OK, this is something I've wanted to do for a while...
In my posts about Goseiger and the Writers of Super Sentai, I repeated inaccurate information about writer Michiko Yokote. For the longest time, the story was that Michiko Yokote was a pseudonym used by three people. It's been since revealed by anime director Shinji Takamatsu that that was merely an urban legend perpetuated by the internet, and that Yokote is a sole woman.
In my post about the Red Warriors of Super Sentai, I said that Zyuranger's Yuuta Mochizuki was the first JAC member to play a Red pre-transformation. It was actually Jetman's Kotaro Tanaka, which I HAVE said before, before being thrown off by people who didn't know any better.
Them's Fightin' Words regrets the errors.
Monday, December 11, 2017
This is one of the topics that always bothers me, because people always get their facts wrong or ignorantly repeat things or aren't fully understanding of the situation...
The topic is porn stars in tokusatsu. Maybe you're a stickler, maybe you're a prude, but for everyone else in the world, porn star means a performer in a XXX movie performing acts of whoopee for real. Japan calls their X-Rated movies A(dult)V(ideos) and their porn stars AV Idols. Despite tokusatsu being on the air for 50-some years -- dozens of Ultraman shows, 40+ Super Sentai, 30+ Kamen Riders -- people like to perpetuate this idea that either 1) Japan is just sooooooo cool and loose that they always cast AV idols in their children's entertainment 'cuz whatevs (spoiler alert: they're not) and 2) that nearly every actress in these shows is a porn star.
This is not close to being correct. And before I go on, I need to once again make this distinction.
There are 41 Super Sentai shows. Only THREE have featured full-blown, 100%, X-Rated, AV idol porn stars. (Those three: Carranger, Megaranger and Go-onger.)
How'd this even happen? When casting Carranger, the show's producer, Shigenori Takatera, really wanted the Zonette character to be a sexy, pin-up icon. He eventually just decided to cast Rika Nanase (alias Rika Mizutani), one of the lesser-known AV idols who not only did hardcore films, but was trying to break into softcore films. The character proved popular (probably due more to the writing), so Takatera repeated the casting quirk in his next show, Megaranger, casting Asami Joh as villainess Shiborena.
Takatera's final Sentai work was Gingaman. He repeated his trend of having a sexy villainess, this time casting nude pin-up model and B-Movie siren Kei Mizutani. Kei Mizutani is basically the equivalent of a Playboy Playmate who went on to play gangster's molls in B-Movies and starring in risque comedies. (Her best known role is in the movie Weather Woman, a manga-based comedy about a weather woman who has a wardrobe malfunction while doing the news and becomes famous for then doing her reports in the nude. You know who else is in that movie? George Costanza from Megaranger. Guess that bastard's a porn star, too!) If you're a pastor or housewife from the '50s, maybe you consider that pornography. Maybe she qualifies as a porn star to you. But, in the true sense of the moniker, she is NOT. And because she followed Rika Nanase and Asami Joh, it is assumed and she's mistakenly listed as an AV idol.
Cut to 2008 and Go-onger. Now Go-onger, bless its small brain, thought it was the second coming of Carranger. We know it wasn't, but in Toei's head it was. This went right down to casting ex-AV superstar Nao Oikawa as the villainess Kegareshia. Oikawa had been an extremely popular AV idol, but had quit and been attempting to transition to the mainstream by the time she was cast on Go-onger. But, still, her popularity in her past work looms larger than any of her mainstream attempts.
Let me once again make clear the distinction:
X-Rated/AV movies are for reals, yo, and generate porn stars.
B-Movies/late night movies/softcore flicks (what the Japanese classify as Pink Movies) are simulated; fake. They don't count. If you consider anyone in these movies a porn star, then everyone in Hollywood is a porn star, because every actor and actress has done a sex scene in a movie or show. (HBO, Showtime and Netflix original shows, especially, are filled with porn stars if you look at it that way.)
I point this out because there's a misconception about quite a few of the '80s toku actresses. There's the unkillable rumor about Naomi Morinaga -- all she did was some B-Movies and posed nude for photobooks. She's NOT a porn star. But people have also listed Maskman's Mina Asami as a porn star/AV idol and she's NOT. Here's the deal with that...
In the '70s and '80s, production company Nikkatsu found a profitable way to make money -- they popularized a line of movies known as the Roman Porno Series. The Nikkatsu Roman Porno Series, as well as Japan's so called Pink Movies -- as explained to me by a published Japanese film critic, who at the time was preparing a book on the subject of Japan's Pink Movies -- are risque, but softcore flicks. They sound essentially like the classic old Rochelle, Rochelle of Seinfeld; cliched love stories, movies pretending to be arthouse-y, but really just exist for the nudity and love scenes. Further proof Pink Movies and the Nikkatsu Roman Porno films were merely softcore: their demise came at the hands of VHS, which made X-Rated movies more easily available and negating the need for the fake stuff.
