Monday, July 16, 2012

Science, Dreams and Big Bangs

I always thought Dynaman was a cool, entertaining little show, so I've always been a little baffled that it seems to get such a mixed reaction. The English speaking fans mostly ridicule it (thanks largely to the jokey Canadian dub), while it seems to get lost in the mix by the Japanese fans. And unlike shows like Bioman, Changeman and Maskman, which were fan favorites when they aired in countries like France, Brazil, and the Philippines respectively, Dynaman didn't air in a country outside of Japan in its entire, original format to gain a one of a kind love of its own.

Maybe Dynaman seems odd to people because it's really when the Sentai franchise is in transition -- Dynaman has one foot in the '70s and another in the '80s. The seventh Super Sentai entry, and the second one in which Hirohisa Soda is main writer, Dynaman at first seems like an average entry, but indications of the places where Soda would take the franchise are easy to spot, most especially with the show's villains -- the arrangement of their group and their interactions. This isn't to discredit the Sentai shows that came before, because I like quite a few of those, too, but Dynaman feels to me like the first Sentai that is more like what we're used to thinking of when we think of Sentai. I think Dynaman is when the franchise starts chiseling out more of its identity, what would become -- and still is -- the template, the norm for the franchise.

Beginning life as "Baseball Sentai V-Leaguer," someone at Toei wisely decided to abandon that theme in favor of the science theme. Following what was, at the time, crazy-popular-with-kids Goggle V, Toei was initially wanting something equally lighthearted and kid friendly in hopes of having further success, and they thought a sports theme would prove irresistable to kids. A certain amount of these lighthearted and humorous elements remain with the series even after it becomes Dynaman, what with the Dyna Station's cover being a kids' play center and having the heroes be familiar with the kids who hang out there (a group of which are regulars, but some are one-shots). This element of a toku show bothers some fans, but I don't think it's as bothersome here as in some other shows -- to me, the Yumeno Invention Center being meant to be Yumeno's place for dreams to flourish and the Dynaman members being scientists basically made them seem like teachers to me, so the earlier portion of the show being kid-heavy didn't seem too out of place. (And unlike some shows from the time, not EVERY episode was devoted to a kid. Sometimes the guest would be an adult friend of a team member or Yumeno's. Dynaman's successors would stray further and further away from an overpopulation of kid guest stars.)

A 1983 calendar which was based off of the early V-Leaguer idea, with the team name written across the chest like a baseball team's uniform. (An idea that made it to even the Dynaman stages, as there are publicity photos with "Dynaman" written across their chest.)
I've often wondered why this show wasn't as liked as Bioman, when I feel like they have a lot of similarities. However, as I thought about it, I realized it's because the show never really gives the heroes personal conflict. (So many Sentai shows, but as I think of each Sentai leading up to Bioman, I don't seem to recall a show ever giving the heroes baggage as Bioman tried to, such as Gou's ordeal with his dad, or have inner-team strife, as was the case with Mika early on. Succeeding shows would eventually go deeper with its heroes, more willing to show flaws or get angsty, but at the time Bioman was treading some new ground.) I like the heroes of Dynaman, but it helps that they're played by such a likable, stand-out bunch. The five inventors are marked by the individual dream they each have, scientific breakthroughs they hope to accomplish. Being respectable scientists and teachers-of-sorts, they're mostly depicted as being stand-up role-models, so the dedicated and diverse cast members go a long way in making these characters work. (I'll talk more about them in a minute.) The characters in which Soda and the other writers aren't afraid to let loose are...

The villains, the Jashinka Empire. They're the first Sentai villains I feel have a little explanation of their background -- they're the evolved lifeform that fell to Earth along with a meteor, the meteor sinking underground, where over a long period of time these evolved creatures set up their own society beneath the Earth, making scientific advancements faster than the humans above ground. (Soda definitely takes some of these ideas and puts them to even better use with Maskman's villains, the Underground Empire Tube. For one thing, Maskman worked to try and make you really believe a society was at work underground for all of this time, while Dynaman focuses exclusively on the Jashinka.) Like the heroes, the members of the Jashinka Empire have their own dream, tying the theme together a bit nicely -- it is believed in their society that the individual who has ten tails will be immortal and rule all.

