Sunday, September 23, 2012

Toshiki Inoue and Finales: A Bad Mix

Toshiki Inoue: before he became public enemy numero uno with toku fans for lackluster -- and sometimes just plain bad -- writings, there's no denying that he was once a great talent to the genre. (He's the toku version of Frank Miller -- for what good he did for the genre, he got so bad that he practically undid it.) His goal was to keep the often fanciful shows grounded and character focused, and he added in some identifiable (although highly soap-ish) drama, and tried to take seriously a genre often dismissed as "kids stuff," giving a defiant "piss off" to those detractors. He's the brain behind three of my favorite shows, and some of the genre's biggest shows -- Jetman, Changerion (cult hit it may be) and Kamen Rider Agito. Prior to Jetman, he turned in a decent amount of scripts as a secondary writer for shows like Flashman and Maskman. After three well-regarded shows, especially a crossover hit like Agito, he got cocky. Then Toei put him too much to work. Then he turned in junk like Faiz. But even when he was at the top of his game, Inoue had a huge weakness -- how to wrap up a series or write a proper series finale. (And I'm only covering his henshin hero stuff, because I haven't watched Cutie Honey the Live or Mikazuki).


A lot of Inoue's problems come from trying too hard to be "shocking" or going against the expectations of the audience, or just plain sticking it to fans, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Jetman's finale. Having the entire B-Part being devoted to just catching up on the team was a new thing, but going as far as to force a romance out of Ryu and Kaori to the point where they're getting married? Having Ako out of the blue decide to be a pop star? But the worst of it is the part that's remained debated by fans since the show aired...

The killing of Gai Yuuki. It's such an absurd and pointless turn of events that this one episode ruins the entire series for some fans. Me? I can't stand it, and the only way I could watch the episode was by pretending like Gai was just taking a lil' nap and the others weren't so stupid that they didn't realize something was wrong with him and got him some help. But Gai's appearance in Gokaiger got me to soften up on the finale a bit. A BIT. My complaint was always how stupid it made the characters look. It's supposed to be some great, Klingon warrior-worthy gesture that Gai bypasses the hospital to make his friends' wedding, but...isn't it worse to mar their wedding day by being reminded that it was the day their friend and teammate died? Doesn't it make Ryu and the others look stupid that they couldn't tell something was wrong with Gai, and falling for his lame-o hangover excuse? But there was at least something sweet in the Gokaiger episode in that Gai didn't want the Gokaiger pestering his teammates for their lame-o Grand Power because he didn't want to pick at all of those wounds. So, it's an extension of the Jetman finale and addresses something that bothered me, was something.

There are some who always defended the finale though. It showed "reality," that even though the Jetman defeated the supervillains, one of them was taken down by an ordinary thug, and that it's ironic that Gai was killed by someone who, if not for Jetman, he could have ended up as. Some think it's all a part of the curse Radeige placed on them upon his death. Yeah, that could have been done in a different, better way, a way that didn't make our heroes look like dummies. No, it was all just Inoue looking for a way to "shock" viewers.

I think it's an interesting idea to show that a henshin hero, although they've defeated their super enemies, haven't quite cleaned up the world as they thought. How many shows end with the heroes making big speeches about how peaceful they've made the world, when they've only solved one of its problems? And here's Jetman that shows that while they've taken on aliens from another dimension, there's still very real threats in Japan, and it faces one of our heroes,'s just not done well. Again, don't make your characters look like dummies.


Changerion was always a strange show that played by its own rules, but its finale is something else. Although it paved the way for Heisei Rider, Changerion was only a cult hit, but its small fanbase still try to argue out what the hell the finale meant.

The episode starts out in a bonkers way, in which  our main characters are seen in a crazy, post-apocalyptic setting, and it bounces back and forth between that and the show's present day, which saw our hero Akira Suzumura up to his ordinary everyday shenanigans -- no superheroism in sight, just back to his off-the-wall investigations.