Mina Asami was a very popular starlet of the Nikkatsu Roman Porno line of films. As was Dynaman's Mari Kouno, as was Bioman's Yuko Asuka, as was Turboranger's Kanako Kishi, as was Hibiki's Kaoru Mizuki. Not only these actresses, but a lot of toku actors appeared in these Nikkatsu Roman Pornos early in their careers, among them Sunvulcan's Takayuki Godai (which is how he met his wife, Mari Kouno), Flashman's Jouji Nakata, Kamen Rider Kabuto's Hirotaro Honda and Kamen Rider W's Minori Terada. Again: despite the risque nature of these movies, and what the title of the film series implies, this does not make them porn stars. (And guess what, Power Rangers fans? Power Rangers Turbo's Carol Hoyt had some softies on her resume prior to Power Rangers, so don't judge Super Sentai performers!)
Tokusatsu sees so many actors, some more successful than the others. A lot of toku actors get stuck in direct-to-video B-movies, and Japan's DTV B-Movies aren't that dissimilar from America's. These movies vary in genre, but will almost always try to sell themselves with scenes of shocking violence or nudity. You know how one of these movies goes. It will center on an ex-cop or gangster who hangs out at a strip-joint where 90% of the movie takes place, or he and his hooligan buddies all hang around hookers. Whatever the scenario, it means one things -- nuditay. Tons and tons of toku actors have appeared in these kinds of movies, among them familiar faces like Hiroshi Miyauchi, Daisuke Ban, Changeman's Kazuoki Takahashi and Shinkenger's Goro Ibuki among others.
And, of course, a lot of popular tokusatsu actresses extended that popularity (no doubt pushed by greedy managers) by posing nude for magazines or releasing their own entire books. This does not make them porn stars.
I'm sure there's a few people I'm overlooking. Like, I'm not familiar with all of the Ultraman performers, so I don't know offhand if anyone from there has done AV or softcore or whatever. (I know Ultraseven's Anne took her sudden fame to make some cash by doing nude photobooks, and that Nao Oikawa's guest-starred on one of the newer shows.) GARO is jam-packed with AV idols, but it's a late night show targeting a certain demographic. (Same with Akibaranger, which is why I didn't mention Marceena actress Honoka above.) There's several guest stars I know that were Nikkatsu Roman Porno starlets or whatever, but I'm not talking about guest stars here, just series regulars.
There's also been a couple of freak occurrences. For example, a minor or guest performer who was either an AV idol (Megaranger's Momoko Nishida, who guest-starred as Neji Yellow's human form) or later went on to become AV idols (Minako Komukai of the Abaranger movie). There's the odd case of someone like Wizard's Tomorowo Taguchi, an actor known for his eccentricity, who dabbled in AV movies early in his career. And as is the case sometimes in Hollywood, there's been performers who might have done explicit videos early in their career as they struggled (as was allegedly the case with Blade's Takayuki Tsubaki). There's even been a case of a performer's private video getting leaked (GoGoFive's Yuko Miyamura, who even the Japanese fans mistakenly call an AV Idol because of it, which is just so wrong).
There are many shades and layers, but a single truth: there have so far only been three true porn-star/AV Idol regulars in real toku, and they are Rika Nanase, Asami Joh and Nao Oikawa. Rip up everything else you have written down, because it's wrong.
And on one final note...KEI MIZUTANI IS NOT A PORN STAR!
AND NEITHER IS NAOMI MORINAGA!
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Despite what little I think of Power Rangers now, when I was a kid, I was into Mighty Morphin'. I knew it was pandering, I knew it was hokey, I knew it didn't hold up to the Japanese Sentai installments I saw in the '80s, but I still liked it, recorded it, obsessed over it. And while I wasn't into VR Troopers, I still watched that, as well as Saban's coat-tail riding rivals put out by DiC, Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad and Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills. (I didn't care about Saban's Masked Rider. That thing's always been an unwatchable heap of suck.) Of DiC's two series, I think Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills is the more noteworthy, and the one I want to talk about.
Now, it's obvious that DiC's shows were shameless wannabes that just wanted to quickly capitalize on the crazy, unpredictable success of Mighty Morphin'. And it's obvious that the powers-that-be backing these DiC shows reallllllllly didn't want to put much money into them -- not that you can accuse the American-made footage in Power Rangers of being high-budget, exactly, but there's at least a variety in locations. But a big difference between Saban's show and DiC's is that DiC's shows were bolder in how they depicted the young heroes.
