Monday, September 9, 2019

Flashman Episode 50


Is this the saddest finale in toku history? Maybe in Sentai history, at least. And while I usually complain and don't like Sentai finales that put too much emphasis on mecha battles -- most of the entire A Part is a mecha battle -- Flashman at least tries to get you to care about it by having the ticking clock, and by having a great monster design for them to battle.

The episode begins with La Deus' giant, broken mask piecing itself back together and rising. At the Lab, Keflen notes that while La Deus is dead, his genetic material lives on and is still usable, and so he sets about creating the latest Deus Beast Soldier, Demoss, even combining Kragen with it. Demoss is HUGE, and a unique design, because he's three-legged. The Deus mask remains for the most part, but it ends up turning monstrous as the beast absorbs more and more energy. (That's Kragen's contribution -- absorbing energy and making the monster seemingly invulnerable.) Keflen knows the Flashman have only ten hours remaining, and the Lab is in bad shape after La Deus' rampage, but Keflen is certain of his victory -- all he needs to do is pretty much hang in there until the Flashman's time is up.

The Flashman are all resting in hospital beds, hooked up to IVs, oxygen masks and machinery to check their vitals. They're a sorry sight, and only have ten hours remaining. Once they get the warning about Demoss' rampaging, they're up and ready to battle, despite Magu's warnings against it. But what other choice is there?! The Flashman are the only ones who can stop it and the sooner they get to it, the better. They're soooooo close to being done with Mess, but ten hours?!

By the time Flash King enters the battle with Demoss, the timer is at eight hours. (How'd that happen?! Did they get ready and sit down for breakfast before leaving the Roundbase? Did it take two hours to gattai Flash King? Someone's rigging the clock!) Demoss is just unbeatable. Flash King can't get in a hit or attack of any kind, the Cosmo Sword breaks over Demoss' head and Demoss sucks so much energy from it that Flash King is said to be destroyed.

Meanwhile, the Tokimura family followed Sara's signal and find their old, abandoned home from twenty years ago. They find the framed photo and a heart-wrenching note from Sara telling them that they're her family, saying how much she'd like to be with them, but she's a warrior and her friends need her to help save Earth. "Mess needs to be defeated before sundown. I'm afraid I won't be able to see you again. Dad, Mom, Kaori, Midori...I wish you the best." This, of course, shatters the family, and they set out to try to find Sara before it's too late.

Jin and the others are surveying Flash King's damage, figuring out their next move, with six hours remaining. Elsewhere, the Tokimuras are driving around in order to find Sara. Sara reveals to the others that she's confirmed she's the Tokimura, and when the others ask her why she didn't let them know, she says she felt guilty that she was the only one who was able to accomplish their dream. Dai tells her it's silly, they would have been happy for whoever of the team got to find their family, even if it was just one team member. Demoss approaches and Jin makes a decision. "OK, team. Let's get this over with so Sara can meet with the Tokimuras. If we beat Mess by sundown, you can at least see them one more time before leaving Earth." Sara's touched, and the others are genuine in their desire to fulfill this goal. "There's four hours remaining," Bun says, "Sara, everyone, let's put the last of our powers to use and win!" Motivated, with no time to spare, they call for the Flash Titan and go back to battle Demoss.

Demoss proves to still be difficult with Titan Boy's usual attacks, with Pink noting that it keeps eating energy. If it's energy he wants, Red thinks... And he forms the Great Titan. He gives Demoss a big helping of the Titan Nova, knowing that it should be too much energy for even Demoss. But Demoss still stands. Not giving up, Great Titan just keeps on pumping Demoss full of the Titan Nova until he finally overloads and dies. Keflen's in disbelief -- the Flashman have a shot at winning. Happy to have this victory, but knowing there's no time to spare, Red Flash urges the others to next invade the Lab and deal with Keflen. Two hours remain.

The Flashman have to fight their way through gangs of Zoros before they can reach the Lab's main room. It must have taken them quite a while to break into the Lab and fight their way through, because they're down to an hour now. At the same time, Keflen is causing explosives to erupt from the pillars throughout the Lab and detain the Flashman. Time's getting tighter and tighter as they finally reach the main room to confront Keflen. (It's the first time the Flashman have been face to face with Keflen. And the Flashman actors never get to share any scenes with him, which is unfortunate. The actors only ever talk of getting to see Koji Shimizu when it came time to do voiceovers, when you know they were probably looking forward to working with an actor of Shimizu's esteem.) Neferu is in full bodyguard mode, she chops the Flashman down right away with a strike from her baton, allowing Keflen to keep focused on playing the synthesizer and attacking. Desperate, Red Flash tries to get to Keflen, ready with the Prism Sei-ken, charged for the kill. A panicked Neferu warns Keflen, but places herself before him, taking the hit. There's an unnerving close-up of Hagiwara in pain, Neferu then stumbles, weak, smoking from the attack. She falls into Keflen's arms and she weakly addresses him as father for one final time, before falling to an explosive death. For the first time, we see Keflen show some genuine concern and care for anyone other than himself. He's shocked at Neferu's demise and turns his anger towards the Flashman, using his staff to give them a nasty electrical attack.

I feel like this scene is basically confirmation that Neferu IS Keflen's actual daughter, that it's more than Neferu just looks at him like a father since he created her or that he cares for her only because she's the one who showed the most allegiance. I feel like, at one point, Keflen had a daughter, and ended up experimenting on her. But I think the show goes about it the way it does, kind of dancing around it because that's just a little too twisted. But it's there, it's brought up, the connections can be made. That's my take, anyway.

The Flashman blast Keflen with Prism Shooter and Red Flash gets a Super Cutter in. Keflen collapses onto his Synthesizer, it making random, ugly, unmusical sounds for probably the first time. Red goes in for the kill, but Keflen spins around, holding a hand up, asking him to wait. He makes them an offer. He knows their time is running out, and he tells them that a cure is possible with the Gene Synthesizer, that he can heal them so they can stay on Earth forever and meet their mothers and fathers. I always thought this was an interesting moral quandary for our heroes. Because, while Keflen might be trying this purely to save himself, he probably is capable of healing them. He has the skills -- it's not like if Koutarou Minami was dying and a Crisis member offered to save him, where you'd know he'd be like, "No thanks, quack." The problem, I think -- for me, if I were one of the Flashman -- is that Keflen's no Kaura. He's going to have an ulterior motive, he's not going to honor his word, so what would the catch be? Would he "cure" them by turning them into a monster, or even just puppets, the new officers he'd need to rebuild Mess?

The Flashman all freeze at this proposition. It's everything they want, but it would probably be a Faustian deal. Their hesitation says they're weighing the idea. (This is where it would be nice if they had untransformed, say after Keflen's attack; it would not only give the five actors a chance to work with Shimizu, but you could also see all of their reactions to this proposal.) Time's getting low now, twenty minutes remaining. It ends up being Yellow Flash who answers for them, as she Prism Shoots the Gene Synthesizer. "That Gene Synthesizer has manipulated and hurt so many lives, I'd never want power from something like it," she says, shooting the Synthesizer more. Alarms sound. Keflen, knowing the battle is lost, turns his attention to the Synthesizer. He plays, the broken instrument sending bursts of explosive energy throughout the Lab. "Farewell, Flashman. Farewell...Earth!" he plays. Red Flash orders them to evacuate as the Lab begins to explode, Keflen continuing to play as he laughs in madness, uncaring of his demise. He's not unlike his hated nemesis Kaura -- he's going to go out on his own terms.

About Yellow Flash making the choice. It's easy to joke "Hey, it was easy for her to decide, she got to meet her parents." But not really, if you ask me. She's spent time with the Tokimuras, and most of that time with the thought that one of the guys was the Tokimura. She finds out they ARE her parents, but she never gets to meet them again with that knowledge.

The Flashman exit the Lab and it explodes. They cheer at their victory, but untransform and collapse in pain -- they only have five minutes left. Jin seems to accept their fate, relieved that they at least accomplished their mission and saved Earth, while the others are in tears. (Bun sadly begging for just a little more time.) Magu flies overhead in the Star Condor, beaming them aboard. Nearby, the Tokimuras notice the Star Condor, departing. (They had been spending the entire episode looking for Sara, and were in the vicinity of the Lab during that final confrontation. So sad that they were so close.) The Tokimuras are heartbroken, they're all tearing up, realizing that Sara is on her way "home." (Kaori and Midori quickly yelling a tearful "goodbye" at the departing Star Condor is just so kid-like and sad. It hits.)

