's behind the mask" reply. I'd get called names for trying to guess who was behind the new heroes' mask each year. The same thing once happened when it came to toku writers, directors and singers.) What they do is not unlike traditional mask acting. The Japan Action Club raised suit-acting to an art form. Take a look at a lot of the pre-JAC suit acting, or a lot of non-JAC suit actors: you have martial-artists who are barely able to move in costume or, at best, are more interested in looking cool in their pose. Martial-artists who don't know how to act, so they'll just point and nod their head to every word they say. The JAC's giving you a full performance, a realized character grasped by an actor of equal importance to the one portraying the character out of suit. You ever see a crazy action scene in a tokusatsu and wonder about it -- hey, why can these characters, without their powers, just jump from location to location, or flip-around, or jump into trees? That's the dynamic action the JAC brought to toku, a bit of a ninja element.

The JAC changed Toei's tokusatsu shows, made them better, made them something more. And it can all be traced back to Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba. Besides being an impressive talent in his own right and putting out entertaining movies and shows, he changed the landscape of this little corner of TV, the niche of henshin heroes with his inspiration and dedication. He's not only a hero of the screen, an action hero, but a hero of entertainment.

So, I've long wanted an action figure to honor Chiba. In the early '00s, some company came out with a couple of 1/6 figures of two of his characters -- the ninja Hattori Hanzo and the samurai Yagyu Jubei -- but not only are they super expensive, but they look like nutsack. After seeing this dude create a custom figure of Chiba's Street Fighter character out of G.I. Joes, I was inspired to make my own 3.75 inch figure. I prefer that size of figure because of the retro flavor -- if they had made figures of any of Chiba's movies in his heyday, chances are they would be like these classic Kenner style of toy.

I thought it would be cool to make a figure of Sonny Chiba, but not have it tied down to any particular movie or show. I basically just wanted it to evoke Chiba, the action star. Two of my favorite movies of his are The Executioner and The Killing Machine, so I had those in mind, but they're not meant to be either character from that movie. Just...Sonny Chiba, Japan Action Hero. Funko's ReAction line of retro figures offered two of the perfect body types, but the perfect head was a little tricky. Funko didn't have a whole big selection of Asian heads to use -- pretty much only Sulu from Star Trek could have been usable, but he's got a real dopey expression and stupid haircut. Taking inspiration from that Street Fighter custom, I went with a non-Asian head, but one I thought fit, and had an appropriately pissed off expression.




While Chiba had to leave the JAC behind in the early '90s, the spirit and dedication (mostly) still live on. While I fear the state of tokusatsu will eventually snuff out all of the talents the suit-actors can bring (toku heroes now play with toys instead of fight with them, so action scenes have lessened), the Osamu Kaneda-led Japan Action Enterprise, for now, maintains a high quality in suit-acting and stunts. While other action groups have caught on to what makes the JAC/JAE so special and caused them to up their game, the JAC/JAE are often imitated, but never matched. I still think the JAC/JAE are the best of the action groups used in toku. And it's all thanks to Chiba.

Viva Chiba!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ridin' Through the Rider OPs


I once did this for Sentai's openings and thought it would be fun to go over the openings of Riders. Again, I'm not just talking about the songs themselves, but the credits sequences themselves. Go! Go! Let's go!

1. "Let's Go Rider Kick" by Hiroshi Fujioka (and later Kyoichi Fuji/Masato Shimon)

The classic song, synonymous with the first series. Is it simplistic? Yeah. Does the show overuse it? Ohhhhhhhh, yeah. But it's iconic -- as soon as you hear that intro, you immediately conjure up and image of Rider 1 (or 2) doing his pose, surrounded by an army of Shocker troops. The almost military-like drumming really suits the show, specifically the threat of Shocker.

Fujioka's version is the real version. Shimon does his usual squawking over it. (Takeshi Sasaki did a cover in the '90s that I think is really cool.)

Honestly, there's not much to say about the Showa Rider credit sequences. The Riders on a bike -- pretty simple, and now quaint since the franchise has lost its identity, soul and mind. The best part of the original credits is the part where Rider spins around, turns into Hongou, and we get shots of some of those creepy early Shocker monsters while the narrator gives us the scoop on Hongou's story.

