Sunday, October 15, 2017

Live for Tomorrow: Liveman 45-49


Episodes 45 & 46

And so Ashura gets written off. In the first part, he connects his brain with his Brain Beast, Hacker Brain, and causes electronic mayhem all over Japan. After Falcon kicks his ass -- and kills the Shura Three -- Ashura accidentally hacks into some secret computer on the Brain Base, finding out a bit about Bias' secret. The one that Gou knows about. The one that Bias just let Gou run off knowing. Gou had more details, Ashura picks up a few vague words, but Bias flat out attempts to kill Ashura, blowing up the truck he and his computers are in. Why let Gou off, but kill Ashura?

Anyway, Ashura survives, and reverts back to dumb-dumb criminal Arashi. Arashi's a guy who seems to just go with the flow. Bias tried to kill him? Well, fuck him, he's his enemy now. The Liveman are trying to help him? Well, shit, I guess they're his pals now. In the second episode, Kemp's causing A LOT of mass destruction with his Brain Beast, but I really like how they bring Gou back in the episode. He rescues Jou and Arashi and takes them back to a church; Gou, in the aftermath of all that's happened, has found religion. Sakai's good as this new and improved Gou, genuinely worried once Jou goes back out into battle, and when Arashi chooses to do the same.

I like Arashi's last line to Gou. "It's a strange life we led, huh?" Arashi does things big, and he knows there's only one way to take down Kemp's seemingly indestructible monster, which absorbs whatever weapons attack it. Arashi knows it will be a fight to the death, so he takes the Brain Beast down in a suicide attack. Kemp's furious, but Arashi is victorious. His death is in keeping with the big, rebellious, independent man he was.

Episode 47

Mazenda's send-off. While I like most of this episode, her plan in this one's a bit strange. It's an excuse to bring back old monster suits, but since Liveman already resurrected monsters back in episode 25, Mazenda's plan here is to create a dream realm where just the IMAGES of past monsters can wreak havoc. Eh, it's a weird plan, and it's almost funny that Bias is so desperate to award anyone the 1,000 points that he's handing out points over nothing. "Mazenda went with the fish filet at McDonald's instead of the Big Mac! 100 points!" "Mazenda saved Toei a couple hundred bucks by bringing back old suits. 500 points!" "The show is almost over. 1,000 points!"

What really matters in this episode is Mazenda obtaining the score and Bias sending Gash after her to remove her brain. Throughout the episode, Gou has warned her, but she wouldn't listen...until it was too late. Gash, as always, is an unstoppable mutha, who easily takes down the Liveman, Koron, Gou -- anyone in his way -- to get to Mazenda. When she's finally cornered -- her option is decapitation by Gash's blade or plummet to her death from a cliff -- she ensures that Bias won't get her brain by completing her cybernetic transformation, completely turning her body machine and becoming Robo Mazenda. It's a bold move, a last desperate act but an awesome middle finger to Bias. Gash just walks right away once she does it. She says a few regrets to Gou before she jumps to her death, exploding.

Mazenda always seemed to me like she was cold, but had a strong sense of pride. She wasn't quite as soulless as Kemp, but I think she was close to him in cruelty and villainy. I like characters with shades of gray, but her last minute death speech didn't seem honest to the character. It's one of the many things in keeping with my whole "Liveman was softened by execs" theory. Could have been worse, though -- she could have survived and started hanging out at the Grand Tortoise, dancing with the Liveman in the ending credits.

The final scene of this episode is a highlight, another great Kemp moment. Once he witnesses Mazenda's death from aboard the Brain Base, he seems teary-eyed. He's hunched over, seeming to be crying. Does Kemp feel for anyone other than himself? Is there more to Kenji than meets the eye? Who knows, because the sobs slowly become laughs and he stands and just laughs his ass off, realizing he's going to win it all, after all. It's such a scary display that it freaks out even Bias, and Gash jumps before Bias, gun drawn towards Kemp.

It's this moment where I realized that Kemp should have become the main villain of the series. He's so much more evil than Bias, so much more confident and gleeful in his evildoings. I can easily picture a scenario where he reached a point where he saw himself superior to Bias and killed him and took over. Kemp is the one that set the series in motion, he's the ex-friend and big foe of our Red, so he should have been treated as a HUGE deal, and how huger can you make it than him ending up as the final villain? Yeah, well, Liveman goes the small, cheap, lousy route.

Episode 48

The title of this one should be "How to Chicken Out and Ruin One of Your Villains and Write Them Off in a Stupidly Unremarkable Way." Hey, that title isn't too long. Ever see some of the episode titles for Japanese cop shows?

This is the one where Kemp bites it. And it starts out promisingly enough, with that vicious bastard staging his own defection from Volt, complete with a phony attack, to lure in the Liveman, who are so inexplicably gullible lately. Kemp succeeds and gets the best of them, and it's at that moment that Bias decides he won this week's Hey! Spring of Trivia and grants him the 1,000 point Melon Brain Bread.

Bias learned from the Mazenda mess, though. No sending Gash with a rusty blade to collect the brain, now. Gash appears with a giant orb that he places over Kemp's noggin, cleanly sucking his brain out. It's not clear, but I assume that Kemp's own brain is replaced by Gash with one of the artificial brains that are regularly used to create Brain Beasts, as Kemp soon after becomes a Brain Beast, the Fear Brain Beast. An incredible letdown to have such an important character, a character who I think should have been the show's final villain, to become just a plain, old ordinary monster of the week. Such a mistake, such a frustrating letdown.

Worst of all? Is Yuusuke involved? Is Yuusuke there for a final fight with his former friend, the one he vowed to kill in episode 35? Is Yuusuke there so we at least get the chance for a classic Kazuo Niibori VS Red's big rival duel? NO! Yuusuke decides to follow Gash and board the spaceship he arrived in, so he can be taken to the Brainbase, while leaving the other four to handle Fear Beast Brain. What...the...fuuuuuuuuuu...WHAT, NO, ARGH!?!? God, what a blunder. I literally just got a headache in frustration just thinking about it. (It's especially sucky to deny us a classic Niibori battle after episodes 32 and 35 teased us with Falcon VS Kemp showdowns that abruptly ended.)

Once Bias obtains Kemp's brain from Gash, he hooks up to his big Edward Nygma devices and unveils his big plan -- to brainwash Earth to worship him. Literally. I don't know if he had any plans beyond that, but his biggest kick is to make everyone drop what they're doing, bow and pray in his name. Thankfully Yuusuke made the decision to deny us a cool showdown with Kemp, otherwise Earth would be screwed, because the four Liveman even fall under Bias' spell. (Koron does her best to snap them out of it, but is on the verge of being tossed over a cliff by the four Liveman before Yuusuke interferes with Bias' attack aboard the Brainbase. So, really, everyone on Earth owes Yuusuke a thanks for being saved.)

Once the Liveman team have snapped out of it, they join Koron in Super Live Robo and kill Fear Beast Brain. Koron is in Falcon's seat. So, not only are we denied a final confrontation between Red and Kemp, but it's almost like the show's giving us the finger by having Koron in Red's position, while Red's off pissing around the Brainbase.

Once Falcon's made his way to Bias' secret Nygmatech room, he pretty much immediately stabs Bias with the Falcon Saber. While it would be out of character for Bias to throw down with any action moves, it's hard not to think of the great fight Jouji Nakata had with Niibori in Flashman, so for Falcon to literally walk into a room, introduce himself and deal Bias a fatal blow, all quick and casually, seems underwhelming.  

However, luckily for Bias, all of the brains he's collected from past followers serves one crucial purpose -- he somehow, through his evil science, uses these brains to heal himself and remain youthful. Here he goes full out and uses the brain to revert himself to the age of a child. This is Bias' big secret -- he's really a man of advanced years, who manipulates his followers/students until he can make use of them. Namely, until they reach a point -- the 1,000 points, actually -- where their brains are cooked enough so that he can drink 'em up and stay young. Bias, Volt -- it's all pretty much a sham. He uses his students for his own end. This all picks up in...

Episode 49

The final episode. Bias is now a kid, Yuusuke is now a prisoner at the Brainbase. Let me go off on a tangent here. Bias is a kid, standing in his secret room, surrounded by a bunch of brains he's collected and stored in plastic hamster balls. Let's dumb this down like this: Bias steals brains to stay young. This is all out of some bad B-Movie from the 1950s. And it definitely doesn't help that Liveman's just out of money at this point. Toei's not putting anything into the finale, it's set at the Brainbase and the rocky terrain. The brains are rubber little pieces of chicken. And throughout these final two episodes, Bias shrinks Kemp's brain, carrying it around in a small ball and uses it as a catch-all weapon. Yeah!

Now, when Liveman started, it obviously kept the vibe Maskman had, of evoking more of a drama. Liveman started out wanting to be similarly grounded, serious. (The Maskman through Turboranger run has been listed as the "youth drama" Sentai series in some of the modern Sentai books.) And certainly the casting of Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori was meant to draw in average viewers, the non-toku fans. Look at those first few Liveman episodes and see just how different they are; in terms of content and drama and just how high it was aiming.

It was the first Sentai show -- one of the rare toku shows, period -- where the villains were actually HUMAN. Not only humans, but former friends and classmates of the heroes. Things felt so real, intimate, personal in those episodes. Our three heroes lost their friends, colleagues, mentors -- the odds were against them, but they used their knowledge to fight against Volt's knowledge. As I said, Bias and Volt were played more like a cult. Bias was mysterious, quiet, but intimidating. He was charismatic, but dark. You didn't know his story, what his agenda was, but...you know damn well it wasn't stealing brains to stay young.

I can see where writer Hirohisa Soda was going with this decision, though. He wants to tie the show's life theme into the main villain's ultimate goal. If our heroes of life are teaching you how wonderful it is to be alive, it's something Bias already knows -- he's afraid to die, he wants immortality, even if it's at the cost of other people's lives. I think that's a good motive for our villain, and I even like the idea.

But if you're meant to sympathize with Bias, because all he wants to do is live, then his B-Movie brain-stealing plot wasn't the way to convey that storyline. Because you can understand that motive, but the show goes about it in such an over-the-top, intangible way. And we needed more background on Bias, who he was prior to the mad scientist/cult leader, to try and truly understand where he was coming from. In this case, the show was just too mysterious with Bias.

But I like that it's Megumi, the brains of our team, who's given the episode's important speech, in which she tries to convince child Bias to make a clean start, and live out one last regular life and atone for his actions. But that's cutting Bias A LOT of slack. Everything we've seen him -- and his officers, under his orders -- do throughout the series, he's obviously done a dozen times over. He has A LOT of blood on his hands, and the Liveman are too damn easygoing to offer him this shot at freedom. There's a fine line between our heroes being compassionate and understanding and them just being chumps.

