Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Revenge of the Ranger Keys

I wanted to post the last couple of Ranger Keys I bought to complete my collection -- those weird little odds and ends that Bandai Premiuim came out with.

The weirdest damn team-up ever.

And, just when I thought I was done with Ranger Keys, comes this latest addition...

Yui Ibuki! I had a spare Change Pegasus key and thought it would be perfect to customize into Ibuki and had a friend make it. Yui Ibuki has one damn funky design, so I wasn't sure how it would turn out -- I know if Bandai had made it, they probably wouldn't have included the shoulder spikes or as many horns -- but I'm really happy with it. (And since it uses a Change Pegasus key, it will get Tomokazu Seki to scream "Changeman!" when used with the Mobirates.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Get off my lawn!

Someone on HJU posted their ideas for the Superhero Taisen movies, one of which was an animated team-up of the original Kamen Rider series and Goranger. He goes on to say "[They] should be played by the current rider and sentai actors since the old ones won't reprise their roles and they will be probably be dead in the future."

OK, it's animated, so their ages shouldn't matter, and plenty of them have returned before, either in the flesh or in voice-only appearance, so I don't understand this "won't reprise their roles," but...WHAT?!?!

Now, I know the internet is mysterious and you never really know people's ages, but when I read someone say something like this, I assume they're about 12 or 13 and anyone over 16 is just so old and geezery to them and they think they have one foot in the grave. I don't mean to single this guy out, because it's something that's come up A LOT in topics when discussing possible future Sentai anniversaries or team-ups. "2016 will be the next anniversary, and most of the Showa actors might be dead." I've read people say this shit. Multiple times. Let's just focus on Goranger for now. I don't care how old you are, why in the fook do you act like 1975 is, like, the Cretaceous period? NONE OF THE FIVE SURVIVING GORANGER HERO ACTORS ARE EVEN IN THEIR 70s YET!!!!! And I know this might sound insensitive to say, but if Baku Hatakeyama (Kiranger #1) hadn't committed suicide, he might still be alive today. (And he would have only turned 70 this year.)

Haven't any of these kids seen The Expendables? Because today's young performers are all dandy anorexics who stopped growing at 13, the old action stars are still used because they can still kick ass, especially in comparison. You know why every movie in Hollywood has been remade except for the classic '80s action movies, which instead get new sequels? Because a 50-something Bruce Willis can still beat people up while a Justin Long risks being blown away by the wind or a Zac Efron is unable to form a fist.

Don't underestimate old folks!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Agito: A Sprawling, Ambitious Tapestry

I just finished rewatching Agito for the first time in a while. It's refreshing to watch a good Kamen Rider show after all this time. Agito's still my favorite Kamen Rider series, one of my favorite tokusatsu of all, and I think it's the most ambitious tokusatsu series ever made.

Kuuga producer Shigenori Takatera wanted to change the face of tokusatsu with Kuuga. He certainly altered the format for Kamen Rider -- for better or worse -- but I always thought that the show had a whole array of flaws. Too many characters, too many undifferentiated characters, a limiting set-up, narrative straying. It's a good show, but doesn't hold up to a lot of rewatching or scrutiny. Maybe it's a case of playing it safe -- Toei was counting on it to bring the Kamen Rider franchise back in a big way...

And it did. Kuuga was a success. Agito could ride that success and put it to its use. Agito could take what Kuuga did, but learn from its mistakes. Agito could put on a better show than Kuuga. And I think Agito succeeds in all of those endeavors. While I certainly appreciate what Kuuga did -- its approach to realism, how a weird "henshining" power would affect a person, how society would react to a hero and toku monsters rampaging -- I think Agito is miles above and beyond Kuuga. It's a much more interesting show. It's jam-packed -- it does so much, has such scope, and tells so much story. It's filled with distinct, memorable characters, who all serve a purpose. It's filled with symbolism. It's not a wannabe anime, and it's not shoving toys down your throat. Agito is a pretty well-oiled machine, with a layered plot, twists and turns. Even early on, trying to have ties to Kuuga, it knew what it wanted to be and what it wanted to do. It laid out numerous -- numerous -- mysteries and storylines and didn't brush aside a single one and trusted the audience to keep up. It resolved every questioned it raised, while also leaving developments open to viewer interpretation. For that, Agito is a rewarding experience upon rewatching. I've often said that you can rewatch Agito and still spot something new, something you didn't notice in previous viewings. Kuuga was 99% police procedural, but in a superhero take. Agito was 30% police procedural, but covers a variety of other genres: paranormal, drama, mystery...

He might be a punching bag now, but Agito is really Toshiki Inoue's baby. Like Naruhisa Arakawa with Kuuga, Inoue is given the rare "series composer" credit for Agito. It's a rare credit for a writer in tokusatsu to have, as it means the writers have way more clout and leeway than is the norm. (Kuuga and Agito are probably the only two Toei tokusatsu shows I can think that have that credit. It's not uncommon for a main writer to have that credit in the Ultraman franchise, for example, but Toei's shows are usually committee, where the chief producer is the loudest voice.)

Agito was the first series produced by the now reviled Shinichiro Shirakura, but you know what? I think he was kind of careful in his first go-round. I think, if you look at Agito and look at the other shows Shirakura was chief producer on, it's clear that he kind of stood out of Inoue's way. I think the further he had success, the more he let it go to his head, and the more hands-on and weaker the shows under his watch became. Certainly with Agito's monster success, I think he felt more emboldened, and you can see more Shirakura come through in Ryuki and (especially) Faiz. You can probably blame a lot of Faiz's shortcomings on Shirakura more than Inoue, but that's a whole other mess to get into.

The only real weakness in Agito is the last several episodes. They aren't bad, but they're a step down in that...up until that point, Agito had taken its time. It successfully shuffled a wide range of characters, and each character got a decent amount of time per episode. But those last few episodes seem to have 37 episodes' worth of ideas crammed into them, with a drastically reduced cast. My theory? Inoue had so many ideas for Agito, he could have filled another series. So, he tried to work in his biggest ideas into those final episodes. But? The last episodes of every toku series suffer from Toei's mindset of "Sorry, pal, but we're giving the new show all the money. The final ten episodes of your show can make do with the budget of a new-wave music video."

