Friday, April 26, 2013
Just when you thought it was safe...
Premium Bandai has announced another overpriced release, the Metal Hero Ranger Keys used in the sure-to-be-stinkbomb Superhero Taisen Z. The crazily priced set doesn't seem worth it to me -- the only ones I'd be interested in are Jiraiya and Janperson, anyway. (I guess I'd also want the Abare Pink Key, that is if fans are correct in their guess that the secret Key with the Abaranger mark is Abare Pink.)
Thursday, April 25, 2013
I often get asked why I like Battle Fever J so much. I just do. So, there! I've got a fever and the only prescription is more Battle Fever! Gotta have more Battle Fever, baby.
"But their costumes are ugly!" Says you, who likes the Boukenger designs. "They dance, that's dumb!" Says you, who likes Kyoryuger.
I love the Battle Fever suit designs. They look like no other Sentai team and no other Sentai team looks like them. (You can even make up as many extra characters as you can think of.) I can remember when I was a kid, seeing pictures of Battle Fever J in retrospective books, and just taking a liking to their designs. Basing a hero's design off of a flag could be uninspired and bland, but these suits were just so damned original and creative. Yes, Miss America's wig is weird, but...so is putting lips on helmets, but everybody loves those, right? I also really, really dig the realistic-looking weapons they each have -- Cossack's sai and America's throwing knives, for example.
Battle Fever J -- for better or worse -- really reflects its point in the decade, the current trends, and embraces them. I feel that it does moreso than any of the other '70s or early '80s Sentais -- these characters were 1979 and they didn't let you forget it! They name-check popular singers, hang out at dance clubs, play video games! And because of that the heroes seem to me like they're supposed to come across as being hipper than your average hero. They're supposed to be up-to-date, cool, in-the-know. Maybe it hasn't aged well, but it makes them a heck of a lot more distinctive and lively than some of their contemporaries. You never get much of a sense of what the Goranger or JAKQ are like outside of the job, but the liveliness of the Battle Fever's heroes creep through even on their missions -- not to say that they don't take their job seriously or aren't good at their job, but BFJ just has a looser vibe to it, trying to be COOL. (The way Dekaranger are supposed to be cool cops or the Shinkenger cool samurai -- this show has cool spies.) It's not "cheesy" or some nudge-wink attempt at being kitsch for kitsch's sake or whatever -- the show was genuine in its attempt at seeming cool, and is just one of those '70s things that young'uns and newbs look back on and laugh, but I take it for what it is. (Your Wizard and Kyoryuger shows won't age well at all, either, kids.)
Also something I wanted to point out -- some people complain that, say, Battle Japan does a kung-fu dance, when it should be karate, or don't understand why Battle France does a Spanish dance. In a lot of the Sentai encyclopedia books, they explain that Battle Japan is actually supposed to represent all of Asia; Battle France all of Europe; Battle Cossack all of Eurasia; Miss America is supposed to represent America and Oceania. Is this an explanation by Toei after the fact? Maybe, but I think it's interesting to note.
Something that always disappointed me about Goranger was the villains. They start off spooky enough, even if they are initially a really watered down mock-Shocker. (Mocker?) But they became more and more absurd as the show went on, down to the spooky-awesome Mitsuo Ando being replaced as the Black Cross Fuhrer by the mugging Nobuo Yana and his oddly comedic take on the role. JAKQ's Crime was one villain, a wasted Masashi Ishibashi in a bad design. But Battle Fever's Egos? They're some creepy creeps. I like how eerie they make the Egos lair look; the cult-likeness of their secrety society, whose reach is far -- they often show how they have ordinary people from all walks of life following them or, at the very least, one of the Cutman grunts or monsters masquerading as someone with influence who the Egos have pull with. A lot of Egos plans are also not like the ordinary plans -- some are a bit more small scale, like infiltration for secrets or just setting out to get revenge on people who left them and/or won't follow them. Egos manages to be creepy, and come across like more of a covert, wide-spreading threat. But just as Egos has members everywhere, the Battle Fever also have their own undercover people. Also appreciated? You have episodes with the likes of Machiko Soga, Kin Omae and Shinji Toudou as the human forms of monsters of the week. And the regulars are tough-ass pro-wrestler Maki Ueda as bone-breakin' Salome, with Kenji Ushio -- wait, no -- Masashi Ishibashi? -- wait, are there two Hedders?
