Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Holy Martha Mother of Superheroes, Batman!


I missed out on seeing Deadpool 2 in the theater because...well, I wasn't the biggest fan of Deadpool 1, so I wasn't in a rush to see the sequel. Even though I like the character of Cable, I didn't care much for the casting (Josh Brolin, who always acts like he's above this type of stuff) or the way he was going to be depicted in the film (as the villain), so not even Cable's big-screen debut made me excited for the sequel.

So, I just only watched it. I liked it less than the first one, but that's not what I'm getting at here. In Deadpool 2, there's a line mocking the infamous "Martha Moment" of 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That part of the movie has been mocked since its release, is still mocked by people on the internet on a daily basis, and I thought it was pretty strange for a real Hollywood movie to take a jab at it two years later, but that's me. Anyway...

I don't get what the fuck people have against Batman v Superman, and especially that scene. I mean...I didn't see Batman v Superman on opening weekend, so I had it all spoiled for me, and people have criticized the scene from day one. I remember listening to Hollywood professionals (like Kevin Smith, who likes to shit all over DC, but still gets to work for them, somehow) tear that scene apart and completely miss the point or meaning of the scene, a meaning that I understood without yet actually seeing the damn movie! So when people latch onto this scene and treat it like it's stupid or nonsense, I find it frustrating.

Bruce Wayne/Batman is terrified and repulsed by Superman. He doesn't trust Superman, he thinks Superman is nothing but a problem for the world, that he probably means the end of the world. He doesn't even see Superman as human or a man, but some alien freak, an animal, a weapon. Batman does his homework finding out Superman's weaknesses and beats him within an inch of his life, coming damn near close to killing him. Recognizing how close he is to the end of things, Superman blurts out that time's running out, that Martha (Kent) needs to be saved. Going in for the kill as this is said, Batman freezes. He freaks and panics. But it stops him dead in his tracks. He learns from Lois that Martha is the name of Superman's mom. Batman takes this all in. He throws aside the weapon he was using.

This scene goes beyond the dumb-dumb dismissal of "Heh, the fight all came down to their moms having the same name. That stoopid!" I don't understand why it's so hard for people to wrap their heads around the meaning of this scene, and the way it's presented in the movie.

Seeing a pathetic, bleeding Superman under his heel, learning that he has a mother, it humanizes Superman for Batman for the first time. What he saw as an alien freak, who could destroy the world, he begins to see as a guy, worried about his mom, being cared for by his girlfriend. (This is probably the moment Batman figures out that Superman is Clark Kent, by the way. So, for all of the weisenheimers who say "It's dumb for Superman to be saying 'Save Martha!' instead of 'Save mom," well...Superman's still in disguise here, man. He ain't going to be going "Save my mom, Martha Kent! I'm Clark Kent!" Not to mention...the dude just ate two Kryptonite gas grenades and had the shit kicked out of him. He wanted the info conveyed quickly! And also? People like to say that they wouldn't have had to fight if they just talked it out. Superman TRIED to talk it out. He lands and immediately lets Batman know he knows he's Bruce and what Luthor's planning, but Batman doesn't let him get far before he starts his attack. So there! "But Batman's supposed to be a detective!" Yeah, well, this is a broken, pissed off Batman, who's stubborn and decided on what he's going to do. And, besides, no matter what kind of great detective Batman's supposed to be...he's not going to be better than Superman. I rather like how Superman's obviously known Bruce is Batman, but doesn't let on until absolutely necessary, when the situation is dire.)

But not only does it humanize Superman for Batman, but, yes, what gets him to pause and freak out is that he hears the name Martha, the name of his mother. In this movie, Martha is his father's dying word. As with most Batman stories, Bruce/Batman still carries a lot of anguish and guilt about his parents' death. Hearing his dying opponent say the name Martha takes him by a chilling surprise. Once Batman collects himself, and Superman recovers enough to tell him that they both fell into Lex Luthor's trap and what they need to do to get out of it, Batman vows to take care of Martha while Supes goes and deals with Lex. Symbolically, Batman is being given the chance to save his own mother here. And he succeeds, in an awesome, awesome action scene that most people, even the biggest haters of this movie, call the movie's best scene!

But I also like to look at it like this... I love Batman. He's my favorite superhero. Throughout 70+ years of this character, we've had a lot of iterations of his parents' murder and, usually, 99.5% of the time, the focus goes to his dad, Thomas Wayne. Thomas Wayne is usually given dialogue. He's always given the most history. There's alternate worlds where HE is Batman. In the old days, there were stories that said he was briefly Batman even before Bruce ever thought the whole thing up, which is stupid. In Christopher Nolan's disgustingly overrated movies, Thomas Wayne is depicted as being the biggest saint who ever sainted -- until Bruce grows up, anyway. (Martha's practically an extra in Batman Begins, because Nolan likes a sausage fest.) What I'm saying is...

For the first time in the character's history, Batman v Superman makes Martha Wayne matter. She technically saves Superman's life. She technically prevents her son from making what would have been the biggest mistake of his life, and something he'd never come back from. (Killing Superman, continuing down the dark, mean path he was on, never rounding up the Justice League.) I think this is something that should be celebrated and acknowledged and NOT the source of ridicule it is. You know the biggest thing the comics have done with Martha Wayne? Have her become the Joker in an alternate history! How fucked up is that?! Batman v Superman gives you something with a little meaning and symbolism, but...fuck that, we're in the age of Twitter wannabe comedians, so let's just make light of everything, and turn everything into a meme!

And then take Justice League into account, where Bruce is down in the dumps for the way everything went down for Superman, for the way he treated Superman, where we realize how much of an impact Superman had on him in such a short time. In that moment when Superman is humanized for him...Martha Wayne saves Batman in that movie, too. At the start of Batman v Superman, we see a very dark and angry Bruce/Batman. We're told of how much Batman changed in the way he fought crime, how isolated he was, how brutal he had become, ESPECIALLY once Superman comes into the picture. And then not only is Superman humanized for him, but he realizes how wrong he's been about him, and what a good person and actual hero Superman is -- something he's gotten colder and farther away from being. There's that line in Justice League where Bruce confesses that he thinks Clark was a better human being than he was.

What I like about Affleck's Bruce/Batman is how haunted he is. People think the characters turn too quickly in BvS and that the rewrites and reshoots of Justice League make for inconsistent characterizations -- "LOL, they're about to kill each other and then 1 second later they're Super Friends!" -- but I think Affleck does a surprisingly good job of conveying all of the internal damage of the character, the psychological reasoning behind his actions. Bruce knew his enemy, he knew the Daily Planet was pro-Superman. So, seeing Lois come to his aide, I think that helps him take on the point of view of maybe all of the stories about him are true. But certainly his opinion changes once he, Superman and Wonder Woman fight alongside each other against Doomsday. He witnesses how selfless Superman is, ultimately sacrificing himself to stop the monster. It basically makes Bruce see all that he did wrong, all of the darkness he harbored, and I see him as in the midst of a deep depression in Justice League, on a suicide mission to round everyone up and make amends. You get the feeling he's willing to die to resurrect Superman, because Superman's better than he is, because Superman's the one who can actually save the world, and maybe, just maybe because he feels guilty for all of the problems he caused Superman, and feels he needs to pay.

Man, Batman v Superman is unappreciated. It has 20 movies worth of material in one movie! I mean...did you ever think you'd see a Superman movie where Batman is the villain?! And even though I ended up being a little let down by Justice League, I don't think that movie's as bad as people pretend it is, either.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Films That Made Us


So, a few months ago, some movie streaming site decided to spam and gather data by starting a Twitter hashtag asking people to name the four movies that define them. As far as corporate stunts go, I thought it was pretty fun and harmless and it was interesting to see what some people thought. I got tagged and had to Google what the hell it was about, but thought it was fun, so I replied with my picks and then tagged some others. (If that annoyed you, well...that's Twitter's job. But I thought it was fun!)