The Jashinka Clan; General Zenobia, General Car, Emperor Aton, Prince Megiddo, Princess Chimera, Dark Knight.
Heading the Jashinka is Emperor Aton. He's voiced by one of my favorite villain voice actors, the late Takeshi Watabe, who does his usual menacing job here. Aton spends most of the series seated, which makes the times he randomly chooses to walk around later on seem a little bizarre. While the Jashinka's designs are done by the super-talented Yutaka Izubuchi, and most of his work in this show is awesome, Aton's design puzzles me a little. His samurai-esque outfit, the way his tails are arranged, that's all good, but why does he have such a silly face? His right eye is supposed to be missing, but he really just looks like he sucked on a Sour Patch Kid. Well, I read that Izubuchi designed the character thinking a face actor would be visible, and when you picture some gnarly character actor wearing that armor, the design improves immensely. I'm assuming they planned to get an actor, but opted for a masked suit for convenience.

Speaking of gnarly character actors, Toei veteran Masashi Ishibashi plays the scientist/general Car, and I think it's probably the best design he's had in a Sentai. Looking like a ghoulish kabuki player, Car doesn't get much to do besides create monsters and bark out plans until later in the series.

I find Zenobia interesting because she's also a general and Car's rival. Feared by Aton, who banished her after attempting to rebel against him, she escapes her prison, lying her way back into Aton's good graces with her own agenda, sneakily trying to find a way to obtain a tenth tail on her own and get rid of all of her enemies. Toku vet Ritsuko Fujiyama brings an icy menace to the character who hides her treasonous ambition behind an authororative exterior. (Zenobia's arrival also marks when Dynaman's stories start to become a bit more interconnected than they previously were.)

I really like Chimera -- she gave the show quite a boost, starting out as the most active of the Jashinka. Mari Kanou's great in the role, making Chimera pretty intimidating and scary at times, which she manages to keep believable even though the character has a bit of a cutesy side. I like that there's a few episodes where she takes on Ryu/Dyna Black, and the show isn't afraid to show him being bested by her. She's a good villainess! And for some reason, background music composer Kensuke Kyou decides to recycle a lot of his Zubat BGM for her. And she really brings out good in...

Her cousin, Megiddo. Megiddo, Megiddo. He's such an AWESOME character, but I just feel like actor Kenju Hayashi doesn't take it seriously and holds him back. He's OK with the spoiled whiner part of the role, but that's just a small part of the character. He often just goes cartoony, and is especially never good with playing pissed off or kick-ass, which makes the character's incredible transformation into Dark Knight hard to buy. When Chimera joins the show, they start this dynamnic with Megiddo where she just really busts his balls for being daddy's boy and being publicly shamed by Dyna Red, who cut off one of his precious tails in the premiere episode. Chimera seems closer to Aton than his own son is, especially after Megiddo is banished by Aton and plots his revenge as Dark Knight.

Dark Knight (whose coolness would seriously have lessened if they kept his original name of Dark Boy) is often credited as being the first "dark hero" (a villain with transforming capabilities or a suit similar to a hero's who fights for no side) of Sentai. And while characters like Denjiman's Banriki Ma-ou and Sunvulcan's Inazuma Ginga paved the path, Dark Knight feels like a fresh breeze, and is an important character in terms of the way Soda will then begin to write villains and villain dynamics. Dark Knight shows up as an opponent of both Dynaman's and the Jashinka's, but remains mysterious, at one point seemingly teaming up with Zenobia, only to end up *really* screwing her over in what ends up being a well-planned out revenge. They even try to keep his identity secret, having Dark Knight disguise himself as an old man in one episode, played by an uncredited Hayashi. Voice actor Michiro Iida -- who I'll always think of as Changeman's Shiima -- provides the voice of Dark Knight, bringing his usual cold creepiness.

A huge star of the show, though? Action director Junji Yamaoka. Dynaman being the first Sentai to be rid of constrictive cloth suits, Yamaoka recognizes the freedom it gives his performers and goes to town. Man, oh, man, the action in this show. In some of the earlier, less involving episodes, the action would be the saving grace. Yamaoka experiments with a style he'd end up perfecting in Bioman and (especially) Changeman, with wild, hand-held, war-film-like camera shots that throw you into the middle of the action and in staging scenes in which the camera views all -- we'll be centered on Dyna Red battling some goons, but can see other members waging their own fight in the background.

I feel like this would be a good spot to mention that, when Dynaman premiered, it aired for the full 25 minutes that Sentai had run to up until that point. But, beginning with episode 10, due to a time-slot change, 5 minutes was trimmed from the running time. Sentai remained a 20 minute show up until the seventh episode of Megaranger. It's always been of my opinion that the five minute trim ended up benefiting Sentai -- fat like unnecessary lengthy scenes of mecha combining was cut, story took precedence -- it just really tightened the shows up. There was no time for messing around, they had to get down to business. Dynaman's scripts stumble with the time cut at first, but would make up for it in awesome action scenes. (Of course.) In-suit, the Dynaman have nifty weapons -- Red with his dual swords, Black with his blade boomerangs, the crazy dual mace Yellow wielded -- that also provide some cool action scenes.