Spoiler alert, but in that alternate world, every one of the show's characters gets killed off, and one of the regulars is revealed to be a secret villain. It's a frigging mess! The debate amongst fans is...did the events of the series happen? Was it all meant to be a dream by Akira, escaping his ordinary life as an unsuccessful private investigator? I think it was basically just Inoue throwing in ideas he had -- Akira becoming more professional, certain character deaths -- but wasn't able to use because of Changerion being cut short. Since I can't stand cop-out/rewrite/it's a dream finales, I just figure the events of the show did happen and the post-apocalyptic scenes were just of an alternate world where Akira was more heroic and the show seemed more like a typical tokusatsu series -- Changerion had been criticized by some at the time for seeming so different, something the 30th episode addressed by having a tokusatsu otaku trying to teach Changerion how to be a "real" hero.


Inoue's masterwork, IMO, and this is the closest he gets to writing a passable finale -- it's shocking. Sad thing is, it's a little plain considering how consistently solid and big and intricate the series was. A big problem is just how rushed it is -- it's the exact opposite of Kuuga's finale, which it's somewhat modeled after, and which was long and leisurely to the point where it almost became ridiculous. (Because the whole of Japan was on the edge of their seat to find out the fate of Jean.) They each get some cool lines, but that last fight? Not the best they could have done. The complaint has always been that it looks like it was filmed in someone's backyard, and it does. And the coda bringing you up to speed with where the characters are headed is just too rushed. The show had 77 recurring characters it had to deal with, so things were bound to be rushed, but...what the hell's up with Ozawa smiling at Toujou and tolerating the weasel? Still puzzles me. The show needed to end on a much bigger scale, hitting that high note. But, hey, at least no characters were pointlessly killed off, right?

But I should mention that one criticized part of Agito's final arc is the time jump, which IS jarring and I think contributes to some of the actual final episode's problems, but...that's Inoue, and the trouble he has wrapping his shows up. I always thought the final few episodes were a condensed version of what Inoue would have done with Agito if it had been allowed to go well over the standard 51 episodes, which comes off as seeming rushed.


Oh, boy. This show was always going in circles and barely went anywhere, and played like bad Degrassi fan-fics,  but the finale is pretty notorious even amongst the poor saps who actually liked this show. Inoue wrote every episode of Faiz -- and the movie -- and it's pretty obvious by the end he was just like "Eh, that's it. I'm outs!" and just, you know, didn't feel like wrapping up the show. Half the villains live, characters die pointlessly, and it's all a going-through-the-motions, empty excursion that ends on a dissatisfying note. And if you thought Agito's backyard wrestlin' final fight was bad, Faiz is worse, taking place in what looks to be a parking garage. The final scene of the series? Our hero and his two useless buddies laying in the grass. OK. Pretty mellow considering that the show's heroes let half the villains off. Inoue must have a special spot for Faiz, and was happy enough with the finale to actually appear in it (pictured above).


I still wonder what the heck Toei was thinking when they thought Hibiki was an appropriate and suitable addition to the Rider franchise. Why did they hear this pitch and think it made a suitable action hero series? Main writer Tsuyoshi Kida is known as a playwright, and it's obvious he thought he was making some cool, small, quirky little, different, art-house show and it was a case of trying-too-damn-hard-to-be-different, and I think Toei should have replaced him, writing partner Ooishi and original producer Takatera a lot sooner.

I think it was a huge mistake to wait so long to fire Kida and replace him with Inoue, because I actually think Inoue did some good stuff with the series. He brought conflict! He gave cardboard regulars personality! He gave the show a long-missing history! And the movie was awesome. But Inoue just had to fumble the finale. If there was one thing Kida's snail's-pace scripts was building up to, it was Asumu going on the journey to become Hibiki's apprentice. Too safe and predictable for Inoue, so he constantly rewrote his finale script up until the last minute and, although it was teased in a lamely staged final fight, a flash-forward reveals that Asumu -- who practically stalked Hibiki for the entire series and wanted to do what he did -- realized it would be cooler if he became a doctor or vet or nurse or something. Screw this show. I think this show did major damage to the Rider franchise that it hasn't recovered from since.