I clicked the hashtag and went through A LOT of strangers' answers to the #FilmStruck4 challenge. I was curious what people said, but I also liked seeing the answers of some "famous" people. It's tricky whenever you talk about your top favorite movies or movies that mean a lot to you or compile a list of all of your favorites... I've been a member of forums that would have the inevitable "Top 10 Favorite Movies" thread and would want to reply, but would be hesitant. When I saw CCLemon99's blog post about his favorite movies, I wanted to copy him and post something similar, because his list was fun and honest. But...again, it's tricky.

I feel like a Top 10's not big enough, but where do you stop? And then there's snobbery... I'd compile a list of my favorite movies and it would be about 20 to 30 movies mainly from the 1980s. There's so many movies that mean so much to me from that decade, and I have theories why it was such a magical decade for movies. (No, it's not cocaine. Well, not JUST cocaine.) But the fear of snobbery creeps in. I'd be hesitant to post lists of favorite movies, because someone would see it and chortle at an entry like The Goonies, which I think is just one of the most fun and funniest adventure movies ever made. Or the way some people absolutely worship Back to the Future, I worship The Karate Kid. I'm pretty protective of that movie. ( Apologies to my bro, who was upset when I shat all over YouTubeRed's Cobra Kai, when he finds it legitimately entertaining, despite being a supposed Karate Kid fan. :P )

At the same time, I'll see some people's list of their favorite movies and be like "Yeah, right. Nice try, pretentious." (And I'm sure those people would turn around and say that's a defense mechanism based on my picks being "lowbrow" crowd-pleaser flicks, but forget those people. Pretend all you want, but you don't genuinely like the four-hour, black-and-white, silent, German, expressionist tearjerker you placed at number three on your list. So, shaddap!) There's many a "serious" movies I like and value, but I feel like if you're being really honest with yourself when compiling one of these lists of favorite movies or movies that mean most to you? You gotta think of what movie you reach for more often, and chances are it's not one of the heavies.

But this silly little Tweet was kind of different. The films that define you. I posted mine, and fear I had a couple of bizarre answers. (Of the many, many Tweets I went through, not too many people had a horror movie on their list. I did.) There also seemed to be some confusion about the challenge. I thought the challenge was obviously movies that meant something to you, shaped you in some way. These wouldn't necessarily be your TOP favorites, but movies that were important to you and probably still ranked pretty damn high for you. Some people took it to mean the movies that represent the type of person they are, which I think is a bizarre interpretation. (For example: one person said they were forgetful, so they felt Memento represented them. Weirdo.)

When I saw someone semi-famous post their selections, which included one of the choices I had, they indicated that if those movies truly defined them, then that meant they were a messed up person. So...I'm here to defend my picks and explain them a little more to compensate for that jackass.

My four choices, in chronological order:

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

Ghostbusters was a phenomenon when I was a kid. I was massively into the movie and The Real Ghostbusters. (I feel like my first memory is of the movie, but I'm not completely sure if I saw it or the cartoon first.) It speaks so much to my interests; there's wise-ass comedy, there's horror, there's heroics. It's also sci-fi in a way, in the way it tries to depict the science behind it all, striking a balance with the supernatural elements. It gives it all a surprising credibility for a comedy and roots it all. There's also authenticity in the supernatural material because co-writer Dan Aykroyd has a real life interest in the subject matter.

It's working on a lot of levels; it's a horror movie that's not too scary and it has so many types of comedy, one that you can still get as a kid, but also adult humor that you didn't realize as a kid. I hate when I see people categorize this movie as purely comedy or horror (or even worse, a kids movie because of the cartoon). It's a movie that transcends genres, yet pulls it all off and is its own, unique thing. And it's insanely quotable -- I think I quote the movie every day and just don't realize it. ("Slow down. Chew your food.")

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

You can't overstate how popular this franchise and Freddy Krueger was back in the day. Horror just doesn't reach that level of popularity anymore, so there's nothing to really even compare it to in modern film. You couldn't escape this franchise, so it was on my radar well before I should have even watched the movie.

When I saw the first movie, I was just wowed and like "You gotta see this!" to whomever would listen. It's a highly imaginative movie that has been marred by too many of the sequels going too far with humor and losing sight of what makes this first one so damn good. Freddy Krueger is scary, yes, and entertaining and more memorable than a lot of horror villains, but most of the fans of this franchise are drawn to the movie also by its protagonists and its setting. (The third movie is practically a superhero movie, with people learning to use dreams to their advantage and finding their own unique "dream powers.")

I've always had a fascination with dreams and trying to analyze them. This movie and franchise takes dreams, dream psychology, dreaming techniques and applies them to a horror setting in a truly unique way. It's so much more than a slasher film. A lot of slasher films are made for the money, so there's not much thought put into them beyond a crazy guy with a knife stabbing a bunch of women. But Nightmare on Elm Street meant more to writer-director Wes Craven -- a true-life event inspired it! -- and it's fresh in its depiction of a threat, which is...you've gotta sleep! People like to say Jaws is such a great scary movie, because it ruined the beach for them. Well...it's a movie that doesn't work if you're someone who doesn't give a shit about the beach. Nightmare on Elm Street's concept is ingenious, and it stays with you long after it's over.

It's a movie that had a huge impact on me and cemented me as a horror fan.

BATMAN (1989)

So memorable and unlike anything before it, in terms of superhero movies. Tim Burton being a guy who grew up on horror movies, being a guy with a love for the Gothic, you can feel those influences in the movie. So it's marrying horror and superheroes, which appeals to me. It's the movie that set me on the path of becoming a Batman fan, a comics fan, and Batman became my favorite superhero. The movie was just huge and inescapable and influential. I have fond memories of it and it's a movie that I think of as being really special, and I'll just flat out say magical.

Michael Keaton was kind of a hero of mine when I was a kid. I loved Beetlejuice and The Dream Team, Batman making a good trilogy of sorts. I nearly included Beetlejuice in this list, but figured Ghostbusters better covered similar terrain.

PULP FICTION (1994)

A game-changer, such a juggernaut that it was the topic of my school when we were all too damn young to even be watching it. You'd think it was, like, a superhero movie or summer blockbuster with the way it was talked about amongst my schoolmates. One of my friends, who I knew was mainly an action-movie guy, was like "Man, you gotta watch this!" I finally rented it and was just blown away. Like, "Wow! What was that?!" It just felt so fresh and had such a unique flow and palpable energy. I felt like I was hit by lightning while watching it, only instead of becoming a superhero, I became a Tarantino freak who embarrassingly wrote stories aping his unique style. (Hey, I was just a kid. Go and watch movies Hollywood released for a few years after Pulp Fiction, and most of them desperately try to imitate QT, too, when they should've known better.)

To be honest, I actually like Reservoir Dogs the most of any of Tarantino's movies, but I might not have watched it if not for seeing Pulp Fiction first. Pulp Fiction put me on that path, therefore it's the one who shaped me. And Pulp Fiction's another one that I think is insanely quotable.

I feel like what these movies all have in common is a uniqueness, a certain sense of humor, they're highly imaginative, one of a kind, never a movie like it before or since, no matter how hard people have tried to replicate them. I feel like they all create their own unique worlds, with colorful yet realistic characters and you can immerse yourself in these movies, they're transportive. I think that's an important element in entertainment, to be transported, to let you and your imagination go for a ride. These four movies made such a mark that I can vividly recall when I first watched them and all that I felt. (Sometimes I'm like "How did I first discover (blank) movie/franchise? I don't recall...")

While I consider myself a sci-fi fan and was a huge Star Wars fan at one point, I felt funny not including a Star Wars, but even before prequels and Disney made me hate that franchise, I wouldn't consider any of those movies a top favorite or big influence. Similar to James Bond, I'm a huge fan of those movies and considered putting one there, but I feel like Tim Burton's Batman kind of covers it. What is Tim Burton's Batman, but a superhero noir? What is James Bond but a superhero noir detective? And Batman certainly is more meaningful and made more of an impact.

