Saturday, April 2, 2022

When You Believe in the Star of Ultra

 

When my family was in Japan in the '80s, there wasn't a new Ultraman on the air. But Ultraman is such a giant figure in pop-culture that the franchise's presence could still be felt -- in commercials, in toy stores, in variety shows. The shows are always being rerun. He's Japan's biggest superhero, there's no escaping him.

While I was a Sentai Kid, I also watched Metal Heroes and what I could of Kamen Rider Black. I had some episodes and merch of funky shows like Morimori Bokkun (aka "the fat robot guy"), Hadogumi (aka "the gold mask guy") and Maringumi (not important enough to get a nickname, but it was obvious he was Gold Guy's successor). But despite not seeing a show, I still had some Ultraman stuff -- soft vinyls of the Ultra Brothers, an Ultraman 80 book. I remember him in commercials, and not even in just commercials related to plugging his own merchandise or toku, but ramen. One commercial which stuck out was for the Ultraman video game, which showed fight scene clips from the original series.

I knew who Ultraman was, but I didn't know what he was about. That Ultraman 80 book, these fight scene clips, I had created a kind of scenario in my head of what it could all be about. I pictured some big, epic space adventure show. So imagine my surprise when I finally do check out an Ultraman and find that it's really locked down in what it wants to do and is so Earthbound. There's really yet to be an Ultraman show which matches what I had pictured in my head, which is something that prevented me from getting into the franchise. More on that in a second...

I think the first full episodes I ever saw ended up being some Ultrase7en on TNT. Despite its age, I remember thinking it seemed cool, but I was more fascinated by the idea of one of these Japanese hero shows being right there on an ordinary American channel. When I got full blown back into toku in the late '90s is when I made a real effort to always catch the show on TNT, which by then had been relegated to being a late night time slot filler. But it was always fun to stay up late watching MonsterVision and then wait around for some Ultrase7en. (I type it that way because people like to distinguish the dub by calling it Ultra 7, and it cracks me up to mock David Fincher's overrated Se7en by merging it with a '60s superhero show he'd no doubt look down on.)

I've always hated dubs and think they're goofy -- words never matching a mouth, half-interested voice-over performers sleepwalking through their job, often laying on thick, racist accents. But the Cinar dub always seemed decent to me -- they had performers who matched the characters well. I enjoyed the show a lot and attribute it to one of the reasons I'm still fond of Ultraseven and consider it my favorite of the franchise.

After that, I'd dabble in shows. I'd take a liking to some, like Tiga, and I'd enjoy what I'd see of other Showa Ultras like Ace and Leo. I'd like some of the movies, but for the most part I couldn't get into the franchise as much as I could Super Sentai or Kamen Rider. I'd blame the lighter tone, the format. The tone I'd always dismiss as being overly cheerful and goody-goody when I'm such a grumpy bastard. The format, I always felt like there was a disconnect between the giant battles and the rest of the show. The way they approached depicting the Ultraman...

With Sentai or Rider, it's a character donning armor or mutating into their battle form. The good shows went to great lengths in order to get you to believe the actor -- the same character -- was the one in suit. It was a bit of an obstacle for me to get to the point of buying into the Ultraman way of things, where the Ultra is merged with the host and the Ultra is the one that takes over during battle. Because the Ultra shows tended to use martial-artists or athletic guys first to play the Ultraman, there's rarely an attempt at turning it into a performance, making you see the host character within. (Even when the host WAS the Ultra in disguise and not just the human he happened upon and joined with; there's no real match between Koji Moritsugu's Dan and Koji Uenishi's Seven, for example, despite being one and the same.)

The Ultra suit actors care more about how cool they look, how they present themselves and how they fight. It's typically another voice-actor voicing the Ultra and not the guy who plays the host. This goes into how the shows want to present the Ultra -- the Ultra takes over, he's his own character, an entity of few words who's supposed to be a bit mysterious, a bit god-like. It's an approach you just have to go with, but when you've spent so much time with Super Sentai and Kamen Rider is just such a different approach and something you have to overcome. (Heck, I reached a point where I felt like there are some Ultraman shows where the Ultra seems so much cooler than the show's star that I'll be like "He shouldn't even have a host. Leave him be the Intergalactic Man of Mystery he is.")

And then there's the feeling that the attack teams didn't hold up their end -- I always felt that it made so much of the episode seem like a waste, you're spending time with these characters who are just killing time to end up taking the backseat for the Ultra in the last minute of the episode. ("You have to wait until the end of the episode for superhero action!?" was another reaction of mine which prevented me from getting into the franchise. If Super Sentai were just five unpowered schmoes who were running around until the last minute of the episode in order to call the mecha, I wouldn't like that franchise as much, let me tell you.) It's another frustrating nitpick you have to let go of if you want to buy into this franchise -- you can't help but go "Wow! So much damage could have been prevented if the Ultra showed up sooner rather than letting the puny humans attempt to save the town, when they were obviously outmatched." But the point IS that the Ultra is meant to be a last resort, that the intent is to let the humans accomplish all they can before stepping in. And also because of his time limit, he can't just always be hanging around. (Although the time limit is there for the writer's convenience; they don't always adhere to the rules.) So you just have to buy into the idea that the teams are doing their best...even when they seem lazy and incompetent and totally dependent on the Ultra, like ZAT. (For the record, I like Taro and ZAT, but...I wouldn't want to ever depend on ZAT.)

Now further add to all of THAT the way I feel like giant battles are made in a way that feels so disconnected from the rest of the show. You have the rest of the show taking place on ground, in the real world, but all of the big, fancy toku action is cordoned off on a soundstage, with a lot of miniatures conveying the action and damage done. With something like Sentai or Rider, the heroes get to share the screen and interact with other people, or there will be ground fights with villains or monsters interacting with citizens to help sell the illusion. Most of the time, the Ultra is isolated with just a giant monster and the miniature ships, and it's a style and conceit you have to totally buy into. That was an obstacle (and misconception) of mine, not really feeling like the human characters played much part in the bigger action, and it would sometimes feel to me like the gigantic Ultra action was like cutting to a different show. I'm not a mecha fan, but at least in Sentai you're getting the shots of the team in the cockpit. They're there in the battle, a part of it, they see the battle to its conclusion, they're finishing the fight with a creature that gave them trouble on the ground, too. (To be honest, as a mecha hater, I tend to just view the monster's death-by-cannon its actual defeat, with the mecha a pointless exercise in commerce.) In Ultraman, the science team's mech tends to get shot down immediately, and then they're on the ground, fellow spectators alongside us to the Ultraman battle. I just didn't see the point to this set up, especially when the franchise can be so rigid and stuck in its way. (It's only in the lesser shows that the attack teams seem lesser or like an afterthought...)

And that's not even getting into the fact, coming from being a Sentai and Rider fan, that I'm used to regular villains with agendas, and with Ultra's mostly one-shot villains and individual storylines, THAT can also take some getting used to.

Is this what Ultraman was all about? Although I've come to really like the original series over time, when I first saw it in full, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by it. Not only in comparison to Ultraseven, but because it didn't live up to that pretend show I built up in my head as a kid. (I really have to wonder if I did manage to see some Ultraman reruns as a kid, or even just a retrospective, because I really doubt I could have built so much up based off a freakin' commercial and book. I love the imagery and iconography of the original series, that has to come from seeing more of the show than I'm aware of.) The show uses strong space-age imagery, where's the scale, where's the alienness and galactic backdrop it should have? There's some poster art for Ultraman Powered that I love -- that piece by Noriyoshi Ohrai -- which is Ultraman standing, looking to the cosmos as all of his famous kaijuu opponents fill the galaxy and futuristic jets zoom past him. That piece comes close to capturing the image, the feel I had as a kid when I wondered what Ultraman was about.

And, again, factor into this my love for Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. (I'll throw you in, too, Metal Heroes. I loved Spielban as a kid.) Those were what I wanted out of superhero entertainment in tokusatsu. I'm a big, big fan of the Japan Action Club, who work primarily on Toei shows, who are dedicated ACTORS in addition to stunt performers. I liked the Toei method and style of doing things. I considered myself loyal to Toei and felt like getting into the rival franchise by the rival studio would be like betraying Toei and the Japan Action Club I held in such high regard. Silly? Maybe. I don't know. People get nuttier about sports team loyalty or choosing a side between Marvel and DC. Joke is, Toei betrayed ME by starting to make a bunch of unbearably terrible shows. Even the JAC (sorry, JAE) has gone down in quality -- the shows don't make it about action or suit-acting anymore, they're just good for standing around in CGI, goofing off and fiddling with Bandai's latest ugly contraption.

And then, a few years ago, I was rewatching Flashman and preparing to blog about it. I noted down similarities and homages I thought it obviously made to the Ultra franchise, because it was a heavily sci-fi toku series that happened to air on the anniversary of the first Ultraman's show, the show which made all of this possible. I had already taken note of the Ultraseven inspirations in Changeman, when I covered that show for its 30th anniversary. And I sort of had the thought, "These are my two top favorite toku shows and they're taking inspiration from Ultraman, paying homage and tribute. There's no divide here, but a respect and love for Ultra. Some old Ultra staff members, like Shouhei Toujou, started working on Toei's shows in the '80s. How can I love these two shows so much and basically be prejudiced against the Ultra franchise?"

And that was the big thing that led me to have an insanely massive Ultra marathon. It started out small, but I ended up diving deep, man. I rewatched some favorites (like TOS, Tiga, and Nexus) finished shows I never completed (like 80 or the overly long Cosmos), watched a couple I had never seen (like Max) or given a fair chance (like Dyna). I watched or rewatched just about mostly everything up until Mebius, which I wanted to be the big cap-off of this marathon. (Honestly, I haven't liked much of the Ultra shows post-Mebius that I've sampled. Maybe I'll try them again at some point, but for this big dive of a marathon, I needed that finish line.)

I wanted to keep an open mind. I wanted to let go of hang-ups and misconceptions. I wanted a new area of tokusatsu to explore -- to be honest, I felt a little O.D.'d and exhausted by just Sentai and Rider, and I've watched pretty much every non-franchise toku I'm interested in. At the time, things were very stressful in my personal life, to say the least, and I think that played a part in why I felt so much more receptive to the franchise during that marathon. It felt different enough to me to fill that requirement, but there's also just that joyful, fun, heartfelt, warm and earnest feel the shows often have. The Ultras are transportive, which I think is important, but they also have a certain pace that I found myself appreciating and enjoying more than I ever had, and it helped me relax and get wrapped up in the shows and get my mind off of things and I just ended up having a lot of fun watching them. That goody-goody, wholesome tone I always mocked? It kinda helped me out at the time. I found a new appreciation and respect for the franchise. Part of the appeal and charm of the franchise, what makes them have that emotional quality and lived-in feel and comfortable pace is that a lot of the shows are made with such care and love. Ultraman's a pop-culture giant and Tsuburaya's always tried to cultivate more passion for it; it's a big family endeavor and there are things that they want to keep preserved about it. It wants to appeal to anyone who's ever liked an Ultraman show before, be welcoming and familiar to fans old and new, and does it all in a really uncynical way. (Well, that's the way it seems at least up through Mebius. It seems it's gotten as hollow, corporate, toyetic and assembly-line as the other toku franchises now.)

And shortly after all of this happened, Tsuburaya finally got things straightened out and have made big advancements in releasing Ultraman in America. It felt like it was a good time to get into Ultra as Tsuburaya began to make progress getting the big guy out overseas. And I was actually excited about a lot of the Blu-ray releases  -- if they had started coming out even just five or so years ago, I don't think I would have bought many of them or even cared, and would have been grumbling that more Sentai needs released or something.

So after all of my complaining and mocking of Ultraman...I consider myself a fan now, and, yeah, I feel kind of guilty doing so. I like every show up through Mebius except for Return of Ultraman and Max. (I can pretty much guarantee that if you saw me Tweet anything negative about the franchise -- like "It's boring!" or "I need to stop giving Ultraman a chance" -- that I was attempting to finish Return of Ultraman. And that was at a time before my Ultra-Awakening. I've since re-watched it and still don't like it, so...)