Kiva was a mess and everyone knows it. To me, it screams of Inoue trying desperately to reclaim the title and relive past glories, but it was too late for him, he was burned out beyond belief, and the production is just sloppy. (I know Inoue has a daughter who's trying to make it as a writer, and my theory is that she's really behind the show and was just lazily copying her dad which made it feel like the Inoue Potpourri, but that's kooky. Because the show was sloppy, even for post-Agito, way-past-burnt-out Inoue standards.)

The finale is a crazy-DX-WTF in which characters who were presumed dead are alive (one character A-OK with another who tried to kill them), a marriage between two characters who hated each other is forced, villains turn good out of the blue, and I even think I remember time travel being involved in defeating the final Fangire, and then...that crazy-stupid final scene, which makes the Den-O series look sane and sophisticated. For the entire series we followed a Kurenai family member in '86 and in present '06, so a Kurenai from the future crashes the (forced) wedding bringing news of Bad Robot Us's and pretty much every character in the show turns into a Kiva and flies into the camera with their CGI buddies and what-the-hell-did-they-use-a-Go-onger-script?

To wrap it up, Inoue might have burnt himself out, but he's responsible for three of my favorite shows and he's done a lot of great stand-alone episodes for other shows (I'm thinking of the Maskman episode with Blue Flash, the Jin arc in Dairanger, and the Kuuga episodes with that female Grongi who likes decapitating people). He might not know how to do a good finale, but I still think of him as one of my favorite toku writers and even one who has inspired me. (There's as much to learn in his bad stuff as there is in his good stuff.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Most Disappointing Sentai Villain Send-offs


Iron Claw's pretty much a generic villain, barking orders, laughing his ass off at his plans forming and growling when they fail -- he also has one of the stupidest looking designs in the franchise. (What's worse, that glittery dress he wears, the mushroom 'fro, or super-fake beard?) But, hey, he's played by cool veteran character actor Masashi Ishibashi, who takes all of this and still somehow makes Iron Claw pass. Iron Claw gets freaky in later episodes, debuting a combat form that's just a bald-headed Ishibashi clad head to toe in silver paint, looking like he's part of Silver Man Group. JAKQ gets canceled, so Iron Claw departs under orders from a new and random villain to take on JAKQ, and so he does, quickly getting his silver ass handed to him and killed by the Big Bomber. And not just any Big Bomber move -- in one of those stupid-weird Goranger things, the Big Bomber missile turns into something before hitting its opponent, and here the missile turns to...a giant stuffed mouse. WTF and how many drugs did it take to come up with this solution? Like I said, Iron Claw's not the greatest villain, but he IS Masashi Ishibashi, the one guy who wasn't afraid to take on Sonny Chiba in numerous Street Fighter flicks, so his "battle version" deserved better than to be taken out by a stuffed mouse.


Kemp's my favorite of Yutaka Hirose's roles -- he advanced as a performer since Flashman, and Kemp is just such a vicious bastard. Kenji wasn't always this way, but once he turns, he turns -- there's no wavering. Kenji's the one who pulled the trigger on Takuji and Mari and couldn't give less of a shit. He's a psychotic narcissist, he's an egomaniac, he's rotten to the core. When Liveman feel sympathy for every other Volt member who begins to turn and question Bias, Kemp uses this as a way to trick them into falling for his "defection," only to end up attacking them and laughing his ass off at how gullible they are. Yuusuke's pissed, this is his former friend, you know? And even after he couldn't bear to strangle an unconscious Kemp to death in episode 35, Kemp continued to be so vile in that episode that five minutes later, Yuusuke vowed that Kemp's life would end by his hands...