I love The Karate Kid, so that's one that...it would probably be the fifth pick if this had been FilmStruck5. Because that's a great movie with great lessons and I remember watching it a lot after coming back to the U.S. from Japan and loving it for its Nihon no Spirits. If anything's missing from the four I've picked in terms of something that defines me, it's that none of them contain any elements of Japan or Japanese culture when that means something to me.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Burn Bright, Super Sentai Spirits!


I like the Super Sentai Spirits concerts -- I think they're awesome. I think they shot themselves in the foot a bit in releasing the second one from 2006 when it was SO close to the set list of the first, but I still appreciated the release at the time. However...look how much time has passed. How many new shows and new themes. How many more of the PAST theme singers have started participating. There's so many shows and so many songs performed, that they've had to split up the concerts and have them performed on two separate nights now! And since 2006, there's been an entirely new home video format -- HD's taken over and Blu-ray's become the norm. Blu-ray offers more room on a single disc -- sounds perfect for two nights worth of concerts, eh?

It's me, Shougo, the Sentai Guy. "But Shougo, you're so negative about the modern era of shows, how can you say you love Sentai so much?" It's tough love, dammit! I'm mean because I care and know what the franchise is capable of. But that's beside the point. Toku-themed concerts really took off in the late '90s. I remember being excited to buy the Superhero Spirits 2000 DVD (still the only release THAT concert has been given), but being bummed out that there were so few Sentai songs performed there. "I'd love an all-Sentai concert," I'd think. When the first Super Sentai Spirits was announced in 2004, I was obsessed. If you're an entertainment-junkie, you're probably well aware of the feeling of REALLY looking forward to a blockbuster movie or a show's new season or a band's new album or the latest from a favorite author; even the date of a big convention or the release of a collectible toy. There's usually just one entertainment offering per year that consumes your attention and you can't wait for. I call that feeling "the entertainment event." Something that just grabs you with the same excitement as Christmas probably did when you were a kid. Super Sentai Spirits 2004 was my entertainment event of that year.

I had kept hoping they would get certain people, but I was impressed with the line-up they ended up with. Taku Kitahara! I never thought I'd see the Flashman themes performed; he's someone who seemed to have fallen off the radar. Kenta Satou, who I had always suggested on fan sites to do one of the concerts. (I knew he had dressed in character in the early '90s when performing Turboranger.) NEW JACK Takurou, Shinichi Ishihara, Kumi Sasaki, Hideaki Takatori -- these were the performers I was most excited to see perform their songs. I really like MoJo, and hadn't seen any live performance of his songs, so he was another I had look forward to seeing. And so I remember emailing official sites asking about the filming of the concert for release. The first time I emailed, I got a "we don't know." The second time I emailed, a couple of months later, I got a "it's looking likely." That was it, I was excited. It was announced right after the first concert the release date for the DVD, which was a felt-longer-than-it-should-have four months from its November performance to March DVD release. I'll embarrassingly admit that I kept a countdown calendar.

I excitedly read up on what concertgoers had to say. I was surprised that several Sentai actors attended the concert. Kazuo Niibori on the Red Action Club's blog described the night as having a "magical aura." Fans all sounded very happy and blown away by it. It meant so much to Hideaki Takatori, he didn't want to miss it and he actually left the hospital -- he was due to have his appendix removed -- just to perform at the show. It was the first big performance of Takayuki Miyauchi's since he recovered from cancer. Taku Kitahara was mindful enough of "Super Sentai Spirit" that he said he made it a point to wear Red. And whereas Super Anisong Spirits concerts tend to revolve around Ichirou Mizuki and Superhero Spirits around Akira Kushida, Super Sentai Spirits makes Isao Sasaki its headliner, and you can tell he really just appreciates that attention and steps up. (There was a point where Sasaki didn't participate in these types of concerts as much as those other guys.) All of the performers at this particular concert look like they're having so much fun, and it comes through their performances. They're all bringing it.

It DID end up feeling like a big, special, FUN, magical concert. My brother and I made an event for its release, buying some Japanese snacks, renting good audio and video equipment... I have a real fondness for the 2004 concert, and it's my favorite of the toku-related concerts. What's great about the "Spirits" concerts is that it's all about the music. The crowd is packed with mostly adult fans, so the performers are truly putting their all into their performance. The vibe of these concerts is great -- performers happy to be performing, an energetic audience of superfans giving right back. There's audience participation. Everybody who is there is a fan.

The Cho Eiyuu Sai concerts Toei puts on and releases are fun and all, but they're just not the same. They're overly produced. The focus of those events are on shows' cast members performing and talking. In terms of music, most of the focus goes to Kamen Rider. Sentai's only allowed to do TV size versions of themes, and only the same handful of recent singers are ever gotten. These events are geared towards members of all ages, but especially kids, so there's just not that same commitment by the singers in performing. Only being allowed to do one verse, they zip through the song, and the songs tend to be interrupted by suit actors getting up to antics on the side. These events are not about the music, so they're not even close to being the same as a Super Sentai Spirits.

The Super Sentai Spirits concerts started out one every two years, and then they became annual. Nearly every time they hold one, I hold out hope that they'll film and release it. With every concert, I'll email the folks in charge and ask. Each time I'd get what was obviously a brush-off answer. The concerts would come and go, unfilmed, unreleased. At a certain point, I wouldn't even bother emailing them, basically just giving up on the idea.

Cut to 2016. They announce the 10th iteration of the Super Sentai Spirits concerts, with the news that Daisuke Shima will be performing there for the first time. Now, I love Liveman. It's one of my top favorite Sentai shows, Red Falcon's one of my top favorite Reds and its themes are among my favorite toku themes. Throughout all of the Super Sentai Spirits concerts, Shima was the one performer I had hoped they'd always get. After Liveman, Shima stepped away from music to focus on acting. In the early '00s he had started to sing again -- nothing major, he didn't start touring or anything, but he released a few singles and an album of self covers. Shima's one of the better known, more mainstream performers that Sentai has seen, so even if he had started singing again, I didn't think it was likely he'd ever show up to one of these concerts and sing Liveman's themes. I had hoped he would, but didn't think it was likely...

But then he did. Knowing how popular Shima once was, how popular Liveman was (and is), I thought for sure they would film this one and release it -- if not to DVD or Blu-ray, then at least to pay television, which means someone could have found a download for it. But they didn't film it, so my hopes pretty much died. I was surprised to see Shima show up for the next concert, but didn't bother giving it much thought at all. And I'm REALLY surprised that he's planning to do the latest one, this November. I went from thinking he'd never do ONE to now he's done a couple. And not only that, but Hironobu Kageyama is slated to perform this year, and it's the first Super Sentai Spirits he's done in a few years. And it was a few years before THAT one that he did the previous one. He's no longer a regular at these things.

This year's line-up is one of the fullest they've ever had. The only people that are not listed to attend this year, that have in previous years, is Ken Narita, Taku Kitahara, Kumi Sasaki and Masaaki Endou. Now, Kitahara, Sasaki and Endou took part in the first and second concerts that were released, so...their appearance isn't crucial. And they filmed a portion of a Super Anisong Spirits concerts that Ken Narita performed at and aired it on pay-per-view, so there IS a professional clip of Narita performing at least the Denjiman OP out there. But everyone else who ever attended one of the Super Sentai Spirits is set to be at this new one. (They're apparently never getting Takashi Tsushimi, Naritaka Takayama or Masato Shimon. I understand why Shimon, since he's retired and it's not even officially confirmed he's the one doing the Gingaman songs. I know Tsushimi's a busy producer now, but I have no idea why Takayama won't do one.)

And, sure, since there are so many of the old-timers at the new concert, there will be several repeats that I mentioned as being one of my theories why I think the SSS II DVD tanked. But there are so many new factors at play here. The performers are going to have changed in the 12 freaking years since the last one. These concerts are done at an entirely different venue now. The brass members of Takatori's band Zetki now play with the band, which really oughta help a lot of the older songs sound closer to the track. The older performers aren't going to perform forever, unfortunately, so isn't this a good time, considering what a full line-up it is, to release a new one? (And, dammit, I REALLY would like to see great, complete live performances of Ohranger and Megaranger! Shima, Hayami and Fuuga are the top three I'm most excited about, but I've also always wanted a good live performance of Maskman's ED, which Kageyama performed last time he attended, so hopefully he'll sing it again.)