On the Star Condor, the five look down at the Earth via a porthole. Jin apologizes to Sara for not being able to keep the promise of beating Mess in time for her to meet with the Tokimuras. She'll have none of that, vowing to one day return to Earth. This inspires some hope in the others, Jin optimistic that they'll all be able to return one day, with Dai noting that the science of Flash Star should make anything possible. (Bun and Ruu look pretty doubtful, though. They'd like to believe, but I'm not so sure they do.)

Our five heroes are then seen each lying in their own sleeping chamber, with Magu looking over them. Our last words are left to the narrator (which I'll quote below) while, rather than having the usual ending credits, Flashman begins the tradition of showing some past clips amidst new footage and different music. Obviously, this bummer of a finale couldn't just lead into the bouncy "Fighting Pose Flashman" as usual, with our heroes happily waving you "goodbye" while riding a carousel. That would hurt almost more than seeing them flee their own planet, riding back to the Flash system in these coffin-looking sleeping chambers. When I was a kid and didn't know what the hell was going on in this show, I DID think they were all dead. And I have to wonder if that's somewhat intentional, you know? Maybe it's just another way to soften a potentially too dark and twisted of an end. Maybe the Flashman ARE supposed to be dead. Isn't it weird that these look like Prism Coffins? Why wouldn't this process look like what we saw with Miran, where he was put in a cryogenic chamber? Why didn't the Flashman arrive at Earth in these things? (From what we were shown, they just sat at the controls of Round Base just fine.) I suppose they resemble what Baraki had been sleeping in, but I figured his contraption was special since he was meant to sleep for centuries...

And another thing that unnerved me when I was a kid was, in the narrator's final speech, talking of nature and spring restoring life to Earth, we see a shot of La Deus' broken mask in the dirt, before the camera decides to bring the focus into flowers in the foreground. This shot, frankly, confuses me still. Because when I was a kid, it reminded me of the way episode 49 ends with the fallen and broken mask still moving on its own. So I'd get to this finale, see the La Deus mask and just feel like that's a bad thing! Like there's still a possibility of him returning in some form. Like he's Jason Voorhees. "He's still out there." What a damn traumatic final episode!

But you have to believe in the Flashman's belief, their hope in returning. They've always been optimistic, it's what's gotten them through a rough life. You have to believe in the words of the narrator, who leaves us with these final words:

"Bidding farewell to Earth, our heroes are now returning to the Flash planets, dreaming of the fun and beautiful times they've had on Earth. Thank you, Flashman. Goodbye, Flashman. We'll wait for the day you return. Spring has come to what was their battlefield, life being restored to the Earth. One day, when you can return, Flashman, this beautiful Earth will welcome you back." ~THE END

Even without the paranoid fears I had as a kid -- the Flashman dead in coffins! La Deus still lurking! -- this is still a damn sad finale. When I try to think of other Sentai finales that went for downbeat ends, I still think the Flashman one outdoes them. Yeah, it sucks that Gai dies in the Jetman finale, but look at how upbeat that last scene and montage is! It basically looks like nobody cared about Gai dying, not even Gai! The Timeranger returning to 3001 (or if you're like me and think they're actually being erased from existence, Back to the Future-style) is emotional, but things end bright for Tatsuya when he sees doppelgangers -- he has a hopeful outlook for the future they all were supposed to make brighter. Besides, the Timeranger made a choice which led to that result, and they were going back to where they belonged, anyway. The Flashman didn't have many choices, man.

It's also strange when you think back to how Flashman started compared to its ending. Despite the backstory of our heroes, it was a very upbeat show. Our heroes were innocent, enjoying small things people take for granted with a child-like wonder. Remember how growing up on the Flash planets was a positive thing, in that it gave each of our heroes fun and unique abilities that all of the kids wanted? Too bad, the Flash planets are also responsible for causing our heroes to flee their home planet in the finale, barely clinging to life! I don't want to say Flashman began its run as "comedic," but it's certainly more lighthearted than it ended up being. And this wasn't a twist for the sake of seeming cool or twisty -- Soda had introduced this idea when the episodes were in their teens. The show gave our heroes a death sentence. It's basically like they had a terminal illness, and I feel like that's a pretty unique dilemma for a superhero.

And the Flashman, thanks to their unique upbringing, never gave in to hopelessness or depression. Would it have been interesting to see someone have that kind of reaction to this situation? For dramatic reasons, for reasons of "realism," I'll say yeah. But that's just not who the Flashman are. And that doesn't make them unrelatable or unbelievably goody-goody as it could have -- it makes them good, inspiring superheroes. And their whole situation DOES cause them pain and sadness, so they still feel like breathing, bleeding people, not vanilla cartoons who can turn their frown upside-down with an insipid catchphrase. Their tragedy hits all of them, and they think it's sad and unfair, but they also know they have to just keep pressing on to the best of their abilities. And you know there's not going to be an easy out for them.

Flashman's the rare toku that really feels like it grows and just keeps getting better. Changeman, for example, had a pretty low-key start, but built into something great. Or Liveman had an amazing beginning, but began to stumble. To overly simplify it: Changeman ended a better show than it began, Liveman began as a better show than it ended. When I'm at the end of Changeman, I can look back at those early ones and be like "They're not quite there." Liveman, I get to the end, think of the beginning and am like "What the hell happened?! It seems like two different shows!" When you start Flashman, you're like "Damn, this is good, and it only gets better!" And at the end you're just looking at it all and thinking "Damn! It had its act together from the word go." Flashman starts big and fun, rarely misses a step, and the story and world just keep expanding. The show might break away from some of its quirkier, lighthearted elements, but it replaces that with a meatier, more dramatic story. It's only natural the show became more serious, because it's a very personal battle for the Flashman. And not to be even nuttier about it, but I thank Changeman for Flashman's smooth sailing -- it wanted to ride its popularity, but it obviously learned some lessons from it.

Adding to the darkness, what's Soda saying with this ending? Keeping in mind the origins of this show -- as a metaphor for the Japanese orphans abandoned in China, returning to Japan as adults and having trouble adjusting -- is Soda acknowledging that that is a futile effort for those people? You can't go home again? It doesn't matter if you're of that place, or what good deeds you do, or how kind you are, you're still going to be rejected? Forever the outsider looking in, as the Flashman are in that last scene aboard the Star Condor? Damn, that's dark.

Fortunately, for the maintaining of quality and story integrity, there weren't things like versus movies or crossover events at the time. This finale wasn't going to have to keep an escape hatch in mind, leave an easy out of "Hey, the Flashman took some Aleve and are ready to return to help the Maskman fight Deus Dogler in Maskman VS Flashman!" But then crossovers became all the rage, and you have old heroes coming out of the woodwork -- too bad Japan caught on to this trend so late that they only ever bring back crappy, undeserving heroes -- and it makes you wonder. Gokaiger made me wonder. The Great Legend War might seem like nonsense to you -- dead heroes were there fighting, FFS, what sense does that make? -- but we saw the Flashman there. At one point, presumably, Basco stole the Flashman's Great Power away from Dai. The mind wonders...

What has happened to the Flashman in the thirty-some years since they fled Earth? Are they still on Flash? Did they ever find a solution, a cure, even if just temporary? If you want to presume they did in order to participate in the Great Legend War, were they able to spend time looking for their families, or did the sacrificing of their Flash powers somehow interfere with any cure they might have had, so they had to leave yet again? How did Basco get the powers -- did he go to Green Star? (If so, can we hope he's got a bit of Anti-Flash?) Let's quadruple down on this downer of a finale -- do the Flashman even still have living relatives on Earth? What have the Tokimuras been up to? Let's get a new Flashman movie, Toei! Flashman's the rare show that would reward a new project. Like, who gave a shit what the Go-onger were up to 10 Years After? Still being stupid, what a surprise!

Flashman's a very ambitious, rich and creative show. It was my favorite as a kid, I loved it. It's a show that means a lot to me, and for a long while I just basically considered it my 1.5 favorite Sentai -- cheating, giving it the top rank along Changeman. (Maybe I should go back to that thinking, even if it is a cheat. Kid Shougo would find it hard to believe that he grows up to rank Maskman over it.) Again, to reiterate: to me, it is the closest a toku has come to seeming like a sweeping sci-fi saga like Star Wars. The heroes' civilian designs, the set-up of the show, our heroes getting accustomed to Earth, THE SOUNDTRACK. Flashman's songs and BGM have gotten criticized by fans, but not only have I always liked it, but I always thought it was strange and out-there by design, to further create such an alien-seeming show. It's just a bigger show and more successful at conveying a larger universe than so many of the other sci-fi-themed tokus. Flashman TRIES to create the feeling of a bigger universe. By design, by sound, by the way its setting is presented. The Flashman being fish out of water, who isolate themselves, the villains being freak experiments of alien lifeforms, the often unique and bizarre situations that will be a result of one of these things...it gives Flashman a life of its own.