(A real quick sidenote: why does Kamen Rider Blade, from its very first episode, look like its entire budget was that of a new-wave music video? It's such a damn cheap, shoddy production, it really does reek of those "final episodes when Toei gives us no money," but FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES.)

Anyway, it's not like those final episodes are *bad*, but they're rushed, not given the budget it requires, and cut out too many cast members in favor of some new cast members whose stories don't have a complete impact because everything's so rushed. But it all goes back to Agito's ambition. Inoue treated this show like an American production, a show that could go on for years. Agito's just too big and ambitious for a single-year production to contain.

A lot of people have complained about the tediousness of Heisei Riders having two-parters, and while Agito CAN be broken down into two-part installments, there's so much going on, so many little clues and building blocks being tossed at you, that it never does feel like it's a two-parter or three-parter or whatever; it's truly serialized, just unsprawling itself.

Now, onto some of the characters, the heroes. Shouichi Tsugami is one of my favorite tokusatsu leads, and usually this kind of character can be grating, but Inoue's smart enough to give Shouichi some shades and have characters react to him differently. I've long said that Shouichi is Godai done right. For as realistic as Kuuga wanted to be -- and it did a lot well -- one great, big, huge blunder, IMO, was how Godai was handled. Godai was a big old child-like goofball who could do no wrong, but my big problem was...nobody had a problem with him. Ichijou grumbled a couple of times early on, but let's face it -- Godai's personality would rub a lot of people the wrong way. When I think of Godai, one scene comes immediately to mind -- he's in the meeting room with the police, who are all serious business, giving the latest reports, and Godai just busts in with a "Daijobu!" and thumbs-up and stupid, stupid expression on his face...and they all just laugh. Like, "Oh, that Godai!" In real life, Godai would get a couple of punches.

Shouichi is similar in goofy demeanor, marching to his own beat, but I feel like he's more of a person. For being an amnesiac, he and the show and the audience know who he is more than we ever know about Godai. But Shouichi showed moments of doubt. He showed moments of fear. Shouichi went through the wringer a couple of times. Godai will take a hit and wave it off with a thumbs-up. Furthermore, Shouichi marches to his own beat and has that very hippie/optimistic look on life that he'll try to force onto others, like Godai, but people will call him on it. They don't just chuckle and go "Oh, that Shouichi!"

Initially, Hikawa thinks Shouichi's head is in the clouds. Ashihara actually punches him out when he's about to force his philosophy onto a character who it wouldn't help. But, gradually, people become swept up into Shouichi's world, and the things they experience in battle with the Unknown start changing them and their perception. It helps that actor Toshiki Kashuu is just perfect casting -- like Kamen Rider Black's Tetsuo Kurata, it's hard to believe it was his first acting job. (Toei threw both Kurata and Kashuu into acting lessons before and during their show, which is probably more than they do now.) Kasshu is also said to be a lot like Shouichi in real life.

The G3 portion of the show is a bit Metal Hero influenced, but takes the idea of those Winspector-y types of shows and improves upon them. For all of the cracks made by fans about how G3's constantly beat up, he at least does more than the Rescue Police heroes did in three shows combined. Hikawa's really underrated, when...look at some of the cool stuff he does. He dives into the center of a storm to save the Akatsuki ship. He dives into the center of danger to save people from Unknown attacks, time after time, while waiting for his armor. He's the first one to pick up on the Unknown attacking people with supernatural abilities. He's a normal guy, but doesn't hesitate to put himself in jeopardy for others. Hikawa's a hero through and through, he's selfless, he's always even polite to everyone -- even Houjou, until it reaches a boiling point. (And the fact that Hikawa does have his limits makes him more realistic.) When all of the other Riders have lost their powers, who's the one still fighting? A severely injured, half-blind Hikawa.

One of my favorite moments is when he's beating up one of the elemental Lords in the finale, and they're surprised, saying "Who are you? How can you cause such damage," and G3-X responds "I'm just a plain human!" I feel like G3 could have had his own show, but the fact that he's just one third of Agito speaks to just how much ground this show was covering.

While I'm talking about the G3 side of the show, I'd like to say that there's really only one thing that I think can be tedious upon Agito rewatches: Houjou's antics. It's really depressing to find out that Inoue considered Houjou his favorite character in the series, but I guess not all that surprising since he does favor asshole characters like Kusaka and Kiriya. (Some would say Gai, but those people should shut up.) Houjou has his moments, and he's a necessary source of conflict for the police side, a source of conflict completely missing from Kuuga, but he's mainly just a pain in the ass, and I think the character is beyond actor Jun Yamasaki's abilities.

Yamasaki's mostly just stiff, and you can never get a real bead on what the character's really after. The worst is his moronic "Protect the Unknown" scheme from the final episodes. If you were meant to take into account the way Aki and Gills attacked him, and Houjou's concerns were genuine, then Yamasaki never lets you know it, with his monotonous line-reading and plastered on shit-eating grin. I mean, I do think Houjou is meant to be unreadable, to a certain extent, but I think a better actor would have made his intentions SOMEWHAT more visible.

Ashihara makes up one portion of the show that leaves some things in the air, there's more room for interpretation with his side of things. I remember some early, early information that said that maybe Ashihara's powers came from the Unknown. I know some people think Gills is a half Unknown/half Agito power. I think, if you look at Ryou and Kino and take into account that the Sawakis were Agitos because of what good, selfless people they were, then the more monstrous powers of Gills and Another Agito were because of the type of people they were, or that they had some darkness in them. If Ashihara's Gills powers HAD been from the Unknown, that would have been an interesting tie to the original Riders by Ishinomori, but I think the story still has the same effect -- the Rider powers are a curse to our hero, but they'll use that power for good.

So, Ashihara is kind of a classic Rider type. The powers cause him pain, cause him to be constantly on the brink of life and death, and nearly everything he loves is taken away, but the journey he's placed on ends up making him a better person. When we first see him, he's cold, stand-offish. His ex-girlfriend and father talk about what an unreliable punk he used to be. But after his experiences and after being swept up in Shouichi's world, he becomes warmer, more caring, more open-minded.

I like my Rider designs monstrous and ugly. And you can't get more monstrous and ugly than Another Agito! (Designed by Yutaka Izubuchi.)