And, actually, you can't tell me that set lists being too similar or the repetition is a no-sale, because how many times have they released concerts with the Rider Chips and the Kamen Rider Girls doing the same exact songs, in the same exact ways, no variation? If they can film and release the 100th performance of Elements, then a concert with yet another performance of Sunvulcan or Jetman shouldn't be any different. "But Shougo, you've said you disliked this song or that, why do you want to see it live?" Well...geez, sometimes a song can grow on you, now can't it? Besides, it all goes back to the vibe these concerts have. There's some songs that I'll like after seeing a live performance of it -- whether it's hearing it in a different way or seeing what a performer puts into it or the energy it has live. (Here's a Super Sentai example: I used to be pretty indifferent towards the Fiveman themes. But then I saw Suzuki's performance at SSS II, with how emotional he got performing those songs, how much fun he was having, noticing certain lines he'd emphasize, which helped me appreciate certain lyrics more, and now I like those songs.)

I really would like for them to film and sell the two Tokyo Super Sentai Spirits concerts this year. It would mean a lot to me, and I know a lot of other people -- even Japanese fans, most importantly -- want another one released. Not everybody can go, you know? Each year when I'd check out a concert-goer's blog or Tweet about going, there'd be a bunch of replies of people who said how much they wanted to go, but couldn't, and that they wished they'd put a new one out on DVD. I really feel like this year's concert is the best shot at getting a new release. I think it would make sense to film them both and sell them. The line-up is massive, they wouldn't have to release another one for a while. And if they DON'T film and release it, well...then I will pretty much officially abandon hope that they'd ever film and release another one. It will be like letting go of the idea of Shoko Nakagawa getting to play a Pink. When they couldn't get her for the anniversary show (Gokaiger) or to just VOICE the Pink that was a suit (Kyuranger), it was obvious they were never going to get her. So, same situation here. If this one's not filmed...forget about any others. (So, Shougo will shut up about it. That's worth some Retweets, eh?)

You might think a Twitter campaign is pointless. I'm trying to stay positive here, man. Let's keep an open mind. When this newest concert was announced, I emailed the folks in charge. What did I get? The brush-off. "We don't know. We'll pass along that there's interest." Well, I figured it was time to stop bothering behind-the-scenes and take it public and make this an open request. I wanted fans to show how much they'd like to see another release, and I wanted to get on this ASAP. I was optimistic on that first day I Tweeted -- I got responses from a couple of people that made me very happy. But by day three it's tapered off and what the hell, guys? I appreciate those who did Retweet, but I couldn't help but think that I could Tweet a GIF of Mega Blue squeezing that Kunekune's nuts and instantly get 2,000 Retweets, but a Tweet that means something and has a goal gets lost in the mix so quickly...?

C'mon. Let's make this happen. Let's get a new release of this. You know you'd watch. Yeah, even you, who pretends to not like Sentai music. Yeah, even you, who thinks you're too cool to participate in a Twitter campaign. Yeah, even you, who thinks a DVD/BD release doesn't matter because you've been able to go see one of these shows live. Let's feel some Super Sentai Spirit, huh?

Let's do this to shut Shougo up! SHOW SOME SUPER SENTAI SPIRIT!

https://twitter.com/changeman30th/status/1015378310791159814

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Turboranger Episode 51


Picking up where we left off, earthquakes are shaking Turbo Builder around, with energies being emitted from beneath it. Dazai realizes that, when he was scouting locations for Turbo Builder, he was using an ancient fairy map, so the location has significance. More than just a super mecha and a new base, the Turbo Builder has now ended up playing an important role acting as a blockade to the Big Seal.

Bouma forces intend to strike the Turbo Builder, Zuruten amongst pilots of a squad of Gaizoku ships. Intent on protecting the Turbo Builder, the five launch missiles at the Bouma ships, Zuruten's ship going down in a fiery explosion. (Umezu lets out a scream of "Neo-Ragon!" before Zuruten crashes, which sounds pretty pathetic. Oh, well, Zuruten did say he wanted to die in battle.) The five transform and decide to take the fight right to Neo-Ragon in the Bouma Castle. They basically kind of teleport, MMPR-style -- they just become streaks of light, corresponding to their colors, traveling from Turbo Builder to the Bouma Castle. I'm just going to flat out say MMPR ripped off of it, man.

I love the way Neo-Ragon's not really caring about their presence. They just stroll into that main throne room and he's not worried or surprised by any of it. "How foolish of you! I'll commend you for showing your faces here, but you think too highly of yourselves if you think you can beat me." It's close quarters, but a fast-paced fight scene, with Kusaka doing great work making Neo-Ragon seem swift, imposing and confident. And, once again, Watabe's doing great voice work, laughing off half of their attacks. And then when an attack sends rubble falling down onto the Turboranger, he just laughs his ass off, saying something like "my throneroom is much too good of a burial ground than the likes of you deserve."

Just then, Yamimaru arrives, still using that ninja-like trick of the Dark Hiding, rendering him untouchable. He manages to get in a couple of good attacks on Neo-Ragon. Poor Kirika's not given a hell of a lot to do this episode; she's at the rocky terrain, getting visions in Kashim's locket of Yamimaru, wincing in pain, reaching out to her. She panics, knowing that if he uses the Dark Hiding technique for too long, he'll die.

Meanwhile, the Turboranger are all still unconscious under a pile of rubble at the Bouma Castle. Back at base, Dazai calls for them, hoping for a reply. Just then, an alarm blares -- the intruder alarm. Dazai and Shiron are both startled and worried. Who could this be? And then the doors to the command center open and there stands...Yamaguchi-sensei!

Back at the Bouma Castle, Yamimaru thinks he has a chance over Neo-Ragon, but Neo-Ragon has a trick of his own, which cancels out Yamimaru's Dark Hiding. Riki and the others are finally coming to, only to find Yamimaru taking a beating. I love the way Watabe says "You're still alive?!" to Riki and the others as they get to their feet. Too many voice actors make it sound like surprise and worry; Watabe makes Neo-Ragon sound kind of casual, like the Turboranger are just too stupid to know better. Suddenly, a surprising voice cuts through on their Turbo Brace. "Do your best, everyone," Yamaguchi encourages. They're all shocked to hear her, of course, the one person they've tried so hard to hide their Turboranger activities from. But it's a voice they NEED to hear, the right one to cheer them on. It's such a nice touch and sentiment and it's probably my favorite part of the episode. "Tomorrow you graduate! I've been searching all over for you to make sure you come! Let's all be there!" I like that they revealed Yamaguchi breaking into the Turbo Builder, but not anything else. They leave if off-screen how she's found out about the situation her students are currently in. Did Dazai fill her in? Did she always just know? (I think she knew.) And she's not chewing them out or complaining; she's encouraging them. She's telling them to not die.

This motivates them. They also remember back to what Dazai said in episode 3, Riki quoting him, about age eighteen being the most beautiful time in life, that holds power. This gets everyone to transform and get back into battle, and while Neo-Ragon still manages to put up a good fight, Red gets in some good licks and hits him with a GT Crash. "If I die, we can all just fall down to Hell," Neo-Ragon says, before knocking out the bottom of the Bouma Castle, sending the Turboranger falling into the air. They're lucky to be caught by Turbo Rugger. In other great news for the Turboranger, Neo-Ragon makes himself giant, charging towards the Turbo Builder so he can access the Big Seal. The Turboranger quickly build the Super Turbo Robo and...manage to defeat Neo-Ragon with the Super Mirage Beam. It's a bit of a letdown, man. Remember when the Super Mirage Beam did NOTHING to Ragon when he became a giant in episode 39? And yet his powered-up form is taken down by it? I get that the episode's running short on time, but...geez. Neo-Ragon calls for the Bouma Castle as he falls, exploding, momentarily leaving the image of a fiery dragon. (Was Ragon dragon-based? Like dRAGON?)