You can see that Bias actually considers it, but he fights it. But it's too late, because Megumi's words have been heard by...Kemp's brain, the one Bias has been carrying around. Now, double-bullshit on this development, since we know Kemp's a bastard, I'd argue a bigger bastard than Bias. But, no, Kemp's all like "Yeah! I regret how I lived! I want to live again!" And not only does Kemp's brain have this reaction, but all of the other brains in Bias' collection -- made up of presumably people as vile as Kemp -- rebel, too, wanting to live again. This ends up robbing Bias of the power he obtained from his brain collection, and he rapidly ages -- to his true age. And the show's so low on money at this point that the make-up just looks like someone pushed Nakata's face in a bowl of oatmeal.

The episode *tries* to give us an EPIC FINALE SHOWDOWN between Falcon and Gash. I emphasized tries, because it's just kind of generic, some quick swordplay. Besides, Falcon just chops an arm off and lets Gash escape with Bias back to the Brainbase, because Falcon decides to go and help the others fight the latest Brain Beast, who doesn't even have a theme or anything to set him apart. It's such an afterthought, and makes for an underwhelming finale for the Liveman to be dealing with this non-descript, forgettable Brain Beast while the last two regular villains are limping to their escape. Since the Brainbase was damaged in an earlier battle, Bias and Gash die aboard the ship once they try to take off in it, completely separate and unrelated from what the heroes are up to!

When the Brainbase explodes, it sends Gash's severed head to where our heroes are standing, and it begins playing clips from the series. (I'm sure Tetsuya and Jun'ichi liked watching their siblings get killed.) It's the norm in Sentai finales to play lighthearted or fun clips in the credits of the finale, but Liveman plays clips entirely of the villains. It's so damn strange. We then see Gash's head sink into the earth, while the heroes rejoice that the world has been saved from Volt. Sidebar: when Boukenger was airing, I had a dream scenario of them finding Gash's head, and it being a Precious. (Hey, if Gash recorded everything Volt did, his head holds a lot of dangerous material that the Negatives would like!)

It's a very weird, very cheap, very unfulfilling finale, to a show that had such an amazing, unique, grand start to it. Liveman went from having one of the best premieres in toku history to one of the weakest finales. It started with a roar and went out with a whimper.
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Despite how frustrating it becomes, there's still a lot of good in Liveman, and you can see where it wanted to go, what it wanted to be. A big, big problem is the show not getting the money it needed, it really limits things -- locations, talent, plotlines. And I don't know if it's in relation to the possibility that execs wanted to soften the show, but Hirohisa Soda really seemed to start pulling punches with the storyline. The strongest episodes in the second half of the series are the ones written by Kunio Fujii -- he had a stronger grasp on the heroes' relationships with the villains. Did Soda sugarcoat his initial intentions? How did Fujii slips these strong, no-holds-barred episodes past Toei, if they indeed wanted to lighten the show? The production mysteries of a 30-year-old show.

Even if it stumbled, Liveman is an important show to the franchise, one that set the bar higher, one that works on different levels and one that I think has been misunderstood and mistreated by modern fans. It's still one of my favorites, and I actually enjoyed it a lot on this latest rewatch. I was so glad to feel some of my old love for Liveman again. (Would you believe that I once considered Liveman my top favorite Sentai? And this was after Flashman was my top favorite as a kid. Shhhhhh.)

Choose Life: Liveman 41-44


Episode 41

The return of Gou! I always wondered how Soda chose to bring him back in this fashion. Jou bumps into Gou outside of a hospital. Gou still has amnesia, and in this episode, he's hit by a beam of the Brain Beast's and turns invisible. Whether it's accidental or if Gou was targeted to become invisible, it's not really clear, so it's weird to me.

But the attack ends up causing Gou's memory to return, which pisses Bias off and leads him to order all of his subordinates to kill Gou at any cost. So it becomes a chase to kill Gou, and once the Liveman have him in a safe spot, Gou reveals that, in his early days in Volt, he once saw Bias up to some strange experiment in a secluded room. He doesn't quite know what Bias was up to, but Bias was pissed to see him spying, so it's obviously the reason he wants him dead now.

I suppose Bias was fine with Gou seeing this, since Gou needed him and he was a devoted member of Volt and Bias. And I suppose Bias let him off the hook once he lost his memories. I think that's interesting and unpredictable for a villain to do, but...I'm not sure if I buy it from Bias. Bias, in the earlier episodes, is a character of such mystery, creepiness and viciousness, that I think he would have totally killed Gou to keep his secret. This latter day Bias is different, and he ends up becoming a B-Movie villain, but more on that as it develops.

Episode 42

This is actually a pretty cool idea for an episode -- Bias uses mind control to manipulate Tetsuya in order to have him and a Brain Beast plant bombs at the Grand Tortoise. The problem, of course, is Seirou Yamaguchi's weak performance. He makes some seriously goofy faces as Tetsuya's supposed to struggle, pulling himself away from Bias' mind control. But that's such a great moment, IMO, when he's cornered Yuusuke with a gun, ready to shoot him. The others get through to him by bringing up Takuji -- asking if he's ready to take a life like Takuji's was taken, by the same method Takuji's was taken. That was a great touch.

And I think it's funny that the Brain Beast of the week WASN'T killed by BiMotion Buster in this episode, but by being ejected at mach speeds from the Grand Tortoise.

Episode 43

While Gildos is the less offensive of the two ass-clowns who don't fit with Volt -- I'd say Gildos and Butchy are the Black Bison and Green Sai of Volt, but I think they might be even worse and more detrimental to the show than Tetsuya and Jun'ichi -- he's not interesting enough to get his own send-off episode. Just have him and Butchy die unceremoniously off-screen like Okerampa or something.

Speaking of Jun'ichi, this is a great one-two punch of stink -- a Gildos episode AND a Jun'ichi episode. When Gildos creates a monster that can't be defeated and constantly revives, Jun'ichi looks like a chump in the eyes of the injured kid he's trying to help back to health. The kid is a real asshole -- seriously, where do the Liveman find these assholes? You almost feel bad for Jun'ichi for trying so hard to prove himself to this kid, taking a lot of beatings, but then you remember it's Jun'ichi.

Episode 44

HATE this episode. I hate it SO much. It's definitely my least favorite Liveman episode -- yes, lower than Pig School -- and it's stupid and it unfortunately makes Megumi look stupid. After learning his buddy Gildos was just a robot created by Bias, Butchy gets depressed and goes on a rampage with his latest forgettable monster. Megumi feels bad for him and makes friends with him, getting nostalgic for her -- and our -- first encounter with Butchy, the lousy episode 22. WHY!?!? Butchy was a jerk, Butchy continued to be a jerk. Why does she feel bad for him? Why does she bond with him over her own song? Why does she miss him when he dies and fantasize about how she could have played and danced with him on the beach?

This episode's obviously meant to be the cool-down/lighthearted romp before all the shit goes down in the final stretch, but this episode is just moronic, doesn't work, and doesn't remember its characters. It's a waste.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

C'est La Vie: Liveman 36-40



Episode 36

Inoue returns, attempting to make Jun'ichi interesting. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't succeed.) I think this an episode 10 situation, where some higher-up was like "Jun'ichi plays rugby in the credits. Where's that in the show?" And, in typical Inoue fashion, the episode mainly focuses on an asshole guest of the week, a pal of Jun'ichi's who's bitter that he sucks at rugby, so he fakes an injury and makes life hell for everyone else on the team. (He breaks glass bottles and grinds it into the field. What an asshole! And why didn't Volt recruit him?)

Not really much to recommend this episode. Jun'ichi isn't interesting, and you don't care about the guest character because he's such an immense tool. I expect more from an Inoue script. This is along the lines of that waste of a Maskman episode he wrote about the bullied kid eating evil mushrooms and getting strong.

Episode 37

This episode is bonkers. So crazy and weird. I think a lot of that has to do with -- you've guessed it -- how out of money the show is, so it's set entirely in a weird field and beach side.

OK, it's also a weird concept. Kemp's finally powering up from his Beauty Beast form, and the process is interrupted by Megumi. As the transformation process was causing Kemp to be reborn, he emerges from his seashell cocoon with this condition -- he thinks he's 16 years old. He has no memory of anything past that, of anything to do with Volt. Megumi takes this as an opportunity to try to set Kenji/Kemp on the right path, feeding into his delusion by posing as a high-school classmate. I see that as just how desperate the Liveman are at this point, and how deadly Kemp is. It's not the greatest plan for our heroes to take, and it's something a psychiatrist would advise against -- unless he's insane like Twin Peaks' Dr. Jacoby -- but Megumi feels they have to try SOMETHING.

A big misstep with this episode is having it focus on just Megumi. All of the other Liveman are silent, watching from the sidelines, when I think Yuusuke should have had SOME involvement. Sure, he reached that point of absolutely hating Kemp in 35, but...he has no feelings seeing the possibility of setting Kenji on the path of good and decency? The earlier Liveman episodes were so good at involving all three heroes, but a lot of these later episodes -- especially once Black and Green arrive -- choose to focus exclusively on one of the heroes, and that's a shame.

Anyway, the Fear Beast form is a cool upgrade. It's yet another crazy look for Yutaka Hirose, although not as memorable or unique as the Beauty Beast form. There's just too much going on in the Fear Beast design. The worst part of it, to me, is the giant shoulder with the three red orbs, it just throws the whole thing off, IMO. But it's freaky, and Hirose makes his voice deeper -- Kemp knows he had to shed the image of the Beauty Beast and step up his game, especially since we're heading into the last act of the series.

But we find out in this episode that even as a teenager, Kemp had a helluva ego. Despite how nicely Megumi treats him, there's always this undercurrent of snobbishness and superiority to him. Even without Bias' influence, I think Kenji would have ended up being a pretty nasty person.

Episode 38

Now it's time for Mazenda's upgrade. This episode reminds me of 15, with Gash as Michael Myers, only this one goes even nuttier. The majority of the episode is Mazenda stalking Yuusuke and shooting the shit out of him and anything that surrounds him. That's it! There's a lot of cool night shooting, though, since Mazenda stalks him day and night.

There's a weird subplot about Yuusuke feigning fear and fleeing, which gets him criticized by Black Loser and Green Loserer -- like they should talk -- but it's really Yuusuke buying time while the others utilize his plans to come up with some Super Bulletproof Vests (not sold by Bandai), and hoping Mazenda runs out of ammo in the meantime.

While Kemp left behind his vanity for his latest upgrade, Mazenda discards what remains of her body -- she is shown to be mostly robotic parts and implants now, with the moniker Machine Mazenda. (I always thought it was funny how Palm Gun, which was already pretty deadly, gets upgraded into Palm Bazooka.) She's a one-woman army now!

Episode 39

Kunio Fujii's last script for the series. One more that kind of hearkens back to the themes of earlier episodes -- to quote the theme song, "teaching you the wonder of life." Here Jou befriends a kindly alien who ends up losing his life in order to protect a flower seed he possesses -- the only thing remaining from his destroyed planet. It's a nice thought, it's an earnest episode, and the show has made the case for so many forms of life, and here it's a twofer with an alien life and a plant life. The main problem is that while Jou plants the alien's seed and the episode ends with the flower beginning to bloom...Jou decided to plant it in the Rocky Terrain. That poor planet's last flower is going to be destroyed in one of the many, many tokusatsu battles that occur in the location. Bonehead move, Jou.