Even when I wasn't big on the franchise, I still liked Ultraseven, so while I probably made some hyperbolic slams against it in favor of Super Sentai or Kamen Rider, I don't feel like I ever want on "Doug Walker-esque rants" about it. Being compared to that guy is probably the meanest thing someone has said about me on the internet. And I've received death threats!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Cybercop: Cops, Crooks and Special-Defects

 

The special effects in this show are atrocious. That's the first thing you're required to say about Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop. People like to poke fun at Toei's SFX from the same time, but they're nowhere near the level of what Cybercop tries to continuously serve you. The stuff in Cybercop is like the stuff any schlub can create for their goofy YouTube videos; it most likely looked bad even back in the day. It would be laughable if it weren't so horrifying. And they use the SFX for EVERYthing! Even things that don't require it! They're just shoving it in your face that they have these bad effects, like someone's being dared on just how crummy of an effect they can get past the directors.

The bad SFX is usually the first thing people notice about the show, and it's often the first thing that turns them off of it. My biggest experience with this show was having the first few episodes on VCD (yes, VCD) in the early '00s and just thinking it looked terrible -- effects, design, production -- and that I thought the idea of cops having a band on the side was one of the stupidest ideas imaginable. This was around when Toho had just debuted Gransazer, and a lot of old-time toku fans were acting like that show was a savior of the genre, when I thought it seemed just as cheap and schlocky as Cybercop. Neither had the style or polish that most Toei shows had -- I was a real Toei snob, and I didn't like many of the shows or works that are non-Toei. I've just always preferred the Toei Method, and one reason I thought they always had the upper hand was because they used the Japan Action Club.

Well, anyway, cut to now, where Toei's betrayed me by making unwatchable dreck for a decade (or more, depending on my mood). Letting go of that silly loyalty to Toei is what got me to be able to get more into the Ultraman franchise over the past few years, for example -- in case you were wondering about that. And so I finally decided to end up checking out that funky old Cybercop. (I made a jab at it on Twitter, and a couple of Brazilian fans were talking it up. Because I am the U.S.'s Changeman Ambassador, I feel a kinship with the Brazilian fan. I wanted to find out what it was they liked about this show. It also helped to know that Junki Takegami was main writer and showrunner, so I figured I'd give it another shot based on that. On a sidenote: WHAT DO YOU SEE IN JUSPION, BRAZIL, TO RATE IT OVER CHANGEMAN?!)

I really had to push past the horrendous special-effects. "Special-effects." There's nothing special about these effects, they're special-defects. Even just in the opening credits as I began the first episode I was like "No. No, I just...can't. I can't take this seriously," seeing those toy cars flip over, and I almost stopped it there. I don't consider myself an effects snob or anything -- million dollar CGI in Hollywood blockbusters can look like crap to me. Tokusatsu shows are low budget, you know this, and iffy effects can be part of the package. But Cybercop just flaunts it, there's no shame. They're almost dedicated to doing everything in the cheapest, lowest way possible, almost like they want to see what they can get away with. It's hilarious some of the ambition the show has in an action piece or effect -- using Tokyo Tower as a motorcycle ramp! -- when they know damn well the effects people aren't going to be able to come close to pulling it off. The show relies heavily on blue-screen for effects and locations. And if all that's not bad enough? The show is shot on video, which further lends just a cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, low down, ugly and scummy look. (So I'd just like to point out again: I first saw this show on awful VCD, which quadruples terrible filming quality, picture quality and effects.)

I see people liken this show to Kuuga. "It's a good show, just with bad SFX." I disagree. Kuuga's just all around a more solid and professional production (terrible Grongi acting excluded), but its worst effects are in things like the transforming or his bike transforming. Otherwise, the SFX in that show isn't as bad as the (new) legend says. Special effects go beyond just the digital; it encompasses practical effects, miniatures, make-up effects, pyrotechnics and so on. Kuuga's digital effects are wonky, but the show put the effort in other areas. If a building blew up in Kuuga, they blew something up. If a car crashed, they crashed a car. If they fight on the rooftop of a building, the suit actors are making the trek to fight on a rooftop. If Cybercop needs a building blown up, they draw some fire in Crayon over a photograph of a building. If a car crashes, it's a 1/6 scale model, which then explodes into cartoon fire. If they fight on a rooftop, they're fighting in a blue-screen-surrounded stage area that will be super imposed onto the image of a rooftop in post.

Reliance on iffy, burgeoning digital effects and being shot on video? Cybercop's more comparable to Changerion. But even Changerion managed its effects better, still relying on practical effects when needed. Both Kuuga and Changerion have far more style than Cybercop, and that goes a long way in making up for when they come up short in the SFX department. (Visually and budget-wise, and in terms of effects, Cybercop realllllly reminded me of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. I like that show -- and was even going to cover it on here at one time -- but that's not a compliment. Captain Power's budget was five dollars that they were able to double by shooting in Canada, which is the place to go for cheap genre television productions.)

Pushing past the SFX, the next obstacle: the designs. I don't mind Mars, Saturn or Mercury's designs -- they all remind me of a generic sort of "futuristic" design heroes or robotic characters from the 1980s were given -- but I don't like Jupiter's. He doesn't blend with the others, I don't like the kabuto-theme and it's pretty important that your main hero, especially if he's going to be the one to hog all of the glory like Jupiter, doesn't have an unpleasant or dull design. He doesn't look like he's part of the same team as the rest. (And, no, the difference isn't explained by his being from the future. They obviously wanted to have the main character, the "Red," stand out from the others. They just went about it in a bad way.) A huge problem I had with a lot of Toho's Chouseishin Series efforts was how mismatched a lot of the designs were to one another; there's always a fuggo sore-thumb who doesn't look like they belong on the same team as their comrades.

Pushing past THAT, let's judge the show for its material. What's it offer in terms of story and characters? The first thing I took notice of in this show is the cast. They're all fun and likable, even if...not the most memorable. This might not be a Toei production, but it's loaded with JAC -- all five transforming heroes were, at one time, JAC members (!), the action staff is JAC, the show's head action-director is Ryojiro Nishimoto (of Metalder fame) and there's guest appearances by JACtor heavyweights like Jun'ichi Haruta and Toshimichi Takahashi. So you're in for good action (when not bogged down in questionable effects, of course) and dedicated performers.

Either Noboru Sugimura or someone at Toei were big fans of the show; just a few episodes in, I thought "Wow, Toei was really like 'Hey, let's completely rip off of that show for our Metal Heroes.'" Winspector and its sequels owe quite a bit to this show. I won't call them rip-offs (I certainly prefer Winspector to Cybercop), but there's some Cybercop DNA in those shows. From trying to realistically depict the technological aspect of the heroes' arsenal to the focus on everyday police and rescue work to the villains being about technological threats... Cybercop also likes to film in Abandoned Factory #11, which the '90s Metal Heroes make their home.

And not even just his Metal Heroes, but I feel like this show influences Sugimura's Sentai -- even the way the transforming-villain-turned-good-guy is depicted plays beat for beat like a lot of the initial sixth heroes of that type in Sentai at that time, especially Burai. And then the show is set in 1999, which was a good idea in the '80s, but a little pointless when Ohranger did it. See? Sugimura must have loved this show! (Or envied it.)

It might be too bad Masaru Yamashita didn't play Takeda instead of being Ryouma in Winspector... Yamashita wasn't JAC, but he was an action guy, and just a likable dude who held a lot of Winspector together. He seemed like a leader, the star of a show. Takeda/Jupiter has more going on as a character than Ryouma ever did, but I feel like actor Tomonori Yoshida is a little miscast. Takeda's supposed to be the brash guy who's led by his emotions, a mysterious rookie whose courage and dedication pulls the team together. Most of the show's focus goes to him and Yoshida's just not a strong lead. If you're looking at Cybercop like a Sentai, you'd cast someone like Yoshida as the youthful, screw-up Blue, he'd never cut it as a Red. He's not bad, but for as much as the show focuses on him, he needed to be a little stronger.

Takeda's story is what kept me interested in the show. An amnesiac with only memories of an apocalyptic wasteland, I thought from the hints early on that he might be one of the cyborgs or androids he hates so much. The show then settles into a mystery that he might have actually been an ally of the villains in the future, before backpedaling and chickening out of that story, resolving it in such an unsatisfying way that my interest in the show started to wane soon after.

My favorite of the heroes is probably Houjou/Mars. I like the no-nonsense characters in toku, but he also had a dark past they'd briefly allude to (he was Zero Cool), and it led to a later interesting development in him befriending the villainess Luna. He goes from being the all-business pro guy to opening himself up over the course of the series. I kept being reminded of Dekaranger's Houji, but I think Houjou is the more successful attempt at that character. Actor Shogo Shiotani can be about as stiff as Dekaranger's Tsuyoshi Hayashi, but he's good at the lighter moments, making it more believable he eventually respects Takeda and allowing himself to be more emotional around his teammates. (It was sad to look Shiotani up and read that he committed suicide in 2002, at age 35.)

Mouri/Saturn and Saionji/Mercury (or Marcury as the show says) -- I ain't gonna lie, it took me a dozen episodes or more to tell them apart. They're just mostly in the background and they're both the comedic guys of the team and are often paired with one another on missions. Both have backstories involving family members wanting them to quit and return home. (For one, it's a bunch of siblings and dead parents and for the other it's a parent and a dead sibling.) Saionji's actor, Ryuma Sasaki, it was pointed out to me by Ricardo Cerdeira, can be seen at the auditions for Kotaro Minami in the Kamen Rider Black special. Sasaki's a decent performer and skilled action actor, and deserved a little more than he got in Cybercop, but I can't see him working out as Kotaro. He has a much more old-fashioned vibe to him, and needed to be in a show that was a throwback.

Mika Chiba's pretty cool as Uesugi, the female ZAC field officer who, sadly, doesn't get to transform. The show addresses this, and they try to make up for it by pointing out all she offers the team. For some, it's a positive that she's so important to the team and that it's a point the show makes that she doesn't need to transform, but for me, it would be cooler if she got her own suit at some point. (If not just simply starting the show as the fully-transforming fifth member.) Chiba also provides the catchy ending theme. It would have been nice for her to have gone on to do more toku.

One thing that immediately grabbed me, though, were the villains, the Deathtrap. It was cool to see a villain group of seven who were all actors. I've always said that it's a shame toku doesn't have the schedule or budget to do prosthetics on actors for toku villains, but that doesn't stop Cybercop! Cybercop's dreaming bigger, even if its aspirations are out of its league and budget. Money's not going to stop it from doing an effect it shouldn't! So a couple of the regular villains have cheaply-made Klingon, scrunchy-forehead applications, and I appreciate the effort. It beats just having some masked villains. (If the villains were masked, they'd really suffer. The villains of the week are masked, and just a rotating roster of the same three designs -- something Blue SWAT goes on to do. The worst part is that they're all wearing repainted athletic gear, so...sticking to the cheap side.)

The standout villain, for me, is Baron Kageyama -- a mysterious guy who's always just very chill, very reserved, but with authority, and you can tell he's operating on a whole 'nother level from his teammates. Kageyama's played coolly by Jinya Sato, who I can't believe is the same dude who played '70s hero Condorman. Too bad Sato never ended up playing a villain in one of the big franchises.

The Deathtrap being mad scientists with access to another dimension, wanting to replace humanity with computers, headed by a tech-obsessed fellow human who has android underlings, they're kind of the blueprint for what Takegami would do with the villains in his Megaranger. I wonder if he wanted the Nejirejia to be more like the Deathtrap, but didn't want to repeat himself. (A shame, since the Nejirejia end up being so under-utilized in the show, with any of the meaningful connections between the heroes and villains never really going anywhere, unlike in Cybercop. I'd really like to know how Megaranger would have turned out if it stayed on in the evening; I think Takegami would have felt a lot looser to push his ideas, and we would have had more seriousness, especially with the villains.) Stick the Deathtrap in Megaranger and we'd be cooking.

