Monday, December 11, 2017
This is one of the topics that always bothers me, because people always get their facts wrong or ignorantly repeat things or aren't fully understanding of the situation...
The topic is porn stars in tokusatsu. Maybe you're a stickler, maybe you're a prude, but for everyone else in the world, porn star means a performer in a XXX movie performing acts of whoopee for real. Japan calls their X-Rated movies A(dult)V(ideos) and their porn stars AV Idols. Despite tokusatsu being on the air for 50-some years -- dozens of Ultraman shows, 40+ Super Sentai, 30+ Kamen Riders -- people like to perpetuate this idea that either 1) Japan is just sooooooo cool and loose that they always cast AV idols in their children's entertainment 'cuz whatevs (spoiler alert: they're not) and 2) that nearly every actress in these shows is a porn star.
This is not close to being correct. And before I go on, I need to once again make this distinction.
There are 41 Super Sentai shows. Only THREE have featured full-blown, 100%, X-Rated, AV idol porn stars. (Those three: Carranger, Megaranger and Go-onger.)
How'd this even happen? When casting Carranger, the show's producer, Shigenori Takatera, really wanted the Zonette character to be a sexy, pin-up icon. He eventually just decided to cast Rika Nanase (alias Rika Mizutani), one of the lesser-known AV idols who not only did hardcore films, but was trying to break into softcore films. The character proved popular (probably due more to the writing), so Takatera repeated the casting quirk in his next show, Megaranger, casting Asami Joh as villainess Shiborena.
Takatera's final Sentai work was Gingaman. He repeated his trend of having a sexy villainess, this time casting nude pin-up model and B-Movie siren Kei Mizutani. Kei Mizutani is basically the equivalent of a Playboy Playmate who went on to play gangster's molls in B-Movies and starring in risque comedies. (Her best known role is in the movie Weather Woman, a manga-based comedy about a weather woman who has a wardrobe malfunction while doing the news and becomes famous for then doing her reports in the nude. You know who else is in that movie? George Costanza from Megaranger. Guess that bastard's a porn star, too!) If you're a pastor or housewife from the '50s, maybe you consider that pornography. Maybe she qualifies as a porn star to you. But, in the true sense of the moniker, she is NOT. And because she followed Rika Nanase and Asami Joh, it is assumed and she's mistakenly listed as an AV idol.
Cut to 2008 and Go-onger. Now Go-onger, bless its small brain, thought it was the second coming of Carranger. We know it wasn't, but in Toei's head it was. This went right down to casting ex-AV superstar Nao Oikawa as the villainess Kegareshia. Oikawa had been an extremely popular AV idol, but had quit and been attempting to transition to the mainstream by the time she was cast on Go-onger. But, still, her popularity in her past work looms larger than any of her mainstream attempts.
Let me once again make clear the distinction:
X-Rated/AV movies are for reals, yo, and generate porn stars.
B-Movies/late night movies/softcore flicks (what the Japanese classify as Pink Movies) are simulated; fake. They don't count. If you consider anyone in these movies a porn star, then everyone in Hollywood is a porn star, because every actor and actress has done a sex scene in a movie or show. (HBO, Showtime and Netflix original shows, especially, are filled with porn stars if you look at it that way.)
I point this out because there's a misconception about quite a few of the '80s toku actresses. There's the unkillable rumor about Naomi Morinaga -- all she did was some B-Movies and posed nude for photobooks. She's NOT a porn star. But people have also listed Maskman's Mina Asami as a porn star/AV idol and she's NOT. Here's the deal with that...
In the '70s and '80s, production company Nikkatsu found a profitable way to make money -- they popularized a line of movies known as the Roman Porno Series. The Nikkatsu Roman Porno Series, as well as Japan's so called Pink Movies -- as explained to me by a published Japanese film critic, who at the time was preparing a book on the subject of Japan's Pink Movies -- are risque, but softcore flicks. They sound essentially like the classic old Rochelle, Rochelle of Seinfeld; cliched love stories, movies pretending to be arthouse-y, but really just exist for the nudity and love scenes. Further proof Pink Movies and the Nikkatsu Roman Porno films were merely softcore: their demise came at the hands of VHS, which made X-Rated movies more easily available and negating the need for the fake stuff.
Mina Asami was a very popular starlet of the Nikkatsu Roman Porno line of films. As was Dynaman's Mari Kouno, as was Bioman's Yuko Asuka, as was Turboranger's Kanako Kishi, as was Hibiki's Kaoru Mizuki. Not only these actresses, but a lot of toku actors appeared in these Nikkatsu Roman Pornos early in their careers, among them Sunvulcan's Takayuki Godai (which is how he met his wife, Mari Kouno), Flashman's Jouji Nakata, Kamen Rider Kabuto's Hirotaro Honda and Kamen Rider W's Minori Terada. Again: despite the risque nature of these movies, and what the title of the film series implies, this does not make them porn stars. (And guess what, Power Rangers fans? Power Rangers Turbo's Carol Hoyt had some softies on her resume prior to Power Rangers, so don't judge Super Sentai performers!)
Tokusatsu sees so many actors, some more successful than the others. A lot of toku actors get stuck in direct-to-video B-movies, and Japan's DTV B-Movies aren't that dissimilar from America's. These movies vary in genre, but will almost always try to sell themselves with scenes of shocking violence or nudity. You know how one of these movies goes. It will center on an ex-cop or gangster who hangs out at a strip-joint where 90% of the movie takes place, or he and his hooligan buddies all hang around hookers. Whatever the scenario, it means one things -- nuditay. Tons and tons of toku actors have appeared in these kinds of movies, among them familiar faces like Hiroshi Miyauchi, Daisuke Ban, Changeman's Kazuoki Takahashi and Shinkenger's Goro Ibuki among others.
And, of course, a lot of popular tokusatsu actresses extended that popularity (no doubt pushed by greedy managers) by posing nude for magazines or releasing their own entire books. This does not make them porn stars.
I'm sure there's a few people I'm overlooking. Like, I'm not familiar with all of the Ultraman performers, so I don't know offhand if anyone from there has done AV or softcore or whatever. (I know Ultraseven's Anne took her sudden fame to make some cash by doing nude photobooks, and that Nao Oikawa's guest-starred on one of the newer shows.) GARO is jam-packed with AV idols, but it's a late night show targeting a certain demographic. (Same with Akibaranger, which is why I didn't mention Marceena actress Honoka above.) There's several guest stars I know that were Nikkatsu Roman Porno starlets or whatever, but I'm not talking about guest stars here, just series regulars.
There's also been a couple of freak occurrences. For example, a minor or guest performer who was either an AV idol (Megaranger's Momoko Nishida, who guest-starred as Neji Yellow's human form) or later went on to become AV idols (Minako Komukai of the Abaranger movie). There's the odd case of someone like Wizard's Tomorowo Taguchi, an actor known for his eccentricity, who dabbled in AV movies early in his career. And as is the case sometimes in Hollywood, there's been performers who might have done explicit videos early in their career as they struggled (as was allegedly the case with Blade's Takayuki Tsubaki). There's even been a case of a performer's private video getting leaked (GoGoFive's Yuko Miyamura, who even the Japanese fans mistakenly call an AV Idol because of it, which is just so wrong).
There are many shades and layers, but a single truth: there have so far only been three true porn-star/AV Idol regulars in real toku, and they are Rika Nanase, Asami Joh and Nao Oikawa. Rip up everything else you have written down, because it's wrong.
And on one final note...KEI MIZUTANI IS NOT A PORN STAR!
AND NEITHER IS NAOMI MORINAGA!
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Despite what little I think of Power Rangers now, when I was a kid, I was into Mighty Morphin'. I knew it was pandering, I knew it was hokey, I knew it didn't hold up to the Japanese Sentai installments I saw in the '80s, but I still liked it, recorded it, obsessed over it. And while I wasn't into VR Troopers, I still watched that, as well as Saban's coat-tail riding rivals put out by DiC, Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad and Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills. (I didn't care about Saban's Masked Rider. That thing's always been an unwatchable heap of suck.) Of DiC's two series, I think Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills is the more noteworthy, and the one I want to talk about.
Now, it's obvious that DiC's shows were shameless wannabes that just wanted to quickly capitalize on the crazy, unpredictable success of Mighty Morphin'. And it's obvious that the powers-that-be backing these DiC shows reallllllllly didn't want to put much money into them -- not that you can accuse the American-made footage in Power Rangers of being high-budget, exactly, but there's at least a variety in locations. But a big difference between Saban's show and DiC's is that DiC's shows were bolder in how they depicted the young heroes.
Another big difference? As super low-rent as DiC's two shows seemed in terms of sets and production, I remember being a kid and being impressed that I'd recognize some of the people in their shows. Syber Squad had that kid from Tales From the Dark Side and Mrs. Doubtfire! And the annoying twerp from Parker Lewis! And, holy shit, Tim freakin' Curry doing the voice of the bad guy! And some of these people can...act! Wow! Power Rangers gets people you've never seen before and probably will never see again. (Yeah, yeah -- I know it's because, for a while, a majority of them were martial artists, gymnasts or dancers, and not actors.) Tattooed's most recognizable performers are Glenn "Otho" Shadix as the voice of Nimbar, David "Squiggy" Lander as the voice of Lechner and Zsa Zsa Gabor cameoing in an episode as herself. Still...even these three are bigger names than anybody Saban's ever gotten in any of his shows.
|Nimbar's oft-repeated line is meant to comfort the Tattooed Teens in times of doubt, but twist it and you can picture it coming from Shadix's Otho character, as well.|
When I was a kid, I remember also being surprised that they said things like "hell" and "die" on Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills. Like, nobody dies on the Power Rangers. The D-word doesn't even exist on Power Rangers! Even the villains survive and change their ways and start traveling the world as entertainers.
One of the many problems that continues to plague Power Rangers to this day is how goddamned square and magoo the characters always are. Unless they're just half-heartedly and lazily Xeroxing the Sentai plot -- like the case with Time Force, where heroes could actually disagree -- for the most part, the heroes are always on the same page, always lame, always sub-dimensional do-gooders. Since Tattooed Teenage aired only in '94, as a rival of MMPR, I'll just compare it mostly to MMPR, even though mostly all of the heroes of the PR franchise are sugary sweet goody-two-shoers.