Episode 40

Inoue's last script for the series, and it's...Inoue just doing whatever the hell he wants. It's supposed to be a Megumi-focused episode, but he'd rather once again spotlight an asshole guest character. In this case, it's a dickish jewel thief, who paints a target on his back once he steals a jewel that Volt's after. The guy's meant to be roguish and funny and cool, but he's just irritating, and the actor REALLY thinks he's a lock for the next Sentai starring role or something, he's a cocky shit. So, you don't feel bad for him when he's targeted, you don't understand why Megumi supposedly likes him, and you don't give a shit when he turns around and helps the heroes, or reveals that he steals for the sake of unfortunate kids. He just sucks, man. The show definitely could have used some stunt casting here to make something about him bearable.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Live and Let Die: Liveman 32-35


Episode 32

Yeah, now this is the Liveman I know and love! Thank you, Kunio Fujii, you have redeemed yourself from the Pig School. We get some background on Yuusuke and Kemp and happier days at Academia, and we're shown that Kemp wasn't always such an evil bastard. While we're never told why Kemp's so fond of flowers, it's a rose he's bred that helps soothe a girl's ill mother. When Kemp is seriously injured in a lab experiment gone wrong, his kindness is repaid by the girl who donates the rare, pulled-from-a-comic-book blood type they share.

We get a great showdown between Yuusuke and Kemp, as Yuusuke tries to get through to Kemp, trying to find the person he used to be. It raises a lot of questions about Kemp. He's clearly the most egotistical of Bias' followers, the most evil, the biggest bastard. But he once showed kindness. And when Mazenda has shown some remaining humanity, and Obular has basically reformed, is there hope for Kemp? He continues to be an evil bastard in this episode, as he completely destroys Mai's image of him, and the rose she kept as a memento, but it does makes you wonder. Was there ever good in Kenji/Kemp? It gives the character a shade and you can debate it. I don't think he was ever really kind, I think helping Mai's mother by providing the roses just fed into his vanity, like HE was the ONLY one that could have helped. And the brief glimpses we get at a pre-Volt Kemp in a couple of later episodes make me think that even more.

BTW, I always remember this episode as being interrupted by an urgent news broadcast. While I've read that some stations reran the episode a week later, the only available copy for a long time was the one missing its final act. (It got cut off when Gash showed up to enlarge the monster, so the mecha fight and final scene were cut.) So...a fun story about the days of a pre-download fandom!

Episode 33

People like to make fun of Jun'ichi's first episode being the one where he's pregnant, but...at least that episode TRIED to have some dramatic value, and was a personal journey for Jun'ichi. This episode, Tetsuya's first focus episode, is just...forgettable. It could be the script for any other show. It certainly feels like a script for a different character, because the Tetsuya in this episode is not the Tetsuya we've seen these past few episodes. This is a kind Tetsuya who devotes a large part of his time to making a boy's insane fantasy of having a robot buddy come to life. Tetsuya cares so much that he designs a robot suit -- after the dummy is told that it's too complex to make an actual robot like Koron just so some kid he's never met and will never see after this episode has a buddy.

This always seemed to me like it was originally going to be a Jou episode, as it would fit his kind and caring nature. Also: Mazenda's plan to replace the Tetsuya-dressed-as-a-robot with a similar looking Brain Beast makes her look bad. She actually thinks Black Bison matters, and that targeting him and eliminating him would be a devastating blow for the Liveman! Isn't that cute?

Episode 34

One of Kunio Fujii's tragic star-crossed lovers stories. I like this one, and yet it just doesn't make much sense to me.

Miku, a woman from the future, has a fuzzy yet fond memory of being consoled while being lost as a kid in 1988. When Ashura butterfingers Bias' time-machine and creates a portal to the future, he meets Miku, who uses the portal as a chance to go back to 1988. Volt targets her, since it's their fault she's in the past, and Jou saves her, helping her return to the future, but not before having a fun date montage set to an Eikichi Yazawa song, because it's a Takao Nagaishi joint. Once the woman returns to the future, she realizes the guy who helped her as a kid -- all those years ago -- was actually Jou. Eh, the story could work, but there's just too many coincidences and something about the reveal and realization on Miku's part is oddly staged.

Episode 35

I consider this to be the last real kind of Liveman episode, the last one that's truly in spirit with the earlier, superior part of the show. It's another Kunio Fujii script, and he's shown he has such a great grasp on the hero-villain relations that he should have been given more power. And it's also the only episode where Tetsuya and Jun'ichi behave like they should, even if they're a little too reckless.

Yuusuke's depressed because a day he's dreaded has come around -- when they were both newwwbs at Academia, he and Kenji made a promise to one another that, no matter what, they would meet in five years to catch up on all of the great scientific discoveries they'd both make. Kenji is all smiles, joyous, enthusiastic. This is a different Kenji than the one we know as Kemp, but if you pay attention to his words, the egomaniac is there. Kenji doesn't doubt that he'll be a success, that his scientific discoveries will change the world.

The surprising thing isn't that Yuusuke honors their promise and shows up to their meeting destination, but that Kemp does. And Kemp, of course, is a complete bastard, belittling Yuusuke and their stupid promise, while proclaiming the great genius he's become at Volt. Meanwhile, Tetsuya and Jun'ichi have stalked Yuusuke, knowing he's meeting Kemp -- and they're rightfully pissed at the idea. Yuusuke wants to, in earnest, meet Kemp and try to reach his former friend. Tetsuya and Jun'ichi can't fathom why he'd want to meet up for a friendly chat with the murderer. They're mad, and they're ready to sneak an attack on Kemp. But Kemp attacks Yuusuke first, things go to shit, and it's actually a good thing Tetsuya and Jun'ichi are sneaky bastards, because they end up helping Yuusuke. See? These two don't need to be useless.

The great part about this episode, though, is that Yuusuke comes to the conclusion that Kemp is an evil piece of shit who's beyond saving and needs to die. This is why Kemp is such a great villain, such a nasty sumbitch. The hero who was his friend, who had some doubts, the one who preaches about saving every life...Kemp's so evil that it makes our hero reach his limit, to the point where he finds Kemp unconscious and actually tries to strangle him to death. Yuusuke can't bring himself to finish the job, but that's a pretty morally gray thing to have our star hero even think, let alone attempt. And think of how Liveman would be if it were made now -- Kemp would be a rubber suit and the episode would end with him dancing in the credits with the heroes.

Great lines here. (I might not get these exact.)

Kemp: "Yuusuke, you'll look down from heaven at Volt's victory."
Shortly after, when the fight turns in Yuusuke's favor...

Yuusuke: "Kemp! You'll be looking up at humanity's bright future from hell!"

The episode ends solemnly, with Yuusuke vowing to kill Kemp. And it's sad that the show chickens out of Yuusuke ever having a big, classic Red VS Hirose fight.

Also: Falcon manages to kick Kemp's ass so bad that Bias has to bail him out of the fight. This is obviously the drive for Kemp to upgrade in a couple of episodes.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wishful Casting: Liveman, The Other Two Edition


I've written before about how I find Tetsuya/Black Bison and Jun'ichi/Green Sai to be a weak spot of Liveman. What should have been really cool characters that tied themes of the show together and added new layers of drama ended up being two pointless idjits played by bad actors. (Seirou Yamaguchi bellows and garbles his lines so badly he should have been in Kamen Rider Blade.)

I've kicked around the idea for a while of a "Wishful Casting" post for these two, but it's kind of turned into "Shougo's Fan Fic'ing Retcon of Liveman's Other Two."

I'll start by saying this: Tetsuya and Jun'ichi are obviously supposed to be younger than the Liveman. Not, like, KIDS, but younger than Takuji and Mari, who were Liveman's age. Despite what ages the actors claim to have been, Tetsuya's actor looks older than the rest of the cast. (We were introduced to Takuji's brother, Takeshi, in an early episode, and he was about 10! Where's Tetsuya fit in?) Jun'ichi looks about the same age as Mari's actress. (OK, here's the facts: Tetsuya's actor was 21, which made him as old as Jou's actor and OLDER than Megumi.)

Now, the ages of my casting choices might be a little too young for most, but I think, under the right circumstances, they could have worked.


For Tetsuya/Black Bison, I would cast Hidenori Iura (Goggle V's Tatsuya; Bioman's Shuuichi & Prince; Solbrain's Jun). Iura would have been about 19 at the time of Liveman. I think he's a good performer, and pretty likable, and he showed in his performance in Bioman a frustration and temper that would have worked for Tetsuya, and he showed a swift, tough heroism in Solbrain. You'd buy a hotheaded, fists-first-questions-later Tetsuya not only from a better performer, but from someone a little younger and impulsive. (Iura kind of reminds me of a cross between Hiroshi Watari and Kenta Satou.)


I always thought Green Sai should have been Mari's little sister. So, I'll call her Junko Aikawa, and for that role, I would cast Tokie Shibata. I know people will think I'm uncreative in just picking someone from my Changeman, and she's made other casting lists of mine before, but I went through a lot of age-appropriate actresses and really think she's the best choice. She could hold the same rage and want of revenge as Tetsuya, but I think Shibata's proven that she could also nail the tragedy of the situation and convey a lot of sadness for her fallen sister. As she proved with her character Nana in Changeman, Shibata can generate a great amount of sympathy. And as important as Nana was to Changeman, Shibata was only in, I think, eight episodes. It's a shockingly low number of appearances, but Shibata made an impressive impact, and I always thought she needed a regular tokusatsu appearance to cement her status in tokusatsu history. (Even though Iura appeared in just as little of Bioman, he at least was a regular character in Goggle V and Solbrain.) Green Sai suit actor Shoji Hachisuka played a lot of heroines, so Sai already has a pretty feminine look.

What I also liked about picking Iura and Shibata is that it's a Bioman reunion. Shibata guest-starred on two fan favorite episodes of Bioman as the android Miki, who Iura's character befriended, and who met a tragic end. I think these two would have added a nice little anniversary bonus to the hero side of Liveman that the villain side does. (Volt being a little Flashman reunion, with Kaura, his sidekick Gardan and Wanda.) It's obvious that Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori ate up a lot of the show's money, which is why we got two awful nobodies as Tetsuya and Jun'ichi, but I don't think Iura and Shibata would have exactly bankrupted them.

And, yes, the first order of business once Green Sai is made female is to eliminate the pregnancy episode, which would go from silly-with-a-male-character to creepy-with-a-female. (It's absurd and hilarious how over-the-top people react to that episode. It's a stupid episode! Such a stupid episode, but it's the one thing people who hate Liveman cling to. It was a silly plot without the anti-abortion message people warp it into being -- the point was newbie team member Jun'ichi feeling for the life of a monster, and sort of reteaching the old-timers that lesson. It wasn't some "message," and while it was a dumb episode, it wasn't franchise-destroying like G3 Princesses or something like that.)


