Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Judgment Time: Dekaranger
Anybody who was around at Japan Hero in '04 or HJU in early '05 is most likely aware of how I felt about Dekaranger at the time. Why was it so goofy? Why in the frick did they cast Ryuji Sainei, and why can't he stop screaming? Why's Umeko such an idiot? Where are the villains!?! What's with that cartoony "swoosh!" whenever they jump? Why do they go "Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?!?" all the time? Why the hell does Swan say "Doogie" instead of "Doggy," like everyone else!?! (I guess she was in another show where he wasn't SPD, but Doogie Kruger, MD.)
In early '04, I clearly remember receiving the first volume of Dekaranger. Coming off of Abaranger, which I really enjoyed and had quickly become one of my favorites, I had expected big things from Dekaranger -- having enjoyed Abaranger and Kuuga, I was pretty excited that main writer Naruhisa Arakawa was doing Dekaranger. And even though I thought Sainei's voice was awful, I really enjoyed that first volume -- it seemed kind of retro, and I liked the alien/police/sci-fi setting. So, after eagerly anticipating the second volume, I was disappointed to find the show was taking a cartoony, comedic turn. How could it flip so far around after that fun and cool first volume!?! Well, that was the voice the show chose, and it remained that way, and I felt letdown and disappointed and unhappy and frustrated by it, and that leads to nitpicks.
The first four episodes had comedy, but I thought still had a kind of seriousness about them. Think of Another Agito's actor playing that fugitive who killed the kid who idolized the Special Police; think of the way they used that one cop actor from Kuuga; showed regular cops and the inner workings of SPD; think of the way Deka Red destroyed that mecha-guy instead of gathering evidence. And then you get episodes like the Buddy Murphy one or the giant baby Umeko raises. And then Tetsu was introduced and, already having a thing against most sixth heroes, it didn't help when he was supposed to be "elite," but ended up being a cross-dressing moron. (One poster at Japan Hero at the time described Tetsu as having to be "babysat by the Dekaranger," and that's true. How's he go from being better than them to being four times as dumb as Umeko?)
Basically, I've long wanted a serious cop Sentai. Timeranger is called the "first" cop Sentai series, and...really? Half the team's not even supposed to be a Timeranger, and the show liked to show them as janitors more than anything cop-like. And even something like the Space Sheriff shows -- space cops sound cool, right? They have lieutenants and stuff, but they are never given cases in those shows! How many goddamn episodes does Retsu/Den/Dai overhear some kid have a problem (that turns out to be Maku/Mado/Fuuma related plan) and THAT is what gets him involved? Just about every episode. Changerion came close to being the show I pictured, where main hero Akira Suzumura just so happens to have a private detective agency that only starts getting work once that show's villains become active -- they work the detective angle in with traditional villain/monster agendas. But, still, that show was mostly comedic, and not a cop Sentai, and the way fans had always wanted a samurai Sentai, I wanted a cool cop Sentai. And here's Dekaranger, and it's just taking things lightly. Where's a Sentai version of the G3 Unit, dammit!?! (The MPD portions of Agito are probably the most satisfying cop-themed toku, although they weren't so much about investigation, or at least investigating bad guy schemes. And while I'm a sucker for noir stuff and private detectives and whatnot, Kamen Rider W again was all about the lulz. Give Skull his own show and then it would be another story.)
But Dekaranger ended, and I finished episodes I dropped, rewatched it, reevaluated it, and realized that...it was basically a send-up of cop shows, putting cop show tropes and cliches in a sci-fi and superhero setting. (BTW, I think it's funny that, for as inspired by the Space Sheriffs as it is, Dekaranger is actually WAY more cop-like than those shows.) I do have a theory that the show WAS originally meant to be a tad more serious, and that the cops were supposed to be SO, SO cool ("five cops who fight coolly with burning hearts") that it was meant to be kind of winking at cop conventions rather than outright spoofing 'em, but it was the mostly the casting choices that led the show to shift into that more outright comedic tone. Basically, I feel like Arakawa wanted the show to be "hip" cops like 21 Jump Street, and Toei went casting for Police Academy instead. Some the show's mocking was good -- I liked episodes that sent-up Stake Out (Stake Out Trouble), Die Hard III (Running Hero) and Speed (Cycling Bomb), and things like having a wacky take on hostage negotiation plots, but some things missed the mark (Tetsu in drag). Sometimes, the show would go back to playing it straight, but its big and bright monster designs, which would often work well in the comedic episodes, would detract from its efforts. (Why did the show forget to give the monsters a human looking form? I think that can help out big time, and would have made, for example, a character such as the Hannibal Lecter-ish Alienizer who killed Tetsu's parents more interesting.)
I still can't stand Ryuji Sainei, though. He takes what's supposed to be the renegade hot-head and turns him into a psychotic, whiny, loudmouth brat. He has moments where he tones it down and it's like "Wow! Too bad he couldn't behave like that the entire time." (The yelling only works for me when he's supposed to be pissed, but when he's just in an ordinary situation and doing it...) I've come to like Umeko more -- Mika Kikuchi plays the character well, and she's just supposed to be the young, naive kid. (Also: heroines who I thought were stupider like Houka Ozu and Saki Koyama came along.) Toku fan Tsuyoshi Hayashi is OK when he's just supposed to be stiff and on-the-job and is likable enough, but he gets in trouble when handed dramatic stuff. Yousuke Itou's probably the best of the cast, working well as the quirky and eccentric Sen. Ayumi Kinoshita's Jasmine is supposed to be similarly kooky -- speaking in an old timer's dialect, and possibly alien -- but she doesn't quite have the tools to pull it off, and the show completely drops the idea that she might be an Alienizer. Tomokazu Yoshida? I'm not a fan of his, and he is so unable to pull off being cool and elite that they had to bring in Deka Bright to make up for how he was supposed to be. Doggy? Too bad ass for a puppet, but suit actor Hideaki Kusaka and voice actor Tetsu Inada really make the character work, and he's actually awesome. (He was the one character who helped get me through the show back when I still had problems with it. At the time, I mostly thought it was sad that the puppet was the show's coolest character.)
All in all, I started to appreciate Dekaranger for what it is, not what I wanted it to be, and actually like it now, so...apologies to those on HJU who at the time insisted it was something, but I kept bitching about it!