2. "Rider Action" by Kyoichi Fuji/Masato Shimon

I never really liked this song. The horns are abrasive, and Shimon's braying is especially annoying over music like this. Musically, it's dull, too, sounding like someone just trying to imitate a Shunsuke Kikuchi song.

3. "Tatakae! Kamen Rider V3" by Hiroshi Miyauchi and The Swingers

I don't mind this song. It reflects its age, and you can't help but chuckle a little bit when Miyauchi chimes in with his...less than stellar singing voice. (I don't know why Miyauchi always puts on this high pitch when he sings. He sounds almost like a kid! He even does this on his cover of the Zubat OP.) But that intro is cool, I like the lyrics to Miyauchi's portion.

The credits kind of combine the differing credits that the original series had -- some bike riding on a dirt road, a jump with a big explosion, Hurricane needing stopped with a Bat-Parachute, old chum. The clip during the narration shows Kazami being operated on by Riders 1 and 2, a scene which always bugged me because they STAY IN SUIT while operating. Look at those gloves -- filthy, stained with the blood and guts of 98 episodes worth of Shocker and Gelshocker monsters. That ain't sanitary, that ain't up to code. It's amazing Kazami survived the procedure. (It must have been one of the most secret of V3's 26 secrets.)

4. "Setup! Kamen Rider X" by Ichirou Mizuki

I used to be a real Aniki-head. And I really like this song, even though it's pretty simplistic. It has a strong intro, which is good for action, and Mizuki's kicking ass with it. (I love his performance of this at Masked Rider Live 2000 -- he's full of energy, and the Rider Chips give a souped up version of the song.) That line about his father's scream still echoing is sung by Mizuki with such an awesome anger.

Credits are X cruising around on the Cruiser. Not much to say.

5. "Amazon Rider Koko ni Ari" by Masato Shimon

I like the song, but hate Shimon's nasally, Rider-Kicked-in-testicles vocals here. I once had mastered a mocking impression of Shimon after this song. (I recommend listening to the Metal Brothers cover.) Some cool lyrics, the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, he'll become an oni if it's for justice stuff. (Shigenori Takatera was obviously listening to this song when cooking up the concept of Hibiki.)

Some variation in the credits, at least! We get shots of Amazon (or Daisuke, depending on the point of the series) running through the jungle like a nut. Not amazing, but a start.

6. "Kamen Rider Stronger no Uta" by Ichirou Mizuki

I like it, but it's not really a great opening. Mizuki's giving it a lot of energy and anger, but the song's just a little too slow for an opening, but not exactly mellow enough for an ending. It's a weird one -- not bad, but weird. And I really like the show, and Shigeru is such a crazy, larger-than-life guy that he really needed a song to match his personality.

Credits are 90% Stronger riding around on a beach, with some cool bike stunts as he takes on goons on motorcycles, with the final 10% being him beating up those goons and showing off his powers in a bit of an underwhelming-to-modern-eyes way.

7. "Moero! Kamen Rider" by Ichirou Mizuki, Koorogi '73

The song's OK, but I find it dull and generic. The show was initially meant to be a reboot of the whole franchise...is this the song that puts you in mind of classic Riderness? But it beats the heck out of its replacement.

Credits AREN'T entirely the Rider on his bike, but about just as unnoteworthy -- hang-gliding for most of the credits.

8. "Otoko no Na wa Kamen Rider" by Ichirou Mizuki

HATE this thing. It's a complete and total wussy, kiddy, cotton-candy, let's-do-our-homework and plant-some-trees Ultraman sounding theme song. (Lyrics aren't exactly Ultraman material; you'd never catch an Ultraman theme talking about rage. But it still doesn't fit in with the sound of this song.)

Credits are basically the Stronger credits again -- Rider riding around on a beach. What's the deal with those kids screeching "Kamen Rider!" over and over at the end? What a misfire.