Kino was an interesting character to throw into the mix, and it was certainly nice to have an older Rider. While he might have been a sign of bad things to come in terms of rival Riders who "want to be the best!!!" at least Kino's given more dimension than those guys, at least he has a plausible reasoning. Unlike nearly every Rider show afterwards, the initial rivalries and Rider VS Rider fights came about with logic. With Gills, they all thought he was an Unknown, and he thought Agito killed Aki, attacking in a blind rage. With Another Agito, it's not "You're a better make-up artist than I am, you must pay," it's that Kino's psychologically damaged; he's traumatized. He has a complex, he wants to save everyone he can because he wants to make amends for failing to save his brother. Add on top of that that he's given god-like powers when he's in a profession that's accused of playing God, you can see where he's coming from.

There seems to be a lot of Christian imagery in Agito. Burning Form is reminiscent of the Sacred Heart: note the vein-y heart muscle look to the chest armor as well as, of course, the flames.

Agito's also probably one of the only Rider shows to feature interesting female characters. Mana's kind of the heart of the show, and I like how she steps up and puts her powers to use for little things like, oh, I don't know, helping Shouichi beat a murder rap, helping the police find Miura's killer (the Mysterious Youth), helping the police solve some murders, resurrecting Ashihara and deciphering Yukina's letter. I like the way the show had people gradually finding out about her abilities. I can picture some later shows really dragging it out.

Not only is Mana the backbone of the show, but she's a source of encouragement for Shouichi -- but the writing is good enough to let her act her own age at times. In a typical X-Men fashion, she has moments where she doubts her place or fears her powers. So, to me, it's believable later in the series when she's upset about her dad and the Agito powers and she's one of the reasons Shouichi gives up the power. It's easy to imagine how that scenario would play out in a later Rider show -- one deprived of any logic -- but she's also the one who gets Shouichi to fight again and reclaim his power. For her age, Rina Akiyama does a great job, she hits all the right notes with the character, and I *still* think it was sad to see her so wasted in Den-O.

I think something that would have helped those off-seeming final episodes would be to replace the Kana character with Mana (only drop the romantic interest part of it). Kana's a weak character, she spends most of her time in the show being completely unlikable. It's hard to feel for her and get why Shouichi cares so much. With some reshuffling, it could have easily been Mana -- she started to go Agito and it scared her and they could have still done the recreation of The Real Shouichi and Yukina, while The Real Shouichi could have still earned his (awesome) redemption by helping Shouichi save her.

Another key character is Ozawa. Another case of spot-on casting, because Touko Fujita brings the perfect amount of quirkiness to the offbeat genius, when it could have been easy to just play her as stuck-up or unlikable. Ozawa's a bit cynical, a realist who speaks her mind, but she's often right in her assessments of characters or situations, one-step ahead of everyone else. She's tough, competent, and can hold her own. Her G3 creation is awesome, and she's hilarious on top of it.

The "Deep Breath" album cover. Not only an awesome song, but also a kickass homage to the classic Ishinomori eyecatch. Serious or curious?

And I feel like I should stop there. There's just too much to get into with this show. I'll have to follow up in a subsequent post. Great supporting characters (how have I not mentioned "Sawaki"?). Near perfect casting. Strong action sequences by Kazuyoshi Yamada, with some of the best suit-actor performances you'll see by those guys. (Agito gets criticized for being too talky, but pay attention to the action sequences. They aren't loud, CGI effects-heavy commercials but well staged pieces. Even when it's not a fight scene, the suit actors are treating the scene like a samurai drama. Suit scenes with suit ACTING, not action scenes with Bandai acting. Yamada gets to the heart and drama of a scene.)

A great soundtrack (not counting the awful, awful 24.7 version of the OP), killer monster designs by the talented Yutaka Izubuchi. Too much! It's overstuffed! And even if Toei shot down some of those ambitions, it still probably does more than the past ten Rider shows combined. Every series afterward wanted to be Agito, but they didn't come close. When Gaim is considered to be a "deep" series with good writing and characters, it's depressing and makes you realize how many people either haven't seen Agito or didn't appreciate it. When I was just rewatching it, I was kind of surprised that Toei even had the balls to make it in the first place. And I can't imagine Toei ever finding the balls to make something like Agito again.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Changeman's 30th Anniversary

On November 30th, 1984, the Changeman cast assembled for the first round of publicity still shoots (see above), with filming starting at around the same time. CHANGEMAN BEGINS. So begins the legendary show's 30th anniversary, in which I might unleash a complete spamathon in commemoration. Why? Changeman's my favorite. Changeman's the best. And? I just don't think Toei's going to bother doing anything for it.

It's pretty sad the way Toei just kind of gave up on all of their old shows once they got released to DVD. They stopped bothering to do cool reunions for Toei Hero Max or Toei Channel. Those kinds of publications seem to have completely given up on honoring anything that isn't their new shit or a '70s Ishinomori show.

Changeman was big in its time. It's a fan favorite. It's a favorite of Toei higher-up Takeyuki Suzuki, who was the show's main producer. (He used to say Changeman was his top favorite, but supposedly now claims it's Bioman. Traitor!) Changeman was popular all around, and it was one of the first Sentai shows to have crossover appeal, gaining attention from non-toku fans. Toei needs to mark the anniversary! I'm not at all confident they'll do anything -- fans worship Bioman, but 2014 went without anything done to honor its anniversary. Not even any live fan event in its honor!

I want a cast reunion in something like Toei Hero Max or Toei Channel. I want that goddamn Change Dragon Figuarts. I want a new Changeman novel by main writer Hirohisa Soda (who is actually a novelist now, unlike most of the people they get to write the Rider and Sentai sequel novels). I want a Changeman Memorial DVD like the Space Sheriff trilogy got, with all of the same extras. C'mon, Toei, put SOME effort into something for a change...

Let's change! Join the celebration all year long at Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mermaid & Phoenix

A damned easy custom project. Like I've mentioned before, I was disappointed that the Girls in Uniform line petered out before hitting more characters. I once saw a Japanese fan do a simple head-swap to make his own Mai/Change Phoenix, since her Earth Defense Uniform is the same as Sayaka's. I thought it was a really cool idea, but they used Megumi/Blue Dolphin's head, which I didn't think it quite matched Mai. So, I used a different head that I think better resembles Mai for mine. I held off on posting this because I thought people would think it's lame to talk about a custom that's just a head-swap, but this is my blog and I want to do what I want to do. Anyway, it's nice to have both Lady Soldiers represented.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kooky theory: Was Shoko-tan muscled out of Goseiger?

