Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2/27/88 -- It's alive! It's a Liveman!

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Choujuu Sentai Liveman. The first episode is called "My Friends, Why Did You?" -- and I don't care what you say -- it's a classic. It's personally my favorite Sentai premiere. It just keeps coming at you, and yet, it takes its time to establish everything.

A lot of the Sentai premieres -- most of them -- up until that point had a similar formula. The bad guys are established, invade, the team is assembled. Liveman uses time jumps and flashbacks and fills you in on details -- where the villains are coming from, how the heroes react, the time it takes them to build their arsenal.

One of my favorite scenes in all of Sentai is from the first episode, when Yuusuke, Jou and Megumi collect themselves after Volt's first attack on Academia Island and it turns into a nightmarish reunion with their former classmates. The Bofura battleship lands, the silhouettes of the three traitors as Tatsumi Yano's excellent BGM plays. Look at the smug faces of the three -- they're so damn proud of themselves for annihilating their old school, it's disgusting. They boast of their transformations, the things they learned from Bias. The three protagonists are cornered, Kemp becoming the freakishly bizarre Beauty Beast, Mazenda firing upon them with her surgically-attached arsenal. Our heroes stand -- "We've changed a lot in the last two years, too." They transform, and our smug villains are in SHOCK. I love that they were just two minutes ago so self satisfied, but are just so surprised by Yuusuke, Jou and Megumi's becoming Liveman. And I love that the show wasn't afraid to show that the Liveman just weren't quite there yet, that they take more hits in their first battle. They don't just instantly cream the Volt's troops. Yellow Lion gets so fed up with being beat that he goes and gets his mecha!

How different Liveman must have seemed at the time, huh? This different premiere episode, the first Sentai with completely human villains, only the second team to have just three heroes. I grew up with the Bioman through Liveman run, and had only the vaguest idea of teams that came before Bioman from retrospective books, so a male Yellow and female Blue was an interesting change. I thought just having three heroes was so cool...

It didn't dawn on me until I was older that the two murdered friends, Takuji and Mari, would have filled out the five members of Liveman. The power suits of their project, the plans of which ended up being turned into the Liveman suits, featured the logo of a swallow and beagle. So, last year I had a friend draw me what Takuji and Mari's Liveman suits might have looked like, had they survived and become Liveman. The swallow on Takuji's suit is orange, while Mari's beagle mark is brown, so I wanted to switch up the colors Sentai usually uses and have them be...


My friend came up with the weapon designs -- all I knew was that I wanted one of them to have a sai, because I think it's moronic that Green Sai had friggin' boomerangs and not the sai! I also kind of think that Takuji would probably have been leader of the team since he seemed to have his act more together than Yuusuke did at that point.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Serve the public trust. Protect the innocent. Uphold the law.

Although my last RoboCop post went over like a lead fart, I said I would cover "RoboCop: Prime Directives," and was bugged by not completing my ramblings about old Robo.

Prime Directives is a four-part, Canadian-made TV miniseries from 2001 -- the last live-action Robo adventure until the remake is released. (The remake's been pushed back until '14!) It's an attempt to get back to basics -- not that RoboCop's had the most solid continuity or anything, but this movie pretty much only cares to include the first film. (Although it's not above using a lot of stock shots from the maligned TV series.) Fan reaction was mixed -- some appreciated the darker tone and attempts to get away with goriness, others felt it was too cheap to make an impression. (Its cumulative budget was supposedly even less than what the budget of the 1987 movie was!)

To be honest, I found it a little difficult to get through the first two parts, which are titled "Dark Justice" and "Meltdown," but I enjoyed the last half of the series, "Resurrection" and "Crash and Burn" more. Overall, I feel that this miniseries would have benefited from condensing it all into just two parts -- tighten the scripts up a bit, and I think it would have made for a much more impressive entry in the franchise. Because there's a lot of neat ideas here...

