Friday, December 21, 2012

Wishful Casting: Kamen Rider Skull Edition


Kamen Rider Double was the first Rider show I enjoyed since Ryuki. Although I felt it was very candy-coated -- not all very Ridery -- it was fun, enjoyable, and not as offensive as a lot of the Rider shows right before it were. I think it could have easily been a little darker, taken itself more seriously AND been more Ridery, but Double had the misfortune of being in a post-Den-O world. God, imagine how cool this show could be if it treated its noir elements and hard-boiled setting seriously!

Right at the top of the show, they make a mystery out of who Shotaro's superior, Soukichi Narumi could be. We just see a Fake Shemp from behind, but of course it got you wondering who'd they possibly cast. (I was sure it would be someone like Hiroshi Miyauchi. Yeah, maybe he's a little too old to have a daughter as young as Akiko, but this is television, dammit!)

Narumi is such a cool role -- the mentor of Shotaro; the private detective who IS hard-boiled, who knows his stuff, who was cleaning up the streets of Fuuto before Shotaro was born, the one who Shotaro tries his damnedest to be, but can only imitate. I like Soukichi/Skull so much, that I think it would have been cool if they gave him a short-run, 12-episode series featuring just his adventures. I think there's a lot of cool possibilities for stories for him -- a true hard-boiled Kamen Rider that could be all noirish and awesome. Soukichi's the rare older hero in a toku, so they could have cast just about anybody, and they end up casting...Koji Kikkawa. That goofy guy who made an ass out of himself in music videos as the less-cool half of Complex in the late '80s? Well, that was disappointing to find out. But Kikkawa did end up surprising me, I was shocked at how well he played the role, and how believable he was as the cool, stoic, hard-boiled dude.

But, still. I always like seeing former toku people return. Once they cast Kikkawa, it hit me -- if they were going for someone who would make sense, age-wise, to father Akiko, someone from the '80s who inspired all of Shotaro's '80s-ish outfits, and ended up casting an '80s singer...wouldn't it have been cool if it was Daisuke Shima!?! Shima's gotten a kind of world-weary and sorrowful look to him as he's gotten older, and I think he could have made a pretty cool hard-boiled character. Add to that some coincidences like Shima releasing a few singles like in the '80s with titles like "Hardboiled Romance," that were meant to evoke noir-ish elements, and that, in the next to last episode of Double, Shotaro has a line that mentions "otoko no kunsho" -- which also happened to be the title of Shima's first hit song from '82. I seem to recall a couple of other coincidences, which at the time made me wonder if they WERE considering casting Shima (and the whole weight issue reared its head), but they've slipped my mind. Anyway, I think Shima would have been a cool Narumi. It would have been interesting to hear him sing "Nobody's Perfect," but the paradox is since Kikkawa composed that song, it wouldn't have been the same song...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Crazy Gokaiger Treasure


Saw this on eBay -- the Gashapon Ranger Key of Miss America -- complete with the peeling sticker action typical of the Gashapon Keys -- is apparently so sought after that there was a bidding war, with the final price being one-hundred smackeroos. I know this was the rare one of that particular release's line-up, but it's still nucking futs! Luka Millfy would have had no problem selling the actual Key for that price in the show. (Probably for even lesser than that.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaoranger VS Super Sentai is Awesome -- Screw the Haters!


It's the middle of 2001, and I'm checking out Yahoo! Japan Auctions for Sentai stuff. Suddenly, I see an image -- a poster -- featuring an awesome illustration of Gao Red and all of the previous Sentai Reds. The bottom of the poster reads: "Hyaku-juu Sentai Gaoranger VS Super Sentai." I immediately search the net for what this could be -- are they bringing back every Red!?! How many old actors are going to do this movie!?! Jill's Sentai Page eventually got the info from all of those TV Magazine scans -- it's a special mid-year versus movie, with older Sentai characters, like...that '70s dude, Miku from Megaranger, the Gingaman guy, the crackhead from GoGoFive, yeah, yeah, newbies to appeal to the kids, where's someone super cool...wait, is that... HOLY SHIT! RED FALCON! Red freaking Falcon! Daisuke Shima, back in his Miami Vice knock-off look and all! It was official: this movie would be my movie-event obsession until its release.

It hit rental in August, but wasn't easy to find until it was released for sale a month later. It felt like a long wait, and you have to remember -- in 2001, downloads weren't so easy to come by. There were still more people on dial-up than high-speed, so even IF the movie was up somewhere, it was difficult to download stuff when not only would it take a while to load, but you could easily be bounced offline. You had to wait for one of the toku VHS sellers to get in the new stuff, and those guys take too damn long, especially when you're impatient and anticipating a movie like this.

In 2000 and 2001, I wasn't in much of a toku frame of mind. I couldn't get into Timeranger, I wasn't into Kamen Rider at the time, I didn't like Gaoranger when it started, so I didn't do much toku watching then. But Gaoranger VS Super Sentai got me back into it, head-on. At the time, I hadn't ventured too far out of my toku comfort zone -- more specifically, I hadn't watched much of the older stuff. The first toku I saw was Changeman, so anything that came before '85 seemed pretty different and weird to me. I hadn't seen any of the Sentai shows from the '70s, period. But not only did the clips in the movie get me more interested in checking out the older Sentai, but Hiroshi Miyauchi got me interested in checking out a lot more than just Sentai...

Miyauchi in this movie is gold. He's charismatic and FUN as Banba/Big One, and I still have no idea who plays Big One in-suit, but they really make him larger-than-life and kick-ass in order to match Miyauchi. Other than seeing some Ohranger, I didn't really know Miyauchi, but I enjoyed him so much in this movie that it got me to check out not only V3, which started to open the Kamen Rider door for me, but (more importantly) Zubat. If I thought Banba was fun in this movie, Hayakawa is twelve times better. Which is good, because as I've said before, Banba's kind of a bummer in his actual series -- he hogs the show and isn't quite the same way as he is in this movie. In JAKQ, he's a sore-thumb goofball who represents the severe lightening of the show's tone; by Gaoranger VS Super Sentai, the man Miyauchi had pretty much become the legend Miyauchi, who wasn't unlike Hayakawa (Miyauchi's favorite role), and the Banba here is more of a melting of his roles.

The entertaining Hiroshi Miyauchi, who obviously had a blast in this movie.

The most common complaint about this movie is the heavy use of old clips. It's important to keep in mind when this movie came out: Toei Channel didn't exist yet, so reruns were rare, and Toei only started releasing DVDs with Gaoranger. (Also, like I said, downloading episodes wasn't really a thing at the time.) Some of the older shows from the '70s and early '80s had an official release on VHS or Laserdisc, but it usually wasn't the entire series, but an assortment of key episodes or fan favorites. And the entire Bioman through Liveman run had NO official VHS or Laserdisc release..! So, seeing some of these older clips was a little more special at the time, because a lot of these shows hadn't been seen for a while, or in as nice of quality. Also special was how the movie made use of a variety of old background music tracks and insert songs. (I still love the segment set to Kenta Satou's Turboranger song "Kokoro yo Shinayaka ni Mae!") You gotta love Toshihiko Sahashi's excellent Gingaman BGM being used in scenes such as the big old Red pose-a-thon at the end.

Does the movie's script leave something to be desired? Sure. I find the movie's main villain to be pretty dull -- although it's cool they brought back longtime villain voice actor Shozo Iizuka -- and it's cheap to have the Dream Team facing off against some of Gaoranger's poorer monsters of the week. But, dammit, this movie was treading new ground. Kamen Riders or Ultramen may have teamed up in previous shows, but it was expected, because a lot of those shows shared the same universe and were sequels. Gaoranger VS Super Sentai was the first to flip the bird to continuity and series logic and just wanted to have fun and bring in multi-generational characters who had no business being together, but, dammit, wasn't it fun to see them together? Liveman never had its own theatrical movie, there weren't versus movies at the time -- who would have thought you'd ever see Red Falcon kicking ass again outside of his series?

They're here to kick ass and chew Fujiya Milky -- and they're all out of Milky.

I thought the idea of the movie was decent enough -- three of the five Gaoranger lose their courage and are taught by three older heroes to regain it. There's something a lot more satisfying about Kai/Gao Blue learning Daimon/Go Yellow's milk tornado attack and doing it himself than it is having the Gokaiger just ace every older Sentai heroes' moves because they have the Keys. (How DID the Gokaiger know how to use those powers, man? They didn't need Gai, they apparently knew everything about Sentai already!) It's nice how they try to incorporate certain things into the movie -- Banba's speech, using his love for the rose as a metaphor for how the other colors make the Red what they are; doing things like matching up the "strong guy" or "sword fighter" heroes -- but moments like these are kind of brief, the movie instead choosing to focus on lengthy scenes of Kakeru/Gao Red defeating monsters he's already defeated, who later go on to be defeated ONCE MORE by the Dream Team. The movie's heart is in the right place, the ideas are there, the ambition is there, but you can sense that Toei's still just a little too scared to let loose, and that Gaoranger was just too cheap of a production; so it falls into familiar Versus movie traps.