The show gives you enough of the imagery and enough of an explanation, a hint of a character's trait or past, and lets your imagination run with it. You can picture what life on the Flash system was like for our heroes. Flashman's staff is putting in the effort, and the show goes the extra length in also giving the viewer the chance to build the universe that the show can't afford to provide. And it's a better, more genuine attempt than something like the Space Sheriff shows, which cynically wrapped themselves in the popular sci-fi trappings and let that do all of the work for them. Flashman's a case of something being inspired by something else in a good way. It took all of the interest in sci-fi at the time, the scope and adventure of Star Wars, the heart of the Spielberg movies, and did something entirely new and unique with them -- dare I say, filtered them through a different prism.

You get the feeling so many involved with it -- from producer Takeyuki Suzuki to writers Hirohisa Soda and Kunio Fujii, from designer Yutaka Izubuchi to the wardrobe department, from the actors to camera crew -- had a belief in the show, had a love for it, and they wanted to put on a good show that was rewarding and could stand with a Star Wars or an Amblin work. Don't you miss when these shows were treated with care and professionalism? With creators who just wanted to tell good stories and put on a show? I know I've said similar about Changeman, but there's so much Changeman in Flashman -- Flashman picked up the level of quality Changeman had built toward and grabbed that baton and kept running. The show makes the most with what it has and still aims for the top. And I think it's the perfect way to send out the sci-fi flavored henshin heroes of the time. I think it's a special show, a big blast that captures the imagination. YUKE, FLASH!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Flashman Episode 49


Sara is aboard Kaura's ship; she has her guard up, while being uncertain why it is he's taken her hostage again. Kaura's sprawled out in a chair, looking like absolute shit -- bloodied, dark eyes, not long for the world. Sara asks what his intentions are, but he never replies to her. He only switches on a gizmo that beams her down to an abandoned and dilapidated home. He then takes his ship towards its final destination -- to make a kamikaze attack on the Lab. He's clinging to his life just for one more chance to take out Keflen, burning with hatred and a crazed look in his eyes. While Neferu tries to guard Keflen in anticipation of this attack, she didn't need to worry -- Kaura's ship is repelled by a deflector beam from the Lab, sending his ship crashing into a mountain. Kaura dies in an exploding hell.

Look at the tough son of a bitch. He had that epic showdown with Red Flash, getting stabbed in the chest. He was still on his feet after that, it was the strike from Gardess that turned him immobile. But Kaura goes out on his own terms. He just flips off the Reaper and keeps on his road of revenge. I bring this up to not only highlight Kaura's awesomeness, but to also point out that I don't think Red Flash alone kills Kaura. There's no question that was a critical blow he got in, and Kaura's usually listed as one of Red's kills, but the way Kaura reacts to the sucker punch by Gardess was more pained than that final stab by Red. Just sayin'. Red Flash is still a badass, but Kaura hangs in there.

Anyway, back to Sara, who recognizes the remaining parts of the rundown house as being the house she saw in the time slip. Outside of the house are random toys, a stroller, a carriage that's all been filthied by time. She enters one of the still barely standing rooms and looks around, quickly realizing this is an old, left behind residence of the Tokimuras. She finds a dirt-covered framed photo of Professor Tokimura and Setsuko with a baby. She wipes away some of the dirt to get a better look at the kid, wondering which one of the Flashman it could be when...she sees the baby wearing a necklace with an amber jewel on it. She recognizes the amber as what she has on the strap of her Prism Flash as a decoration, which she realizes the Flash aliens must have found amongst the wreckage of her capsule and had placed on her Prism Flash as a keepsake of her origins.

Now, I'm gonna be honest real quick -- I would have preferred for the show to find a better way of having her figure out that's it's her in the picture. If you're going to pretend like she's had this jewel on Prism Flash the entire series, it better have been there for at least the past ten episodes. Not that you can get many good looks that close up, but I'll usually try as the final episodes approach, and it doesn't look like it's there. I guess it's a small enough thing to be like "Well, maybe it was there and you just can't see it," and maybe I'm just being nitpicky, but...Flashman has been pretty good about attention to detail all along, so this is mostly disappointing in the fact that it slept on the job in this area.

Having the answer at long last, Sara's in tears -- of happiness, of sorrow. Holding the photo, she returns outside and addresses the sky. "Kaura...you kept your word." Not QUITE a thank you, but pretty damn close, which is pretty shocking from a hero, and since Kaura's the author of so much of their pain. But I like this overlapping of grey area. Kaura honored his end of the agreement when he didn't have to, helping one of the heroes. Sara's happy and grateful to this villain. And I think this is why he kidnapped Sara to play the Synthesizer in the first place -- he knew how close they all were to the Tokimuras, and that was the best chance any of them had in finding their family, so he chose Sara so at least the Tokimuras' mystery could be solved. And none of this takes away from Kaura -- he doesn't seem like some redeemable guy that could be a bangai hero. He's still a villain, a hateful person, but he DOES have a sense of honor and a code. That's how Hirohisa Soda likes to depict a lot of his villains, and that makes them more interesting to me than the ones who are written to be out-and-out evil assholes or wavering, more-good-than-bad types you predict will end up joining the heroes by the end.

But, of course, since this is Flashman and it doesn't let our heroes feel happy for too long, Sara's soon hit by a painful wave of the Anti-Flash, collapsing within the barely-standing old Tokimura home. The other Flashman are overcome with pain, too -- severe headaches, difficulty breathing -- while Magu sees that their vitals are all dangerously low, noting that they're down to four days.

Keflen's not allowed to feel joy for too long, either, as he makes grand speeches at the Lab before Neferu, talking of taking over Mess, continuing to experiment on lifeforms and become the universe's best. He's delivering this speech while on La Deus' platform -- he's celebrating. Just then...La Deus rebuilds himself and tears through the Lab, Keflen his target. Neferu guards him as Deus sends energy blasts from his hands (it might be a simple effect but one, when combined with the sound effects, I've always liked) and then just casually knocking over the pillars that decorate the Lab. Keflen knows his best defense is to begin a-playing on his Gene Synthesizer, which does slow La Deus down in pain. La Deus makes a final gambit -- echoing Kaura by telling Keflen "You think you're a threat to me? You're just an Earthling." Once again, Keflen doesn't like hearing this...

La Deus spills it all out. Keflen was an Earthling he kidnapped 300 years ago and experimented on by himself in order to have a new apprentice. Keflen begins to break down, looking like his mental state is cracking, but regains his senses, an anger and a hatred for La Deus -- maybe the truth? -- compelling him to keep playing. While Neferu shields him from La Deus, Keflen finally manages to transform La Deus into Deus Beast Soldier Deusula, sending him down to the Earth in Jin, Dai, Bun and Ruu's proximity. (They had been out looking for Sara, but temporarily set it aside once Jin noticed the Lab was near and seeming strange.) You gotta credit the show for this -- they certainly don't cheapen out on monster suits towards the end of the series. If you're going to have a crazy talented designer like Yutaka Izubuchi, you gotta let him do what he wants and put the money into realizing that design. And the monster suits all remain pretty high quality, IMO. And it's certainly important when you're making your head villain into a monster, to have a great design and make an effort in the suit making. Deusula's a perfect, monstrous version of the regular La Deus design. And, as you might imagine, he's not an easy opponent, Anti-Flash or not.

In this fight scene, there's a few shots here of the actors themselves in the Flashman suits. You can usually tell just by looking at the heroines, but a lot of times the actors have a more awkward body language than the smooth movements the trained suit actors we've spent the entire show watching have, and that's a giveaway. You can tell it's not Kazuo Niibori as Red. But they all do a great job in their fight with the Zoros, with Mount Fuji as a backdrop. (One of Yamaoka's favorite things to do.) And by the time they get to Deusula, they need the JAC because they're hit with a shit-ton of explosions. It's crazy! I counted the explosions in this scene -- there are 11 separate explosives rigged around the four Flashman for this attack. (It then subtly cuts to a different angle of the same shot, making it seem like an even higher number of explosions.)

