Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blue Warriors

Previously on Them's Fightin' Words, Shougo gave his thoughts on the Reds of Sentai. Now he covers the other color to appear in every series thus far, the Blues.

The Blues. Usually the second-in-command, usually cool. Well, once again, it depends on the era of Sentai you were raised on. Being an '80s kid, Blue to me will be the comedic youngster of the team.

And, once again, I'm going to try to decide which Blue I'd want to work with on my Sentai team. I'm going to try my best to not repeat any members on this hypothetical Shougo's Ultimate Sentai Team. It would be a lot easier to draft more than one member of a team, but that's kind of a cheat.

Akira Shinmei/Ao Ranger

Akira was basically lucky to be played by Hiroshi Miyauchi, who instantly cemented the image of having a cool, smart Blue, a guy who can always be counted on to step up if the leader's in trouble. Some purists would go back to the old Gatchaman argument -- "Sentai is a rip-off of Gatchaman! Condor Joe was the first cool second in command!" -- well...Condor Joe's cool and all, but he has a short fuse. I never felt like he COULD be counted on to have a cool head and lead the team if something happened to Eagle Ken.

I've read gossip over the years that said Miyauchi kinda wasn't happy playing second banana after leading his own shows, which could be a reason the show goes out of its way to present Akira as so dependable, on nearly equal ground as Kaijou/Aka, often even disagreeing with Kaijou and being right. The shame is, the biggest way the show decides to highlight this is by making Akira the prime operator/caretaker/lover of the team's mecha, like the Variblune. I mean, I know there's this thing of guys who are obsessed with their cars, or even the way Captains Kirk and Picard love the Enterprise in Star Trek, but Akira really acts like he's in love, L-U-V, with the Variblune. It's disturbing. I mean, there's an episode where it gets totalled and he screams "Varibluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuune!" like he just watched his wife and kids get gunned down, Punisher-style.

Ryuu Higashi/Diamond Jack

I think Ryuu's awesome. He's tough, he's bad-ass, he has a surprisingly edgy backstory for a "kids show." It's kind of a cliche with these types of stories, but he's basically the Bruce Willis story from Pulp Fiction, a boxer who falls in with a criminal element and he refuses to take a fall in a fight. While Willis' character actually kills a dude in the ring, Higashi's details are a little murky -- we're introduced to him being escorted in cuffs by the fuzz, and there's talk of a murder rap before he decides to go with Joker to become a cyborg and have his name cleared. He has contacts on the street that come in handy and is even aware of the secret CRIME organization before Joker approaches him.

Like I said, a crazy backstory for a hero in a "kids show." Ryuu remains a reliable, street smart, tough son of a bitch, a physical threat made twice as kick-ass as a cyborg. JAKQ could have been such an awesome show, but...well, we know about the retool, and the way the original four lose some of their edge -- and spotlight -- once Banba shows up to lighten things up.

There's so many times where a character like Ryuu that won't work because the actor isn't believable, but actor Heizan Itou is really believable as a boxer with a dark past. I love Black Condor, but I feel like Ryuu could easily kick his ass...even before being a cyborg. He's THAT level of tough sonuvabitch.

One nitpick, though. Ryuu's a boxer, but as Diamond Jack, becomes a swordsman. Clover King, on the other hand, fires his fist off, Mazinger Z-style, or attaches his fist to a chain and swings it towards opponents. Shouldn't that be Jack's ability? I don't understand that. It's like when Oh Red gets the boxer mecha even though it's Oh Green who's the boxer. Shit ain't logical, Captain.

Higashi's also the only one on the team that's not affected by the show's lightening up. They try to make Sakurai more affable (they try; good luck figuring that out, since Yoshitaka Tamba only learns to move his face IN THE FINALE), Karen gets cutsie-fied and Daichi's made into a comedian. But Higashi remains his cool, bad-ass self. First encountering the too casual Banba, he doesn't trust him and is ready to rough him up. Fed up with the beyond irritating Tamasaburou, he physically picks him up and throws him out of the room. Higashi rocks.

Kyousuke Shida/Battle France

Representing the countries of Europe, he's supposed to be this really stylish, cool and laid-back type. An artist, a bit of a dandy. As an American, some things come across as having a kind of "sissy" image or something stereotypically associated with womanliness (which is in itself a sexist assessment, it must be said) -- things like the fencing, that he's a beautician, that he's into fashion, art and cuisine.