Another big difference? As super low-rent as DiC's two shows seemed in terms of sets and production, I remember being a kid and being impressed that I'd recognize some of the people in their shows. Syber Squad had that kid from Tales From the Dark Side and Mrs. Doubtfire! And the annoying twerp from Parker Lewis! And, holy shit, Tim freakin' Curry doing the voice of the bad guy! And some of these people can...act! Wow! Power Rangers gets people you've never seen before and probably will never see again. (Yeah, yeah -- I know it's because, for a while, a majority of them were martial artists, gymnasts or dancers, and not actors.) Tattooed's most recognizable performers are Glenn "Otho" Shadix as the voice of Nimbar, David "Squiggy" Lander as the voice of Lechner and Zsa Zsa Gabor cameoing in an episode as herself. Still...even these three are bigger names than anybody Saban's ever gotten in any of his shows.
|Nimbar's oft-repeated line is meant to comfort the Tattooed Teens in times of doubt, but twist it and you can picture it coming from Shadix's Otho character, as well.|
When I was a kid, I remember also being surprised that they said things like "hell" and "die" on Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills. Like, nobody dies on the Power Rangers. The D-word doesn't even exist on Power Rangers! Even the villains survive and change their ways and start traveling the world as entertainers.
One of the many problems that continues to plague Power Rangers to this day is how goddamned square and magoo the characters always are. Unless they're just half-heartedly and lazily Xeroxing the Sentai plot -- like the case with Time Force, where heroes could actually disagree -- for the most part, the heroes are always on the same page, always lame, always sub-dimensional do-gooders. Since Tattooed Teenage aired only in '94, as a rival of MMPR, I'll just compare it mostly to MMPR, even though mostly all of the heroes of the PR franchise are sugary sweet goody-two-shoers.
The teens of MMPR are even squarer than Judd Nelson's impression of Anthony Michael Hall's family in The Breakfast Club. "Teenagers with attitude?" Yeah, right! The Power Rangers were kids who reminded the teacher they forgot to assign homework, who drank veggie smoothies (because fatty products are GROSS, ew!), who NEVER had a negative thought or beef with anybody, whose idea of a good weekend was volunteering at school functions or cleaning the park. School was cool, man. There's no awkwardness typical of the teen years, everyone gets along, and even the bullies are minor pests you can laugh at -- the bullies are so innocent and decent, even, that they go on to become cops. Power Rangers characters behave only like the teenagers that were ideal for the nerdiest of parents. The Power Rangers are all the offspring of June Cleaver and Danny Tanner. They have no individuality, no questions, no genitalia, no hormones, no fears, no blood, no negativity, no sarcasm, no sense of anything which one might attribute to a human being. Angel Grove is a Pleasantville of purity where everything is peachy, bad guys are barely even bad, no vices of any kind exist, and babies are delivered by stork.
And, fine, maybe the show just wanted to have these paragons of virtue. They're superheroes, after all. The way the Power Rangers are presented is no different than the way most Saturday morning heroes, like He-Man, had been presented at the time. But He-Man and his ilk are cartoons. (Then again even the Ninja Turtles had more variety of characters and "teens with attitude" than PR ever did. Look at that. The TEENAGE. MUTANT. NINJA. TURTLES. More realistic than the Power Rangers kids!) Power Rangers, by being one of the first live-action hero shows for kids, needed to have the heroes resemble human beings just a little bit; Power Rangers writers should have made more of an effort to diversify the characters beyond the superficial Benneton casting. The original Japanese shows have more diverse heroes. There's often an array of character types in those shows. I'm not expecting, nor do I want, superheroes who are evil pieces of shit like Walter White, or a team of teen heroes who are psychopaths like the Less Than Zero kids, but you want them to be somewhat human and -- this is a tricky word, too often misused -- flawed.
Here's where Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters wins over Power Rangers. The four heroes of the show butt heads, don't get along well and kind of dislike each other initially. They're all in different parts of the conflicting high-school castes. While they might deep down come to have a liking and respect for one another, caused by their being brought together as a superhero team, they're not going to admit it, and it's not going to change the way they interact at school. (To bring up The Breakfast Club again, it's like when Anthony Michael Hall asks if they'll all remain friends, and Molly Ringwald just flat out nukes him with the truth that, no matter how much they all bonded in detention that day, things will go back to the way they were come Monday morning.)
