Saturday, May 19, 2012

So X1 Mask and Black Condor Walk Into a Bar...

It's always seemed unfair to me that Maskman's been kind of forgotten by fans, while Jetman gets so much praise -- "The best Sentai! The most legendary Sentai!" -- when I always thought that Jetman was a Maskman wannabe. I think Maskman's an all around better show, I think Takeru's a helluva lot more interesting than Ryu, Ryousuke Kaizu a better actor than Koutarou Tanaka, the villains are interesting and, most importantly, the love story works. I know what you're saying. "But if Jetman is so much like Maskman, where is the bad-ass, boozebag antihero!?!"

Toshiki Inoue was Jetman's main writer, and while he wasn't Maskman's main writer, he did write several episodes for the series, one of which was episode 39, titled "Revive! The Mysterious X1 Mask." In it we meet Ryou Asuka, the first man to be selected by Commander Sugata as a Maskman -- not having a Masking Brace, he simply summoned Aura Power to don his green colored prototype Maskman suit, becoming X1 Mask. And what's funny is how the episode plays like a condensed version of the first few Jetman episodes, with Ryou in the Gai role. Jetman's at times shot-for-shot! Inoue likes to recycle. Breaking it down...

Nothing too major, but both Ryou and Gai are street-tough boozehounds who like to spend their off time brooding in a bar. Ryou likes the classical music his late girlfriend played, Gai likes jazz. Both things scream Inoue.

Next up, Takeru/Ryu is always stalking Ryou/Gai. Takeru wants to know more about Ryou and why he's given up being a Maskman. Ryu wants to know why Gai can't be a team-player. These scenes show the difference between Ryousuke Kaizu and Ryu actor Koutarou Tanaka's acting abilities. Kaizu plays it cool, coming off as just being really curious about Ryou and testing him. Tanaka just nags and nags and shows no personality. I never really liked Tanaka and think he's a weak actor. I don't know if Inoue and the Jetman writers were just stacking the deck that much in Gai/Wakamatsu's favor or what, but their casting choice for Ryu makes it that much easier for Wakamatsu to steal the show and makes you want to root for him to punch out Ryu. That's getting off-track, though...

The next similarity is a scene where Ryou/Gai are just trying to chill in their bar by shooting pool, and Takeru/Ryu interferes. Takeru shows up and proceeds to one-up Ryou at pool, with Ryou threatening to put his eye out with the damn cue. Ryu enters the bar and orders an old lady's drink and THAT'S IT FOR GAI! Ryu's gone too damn far this time! So, Gai takes aim and shoots a couple of billiard balls Ryu's direction, only Ryu's a step ahead of him and catches 'em.

Sick and tired of being pestered, Ryou/Gai challenge Takeru/Ryu to a motorcycle duel. (Ryou challenges Takeru to a game of chicken, while Gai and Ryu just do a simple race.) Ryou/Gai's condition is that if they win, Takeru/Ryu leave them the fook alone. If Takeru wins, he wants to know Ryou's story, and if Ryu wins, he wants Gai to join the team without any more bullshit. Ryou's surprised at Takeru's seriousness, wimps out, and loses the match. Gai wins his match, but because Ryu was distracted by some kids being attacked by Vyram.

Shortly after the match, Takeru and Ryou find themselves attacked by Tube/Vyram and their latest monster. Takeru/Ryu put up a fight, but could use a hand, but -- too bad! Ryou/Gai get on their motorcycle and flee!

Driving away, words said by Takeru/Ryu echo through the mind of Ryou/Gai as they struggle with the guilt of abandoning their pesky pal as he was knee-deep in trouble.

In an attack of conscience, they return to lend a hand, by just driving through all of their opponents with their motorcycle. Takeru/Ryu is glad to see Ryou/Gai again, and Ryou offers kind words while Gai's even all smiley, and they proceed to transform and fight together...

And, of course, Ryou and Gai end up making heroic sacrifices. Ryou ends up taking on the monster's special maneuever that would have killed the other Maskman, ending up a bloody mess and losing his transforming capabilities; Gai gets fatally stabbed stopping a purse-snatcher. I guess Ryou was smart enough to get himself to a hospital, unlike Gai.

I really like the X1 Mask episode. I think it's unique and surprising and a classic Sentai episode, and I like the way that the prickly and street-tough Ryou is meant to contrast Takeru -- Takeru could have easily ended up bitter and shut-off like Ryou. I do think Ryou/X1 and the episode might be more remembered by the general fandom if maybe someone more recognizable to tokusatsu, like Yutaka Hirose (Flashman/Liveman), Hiroshi Watari (Sharivan/Spielban), or Hiroshi Kawai/Kazuoki Takahashi (Changeman, Metalder) had played Ryou. (They had actually intended for Kawai to play Kenta/Black Mask.) Singer-turned-actor Hideki Shibaya isn't as bad as I remembered him being, I was surprised during my last rewatch of the episode, but...sorry, I just think it would have been really cool to see Hirose as a brief Sentai hero or Watari have a notable role in the franchise.


  1. I agree with every last bit of this. And yeah, Inoue does tend to repeat himself. Though Changerion is still the weird one of his works imo. xD

    I too think Maskman is an all around better show than Jetman. Though may I ask, what exactly do you like about Jetman, other than Gai? Like, why ever watch Jetman when you can just watch Maskman?

    1. There's still good in Jetman, I just think Maskman is better. :P What gives Jetman its own flavor is Inoue's dramatics, the struggle of the unprofessional team and the romance within the team. I do think the show has a lot of problems, though, and I do feel like if you took Gai out of the show, then it wouldn't have the "legendary" status -- he is a huge, huge component of the show.

      I do like Jetman, I just like knocking it off its pedestal now and then. :P

  2. I keep praising Jetman to be the best 90s series despite the fact Maskman was part of my earlier childhood. It's hard for me to choose between both shows- both shows IMO are just very good. I like how Toshiki Inoue makes drama although I did have a few complaints about how he implemented Gatchaman elements into Jetman. But still, Jetman for me, I overrate it a lot.

    For Gai Yuki, yeah I think he's really THAT praised. Why? Well he did return in Gokaiger 28 although the fantasy double Gai team never happened, it was still a good guest episode for Toshihide Wakamatsu and Gai did meet Gai off-screen. :P

  3. Ok I thought I wasn't the only one who noticed this, and I'm glad it was you. I thought I was going crazy after all these years!

    This is HayakawaKen btw, the guy who recommended that episode of Speilban for your old youtube page, good to see your blog!