Actor Yuuhei Kurachi is a good enough actor, and I like him, but he makes certain choices, has these mannerisms... And while the character is written as a ladies man, Shida never really connects with the women he flirts with, and that makes Shida play in a whole different way... I mean, look at what I just said above, but then give the role to a guy like Kurachi, and then the writers start writing stuff for him like making him Diane's disco and shopping BFF on top of that and...

What I'm trying to do is find a politically correct way to say that I think he might be the first tokusatsu hero who is a gay homosexual. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Daigorou "Anpanman" Oume/Denji Blue

Kenji Ohba's the man. That's about all you need to know about Oume; Oume is a fun guy who will deliver some awesome action and then eat his weight in anpan. If you're going to have a hero who's a circus daredevil, you're best off getting a crazy awesome JAC guy.

While Goranger and JAKQ gave us the Serious/Cool Blue archetype, France was supposed to be hip and more lighthearted, but Oume is a big departure. Oume's second-in-command, but mostly a comical guy.

Kinya Samejima/Vul Shark

My memory of Sunvulcan is a bit fuzzy, because I don't want to rewatch it out of protest due to its being overpraised. It's beyond overrated. But my memory of Kinya is basically...nothing. Like, they try so hard to make him a cool, strong and silent type, but they go too far, because I honestly remember episodes going by where his only piece of dialogue would be saying "Vul Shark!" in the big pose-down.

I mean, he has a pretty heavy backstory, with his family being killed by warring nations when they lived in Africa, so he's a quiet guy, longing for peace, like the serenity of the sea, but...I just don't they pulled it off. Sunvulcan wasn't interested in going far with that kind of thing. Or maybe the actor wasn't capable.

Kinya also begins this long association of the Blues being into swimming or water sports or whatever. I guess the thinking is blue = water. Actually, I feel like one of the awesome things Sunvulcan introduced to Sentai -- something that nearly every subsequent Sentai clings to -- is taking the military concept behind the "Sentai" term and really going with it, having a military Sentai made up of representatives of land, sea and air, which Sunvulcan wisely associates with corresponding animals. I think that's a cool touch.

Saburou "Who?" Aoyama/Goggle Blue

Remember what I said about Akama? How he's just so damn bland? Aoyama takes that and turns it to 11. I seriously can't say a single thing about Aoyama. He likes hockey? (Someone on HJU once said about Sunvulcan that the show never tells you more about the characters than what's in the credits. I don't think that's true of Sunvulcan, but it IS pretty true of Goggle Five.)

Actor Shigeki Ishii himself is so generic and non-descript, the character might as well be a blank cardboard cut-out. Seriously, the guy is so generic, it's like he doesn't even have a face. He's styrofoam.

Yousuke "Spicoli" Shima/Dyna Blue

Poor Shima. He's kind of stuck with the lamest of big dreams of the five Dynaman, isn't he? Red's about reducing pollution, Black wants to start the United Federation of Planets, Yellow's about creating more food resources, Pink wants to communicate with animals. Blue? Typical pothead surfer, man, he just wants to make gills for men so they can, like, just surf and swim all the time, dude!

Lucky for Shima he has an awesome JAC actor like Kouji Unoki playing him. Unoki's not quite as cool as co-star Jun'ichi Haruta (Ryu/Black), but he gets in a lot of really swift action, and also plays Dyna Blue in-suit (without needing to switch off to a substitute every now and then, unlike Haruta, so...there!)

Shima kind of begins a run of Blues who are the kid of the team, but I'll get to that more in a minute.

Ryuuta "Benjamin Button" Nambara/Blue Three

Sunvulcan's shadow was already large, because here's our third Blue who is obsessed with the water. I think Shima probably wins, though, because he was, like, such a part of the sea, man, that he was chosen by a mermaid to hear her pleas of saving the waters, dude.

Anyway, Nambara's another guy saved by a cool JAC actor, in this case Akito Oosuga. I feel like Nambara never got enough focus, he was mainly there for comedic relief. What little we're actually told about him is vague -- suspiciously vague, like having a rough home life with a dad he didn't get along with, maybe some thuggish background. Did he cook some fools? Is he just a mama's boy who invented some tough background? No idea, but, here, enjoy Nambara getting shit on by a bird, LOL!

Nambara is supposed to be 18. More on that in a minute.

Yuuma Oozora/Change Pegasus

I might be biased, but I don't care. Yuuma's the first of the young, more comedic Blues who I think is actually funny. Well, the first one since the first one, Oume. (I mean, I like Blue Three, but I like his ass-kicking JAC side and not the comical side.) I think Yuuma is all around a more solidly written character and that actor Shirou Izumi just mines the character for all its worth.