The Bouma Castle, apparently, is set to collide with the Turbo Builder. I guess Neo-Ragon figured that, even if he died, the army of 108 Bouma Beasts would still be a victory. It's kinda weird that his dying plan was to basically repeat Yamimaru and Kirika's "crash the Bouma Castle into the Turbo Builder" plan from 39, isn't it? The Turboranger prepare to combine into the Super Turbo Builder to destroy the castle, but MORE great news. Kirika senses that Yamimaru is still alive, begging them to not destroy the castle just yet. There's a time crunch, as the castle is REALLY close to the Turbo Builder, so the Turboranger risk having the Big Seal undone if they choose to wait for Yamimaru. They all call for Yamimaru, telling him to get the hell outta the Bouma Castle. Yamaguchi, listening in along with Dazai and Shiron back at base, figures out that Yamimaru is Nagareboshi, and calls for him, as well. (Shiron even calls for him.)

Yamimaru regains consciousness, hearing everyone call for him. He thinks of everything they've been through together. "Don't worry, everyone. I'm a man with nothing left to live for. Don't worry, I'll destroy the Bouma Castle." It's looking like he's having one of those "bad guy goes nuts and destroys everything around him" moments, blasting the hell out of the Bouma Castle with his Ryusei Gun. It's obvious he's ready to just die. But what gets him to come to his senses? Red yelling out "Do you really want to leave Tsukikage alone?!" He has tears streaming down his face, thinking of her, and as he calls out her name, the red thread of fate once again shows up and connects the two, pulling Yamimaru from the castle. The two reunite on the ground, turning from Yamimaru and Kirika to Hikaru Nagareboshi and Sayoko Tsukikage. The Turboranger fire the Super Turbo Builder Beam, destroying the castle and subduing the Big Seal. Tanaka's performance here is great, and this piece alone should silence the naysayers who mock his performance. That he actually has a tear run down Yamimaru's face...I can't picture any of the tough guy performers I suggested for the role willing to do that, and it adds so much to the character and scene.

The battle won, we then see the five in their school uniforms, with flowers and diplomas. In the distance is Hikaru and Sayoko, dressed casually. This scene's a little strange, and something that I think is up to interpretation. The two obviously watched the graduation and are on their way, quietly, going unnoticed. But they're seen, and the reformed duo exchange a look and (maybe?) some final words with the heroes. I say "maybe," because the two are either just thinking their dialogue, what they'd like to be saying to the Turboranger, or are communicating to them telepathically. Nagareboshi congratulates them, telling them that he wasn't just saved by the red thread of fate by Sayoko, but by threads they were all connected to. Sayoko tells them that their bonds will never sever and thanks them.

I have to wonder if the Turbo staff were unsure where the Nagare Bouma would stand, so we get this silent/telepathic exchange as the writers debated what would be said. Whatever the reasoning, it's a fascinating choice that I like and think works -- it represents the lonesomeness of the two. There's some distance, and it plays into what outsiders they are, and the general uneasiness that comes from having once been opponents. They're keeping their cool and not overdoing it. They might be buds now, but they ain't going to be dancing in the end credits with the five of 'em, either. I think it would have been hokey and weird for the two to have attended the graduation ceremony and been all smiles and chummy and up close with our heroes. I mean, just imagine a scene like that.

Sayoko bids them farewell. It's also important to note here that Sayoko's not graduating. I guess she did miss a lot of school on account of her evildoing, but... I've always been curious what these two got up to in their post-Turboranger life. There's some spin-off novel adventures there. I picture just a quiet, sad life for those two. I doubt anyone expected Yamimaru to end the show mellowed out, though. Like I said, Sayoko, she was depicted in a way that you were meant to feel sympathetic for her. Yamimaru's always been rough. But these two characters were extremely popular. Yamimaru actor Yoshinori Tanaka has said that Yamimaru wasn't meant to last as long as he did; he was told when he joined the show that the character wasn't going to make it to the end. But he was popular with viewers, so they kept him. And Kirika was also meant to be a short-term character, but the staff liked the way Masako Morishita played her, so they decided to keep her around. For changes made on a whim, I think the show does a good job in making it all work. It doesn't feel forced or unnatural to the story, and it certainly wasn't predictable like it would be nowadays. It flowed and worked well with the themes of the show, of youth and magic and heart.

And the narrator informs us of another farewell: Shiron. She informs everyone that she's joining Rakia in the stars, and will always watch over them all and the planet. They say farewell, with a saddened Haruna saying she'll never forget her. Just then Dazai and Yamaguchi arrive, Dazai bidding farewell, with Yamaguchi wanting a glimpse of Shiron, tugging on his sleeve for him to hand over the Fairy Glasses. Yamaguchi is giddy to see her. Shiron laughs, saying a final farewell, and we see her fly into the sky, joining the constellation that Rakia became way back in episode 3. That's kinda sad, man. Seems like a weird, sad fate for those two, but especially Shiron. Why couldn't she just go off to look for the real Fairy Gate or something? Why couldn't she move in with Haruna, go on a road trip, go to college with her? (That could have been a Fushigi Comedy spin-off!)

Because time is running out, the five decide to just start playing around as the end credits roll. This is only the third time a Sentai show has opted to do a new end credits scene in the finale, rather than just playing the regular one. Turboranger unfortunately decides to use the insert song "Dance Tokimeku Kokoro" to accompany this last credits sequence, which is probably my least favorite song on the soundtrack. Kenta Sato requested for it to be used in the finale and won, and I get why they'd want something a little more wistful for the final episode, but the composition of the song is just goofy to me. The vocals aren't the problem, the music is -- the music sounds to me like some 13 year old in 1984 trying to start up their own Human League cover band using MIDI files they made or something.

I would have liked the classic old "clips from key episodes spliced into the final ending credits sequence" that became the norm, but that's a nitpick. I'm sure people poke fun at the visuals we got, which is the heroes just goofing around, playing leapfrog and chasing each other and stuff. It's meant to be a spontaneous outburst of joy -- joy of victory, joy of graduating. I also mostly look at it as a shorthand for them just having the fun that's had by youngsters, that it's meant to represent the last time they'll all have that kind of innocent fun together, which makes it even more bittersweet. They're happy and victorious and young. Still, I would have liked to have spent just a little more with the hero characters before the wrap-up; we get them saying farewell to Sayoko, Hikaru and Shiron, and it just jumps into the credits...

It's like this episode needed just the 5 extra minutes that mostly all toku shows today take for granted and squander. (Sometimes I feel like a toku should do "super-sized" episodes when needed, running just a few minutes longer than the norm.) They're trying to cover a lot of ground and keep up a tense pace in terms of the action, but we needed much more of a coming-down after all of that than just the very last scene. They try to wrap up the entire show in the same space where an ordinary episode wraps up its plot after the mecha fight, and it goes by just too damn fast. Heck, the credits even seem to cut off before they're finished, like it's racing the clock to the millisecond. Guys, you don't want to get to Fiveman that fast, trust me.

I do like that the episode TRIES to make the final battles seem so big and urgent, but I think another problem is that Turboranger has done so many "big" episodes, with big "final" battles that...look, there's just no way their final battle with Neo-Ragon was going to compare to the Riki VS Ragon showdown of episode 39. That scenario had an entire episode devoted to it, while they have to juggle several other balls than simply a final battle with Neo-Ragon in this episode. So they don't really try to top it, they focus more on the time limit and tension and emotion going into this final battle. And then they devote a lot of time to wrapping up the Nagare Bouma; they're prioritizing these two popular characters and shortchanging our heroes a little in this final adventure.

So...it's a lot they're trying to do here. I still like the episode and find it enjoyable, but I would have liked for them to spend a little more time on those farewells and involve Daichi, Youhei, Shunsuke and Haruna more. We aren't seeing these characters again, so make it count. Make us sorry to see the episode end, to see these characters go. Make us wonder what they're going to do, where they'll be headed. Give us a high-school reunion special! In a perfect world, they'd make a Zigzag Turboranger 30 Year High School Reunion special.
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So, that's Turboranger! I think it's a fun damn show, bringing a lot of new ideas and style to the franchise, filled with one classic Red, likable heroes, and truly memorable, freaky villains. I think it's low reputation is a sad mistake and oversight by viewers, and the show is never given a fair shake. The show has its flaws, but people who criticize it never are willing to give it enough of a chance to judge it for what it does; the criticism against it will always be very superficial. "Fairies are lame! Fairies have nothing to do with cars! The show looks generic, but I haven't even watched it to know if that's the case or not!"