But then there are bits in the movie that are just fantastic, like all of Yuusuke's bits. I was so into Liveman in the late '90s, when I got back into toku, that had this movie been released then? I probably would have considered swimming to Japan to see it. But they really put care into the Liveman scenes in this movie, using old locations, digging out the awesome Tatsumi Yano background music, and even getting little details like the dates Kenji and Senda were supposed to have died correct (1989, as the Liveman series was wrapping up). We see Yuusuke paying his respects to his friends, flipping out when Yabaiba steps on a grave. My first reaction to seeing Red Falcon fight Yabaiba was "Wow! This suit actor really studied Liveman, because he's moving just like how Falcon did in the show." So, imagine my surprise when the credits come up and I saw Kazuo Niibori's name. I had no idea he would have come out of ten years of retirement to do a movie like this, and it was AWESOME, and added so much and was just as big of a deal and important as Daisuke Shima returning to the Yuusuke role, in my opinion. Also, the movie solves something I had wondered about Liveman -- in the final episodes, Gou Omura is gunned down by Guardnoid Gash, but they never answer whether he lived or died. (He was in pretty bad shape.) Well, since he doesn't have a gravestone here, Gou apparently lived. (Good thing, dammit!) And I love that they play the Liveman opening theme during the Dream Team's fight.


Daisuke Shima and original suit-actor Kazuo Niibori return to the role of Falcon.

The movie's not perfect, but I think its flaws should be forgiven, considering just what a new idea it was. Toei still hasn't made the perfect crossover in my opinion, but this tried its damnedest, and has one of the better mixes of old and new heroes. (If this was done in the Superhero Taisen way, Big One and Red Falcon would just be voice-actors and it would only focus on Gaoranger.) It's a light and fun movie courtesy of nostalgist director Noboru Takemoto and writer Masanao Akahoshi, who would later go on to greater acclaim for being the main writer of Ultraman Mebius, the anniversary entry for that franchise. Not only do I like it for its entertainment, but it's an important movie to me for getting me interested in all sorts of shows. (It's also the first R2 DVD I owned -- I received it as a Christmas present, in addition to the poster I mentioned above.) And it's still a damn sight better than Boukenger VS Super Sentai.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Westward, Ultra Seven!


Shout! Factory's Ultra Seven DVD set was recently released and I just got my copy. I'm not much of an Ultra-fan, but I like the Showa shows, and especially Ultra Seven -- it has a great, likable cast, an Ultra hero you can really root for and care about, some damn neat-o sci-fi stories, and some great, great atmospheric and inventive direction. I feel like I haven't really seen this show from start to finish -- I watched it REALLY out of order, in varying degrees of picture quality, often needing the TNT dubbed version because of originals being hard to find -- so I'm excited to watch the full thing, in its uncut, original form, in satisfying video quality. (OK, I'll still need to haul out a TNT episode -- for the infamous banned episode 12. I never really understood the hatred for the Cinar/TNT dub, other than the editing footage for time and/or violence. They'd put in a few more jokes, but they kept most of the plot and dialogue close to the original show -- it's not like they were making fart jokes or mocking the show like Night Flight's Dynaman. And the voice actors all fit the characters so well that they captured those characters and gave them life, which is really uncommon for a dub to go to such lengths. The TNT dub was my first exposure to this show, and I might not be an Ultra Seven fan without it.)

Some reviewers have put down this set for "poor" picture quality, and I was nervous by the case's declaration that the picture is "from the best available source from the licensor" (which sounds like code for "we didn't get this from Tsuburaya" to me), but I think the picture quality is fine. No, it's not up to par with Tsuburaya's R2 release (which has picture so crisp and purdy that it manages to look awesome on even a crappy VCD), but it's still pretty good for a 45-year-old, foreign genre show. I'm assuming the source was probably an old LD release, but I could be wrong. I think it was a mistake to cram eight episodes onto one disc each, which I think is the reason for the quality drop, however.

It's a nice set of a classic, classic tokusatsu series, at a decent price, easily available in America. If Tsuburaya can manage to get out their own sets using their R2 transfers with extras, that would be great, but for now...I think people should enjoy this show. I recommend checking it out.

By the way, if you buy this set directly from Shout! Factory online, it comes with a freebie -- a cool, very-'60s looking poster.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sentai Suits Are Strong, and Made of Metal

If you're a Sentai fan, you've probably dealt with jokesters making comments about the spandex used to make a majority of the Sentai teams' suits and mocking them. "OMG, how is spandex supposed to protect the heroes, LOL!!!!!!!!!" Well, if you bother to watch the good shows, you find out that the writers came up with their own Toku-Science for this: the suits are obviously meant to have cybernetic or metallic elements or something like that. Duh. Here's a picture of what the Changeman suits are meant to look like underneath it all:


(This book also explained that the Power Bazooka components are summoned from the little box that's on the left side of the belt.)

There's also many instances where the suits, when taking severe hits in violent battles, will start to have the metallic elements emerge:


I always thought this was a cool little touch made by the show creators. All it takes is a little imagination, sucka!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Confessions of a Sentai Snob


My family left Japan in mid '88, only a dozen of episodes into Liveman. I was really into Liveman, so I was really bummed to leave the show like that. I loved the Live Robo and didn't get a chance to buy the toy! So, Liveman and the toku I watched was briefly on my mind when my family got back to the States, but I didn't really pay much attention to it. I had a lot of the episodes on tape, I had a lot of the battered toys lying around in boxes, but I had no idea that Sentai and toku would come back into play for me. Who at the time knew the crazy internet would come along, and not only could I find out about the shows that aired after we left Japan, but the shows that aired before the ones I watched, and actually get to WATCH them? Buy their toys and music? Actually get to finish Liveman?!? Sometimes I just sit back and think of how crazy that all is.

But, before that, before getting on the internet, there was an ad my family saw. Five heroes in colored suits. A giant robot. That crazy woman from Spielban. Hey, this looks like that stuff we watched in Japan! Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers debuted, and my family knew they obviously took footage from another one of those shows we used to watch -- it was just...so weird to see them do it. I remember the MMPR toys lining the shelves before the show premiered, and I remember watching that first episode. It had the stink of bad American kids' shows on it -- bad acting, bad jokes, crammed with corniness and lessons -- but I was into it. I mean...it resembled the shows I loved in Japan, and it was new, and I had no idea that Sentai shows would become available on the internet, and I never thought I'd be able to watch any of the shows that I didn't have on tape, so I watched MMPR, I taped it, I bought the toys. (I also had a crush on Amy Jo Johnson, which I advertised by doing stuff like putting stickers of her and the Pink Ranger on things, or getting a picture taken with the Pink Ranger at local shows, making it look like I was a little girl. Embarrassing, man.)

Before I go further, I've made my feelings towards Power Rangers pretty well known, and have been labeled a "Sentai snob." I mean...even at the time, I realized that MMPR was severely diluted from the Japanese shows I was used to. Sure, for the kiddy or goofy elements something like Flashman could have, I never felt like those were out and out kids shows, talking down to the audience, existing solely to move product. They weren't about forcing some hackneyed lesson, they were trying to tell entertaining stories. (Obviously, there's lesson-centered episodes of Sentai, but rarely did they feel like a square, Ward Cleaver-talking-down-to-the-Beav sort of scene.) Actors, producers, writers, directors of Power Rangers always seemed to me like they were embarrassed and just didn't care and turned out whatever. (I give the actors of at least MMPR some slack since they were mostly cast based on martial arts or gymnastic ability. But I think Austin St. John actually did a good job as Jason -- he's one of the only PR heroes I actually like, and I think comes close to a Sentai Red.) People might label Sentai and toku as a kids show, but you know that the Japanese, by their nature, take a pride in what they're doing. (Is that racist?) Someone trying to make it in Hollywood? They ain't gonna give a shit about something "low-tier" like a kids show, they all want to be the next champagne-sippin' Scorseses or Coppolas, which is why so many American kids shows are such unwatchable pee-puddles.

So, I watched MMPR pretty obsessively -- was a member of the fan club, spent an obscene amount of my mum's money on merchandise. You name it -- those mini little figurines that did nothing, the Micro Machines, the Spin Fighters. (I had asshole neighbor "friends" who broke a lot of my toys because they had to be budding sociopaths or something. "Hey, let's decapitate the White Ranger!" I also remember paying their way to go see Power Rangers The Movie. YOU ASSHOLES!) But, once Zeo came along, I stopped giving a crap. I didn't like the change in roster, I thought the suits were ugly. I pretty much stopped watching PR regularly then, only checking in and out. I was about 12 at the time Zeo came on, so some would say I was too old for it -- c'mon -- but I think it just hit when Saban got greedy and complacent and just churned stuff out. It was also when he started whizzing out stuff like Masked Rider and VR Troopers -- he should have focused on the one thing that was still popular, but greed gets in the way, as Dick Wolf can tell you. (Law & Order started blowing when he did all of those spin-offs, IMO.)

It didn't matter much, because in '97 or so, I was shocked to discover my school offering Japanese classes. I signed up for that class and -- BING! -- remembered all of those shows I grew up with, tearing apart boxes in storage to find my old VHS tapes, deciding to look that stuff up on the internet. My school revived a toku-lovin' monster.

It was interesting to see the shows I missed, and especially interesting to see the shows that had been used as Power Rangers. I noticed that a lot of those shows actually did seem softer than the ones I grew up with, which led to me to my theory that Toei was keeping Power Rangers in mind when they made their shows. (What's with all of the cutesy, fat rubber villains -- where are the actor villains!?! What happened to the fighting!?!) But I enjoyed shows like Carranger, Megaranger -- I was baffled by the just debuting Gingaman, but have come to really like it. The only thing Power Rangers was good for at that point was to get the toys, and for cheap.