Yuuma's young, but he's also capable. He makes mistakes, but he's not a clownish idiot. He's funny, but it's more in the sarcastic, real wise-ass variety. He's really in his own zone, marching to his own beat. Yuuma is initially saddled with some of the more lighthearted, kid-oriented episodes -- he's a big kid himself -- before the show throws him more dramatic material, and we watch Yuuma grow. He grows, but doesn't lose his fun factor. Izumi really just aces this role, and I'll just go ahead and say I think Yuuma's better than Burai. Yeah, I said it.

Bun/Blue Flash

Flashman wanted to ride Changeman's coattails, so we kind of got lighter Xeroxes of the Changeman team. Bun's the smart-ass kid who initially gets lightweight episodes before being thrown dramatic stuff and growing get the idea. The main difference is...Changeman emphasizes the trauma of war, while Flashman's keyword is tragedy. The Flashman are all, in a way, stunted kids. They didn't have a normal upbringing, the Mess robbed them of that, robbed them of a normal childhood.

But Bun is the youngest -- and seems the youngest -- of the team. While on the one hand, it's more tragic that Jin is older and has gone longest without regular human contact, he at least does have memories of home and of Earth, whereas someone like Bun doesn't. So Bun's a bit more susceptible to simple, childish pleasures or falling for a potentially not-so-trustworthy villain's scheme. And I think Flashman's overall message works best with young Bun; a problem with Flashman is how pretty chill the most of them are with their situation, but Bun's always looking for that surrogate family, to make that connection with someone on Earth.

Bun takes his lumps and never comes close to meeting his family, but he never gets broken and still retains the ability to trust, like when he's convinced to assist a dying Kerao. Kerao! As in, part of the Alien Hunters that kidnapped him! But his heart's as big as the Prism Ball and he made the right call, because Kerao ended up giving his life for Bun.

Bun's actor, Yasuhiro Ishiwata, is a pretty unsung member of the cast. He's funny, but he hits the dramatic notes, AND he dives into a lot of the action scenes himself. He's not a JAC member, but he does his best to give you the impression he is one, like Dyna Blue or Blue Three. Bun has a lot of ninja-y moves, the same kind of moves Jun'ichi Haruta pulled in Dynaman. Ishiwata also actually seems young! He certainly seems the youngest of the team, and Ishiwata is actually younger than Bun is supposed to be! But he's still seemingly old compared to...

Akira/Blue Mask

The first young Blue that's actually young! While the Blues of Dyna through Flash were supposed to be the young funny guys of the team, only Bun came close to actually seeming young. I mean, Blue Three is supposed to be 18 years old -- 18! -- but his actor looks 38. So Akira is pretty much the first young Sentai hero. He certainly is one who's the age his character is supposed to be. (Some of the early heroines claim to be really young when they filmed the show, but I think that's some showbiz cloaking. Sorry, but there's no way Heart Queen's actress is 16 in JAKQ.)

Now, as someone who doesn't really like mid-teen or kid heroes, I can imagine Akira and his casting bugging some long-time fans at that point. I don't remember liking him as a kid, but I wasn't too into Maskman as a kid, period. (Like Metalder, it's a show I love now, but not at the time.) Akira certainly gets a lot of focus early on, probably the show wanting to showcase a young actor, but actor Kazunari Hirota ended up becoming really popular -- like boyband popular -- so a lot of Maskman in the middle and later portion end up spotlighting Akira a lot. Maskman's a show that's not too popular amongst Japanese fans, and I wonder if focusing on the kid so much turned people off.

But I appreciate the Akira character now. He's a fun character and you can tell that Hirota IS having a lot of fun in the show. For not being an actor -- he was cast based on his ability in Chinese martial arts -- Hirota's a pretty decent, natural performer. My perspective on Akira shifted in the episode when he has amnesia and he's just goofing off with some kids, and the other Maskman are watching him from afar and noting how his duty as a Maskman is robbing him of enjoying his youth. There's also some strong bits that show his leaving his single mother behind to join Maskman, a really short flashback clips that's given its strength by being well filmed and acted.

One of my favorite Akira storylines is when he becomes Unas. I remember being kind of shocked, even spooked a little by that when I was a kid. It might have only lasted two episodes, but that was enough -- you didn't anticipate a hero going bad and actually not being saved by the end of the episode. So, it was a little eerie to see the four remaining Maskman piloting Land Galaxy without Blue. The show did kind of chicken out, however, by not sticking with Sugata's assumption that Akira's possession meant he was from the Underground. That was an interesting idea that's shoved aside, I guess because Toei just didn't want to commit to the idea of having a Sentai hero who wasn't all human. (It's, what, Timeranger before they have the balls to have a non-human/non-Earthling regular hero?)