I love the show, and it's in my top 10 of favorite Sentai. I tried to be fair with these reviews, highlighting what I thought made Turboranger cool or interesting or unique, and why it's a worthy installment that everybody ought to check out, while also not shying away from areas where I felt the show was weak. I feel like a lot of Turboranger's weaknesses were borne out of production issues beyond its control. Film and television production is tricky, there are so many variables involved. The writer could have everything they want to do planned out, written ahead of time, everything that they want to do with the show figured out -- but if you're not given the budget, or if there's a problem with a performer, or staff members are coming in and out, or the censors are on your ass, well...those are just a few examples of how something can get away from a writer, how quickly and easily something can change.

I've gone into detail about this across these various posts, but here's my viewpoint in one chunk:

Turboranger didn't look like it had a great budget; tokus are low-budget, and this was low-budget for an already low-budget production. And then take into account how there seemed to be a push to lighten toku shows in the late '80s. Throw in casting that maybe didn't best live up to the idea the writer had. (Ganaha as Daichi, for example.) Add to that a performer who's uncomfortable with their outfit and maybe wants to leave the show. (Masashi Ishibashi.) You don't even need to have production issues to change writing -- a writer has the choice to change their mind about something. (As in: Yamimaru and Kirika weren't meant to be permanent additions, but their popularity changed initial plans, and it's something that worked out to the show's advantage.)

There are so many things going into making a show or movie. So many things that can change it or derail it. Sometimes, you gotta sit back and marvel that there are ANY good shows or movies out there. Some shows can't recover from any of the problems thrown their way. Some shows barely scrape by, and some shows use their imagination to have things work to their advantage.

I don't think any of the production issues that came up on Turboranger derailed the show or made it unsalvageable. Turboranger doesn't get the credit it deserves for introducing new things to the franchise, things that would greatly benefit it and its survival into the 1990s. I brought up instances of the show introducing an idea and not dwelling on it or quickly brushing it aside -- for example, the idea of the humans gaining a power similar to fairy magic or the way that magic was returning to the world -- they were interesting ideas that would have helped make the show's world bigger if developed further, but...was it absolutely necessary for the show to delve deeply into it? At what point would it begin to get too far away from the show's main goal? Isn't the introduction of those ideas good enough?

Sometimes, I like a show or movie to provide little details like that, mention of unexplored corners of the show's world, enough to get your imagination working and creating those details yourself. And I find that's what Turboranger does. It will present to you enough of an idea to let your imagination take over. Does it make it weak? Not in my opinion. There's the possibility that what you picture is better than what would have ended up had the show gone down those roads. I like for a show to be as complete and planned out and meticulous as it can be, but I also like when there's room for things left to your imagination or layers or various ways of interpreting it. I think there's still value in those kinds of stories, something to still be had and enjoyed even if every "i" isn't perfectly dotted.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Turboranger Episode 50


Zuruten thinks he's finally tracked down the site of the Big Seal, and sure enough, after a massive earthquake, the Mark of Bouma appears over the location. With a humongous explosion, a Bouma-Beast then appears...and a puzzled Zuruten is all "What's this? Where the hell are the others?!" Sorry, Zuruten, your Big Seal is in another location, because this was just the location of Bouma-Beast Seal Bouma, a big and powerful Bouma that has the ability to seal AND break seals, who vows to break the Big Seal himself. When the Bouma Castle scoops them all up, Neo-Ragon reveals that, to undo the Big Seal, a sacrifice is needed. He gives Seal Bouma an orb to be used in the ritual, which will suck out the life of the sacrifices.  When Seal Bouma asks what to sacrifice, a laughing Neo-Ragon tells him the sacrifice shall be ones who are neither human nor Bouma...

Later, Kirika's attending to Riki's wounds, as the others are all trying to recover from that earlier dust-up. Riki gives Kashim's locket to her. In just moments, Yamimaru appears, ready to take them on once more, Kirika's pleas to end his violence and hatred only further upsetting him, to the point where he backhands her. (It's a bit shocking, a little unlike Yamimaru -- who told Kirika in his dream that he's not some low-life who would cut a woman's face -- and conveys how hurt he is by Kirika abandoning him.) Before anything else happens, Zuruten and Bouma troops appear, Zuruten letting it known that he's after Yamimaru and Kirika, that they're to be sacrificed. Seal Bouma blasts his unique attack at them, which results in them being bound in chains, sealed with a plaque bearing the Mark of Bouma. Dragras appears to haul them away. The Turboranger transform to try to stop them, but are also bound by Seal Bouma's attack, Zuruten paying them no further attention.

Bound in chains, Kirika and Yamimaru are also crucified, set near a pyre. Kirika uses this time to try to get through to Yamimaru, echoing a lot of what Riki said to her in the previous episode. (Her point here is that they're being sacrificed by Neo-Ragon because of the Nagare Bouma representing a love that was thought impossible, that they're a rare and beautiful result of that love.) Yamimaru remains his pessimistic self, telling her that it's hate that's kept him alive and given him power for 20,000 years, not love, and that he's seen any other way fail. Kirika's in disbelief at his words. Meanwhile, the Turboranger -- untransformed, but still in chains -- are making their way to the site of the ritual. And they are having a tough time of it, weighed down by the chains. Riki vows not to let Kirika be killed...

They eventually make their way there and are subject to an attack by Seal Bouma. Riki jumps from the mountaintop they're on, runs on Ura shoulders (a move I've seen numerous times in Sonny Chiba ninja movies!), makes his way near Seal Bouma, karate-kicks the mystical orb, which ruins the ritual, busts Seal Bouma's seals, finally resulting in the chains falling off and freeing the seven. They make mincemeat out of Seal Bouma and Zuruten enlarges him, but things don't go the way they usually do here...

As they rush to make their way to Rugger Fighter, Yamimaru holds Red Turbo back, challenging him to a duel. Black Turbo leads the others to Rugger Fighter, where they transform into Turbo Rugger to fight the giant Seal Bouma. So, we get one of the earliest attempts of the franchise of having a ground battle taking place at the same time as a giant battle, and it's awesome. You've got a good villain like Yamimaru, you've got a great Red like Riki and you've got the awesome Kazuo Niibori in-suit as Red Turbo, so you've gotta have a cool final villain fight, man. Liveman disappointed in that area, as I've mentioned. (How, how, HOW do you botch it so bad by not having a final Niibori VS Hirose duel!?!?)

The fight's pretty dang cool, and I'm not talking about the mecha fight, who cares about that -- I'm talking about the Red VS Yamimaru showdown. Kirika warns Yamimaru that he's one of only two Nagare Bouma left in the world. He scoffs. "That means you think *I'm* the one who's going to lose here." There's cool sword moves, there's Red's yanking Yamimaru by the foot to bring him down a mountain he's falling off of, there's Kirika nervously watching, not wanting either one of them to lose, die or even just be hurt.

And despite just earlier taking orders from Neo-Ragon to capture Yamimaru and Kirika, Dragras senses Yamimaru's battle at the Bouma Castle and flies away, swooping down to attack Red. (As Yamimaru notes, the Dragras IS supposed to be a guardian of the Nagare Bouma, after all.) When Neo-Ragon growls curses at the giant beast for betraying him, Dragras turns his attention to a suicide attack on the giant Seal Bouma, which frees the chained Turbo Rugger and buys it the time it needs to win. (Before Seal Bouma explodes, he plants his key-shaped staff into the ground, which burns itself underground, towards the Big Seal, causing another massive earthquake.)