If you look at MMPR, a lot of those character types wouldn't have been caught dead with some of the other characters. Jason might say hi to Billy, but would make fun of him to his friends behind his back. Tommy wouldn't take Trini to one of his heavy metal vomit parties, and would lie to his friends that he's sleeping with Kimberly in order to seem cool. Zack would have nothing to do with such corny people.
Tattooed Teenage addresses this. Laurie/Scorpio is the Kimberly-like princess, and it's only acceptable for her to be seen talking to Gordon/Taurus, the fellow rich kid who's been handed everything. (While I don't think PR's Jason came across as a shallow richie, he was without a doubt the popular jock-type of the class, the type of kid who everyone, even teachers, adored for reasons beyond your understanding...until you found out they had rich parents.) Swinton/Apollo is the Billy brain, and a dorky outcast, but he can be judgmental and initially thinks he's better than everyone. The real standout is Drew/Centaur, a character who would never exist on Power Rangers; an anti-conformist, wise-ass rebel with a contempt for the rules who can't stand most people. Before Joseph Kahn thought he was being so clever with his Power/Rangers short, this show in 1994 had Drew (and guest character Rick/Orion) questioning the idea of mysterious lifeforms forcing teenagers to fight their super wars. (JUST LIKE FUCKING SAIGON, EH, SLICK?!)
You'd never catch this on Power Rangers: Kimberly and Jason being competitive with one another, arguing who should lead (the answer being her); Jason feeling inadequate to Billy's smarts, pettily hoping Billy doesn't get into the same Ivy League school he wants to; Billy thinking his intelligence makes him superior to everyone else; Trini thinking everyone but Billy was a phony asshole; Jason thinking Trini, thinking everyone is a phony asshole, makes HER a phony asshole; the shallow, hormonal guys hitting on the heroines; the Rangers not getting along and acting petty or playing dumb tricks on one another. No, no. All Rangers get along and never fight or disagree, unless they're brainwashed, and even then, they'll issue a public apology and personally go hug anyone they wronged while under mind control. The Tattooed Teens are also allowed to hate or mock their teachers and principal, can be disrespectful of elders, and get detention for skipping so many classes to go off and be heroes. The Tattooed Teens are allowed to be sarcastic and often tease or insult each other.
I know I'm making the Tattooed Teenage characters sound like they're just obnoxious, but they don't really come across that way. Just...realer than Power Rangers has ever attempted. Teens can be self-centered and petty, but a lot of superhero media depicting teen heroes forgets this, and they're often just mini-adults and overly pure. And the Tattooed Teens are also meant to grow closer and understand one another more by being on the team. (The problem is the show, being a cash grab with most likely a fast as hell shooting schedule, really not having great continuity to completely pull this off. And it seems to me like episodes are presented by production number rather than actual episode number; sometimes the heroes react to a monster like they've already battled it, and then a few episodes later, the same monster will be treated as a new threat. And an episode like "The Cover Up," which falls in the middle of the series, definitely seems like it should be an earlier episode.) I do think the show needed a fifth character, maybe someone a little headstrong, a put-upon normal kid to pull everyone together and keep them in line, but that might interfere with what the show's trying to do with these teens from Beverly frickin' Hills (which translates as rich, entitled, privileged).
For an episode, the show does briefly get a fifth member, though -- Orion -- and he IS a little more of a straightforward hero. (Too bad he wasn't Red-colored, though. He's instead silver.) An alien whose planet has been destroyed by the villains, he bonds with Drew while on a quest to seek revenge. It's a somber kind of episode that reminds me of a Kunio Fujii type of tokusatsu episode, one that Power Rangers would never try. And since Orion is played by Syber Squad cast member Kevin Castro, it also reminds me of the way you'd be watching a toku and, hey, there's Blue Flash's actor as a guest-star in Maskman!
The actors aren't cringe-worthy, either. Leslie Danon and K. Jill Sorgen as the heroines are the best of the cast, with Sorgen's Drew being the standout of the show. (It takes a while for Rugg Williams to find a rhythm as Swinton, though he tends to be a bit forceful. And while Richard Nason can be funny and have good moments, his performance rests in one area of smarmy. He really needed to shake up his performance beyond doing someone's impression of David Spade's impression of Alex P. Keaton.) At any rate, you can tell the cast is having fun, even if their characters can be antagonistic, and even if the show is throwing insane stuff at them.