The most interesting idea involves the character John Cable, who was one of Murphy/Robo's partners before Murphy transferred to the precinct he did in the movie. Cable is pretty much the flip-side of Murphy -- Cable takes his police work seriously and wants to make a difference, but he doesn't care about disregarding rules or morals to get his way. Cable is cynical, his home life is unhappy. Compare that to Murphy, who's a very by the book, stand-up guy with a happy marriage and son. Murphy, now as RoboCop, eventually crosses paths with Cable again for a case, and eventually is manipulated into killing Cable. OCP decides to turn Cable into "RoboCop 002," a RoboCop they can better control, a RoboCop that will eliminate the original RoboCop. Clad in black rather than silver, the two Robos, like Cable and Murphy, are night and day -- whereas his former life is what keeps Murphy/Robo going, is what makes him such a good cop, Cable/Robo's bitterness and misery in life is what makes him such a ruthless, "dark" version of RoboCop that creates a major roadblock for OUR RoboCop. It's an interesting idea, and one that's a big improvement over the idea introduced in the second RoboCop film (where an outlaw is turned into RoboCop to create the contrast). The two contrasting each other also reminded me of G4 and G3-X in the Agito movie. G4, who knew the system would kill him and was just waiting for his death, says something to G3-X like, "The way you embrace living, I embrace death." Murphy has fought to live on as RoboCop; Cable just wants to die.

Page Fletcher, the Murphy/RoboCop of the Prime Directives miniseries.

So, how does the guy playing Murphy/RoboCop stack up against the others? Veteran Canadian actor Page Fletcher is the man behind the mask for this miniseries, and he also gets to play Murphy in flashbacks more than any actor since Weller. Fletcher's performance is quite different, even a little off-putting at first, but I grew used to him. He claims to have never seen any of the other RoboCop titles before and wanted to come up with a different take, which has divided fans. Some describe him as moving like a Rock-em Sock-em Robot, but he reminds me more of a wind-up toy. But like I said, I got used to it. (More distracting to me? The different sound-effects. You're used to RoboCop's footsteps being that CRUNCH-CRUNCH, and here it sounds like someone slapping a stapler.) The biggest controversy over Fletcher's performance is how emotional he makes RoboCop -- his RoboCop shouts, shows anger, even cries. I kinda liked this take; it makes sense to me that so much of Murphy has come through over time that he started to show emotion again. Fletcher's different, but I liked him.

Maurice Dean Wint, who plays John Cable/RoboCop 2/RoboCable.

Cable/RoboCop 2/RoboCable is played by the always divisive Maurice Dean Wint. I've seen this guy play the bad guy in a couple of movies and I can understand the criticism against him. He sometimes just goes a little too over the top and cartoonish and can be unlikable; he sometimes comes across like he's trying a little too hard to be "bad-ass." (What's funny is that he played Scout in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, where he was the young, funny, joke-maker of the team, and he was immensely likable in that role. But it seems that once he got older, he got pigeonholed as villains, and I wonder if he's just more suited for playing good guys rather than villains.) As human Cable, Wint falls into some of the same traps he does when he plays villains, but I thought he was really good as RoboCable -- I think he could have even made a good RoboCop, he has the moves and everything down. I also have to wonder if the makers of the remake got the idea to make RoboCop's armor black from RoboCable.

All in all, I liked some of the what the miniseries did, but as I said, it could have told its story in just two parts -- there's a lot of stuff that could be cut. There's one too many scenes of OCP corporate shenanigans (the weakest elements of the miniseries) and a plot turn in the second half involving a newly introduced character hatching a scheme to infect OCP's newly launched A.I. system called SAINT. The AI subplot would have worked on its own, I think, by just having it become self-aware and turning on the citizens of Delta City, rather than bringing in this new character who wants to manipulate it for his own goal. (I was a little surprised they even had this SAINT subplot, since it's pretty close to the TV show's Neuro-Brain and Metronet, and this miniseries was trying so hard to distance itself from the sequels and follow-ups.) A lot of it is surprisingly not focused on RoboCop, when the focus needed to stay on the RoboCop VS Cable story, which was the strongest piece of the miniseries. It's a bit of a shame, because this could have been some classic RoboCop.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wishful Casting: Shaider Edition

The Space Sheriffs... While I enjoy the shows, they never really ranked up as high as shows like Juspion, Spielban or Metalder do -- Gavan is a fun show, Sharivan has a little more going on, so those two are great shows, but there's just something about Shaider...

