Monday, May 14, 2012

Broken Wings Mend in Time

Tensou Sentai Goseiger, the 34th Super Sentai entry, has been a polarizing one from its debut. While most of the reaction is overwhelmingly negative, Goseiger has a small group of devoted fans. Is the show as bad as everyone says? Is there enough merit to warrant it a cult following? Still controversial, I wanted to say what I thought of it.

I was befuddled by Goseiger from the start. I was pretty excited by the news that veteran director Takao Nagaishi was going to be Goseiger's main director. Nagaishi first started directing Sentai with Changeman, and has been credited by numerous Sentai staff as really helping modernize Sentai's look and giving it a more dramatic flair. After directing several episodes of GoGoFive, he left the franchise in favor of the returning Kamen Rider. During the staff shake-ups as Kamen Rider was positioning itself as a fall production, Nagaishi was in kind of a limbo, and in the meantime directed a couple of Shinkenger episodes that were a welcome return to character focus after the show had fallen into heavy mecha/toy introductions. So, I was very pleased to hear of his involvement with Goseiger.

I was less pleased to hear that the main writer was Michiko Yokote, whose previous Sentai entry was the mixed Gekiranger. While I enjoyed Gekiranger, I never thought it reached its full potential and singled out Yokote's weakness at character as one of its main problems. (Michiko Yokote is the combined pseudonym of two writers; one who is said to handle plot, and one character. "Michiko Yokote" is actually the name of the woman who manages them.) And although he had done stellar work in the past, it was also strange to see main producer Jun Hikasa was behind the show -- Hikasa had said during Go-onger that he was moving on, so what was he doing back? That couldn't have been a good sign...

Goseiger had a shockingly bland debut episode. Spending no time setting up characters, it just throws you in, a noisy whiz-bang of randomness. Could this really be the work of such veterans? For a good portion of its first arc, Goseiger remained generic. Unengaging, run of the mill plots and cardboard heroes. It felt to me, at best like a tokusatsu show from the '70s or early '80s, when things were still creaky and they still hadn't perfected things, and at worst like an imitator of the Sentai franchise, like Toho's Chouseishin series. There's no real reason for the 34th entry, handled by pros like Nagaishi and Hikasa, to feel so generic, uninspired and unpolished.

One of the standouts of the show was the action team, namely Yasuhiro Takeuchi as Gosei Red's suit actor. In the early episodes, when you couldn't depend on anything else, you could at least depend on some damn impressive acting and action from Takeuchi. I personally credit him for the evolution of the Alata character, and Alata actor Yuudai Chiba's improvement. At the start of the show, Alata was shown to be an absent-minded, child-like nincompoop. His first action of the series lose the card which grants him the ability to transform! Chiba's acting is also shaky here, clearly missing some marks. But Takeuchi, in his first in-suit role as a Red, ALWAYS presented Gosei Red as being competent on the battle field and serious in a fight.

Takeuchi, the show's biggest hero, who in my opinion is also the best Red suit actor since Naoki Oofuji.

Now, I'm one of the critics who complained about Alata early on in the show -- the shamelessness of casting Justin Bieber's Japanese lookalike as the lead superhero -- but the character does make such a massive improvement over the series, becoming the rock of the team with a Zen-like calmness, and I have to say that I think Takeuchi is responsible. I think staff caught on to what he was doing and maybe Chiba took notice and started hanging out with him (the way some past actors, such as Changeman's Kazuoki and Kamen Rider Black's Tetsuo Kurata would hang out with their suit actors), but Chiba eventually begins to match Takeuchi. The writers really shift how they handle the character, and it helps that Chiba's acting also gradually improves. Goseiger started with Biebs-kun being my least favorite cast member to ending with Alata being the hero I liked most.

As for the others? They're kind of just there. The actors aren't bad, just pretty nondescript, but the writers do them no favors. It's pretty obvious that for the four others, the writers gave up and they're just pretty much playing themselves. Initial descriptions described Eri/Gosei Pink as being the dependable older sister of the team, and she's anything but. Actress Rika Satou had a reputation for being one of the "stupid" players on TV quiz shows, and Eri not so coincidentally becomes more of an airhead. Moune starts the series as being a rough, ready-to-dive-into-a-fight warrior, but eventually becomes a cutesy, chirpy type to better suit idol Mikiho Niwa. (The ridiculed decision to have the then-tough Moune do battle by cheerleading was written in there because of Niwa's cheerleading past.) Likewise, Kento Ono never manages to pull off being the serious leader Hyde, and his character is eventually loosened up -- and no longer referred to as leader, a later episode all but officially renaming Alata the true leader -- and Hyde is never more likable than when he's thrown in a lighter situation. (And while I don't think Kyousuke Hamao is as terrible as Agri as most people say, he is just sort of blank faced and there.) Make no mistake, this is Alata's show...

...and Bladerun's. Bladerun is to the villains what Alata is to the heroes, and it goes back to my feelings about Yokote. It seems to me like characters are Team Yokote's weakness, and they can really only pay attention to just two or three at the expense of every other character. Gekiranger's been criticized for its heavy focus on just Jan and Rio, and Goseiger's focus is similarly on Alata and Bladerun. When Goseiger first started, I couldn't believe how forgettable the Warstar were. One of my first reactions was "Maybe this show will have different groups of villains to show the extent of the Gosei angels' protection." And the show thankfully went that route, but with just as mixed results. The YuumaJuu were written to be too obnoxious, and had their arc kicked off with a run of some of the show's lowest points. (I admit, I had to put Goseiger on hold around the point the YuumaJuu debuted -- I really thought the show would join the ranks of Boukenger or Go-onger, the two shows at the bottom of my list.)

