Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wishful Casting: Liveman, The Other Two Edition

I've written before about how I find Tetsuya/Black Bison and Jun'ichi/Green Sai to be a weak spot of Liveman. What should have been really cool characters that tied themes of the show together and added new layers of drama ended up being two pointless idjits played by bad actors. (Seirou Yamaguchi bellows and garbles his lines so badly he should have been in Kamen Rider Blade.)

I've kicked around the idea for a while of a "Wishful Casting" post for these two, but it's kind of turned into "Shougo's Fan Fic'ing Retcon of Liveman's Other Two."

I'll start by saying this: Tetsuya and Jun'ichi are obviously supposed to be younger than the Liveman. Not, like, KIDS, but younger than Takuji and Mari, who were Liveman's age. Despite what ages the actors claim to have been, Tetsuya's actor looks older than the rest of the cast. (We were introduced to Takuji's brother, Takeshi, in an early episode, and he was about 10! Where's Tetsuya fit in?) Jun'ichi looks about the same age as Mari's actress. (OK, here's the facts: Tetsuya's actor was 21, which made him as old as Jou's actor and OLDER than Megumi.)

Now, the ages of my casting choices might be a little too young for most, but I think, under the right circumstances, they could have worked.

For Tetsuya/Black Bison, I would cast Hidenori Iura (Goggle V's Tatsuya; Bioman's Shuuichi & Prince; Solbrain's Jun). Iura would have been about 19 at the time of Liveman. I think he's a good performer, and pretty likable, and he showed in his performance in Bioman a frustration and temper that would have worked for Tetsuya, and he showed a swift, tough heroism in Solbrain. You'd buy a hotheaded, fists-first-questions-later Tetsuya not only from a better performer, but from someone a little younger and impulsive. (Iura kind of reminds me of a cross between Hiroshi Watari and Kenta Satou.)

I always thought Green Sai should have been Mari's little sister. So, I'll call her Junko Aikawa, and for that role, I would cast Tokie Shibata. I know people will think I'm uncreative in just picking someone from my Changeman, and she's made other casting lists of mine before, but I went through a lot of age-appropriate actresses and really think she's the best choice. She could hold the same rage and want of revenge as Tetsuya, but I think Shibata's proven that she could also nail the tragedy of the situation and convey a lot of sadness for her fallen sister. As she proved with her character Nana in Changeman, Shibata can generate a great amount of sympathy. And as important as Nana was to Changeman, Shibata was only in, I think, eight episodes. It's a shockingly low number of appearances, but Shibata made an impressive impact, and I always thought she needed a regular tokusatsu appearance to cement her status in tokusatsu history. (Even though Iura appeared in just as little of Bioman, he at least was a regular character in Goggle V and Solbrain.) Green Sai suit actor Shoji Hachisuka played a lot of heroines, so Sai already has a pretty feminine look.

What I also liked about picking Iura and Shibata is that it's a Bioman reunion. Shibata guest-starred on two fan favorite episodes of Bioman as the android Miki, who Iura's character befriended, and who met a tragic end. I think these two would have added a nice little anniversary bonus to the hero side of Liveman that the villain side does. (Volt being a little Flashman reunion, with Kaura, his sidekick Gardan and Wanda.) It's obvious that Daisuke Shima and Megumi Mori ate up a lot of the show's money, which is why we got two awful nobodies as Tetsuya and Jun'ichi, but I don't think Iura and Shibata would have exactly bankrupted them.

And, yes, the first order of business once Green Sai is made female is to eliminate the pregnancy episode, which would go from silly-with-a-male-character to creepy-with-a-female. (It's absurd and hilarious how over-the-top people react to that episode. It's a stupid episode! Such a stupid episode, but it's the one thing people who hate Liveman cling to. It was a silly plot without the anti-abortion message people warp it into being -- the point was newbie team member Jun'ichi feeling for the life of a monster, and sort of reteaching the old-timers that lesson. It wasn't some "message," and while it was a dumb episode, it wasn't franchise-destroying like G3 Princesses or something like that.)

*sigh* Just another case of having to imagine this kind of casting to improve a sadly detrimental hole in an otherwise great series.

Life Stinks: Liveman 28-31

Ugh. These two.

Episodes 28, 29, 30


Each time I rewatch Liveman, I promise myself to keep an open mind about Black Dumb and Green Dumber. But they still just suck and are such a waste of a great idea. We know they weren't planned from the beginning, but they're a great idea for what's essentially an afterthought. The siblings of Liveman's dead friends becoming new heroes -- that's an amazing idea! There are so many, many potential stories to go there, and Liveman was at a point when it needed its idea-engine goosed.

There are many factors for why the Two Newbs don't work. The biggest problem is the terrible casting, but that's not all. The writing's not there for them. The cheap make-under the show's been enduring really doesn't help, and it makes no sense to bring on two more regulars when your budget's falling. (No wonder they ended up with two shitty newb actors -- they had to be cheap!)

And Liveman aired at a time when certain risks just weren't taken -- you can imagine Takuji and Mari's siblings becoming heroes and being their own two-man team separate from Liveman, out for revenge, before the Liveman change their mind. That could have been an arc lasting several episodes. But a toku in 1988 just wasn't going to take such a severe route. They just really wanted to get to the status quo, which is bring in the new guys and their toys, make 'em five and act like that's always been the case. So many missed opportunities. (And I still blame lackluster writing on the casting. If they had good performers, maybe that would have inspired better storylines.)