*sigh* Just another case of having to imagine this kind of casting to improve a sadly detrimental hole in an otherwise great series.

Life Stinks: Liveman 28-31

Ugh. These two.

Episodes 28, 29, 30

*sighs*

Each time I rewatch Liveman, I promise myself to keep an open mind about Black Dumb and Green Dumber. But they still just suck and are such a waste of a great idea. We know they weren't planned from the beginning, but they're a great idea for what's essentially an afterthought. The siblings of Liveman's dead friends becoming new heroes -- that's an amazing idea! There are so many, many potential stories to go there, and Liveman was at a point when it needed its idea-engine goosed.

There are many factors for why the Two Newbs don't work. The biggest problem is the terrible casting, but that's not all. The writing's not there for them. The cheap make-under the show's been enduring really doesn't help, and it makes no sense to bring on two more regulars when your budget's falling. (No wonder they ended up with two shitty newb actors -- they had to be cheap!)

And Liveman aired at a time when certain risks just weren't taken -- you can imagine Takuji and Mari's siblings becoming heroes and being their own two-man team separate from Liveman, out for revenge, before the Liveman change their mind. That could have been an arc lasting several episodes. But a toku in 1988 just wasn't going to take such a severe route. They just really wanted to get to the status quo, which is bring in the new guys and their toys, make 'em five and act like that's always been the case. So many missed opportunities. (And I still blame lackluster writing on the casting. If they had good performers, maybe that would have inspired better storylines.)

When I picture in my head what Takuji and Mari's siblings as new heroes could have meant for the show, I get so mad, man. It certainly should have caused a bigger splash than it did. It's just no big deal to the characters, to the show, to the fandom. The big scene when the five transform and fight for the first time -- besides creating a meme out of Kemp's "There's five Liveman members!" line -- is handled in such an underwhelming fashion. It's like...Toei demanded the addition of two more heroes, to get to the status quo and to be able to have more merchandising. Someone -- most likely Soda -- had the brilliant idea to make the two new heroes the siblings, but they didn't think beyond that. Other than Tetsuya having a shit-fit for a minute, neither seems all that angry at Kemp here, and Kemp has zero reaction to facing the family members of people he killed. So, there's no real drama or tension there.

And to top it all off, this three-parter about the Giga Plan, which is...just Volt getting an ugly mecha. Bias watched some Bioman reruns and decided Volt needed a mecha, so he builds the Giga Volt, which was doomed from the start because it couldn't move because he gave it platform boots like some glam rock star, which ensured that Giga Volt couldn't move beyond the shitty dirt mountain where the entire three-parter was inexplicably filmed.

And what really pisses me off about this three-parter? We take an instant hatred to Tetsuya and Jun'ichi, their bad acting, their bad attitudes. When the two dumb-dumbs continue to ignore the Liveman's advice, they blow out the Live Boxer, and they need to endanger Koron in order to get it to function again. We've spent most of the show with Koron. She's a weird Moonwalking robot, but she's proven herself. She's awesome. We like her. Yuusuke just learned to like her. And she's awesome again, offering to harm herself to help these two new assholes we hate. And they're completely ungrateful, like they deserve Koron's sacrifice. There's a moment where she's exploding and crying out and Jun'ichi whines for her to keep going and it's just like...shut up, Jun'ichi. I think the wrong Aikawa died.

Look. I know I've bitched about these two a lot. And it would be one thing if they were just bland or not used to their full potential. But between the casting and the way they're written in their introductory episodes, you just immediately hate them. They're aggressively unlikable. And to top it all off, they throw off the chemistry of the main three, which was one of the show's strongest elements. (Daisuke Shima's even hinted at the main three not liking that two new cast members were brought on and screwed with their dynamic.)

Episode 31

The infamous one with pregnant Green. The one that people react to with mock outrage: "How dare a kids toy commercial preach anti-abortion!" Look, it was just a stupid episode with a gimmick that was meant to be weird. I don't think it had a "message," and I think Hirohisa Soda's smarter than to try to pass off a heavy message in such a goofy episode. Jun'ichi's the new kid and he gets his experience of learning the value of life, in this case, a kid monster's life.

I think the episode is more about a male learning how to feel maternal love, something presented as initially awkward and uncomfortable, but he gives in to his emotions and ends up feeling for Bega Baby and crying when it dies. As goofy as this episode is, I like Jun'ichi in this episode, and even think actor Jin Kawamoto gives a good performance. It's just sad that it's all done in such a goofy way and that its intentions have been misconstrued by non-Japanese viewers who are looking at it with foreign eyes, decades after the fact. I think a better approach to this episode would have been something like Flashman's 11th episode, when the monster of the week hatches and imprints on Ruu. If a monster had just hatched and thought Jun'ichi was its mother upon laying eyes on him -- taking out the absurd pregnancy stuff -- I don't think this episode would have the reputation it does.

I also just have to say quickly that I like the final fight in this episode, with Sai flying all around. It's crazy and weird.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Live at Budokan: Liveman 22-27


Episode 22

The debut of the unfunny, supposedly cute pig guy who joins the villains and just sucks. His sidekick, the green guy who just sucks joined a couple of episodes ago, but had the good fortune of debuting in good episodes where his appearance was brief. Here, the stupid pig guy -- Butchy -- hogs an entire episode with a lousy premise that's just an excuse to debut Megumi Mori's freshly recorded song "Spark! Umi e." (It's a great song, but a weak episode, man.)

Butchy's using bad, slow singing to put people to sleep. Falcon and Lion fall victim to this, but Megumi fights it by...hearing a girl playing what ends up being Dolphin's song in a school, miles away! For some reason -- the power of Columbia records -- "Spark! Umi e" is the ONLY thing that can combat Butchy's attack! The worst part is Megumi approaching Butchy and the monster, playing the song on a keytar, and when she can't continue (she's injured), the day is fucked! And then...the girl from the school plays a toy piano, miles away, that cuts through and saves the world!

It's a dumb episode. We got this flimsy plot that ended up being used on Go-onger, we got the debut of a terrible new villain who doesn't belong at all, and we got the shoehorned debut of some new toys -- Falcon Saber and Lion Bazooka, introduced without fanfare. It's always been obvious to me that some higher-up at TV-Asahi or Toei sent down some orders to lighten Liveman up and throw some new toys at it. There's never been any confirmation of that -- BTS details about Liveman are surprisingly scarce, people are tight-lipped about it -- but it's just obvious. The proof's right there in the show's decline, and the way it chicken-shits out of its own premise. More on that as it develops, though.

Episode 23

A nice apology for 22. A great episode, the classic episode referenced in Gaoranger VS Super Sentai. Any older Sentai episode with a Red in a sword-fight -- giving Kazuo Niibori a chance to shine -- is a good one. But there's more good to this episode than that...

I see this episode as Yuusuke's turning point, when he takes a turn from sarcastic punk to a real leader. And while Koron has always been there for the team and has bailed them out of a few hairy situations and the show has made a case that Kolon is an equal comrade, we learn in this episode that Yuusuke still sees her as a machine. When she wants to have some fun while he patrols, she pisses him off. When Sword Brain and Kemp kick his ass, her advice pisses him off. He gets fed up with her -- dismissing Koron and her advice because she knows nothin' 'cause she's a machine. So Yuusuke shuns her and trains himself...

And when Yuusuke gets distracted by trying to take Sword Brain on again and freeing a kidnapped Megumi, he's oblivious to Kemp's sneak attack. Who saves him from certain death? Koron. And in that moment, he realizes her importance, what she means to him, and that she's more than just a machine. (I kinda always wished they'd point out how the late Doctor Hoshi made her, and in a way he lives on through her, but I guess that's just implied.) And then Falcon kicks ass and finally shows Koron the attention and respect she deserves.

This would have been the ideal episode to debut the Falcon Saber in. It's a sword battle episode, not to mention Sword Brain breaks the Falcon Sword. Why Falcon Saber debuted out of nowhere, pointlessly in the previous episode is a mystery.

Episode 24

A stinky, stinky stinkfest written by the usually dependable Kunio Fujii. C'mon, Fujii! You're better than this!

This episode is usually my go-to example for when a once-excellent show just hits a low of such unimaginative depths. I'll be like "Oh, this episode is this show's pig-school episode." Liveman's the show that made me realize that all of a toku's worst or weakest episodes can be found in the 20s.

Continuing the trend of executives seemingly wanting to soften Liveman, this episode is the show's way of weaseling out of the "fuck studying, enjoy life" message of episodes 19 - 21 by having Yuusuke preach to a kid to stay in school and eat his greens! Initially, the episode is instead trying to convey the message that, hey, while the Kid Guest Star of the Week isn't good in his school subjects, he IS good and passionate about his hobbies, and that's just as valid. That's kind of a surprising message, but the episode soon backpedals by having Yuusuke tell him to "get good at school stuff, too!"

The story surrounding this is Mazenda's plan of offering kids studying shortcuts, which ends up turning them into pig people in the end. Whatever jollies she got out of this plan is lost on me, because...it's just goofy. Not as dumb as karaoke'ing people to sleep like Butchy, but...dumb for an organization that considers themselves super geniuses.

Episodes 25 & 26

You want to know how low Liveman's budget is being cut? These two episodes set in the boonies are considered their big vacation episodes. The first episode is a ho-hum episode where Yellow Lion ends up teaching a kid to find his courage, as the Brain Beast revives dead monsters. The second sees the kid returning with another kid pal and at least gets back to Liveman's life theme. We all know how the Japanese kids love their beetle collecting in the summer, so this is a summer episode that I see as playing into that. Some beetles are enlarged as a side-effect of Volt's nearby experiments, and the beetles go on to help the kids, which really grosses them out, but they -- and the Liveman -- come to appreciate their help and sacrifice. I think the drab locations hurt these episodes.

Episode 27

The Volt have been talking about the "Giga Plan" for a few episodes now, and this one's going to be kicking that off. Bad news, man.

Liveman's budget cuts continue, as this episode takes place entirely at a rocky terrain and the big guest star is Yumeno from Dynaman, here playing Megumi's dad. OK. Early Liveman would film at real locations -- and varying locations. But the show reaches a point where they're nearly ALWAYS outside and always at an eyesore of a forest or rocky terrain. And if they ARE indoors, it's obviously a set. And the show barely has guest stars! And look, when it does, it's gotdamn Yumeno! You know that guy works for five yen and some sake.

The show also just gets this grimy look to it, like they're filming on a lesser film stock. Everything just ends up making the show seem cheaper, dirtier, smaller -- everything's so insular, just being reduced to the Liveman. And when the show's neutered as its been, when the CORE premise is gutted and it's no longer about the friends and the betrayal but just often Generic Villain Plan 101, it just makes the show seem small-scale. And not in a good way, like it's small-scale and character driven. In a way that's just sparse.