The Hedder situation. The show originally started with awesome character actor Kenji Ushio in the role of Hedder. Kenji Ushio, offbeat villain actor extraordinaire! He's such a creepy, perfect fit for the role of Hedder, the devoted commander of the eerie Egos cult. Ushio, best known for his role as Ambassador Hell in the original Kamen Rider! Well, Ushio supposedly got busted shortly into filming, so he was replaced by Masashi Ishibashi. Ishibashi's a good replacement, he has a blast with Hedder, and it certainly makes up for what happened with his JAKQ role. But Ushio was just such a great fit, in my opinion. His quirkiness and giddy wickedness in the part could have led to a really memorable Sentai villain. Ishibashi does make for a more physically formidable villain, however, and makes Hedder feel more like the right-hand man he's supposed to be. Since it was still early into the show, Toei tried to refilm Ushio's stuff using Ishibashi to match for later broadcasts, but they couldn't quite redo it all, so there will be some odd moments where Ushio will be seen or Hedder will just plain morph from Ishibashi into Ushio sometimes. Every rebroadcast and release since the original airing has used the refilmed Ishibashi stuff, but here's something fun -- go download those Hawaiian subs of Battle Fever J. It's not the greatest video quality you'll ever see, but it's the only chance to see all of the Ushio footage -- I assume they had early prints. Whatever the case, it's neat to see. (So, a big thanks goes out to Justin Goo for putting those up for people.)
And maybe it's superficial, but I just like the way the show is filmed, by the reliable likes of Koichi Takemoto and Minoru Yamada -- while there can be some odd transitions and dizzying edits, it doesn't seem like any of the other '70s tokus to me, which gives it its own feel. And BFJ features cool, creative action from the underrated Kazutoshi Takahashi and Osamu Kaneda -- especially when Kaneda takes over, he lets things rip. The show just has a certain vibe to it that I think makes it stand out from the pack, it has a very lovable, great mix of a cast, and it's just a super entertaining, fun ride. Goranger's rough at 84 episodes, JAKQ is short but frustrating with its tonal shifts; while it takes the best of those shows, Battle Fever has its own clear identity, and makes for a worthy (first?) installment of the franchise.
Oh, and Battle Fever Robo ROCKS. (You know it's an awesome mecha if Shougo likes it. You know it's an awesome mecha if it still manages to be awesome despite the fact that the team enters it by flying into its pee-hole.)
Now, where's my Battle Japan Figuarts!?!!?
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
After 32 years in the biz, Daisuke Shima has announced he's retiring from the entertainment industry. :(
Man, I think this pretty much leaves just Takayuki Godai, Ryousuke Sakamoto and Kenta Satou as the only '80s Reds still acting. :(
Thursday, April 18, 2013
I don't know if anyone remembers, but I used to have two video tributes to Yoshida on my old YouTube account -- one, "Poe'nd," dedicated to his Shaider character, and "Birugenia Action," dedicated to his Kamen Rider Black character. I wasn't really happy with how either turned out (mainly due to song choices), so I thought I'd just write something about about him here instead of reuploading them.
Yoshida was born on October 17th, 1961 -- the son of longtime Toei producer Tooru Yoshida. Jun had a couple of small movie parts before landing Shaider. While he was one of the finalists for the actual role of Dai/Shaider, he eventually ended up with the part of Priest Poe. I've always thought Poe was an interesting character, and a lot of it has to do with what Yoshida brought to the role.