A photo requirement when talking about Dynaman.
And while Yamaoka always liked pushing his actors into doing as many of their own stunts as they could, Dynaman benefited from having two Japan Action Club members playing the heroes -- the mega-talented Jun'ichi Haruta as Ryu/Dyna Black and Kouji Unoki as Yousuke/Dyna Blue. (These two were rare in that they also did their own in-suit stunts.) Haruta often steals the show, which he regularly did in Goggle V, too. Ryu being a ninja freed up Haruta to do, oh, just about any crazy thing that he could. Jump off a cliff, jump off a waterfall? No problem. Fight Chimera and some goons on-top of a moving cable car? Hang onto moving vehicles? Climb up some buildings, jump over and through some trees, into a flying kick? Haruta and Yamaoka can make the show feel like a vintage action movie every week. Two episodes I'd like to highlight, that I think represent the total entertainment Dynaman can bring with its action...

The episode in which the Jashinka place a bomb on Dan's motorcycle as he's in a race. Like "Speed," Dan can't stop the bike, or else it will explode. And while a couple of Ryu's scenes play for laughs as he frantically tries to help Dan (with not much help from Yousuke), that doesn't mean Haruta won't do some crazy stuff for ya. Here, he hangs off the back of a moving motorcycle, being pulled through some nasty looking mud puddles.

Another episode plays like what Toei usually does for the Sentai movies -- just nonstop, fun action. Episode 20, reminiscent of an old James Bond movie, it's an episode that's all about the Dynaman racing against Jashinka troops who are looking for a microfilm that has plans for a device that can weaponize the sun or some nutty stuff like that. It's just the Dynaman and Jashinka kicking each other's asses the entire time! The aforementioned scene of Haruta hanging off of moving cable cars is in this episode, and Unoki gets in some water stunts, and there's a duel between Rei and Chimera much!!!!! (The bad news is, the show settles in for some stupifyingly bad filler for several episodes after this one.)

But speaking of Rei, I feel like Sayoko Hagiwara is one of the more underappreciated tokusatsu actresses. While Rei can be a little cutesy at times, I never thought of her as being weak or as bad as SMILE-SMILE, and a lot of that is Hagiwara -- she looks like she's perfectly capable of smacking you upside your head and causing serious damage. She also goes nuts with her voiceovers. It's no wonder she was chosen to play the wicked Neferu three years later in Flashman. How unique that she played one of the only female Ultramen/Ultrawomen, a Sentai Pink and then a villainess? Nao Nagasawa receives 85% of the worship that should go to Hagiwara.

Yuu Tokita does a nice job as Nangou/Dyna Yellow, the clown of the team. He's funny in an old-fashioned kind of way and never obnoxious, and I find he brings a lot to a role that's a bit more underwritten than the others. Dan/Red's actor, Satoshi Okita, is a perfectly fine actor, and a likable guy, but he lacks a little something that the others have and they kind of overshadow him. Okita's good, he just makes Dan seem more like an equal to everybody else. Unsurprisingly, it's suit actor Kazuo Niibori who makes Dyna Red really stand out. (I also find it a bit weird that Okita makes his voice higher as Dyna Red -- it's like the opposite of a Christian Bale Batman voice.) Although a dramatic actor, Okita gets a chance to shine in later episodes, doing a lot of his own action. (Two episodes curiously have a similar plot in which Dan's Dyna Brace is destroyed, so he's left to rely on his natural abilities, and Okita really gives it his all.)

Let's hear it for the cast: Hagiwara, Unoki, Okita, Haruta, Tokita.
To wrap it up, I think there's a lot of good in Dynaman. There's fun, likable hero characters, fascinating villain dynamics, nicely tied together themes (scientists VS scientists, dreams VS dreams) great Yutaka Izubuchi designs and super cool action courtesy of Junji Yamaoka and the Japan Action Club. I just think it's a fun, fun show that deserves a chance by fans. The show's a blast and, with as many napalm-induced explosions as it has, it should be.


  1. Based on an old issue of a kid's magazine that I had that featured Super Sentai, Dynaman didn't air in the Philippines. The Sentai shows that aired in the Philippines are: Goranger, JAKQ, Goggle-V, Bioman, Maskman, Turboranger, Fiveman and Jetman.

    1. I know it didn't, I was just saying that had Dynaman aired outside of Japan the way some shows did in Brazil, France and the Philippines, that perhaps it wouldn't be so overlooked, it would at least have a fan base out there.