Flashman is the last Sentai until Ohranger that Junji Yamaoka works on as action director full-time. He ends up going over to the Metal Heroes from Jiban through Blue Swat in between. He works on the first several episodes of Maskman, before leaving and being replaced by Michihiro Takeda, who stays with the franchise for most of the '90s and early '00s. It's long been rumored that Yamaoka was disappointed that less time was being devoted to the action scenes and that's why he quit. (Some like to say that censors were complaining, but I never really bought that. I think the Sentai shows at the time becoming more plot- and character-oriented took away the need for Yamaoka to have to fill time with his elaborate action scenes.) Whatever the reason, it feels like Yamaoka really wanted Flashman -- and maybe his tenure as action director -- to go out with a bang. Throughout the series, Flashman didn't have as many memorable action scenes as I thought Bioman or Changeman would often have. (Flashman has A LOT of characters to contend with.) So I really think Yamaoka steps up and makes up for it all by having some seriously great action scenes in these final episodes. That explosion, man...

After being hit with the beams of Prism Shooter, Deusula starts to go a little haywire, giving off electrical shocks and then...reverts back to La Deus! He gives another taunt to Keflen for underestimating his ability before turning his attention to the Flashman, who he thinks are audacious for even trying to fight him. He traps them in a darkened dimension and kicks the livin' Eiyuu Titan out of 'em. He's beating 'em so bad that maybe they wish they felt the effects of Anti-Flash instead. Meanwhile, the Tokimuras -- I'm assuming alerted by Magu -- are driving around in one of the professor's vehicle inventions, trying to raise Sara by radio transceiver. Still unconscious from the pain of the Anti-Flash, she comes to, hearing their calls. Heartbroken that she can't just wait for them and tell them all she just discovered, she just sets off a beacon on her Prism Flash letting them know her location. She leaves knowing she has to rejoin and help the others, which will prove to be a sadly unfortunate decision.

Yellow Flash manages to catch up with the others, getting in a hit at La Deus as she enters via the taketombo technique form of her Prism Baton. Glad to see she's safe and feeling energized that the team's all there, the Flashman get their second wind to fight. (Their pose causes a flash that briefly stuns La Deus, for crying out loud. They're pumped and ready to fight!) For being a big suit that can't walk and has stick arms, the production tries its damnedest to get La Deus to provide a visually interesting battle. Not only with the atmosphere of this dimension he's pulled them in, but they have him on wires, whipping him through the team, swinging his arms to get in hits.

La Deus is not only an amazing design, but voice-actor Unshou Ishizuka's performance as La Deus has always been a favorite of mine. He was pretty young at the time of the show (35), but really conveys this mysterious, knowledgeable monster who is older and experienced and has seen more of the universe than probably anyone, who is also just purely evil and self-serving. He did a lot in bringing La Deus to life and making him seem just so damn threatening, truly standing out as one of the best head villains in Sentai. In this episode he runs the gamut of just rotten-to-the-core glee as he reveals Keflen's past, to outright hatred of the Flashman, to the pained noises he makes as he's being transformed into a Beast Soldier. Ishizuka was a talent and the perfect man for the job. With a character like this, the choice of voice actor is very, very important. Another thing that helps Ishizuka's performance as La Deus is that he never became overly familiar in toku -- it was his first of only five toku appearances, the other roles being one-off guest monsters or, in the case of Zyuohger's Larry, a tiny, tiny, tiny part. So La Deus stands out even more in that respect, rather than if he had just been voiced by a super-familiar choice like Takeshi Watabe or someone like that.

Whenever the Flashman's in a pinch and all five aren't together, one of them -- usually Red -- will complain that they're unable to use the Rolling Vulcan and just blow their opponent away. Well, once Yellow Flash shows up, Red gets his dream and they haul out the Rolling Vulcan. They blast La Deus. Smoke clears and he just strolls through, laughing his ass off. Red Flash's other Rolling Vulcan-themed dream? Getting the chance to shoot the same asshole twice with it. It worked with Garus, and he's getting a chance again here. He orders another blast and it seems to succeed, La Deus erupting in a massive explosion. (It looks like blue ink is rigged with the explosion, which gives it a neat look that sets it apart from the ordinary monsters who die via being blown to oblivion by Rolling Vulcan. Yamaoka did a similar thing for Buuba's death explosion in Changeman.)

Here we cut to Keflen at the Lab, playing the synthesizer. He says something like "Fools. Did you forget you're dealing with me?" before he calls for Kragen. It seems like he's talking about the Flashman, but I think he's also talking about La Deus. Like...ha-ha, La Deus, you might have broke free from Keflen's work, but Keflen's just going to enlarge you as Deusula again, treating you like any other Beast Soldier. In the end, La Deus still ends up in Keflen's hands. He's bested by Keflen, the damn dirty Earthling.

The final scene has the Flashman again looking at the setting sun, dirtied and weak -- barely standing, they're propping each other up -- from the battle with Deusula, and more worried and uncertain than ever. We then see La Deus' enlarged mask, broken, but rising and moving on its own.

ONE DAY REMAINING

Friday, September 6, 2019

Flashman Episode 48


"Spilt blood flowing in the setting sun...is beautiful." ~Kaura

A crazy, great, unpredictable episode. It stuck out to me as a kid, it's been one of my all-time favorite toku episodes. This thing is packed.

Neferu brings Gardan before Keflen at the Lab. Keflen's surprised that Neferu's still alive, and that she's returned with a gift. Without hesitation, it's off to the experiment chamber for Gardan, who's turned into the Deus Beast Soldier Gardess, which is just a huge damn suit. Obviously, the suit actor is looking out through the shoulder area, but it's massive, and we get our first real glimpse of it as he's strolling into the designated battle area with Neferu by his side, after Mess challenges the Flashman to battle.

Quickly into the fight, Red Flash manages to stab Gardess through the gut with the Prism Sei-ken. Whether it's some faulty work of Keflen's or just the strength of Gardan, he briefly reverts to Gardan. Watching this duel on the sidelines, Kaura is NOT happy to see what's become of Gardan, striking Red Flash with his laser whip to get him away from the monster. Gardess strikes Kaura in the arm, giving him a wound which bleeds heavily down his arm. Kaura doesn't seem to notice -- he's having a reaction like when his Alien Hunters were mutilated. He cares more for his accomplice than anything else in that moment. The Flashman's powers begin to go on the fritz and they unhenshin, too weak to keep up the fight. They're brought back to their feet by Magu's commands over the Prism Flash. As the fight continues with the weakened and untransformed Flashman, Kaura calls for his ship and kidnaps Sara.

Aboard his ship, Kaura explains to Sara that, since his arm's badly injured, he needs someone to play the Gene Synthesizer. He chose Sara for her delicate hands, but also I believe for reasons that will become clear in the next episode. He tells her that her comrades can't keep up the fight, but if he can cancel out Gardan's transformation and revert him back to his ordinary self, the fight will stop. And he offers her the same promise as the professor -- if she helps, he'll reveal which Flashman is the Tokimura. She might not have much of a choice, but it's obvious that Kaura's making some sense to her, so Sara gets to work playing. In a great callback, she's playing the "Starry Sky Duet" from episode 35; I love that attention to detail. Not only does Gardan return to normal, but the playing again causes La Deus immense suffering. Gardan leaves the fight scene, which gives the other Flashman a chance to get away, as well.

We then begin the scene that I once had on YouTube as one of my favorite fight scenes of all time -- if I had been doing the Toku Moments of Awesometicity at the time, it definitely would have been one. Kaura is storming the Lab. Zoros attempt to stop him, but he just cuts his way through them. He's joined by Gardan, fighting off his own group of Zoros. Happy to be reunited, obviously feeling reinvigorated, Kaura and Gardan make their way to Deus. Nakata is GREAT in this scene, growling with hatred at Deus, threatening his life. Considering Deus is mainly immobile, it's amazing this scene comes off as action-packed and frenzied as it does; good performances and direction by action director Junji Yamaoka and director Shouhei Toujou. It really comes across like a tough fight between Kaura, Gardan and Deus, and absolute mayhem, when Deus is only able to blast Force Lightning at them. Kaura gets in hits with his laser whip (Lightwhip?) and Gardan hauls out his weaponry to attack (my favorite bit being when he javelins his weapon right at Deus). Deus' horns blast off, his mask busts open, both leaking fluid and light. He screams and is just reduced to pieces of his armor.