The teens of MMPR are even squarer than Judd Nelson's impression of Anthony Michael Hall's family in The Breakfast Club. "Teenagers with attitude?" Yeah, right! The Power Rangers were kids who reminded the teacher they forgot to assign homework, who drank veggie smoothies (because fatty products are GROSS, ew!), who NEVER had a negative thought or beef with anybody, whose idea of a good weekend was volunteering at school functions or cleaning the park. School was cool, man. There's no awkwardness typical of the teen years, everyone gets along, and even the bullies are minor pests you can laugh at -- the bullies are so innocent and decent, even, that they go on to become cops. Power Rangers characters behave only like the teenagers that were ideal for the nerdiest of parents. The Power Rangers are all the offspring of June Cleaver and Danny Tanner. They have no individuality, no questions, no genitalia, no hormones, no fears, no blood, no negativity, no sarcasm, no sense of anything which one might attribute to a human being. Angel Grove is a Pleasantville of purity where everything is peachy, bad guys are barely even bad, no vices of any kind exist, and babies are delivered by stork.
And, fine, maybe the show just wanted to have these paragons of virtue. They're superheroes, after all. The way the Power Rangers are presented is no different than the way most Saturday morning heroes, like He-Man, had been presented at the time. But He-Man and his ilk are cartoons. (Then again even the Ninja Turtles had more variety of characters and "teens with attitude" than PR ever did. Look at that. The TEENAGE. MUTANT. NINJA. TURTLES. More realistic than the Power Rangers kids!) Power Rangers, by being one of the first live-action hero shows for kids, needed to have the heroes resemble human beings just a little bit; Power Rangers writers should have made more of an effort to diversify the characters beyond the superficial Benneton casting. The original Japanese shows have more diverse heroes. There's often an array of character types in those shows. I'm not expecting, nor do I want, superheroes who are evil pieces of shit like Walter White, or a team of teen heroes who are psychopaths like the Less Than Zero kids, but you want them to be somewhat human and -- this is a tricky word, too often misused -- flawed.
Here's where Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters wins over Power Rangers. The four heroes of the show butt heads, don't get along well and kind of dislike each other initially. They're all in different parts of the conflicting high-school castes. While they might deep down come to have a liking and respect for one another, caused by their being brought together as a superhero team, they're not going to admit it, and it's not going to change the way they interact at school. (To bring up The Breakfast Club again, it's like when Anthony Michael Hall asks if they'll all remain friends, and Molly Ringwald just flat out nukes him with the truth that, no matter how much they all bonded in detention that day, things will go back to the way they were come Monday morning.)
If you look at MMPR, a lot of those character types wouldn't have been caught dead with some of the other characters. Jason might say hi to Billy, but would make fun of him to his friends behind his back. Tommy wouldn't take Trini to one of his heavy metal vomit parties, and would lie to his friends that he's sleeping with Kimberly in order to seem cool. Zack would have nothing to do with such corny people.
Tattooed Teenage addresses this. Laurie/Scorpio is the Kimberly-like princess, and it's only acceptable for her to be seen talking to Gordon/Taurus, the fellow rich kid who's been handed everything. (While I don't think PR's Jason came across as a shallow richie, he was without a doubt the popular jock-type of the class, the type of kid who everyone, even teachers, adored for reasons beyond your understanding...until you found out they had rich parents.) Swinton/Apollo is the Billy brain, and a dorky outcast, but he can be judgmental and initially thinks he's better than everyone. The real standout is Drew/Centaur, a character who would never exist on Power Rangers; an anti-conformist, wise-ass rebel with a contempt for the rules who can't stand most people. Before Joseph Kahn thought he was being so clever with his Power/Rangers short, this show in 1994 had Drew (and guest character Rick/Orion) questioning the idea of mysterious lifeforms forcing teenagers to fight their super wars. (JUST LIKE FUCKING SAIGON, EH, SLICK?!)
You'd never catch this on Power Rangers: Kimberly and Jason being competitive with one another, arguing who should lead (the answer being her); Jason feeling inadequate to Billy's smarts, pettily hoping Billy doesn't get into the same Ivy League school he wants to; Billy thinking his intelligence makes him superior to everyone else; Trini thinking everyone but Billy was a phony asshole; Jason thinking Trini, thinking everyone is a phony asshole, makes HER a phony asshole; the shallow, hormonal guys hitting on the heroines; the Rangers not getting along and acting petty or playing dumb tricks on one another. No, no. All Rangers get along and never fight or disagree, unless they're brainwashed, and even then, they'll issue a public apology and personally go hug anyone they wronged while under mind control. The Tattooed Teens are also allowed to hate or mock their teachers and principal, can be disrespectful of elders, and get detention for skipping so many classes to go off and be heroes. The Tattooed Teens are allowed to be sarcastic and often tease or insult each other.
I know I'm making the Tattooed Teenage characters sound like they're just obnoxious, but they don't really come across that way. Just...realer than Power Rangers has ever attempted. Teens can be self-centered and petty, but a lot of superhero media depicting teen heroes forgets this, and they're often just mini-adults and overly pure. And the Tattooed Teens are also meant to grow closer and understand one another more by being on the team. (The problem is the show, being a cash grab with most likely a fast as hell shooting schedule, really not having great continuity to completely pull this off. And it seems to me like episodes are presented by production number rather than actual episode number; sometimes the heroes react to a monster like they've already battled it, and then a few episodes later, the same monster will be treated as a new threat. And an episode like "The Cover Up," which falls in the middle of the series, definitely seems like it should be an earlier episode.) I do think the show needed a fifth character, maybe someone a little headstrong, a put-upon normal kid to pull everyone together and keep them in line, but that might interfere with what the show's trying to do with these teens from Beverly frickin' Hills (which translates as rich, entitled, privileged).
For an episode, the show does briefly get a fifth member, though -- Orion -- and he IS a little more of a straightforward hero. (Too bad he wasn't Red-colored, though. He's instead silver.) An alien whose planet has been destroyed by the villains, he bonds with Drew while on a quest to seek revenge. It's a somber kind of episode that reminds me of a Kunio Fujii type of tokusatsu episode, one that Power Rangers would never try. And since Orion is played by Syber Squad cast member Kevin Castro, it also reminds me of the way you'd be watching a toku and, hey, there's Blue Flash's actor as a guest-star in Maskman!
The actors aren't cringe-worthy, either. Leslie Danon and K. Jill Sorgen as the heroines are the best of the cast, with Sorgen's Drew being the standout of the show. (It takes a while for Rugg Williams to find a rhythm as Swinton, though he tends to be a bit forceful. And while Richard Nason can be funny and have good moments, his performance rests in one area of smarmy. He really needed to shake up his performance beyond doing someone's impression of David Spade's impression of Alex P. Keaton.) At any rate, you can tell the cast is having fun, even if their characters can be antagonistic, and even if the show is throwing insane stuff at them.
The villains are generic, but main villain Gorganus is sadly probably more menacing than the villains Power Rangers offered at the time. He's always angry and always smoking the subordinates who fail him. Rita just always whined about a headache and Zedd would just make Goldar go stand in a corner for five minutes. The monsters of the week are often recycled, with mostly weak designs. (Though I like Slaygar, Octodroid and Ninjabot.) But the show at least comes up with better dilemmas-of-the-day for their monsters to perpetuate. Even just minor, typical villain stuff like tampering with the weather or causing blackouts or targeting a water supply or causing pollution is more of a threat requiring superheroes than Rita sending a bee monster to attack the Rangers because Billy was, like, so totally depressed he got his first B on his test, and the BEE monster would remind him of it and, like, totally weaken the Rangers!
|Gorganus: the bastard son of Hell Saturn?|
So the show's biggest failing is not having a Japanese show to work off of. And, man, did they need it. Not only for the sake of having better realized villains and action scenes, but because the hero designs are WTF. WTF, in this case, meaning both "what the fuck" and "weird, terrifying, fucked-up." The Galactic Sentinels take everything scary about Battle Fever's Miss America and crank it to twelve. Who knew real hair would be stranger than a wig? That stuntpeople who were visibly confused by the material, making constant wide-eyes, would be creepier than just plastic eyes?
|AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Pleasant nightmares, folks.|
When the show was making its debut, I remember reading in a magazine (Wizard? Hero Illustrated?) that they DID want for it to be based off of a Japanese series, but Saban shut that shit down. For Saban Entertainment to step in and have any say and win, that says to me that they had obviously wanted and attempted to use a Super Sentai series. (Or, at the very least, one of TOEI'S shows. For all I know they could have wanted a Metal Hero, which Saban was already planning to stink up with VR Poopers. There's not a real team Metal Hero at that point DiC could have used, though.)
I've always wondered which show they would have used. If you go by the Galactic Sentinels' designs, you'd think they obviously wanted to use Battle Fever J, with maybe symbols of countries in place of constellations. (Especially note: Battle Fever is the only Sentai team to have noses on their masks, as the Tattooed Teens do.) I kind of doubt this, though, since Battle Fever J is unabashedly 1970s and disco, and definitely wouldn't have flown in 1994, even if they were hoping to take the piss out of it. Lately, I've kind of wondered if maybe Liveman was considered for use. The colored constellation illustrations remind me of Liveman's colored animal illustrations on their Twin Brace; AND there's a couple of monster similarities. And I think animal-themed Liveman, with its animal-shaped mecha and the team coming complete with a robot helper, would have been best for a Power Rangers competitor.
Both of DiC's shows have their fanbase, but people seem to talk more fondly of Superhuman Samurai and I think that's probably because it's the one that was based on a Japanese series. (Not that Gridman was exactly a winner for them to have pulled, but, still...it had more action, more of that inventive superhero action you can pretty much only find in Japanese tokusatsu.) So, a Japanese series would have greatly benefited Tattooed Teenage and maybe have let it be seen differently. Because the action and superhero side of it is lame, and kind of a letdown considering what the rest of the show is going for, which is "teenagers with attitude...for real," while also having a self-awareness that points out how insane a lot the situations superheroes find themselves in can be.