    2. Sorry about that, I wasn't able to notice that line since my eyes were strained for a bit. Anyways, Bioman is more popular compared to Maskman here in the Philippines. In the recent 25th anniversary Toei Philippines event proved how popular the series is till now.

      Here's the video:

      Maskman gain popularity for being the first series dubbed in Filipino and that's it. Also, Maskman's OP theme is quite cheesy.

    3. Bioman strikes again...

      I still feel that, if you're reading something good about Maskman on the internet, chances are it's a fan from the Philippines.

      And, hey, do you mean the original Maskman OP? I love that song! It's my favorite Sentai OP, and I think the lyrics are nice.

    4. What I mean was the localized Filipino Maskman OP. The Filipino version of the song has nothing to do with "Aura Power" or "Qi" but more on

      "Go! Go! Fight Maskman! Protect Humanity! Charge! Charge! Fight Maskman! Defenders of Justice! The Whole is Praising these heroes! The Laser Squadron... MASSSSKUUUMAN!!"

      That's how the Filipino Maskman opening theme sounds like in English. See what I mean by cheesy?

    5. Oh. Yeah, that's pretty generic. Sad thing is, one of the reasons why the original OP is my favorite is because I think the lyrics are good -- it's pretty much the first Sentai OP to avoid the standard "Fight for love! Protect the peace! The brave five who unite for justice!" kind of lyrics, so it's sad that the dub turned it into that kind of song.

      I hate to ask what happened to the ED in the dub.

    6. Here's my rough translation of the ED in the dub:

      Here comes the brave heroes
      They show no fear,
      against their fierce enemies,
      they will not quit!
      The strong defenders of the weak!
      Honest men who loyal to their duty!
      They are willing to sacrifice their lives!

      Defenders of Peace!
      You can count on them!
      We should follow their example!
      They are the brave
      Laser Squadron, Maskuman! Maskuman!

      It's less generic than the OP. I think I know where the Zaido theme got its inspiration. Speaking of which, there were rumors back then of a Filipino Maskman remake to fight against Zaido in terms of ratings and viewership but because of the bad response of fans to this, it was canned or something along those lines.

    7. Thanks! Still a little generic when compared to the Japanese original, IMO.

  2. I'm still amazed how you manage to find all these pre production shots. That and the shot from Maskman so far. I'd like to see more of that. I know there's pics of BFJ where they have different eye colors for example. Anyhow, a reply to this article. Great work, I love Dynaman quite a bit primarily for the stunts. Haruta really sells it, and I love how they liked to zoom in on his face to really show it was him doing every stunt. I just wish it was easier to find better raws than what was out there. :(

    1. A lot of it is from old books -- I feel like the books for the older shows were more willing to talk about early show ideas and show early promotional stuff. Sometimes, like with the calendar featuring Dynaman, the merchandise will give things away by having been made so early on they couldn't change it, which I find funny.

      Thanks for reading! :)

  3. Great post Shougo. This is the kind of something Dynaman could really use! =D

  4. Shougo! As a huge fan of your Changeman site I am thrilled to have discovered your blog, oh man I would love for you to write a book on sentai!!! I actually have a question for you I would love if sometime in the future you would be able to do a post with your thoughts comments on "least focused sentai character in each series' ? By loving Power Rangers for years and recently loving even more sentai I feel somewhat frustrated with the sentai shows that I have seen. Having only seen Change, Flash and Dai I was so upset that the two characters I fall in love with in each show Lou in Flash and Kazu in DaiRanger only had about 2 focus episodes each. In DaiRanger I feel like i waited 40 episodes to get to know Kazu only to have one episode where he gets drunk :( . I would love to hear your thoughts on this Is this common in each series for one character to get zero focus? Thank you so much and keep up the amazing work :)

    1. Thank you! :)

      I'll take that into consideration -- sounds like it would be something interesting to go through, but a little overwhelming with how many Sentai shows there are! Also: it's (unsurprisingly) the fourth or fifth in line characters that often get overlooked. (Meaning, like, the young one of the team or a comedic heroine.)

      Even then, I think a lot depends on who's cast in the role. People criticize Maskman and Gekiranger characters for seeming undeveloped or wasted, for example, but I think both of those shows have good casting that helps elevate the roles or fill in some gaps left by the writers.

    2. I see what you mean. Im currently watching Maskman AMAZING love the mix of love, action, and character development so far. I think Momoko is my favorite but nervous that so far it looks like she is getting the least focus but her actress is so talented that its as if it doesnt matter because she really has such screen presence. Thanks again! :)