As Kaura and Gardan approach the remains to confirm their kill, Keflen transports them out of the Lab, inspecting the corpse on his own. Blood runs down the remaining portion of Deus' armor. Keflen deduces that Deus' true form was just a gathering of genetic liquid, but...that's kinda never made much sense to me. You mean that awesome Izubuchi design was just supposed to be filled with goo? We've seen many times in this show -- up until even the last couple of episodes -- Deus' mask cracking to reveal a white face and monstrous eyeball. I think Deus obviously originated as a creature who experimented on himself and willingly underwent so many surgeries that it wore his body down and transformed it, so he needed a suit. I guess it's basically the same implication -- he transformed himself so much, he became just living genetic material, but...I don't know. Seems like a change of plans to me, like they thought this reveal would be more mysterious without having to provide all of the details on who La Deus could have originally been.

Kaura and Gardan land on a seaside where the four Flashman soon approach. Kaura boasts of killing La Deus, with Gardan naming Kaura the strongest being in the universe. Kaura is mighty cocky here. (Meanwhile, Kaura's ship, carrying Sara, crash-landed while Kaura and Gardan were off on their vendetta, and Sara's been unconscious.) The Flashman transform and Red Flash challenges Kaura to a duel. It's surprising, because usually it's the villain who challenges a hero to the final duel in a toku -- the thinking being that it tends to not go the villain's way when that happens, a death flag. But the Flashman don't have time to mess around, they're worried about Sara, and if Kaura's telling the truth about killing Deus? Well, that's a big worry wiped away for them. They've fought Kaura enough times to know what he'll bring in battle. La Deus? That was going to be a whole different beast.

Kaura accepts the duel and he and Red Flash square off separated from the others, who take on Gardan. They all take a beating here, but the most brutal battle is between Red and Kaura. The scene is amazingly staged and filmed by Yamaoka, who's really trying to recapture some of that Change Dragon VS Buuba magic. I'll dare to say that while the Red Flash VS Kaura fight has much more meaning than Dragon VS Buuba, Changeman's fight scene was just filmed better. It took its time and has more detail. Flashman's fight is a bit too quick and there's the odd choice to slow the battle maneuvers down, but then speed up the film on certain moments. It's a method of Yamaoka's I associate most with Goggle V, and it just doesn't work in a fight this important or brutal or epic. I have to wonder if this sped-up technique is a kind of way to censor the battle -- it comes across as pretty damn violent if you imagine the way it would look without this technique. The sped-up filming takes something away, making it seem just odd.

It's still a damn good battle, though, because it is just so brutal. Especially once Red cuts through and breaks Kaura's whip (Kaura's having trouble since his arm is injured), and Kaura then turns it into a spear that he can begin to match Red in the battle. Red takes a helluva beating, with the metallic interior parts of the Flash Suits starting to poke through. Kaura's still suffering from the wound Gardess gave him earlier. Eventually, Red Flash finds himself on the ground, with Kaura stabbing into his abomen when Red then gets the fatal hit in, stabbing Kaura in the chest with the Prism Sei-ken. It's a battle out of a samurai movie, from the staging, to the opponents complimenting each other's skill, down to the part with Kaura's headgear breaking, sending his hair loose like some mad Mifune character. Nakata really throws himself into this battle -- he's a freaking monster in this scene.

Red Flash turns his attention to helping the others, as Gardan makes his way to the fallen Kaura to shield him. Unfortunately for him, the Lab appears, Keflen playing the Synthesizer and causing pain for Gardan, as Keflen transforms him back into the Deus Beast Soldier. Keflen makes a grand speech here, telling Kaura of the cruelty needed to survive in this universe. He claims that Kaura played right into his hands, killing Deus, and now Keflen can once and for all be rid of those in his way and become the supreme being he wishes to be.

"What do you think you can do, Earthling? That's right, Keflen. You're one of those Earthlings you despise." This certainly takes a lot out of Keflen's sails. He reacts to this news like Kaura just revealed he plays with dolls -- it's an embarrassing, painful and shameful thought. And this ends up being the wrong move on Kaura's part, because it pisses Keflen off so bad that he finishes the job of transforming Gardan/Gardess back under his control! Gardess strikes Kaura harshly with his bow, sending the already mortally wounded hunter to the ground. Sara's come to and joined the group, who are relieved to see she's safe. After the five defeat Gardess, they return to the fallen Kaura, who's dying by the seaside. All of their answers die with this man. Sara makes her way over to him, crying, begging him to tell them who the Tokimura is, so at least ONE of them can say they found their parents. Kaura comes to, saying he won't die so easily -- he won't die until Keflen's dead. He calls for his ship and is transported aboard, taking Sara along with him once again. What is Kaura's purpose? It's something that ends up playing a part in why I think Kaura's such a good character, one of the franchise's most memorable villains and my favorite Super Sentai villain.

6 DAYS REMAINING
______

There's something BTS-y about this episode that I'd like to mention. Something that bugs me. I've seen Flashman so many times that I knew something was off the very first time I watched the DVDs. On my video tapes -- taped from the original broadcast in 1987 -- that final fight with Kaura and the final scene of the episode were all naturally lit by the setting sun. On the original broadcast, right after the battle with Kaura, when the team turns their attention to dealing with Zoros and Gardess, it is 100% blue sky daylight! That always struck me as funny, going from a sunset duel to daylight to the sunset again for that final scene. But it didn't ever bother me, because they chose to use the stage Mother Nature gave 'em for those important, character scenes.

But on the DVD, they put an orange, sunset-imitating filter over EVERYTHING. From the battle with Kaura until the end of the episode, they went back and bogusly "corrected" this, George Lucas "Special" Edition style, and I REALLY don't care for that. Present the damn show the way it originally was. I hate when things are unnecessarily altered. And what's worse is that this filter, once put over the fight scene that had the natural lighting, makes it come across as bogus and takes something away from it. Modern tokus that are too cheap and lazy will often try to rip off these great scenes Yamaoka filmed by just putting a filter over the screen or having a digital sunset, and that's lame. And that Yamaoka preferred to do this the legitimate way is one of the reasons his work has stood out over time. So to make it look like it's as digitally bogus as a new show just sucks.

Neferu Disguise Watch: Disguising herself as a corpse in the previous episode in order to get the upper hand over her enemies.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Flashman Episode 47


"Time Stop? If we could, we'd stop time...we'd be able to stay on Earth. But time is what we don't have..." ~Jin

Kaura's at it again, tormenting Deus with the sounds emitting from his Gene Synthesizer. This time the signal's being broadcast from Kaura's ship as it's on the move. La Deus is growling with pain, Unshou Ishizuka's voice performance really good here, as he tells Keflen to find a way to stop Kaura. What's really interesting here is that in his state, Deus' medical readout appears on the ship's screen, revealing that La Deus consists of many, many types of genes, that's he's undergone surgeries on himself in order to make himself the most supreme being in existence. Here he reveals that he's had his previous Great Professors perform surgery on him. Shocked to discover there were any before him, Keflen quickly gets a little too cocky here, suggesting that maybe he help operate on Deus, which gets him a deserved blast from La Deus. Who knows where things would have gone from there if not for Wanda, who steps in and offers his own genes for the next monster...

Like Neferuss, Deus Beast Soldier Wandal doesn't resemble Wanda much, other than having a bit of a white pompadour. But the nasty bastard can work with Wandala and extend his Time Stop maneuver to being infinite. When Red Flash senses something bad like that's going to happen when the two foes coordinate their attacks, he shoves the other Flashman out of danger and is frozen on his own. Not only that, but the area surrounding him, Wandala and Wandal are protected by a barrier that the others can't break through. So, the frozen-in-time Red Flash takes repeated hits from the monsters...

Meanwhile, missing her father, Kaori Tokimura takes it upon herself to set out and find him using his time machine. Ignoring the pleas of her mother and sister, she activates it. Not knowing how to use it, the machine only kicks on for a moment, but it's enough to send an energy ripple through time and end up breaking through Wandala's own manipulation of it. With Red Flash freed, the others decide to retreat in order to get him to safety...

Untransformed, they flee through a forest, where they discover the latest stage of the Anti-Flash -- the sun (solar corona) is causing them intense pain. It manages to pass just in time for Wanda and Wandal to catch up to them, this time freezing them all in a permanent Time Stop. Kaura sees this unfold on a monitor in his ship and is like "Good. All that leaves now is La Deus." I'm so, so glad that this is Kaura's thinking. You just know that nowadays Kaura would have interfered and basically saved the Flashman with one of those cop-out "Only I get to kill the Flashman!" routines. Here he's just like "Good riddance. Less work for me. I can focus on the guy I'm really pissed at." Too bad for Kaura that Professor Tokimura also sees this unfold. Desperate to help the Flashman, he makes a gambit -- he dashes towards a control switch on the ship and teleports himself away, Gardan upset and Kaura not too pleased with this turn.