I became a full-on Sentai snob -- the longer Power Rangers went on, the more detrimental I thought it was to Sentai, and toku in general. Unless they were Xeroxing a Sentai script, which Power Rangers became very bad about doing from about Lost Galaxy on, Power Rangers rarely ever hit any of the dramatic beats or layers Sentai often did. Sentai would have gray characters who were misguided or fueled by revenge -- the Power Rangers counterpart would be brainwashed! Sentai would have these big, fateful battles with their villains -- Power Rangers would never have tense or dramatic fights, because the dialogue would always have the villain be an idiot and the Rangers throwing around wonderful lines like "Let's fight, sock breath! HIYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" Dammit, man, people are going to think anything resembling a henshin hero is going to be about characters calling each other sock breaths! What's a Sentai snob to do?

Well, the longer Power Rangers went on, it was like...what can you do? The damage is done, man. And then Sentai started to do itself no favors by making very lightweight and fluffy stuff like Hurricanger and Magiranger. And, it's like...without Power Rangers, would Sentai and toku have been as easy to find on the internet -- would the same level of interest have been there? Without Power Rangers, how many of the nice or cool people in the fandom wouldn't be there? Is it worth it to hate Power Rangers, when god-awful goofball Godzilla flicks probably already damaged toku's chances in the U.S. well before Power Rangers?

There is one Power Rangers series I actually did enjoy. It might have been a clone of its source material, but I do remember enjoying Time Force. It was the first and last PR show since MMPR I watched any significant amount of. I felt like the crew actually took that one a little more seriously, probably out of deference for Timeranger (there was a notion at the time that Timeranger was some sort of Jetman-like insta-classic -- HA!). I give a huge amount of credit to Erin Cahill (Jen), though. She could overdo it sometimes, be a little too forceful, but she's probably one of the first Power Ranger actors who actually seemed to try and, you know, ACT, and seemed to be into it. The others were well cast, but I feel like she might have been the glue there. (I think she also works better than Mika Katsumura, who was too young and too green of a performer to pull off the Yuuri character in Timeranger. Jen seems like she could mess Yuuri up.) Time Force did (shockingly) make a couple of changes from Timeranger, which I thought were (shockingly) actually good -- I liked that they made the future Red doppelganger Jen's fiance, and I think the premiere episode makes a heck of a lot more sense than Timeranger's sloppy, hurried premiere. I have a lot of problems with Timeranger, and Time Force kind of fixed them up, surprisingly. Time Force is all right...

So, basically, I think I'd maybe like to reclaim the title "Sentai Snob" to apply to those who, like me, think Super Sentai is awesome and the best of the toku franchises. Because, what the hey, maybe a Sentai Snob can look at Power Rangers like this -- Ultraman has tried more than once to make it in the States. He failed. Kamen Rider has tried twice now to make it in the States. He failed. Metal Heroes failed as quickly as they arrived. Power Rangers may be watered down, but it is, in a way, Sentai succeeding where all of the other franchises failed, so...

GO, GO SUPER SENTAI!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One Good Scare: Spielban's Youki


There's plenty of odd and eerie things to be found in Japanese tokusatsu shows. Especially in the older shows -- the newer shows have gotten so candy covered and bubblegum that it ain't even funny. It's hard to imagine kids nowadays being scared by anything in one of these shows. But in older shows? There's plenty of things to give kids nightmares. I know -- I was one of 'em.

Several villains or monsters of the week gave me the creeps, but one of the ones that REALLY scared me, the one that caused me to hide -- hide my face behind my hands, bury my face into the couch, watch from a doorway -- was the villain Youki from Spielban. His first appearance on screen caused me to hide -- it's just any ordinary episode, and suddenly at the end, plans defeated by Spielban once again, Pandora decides to conjure up an entity formed by the wickedness of mankind -- its form: Youki, who generates upon the rooftop of a building amidst lightning, Terminator-style.


Look at that! LOOK AT THAT! That crazed expression, the wicked grin, the hideous clown lips, the horns of hair. Not only is Youki a creep to look at, but he kicks off a STRANGE arc on the show, where he floats around Japan, corrupting ordinary people and recruiting them for a cult to take on Spielban, causing ordinary folk to go mad and riot for his cause. The majority of Youki's scenes are filmed in a weird, dreamy way, with Spielban barely being able to fight back because of Youki's being ghost-like. Spielban often got pretty messed up by him, and when I was a kid, I don't think I wanted a villain to be written off as quickly as I wanted Youki dealt with. And he wasn't just a pain for the heroes, but the villains, too -- he defeats one of the show's other regular villains by turning her to bronze, as she's posed on her hands and knees, which he then uses as a seat! There's an episode with this spooky ordeal where he possesses a girl's parents, and in his last appearance, he makes his intentions known that he wants to take over the Wahler Empire -- Pandora ain't having none of it, though, so she seals him and sends him to a SFX-riddled doom. Machiko Soga's character was my favorite character that week.

Youki was like...you know how in the Space Sheriff shows, especially Shaider, there were numerous episodes that tried to be weird and creepy, but it was more often than not just silly and WTF? Youki took those ideas, rolled 'em up in one character and arc, and actually made them scary and weird.

Masahiro Sudou, the man behind the make-up.

Youki was played by Masahiro Sudou, who's an action actor -- he went on to play Baron Owl in-suit in Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya, and another toku appearance of his was as the cop in charge of the Asakura restaurant hostage situation in Ryuki. It's no comfort knowing about the actor, though -- Youki still gives me the willies. And just when you think Youki is done haunting you? They made the character a woman in VR Troopers! (They just dubbed Sudou with a woman's voice. Yeesh! Sudou spoke as the character in a very deep and quiet tone, which was creepy enough.)

Youki may have only appeared in five episodes of the series, but a memorably terrifying five episodes they were, ones that totally must have scarred the kids who watched Spielban at the time.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

There's a new guy in town -- his name is RoboCop.


I've been on a bit of a RoboCop kick lately and figured, hey, why not talk about it a little here. I've always seen RoboCop as a cousin of a tokusatsu hero -- if you want to believe the legends, Gavan's design inspired his design, and the Metal Heroes brought it all full circle by doing a show inspired by him. (Which would be Jiban.)

RoboCop was huge when I was a kid. It's kind of funny how, thanks to home video taking off, so many kids like me were exposed to crazy-violent R-rated movies like this and/or the works of Schwarz-chan or slasher movies. Kids loved RoboCop so much that he got his own cartoon show, for crying out loud, just like that big old lovably unstable 'Nam vet John Rambo. Ah, the '80s...

When you're a kid, you just think RoboCop is cool. When you're older, you appreciate the human story, or maybe the eerily too close for comfort corporate satire, or the revenge story. The first film has gone on to be called a classic of the genre, and since RoboCop's not exactly an obscure superhero, I'll spare you sypnoses of the films. I think the fact that the first movie is the only one remembered so fondly is proof of not only how lightning in a bottle the script was, but that it was a perfect fit to be filtered through idiosyncratic director Paul Verhoeven. Under his eye, he perfectly captures the human drama, understands the bleakness, has the off-color sense of humor, and brings to life the gruesome and terrifying streets of Old Detroit. He took the film very seriously when few other filmmakers wouldn't give the script a chance, and his care shines through.



Peter Weller, the Alex Murphy/RoboCop of the first and second films.


And not just the script and director, but the casting is just spot on. The movie would not work half as well as it does without Peter Weller's performance as Alex Murphy/RoboCop. All sympathy as Alex, and what he invented as RoboCop is often imitated by his successors, but never duplicated. The movie gets joy from having RoboCop, in his early stages, speak in a clunky, almost comical phrasing, and Weller never makes RoboCop seem stupid, which is a trap some of the actors fell into. Without being able to work with his eyes and just his body movements, he's able to convey so much -- just watch him when he's at Murphy's abandoned house, having flashbacks of his wife. Weller was a great friggin' find for this role. I'm always wowed by the scene of Murphy's murder -- Weller's body language there makes the scene hard to watch, he really captures the pain. Ugh...

Two other stand-outs are the film's main villains -- Ronny Cox as Dick Jones and Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker. The film took a chance casting both Cox and Smith, casting them against type -- up until that point, they had played mostly nice guys, or paternal types or military professionals. But, damn, do they create some vicious bastards in this movie. (Cox is so good, he pretty much was typecast after this movie.) The villains in this movie, especially Boddicker and his gang, used to scare me when I was a kid. How brutal and just evil they were, so it was surprising to grow up and see these actors in varying roles, even in comedic films.

The gore of the film is infamous, but that's Verhoeven for you. There's something about the way he does gore that I find pretty disgusting. He goes overboard, but at the same time it's almost authentic looking -- he outdoes a lot of horror films, because as a horror fan, a lot of the gore in those movies can get cartoonish. When I was a kid, I just had RoboCop taped from a network broadcast (gore-free), and the violence was still upsetting. (Murphy's murder was approximately three seconds long in that edited version, but as I said, Weller's performance is disturbing enough.)

And yet the kids still loved RoboCop, which was made obvious by how comic book-ish RoboCop 2 was. (I do believe I remember a preview for RoboCop 2 playing before Disney's Dick Tracy at the theater. So, yeah...Hollywood wasn't above catering to kids!)

Verhoeven steps down from the director's seat, and Irvin Kershner takes over. Hey, he did The Empire Strikes Back, so that has to be awesome, right? Well, he also did the abysmal renegade James Bond flick Never Say Never Again, so...think again. This movie is a heck of a dip in quality from the first one. The villains aren't quite as creepy and there's more emphasis on the comedic -- the movie tries to capture that Verhoeven dark humor, but definitely can't pull it off, so it just comes across as silly, and unfortunately nobody learns their lesson, because it's a problem that begins to plague the franchise from here on. The original film's writers didn't return for this one, and the writer is the infamous comic writer Frank Miller. Any wonder why this thing is so comic booky? Weller returns for the last time as Murphy/RoboCop, and although given some hokey material at times, does his usual great job.

