Thursday, June 18, 2015

After the Owari

It seems like there's a consensus amongst Rider worshippers that Kamen Riders are "more heroic" than other heroes, specifically Sentai. Like, Gaim got a lot of praise for its "realistic" handling of toku heroes and their ideologies; the way that main hero Kouta is criticized by other characters for having a "loose" motive of wanting to win the Rider battle in order to protect everyone rather than a more personal, selfish one, for example. Gaim's writing and mostly assholeish, self-centered characters were also praised for acknowledging that the world will still be in peril long after this year's Kamen Rider saves the day. Gaim wasn't treading new ground, a couple of other shows have brought this up. Heck, even something really TV-Y7 like Dekaranger did, when the Dekaranger were ready to execute Aburera in the finale, and he said something like "Killing me won't rid the world of its problems; as long as there's still greed, there will be someone like me." I thought that was kind of an...interesting and cynical thing for something brighthearted like Dekaranger to bring up, addressing the fact that stopping these crazy villains in the year their show is allotted to run won't solve the world's problems. So it's certainly not something only the "amazing" Kamen Rider has covered, or the immediately overrated Gaim. (GARO, after a nearly ten-year reign, was finally dethroned as most overrated tokusatsu. Gaim now wears the crown...which isn't a real crown, just a Burger King one.)

I've always felt like the unspoken rule in tokusatsu is that the powers exist to fight against the specific threat of the show's supervillains -- the heroes aren't meant to take on ALL of the world's problems. Like, the Magiranger powers weren't created to go start beating up yakuza when they were done with Infelshia. To me, it makes sense that a Showa Kamen Rider would dedicate the rest of his life to fighting monsters -- the shows repeatedly established the idea of Shocker and its kind setting up shop in numerous locations around the world. The Kamen Rider is a product of that organization, genetically modified, a freak; he'll isolate himself and hit the road to take down the different branches of bad guys. And the shows were sequelized, so they were just following what each one did. So, it's understandable to me that Kamen Rider V3 doesn't end with Shirou Kazami celebrating Destron's defeat, deciding to then pursue his original dream and become the world's number one rugby player. Continuing the battle makes sense for a Showa Rider like that. But...there's a lot of anti-Sentaiites who like to imply that Sentai heroes are somehow less heroic because they decide to resume normal lives after their war.

A lot of Sentai is based on the idea of teams being formed for specific threats or strangers being pulled together to fight specific threats. There's a couple of shows, like Dekaranger or Boukenger, where the teams and powers existed prior to the series and continue to be employed AFTER the series-long battle. Some powers are created by the survivors of a destroyed civilization who recognize a new emerging threat similar to the one that caused their planet's demise. (For example: Peebo and Bio Robo sensing that Gear would bring a similar destruction to Earth that befell the Bio planet.) But most Sentai finales are dedicated to showing the heroes moving on with their lives after the battle we've watched for a year as an audience. I look at Sentai as the military (which is appropriate, duh, considering the origin of the term) -- they're the army, going to war with a specific group, a specific threat. There are soldiers, after a brutal war and serving their country, who will have this outlook of "I've done my fighting for my people, I've fought my battles. It's time for the new soldiers to step up." I think this is the thinking in Sentai when they resume their normal lives in the finale.

When these shows talk about "restoring peace to the world," the writers and the shows know well enough that they're not talking about real world problems, but the way that everyday life is disrupted by kooky invaders and renegade ex-Nazi monsters. No show pretends like everything in the world is hunky-dory after they wipe out some alien force. The Bioman powers were meant to fight off threats like Gear, not every Silicon Valley knucklehead who tries to come up with the next stupid Candy Crush type of game. The Liveman powers were created to prepare for whatever nasty shit they knew Kenji and the others were getting up to with Volt; the Liveman may speechify about life, but those powers weren't meant to stop muggings or go fight in wars. There's police and armies for that, but police and armies are supposed to be pretty much no match for supervillains, hence their lack of involvement in most shows.

Most Sentai members put their lives and dreams on hold when becoming a hero, and try to just resume their lives after the battle. It's not like they turn their time as a hero into fame, charging for autographs at events and creating merchandise. How many Sentai heroes are youths, and probably resume studies? How many Sentai heroes are athletes aspiring for the Olympics, who probably had their dreams crushed by abandoning their sport to devote the time to protecting lives? How many Sentai heroes already had jobs that benefited their communities, like teacher or cop, which they picked up after their Sentai duties?

Sentai heroes make sacrifices and aren't any less heroic than other toku heroes.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Red Warriors

Someone asked me to talk about the Sentai Reds, like I did each sixth hero. I don't know if I can go through each color, but I gave the Reds a shot.

Good Reds are important. They're the star of the show, the pillar. A team's only as good as its Red and I feel like a Sentai show can only be as good as its Red. There are some great shows ruined by weak Reds -- whether it's a flimsy character or weak character -- and there are some bad shows that had a better Red than they should have, or a Red that managed to lift the bad show into something more tolerable.

What makes a good Red will probably depend on what generation of Sentai you're from. If you're a '70s or '80s fan, you like the serious, kick-ass, all-business, confident leader Reds. If you're a '90s fan, you might like the ordinary-Red-who's-equal-to-the-rest-of-the-team approach that that decade often had. If you're an '00s fan, you probably take to the hyper Reds who love to yell and be crazy.

And while you're reading this, keep thinking: what Red would you want to serve under? Imagine you're the new recruit on a Sentai team. Who would you want leading you? If you really think about it, I think you might be surprised by your answer, because it might not automatically be the Red of your favorite show. I came close to a surprising choice.

Tsuyoshi Kaijou/Aka Ranger

The OG. I think Kaijou is a good man to be the first Sentai Red, and I've always thought that actor Naoya Makoto never got the respect he deserved until Gokaiger. People always made a big deal about the first Rider, Hiroshi Fujioka, and the first Ultra, Susumu Kurobe, but Makoto -- despite being a journeyman actor in his own right, and a veteran of numerous popular cop dramas and even a toku vet by Goranger -- is always glossed over. Why?