The villains are generic, but main villain Gorganus is sadly probably more menacing than the villains Power Rangers offered at the time. He's always angry and always smoking the subordinates who fail him. Rita just always whined about a headache and Zedd would just make Goldar go stand in a corner for five minutes. The monsters of the week are often recycled, with mostly weak designs. (Though I like Slaygar, Octodroid and Ninjabot.) But the show at least comes up with better dilemmas-of-the-day for their monsters to perpetuate. Even just minor, typical villain stuff like tampering with the weather or causing blackouts or targeting a water supply or causing pollution is more of a threat requiring superheroes than Rita sending a bee monster to attack the Rangers because Billy was, like, so totally depressed he got his first B on his test, and the BEE monster would remind him of it and, like, totally weaken the Rangers!
|Gorganus: the bastard son of Hell Saturn?|
So the show's biggest failing is not having a Japanese show to work off of. And, man, did they need it. Not only for the sake of having better realized villains and action scenes, but because the hero designs are WTF. WTF, in this case, meaning both "what the fuck" and "weird, terrifying, fucked-up." The Galactic Sentinels take everything scary about Battle Fever's Miss America and crank it to twelve. Who knew real hair would be stranger than a wig? That stuntpeople who were visibly confused by the material, making constant wide-eyes, would be creepier than just plastic eyes?
|AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Pleasant nightmares, folks.|
When the show was making its debut, I remember reading in a magazine (Wizard? Hero Illustrated?) that they DID want for it to be based off of a Japanese series, but Saban shut that shit down. For Saban Entertainment to step in and have any say and win, that says to me that they had obviously wanted and attempted to use a Super Sentai series. (Or, at the very least, one of TOEI'S shows. For all I know they could have wanted a Metal Hero, which Saban was already planning to stink up with VR Poopers. There's not a real team Metal Hero at that point DiC could have used, though.)
I've always wondered which show they would have used. If you go by the Galactic Sentinels' designs, you'd think they obviously wanted to use Battle Fever J, with maybe symbols of countries in place of constellations. (Especially note: Battle Fever is the only Sentai team to have noses on their masks, as the Tattooed Teens do.) I kind of doubt this, though, since Battle Fever J is unabashedly 1970s and disco, and definitely wouldn't have flown in 1994, even if they were hoping to take the piss out of it. Lately, I've kind of wondered if maybe Liveman was considered for use. The colored constellation illustrations remind me of Liveman's colored animal illustrations on their Twin Brace; AND there's a couple of monster similarities. And I think animal-themed Liveman, with its animal-shaped mecha and the team coming complete with a robot helper, would have been best for a Power Rangers competitor.
Both of DiC's shows have their fanbase, but people seem to talk more fondly of Superhuman Samurai and I think that's probably because it's the one that was based on a Japanese series. (Not that Gridman was exactly a winner for them to have pulled, but, still...it had more action, more of that inventive superhero action you can pretty much only find in Japanese tokusatsu.) So, a Japanese series would have greatly benefited Tattooed Teenage and maybe have let it be seen differently. Because the action and superhero side of it is lame, and kind of a letdown considering what the rest of the show is going for, which is "teenagers with attitude...for real," while also having a self-awareness that points out how insane a lot the situations superheroes find themselves in can be.
The way the action is presented seems so disconnected with the rest of the show; it's a big problem I have with the Ultraman franchise. The giant monsters, the Ultraman, the big battles -- they're all done separately. There's something so impersonal, disconnected and intangible about it. In Super Sentai or Kamen Rider, the majority of the action is small scale -- it involves the actors more. Those franchises go to great lengths to make you believe the actor becomes the hero. With the Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters, it's hard to feel like they actually become the 'roided out heroes they're meant to become. The way I never feel any of the Ultraman protagonists become Ultraman, I feel that disconnect with the hero action in Tattooed being so cordoned off on its own. They really needed to involve the actors in some superheroic action. Superhuman Samurai is very much the same way, and that's because it's modeled after its source material, Gridman, which had the Ultraman format. Tattooed Teenage was a Super Sentai show using an Ultraman format, which doesn't work so well.
And the thing also needed a better title. I know they were trying to be funny and reminiscent of too-long titles like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," but it's just too much. Too dumb. They're called Galactic Sentinels on the show, and that's a better Power Rangers-wannabe name to me, and a better show title. (A song on the show also refers to them as Teenage Gladiators...another better show, and one that would have also rode on the popularity of the American Gladiators.)
The show also needed money for more sets, man. It gets tedious spending time at the same four sets. (Villain lair; coffee shop hang out; Nimbar's lair; Drew's poolside; school hallway; soundstage where the fight takes place. Even Power Rangers has more variety, including OUTSIDE SHOOTS! Holy shit...that's money. Power Rangers has the money, they just don't want to spend it on making it a good, quality show, it seems. Sad that, for as much money as the property makes him, Saban doesn't want to put any of that into the show. Cheap! He's Don Dolnero.) Between the same sets, the same monsters, and reused fight scenes, the show often reaches Uchuu Keiji-levels of tedious repetition. (Little known fact, which you can go add to Wikipedia, kids: an alternate reading of the kanji for Uchuu Keiji means "stock footage.") Like, the soundstage where they'll battle is often supposed to represent different parts of the world, sometimes galaxy! (That's right: this show has the bad guys attacking the entire world, but it doesn't have the budget to pull it off.)