The show gets a Sixth Villain, Lucifer, who dons his own Cybercop-styled Bit Suit. They rush through his story of working with the Deathtrap and being antagonistic because he's been misled into believing Takeda/Jupiter betrayed him, and then after that becomes an ally for Cybercop, who's only used by the show as a Get Out of Any Jam Free card. It's really reminiscent of Burai's arc and how Zyuranger handles his character post-redemption by just pushing him to the periphery after focusing on him so heavily during his introduction. The prototype Sentai Sixth Hero was hinted at with Maskman, but the approach Toei would end up taking is found in this rival Toho series. (On a sidenote, I think actor Takashi Koura is far better at playing the heroic side of the character; he seems awkward when villainous, just as he was as Ultraman Tiga's big bad.)

There are moments of surprising maturity throughout the show, like what the show tries to do with its villains (from Baron Kageyama's betrayal to his underlings turning on him to what they try to do with Houjou and Luna) or Takeda's identity crisis when he thinks he could have evil origins or how the show tries to handle a potential Takeda and Uesugi romance. There are only about three episodes that fall into the "kids" category; the rest are surprisingly straight-forward, lesson-free, with not too many toys shoved down your throat. It was a nice change of pace for me, since the only toku I had been watching around the same point I watched this was modern shit that's stupid and all about shilling shit you don't want to buy. That's not to say the show takes itself too seriously or doesn't have humor -- this is Junki Takegami we're talking about, humor's not far behind him. (Especially humor that's self-aware of the genre it's in and its trappings, something he was ahead of the curve on.) But it's interesting to me that Toho's Cybercop doesn't feel so kid-friendly at a time when Toei had been forcing their darker shows to be lighter (Black, Metalder, Liveman) or making shows with more kid appeal (Jiraiya, Turboranger, RX, Jiban).

I think a lot of storylines in this show suffer from it being a short, 34-episode run. They take time establishing something and then rush through it once it's clear that the show's not making it to a full run. The show ends up committing one of my least favorite TV sins -- doing a whole reboot ten episodes away from the finale. (Surprise, surprise, that's where some of those standard, for-kids episodes fall.) Jupiter and Uesugi come to a decision in the finale that could have fueled a whole new series. The show's budget didn't match its dreams -- it had Ridley Scott taste on a Lloyd Kaufman budget.

So, I found myself surprised to enjoy as much of it as I did. I'm not saying it's a favorite or I'm buying any of its toys, I just think I happened to watch it at the right time when I was looking for something different in toku. (And it was interesting to see the way Toei just ripped it off in the '90s.) It made me consider giving Guyferd and Gransazer another shot. But, holy moly, are the special effects bad.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Kiramei Go Eff Yourself

 

This show was a real chore to get through. I tried to keep up with it as it aired, and didn't really want to, but then it went on hiatus, and then the episodes just piled up. Once Silver shows up, and each episode became about him, I checked out. It's no secret I hate sixth heroes, but I especially hate when they're not interesting and yet hijack the show from its regulars. (A goof-up yakuza member can count good sixth heroes on one hand. If that's too vague for you, I'm saying someone with a few fingers missing can count good sixth heroes on their mangled hand.)

I just wanted to drop the show entirely at that point, which sucked, since I'm such a fan of the franchise, but each time I tried to just suck it up and continue. I'd get about two episodes further along and just be like "No. I can't. This thing sucks, I hate it." This show's like Magiranger and Go-onger filtered through the brain of JoJo Siwa. Stupid, goofy and irritating, an eye-piercing parody of style, full of phony energy and not anywhere close to as amusing as it thinks it is.

I knew before the show started that it was going to be Goseiger 2 -- a bland, by-the-numbers show that's just filling the seat until the anniversary blow-out that can be marketed and pushed like crazy for the yennies. Goseiger at least feigned some effort by pretending to offer some new ideas to the franchise and, as poorly as it turned out, was meant to invoke some feeling of tokus of yesteryear -- in a genuine way. Kiramager is just a mishmash of whatever the showmakers want it to be this week and, pretending to tip its hat to Sentai shows of old, is really a show that's mocking the franchise. The show's not some heartwarming tribute that many people say it is, but a show that hates itself, made by and for people who think they're too good for Super Sentai, so there's no harm in it being as stupid as it can possibly be. When you have a mindset like that, you don't have to put in any effort to make a show. Just look at Kiramager, there's no effort in it, no rhyme or reason, it's just a collision of randomness.

Why is it this way? I feel like the vibe's set by returning producer Hideaki Tsukada. His previous Sentai shows were Dekaranger, Magiranger and Gekiranger. I always said you can tell he never took his tokus too seriously, especially Sentai. He wants it to be light and fluffy and heavily anime-influenced. He was intended to "graduate" to Kamen Rider, and then produced W and Fourze before then "graduating" to cop dramas. So being called upon to return to Sentai to help "save" it at this dire time, he's being pulled back 13 years to a franchise he never much cared for in the first place. I get this impression from Tsukada that he's basically like Joel Schumacher, not taking anything seriously, always reminding everyone "Hey, this is a big cartoon!" before action is called.

Now get a writer like Naruhisa Arakawa, whose last major contribution to the franchise was the unofficial parody that gave him the actual freedom to cut loose and do whatever the hell crazy idea he wanted. And now he's being shackled to one of the regular shows that's not asking for any creativity from its creators whatsoever. Arakawa's also shown signs of being burned out in the past several years, and like someone who'd rather have moved on by now. Arakawa's usually known for writing interesting or at least fun characters, and putting them in unique environments, but nobody in Kiramager has much of a personality and there's nothing unique about it. It's really quite unlike Arakawa's other works. Every episode I've seen consists of hauling out old Sentai cliches and, instead of doing anything new or fun with them or making some sort of critique, is just the same old Sentai cliches done for the sake of laziness and convenience. The show's under the impression that it IS making some clever statements on the absurdity of Sentai, its cliches, bad villain plans, but it's not actually saying anything. There's no thought put into it. It's just "Isn't this all dumb, lul? Sentai poses are stoopid, let's make the stupidest one of all, HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA." Jokes don't land in this show, and it's nowhere near as amusing as it thinks it is. This show is Arakawa's Fiveman -- he's reached the bottom and it's time for him to move on to other endeavors.

The cast couldn't make it clearer that they're not taking anything seriously, either. And I'm not just talking about "Let's take and make this SERIOUS and tragic and grim dark!" Although, that's nice, but I'm talking about cast and staff not taking their work seriously enough so they don't have to put in effort. If they think they're above it or think it's all just a stupid cartoon, you're getting half-assed work that tells you that they're not taking it seriously, so why should you? There's no dedication, there's not an honest through-line to what they're doing. Like, Carranger's staff and cast were dedicated. COMMITTED. It's a goofy-ass show, but everyone took it seriously enough to make sure it all worked, that it was honest in its intentions. They had faith in the material, the audience, themselves. Jokes worked, but in the moments the show WAS meant to go for the heartstrings, THAT worked, too, and is one of the reasons why Carranger has withstood the test of time.

Every Kiramager cast member has this stink of "Let's just goof off for a year." And it really doesn't help that I think the cast reaches a point where they try to outdo each other in being "funny," always out-yelling and out-mugging one another, but it just makes them all seem like one and the same dummies. There's a similar problem with other shows, like Gaoranger or Dekaranger, where the teams begin the show with distinct personalities, but they end the show all seeming like the same character sharing the same half a brain. So let's move on and roast these dummies...

I can't stand Juuru/Red. He's a big, disingenuous dork. And his name is "Jewel." And he's such a backpfeifengesicht. And, yes, I realize that he's probably the fifth consecutive Red I've described as disingenuous. This trend of the supposedly pure-hearted and child-like, peacenik hippie, "gee-whiz" Reds needs to end when they rarely are able to cast anyone who's good enough to be convincing. (Zyuoh Psychopath and Koh with his stupid emoji face remain the worst.) I never thought I'd miss the run of baka Reds, but at least they were believable, and these clowns come close to making me miss 'em. I'll say that Rio Komiya's not a bad actor, but he lays it on so hard that Juuru starts seeming like a phony cartoon and, therefore, not authentic. (He's the most tolerable in the episode in which Fire inhabits Juuru's body.) It doesn't help Komiya that the show writes nothing for him. He's just a suspiciously happy guy who likes to make drawings that are so ugly that they run away from the paper in fright and find power in their ugliness. (Another thing Komiya needs to tone down? All those dumb noises he makes while "excitedly" drawing. He makes noises like Taz getting his dingaling stuck in an electrical outlet.)

It's hard for me to take "genius esportsman" Tametomo/Yellow seriously, but what's it say about this show when I think he's the best in the cast? You don't find out much of anything about him, but at least he's the smart, logical one, and actor Rui Kirihara doesn't seem like he thinks he's above everything -- he genuinely looks like he's having fun when it comes time for Tametomo to be placed in a silly situation, not like he thinks the show's stupid and shouldn't be taken seriously so everything's stupid to begin with...

...which can't be said about Atomu Mizuishi as Shiguru/Blue. In what should be a genuinely funny character -- an actor who thinks his many roles bring expertise to the team -- is tanked by Mizuishi being stiff with glazed-over-eyes and thinking that all it takes to be "funny" is to just make an exaggerated rubber face. There's nothing behind his performance, he's just punching the clock. Wasted potential. Shiguru is the perfect embodiment of this show -- insincere, phony and nowhere near as cool or funny as he thinks he is. (Hakataminami is similar. Talk about one of the most useless, wastes of a mentor.)

I like Yume Shinjo as Sena/Green -- pretty much the only one in the show whose character name AND performer name I can remember without having to look up -- it's a shame that she started out a little more serious and impulsively reckless before being paired with Juuru for goofery, but Shinjo handles it well, and has a more genuine energy than anyone else in the show, especially Komiya. She should have been the main character. Don't give me the crap that "little boys don't want the main hero in their show to be a girl!" Because little boys don't want their heroes all glittery and playing with jewels and talking about sparkling, either, but that didn't stop Toei. (Geez, why didn't Kiramager's toys sell? You mean little Japanese boys didn't want to play with glittery jewels? SHOCKING!)

Mio Kudo as Sayo/Pink is disappointing; again, the character should be a little more serious, but the writing makes her an airhead and Kudo plays her as the happiest pothead doctor you'd never want to be seen by. You know she's left tons of sponges in tons of patients.

I can't stand Silver. He looks like Magi Green, but brings all of Boukenger's lameness with him. I can't believe so much of the show focuses on him and his dumb-ass "treasure hunt," that any of the show's real so-called story and supposed emotion is focused on undeveloped Crystalia crap or creepy-ass Mabushina, and gathering all of the Infinity Stones to save her and her eyesore CGI world. *Frank Cross voice* I care. Mabushina's creepy. (That awful no-neck design combined with that obnoxious KAWAIIIIIII anime girl voice makes her twice as bad.) It's a funny idea having it be that Silver's supposed to be older than he looks, with the powers of the crystals slowing his age or whatever, but it's another missed opportunity in this show, because nothing's done with it. He could have been a more Showa-styled hero, acting like a grumpy older guy or something, but he's a total modern day hero with an annoying gimmick and repeating the same words like a Pokemon with Tourette's. (Yelling "SHINING!" at random moments in a fight and throwing "WONDER!" into each sentence can't even be referred to as his having a catchphrase. God, what's wrong with modern toku writing?)

The Jolly Rancher Kiramei Engine Buddyroids aren't worth talking about. I can't tell half of them apart; they're all that one indistinguishable anime voice. Back in my day, a voice actor could shake up their performance. More importantly, a voice actor knew that there's a difference between voice-acting in a cartoon and in a live action show. Modern voice actors just have their one voice and use that for everything, and it just sounds bad in live action stuff.

The villains are a joke, as has been the case with toku for far too long. I'm really tired of the latest trend of having one bulky general type of villain, with that cliched deep anime voice, and then having the goofy, effeminate and/or child-like villain, and that's it for villains until it's time for the finale to pull out the "real" threat, because they're too afraid to have regular villains do anything sinister or face consequences or be killed by the heroes. They'll be needed for what's sure to be a shitty versus movie, right? (I do have to say, though, that Naoko Kamio once again is doing a great acting job as Carantula. I couldn't believe it was her. But all of her good work is ruined by Yasuhiro Takato's typically unbearable and obnoxious voice performance.) For all of her build up, Yodonna was a one-note letdown. (Speak in monotone, tilt head down, look askew, stick tongue out = entire performance. She might not be as bad as someone like Zamigo, but people were comparing her to Ahames, for crying out loud!)