Megumi "All this and brains too" Misaki/Blue Dolphin

Megumi is awesome. I feel like leaving it at that. She's the smartest one on the team, the dolphin being a perfect animal to represent her. She's a more than capable fighter. Early on, she certainly seems more like the team's leader. She's at the top of the school, behind the three Volt traitors. Strange to think that, if she didn't have such a good head on her shoulders, that she could have possibly ended up hanging out with them. That's something the show could have explored in an episode.

When I was a kid, Liveman was a weird, but interesting change. I had associated Yellow with heroines and Blue as teen goofballs -- not to mention expecting five people on a team -- so Liveman was like "Whoa!" Megumi's a return to the mature, intelligent Blue after a run of the funny youngsters, and I think she's the best of the female Blues. Megumi Mori was a singer on the rise at the time and was a case of special casting for the anniversary, but she really captures the smarts, warmth and maturity of the character for being pretty young herself.

Once I thought "Which Blue would I put on my Ultimate Sentai Team," Megumi was my immediate choice. But since I already chose Falcon...

Youhei Hama/Blue Turbo

A return to the lighthearted Blue...who also likes swimming and the water...yay? While Youhei is meant to be funny, the role of total goofball goes to Shunsuke/Yellow Turbo. Still, it's one of those odd situations like Kakuranger where there's two funny guys on the team. We had a funny guy back with us in Korea...they blew his brains out all over the Pacific.

While Youhei can goof off in school, he IS supposed to be a little more serious than a Nambara or Bun type, he IS supposed to be cool and attract the ladies and is someone who can be counted on to keep their cool. I think Youhei just doesn't come across as being in that Hiroshi Miyauchi vein because of how he walks the line between funny guy/cool guy and how young the Turboranger are supposed to be.

What really helps Youhei is being played by the immensely likable Keiya Asakura. He just seems like a cool guy and you can tell he's having a lot of fun. (Compare him to Daiichi's actor, who looks like it pains him to be in the show.) Youhei gets a couple of cool episodes -- like the one where he falls for the trap of Hiromi Yuhara's Rin guest character. But he also gets a couple of sweet episodes, like when he comes to see Yamaguchi in a new light after looking out for her when she's turned into a kid. Youhei's alright, but it's really Kenta Satou's show, so the other Turboranger kind of pay for that.

Ken Hoshikawa/Five Blue

The team strong man and P.E. teacher, but I feel like he acts goofier than intended, and that he sometimes comes across more immature than Fumiya, when he's supposed to be the tough guy second in command. 

Overall, he's just kind of generic. He and Goggle Blue should get together for some drinks sometime. It would be a nice, quiet meeting, where they won't have anything to talk about because they're a couple of the most insignificant specks of Sentai heroes. They could thumb-wrestle over who's the most forgettable, and then maybe go play hockey together.

I kind of feel like maybe actor Kei Shindachiya and Ryouhei Kobayashi should have swapped roles, and maybe that would have worked out better for both of them.

Ako "Give me your lunch money, kid" Hayasaka/Blue Swallow

I always liked Ako, she's an entertaining character played by a solid, likable actress. She's my second favorite Jetman behind Condor. There had been a string of comedic and/or prankster Blues or Blues who were the kid of the team, and Ako's the first female Blue to fall into that category, which is a bit of a rarity for a toku heroine.

She's not given many episodes, sadly, but I still like a lot of the ones that give her focus. Like, even if the episode's message is eye-roll inducing, the one with her teddy bear is still sweet. Her strongest moment of the series, of course, is probably the two parter with the Dimensians and her friendship with Dan that started with irritation, but they grew closer before tragedy struck.

She's a tough-talking teen who, on one hand, was probably on the path to becoming on of those rough bullies that you find in every high school drama, if not for being a Jetman. But at the same time, I think it's that strong-headedness that helps her cope with some of the crazy stuff she sees as a Jetman member and the experiences she's pulled into, as well as the strong personalities that surround her. She's tough, but has a good heart, quickly abandoning her greed in order to do good. It's a character who could have been more than grating, but actress Sayuri Uchida plays her with a mischievous glare in her eye, and she makes you instantly take a liking to Ako. So, it's kind of unforgivable just how unnecessarily far Inoue goes in order to make the character so horrible in the novels.