Main writer Shouzo Uehara wrote every episode of Shaider -- probably not a good idea, and one reason why the show can seem so much weaker than its two predecessors. When Gavan and Sharivan had low-plot episodes, they made it up by letting Kenji Ohba and Hiroshi Watari cut loose with some cool action. And that's where I think Shaider went wrong -- I don't want to sound like I'm speaking ill of the dead, because late Shaider actor Hiroshi Tsuburaya is a pretty good actor and I like him, but he wasn't an action guy. And his casting and Shaider's (lack of) action sticks out even more when Juspion and Spielban went on to again cast JAC stars and went back to featuring fun action scenes. So, when Shaider had a weak episode, they would just cover it up with a bunch of seemingly drug-induced, Lynchian weirdness.

I have no idea why they wanted to go with a non-JAC lead for Shaider -- writer Uehara goes back with the Tsuburaya family and recommended Hiroshi, but I think Toei was already looking at regular actors since Jun "Poe" Yoshida auditioned for the role of Dai/Shaider. I think having another JAC talent would have really helped the show out, and I think the best candidate would have been...

Jun'ichi Haruta. C'mon, it's the logical choice! Ohba went from two Sentai heroes to Gavan, Haruta needed to go from two Sentai heroes to Shaider. Had he been cast as Shaider, he most likely wouldn't have gone on to play Metal Villain Mad Gallen in Juspion, but I think he might have gotten more out of playing a lead like Shaider. Like I said, Tsuburaya is fine, but his not being a JAC guy just makes him and the show stick out.

Or, you know what, Toei? Just have the balls to make Naomi Morinaga the one who transforms.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shougo doesn't mean to be an asshole, but...(Part 2)

Tsuyoshi Kida was the main writer of Kamen Rider Hibiki, NOT Shinji Ooishi.

Shougo doesn't mean to be an asshole, but...

I've seen people make this mistake before, and I want to finally correct them:

Sanako Kanzaki is Yui's AUNT and NOT her grandmother.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Unofficial Sentai Ninja Captor

When Gokaiger was airing, a mysterious scan from a vintage magazine was circulating the net that featured Ninja Captor listed amongst the Super Sentai teams. If you were like me, it was sorta irritating how people took it seriously, when...why would Ninja Captor count? You might have a slim case if it aired in '78, when there wasn't a Sentai show on the air at the time, but Ninja Captor ran right as Goranger aired. Goranger! As in THE FIRST, as in, Ninja Captor couldn't possibly qualify when Goranger was still creating the franchise. Why don't we just count Bibyun as a Sentai while we're at it? Voicelugger? Gransazer?

Nobody ever knew where the scan came from, which made some think it might have been a Photoshop'd joke or a mistake by whatever magazine ran it. But, no, as I was going through auction listings for Dynaman, up pops this book -- "The 45 heroes of 8 Great Sentai!" (I tried to highlight in green Ninja Captor's being listed on the cover, but you can clearly see Captor 7 on the back of the book.) So, some nincompoop at Toei did, in fact, at one time think Ninja Captor should be ranked, but it thankfully never stuck, so now it's just one of those curiosities. What's funny, though, is that this book is from '83, when Goranger and JAKQ tended to be left out of this sort of thing. I could see someone at Toei trying to push for the Saburo Hatte-created Ninja Captor as being counted as a Sentai back when the two Ishinomori shows were excluded, but...here they are, all together. Come to think of it...what's with this book including Goranger and JAKQ as "Super Sentai," when Toei didn't officially include them until, like, the time of Ohranger!?! What crazy scheme was Biff Tannen up to this time that this book exists?