Damn, it would be nice for these superhero shows to remember that you need villains for your heroes to face. Heroes need to be threatened, villains need to provide danger. Everybody worships Jack Kirby, but ignores his advice that villains need to be better than the heroes, because the heroes need something to rise up against. Kiramager's villains are such a goddamn joke, there is no sense at all that the world is in peril. The heroes act like they're never anything more than a mere nuisance, never a threat. Why do we need superheroes for these guys? There's bigger assholes on Twitter. Again, the pointlessness of Yodonheim's plans is the show poking fun at the franchise, without having a point to make, so it's just disrespecting the franchise. "Remember when villains would turn people into watermelons? Here's one that turns people into marshmallows, LOL! Isn't Sentai stupid?!" And remember back when I said that Goranger's villain designs were atrocious, but the worst part is that they gave later designers a license to be lazy by pretending like it was just an homage to Goranger? That's Kiramager's approach *exactly* to a freakin' T.

As I predicted before the series aired, yes, it's at least more livelier than the lifeless bore that was Ryusoulger. But it's still a bad show -- bad in its complacency, bad in its refusal to take anything seriously, bad in its attempts at criticizing shows that actually had the balls to offer something new, unlike it. It's plotless, pointless, disposable, sub-dimensional. It says nothing, it is nothing. I watched the finale, and for days afterward was like "Oh, I need to just finally finish Kiramager. Wait, I already did." That's how spectacularly unremarkable it is. We need for Sentai to be doing better than the less-than-bare-minimum at this stage. Sentai's in bad shape, but let's do a show that has contempt for the franchise! (Worst of all, the show tries to switch gears after the pandemic to be about "fun" and "feels" to supposedly "help the nation heal," but it's VERY disingenuous and falls flat on its ass after its build up as a show with hatred for its own franchise.) Kiramei go fuck yourself, Toei.

It's everything I hate about modern Super Sentai in one ugly, obnoxious, nearly unwatchable package. I've lost patience with bad shows, so I'd get in a bad mood when watching this show. You see the next episode's preview and you're just like "Ugh. That looks horrible," so you just dread watching it. Honestly, it got to a point where I'd start an episode and even before the freaking opening credits played, I would be like "I'm already ready for this episode to be over." I had such a miserable time watching this show, I hated so much about it -- it's honestly some of my least favorite Super Sentai.

It's a strong contender for my pick for Worst Sentai or Least Favorite Sentai -- dethroning Kyoryuger, which I didn't think was possible -- but Zenkaiger, so far, is on the fast track to earning that dubious title. It's Kiramager to the max. (Even worse, since it's filled with boring robot characters you don't give a sliver of a shit about.)

I never wanted Sentai to reach the point for me that Rider did. I tried to keep up with all of the Heisei Riders, but talk about a flash in the pan. They went from good or at least intriguing at the start, and then quickly took a nosedive. OOO is the first show where I was just like "Rider sucks now and I don't want to watch any more of this shitty show and it's OK to not finish it," and it was sad to abandon the franchise, but so freeing. But Sentai's my favorite and I like it more than I ever did Rider and I've stuck with the thing through thick and thin. It took a lot to get through Ryusoulger, and I blame it a lot for bringing me to the point where I just couldn't put up with another mediocre goes-nowhere turkey like Kiramager and nearly dropping it. And I have totally dropped Zenkaiger, which is an atrocious show through and through and takes Kiramager's self-loathing to an entirely different level. Happy anniversary, Sentai!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Zenkaiger: who's likely to return?


When Gokaiger was ready to air, and everyone was excited about the idea of returning heroes,
I once made a post at HJU about a "where are they now" with up-to-date pictures of cast
members and their standing in showbiz. It's a topic that a lot of people have written to me
asking me to update, but I've never really been interested. I figured since then there's
been so many past performers popping up on social media that there really wasn't a reason
to update it -- if you're a fan and on social media at all, chances are you're aware what
a certain actor looks like now or what they're up to.

But I thought maybe for Zenkaiger, since rumors are that we'll be seeing some old heroes, I supposed I'd finally do something similar. Instead of scouring blogs or Twitter for recent photos, I'd just want to stick to text -- I want to focus on the actors and the likelihood of them appearing in Zenkaiger. Because A LOT of actors have resurfaced since Gokaiger aired, and while some of them are still outside of showbiz, I think there's a chance some could pop up in something...if they're asked. People like Ginga Red, Tyranno Ranger, Blue Mask and Shaider's Naomi Morinaga have proven that there are performers who have left showbiz but are still willing to return for an appearance. So I'll say who I think is more likely of the retirees to return and who from each time is the most likely choice. (And who I'd want to see back the most of each team.)

First, I just want to give a few thoughts on Zenkaiger. I'm not all that hopeful. Producer Shinichiro Shirakura's far too irreverent for anniversary specials and has gotten too obsessed with riling up fans for his own amusement. Don't expect warm and fuzzy and logical "tributes" in a show from him. He's probably going to kill off everybody and declare Ninja Captor the first and only Sentai. And then you have main writer Junko Komura, whose previous anniversary series, Zyuohger, was a major letdown in terms of being an anniversary series. (As well as a letdown of just being an entertaining series.)

Like Gokaiger, I expect all of my favorites -- the good shows -- to be ignored because entertainment is still too damn afraid to focus on older folks. So I'm definitely not expecting the show to get back at least one person from each show the way Gokaiger did. And the premise of parallel worlds is worrisome -- it makes me think that we're just going to get scenarios that suggest certain Sentai shows, but aren't the actual shows. (For example, there's a militaristic world that could cover any military-themed Sentai, and they could just get one actor as a new character to represent all of those shows. That's just not exciting sounding to me.)

If I'm wrong and we see a lot of returning actors as their old characters, let's take a stab at who they might be...

GORANGER

Aka Ranger's still active in showbiz, he appeared in Gokaiger and just took part in the Sentai
memorial at the Tokyo International Film Festival. I think he's likely to appear.

Ao Ranger's actor has had health issues in the past several years, but I think he'd be up for
a small appearance and, if not that, then at least voiceover work.

Mido Ranger's actor makes a lot of appearances at fan events, but I don't think he has an
interest in returning to perform.

Ki Ranger's first actor is deceased, and the second Ki Ranger actor has health conditions that
might not make an appearance easy. (His character was short-lived and killed off, too.)

Momo Ranger's actress makes a lot of fan event appearances and would probably be up for appearing if asked. (That would be awesome if they got her, man. Peggy and the Pink Senshi are as important to Sentai and its legacy as the Red, so it would be nice to honor her.)

Most likely to appear: Aka Ranger
Shougo would like: Momo Ranger

JAKQ

Spade Ace's actor continues to act. He was pretty popular and mainstream for a while, but
never turned his back on his Sentai past. He was even interviewed for the JAKQ Mook that came
out a couple of years ago. If you want to include JAKQ in your show, he's your best bet.

Dia Jack's actor was active on stage for years after the show, but I haven't read much about
him for a while. I remember some fans saying there's controversy over some comments he made
about geek fandom, and if it's true, maybe that would keep him from being asked back.

Clover King's actor seems to have been out of the industry for a while and I haven't heard
about him lately.

Heart Queen left showbiz long ago and is supposedly an English teacher -- I don't think Zenkaiger's going to make her want to leave that. (It would be nice for her to pop up somewhere, though. Give an interview about JAKQ or something. Mitchi Love rocks!)

Big One -- see Ao Ranger.

Most likely to appear: Spade Ace
Shougo would like: Heart Queen

BATTLE FEVER J

Battle Japan -- Quit acting in the '80s. He most recently popped up in the news for legal troubles. (If you're wondering, it sounds like he's into real estate now and there were some issues regarding him allegedly forcing someone into selling him a building that was a landmark, which he supposedly had torn down despite saying he wouldn't.)

Battle Cossack 1 -- See Mido Ranger

Battle Cossack 2 -- The legendary Daisuke Ban would probably be up for appearing, but his character is a late-series replacement and not considered a classic character.

Battle France -- Still acts, still does a lot of fan events, would probably appear if asked.

Battle Kenya -- Sadly suffered some health setbacks and has been quiet for a few years. On a sidenote: I remember being pretty pissed off when Gokaiger decided to do Gokai VS Gavan, when it had treated so many Showa Sentai shows so poorly. In retrospect, it's kinda cool, since it ended up being a tribute to not just Gavan, but Kenji Ohba himself, and since he's in a place where he might not be able to appear in Sentai's 45th...

Miss America -- First Miss America has practically vanished after her time on the show, and the second quit acting and hasn't been heard from for a while.

Most likely to appear: Battle France
Shougo would like: Battle Japan (long shot, I know)

DENJIMAN

Denji Red -- No longer acts. This info's old, from the Denji reunion in Toei Hero Max, but
at that time he said he no longer lived in Japan.

Denji Blue -- See Battle Kenya

Denji Yellow -- No longer acts, but does fan events.

Denji Green -- Mainly a voice actor now, has appeared as a voice performer in quite a few Sentai at this point, would definitely make a voice appearance. He's also taken it upon himself to perform the Denjiman songs at live events since original singer Ken Narita's passing.

Denji Pink -- Still in the biz, mostly as a model.

Most likely to appear: Denji Green (as a voiceover)
Shougo would like: Denji Green (in person)

SUNVULCAN

Vul-Eagle 1 -- Has a presence in the entertainment world as a radio personality and has done
numerous fan events. I think they could get him, and that would be interesting, IMO.

Vul-Eagle 2 -- Still acts. Did Gokai. He's Sunvulcan's best bet.

Vul-Shark -- No longer acts but has made appearances at fan events.

Vul-Panther -- No longer acts and has a criminal record that would prevent him from even being wanted on the show.

Likely to appear: Vul-Eagle 2
Shougo would like: Vul-Eagle 1

GOGGLE FIVE

Goggle Red -- Quit acting in the '80s, hasn't really been heard from since.

Goggle Black -- Still acts. Did Gokai, would return in a heartbeat.

Goggle Blue -- No longer acts, but has made a couple of fan event appearances.

Goggle Yellow -- No longer acts, but seems fond of his time as a toku hero.

Goggle Pink -- Hasn't been heard from since getting married and retiring in the '80s.

Likely to appear: Goggle Black
Shougo would like: Goggle Yellow (for a change)

DYNAMAN

Dyna Red -- Now a businessman, has done a few fan events, but still seems to lay low. I don't think it would be likely for him to pop up.

Dyna Black -- See Goggle Black

Dyna Blue -- No longer in showbiz, but has done a ton of fan events and would probably do
something if called.

Dyna Yellow -- No longer acts, does A LOT of fan events. I think he'd be up for an appearance if they wanted him.

Dyna Pink -- Appeared in Gokai, is often at fan events, I think she'd appear again.

Likely to appear: Dyna Black
Shougo would like: Dyna Pink (in a bigger role than Gokaiger)

BIOMAN

Red One -- Had a well-documented fight with cancer, but has made a few fan event appearances
since. I'd normally say he's a lock to appear, but maybe he'd want to play it safe with COVID.

Green Two, Blue Three, Yellow Four #2, Pink Five -- No longer act, but they've made a lot of
fan appearances. Pink cameoed in LupinVPat. Who knows? Bioman's the rare Showa team where all five members have regularly reunited for fan events. They're the only Showa team, really, that you have the best shot of seeing all together again. (Unless you're like me and only count the main three Liveman as the whole Liveman team -- I think they could get those three together again.)

Likely to appear: Red One, even if just a voice-only appearance
Shougo would like: Yellow Four #2

CHANGEMAN

Change Dragon -- Still in the business, but sticks to just voiceover narrations.

Change Griffin -- Still acts, did Gokaiger. Changeman's best bet.

Change Pegasus -- No longer acts, but has popped up and been more into the toku fan scene
in the past few years. He's said to be pretty busy with his business, so I wouldn't
expect an appearance from him.

Change Mermaid -- No longer acts, hasn't been heard from in years.