Red notes Dragras' sacrificing itself for Yamimaru, asking him why doesn't he care for his own life. Yamimaru continues to fight, a couple of bad blows exchange between the two, ending in one of the classic old chambara stand-offs, waiting to see which warrior succumbs to injury or death first. And it's...Yamimaru's sword that falls, blood running from his mouth as he falls to his knees. Yamimaru asks Red why he doesn't deliver the fatal jab. Red tells him his death would kill Kirika with sorrow, that she AND him believe in him, and basically that he needs to get his priorities straight to realize what's really important in the world...

Kirika silently thanks Red, while Yamimaru replies by laughing his ass off, calling Red a fool and saying that he'll regret this show of mercy. He then performs a ninja-like move called the Dark Hiding, vanishing before the two, leaving Kirika in a panic. (We'll learn that Yamimaru risks his life to use the move.) The episode ends with the massive earthquakes hitting Turbo Builder hard, with Dazai realizing that the Big Seal just might be located beneath the Turbo Builder itself...! A crazy little twist, but a suspenseful cliffhanger leading into the final episode.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Turboranger Episode 49


I love the intro of this episode, how it's filmed; just a quiet scene as Kirika approaches Kashim's memorial, the way she stops herself from praying as soon as she senses Yamimaru watching her from afar. The episode's title comes up in a striking red-colored font.

The Turboranger are chilling one evening when they notice the stars of Rakia fading, with the Mark of Bouma appearing over the constellation. This understandably concerns them and Shiron, who notes it's a bad sign of something stirring up. It might have a little something to do with Neo-Ragon performing ancient rituals at the Bouma Castle, trying to locate the Big Seal -- an area where 108 Bouma-Beasts are sealed together. Dazai tells the Turboranger that the Big Seal was hidden so deeply, nobody knows its exact location. Shiron tells them that it's begun to rumble and possibly break because the Earth continues to be polluted. (Even though people have begun to change the way they treat the environment, the Earth won't just suddenly repair itself, says Haruna.) "And that's why we need you guys!" Dazai tells the team. "Right now, the Earth is healing its wounded body. And while it's weak, you must protect it!"

Meanwhile, Zuruten's zipping all over Japan, trying to track down the Big Seal. When the Turboranger set out to stop him, they're interrupted by the Nagare Bouma. Riki again tries to get through to the two, talking of Kashim and his wife's hope for the Nagare Bouma to become a bridge between humans and Bouma, with only Kirika showing signs of cracking. I like the exchange between Riki and Yamimaru here. Yamimaru says "For 20,000 years I've put up with wounds and pain caused by humans and Bouma. That pain lessens and disappears only with bloodshed!" Riki replies that it doesn't have to be that way, they can all just get along and live happily. Yamimaru laughs his ass off. "Are you telling me to love humans? Bouma? There's only one person I love. And we're going to build a kingdom ruling over the worlds of both humans and Bouma."

Ordinarily, if a villain says something vague like there's only "one person" they love, you kinda assume they're talking about themselves. Here, they cut to a surprised Kirika when Yamimaru says that, which pretty much confirms what fans only theorized. He then masks himself and attacks them, eventually talking Kirika into attacking, as well. However, tremors caused by the weakening Big Seal lead to an explosion which breaks the fight apart, with Riki taking the injured Kirika to a remote, safer location.

As I said, Kirika's shown signs of cracking in this episode. First, by trying to say farewell to Kashim. And then she hesitates as Yamimaru's attempting to make his trusty old spider, Yamikumo, into a Bouma-Beast. Now, weakened and bleeding, she asks Riki why he's taken her. He tells her that she's important; her veins flow with the blood of a human who loved a Bouma, and a Bouma who loved a human. She's the result of beings who saw past hate and opted for love, that she's a beautiful symbol and representation of all that her parents wanted, conveying their message from 20,000 years ago. This breaks through to Kirika, to the point when Yamimaru arrives and he orders her to attack, she doesn't. He fights with Riki, preparing to destroy the locket that's caused so much doubt and hesitation on Kirika's part, only for her to throw herself between Yamimaru's blade and the pendant-wearing Riki. Her hands clasp the sword, bleeding, as she cries and apologizes to Yamimaru. He looks shocked and upset, then turns his back on her. "Even though I'm alone, I'll fight," he replies, before ordering Yamikumo Bouma to attack, as the other Turboranger arrive just in time. (I like how Yamikumo Bouma pulls Red Turbo into a different dimension to fight.)

The episode ends with the Bouma still hunting the location of the Big Seal, with the heroes desperate to stop them. Meanwhile, Kirika sadly looks on as Yamimaru walks alone, fearing what his next move may be.

It's funny, I usually complain about villain redemption arcs, but it works here with the Nagare Bouma. At least more so than it worked in Liveman, I'll say. (Only Obular and MAYBE Ashura's redemptions work for me. But Mazenda? KEMP?! No way.) But these two were such good villains, that it's a shame to lose them as villains in these final few episodes, you know? That's a big threat eliminated, and I think that's probably the main reason they kept the possibility of bringing Ragon back. Neo-Ragon pops up in episode 46, when the show's practically over! I think they were setting the redemption storylines up and were like "Shit! Who's the Turboranger gonna be fighting in the finale then?!"

Villains turning good not only runs the risk of making a villain look foolish or indecisive or not threatening, but there's many times where these scenarios can make the heroic characters look bad, too. Sometimes they can come across as wishy-washy goofs or really naive or unbelievably good or too trusting. I talked about how the Liveman started to look like chumps in those later episodes for letting their psychotic friends off the hook. But this works here, especially homing in on Riki and Kirika and going back to that first episode of hers, where he felt bad for her and showed he genuinely cared about her, and he knew she was a good person and wanted to appeal to that side of her when Yamimaru was swaying her, and the fact that she really, really liked Riki.

So there's that part of Riki who had always wanted to help Sayoko, but a big motivation for him here is honoring Kashim's dying request. Riki isn't some pushover who suddenly becomes some big supporter of Bouma rights or anything, but he felt bad for the old man. He knows that the sentiment of unification meant something to him, and that he wanted Kirika to understand, so he will try to get her to understand the unique situation of her parents. Even though Riki had that line about cutting ties with Sayoko in 32, he's still known Sayoko as a classmate, so he has to care for her on some level. But in a similar way to how he pushed aside his anger at Yamimaru for Yamaguchi's sake in 22, he's going to dedicate himself to helping Kirika for Kashim's sake. (And will do so with Yamimaru for Kirika's sake in the next episode.)

Now for some complaints, though. Mainly that, when we're shown the army of hell that the Big Seal is holding back, that are ready to march if the Big Seal breaks, it's a big reunion of old Bouma-Beast suits. But smack dab in the middle of this crowd is the Ragon suit. What the hell is that doing there? Now, I know they made this show not thinking anybody was going to be watching it 30 years later and poring over it, but it's soooooo easily noticeable. Why include the instantly recognizable suit of your head villain in the first place? Is it just supposed to be some other creature in the Ragon family? It's distracting.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Turboranger Episode 48


I love the crazy way this episode begins, with Nagareboshi and Sayoko both out on a mountaintop in darkness, getting drenched in a massive storm, calling to the sky to hit them with lightning in hopes of regaining their powers. When Riki and the others try to stop them from this madness, Nagareboshi reasons that if the Turboranger could regain their power by being pushed to their limits and while under duress, they should be able to achieve the same. They're only stopped by the arrival of Kashim, who's able to make the storm disappear and the sky turn blue.

Kashim tries to tell the two Nagare Bouma that their true forms are as Nagareboshi and Sayoko, that the Nagare Bouma should be a symbol of peace, not battle. Nagareboshi thinks he's crazy, but he commands all seven of them to listen to him as he reveals the truth about the Nagare Bouma. (And, boy, is it some crazy Clive Barker-y stuff.) He tells them of the ancient times, of the humans and fairies uniting to fight the Bouma. He says there was once a beautiful woman who helped a wounded Bouma-Beast, Devil Mask Bouma, who's described as the most brutal Bouma-Beast. This act of kindness touched the monster, who realized this human truly cared, despite who or what he was. Because of this, she was shunned by other humans, so she and the Bouma-Beast moved deep into the forest together, eventually falling in love and having a kid, the first Nagare Bouma. "The two prayed that this child would grow up to be kind, with a heart as deep as the sea." He tells them that Devil Mask Bouma and the beautiful woman hoped the Nagare Bouma would be something that united humans and Bouma.