But Yuusuke and the writers forget all about that episode. After Kemp's trap, Kemp -- and I think this is a big mistake on the part of the writers -- gets the "ultimate" reward from Bias, which is just being turned into a horribly designed monster of the week. Right after that, Yuusuke sneaks aboard a spaceship in order to take on Bias, completely severing himself from the other heroes and Kemp for most of the final two episodes. So, Yuusuke/Red Falcon is not even present when Kemp is killed off! Even worse, the monster Kemp is defeated by a Koron-piloted Super Live Robo! One of the show's most important characters, the one with the biggest tie to the premise of the series, offed not in a cool duel with Kazuo Niibori, but offed in a quick, forgettable manner, no different than the stupidest monster of the week, the only one of the main villains in the show treated in such a careless manner.

(What's funny about Liveman is how it goes so soft on how they deal with the villains. I know the show got caught up in speechifying about life and stuff, but how do you go from episode 35 to having Megumi daydream about having snowball fights with Butchy? Look at it -- Obular reforms, Gildos and Butchy malfunction, Arashi and Mazenda turn before killing themselves, Bias and Gash die aboard the exploding Brain Base. Kemp's the only one the team actually kills, but even that's a cheat by having him be in monster form. Why did Liveman lose its balls?)


First off, let's talk about how the show never even addresses why the Vyram -- who constantly babble on about how superior they are to humans -- even take Rie and turn her into Maria in the first place. It's a great idea to give Ryu some drama, so the only explanation is that the Vyram had met Toshiki Inoue and had some knowledge of Jetman scripts. It's ridiculous that such a BIG PLOT POINT of the series is never acknowledged, and then because Inoue always has problems wrapping his shows up, the final Jetman episodes are really obvious in a "Oh, crap, our show's almost over, let's wrap this up!" way. After spending all of his energy on what was supposed to be a shocking, unique way to write off Toranza (which beats the way Kemp ended up), Inoue just has no ideas how to deal with Maria. So he wastes two episodes on this really weird, really stupid plot of having Radeige plant a parasite on her that turns her into something that looks like one of those kids' vampire make-up kits you'd find in a dollar store around Halloween. The look really doesn't work with Maria's terrible giant-hat/giant-tie design, either, and I feel like an earlier show would have given her a completely new design when she became monstrous, but Jetman really looks like it's out of money towards the end of its run.

Now, I'm not saying she should have been turned into a monster or whatever, I don't think that works with a villain who's either human or has a close connection to the hero, but something about this story turn just doesn't work for me. I liked Rie's last moments, but to spend two episodes having these silly scenes where she's stumbling around Japan sucking the blood of whoever she comes across (including Gai in a house of mirrors!) just doesn't really fit with the show's tone or what they needed to be doing with the character. An even bigger waste of time had Rie turning Ryu into a vampire -- it's all just very time-killerish. Inoue never had any idea what the heck to do with this character. WHY DID VYRAM EVEN TAKE RIE!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ranger Keys On Parade

I don't usually buy a lot of merchandise from the new tokusatsu shows -- unless I really, really, really, really like the show -- but I have a bit of an addiction to the Ranger Keys line, and I think the Japanese fans do, too. They're the rare toy release that's continued after the show it's associated with has finished, they're always sought after on auctions, they seem to be keeping Sentai's toy sales up in a year where viewers are disappointed with the latest show (Go-busters) and its lame-o toyline. And the funny thing? It's the old heroes that make the Ranger Key line so alluring. The old heroes -- what Toei is sooooooo deathly afraid to ever focus on in their shows or movies is what has made these things move. (Because it sure ain't hearing Tomokazu Seki shriek "BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIOMAN!" when you put the Key into the Mobirates.)

They're kind neat little figurines, and some of the first new merchandise pertaining to old shows. You can find figures of every Kamen Rider ever in every pose ever, but old Sentai shows? Not so much. It's also a nice alternative to paying half a grand for a certain show's henshin item -- don't want to pay $500 for Dyna Brace? Having the Ranger Key's sort of the same difference, eh?