Dan/Tricera Ranger

Dan doesn't seem like he gets a lot to do. I liked the actor more in Jetman, but he just doesn't get much in Zyu. We know he's the impulsive wise-ass, but that role's been done by better, and it doesn't quite work with what squeaky-clean, simple folk of yesteryear the characters are supposed to be.

Oh, and he has one of the absolute worst suit-actor matches in the history of the genre. I don't buy for a second that Dan is Tricera Ranger. I really think the suit actors for Tricera and Tiger should have been switched.

Shouji Balboa/Tenma Ranger

Shouji! I love this guy. The first out and out biker punk Sentai hero, someone who was on the wrong track, but was saved by the discipline he found in boxing. Shouji's kind of like a mixture of Ryuu/Diamond Jack and if Daisuke Shima had gotten to play a character closer to the image he had in his early music career. Shouji's not a dick, though, he has a sense of humor on a team that kind of can take themselves way too seriously. But he can definitely kick ass when he needs to, and has that weird street code of honor.

Sad thing is, Shouji's kind of stuck with some of the lesser stories in the show. In throwaways, he's given the generic terrorized-by-a-magnetic-monster thing. His recurring story involves the often obnoxious Three Idiots.

Saizou/Ninja Blue

Saizou! I hate this guy. Seikai is this character done right, with an actor who knows how to play him. Hiroshi Tsuchida is just awful, one of the worst, hammy, mugging, overkills-it-so-bad-it's-like-he's-in-a-silent-movie actors you'll find.

Yuuji Mita/Oh Blue

I find Yuuji to kind of be the most generic of the Ohranger team. They try a little too hard to make him represent so many past Blues that it doesn't gel and create a character with his own identity -- he's cool, but he's the gullible kid, he's a tough guy, but the lovelorn softie. I don't think actor Masashi Gouda was able to really handle the way the writers pulled his character around, so he comes off looking worst of the cast. And I like the five Ohranger cast members, they just needed another show.

Naoki "Dead Eyes" Domon/Blue Racer

I like Naoki as a character. The straight man, a nice guy, super polite, the one on the team who's the most responsible and mature...and he's also basically a kid. It should be just one funny and enjoyable character, but actor Yoshihiro Masujima just doesn't work. He's cardboard, he's dead-eyed. Part of the appeal of the character is that he's so young, but Masujima is TOO young -- 15 at the start of the show. They needed someone like a Takumi Hashimoto, who's older, but perpetually, like, 18.

Shun "The Dick" Namiki/Mega Blue

I have a bit of a soft spot for the five Megaranger, I think they're all just such fun characters. The thing about Shun, though, is that he's kind of a dick. And I kind of forget just what a dick he can be until I rewatch it. In the mind's eye, you're like "Oh, yeah, Shun. He's cool." But then you rewatch it and you're like "Wow! What a dick!"

Shun's supposed to be cool and logical and intelligent and know where he's going in life, but he's one of those people who doesn't really have a filter and, for as smart as he is, doesn't really think before speaking. Which means: dick. He's especially mean to Kenta, but lucky for Shun, Kenta's already beat him to the punch -- one of the funny things about Kenta is just how little he cares what people think of him. Kenta's happy, he really doesn't give a shit what you think.

I've criticized actor Masaya Matsukaze for being a weak actor before, but I think he's kind of the reason why you don't outright hate Shun as much as you possibly could. He finds a levity in the character, makes him a bit more of a smart-ass with a mischievous streak than an outright...dick.

Gouki Zoolander/Ginga Blue

The complete opposite of Shun/Mega Blue. Gouki isn't cool, he isn't the sharpest Seijuuken in the Ginga Forest, and he's not rude. Actor Shouei brings a little too much of a dim male model to the character, but he's likable. It works for Gouki, Gouki's just a kind dude. The phrase typically used to describe him by fans is "gentle giant."

Shouei is also probably the best match for Jiro Okamoto of any actor Okamoto has doubled for; it's the one role of Okamoto's where you can actually visualize the actor in suit. Them two's tall bastards, is what I'm saying.

Nagare Tatsumi/Go Blue

This guy's alright by me. He's kind of almost like the male version of Megumi/Blue Dolphin -- the brains on the team, the rational one, the one who's going to think things through. (I don't think he's as cool as Megumi, though.) I like that the show has him be the closest to being like his dad, Mondo, because he's the one cast member who I always thought actually looked like Mondo's actor.