Kaijou is a dependable leader, but I like that he has some flaws, and he has some ties to the villains in that they killed some family members. But being an episodic show of its time, being a show that depicted the heroes doing a JOB rather than showcasing their daily lives intertwined with their jobs, it's easy to kind of lose sight of all of what makes Kaijou tick. One interesting thing I always noticed about Makoto is that he kind of sometimes gets a kick out of roughing up some goons. Kaijou's not a guy you'd want to cross, man.

Gorou Sakurai/Spade Ace

I like Sakurai well enough as a character, I just always had a problem with actor Yoshitaka Tamba. I think he's just too young (at 21, he was one of the youngest Reds for a while) and he's stiff and bland. He also doesn't really have much authority, which is probably one of the big reasons they bring Banba in. Because once Hiroshi Miyauchi is in the show, he just overshadows everybody.

But Sakurai's interesting in that he's initially a bit snobbish and a little too perfect of an athlete and he turns Joker down for becoming a JAKQ member, but...he's touched by Karen's tragedy and ends up volunteering. He submits to die to become a hero, he volunteers for essentially the same procedures that Kamen Riders run away from. He's headed for success as an Olympic athlete, but throws it away to become a hero. THAT'S a dedicated hero. He should have been awesome, but...Tamba.

Masao Dan/Battle Japan

I've seen this guy get flak for seeming too bland, but what I like about him -- and the other Battle Fever members -- is that they take their jobs seriously, they're good soldiers, but they can cut loose, they can be playful. I wouldn't call Masao a goofball, but Battle Fever as a whole takes Goranger and makes it more fun and entertaining, IMO. Actor Kouki Tanioka gives Masao a calm, collected coolness. Masao's not quite as intense as Makoto could be as Kaijou, but he's still a reliable leader, and a dude you'd want on your team. Tanioka is also the oldest actor to play a Red, and it really helps. (The character is 27 -- which is still old by Sentai standards -- but Tanioka was actually 29 going on 30.)

Also: Kazuo Niibori really starts to kick ass beginning with Battle Fever J. While he played Aka Ranger in most of Goranger, the action was still done by the creaky Ono Ken Yukai. Niibori wasn't in JAKQ. (And, while the alternating Jun'ichi Haruta and Yoshinori Okamoto are awesome in their own right, Spade Ace lacked a strong presence in JAKQ.) But Niibori's back in the swing of things for BFJ, he's working with the JAC...his legendary reign really begins.

Ippei Akagi/Denji Red

I don't mind Akagi, but he's just pretty generic to me. It's like...I find everyone else on the team to be more interesting than he is. Niibori makes him awesome in suit, but...there's not much memorable about the guy himself. He's a karate master? I always thought Shin'ichi Yuuki was a weird casting choice, too. Maybe a different actor would have inspired better writing.

Ryuusuke Oowashi/Vul-Eagle

People dump on him for being wooden, but I remember liking Ryuusuke more than Takayuki. (It's probably mostly because I think the earlier episodes are better than the later ones, which get too damn goofy and odd.) He was supposed to be smart and formal, and I liked that he was an Air Force officer and supposed to be at home in the sky -- some might find it too cutesy, but fitting for an eagle warrior. Actor Ryuusuke Kawasaki had the look of a good, traditional hero, even if he wasn't the greatest actor (since he was a musician trying his hand at acting).

Takayuki's biggest contribution? Introducing the tradition of Red wielding a sword.

Takayuki Hiba/Vul-Eagle

Takayuki Godai's a likable guy, and they try like a sonuvabitch to get you to like him, but I feel like Hiba's biggest contribution was being a swordsman, which meant Niibori got to bust out his sword skills and give the Reds a long lasting tradition. There's a good episode later on with guest star Michirou Iida as a traitorous friend of Hiba's, but...

People like to criticize early Sentai for weak character development, and I don't agree with just dismissing the early characters like that. There's two important things to remember: the time these shows were made and the style they were made in. A LOT of '70s and early '80s tokusatsu shows basically treated the show like a cop show -- it was a new case every week that got wrapped up by episode's end. It's the characters' JOBS. A good show will get characters to shine through the routine trappings of their profession, but the episodic nature of a series was just the way television was made then. This was pre-VHS, a lot of studios were more occupied with the idea of welcoming new viewers, a show's livelihood depended on its ability to bring in new eyeballs. It doesn't make an older show any less valuable or a lesser work when compared to the popular serialized shows of modern television. That said, we need to talk about...

Ken'ichi Akama/Goggle Red

I've always made potshots about this guy and I feel I'm right to. I can't think of much to say about him, and actor Ryouji Akagi is a ZOMBIE. He's really just one of the least charismatic actors I can think of. And...the books, the texts will have an interesting take on Ken'ichi, that his mountaineer/adventurous side fuels his risk taking as a hero, but I don't feel like the show ever puts that to use, it's just background info found in the books. He's just a really generic dude, and he fell ass backwards into becoming a Goggle V member, like, "Oh, you just HAPPENED to be climbing this mountain as all this stuff goes down -- you might be a good Goggle Red! Maybe my computer will agree!" Bah!

Niibori saves the day, though. Goggle Red at least kicks ass in suit.

Hokuto Dan/Dyna Red

Dan represents to me the end of an era. He's the last aw-shucks do-gooder Red who is a stand-up guy and smart and a MASTER OF EVERY MARTIAL ART KNOWN TO MAN. That was really the trademark of these early Reds -- they just HAD to be a master of every martial art. The way those '70s Riders had be to scientific geniuses, no matter what their profession, the early Reds had to be martial arts masters or sports wizards.

Like with Denjiman, I think I like every other Dynaman member more than Red. But unlike Akagi, I do at least like Dan and feel like he has some personality. Actor Satoshi Okita is likable enough, but the show kind of wants Dan to be EVERY Red that preceded him. He's the martial arts master, and he's smart and decisive, AND he's strong and determined, AND he's also soft and loves kids, AND he's an ace with machines, AND also a skilled swordsman. He's just, like...a Game Genie of Reds. It's all of those things thrown into the mix that makes him stand out more from someone like Akagi, but it's that he's such a mix that kind of makes him sink into the background in a show where the other heroes are stronger or more defined and played by the likes of Jun'ichi Haruta and Sayoko Hagiwara. As much as I like Okita, a much more charismatic actor would have helped Dan take the center stage he should. Hiroshi Miyauchi -- he always plays guys who are just good at everything, you need someone like that for Dan. This guy just needs to be larger than life.

