9/7/12: I ORIGINALLY POSTED THIS IN MAY, BUT SOMETHING GOT MESSED UP WHEN I WAS MESSING WITH LABELS.
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
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.