The way the action is presented seems so disconnected with the rest of the show; it's a big problem I have with the Ultraman franchise. The giant monsters, the Ultraman, the big battles -- they're all done separately. There's something so impersonal, disconnected and intangible about it. In Super Sentai or Kamen Rider, the majority of the action is small scale -- it involves the actors more. Those franchises go to great lengths to make you believe the actor becomes the hero. With the Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters, it's hard to feel like they actually become the 'roided out heroes they're meant to become. The way I never feel any of the Ultraman protagonists become Ultraman, I feel that disconnect with the hero action in Tattooed being so cordoned off on its own. They really needed to involve the actors in some superheroic action. Superhuman Samurai is very much the same way, and that's because it's modeled after its source material, Gridman, which had the Ultraman format. Tattooed Teenage was a Super Sentai show using an Ultraman format, which doesn't work so well.
And the thing also needed a better title. I know they were trying to be funny and reminiscent of too-long titles like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," but it's just too much. Too dumb. They're called Galactic Sentinels on the show, and that's a better Power Rangers-wannabe name to me, and a better show title. (A song on the show also refers to them as Teenage Gladiators...another better show, and one that would have also rode on the popularity of the American Gladiators.)
The show also needed money for more sets, man. It gets tedious spending time at the same four sets. (Villain lair; coffee shop hang out; Nimbar's lair; Drew's poolside; school hallway; soundstage where the fight takes place. Even Power Rangers has more variety, including OUTSIDE SHOOTS! Holy shit...that's money. Power Rangers has the money, they just don't want to spend it on making it a good, quality show, it seems. Sad that, for as much money as the property makes him, Saban doesn't want to put any of that into the show. Cheap! He's Don Dolnero.) Between the same sets, the same monsters, and reused fight scenes, the show often reaches Uchuu Keiji-levels of tedious repetition. (Little known fact, which you can go add to Wikipedia, kids: an alternate reading of the kanji for Uchuu Keiji means "stock footage.") Like, the soundstage where they'll battle is often supposed to represent different parts of the world, sometimes galaxy! (That's right: this show has the bad guys attacking the entire world, but it doesn't have the budget to pull it off.)
And, hey, I know some people will look at this show as a failure since it was a superhero series and failed in delivering good superhero action, and I'm not saying that this is some great, brilliant and lost show. It's very low budget, very formulaic, light on plot, and difficult to get through for those reasons. I just wanted to point out some areas of this strongly disliked show that I thought were successful in its approach over the popular Power Rangers. It's sad that the knock-off rival shows by DiC had more guts and actually TRIED to write something more interesting for their original footage than Saban's gang ever tried. (And, no, the pathetic attempt at being "edgier" in the new movie wasn't done well and didn't last. They were just as do-goody, jokey and dumb as ever.)
Saban's basically lucky that he's the one who ended up with the Super Sentai footage. It's insane to me that he's a billionaire, basing his empire off of the work of others and never having an original idea of his own. And it's kind of sad that he and his staff have no respect for Super Sentai, the superhero medium in general, and viewers (of any age) that all they want to do is the bare minimum and have the Sentai footage bail them out. Because Power Rangers doesn't lift the bar, it leaves it on the floor. Japanese henshin hero shows have been around since the '60s, there's a pride and dedication in their work, they know how to make these premises work, they invented the unique style of the action, they can make these shows in their sleep (and I think they might at this point). Saban's shows benefit for it, and it's crazy that he's a billionaire for wrapping his lousy product in other people's better work.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
EPISODES 23 & 24
Inoue brought us the first sixth hero in Maskman, and here he brings us the concept of a secondary Sentai team within a series. Treading new ground again.
This episode introduces the Dimensians, a trio of last survivors of a dimension destroyed by Vyram. That they're played by faces familiar to Sentai fans is an added bonus -- heck, maybe it's even why I like these episodes so much. (They could have stuck around for a couple episodes longer. Nobody would have missed the upcoming shadow episode or the stupid, awful caveman one.)
One's played by the likable Blue Flash, one is my favorite Pink Mask, and the other is the one who goes on to be Tricera Ranger. Yeah, I'm never exactly excited about Tricera Ranger, but he works in this role. It's a Maskman reunion with Blue Flash and Pink Mask -- he played her doomed love interest in the Inoue-penned 34th episode of Maskman. (I know Inoue will write parts for certain performers, as writers tend to, so I've always wondered if the casting here was on purpose.)
What I like about the trio is how efficient they are; Rei (Blue Flash) & Kanna (Pink Mask) are obviously a couple, and have been at this for quite a while, while Dan (Tricera Ranger...of course) is a young goofball who they look at with bemusement. They enjoy his shenanigans and it's an unusual, different dynamic for a team. That they all get along so well and care for each other -- showing up just when the Jetman team are falling apart and separated from each other -- brings out a contrast between them and our regular heroes. (Also: Blue Flash actor Jouji Ishiwata has matured so much since Flashman, and is a really calm, collected leader. He and Kanako Maeda make such an impression here and seem like they share such a closeness that I used to think about what it would have been like if they had played Ryu and Kaori.)
The Dimensians bring with them the Jet Garuda -- and wouldn't you know it, just in the knick of time! Semimaru has hatched and trashed the Jet Icarus. (And it's a good thing that these guys are bird-themed, too. That's a helluva coinkydink!) At least the episode has the sense to show them working on the way the two mecha will combine, rather than it just happening automatically, while there's some other shows that try to cheat and skate by and not explain why two mecha from differing origins are so compatible.
Being the youngster of the group, Dan takes a liking to Ako, and looks to get out of helping them work, realizing that there's little they could do. Dan's a typically boisterous character who talks big, who rubs Ako the wrong way before she comes to like him. There's a tragic cloud hanging over the Dimensians, but they're hopeful that they can help Jetman beat the Vyram and just hope to resume a normal life on Earth. Well, things don't go that way...
Despite the brief amount of time we've spent with them, it's still a shock when Radeige's image appears before their ship, and he manages to fatally stab Rei with his sword. The ship's crashing mortally wounds Kanna, who dies before she can make it over to Rei's corpse. Dan's just so shaken about the loss of his friends, I think actor Hideki Fujiwara does a good job here of just the sense of loss and fast growing up he does in the blink of an eye. Because fury just takes him over, he transforms, and goes to take on Radeige, saving the Jetman before being dealt a fatal blow from old Blue Face.
As Dan lays dying, Ako ties a flower around his ring finger, as he did to her earlier, to show her acceptance and feelings for him. It's a sad moment, one that would be rare in a toku today.
Random note: When Semimaru first hatched, he looked exactly like a Pokemon or something. A blue turtle with red spots. But when he grows, he becomes some red-colored, winged Gundam thing. It's like they used two different designs from two unrelated shows. It's a really strange choice and inconsistency.
Random note 2: Sentai's filled with dead comrades who died for our team's newest mecha. But since the Dimensians made such an impact, and there was that comparison between them and our regular heroes, I feel like the show needed to address the team's quickly taking ownership of Jet Garuda better. Like a simple they jump into the cockpit and Red says something like "Let's do our fallen comrades proud." No! Pretty soon the Dimensians are forgotten, and the Jetman are complaining when the latest monster of the week's beating up Jet Garuda.
A cool-down episode by Araki. There's not too terribly much going on in this episode; Maria's monster creates shadow copies of the Jetman, which drain our heroes' power the more the copies are active. To keep them active, and potentially kill the Jetman, Maria uses her powers to keep the sun out as long as she can. (That's a helluva ability there, Maria. If she can do something like that, why's she wasting her time with piddly-shit like some of these harebrained monsters and plans she's come up with?)
The best parts of the episode involve Gai and Grey. After all of the recent tension, Gai's isolated himself from the others -- choosing to hang out by a poolside with some knock-off Playboy Bunnies. And his stubbornness actually saves the day, since he's not there when the others are copied; it's up to him to save everyone. When Grey takes a hit from Radeige intended for Maria, Maria shows the robot kindness by bandaging his wound, which then leads Grey to protect the exposed Maria once she's taxing herself to keep the sun shining. We get a prolonged battle between Grey and Black Condor, as Black Condor tries to stop Maria, and I feel like this episode really solidifies their rivalry that the later episodes will play up. That reason saves the episode, in my opinion, and keeps it from falling in the Filler File.
Stupid, awful, terrible episode. I'd like to leave it at that, but let's go into it...
I think it's this episode that gives me a negative coloring of Tomihisa Naruse as Raita. Give the guy an entire episode where he doesn't shut up and...eek. He has that high-pitched voice and he says his lines the exact same way. And he's loud! In this episode, especially, he's just kind of yelling everything. He's like a bad kid actor. You know those bad Japanese kid actors who have helium voices and just YELL EVERYfrickingthing they say in a monotone?
Anyway, if that's not bad enough, we get the Jetman sent back to caveman times. Raita's split off of from the rest and saved by a cavegirl who looks exactly like Kaori if she were to be attacked by Vyram's Tan-in-a-Can Jigen. Since Raita started the episode daydreaming about Kaori, this scenario gives him the chance to live out his dreams with a stand-in. Now, I already said that it's ridiculous that Raita's fallen in love with Kaori, too, but this scenario is just...kinda wrong seeming? It reminds me of that terrible Star Trek TNG when Geordi's obsessed with Leah Brahms and creates a holoprogram under the guise of getting her help to build something, but he turns it into Geordi's Perv-Out, Stardate 2366.
Speaking of Star Trek, Raita also breaks a ton of time travel rules that would surely get Time Investigation's Dulmer and Lucsly on his ass. He's teaching them Japanese, he's inventing them farming tools, he's showing them how to easily make fire, he's eating their food (bringing with him who knows what parasites back to the present). He also ends up going down in history, with illustrated tales of a fat guy who becomes a fat, yellow owl being recorded. Raita even starts dreaming of staying in the time period and settling down with Kaori Flintstone.
The episode kind of seems to be sending the message that an ordinary, hardworking farmer has no place in modern society and would only fit in in caveman times. Or is he saying only cavemen appreciate farmers? Farmers only provide to cavemen? So...way to go, writer Naruhisa Arakawa?