And then, suddenly, producer Jun Hikasa decided to leave the series, allowing sub-producer Gou Wakamatsu to take control. Wakamatsu's previous Sentai experience was limited to working as assistant producer on a small amount of shows, such as Gingaman, and here he is at the last minute *running* a show? But, surprisingly, this is when the show makes an improvement that is pretty much consistent for the remainder of the series. The Matrintis villains arrive at this point, and although the Yuumajuu's Makuin and Kinggon grew on me (with the twist that revealed they weren't as foolish as they appeared), I think the Matrintis is really the show's only decent group of villains, and even in their short appearance, I feel they outdo Ohranger and Go-onger's attempt at robotic villains. (They're not quite the Metalder's Neros Armor, but much better than Baranoia or Gaiark.) The show also dials down the toy craze and finds more interesting scripts coming its way, such as the two-parter where Alata is thrown back in time to just before the Warstar invade. (Compare that to earlier fare, such as the episode where the Goseiger help a nerd get confidence to talk to a girl.)

Takeuchi's Gosei Red performance begins to rub off on Chiba -- Epic 16 marks a turning point for the Alata character.

Robogog's demise was disappointing to me, however, in that it committed a crime Goseiger regularly commited -- what I call "Seiya-Fighting." Now, I know Saint Seiya is a classic manga/anime, and I have a like-hate thing with it, but it always drove me bonkers how that show acts like it's going to be no-bullshit and there's going to be a cool fight, and they try like heck to build up to it, but then...the whole episode is Seiya (or one of the other regulars) just TALKING to their opponent, with a brief smack at the end deciding the fate of the fight. Often there would be an info-dump, but mostly it was empty trash talking or the hero talking to himself in disbelief. But what's worse than that...Goseiger would often Seiya-Fight FROM THEIR MECHA! They'd have conversations with their opponents in mecha fight, speaking, while seated, through their mecha! Double snooze.

Bladerun's reveal didn't come as much of a surprise -- and it's something I think would have been easier to care about with a face actor -- but it drives home Goseiger's biggest problem: the lack of world building in the show. It doesn't bother creating a landscape and background of the Gosei World, as other whimsical Sentai shows like Gingaman and Magiranger did, it didn't bother to create its own history or mythology. The Goseiger characters could have just as easily been cops or astronauts or garbage men ("Cleaning up the city is our duty, evildoers!"), they're so generic and their premise is never put to ANY use. Listen to the lyrics of the OP theme, how majestic and important it makes the Goseiger sound and you realize the show lacks the "epicness" it ironically calls its episodes. Such a shame, really, when you think of all of the cool, interesting things the show could have done. Also, I feel like the villains' gimmicks of having monsters based on sci-fi, monster/horror and robot movies -- a very cool, fun idea -- was largely wasted.

The Matrintis Empire, who in my opinion, were the best of the show's three villain groups.

Also, the Amachis? Get them out of there. I don't think a tokusatsu show has ever been as lazy and stupid in setting up the good guys' hang-out as this show is. Alata bumps into Nozomu and is his best friend, and his idiot dad is OK with housing this stranger and his four other friends? Get out of here. The show eventually, way after the fact, tries to explain that -- off-screen -- Master Head contacted Nozomu's dad and explained everything, but...yeah, I feel like that wasn't the plan. Why did the Amachi's have the Gosei-built Datas machine? Why does the kanji making their surname mean "heaven" and "knowledge?" I thought a better explanation would be that Nozomu and his dad were fellow Gosei people in disguise, guiding the newbie Gosei Angels that Alata et al were, or that they were humans with potential to evolve into Gosei Angels or something. But, nope. They're just random strangers! And not once is anyone on either end concerned.

A low point even for Goseiger? A low point even for Goseiger.

Goseiger's just a frustrating, perplexing, lackluster, bland mix. How did it get to be this way? Fans suspect behind-the-scenes turmoil. Not only Hikasa leaving, but Nagaishi, the main director? He ended up only directing FOUR episodes (the first two and episodes 21 and 22), and the throwaway V-Cinema special. Another bad sign? Goseiger had two episodes where the writer's credit was given to Saburo Yatsude, the collective pseudonym of multiple Toei staffers. While Yatsude has been credited with writing numerous song lyrics over time, this was the first time in the franchise's history actual EPISODES were credited to ol' Yatsude. I also always felt like the show was really just a placeholder as Toei prepped what was to be the big 35th anniversary series, Gokaiger. So, while the first dozen or so episodes of Goseiger are pretty hard to take -- very simplistic, very plain good guy versus very plain bad guy -- the show does improve. It doesn't become anything too special, and it's far from the best show, but it turns out better than you'd expect, and thanks to Takeuchi, will always at least have entertaining action.

Oh, yeah, and Gosei Knight and his whole green message was a total bore, so I didn't want to talk about him. It's NOT your "tarn," Gosei Knight -- ha-ha!


  1. Been trying to figure out what to say to this post, but I think you've pretty much said all that needs to be said. At least, anything that might be "interesting." xD

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  3. Somehow, I think the show was originally conceived as a three person team (Alata, Hyde and Moune), and that Eri and Agri were last minute additions, hence why they are so bland and/or inconsistent.

    A thing I feel you didn't mention was the fact that the show tries to do too much:
    siblings (Agri and Moune)
    + childhood friends (Alata and Eri)
    + hero who feels responsible for his partner's death (Hyde)
    + they're guardian angels from another realm
    + they are from rival tribes
    + they're rookies cut off from their superiors and having to deal with the bad guys on their own.
    Pick two out of all of those and you have enough to make a show, but Goseiger had to try to do them all at once.

    1. That's a good point. What's funny is Goseiger is throwing so many ideas into the ring, but they never end up making much use out of them. Like, the rivalry between the tribes is pretty much dropped after the first episode.