The whole theme for the villain group that Poe was part of in the show, the Fuuma, was "strangeness." The show would have odd filming techniques or bonkers scenes of deluxe WTF weirdness or would always be playing that damned earwormy theme song of theirs which lets their victims and the audience (of which I imagine many young viewers at the time considered themselves fellow victims) know they're comin'. A lot of the WTFness is just unexplained -- hey, they're the Strange Group. Deal with it. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the character of Poe. Poe's involvement early on pretty much just hinges on how creepily calm the character is and the weirdness that he's a dude dressed like a lady. We're never told that much about Poe, but -- there he is, dressed in a gown, right in the middle of the villains' lair, seemingly high in rank. Who is he? What's he about? In one of his first focus episodes, episode 24, he's given the background that he's really thousands of years old, his true face decomposed, and that he kidnaps beautiful women in order to perform a ritual and take their beauty, perpetuating his own beauty. It gets Naomi Morinaga's Annie more involved in a story, as Poe becomes obsessed with her. (Poe's true face, and the voice Yoshida uses in those moments, is pretty creepy. This part of the story gives off horror-ish vibes that I like, of course.)
|Poe's real face.|
(A lot of places still incorrectly refer to Poe as Kubilai's "grandson," when "granddaughter" is clearly spoken in the show. And, sure enough, Poe is listed with other toku villainesses in books like the Superheroine Chronicles.)
Four years after Shaider, Yoshida finds his way to Kamen Rider Black as Birugenia, the one-time contender of the King Stone who was so crazy he had to be sealed away. I'm a big, big fan of Birugenia. I think he's awesome, and the jolt the show needed, since he was the only really physically active villain until Shadow Moon woke up from his nappy-time. One reason I love Birugenia? He's like the Scott Evil of tokusatsu villains. A little more practical compared to the Golgom priests' typically convoluted and/or unbelievable plots.
Golgom priest: "We're going to lure Koutarou out by staging a mass kidnapping! First, our Buffalo Monster will infiltrate a school, where his lessons will contain subliminal messages that fester in kids' heads, and at night, when he plays his Song of Doom, it will activate the messages and tell them to seek out the Buffalo Monster, who will capture them, and we will then send a recorded message to Koutarou to come and give us the King Stone -- or else! And if that fails, we will try the subliminal message on Koutarou and coax him into giving us the King Stone!"
Birugenia: "Yeah, how about we just go kill him when he's on the crapper, dropping a Blackhole Message? It would be mighty easy to cut the King Stone from his dead body. Guys! Remember, you dug me up so you'd stop doing crap like this! You really think you can take over the world with necklaces that unleash bees? Gosh!"
Birugenia not only always kicks Black's ass and steals his motorcycle (he steals a Kamen Rider's motorcycle!), but he always hits him where it hurts -- not the random kid crying on the side of the road, but his family. I've always liked Birugenia more than Shadow Moon -- he's tough and at least does stuff! Even if he's not always successful, Birugenia's willing to put himself out there and dive into a fight. It's a shame that the show had to kill off Birugenia in favor of Shadow Moon -- why couldn't they keep both? Wouldn't it have been interesting for Birugenia to have been around when Shadow Moon was just standing there, doing nothing, waiting for the series to reach the end so he could have his final duel with Black? Why write off the ONLY villain who was active and regularly an actual obstacle and threat to Koutarou -- Shadow Moon just stood around all day like a paperweight and even when the Golgom priests got their upgrades, they weren't exactly brawling with Black.
But, Yoshida's good in the role. I couldn't believe when I first looked up Birugenia's actor and realized he was Poe. I'll still look at the two, and then at a picture of Yoshida, and can't picture them being the same person. He's either one amazing actor or someone took over his identity between Shaider and Black -- he's made two completely opposite characters, with two really dedicated performances, two everlasting characters -- a villain and villainess. Although he's made brief guest and voice appearances in a couple of other tokus, I think he definitely deserved a couple of other regular roles -- like, hey, where was a Sentai villain for him? (While he deserved a better show than Fiveman, I could easily picture him as Shubarie.) Still, for the two memorable, radically different characters he created, I name Jun Yoshida a Toku Legend.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The Ranger Key nightmare is over! Bandai took their sweet time releasing the Ranger Keys, but they've finally finished releasing all of the Sentai heroes. I'm sure there are plenty of completists out there who bought every single Ranger Key released, but I wanted to focus on my favorite teams/characters/performers. As I said before -- I at least wanted one hero from each team.