It's an interesting idea to bring in one of the hero's parents. It's a good idea to bring in Megumi's, because she's been having bad luck with her own episodes, and she's the brains of the team, so it would be nice to get a peek into her private life and where she comes from. But, no...the cheapness of the show makes Megumi's dad look like some insane mountain-dweller who they just stumble upon, and he takes it upon himself to get in on some action. Oh, and while he's just happened to run into Megumi, he's got some potential husband candidates for her, too! It's just done in such a bogus, inorganic way. The only noteworthy part is this: Megumi seems kind of distant from her father, yet cherished his teaching her archery, so that's a nice part of the episode. Also, the episode mentions the Liveman severing ties with their families while they're Liveman, which is interesting.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hard Knock Life: Liveman 16-21


Episode 16

I like this episode -- again, when the show's dealing with Academia or their past friendships, it's at its best -- but I find it so strange that such a fucked up concept on the part of the villains' is used in what's a more lighter episode. Obular creating a monster that can summon ghosts -- and he summons all of those that Volt killed on Academia Island -- that's seriously fucked up! That should be traumatizing to the Liveman! But instead the big concern is that these literal ghosts being kicked up also kick up figurative ghosts, as in...Yuusuke's old love letters to Mazenda.

I always thought it was kind of a shame they didn't go into Yuusuke's having a crush on Mazenda more, and in a more serious manner. That would give their connection to their villains so much more juice. Because he's ashamed of it, and she just doesn't give a shit how much she hurt him. (She's a cold one!) I always thought it was a HUGE missed opportunity to not have Yuusuke be the focus of episode 18, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Episode 17

Kunio Fujii returns with...a less than stellar episode. I'll say the idea of the episode is interesting. The Japanese have the belief that ordinary objects can have life, so I see the living doll as being representative of that. So, it's another "learning to value the life" episode. But furthermore, I think this episode's an attempt to show a character that "sells their own soul," but for good rather than evil, as the Volt Trio did. The runner sells the living doll she loves (and gave life through that love) for the ability to win the race she promised the ill girl she'd win. Those are interesting ideas and themes to explore, but it just all doesn't quite come together. I feel like it needed to involve the Liveman more.

And this is another episode of the plan of the week being more about fucking with people than anything else. Kemp hates toys and wants them to come alive and kill people. I guess his parents didn't let him buy the toys he wanted when he was a kid. Nowadays Kemp's plan would be spun and said to be some kind of commentary on the nature of adult nerds collecting toys or something. Bugger off.

Episode 18

Fujii writes another one, and this one he hits out of Korakuen. An episode that hits all of the right notes, one of the show's more important, character-driven episodes. I'd say it was pitch perfect, but...

It should have been Yuusuke's episode, not Jou's. Rei, the clone of Rui, was made up of the (supposed) last pieces of Mazenda's humanity. This would have been a great opportunity for Yuusuke to have rekindled some of his feelings for Senda, initially not be trusting of Rei, but coming to love what a good person she is, that she's the person Senda could have been. I think it would have been a strong episode for Yuusuke and given it more depth than just seeming like "Oh, another Jou episode, another love interest." Nishimura gives a good performance, but I just always was frustrated like...why doesn't Yuusuke comment on the situation at all?!? Bah.

I like the shades it shows in Mazenda. She's supposedly purging her emotions, the rest of her humanity, but she's not being honest with Bias -- she cries when Rei's turned into the Brain Beast. But I especially like what this episode does with Ashura. He sees Mazenda's pain and cares. That's one of the things I like about Ashura, about his being an outsider. For all of his fancy evil edu-ma-cation and crazy outfit, the outlaw, the outsider, the man Arashi is still there. While Kemp's rah-rah Bias, and supports Mazenda shedding her humanity, Ashura recognizes the importance of it, and saves the remnants of Rei -- Senda's heart and soul -- and returns them to the grieving Mazenda. A cool moment that has more meaning than anything seen in the past 10 years of toku combined.

Episodes 19, 20, 21

The Farewell Obular Three-Parter! Also, kind of basically the end of Liveman. When Obular leaves, it's symbolic of Liveman losing a piece of its soul and guts. 'Cause things take a turn...

These are good episodes, though. Taking a cue from Senda, Obular decides to make a monster using himself, and the result is Study Brain, who attempts to indoctrinate people into Volt's cause via the Volt Bible (a prop I've always wanted to recreate). A recurring theme these past few episodes have been the past biting people in the ass, and here Obular's sad past puts to ruin his plan with Study Brain. When Study Brain is mesmerized by kids having fun playing, something changes within him, to the point where HE wants to get in on the playing. This is a result of Gou's sad past, the way he was holed up and forced to study nonstop, never allowing a moment of fun or play by his strict mother.

Obular seeing this truth through Study Brain, and just the mere fact Study Brain is created using his cells, causes him to waver and weaken, and he begins to revert back into Gou. And because Toei wants to write Obular out, this causes Volt to turn on him.

Gou returns home and tries to change back into the Beast Man Obular, which his mother witnesses. I'd like to say here that I've always loved Gou's monstrous make-up in episode 3 -- you know, when he's transitioning into the suit Obular, where he just has the nasty mouth and wrinkly faced. I've always wished Sentai could do more prosthetic make-up like that for their villains, but it's obviously not feasible with Sentai's shooting schedule and budget. But Gou looked great in episodes 1 and 3, but here...they really cheapen out on his make-up and it's a let down.

The third part of the episode is the best of this three-parter. Not only when Kemp reveals that Obular -- the timid dork -- was basically seen as a cling-on to the others, and that he really wasn't Volt material and only had an in because of his association with Kemp and Mazenda. But also in the storyline with Gou's mother, played by the great Nami Munakata (who was also excellent in Flashman's terrific 34th episode). Her performance and the writing are sharp enough to not demonize Gou's demanding mother, but cast her in a sympathetic light, especially as Yuusuke pleads with her to try and get through to Gou before it's too late. There's a really strong scene and exchange between the two in the episode, great character moments, that are entirely absent from modern tokusatsu.

The episode also does a good build-up in putting Gou's mother in jeopardy as she enters the battlefield to console a wounded Obular. You worry she'll be killed. But she reaches through to Gou, who takes a dangerous attack in her place. You worry HE'LL be killed. You're relieved that the show has the sense to have them survive, when a lesser show would think it would be "epic" to kill one -- or both. The drama of the situation was there in your care for their characters, and the uncertainty of their fate. The chance for them to meet danger was there and felt, the drama of the situation still felt even if they didn't meet their demise. It's all just handled so well by the performances and director Shouhei Toujou.

Another interesting facet of these three episodes is Liveman making the very un-Japanese case of choosing life over study. The whole point of Gou's character here is that he devoted his life to study and not ever enjoying life, and look how that worked out for him.

The stress of Gou's situation leaves him with amnesia, and he takes his leave from the series by moving back home. Liveman, the grounded, fresh take on Super Sentai, is about to go insane...

Oh, and one more thing. For a long time, the tape sellers who you used to have to buy toku from -- before the days of uploads and downloads and DVD releases -- had every episode of Liveman EXCEPT 21. 21 was a missing episode for a long time. A pretty crucial episode to miss. Why couldn't it have been 22?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thug Life: Liveman 11-15


Episodes 11 & 12

The two-part debut of Dr. Ashura...

The last episode of Liveman I remember seeing before my family left Japan was 8, but I remember somehow at least seeing previews for 9 and 10. Nothing beyond that, but I did have a book that teased the arrival of Ashura. I thought he looked weird, and when I got around to finally seeing him in action so many years later...I thought he was weird. Or, at least, the way they bring him on.

I love the idea of Arashi/Ashura being an underworld kingpin, a guy who's street smart and not academically smart, whose quick-thinking cleverness and ability to turn things to his advantage catches the idea of Bias. He becomes an experiment for Bias -- what would this resourceful criminal with street smarts do if he had book smarts, too?

I always thought that Volt seemed like a cult, with Bias its charismatic, but dangerous leader. Kemp, Mazenda, Obular, they were sycophantic followers. But Arashi wouldn't be. He'd be a whole new beast for Volt. That, to me, makes Ashura interesting, and a very dangerous threat. But, for some reason, they tend to like making Ashura the comedic Volt member. And, sure, Ashura can be funny, there is a comedic component to the character, and actor Yoshinori Okamoto can certainly be funny, but it strips away the edge that I think the character is really meant to have. They kind of don't resist making Ashura comedic. One thing I like about Ashura being an outsider, though, is that he retains more of his humanity than the cult followers, which I'll get into in later episodes.

And I feel like this episode begins Toei's tightening of the budget. Look at that unimpressive nightclub, the cheap monkey-men, Arashi's unimpressive underground lair. Liveman is beginning a downward spiral in terms of budget. The show starts off with a bang but gets cheaper and cheaper as it goes on. I've seen people on the Japanese forums blame Kamen Rider Black for taking Toei's focus and money in 1988, but I always pretty much blamed Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori for eating up the budget. (Which is probably why the show started off with just three heroes in the first place!)

Episode 13

Mazenda's second attempt at a plan to unleash dangerous gas utilizing her Dummymen. That's kind of strange when you think about it, but this episode's ultimately about a Dummyman rebelling and finding love with Koron. This episode's kind of a condensed Metalder, with the two robot characters taking on human characteristics -- can a robot feel, can it love, can it be sad? Mr. Tanaka the Jinmer looks human, but pieces of the Jinmer beneath start showing more and more. An attempt to say that you thought he was a human, but he's not, yet as more and more pieces of his robotic self are revealed, it doesn't matter, you still see him as human. His actions become more and more caring, to the point where he sacrifices himself to save Koron.

Cheapness is what undercuts this episode, IMO -- as the Dummyman loses more and more of his human veneer and the Jinmer parts start poking through, it's REALLY low-quality make-up, and I think that takes away from some of the episode's impact. Well, that and that the guest actor playing "Mister Tanaka" is pretty weak -- he has to be a Toei bit player, he's just so bland and blah.

Episode 14

Hirohisa Soda has either a kink or phobia about people becoming magnetized, because he also wrote an episode of Battle Fever J where Kyousuke undergoes the same situation as Yuusuke does here.

On paper, it's a kind of silly idea, but I like what's at the center of the story -- Ashura's monster causes Yuusuke to become an electrically-charged freak, and not only does this interfere with his ability to transform, but it causes him to shock any living thing he comes into contact with, which causes a moral conflict within him. Once people turn on him, it leads Yuusuke to question if he really even wants to be a hero with people like this.

He asks what's the point of putting himself in danger and making sacrifices if that's how he's treated. That's something very interesting to explore for a hero, especially for Yuusuke, who was meant to be such a different kind of Red initially. Yuusuke starts the series as being considered a dummy, and he's a smart-ass punk, but he grows into being a great and responsible Red, and the tough bastard we get to see in Gaoranger VS Super Sentai.