Niibori, of course, kills in-suit. Dyna Red's awesome in suit.

Shirou Gou/Red One

For a while there, Gou was a real Red favorite of the Japanese fans. I mean, after Aka Ranger and the second Vul-Eagle, I feel like Red One is the next Red they put on that high of a pedestal.

Writer Hirohisa Soda was getting more comfortable as captain of the Sentai ship by Bioman, and Gou's the first one to start moving in another direction. I feel like he's a real '80s action movie kind of Red, just a stern, macho ass-kicker, but always in control in terms of calling the shots. Actor Ryousuke Sakamoto sometimes reminds me of Sonny Chiba -- I have to wonder if his casting was some kind of fantasy casting, like "Wouldn't it have been awesome if Chiba had played a Red?" Of course it would have been awesome, but he was too big of a celebrity and a little too old by the time Sentai took off, so here's a kind of glimpse with this guy who bears a resemblance to him.

And what helps Gou stand out from his predecessors is that he's the first Red in quite a while to be given a personal beef, when his scientist father starts to get wrapped up in the fight with Gear. Designer Yutaka Izubuchi has a sketch for the series of Gou's brother, a cyborg who works for Gear, and I don't know if that's an idea that was being kicked around at Toei or just some crazy doodle of Izubuchi's, but that would have been an interesting development for the series, giving Gou even MORE conflict.

My favorite Reds.

Hiryu Tsurugi/Change Dragon

My favorite, of course. Stars were aligning with Changeman, I just think it was a great cross of writing, directing, acting. I think the five actors all made their characters pop even more than the way they had been written on the page. Tsurugi actor Haruki Hamada's theater training gave him a discipline to just dive in and look for every way to explore the character. And I think Hamada's training plus his youth -- he was one of the younger Red actors at the time -- helped in making Tsurugi more of a distinct Red. He made a Red who wasn't perfect.

Tsurugi wasn't a super genius or a master of every martial art. He was a regular Air Force officer. He has good aim, he's good with guns, good at baseball. He didn't always have the answers, he could be impulsive, he could argue with colleagues, he could have a temper. I don't think there's any questioning what a good leader he is, he's a skilled fighter you'd want on your team, but I like that he has some flaws, I like that he can be more intense than the prior Reds. Gou only showed glimpses of intensity or rage, especially in later episodes, but it's a regular thing with Tsurugi.

Jin/Red Flash

In a lot of ways, Flashman kind of just coasts on Changeman's success. There are A LOT of similarities between the two series. I've often said that the Flashman team were mild or lightened versions of the Changeman heroes. The team is set up in the same way -- leader Red, womanizing action guy Black/Green, immature/kid Blue, smart White/Yellow, action-y Pink. Considering the Flashman's situation, they're surprisingly cheerful -- even more cheerful than the Changeman team. They're all so relatively chill, it's weird. Anyway, the biggest diversion is probably from Tsurugi to Jin. Jin is more mellow, Jin IS a guy who the rest of the team never had to question. But he has his scars and can get down and dirty in a fight. He's the oldest member of the team, he remembers the most of Earth, and is a surrogate big brother to the rest.

Confessional: when I was a kid, Jin was my favorite. I have foggy memories of playing as Jin, and of having a black and white striped shirt that I thought was like Jin's.

Takeru/Red Mask

I feel like Takeru might be the first kind of "normal" guy Red. But I think that's the way Maskman is in general, I always thought that after the sweeping space shows, that franchise producer Takeyuki Suzuki and writer Hirohisa Soda wanted to ground Maskman more. This was the first in what books have classified as the "youth drama" Sentai shows (the others being Liveman and Turboranger), so I think it was also trying to appeal to a lot of the non-genre, regular viewers that shows like Bioman, Changeman and Flashman had attracted.

Even if they weren't professional soldiers, like in Denjiman or Flashman, the heroes behaved as if they were. There's more of a looseness in Maskman, you get a sense of the heroes being sort of average folks, acting their age, that they all get along and are friends even outside of their heroic duties. But the great thing about Maskman is Takeru's motivation being to get Mio back. And that his love for Mio brings all kinds of problems, from interfering with his focus on leading the team to rivalries with Igam and the jealous Kiros. It's not just a duty he's fulfilling to Chief Sugata, but it's a very personal journey for him. Whereas Jin told the other Flashman to put their families on the backburner and to take care of Mess, Takeru can't let go of Mio that easily.

And Ryousuke Kaizu is a great actor. I think a lot of later toku stars try to imitate him, but they never come close. He's really overlooked.

Yuusuke Amamiya/Red Falcon

Yuusuke's on Tsurugi's tail for my favorite Red. I think he's just such a fresh, fun and cool character and that casting Daisuke Shima was a bit of luck.

Daisuke Shima, of course, had been a pretty established singer-turned-actor. His claim to fame was this bad-boy biker punk image, he ran in the same circles as rock band the Crazy Rider Yokohama Ginbae Rolling Special. Quite a few of his first acting roles was as just biker punks, but by the late '80s, he was trying to transition into a softer, balladeer type. But it was kind of hard for him to shake that initial image, which is one of the reasons he was cast as Liveman -- to be a new type of Red -- yet at the same time, one of Shima's reasons for taking Liveman was to gain a new image.

You can see how different Yuusuke is early on. He's a smart-ass. He can have a bit of a bad attitude. He's the first Red that's a smart-ass like that. Viewers often label him a goofball, but he's not a goofball at all. He can have fun, but he can certainly get serious when the time calls for it. He and Jou are two lower-ranking students at the school, but he's not stupid, and you see Yuusuke grow into a more and more dependable leader as the series goes on. (And it's not like he was even an unreliable leader, but he drops the attitude and becomes a better fighter.) Becoming a more traditional hero, Shima did get the image change he wanted, being able to abandon his music career to focus full-time in acting gigs in a variety of roles.

