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.

1 comment:

  1. I was shocked to here that Dinosaurs was back as a theme after a certain memorabal series.
    I gave it a chance and was disappointed at what could have been and what I was expecting.
    All said and done, Abare Killer should have been evil for 5-15 episode and became heroic. Since the media has portrayed him as a upcomming hero. That is what it should have been down. Koutaro looked mature enough to be a snobby surgeon and I respect that he is both a Sadist and Mayhamer. I think after my propose number of episodes of how evil Killer should be they should have a signigicant amount of episode of showing Killer changing from a Anti-Hero to a hero as he is taking responsibility and fighting off the Dezumozoria. I can respect that Abarekiller is a villain but also like Burai, he was meant to be part of the team. All of this was foreshadowed through toys, magazines and art of course.