9. "Kamen Rider Super 1" by Shunsuke Takasugi, Koorogi '73

The most boring, lifeless, unenergetic music plus the most boring, lifeless, flat unenergetic singing = the most boring song in the franchise's history. And Kamen Rider Super 1 was such a goofy show! It needed something crazy, like the Goggle V's Comboy song. The ending theme and credits are way better.

10. "Dragon Road" by Akira Kushida

When I first heard this song, I was like "Yuck, what the fuck is that?!?!" But it slowly grew on me, and now I think the thing's awesome. Try to hear this song and not involuntarily dance somehow, I dare you. I double-dare you, motherfucker!

It doesn't suit ZX at all, it's a pretty outdated sound for even when that special aired, but it rocks. It has some great, nutty lyrics and Kushida's just kicking ass with it.

ZX being a TV special, it didn't really have its own credits, it's just clips of the special, focusing on the previous Riders fighting goons. Meh.

11. "Kamen Rider Black" by Tetsuo Kurata

Yeah, Kurata's not the best singer in the world, and yeah, he's so off they have to give him the echo effect. (The version without the effect isn't that bad, IMO.) But Kurata has the range of, like, Freddie Mercury compared to Super 1's Takasugi. Kurata's not any worse than Fujioka or Miyauchi, so I don't know why he's always singled out.

The song's cool and '80s. With a mainstream lyricist like Yoko Aki penning the lyrics, we're finally moving into lyrics that are more than descriptions of the color of Rider's bike or mask or scarf or protecting the justice of the world's justice. (I have no idea how these lyrics apply to Black as a show or character, but they're still better than mostly all of their predecessors' lyrics. Even with those puzzling mentions of magicians and ESPers in the second verse.)

The best version of this song, by the way, is ROLLY's (karaoke) cover of it in Masked Rider Live 2000. If you listen to that and still say you hate this song, or think it's something to be mocked, then you're a dick!

Credits sequence still hasn't broken out from the old ways, though. Although it begins with really cool shots of a garage opening and revealing Black, as he slowly and coolly makes his way to Battle Hopper, the rest of the thing is Black just riding around. It ends on a neat shot of Black riding into a tunnel, though, the only thing visible being Battle Hopper's lit eyes.

12. "Kamen Rider Black RX" by Takayuki Miyauchi

An awesome, awesome song. The awesomeness of this song is equally matched by the crappiness of the actual show, it's tragic. Great Chinfa Kan lyrics, and Miyauchi doing an excellent job, as usual. I've always wondered how Miyauchi can take some of these weird songs and make them sound so personal and emotional. (Listen to themes for mecha like Bio Robo and Flash King -- he sounds like he's in love with those robots!)

I hate to say it, but this is probably my favorite Rider OP theme -- it's painful that it's associated with a show I hate so much. I listen to the lyrics -- about light versus darkness -- and have to pretty much pretend this song is for Agito, or even just Black.

Credits are a total snooze -- it's RX on his bike, and the camera's like a mile away from him! You're watching the lines on the road for most of the sequence! Once he gets his new forms, they throw in some closer shots of those, but those forms are ugly suckers, so you don't want the close-ups of them.

13. "Kamen Rider Kuuga!" by Masayuki Tanaka

I like this song, and it made me aware of Tanaka (the songs his band Crystal King did for Hokuto no Ken are FUCKING AWESOME), but I think I've just heard it too many times. It's the Jetman or Gavan opening of Kamen Rider -- it's the one at all of the concerts, the song that Masayuki Tanaka shows up anywhere to sing if he has the opportunity. The lyrics are also a little generic to me, nothing really that suits the show or matches its uniqueness. (I see the song being more about Rider's return after so much time than it is about the show's actual subject matter.)

And then there's the English version! What a way to pull this song down a few rungs on the ladder of coolness. "The wacky-ass planet, lazer aides fuzzy low," "Meta-morphine, Musket Rider Cougaaaaaaaaa!" I know I should be grateful for it not being Mickey busting my eardrums on this English version, I know.

