Friday, September 7, 2012

Liveman -- The Other Two


Toei has just finished releasing the Liveman DVDs -- which has been Liveman's first time on home video -- and I am currently on the waves of a Liveman high.

Now, Liveman is one of my favorite Sentai entries, but there's always been a big glaring weakness for me. Make that two glaring weaknesses: Tetsuya Yano/Black Bison and Jun'ichi Aikawa/Green Sai. It's fairly obvious that the show never planned to introduce these two, that they were used as an attempt to goose interest and toy sales, and while the idea of introducing the siblings of the two friends murdered by the villains is FREAKING AWESOME in concept, it's rotten in execution. As I rewatched the Liveman DVDs as they were released, I tried very hard to keep an open mind about the other two. (Because, as far as I was concerned, Liveman's still a three-member team, and the show never really feels the same after the other two arrive. Besides just plain sucking, the other two throw off the rhythm of the real three.)

Two problems right off the bat? The actors that were cast. Around the time of their debut, Liveman was suffering from a reduced budget, and that means they must have only been able to higher the cheapest and newest of performers, in contrast with regulars Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori, who were already well-known singer/actors prior to being cast in Liveman and were actually cast for being known, as a way to celebrate the Sentai series "tenth" anniversary. While some of the blame can be shifted on the writers for never really knowing what to do with Bison and Sai, I still feel like the actors are the bigger problem. (If there were good, interesting actors cast, maybe it would have influenced writers to give them better episodes?) They were rare in that they were truly terrible performers of a Showa series.

Breaking them down...

TETSUYA/BLACK BISON -- Played by Seirou Yamaguchi (real name: Seirou Nambara, who comes from a showbiz family; his brother continues to be a popular actor and says Seirou is still proud of his Liveman role, which I guess is nice. Seirou left the spotlight shortly after Liveman, and must kind of be the least successful Daniel Baldwin of his family.) Tetsuya is introduced as being a rash, revenge-seeking rageaholic, something that Yamaguchi can not pull off at all. The extent of his performance is "Yell everything and scoff a lot!" I guess my theory about the poor casting influencing the writing isn't far off, because Tetsuya switches gears REAL fast. Shortly after his debut, he's given a completely out of character episode where he befriends a kid and attempts to cheer him pretending to invent a robot pal for the kid, which is really just him in a cheap suit. The Tetsuya who punches out Jun'ichi just for fun in his first episode is all of a sudden a big softie when he sees a kid crying on the side of the road? Who is he, Minami Koutarou? Yamaguchi's performance is a bit more tolerable here, but what does it matter? It's only one of TWO Tetsuya focus episodes, and it's a disposable episode that goes against his character. He goes from his first appearance, where he continuously endangers everyone for the sake of his revenge, to an episode where he and Jun'ichi try to sneak attack Kempu out of their hatred for their siblings' murderer, to just a few episodes later trying to sweetly console a guilt-plagued Gou. Inconsistent. And if Tetsuya is inconsistent...

JUN'ICHI/GREEN SAI is inconsequential. Faring a little better than Tetsuya in the episode count (ooh, THREE focus episodes!), the writers give him much less of an identity. After their debut, the episode right off the bat? The infamous episode where Jun'ichi is pregnant! What a way to make you try to like the two newbies, eh? Being the younger brother of the female friend Mari, Jun'ichi's depicted as being a little soft. I've often wondered if the character was originally intended to be the younger sister of Mari, but that pregnancy episode was written and they realized how that goofy episode would have actually played horrifically with a female character. Not only that episode, but the only shred of backstory we're ever given about Jun'ichi involves a vague disease he had when he was a kid, which reminds me of the backstory of Bioman's Hikaru/Pink Five. Like Yamaguchi, actor Shinobu Koumoto resorts to just shrieking his lines. He's a slightly better performer than Yamaguchi, but has the weaker character. Like Tetsuya, he's initially supposed to be angry towards Volt and motivated by revenge, but you always feel like he's just going along with Tetsuya -- he's not believable. The best thing about Jun'ichi? He's a walking sponsor for Budweiser:

Ideally, these two characters would have had a nice arc where the three Liveman teach them to overcome their revenge. They practically immediately let it go once they become Liveman for no reason whatsoever -- there's never a scene or speech given to them that makes it all click. They never learn a lesson or anything, no. It's just dropped. (It bubbles up again, briefly, in episode 35, but as an afterthought in what was a stronger Yuusuke VS Kempu episode.) It's just such a missed opportunity, the things that could have been done with these two, but there's no real effort made. And why? Did the writers hate who were cast and not feel like giving them good material? Were the writers overwhelmed at introducing two new heroes so late into the series? (And, though it's difficult, it's important to keep in mind that Tetsuya and Jun'ichi were kind of breaking new ground -- they were basically the first "sixth" heroes, a concept that some Sentai entries still struggle to get working smoothly in their show.) They should be crucial to not only the story with Volt, and the nature of their connection to Volt versus the other three's, but they should have also strengthened Takuji and Mari's presence in the series. As is, they just feel disconnected from everything, when they should be anything but. (Early Liveman would have filmed flashback scenes between the siblings to help give the story power, for one.)