When news of Goseiger started hitting the net, the early press materials described Eri/Gosei Pink as the "elder sister of the team" -- that she was smart, reliable, who the rest of the team looked to. You know, everything that the Eri in the show wasn't.

Also: Shoko Nakagawa had been making posts on her blog, cryptic messages that her "dream was finally coming true." As has been well-documented, Nakagawa is a huge Sentai fan, a big Pink nerd, and her dream is to play Pink, and she's auditioned several times. She came close in Dekaranger, and many assumed that she was too old for Toei's liking after that show, but Nakagawa and her fans didn't give up... Well, until around Goseiger, that is. Goseiger was six years after Dekaranger, and Toei DOES like to cast their shows ridiculously young now. But...hey, what do these posts on her blog mean? And Eri IS said to be the eldest one of the team. Could it be...does this Nakagawa finally a Sentai Pink!?!

Cut to the cast reveal. Rika Satou, a fairly known idol who was also well known for being a dunce on quiz shows, is announced as Eri/Pink. Not only that, but she kind of looks Nakagawa-y a bit. A little. Maybe. Very ear-y. People were also making a big deal that the actresses cast as the Gosei heroines were actually older than the guys, with Satou being just such a geezery 23. (Seriously, 23, people? I know she was cast after a long run of 16 year old idiot heroines, but c'mon. And, besides: Nakagawa is only two years older than Satou, so it's not like she was just sooooooo much older than you expect these cast members to be. Also: if someone who's pushing 30 like Tokkachi can be cast, despite being one of the worst actors in the history of the world, then they could have made a special exception for casting an "older" heroine.) I mean, isn't it possible that Toei would have cast a then-25 year old Nakagawa as this supposedly "elder sister" that held the team together?

OK, Satou's cast, whatever. And from the very start, all of the early info of Eri doesn't match -- they obviously wrote for Satou, because Eri quickly became such an airhead. But, hey, maybe they can still cast Nakagawa for 2011's show, the big anniversary one, right? (Wrong.)

Shortly after the Gokaiger-Goseiger crossover movie, Satou basically went off the grid -- nobody heard from her, her page was removed from her agency's site, she never updated any of her blogs or whatever. There was a bit of a scandal, blind items from news reports about a well known idol who was arrested for drug possession, and this idol was connected to a talent who, it was eventually revealed, had yakuza ties. People more knowledgable about Satou pretty much connected this blind item to her, especially with the dates of her "vanishing" matching up, the talent in question likely being the guy heavily involved with the quiz show she regularly appeared -- who also happened to retire early around the same time as Satou. (I know this sounds crazy, but Google it.) There's only rumors and gossip about where Satou is now, mainly that she's no longer in the entertainment industry and is working in a restaurant in Osaka. Just...getting started in the entertainment industry, had regular gigs, and just GONE.

So here's my kooky theory. What if Nakagawa HAD been cast as Eri? Her "dream came true." Only, tough shit, here's some idol who's maybe favored by the yakuza who wants the role, so take a hike, nerd! And that's why we didn't get Nakagawa as Gosei Pink.

It's sad, man. It just doesn't make sense to me why Toei wouldn't jump at the chance to get someone like Nakagawa -- who has quite a following, obviously -- to be in their show. I know they're tightwads and want to cast people THEY can launch, but...that hasn't always been the way and it shouldn't always be the way. I think Nakagawa would have been even better in Gokaiger, though. Holy crap, imagine a fan of her level getting to transform into EVERY Pink. And it could have been special casting the way Liveman cast Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori as a way to celebrate Super Sentai's tenth series anniversary. Why did Toei pass that up? And NOW it's probably too late for her to ever be a Pink. And even when Akibaranger basically devoted an episode to Shoko Nakagawa, Toei was STILL too cheap to get her, just instead using a poor stand-in.

"Oi, kono yarou! Fire that nerd and put this dame in your show! YAROU, ARGH!"

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Maskman: The Face of Zeba

(From left to right) Actor Takeo Shinkai, Zeba, and suit actor Hideaki Kusaka.
Early promotional material for Maskman often had a still of Zeba unmasked; as I wrote previously, one of the keshigomu figures even represented this image. It's not a goof or the suit-actor; in the first few episodes of Maskman, Zeba was played by actor Takeo Shinkai, while voiced by seiyuu Seizo Kato. Shortly into Maskman's run, Japan Action Club's Hideaki Kusaka took over the role of Zeba (who was still being voiced by Kato).

Shinkai unmasked as Zeba in a publicity photo.

I always wondered what the original plans for Zeba would have held. Shinkai wasn't a suit actor or action guy, but a character actor who mostly plays villains, so it's odd to have cast him in a role that ordinarily would have just been a JAC suit actor, and even odder to just have regular villain voice-actor Kato providing the character's voice. That's obviously common practice with suit actors, but a regular actor like Shinkai? It's easy to understand why he was just replaced with Kusaka four episodes in. (There must not have been bad blood or anything, because Shinkai ends up guest-starring in a later Maskman episode -- episode number 16 -- as Kenta's kung-fu master.)

Actor Takeo Shinkai as Kenta's old kung-fu mentor in Maskman episode 16.

I've always thought that maybe the original plan was to have Zeba be revealed to be a former friend of Sugata's, one who followed a dark path, and THAT is how Sugata knew about Tube; the show obviously planned to have Sugata do more, but actor Hayato Tani was an in-demand performer and there were scheduling conflicts. Early on, Zeba clouds the world in darkness with a manuever called the "Dark Holon," which sounds like it could have been the opposite of Sugata's Aura Power. Zeba only used that move once, in episode 2, when Shinkai was still playing the character. Was writer Hirohisa Soda's plans to have had Zeba be secretly human, and a former colleague of Sugata's, and when all that fell through, he came up with the Lethal Dogler storyline?

I think the Lethal Dogler storyline ends up working out better. A scientist VS scientist showdown would have been a little too repetitive for Soda to have as much impact; Lethal Dogler's revenge for his monster mother's murder by the underground empire out of their fear gave everything an interesting twist, especially when it came down to Igam's prejudice at having been working for a monster all along helping sway her.