I always thought it was weird that the show didn't do more with his rivalry (attraction?) to Denus. They dance around it in that early episode and then bring it back dozens of episodes later and that's it. Kind of a missed opportunity there to get something juicy from the two warring families.

Cameron "Ayase" Frye/Time Blue

He could have been an interesting character -- even if he's one of Yasuko Kobayashi's many heroes-who-are-dying-of-unspecified-diseases -- but I find it hard to care about the character for two reasons. First: actor Yuuji Kido is a glazy-eyed board. I think he and the show think that's "cool," but he just can't pull it off. Secondly, it's hard for me to care about characters whose big dream is to be a good car racer. That's just really boring to me, really 1930s superhero comic book before they worked the kinks out, so you could expect that kind of vague, generic stuff.

Kai "The Kid" Samezu/Gao Blue

The five Gaoranger are fun, but I don't remember Kai being given much to have him stand out. I liked that he had a complex about being treated like a kid, and the way he kind of big brother'd Black because Black was such a crybaby, that was funny. He mastered Daimon Tatsumi's Milk Tornado Bomb attack, which is something.

Oh, and another case of a suit actor being a horrible match for the actor. (Yasuhiko Imai's never a good match for anybody, really.)

Nanami "No, no, not her" Nono/Hurricane Blue

Don't like Hurricaneger, don't like her. You know what I just said about heroes who want to grow up and be racers? The female version of that is characters who want to grow up and be idols. Spare me.

Nanami's shrill, but aren't they all on this show? I could also never really tolerate Nao Nagasawa, who always just seemed to me like she thought she was a gift to tokusatsu. (And I especially hate her for pretending like she did all of her own in-suit stunts.) Most overrated tokusatsu performer.

Yukito Sanjou/Abare Blue

The cool headed brain on a team with members that are led by the heart or [dino] guts. Yukito's one of my favorite Sentai characters, period. I feel like he represents a cynical Sentai fan like me. I'm always complaining about how sugary and wacky and cartoony modern Sentai is, and he's a guy who's smack dab in the middle of a Sentai that is mostly that, and he has to contend with all of that stuff. He's kind of the anchor of the show, the cold splash of reality check. He's the identifier for the older viewer. He's the one who's able to sit back and see the latest Evolian plan and be like "That's stupid. What the hell's going on here?"

Because to say Abaranger is quirky is an understatement. There's a lot of weird shit flying around on that show, so you really, really need a character like Yukito to try and make it fly. And he works! I've seen this type of character done poorly, where they're not as amusing as the writer thinks they are, that they're TOO self-aware and the writers use it as a lazy crutch. But Yukito's the one who acknowledges the crazy, sometimes stupid shit that occurs and cracks wise about it before the audience member can. He's a nice counterpoint to Emiri, who's another self-aware character, but one who LIKES being in the midst of what she recognizes as a crazy movie or show. Yukito kind of can't believe this is now his life. Weird that these two ended up getting married.

Ryouga was the bright optimist, Ranru was chirpy, Asuka -- for all of the atrocities he witnessed -- was a damn nice, polite guy. Abaranger definitely needed someone a little sour like Yukito, who was the sane one whose reactions to his surroundings was the most real. And he worked, and actor Shou Tomita really fit the part.

Houji Tomasu/Deka Blue

On one hand, I like Houji for being the serious, professional one of the team. But I feel like Houji really walks the line of being a bit of a jerk. For as professional as he thinks he is, he really bungles that one case early on where they're rescuing that kidnapped princess played by Red Buster's sister. Characters should have some flaws, but they shouldn't go around boasting how awesome they are at everything and make that kind of impatient, rookie mistake and just forget about it and go back to being boastful.

Houji only really becomes likable thanks to Ban's influence. It's like the Shinji-Ren thing in Ryuki. You have the cool, serious guy who gets softened by the cheerful knucklehead, but while any character growth on Ren's part is undone by that stupid reset in the finale, Houji does become a more likable character.

The big problem with him, though, is actor Tsuyoshi Hayashi. He's a likable enough guy, but not the strongest actor. He works as the stiff, by the book dude, but things get shaky when he's supposed to be emotional. (Which is one of the reasons why the fan favorite "Hardboiled License" episode doesn't work for me.) Oh, and when Houji drops some English? Hayashi makes it creepy, not cool. His voice drops an octave and he ends up sounding like Buffalo Bill. "Parfect, baby...NOW, PUT THE FUCKIN' LOTION IN THE BASKET!!!!"

And, again, suit actor Yasuhiko Imai is a terrible match. I never buy that Houji's the guy in suit.