The movie's fun enough so long as you don't try to think too much about the first movie. I did really like this movie when I was a kid, and that's kind of a problem, isn't it? Instead of being something that was one thing, but played on another level that managed to grab the interest of young'uns, this movie was made to play on just one level -- popcorn entertainment. No depth, no satire, it's just out to wow ya, and that's it. Someone thought they were doing something right, and this is how you end up with...

RoboCop 3. The bastard of the franchise. I don't think anybody has said anything positive about this movie. It's remembered for two things -- being awful and nonsensically killing off Lewis. Well, not only Lewis, but it killed the film series and it killed the career of writer-director Fred Dekker. I'm a big fan of Dekker's '80s horror-comedies, The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps, so I actually try to go easy on RoboCop 3 and look for the good in it. People lament the lack of gore, as RoboCop 3 was rated PG-13, but I never thought the series was about gore, so that didn't matter to me. I didn't mind the little girl supporting character, that created a sort of Frankenstein feel between her and RoboCop. (Harkening back to Dekker's Monster Squad.)


Robert John Burke, the Murphy/RoboCop of RoboCop 3.


 I thought the story was fine. (The script was originally again by Miller, but rewritten by Dekker.) It makes sense to me that, by this point, RoboCop has inspired citizens and become a figure of hope, and that Robo would side with the people. People think that's too lighthearted or whatever, but it's a logical trajectory in my opinion. The movie's two huge weaknesses to me are: Robert John Burke as Robo, and the cast of villains. The villains rank from cartoonish (Robo Ninja; the blustering and over-the-top OCP honcho played by Rip Torn) to the dull (vaguely British military dude). As for Burke, he was obviously cast for his passing resemblance to Weller, as he's just damned awkward in-suit and gives a less-than-stellar performance. He reads every line in a robotic voice, and they give a tin-can effect to him on top of that. They again try to turn Robo into a quip-maker, and Burke just blows those lines. I suspect Burke's just uncomfortable in roles that require him to be in crazy costumes or excessive make-up, because he's not this bad in other roles, but in movies like this and the awful horror film "Thinner" (which required him to wear a ridiculous fat suit and prosthetics), he's unbearable.


The film has an interesting supporting cast, chock full of familiar faces (Jill Hennessy! Daniel von Bargen! Bradley Whitford! Stephen Root!), and I...I just don't think the movie is as bad as it's been made out to be. I had fun watching it, it's certainly not as bad as I remembered it being. If you like your RoboCop out for revenge and blood drenched, yeah, it will disappoint, but I think the movie could have been worse given the constraints from the studio. The script was OK, the direction was good -- I think Dekker did the best he could and the blame shouldn't fall on him, but on Burke. When RoboCop sucks, what does that leave you? A lot of the complaints about 3 I think could be applied to 2, but that movie gets much more praise from fans. Why? I think Weller alone elevates that movie. Maybe if he had been in 3...

So, the films are dead, but there's still money to be made off of old Robo. Where to turn to next? Television! RoboCop gets his own show, but it's bad news -- it's syndicated. And a Canadian production. Even though it boasts a heavy per-episode budget for its time, can this turn out well? After recently rewatching the films, I was itchin' for more RoboCop. Well, where else to go other than the series? I barely remember seeing any of it, but I knew of its wretched reputation. Well, I'm one of the only people who didn't mind the third movie -- why not give the show a shot?

Richard Eden, the Murphy/RoboCop of the television series.

It's surprisingly not as bad as you'd think. You have to keep in mind when it was made and where the franchise was at that point and its tone. Its biggest crime is being a bit on the boring and repetitive side. It doesn't look the way you'd expect a syndicated Canadian show from '94 to look. (Uh, that's supposed to be a compliment.) Robo's suit is surprisingly good and...hey, you know what? The actor playing Alex/Robo in the show is pretty good. Richard Eden is his name, and while he's not quite up there with Weller, he's WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY above Burke. An Emmy nominee for the soap-opera "Santa Barbara," Eden has clocked the most hours as the character RoboCop, and at least he's good in the role -- I think he's a decent anchor for the show when the episodes are duds.

Now, knowing the show's bad reputation, as I was weighing whether or not to buy the Canadian-only R1 DVD release, I checked out reviews. A lot of them basically consisted of people trashing the show because RoboCop doesn't shoot anybody. Say what now? What always interested me about RoboCop was...well, RoboCop. Murphy, namely. I like the story of the man, the humanity coming through the machine. I like that the human soul triumphs over the mechanical, and -- in the first film -- Murphy's slowly emerging from within RoboCop, to where he ends the movie identifying himself as Murphy. RoboCop's inventor, Bob Morton, just basically chooses Murphy by accident -- he's the first poor schmuck who's killed and OCP is allowed to work on. But it's Murphy himself that makes RoboCop such a success, Murphy's strength and heroism. This is proven when other candidates are chosen for RoboCop 2 and they fail. Murphy -- like Weller in the role -- was a real find. The extreme violence was really only needed in the first film -- to highlight the viciousness of Murphy's murder, the overkill of the ED-209, the extremes of Murphy/Robo's revenge against his killers.

So, the whole humanity of Murphy being what interests me about the character, I read that the show delves deeper into that, so that basically decided for me. But...the show tries, but just doesn't quite go to the levels that I feel it should, and it doesn't try to say as much as that first movie. For example: an early episode has religious zealots protesting the police because they think RoboCop is an "unholy abomination." With references here and there to Murphy's Catholic background, both in the films and the series, I thought that would be an interesting look at the character, but the show just takes the idea and...has RoboCop sitting silently in a church for most of the episode, the writers not really saying anything. The episode also shoots itself in the foot by having the religious zealots represented by cartoonish parodies of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, which highlights the show's biggest problem -- the antagonists are ripped from a completely different show. Eden and the other cop actors are pretty good (especially Yvette Nipar as Robo's partner, Lisa Madigan, although she's severely underused), and they take things seriously, but pretty much every single antagonist thinks they're in the 1960s Batman series -- the worst being recurring villain "Pudface." Ugh. The villains are foolish and hardly threatening. Hard to believe characters like this are supposed to exist in the same world as Clarence Boddicker!

The show also involves Murphy's family more, but they're disappointingly used as just devices to kick-off Robo's involvement in an episode -- they're just there to always be suckered in by criminals and captured. The further glimpses into Murphy's humanity, and bringing his family further into the story is all just wasted potential. The show also aims for the social commentary and consumerist criticisms of the first movie, but goes a little too far into SNL-skit territory, which is unfortunate, because it has a better aim for the first film's satire than the film sequels did, it's just the execution is off. The show really needed to play it straighter, and focus more on Murphy/Robo rather than the "quirky" cases they'd drop him in the middle of.

There's also some neat stunts throughout the series, such as RoboCop being in a shoot-out while set on fire, a bad guy trying to run Robo down with his car (with the perp's car being sliced in half by the cyborg's heftiness), a pretty crazy bus crash involving Madigan, and a pretty surprising falling stunt when Madigan is shoved off a building -- I actually went "Holy shit" during this fall, because there's an angle where you can't really picture where they put the air bag for the stunt-person to land on.

A big mistake of a lot of the sequels is getting away from the character(s) and focusing on just the big action or trying-too-hard-and-not-succeeding at the dark humor. Although I've been able to find entertainment in the sequels and TV spin-off, they are quite subpar compared to the first movie, which is near perfect in what it set out to do. After the TV series' demise after one season, things were quiet on the RoboCop front until they made the four-part television miniseries "Prime Directives" in the early '00s, which I plan to talk about in a later post. And, of course, there's a remake movie being made starring Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman as Murphy/RoboCop. The remake has a neat supporting cast, but I suspect it will make the same mistakes as the sequels and just miss the point -- not focusing on the character and just be a big special-effects shoot-em-up, diluting any of the original's wit, soul, tragedy, danger and edginess.

Thank you for your cooperation. Good night.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Toshiki Inoue and Finales: A Bad Mix


Toshiki Inoue: before he became public enemy numero uno with toku fans for lackluster -- and sometimes just plain bad -- writings, there's no denying that he was once a great talent to the genre. (He's the toku version of Frank Miller -- for what good he did for the genre, he got so bad that he practically undid it.) His goal was to keep the often fanciful shows grounded and character focused, and he added in some identifiable (although highly soap-ish) drama, and tried to take seriously a genre often dismissed as "kids stuff," giving a defiant "piss off" to those detractors. He's the brain behind three of my favorite shows, and some of the genre's biggest shows -- Jetman, Changerion (cult hit it may be) and Kamen Rider Agito. Prior to Jetman, he turned in a decent amount of scripts as a secondary writer for shows like Flashman and Maskman. After three well-regarded shows, especially a crossover hit like Agito, he got cocky. Then Toei put him too much to work. Then he turned in junk like Faiz. But even when he was at the top of his game, Inoue had a huge weakness -- how to wrap up a series or write a proper series finale. (And I'm only covering his henshin hero stuff, because I haven't watched Cutie Honey the Live or Mikazuki).

JETMAN

A lot of Inoue's problems come from trying too hard to be "shocking" or going against the expectations of the audience, or just plain sticking it to fans, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Jetman's finale. Having the entire B-Part being devoted to just catching up on the team was a new thing, but going as far as to force a romance out of Ryu and Kaori to the point where they're getting married? Having Ako out of the blue decide to be a pop star? But the worst of it is the part that's remained debated by fans since the show aired...