Here's something funny: Shinkai ends up guest-starring in a Winspector episode (episode 43) alongside Keijirou Shiga, who played Baraba. Shinkai's character is a criminal ringleader who murders Shiga's character -- Zeba's revenge!

Far left: Keijirou "Baraba" Shiga. Far right: Takeo "Zeba" Shinkai, from Winspector episode 43.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Kamen Rider 1986

I remember how I used to say that Kamen Rider Kiva should have filmed the 1986 scenes in the style of an '80s toku instead of just relying on colorful clothes and a random pop song here and there to lazily convey the decade. And then I had a thought for a blog post -- "Aha! Why don't I do a post where I cast the 1986 side of Kiva as if it actually WAS made in the '80s? That sounds fun!" So, I made my list.

Then I realized: someone did this at HJU in 2010. The scary part? I POSTED IN THAT THREAD! I don't really remember posting in that thread, but I did. And a couple of my picks are the same, but some have changed. I've approached this list with a certain amount of crazy logic. I tried to look at this as if it was a show being made in 1986; despite the original poster in that thread saying to do that, if you look at my old response, I'm pretty much just slapping up a lot of my favorite people without really thinking about the consequences. Say this Kamen Rider show was made in 1986 -- well, I have a lot of frickin' people from Flashman and Spielban on my original list. So, putting that ridiculous logic to use, I was like, "OK, I can't use those people. Pretend they're tied up with those productions. If this was 1986, Flashman and Spielban would be a lot less cooler if those people were wasted on this Kamen Rider '86 project."

I really tried to think about suitable people who wouldn't have been taken away from an '86 toku. I stuck mainly to toku people, but I tried not to use too many cast members from the same show, but that can be a pain in the ass. I remember the Kiva rumors in '08 describing the second Rider and his name was supposed to be Kamen Rider Hunter. "Kamen Rider IXA" sucks, the Hunter name is cooler, so that's what I'd name the character and show.

So, here's my picks and the thinking behind them:

Otoya Kurenai/Kamen Rider Hunter: Hiroshi Kawai (Changeman's Hayate/Change Griffin; Metalder's Kita; Janperson's Makabe)

I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I think this is spot on casting. Otoya's supposed to be a woman-crazy, seemingly-frivolous guy, but he's supposed to be more deep down -- he's supposed to be competent and know his shit. Kawai could pull off those comedic moments without being obnoxious as heck to characters and viewers alike (unlike Kouhei Takeda). AND he knows how to kick-ass. And he should have played a Rider at some point, anyway.

Yuri Asou: Kiyomi Tsukada (Machineman's Maki; Juspion's Anri; Shin's Sarah)

I always thought there seemed to be something really likable about Tsukada, but she was always kind of given ditzy roles. And yet, she seemed like there was a side of her who could kick ass. (Shin touched upon this, but her part is so small -- and the Engrish makes her so embarrassing -- that it's not the same as if she had been given a full series part like this.) My original pick was Makoto Sumikawa (Spielban's Diana), who I think would make a perfect Yuri, but she was on Spielban in '86, and so cool there, I wouldn't want that show to lose her.

Jou Shima: Koji Moritsugu (Ultraseven's Dan/Ultraseven)

I liked the idea of an older toku guy playing this part, and someone who had presence and star power. The thing about Shima is he's supposed to be quiet and menacing, but he also shows a light side when he goofs around with Master for no good reason. Moritsugu was playing a lot of villains for Toei in the '80s, and we know he has that lighter side, so I think he'd be a good fit. My original pick was Jouji Nakata, but he's too damn awesome as Kaura to steal him away from Flashman. But I really also like that HJU poster's suggestion of Hiroshi Miyauchi. I think Toei was still too afraid to reuse main Rider actors in regular roles in '86, though.

Moritsugu went on to play the villain Tennouji in Blade, and was one of the only few bright spots of that show, IMO.

Akira Kido: Masayuki Suzuki

It's a small part, pretty insignificant. The guy just pops up to bring some occasional levity. This was Suzuki's job in the '80s. My original pick was Spielban's Mickey Curtis, because I had no idea at the time of who to pick for this part.

Jiro/The Wolf Man: Toshimichi Takahashi (Goggle V's Deathgiller)

This one was hard to cast, because you want somebody really cool who's not unavailable. I thought hard for a while, but quickly had the idea of JACtor Toshimichi Takahashi in the part. This guy is insanely underrated, I've seen him give good performances in the smallest, most forgettable stuff. Jiro needs to be a bit older, a bit cooler, a bit dangerous. This guy can do all that. The problem is, he was the suit actor and voice actor for Doctor Bio in Spielban in '86, but...that's a complete waste of Takahashi, really. I think Spielban could have taken that hit.

Ramon/The Creature: Tokie Shibata (Changeman's Nana)

I originally had Kazuhiko Oohara from Machineman as my pick, but then I thought...Ramon's obviously supposed to be a female. Why'd they cast a 14 year old boy and have him act so girly and dress in a sailor uniform and spin like Sailor Moon to transform? Shibata's the first teen actress to pop in my head. Why not? I wanted to avoid being lazy by using two Changeman people, but I figured it was a small enough role to cheat a bit.

Riki/The Monster: Strong Kongou (Bioman's Monster)

C'mon. Look at the guy. Is he not the perfect Frankenstein's Monster?

King/Kamen Rider Dark Kiva: Shinji Toudou (Takuya/Spiderman; Denjiman's Hedora; Metalder's Kirihara)

I always thought this guy should play a Rider, but he was entering villain territory by the mid-80s. So...good fit, I think. He's a bit older than the rest of my picks, but I think King should be older and more intimidating. My original pick was Yutaka Hirose, who would have been an AWESOME King if this was a show that was made in, like, 1990. In 1986, Hirose was on Flashman and still too young.

With Kawai and Toudou, I just realized I used two people from Metalder and shit, I was trying to avoid using people from the same show... But, honestly, they used Toudou so infrequently in Metalder, and I don't think his character and Kawai's ever crossed paths, so I don't think it's a big deal.

Maya: Kazue Itou

Itou is pretty cool, and she's not like other '80s pop-stars in that she kind of projects a more cooler image, can show a darker side of herself. She's a LITTLE on the young side, but I think she could have worked. And every '80s show needs a pop-star in its cast. My original pick was Maskman's Kanako Maeda, but I think she would have been too young to pull off the part.