Change Phoenix -- She quit acting in the late '80s, but does a lot of fan events and has even taken a couple of acting gigs within the past couple of years. (She just cameoed in LupinVPat, too.) I would love to see Mai return.

Likely to appear: Change Griffin
Shougo would like: Change Dragon, but since that's unlikely and I don't want just a voice-over appearance, seeing Change Phoenix again would be pretty awesome.

FLASHMAN

Red Flash -- Still in the business, still very fond of his Flashman days. Was rumored to appear in Gokaiger, but his schedule didn't permit it.

Green Flash -- Still in the business, did Gokai.

Blue Flash -- No longer acts, but has done a fair share of fan events.

Yellow Flash -- No longer acts. She did one fan event for Flashman's 30th where it was requested that pictures wouldn't be taken. I wouldn't expect her for Gokai, as cool as that would be.

Pink Flash -- No longer acts, but has done fan events and toku-related interviews.

Likely to appear: Green Flash
Shougo would like: Red Flash

MASKMAN

Red Mask -- No longer acts. He has resurfaced since Gokaiger and is heavily involved in toku
fan events and waving the banner for Maskman. I suspect he'd be up for a voice appearance, but...c'mon, Takeru. Make a full appearance.

Black Mask -- No longer acts, is a businessman, but has done fan events and has made his presence known to the toku fandom.

Blue Mask -- No longer acts, is a martial-arts instructor, but he did Gokai, so I imagine he
could be talked into appearing again if they wanted him.

Yellow Mask -- No longer acts, but does fan events and cameoed in LupinVPat.

Pink Mask -- No longer acts, and has only just recently resurfaced for fan events, so I don't expect her to be willing to start filming stuff just yet.

X1 Mask -- In the business, mainly as a director now, but has done a lot of toku events and and would probably be totally up for reappearing as X1.

Likely to appear: Based on Gokai, Blue Mask.
Shougo would like: Red Mask. It was his show, man. Although a special crossover with sixth heroes that brought back X1 would be shocking and cool.

LIVEMAN

Red Falcon -- Still in showbiz, came back for Gao VS Sentai and made a voice-over appearance in Zyuoh VS Ninnin. Loves Liveman, would come back in an instant.

Yellow Lion -- Still acts. He did Gokai, he appeared in Kamen Rider Ghost. Since he was once a more mainstream actor, his availability might be limited.

Blue Dolphin -- Has just resurfaced and does a lot of fan events. I could see her reappearing
if they wanted her.

Black Bison -- Quit acting long ago, doesn't seem to want to be in the spotlight.

Green Sai -- Quit acting long ago, hasn't really been heard from.

Most likely to return: Yellow Lion
Shougo would like: Red Falcon

TURBORANGER

Red Turbo -- Still in the business, still obsessed with Turboranger, he'll be there already
dressed as Riki if called.

Black Turbo -- Resurfaced to do a movie a few years ago and showed up for Turboranger's
anniversary event, but I don't know if he'd be up for appearing as Daichi again.

Blue Turbo, Yellow Turbo -- No longer acting, but still fond of their Turboranger days, have made many fan event appearances, and would probably appear if they wanted 'em.

Pink Turbo -- No longer acts and has been absent from any Turbo get-togethers.

Most likely to return: Red Turbo
Shougo would like: Red Turbo (in a bigger role than Gokaiger)

FIVEMAN

Five Red -- Still acts, still trying to get people to like Fiveman. He'd appear if asked.

Five Blue -- No longer acts, but fond of his time on Fiveman, has appeared at fan events, has
a very popular bar which draws past toku folks and would probably appear if asked.

Five Black -- Has resurfaced in the past several years, appearing at events. Seems a little
reserved, I don't know if he'd come back.

Five Yellow -- Was said to have one foot out of showbiz before getting the Gokai call. She'd
probably be up for appearing again.

Five Pink -- Has been quiet for quite a while.

Most likely to return: Five Red
Shougo would like: Five Red, just because Fuji is cool and deserves another shot at playing
Gaku.

JETMAN

Red Hawk -- Quit acting, but recently resurfaced as a model. Extremely fond of his time
on Jetman and since next year's Jetman's 30th anniversary...I can imagine a scenario where
they'd get him back.

Black Condor -- Still acts, loves Jetman, did Gokai. You don't think they'd ignore the most
popular Jetman on the 30th anniversary, do you?

Yellow Owl -- No longer acts and hasn't been heard from in a while.

White Swan -- Quit acting, but still grateful for her time on Jetman, has made numerous
appearances at fan events. I think she'd be up for coming back if asked.

Blue Swallow -- Never made a big deal about retiring from acting, but has been quiet for quite
a while. With next year being Jetman's anniversary, and with Shirakura having worked on that
show as an assistant producer, and with what a fan favorite it is, and how fond everyone who
worked on it is of the show, I could imagine them getting the whole team back.

Most likely to return: Black Condor
Shougo would like: Blue Swallow. If I thought Tanaka was a lock, I'd say that I think seeing
the triangle interact after all of these years would be interesting.

ZYURANGER

Tyranno Ranger -- No longer acts, but that didn't stop him from returning as Geki in that Kyoryuger movie. He's also done a ton of fan events and conventions and likes keeping involved with the fandom. I think he'd totally appear again.

Mammoth Ranger -- Still acts, did Gokaiger and just popped up in...what show was it, Lupinranger? Ryusoulger? One of the new boring ones.

Tricera Ranger -- No longer acts, but is finally FREE of the prison that being a manager for
SMAP kept him in. Has since done fan conventions and would probably be happy to appear and
show his face again and get his name out there again. (He went uncredited for his voice work
in the Kyoryuger movie.)

Tiger Ranger -- No longer acts, but is into the toku fandom and would probably return.

Ptera Ranger -- No longer acts, but does fan events and remains a popular personality.

The main five all did voiceover work for Kyoryuger. They all seem like they would come back
if asked, but would Toei really want to recreate their ancient wardrobe? We all know they're
too cheap for that, c'mon.

Dragon Ranger -- See Change Pegasus. Except, I'd like to add, it would be freaking awesome
if they could get him back as Burai, but as mentioned, he's said to be too busy.

Most likely to return: Tyranno Ranger or Mammoth Ranger
Shougo would like: Dragon Ranger

DAIRANGER

Ryu Ranger -- Still in showbiz, still popular with toku fans, still willing to appear. If you
use him, Zenkaiger, treat him better than you did in Gokaiger, huh?

Shishi Ranger -- Deceased. RIP.

Tenma Ranger -- Still acts, mostly on stage. Ran a toku-themed bar, still fond of his Dai
days, cameoed in Gokaiger.

Kirin Ranger -- Still in the business, still does a lot of fan events. Cameoed in Gokaiger.

Houou Ranger -- No longer acts, but has done a lot of fan events and would probably appear
if asked.

Kiba Ranger -- No longer acts, but has appeared at fan events and would probably appear if
they wanted him.

Most likely to return: Ryu Ranger
Shougo would like: Never thought I'd say this, but it would be fun to see Kiba Ranger all
grown up.

Since Zenkaiger's chief producer Shirakura's only other Sentai experience was working on Jetman, Zyuranger and Dairanger, I expect these three shows to receive some preferential treatment.

KAKURANGER

Ninja Red -- Still acts, had no problem doing Gokai.

Ninja White -- No longer acts, but that didn't hold her back from cameoing in Gokai and lending her voice to Super Sentai Saikyou Battle. I wouldn't count her out from making another appearance.

Ninja Blue -- Mostly a voice-actor now, would probably most likely make a voiceover appearance.

Ninja Yellow -- Hasn't acted much recently, but has appeared in Kakuranger-related get-togethers.

Ninja Black -- Still acts, but seems he might be too "big" to appear. Throw some money at him, Toei!

Most likely to return: Ninja Red, Ninja White
Shougo would like: Ninja Black

OHRANGER

Oh Red -- Still acts, appeared in Gokai, would return without a problem.

Oh Green -- I don't think he ever "retired," but I don't know of much he's done recently. Has
made fan appearances, though.

Oh Blue -- Still acts and, while he was mainstream for a while, he had no problem returning
to his Sentai roots in the Shinkenger movie.

Oh Yellow -- No longer acting, but has appeared at get-togethers with the Ohranger cast.

Oh Pink -- Still acting, did Gokaiger, would probably appear as Momo again.

King Ranger -- No longer acting, and while he made a couple of fan event appearances years ago, I don't imagine him returning.

Most likely to appear: Oh Red
Shougo would like: Oh Red, not looking like a chump this time.

CARRANGER

Red Racer, Green Racer, Blue Racer and Yellow Racer are more or less all still in showbiz and
ready to go if you need Carranger back. While Pink Racer's still in the business, she's had
some negative press and hasn't seemed to associate much with the rest of the cast.

Most likely to appear: Red Racer
Shougo would like: Green or Yellow Racer.

MEGARANGER

Mega Red -- No longer acts, so Gokaiger got him at a good time. Too bad that couldn't have been a better episode, eh?

Mega Black -- No longer acts. Was mainly an athlete prior to Megaranger, so I don't imagine
Zenkaiger being enough to want to lure somebody back to a profession they didn't intend to be
in to begin with.

Mega Blue -- Mostly a voice-actor now.

Mega Yellow -- Still in the business, still attends fan events. Has worked with Zenkaiger's producers previously in Changerion.

Mega Pink -- Still in the business, has made appearances in toku since.

Mega Silver -- Outside of the business, but still eager to appear at fan events. Since he's
entered the world of politics, I'm not sure I see him returning.

Most likely to return: Mega Blue or Mega Yellow
Shougo would like: Mega Pink

GINGAMAN

Ginga Red -- No longer acting, but still returned for Gokaiger. Has done numerous interviews
and fan events pertaining to Gingaman since. Would probably appear again if asked.

Ginga Green -- Still acts.

Ginga Blue -- Still in the business. Was popular for a while, so I don't know if he's still
basically too "big" to come back.

Ginga Yellow -- Quit acting and hasn't been heard from for a while.

Ginga Pink -- Has resurfaced and attended numerous fan events; just appearead at the Tokyo
International Film Festival Sentai event with Red.

Black Knight -- See Ninja Red

Most likely to return: Ginga Green or Black Knight
Shougo would like: Ginga Red, in a larger role than in Gokaiger.

GOGOFIVE

Go Red -- No longer acts, but has donned his orange jacket for numerous event appearances.

Go Blue -- Still acts, and since he's just popped up in a couple of Toei productions, I expect
we'll see Nagare return.

Go Green -- Has stepped back from acting, but is still fond of his GoGoFive days and has made
appearances along with the rest of the cast.

Go Yellow -- His well-documented health issues doesn't seem to prevent Kenji Shibata from
wanting to keep waving the GoGoFive banner. I think he'd be up for reappearing, I just don't
think Toei would be that open-minded.

Go Pink -- Still in the business, appeared in Gokaiger, appears at GG5 fan events.

Since all five Tatsumis appeared at the Tokyo International Film Festival's Sentai special,
I'm expecting them to make some kind of appearance next year.

Most likely to appear: Go Blue
Shougo would like: Go Red

TIMERANGER

Time Red -- Still acts. Was for a time too busy and "big" to return to Sentai, but he's since
returned in Kyoryuger. Can Shougo let you in on a little secret? If you notice, around a lot
of these big anniversary seasons, the previous show might haul out a past actor you haven't
seen for a while and it's a giveaway that they're going to be returning. Remember the Goseiger ep that pointlessly had Ninja Red and Ninja White guest star, and then they both ended up appearing in Gokaiger? Or remember how Takumi Tsutsui was in Dekaranger 10YA for NO reason, only to end up soon appearing as Jiraiya in Ninninger? Master Black was such a nothing part, so I'm expecting Tatsuya to be seen again.

Time Pink -- Once quit acting, but then returned...she hasn't really been in a project for a
while, but I don't think she'd not be up for returning.

Time Blue -- Still in the business.

Time Yellow -- Still acts. Did Gokaiger.

Time Green -- Still acts.

Time Fire -- Still acts.

Most likely to appear: Time Yellow or Time Green
Shougo would like: Time Pink. I might not be a fan of Yuuri, but she IS a fan favorite, and
I think Zenkaiger should honor more of the heroines than Gokaiger did.