The professor is teleported back to his basement, which...is convenient, but this episode only has so many minutes! He knows the way to help the Flashman is what Kaori unknowingly and accidentally did -- he needs to activate his time machine and break through time. He does so, succeeding in breaking Wanda's Time Stop, but also ends up sending the Flashman through a brief time slip, in which they only get glimpses of the past, twenty years ago. A house and smiling Tokimura parents seem to draw Sara, but then they're all quickly flung out of the time slip and back into regular time. Professor Tokimura's time machine is totaled, but he doesn't regret it since he was able to save the Flashman. Nearby a furious Wanda discovers he can no longer transform into Wandala or perform the Time Stop. (I like this brief little introspective scene here of Jin thinking that the Flashman want nothing more than to stop time to stay on Earth, what's quoted at the top of this post.) Wanda's temper is short, so this leads into a big battle where he challenges Red Flash...

It's Hirose's first villain role, and already he was the rival of Red, the Red Foe. Wanda's rivalry with Red Flash goes back, first really getting intense when he has the superpowers and literally and figuratively opens old wounds of Jin's. Wanda gets pushed aside a bit once Kaura come along, and Kaura obviously is a more important character in what he represents to the Flashman's past, and is so much more formidable and outranks Wanda. But I appreciate that they DO give Wanda one last fight with Red, and it's a good one. I love that crazy shot where they're just clashing swords and it's a low angle, the camera running along with them through the wheat field. I also love the detail of the clashing swords giving off smoke, indicating the power that each sword has, recalling episode 38. Wanda's just really not fighting with a clearness or confidence he usually has, just pure anger. Red gets in a Super Cutter and that makes Wanda even worse for wear. Red Flash even warns Wanda to cease battling, because it's not going to turn out well for him. But Wanda's pride gets in the way, he wants to keep going, so he just charges at Red Flash, who just stands there coolly. Wanda gets nearer, Killer Saber extended. The blade comes within centimeters of Red Flash's throat and stops...Wanda begins to have a biomolecular meltdown and dies on the spot. (Red Flash is too cool in this scene, man.)

It's funny, if you watch the preview for this episode at the end of 46, you'll see an alternate version of Wanda's final moments. In the preview, Hirose's just kind of doing a stage collapse, going weak in the shoulders, falling to his knees, falling face down. In the episode, he does this cooler little twist flip backward before he explodes.

The Flashman continue their fight with Wandal, while Professor Tokimura's finally like, "What the hell am I doing here, I'm gettin' outta here!" On the sidelines, Bo Gardan is readying to recapture the professor. Suddenly, he's restrained...by Neferu! She had only faked her death and was biding her time! She takes Gardan prisoner, which will have explosive ramifications in the next episode. Speaking of explosions...the lack of an explosion when Neferu "died" should have been a tip off. But I think that scene was still filmed so well, with Hagiwara's performance just right that it made it seem like a convincing death scene. Flashman only being the tenth Sentai, maybe the conventions weren't established enough to expect otherwise. I could imagine someone seeing her "death" scene and thinking it was just a stylistic choice to be so restrained. Anyway, I like Neferu's facial expressions as she makes herself known and sneak attacks Gardan -- just absolute rage. No gloating or anything. She's PISSED. These past two episodes are Takao Nagaishi's last episodes of the series, and he makes 'em count.

The episode ends with the five revealing to the Tokimuras their time limit, which Midori Tokimura takes hardest. But the Flashman lay it out -- they've got to stick to their duty and be rid of Mess by that time. While Sara wonders what it was exactly she responded to so much in the time slip, the narrator informs us that, at this point, the Flashman realize it's useless to try to solve the mystery of who their parents are. The episode once again ends with them looking at the sunset -- the end of another day. One day closer to death.

15 DAYS REMAINING

Monday, September 2, 2019

Flashman Episode 46


"It's like the Earth is telling us to get out." ~Bun

The title of this episode is "20 Days Left to Live." So...be sure to count the fireworks and dance along at the end credits, kids!

The episode begins with a furious La Deus punishing Keflen. Two perfectly good Deus Beast Soldiers, and yet no dead Flashman. What's up with that? La Deus makes a good point. Once Neferu rounds the corner and sees Keflen's punishment, she cries out "Father!" and jumps before him, taking some of the hits. Shock! This takes Wanda by surprise, and confuses Keflen. Neferu explains that, as her creator, she looks at Keflen as her father. (I plan to go into this in the finale.) She then pleads with Deus to spare Keflen and let her use her genetic material to make the next Deus Beast Soldier. Deus agrees, commending Neferu's dedication.

The resulting monster, The Neferuss, is a cool design, a hulk. As with the past two monsters, it's one strong mutha. I'd really like for it to have resembled Neferu more, though. It has a Deus-like face and color scheme. Spoiler alert, in a couple of episodes, Keflen makes Deus into a monster and it looks similar to Neferuss, so that confused me when I was a kid. Izubuchi said he tried to work in a cat look to it to represent Neferu's leopard side, but it's only really reflected in his sketch, and even then it's just barely. (It's the head going over the Deus face.) If only it could have been more like Neferura...

Neferuss' specialty is that, no matter how many times it gets destroyed in battle, Neferu can use her lifeforce to resurrect it. Even after being Rolling Vulcan'd to pieces. Now, what's unique about this monster is that he pretty much goes after the Flashman with suicide attacks -- he grabs a Flashman and explodes, because he can just easily be brought back again. And this ends up causing some serious damage to the Flashman and they have to retreat.

The five stagger in pain, dirty and bloody, relieved to find a stream that they can get a drink from...only once they consume the water, they find themselves in even further pain. It's the next stage of the Anti-Flash, and it results in a nice scene that just lets all sink in for the Flashman. (The symptoms of the Anti-Flash apparently come in waves; Magu says they're for now past the previous stages of the shocks and the plants harming them. So, no, the show's not forgetting when you see Sara touch a plant or the Flashman grab Professor Tokimura in the next episode to save him. The symptoms are obviously going to return and become permanent.) They're hurt, they're saddened. The unfairness of it all. They've set aside any personal goals, like finding their family or meeting new people, for the sake of fighting Mess and protecting Earth. And this is their reward? The Earth means so much to them, we even see a scene of when they were first arriving, with Dai getting choked up and beginning to cry at the sight of the planet as the Round Base began its approach.

Magu tries to hide what he discovers from them, but Jin pushes him to reveal it -- they only have twenty days before they'll die. The performers not only do a great job conveying the rush of emotions that come with this hit after hit of bad news -- particularly Tarumi, Ishiwata and Nakamura -- but the scene is just filmed well, using the perfect piece of BGM. These long shots of the Flashman at this creek, the creek sparkling, lovely nature shots -- providing all of these wonderful shots of streams and greenery, the things that are beginning to harm our heroes...all add so much that it makes you miss the days toku dared to be artistic like this.

While the Flashman have been having their world pretty much literally shatter, Tokimura has been hard at work on building Kaura's own Gene Synthesizer in an underground hideout. He collapses from exhaustion, but is beaten back into working by Gardan, who's just a real asshole for being a newb to the show. Even when he first shows up and he's mouthing off to the people in the Lab ship via their monitor, you're just like "Who does this guy think he is?" Getting manhandled again, Tokimura is shoved by Kaura out of the way and begins to test the synthesizer, happy with what he hears. (But ordering Tokimura to give it more power.) Kaura's plan for this Gene Synthesizer is to interfere with Mess, specifically harm La Deus. To accomplish this, this hideout is in the proximity of a radio tower that they have rigged to send out his hellish symphony. As he plays -- he never had one lesson -- it reaches La Deus, causing him immense pain. Keflen recognizes it immediately as the work of Kaura and ignores Deus' orders to find and stop the source of the sound, instead realizing that this could provide Keflen with the moment he's been waiting for -- finding out what La Deus actually is and maybe overthrowing him. He wishes to himself for La Deus to keep suffering...