Itou went on to play Gekiranger's Miki, who I always thought was pretty cool.

Bishop: Jun Yoshida (Shaider's Poe; Kamen Rider Black's Birugenia)

I was originally considering him for King, but thought he was too young. I really wanted to include him, though, so I thought he'd also work as a good Bishop.

Rook: Ritsuko Fujiyama (Message From Space's Kunoi; Dynaman's Zenobia)

I thought the villain side could use more women, and Fujiyama looks like she could break you the way Rook's supposed to be a big, tough son of a bitch who likes to break people for his own entertainment.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Onore, Figfarts!

So, it seems the hopes of any more Sentai Figuarts are basically slim and none. It was irritating as a Sentai fan, to see announcements for more and more ridiculous characters Figuarts was releasing -- seriously, Sailor Moon, even though in-the-flesh figures look dumb with Figuarts 2,000 articulated joints? The biggest blow was dealt by Akibaranger, official commercial of Sentai Figuarts, for having such a crap second season that a third was unlikely. Will they still release Aka Ranger, even after shelving him once already? I'd want to buy the Aka Ranger Figuarts, but it's not like its release is a surprise -- of course Goranger would get special treatment. But they needed to make more Sentai heroes, dammit.

"OMG, Sentai is nowhere near as popular as the almighty Kamen Rider." Screw that. If anything, you can thank the AWFUL choices they made of who to release. (Really, Hurricanger? Feckin' Boukenger!?!? Basco and Sally? Those stupid salaryman grunts from Akibaranger?) It's a sad state of affairs when there's a Figuarts for EVERY SINGLE KAMEN RIDER (of which there's about ten thousand now) and EVERY SINGLE FORM, one thousand forms for each individual Rider and just about five Sentai shows represented. (And not only that, but they're now moving on to re-releasing old Rider releases! I mean, I know those old ones sucked, but get to something new first!) It's a sad state of affairs when you can buy a Figuarts of Kamen Rider Imperer or the useless acorn Rider from Gaim or EVERY SINGLE FORM OF WIZARD'S DESPITE NOBODY IN THE WORLD LIKING THAT SHOW, but you can't buy a friggin' Red Falcon Figuarts. They couldn't even do the most lazy and basic thing of releasing a figure for each Red before giving up.

And you can't say "Well, the Sentai Figuarts wouldn't have all of the radical weapons that a Rider can." Because bullshit! If they can come out with Showa Riders with their no weapons or Space Sheriffs with just their lightsabers or Kikaider with just his hands, then a Change Dragon with just a Change Sword and his Power Bazooka should have been enough. Imagine a Red One with a flaming sword -- that beats Akiba Red's stupid power-up form, doesn't it? How about a Red Mask with a lasered-up Masky Blade, Laser Magnum, alternate Godhand hand, alternate meditation hands, maybe some plastic little aura waves you can attach to his hands? Also, I'm amazed that they haven't done a goddamn Vul-Eagle by now because of how much the Japanese fans inexplicably love that overrated show.

I'm tired of Sentai getting the short end of the stick, just like it did with Medicom (which I guess is a bit of a blessing, since those things were disgustingly overpriced) and Charawheels. (I still think a three pack of the Liveman on their motorcycles would be cool. Certainly cooler than Ryuki in his ugly whatever-the-fuck-that-not-bike-thing thing is.)

P.S. They just announced Figuarts for Blue Beet and Black Beet from B-Fighter. That really, really, really sucks. (Sorry, I kinda can't stand B-Fighter.) I was hoping, after the Space Sheriffs, they'd get to someone like Spielban, who has been seriously unrepresented by action figures. There's not one decent Spielban toy out there -- the soft vinyls from the '80s barely look like him, the deluxe light up toy was huge and clunky and broke easily -- you couldn't even count on a good American figure, because the VR Troopers toys were literally the worst toys ever made. Ideally, it would be a Spielban and Diana Lady two-pack. You could REALLY cheap out by taking Diana Lady and then making a Helen Lady Figuarts (the only difference being a weapon), having a two-pack of Helen Lady and Hellvira. We all know how much toy companies love ripping people off by reissues and repaints, don't we? Helen Lady would be a new figure they'd have to do nothing with other than make a different weapon.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Batman 1989: The film we needed AND deserved

Get the funk up to Batdance, because today is the anniversary of Tim Burton's Batman, which premiered twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five! How frightening it is how Bat-time flies. It's one of the first movies I can remember seeing in the theater and there was just no escaping the Batmania that movie caused. The movie tried so hard to shake the image of the 1960s series, yet was so popular that I remember the show making a comeback in reruns, such was the hunger for all things Batman.

As I just mentioned recently, I'm a big Batman fan, and the 1989 Batman is responsible for that. I had so much Bat-merchandise (I still think the quick-change Bruce Wayne figure is awesome and I still remember what a total disappointment the NES game was and how delicious the cereal was), and I remember just constant coverage of the remains one of my favorite iterations of the character. As much as I've come to enjoy the comics or the Christopher Nolan movies, I feel like Tim Burton's oddness was really at home in Gotham. (The die-hards of the comics grumble about Burton not being a comics fan, but he at least got the character and the character's world and was able to express himself through the character, whereas Nolan expressed himself in spite of the character.)

I love that Burton took Bruce Wayne in the direction of being an eccentric weirdo. Nolan ran with the Bruce Wayne that comics like Frank Miller's Year One used -- the idiot, frivolous playboy persona Bruce uses as a mask. So, I feel like Burton really took the character in a different direction, and that Michael Keaton was the perfect choice to bring this version of the character to life. Keaton also captures the haunted, tortured side of the character that I think can be lacking in other live-action adaptations.

Maybe it comes from becoming a fan of Batman through this movie, but I like film and live-action adaptations of superheroes the most. I mean, I've read a LOT of comics, especially Batman, but I still don't feel really super knowledgeable about comics. So, I don't really have an iron-clad image of a lot of superheroes. Being a movie buff, liking live-action, I know that there are necessary changes that need to be made in adapting a work. Basically, this is a long-winded way of me saying that I'm one of the only Batman fans who doesn't see a problem with Joker being the one who killed Bruce's parents. To me, it's actually kind of genius -- Joker is Batman's top nemesis. How to really solidify that, to really take it as far as it can go? Have Joker be the one behind the incident that shaped who Bruce Wayne is. That just adds another interesting dimension to the Joker, especially considering the Joker was a young thug when he killed the Waynes, not quite the Joker yet but well on his way...