The killing of Gai Yuuki. It's such an absurd and pointless turn of events that this one episode ruins the entire series for some fans. Me? I can't stand it, and the only way I could watch the episode was by pretending like Gai was just taking a lil' nap and the others weren't so stupid that they didn't realize something was wrong with him and got him some help. But Gai's appearance in Gokaiger got me to soften up on the finale a bit. A BIT. My complaint was always how stupid it made the characters look. It's supposed to be some great, Klingon warrior-worthy gesture that Gai bypasses the hospital to make his friends' wedding, but...isn't it worse to mar their wedding day by being reminded that it was the day their friend and teammate died? Doesn't it make Ryu and the others look stupid that they couldn't tell something was wrong with Gai, and falling for his lame-o hangover excuse? But there was at least something sweet in the Gokaiger episode in that Gai didn't want the Gokaiger pestering his teammates for their lame-o Grand Power because he didn't want to pick at all of those wounds. So, it's an extension of the Jetman finale and addresses something that bothered me, so...it was something.

There are some who always defended the finale though. It showed "reality," that even though the Jetman defeated the supervillains, one of them was taken down by an ordinary thug, and that it's ironic that Gai was killed by someone who, if not for Jetman, he could have ended up as. Some think it's all a part of the curse Radeige placed on them upon his death. Yeah, that could have been done in a different, better way, a way that didn't make our heroes look like dummies. No, it was all just Inoue looking for a way to "shock" viewers.

I think it's an interesting idea to show that a henshin hero, although they've defeated their super enemies, haven't quite cleaned up the world as they thought. How many shows end with the heroes making big speeches about how peaceful they've made the world, when they've only solved one of its problems? And here's Jetman that shows that while they've taken on aliens from another dimension, there's still very real threats in Japan, and it faces one of our heroes, but...it's just not done well. Again, don't make your characters look like dummies.

CHANGERION

Changerion was always a strange show that played by its own rules, but its finale is something else. Although it paved the way for Heisei Rider, Changerion was only a cult hit, but its small fanbase still try to argue out what the hell the finale meant.

The episode starts out in a bonkers way, in which  our main characters are seen in a crazy, post-apocalyptic setting, and it bounces back and forth between that and the show's present day, which saw our hero Akira Suzumura up to his ordinary everyday shenanigans -- no superheroism in sight, just back to his off-the-wall investigations.

Spoiler alert, but in that alternate world, every one of the show's characters gets killed off, and one of the regulars is revealed to be a secret villain. It's a frigging mess! The debate amongst fans is...did the events of the series happen? Was it all meant to be a dream by Akira, escaping his ordinary life as an unsuccessful private investigator? I think it was basically just Inoue throwing in ideas he had -- Akira becoming more professional, certain character deaths -- but wasn't able to use because of Changerion being cut short. Since I can't stand cop-out/rewrite/it's a dream finales, I just figure the events of the show did happen and the post-apocalyptic scenes were just of an alternate world where Akira was more heroic and the show seemed more like a typical tokusatsu series -- Changerion had been criticized by some at the time for seeming so different, something the 30th episode addressed by having a tokusatsu otaku trying to teach Changerion how to be a "real" hero.

AGITO

Inoue's masterwork, IMO, and this is the closest he gets to writing a passable finale -- it's shocking. Sad thing is, it's a little plain considering how consistently solid and big and intricate the series was. A big problem is just how rushed it is -- it's the exact opposite of Kuuga's finale, which it's somewhat modeled after, and which was long and leisurely to the point where it almost became ridiculous. (Because the whole of Japan was on the edge of their seat to find out the fate of Jean.) They each get some cool lines, but that last fight? Not the best they could have done. The complaint has always been that it looks like it was filmed in someone's backyard, and it does. And the coda bringing you up to speed with where the characters are headed is just too rushed. The show had 77 recurring characters it had to deal with, so things were bound to be rushed, but...what the hell's up with Ozawa smiling at Toujou and tolerating the weasel? Still puzzles me. The show needed to end on a much bigger scale, hitting that high note. But, hey, at least no characters were pointlessly killed off, right?

But I should mention that one criticized part of Agito's final arc is the time jump, which IS jarring and I think contributes to some of the actual final episode's problems, but...that's Inoue, and the trouble he has wrapping his shows up. I always thought the final few episodes were a condensed version of what Inoue would have done with Agito if it had been allowed to go well over the standard 51 episodes, which comes off as seeming rushed.

FAIZ

Oh, boy. This show was always going in circles and barely went anywhere, and played like bad Degrassi fan-fics,  but the finale is pretty notorious even amongst the poor saps who actually liked this show. Inoue wrote every episode of Faiz -- and the movie -- and it's pretty obvious by the end he was just like "Eh, that's it. I'm outs!" and just, you know, didn't feel like wrapping up the show. Half the villains live, characters die pointlessly, and it's all a going-through-the-motions, empty excursion that ends on a dissatisfying note. And if you thought Agito's backyard wrestlin' final fight was bad, Faiz is worse, taking place in what looks to be a parking garage. The final scene of the series? Our hero and his two useless buddies laying in the grass. OK. Pretty mellow considering that the show's heroes let half the villains off. Inoue must have a special spot for Faiz, and was happy enough with the finale to actually appear in it (pictured above).

HIBIKI

I still wonder what the heck Toei was thinking when they thought Hibiki was an appropriate and suitable addition to the Rider franchise. Why did they hear this pitch and think it made a suitable action hero series? Main writer Tsuyoshi Kida is known as a playwright, and it's obvious he thought he was making some cool, small, quirky little, different, art-house show and it was a case of trying-too-damn-hard-to-be-different, and I think Toei should have replaced him, writing partner Ooishi and original producer Takatera a lot sooner.

I think it was a huge mistake to wait so long to fire Kida and replace him with Inoue, because I actually think Inoue did some good stuff with the series. He brought conflict! He gave cardboard regulars personality! He gave the show a long-missing history! And the movie was awesome. But Inoue just had to fumble the finale. If there was one thing Kida's snail's-pace scripts was building up to, it was Asumu going on the journey to become Hibiki's apprentice. Too safe and predictable for Inoue, so he constantly rewrote his finale script up until the last minute and, although it was teased in a lamely staged final fight, a flash-forward reveals that Asumu -- who practically stalked Hibiki for the entire series and wanted to do what he did -- realized it would be cooler if he became a doctor or vet or nurse or something. Screw this show. I think this show did major damage to the Rider franchise that it hasn't recovered from since.

KIVA

Kiva was a mess and everyone knows it. To me, it screams of Inoue trying desperately to reclaim the title and relive past glories, but it was too late for him, he was burned out beyond belief, and the production is just sloppy. (I know Inoue has a daughter who's trying to make it as a writer, and my theory is that she's really behind the show and was just lazily copying her dad which made it feel like the Inoue Potpourri, but that's kooky. Because the show was sloppy, even for post-Agito, way-past-burnt-out Inoue standards.)

The finale is a crazy-DX-WTF in which characters who were presumed dead are alive (one character A-OK with another who tried to kill them), a marriage between two characters who hated each other is forced, villains turn good out of the blue, and I even think I remember time travel being involved in defeating the final Fangire, and then...that crazy-stupid final scene, which makes the Den-O series look sane and sophisticated. For the entire series we followed a Kurenai family member in '86 and in present '06, so a Kurenai from the future crashes the (forced) wedding bringing news of Bad Robot Us's and pretty much every character in the show turns into a Kiva and flies into the camera with their CGI buddies and what-the-hell-did-they-use-a-Go-onger-script?

To wrap it up, Inoue might have burnt himself out, but he's responsible for three of my favorite shows and he's done a lot of great stand-alone episodes for other shows (I'm thinking of the Maskman episode with Blue Flash, the Jin arc in Dairanger, and the Kuuga episodes with that female Grongi who likes decapitating people). He might not know how to do a good finale, but I still think of him as one of my favorite toku writers and even one who has inspired me. (There's as much to learn in his bad stuff as there is in his good stuff.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Most Disappointing Sentai Villain Send-offs

IRON CLAW (JAKQ)


Iron Claw's pretty much a generic villain, barking orders, laughing his ass off at his plans forming and growling when they fail -- he also has one of the stupidest looking designs in the franchise. (What's worse, that glittery dress he wears, the mushroom 'fro, or super-fake beard?) But, hey, he's played by cool veteran character actor Masashi Ishibashi, who takes all of this and still somehow makes Iron Claw pass. Iron Claw gets freaky in later episodes, debuting a combat form that's just a bald-headed Ishibashi clad head to toe in silver paint, looking like he's part of Silver Man Group. JAKQ gets canceled, so Iron Claw departs under orders from a new and random villain to take on JAKQ, and so he does, quickly getting his silver ass handed to him and killed by the Big Bomber. And not just any Big Bomber move -- in one of those stupid-weird Goranger things, the Big Bomber missile turns into something before hitting its opponent, and here the missile turns to...a giant stuffed mouse. WTF and how many drugs did it take to come up with this solution? Like I said, Iron Claw's not the greatest villain, but he IS Masashi Ishibashi, the one guy who wasn't afraid to take on Sonny Chiba in numerous Street Fighter flicks, so his "battle version" deserved better than to be taken out by a stuffed mouse.