Credits change a couple of times throughout the series. The first ones, the cast shots are kind of ill-suited to me. The action scenes are amazing and the highlight of the credits. But the sequence evolves as the show does, and incorporates more artistic shots and symbolism. (I love the shot of Godai standing, with the rings of light binding his arms, like being Kuuga's holding him prisoner. But what the fuck is up with that Charlie's Angels shot of Kazumi Murata? Laughable AND it doesn't fit.) Another favorite part of mine is when the drums kick in and there's quick flashes of the key supporting characters, mixed with disturbing images of Grongi monsters or the bloody Daguba symbol and Sakurako's hands in prayer.

14. "Kamen Rider Agito" by Shinichi Ishihara

I remember first hearing this song. I was already into Ishihara and thought the B-Fighter OP and the GoGoFive OP were some of the best tokusatsu openings in the history of tokusatsu. Way before seeing Agito, I listened to the MP3 of this, and...was...absolutely...puzzled. What the hell was this song?! What kind of opening theme is this?!!

But, it needed to be heard and seen within context. It's a fresh, special song for a fresh, special series. We're now entering the era of no ED theme and an emphasis on IN themes for the action, so the OP doesn't need to be action-oriented. Agito took advantage of that and just did a really good, strong theme song that captures the soul of the show.

Toei thought it was cool to have the first credits filmed at that blasted race track they used to love so much, but it kind of limits what they can do. I like the shots, though, of Mana trying to reach Shouichi, only to then have Agito whiz past her; the shot of Hikawa frantically running past his G3 Unit pals, it then becoming G3 riding past them; and the clips of the in-story stuff, like Shouichi washed up on the shore and Hikawa's Akatsuki heroics. The drum intro leading into the shot of the tapestry, leading down into Agito's riding through what Toei's site called "the curtain of rain" is cool. And the slo-mo shot of the three Riders coming into frame on their bikes, as the chorus kicks in? Fuckin' awesome.

In place of a hideous English version, we get the 24.7 remix instead, which sucks about just as bad as an English version would have. The new credits try a little too hard to be "artsy," and don't quite reach it, IMO. I think the part with footage of Hikawa slamming down his badge and holding his gun at Ozawa, being projected onto a wall that G3-X blasts through on his bike, is really cool LOOKING, but that footage just makes no sense to me.

15. "Alive a Life" by Rika Matsumoto

Rider makes the switch to Avex! And look at what tricky, deceptive bastards they are -- "Hey, sure we're doing Rider music now, but rest assured -- nothing will change. Look, with Rika Matsumoto and Hiroshi Kitadani, we have two popular anisong singers on Ryuki's soundtrack! Don't worry." Cut to, Rider being a place for Avex to try to dump all of their dying, failing B-tier pop acts, killing off the Rider Chips by forcing them to take Reeky Ricky as a full-time vocalist, and then forcing the squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets the Kamen Rider Girls on us.

But Alive a Life is cool, and one of my favorite openings. And I think the credits kick ass all over the place. The breaking mirror leading you into the credits, the star trio walking in slow motion, Shinji/Ryuki holding up the card, all of the cool shots of Ryuki and Knight surrounded by mirrors and sparks and the shots of them in the city, all culminating with the two preparing to face off. Cool, cool stuff.

16. "Justiphi's" by ISSA

I like this song more than I should. It's close to the top for me. I like the lyrics, and it just has a cool sound to it. ISSA's not the greatest singer, but this is a song that's so strong, that it will do the work for you and make you sound better. Case in point? A guy with a singing voice like m.c.A.T's is able to make it work in live covers. Yoffy -- freaking YOFFY! -- covered it, and it's listenable. *shrugs, throws hands in air* If only the show itself had some of that magic.

The credits don't have the all around strength of Agito's or Ryuki's, but there are bits I really like. Mainly anything to do with the villains, and I love that shot in the end of Horse -- with a very pissed off Yuuji projection behind him -- charging towards a calm and prepared Faiz. Foreshadowing a big showdown between the two that the show was too sloppy to actually pay off on.