While I enjoy Batman Returns, I feel like it's a step down in quality from the first one. Returns is a really closed in movie with its claustrophobic sets, and Batman '89 benefits from being filmed in England -- a lot of it is done on backlots, sure, but sets feel massive, and the set designer for the '89 movie created such a unique world and he ended up making Gotham seem like such a grimy, scary place. It's just sad to me that the sequels -- mainly Schumacher's movies -- take such a goddamn nosedive and pretty much bury all that the 1989 film accomplished and tarnish its image.

Batman 1989 is one of my top favorite movies, period, and is just such a cool, solid movie that's a good movie on its own and not just as a Batman movie. People need to remember how good it is, how gigantic and authentic of a phenomenon it was, how much it influenced the comic book movie adaptations that followed, and show it respect. (Comic book purists who always looked down on Burton's movies worship Batman The Animated Series, a show which wouldn't exist without the Burton movies.)

Batman 1989 Forever!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Toku Heroes Who Could Have Been

This post is about actors who auditioned for certain shows or characters or had characters written for them that fell through: you recognize them as one hero, but they could have been another, and it's just a funky thing to think about. I did a thread like this on HJU a while back, but wanted to do a post since there's a couple of others I've found out since then. This obviously isn't all of the heroes who could have been out there, but these are the ones I know about, the ones I'm most interested in talking about and/or have at least confirmed. (Like, I remember reading that Kakuranger's Teruaki Ogawa auditioned for the role of Kamen Rider Black, but when I did a quick little recheck before compiling this list, I couldn't find anything about it, so I nixed including him.)

Jun'ichi Haruta as Hiryu Tsurugi/Change Dragon

This is a big one for me. When Toei was having trouble casting the part, they were just going to hire reliable JACtor Haruta as Tsurugi. I'm a huge fan of Haruta's, and while Tsurugi would have most likely had a ton of awesome out-of-suit action scenes, I just can't picture anyone but Haruki Hamada playing him. Haruta SHOULD have played a Red, but I don't know if Tsurugi would have been the best match. Haruta would have been the oldest of the five cast members (he would have turned 30 early into Changeman's run; Hamada was 23) and maybe seem a little too mentory, whereas Hamada was younger and you could believe him in Tsurugi's more hotheaded, stubborn, intense and impassioned moments. (I think a lot of Tsurugi as we know him was shaped to fit Hamada.)

Because of Hamada's casting, Haruta ended up joining the Juspion cast in the role of Mad Gallan, who was originally supposed to be played by Shun Sugata. (And thank goodness for that, too, because Sugata probably wouldn't have gone on to play Tatewaki in Janperson and he's awesome in that.)

Shirou Izumi as Hiryu Tsurugi/Change Dragon

Izumi auditioned for Dragon, but was thankfully cast as Yuuma/Change Pegasus instead. I don't think he's quite Red material, but he's a perfect fit for Yuuma and just nails the part.

Kihachirou Uemura as one of the Changeman

He didn't specify which role he auditioned for, just that he auditioned. (I think he'd obviously have been Hayate/Griffin if he was cast.)

Yutaka Hirose as Jin/Red Flash

Someone at Toei used their head and realized he'd make a better villain, and a legend was born.

Hiroshi Kawai/Kazuoki Takahashi as Kenta/Black Mask

The role was intended for Kawai/Takahashi to play. (He instead joined the cast of Metalder.)

Kenta Satou as Burai/Dragon Ranger

It was interesting to find this one out, and it's the main reason I wanted to do this post. Now, as a Changeman freak, I love that Shirou Izumi, by playing Burai, has such a big, important role in Super Sentai's history. He's a good actor and one of the reasons I was even drawn to the Burai character. But I always felt he held back, you know? Or maybe he just wasn't comfortable going full villain turned tragic elder hero. His casting always puzzled me and I've long wondered just how they chose him or who else could have been up for the role...

Well, supposedly in the pamphlet for the Gokaiger-Goseiger Super Sentai 199 movie, it was revealed that designer Tamotsu Shinohara, when designing Burai's costume, based the design off of the person he was led to believe was playing the role -- Turboranger's Kenta Satou. This shocked the bejesus out of me, because...Kenta's an awesome guy, he's one of my favorite Reds, but I really can't picture him playing Burai, especially the early pissed off version of the character. (He's also the same age as Geki's actor, Yuuta Mochizuki, when Burai NEEDED to be a bit older. Heck, Satou's a few months YOUNGER than Mochizuki.) So, finding this out has made me appreciate Izumi even more, even if I can think of a couple of other ex-Sentai heroes who, in my opinion, would have been even better.

Keisuke Tsuchiya as Ryou/Ryuu Ranger

I talked about his a couple of times before. I guess the thinking in casting him was "Hey, do you guys dare me to cast a blander guy than the dude who played Goggle Red?" Thankfully, someone at Toei ignored that guy and replaced his pick of Tsuchiya with Wada. And it wasn't even just auditioning -- they even went as far as sending the guys to wardrobe and started shooting promos! So, this casting was THIS close to happening! Scary.

Keiichi Wada as Kazu/Kirin Ranger

What a waste that would have been... Wada's the Last Action Hero of toku. Can you imagine him being wasted as Kazu, stuck with obnoxious turtle storylines?

Hideki Fujiwara as Yuuji/Oh Blue

The role was offered to him, but I guess he turned it down. Which is probably good, since Yuuji's supposed to be cool and Fujiwara's a big goofball, and always looks like a tween.

Joe Odagiri as one of the Tatsumi boys in GoGoFive

It could have happened, if he wasn't so stuck up. Hard to picture him as anyone other than Nagare/Go Blue, though.

Masayuki Deai as Ryouga/AbaRed or Ban/Deka Red

Deai auditioned for both. I didn't really like him in Boukenger, but I feel like he's the kind of guy who needed a better show. I don't think he would have worked as Ryouga (Kouichiro Nishi was kind of perfect for that show and role) and I think he would make a better Houji than Ban.