It was especially cool for Yuusuke to return in Gaoranger VS Super Sentai, all of the loss and tragedy he experienced turning him into a solemn man. Even Kazuo Niibori recognizes the power of the character, coming out of retirement just to play him in-suit again. When you have the Niibori Seal of Approval, you're a damn good Red.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned that background info on Akama that never appeared on the show? Because of Shima's rock-n-roll background, a lot of the initial Liveman publications made mention of Yuusuke's supposed love for rock-n-roll, something that was never indicated in the actual series. Those little lost details can be weird.

Riki Honoo/Red Turbo

Riki's awesome. A lot of that is to do with Kenta Satou. I can imagine longtime Sentai fans at the time being afraid of high school heroes -- the youngest Sentai team yet -- but the five Turboranger aren't annoying, and Kenta especially really just gives his all and wants to make Riki the best he can.

Riki has some lightheartedness, but make no mistake -- he's as rough as they come. There's so many awesome Riki moments throughout the series, like when he was beaten to the brink of death, but perservered to save the others when they were turning into monsters, or when he single-handedly killed Emperor Ragorn. There's his determination to save Sayoko that brought about the game-changing alliance with her and Nagareboshi. There's all those damn awesome songs he sings on the soundtrack...

He's a great Red in an underrated show.

Gaku Hoshikawa/Five Red

Fiveman's a generic mishmash of a show and Gaku is a generic Red. I like actor Toshiya Fuji and wish he was in a better show, with better material to work with. (He's one of many on my list of "Would have made better Red Hawks than Terrible Koutarou Tanaka.") I don't have a whole hell of a lot to say about Gaku. He has some cool moments, like that face-off with Garoa in episode whatever. But he also has a lot of crappy moments, like grimacing through his performance of his theme song, being afraid of carnival ghosts, getting killed in such a lame way that Kazumi has to defect to Zone and travel back in time to save him. Bah.

Ryuu Tendou/Red Hawk

Oh, boy. I've always said that Ryuu is an awesome character on page. He's qualified to lead the team, he's a good soldier, he'll get the job done. Problem? The fact that the team he's leading isn't the team he was meant to lead. He was meant to lead soldiers, not the random grab of self-centered fart-faces he's handed. He has to deal with cloying rich girl, the pessimist boozer, the greedy teen, the preachy farmer. And there's also the fact that his missing/presumed dead girlfriend is constantly eating at him inside. SHE was supposed to be on the team, so leading this new fake Jetman team is most likely a constant reminder of her. He's optimistic, he's a traditional square-jawed hero through and through, but his personal pain and the people he's working with is tearing him apart, but he has to bury all of that and put on a professional mask.

He's an interesting character. He's a cool character. We all know Gai is cool, but Ryuu's cooler, because he calls Gai on his shit and always shows him up. Problem? Koutarou Tanaka is a horrendous, Play-doh faced robot of an actor and he doesn't connect with ANY of the material, ANY of his cast members, he doesn't grasp ANY of what it is that makes this character good. It's such a good character wasted on such a bad actor, it's infuriating. And he really wrecks a lot of Jetman. There was a time where Jetman was one of my top three favorite Sentai shows. I never liked Tanaka much, but it wasn't until I was a little older that I realized just how bad he was and how much he actually holds the show back and how it's a poorer show by just his presence. An actor who knew what they were doing, got the material, and had presence and charisma would have changed the show entirely. But Keita Amemiya likes picking bland leads who can't act, so...we get Koutarou Tanaka, we get the CGI kid who played GARO, we get the alien who played Hakaider, the statue that played Iria in Zeiram. A shame.

Geki/Tyranno Ranger

It's a bit of the Gaku Syndrome here. Geki's just pretty generic, and actor Yuuta Mochizuki deserved more. (And, yes, he's another one who would have been a better Red Hawk.) Mochizuki is the first JAC actor to play a Red! (AND a Rider.) This guy should be a toku legend, but he can't, because he's stuck with weak material. As hard as that first episode tries to give him a cool entrance, it wheezes. Geki's just kind of there, and then once Burai comes along, he becomes one note. "Nii-san!" -- every Geki line post episode 17.

I actually like Jason more than Geki. (I'm not kidding or exaggerating. Jason's the only PR Red I think that's as good as a Sentai Red.)

Geki versus Jason: place your bets.

Ryou/Ryuu Ranger

Keiichi Wada's an incredibly likable guy -- even if one of the hammiest actors you ever wanted to see. (The whole Dairanger team is real hammy, actually. People who say the Changeman cast overact never watched Dairanger. Daigo alone is forty-five hammy actors rolled into one.) Wada's the last action hero of tokusatsu. But I've always thought that if you take away the episodes with Jin, Ryou is actually one of the more forgettable Reds. The Jin episodes are his brightest spots, and those are the episodes that inform the character from then on. So, essentially, he's pretty much just there for the first half of the series. It's a character who gets by pretty much entirely on the actor's natural ability as well as crazy talented suit actor Naoki Oofuji's abilities.

Sasuke/Ninja Red

A fun guy, actor Teruaki Ogawa really goes to town with the role. I like when he has his moments of seriousness, but I kind of wish they had someone other than Seiji Takaiwa playing Ninja Red in suit. Takaiwa shines in Rider, but I don't like many of his Sentai performances, and he just has such a strange body language as Sasuke, that when he DOES have one of those serious, intense battles, he just looks awkward.

Gorou Hoshino/Oh Red

These poor guys. I really like the Ohranger cast, but they're stuck in such a terrible, terrible show. And for as good as the cast is, their characters are flat. Actor Masaru Shishido is kind of the last real traditional Red, the All Japanese hero who you can always count on, a total pro. Red's get real schizo after this.

Kyousuke Jinnai/Red Racer

I'd first like to say that...I liked Carranger before it was cool. There was a time in the fandom, when the show was newer, where I was only, like, one of four fans of the show. Nobody else got it, they dismissed it was mindless, goofy fluff, the downfall and lowest point for Sentai, as bad as a Power Rangers show. Those of us who got it knew it wasn't dumb, that it was a pretty clever show. So, Kyousuke was always used as an example of what you don't want from a Red.

But Kyousuke's hilarious. Nobody on Carranger knows what they're doing, so they're basically equals. The show's upending what you expect from a tokusatsu show to the point where when Kyousuke IS made aware of the leader status of a Red, he goes fucking bonkers with it. Kyousuke believes in justice and all that, but not enough that he doesn't regret the fact that he blew off Zonette's romantic advances.