17. "Round ZERO ~ BLADE BRAVE" by Nanase Aikawa

I like this song and its energy, its lyrics, but I don't think the bratty and remote vocal style Nanase Aikawa used throughout that point of her career works for it. (The song of hers they used for Ryukendo, though? I love that thing.)

The opening credits that accompany this song, though...whoo-whee, is it bad. Really, really, "I have no idea what they could have been thinking when releasing this to the public" bad. It looked bad in '04 and looks even worse now. I've said before that I think Blade's production quality is...pretty crap, and I assume the only way producer Jun Hikasa got the show over then-golden boy Shinichiro Shirakura is by promising Toei that he'd slash Rider's budget by 75%. With yen stretching as far as it could, you get a half-assed and home-made opening credits like this, which looks like something they just filmed on the spot after the premiere event for the press took place.

The cast standing on a black soundstage, doing stupid stuff (sourpuss Hajime playing soccer! Shiori punching a handkerchief!) and waving their arms...A LOT. The suit actors trying to look cool and move, but they can't, because they're stuck on a black soundstage, so they're just randomly slashing and punching at air. Bandai commercials have put more effort forward than these credits. They're a laughable shame. You know what they remind me of? The (intentionally) stupid and humiliating ads Shibaura made the ORE Journal staff do when he took over the company in Ryuki.



Look at this! Look at this stupidity! What were they thinking?! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

18. "Elements" by Rider Chips feat. Ricky

Ugh, Ricky. Blow your nose. Learn how to sing stuff differently. Ricky should be singing Ultraman songs, not Kamen Rider stuff. Thanks, Avex. People go ape for this song, but it's never done much for me. Ricky's not the only problem, the song's just meh to me.

The show gets new credits, but they still look cheap, and try real, real, real, real, real hard to pretend like they have the thought and visuals of the past few Heisei Rider credits. They couldn't be more wrong. The dead-eyed cast stare at you, we get that silly cartoon shot of Blade Jack Form flying, more clumsy and awkwardly staged action. Blade was a mess of a show that couldn't get casting, writing, action, direction, or entertainment right, so why would they get credits right, even with a second shot at fixing them?

19. "Kagayaki"

I liked the first version of the song, the first verse, but I don't like some of the alternate versions, like the guitar one. It's big, bold, epic music that suits the grand, larger than life world of sound-oriented Hibiki.

The credits are pretty dang cool (directed by Koichi Oto, a Takatera pick who did Kuuga's credits sequences). I like those shots of most of the cast members when they're given an assigned kanji written on them. Hibiki has this very "Japanese" feel to it, and these credits are a really stylized way of driving that home. The only part I don't like is when Asumu is running in place for Hibiki, that just looks dopey and takes me out of the mood the sequence was going for.

20. "Hajimari no Kimi e" by Akira Fuse

There's no question that Fuse has a nice voice, but my problem with this song is that Fuse's trying a little too hard to sell it. He's one of those singers who goes for sounding good, technically -- making the priority hitting the notes rather than feeling the song emotionally. So he sometimes sounds to me like he tries to compensate, making up for his lack of emotion by exaggeration and also just trying that much harder to sound perfect. So, while I find Fuse's vocals are a little overkill on this song, I don't mind the song -- it's a breath of fresh air. It's not as strong as Fuse's Shonen yo. I think people basically hate this song because they associate it with Hibiki's insane, proto-Kabuto, drop-in-quality second half.

The credit sequence is a huge stepdown from the first one, too -- it looks really hokey and commercial-like to me. The only bit I like is at the end, in the sunset, when Hibiki nods to Asumu and goes on his way -- and even that's just a lazy repeat of the Shonen yo credits, really.

21. "Next Level" by YU-KI

Yu-ki's sleepy vocals set to some generic electronic farting. Yay! This song's just generic, but that's about the norm for Kabuto. Show has nothing going for it beneath the surface, which is reflected in the credits, which try VERY hard to be stylish, but that's it. Kabuto doesn't have memorable characters or a soul or any strong thematic links to work with; the show tried to get by on all style.