Tsuyoshi Hayashi as Nakadai/Abare Killer

I've mentioned before how I don't really like what Koutarou Tanaka did in the role of Nakadai, but Hayashi would have probably been worse. He's just too damn young and too stiff of an actor.

Mitsutoshi Shundo as Nakadai/Abare Killer

Now THIS guy would have been awesome. He made for a good villain in Ultraman Nexus and I think he would have given off some classic Sentai villain vibes in Abaranger. (He reminds me of Shinji Yamashita/Shunsaku Kudou from Fiveman.) Shundo's the appropriate age that the character SHOULD have been and is actually menacing. He'd make a villain you could be afraid of. I guess he'd have been a little TOO intense for how soft Abaranger ended up treating Nakadai. They really pussed out, man. (Could you imagine Shundo singing Dead End Game? Get out of here with that crap.) Shundo also had auditioned for the role of Himeya/Ultraman Nexus before being cast as the villain of that show.

Naoya Gomoto as Ban/Deka Red

Ended up guest-starring in an early episode of Dekaranger instead. So, who's this guy and why am I bothering to mention him? Because just about anybody else would have been a better Ban than Ryuji Sainei.

Mayu Gamou as either Jasmine/Deka Yellow or Umeko/Deka Pink

Going on to guest star as Succubus and then later joining the cast of Kamen Rider Hibiki, Gamou had auditioned for one of the heroines. (She would have made a good Jasmine, IMO. I like Gamou, she deserved more than what she got from either Hibiki or Deka.) She also auditioned for the role of Rejewel in Abaranger.

Shoko Nakagawa as Umeko/Deka Pink

Sentai super-fan Nakagawa is said to have auditioned several times for Sentai Pinks, but came closest in Dekaranger. (She eventually guest-starred in one of Dekaranger's later episodes.)

Yutaka Kobayashi as Captain Jean-Luc Marvelous/Gokai Red

Kamen Rider Gaim co-star Kobayashi was a finalist for the part before deciding to drop out. Which is kind of good, because Marvelous needed to have that likable, rascally quality which I thought Ryouta Ozawa pulled off. (If Kaito/Kamen Rider Baron is any indication, Kobayashi ain't exactly likable.)

Jiro Chiba as Takeshi Hongou/Kamen Rider

This one's interesting to think about, because Kamen Rider fans have long wondered if -- as awful as it sounds -- Fujioka's accident HELPED the show. Because what if the show stayed as dark as it was and it ended up getting canceled? Takeshi Sasaki's Hayato/Rider 2 was popular and brought levity to the series -- you can't dismiss his involvement in the show's continued success. Would the show have been doomed if Chiba had been cast?

Shun Sugata as Kazuya/Kamen Rider Super 1

Before he ended up playing ZX, he had auditioned for Super 1. He's said he was bummed that he lost the part, but...c'mon, he wasn't a good match for that dopey Rider. He deserved something more than ZX, though, IMO.

Hiroyuki Watanabe as Kazuya/Super 1

When he was cast as Ga-ou in the Den-O movie, Watanabe -- known to most toku fans as Kouga's dad in GARO -- mentioned he had auditioned for Super 1 way back. It's surprising he never ended up playing a Rider -- I guess the franchise being dead for a majority of the '80s is to blame -- but like Sugata, I don't think he would have worked as Super 1.

Yutaka Hirose as Koutarou/Kamen Rider Black

Hirose would have made a great Rider. He would have been a great Black if the series had stayed the same tone as its premiere episodes, but...can you imagine Hirose riding down the road, befriending every crying kid he saw? Hirose hopping into video games to save kids? Hirose pulling over to the side of the road to sing "Ore no Seishun"?

Kazuhiko Nishimura as Koutarou/Kamen Rider Black

He could have worked, but that means he wouldn't have been Jou/Yellow Lion, and I feel like he's a great fit for that part. And Tetsuo Kurata's such a giant, it's pretty hard to imagine anyone else as Koutarou, really.

Toshihide Wakamatsu as Kouji/Kamen Rider J

He was considered for the part, and thankfully someone must have had the thought "Hey, let's not waste an actor like this in this turd of a movie." Wakamatsu would have made an awesome Rider, though.

Masaya Matsukaze as Godai/Kamen Rider Kuuga

I previously have said that I don't think what Odagiri did in the role was all that special, that a combination of writing and production talent was what made Godai and Kuuga what it was. I said ANY actor could have played Godai and it would have been the same. Well, Matsukaze kind of proves me wrong, because he's just...not that strong of an actor. There's a reason he moved on to voice-acting, me thinks.

Noboru Kaneko as Godai/Kamen Rider

To this day, Kaneko desperately wants to play a Rider, and he auditioned for Kuuga. He's more Godai-like than Matsukaze, but...maybe a little TOO soft? (It's funny to think that, despite how really young Kaneko always looks, he's actually OLDER than Odagiri...!)

Shou Tomita as Takumi/Faiz

As much as I love his work as Yukito/Abare Blue, I remember being so frustrated in 2003 at how bad of a pick Kento Handa was as Takumi, and how someone like Tomita would have been better. So, imagine my surprise to find out he actually DID audition for Faiz at the same time he auditioned for Abaranger.

Some genius at Toei wanted Handa because they thought he looked like a young Takuya Kimura. (I do remember reading that. How sad is that? No wonder the quality of casting has gone so downhill for toku. "Kento, forget that you look 12 years old and are anorexic and a wooden actor -- you remind me of one of our over-the-hill celebrities, so here's a show that you will be completely incapable of shouldering!") My opinion of Handa has changed somewhat, though. When I rewatched Faiz last year, I was surprised that he wasn't AS wooden as I remembered him being, but...still, there's a ton of other actors who would have worked better. You certainly don't look at Handa and think "street brawler."

Masayuki Izumi as Takumi/Faiz

He was great as Kiba/Horse Orphenoch, and since everybody in that show got to be Faiz -- Kiba included -- no big deal. I don't think he could have pulled off Takumi's bad, stand-off attitude, though.

Jun Yoshida as Dai/Shaider

He went on to play antagonistic Poe in the series, but auditioned for the main role. I don't know how that would have worked out -- I think Hiroshi Tsuburaya is a strong actor who did about as good as anyone could have done with such an underwritten role -- but I do think Yoshida could have pulled off being a hero in some other show.