And actor Yuuji Kishi just nails this part, man. He's perfect. Can you imagine anyone else playing Kyousuke?

Kenta Date/Mega Red

I don't think I've ever talked about Kenta much, and he's actually one of my favorite Reds. There's something funny about him being the lazy, supposedly unreliable slacker when he's the only one who passed the test and should even be there. (Although, I do think INET's video-game application is pretty dumb. But, man, they really lucked out with the other four, eh? It could have been Jetman all over again.)

Part of me is really fond of Megaranger. I think the show's at its best when it's focused on the friendship and lives of the five. As much as I like Turboranger, that show didn't allow the heroes to act their age often. Megaranger definitely act their age. Unfortunately, I'll forget until it's too late in a rewatch the way the show just goes off the rails in terms of bringing in new mecha and focusing so much on freaking Yuusaku that it really loses a lot of the fun and charm that made it such a unique show in the first place. But even in some of the duller later episodes, Kenta will have a bright moment thanks to actor Kunihiko Ooshiba, who really saves the day a lot. A character that could have easily been grating is one of the more fun, endearing departures of the Red archetype.

Ryouma/Ginga Red

In retrospect, it was a funny time in the American fandom when Gingaman aired. Nobody really knew what to make of the show. What Kamen Rider fans thought of Hibiki was pretty much the way Gingaman was received -- people just thought it was weird as hell and ugly looking. The cast, Ryouma especially, was criticized for being too young and wimpy looking. (Which is funny when you look at how extra young they cast the shows nowadays.)

But I like Ryouma. He has an interesting dilemma in that he's not meant to be on the team, so he feels the pressure of that on his shoulders, while also trying to deal with taking over for his (presumed to be) dead brother AND coping with the loss of his Ginga Forest home, while trying to get used to life in the big city. I always thought Kazuki Maehara was a pretty good actor who never got enough credit; he's likable, but can certainly bring the fiery rage and emotion of a lion. Listen to his roars!

Matoi Tatsumi/Go Red

People like to give writer Junki Takegami flak, but he mostly always comes up with a fun group of heroes, and especially likes to make a certain kind of rambunctious Red who's always different from the norm. Matoi is similar in attitude to Kenta, but not as lackadaisical. He mouths off, has attitude. He's strong-headed AND bull-headed. He's the boss and he's not afraid to jump into any danger, whether as a fireman or demon-fighting superhero. While he can be a fired-up loudmouth punk, he's usually a pretty chill, normal guy. He'd be a fun guy to hang around.

Actor Ryuuichirou Nishioka is super likable in the role, and believable as the guy in suit.

Tatsuya Asami/Time Red

It was always hard for me to like Tatsuya because...well, not only do I not like Timeranger, but I can't stand actor Masaru Nagai. He's terrible, Power Rangers-level. His in-suit voiceovers are heinous. And he makes Tatsuya seem like way more of an idiotic goof than he's supposed to be. He's supposed to be this really likable bridge between the present and future and be a pillar uniting this team, and he just doesn't pull it off. But the rest of the cast doesn't help, either. This is a team that's supposed to grow to really love one another by the end of the series, but all of the actors are either stiff, bad or unlikable, so none of it ever gels.

As much as I dislike Power Rangers, I actually think Power Rangers Time Force does some things better than Timeranger. For one, the Tatsuya equivalent -- Wes/Red -- IS likable and believable as the glue of the team. Good actors are extremely rare in Power Rangers, but Jason Faunt has this natural, easygoing nature that really works in favor of the character, which essentially IS just Tatsuya, but take a gander at the difference a performer can make.

Kakeru Shishi/Gao Red

Some say that Super Sentai has been following the Gaoranger blueprint since its airing and popularity, and it's hard to argue with that. Gaoranger was the first to take on that anime mentality of having a collectible gimmick, which a lot of the series is devoted to scenarios of the characters just going around gathering up their latest toy. (Isn't that post-Pokemon anime in a nutshell? Heroes on a quest to collect toys. Gaoranger's episodes are called "quests.") It begins the fairly regular tradition of a Red who's overly enthusiastic, loud, who's lighthearted, who's the screw-up newb of the team, and yet still the leader. The one who dashes into danger without a thought of the consequences, yet comes out smelling like a rose.

Megaranger/GoGoFive write Junki Takegami stumbles a bit with Gaoranger -- the plots are routine and the characters aren't all that fleshed out. What few interesting, original ideas the show had -- like the Gaoranger being the latest in a long line of exorcists -- is really not even all that touched upon in favor of Gao Jewels and goofballery. But while the characters aren't the deepest, the main five are a really fun, enthusiastic group of actors who make the show enjoyable and make the characters pop more than they should.

Noboru Kaneko makes Shishi a fun and likable Red, even if he's shattering the image of the cool, responsible, authoriative Reds of yesterday. Kaneko's performance early on is a little rough, but he's a Sentai fan, and you can tell he's just loving his time in the role. I like that Shishi is an animal lover who can actually listen to animals -- it makes more sense of a dedicated veterinarian like Shishi to have that ability rather than Red One.

Yousuke Shiina/Hurricane Red

This rat bastard. It's no secret that Hurricaneger is one of my least favorite Sentai series, but I honestly can't recall a single noteworthy moment from Yousuke. And even if he had one, it would have been ruined by Shun Shioya's god-stinking-awful performance. The three Hurricaneger don't have any brains or personality between them, and their three actors are all equally atrocious and blank and have nothing going for them. (So I find it infuriating that they've returned so many times.)

And with Gaoranger, we've begun the reign of Hirofumi Fukuzawa as Red's suit actor, who's not a good suit ACTOR, so in this string of disappointing Reds we're about to encounter, you can't even rely on cool suit acting to save the character as someone like Niibori had done with the likes of Denji Red or Goggle Red.

Ryouga Hakua/AbaRed

Ryouga is one of those pseudo-Zen, brightly optimistic, hippie-type of characters that toku liked so well in the early '00s. Most of them are annoying, but Ryouga's the only one I really, really like other than Agito's Shouichi Tsugami.