Random note: This episode also forgets that the show takes place in the vague 199X, since we see 1991 displayed on the monster of the week's timer. And, for some reason, this episode also hauls out Kamen Rider Black's toilet flush of time special
Friday, December 1, 2017
When the shit hits the fan...
I think it's important to keep in mind the toku landscape when this episode aired. The young ones who look back at Jetman now and mock it don't really understand what a big deal it was to approach a toku episode the way this one does. It's seriously unconventional. It might not seem so special in a world of post-Heisei Rider series -- especially those early entries that desperately wanted to be J-Dramas, relegating costumed scenes and superhero action to the final minute of the episode -- but it IS a special and different episode, which pushed boundaries and broke rules and paved the way for those shows.
There's no villain plan. No monster attack. The villain this week is the Jetman team itself, the animosity and tension that's been building throughout the team. The entire first half of the episode focuses mainly on the heroes and their personal problems; the only time we spend with the villains is the Vyram gang watching Radeige waiting for Juuza's offspring, Semimaru, to hatch.
No tokusatsu episode before it dared to devote so much time to the human, realistic struggles of the heroes, and devote so much time to their personal lives, where they weren't dealing with a monster attack or something related to their work as a hero. And unlike episodes 13 & 14, which got a little too cliched, in this one you can kind of understand where the characters are coming from (mostly).
Ryu realizes how messy things have become and approaches Gai, as a team leader, interested only in how his team functions. He puts it out on the table: if you're seriously interested in Kaori, Gai, then just go for it. Enough of the games, enough of the drama. We need the team to function. I'm not interested, don't go after Kaori to prove anything, only if you genuinely love her. And let's just move on, you pain-in-the-neck.
This leads Ryu the next day to approach Kaori, taking her on a mysterious drive. Now, I know Kaori is surprised, and just too blinded by happiness to really understand, but...c'mon, she has to notice Ryu's demeanor. This ain't the magical date she thinks it is. But you can at least understand why she might be so giddy. That is, until Ryu reveals their secret destination, which is Rie's grave. Again, Ryu's finally just putting it out on the table: Rie's the only one I've ever loved, I'm still stuck on her. Please, let me be, let me grieve, and leave me out of the drama. It's a bit of a cold reaction on her part, but you can understand why Kaori would react the way she does to this, walking home, giving Ryu the cold shoulder.
The worst part of this ends up being the ugly, ugly conclusion Kaori comes to the next day. She approaches Ryu and gives him a concert ticket, not letting him get a word in edgewise. The absolute worst? She then goes on to say that she's going to keep at it, "fighting Rie" and "driving away memories of Rie from Ryu's heart." And I have to actually give Kotaro Tanaka some credit here -- not only is he pretty spot on in this episode, but he's kind of just shocked and sickened by Kaori's little display here. And she's just cheerful and waving off how spiteful she's being. I think it's just a real low point for the Kaori character. Ryu plainly drew it all out for her.
When Gai later sees the ticket Kaori left for Ryu, he shows interest and Ryu regifts it. He's not being cruel about it; he told Kaori he's not interested, she doesn't care to listen, but he also sees letting Gai have the ticket as a genuine chance for Gai and Kaori to spend time together, and not have it go to waste...
So when Gai finally meets Kaori at the concert, and she withdraws in disappointment and hurt that it's not Ryu, you can really understand why Gai gets so pissed off at the whole ordeal. He sees it as an insult to both him and Kaori, and sees it as Ryu trying to be the bigger guy or charitable and thinks he's sticking it! So, he tracks down Ryu, where he's training Raita and Ako and they proceed to kick the shit out of each other. It's just a mean, mean brawl between two heroes that you just never saw in a toku series before in such a context. These aren't brainwashed heroes, this isn't a villain plot -- just two of the heroes very unhappy and pissed off at each other.
Ryu's mostly defensive until Raita gets in on the fight and Gai's insulting to him and hitting him back. (Gai insults Raita for being a coward who's done nothing with his love for Kaori, telling him to butt out.) I kinda like the way Ryu seems so hurt and insulted on Raita's behalf. By the time Kaori arrives, the fight is looking to become very, VERY ugly, and that's when our heroes are pretty much saved by the villains!
The Vyram arrive and actually break up the fight; Maria, Toran and Grey are suspicious about whatever Radeige's hatching, so they all come to Earth to attack the Jetman. (If there's one thing Gai hates more than Ryu, it's the Vyram, so he's quick to jump on board and help kick their ass.) The Vyram don't show up until about 15 minutes into the episode...15 minutes of a 20 minute episode. Again, that was just unheard of, unthinkable at the time! A tokusatsu episode where the villains don't attack until the end, and the rest of the episode is devoted to the personal, human struggles of the star heroes? (And you know Inoue probably didn't even want to have any henshin action, but compromised.)
Respect its authority! It's a good episode. Groundbreaking.
Random note: Ako once again delivers here, providing the episode its only real levity, when she takes Kaori's place when Kaori's supposed to meet up with Gai. Not only does a disinterested and frustrated Gai have to hang out with her -- taking her to a diner where she unabashedly orders dozens of sundaes -- but the day is further ruined for him once Raita shows up at Ako's invitation. (Raita's a bit of an ass in this scene, though, saying that he thinks Ryu would be wayyyyyy better for Kaori than Gai. What's wrong with that guy? And Gai's looked out for him in the past, too.)
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
As weird as this episode is...I always liked it. It's one of only two good episodes of this show that Arakawa writes. And this is the first episode since episode 2 that Amemiya's directed. It's weird for a main director to handle an episode like this, which doesn't really play into Jetman's overall narrative, but I think it works out since Amemiya's into supernatural stuff. He brings a great sense of style to it, though, especially in the off-kilter visions Kaori has of her death in battle.
When Kaori makes the mistake of seeing a fortune-teller who has nothing but bad things to say, it's up to her butler, Jiiya, to save the day. I like that this is the first episode that gives Jiiya a bigger role than he's ever had before; he's the Alfred to Kaori's Bat(wo)man, pretty much raising her and instilling within her a set of values. And when Kaori's withdrawn in fright from the fortune-teller's words, Jiiya gets her to find her inner-strength, and she saves the day. (Well, Jiiya helps save the day, too.)
I think Amemiya kept this episode in mind when doing GARO, with Jiiya a prototype for Gonza. (Yeah, they're both Alfred knock-offs, but...hey, the Saejimas even live in Kaori's mansion!)
A lighthearted episode, and an episode really unlike Amemiya. But it's a fun one, if you're willing to go with the flow. And almost everyone gets some humorous moments in this one. (Particularly Ako, who at one point teases Kaori for being a runaway bride way back in episode 4. Continuity!)
Gai saves a girl whose sister was the recent victim of the latest Vyram monster's attack, which is to suck the loving hearts from women. (This is a Maria plan; she hopes it succeeds in the long term, in that heartless women won't marry and have kids and, thus, end mankind. This was a better opportunity to explore some deep-seated feelings of Rie, feeling like maybe she's been abandoned and forgotten by Ryu, but...why remember that one of your main villains is the main hero's girlfriend now?)
When the girl presents Gai with her theory of the monster attacks, and photographic proof, he doesn't buy it. I covered this in some of my Kamen Rider Black thoughts, but I frigging hate this cliche in tokusatsu. Jeezum Creezum, Gai -- you've fought sewing machine monsters who turned people into pirates. You've fought a vending machine monster that sold you evil juice. You've fought a giant fucking cup noodle. Why do toku heroes, who continuously experience strange, wacky, weird shit, always be so dismissive? This girl has proof! Meanwhile, in other episodes, a toku character will be talking to a room of seemingly normal scientists, but be like "Wait! He bowed just a centimeter away from what polite society demands. He must be working for Golgom!"
This is a fairly comedic episode, and I think Toshihide Wakamatsu deserves credit for playing Gai just right. It's a balancing act in an episode of this tone. So many shows will give the cool guy a comedic episode, and it either is to try to make him look uncool or the actor will just lose the character, trying too hard to show how funny they can be. (Sometimes an actor is unwilling to lose the cool image, to the point where you kind of roll your eyes at the character -- the actor will be trying so hard to be so cool all of the time, it's forced, and makes the character UNcool. Am I making sense? Too bad! But, to give you a couple of examples, think of Ren/Knight in Ryuki or Hiroto/Go-on Gold. Two guys who tried to act cool ALL the time, but rarely ever were.)
Wakamatsu handles lighter scenes in this show just right. He doesn't lose the character, he stays honest to the character, but also honest to the situation. He's not overly conscious about being cool ALL of the time. If there's a lighter situation, he'll have Gai react in an appropriate way. A lot of the comedy here comes from Gai's stubbornness and his irritation at the kid's persistence, but he comes around to liking her and gets that bad-ass fight scene after she falls victim to the monster. (Set to the song sung by Wakamatsu, with lyrics written by Inoue and music composed by MAKE-UP's guitarist, the late Hiroaki Matsuzawa. An awesome mix of people; unfortunately the song's not the rockin' or jazzy song that would suit Gai more. Nowadays, Hideaki Takatori would have probably composed his song, and gotten the feel just right.)
Random note: This episode is the first since practically the show's beginning that remembers the Jetman's super-strength! Gai uses just his hands to stop an oncoming vehicle from running over the girl. The Jetman have been punching a lot of ordinary people these past several episodes. Remember in episode two, when Gai's punch knocks a goon across an alley? And you can't say that the Jetman are like Superman, who's able to control his strength. Do you really think the Jetman have the discipline that Superman does?
Another lighthearted episode, written by Kenichi Araki just as the previous one was. I've gotta say, I enjoy more of Araki's episodes than I remember. I used to think his best and only good contribution to the series was the Neo-Jetman two-parter, but he has a lot of enjoyable ones. (And is probably the only sub-writer who keeps mostly in tune with Inoue.)
This episode could have easily become an eyerolling and hokey Captain Planet-styled preach-a-thon, but it's instead more about how quickly people dispose of stuff. It's more about good things going to waste than preaching about pollution or anything. It's more about the casual disposal of something with immense emotional attachment, in this case Ako's stuffed bear, which comes to life as part of the latest Vyram plot. (Unfortunately for Vyram; her bear being in the heap of garbage they bring to life is their plan's downfall, as the love Ako showed the bear all her life causes it to be a kind and innocent monster.)