KENJI TSUKIGATA/DOCTOR KEMP (LIVEMAN)


Kemp's my favorite of Yutaka Hirose's roles -- he advanced as a performer since Flashman, and Kemp is just such a vicious bastard. Kenji wasn't always this way, but once he turns, he turns -- there's no wavering. Kenji's the one who pulled the trigger on Takuji and Mari and couldn't give less of a shit. He's a psychotic narcissist, he's an egomaniac, he's rotten to the core. When Liveman feel sympathy for every other Volt member who begins to turn and question Bias, Kemp uses this as a way to trick them into falling for his "defection," only to end up attacking them and laughing his ass off at how gullible they are. Yuusuke's pissed, this is his former friend, you know? And even after he couldn't bear to strangle an unconscious Kemp to death in episode 35, Kemp continued to be so vile in that episode that five minutes later, Yuusuke vowed that Kemp's life would end by his hands...

But Yuusuke and the writers forget all about that episode. After Kemp's trap, Kemp -- and I think this is a big mistake on the part of the writers -- gets the "ultimate" reward from Bias, which is just being turned into a horribly designed monster of the week. Right after that, Yuusuke sneaks aboard a spaceship in order to take on Bias, completely severing himself from the other heroes and Kemp for most of the final two episodes. So, Yuusuke/Red Falcon is not even present when Kemp is killed off! Even worse, the monster Kemp is defeated by a Koron-piloted Super Live Robo! One of the show's most important characters, the one with the biggest tie to the premise of the series, offed not in a cool duel with Kazuo Niibori, but offed in a quick, forgettable manner, no different than the stupidest monster of the week, the only one of the main villains in the show treated in such a careless manner.

(What's funny about Liveman is how it goes so soft on how they deal with the villains. I know the show got caught up in speechifying about life and stuff, but how do you go from episode 35 to having Megumi daydream about having snowball fights with Butchy? Look at it -- Obular reforms, Gildos and Butchy malfunction, Arashi and Mazenda turn before killing themselves, Bias and Gash die aboard the exploding Brain Base. Kemp's the only one the team actually kills, but even that's a cheat by having him be in monster form. Why did Liveman lose its balls?)

RIE AOI/MARIA (JETMAN)


First off, let's talk about how the show never even addresses why the Vyram -- who constantly babble on about how superior they are to humans -- even take Rie and turn her into Maria in the first place. It's a great idea to give Ryu some drama, so the only explanation is that the Vyram had met Toshiki Inoue and had some knowledge of Jetman scripts. It's ridiculous that such a BIG PLOT POINT of the series is never acknowledged, and then because Inoue always has problems wrapping his shows up, the final Jetman episodes are really obvious in a "Oh, crap, our show's almost over, let's wrap this up!" way. After spending all of his energy on what was supposed to be a shocking, unique way to write off Toranza (which beats the way Kemp ended up), Inoue just has no ideas how to deal with Maria. So he wastes two episodes on this really weird, really stupid plot of having Radeige plant a parasite on her that turns her into something that looks like one of those kids' vampire make-up kits you'd find in a dollar store around Halloween. The look really doesn't work with Maria's terrible giant-hat/giant-tie design, either, and I feel like an earlier show would have given her a completely new design when she became monstrous, but Jetman really looks like it's out of money towards the end of its run.

Now, I'm not saying she should have been turned into a monster or whatever, I don't think that works with a villain who's either human or has a close connection to the hero, but something about this story turn just doesn't work for me. I liked Rie's last moments, but to spend two episodes having these silly scenes where she's stumbling around Japan sucking the blood of whoever she comes across (including Gai in a house of mirrors!) just doesn't really fit with the show's tone or what they needed to be doing with the character. An even bigger waste of time had Rie turning Ryu into a vampire -- it's all just very time-killerish. Inoue never had any idea what the heck to do with this character. WHY DID VYRAM EVEN TAKE RIE!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ranger Keys On Parade

I don't usually buy a lot of merchandise from the new tokusatsu shows -- unless I really, really, really, really like the show -- but I have a bit of an addiction to the Ranger Keys line, and I think the Japanese fans do, too. They're the rare toy release that's continued after the show it's associated with has finished, they're always sought after on auctions, they seem to be keeping Sentai's toy sales up in a year where viewers are disappointed with the latest show (Go-busters) and its lame-o toyline. And the funny thing? It's the old heroes that make the Ranger Key line so alluring. The old heroes -- what Toei is sooooooo deathly afraid to ever focus on in their shows or movies is what has made these things move. (Because it sure ain't hearing Tomokazu Seki shriek "BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIOMAN!" when you put the Key into the Mobirates.)

They're kind of...like neat little figurines, and some of the first new merchandise pertaining to old shows. You can find figures of every Kamen Rider ever in every pose ever, but old Sentai shows? Not so much. It's also a nice alternative to paying half a grand for a certain show's henshin item -- don't want to pay $500 for Dyna Brace? Having the Ranger Key's sort of the same difference, eh?

Now, I know there are people out there who collect every single Ranger Key that's released, but I just try to stick to either the shows or heroes I like, if it's a character played by a performer I like, or if I just think the Key looks neat. I've tried to buy at least one Key from each Sentai series, which was a pain to decide when it came to something like Boukenger -- I don't exactly have a favorite character in that show because, well, I freaking hate that show, but I ended up choosing Bouken Blue because he was least offensive, was a spy (because I'm a 007 fan) and because Yasuhiro Takeuchi was cool in-suit. Here's some of my favorites:

My Top 5 favorite Reds.

The Dream Team -- the awesome guest-star line-up from Gokaiger 49.

The cool guy Keys.

Gokaiger tried to make Aka Ranger and Big One the sort of Riders 1 and 2 of Super Sentai, when I think it should be Aka Ranger and Battle Japan. So...take that, Big One!

I wanted the Rio Key because I thought it looked cool and it was a villain Key, but I still think he's sucky, so here's the cooler Geki Violet putting him in his place.

The sucky thing about the Gashapon Keys -- the stickers always popping off!

A little idea I had.

And, finally, Keys of all of the Niibori Reds!

One thing that I think is a pain is...where do you store 'em? The treasure box that came out only holds a certain amount, and who wants the Keys all clashing together?

Liveman -- The Other Two


9/7/12: I ORIGINALLY POSTED THIS IN MAY, BUT SOMETHING GOT MESSED UP WHEN I WAS MESSING WITH LABELS.

Toei has just finished releasing the Liveman DVDs -- which has been Liveman's first time on home video -- and I am currently on the waves of a Liveman high.

Now, Liveman is one of my favorite Sentai entries, but there's always been a big glaring weakness for me. Make that two glaring weaknesses: Tetsuya Yano/Black Bison and Jun'ichi Aikawa/Green Sai. It's fairly obvious that the show never planned to introduce these two, that they were used as an attempt to goose interest and toy sales, and while the idea of introducing the siblings of the two friends murdered by the villains is FREAKING AWESOME in concept, it's rotten in execution. As I rewatched the Liveman DVDs as they were released, I tried very hard to keep an open mind about the other two. (Because, as far as I was concerned, Liveman's still a three-member team, and the show never really feels the same after the other two arrive. Besides just plain sucking, the other two throw off the rhythm of the real three.)

Two problems right off the bat? The actors that were cast. Around the time of their debut, Liveman was suffering from a reduced budget, and that means they must have only been able to higher the cheapest and newest of performers, in contrast with regulars Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori, who were already well-known singer/actors prior to being cast in Liveman and were actually cast for being known, as a way to celebrate the Sentai series "tenth" anniversary. While some of the blame can be shifted on the writers for never really knowing what to do with Bison and Sai, I still feel like the actors are the bigger problem. (If there were good, interesting actors cast, maybe it would have influenced writers to give them better episodes?) They were rare in that they were truly terrible performers of a Showa series.

Breaking them down...

TETSUYA/BLACK BISON -- Played by Seirou Yamaguchi (real name: Seirou Nambara, who comes from a showbiz family; his brother continues to be a popular actor and says Seirou is still proud of his Liveman role, which I guess is nice. Seirou left the spotlight shortly after Liveman, and must kind of be the least successful Daniel Baldwin of his family.) Tetsuya is introduced as being a rash, revenge-seeking rageaholic, something that Yamaguchi can not pull off at all. The extent of his performance is "Yell everything and scoff a lot!" I guess my theory about the poor casting influencing the writing isn't far off, because Tetsuya switches gears REAL fast. Shortly after his debut, he's given a completely out of character episode where he befriends a kid and attempts to cheer him up...by pretending to invent a robot pal for the kid, which is really just him in a cheap suit. The Tetsuya who punches out Jun'ichi just for fun in his first episode is all of a sudden a big softie when he sees a kid crying on the side of the road? Who is he, Minami Koutarou? Yamaguchi's performance is a bit more tolerable here, but what does it matter? It's only one of TWO Tetsuya focus episodes, and it's a disposable episode that goes against his character. He goes from his first appearance, where he continuously endangers everyone for the sake of his revenge, to an episode where he and Jun'ichi try to sneak attack Kempu out of their hatred for their siblings' murderer, to just a few episodes later trying to sweetly console a guilt-plagued Gou. Inconsistent. And if Tetsuya is inconsistent...