Because Ryouga's not just an all-smiles hippie, he knows what's important, he knows what's at stake, he knows when it's time to throw down. He's raising his dead brother's niece as his own daughter, and juggling heroic duty along with the duty of parenthood is a completely new dilemma for a Sentai hero.

Ryouga's a fun and idiosyncratic guy who, like a Yuusuke Godai or Shouichi Tsugami, marches to his own beat, and it's something that actor Kouichirou Nishi just nails. Nishi's taken criticism for his acting, but I feel like some of his quirks work in favor of the character. (I remember reading that Nishi said he wanted the role on Abaranger so badly that he was just going to give up acting and be a comedian if he didn't get it. With what a fun, good-natured guy Ryouga was, coupled with the idea of Nishi maybe becoming a comedian makes it weird to see him pop up in toku as villains now.)

Banban Akaza/Deka Red

I spent a good portion of time on the forums talking about how much I hated Banban in 2004. Not much has changed on that front, and if I've gotten softer on him, it's only because of suckier Reds that have come since. But I still have no freaking idea what they were thinking when they cast Ryuji Sainei. I guess somebody thought all of the yelling would be funny for the "fireball" character, but they were sorely mistaken. There's SO many episodes -- especially early on -- that Sainei pretty much ruins with his terrible acting and yell-whining everything. I still think that Dekaranger was meant to be a cooler, slightly more serious show, but they had to switch things up once they cast the super young goofballs they did, Sainei especially.

Ban should be a fun character. He's the crazy renegade, the Martin Riggs. He's the guy who wipes his ass with the rule book and throws it at the enemy. He goes in, guns-ablazing, and doesn't stop. He's determined, he wants the bad guys to pay. But instead of Riggs, Sainei turns him into Jack Colt. His acting is so bad and so off that he makes the character a joke. Sainei's so goddamn loud, he makes the show at times hard to even listen to. For me, Ban's like Ryuu Tendou. He could have been -- should have been -- a really amazing character, one of the best in the franchise...but there are dozens of actors who would have been better, and who would have needed to be cast in order for that to happen.

Would seriously prefer a Chou Ninja Tai Inazuma series to Ninny-ger.

Kai Ozu/Magi Red

Magiranger annoyed the heck out of me when it aired, so I was pretty bothered by such a young punk playing a Red. I grew up with the '80s Reds, I want my Reds to be tough and cool and serious and kick ass. Not this screechy, self-absorbed brat.

I still don't really think much of Magiranger. I can see why it has the devoted fans it does, I can recognize the types of viewers it would appeal to, but I thought it was too bright and silly and repetitive and soft. I thought the show did well in terms of world building and establishing the past battle between Magitopia and the Infelshia -- and I think that would have been a more interesting show -- but I just couldn't get into the Disneyfied, spell of the week shenanigans.

But I did grow to like Kai as the show went on. He had some funny moments (I especially liked the body-switch episodes), and as actor Atsushi Hashimoto grew, he became less grating. (I also liked Hashimoto in Chou Ninja Tai Inazuma and when he returned as Kai in Gokaiger.) I think getting Seiji Takaiwa as Magi Red's suit actor was a HUGE mistake, though. Emphasis on huge -- because there's no way that you can buy that tiny little Hashimoto becomes Takaiwa.

Satoru "Cheefoo" Akashi/Bouken Red

This bastard. Much was made in the press details about a return of the serious Red and blah blah blah. Actor Mitsuomi Takahashi at least looked the part, he looked more serious and old-school than most of the other '00s Reds. Don't judge a book by its cover, because the writing might be shit! If it's written by Shou Aikawa, which Boukenger is, then it IS shit, Austin.

Boukenger's premise is weak. I never really understood how "adventuring" could have sustained an entire series. That requires a scope and imagination and budget that Toei had no intention of using. Akashi himself is a complete and unlikable tool, and the writing is so bad that his character's just all over the place, making him look insane. Early on, he's upset that the Jaryuu sacrficed some of their comrades, or he places himself in danger by using an untested Bouken Vehicle in order to rescue the others. A few episodes later, he's faking his death and endangering the others just to have a "funner adventure!!111!!!" His past which haunts him, that his treasure-hunter buddies who died on a mission as a result of a booby-trap he set off, was just baloney; it wasn't the reason he became a hero, as he had claimed. Instead, he reveals he became a hero not to save people, but "for funner adventurez!!!11!!!!"

Akashi, who was supposed to be serious, also inexplicably becomes the butt of every joke for the second half of the series. Whenever anyone on the internet mentions how awesome they think "Cheefoo" is, the very first image that pops into mind is when he becomes a goldfish. Or when he turns back from being a goldfish and is flopping around on the cement, but he tries to get up all calmly and coolly. It's not funny, it's dumb. Like most of Boukenger.

Yet, fans still fall for the "Akashi is cool and serious" bullshit. Even the Japanese fans love him.

Take a good look. Akashi sucks. He's garbage, pal.

Aka Red

I think it's a cool idea to have a Red who's meant to embody all of the Reds and Super Sentai Spirit and all of that, but I didn't like him in Boukenger for two reasons: One, it seemed to me like a cop-out for a "Dream Team," like whoever they wanted in the movie turned them down, and Aka Red was a last minute idea. Secondly, I've never liked voice actor Toru Furuya. He's always given these cool roles, but he turns every character into a whiny brat. He's never cool. I always thought Aka Red should have been given an identity, and been played by Kazuo Niibori. Or, at the very least, get Niibori to voice him.

I liked Gokaiger trying to tie Aka Red into everything, though. It was surprising that they remembered him. I ended up liking him more in Gokaiger, but it's still a case of me liking the idea of the character more than the way he ended up being executed.

Jan Kandou/Geki Red

Jan's always been polarizing. You love him or hate his frigging guts. Thanks to the enthusiasm of his actor -- a self-admitted Sentai fan -- Hiroki Suzuki, I took a liking to Jan. The character can be dumb, but I thought Suzuki made him funny and likable. I do think the show should have had Jan become more serious, more civilized halfway through, but they mostly keep him the same. The problem is that it always seemed to me like Suzuki's enthusiasm wavered, so by the time they get to episodes where they're giving Jan dramatic storylines and Suzuki is required to be more serious, it doesn't always hit the mark, because Suzuki seems to have checked out.