GAORANGER

Gao Red -- Still acts; was once pretty in-demand and mainstream. His tight schedule led to his
brief appearance in Gokaiger. But he also just popped up in Super Sentai Saikyou Battle and
the Tokyo Film Festival thing, so...I'm thinking he'll be popping up in Zenkaiger.

Gao Yellow -- Still in the business, primarily behind-the-scenes. But since he just appeared with the three other Gao guys at the Tokyo Film Festival...

Gao Blue -- Still acting.

Gao Black -- Still in the business, a toku fan who's still fond of his Gao days.

Gao White -- No longer acting.

But let me say this. Four of the five Gaoranger appeared at the Tokyo Film Festival. While White no longer acts, I could imagine her being invited, but declining due to COVID concerns. Four out of five Gaoranger...I'm really thinking we're going to be hearing from the five Gaoranger next year, whether it's in Zenkaiger or a new Gaoranger special or both.

Gao Silver -- Still acts, but got so popular that he reached the "the douchebag agency doesn't
like him to talk about his toku past" level. (Though it's been said that he's gone against
their wishes and done so in interviews. Still, don't expect to see him back.)

Most likely to appear: Gao Red or Gao Blue
Shougo would like: Gao Yellow

HURRICANEGER

We know all of these shitheads are still in the business and still come back for guest appearances no matter how much you hate 'em or don't want 'em to.

Most likely to appear: Any of the rotten bastards.
Shougo would like: Shurikenger

ABARANGER

AbaRed -- Still acts, came back for Kyoryuger's movie.

Abare Blue -- Still acts, came back for Kyoryuger's movie.

Abare Yellow -- No longer acts, couldn't even be gotten to do a voiceover for Kyoryuger's movie. Don't expect to see her.

Abare Black -- Last time I looked him up, he hadn't seem to have done anything for a while,
but I don't think that means he wouldn't do Zenkaiger if asked.

Abare Killer -- Still acts, did Gokai.

Most likely to appear: Red or Blue
Shougo would like: Black, because he's owed after Bouken vs Super Sentai, and it would mean
possibly bringing back Jeanne, which would be really cool.

DEKARANGER

See Hurricaneger

Most likely to return: Any of these shitheads.
Shougo would like: Deka Gold

MAGIRANGER

Red, Green and Yellow still act; Blue kinda went on a break, Pink doesn't act (though cameoed
in Gokai), Shine left acting to teach. All six of them appeared at the Tokyo Film Festival event, so...I think they're cooking up something Magiranger at Toei.

Most likely to return: Red or Yellow
Shougo would like: Magi Mama

BOUKENGER

Black and Yellow have left showbiz, with Yellow the more likelier to return if needed.
Red came back twice for Gokaiger, Silver's been back, and Blue's actor just popped up in
Saber for no reason, so I think we'll be seeing him in Zenkaiger. (Which makes sense considering the blue Zenkaiger is modeled after Boukenger.)

Most likely to return: Red, Blue or Silver
Shougo would like: Blue

GEKIRANGER

Blue, Yellow and Violet have quit acting, and I don't think it's likely any of them would
return so soon. Red and Chopper still act, as do Leo and Mele if you wanted to go that
route.

Most likely to return: Red or Chopper
Shougo would like: Yellow for a change

GO-ONGER

All of these clowns are still active in showbiz and up for returning. Fans spread rumors
after Go-onger 10YA that Yellow must "hate" Go-onger since she barely took part. She returned
twice for Gokaiger! She was under no obligation to appear in either Gokai or 10YA. Go-on 10YA
was fast-tracked and Aizawa's schedule was packed, so she did what she could.

Most likely to appear: Go-on Red, who you know is already camping out at Toei to appear.
Shougo would like: Go-on Black, the defective detective.

SHINKENGER

All are still active in showbiz. Tono is too high profile now to appear. (As for the other
Shiba? Kaoru's actress has quit acting.) Pink seemed for a minute like she was going to break
out and become bigger, but I guess her buzz has cooled.

Most likely to appear: Anyone who's not a Shiba, but probably Yellow.
Shougo would like: A Shinkenger movie focusing on the previous team.

GOSEIGER

Red has gotten a little too in-demand to reappear. Black and Blue quit showbiz, but Blue
seemed to have returned. Yellow's still active, while Pink left acting under those mysterious circumstances.

Most likely to appear: Yellow or Gosei Knight
Shougo would like: Not Gosei Knight

GOKAIGER

All six are still active in showbiz. (Even Pink, who left her agency, but is freelance at the
moment. And Yellow seems to prefer voice-over work now.)

Most likely to appear: Any of 'em.
Shougo would like: Not too much focus on 'em since they got to come back for Zyuohger.

GO-BUSTERS

All still active in showbiz, all just appeared at the Tokyo Film Festival shindig. Since Go-buster producer Naomi Takebe is the sub-producer of Zenkaiger, I expect some favoritism towards her Sentai shows, and with the four of them just reuniting...expect the Go-busters to appear no matter how much you don't want 'em to.

KYORYUGER

The guys are still active in showbiz, but Pink retired. Kingoo's gone mainstream, so don't expect to see him return any time soon.

Likely to return: Black or Gold
Shougo would like: Deathryuger

TOQGER

All are still acting, but Red and Yellow have tried to move on to the next level. (That's just
my way of saying "I'm tired of typing 'gotten big' or 'gone mainstream.') It looked like Green might have begun to take off, but I'm not sure if that worked out for him.

Most likely to return: Pink or Orange
Shougo would like: Orange, I guess.

NINNINGER

All still in the business. Since it's a Takebe series, don't expect this show to be ignored just 'cause you hate it.

Best bets to return: Red, Blue or Gold
Shougo would like: White

ZYUOHGER

All still active in showbiz, though Green's legal troubles might forbid him from returning.

Most likely to return: Red
Shougo would like: No comment

And from then on, mostly everyone is still active in showbiz and nobody's really broken out to the point where they're probably too "big" or in-demand to return. I mean, they've tried like a sonuvabitch to launch Pink from Patranger, but that show's so new that she's probably still under contract to make more appearances for Toei, so...just when you think you're out, they pull you back in.

I'd like to keep an open mind about Zenkaiger. I'd love for it to be a big, fun anniversary series bringing back a ton of people. While Shirakura keeps me worried, Komura's supposed to be a big Sentai fan, so maybe she'll balance it out and temper his prankster instincts. It would be nice to see old heroes return and actually DO something. There's rumors of old villains returning, which could be really cool, too. (And since Shirakura, like Inoue, liked casting Yutaka Hirose...could Shirakura lure him from retirement?!) Shirakura tends to put more money into his shows than the other producers, so maybe he'll surprise us with a lot of upper-tier talent, remade villain suits and explosive cameo-packed movies. I'm skeptical, but there's room for surprise since it's so unprecedented for him to be heading a Sentai at this time. With his ego and his being sent to "save" Sentai, I kinda expect Shirakura to try to "outdo" previous anniversary installments, especially Gokaiger.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Bird Songs

 

I've gone over this through the course of my Jetman episode breakdowns, but it's something I've wanted to gather in one post. I see a lot of complaints -- A LOT -- about Jetman's love triangle. I've read it called not only one of the worst romances in Sentai, not only one of the worst romances in toku, but somehow one of the worst romances in ANY media. (Watch more stuff, people!) It's also INFURIATING when someone will say "Yeah, the forced drama in Jetman was cheesy, and that's why I like it." If you're a "fan" like this, just know that I think YOU'RE cheesy.

Look, I know Jetman's become popular to dump on. Hey, I can understand wanting to take things down a peg. But people have lost their minds in their Jetman hatred. The show was a smash and is a fan favorite for a reason, and maybe it's hard for the younger generation of viewers to keep in mind how fresh and different its approach was at the time.

We had never seen toku heroes who could have such self-centered motivations. And we never saw heroes who had a real animosity towards one another, this being most represented by the love triangle of Ryu, Kaori and Gai. The love triangle was main writer Toshiki Inoue's primary focus of the show, and he really had it worked out. If you look at the episodes he wrote, it's a really solid, layered, well-constructed arc. It builds onto itself, it has a logical progression and pace, there are character payoffs, it's consistent and probably the most serialized a Sentai storyline has been. (Everybody complains about one-off "fillers," yet they also hate this super-serialized storyline. Go figure.) Take away any of the episodes Inoue wrote, and you're missing a lot. The triangle also ends by about episode 30, so that's 21 drama-free episodes for you complainers!

I think a lot of people project what they feel are the "right" views of something onto the show. They're judging a 20+ year old work from another country with modern, Western viewpoints. So they warp or misread what the Gai character is all about. People act like he's just some sort of sleaze who's humping the leg of any female character who walks by on screen, who is constantly tormenting a supposedly oh-so-timid and frightened Kaori. That's not even close to what the show is presenting.

Gai is supposed to be a hoodlum, yes. He's a womanizer. He's a passionate guy, he's upfront about what he thinks, what he wants -- there's no bullshitting with him. For what a rough thug he's supposed to be, he's also supposed to be quite charming. He knows what he wants and will do whatever he can to get it, but he does have principles and a strong moral code. He's a cynical guy, but a guy who can still find things to enjoy in life, whether it's women or music or even just booze. He has a dark outlook on life, but still wants to enjoy life on his terms.

Gai is NOT some sociopath, psychotic, homicidal, depraved, soulless piece of shit criminal. I'm so tired of people patting themselves on the back for thinking they're so cool or in or PC for "calling out" Gai's behavior as being so awful and reprehensible and what a terribly sexist stalker he is. "OMG, he doesn't get the hint that Kaori's not interested, but he keeps after her, he's practically a rapist!" Well, you can say that about Kaori in regards to Ryu, too. And you'd be wrong in both cases.

Gai is no different than Captain Kirk or James Bond or Batman or Wolverine or Tony Stark or Tyrion Lannister or Don Draper or Barney Stinson or...I could keep going. Why do those characters get such worship, but Gai's the one you have a problem with? And I know some of you will say "OMG, he's a superhero from an LOL KIDSBOP, he can't be compared to dramatic characters from Game of Thrones or Mad Men or some sitcom," but...hey, that's why it was a different approach for a toku at the time! That's why Gai was so refreshing and why people liked him. We didn't see a character like that before Jetman, and try as they might, we haven't seen one since. There's more to Gai than being the cool ladies' man, there's a lot of subtleties to the character that's in the writing, but also a lot of it due to actor Toshihide Wakamatsu. In the hands of a lesser performer, Gai COULD be obnoxious, and that could have influenced the way he was written, but Wakamatsu's, thankfully, a talented performer.

They obviously want Gai to be smooth -- and yet dangerous -- like James Bond, but Inoue loving his grey characters, wanted to put Gai on the other side of the law. It works to Jetman's premise that, in dealing with four people who aren't meant to be the heroes, who are chosen at random, that the writers made one of them be a rebellious thug who plays by his own rules. He's a lone wolf, so I can't exactly imagine him joining the yakuza or anything. And since he does have morals and a line he won't cross, I don't even think he can really be called an "antihero." (Even though I've referred to him as such in the past.) He's a reluctant hero. Gai's also just rock 'n roll -- live fast, have fun, and know that such a lifestyle's gonna quickly catch up.

All that said, onto the triangle. While there's obviously a component to Gai who enjoys the pursuing of women, I never felt like it was completely meaningless to him. I think he's genuinely interested in the women he goes after, I don't think he just rushes towards every woman he sees. And while I think that maybe his initial interest in Kaori was a way to prove that he could attract any woman he wanted, even someone so far from his social stratosphere, I think that was only briefly -- I think he quickly and genuinely fell for Kaori, in a way that she wasn't looking for. That doesn't mean the old "she wasn't interested, Gai's a creep for not backing off!" I meant that Gai really wanted to protect and coddle her, and that's not what she wanted or what she sought by being a Jetman. And that's what draws her to Ryu, is that he DOESN'T baby her. He was really harsh with her when she was suffering psychosomatic symptoms, he treated her as an actual person, an equal, and not some porcelain figure protected by her wealth and status, not someone to be treated special because of her beauty.