Urara Ozu/Magi Blue

Urara's one of the only Magiranger who seemed to have a head on her shoulders. She was basically running the family. (Don't kid yourself, Makito -- you're the eldest, but you're a dummy.) Sure, it was stereotypical that she was the default "mother" of the team, but...someone had to run that family, man. We know it wasn't Makito, and it sure wasn't going to be Houka! The thing I liked the least about Urara was her nonsensical, forced marriage to Shine. It was a dumb, lazy way to make Shine a member of the family, but it was just creepy and didn't work.

Souta "Double-Oh Negative" Mogami/Bouken Blue

Probably the only tolerable person in the entire series. The actor was likable, the character was a good mix of lighthearted and serious, he seemed like a nice guy who showed some conscience on a team full of selfish psychos. The problem was he was way too young and young looking to buy as some cool, 00-agent. It was downright laughable.

The casting of that show all around was pretty bad. (Masumi wasn't believable as some dangerous, criminal tomb raider; Sakura wasn't believable as an elite soldier.) That same year, I'd look over at the Kabuto cast and see members of that show who I thought would have been better on Boukenger. Like, I think Tomohisa Yuge would have been a more appropriate Souta, Anna Nagata a better Sakura, and Hidenori Tokuyama a better Masumi. Also: Hirotaro Honda would have been a way better Gaja than Hiroo Otaka.

Gah, Boukenger's so bad it's infuriating.

Retsu "Peeing Retsu!" Fukami/Geki Blue

People knock Retsu for not having much personality, and it's kind of hard to build a case for him. He's not offensive or anything, he's just sort of there. But you get more of an idea about Retsu once they bring his brother, Gou, into the show. He was a weak kid who was always in his brother's shadow, who had to pull himself up and prove himself once his brother vanished. And I always liked that he was pretty much the only one who actually trained to get the Kageki power-up. I mean...Ran learns to skateboard, and that was enough to get her the power-up? What the heck was up with that? And Jan had to only, like, play Pogs with Gori. WTF, man.

One of the most memorable things about Retsu is the absolute nonsense they give him to say in English. "I made it!" "Take a pop!"

Ren "Wikipedia" Kousaka/Go-on Blue

Ren's one of the few Go-onger who didn't get on my nerves. He's not, like, a great character or anything, but he's likable, he tries to have some smarts about him (even if being the smartest Go-onger is like being the smartest of the Three Stooges). It's funny that he's the "mother" of the team, and he doesn't really care about that, he owns it. The actor's a bit of an oddball, though. Stiff and aloof, kind of kid actor-y. It almost seems like he's looking off to cue cards sometimes.

Ryuunosuke "Crybaby Piss Kid" Ikenami/Shinken Blue

I initially disliked Ryuunosuke when Shinkenger was first airing. Actor Hiroki Aiba's earlier performance is just terrible. He's loud, he's overkill. But he tones it down as the show goes on. I think there's times when a performer might suck early on, then it seems like they might see themselves on TV and be like "Jesus! What am I doing? Why hasn't anybody stopped me? I gotta shape up!" and then they'll improve. What also helps Aiba? Shinken Gold being such a bad actor that everyone else around him instantly looked like subtle and seasoned pros.

But I like Ryuunosuke as a character. He can be a dummy, he can be a bit of a worrywart, but he's skilled, he's courageous, and can always be counted on in a fight.

Hyde/Gosei Blue

Goseiger being a Michiko Yokote show worked like Gekiranger: the majority of the writing effort went into Red and the main villain. So, Alata and Bladerun got a lot of screen-time, but the others were left adrift. Gekiranger had actors who could make the most out of the scraps they'd be given, but the majority of the Goseiger cast seemed like deer in headlights. (We know it was a troubled production, with producer changes and a chief director who was in declining health.)

Hyde was meant to be the real leader of the team, the stern, stone-faced, serious guy. The thing with Goseiger is, whoever cast the show was like Naomi Takebe -- not casting who was right for the role, but who had IDOL FACTOR. Actor Kento Ono didn't quite cut it as that serious leader, so his personality shuffled around a bunch until he was just basically like the Hank McCoy of the team. He had advice, he was a source of guidance, he would have been a logical leader, but you just know he was really, like, 12th on the roster, because he's a little boring. Personally, I liked goofy Hyde from the episode when Alata was trying to get him to laugh, and he ended up pulling jokes with Gosei Knight.