Basically, Tetsuya and Jun'ichi have everything going against them -- they throw the other three off rhythm, are played by cringe-inducing actors, and are a waste of a vast amount of potential, such a waste that they basically get shoved into the background for the last ten episodes of the series. So much poignancy and strength could have been added to the overall themes of the series if these two had stayed true to their purpose and been given a proper arc...

And been played by decent actors.


  1. What was Tetsuya's other episode? The one where he gets brainwashed by Dr. Bias and attempts to attack the Liveman's base? Really, even after rewatching Liveman twice, it's kind of hard to remember anything meaningful about these two.

    You have some good points about them, though, Shougo. I think had they had more episodes (or better episodes) and if their characters weren't as dull compared to the trio, then both Tetsuya and Jun'ichi would have been more tolerable. It does seem like their inclusion into the show was never planned before, especially considering the overall lighter tone that the previous episodes before their introduction arc had. Ironically, I have similar feelings in regard to Guildos and Butchy. I think it's funny how most 80s sentai had a new-coming villain that would dramatize the show's set-up (Ahames in Changeman, Sir Kaura in Flashman), but with Liveman it's kind of the opposite.

    I kind of overlook it, though. There is a lot of amazing stuff that Liveman as a whole has going on for it that it makes it a little hard to pay attention to its more... downside aspects (or at least for me). Liveman happens to be my favorite sentai of the 80s (and I've completed all of them, no exceptions, so that's saying something).

    (...and it was about time you would have a blog, Shougo :P).

    1. Yeah, Tetsuya's other episode was the brainwashing one. That episode wasn't too, too bad, but I think is ruined by the endless close-ups of Yamaguchi's awkward attempts at acting. :P

      You're right about Butchy and Gildos being "The Other Two" of Volt, though. I never liked them at all, and they feel like they belong to a completely different show. My guess is that they just wanted some cartoonish guys for the Liveman to beat up instead of just their human ex-pals. And to get some comedy from the villains -- I think Ashura was intended to be the comedic villain, but he become something else (something more) in Yoshinori Okamoto's hands.

      But, yeah, I do think there's still plenty of good episodes after the two arrive. It's just disappointing how much better the show could have been if they put more effort into Bison and Sai.

  2. Glad to see you have a blog now Shougo! And great post! ^__^

    Do you two know each other btw?

  3. One thing I can say about Green Sai and Black Bison, is that their suits look sweet.

  4. As someone who thinks Liveman is trying too hard to be dark and edgy ("look, we've killed off another one-off character!"), I think Jun'ichi brought something interesting to the show in that he was the only optimistic character.
    As for Tetsuya, he's pretty much another Diane Martin.

  5. It is a big cliche' that they are both related to the late Takuji and Mari if they both had survived they would have been member 3 and 4 and I hope their themes would not be a parrot and puppy.Before homsexuality was no common, there where also taboos that both Tatsuya and Junichi where more then just best friends as they both where unseperable. Well anyway the show needed those 2 as they where getting outnumbered by Volt and needed help. Tetsuya was the true stubborn young man who could be a liability and Junichi is the wimpy but tough player. He is the 1st wimpy green after Shion and Doc.
    Anyway This formula is no have been repeated in Hurricaneger as Kabuto and Kuwaga Raiger joins the primary 3, and also the present GoBuster.

  6. eh. I liked them both, I actually thought they did a good job with his role.

    but hey an opinion is an opinion.

  7. I always wondered if Gou were to be Black Bison or Green Sai. Going from villain to hero and really seek redemption. Which he did but it would've been more interesting.

    1. Nowadays, Gou would have totally been made a new hero. While I wish Gou made more appearances than he did, I liked that he remained regular old Gou, and came back to help out just as himself. It showed a special kind of growth for a toku character; he had been arrogant, but felt inferior, turning himself into a monster. But after he's betrayed by Volt and saved by his actual friends, he returns home, is humbled, turns to spirituality, and returns to help as just his plain old self.