Nagareboshi doesn't want to hear it, resuming his call to the sky to strike him with lightning. It's at once hilarious, yet so cruel that Neo-Ragon hears his request at the Bouma Castle and is like "So you want to transform? OK, you'll transform." He sends a kind of parasitic webbing down to the Earth, which clings to Nagareboshi and transforms him into Bouma-Beast Gomugomu Bouma. The idea reminds me of that Space Beast Soldier in Changeman whose true form was netting, but he'd gather rocks within that netting and make a monstrous form. Like, Neo-Ragon takes this seemingly-living slimy webbing and makes a Bouma-Beast out of it when it's combined with someone.

Gomugomu Bouma (who mainly just growls, but it sounds like Yoshinori Tanaka and not just a random seiyuu, which is a nice addition) beats the heck outta the Turboranger, even spitting ooze which eats through the Turbo Suits. Sayoko tries to reach through to Hikaru, but can't, Kashim even taking an attack for her. (Sayoko refers to Hikaru as her only friend in the world.) Eventually, Gomugomu Bouma fires a webbing at Sayoko, but before she can mutate, a panicked Kashim fires a beam from the locket he wears at her, which dissolves the webbing. He then fires it at the Bouma-Beast, who reverts to Nagareboshi. Pissed off at this turn of events, Neo-Ragon sends down an energy bolt to blast the two Nagare Bouma to smithereens, only to discover...it was the answer to their prayers from the beginning of the episode, as the bolt recharged their powers and they transform into Kirika and Yamimaru once again. (Which pisses off Neo-Ragon, shocks the Turboranger and worries Kashim.)

Yamimaru sends the parasitic webbing Zuruten's way, and he becomes the Gomugomu Bouma. (And you can tell it's Hideyuki Umezu providing the voice this time. Again, nice detail.) As the two charge into battle, Kashim grabs Yamimaru's leg, repeating his belief about peace, Yamimaru responding with a kick that sends the old man falling off a cliff. He lies at the bottom, weak, injured, as Riki and the others race to him. Kashim becomes a Bouma Beast and they discover that Kashim wasn't a Nagare Bouma, but is actually Devil Mask Bouma. The story he told them was about himself, and the woman in the story -- we saw in the flashbacks, whose picture is in his locket -- is a dead ringer for Sayoko. She's Kirika's mom and Kashim is her dad, who hid the truth from her because he didn't want to upset her. His dying request is for the Turboranger to save Sayoko, make her understand the true heart of the Nagare Bouma, to help both of them. He hands the locket to Riki and vanishes.

Riki and the others confront the two Nagare Bouma, who are fighting the Uras and Gomugomu Bouma. Riki shows her the locket and tells her the truth, that Kashim was her father. She doesn't want to believe it, but thinks it helps explain why he put himself in danger for her. But she sticks with Yamimaru, wanting to uphold their promise to one another, and continues to fight instead. (If you're worried about Zuruten, and think this is his time, don't worry. After a blast from the Turboranger, Zuruten is able to separate himself from the webbing, absentmindedly tossing it aside for an Ura to receive. This also reminds me of a moment from Changeman, when Shiima pulled herself out of the Space Beast Soldier Zuune, and it absorbed Hidora soldiers instead.)

The episode ends with the five placing Kashim's staff on a sandy seashore as a grave marker, placing flowers there, praying for him, and promising to get through to Yamimaru and Kirika, as his words echo: "The two prayed that this child would grow up to be kind, with a heart as deep as the sea."

I like this episode, I think it's good and well made, but...the retcon-y nature of it always bugged me. (I think I'd also rather have the Nagare Bouma be mysterious; explaining their origin and having Kirika be so important -- if Kashim was telling the truth, that makes her the FIRST Nagare Bouma! -- it takes away some of their mystique.) We were led to believe in her debut episode, in episode 31, that those skull monsters were Sayoko's parents. OK, so you're changing that, Writer, but...you aren't going to bring them up at all, you aren't going to find a way to work them into this retcon? Now how are we to make sense of this storyline, then? So when exactly did they enter the picture? How did Omamori Bouma become involved? Shouldn't we be shown how they came into guardianship of Kirika? Did Kashim hand her over, or did he just abandon Sayoko, only for her to be found by Bouma, Bouma who then raise his daughter in a way that goes against everything he said he and her mother wanted of her? That would make Kashim seem like an ass or a liar or a fool, then. That's a BIG change to Sayoko's story that really, really needs addressed, but it isn't. At all! It seems careless of Soda to leave this hanging.

There's a lot of times Turboranger will simply infer or imply something, or will give you enough details to fill in the blanks yourself, but not here. There's just too many questions raised. Kirika's been with the show such a short period of time, it's strange to shoehorn in this development as if nobody would remember her introduction. And it's a massive, crucial piece to one of our regular character's history to alter and pave over like this. I really liked the set-up shown in Sayoko's debut episode and found it more interesting than this sudden turn with Kashim and his talks of peace; I thought the skull monsters were more unsettling and cooler, and Omamori Bouma was a fascinating addition.

So it sucks to just gloss over all of that great material to make this change, which is the beginning of an important redemption arc for these two popular villain characters, but SOMEthing of an explanation would have gone a long way. (I have to wonder if Kashim was going to end up being Yamimaru's dad, but Soda realized that Kirika was more sympathetic, and that you wouldn't necessarily buy Yamimaru changing so suddently. If Yamimaru was given this story and was to be affected by Kashim, it would take away a lot of the conflict in these final episodes by removing Yamimaru as a threat to the Turboranger.)

While Turboranger's one of my favorites, at the same time I recognize it as the beginning of Hirohisa Soda's burnout, because he wouldn't ordinarily leave inconsistencies like this hanging. And on top of that, I think there have been reasons beyond his control which affect his writing for this show -- the way the show evolved, the transition it had to make after getting rid of the old villains, budget issues, there's a time-slot change, there's changing plans because of certain characters' popularity and so on. I also think you can just look at late '80s toku shows and realize there was a crackdown to lighten them. (Look at how Black and Liveman softened their narrative; look how kid-friendly shows like RX, Jiraiya and Jiban are.)

Anyway, Soda would usually have written a little something to address all this. We would have gotten a little scene or even just a line about the skull monsters finding Sayoko or kidnapping Sayoko or Kashim handing her over to them before being sealed or SOMETHING. An explanation of SOME kind. Why not just dialogue to tie this together? It's not expensive to just SAY something. Just even, like, there was an attack, Kirika's mom died, Devil Mask Bouma was blasted away, and then baby Kirika was found by a Belgian skull monster and his fifteen year-old love slave, who were looting the accident scene, and they raised her to be evil. You know, that old chestnut. Kashim wanted to reach out sooner, but those Belgians made her too damn evil.

There's really no way to make the scenario work tidily, on your own, with what's been presented. If Kashim was hiding out in the forest with Kirika's mom, are we to assume he never was sealed? If he was sealed, I could buy that maybe Kirika would have ended up in the hands of others. But since it doesn't seem like he was, just how did she end up with those other guys? What the hell's Kashim been doing for 20,000 years? If he was never sealed and has just been wandering Japan for 20,000 years, you'd think he would have been able to track down Sayoko well before he did and stopped her before Yamimaru and her awakening powers brought out the worst in her. If he WAS sealed, then who unsealed him? WHY NO EXPLANATION? It just doesn't add up. You mean to tell me they could haul the skull monster suits out for a tiny flashback in episode 41, but not again here? Bah!

I know I've devoted too much time to this, but it's just something that's always bugged me, and I don't think I've seen anyone question this turn. I mean, it's not a deal-breaker. These episodes are still good and still manage to work, even if the inconsistencies nag at you. I call it a plothole on this Seishun Road.