JUN'ICHI/GREEN SAI is inconsequential. Faring a little better than Tetsuya in the episode count (ooh, THREE focus episodes!), the writers give him much less of an identity. After their debut, the episode right off the bat? The infamous episode where Jun'ichi is pregnant! What a way to make you try to like the two newbies, eh? Being the younger brother of the female friend Mari, Jun'ichi's depicted as being a little soft. I've often wondered if the character was originally intended to be the younger sister of Mari, but that pregnancy episode was written and they realized how that goofy episode would have actually played horrifically with a female character. Not only that episode, but the only shred of backstory we're ever given about Jun'ichi involves a vague disease he had when he was a kid, which reminds me of the backstory of Bioman's Hikaru/Pink Five. Like Yamaguchi, actor Shinobu Koumoto resorts to just shrieking his lines. He's a slightly better performer than Yamaguchi, but has the weaker character. Like Tetsuya, he's initially supposed to be angry towards Volt and motivated by revenge, but you always feel like he's just going along with Tetsuya -- he's not believable. The best thing about Jun'ichi? He's a walking sponsor for Budweiser:



Ideally, these two characters would have had a nice arc where the three Liveman teach them to overcome their revenge. They practically immediately let it go once they become Liveman for no reason whatsoever -- there's never a scene or speech given to them that makes it all click. They never learn a lesson or anything, no. It's just dropped. (It bubbles up again, briefly, in episode 35, but as an afterthought in what was a stronger Yuusuke VS Kempu episode.) It's just such a missed opportunity, the things that could have been done with these two, but there's no real effort made. And why? Did the writers hate who were cast and not feel like giving them good material? Were the writers overwhelmed at introducing two new heroes so late into the series? (And, though it's difficult, it's important to keep in mind that Tetsuya and Jun'ichi were kind of breaking new ground -- they were basically the first "sixth" heroes, a concept that some Sentai entries still struggle to get working smoothly in their show.) They should be crucial to not only the story with Volt, and the nature of their connection to Volt versus the other three's, but they should have also strengthened Takuji and Mari's presence in the series. As is, they just feel disconnected from everything, when they should be anything but. (Early Liveman would have filmed flashback scenes between the siblings to help give the story power, for one.)

Basically, Tetsuya and Jun'ichi have everything going against them -- they throw the other three off rhythm, are played by cringe-inducing actors, and are a waste of a vast amount of potential, such a waste that they basically get shoved into the background for the last ten episodes of the series. So much poignancy and strength could have been added to the overall themes of the series if these two had stayed true to their purpose and been given a proper arc...

And been played by decent actors.

Monday, September 3, 2012

ForeVer Rescue Spirits


1999. Remember the Y2K panic? The bad bubblegum pop that littered airwaves? The sucky letdown that was The Phantom Menace? People were stressed, worried, afraid of what the year 2000 held. So why not make a superhero show all about that uncertainty and paranoia, and pile on some natural disaster stuff for extra measure?

GoGoFive came on the heels of Gingaman which, as much as I currently enjoy it, when it first hit the airwaves? It might be hard to believe now, but that show was about as oddball sore-thumb to the Sentai franchise as Hibiki is to the Rider series. (Maybe not as severe as Hibiki, but close.) So GoGoFive was looking like a traditional entry with respectable heroes, a tech heavy show and not those weird, animal-mimicking forest people who jumped out of a storybook. The first Sentai series with Metal Hero veteran Jun Hikasa as head producer, GoGoFive premiered in an interesting spot -- the Metal Hero franchise was gasping its last breath, and there was still no new Kamen Rider show (though Kuuga must have been forming in Toei's mind).

Hikasa wanted to focus on people in the rescue profession, still wanting to highlight the real-life heroes who helped the country in its tragedies that still echoed from '95. And in spotlighting real life heroes, GoGoFive tries to approach the Sentai formula in as realistic way as it can, before Kuuga took a similar approach and was more successful for it. GoGoFive went tech-heavy, trying its damnedest to explain the logistics of how crazy Sentai technology like the henshin suits (shown in full detail how they work and just how they protect the user), weapons and -- of course -- just how the mecha works and all goes together. If you know me, you know that I'm far from being a mecha fan, but GoGoFive has some of the more interesting, well thought-out mecha work in the franchise. From the functioning of the individual pieces to the staging of actual monster fights to doing wild stuff like having the GoGoFive travel to space, there's a real effort in making you take notice to the mecha scenes and not have your mind wander. (If I wasn't partial to the designs and whiz-bang direction of the mid and late '80s Sentai shows, I'd say GoGoFive has the best mecha scenes in the franchise.)

As for the characters, I'm always pretty leery towards the toku shows that have the heroes be siblings. A lot of times I think that's just lazy writing, an easy way to have all of the characters always be in one spot and not all that different from one another. But GoGoFive is one of the few that gets it right -- they at least all have their own personalities, and the writers get the family bonds down, right down to the occasional bickering. The Tatsumis might not look anything at all like one another, but they certainly felt like a tight family, and I think it's the only Sentai team of all family members where they really accomplish that. The stand-out is Matoi/Go Red, who I think is pretty unique for being the first real smart-ass punk of a Red. They get a lot of comedic mileage out of Matoi, his over-eagerness and his 'tude, and some have blamed the downfall of the serious Red on Matoi, but Matoi's always able to switch on, is ultra-determined and puts himself 110% into the mission. It's hard to imagine someone better than Ryuuichiro Nishioka being cast in the role, and suit actor Seiji Takaiwa's a good match, just letting loose, and keeping up with the comedic sides of the character. There's too many times where a unique character like Matoi would be totally different in-suit. Some would argue that Megaranger's Kenta is the first different kind of Red of this type, but he pretty much became a different character in-suit. Matoi still seems like himself when in-suit, even if as exaggerated as Takaiwa can make him.

Speaking of the suit actors, there were always complaints about GoGoFive's action being "lackluster," but I always thought that...having toned down action was the point. With trying to be realistic, GoGoFive don't have a wild and crazy arsenal, and the characters aren't fighters or trained soldiers. They work with what they got and get the job done, and I think the JAC are really good at conveying this but not by just being lifeless or boring, they still really get these characters across. (It also helps that the actors themselves spend a lot of time in-suit for the see-through visor scenes. So, more than a lot of other toku shows, you get a real good sense that the actors really are the ones in the suit.)

One thing I always liked about GoGoFive was the urgency the show gave a lot of the situations. It always tried to make things feel "big," and the show had big ambitions, trying to stage things in an almost cinematic way. The premiere episodes looks like it has a lot of money put into it, and is a pretty big and grand way to kick off the show; but there are plenty of other episodes that keep that urgent, tense, disaster movie feel. Like the GoGoFive team themselves, the show's cast and crew make do with what they have and get the job done, because it's crazy when you keep in mind that it's a low-budget show on at 7:30 AM and there's an episode where they're basically trying to do Michael Bay's "Armageddon," and it's a damn good episode, and actually feels big scale. And the show's not all action -- the family interaction is really well done, and it's easy to care for all of the Tatsumi characters, and they're neatly paralleled by the villain family (once again, I think the villains would have more impact if they were actors) -- but I feel like GoGoFive's approach to the scale of the action and the disaster movie feel is something that makes it so unique that it's what I chose to focus on.

Some of my favorite episodes that highlight this:

11/12: Two-parter introducing Grand Liner, which focuses on the team racing against the clock to thwart Saima's attempt to force volcanic eruptions around Japan; Matsuri is delayed by being held hostage in a bus, and when the bus is hit in an attack, she has to stick up for her beliefs and face the criticism of the other passengers when she decides to save the life of the man who was holding them hostage.

19 - 22: A four-parter that not only sees the end of a regular villain, but has a trio of monsters wreaking havoc by sending explosive feathers soaring throughout Japan. One of the people who end up with the feathers is the toddler of a Tatsumi family friend. It's another tight, up-against-time episode that see the GoGoFive taste defeat, having to run from the fight and hide out in a storm. Their GoGo Braces are destroyed, which lets Nagare show off his scientific knowledge as he repairs them overnight.

25: The episode in which Grandienne tries to break through as the Grand Cross arrives. The episode begins with the Tatsumis very on edge knowing the storm that's brewing, and even Mondo gets in on the action as the GoGoFive try their damnedest to prevent Grandienne's arrival.

30: A unique episode which has no monster of the week. The take-off on Michael Bay's Armageddon, in which the GoGoFive receive the Victory Machines in order to travel to space and destroy a gigantic meteor that the Saima are pulling towards Earth. The episode is directed by veteran Sentai SFX chief Hiroshi Butsuda, and there's a lot of nice miniatures, such as when the GoGoFive land on the meteor in the unique Beetle Walker version of the mecha, which they use to drill a hole in the meteor and plant explosives. The GoGoFive just barely make it...

40: Daimon and Matsuri plan to show a kid the inside of the Bay Area 55, unaware that the Saima have planted destructive parasites on the kid which are let loose once he's in their base. What starts out looking like a sugary episodes quickly turns tense, with the GoGoFive in a panic to save their base.

Some GoGoFive episodes I think are on par with what Toei actually does put out as their toku movies...which brings me to GoGoFive's movie, the direct-to-video "Crash! A New Super Soldier," which is one of the few toku movies that I think is really good. Supporting character Kyoko gets her chance to shine, there's a cool big fight between all of the characters (with the Saima showing off some of their abilities) and awesome Keiichi Wada as the titular new hero. The only problem is that the movie was made back when they didn't care to tie movies into the series, so it's a self-contained adventure, when it would have been nice for there to be references to it. It's a shame that this movie gets buried as a V-Cinema and junk like Shushutto the Movie gets put on the big-screen. (But, man, it's a cool movie -- check it out. If you watched GoGoFive as it aired, it was a nice payoff after following Kyoko throughout half the series.)