Episode 15

Inoue's second script. I like how he's basically like "You know that Guardnoid Gash character? He's pretty cool. Let's give him the spotlight." I've always liked Gash and the way suit-actor Naoki Oofuji plays him. He's practically a background character, but his presence is felt. The bastard just seems intimidating. And he's the guy who makes the monsters bigger on top of it! You know how Weisenheimers like to joke about why doesn't the Changeman shoot Gyodai or why won't the Maskman kill Okerampa, well...you don't ask that about Gash. Gash can and will kick your ass, so if you have any fragment of a thought about attacking him to spare yourself shilling some Bandai toys, you best change your thinking. He will fuck you up.

Gash, in this episode, is basically Michael Myers. He's got a target and he will not stop until it's dead. The entire episode is pretty much a chase, with Gash pursuing Jou and his robot target. Gash even loses an arm and keeps goin'! (Toshiki Inoue loves characters losing arms, man.)

The problem with the episode, for me, is the robot, Hanako's, design. It's too cutesy for something that was meant to be a deadly military weapon that Bias feared. I mean, don't make it creepy like the surgical droid from Empire Strikes Back, but don't make it some cute, fat offspring of the Jetsons' Rosie and Short Circuit's Johnny.

Jou's bonding with the robot is something that I think makes a lot of the younger viewers of the fandom criticize Liveman. Liveman wears its heart on its sleeve. Sometimes there's other factors like a bad design or low budget that dampen the writing, so Liveman's intentions don't quite soar or come through, but sometimes just being heartfelt is bad enough for viewers in this day and age.

A cynical snot who pumps their fist every time someone is killed on Game of Thrones is going to roll their eyes at some sincere episode like this one. And then you get an actor like Kazuhiko Nishimura, who's good and really sells it, and people find that funny. (I talked about something similar with Tetsuo Kurata in my Black posts; the guy always gave a 100%, even in episodes that didn't deserve it, so that ends up giving him the reputation of being a ham, when he's just a pro.)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Life Goes On: Liveman 6-10


Episodes 6 & 7

People hate these episodes, almost as much as 31. I don't understand why, though. I think they're sad, and they're the first episodes to play further into the life theme. The Liveman are confronting a situation they initially think is pretty strange, and they approach it kind of matter-of-factly -- this dinosaur that's been brought to the present either needs to go back or be killed, because it doesn't belong, it's dangerous. But by the lonely kid befriending the dinosaur, taking it as his pet, seeing the dinosaur save the kid, seeing the dinosaur manipulated against its will and killed by Volt, they appreciate the creature's existence, that its life mattered.

For me, the one real problem is the dinosaur's design. It's just generic, it looks like it's left over from another production, it's shoddily made. You can see its tennis shoes! But, suspend disbelief and the episode works, IMO. With episodes like this, I just look at them like animal episodes. I'm an animal lover, so looking at the dinosaur that way, when it starts to cry as the boy points a rifle at it...it's sad.

Episode 8

Takuji and Mari's ghosts linger over this episode -- almost literally. Any episode that deals with them, Academia or the three former friends are good Liveman episodes, IMO. When Kemp makes a Brain Beast that feeds off of anger -- making the Liveman, still very pissed at their homicidal ex-buddy Kemp -- our three heroes need to discover sources of fighting motivation other than anger or hatred. They're each inspired by a mother defending her baby, a kid standing up to thugs bullying an elderly man and fighting on the behalf of Takuji and Mari and their unrealized dreams. Just a nice, thoughtful script by Kunio Fujii, his first for the series.

One great scene: when the Liveman are zen, having no rage to fuel the Brain Beast, that pisses off Kemp so much that HE makes good eatin' and the Brain Beast turns on him.

Episode 9

I think this is one of the episodes that cause people to trash Mazenda. Again, I don't understand why. Keeping in mind how egotistical the Volt members are, I like that there's an episode like this, one where Mazenda's plan is just for her own amusement and not some of the typical take-over-the-world plots. Like I said, I feel like a lot of Volt's goals are just as much about fucking with humanity for their own amusement, and to prove their perceived brilliance, as their plans are about wiping them out/taking over. Here, Mazenda just wants to use a serum to mind control men. That the serum requires her to steal most of Japan's gasoline is just an unfortunate side-effect. The only error in her plan was in brainwashing the boyfriend of Megumi's friend, drawing the Liveman's attention.

This is the first episode written by Toshiki Inoue. He writes Yuusuke and Jou as kinda dickish here, and then employs one of his favorite scenarios: heroes gone bad! Mazenda manages to brainwash Yuusuke and Jou, and it's kind of shocking how they rough up Megumi. But they still seem dickier before the brainwash in this ep -- and after the brainwash, too. Because it's also shocking how rough they are beating up Mazenda.

Episode 10

I think this episode kind of exists because someone was like "Hey! The Yellow one is seen skateboarding in the credits. Where's the skateboarding? Write that in!" Because it's just weird. OK, we have Kemp causing mayhem by turning a section of the city into a maze, but the main story is about Jou deciding to be a pizza delivery boy because he likes a girl. And not just any pizza delivery boy, but the world's first pizza delivery by skateboard boy, which he thinks will be an asset to the girl's pizza place. (Jou wasn't in the bottom of the class at Academia for nothin'.) Good luck having a hot pizza in under thirty minutes with that delivery method, suckers. Yeah, so Jou caused his crush's business to close and she probably ended up committing Hare Krishna while her punk kid brother turned to the yakuza. Yooooooooooooooooooo, Jou!

The episode is the first in many Jou-falls-for-a-character-of-the-week episodes, which people like to poke fun at. I figure it's just meant to be light and fun, it's not terrible. Jet Skateboard's fun, but barely ever gets used. The guy who plays the pizza shop owner's young punk brother is Yoshifumi Egawa, who's actually a big name skateboarder in Japan, so that's kind of a cool detail. Liveman doesn't have the money to get many guest stars, so don't get used to it.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Heroes of Life: Liveman 1-5


I'm going to try to go through each Liveman episode and give some thoughts, like I did Kamen Rider Black. I hope I don't go off the rails like I did with my Kamen Rider Black thoughts, but it's a similar journey in that I'm trying to track where I think the show went wrong. When I recently rewatched Liveman, I was really into it, for the first time in a while. But, like Black, there's still that disappointment in how far the show strays and loses sight of what made it great initially.

Liveman's a show that I think gets unfairly treated by a lot of the fandom. Kind of like Black, it's a show that had a good reputation, especially by the Japanese fans, but it's become popular by punk kids to take it down, punk kids who feel cool for trashing it. For me -- like Black -- Liveman is a show that had an amazing premise that it was too afraid to fully explore. Like Black, it ends as a former shell of itself. But when it's good, it's good, and there's so much about the show that I like, and it does remain one of my top favorites. Here goes!

Episodes 1 & 2

I've written about these two episodes before. And, yeah, like Black, I consider the premiere to be one episode. The first episode packs so much into it, it's unbelievable. Keep in mind that, without the theme songs, the episodes are left with about 17 minutes of content. And yet neither episode is rushed nor does it feel padded. There's just a certain kind of writerly wizardry going into it.

My previous post talks a lot about what I like about the episode in terms of character bits or scenes, so I just want to highlight how the show sets up its theme right here: Liveman's philosophical theme about life. If I had to take a snapshot of the one shot that sums up the show, it's that dark and stormy night of Yuusuke standing in the rain as Jou and Megumi hold Takuji and Mari's lifeless bodies. Takuji and Mari's deaths are the catalyst for the show, our heroes' motivation and our heroes' first steps at growing up.

I don't think a lot of people understand that this is the show's main goal.  It's trying to say something, it's trying to be philosophical and poetic, and it's trying to say this through the superhero medium. I think people, the ones who criticize Liveman, just kind of look at it on the surface and see the episodes as being small scale or repetitive. But Liveman really goes through just about every type of life-form to make its message -- some scripts are good, some not so good. It's not unlike Metalder, and it always puzzled me that a lot of Liveman's critics will worship Metalder, when they're both coming from the same place.

I'll argue that Liveman's stronger in that it's the loss of human life, that its three protagonists are youths who are confronted and changed by death when they should be at the start of their lives, and that it's the impetus that gets them moving to be better people and heroes. Kenji took Takuji and Mari's lives, and it changed Liveman's lives; Takuji and Mari's deaths in turn gave the Liveman their appreciation of life, making them the heroes who defend all life. Liveman doesn't stick its landing, but Metalder stumbles a bit, too, be honest. (It quickly loses its artsy, leisurely poetic pace in favor of becoming Henshin Hero Business As Always.)

Episode 3

Liveman's other main themes are the betrayal of friends and the use of knowledge, whether one uses their intellect for good or harm. The members of Volt are all selfish, they see themselves as being better than humans, they're egotistical. They're all about harming humanity to prove their superiority. Even if they don't always have plans of destruction or taking over the world, their plans are usually still rooted in ways to disrupt society or shove what they perceive to be human weakness in people's faces.

This episode encapsulates all of that the best by focusing on Doctor Obular as he becomes the Beast Man Obular. Obular's one of my favorite toku characters, and Toru Sakai is great casting. Gou's meant to be a small, timid pipsqueak, and a bit weaselly and snobby, and Sakai conveys all of that so you can see it just by looking at him. Not content to be the small fry anymore, he transforms himself into the Beast Man Obular, and I love how he rubs it in Kemp and Mazenda's faces that, for all of their talk of hating humanity, that their super-powered upgrades still conveniently left them human. Obular walked the walked, and he has a huge, great design. It's kind of a shame to lose Sakai -- Obular's a suit actor voiced by seiyuu Atsushi Mori. I still don't know why they didn't have Sakai voice the transformed Obular, but Obular goes on to play an important role in the series, embodying a lot of its themes, and when Sakai does return, at least they make it feel like it carries dramatic weight.

I always wanted an Obular toy when I was a kid, but my family left Japan before the Volt soft vinyls were out. (I also really wanted a Live Robo, but apparently decided to buy a second, discount Change Robo instead.)

Episode 4

Honestly, after the first three, strong, cohesive -- practically perfect -- episodes, this one's a little off balance. It leans a little too hard into comedy, and I get why they'd want to do that after the first three intense episodes, but...it goes a little too far, IMO. (See: Yuusuke and Jou as the most unconvincing Jinmers ever...and they manage to fool Mazenda on top of it!)

The most important part of this episode is the introduction of the Dummyman, Mazenda's idea of giving the Jinmer human forms that Volt can use for their various evil plans. (And use them, they do. Mazenda's Dummyman project is probably the most successful invention made by any of Bias' students, but she never gets the credit she deserves!)

Episode 5

I've seen this episode get flak for introducing Takuji's brother, Takeshi, who is not the brother who goes on to become Black Bison. Well, how's about this -- at least when Takuji is introduced, writer Hirohisa Soda is on the ball enough to address this, by having Yuusuke tell Takuji he's met Takeshi, and that Takeshi had helped them build the Live Cougar. So many other toku shows wouldn't have even bothered to point that out. "Hey! I met your sibling early on before we decided to add you as the new hero!" See: Zyuranger, showing no indication that Burai existed, and never mentioning Geki's sister after episode 2.