Now, I know there are people out there who collect every single Ranger Key that's released, but I just try to stick to either the shows or heroes I like, if it's a character played by a performer I like, or if I just think the Key looks neat. I've tried to buy at least one Key from each Sentai series, which was a pain to decide when it came to something like Boukenger -- I don't exactly have a favorite character in that show because, well, I freaking hate that show, but I ended up choosing Bouken Blue because he was least offensive, was a spy (because I'm a 007 fan) and because Yasuhiro Takeuchi was cool in-suit. Here's some of my favorites:

My Top 5 favorite Reds.

The Dream Team -- the awesome guest-star line-up from Gokaiger 49.

The cool guy Keys.

Gokaiger tried to make Aka Ranger and Big One the sort of Riders 1 and 2 of Super Sentai, when I think it should be Aka Ranger and Battle Japan. So...take that, Big One!

I wanted the Rio Key because I thought it looked cool and it was a villain Key, but I still think he's sucky, so here's the cooler Geki Violet putting him in his place.

The sucky thing about the Gashapon Keys -- the stickers always popping off!

A little idea I had.

And, finally, Keys of all of the Niibori Reds!

One thing that I think is a pain is...where do you store 'em? The treasure box that came out only holds a certain amount, and who wants the Keys all clashing together?

Liveman -- The Other Two


Toei has just finished releasing the Liveman DVDs -- which has been Liveman's first time on home video -- and I am currently on the waves of a Liveman high.

Now, Liveman is one of my favorite Sentai entries, but there's always been a big glaring weakness for me. Make that two glaring weaknesses: Tetsuya Yano/Black Bison and Jun'ichi Aikawa/Green Sai. It's fairly obvious that the show never planned to introduce these two, that they were used as an attempt to goose interest and toy sales, and while the idea of introducing the siblings of the two friends murdered by the villains is FREAKING AWESOME in concept, it's rotten in execution. As I rewatched the Liveman DVDs as they were released, I tried very hard to keep an open mind about the other two. (Because, as far as I was concerned, Liveman's still a three-member team, and the show never really feels the same after the other two arrive. Besides just plain sucking, the other two throw off the rhythm of the real three.)

Two problems right off the bat? The actors that were cast. Around the time of their debut, Liveman was suffering from a reduced budget, and that means they must have only been able to higher the cheapest and newest of performers, in contrast with regulars Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori, who were already well-known singer/actors prior to being cast in Liveman and were actually cast for being known, as a way to celebrate the Sentai series "tenth" anniversary. While some of the blame can be shifted on the writers for never really knowing what to do with Bison and Sai, I still feel like the actors are the bigger problem. (If there were good, interesting actors cast, maybe it would have influenced writers to give them better episodes?) They were rare in that they were truly terrible performers of a Showa series.

Breaking them down...

TETSUYA/BLACK BISON -- Played by Seirou Yamaguchi (real name: Seirou Nambara, who comes from a showbiz family; his brother continues to be a popular actor and says Seirou is still proud of his Liveman role, which I guess is nice. Seirou left the spotlight shortly after Liveman, and must kind of be the least successful Daniel Baldwin of his family.) Tetsuya is introduced as being a rash, revenge-seeking rageaholic, something that Yamaguchi can not pull off at all. The extent of his performance is "Yell everything and scoff a lot!" I guess my theory about the poor casting influencing the writing isn't far off, because Tetsuya switches gears REAL fast. Shortly after his debut, he's given a completely out of character episode where he befriends a kid and attempts to cheer him pretending to invent a robot pal for the kid, which is really just him in a cheap suit. The Tetsuya who punches out Jun'ichi just for fun in his first episode is all of a sudden a big softie when he sees a kid crying on the side of the road? Who is he, Minami Koutarou? Yamaguchi's performance is a bit more tolerable here, but what does it matter? It's only one of TWO Tetsuya focus episodes, and it's a disposable episode that goes against his character. He goes from his first appearance, where he continuously endangers everyone for the sake of his revenge, to an episode where he and Jun'ichi try to sneak attack Kempu out of their hatred for their siblings' murderer, to just a few episodes later trying to sweetly console a guilt-plagued Gou. Inconsistent. And if Tetsuya is inconsistent...