|Oh, noes! Love triangle.|
|As much as I love Kakuranger, I HATE Saizou, so I didn't want to buy his Key.|
|NRFB -- nerd alert!|
|Ones I bought to represent Power Rangers characters I liked -- Jen, Jason (NOT Rocky, he sucks) and Kimberly.|
|Gaoranger VS Super Sentai's Dream Team|
|On Japan Hero, someone once asked what your own Sentai Dream Team would like. Here's Shougo's Dream Team.|
Saturday, April 6, 2013
On this day in 1984, the Bioman episode "Farewell Yellow" aired. It's one of those episodes that's considered noteworthy, for its sudden killing of one of the regular heroes -- in this case, a heroine, Mika/Yellow Four. I can't really think of many examples of a HEROINE getting killed off of a toku series*, but -- due to reasons still unknown to the masses -- actress Yuki Yajima wanted out, and the easiest solution the show had was to kill her character. Was the way the show went about it lackluster? In my opinion...yes. But it couldn't have been easy to come up with a solution so quickly, at the last minute, and without the actress on top of it all. And Bioman couldn't just gloss over it by writing that Mika left to join the British secret service or whatever off-screen -- not with how Bioman emphasized the heroes leaving their jobs, families and dreams to become Bioman, and not with how a character needed to possess the Bio Particles to be a Bioman.
I just wanted to focus on Mika and Yuki for this post. While I've gone on record over the years as being a bigger fan of Mika's replacement, Jun Yabuki (played by fellow JAC actress Sumiko Tanaka), I think Mika -- and Yuki as an actress -- held a lot of potential.
First off, Mika was a new type of character. Foreshadowing later loners, she was the first Sentai character who was inititally reluctant to be a hero and join the team, which I think is a fresh angle for a Sentai heroine. (Although she wasn't reluctant because she was a troublesome jerk, but mainly because she wanted to carry on her dead brother's work instead.) Mika more than held her own in a fight, and writer Hirohisa Soda has said that he had big plans for Mika, that she was going to be as pivotal as Gou, so...who knows what that could have led to. (Toei also supposedly had the role fashioned to fit Yajima from the start. She had already gained toku fans thanks to her cool, 'tude-filled role as Bell Helen in 1983's Sharivan. Maybe instead of killing Helen off, they should have had her train on Bird and return as the next show's Space Sheriff, and maybe Yajima would have been more satisfied with that...?)
As for Yuki Yajima, I feel sort of bad for the JAC actors who were getting their big breaks in the mid-80s -- by that point, the JAC style of action movies were falling out of fashion, most likely in favor of importing Hollywood shoot-em-ups. So, while actors like Hiroshi Watari and Hikaru Kurosaki were probably hoping to make it as the next Hiroyuki Sanada, women like Naomi Morinaga and Yajima were probably hoping to make names for themselves as the new Etsuko Shihomis. Morinaga's always been said to come closest to filling Shihomi's shoes, but I think Yajima had a different vibe going for her. Yajima has a real tough look -- serious, dark, edgy. I can picture her as, say, the Yasuaki Kurata to Shihomi's Sonny Chiba. I think she would have made an interesting, fierce action heroine -- more than Bioman losing out on a potentially interesting character, the action genre lost out on a potentially interesting action actress.
One can only hope she eventually resurfaces for a nice '80s JAC or Bioman reunion in something like Toei Hero Max -- don't even press her on why she left the show, just let her let the fans know she's OK!
*The only other examples I can think of are the female Riders, who are toku's equivalent of Red Shirts. But since mostly all of them are limited to movies or one-shots, I don't think it's quite the same as having a regular heroine killed off.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
A couple of months ago, I finished rewatching some of my lesser favorite Heisei Rider shows -- Faiz, Blade, Hibiki. (I also squeezed in some of the movies, like The First, The Next, ZO and J...) It just made me nostalgic for the early '00s, when I was really into Kamen Rider, and loving the heck out of Agito and Ryuki, diving way deep into Black, thinking of all of the possibilities this franchise held.
It's clear that I'm a Sentai guy. I was a Sentai kid -- I was way more into the Sentai shows that were on when my family was in Japan than I was in the tiny bit of other toku we saw. (I loved Spielban, though; didn't quite like Metalder.) I was certainly aware of Kamen Rider Black -- there was at least one commercial of his in each of the three CM breaks during Maskman -- I had a couple of his toys, ate some of the delicious chocolate ball snacks of his. I don't remember seeing much of the show, and I only remember having, like, two episodes recorded, whereas me mum taped all of Bioman, Changeman, Flashman, Maskman and as much of Liveman as she could before we left. I had more Metalder episodes taped, and I didn't even like the dude. (He and his show are, like, soooooooooooo slow and boring when you're a kid coming off of the kick-ass, high-speed Spielban.)