I thought this was a fun episode when I was a kid. At the very least, we get some cool stunts. I love when Falcon jumps over the Engine Brain-possessed car, and the car chase with Live Cougar and Kemp.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Super Sentai What-if -- The Seventh Zyuranger

As much as I like Burai, the last time I re-watched Zyuranger, I started to think his storyline was a little murky. So, he and Geki are brothers, the offspring of the lower Black Knight of the Yamato Kingdom. The Yamato King wants the Black Knight's newborn, Geki, to raise as his own, presumably to take over the kingdom. The Black Knight goes along with this...and then changes his mind? He starts a rebellion, reneging on the arrangement he seemed happy to make, getting his fool ass killed in the process. Little Burai witnesses his dad, the Black Knight, being killed, with the Black Knight screwing the kid up by making him vow to avenge him. OK, that's an understandable motivation for Burai, and he ends up shifting that hatred onto Geki, but what always puzzled me was...Burai declaring himself the Yamato Prince over Geki.

Buuba's the Yamato King...and he stole Icarus' outfit.

Huh, wha, how? How does he figure -- does he just think he should have been the one to have been adopted, instead of Geki? He literally has no claim. It's not like the Yamato King overthrew the Black Knight -- the Black Knight was a nobody. And it's not like anyone in their right mind would have wanted to adopt 8 year old Burai, especially when he was played by Dairanger's Kou! (The casting here is funny all around; the Yamato King is Yoshinori Okamoto, the Black Knight is Toshimichi Takahashi -- two JAC guys who mostly play villains. And then the evil Kiba Ranger as young Burai!) Burai thinking he was owed the title of Yamato Prince is one of the things that makes this story murky...

Death Giller is Burai's pops. No wonder he's an a-hole.

And there's something else. Something bigger. Something that proves Burai was never planned to be in the damn show. In episode 2, Geki gives viewers who missed the first episode a quick rundown of the show's backstory; the way that there was a human civilization in the time of dinosaurs, the way they were divided into kingdoms who worshiped a certain dinosaur. That it was a time of peace...until Bandora launched her war, slaughtering tons of people and dinosaurs. Among the victims, according to Geki? His father, the Yamato King, his mother, and...HIS TEN-YEAR OLD SISTER! While it's something the writers didn't seem to think was important enough to remember, my mind kind of ran off with this idea...

If Geki had a younger sister, she was probably the Yamato King and Queen's actual offspring. I imagine the Yamato King took Geki off of the Black Knight, and shortly after the Yamato Queen got pregnant and it was like "Oops!" But then the Queen gave birth to a girl, and the Yamato King was probably like "Whew! Dodged a bullet there. I want me a boy to inherit my kingdom, so I didn't risk a war with that insane Black Knight for nothin'." So, I thought...what if Geki's sister was still out there? What if she grew up, watching from a distance, shaking her head at Burai's insistence that he was the Yamato Prince, while also kind of disregarding Geki, since he was adopted? She'd have royal blood and more claim to the Yamato Kingdom than either of them. What if she had survived, what if she showed up with her own powers and threw her crown onto the battlefield? Here's where I get a little fan-fic'y...

Zyuranger is incredibly vague with its background details. (For good reason, otherwise they couldn't shoehorn something like Dragon Ranger in there.) The show's not clear on how long the war with Bandora lasted in the old days. Geki's said to be 24 in the show. So, that obviously means that's the age he was put in stasis. Now, I'm assuming Bandora's attack lasted a few years. I kind of picture a big war, with Geki helping to fight, maybe as young as 18 years old. They'd have to have been at war for a while, it wasn't like Bandora showed up, the Shugozyu immediately came to save the day. No...Bandora was a destructive force, and caused a lot of harm and damage to the crazy prehistoric society of Zyuranger. Maybe early in the battle, a few years before Geki was chosen to be put on ice, his family perished in an attack. But maybe his 10 year old sister was just critically wounded, finding herself in the care of another tribe...? Maybe, as she healed, she watched over Geki and the battle with Bandora, knowing Geki and the other Zyuranger were being frozen for if the world ever needed them again. Maybe she spent years training herself and studying and eventually had herself frozen, as well, just in case. (Hey, maybe she knew about Burai and was like "That guy's going to be a pain in the ass. We need a plan B.") This is all my way of saying: if I'm bringing Geki's sister back into the mix, I don't want her to be a tween. I want her to spend some time growing and learning and becoming a Zyuranger. She's watching from the sidelines, the Zyuranger are already frozen. She grows into a young woman before deciding to follow Geki's Encino Man play.

The backstory I picture is basically that she's seriously wounded, taking time to recover. She's found by a lesser known, kind of discredited tribe in the Dinosaur Kingdom. They worship the goddess Chelys Reina, one of the oldest known Shugozyu, who was kind of pushed out once Shugozyu Tyrannosaurus proved his might. She bonds with the tribe, but also with Chelys Reina, and eventually comes to share the Shugozyu's feeling of being overlooked. Unlike Burai, she's not coming from a hateful place, but a place of hurt, feeling undervalued, unappreciated. She's a fighter, so she'll fight, but she's not antagonistic. She shares Chelys Reina's feeling of peace and harmony. At age 23, having trained as a warrior and having developed her own Zyuranger powers derived from Chelys Reina, she enters stasis. In 1992, amidst the new war with Bandora and a game of thrones over the Yamato Kingdom thanks to Burai, she emerges onto the battlefield as...


                           CHELYS RANGER!

I went through a bunch of dinosaurs to find one to base her on. I didn't really like any of the options. I remembered, when MMPR and Jurassic Park were both huge, when kids in school would draw their own Power Rangers based off of dinosaurs not seen in the show, and the popular one (of course) was a raptor. I thought of using that just for that connection, but I didn't like it. (At that time, I drew a Power Ranger based off of the dilophosaurus. Imagine my disappointment when I found out Jurassic Park lied about the poison spit and the neck frill. So, to base a Zyuranger off of a dilophosaurus, it would basically just look like a T. rex with a mohawk. C'mon.) The person who helped me with this project, who drew that design, wanted to go with something really nutty -- a pentaceratops. I liked the crazy look, but basically didn't like the association with triceratops (and therefore Dan).

I wanted something that out T. rex'd a T. rex, man. The popular dinosaur to pit against a T. rex, due to its size and viciousness, is the spinosaurus. While I think it's interesting that the spinosaurus hunted on both land and in water, it basically looks like a giant alligator, so I didn't think it would make that unique of a helmet. And then it hit me -- prehistoric turtles. There's a wide variety of prehistoric turtles, and I liked the look of a few of them, so there's a kind of blending of a few, Chelys Ranger isn't based on just one. (The biggest influence being proganochelys.) I wanted Chelys Ranger to be regal, to really show-off that she's the one true royal. I knew she had to be purple, the color of royalty. I wanted her to stand out alongside Burai, so I wanted her to have some gold-colored, shell-based armor, the way Dragon Ranger has his shield. The illustrator decided to color the tips of the horns of the helmet gold to evoke a crown.

"Chelys" is Latin for tortoise.

I needed a name for the character who becomes Chelys Ranger. I considered a weird mix of names that sounded appropriate to the show -- short little names like Geki, Boi, Mei, etc. -- but I decided on something else instead. Back in the '90s, a fan named Akemi Kishita ran an English Zyuranger fan-site. It was comprehensive, it was one of the few of its kind. So I decided to try to pay tribute to her by rearranging her first name and calling Chelys Ranger Mikea, soldier of honor. And I've cast the role, too! I put too much thought into it. Too many of the people I wanted were in the wrong age group. I wanted someone who was the right age, but would also seem like they'd be a cast member of Zyuranger, like someone Toei would cast at the time. I eventually came up with Yuko Moriyama. She had a big following after Zeiram, I think if she had played a traditional toku hero, it would have blown fanboy minds. She can play stoic, reserved, cool and tough.


From the era of dinosaurs, a new senshi revives! MIKEA, CHELYS RANGER, KOUEI NO SENSHI!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Random Warriors and Other Weirdos

Those who weren't enough to cover, plus a couple of updated ones. Here's we go...

Kensaku Shiraishi/Battle Cossack

As I said before, I definitely like actor Yukio Itou here more than in Goranger; he's older, more mature and confident as a performer. It's always weird to me that Cossack is credited second, but Battle France is considered the second in command. While Shiraishi has a temper and is quick to fly off the handle, France is a bit too comical. Kensaku's a dedicated and loyal warrior who, in one of my favorite moments early on, isn't afraid to kick the shit out of Battle Japan when signs point towards Japan being a traitor.

The most we know about Shiraishi's background is that he was an orphan, taken care of by Tetsuzan. This makes Kensaku's murder tragic in hindsight; would he have never joined Battle Fever if it hadn't been for Tetsuzan? Would he have lived without meeting Tetsuzan?

I'm not sure I like Kensaku's death, though. On one hand, I like the idea that, after seeing the priest who ran the orphanage where he grew up murdered in front of him, Kensaku's sensitive about violence; when a girl who sees her dad shot to death in front of her shuts out Kensaku, it affects him. He meets with her to cheer her up, leaving behind his ability to become Cossack as proof that he's not the violent guy or fighter she accuses him of being. Unfortunately, Egos targets the girl, and Kensaku is shot to death before her...

To me, it's about as senseless as Gai's death in Jetman. Gai could have easily gotten himself to a hospital, and as I've always said, his survival would have been a better wedding day present to Ryu and Kaori than his showing up and dying on the spot. Kensaku wants to cheer up this girl, trying to get over seeing her dad gunned down by Egos...by putting himself in a situation in which he gets gunned down by Egos, right in front of her. I doubt Battle Fever's paying for that girl's therapist. A better way to write him out would have been for him to just retire as Cossack and adopt the girl, but...they chose to kill him for whatever reason. Makes no sense.

It's also kind of dumb that Kensaku is kinda lectured by Masao when he's leaving the base without his Battle Cossack uniform, the way Kensaku just jokingly dismisses all of the warnings. "I'll be careful!" Then he's cornered by Egos and is like "Shit! I don't have my suit!" Well, double-dumbass on you, Kensaku.

Makoto Jin/Battle Cossack

I'm glad toku legend Daisuke Ban finally got to play a Sentai character, even though the replacement Battle Cossack is a tad bit of a step down after headlining, what, four toku series already? I like Ban, and think he's a good actor, but he's always seemed like an unlikely choice for an action-oriented henshin hero to me -- he seems professorial or like a banker or something.

I always got the impression that Toei was maybe hoping for a guy like Hiroshi Miyauchi for Jin. The cool cowboy who's the thinker and precise and a strong, bad-ass ass kicker. An older, experienced loner who's just playing on a completely different level than the others. I still like Ban in the role, but I don't feel like he fits in with the rest of the cast. If I had to pick a former toku hero actor as Jin, I'd pick someone like Akira Yamaguchi -- I think he would have blended with the cast better.