As much as I complain about the monster designs in this show -- which can be lazy or incredibly dumb -- Garbage Jigen's design is pretty funny and clever. That detached eyeball gives it such a sad and pathetic look; I like the VHS tapes and beer bottles and cigarette cartons strewn across its body; and I especially like that its right leg is a stack of discarded magazines. It's a well thought out design. (And the fact that Rika Matsumoto gives the monster its voice is another good choice, because she makes it instantly endearing.)
Sunday, November 26, 2017
EPISODES 17 & 18
Episodes that could have been a four-parter, instead of a two-parter. These two episodes try to cover so much ground -- Gai's laying it all out for Kaori, his "death," the arrival of Vyram's leader, Radeige's being demoted to human... Juuza and Radeige's storylines certainly could have been expanded upon.
17 features the sorta controversial scene of Gai dragging Kaori away against her will, into an elevator, to confront her. It's impulsive and rude, but fans act like he knocks her down and kicks the shit out of her until she agrees to a date. He's there at the store, just kind of bottling up frustration, and when Kaori's parading out bikinis she wants to buy to impress Ryu, he decides it's time to just put all of his cards on the table. So he whisks Kaori away and confronts her. (It's not his fault the blackout causes the elevator to stop and lose power.) Kaori's uncomfortable, but not scared, so I think people read this scene wrong.
Finally frustrated at Kaori's attempt to play nice and spare feelings by not saying anything to Gai -- what she feels about either him or Ryu -- Gai finally just reaches a point where he'd even prefer she hate him rather than feel nothing. I always kind of wondered if Gai would have backed off if she DID say she hated him.
What's really ridiculous about this ordeal is that the remaining Jetman are stranded in another elevator, with Raita freaking out about what Gai might be doing to Kaori. He really overreacts more than the viewers of the scene. And, again, the show brings up that he loves Kaori, too, and you just roll your eyes. Raita even says that he knows he's not good enough for Kaori, so the best he can do is look out for her, so...yay, Satsuki! Know that Raita thinks he's lowering himself by settling for you!
But in this scene, Ryu shows how awesome he could be. He tells Raita he's overreacting, and that he thinks Gai's a better person than Raita thinks he is. Look at this from Ryu's perspective: Gai's been nothing but a colossal pain in the ass, but Ryu still sees the good in him and vouches for him. And it says something that Gai gets pissed when the team finally meet up and Raita's at the attack with accusations; he's NOT a shitbag who would harm Kaori.
The cause of the blackouts is from the arrival of Juuza, Empress of the Vyram empire. Radeige's in-tune or powerful enough that he senses her arrival. Even though they play it vague just who and how important Juuza is, she's a great addition to the show, with more of a presence and strength and intimidation factor than the other Vyram members. It's such a shame she's used for just two episodes, and ends up being so easily disposed of. (I would have also preferred for someone like Atsuko Takahata to have played her.)
When Radeige attempts to overthrow her, she attacks him and "punishes" him in the worst way she finds she can -- by turning him into a human. In the process, he loses his memory and is found on the beach. (Just like Shouichi Tsugami.) He's found and comes to befriend a terminally ill young woman, who he ultimately ends up betraying once his memory is returned and he goes full-on Radeige. For all of my complaints about Daisuke Tachi's performance as Radeige, he's better at playing the amnesiac version. (Maybe playing a serious villain isn't for him? Because he's also kind of funny as Mokumokuren in Kakuranger.) And because it's Inoue, there's just a cloud over his friendship with the ill girl, especially when his presence raises her spirits, and she's making wishes for his sake.
Jetman fans like this storyline for highlighting how vicious Radeige is. He's stopped by the girl, who sees him in the full Radeige outfit, trying to get through to any of the kindness he had, and he kills her. That the amnesiac Radeige was so kind, and that her words cause Radeige hesitation (and his face goes from blue to flesh colored as he hears her) says that, for what a evil piece of shit Radeige is, there has to be SOMEthing decent in him, deep down. Inoue loves blurring the lines between heroes and villains and he usually likes making villains a little more complex. But, for some reason, I never found the Vyram to be as deep or layered or shaded in gray as a lot of Inoue's other villains. This two-parter is the first time anything's been given to Radeige that wasn't just muttering your standard villain threats and condemnations.
And here's what I learned upon my latest rewatch of Jetman: the Vyram are atypical Inoue villains in that there's not much depth to them, at least for the early half of the series. There's always been something about the Vyram villains that never quite worked for me, but I always chalked it up to casting choices and weak designs. But when I thought about it on this rewatch, I realized they just don't have much going for them as characters, and not a compelling motivation for what they do. The Vyram don't feel united; they don't seem like they have a history, you don't feel anything for their little game. They're just not nuanced.
I think I'm just really spoiled by the villains in Hirohisa Soda's shows. He'd give his villains layers, and moments of sympathy or understanding, but he also remembered to make them interesting and alive and damned formidable. I always said Jetman had Maskman envy, and the Tube is a villain group that never gets the respect it should, so I'll use them as an example. Although he's mysterious, we learn who Zeba is, and come to understand the dark history that fuels his motivation. Igam's a proud warrior stuck between two lives, with a personal grudge against the usurper Zeba, the whole mess Ial made and a personal grudge against Red Mask for "corrupting" Ial. You can easily surmise Baraba's history, especially once his mother is introduced. You can feel the years of hostility between Igam and Baraba and their clans. Kiros! Kiros is great, working for the villains with the promise they'll let him have Ial, while also in a bitter battle with Red Mask for her love. There's interplay between the villains; personality clashes, disagreements over methods; there's a sense of shared history, you get quite an impression of Tube's underground world.
Or take a look at the officers of Flashman's Mes -- you don't exactly find out a lot about them, but it's easy to surmise since they're lab experiments, but they're also colorful, memorable, there's a unity to them, they're competent. They're made more memorable by good casting and high quality design work.
Now, what can you say about the Vyram members? Who they are? Where they come from? Their history, their individual personalities? Radeige's a megalomaniac; if you didn't know she was secretly Rie, what's to say about Maria?; Toran's just a typical Evile Brat; Grey's a robot, but isn't it cool he likes alcohol, cigars and music?! And they often feel just so disorganized -- I get that they're meant to be a sort of mirror to the Jetman team, but it's not entirely successful since we're meant to believe the Vyram have successfully conquered other dimensions. It's not really until the later episodes that anything of note is done with the Vyram, and even then it seems just so...small. And really not like Inoue. This is the guy who got the Kamen Rider The First gig and was like "Oh, reboot the original series? OK. Here's an entire movie about two Shocker monsters instead. Enjoy!" He's the guy who, in Kamen Rider 1's big anniversary movie, decided to have Jigoku Taishi fight alongside Rider, ending with Hongou letting Jigoku Taishi off the hook with a smile! The guy loves his villains!
My theory is that Inoue had to compromise on Jetman. He could either go as far as he was allowed with the Jetman's flawed, clashing heroes and the love triangle or have devious, dreadful villains, but not both, so he chose to go with the former. Which, hey, if that's the scenario, maybe he made the better choice. As I just said, Soda had explored villains more than any Sentai before his reign had. Inoue could have followed his footsteps or done something different, which in this case would be the hard lean into the team drama and love story.
And that's not to say I don't like the Vyram; they still beat most of the villain groups that come after them. (I don't feel like I should have to even say that; why is everything so one-sided these days? You can still like something and be critical of parts of it.) I'm just of two minds about the Vyram, in comparison to Soda's villains, in comparison to the way Inoue usually handles villains. And I'm just a little harder on the Vyram since they represent the last mainly-actor villain group in Sentai, before The Rubber Suits take over.
With that out of the way...what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Gai dies in this two-parter! So, that happened.
Friday, November 24, 2017
Inoue's back and he brought a weird episode with him! It certainly is a weird one, but I like it. It's an Agatha Christie type of strange mystery ON A BUS. Of the heroes, the episode focuses mainly on Kaori and Raita, returning from Japan's favorite past-time of dressing like Pinocchio and strolling through the mountains. And this time, they chose the wrong bus to ride...
The bus has a Dimension Bug placed on it, and it's a cool concept, like Odagiri's jet or the apartment building come to life. The whole bus being the monster, it begins picking off passengers one by one, each time the bus rides through a tunnel. We have the familiar types of paranoid people these kinds of stories require, from a cop who's seen too much (and one day from retirement!) to a jittery criminal to a paranoid business man to a suicidal woman played by Pink Flash.
Kaori really steps up and kicks ass in this episode, taking charge and not backing down from the threat, while Raita acknowledges his fear of the situation. The only thing I don't like is...it's obvious it's nobody on the bus killing the people, and when Raita wants to call in the other Jetman members, Kaori wants to hold off on bothering them. And it's like...what? If they had called the others, chances are the Dimension Beast would have shown itself sooner, and maybe a couple of the passengers could have been saved. It's insane that anybody on the bus thought it was another passenger killing people off, when the victims die by being turned into bubbly foam, which brings to mind the original Kamen Rider series, which is kind of neat. Obviously, it's a Vyram plot.
But I like how the episode focuses on just two members of the team, and the spectacle the show attempts in its depiction of the monstrous bus, tossing people around with tentacles and proving to be a pain even when Kaori and Raita get around to transforming. A strange, entertaining episode.
EPISODES 13 & 14
These episodes are brought to you in part by Aaron Spelling. This two-parter is good, but not as strong as the later episodes that deal with the Ryu-Kaori-Gai love triangle. These episodes are unfortunately a little too cliched. It's a lot of Gai being bullheaded about Kaori, upset that she works hard on birthday presents for Ryu, upset that she doesn't see that Ryu doesn't like her like that, upset that Ryu doesn't take Kaori's feelings into consideration. (I used to wonder why Gai gets mad when Ryu's insensitive towards Kaori, since it should work in his favor! But his getting so hurt on her behalf does show that his feelings for Kaori are genuine, even if it's detrimental to his wants.) It's a lot of Kaori running away in tears. Add on top of this that Grey starts taking a liking to Maria and her piano playin', with Radeige shooting the occasional dirty look, and you've got one soapy episode. (Two soapy episodes.)