So, when I'm getting back into toku in the late '90s, I of course focus on Sentai first. Kamen Rider hadn't had a new show since the one that was turned into Saban's abysmal piece of crap, and his newest movie -- Kamen Rider J -- was already a few years old, and never spoken fondly of. And yet Kamen Rider still had the crazy reputation it has now -- that it's THE toku franchise, and OMG, Sentai and anything else is like the buzzing of flies to it! People loved Kamen Rider Black, that was like the Ryuki of the fandom at the time. Tetsuo Kurata had more exaggerated appraisals than Chuck Norris. So, I finally decided to check out Rider, and bought the early episodes of Black. I liked it, but there was still a ton of Sentai and other shows I wanted to check out first, so I'd sample around. (Who remembers having to buy toku tapes? Then you remember that a lot of sellers charged absurd amounts of money for them, so it was hard to get to see a full series.) As I've said, my comfort zone was from the mid-80s on, so I stuck to those shows. I checked out RX -- hated it -- and then bought the three Rider movies from the '90s. Being a horror fan, I LOVED Shin Kamen Rider -- and couldn't believe how hated it was by Rider fans at the time -- I thought ZO was cool, but thought J bit the big one. I bought some of the first series, but a lot of it was heinous quality. (Who remembers when the sellers of toku tapes wouldn't track their VCR?) So, it sat mostly unwatched...
As previously posted, I got into the '70s shows and started seriously checking them out after being impressed by Hiroshi Miyauchi in Gaoranger VS Super Sentai. This was late 2001 -- I watched only the first episode of Kuuga and knew Agito came after, but knew nothing about the show itself. I spent most of 2000 and 2001 sort of out of tokusatsu, and Gaoranger VS Super Sentai resparked things for me. At that time, I was really getting into toku themes -- shout out to Ken Ho's MP3 place! -- and, shortly afterward, bootleg copies of Masked Rider Live 2000 on DVD started to hit, and I started to really get serious about checking out Kamen Rider. Shortly after THAT, I found the bootleg sets of Kamen Rider Black, which at the time I thought were legit. (It didn't take long to figure out something was up with them.) But, hey, it was a big chunk of the series, at an affordable price, AND good quality! It sucked that the credits were cut out, but I was really into the show, and hauled out my tapes of the original series, really getting into the dark horror style of those early Fujioka episodes, and the Kamen Rider set-up really started appealing to me. Here's a guy who has a bright future and is stripped of his humanity by a bunch of crazy renegade Nazis and/or occultists. He fights those similar to him, only he was managed to be saved in time. He's now basically a monster, but, damn it, he's not going to let this happen to anyone else, and he's going to hang on to the humanity he has left and persevere. A Kamen Rider is supposed to be tragic -- it's a gift and a curse.
And then I kept reading people -- people who weren't a part of the toku scene, people who didn't even like toku -- go on about Agito. How much the plot pulled them in, how well-written it was and how great the characters are. They couldn't wait to see what happened next in the episode. This got me very interested in checking Agito out. I knew there were three Riders in the series -- which having more than one Rider is something I had always wondered why the franchise didn't do, when even the Metal Heroes had started to have more than one hero -- but, in my head, I was expecting something a little like Black: that sort of style and, especially, formula. What I got was completely different, and I was intrigued by the show from the start. Little did I know just how deep Agito would go, and I was hooked, grabbing as many episodes as I could, buying merchandise. (As I said, when I want to buy a toku's merchandise, it usually means I really like that show.) Ryuki was just debuting and holy heck, did it look crazy -- like a show full of Shadow Moons! I was reallllllllllly into Ryuki for a majority of its run, and Episode Final was my event movie of '02. But Ryuki's rotten, cowardly, cop-out fizzle of an ending left me cold, cold to the point where I find it difficult to enjoy the parts of the show I did like.