Jin's a cool character, but I would have liked for his transition into becoming the new Cossack to go smoother. We're told he's a friendly rival of Kensaku, but it's kind of hard to buy because Jin is obviously so much older than Kensaku. I like that Jin shows most life and happiness when Kensaku's near, making their friendship seem believable, before we see him coldly shutting out everyone else on the team. And I like the way he silently picks up Cossack's suit to carry on the battle for his friend. But the show needed to let it breathe a little. Kensaku dies right there, the team doesn't bat an eye, and two seconds later Jin's the new Cossack, the team accepts it, and Kensaku's almost immediately forgotten. They make a bigger deal about Diane stepping down as Miss America, and all she was doing was moving to America after doing jack shit for 24 episodes!

And I know it's a nitpick and that the show was late in the game, but I kinda think they should have given Jin a different outfit or modified the Cossack suit. I know the Japanese see cowboy getup as simply foreign to them, but a cowboy being the hero who's meant to represent Eurasia...huh?

Shouta Yamamori/Magnet Senshi

The role that I think locked Seiki Kurosaki in for the following year's Juspion. Kurosaki's hilarious, and really ahead of his time in the way he can act like a live-action cartoon. (Only Kurosaki is skilled at this, unlike most of the modern day performers.) Shouta was a big hit with my family and me in the '80s -- we always did his "Peace, peace!" bit.

The two episodes with him just seem kind of bittersweet when I watch it now; it was where he met his future wife, the late Yuko Asuka (Farrah) and Magnet Senshi was played in-suit by Kurosaki's friend Masato Akada, who is now disabled as a result of a serious injury he received while doing stunts on Exceedraft.

Ryou Asuka/X1 Mask

A really interesting way to work in the idea of a new hero, while putting to use the actual rejected Maskman designs. The episode should have been a two-parter. It's interesting, of course, the way his episode is the prototype for Gai's beginning in the early Jetman episodes, but more importantly, I like the way that Ryou is a mirror of Takeru. He's a cautionary tale of what could have happened to Takeru if Takeru hadn't been surrounded by the right people and weren't so disciplined and centered, and unable to silence the rage he felt at losing his love.

Ninjaman/Samuraiman

I like Ninjaman, and he's a better version of Shurikenger (the only thing Shurikenger has over him is the 20 Faces of Past Sentai Actors gimmick), but...he's kinda unnecessary to the show, isn't he? He's fun, but you can take him out and have the exact same show. And maybe even shorter -- I always thought Kakuranger had five or so episodes too many.

Signalman

He's hilarious. A myopic dunce who doesn't know when his job ends and sanity begins. Great voice actor and suit actor combo.

About the suit actor...once upon a time, it was a mystery who O-BITOH was. It wasn't until a 2003 interview with Toei Hero Max, where Yoshinori Okamoto revealed it was him. (He thought it would be funny to be credited as O-BITOH, which is an alternate reading of a few of the kanji in his name.)

Swan Shiratori/Deka Swan

I grew to like Swan, even though I initially thought actress Mako Ishino was kind of odd. (I always make fun of the way she calls Doggie "Doogie.") I don't like her as much as Gekiranger's Miki, the character more deserving of getting to transform, but whatever. I don't like her as much as Oboro, either. She's basically just the new Oboro, always there with the right Bandai gadget when the heroes need it. Her romance with Doogie is still some strange shit, though.

Isamu Ozu/Wolzard/Wolzard Fire

Wolzard always bothered me. I'm not a fan of villains who pretend to be honorable, but they're really just excusing shit writing for a shit writer not knowing how to get their characters out of a jam. For example: Wolzard would show up and kick the shit out of Magi Red. Instead of just finishing the job, or dare show the hero bail out of the fight (which toku *used* to show, which made the heroes seem sensible and human), there would be some arbitrary bullshit of Magi Red looking aside for a second and Wolzard would be like, "You're distracted! I'll come back to fight you when you're stronger and your head's in the fight!" Get outta with that shit.

Everyone knew from the start that Wolzard was going to be Papa Ozu, and I remember hoping for a cool actor, a Shirou Izumi type, to play the part. We just got the dude who voiced him, who looked too tired and old to be the guy he was supposed to be playing. By the time Wolzard turned good, Magiranger took some stupider turns (hard to believe, I know), becoming a repetitive Saint Seiya-kind of bore, and I just wanted the show to end, so I didn't care.

Gou Fukami/Geki Violet

A big savior of Gekiranger for me. I like the show and all, but he brought it up another level. Gou brought more of a traditional hero feel, and gave the show some serious and needed history and backstory. I'm a horror fan, the Wolf Man is my favorite Universal Monster, so I loved the part of his storyline about his being a werewolf. I thought it was interesting the way they tied that into what happened to the Kenseis. (Gou sacrificed his humanity in an attempt to defeat Rio the way the Kensei did to be rid of a past villain.) I like the episode where Gou and the Wolf are having an internal slug-fest, in which Gou finally conquers the wolf side.

It's kinda sad that he gets put on the back burner in the final episodes to make room for spotlight-hogging Jan to deal with Rio, when Gou and Rio's fight was much more personal, but that's the breaks when you're a Sentai member not in Red. Gou tried, at least.

And, again, the story of Gou, Miki and Rio as the original triangle training under Dan and Sha-fu was the Gekiranger show I wanted to watch.

Gou's character song is also one of the only character songs in the history of tokusatsu that's cool. There's worse actor-singers than Riki Miura, it's composed by Hideaki Takatori and Denjiman's Ken Narita is the one playing harmonica. Awesome.

Masato Jin/Beet Buster

The savior of Go-busters. Only, unlike Geki, I hadn't been enjoying Go-busters. He was the savior we needed and deserved, man. And I had zero hopes for him based on how bad I thought actor Hiroya Matsumoto was in Magiranger. But Jin was a lot of fun, a prankster goofball who brought actual comedy and life into a show that thought freezing at the mention of a chicken was comedy. It's amazing the way a single character and performer was able to make the show more tolerable and actually emotional at the end.

Beet J Stag/Stag Buster

Poor man's Deneb. I can't stand Beet J Stag. He's the avatar of Go-busters' mostly shitty sense of humor. I *never* found him funny. He's the one who should have died.

Ramires/Kyoryu Cyan

Fat. White. Kyoryu Cyan.

Yuko Fukui/Kyoryu Cyan

Deka Yellow. Becomes Kyoryu Cyan (for a split-second in the finale). Whoopee.

Tessai/Kyoryu Gray

Bouken Silver. Actually kind of entertaining here.

Shinya Tsugouchi (Yuu Aoyaki)/Kyoryu Gray

I have no idea who this is.

Doctor Ulshade/Kyoryu Violet

Never a fan of Shigeru Chiba's screeching everything. Didn't need him to be a hero.

Yayoi Ulshade/Kyoryu Violet

Instantly forgettable.

Torin/Kyoryu Silver

Torin's a tool, I've covered this.

Dantetsu Kiryu/Kyoryu Silver

Dantetsu's a bigger tool.

Akira Nijino/ToQ 6

Akira was a bright spot in the show. He and Zet made ToQ watchable, and both deserved a better show. Akira's actor was a little stiff, but I thought his character was a fun take-down of the sixth hero stereotype of being a death-obsessed loner.

Kinji Kitagawa/Star Ninger

He was so damned obnoxious when he joined the show, I have no idea why he was supposed to be so endearing to the teammates that they accepted him and argued for his place on the team. Oh, that's right, they were morons. Seriously though, Kinji deserved to be murdered. He eventually moves on from his stupid, stupid, stupid trying to kill the other Ninninger shtick, and then just slips into the background for most of the remaining episodes. The actor is so generic, that if he didn't have the stupid hat on, I didn't know who he was. Seriously!

And was he meant to be an homage to Jiraiya/Ninja Black? If so, Kane Kosugi should sue.

Kyuemon's voice-actress/Mido Ninger

I didn't watch the Ninninger Returns thing.

Yamato Kazakiri/Zyuoh Eagle

He doesn't have much going for him. I guess he's meant to be a Godai/Shouichi/Ryouga kind of empathetic and big-hearted hippie, but there's just not much there on the page for him. And the actor doesn't play it well, he just seems really phony and insincere to me, like a serial killer pretending to be a nice, ordinary guy.

Sela/Zyuoh Shark

She's supposed to be "serious" and yet kind, but bottles up her emotions, but the actress translates this as "look snobby while smelling a sour fart" and thinks that gets the job done. She just kind of looks like an a-hole.

Leo/Zyuoh Lion

Loud and boisterous lion dude should be funny, but he's always overdoing it to the point where it means nothin'. He's Shinkenger's Ryunosuke, if Ryunosuke hadn't toned down his obnoxious freak-outs.

Tusk/Zyuoh Elephant

Stiffest, most awkward actor in history. It's a ToQ 4 situation, where it's laughable that he's supposed to be the serious, cool, brains of the group. Ever notice how the guy can't move his neck? He's always doing this weird move with his shoulders thing.

Amu/Zyuoh Tiger

Eh? Really, I get no reading from her.

Misao Mondo/Zyuoh the World

Annoying character "gimmick." Pipsqueak actor who reminds me too much of the guy who played Kamen Rider Mayo. Actually, this guy might be the most awkward actor in the history of actors. He doesn't act like a person. I get some Vul Panther-y vibes from him, so...keep on eye on him, Japan!

What really sucks is, Misao could be interesting. A sixth hero who doesn't feel like he fits in, one who has guilt for being villainous and using some Zyumen for evil -- but the show doesn't take it seriously, and the actor is weak, so none of it is ever convincing. I had a similar problem with Akira, when he was conflicted about his past with the Shadow Line. Nothing's treated seriously anymore. I don't know why toku is so afraid to play it straight and be genuine and dramatic anymore. When they try to, it's just disingenuous. Everything's so winky and self-conscious and remote now. Toku doesn't try to ever do anything meaningful anymore.

And is it just me, or is The World the stupidest name for a hero? Kamen Rider Scissors, you're off the hook.

Bud/Zyuoh Bird

It's Kaixa! I don't care who he plays, how well he does it, or what amazing feats of charity the actor does in real life -- he ain't living down playing one of the biggest shitheads in toku history. You want to know why Bird Flu is back in the news? Kaixa as Zyuoh Bird.

Mario Mori

Sad, sad waste of the awesome, awesome Susumu Terajima. I'll like Mario in his few moments of sanity, when he's offering the team some actually good advice, or standing up to and slapping Naria, but that's such a small portion of what he does -- the remaining 99.5% of his screentime is that dumb bad animal cosplay stuff. I don't get why Toei thinks it's funny to hire a veteran actor and just have them do embarrassing stuff for a year.

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Since this post was an afterthought and doesn't count, I ain't picking any of these assholes for my team. (Is that everybody? Do you really want me to cover Doubutsu Sentai Go-busters? I hated that freakin' movie!)