JUN'ICHI/GREEN SAI is inconsequential. Faring a little better than Tetsuya in the episode count (ooh, THREE focus episodes!), the writers give him much less of an identity. After their debut, the episode right off the bat? The infamous episode where Jun'ichi is pregnant! What a way to make you try to like the two newbies, eh? Being the younger brother of the female friend Mari, Jun'ichi's depicted as being a little soft. I've often wondered if the character was originally intended to be the younger sister of Mari, but that pregnancy episode was written and they realized how that goofy episode would have actually played horrifically with a female character. Not only that episode, but the only shred of backstory we're ever given about Jun'ichi involves a vague disease he had when he was a kid, which reminds me of the backstory of Bioman's Hikaru/Pink Five. Like Yamaguchi, actor Shinobu Koumoto resorts to just shrieking his lines. He's a slightly better performer than Yamaguchi, but has the weaker character. Like Tetsuya, he's initially supposed to be angry towards Volt and motivated by revenge, but you always feel like he's just going along with Tetsuya -- he's not believable. The best thing about Jun'ichi? He's a walking sponsor for Budweiser:

Ideally, these two characters would have had a nice arc where the three Liveman teach them to overcome their revenge. They practically immediately let it go once they become Liveman for no reason whatsoever -- there's never a scene or speech given to them that makes it all click. They never learn a lesson or anything, no. It's just dropped. (It bubbles up again, briefly, in episode 35, but as an afterthought in what was a stronger Yuusuke VS Kempu episode.) It's just such a missed opportunity, the things that could have been done with these two, but there's no real effort made. And why? Did the writers hate who were cast and not feel like giving them good material? Were the writers overwhelmed at introducing two new heroes so late into the series? (And, though it's difficult, it's important to keep in mind that Tetsuya and Jun'ichi were kind of breaking new ground -- they were basically the first "sixth" heroes, a concept that some Sentai entries still struggle to get working smoothly in their show.) They should be crucial to not only the story with Volt, and the nature of their connection to Volt versus the other three's, but they should have also strengthened Takuji and Mari's presence in the series. As is, they just feel disconnected from everything, when they should be anything but. (Early Liveman would have filmed flashback scenes between the siblings to help give the story power, for one.)

Basically, Tetsuya and Jun'ichi have everything going against them -- they throw the other three off rhythm, are played by cringe-inducing actors, and are a waste of a vast amount of potential, such a waste that they basically get shoved into the background for the last ten episodes of the series. So much poignancy and strength could have been added to the overall themes of the series if these two had stayed true to their purpose and been given a proper arc...

And been played by decent actors.

Monday, September 3, 2012

ForeVer Rescue Spirits

1999. Remember the Y2K panic? The bad bubblegum pop that littered airwaves? The sucky letdown that was The Phantom Menace? People were stressed, worried, afraid of what the year 2000 held. So why not make a superhero show all about that uncertainty and paranoia, and pile on some natural disaster stuff for extra measure?

GoGoFive came on the heels of Gingaman which, as much as I currently enjoy it, when it first hit the airwaves? It might be hard to believe now, but that show was about as oddball sore-thumb to the Sentai franchise as Hibiki is to the Rider series. (Maybe not as severe as Hibiki, but close.) So GoGoFive was looking like a traditional entry with respectable heroes, a tech heavy show and not those weird, animal-mimicking forest people who jumped out of a storybook. The first Sentai series with Metal Hero veteran Jun Hikasa as head producer, GoGoFive premiered in an interesting spot -- the Metal Hero franchise was gasping its last breath, and there was still no new Kamen Rider show (though Kuuga must have been forming in Toei's mind).