22. "Climax Jump" by AAA Den-O Form

You know those scenes in Star Trek, when Captain Kirk gets injured and Shatner really overdoes it and hams it up and just throws his hands up, and collapses into himself in pain? That's what happens to me when I hear this song. It's just an ugly pummel of noise, and the sign post of Toei toku starting to really suck.

There are parts I like about the credits -- the burning calendars, Hana walking with a tear reversing up her cheek -- things indicating that the show is about time travel, something the show itself rarely remembered in favor of quickly tiresome "comedic" antics.

23. "Break the Chain" by Tourbillon

Underwhelming. Song's a scattered mess, and the credits match it. I like the intro (music AND the shot of Kiva walking the halls of the castle, as the torches light), but as soon as the "Bag-bag, Billy Bob" kicks in, I hate it and want the song to stop. And I still don't understand what's up with all of the Wataru-stars-in-American-Beauty rose shots.

24. "Journey Through the Decade" by Gackt

I'm one of the only people on the planet who doesn't like Gackt. I don't think he's cool, and there's something really artificial to me about his singing. It's like...he doesn't have a good voice, he's doing an impression of someone who might have a good voice. It's not him, it's mimicry. He's kind of like some American Idol kid to me.

This song just really doesn't do anything for me. I don't like it, I don't hate it. It's just there. But it doesn't help that it's attached to that unholy abomination of a television show.

I hate to say it, but I like the credits sequence. The ominous shot of Decade standing there as the song starts, with that narration, is pretty cool. Natsumi removing her hand from Tsukasa's eye and the camera lens parallels, with the eye becoming the camera lens and the lens of Decade's belt; that shot of the Heisei Riders standing; that shot of Tsukasa flashing into all of the Riders; the shot of Natsumi wrapping her arms around Tsukasa, like a henshin belt...I like it. I even like that they try to subtly recreate what I call that "swirling sky shot" from the Kuuga credits for that loser Onodera, even though he doesn't deserve to be associated with anything of the real, good Kuuga.

25. "WBX ~Double Boiled Extreme" by Aya Kamiki w/ Takuya

I'd like this thing more without Takuya's flat, rambling nonsense. I get that they wanted two people for this song to match W's theme, but...get someone better. "He gotta do a hard drive, Campbell does not go crack match!" Whatever the hell he's yelling back there. Shut up and leave Aya alone!

Credits are mostly cool, though. There's that shot at the beginning everybody loves, of W watching over his city with his scarf floating in the air. I like the animated bits of Shotaro investigating a case. It's just a fun credits sequence.

26. "Anything Goes!" by Maki Ooguro

This song drives me up the wall. It's overkill, with the tsunami of noise they mistake for music and the forced enthusiasm of the shrill vocals. If you want me to start attacking people like Curly Howard when he hears Pop Goes the Weasel, play either this song or Katrina and the Waves' Walking on Sunshine. I was just out shopping and the store was playing Walking on Sunshine -- I don't remember what happened, but I woke to find myself in a ditch as The Lonely Man Theme played.

Here we kind of begin an era where there's no real thought put into the credit sequences. The shows get more and more diluted and fluffy and there's not that kind of self-importance to the franchise anymore, where they attempted to have credit sequences that hit on a show's particular theme, or featured a strong thematic link, or a credit sequence with real style, making them play like vignettes. From here on, the opening credits turn to basically the Kamen Rider gummy commercials for the most part. Show a dopey shot of the cast, show off all 200 Rider forms, some indecipherable CGI action, rinse, repeat.

27. "Switch On!" by Anna Tsuchiya

I found this song irritating when I first heard it, but it grew on me. I came to like it, really, when I saw the live performance of it from the 40 x 35 concert -- it's a goofy, energetic song and Tsuchiya has a blast when singing it and makes it big and fun. It sweeps you up in fun. Too bad the actual show's so repulsive in its stupidity and terrible acting and not anywhere near as fun as it thinks it is. (Or as fun as the song.) "Oops!" Indeed.

Credit sequence does a good job in getting you to immediately hate all of the stupid motherfuckers that are regulars on this show. Saves you time from actually watching them or hearing them.