This episode also, unfortunately, introduces the idea that Raita's into Kaori, too. Now, the terrible episode 26 goes hog-wild with this in a ridiculous way, but here it goes kind of unanswered -- Raita just makes a cryptic statement that Ako believes means he likes Kaori. With Ryu and Gai fighting about Kaori all of the time, Raita's just one too many, so I've always hated that they try to throw him into the mix, while it also robs his relationship with Satsuki of sweetness. And it's just, like...cripes, why not have Ako love her, too? Why stop there? Have Odagiri love her. Have Radeige love her. Grey. Maria. Not Toran, though, because he'd totally think she had, like, cooties, dude.
Random note: This two-parter is the debut of Fire Bazooka. I love the bit where Red Hawk -- the only surviving member of Jetman, since the four others are captured by the camera monster -- has to fire the bazooka on his own, the kickback of which flings him WAAAAY back. These are good episodes for Ryu; I really like when Gai's going off on him, and asks if he's ever even loved anyone before, and Ryu just kind of stops dead, stunned, thinking of Rie. That was a massive barrel of salt Gai throws into a gigantic wound there. Ryu's reaction here, a sadness that stills him, makes clear and sets up his shocking breakdown in the middle of the series.
And I like that the episode really highlights Ryu's professionalism, and how he dives into his work to bury his pain; the others are captured, Gai's of no help to him building Fire Bazooka. It's all up to Ryu, and he comes through.
The episode that answers the question everyone's had for 14 episodes now: "Hey, isn't Ako supposed to be in school?" I guess you're just supposed to assume that she's a delinquent always playing hooky, but it's a good question. It's a question that must have pestered this episode's writer, Mami Watanabe. Watanabe had written standalone episodes of Turboranger and Fiveman, and only contributes two episodes to Jetman, for some reason.
Megaranger's 37th episode owes a little to this episode, IMO. The monster goes around absorbing female voices, which threatens to totally ruin the recital Ako and her best friend are meant to sing at. People are quick to dismiss this episode as "filler," but I like how it shows more to Ako than just the wise-crackin' punk we usually see. Sayuri Uchida's just such a likable performer, she really sells it, and Ako's friendship with Kyoko is so genuine and believable. The episode does a good job of conveying how difficult it is for Ako to sneak off to Jetman duties, while juggling school life and hanging with her friends; how conflicted she is about lying to her friend, who she's promised to always be honest with. It's a shame we didn't see more of Kyoko.
Random note: I'm not surprised, not surprised at all, that Raita's irritating, high-pitched voice is what ends up destroying Voice Jigen, causing his voice-collecting meter to explode.
Random note #2: In this episode, Blue Swallow stands in the middle of the team, announcing the "Chojin Sentai" portion of their introduction. Now, I'm not 100% sure on this, but I *think* it's the first time in a Sentai a non-Red has done this. And Jetman only does this once more, in episode 19, with White Swan. It's interesting that Jetman breaks the rule with its two heroines.
This episode should have been a Liveman. It would have fit better there. While it's written by Kenichi Araki, I can easily imagine it being the sort of episode Kunio Fujii would have wrote for Maskman or Liveman. I like this episode, but it just doesn't work for me as a Jetman episode.
This is the one where Toran's plan involves a monster who can bring to life anything depicted in an image. Eventually, the painting of a girl is brought to life, and she ends up being one of the monster's weaknesses. The majority of the episode is focused on Ryu trying to reunite this Girl From the Painting with her painter -- a man in critical condition. The painting is of the man's deceased daughter, and Ryu thinks if he can get her to visit and play a tune on her ocarina, it will help the man pull through. But them crafty Vyram bastards just keep gettin' in the way!
Here's why I think this would have been a good Liveman episode: the characters believe that the painter poured his life into painting his daughter, giving the painting a sort of life, and that's why it's so effective as an art-piece AND why the girl appears to be more than any of the other images conjured up by Toran's monster. The belief that one can pour their own life and love into a creation, which gives that creation life, is an idea right up Liveman's alley. (The Liveman episode with the girl's living doll is close to this idea, though.) If this episode had been a Liveman, and had been a Jou/Yellow Lion focus, it would have worked damn well. Kazuhiko Nishimura would have sold it and conveyed all of the emotions required...
Because Jetman is stuck with Kotaro Tanaka. And, to try to be fair, it's not entirely his fault why this episode doesn't work. I mean, he's just kind of on auto-pilot and you don't even really know why Ryu cares so much about this basically ghost of a girl trying to save her dying dad. I don't think this episode would work with ANY of the Jetman heroes, except for maybe Kaori. With Kaori, we've already been told that her parents are kind of distant and always traveling for business reasons. So you could make the connection that she's helping a daughter reunite with her father, in a way making up for a connection she wants but is missing. So, it doesn't work with Ryu and it doesn't work with Tanaka's by-the-numbers performance.
And I think a lot of blame can be placed on the direction, with director Kiyoshi Arai focusing more on a dreamy, hazy visual look and the style rather than focusing on the emotions of the piece.
Which is a shame, because the girl is played by Hiromi Yuhara. I've written about her in my Kamen Rider Black write-ups, I think she's one of the more memorable guest-stars in toku. She guest-starred in a lot of late '80s and early '90s toku, often as the target of the villains, and I think she's just so likable and is easily sympathetic. (It makes her villainous turns in Turboranger and Ohranger that more shocking and unsettling.)
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
This is a weird episode with a resolution that I find doesn't make much sense. It's the first one so far not written by Inoue -- its writer is Kenichi Araki, who ends up doing a lot of episodes, the most of any of the sub-writers. What I like about it, though, is the unlikely, yet successfully compatible duo that Kaori and Ako make.
The plot of the day is that the Vyram place one of their Dimensional Bugs on a diamond with a bloody history, and people can lose their mind and rampage in a blind greed after looking at it. The Vyram are like the Vader Clan or Volt in that their plans go for more sadistic kicks and "punishing" society for things they don't like about it. The end result for Vyram is to destroy and take over the world, but they want to enjoy it -- the show makes it clear it's a game to them, which is a motivation A LOT of early '00s characters end up having, so Jetman was way ahead of them.
Kaori's a bit embarrassed to take Ako to a snobby jewel exhibition, but it results in the episode's best bit, which is when Ako politely asks Kaori for permission to go ahead and kick some possessed dude's ass, and Kaori just quickly grants it in a polite manner. There's quite a few moments of quick little interplay between the two like that that gives this episode more...
Because, otherwise, it's just kind of a bland Machineman-level plot. Ako gets possessed and the solution is for Kaori to buy out all Japan's jewels and just throw them at a greedy Ako, and when that doesn't work, a simple slap does the trick. Say wha? I guess, in keeping with being a Machineman-level of plot, it was a Catharsis Slap.
Random note: This episode's guest star, as the dude who's running the jewel exhibition, is Masaki Terasoma. When I first saw this episode, I was like "Who's this Hiroshi Miyauchi wannabe guy?" I had no idea at the time he was the voice of Shadow Moon, and Kintaros in that one terrible show that pretends to be a Kamen Rider.
This episode's written by Hiroyuki Kawasaki. Whoever he is, it's the only episode he does for this show. For the most part, the secondary/sub-writers will do episodes that aren't focused on the show's soapier elements. Inoue's main focus is on Gai, Ryu and Kaori (in that order), and the team's clashing. Other writers will focus on the other characters or just have them in a temporary truce to deal with that episode's dilemma.
This is a sweet episode, depending on your viewpoint. (For me, it doesn't completely work since I don't think Naruse is as likable as Raita's supposed to be.) The villain plan belongs to Toran, who brings to life a sewing machine that makes clothes that will cause the person who wears them to take on the attitude of the design. (Dress like a gangster? You're a gangster.) I can imagine a cheesy trailer voice being like "Someone's taken 'the clothes make the person' one step too far!"
The heart of this episode is Raita meeting up with a childhood friend, Satsuki. Satsuki was just a kind girl who treated him nice, and she holds a special place in Raita's heart, and he wants their reunion to run smoothly. The joke is both are pretending to be what they're not -- him a big spender who knows his way around town, and her a stylish city gal. But when she falls victim to Toran's plan, it's up to Yellow Owl to show his genuine self to wake Satsuki up, and she then is more honest with herself before going home. Satsuki ends up appearing in the finale (SPOILER ALERT!), which is a nice touch. She and Raita have a nice chemistry, so I like that the show is smart enough to remember her. This could have easily been a one-off, especially since it's from a one-time writer, but Inoue's smart enough to callback to it.
Random note: the guy in the bar who tries to hit on Satsuki by buying her a drink is hilarious in his trying-hard-to-be-cool-but-is-unintenionally-a-big-damn-dorkness. And what the hell drink does he buy her, anyway? It looks like NyQuil!
Ugh. I'm the one Jetman fan who doesn't like this episode. This episode marks Naruhisa Arakawa's Sentai debut. And Arakawa's one of my favorite writers, but...I really don't like a lot of his Jetman episodes, and he has a spotty record when he's not main writer.
I know a show needs to have the occasional all-out goofy episode -- I'm one of the only people who loves Flashman #26, a bonkers episode that proves that, no, I'm not a fanboy who wants "grimdark" all the time -- but so much of this episode is just stupid and the humor falls flat.
Vyram's winning plan is to show those "stupid" humans who dare rely on the speedy dependability of a good old cup noodle how stupid they are, by making an evil cup noodle monster who causes the people who eat its noodles to, like, go bonkers and become impatient, YEAH! Pfffffft. This is a goddamn Fiveman plot. Just dumb and low.
That's not getting into the way that Evil Big Cup Noodle finds a ramen otaku to do his bidding. That's not getting into the fact that this ramen otaku somehow knows Ako to be obsessed enough with her to name his creation after her. (All we're told is he's her sempai. But he's obviously not in school with her, because he's at home eating old ramen when she's seen leaving school with her friends. And he's also, like, a good 15 years older than her. This guy, who appeared in a Turboranger as the annoying dude whose face gets switched with Youhei's, looked 15-years-too-old to play a high schooler THEN, so two years later? Yeah, he can't be a classmate. So how do they know each other?)