Hikasa wanted to focus on people in the rescue profession, still wanting to highlight the real-life heroes who helped the country in its tragedies that still echoed from '95. And in spotlighting real life heroes, GoGoFive tries to approach the Sentai formula in as realistic way as it can, before Kuuga took a similar approach and was more successful for it. GoGoFive went tech-heavy, trying its damnedest to explain the logistics of how crazy Sentai technology like the henshin suits (shown in full detail how they work and just how they protect the user), weapons and -- of course -- just how the mecha works and all goes together. If you know me, you know that I'm far from being a mecha fan, but GoGoFive has some of the more interesting, well thought-out mecha work in the franchise. From the functioning of the individual pieces to the staging of actual monster fights to doing wild stuff like having the GoGoFive travel to space, there's a real effort in making you take notice to the mecha scenes and not have your mind wander. (If I wasn't partial to the designs and whiz-bang direction of the mid and late '80s Sentai shows, I'd say GoGoFive has the best mecha scenes in the franchise.)

As for the characters, I'm always pretty leery towards the toku shows that have the heroes be siblings. A lot of times I think that's just lazy writing, an easy way to have all of the characters always be in one spot and not all that different from one another. But GoGoFive is one of the few that gets it right -- they at least all have their own personalities, and the writers get the family bonds down, right down to the occasional bickering. The Tatsumis might not look anything at all like one another, but they certainly felt like a tight family, and I think it's the only Sentai team of all family members where they really accomplish that. The stand-out is Matoi/Go Red, who I think is pretty unique for being the first real smart-ass punk of a Red. They get a lot of comedic mileage out of Matoi, his over-eagerness and his 'tude, and some have blamed the downfall of the serious Red on Matoi, but Matoi's always able to switch on, is ultra-determined and puts himself 110% into the mission. It's hard to imagine someone better than Ryuuichiro Nishioka being cast in the role, and suit actor Seiji Takaiwa's a good match, just letting loose, and keeping up with the comedic sides of the character. There's too many times where a unique character like Matoi would be totally different in-suit. Some would argue that Megaranger's Kenta is the first different kind of Red of this type, but he pretty much became a different character in-suit. Matoi still seems like himself when in-suit, even if as exaggerated as Takaiwa can make him.

Speaking of the suit actors, there were always complaints about GoGoFive's action being "lackluster," but I always thought that...having toned down action was the point. With trying to be realistic, GoGoFive don't have a wild and crazy arsenal, and the characters aren't fighters or trained soldiers. They work with what they got and get the job done, and I think the JAC are really good at conveying this but not by just being lifeless or boring, they still really get these characters across. (It also helps that the actors themselves spend a lot of time in-suit for the see-through visor scenes. So, more than a lot of other toku shows, you get a real good sense that the actors really are the ones in the suit.)

One thing I always liked about GoGoFive was the urgency the show gave a lot of the situations. It always tried to make things feel "big," and the show had big ambitions, trying to stage things in an almost cinematic way. The premiere episodes looks like it has a lot of money put into it, and is a pretty big and grand way to kick off the show; but there are plenty of other episodes that keep that urgent, tense, disaster movie feel. Like the GoGoFive team themselves, the show's cast and crew make do with what they have and get the job done, because it's crazy when you keep in mind that it's a low-budget show on at 7:30 AM and there's an episode where they're basically trying to do Michael Bay's "Armageddon," and it's a damn good episode, and actually feels big scale. And the show's not all action -- the family interaction is really well done, and it's easy to care for all of the Tatsumi characters, and they're neatly paralleled by the villain family (once again, I think the villains would have more impact if they were actors) -- but I feel like GoGoFive's approach to the scale of the action and the disaster movie feel is something that makes it so unique that it's what I chose to focus on.

