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.)
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.)
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!)
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.