And, hey, I know some people will look at this show as a failure since it was a superhero series and failed in delivering good superhero action, and I'm not saying that this is some great, brilliant and lost show. It's very low budget, very formulaic, light on plot, and difficult to get through for those reasons. I just wanted to point out some areas of this strongly disliked show that I thought were successful in its approach over the popular Power Rangers. It's sad that the knock-off rival shows by DiC had more guts and actually TRIED to write something more interesting for their original footage than Saban's gang ever tried. (And, no, the pathetic attempt at being "edgier" in the new movie wasn't done well and didn't last. They were just as do-goody, jokey and dumb as ever.)
Saban's basically lucky that he's the one who ended up with the Super Sentai footage. It's insane to me that he's a billionaire, basing his empire off of the work of others and never having an original idea of his own. And it's kind of sad that he and his staff have no respect for Super Sentai, the superhero medium in general, and viewers (of any age) that all they want to do is the bare minimum and have the Sentai footage bail them out. Because Power Rangers doesn't lift the bar, it leaves it on the floor. Japanese henshin hero shows have been around since the '60s, there's a pride and dedication in their work, they know how to make these premises work, they invented the unique style of the action, they can make these shows in their sleep (and I think they might at this point). Saban's shows benefit for it, and it's crazy that he's a billionaire for wrapping his lousy product in other people's better work.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
EPISODES 23 & 24
Inoue brought us the first sixth hero in Maskman, and here he brings us the concept of a secondary Sentai team within a series. Treading new ground again.
This episode introduces the Dimensians, a trio of last survivors of a dimension destroyed by Vyram. That they're played by faces familiar to Sentai fans is an added bonus -- heck, maybe it's even why I like these episodes so much. (They could have stuck around for a couple episodes longer. Nobody would have missed the upcoming shadow episode or the stupid, awful caveman one.)
One's played by the likable Blue Flash, one is my favorite Pink Mask, and the other is the one who goes on to be Tricera Ranger. Yeah, I'm never exactly excited about Tricera Ranger, but he works in this role. It's a Maskman reunion with Blue Flash and Pink Mask -- he played her doomed love interest in the Inoue-penned 34th episode of Maskman. (I know Inoue will write parts for certain performers, as writers tend to, so I've always wondered if the casting here was on purpose.)
What I like about the trio is how efficient they are; Rei (Blue Flash) & Kanna (Pink Mask) are obviously a couple, and have been at this for quite a while, while Dan (Tricera Ranger...of course) is a young goofball who they look at with bemusement. They enjoy his shenanigans and it's an unusual, different dynamic for a team. That they all get along so well and care for each other -- showing up just when the Jetman team are falling apart and separated from each other -- brings out a contrast between them and our regular heroes. (Also: Blue Flash actor Jouji Ishiwata has matured so much since Flashman, and is a really calm, collected leader. He and Kanako Maeda make such an impression here and seem like they share such a closeness that I used to think about what it would have been like if they had played Ryu and Kaori.)
The Dimensians bring with them the Jet Garuda -- and wouldn't you know it, just in the knick of time! Semimaru has hatched and trashed the Jet Icarus. (And it's a good thing that these guys are bird-themed, too. That's a helluva coinkydink!) At least the episode has the sense to show them working on the way the two mecha will combine, rather than it just happening automatically, while there's some other shows that try to cheat and skate by and not explain why two mecha from differing origins are so compatible.
Being the youngster of the group, Dan takes a liking to Ako, and looks to get out of helping them work, realizing that there's little they could do. Dan's a typically boisterous character who talks big, who rubs Ako the wrong way before she comes to like him. There's a tragic cloud hanging over the Dimensians, but they're hopeful that they can help Jetman beat the Vyram and just hope to resume a normal life on Earth. Well, things don't go that way...
Despite the brief amount of time we've spent with them, it's still a shock when Radeige's image appears before their ship, and he manages to fatally stab Rei with his sword. The ship's crashing mortally wounds Kanna, who dies before she can make it over to Rei's corpse. Dan's just so shaken about the loss of his friends, I think actor Hideki Fujiwara does a good job here of just the sense of loss and fast growing up he does in the blink of an eye. Because fury just takes him over, he transforms, and goes to take on Radeige, saving the Jetman before being dealt a fatal blow from old Blue Face.