Some of my favorite episodes that highlight this:

11/12: Two-parter introducing Grand Liner, which focuses on the team racing against the clock to thwart Saima's attempt to force volcanic eruptions around Japan; Matsuri is delayed by being held hostage in a bus, and when the bus is hit in an attack, she has to stick up for her beliefs and face the criticism of the other passengers when she decides to save the life of the man who was holding them hostage.

19 - 22: A four-parter that not only sees the end of a regular villain, but has a trio of monsters wreaking havoc by sending explosive feathers soaring throughout Japan. One of the people who end up with the feathers is the toddler of a Tatsumi family friend. It's another tight, up-against-time episode that see the GoGoFive taste defeat, having to run from the fight and hide out in a storm. Their GoGo Braces are destroyed, which lets Nagare show off his scientific knowledge as he repairs them overnight.

25: The episode in which Grandienne tries to break through as the Grand Cross arrives. The episode begins with the Tatsumis very on edge knowing the storm that's brewing, and even Mondo gets in on the action as the GoGoFive try their damnedest to prevent Grandienne's arrival.

30: A unique episode which has no monster of the week. The take-off on Michael Bay's Armageddon, in which the GoGoFive receive the Victory Machines in order to travel to space and destroy a gigantic meteor that the Saima are pulling towards Earth. The episode is directed by veteran Sentai SFX chief Hiroshi Butsuda, and there's a lot of nice miniatures, such as when the GoGoFive land on the meteor in the unique Beetle Walker version of the mecha, which they use to drill a hole in the meteor and plant explosives. The GoGoFive just barely make it...

40: Daimon and Matsuri plan to show a kid the inside of the Bay Area 55, unaware that the Saima have planted destructive parasites on the kid which are let loose once he's in their base. What starts out looking like a sugary episodes quickly turns tense, with the GoGoFive in a panic to save their base.

Some GoGoFive episodes I think are on par with what Toei actually does put out as their toku movies...which brings me to GoGoFive's movie, the direct-to-video "Crash! A New Super Soldier," which is one of the few toku movies that I think is really good. Supporting character Kyoko gets her chance to shine, there's a cool big fight between all of the characters (with the Saima showing off some of their abilities) and awesome Keiichi Wada as the titular new hero. The only problem is that the movie was made back when they didn't care to tie movies into the series, so it's a self-contained adventure, when it would have been nice for there to be references to it. It's a shame that this movie gets buried as a V-Cinema and junk like Shushutto the Movie gets put on the big-screen. (But, man, it's a cool movie -- check it out. If you watched GoGoFive as it aired, it was a nice payoff after following Kyoko throughout half the series.)

Just as I think Changeman's finale was clever in working in the then topical return of the Halley's Comet, I thought it was pretty neat the way GoGoFive worked in Nostradamus' prediction of the grand cross, which fans noticed was to occur in the summer of '99, right around when Toei aired the frantic episode in which the GoGoFive race to prevent Grandienne's reappearance with the Grand Cross (which they just barely accomplish, which is why she is only partially formed). With the anxiety about the millennium I mentioned, additions like this made GoGoFive seem more of the moment than these shows usually seem.

Another thing I can't leave out is GoGoFive's rockin' music. Songs and BGM, it's all great. The music is heroic, gigantic, epic. The BGM is by Toshiyuki Watanabe, son of '70s and early '80s Sentai composer Chuumei Watanabe -- fitting for the family theme, huh? But the songs, man...the OP by Shinichi Ishihara -- who goes all-in as usual -- is one of the best Sentai opening themes, IMO, and each song Ishihara sings on the soundtrack is just as awesome.

GoGoFive's a great show that I feel has gone overlooked by the fandom. Ahead of its time in approach but very timely in content, it's an entertaining, exciting, fun ride. Eat your heart out, Tomica Rescue Failures.