Monday, September 3, 2012
ForeVer Rescue Spirits
1999. Remember the Y2K panic? The bad bubblegum pop that littered airwaves? The sucky letdown that was The Phantom Menace? People were stressed, worried, afraid of what the year 2000 held. So why not make a superhero show all about that uncertainty and paranoia, and pile on some natural disaster stuff for extra measure?
GoGoFive came on the heels of Gingaman which, as much as I currently enjoy it, when it first hit the airwaves? It might be hard to believe now, but that show was about as oddball sore-thumb to the Sentai franchise as Hibiki is to the Rider series. (Maybe not as severe as Hibiki, but close.) So GoGoFive was looking like a traditional entry with respectable heroes, a tech heavy show and not those weird, animal-mimicking forest people who jumped out of a storybook. The first Sentai series with Metal Hero veteran Jun Hikasa as head producer, GoGoFive premiered in an interesting spot -- the Metal Hero franchise was gasping its last breath, and there was still no new Kamen Rider show (though Kuuga must have been forming in Toei's mind).
Hikasa wanted to focus on people in the rescue profession, still wanting to highlight the real-life heroes who helped the country in its tragedies that still echoed from '95. And in spotlighting real life heroes, GoGoFive tries to approach the Sentai formula in as realistic way as it can, before Kuuga took a similar approach and was more successful for it. GoGoFive went tech-heavy, trying its damnedest to explain the logistics of how crazy Sentai technology like the henshin suits (shown in full detail how they work and just how they protect the user), weapons and -- of course -- just how the mecha works and all goes together. If you know me, you know that I'm far from being a mecha fan, but GoGoFive has some of the more interesting, well thought-out mecha work in the franchise. From the functioning of the individual pieces to the staging of actual monster fights to doing wild stuff like having the GoGoFive travel to space, there's a real effort in making you take notice to the mecha scenes and not have your mind wander. (If I wasn't partial to the designs and whiz-bang direction of the mid and late '80s Sentai shows, I'd say GoGoFive has the best mecha scenes in the franchise.)
As for the characters, I'm always pretty leery towards the toku shows that have the heroes be siblings. A lot of times I think that's just lazy writing, an easy way to have all of the characters always be in one spot and not all that different from one another. But GoGoFive is one of the few that gets it right -- they at least all have their own personalities, and the writers get the family bonds down, right down to the occasional bickering. The Tatsumis might not look anything at all like one another, but they certainly felt like a tight family, and I think it's the only Sentai team of all family members where they really accomplish that. The stand-out is Matoi/Go Red, who I think is pretty unique for being the first real smart-ass punk of a Red. They get a lot of comedic mileage out of Matoi, his over-eagerness and his 'tude, and some have blamed the downfall of the serious Red on Matoi, but Matoi's always able to switch on, is ultra-determined and puts himself 110% into the mission. It's hard to imagine someone better than Ryuuichiro Nishioka being cast in the role, and suit actor Seiji Takaiwa's a good match, just letting loose, and keeping up with the comedic sides of the character. There's too many times where a unique character like Matoi would be totally different in-suit. Some would argue that Megaranger's Kenta is the first different kind of Red of this type, but he pretty much became a different character in-suit. Matoi still seems like himself when in-suit, even if as exaggerated as Takaiwa can make him.
Speaking of the suit actors, there were always complaints about GoGoFive's action being "lackluster," but I always thought that...having toned down action was the point. With trying to be realistic, GoGoFive don't have a wild and crazy arsenal, and the characters aren't fighters or trained soldiers. They work with what they got and get the job done, and I think the JAC are really good at conveying this but not by just being lifeless or boring, they still really get these characters across. (It also helps that the actors themselves spend a lot of time in-suit for the see-through visor scenes. So, more than a lot of other toku shows, you get a real good sense that the actors really are the ones in the suit.)