Note to Banban: THIS is a fireball Red. Man, how fun would Dekaranger have been if Furuhara played Ban?

Sousuke Esumi/Go-on Red

The lowest point (so far) for writer Junki Takegami. I think he's trying really hard to just make another lighthearted, fun group of heroes like in Gaoranger, but Go-onger's premise and world is just too stupid. The bad guys aren't threatening, the heroes are so moronic that they don't even care about their surroundings. It's just...stupidity and chillaxing on both sides.

It's a weak and empty show, but I liked Sousuke. Yasuhisa Furuhara -- another fan of the franchise -- seems like he has a blast. Even though he's not the greatest actor -- he makes some bizarre choices that are funny on their own -- he makes up for it with pure zest, and he's an actor who I actually wouldn't mind returning for a toku show at some point. Sousuke was the first wise-ass Red since Matoi, someone who took great pleasure in sticking it to the bad guys. I thought he was even funny in Gokaiger, and I was pretty pissed at the time because they were giving Go-onger two freaking episodes.

Takeru "Tono!" Shiba/Shinken Red

After Go-onger spent an entire year in Stupidville, the previews of Shinkenger were promising. Finally, a samurai Sentai! Finally, a new Red who didn't look like a coked-up dolt! I was really into Shinkenger for its first dozen episodes, was disillusioned when it stalled midway through, but thought it got itself back on track by the end.

Shiba was a nice change of pace from the yelling hotheads that were many-a '00s Reds. He was a pro, he knew his shit, he was the TONOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! This is a character who could have easily been an unlikable shithead like a Souji Tendou or Tsukasa Kadoya -- someone who's always rubbing in your face how awesome they are -- but writer Yasuko Kobayashi was actually smart enough to not go that route. Shiba's business, he expects you to hold your own, but you don't need to brown-nose him, he's not into the TONOOOOOOOOOOOO crap. He's a completely reliable leader...

But then you find out he's just the kagemusha. Which I do think was a cool idea, a good twist. I just don't like how Takeru seemed to immediately lose his intelligence and ability once he was ousted. It was nice to see the guy have some doubts and flaws and show some chinks in the armor, but...I don't think Kobayashi should have made him SO pathetic, that he immediately just falls for all of Juuzo's bullshit. Juuzo's a loser, man. (More like Loozo, AMIRITE?!) I mean, I can appreciate that he needed his retainers to pull him out of his depression, but the show just went too far in making him hit such a bottom and seem so pathetic. There was no reason for him to quickly become that desolate, that seemingly incompetent. It was a misstep.

Actor Tori Matsuzaka isn't the worst actor to play Red, but I thought he was a little too stiff. They would sometimes work that to their advantage, like in the earlier portion when he was still growing to love his team. But a better actor would have made a lot of the character's later conflict pop more.

Kaoru Shiba/Shinken Red

I thought she was an interesting twist. And I again will commend Kobayashi for resisting the easy path in making her unlikable. A lesser show would have had her be an out and out asshole just to make you "feel" for Takeru and root against her. But Kaoru was pretty cool and understanding of the situation, and she held her own and did what she thought was the right thing in bringing Takeru back. While actress Runa Natsui isn't *bad* -- she's as stiff as Matsuzaka -- I think it was a mistake to cast her so damned young. The first female Red should have been a little older, maybe a bit of stunt-casting. (Maybe I should be grateful they didn't stunt-cast, because it would have probably been Nao Nagasawa.)

Arata/Gosei Red

I understand they wanted a different, softer kind of Red for this show, but Yuudai Chiba's casting as a lead, as a Red, still puzzles me. I mean, to me it's a little like casting Alan Alda to play Wolverine or something. And he had that Bieber look about him. Initially, he was a really weak Red and the character was a bit of a doofus.

I noticed from the start, though, that Gosei Red suit actor Yasuhiro Takeuchi -- a suit actor who I've admired since the late '90s, who FINALLY got his first shot at playing Red with Goseiger -- really made the most out of finally getting to play Red. He'll have moments where he acts youthful and playful to match Chiba, but he's always business and serious when in battle. I think it's completely thanks to Takeuchi's portrayal of Gosei Red that turned the writing for Arata around, because he DOES improve. Arata takes more action, he becomes braver, less stupid, he becomes more of a fighter, he's named the leader of the team. Chiba himself improves as a performer, and begins to dive into action scenes on his own, and that of course helps, but I still credit it all to Takeuchi. Takeuchi, you need to play Red again.

Gokaiger: the last good Sentai. Marvelous: the last good Red.

Captain Jean-Luc Marvelous/Gokai Red

I was apprehensive about Gokaiger when it first started; a lot of people were predicting it would be the Sentai version of Decade, with alternate worlds/characters and ass-hat characters. Well, what it ended up being was Decade done right, and I enjoyed the heck out of the show, even when it would agitate me (mainly by ignoring my favorite heroes).

I'm glad that the writers avoided making the Gokaiger too unlikable. They were supposed to be lovable rogues, not out and out assholes. Marvelous, as the leader, would have been Chief Asshole. But by enduring Zangyaku attacks on their own planets, by trying to pull themselves up and remold themselves for a harsher world, they knew what it was like to be the little guy, so from the very first episode, they were struggling with whether to turn the other way or help Earth. Marvelous called the shots, and he decided to help. Now, I think the show could have had them struggle a little more, or prolong the struggling, but I feel the show was designed to be welcoming to non-regular viewers. I think it wanted to leave the door open for people who maybe didn't keep up with every show, but wanted to jump in at whatever time and see their old favorite return. So that led to repetition, a formula, but I didn't mind it in Gokaiger's case.

And the Gokaiger end up making a huge sacrifice in the end. A lesser show, a lesser writer, a lesser producer (basically: writers like Kamen Rider writers Shouji Yonemura and producers like Shinichiro Shirakura) would have just had the Gokaiger be completely unlikable and keep the "Ultimate Treasure" for themselves and erase the history of Sentai. Gokaiger made the decision to save the Earth, and I feel like it's a big thing that's pretty overlooked by the turncoats who now complain about the show.