As Dan lays dying, Ako ties a flower around his ring finger, as he did to her earlier, to show her acceptance and feelings for him. It's a sad moment, one that would be rare in a toku today.
Random note: When Semimaru first hatched, he looked exactly like a Pokemon or something. A blue turtle with red spots. But when he grows, he becomes some red-colored, winged Gundam thing. It's like they used two different designs from two unrelated shows. It's a really strange choice and inconsistency.
Random note 2: Sentai's filled with dead comrades who died for our team's newest mecha. But since the Dimensians made such an impact, and there was that comparison between them and our regular heroes, I feel like the show needed to address the team's quickly taking ownership of Jet Garuda better. Like a simple they jump into the cockpit and Red says something like "Let's do our fallen comrades proud." No! Pretty soon the Dimensians are forgotten, and the Jetman are complaining when the latest monster of the week's beating up Jet Garuda.
A cool-down episode by Araki. There's not too terribly much going on in this episode; Maria's monster creates shadow copies of the Jetman, which drain our heroes' power the more the copies are active. To keep them active, and potentially kill the Jetman, Maria uses her powers to keep the sun out as long as she can. (That's a helluva ability there, Maria. If she can do something like that, why's she wasting her time with piddly-shit like some of these harebrained monsters and plans she's come up with?)
The best parts of the episode involve Gai and Grey. After all of the recent tension, Gai's isolated himself from the others -- choosing to hang out by a poolside with some knock-off Playboy Bunnies. And his stubbornness actually saves the day, since he's not there when the others are copied; it's up to him to save everyone. When Grey takes a hit from Radeige intended for Maria, Maria shows the robot kindness by bandaging his wound, which then leads Grey to protect the exposed Maria once she's taxing herself to keep the sun shining. We get a prolonged battle between Grey and Black Condor, as Black Condor tries to stop Maria, and I feel like this episode really solidifies their rivalry that the later episodes will play up. That reason saves the episode, in my opinion, and keeps it from falling in the Filler File.
Stupid, awful, terrible episode. I'd like to leave it at that, but let's go into it...
I think it's this episode that gives me a negative coloring of Tomihisa Naruse as Raita. Give the guy an entire episode where he doesn't shut up and...eek. He has that high-pitched voice and he says his lines the exact same way. And he's loud! In this episode, especially, he's just kind of yelling everything. He's like a bad kid actor. You know those bad Japanese kid actors who have helium voices and just YELL EVERYfrickingthing they say in a monotone?
Anyway, if that's not bad enough, we get the Jetman sent back to caveman times. Raita's split off of from the rest and saved by a cavegirl who looks exactly like Kaori if she were to be attacked by Vyram's Tan-in-a-Can Jigen. Since Raita started the episode daydreaming about Kaori, this scenario gives him the chance to live out his dreams with a stand-in. Now, I already said that it's ridiculous that Raita's fallen in love with Kaori, too, but this scenario is just...kinda wrong seeming? It reminds me of that terrible Star Trek TNG when Geordi's obsessed with Leah Brahms and creates a holoprogram under the guise of getting her help to build something, but he turns it into Geordi's Perv-Out, Stardate 2366.
Speaking of Star Trek, Raita also breaks a ton of time travel rules that would surely get Time Investigation's Dulmer and Lucsly on his ass. He's teaching them Japanese, he's inventing them farming tools, he's showing them how to easily make fire, he's eating their food (bringing with him who knows what parasites back to the present). He also ends up going down in history, with illustrated tales of a fat guy who becomes a fat, yellow owl being recorded. Raita even starts dreaming of staying in the time period and settling down with Kaori Flintstone.
The episode kind of seems to be sending the message that an ordinary, hardworking farmer has no place in modern society and would only fit in in caveman times. Or is he saying only cavemen appreciate farmers? Farmers only provide to cavemen? So...way to go, writer Naruhisa Arakawa?
Random note: This episode also forgets that the show takes place in the vague 199X, since we see 1991 displayed on the monster of the week's timer. And, for some reason, this episode also hauls out Kamen Rider Black's toilet flush of time special
Friday, December 1, 2017
When the shit hits the fan...
I think it's important to keep in mind the toku landscape when this episode aired. The young ones who look back at Jetman now and mock it don't really understand what a big deal it was to approach a toku episode the way this one does. It's seriously unconventional. It might not seem so special in a world of post-Heisei Rider series -- especially those early entries that desperately wanted to be J-Dramas, relegating costumed scenes and superhero action to the final minute of the episode -- but it IS a special and different episode, which pushed boundaries and broke rules and paved the way for those shows.