One thing I always liked about GoGoFive was the urgency the show gave a lot of the situations. It always tried to make things feel "big," and the show had big ambitions, trying to stage things in an almost cinematic way. The premiere episodes looks like it has a lot of money put into it, and is a pretty big and grand way to kick off the show; but there are plenty of other episodes that keep that urgent, tense, disaster movie feel. Like the GoGoFive team themselves, the show's cast and crew make do with what they have and get the job done, because it's crazy when you keep in mind that it's a low-budget show on at 7:30 AM and there's an episode where they're basically trying to do Michael Bay's "Armageddon," and it's a damn good episode, and actually feels big scale. And the show's not all action -- the family interaction is really well done, and it's easy to care for all of the Tatsumi characters, and they're neatly paralleled by the villain family (once again, I think the villains would have more impact if they were actors) -- but I feel like GoGoFive's approach to the scale of the action and the disaster movie feel is something that makes it so unique that it's what I chose to focus on.
Some of my favorite episodes that highlight this:
11/12: Two-parter introducing Grand Liner, which focuses on the team racing against the clock to thwart Saima's attempt to force volcanic eruptions around Japan; Matsuri is delayed by being held hostage in a bus, and when the bus is hit in an attack, she has to stick up for her beliefs and face the criticism of the other passengers when she decides to save the life of the man who was holding them hostage.
19 - 22: A four-parter that not only sees the end of a regular villain, but has a trio of monsters wreaking havoc by sending explosive feathers soaring throughout Japan. One of the people who end up with the feathers is the toddler of a Tatsumi family friend. It's another tight, up-against-time episode that see the GoGoFive taste defeat, having to run from the fight and hide out in a storm. Their GoGo Braces are destroyed, which lets Nagare show off his scientific knowledge as he repairs them overnight.
25: The episode in which Grandienne tries to break through as the Grand Cross arrives. The episode begins with the Tatsumis very on edge knowing the storm that's brewing, and even Mondo gets in on the action as the GoGoFive try their damnedest to prevent Grandienne's arrival.
30: A unique episode which has no monster of the week. The take-off on Michael Bay's Armageddon, in which the GoGoFive receive the Victory Machines in order to travel to space and destroy a gigantic meteor that the Saima are pulling towards Earth. The episode is directed by veteran Sentai SFX chief Hiroshi Butsuda, and there's a lot of nice miniatures, such as when the GoGoFive land on the meteor in the unique Beetle Walker version of the mecha, which they use to drill a hole in the meteor and plant explosives. The GoGoFive just barely make it...
40: Daimon and Matsuri plan to show a kid the inside of the Bay Area 55, unaware that the Saima have planted destructive parasites on the kid which are let loose once he's in their base. What starts out looking like a sugary episodes quickly turns tense, with the GoGoFive in a panic to save their base.
Some GoGoFive episodes I think are on par with what Toei actually does put out as their toku movies...which brings me to GoGoFive's movie, the direct-to-video "Crash! A New Super Soldier," which is one of the few toku movies that I think is really good. Supporting character Kyoko gets her chance to shine, there's a cool big fight between all of the characters (with the Saima showing off some of their abilities) and awesome Keiichi Wada as the titular new hero. The only problem is that the movie was made back when they didn't care to tie movies into the series, so it's a self-contained adventure, when it would have been nice for there to be references to it. It's a shame that this movie gets buried as a V-Cinema and junk like Shushutto the Movie gets put on the big-screen. (But, man, it's a cool movie -- check it out. If you watched GoGoFive as it aired, it was a nice payoff after following Kyoko throughout half the series.)
Just as I think Changeman's finale was clever in working in the then topical return of the Halley's Comet, I thought it was pretty neat the way GoGoFive worked in Nostradamus' prediction of the grand cross, which fans noticed was to occur in the summer of '99, right around when Toei aired the frantic episode in which the GoGoFive race to prevent Grandienne's reappearance with the Grand Cross (which they just barely accomplish, which is why she is only partially formed). With the anxiety about the millennium I mentioned, additions like this made GoGoFive seem more of the moment than these shows usually seem.
Another thing I can't leave out is GoGoFive's rockin' music. Songs and BGM, it's all great. The music is heroic, gigantic, epic. The BGM is by Toshiyuki Watanabe, son of '70s and early '80s Sentai composer Chuumei Watanabe -- fitting for the family theme, huh? But the songs, man...the OP by Shinichi Ishihara -- who goes all-in as usual -- is one of the best Sentai opening themes, IMO, and each song Ishihara sings on the soundtrack is just as awesome.
GoGoFive's a great show that I feel has gone overlooked by the fandom. Ahead of its time in approach but very timely in content, it's an entertaining, exciting, fun ride. Eat your heart out, Tomica Rescue Failures.