Gai's care for Kaori is genuine, and one of the first indicators that there's more to him than meets the eye. He seriously puts his ass in the line of danger for Kaori again and again, and some heartless punk isn't going to bother doing that after a certain point in the hopes that this unbreakable woman will sleep with him. Gai had no shortage of women for that. He sees something special in Kaori, and just can't understand what she sees in Ryu. Ryu and Gai are just two personality types that clash. From Gai's perspective, Ryu is just a big dumb Boy Scout who probably doesn't even believe half of the bullshit speeches he makes. He thinks Ryu's a dork -- the guy walks into a small, dark jazz bar and orders milk, for cryin' out loud! He thinks Ryu's a big bore who doesn't even notice Kaori or would even let himself be with her if he did. He doesn't think Ryu cares about Kaori, especially not the way he does, and just finds it infuriating the way Kaori shuts him out as she pines for Ryu.

Little does Gai know the pain that Ryu is in. But Ryu is a professional and, sticking to his word, wants to keep his private life private, as he feels a soldier and hero should. The four others are all in his care, and it's his job to whip them into shape and keep the team going. Kaori's just a fellow soldier, he doesn't see her the way she sees him. And he won't, because he just lost the love of his life in Vyram's invasion. The love who, by the way, would be in Kaori's position on the team, so that has to be a torturous reminder to him. So, he's really cut himself off in that way of thinking and feeling and just keeping his mind on the job. So, it's an unignorable big splash of cold water in his face when Kaori makes such a big deal about his birthday in episode 13. He realizes the way Kaori feels, and tries to be quick and to the point about it -- he appreciates her gestures, but it's inappropriate and no, thanks. It's the straightfoward, honest and logical reply from a guy like Ryu. There, he let her know...

And here's more proof that Gai cares about Kaori as a person and not a conquest -- he gets mad at Ryu on her behalf about his reaction! If Gai was really such a one-track thinker, he could and WOULD have taken easy advantage of that situation. He does catch up to a crying Kaori and try to tell her to forget Ryu and pay attention to him, the one who ACTUALLY notices her, and forces a kiss on her, and she slaps him. This has become a "controversial" scene in the English-speaking fandom, that he forces a kiss on her, but...the way the scene plays, I think it's just supposed to be emotions running wild. I think he's trying to show her how assertive he is compared to the seemingly oblivious and uncaring Ryu. She slaps him and that's that. He doesn't keep trying or anything. Geez.

And this is the episode that begins with Gai accusing Ryu of being some unfeeling robot who's never loved, and that visibly affects Ryu and brings all of the stuff with Rie to the surface, so he's certainly within rights to just firmly let Kaori know to keep it professional. Again, the guy's in pain and mourning. (He didn't even really have time to mourn -- Odagiri punches him and tells him to get over it, ASAP.) Gai and viewers have it wrong that he's a dummy with blinders on for the sake of perpetuating drama.

When the dust settles from this situation, a frustrated Gai just needs to know -- does Kaori see anything in him or not. So he pulls her away from the others while shopping, confronting her in an elevator, in another scene that the English-speaking fandom overreacts about. Kaori's obviously not threatened by him in this situation, just kinda startled and thinks it's awkward. By this point, we've seen Gai take beatings from Grey as Grey pursued him and wheelchair-bound Kaori, we've seen Gai plead with Maria to return the captured Kaori, Gai went and fought Camera Jigen on his own to get Kaori back. He's made it clear how he feels about Kaori, Ryu's made it just as clear. Kaori's never said squat about Gai, so he just wants to hear her say something, anything, even if it's that she hates him. He feels like he's just stuck in limbo.

And he still doesn't even really get what he's after, because Kaori soon rushes off and the team encounters Juza; the episode ends with him taking a hit for Kaori, the one that causes painful crystals to burst through his skin, which will end up killing him! Here he technically gives his life for Kaori. And here's where some of Gai's armor chips away, because he's initially distant with Kaori, not wanting her pity, but he eventually breaks down and just says he's scared and you know, a guy like Gai, he doesn't want anyone to see him in a state like he's in -- in pain and frightened.

And I think -- other than the fact that a string of episodes written by the sub-writers follows this arc -- once Gai's saved and they deal with Juuza, Gai probably keeps quiet and keeps his distance for a while. His pining for Kaori goes on the back burner as he lets things try to get back to normal, but it's something that's going to rear its head in. It's always in the background, which leads Ryu to confront Gai...

Ryu's a character who's in pain. The biggest love of his love was taken from him, and he wasn't allowed to mourn her. He had to keep pressing forward and slap on a professional face for the sake of this team of amateurs he had to lead into battle. He's not a superman, he has his own emotions and feelings, but he gets by the best he can, and he can't let go of Rie. For the sake of the team's efficiency, he decides its best that everyone puts their cards on the table -- for Ryu, he's not interested in Kaori. He knows Gai is, and he urges him to pursue that if he's serious and cares about her. Ryu's being completely honest and straightforward, but this all rubs Gai the wrong way. He doesn't think Ryu's being caring enough of Kaori, he thinks Ryu's just playacting at being the nice, stand-up leader he claims to be. Gai even gets a dig in that he thinks Ryu's never loved anyone before, which hurts him, since Rie's often on his mind.

Ryu doesn't get through to Gai, so he tries Kaori. Maybe his method is extreme, but I think he felt the need to convey his intent by whatever means he could. Words weren't getting through to these two. And not only does Ryu have to keep the professional front up, but I feel like he's kind of a private person on top of it. Like, it's not right or professional for the Jetman members to know any business of his personal life, as the one pro there, as their leader. He's a military soldier, he can't afford to show any cracks. Some viewers criticize him for seeming hypocritical in that he lectures others on separating their professional and personal lives, when his private life is very tied up into his professional one, but I feel like the point is that Ryu IS flawed, he doesn't have all of the answers. But that's what's expected of him, so he tries, and tries his best.

At the start of the show, Ryu's shown to be a bit of a hotshot and risk taker; he endangers himself in order to put a stop to that rampaging android. He's in a relationship with a co-worker, which isn't exactly professional, and he knows it, because he brings up his concern to Odagiri if the two becoming Jetman will mean they'll have to break up. While Ryu IS a good and talented soldier, there's a lot he buries for the sake of putting up that professional front and...well, soldiering on. He might be the only qualified one on the team, but he's having to make adjustments, as well. Just because he was a Sky Force officer and chosen to be Red Hawk didn't mean they still weren't going to train and grow more into their roles -- he's thrown into things as quickly as Gai and the others.

So, as drastic as Ryu taking Kaori to Rie's grave is, I think it's a kind of big move for someone who wants to keep his personal life to himself to open up like that in such a big way. And since Kaori wasn't listening to him, it's the big bucket of cold water required to get her to listen. He wasn't trying to be malicious, he just thought that would get through. "You think I'm a coldhearted guy, that I'm ignoring you? No. If you want to know, here's where the body of my true love should lie, she only just died a few months ago, so...let me be. Let me grieve."

Kaori's right to be upset by that display, as she storms off home by foot and ignores Ryu, but...I also think she should have been able to sense Ryu's mood on the drive to the cemetery! She was so wrapped up in thinking it was a date and that he was taking her to meet his parents, that she should have paid more attention to Ryu's demeanor and felt the mood. Ryu's move was the best option! She really wouldn't have listened otherwise.

(And for everyone saying what a stalking, creepy harasser Gai supposedly is, they seem to forget the sweet scene where he's trying to console Kaori later that evening. She's still upset and talking about Ryu, but Gai's there for her. And when she admits that maybe she might have been better off falling for Gai, before leaving, he just smiles and says he'll win her over yet. There's nothing nasty or creepy or manipulative or anything about him here. He's genuine. He offers her words of encouragement and lets her go on her way. There's growth from the pushy guy/Gai who would have made some upsetting remark or gotten frustrated with her.)

And guess what? You might think Ryu's a jerk for the way he went about breaking the news of his heartbreak, but it still doesn't quite get through to Kaori! She's more upset than she was before, but she decides to make her next play getting Ryu to get over Rie. And while I think that's pretty cold and disrespectful to Ryu and what he felt like he had with Rie, it's at least an honest and believable reaction, and interesting in the way that the show doesn't always want to paint the heroes in the best light. (It's a bold choice. I noted in my series coverage that it's a Kaori moment I don't like, but I do still consider myself a fan of the character.) She's upset and not exactly happy with herself for going about it this way, but she wants to make it known that she's not a quitter and she wasn't broken by Ryu's revelation. Ryu just kind of throws his hands in the air at that point, wanting to move on. He ends up further agitating Gai by regifting Kaori's concert ticket to him, but honestly hopes it's the thing that can get the two to spend some time together and maybe have something spark.

I think the motivations here are solid. Ryu just wants to move on from this hindrance, Gai's frustrated and feels like Ryu's just careless and patronizing to both him and Kaori. There's been so many times in this show where feelings bubble up, but are cut off or held back, that it finally explodes and becomes an ugly fight between Ryu, Gai and even Raita. And before any of it can even be resolved -- and maybe that's for the best, because the fight was brutal and with no end in sight -- the Vyram attacks. And from then, they get pulled into the intense battle with Semimaru, and I feel like their seeing the Dimensians all get killed is what gets them to once again dial back their own resentments or unhappiness with one another. It shakes them out of their selfishness for a time. The Dimensians were a happy, functional team, showing a better Jetman in that Rei and Kanna were a happy couple and that even goofy young Dan had their love and respect. They had things worked out, but look what happened to them -- what chance do the Jetman have against the Vyram when they're at each other's throats all of the time? So, I think that causes things to blow over for a while...

The next events mark a big, big turn in The Triangle, and effect the rest of the series...

It all starts when Gai helps Kaori pull an all-nighter as she [TECHS THE TECH] on her mechas. Genuinely appreciative, she tries to make it up to Gai by treating him to a relaxing lunch in a beautiful location. (By a fountain at the Kawaguchi Green Center -- a lovely looking place that I've always enjoyed seeing in Super Sentai, even when I was a kid.) Kaori uses the opportunity to try to crack through some of Gai's armor, recognizing that he's a better person than he lets on, than he'd like people to perceive him. But this is cut short by an attack from Radeige, before the Majin Muu arrives and kidnaps Kaori -- he senses she's the true warrior he seeks in order to resurrect his comrades via blood sacrifice.

A panicked and upset Gai tracks down the Majin's cave; Kaori's been placed in a chamber, ready to be sacrificed. Gai offers his own blood instead, taking a straight razor and slashing his hand with it. The Majin's comrades pick up the scent of his blood and begin to drain Gai. He falls to his knees, shaking, he's turning pale...Kaori witnesses this through tears. It doesn't look good for him, this could very well be the time he dies. And it makes Kaori think of all of the other times he endangered himself for her sake. Emotions are running high, and she tells Gai that she's his. He gives her a smile, but is still incredibly weak.

Some critics think Kaori is just telling Gai what he wants to hear here, to encourage him. But I think with what Kaori was preparing to say at their lunch, I think she WAS going to bring up the idea of maybe trying to start something with him. But, of course, it didn't go the way she planned it would -- I always imagined she was going to try to feel him out and confirm he was genuine in his love for her -- and it all ended up happening in a really fraught situation...

But it happens. From here, Gai and Kaori -- Gaori -- are a couple. The triangle is over, people, and the relationship between Gai, Kaori and Ryu takes a new, interesting, surprising direction from here on.

Gai and Kaori, now an item, are just trying to enjoy themselves. For Gai, he bared his feelings for her. He placed himself in danger. This isn't early Gai, the thug, the James Bond type who could easily charm a woman he wants by just words or attention; he was intrigued by Kaori. He began to care and love her. His love for her was genuine. Maybe, unlike his past flings, it was the first meaningful relationship for him. So Gai just wants to make the most of it, even if it means they run late for Jetman briefings and business. After one too many lectures by Odagiri and Ryu, Gai storms off, dragging Kaori with him. In an angry outburst, he hands his Cross Changer over to a worried Raita. (Note that Kaori keeps hers.) Gai and Kaori ride off, cutting ties with Jetman, leaving Jetman to be a Sunvulcan/Liveman style of the classic Red, Blue and Yellow line-up.