Magu catches onto the weird signal being broadcast, tracing it and sending the Flashman there. A fight with Flashman puts a brief halt in Kaura's plans, as he, Gardan and Tokimura make off with the equipment in Kaura's flying saucer. Before being taken once more, Tokimura quickly gets out to the Flashman that Kaura confirmed that one of them is his kid. The Flashman quickly pursue the ship by foot, but lose it, only to stumble into the sights of Neferu! And it's just like...damn, these guys can't get a break! They never had the chance to recover from the last fight, they went directly into a fight with Kaura, and now accidentally get mixed up with Neferu again! It's crazy.

During this battle, Red Flash finally catches that Neferu's the one responsible for constantly reviving the monster. At one point, he interferes with her process, blocking her resurrection beam with his Prism Sei-ken. Furious that they've caught on and can now stop her plan, she challenges Red Flash to a duel. It's not an overly elaborate duel, it's filmed quickly with a lot of fast cuts, but I still think it's pretty cool and it manages to still come off as big and crazy. It gets aerial at one point! And I love the red spark that the Prism Sei-ken gives off once it clashes with Neferu's baton, once again conveying its power. Eventually, Red Flash cuts through her as his Prism Sei-ken glows, and they both land, backs to each other, waiting to see who falls first in that old samurai fashion. Neferu drops her baton. She's weak from pain, calling out for Keflen, and taking a really nasty spill off of a cliff. (The stunt double rolls speedily all the way down a mountain in what's mostly one long shot.) Neferu comes to a stop, reaching one hand up in pain, finally collapsing, going dead. Back at the Lab, Wanda is shocked and it even gets a concerned reaction from Keflen. But, without Neferu, Neferuss has to be made giant and has just its one life remaining. (One cool thing, during the fight with Flash King, is that it pulls Flash King into other dimensions. I assume this is the monster putting Neferura's illusion powers to work and, if so, it's a nice detail.)

The episode ends with this really beautiful shot of the five's silhouettes against the setting sun. It's a great shot, done for reals, but it's a shame that the close-up shots of the cast look to be a colored lens on the camera to simulate the setting sun. But it's a nice scene where the Flashman are voicing their concerns for the future, really lost and uncertain how they're going to make it and be able to finish off Mess in just 20 days. And look at what's been happening -- Mess has been powering up! Kaura's off with his own agenda. Their backs are really against the wall, and you know it's not going to be as simple as gathering 20 special Bandai-approved prisms (now on sale) to save them.

I like Dai's line in this last scene. He's just making a calm, but impassioned plea to the sky -- a prayer to the heavens -- to just spare them any further pain going forward. I've read that this line was an idea by Kihachiro Uemura's that he suggested to Soda when Soda asked the five what they think their characters would say at this moment, adapting their answers to the script. Uemura's contribution is a good one and delivered nicely, when it could have been overdone. I'm just going to go ahead and say Metalder basically ripped off this scene, at the end of the first episode when he's staring at the setting sun and asking the clouds why he was born. Metalder's so worshipped that that's considered a classic scene in toku, but Dai did this before Metalder. And Flashman's is a more resonant, heartbreaking, more meaningful scene. Also, Jin's line to Sara, (who along with Bun, is most upset): "We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves or complain. Our time now is too valuable for that." Pragmatic Jin. Between their upgrading opponents and the Anti-Flash weighing his team down, he has a lot on his shoulders as leader in these final episodes. And he ends up really delivering. He's just a Red you can always count on, and that's probably why he was my favorite as a kid.

The episode ends with a loud, clanging typewriter sound writing out "20 days remaining" on the screen. It's very jarring and disorienting and, even when I was a kid and didn't really know what was going on, there was just something spooky and unsettling about it.

While I think this episode is really good and well-made, filled with shocking turns, great performances and Takao Nagaishi proving once again why he's one of the best directors tokusatsu has had the fortune of seeing, this episode...feels a little overly concerned about catching you up. It tends to repeat information it's already told you, as if the show was afraid of the possibility that viewers missed a couple of episodes and it needed to restate some things. It's almost like a clip-less clip show in spots. Like, we've known from the start that the Flashman had to be one of the Tokimuras. The show's hinted long enough, and on both sides, that they all know it's a possibility. So for Tokimura to give this info to the Flashman, and they all react like it's news...it's a little weird, and again, I feel like it's presented this way out of fear of people missing a couple of crucial episodes. My brother, when I finally got him to watch all of Flashman, really hated how much they dragged out the Tokimura storyline. While I can understand feeling a little frustrated with the Tokimura plot, I think it's only this episode that it's unnecessarily stalled.

And I imagine the whole Tokimura storyline will probably test the patience of lot of younger and modern viewers. But I'd just like to again point out that it's intentionally been depicted this way for a few reasons. One is to highlight the tragedy of the Flashman's situation. You might think Japan's a small place, but realistically, it would be very difficult for the Flashman to just land and find all of their families so quickly. It would just be bogus if they all found their family by the end of the series and had happy reunions. Secondly, it serves one of Flashman's strongest themes and messages, which is that sometimes family doesn't need to be blood. By showing the Flashman meet and make connections with unrelated people, people who are similarly alone and who become a surrogate family member (or as close as a family member) is a really heartfelt and important message to convey, I think. It shows the capacity for kindness. Sara's bond with Miran, Ruu's bond with Kashima, Dai's with Sumire, Bun's with Kayoko -- I think all of those storylines had more weight and meaning than if they had just met their blood relatives and it was all tied up in a nice bow. That would just be too easy. I think there's something sweet about having each of the Flashman basically look at the Tokimuras as their own family, with the Tokimuras having the heart and being willing to let them all be a part of the family. And since Professor Tokimura wasn't going to rest until he had answers, doing crazy stuff like building time machines, you knew he'd draw attention to himself, so it's not totally unbelievable that the Tokimuras are often as involved as they are.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Flashman Episode 45


"We came back to Earth to save it... The people, the beautiful greenery... We're here to protect flowers as beautiful as these. W...why?! Why then are we seeing such hatred from the Earth?!" ~Sara

The Anti-Flash progresses, Kaura reveals the use he has of Professor Tokimura and the farewell of two more regular villains...

Keflen sees the pain it causes Deus to put to use his genes. The next Deus Beast Soldier, Keflen decides, requires Kiruto to sacrifice herself. As he goes to work on the synthesizer -- which once again causes pain to the other officers -- he considers to himself the idea of turning Deus into a Beast Soldier. Madness! Kiruto becomes the latest Deus Beast Soldier, to the upset of Ulk.

Meanwhile, the Flashman have been searching for the professor with no luck. Kaura and Gardan are hiding him in an abandoned boat, where Kaura presents to the professor the blueprints for Keflen's Gene Synthesizer. He kidnapped the professor knowing he's fully capable of following the plans and building Kaura his own, but with some tweaks. Tokimura claims he can't, and even if he could, he'd refuse. Kaura doubts his claim, noting that he invented a freakin' time machine! And, besides, Kaura would be willing to tell him which one of the Flashman is his own child, which briefly excites the professor, before his better judgment returns to him. Tokimura then activates a beacon on his watch, which Jin catches on radar. Hoping the source is the professor, he leads the others, eventually reaching the boat. But before there's a chance for either Kaura to react to their finding his hiding spot or for a fight to break out or an attempt the rescue of the professor, Mess shows up and gets in the way...

I like the way this whole boat-scene-turned-Mess-battle is filmed; mainly that the sky is overcast, looking like a nightmare of a storm is heading the production's way, with a lot of heavy wind. It just gives it a cool look and suits the mood -- not only the Flashman's failure to save the professor (who Kaura successfully makes off with again), but they also suffer another defeat from the Deus Beast Soldier, Kirutos. They can't catch a break, and they certainly didn't need these upgraded monsters on top of it all. Kirutos tears through the Flash suits with her claws, and only breaks away from the fight once Red Flash Super Cutters them to pieces with Prism Sei-ken. This leads her to run off and put her powers to use, which is absorbing people's life force and being able to regenerate her claws. (She leaves young people old when she does this.)

The gloomy weather in this scene helps make the rest of the episode stand out as most of it takes place at the beautiful Kawaguchi Green Center, which is sunny and colorful with flowers. That Kirutos attacks here is another juxtaposition, her draining the people who are enjoying the vibrant scenery there of their vitality. And it further makes an effective backdrop for the latest development in the Anti-Flash, in which the Flashman find the plant life of Earth now being not only untouchable, but their presence can cause plants to emit carbon dioxide. And this after they try to help a woman and her child, only to shock them, with her fearing their presence and telling them to stay away from her and her kid! It's a bit X-Men-like, saving someone only to have them be like, "Keep your distance, mutie freak!"