Just as I think Changeman's finale was clever in working in the then topical return of the Halley's Comet, I thought it was pretty neat the way GoGoFive worked in Nostradamus' prediction of the grand cross, which fans noticed was to occur in the summer of '99, right around when Toei aired the frantic episode in which the GoGoFive race to prevent Grandienne's reappearance with the Grand Cross (which they just barely accomplish, which is why she is only partially formed). With the anxiety about the millennium I mentioned, additions like this made GoGoFive seem more of the moment than these shows usually seem.

Another thing I can't leave out is GoGoFive's rockin' music. Songs and BGM, it's all great. The music is heroic, gigantic, epic. The BGM is by Toshiyuki Watanabe, son of '70s and early '80s Sentai composer Chuumei Watanabe -- fitting for the family theme, huh? But the songs, man...the OP by Shinichi Ishihara -- who goes all-in as usual -- is one of the best Sentai opening themes, IMO, and each song Ishihara sings on the soundtrack is just as awesome.

GoGoFive's a great show that I feel has gone overlooked by the fandom. Ahead of its time in approach but very timely in content, it's an entertaining, exciting, fun ride. Eat your heart out, Tomica Rescue Failures.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pet Peeves and Complaints, Part Uno


Maybe it doesn't make sense to other people, but I prefer when a Sentai team is referred to as just what's plain old ordinarily there in the title. "Goranger." "Maskman." "Carranger." "Go-onger." NOT "Gorangers," "Maskmen," "Carrangers," "Go-ongers."

I just think of it like band names. Some bands have a plural, like The Rolling Stones, but then there's Aerosmith. Go-busters is the only Sentai thus far with a pluralized name. You wouldn't say "Aerosmiths," so why say "Gingamen?" The team name's what they're called. Green Flash is a Flashman, a member of the team known as Flashman, not one of the "Flashmen."

And I know people think it's weird that a team with one or more women is called "____MAN," but there it is, that's their team name. (The X-Men are still referred to as the X-Men, right?) So, they need to bring back "___MAN" names, too, dammit!

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Killer Bored Game


When Abaranger was about to debut in 2003, I was fairly skeptical about it. Dinosaurs? Ugh. TALKING dinosaurs? Get outta here. And after initially being disappointed by Gaoranger and seriously despising Hurricanger, I was really skeptical of this new approach they were taking with the Sentai franchise.

However, from its very first episode, I was drawn to Abaranger. The night setting of the pilot, the way it establishes all of the key players. Hey, the dinosaurs weren't even bad, they had some spot-on casting of voice-actors. At the time of its airing, I had just recently finished Kamen Rider Kuuga and was really into it, and I recognized writer Naruhisa Arakawa's name and, while Abaranger may not have taken that realistic, police-procedural approach to a henshin hero program, Arakawa's wit and skill are clearly evident in Abaranger. (Some coincidences between the two shows led Toei to sorta jokingly refer to Abaranger as "Kuuga 2," encouraging fans of Kuuga to check out Abaranger. Yeah, I don't think that worked, judging by how polarizing Abaranger remains to be.)

The show kept my interest, and I liked it more and more with each episode. To keep it short -- I was a massive Abare Nut in 2003. However, I felt like the Abaranger needed a stronger rival. While I like the Evorian as characters -- the seemingly innocent Rije, the eccentric artists Voffa and Mikera -- the only real threat was Mahoro/Jannu, who gets sidelined early on in a plot to find the Bakuryu that was lost through the portal from Dino Earth to Another Earth. A bit of a mistake, in my opinion, just as it was to kill off her brother, Mizuho/Gileton so early. I was a little leery of just a bad Abaranger coming in -- I thought the recent shows at the time went to that Sentai VS Sentai, Rider VS Rider well a little often (HA!), especially Kamen Rider -- but Mikoto Nakadai/Abare Killer was definitely the rival the show needed.


Now, my problem is in how they handled him. The show always chickened out from the way they attempted to pass him off. Initially? He's supposed to be like Ryuki's Takeshi Asakura/Kamen Rider Ouja, but even more dangerous, because Nakadai is a man in control of himself and a man in power. He's the same level of nuts, but Asakura was a stray dog -- Nakadai can function in society. Nakadai is a complete sociopath, who really just wants to succeed as Abare Killer to a) have yet another accomplishment and b) it's such an out-there thing that it will have to fill that void, right? It's an interesting character, especially in how completely opposite he is from Ryouga, there's the real classic Red VS new villain rivalry there, but...

The show just doesn't have the Dino Guts to stick it out. First off, while Koutarou Tanaka is a decent actor, I just think he's way too young for this role. (He was 21 at the time.) Tanaka plays the character as a bored preppy kid, straight out of Gossip Girl, who's trying to find fun OMOSHIROI in any danger. It's a style of "cool," "bad-ass," and disconnected in Japanese entertainment that I personally don't care for, but your take may vary. Tanaka's very sing-songy. Very eyebrow-twitchy. Very uncool and unthreatening, IMO. (Sidenote: Ultraman Nexus' Mitsutoshi Shundo auditioned for the role of Nakadai. A good heavy, Shundo would have been 29 at the time and would have killed, bad pun partially intended.) The Nakadai as written really needed to be someone more mature...he's written in a way that makes me think of a cross between Ryuki's Asakura and Takamizawa/Verde. But the show instead gives us Kamen Rider Gai.

Secondly, because it seemed like a trend at the time, they give Nakadai these speeches of how everything is a "game," which not only quickly gets repetitive for the character, but dredges up bad memories of, yes, Kamen Rider Gai. (Take a drink each time Nakadai says "omoshiroi," "game," or "omoshiroi game." Actually, don't, because you'll really hurt yourself.) Repetitive acting from Tanaka times repetitive dialogue, and Killer becomes a little tiresome and irritating to watch when, hey, he's supposed to be the guy giving this show a boost!

The best thing about the character, as is, for me is how the heroes react to him. Like I said, he brings an interesting conflict for Ryouga, and comes off quite nasty in the episodes where Asuka is presumed dead. A highlight for me is when Nakadai, with pretty much a death-wish, is summoning an asteroid to collide with Earth, and Ryouga just has it with him. Ryouga realizes there's nothing good in the man, at all, that there's nothing to save, and he just lets Nakadai have it. He becomes Abare Max, takes Killer into the Max Field, and beats the ever living snot out of him...

And then, shortly after that...things are all good with Nakadai. The heroes learn of Dezumozoria's one half residing within him, so they give him quite a large benefit of doubt and pardon him for all of his crimes. What. The. Huh? Just two episodes ago, Ryouga pretty much beat him up and left him for dead. He was beyond saving, remember? But, then, suddenly, Ryouga's spouting stuff like "If I fail to save Nakadai, I've failed as an Abaranger! If I can't save him, I can't save Earth!" Is Ryouga the schizo one, or the writers? Even the usually more realistic one, Yukito, literally came around and joined Ryouga's Save Nakadai movement within two seconds of a scene.  Nakadai's last arc is where they really wuss out and are inconsistent with the character...

They try to really blur just how bad Nakadai is, and basically retcon Nakadai's behavior as being (mostly) influenced by Dezumozoria. But one of Nakadai's last acts is to take full responsibility for his actions, so...he might have still been a pud of his own volition? Maybe, maybe not. Sorry, Mario -- we writers didn't have the balls to decide!

W...T...F? When did this show become Full House?

I just never felt like his "redemption" was honest to the character or worked. And what's even worse is how every other character in the show starts to canonize him after his death. Yeah, name your kid after him, Asuka -- the guy who caused pain for your teammates the whole show and seduced your kid when they were both evil. Yeah, I didn't even mention the whole creepy thing he had with Rije. Ugh. The guy makes Kamen Rider Blade's Hajime look wholesome. (It's twisted, it's inappropriate, and the Abaranger didn't need Abare Max as much as they needed Abare Chris Hansen to fight Nakadai.) So much of the final stretch of episodes is devoted to Nakadai at the expense of the others, but then, A LOT of the show is devoted to him.

What really bothers me is how most of the fandom thinks Killer is the only thing that makes Abaranger worthwhile, when...I'm sorry, he's not. Abaranger has a lot of other things going for it, a great cast of heroes, a quirky, self-aware sense of humor, and a love story between a hero and villainess that works better than Jetman's. Nakadai could've been awesome, but the show was just too afraid. I mean, you obviously don't need Nakadai running around and slitting people's throats in his spare time, but...stick to what you're claiming this character is, and don't be afraid to shake him up a bit. They introduce him as this terrifying idea of a psychopath with transforming capabilities, one who there's no way he'll "turn good" and end up joining the team...and he does just that. It's like the show was just catering to the fans who worshipped the character, and discarding what was best for the story. I always found it interesting that head writer Naruhisa Arakawa wasn't the one responsible for the arc where Nakadai "turns good," it was instead secondary writers Shou Aikawa and Atsushi Maekawa. Makes me wonder if Arakawa realized how dishonest it was to the story and wasn't interested in writing it. Imagine if Kuuga ended with Godai and Dagaba shaking hands and making snowmen, that's practically what Abaranger does.

"Did you find the place OK? Oh, you just came over for sandwiches? Well, let's see what you said in your chat transcript..."

And I know what the typical response to this is. "ZMOG, it's a kidz show, how psychotic did you want Nakadai to be?" How's about as psychotic as the writers claimed he was until they pussed out?

Bottom line: Abaranger was in desperate need of a serious, threatening villain like Nakadai, but his execution was all off, and they hired too young of an actor. The show devotes far too much time to him for the way the writers are too cowardly to stick to their guns.