All during Gokaiger and Akibaranger, people kept bringing up Ninja Captor. "Wouldn't it be funny if --" No, it wouldn't have been funny. It would just create nerd wars that I probably would have had to fight in. Other than a brief moment in the early '80s where Biff Tannen was trying to push Ninja Captor as a Sentai entry while building his empire in the alternate 1980s timeline, Ninja Captor was never mentioned along with Super Sentai. Nobody remembers that show, and there's probably only two people who have seen that show in its entirety. As neat as it would be to count toku legend Daisuke Ban as a Sentai Red, Ninja Captor ain't a Super Sentai.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Arrival! Secret Power!

Finally! I now have the Changeman's Grand Power, and you know what it is? The best damn Sentai show, period.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Prince Igam Pees Sitting Down

I'm a big Maskman fan -- I think it's shot up to the number two position on my list of Top 5 favorite Sentai shows. I always thought Igam was an interesting character, with a unique rivalry to Takeru/Red Mask, and that Mina Asami did a great job playing not only Igam, but Mio/Princess Ial. So, it always ticks me off when I read people mock Maskman for this storyline, thinking they're smart and the Maskman writers are dumb for trying to pull off this storyline, something that can be found in stories that are centuries old. (And if you're a fan of Go-onger, you have no right to call this storyline "stupid" -- or poke fun at Maskman's "henshin diapers.")

"OMG! Are the Maskman stupid!?! That's obviously a woman!" Congratulations! You've solved the non-mystery that the OP credits displays in the open! Like anything in the sci-fi/superhero genre, suspension of disbelief is required, and Maskman handles this scenario by having Igam meant to come off as dandy and effeminate (think of someone like Loras, the Knight of Flowers from Game of Thrones, or any number of anime guys), which is why strong-guy Baraba picks on him so much. And, a joke I've been beating to death on the forums which I want to post here in platinum for posterity: It was the '80s -- dude looking like a lady wouldn't make the Maskman team think twice.

Post title brought to you by Baraba.

Remember when...

Remember when tokusatsu shows were willing to be a little looser and switch things up -- like, say, dropping something from the show that doesn't work? Remember that painfully unfunny Alfred Molina-looking inventor dude who was supposed to be the comedic relief in Spielban? Maybe you don't, because that show realized how bad he was and wrote him and the characters related to him out of the series. Remember how the Bioman early on could talk to animals and get help from them? What happened to that?

It seems like a lot of the newer tokusatsu shows just cling to characters and ideas that, in an older series, would have probably been cut for the better. There's an unwillingness for the series to change -- usually what you see at the beginning is what remains for the entire series. Like...why won't Toei ever let their actors get a goddamn haircut? Either they keep the hairstyle they have at the start of the show, or are allowed to just let it keep growing -- it's like they're not allowed to get it cut or change the hairstyle at all. (If Juspion was made now, we'd have to put up with an entire series of his friggin' Afro.)

These are some of the pointless things that popped in my head looking through Kyoryuger stuff. Like, doing a samba dance to henshin is one of the stupider ideas to come from a toku show, and one that would probably have eventually been eliminated in an older show, but you know Kyoryuger's going to stick with it, and probably get even more annoying with it if they get power-ups. Kyoryu Blue has an obnoxious Juspion Afro going, and they ain't going to let him cut it. Look at Go-busters -- Hiromu's hair got so long that he's practically become Captain Caveman, eyes, nose, and a mouth poking out from hair. Gone are the days where Change Pegasus will have a goofy mullet for several episodes before wising up and getting his hair cut.

Heisei Kamen Rider shows LOVE having a cast of 100, useless supporting characters, but they're never willing to cut any of them out of the show, no matter how useless they are or how little the writers are able to come up with anything for them to do. Drop those characters, dammit!