And something funny happens on the way to Gai and Kaori's leave of absence. The Majin are different opponents for the Jetman -- and the Vyram! Not being prepared to face such adversaries, an attack causes Maria to revert to Rie. Ryu's not prepared for this, it really throws him. But there she is. And while Ryu noticed the resemblance early on, he dismissed that Rie could be the coldhearted Maria. But I also think that he's the kind of guy who just sees things logically -- what are the odds that Rie survived and became this Maria foe? It doesn't make sense, so he doesn't think about it. (Or maybe even buries the possibility because it's just too out there and too much to contemplate.) But there's the solid proof and confirmation -- Maria is Rie, and Rie is alive. Any of Ryu's most absolutely far-fetched hopes and dreams are actually real. The only woman he's ever loved is alive! Here's the chance to find happiness again, to get back to a sense of normalcy. But before he has time to deal with her, he puts aside his own needs and is off to fight as a Jetman. And before he can get back to her, Radeige finds her and transforms her back to Maria...

Having had that chance to reconnect with Rie and missed it, having that hope grabbed away as she's turned back to Maria, it completely breaks Ryu. He withdraws into himself, he falls into a deep, deep depression. He isolates himself, he practically goes catatonic. I think of two things here. I think of the Joy Division lyrics "Just for one moment/I thought I'd found my way/Destiny unfolded/I watched it slip away." (That whole song, "Twenty Four Hours" probably fits Ryu's mindframe well in this section of the show.) The other thing I think of -- to lower the bar from Joy Division -- is Spider-man 2, when a downtrodden Peter, having been so selfless and sacrificed so much as a hero, sees his personal life in shambles and is just like "Is this it? Am I not supposed to be happy? Am I not supposed to have what I want and need?" I think some of Gai's way of thinking creeps into Ryu's head.

A big point of Ryu/Red Hawk versus Gai/Black Condor comes down to Inoue's examining the motivations, beliefs and philosophies of a hero. It's a clash of personalities. Ryu is the traditional hero -- selfless. Bound by honor, duty. He cares about others and puts their safety and happiness above his own. As a soldier, he's most likely been trained to see beyond himself and focus on what needs done, and the tools required to get it done. This is what bugs him about the drama Gai stirs up, and why the set-up of the show is interesting in that the Red is the one guy who's supposed to be there, but the other four are just average folks who really need guidance and who don't have the training, so they're not going by the book and, initially, aren't even that good on the field. Ryu has his hands full, and he does a pretty damn good job of being the driving force of the team and look how well he whips everyone into shape! They become such good heroes, and a lot of it is because they look to Ryu. He has the heart and compassion and belief in others that most classic superheroes have and require, even if he himself is traumatized. That's the thing -- he's that classic superhero, and he's every bit the brave, good, decent guy the show says he is, but he's not invulnerable or perfect. He has his own faults, that's what Inoue does and likes to write, that's what makes characters like Ryu interesting.

And then you have Gai. You can't be more opposite. It's the difference between Cyclops and Wolverine, isn't it? One's the one who gets dismissed as being a square, order-following soldier, the other's the rule-breaking, pissed off, booze-guzzling troublemaker. Gai looks out for number one. He's selfish, but he's not uncaring. He has a desire to help people, he'll fight when he sees something he knows is wrong. He thinks there's more to being a hero than just the standard speechifying of "protecting justice!" Gai presents this slightly more realistic take and I'll just quote what I said about him one time at HJU.

I says:

"I also think Gai was supposed to be a more 'realistic' tokusatsu hero. As selfless as we think a superhero should be, here's Gai who says no, a hero needs to take care of themselves or else they can't take care of anyone. Here's Gai, who wanted to hang on to what was seen as just selfish behavior because he was afraid of losing himself to the demands of being a Jetman. Here's Gai, who knows it takes more than just repeating 'We're soldiers, we protect the world' to actually protect the world."

Gai's someone who's probably only ever fought for personal reasons. Being in a street brawl defending yourself or a principle or someone else's honor is quite different from what a soldier like Ryu experiences. Ryu can separate himself from his work, Gai can't...but here's a situation that makes it impossible for Ryu to place that divider any longer. It's the confirmation that not only is his long lost love alive, she was taken by the villains and he's been fighting her all along. Ryu can't take this, so he shuts down. And I feel like this coinciding with Gai's leave of absence from the team is Inoue's comparing and contrasting the two's differences, with Ryu taking on a Gai kind of thinking and reaching that whole Spider-man 2 bit I mentioned. His world, what he knew, and the rules that got him through it are upside down.

While Gai initially calls Ryu on what he sees as hypocrisy -- "A soldier's not supposed to let their personal life interfere" -- seeing Ryu in such a state really shakes him. While I think the show goes a little too far in having Ryu imagine he sees Rie next to him, it's probably the kind of thing that caused Gai to stop in his tracks and see the trouble his teammate's in. It's bonkers. He thinks Ryu's a lot of things, but bonkers ain't one of 'em. Gai doesn't know what to make of it, he wants Ryu to snap out of it. It even looks like Gai's about to strike him, but seeing a tearful Ryu look over at what he thinks is Rie stops him -- it's a sad sight, and he hugs him instead. Gai knows that the only person who can save Ryu from such trouble is only Ryu himself, so he lets him know that he'll give him the time to recover and resume his Jetman duties in his place. Gai, being a passionate person, knows the human spirit. He knows Ryu needs to cope, grieve, heal. He allows him the time that Odagiri and The Rulebook didn't allow him. He knows that Ryu is strong enough to overcome this ordeal; he returns the faith in Ryu that Ryu always had in Gai, which Gai is proving by setting off to help his teammates in the absence of their leader.

The Gai who was once at his throat, who's made clear that he thinks little of him, the selfish one, the hedonist who ran off because he was tired of being lectured...he ends up showing mercy and compassion. He does the right thing and steps up in the stead of his pained comrade. That has to be a "Holy shit, things must be looking bad if GAI is that worried" moment of self-realization for Ryu. Gai cares about him. And rather than retreat into delusions or thoughts of the past, he doesn't bury it any longer. His next encounter with Maria isn't denial, but a vow to save her, before he embraces her and goes off to help his friends. So, at this point, Ryu is healed of some of his trauma and heartbreak, Gai and Kaori have decided to date, and for the first time there's true harmony amongst the team. Gai notes that it feels like the true beginning for them.

For the next several episodes, we're shown glimpses of Gai and Kaori being close to one another. In the episodes where Odagiri takes the team for R&R to Yamada Ranch, Kaori notes that it would be nice to return there, just the two of them. (When Gai is later showing two women golfers some stances, Ako tries to get Kaori to admit she's angry at the display. While she's visibly bothered, Gai doesn't make a big deal about it. Fans make a big deal out of this scene, too, and it's not like he saw them and pursued them. They asked him! And he doesn't give a shit once Hirose comes along and steals them, either.)

There are several episodes where the two are supposed to be dating, it's just a given. And when it's put in the forefront again, it's the signs that it wasn't meant to last. Kaori trying to teach Gai proper dinner etiquette doesn't go well. The final straw, though, is when Gai is having a meal with Kaori's parents. Her parents are snobbish, constantly quizzing Gai on his place in society, his pedigree, his WORTH. That's when it finally sinks in to Gai. He excuses himself and leaves. Kaori's such a sweet, nice character. She's worried about Gai fitting in with her circle, hence the etiquette lessons, but she's still open minded, she knows Gai's actual worth, and expects her parents and their world and her circle will understand. Gai knows she's wrong, that they won't, and he rides off.

Kaori mentions to Ako that they're having trouble, knowing it's looking bad. Gai has gone about his business, going over his thoughts, and just knows it's not working and realizes a person can't just change -- he and Kaori could have made it work, but he's just not a part of her world. He can't be, he doesn't want to be. In his head, love should be enough, but that's not the real world, is it? And Kaori's the rare kindhearted, open-minded and understanding type of person in that world, who knows that worth goes beyond the monetary or materialistic, and she's trying her damnedest to make an effort. She thinks she has a chance at getting her parents to accept Gai once she can explain the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together, but she also can't have Gai completely change who he is, it's not right. She has to know it's a losing battle. KAORI NEVER CAVED IN OUT OF GAI'S PERSISTENCE! She appreciated how much she apparently meant to Gai, and felt like she should see if there was anything there. She gave him a chance. It ends up not working between them...

The next we see of them, Gai is entering the command center of Skycamp and catches Kaori's glance. They smile to each other and then get about their business. Coming after the scenes where they each, separately, realize the romance isn't looking good, it's plain that this is acknowledgement that the two have broken things off mutually, off-screen. It's such a nice, subtle way to address it, especially for how explosive the feelings and beginnings of this romance were, just how boldly the show depicted them. It's an interesting storytelling and stylistic choice. The exchange says, without words, "We gave it a shot. Can't ask more than that, but let's not make it weird so we can stay friends." And they don't let it affect their friendship or teamwork, and things remain harmonious for the Jetman from here through the finale.

I also like the growth of Ryu and Gai by this point. Gai, originally so dismissive of the type of person he thought Ryu was. He thought he was just an empty-headed, yes-man soldier who followed instructions and didn't have a thought or feeling of his own and was an android and big old nerd. However, he respected Ryu as a fighter, in combat, and so was willing to follow his orders when it came time to fight Vyram. (Which is another criticism I see of the show: "Gai hates Ryu but always falls in line for henshin scenes and attacks!") And here's the cool thing about Ryu: Gai had always misunderstood Ryu and had him pegged wrong from the start. Ryu, on the other hand, knew what Gai was like underneath -- that he was a good person. He had a soldier's intuition and a confidence in Gai, a respect for Gai, even if that respect wasn't shown towards him.

So in the Veronica two-parter, it's really interesting to see how far the two have come, how much Gai has evolved. Compare it to the Camera Jigen episodes, when Gai is so lost and unable to calm himself about Kaori's being taken that he's NO help to Ryu in the building of Fire Bazooka. With Veronica, the two are working together nonstop, with Gai even risking himself to hold together some of the mecha's faulty wiring in order for Ryu to finish the fight. They're in the trenches together, as they've been many times before. Ryu's turned them into good soldiers, and they've not only become good soldiers and heroes, but friends. Has a toku show ever shown a journey like Gai's? Not even the one from a thug to a hero, but someone who starts the show so antagonistic, hating our lead hero so much, and ending up best of friends?

The door is then open for Kaori to pursue Ryu. I think that scene in the penultimate episode between the two in the shack is well shot and acted. I'll admit I do think it could have used a tweak in the dialogue, but overall it's still emotionally honest and believable as a first step in getting the two together. People have a problem with how quickly it goes from Ryu-still-being-hung-up-on-Rie to his marrying Kaori, but take into account that the finale makes a THREE YEAR time jump, and that Inoue purposely avoids showing the two together in order to keep the groom's identity mysterious. He doesn't say right off that the wedding is between Ryu Tendo and Kaori Rokumeikan, the characters don't say anything until the reveal.

I find the show's romance is all done in a believable way that takes its time. It rewards your viewing patience, but it's all done at a believably steady pace. Nothing is rushed or unearned. There's growth and payoff. It works.

Look, it's OK if you don't like Jetman, if it's not your thing or if Toshiki Inoue's style isn't to your liking. But stop trying to act like it's poorly made or misconstrue its intentions or warp what it does to fit your modern senses and act like you're the one on the pedestal instead of this show. Jetman's a giant for a reason. Its flair for drama and the romantic clashing was a draw, and was INOUE'S WHOLE INTENT BEHIND THIS DAMN SHOW! It's supposed to be big and explosive and dramatic and messy and ugly and complicated! We've never seen heroes act this way in a toku before! (And as hard as they've tried, they haven't come close since, either.)

One more thing. Something I've always wanted to note, but it couldn't quite fit in anywhere here, is the way Gai acts around Odagiri. For all of his problems with authority, he always listens to her. He never smack talks her, he doesn't give her grief, he doesn't hit on her, he always shows her attention and respect. (I recall one episode where he practically stands at attention as she enters, as if he's an actual soldier.) If he was really the misogynistic monster modern fans paint him to be, I don't think this would be the case.