There's some funny stuff once Raita gets taken over after pigging out on some Ako-brand ramen, but it doesn't come from Naruse, but instead Yellow Owl suit-actor Hirofumi Ishigaki, who does a real Yasuhiro Takeuchi-level of performance trying to sell the hell out of the situation. (The reveal that Yellow Owl's become so annoying in his impatience that the Jetman tie him up by the time they build Jet Icarus should have been hilarious, but so many of the jokes in this episode fall flat, especially when it's left up to Naruse to just keep screeching.)
Random note: The jingle in the Ako-chan Ramen commercial was composed by Toshihide Wakamatsu and sung by Rika Kishida. I always found that weird.
Random note #2: Gai comes across a woman who's under the influence of the Evil Ramen, and gets her to calm down but punching her in the gut. This is common not only in Jetman, but a lot of toku. But rewatching this episode, it was just the umpteenth reminder that the show has forgotten that the Jetman are supposed to have superhuman strength even out of suit. (There's been some civilian-hitting in the past couple of episodes.) So, while it's gross that that woman -- and anyone else who ate Ako-chan Ramen -- were eating pieces of Noodle Jigen, I think Gai could have easily punched right through her, so Noodle Jigen wasn't the only danger here.
Kunio Fujii's one script for Jetman. (And boy do I know why.) If you're familiar with me, you know I'm a big fan of Fujii's. He's done many-a great standalone episodes, but was sadly never given his own show to steer as main writer. I always thought he was similar to Inoue, but not as extreme or over-the-top as Inoue can be. His sensibilities should have meshed with Jetman perfectly. How he ends up turning in this one...
I get why the idea of having this nontraditional line-up of heroes on the team changing personalities would sound fun for a writer, but there's problems in the way it's executed here. First, it's a bit too early to do an idea like this. It reminds me of Star Trek's "The Naked Time" or TNG's "The Naked Now" -- those episodes were about characters having their personalities altered, and the episodes fell far too early in the show's run. We didn't know the characters as they were meant to be to understand or care about these drastically different depictions! Same with this episode, pretty much.
And the changes are just a little too vague to really tell you anything about the characters. Ryu becomes a slacker. Gai becomes a good soldier. Raita becomes a Gai imitator. Kaori becomes a spoiled brat. Ako becomes weepy. And then they eventually learn that it's not just a monster's spell causing them to act like this, but that these are traits they secretly harbor. Fujii can't just come in and write an episode like this. It's interesting to examine Gai or Ako in this way, but Ryu and Raita's not believable, and Fujii is way off in his assessment about Kaori. Inoue repeatedly tries to make the point about how everyone has Kaori pegged wrong, but in comes Fujii being like "Yeah...nah, she secretly loves being rich and materialistic and worshiped." And even if that's true -- and it's possible, to some extent -- the way it's depicted here is just lazy and obnoxious. And that's the case for the way they depict ALL five's personality flips. It's an episode that's trying to be serious in its examination of these flawed characters, but is played in a way that comes across as something Carranger would poke fun at. (I can easily imagine a similar scenario where Dappu shoves Kyousuke out of a helicopter to try and cure him of some Bowzock-caused suffering.) If anything, the point of the personality shake-ups should have been about the types of people the characters FEARED they could be, rather than saying it was a deeply buried part of their actual character. I guess people think the latter is more "complex," but...not in the manner it's handled here.
A sad misstep for Fujii, but I'm not surprised this ended up being his only episode of the show. He should have probably been given another shot, but maybe what he said about the heroes (especially Kaori) pissed off Inoue as much as it does me.
Random note: Not to be all Scott Evil, but the Vyram had the chance to bottle up bubonic plague or battery acid or the black goo from Prometheus or something, and stock the vending machine with THAT, but they chose to go with Gatorade that alters your personality? Bah!
Random note #2: I gotta try to stop complaining about Tanaka, but I can't stand him in this episode. First of all, he's acting like a bad comedian. Secondly, when the Evil Gatorade takes effect, the characters hiccup. Tanaka, for some reason, doesn't even hiccup; he does this thing where he acts like he's about to puke on whoever is in the scene with him.
Random note #3: People who complain about Ibuki in Changeman training them too harshly probably forget about Odagiri here. She not only pulls a gun on the mind-altered Ryu, but throws him out of a helicopter in the hope he'll come to his senses. Quite a gamble there, with the one guy who's actually supposed to be on the team and is irreplaceable.
I don't really think Odagiri's all that good at her job. She started off so strong and take charge, but at this point of the show, actress Mikiko Miki plays her like a big worrywart. Any time the Jetman start arguing with one another, she'll be like "Oh, no! At this rate, the team will disband!" When Ryu cowers in fright at her gun in this episode, she's like "I'd rather kill you than see you be a coward!" She just doesn't seem like a reliable chokan -- she especially doesn't seem like she has ANY control or authority of anyone on the team. Even Ryu acts like he outranks her, putting her on the level of a Peebo or Magu. I think Miki's age really is a problem; they definitely needed an older Odagiri who couldn't be overshadowed, who seemed to have some experience. (Miki's only a couple of years older than Tanaka and Wakamatsu.)
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Episodes 4 and 5
I like these episodes for the Kaori moments, and for the further building of the team. Kaori here is unable to handle piloting her mecha, which causes Ryu to berate her and mock her acting like a spoiled princess. She storms home and ends up meeting again with a childhood friend, Richie Rich, D.B. (douche-bag). She considers listening to him and getting married, where they can go off and live one obnoxiously classist life. This guy is a truly despicable piece of shit, and Gai tells him as much. They could have been a little more subtle with the guy, especially with casting -- while the actor really captures the guy's obnoxiousness, he just takes it too far. Maybe that's a good thing for some viewers. Maybe he's good at his job -- I'm pretty sure I've seen him elsewhere, and because of his appearance here, I hate his guts there. He looks like he could be Nobuhiko Akizuki's nerdy older brother.
Anyway, Kaori shines here. She kinda steps back and looks in on herself, really listening to how horrible the guy is. Anybody who dismisses Kaori as being some spoiled, whiny princess doesn't pay attention to the show, because the words coming from Sojiro disgusts her and nearly bring her to tears, and strengthens her resolve to do her best as a hero. There's more to it for her than her initial claim that she wanted to be a Gentleman to escape her daily routine; she has a heart, is a good person and wants to help. Also: she kicks Nerdy Nobuhiko in the nuts and leaves him at the altar. That instantly makes the episode a four-starrer.
These two episodes really drive home the Vyram's ultimate motivation: shits and giggles. They've conquered other worlds -- although it's hard to believe petty Radeige, kid Toran and RoboBoozer, with all of their snide remarks and infighting, had their act together enough to do so -- and make a friendly wager that whoever defeats Jetman first gets to rule Vyram. What a booby prize. They go on about their plans, their attacks being "games." This is something that went on to be an undying trope in early '00s tokus -- from Kuuga to Ryuki to Abaranger -- and I'm still tired of it.
But I like here that all of the Vyram stage their own attacks on the team. We have Radeige still sending a monster of the week after them, but Toran shows up to torment Red, Yellow and Blue while Grey stalks Gai and Kaori like
And why wouldn't he dismiss it? Because it makes no sense for the Vyram to have taken Rie! So he has no reason to believe it could, somehow, be her. Maria's one big, glaring, jumble hole the show always had for me. Now, you're going to tell me that it's NOT meant to make sense -- it's keeping with Vyram's shits-and-giggles, everything's a game outlook. But...what sense does it make for them to take Rie? She's sucked out of the Skyship and they're sitting in their ship like "Yeah, let's grab on to her. She can be our new member." And then they turn her into Maria, and she struts out acting like she's always been some Vyram big-shot and...they're OK with this? Why add another competitor to their stupid game? Why kidnap an Earthling they despise?
They don't know her connection to Ryu, so that point's moot, and something never used to their advantage. No, they capture her because...Inoue knows it will bring some drama down the road. They capture her because the writer told them to. That's it.
I love the concept of the monster of the week in this one; a Dimensional Insect is placed in an apartment complex and the whole complex becomes the monster. Not only do you get pretty cool scenes like monstrous tentacles attacking people and pulling them into a dimension, but you get Radeige pulling Ryu into that dimension for a showdown.
But I'd like to take this time to complain about the Jetman monster designs. They're done by the late Ryu Noguchi, who also did designs of the Denjiman villains and a lot of early Metal Hero villains. Fans love the guy's work, but I've never really liked his designs. Especially the monsters that are just ordinary objects, which is every Jetman monster. I always assumed the idea behind the Vyram monster designs was meant to be more realistic, they're animating inanimate objects -- while also serving as a throwback to older kaijin designs of the '70s and early '80s -- but it just doesn't work with what Jetman's trying to do. Noguchi's inclination is to make the monsters far too silly, and most of them are cutesy in the end. These are monster designs more suited to Fiveman. (I've never been too crazy about the Vyram designs, either, which are reminiscent of the Vader villains' designs.) I always thought Fiveman had better villains, villain designs, villain actors and monster designs than it deserved -- swap them around with Vyram and THEN we'd be talking. (Imagine the Billion actor as Radeige! Awesome.)
This episode has a fun concept, but it also shows that there's more to Gai than meets the eye. He's bothered that Ryu goes missing after he rescued him. He dives into the other dimension to save Ryu in return. If Gai was the piece of shit that modern fans like to paint him as, he wouldn't have bothered.
Some of Inoue's favorite things: tennis, arranged marriages, characters losing hands, booze, heroes swapping powers or heroes going bad. This episode includes the first two, and is a mostly lighthearted standalone episode after the jam-packed and serialized first six. (And begins a block of similar episodes.)
Ryu's grandmother arrives, fixing him up with a woman from his hometown who she thinks would make a fine bride. In this we learn Ryu comes from a small humble farm life from Kyushu. This, along with the idea of Ryu marrying anyone not Kaori, tickles Gai. But more importantly, this episodes lets Kaori's interest in Ryu out of the bag, after Gai only suspected it in episode 4. That it's immediately picked up by Ako, to the three's embarrassment, is pretty funny.