The Flashman just kind of break down at this moment. (It's here that Jin realizes this must have been what Baraki's warning was about.) It hits Sara hard, she cries at the unfairness that they're from Earth, they've returned to save Earth, and now they're being rejected by the Earth itself and possibly its people, judging by that woman's reaction. Screams for help break through their desolation, with Jin whipping everyone back into fighting shape -- there's people that need 'em. Knowing her strength comes from her claws, Red Flash decides to restrain the monster and orders Blue Flash to hit her with a Super Cyclone. After a moment's hesitation, he does so, with Ulk shielding her close friend from the hit. (Nobody comes out of this attack unhurt -- not even Blue Flash!) Her claws once again broken and sensing the pain her former friend is in, Ulk offers herself to Kirutos, who absorbs her, giving her strength once again. But the Flashman manage to overcome her with the Super Spear because the episode is running out of time!

Tokimura's still missing, the Anti-Flash is getting worse, so it's not a great victory for our heroes. The episode ends with them just solemnly walking through the Kawaguchi Green Center, taking note of the people whose youth has been restored, that they saved -- the five just seem broken. Also: I kinda call bullshit on this happy end of the people's youth being restored. Now, a modern Sentai, using this scenario, would have had the monster just collecting people's youth in a basket or something, and once the monster was killed, the basket would break and the youth would just magically returned from whence it came. Fine, that kinda works.

But here, Kirutos is absorbing the life energy into herself, to regrow her claws and strength. It's energy taken, consumed, and even destroyed once the Flashman break those claws. That sounds like a permanent deal to me. That would be like killing a vampire and expecting it to burst like an overfilled leech, and all of the blood it had drank in its lifetime would spill out and magically wash itself back to the victims and restore their life. What the hell sense does that make? But I guess this episode was depressing enough without leaving all of those people turned so old and weak-seeming. It's just kind of frustrating since a lot of Flashman episodes have established that it doesn't follow the standard toku logic of defeated monster = defeated damage caused by monster. For example, people still had pumpkin heads even after Gourmess was defeated. People still had that measles-like illness after Mazaras was defeated. The Flashman still had to step in and help them even after the monsters were dead, so...yeah.

Miyuki Nagato gets a lot to do in this episode as Ulk, and it seems like she takes a lot of beatings here. Maybe she feels lost without her cohort backing her up. Nagato gives a great performance in this episode, seeming just heartbroken over what happens to Kiruto. Her final act, crawling towards her injured comrade, offering herself to her so they can be together forever and embracing has led to some believing Ulk and Kiruto were lovers. Nagato certainly gives it a more intense emotion than them just being kunoichi buddies, and this last scene is filmed like many of the scenes in toku dealing with the final moments of characters who were romantically involved -- crawling to each other, arms extended. Even Yellow Flash notes that she'd never imagine Mess members having caring feelings for one another. So, it's there if that's the view you want to take.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Flashman Episode 44


The first real block of the endgame. Deus is stepping up and providing his own genes in making Beast Soldiers, we're getting regular villains turned into Beast Soldiers, and the Anti-Flash Phenomenon rears its ugly head for the first time.

Mess abducts Kaura's remaining Alien Hunters and splices them into the very first Deus Beast Soldier. (It's a great first scene as the Lab ship chases down Kaura and his gang, ending with Kaura in a tug-o-war with the Lab's tractor beam, using his whip to try to pull his Alien Hunter cohorts to safety.) To depict La Deus providing his genes for the new monster experiments, they have him holding his hands over a vat, dripping liquid. This then will look like blood flowing through new tubes piping throughout the Gene Synthesizer, which then lead to the chambers which hold the lifeforms that are being transformed. Once Keflen begins the creation, the music he plays begins to harm the Mess officers, who beg him to stop. He doesn't, of course, he keeps on with his work. And as he does so, he just wonders to himself why he's not affected, realizing that the others must have Deus' genes, and that's having a negative reaction, and since he's not effected, that means he must not have any Deus genes in him. This gets him to again wonder about his past. This is the guy who thinks he's Deus' equal, don't forget. Is he an equal lifeform to Deus? Less? Less than the officers, even? He doesn't know and it's been eating at him.

It might be lazy, but I'm surprised that the Deus Beast Soldier doesn't just look like Bou, Hagu and Baura squished together. But it's a totally new design, with the monster just having all of their weapons and abilities. It's not the last we see of them, though, as the monster is able to send their disembodied heads after an opponent. The main thing is, it's a strong sonuvabitch, and it beats the Flashman so badly that their powers go on the fritz and force them to retreat, which leads Neferu to kidnap the entire Tokimura family in order to lure them out of hiding! Damn, that's nasty even for Neferu.

Kaura and Gardan make it to the scene before the Flashman, with Kaura trying to grab Professor Tokimura. It might look random, but this is going to pay off in the next couple of episodes, and I love that Kaura's once again interfering, and not just for some bullshit or contrived reason. He even takes the time to mourn his Alien Hunter allies, who he's genuinely shaken up to see being used the way they are. (It's the first time we ever see Kaura in this kind of emotional state, which is near sorrowful.) Considering how outnumbered they are and what a beating they've just taken, it's a surprise that the Flashman arrive and successfully save the Tokimuras from Mess' clutches! (One thing in their favor was that the monster was temporarily distracted at the memory of Kaura's voice.)

The five heroes get the Tokimuras to safety and, as they try to embrace and comfort them after a stressful ordeal, find that they're each repelled from one another, along with an electric shock. Confused by this, Magu informs them from the Round Base that this is the Anti-Flash Phenomenon, something that develops when people from the Flash Planet are away from their home too long and begin to be rejected by a planet's climate. They chance more contact with the Tokimuras, in a sad echo of the classic scene in E.T. of Elliot and E.T. touching fingertips, only to discover the same result as earlier -- both sides are taken aback with a jolt. Confused, terrified, saddened -- the Flashman are quick to realize the meaning of this latest, tragic development: that even if they have new friends and loved ones, even if they were able to find their families, they wouldn't be able to express their love and appreciation through them with contact, even a simple holding of hands.

With the timing of the world's biggest asshole, Kaura and Gardan catch up with them, successfully making off with the professor -- Jin tries to stop them, but comes into contact with Tokimura and can't grab him because of the Anti-Flash, instead getting a whopper of a punch from Kaura. The Tokimuras are saints, man. They're frightened and upset about not only Kaura kidnapping the professor, but for what just went down with the Flashman, but they're still on the Flashman's side. They believe their words that they'll save the professor, and pity them for going through what they're going through. (There's a moment when the daughters seem afraid to touch the Flashman, but that doesn't last. You can imagine some show trying to wring some drama out of that, having the girls complain or be afraid OF the Flashman, but Flashman's smart enough to avoid that.)

How do the Flashman end up beating their unstoppable opponent, by the way? Magu arrives on the battlefield, to everyone's confusion and impatience. But he opens up the monitor stored in his belly to show a manufactured image of Kaura, calling out the names of his Alien Hunter comrades as he did earlier, and successfully gets the monster in a confused state long enough to Rolling Vulcan its ass. This is the kind of out of left field involvement from Magu I like -- not him messing with their powers and nearly killing 'em. And this is the end of the remaining Alien Hunters -- we've now entered the stage of our main villains getting picked off one by one.

So, Mess is once again stepping up their attacks, they now have renegade Kaura to contend with, and now this Anti-Flash. The Flashman can't catch a break. I always thought it was an interesting parallel that, in this episode, the Flashman begin to be affected by the Anti-Flash and the Mess officers are affected by the Deus genes within them being manipulated as Keflen creates the new Deus Beast Soldiers. They both serve to accelerate the narrative in order to wrap the series up, but it doesn't feel forced or rushed or like it's just been pulled from the air this minute by the show's staff.

Sad thing is, all Mess had to do was wait. Wait a couple of weeks, the Flashman would be dead, and they could do all the damage to Earth they wanted. Too bad Keflen pissed off Kaura one too many times, eh? Kaura's really the wrench in the plans. And it's believable that the egos and pride of these two men, Keflen and Kaura, would become the beginning of their downfall. It's not stupidity or oversight in a plan, just two guys who are used to calling their own shots and who hate each other. Kaura feels undermined by Keflen, Keflen feels threatened by Kaura. And it's another story element that feels earned and developed, not artificial or contrived. There's a lot of times where this scenario can make the characters look stupid, and there's a lot of times where this development can feel convenient. But that's not the case here. And, after this episode, Kaura has a vendetta against Deus, as well, vowing to take him down. (And he just might.)