28. "Life is SHOW TIME" by Shou Kiryuin from Golden Bomber

I don't know anything about Golden Bomber, but I read that they're a "band" that "plays" air instruments. Only in Japan would that be a thing. Too bad Kiryuin doesn't "air" sing, meaning NOT sing, because his "singing" is atrocious. Flatter and deader than last month's roadkill. And the song's not any better...

I actually like the song until it hits the chorus, and then it turns into obnoxiously, painful noise that you just want to shut up. It's like two separate songs stitched together. One is a song, the other is a crappy commercial jingle. And the credits are mostly good until that point, too, even if they're on the generic side. (It's the umpteenth time a Heisei Rider credit sequence includes a shot of the main hero standing in the middle of the street, looking forlorn.) As much as I don't like Nitou, I really like that shot of him being stalked by the shadow of Chimera, and I like when Koyomi and Wizard reach out for one another.

29. "Just Live More" by Gaim no Kaze

I like this song! The first Rider OP since, like, Justifaiz I like all around!

I like the credit sequence, too! There's interesting moments, like the Kouta who's barricaded, shouting a warning to the casual, Lockseed-clutching Kouta; shots of Kouta and Kaito having a standoff mirrored by reflections of Gaim and Baron; Team Gaim dancing all carefree, before an ominous alternate Mai appears; Kouta shouting as he's consumed by the weeds of Helheim. There's also some cool action shots for a change. All in all, nice redemption for Rider credits.

30. "Surprise Drive" by Mitsuru Matsuoka

Can't stand Matsuoka's vocal "stylings" here. He does this weird crooning-twang-yodeling combination that he -- and a lot of '90s alternative rockers -- thinks makes him sound cool. It's like Mike Patton, Shakira and Kermit the Frog slammed together and then filtered through a program that speeds up the sound. The music is generic, at first sounding like a forgotten Avril Lavigne song, before just becoming a clash of random noise typical of 2000s anime themes. (I'm surprised this isn't a JAM Project song.)

Credit sequence is a mess, really highlighting just what a dumb-ass looking gimmick and aesthetic Drive has.

Sad thing is? Writing this post made me go back and watch all of the Rider credits. When I hit Drive, I was like "I don't feel like I gave Drive a fair chance," and ended up watching a few episodes...and had fun with what I watched. Pisses me off, man. The things I do for this blog.

31. "Warera Omou Yue ni Warera Ari" by Kishidan

I'll start this song and be like "Eh, it's not too bad," but then it quickly gets unbearably unlistenable to me. I think it's because the song just never really goes anywhere, and is pretty plain. And I can't take this band seriously -- a bunch of young twerps wishing they were Yokohama Ginbae.

I like the idea of the credits, with Ghost floating around as a spirit, observing the cast of characters and pranking them and stuff. The problem is that it's all depicted in a cheesy way, the effects looking like "Lie down on a chair in front of a blue-screen, Greatest American Hero-style." Man, the supporting cast in this show all look like they're cosplaying some shitty, forgotten anime. I couldn't really get into this show because it felt like a really bad anime that's all about collecting a shitty gimmick. And it's sad, because I kinda like the concept and the cast.

32. "EXCITE" by Daichi Miura

I haven't bothered watching Ex-Aid yet. I have a feeling I'm not missing anything good and that I'm happier for not watching it. But I'm guessing the show's really goofy, so it's funny that these credits want to try to look cool and serious, recalling some bits from the Decade credits. Sorry, Ex-Aid -- you can't make Level 1 look cool. It's worse than the fruit samurai armor. And, again, the cast here look like they're cosplayers for some bad veterinarian anime.

The song made me laugh. A zombie vocalist and a tune that sounds like it should be on the soundtrack of one of the lesser '80s teen comedies, like Fraternity Vacation or Private School or something.

33. "Be the One" by Pandora featuring Beverly

A great Hailee Steinfeld song, a terrible superhero theme.

Show looks as stupid as Ex-Aid. I can't believe that kid who looks like Mitsuzane's weaker younger brother is the lead Rider. I can't believe some people are saying that this show is a return to Ishinomori-styled Riders. I don't recognize this franchise anymore.