I used to think Kaori's interest in Ryu happened a little too fast in the series, but it obviously goes back to episodes 4 & 5, when she was injured and he was the one who didn't baby her. It angered her at first, but the whole Jetman thing has put Kaori out of her comfort zone, which was her initial motivation for jumping aboard. And, in that situation, Ryu treated her in a way she's probably completely unaccustomed to being treated. He didn't kowtow to her based on her status or who she was. He treated her like an equal, based on her own actual abilities and merit. She's in this thing to prove her worth, and he's judging her solely on that. Compared to even Gai, who's still kind of coddling in his treatment of her. Even though Gai comes to like her for who she is, I definitely always thought his initial interest in her was just to prove he could woo any woman, no matter how out of his league she might be or in a different social stratosphere.
And while Kaori's becoming romantically interested in Ryu, he's meant to just be professional and still stuck on Rie. Even when Ako brings up the burgeoning love triangle, he has no reaction. It seems like a thought that hasn't formed in his mind at all. Is he in denial? Simply loyal to Rie? Not interested? The pro that he is? Is it too hard for him to see anything in Kaori, when she's in what would have been Rie's position on the team? (SEE?!? Ryu's working on layers that a stronger actor would hit.)
What's funny about this episode is the way the bad guy plot of the week takes a backseat to...our heroes instead devoting their time to trying to get Ryu out of his meeting with the woman he's been set up with. There are funny moments in this episode that don't completely fly or aren't taken as far as they could. Raita pretending to be a sleazy thug trying to get Ryu to pay? Tomihisa Naruse does nothing with that scenario. And Tanaka's just blank-faced throughout. Also, the woman playing the grandmother -- who's supposed to be brassy and funny -- is such a big caricature, she ends up NOT being funny. (So when Gai is like "What a funny lady," you're just like...no, Gai. Put down the booze.) She's so broad and stereotypical that I'm surprised it's not a young dude in drag playing the part.
Friday, November 17, 2017
EPISODES 1, 2, 3
The Toei Hero Club edit was impressive, but cut out a couple of crucial scenes from these episodes, like Ryu and Odagiri's initial failure at recruiting Gai and the heroes laying eyes on the Vyram at the end of episode 3.
These episodes are impressive at setting up the hero side of things, but not so much the Vyram, who just kind of come out of nowhere and have unclear motives. (The biggest being...why turn Rie into Maria?!?!? One of the franchise's biggest mysteries, IMO.) Their big showing is targeting the Sky Force's Skyship, which is meant to be more impressive than it comes off. (It's basically like the Justice League's Watch Tower, but with random Sky Force guys instead of the Justice League.)
I mean, compare it to Gozma's show of force in Changeman's premiere, how brutal their assault on the military was, until Japan's troops-in-training was whittled down to five. And the Sky Force just seems unprepared and unprofessional -- they take the hits, jump ship, and lose control of their important Force Gun, which held the Birdonic Wave.
It always seemed strange to me how unclear the show is about the Sky Force. A lot of people escaped the Skyship, and that surely didn't hold every member. So why does the show act like only Odagiri and Ryu survived, with Skycamp their only location? Changeman did it better by having their base seem fully staffed by the Soldier Group. And the Sky Force is obviously a bigger organization than, say, what Maskman's Sugata was working with. Sugata and the Maskman had government-backing, but they were obviously small-scale for secrecy's sake.
While it does make things seem dire for our heroes, I don't think Ryu and Odagiri seeming so cut off and isolated is intended. However, the Force Gun breaking and sending the Birdonic Waves out at random does create a nice feeling of being backed-against-the-wall for our heroes. I like how downtrodden and out of it Ryu is at first; when he's recruiting Kaori, he ain't making a convincing case, thinking mainly of Rie and being constantly kept in check by Odagiri. I think it takes Gai to get Ryu out of his despondence; hearing Gai's pessimism, his whole "Who cares about the Earth? People are horrible" speech shakes Ryu out of it, and reminds him of what's at stake and what's important. That Gai's a total time-consuming pain-in-the-ass to recruit also likely gives Ryu less time to mope; the way I see it, Gai's stubbornness in being recruited distracts Ryu enough to get his mind off of Rie and begin leading the team that desperately needs leadership.
'Cause they need all the help they can get. Kaori's just looking for something to do. Raita's rude and turns them down. Ako needs to see some green to get properly motivated. And Gai's a nightmare. But they're all decent people, deep down. I like that Kaori and Raita get on board fairly quickly with becoming heroes, but they're really not prepared, they're not confident, they don't know what they're doing. Ako realizes mid-battle that she's in something bigger, a part of something important, so she doesn't want a payday. Gai's initial transformation is for the sake of saving his ass, and getting revenge on the monsters who attacked him. I like how confident and capable Red Hawk is in battle; he's instructing everybody on what to do, what move to make, what weapon to use. And he's a one-man army in himself, taking down grunts and giant monsters. Ryu also benefits from having Kazuo Niibori in suit, but that's a given. Because, thanks to Tanaka, Ryu needs all the help he can get.
I really like the character of Ryu. As written, he's one of my favorite Reds. Inoue gave us a traditional hero who's a genuinely good person, who is moral and believes in right and all of the things a good hero should. He's shown on his early mission with Rie as being a hotshot bad-ass who will throw himself into the eye of the storm to save the day. He's supposed to be cool, command respect. Part of what Gai hates so much about Ryu is how GOOD he is -- good at his job, good as a person. I think that Ryu is cooler than Gai; he always bests Gai. On the surface, Ryu might look like a generic Red or typical hero. But Ryu is hiding a lot of pain, and yet he soldiers on. He's haunted. In typical Inoue fashion, he's flawed. His world's fallen apart. And yet he soldiers on, he has to. And he's dealing with a team of bickering amateurs on top of it!
I think Ryu's a rich character, who would been one of the all-time greats if they had a performer who could hit all of those notes. I still stand by my casting choice of Hiroshi Watari. HE'S a guy who you can believe is an elite soldier, who's smart, knows his shit, inspires confidence. (Tanaka is so bland and has no real presence; therefore, he doesn't exactly inspire confidence.) And by having seen him in so much toku, it would be a shock to see someone like Watari, as Ryu, when he eventually loses it and caves in to his depression in the middle of the series. If Jetman was going to be the last Sentai, think of how cool it would be for Ryu to have the stunt-casting of a Watari-like performer.
And I don't want to beat a dead horse about Kotaro Tanaka, but he's just weak. I tried, Ringo, I tried real hard to keep an open mind about him and pay attention to his performance on this rewatch. (Same with Tomihisa Naruse, and same with Daisuke Tachi.) And you know what? He has good moments which I'll acknowledge, but he's still, for the most part, just off of the mark. The only thing he really brings to the part is a sense of maturity and seeming like an average dude, an Everyman, which works for Jetman's attempt at wanting to be more dramatic and realistic in its depiction of the heroes. Viewed in that way, I can SORTA let Tanaka off the hook more. Also, if Jetman really was trying to evoke the feel of a trendy drama, Tanaka's totally reminiscent of the types of bland leads a lot of those shows had. (Like a Yousuke Eguchi, for example.)
The big, big problem with Tanaka -- other than just not playing all of the layers Ryu's working on, which is obviously huge -- is the way he plays Ryu often makes the character come across as a simpleton. He'll at times be aloof or he'll make goofy faces or have a strange and dorky reaction in a scene. Ryu's not supposed to be foolish or unintelligent. And it's something that ends up working against the character in that people will misconstrue Inoue's intentions and think he's making a statement about traditional heroes and their values being stupid. That's definitely not the case here. Ryu's supposed to the head honcho, the guy with all of the answers who can always be depended upon. (Which is why it's meant to be so scary when he loses it to the point where even Gai feels bad for him.)
While I think there are some later characters of Inoue's who are meant to be the big-hearted hero, but because Inoue became cynical over time or because he just didn't write them well, the character will seem insincere or disingenuous. (For example: In The First, Hongo feels really phony to me. His speeches about snowflakes, his answer in class that life is the most beautiful thing. It just doesn't seem genuine. Likewise with Faiz's Keitaro, who's meant to be earnest, and the heart sandwiched between two cynical grumps -- who ridicule what they see as his being naive -- but the actor's weak and turns Keitaro into a cartoonish blockhead.) But Ryu, and certainly a character like Shouichi Tsugami, are meant to be genuine and from the heart. Agito lucked out with Toshiki Kashuu being good (and supposedly a lot like Shouichi in real life). Jetman wasn't so fortunate.
Like I've always said -- Tanaka's not the worst actor to play a Red. But Ryu desperately needed someone stronger. If Tanaka had played a blander, one-dimensional Red like Gaku Hoshikawa or Goro Hoshino, an eye wouldn't be batted. But he got a great Red role and didn't have it within him to make it soar. Since he does have some moments throughout the series where he can be good, and will be unpredictably hit-or-miss, I've come to the conclusion he just didn't take the role seriously, not understanding -- or deserving -- of a special Red role like Ryu or a show like Jetman.
BTW, I need to make a minor correction here to a couple of my past posts. For YEARS, I remember reading on a Jetman fan site that Kotaro Tanaka was a member of the Japan Action Club. (You could obviously see that with how much action he does in the show.) So, I repeated that he was a member of the Japan Action Club. And then, years down the line, I saw people say he wasn't, that he was never listed as a member of the JAC -- that he trained with them early on, but was never a member. So, I had to go correct myself, and have stated that Zyuranger's Yuuta Mochizuki was the first JAC to play the star of a Sentai. But, no, apparently Tanaka WAS a member of the JAC, making him the first JAC to play a Red out of suit, so...thanks for the mess you made, internet wannabe know-it-alls! (Don't you hate them?)
Random note: The very first lines of the first episode belong to the narrator, telling us the show takes place in 199X. Remember that. Because the show won't. (Including: two minutes later, when one of the monitors displays the date as being from late 1990. See also: Posh Boy Ryu's jacket, which says 1991.)