Anyway, Marvelous is the face of Gokaiger and represents all of its themes, the rebels who in turn become the heroes whose powers they basically imitate. I like Marvelous a lot, he looks out for his teammates and is always good in a fight. Actor Ryouta Ozawa makes him the appropriate amounts of likable rogue and full on hero, and I'm glad he was cast instead of that awful guy from Gaim.

Nobuo Akagi/Akiba Red

Despite how obnoxious I thought Gokai Silver's actor was, I still liked the character, thinking he was unique in that he was a Sentai fan -- how many other characters will come along who could be a Sentai fan? Well, Nobuo came along and made Gai obsolete. Nobuo's a really fun, unique character, and I like that he has the geek pride and many of predicaments are saved on his Sentai knowledge alone. After a certain point, Akagi basically stops feeling ashamed to be such a nerd, but the first Season had this sort of realistic approach where it showed how much he loved and bled for Sentai, but was still doing his best to hide it from a world that hates and fears geeks.

It's a character that could have been EXTREMELY obnoxious -- like Gokai Silver -- but actor Masato Wada just nails bringing the character to life.

Hiromu Sakurada/Red Buster

Here's a case of a weak actor happening to an OK role. Hiromu COULD have been cool. They're all supposed to be these elite spies, but the casting was just really bad. But especially bad in Hiromu's case, because...he was supposed to know his shit, be cool, good at what he does, and Katsuhiro Suzuki is just a 12 year old looking dork who didn't have much range. Who'd follow this pipsqueak's orders? So much of Go-busters was stalling for time and it was supposed to skate by on the bonds of the main three, but they were just all so bad and miscast.

There's an early episode where Hiromu disguises himself as Enter. Suzuki seems most animated there. Maybe he should have been cast as Enter, and maybe Enter's actor would have been a better Hiromu? (Enter's actor, Shou Jinnai, said in an interview he was under the impression he'd play Red or Blue and was surprised to be cast as the villain, so maybe that's why his Enter is such a monotonous bore.)

Also: I know writer Yasuko Kobayashi thinks she's being "funny" and "quirky," but Hiromu's whole freezing at chickens thing? One of the stupidest things in the franchise's entire history. Remember when, early on, Go-busters was being touted by Toei chief Takeyuki Suzuki and series producer Naomi Takebe as a "cool," "serious," "back to its roots," "reboot" of the franchise? Now think of the chicken thing and laugh at Toei's cluelessness.

Daigo "Kingoo" Kiryu/Kyoryu Red

I've made it fairly known how much I hate this guy. And fans are STILL complaining about how he hogs all of the screentime and glory in the series. For me, I don't have a problem with a Red hogging attention -- Red's the star of the show -- but if you're going to have a larger than life, boisterous Red, cast somebody who can pull it off and NOT the atrocious likes of Ryou Ryusei. He mistakes energy for just YELLING ALL OF HIS LINES, while EMPHasizing THE wrong WORds or syllABles. And he has that stupid, stupid haircut on top of it. Get outta here.

Right/ToQ 1

I hate ToQger. A LOT. Right...I didn't get his deal. His casting indicated a softer kind of Red in the Arata style, but that's not how he was written. He was a bit of a dummy, but at the end of the day, he was supposed to be the best one who kicked everyone's ass and had the traits of the slacker characters who just wanted to pig out and...bah! His casting to me seems totally like a pick that producer Naomi Takebe, who didn't work on ToQger, would have made. She's the one who's always casting people she likes instead of who's best for the job.

I mean, aside from Tokkachi, I don't think the ToQger cast were horrendous or anything. I could see them working in another show. But they were given nothing in ToQger to work with. Not even scraps. It was just such a pointless show, with one and a half episodes worth of ideas. I don't know why they seemed like they wanted to make Goseiger 2.0 when that show wasn't exactly a success.

Takaharu Igasaki/Aka Ninger

So far, so bad. People are hating this guy's guts, and it's not hard to see why. Actor Shunsuke Nishikawa is just terrible. He's grating and can't act and he's a mannequin freak. And the character himself is dumber than a pissy sock. (Fans have wisely taken to calling him "Bakaharu.") And I think it's again a case of the show writing to suit the actor -- if you look at the first episode, Takaharu was really the only one trying. He was the one into all of the ninjitsu crap and fighting the villains. Everyone else -- even fan favorite Kasumi -- was whining about why they couldn't or didn't want to fight as a Ninninger. But that quickly changed to where Takaharu is probably the worst one of the team. He'll probably get them all killed.

So, what Red would I want as my leader? I really gave this some thought. Tsurugi is my favorite, but he'd be a bit of a hard-ass to work for. What about Jin, who I idolized as a kid, who's basically like Tsurugi, but less intense? Well, wouldn't you want someone who you trust knows what they're doing? That will always be dependable in a fight? Jin's good at what he does, but the Anti-Flash and other problems the team had which was caused by the Flash planets (i.e. the temporary losing of their powers in the early 30s) rules him out for me.

So, I went through the Reds in my mind, in chronological order. Kaijou? That guy's all business, he has a temper. Riki Honoo is really cool, but he's a kid. Gorou Hoshino seems reliable, but he's boring. I went through the Reds in order, set aside a couple of possibilities, when this thought entered my head...

Tono. Holy shit, would such a new Red be my choice? A Red from a show that's not a super favorite of mine? I was rewatching Shinkenger at the time I thought of the "Which Red would you want leading you?" question, and I noticed just how efficient Takeru Shiba seemed. He always knew what to do at every step of the way. He ran a tight ship, but was lax enough that you weren't required to worship him. Tono was THIS close to being my choice, but then I remembered the episodes where he's ousted when Kaoru arrives. Prior to that, he was still reliable, professional, in control, even though he knew he was a kagemusha and a sham. Why did he so quickly and easily lose control, lose ability, become ineffective? If it takes that little of a push to make him that way, to make him lose so much confidence and faith in his skills, maybe he WOULDN'T be the ideal leader.

So, I crossed off Tono. I soon just realized my choice would be Yuusuke/Red Falcon. He's a great fighter and swordsman, he knows what he's doing and takes being a hero seriously, but he's not a stick in the mud to hang around. With Yuusuke, you'd get the job done, and could be proud of your work, but know you're going to have some laughs.