Joe "Joseph" Gibken, ESQ/Gokai Blue

I've always liked the idea of a Sentai hero being a villain who defected. Imagine if, say, Obular became one of the Liveman. There have been villains who turned into allies for our heroes and there have been villainous Rangers who became good, in the Dragon Ranger mold, but not really a full-on member of the villain organization who turned against the organization and became a transforming hero. It's a cool idea, and Gokaiger producer Takaaki Utsunomiya must think so, too, since he also used it for ToQ 6 in ToQger.

I liked Joe, but thought they could have done a little more with him. Barizorg, honestly, isn't the most interesting character to wrap your regular hero's entire story arc around. (Barizorg's design is terrible -- he looks like he's pulled a giant condom over his head, Howie Mandel-style, and the actor is a stiff, lifeless bore, and he has terrible line reading.) Actor Yuki Yamada didn't get a whole lot of different stuff to do -- a lot of people accuse him of being stiff -- but I thought it worked to the character's advantage. He's an outlaw, facing the people he betrayed, his friend getting maimed to ensure his escape. He's not going to be a chipper guy.

One thing I don't like about Joe? Suit actor Yoshifumi Oshikawa's weird-ass decision to play him as some dandy fencer. I think Joe should have come across in-suit as some really rough, bad-ass Navy SEAL type. Imagine the way Jiro Okamoto played Kamen Rider G4 -- something like that.

Mitsuki Aoyagi/Akiba Blue

I liked how she represented the segment of fans who think they're too cool for whatever shit they're into, but they're secretly just as guilty and dorky as the rest of those who they think they're so above. That was a funny track for writer Naruhisa Arakawa to take.

But I really liked that she was into the action of the shows and how she really got into things after meeting The Legend Kazuo Niibori.

Luna "M-O-O-N, that spells Luna" Iwashimizu/Akiba Blue

I can't stand her. Annoying actress, annoying character, annoying mangled hand gesture that was supposed to be cute or whatever, plus her always saying her name like she was a lobotomized Pokemon. Ugh.

While it helps to have the third character not be as fanatical or deeply devoted as Nobuo and Yumeria -- you need that character, a straight man to play off the comedic ones -- Mitsuki, the secret fan, was the better version. Some people think Luna was a stab at the idols who use tokusatsu as a stepping stone, but I kind of don't think that even Akibaranger had THAT level of self-awareness. She was just a dumb, stupid character. Thanks a lot, Kyoko Hinami, for choosing a pointless gravure idol career and leaving the show, so we had to put up with Luna! *stupid mangled claw gesture*

Ryuuji "Frankenstein" Iwasaki/Blue Buster

At first, I liked the idea of having an older actor cast in a Sentai again. But, man, Ryouma Baba? He spends a good portion of the earlier part of the show seeming about as lively and natural as a member of the walking dead. Complete zombie. He's the only one of the main three who seems to get a hang of things as the show goes on, though...

His character kind of bored me, though. He's like Geordi La Forge or something. The tech guy who just really gets on your nerves and bores you. I liked his weakness, though, the overheating to the point of Berserker Raging, and I thought it was cool when he let himself reach that stage in order to fight Escape.

Go-busters is a mess. There's some good ideas lurking around there, but you really have to sift through a lot of junk to get to them. It should have been interesting that Ryuuji was the oldest and kind of son-like to Kuroki and was basically responsible for raising Youko (and Hiromu, to a point), but nobody feels like they're connected in that show. They don't feel like they have a shared history or closeness.

Nobuharu Udou/Kyoryu Blue

Hate him. His stupid look, his bad jokes. He's not funny in the slighest. Hate him.

Tokkachi/ToQ 2

Hate him. His awful acting, his pushing up the glasses with his thumb. Hate him. I think he might be the worst Blue.

Yakumo Cloud Kutou/Ao Ninger

His actor is one awkward weirdo, but Yakumo is the only tolerable one in the show for me. The others star in fan-fics I write that all inevitably end with Sonny Chiba coming along and cutting them down in cold blood. That whole magic school thing is beyond stupid, though. But, sadly, the rest of the show is so stupid that it's somehow NOT the stupidest thing in the show. That's not an EEZEE thing to accomplish.

So, which Blue would I want on my Ultimate Sentai Team? I'd like to cheat and just say Megumi/Blue Dolphin, but I'll try not to. So, I guess...Yukito/Abare Blue. He's smart, handy, good in a fight, he's the cold splash of reality check you might need. Plus he had no problem pouring his billions into the bases and equipment for the Abaranger team, and that could help. You'd also have an always on-call chiropractor.