I had high hopes for Faiz when it was coming on. The suit looked terrible, but it was the return of Agito's writer. How could they go wrong? Well, they did, and Faiz remains one of the more frustrating Rider experiences, a repetitive Degrassi High of mopey kids. The show had a lot of promise, a lot of the classic Rider ingredients, and while it started off intriguing enough, it ended with a "who cares?" whimper after spending 25+ episodes chasing its tail. (Sad to say I enjoyed more of it this last rewatch, and feel like I need to write a letter of apology to Kento Handa.) I was interested to see Blade, with its new-to-toku writer (fresh blood) and its being unafraid to seem more fanciful rather than J-Drama-ish, but I thought that show was super sloppy, just all over the map. I liked the Japanese-ness of Hibiki, and thought Shigeki Hosokawa was good in the lead role, but the show itself made the henshin hero part a second priority. Kabuto was laughable, unintentionally goofy, but thought it was a really cool show, which made it even worse. Riders trying to outdo each other in makeovers and make-up! What the hell is happening to Rider? Rider's dead, isn't it? This is where my disenchantment with the Rider franchise began.
And then the train arrived. Idiots all aboard, multi-colored Pokemon-pals who possessed the useless lead character into being a slapstick Rider. Now, the Heisei Riders had long taken themselves too seriously, so I don't think a comedic series was a bad thing, but, man...Den-O just went beyond the extreme. Nowhere near as funny as it thought it was, and VERY, very repetitive. Worst of all, the show just wouldn't die. It has 7,000 movies, and the obnoxious Taros -- the only entertaining one was Momotaros, and even he overstayed his welcome -- pop up whenever there needs to be a team-up. Den-O, it's well known, was a hit, and Toei has milked it dry, but worse enough, its stink is all over every Rider since -- the bad anime gimmicks have overtaken Rider to the point that the once obtrusive-seeming Rouse Card slashing in Blade seems unnoticeable. Den-O, which didn't have a Rider bone in its body, has caused Rider to lose its identity more and more -- Double is the only show since that I think has been watchable, but still a FAR cry from what I think a Kamen Rider is all about -- is Kamen Rider dead? It's hard to think of the show ever getting back to anything close to its roots. What's happened to Rider is basically what happened to Batman in the '60s. Hey, it might be fun at the moment, it might be what's making the most money, but it's not the character, and it's going to take quite a while to repair its image.
I think everything you need to know about Kamen Rider can be found easiest in the song "Kamen Rider no Uta," the first ending theme of the original series.
"He came along with the storm
Who is he? Who is he?
The man of storms who kicks apart evil, that's who, motherfucker!
Kamen Rider, the mask of justice
Rev your engines and run over some punks, Cyclone!
Smash 'em all down with a storm
Crush Shocker's nuts into oblivion!
Rider! Rider! Kamen Rider!"
The essence of that song is Kamen Rider, and good luck trying to get it to fit Den-O or OOO or Fourze. Ishinomori's spinning so fast in his grave that he can power the Typhoon.
I like Kamen Rider. I would just like it to be Kamen Rider again. Sentai being about multiple heroes and difference and those differences uniting, I think that's something that makes it more flexible, so it can do anything it thinks of. (Maybe Toei will remember that one day.) There are core ingredients to Kamen Rider, a very specific style and tone that it needs. Kamen Rider can't just be animefied and made into whatever Toei wants. It's gotten so bad that I'm looking back at stuff like Faiz and Blade and The First and being like "Well, I thought that stuff stunk, but at least it seemed like Kamen Rider!" That just scares me to thinking the franchise will hit such lows that it will be like "Well, Takeru Sato is up there with Fujioka! Fourze is as layered as Agito!" (And the sad thing about Wizard is that it could easily be made more Ridery, but they're choosing to instead focus on the lulz and animeness.)
My favorite Rider shows are Agito, Black and Kuuga, but I basically like all of the '70s Riders (favorites being Stronger and the first series). And even though Agito is my favorite Rider series, Black probably best represents -- in style, theme, design, atmosphere -- what I think a Kamen Rider should be, which is why his pic's at the top. I'm tired of you kids who keep trying to knock Black down in an effort to be "cool" and "different" -- he's a giant for a reason. How awesome is he? He managed to give Decade GOOD episodes. And THAT is magic, Wizard.