There's no villain plan. No monster attack. The villain this week is the Jetman team itself, the animosity and tension that's been building throughout the team. The entire first half of the episode focuses mainly on the heroes and their personal problems; the only time we spend with the villains is the Vyram gang watching Radeige waiting for Juuza's offspring, Semimaru, to hatch.
No tokusatsu episode before it dared to devote so much time to the human, realistic struggles of the heroes, and devote so much time to their personal lives, where they weren't dealing with a monster attack or something related to their work as a hero. And unlike episodes 13 & 14, which got a little too cliched, in this one you can kind of understand where the characters are coming from (mostly).
Ryu realizes how messy things have become and approaches Gai, as a team leader, interested only in how his team functions. He puts it out on the table: if you're seriously interested in Kaori, Gai, then just go for it. Enough of the games, enough of the drama. We need the team to function. I'm not interested, don't go after Kaori to prove anything, only if you genuinely love her. And let's just move on, you pain-in-the-neck.
This leads Ryu the next day to approach Kaori, taking her on a mysterious drive. Now, I know Kaori is surprised, and just too blinded by happiness to really understand, but...c'mon, she has to notice Ryu's demeanor. This ain't the magical date she thinks it is. But you can at least understand why she might be so giddy. That is, until Ryu reveals their secret destination, which is Rie's grave. Again, Ryu's finally just putting it out on the table: Rie's the only one I've ever loved, I'm still stuck on her. Please, let me be, let me grieve, and leave me out of the drama. It's a bit of a cold reaction on her part, but you can understand why Kaori would react the way she does to this, walking home, giving Ryu the cold shoulder.
The worst part of this ends up being the ugly, ugly conclusion Kaori comes to the next day. She approaches Ryu and gives him a concert ticket, not letting him get a word in edgewise. The absolute worst? She then goes on to say that she's going to keep at it, "fighting Rie" and "driving away memories of Rie from Ryu's heart." And I have to actually give Kotaro Tanaka some credit here -- not only is he pretty spot on in this episode, but he's kind of just shocked and sickened by Kaori's little display here. And she's just cheerful and waving off how spiteful she's being. I think it's just a real low point for the Kaori character. Ryu plainly drew it all out for her.
When Gai later sees the ticket Kaori left for Ryu, he shows interest and Ryu regifts it. He's not being cruel about it; he told Kaori he's not interested, she doesn't care to listen, but he also sees letting Gai have the ticket as a genuine chance for Gai and Kaori to spend time together, and not have it go to waste...
So when Gai finally meets Kaori at the concert, and she withdraws in disappointment and hurt that it's not Ryu, you can really understand why Gai gets so pissed off at the whole ordeal. He sees it as an insult to both him and Kaori, and sees it as Ryu trying to be the bigger guy or charitable and thinks he's sticking it! So, he tracks down Ryu, where he's training Raita and Ako and they proceed to kick the shit out of each other. It's just a mean, mean brawl between two heroes that you just never saw in a toku series before in such a context. These aren't brainwashed heroes, this isn't a villain plot -- just two of the heroes very unhappy and pissed off at each other.
Ryu's mostly defensive until Raita gets in on the fight and Gai's insulting to him and hitting him back. (Gai insults Raita for being a coward who's done nothing with his love for Kaori, telling him to butt out.) I kinda like the way Ryu seems so hurt and insulted on Raita's behalf. By the time Kaori arrives, the fight is looking to become very, VERY ugly, and that's when our heroes are pretty much saved by the villains!
The Vyram arrive and actually break up the fight; Maria, Toran and Grey are suspicious about whatever Radeige's hatching, so they all come to Earth to attack the Jetman. (If there's one thing Gai hates more than Ryu, it's the Vyram, so he's quick to jump on board and help kick their ass.) The Vyram don't show up until about 15 minutes into the episode...15 minutes of a 20 minute episode. Again, that was just unheard of, unthinkable at the time! A tokusatsu episode where the villains don't attack until the end, and the rest of the episode is devoted to the personal, human struggles of the star heroes? (And you know Inoue probably didn't even want to have any henshin action, but compromised.)
Respect its authority! It's a good episode. Groundbreaking.
Random note: Ako once again delivers here, providing the episode its only real levity, when she takes Kaori's place when Kaori's supposed to meet up with Gai. Not only does a disinterested and frustrated Gai have to hang out with her -- taking her to a diner where she unabashedly orders dozens of sundaes -- but the day is further ruined for him once Raita shows up at Ako's invitation. (Raita's a bit of an ass in this scene, though, saying that he thinks Ryu would be wayyyyyy better for Kaori than Gai. What's wrong with that guy? And Gai's looked out for him in the past, too.)