When I picture in my head what Takuji and Mari's siblings as new heroes could have meant for the show, I get so mad, man. It certainly should have caused a bigger splash than it did. It's just no big deal to the characters, to the show, to the fandom. The big scene when the five transform and fight for the first time -- besides creating a meme out of Kemp's "There's five Liveman members!" line -- is handled in such an underwhelming fashion. It's like...Toei demanded the addition of two more heroes, to get to the status quo and to be able to have more merchandising. Someone -- most likely Soda -- had the brilliant idea to make the two new heroes the siblings, but they didn't think beyond that. Other than Tetsuya having a shit-fit for a minute, neither seems all that angry at Kemp here, and Kemp has zero reaction to facing the family members of people he killed. So, there's no real drama or tension there.

And to top it all off, this three-parter about the Giga Plan, which is...just Volt getting an ugly mecha. Bias watched some Bioman reruns and decided Volt needed a mecha, so he builds the Giga Volt, which was doomed from the start because it couldn't move because he gave it platform boots like some glam rock star, which ensured that Giga Volt couldn't move beyond the shitty dirt mountain where the entire three-parter was inexplicably filmed.

And what really pisses me off about this three-parter? We take an instant hatred to Tetsuya and Jun'ichi, their bad acting, their bad attitudes. When the two dumb-dumbs continue to ignore the Liveman's advice, they blow out the Live Boxer, and they need to endanger Koron in order to get it to function again. We've spent most of the show with Koron. She's a weird Moonwalking robot, but she's proven herself. She's awesome. We like her. Yuusuke just learned to like her. And she's awesome again, offering to harm herself to help these two new assholes we hate. And they're completely ungrateful, like they deserve Koron's sacrifice. There's a moment where she's exploding and crying out and Jun'ichi whines for her to keep going and it's just like...shut up, Jun'ichi. I think the wrong Aikawa died.

Look. I know I've bitched about these two a lot. And it would be one thing if they were just bland or not used to their full potential. But between the casting and the way they're written in their introductory episodes, you just immediately hate them. They're aggressively unlikable. And to top it all off, they throw off the chemistry of the main three, which was one of the show's strongest elements. (Daisuke Shima's even hinted at the main three not liking that two new cast members were brought on and screwed with their dynamic.)

Episode 31

The infamous one with pregnant Green. The one that people react to with mock outrage: "How dare a kids toy commercial preach anti-abortion!" Look, it was just a stupid episode with a gimmick that was meant to be weird. I don't think it had a "message," and I think Hirohisa Soda's smarter than to try to pass off a heavy message in such a goofy episode. Jun'ichi's the new kid and he gets his experience of learning the value of life, in this case, a kid monster's life.

I think the episode is more about a male learning how to feel maternal love, something presented as initially awkward and uncomfortable, but he gives in to his emotions and ends up feeling for Bega Baby and crying when it dies. As goofy as this episode is, I like Jun'ichi in this episode, and even think actor Jin Kawamoto gives a good performance. It's just sad that it's all done in such a goofy way and that its intentions have been misconstrued by non-Japanese viewers who are looking at it with foreign eyes, decades after the fact. I think a better approach to this episode would have been something like Flashman's 11th episode, when the monster of the week hatches and imprints on Ruu. If a monster had just hatched and thought Jun'ichi was its mother upon laying eyes on him -- taking out the absurd pregnancy stuff -- I don't think this episode would have the reputation it does.

I also just have to say quickly that I like the final fight in this episode, with Sai flying all around. It's crazy and weird.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Live at Budokan: Liveman 22-27

Episode 22

The debut of the unfunny, supposedly cute pig guy who joins the villains and just sucks. His sidekick, the green guy who just sucks joined a couple of episodes ago, but had the good fortune of debuting in good episodes where his appearance was brief. Here, the stupid pig guy -- Butchy -- hogs an entire episode with a lousy premise that's just an excuse to debut Megumi Mori's freshly recorded song "Spark! Umi e." (It's a great song, but a weak episode, man.)

Butchy's using bad, slow singing to put people to sleep. Falcon and Lion fall victim to this, but Megumi fights it by...hearing a girl playing what ends up being Dolphin's song in a school, miles away! For some reason -- the power of Columbia records -- "Spark! Umi e" is the ONLY thing that can combat Butchy's attack! The worst part is Megumi approaching Butchy and the monster, playing the song on a keytar, and when she can't continue (she's injured), the day is fucked! And then...the girl from the school plays a toy piano, miles away, that cuts through and saves the world!

It's a dumb episode. We got this flimsy plot that ended up being used on Go-onger, we got the debut of a terrible new villain who doesn't belong at all, and we got the shoehorned debut of some new toys -- Falcon Saber and Lion Bazooka, introduced without fanfare. It's always been obvious to me that some higher-up at TV-Asahi or Toei sent down some orders to lighten Liveman up and throw some new toys at it. There's never been any confirmation of that -- BTS details about Liveman are surprisingly scarce, people are tight-lipped about it -- but it's just obvious. The proof's right there in the show's decline, and the way it chicken-shits out of its own premise. More on that as it develops, though.

Episode 23

A nice apology for 22. A great episode, the classic episode referenced in Gaoranger VS Super Sentai. Any older Sentai episode with a Red in a sword-fight -- giving Kazuo Niibori a chance to shine -- is a good one. But there's more good to this episode than that...

I see this episode as Yuusuke's turning point, when he takes a turn from sarcastic punk to a real leader. And while Koron has always been there for the team and has bailed them out of a few hairy situations and the show has made a case that Kolon is an equal comrade, we learn in this episode that Yuusuke still sees her as a machine. When she wants to have some fun while he patrols, she pisses him off. When Sword Brain and Kemp kick his ass, her advice pisses him off. He gets fed up with her -- dismissing Koron and her advice because she knows nothin' 'cause she's a machine. So Yuusuke shuns her and trains himself...

And when Yuusuke gets distracted by trying to take Sword Brain on again and freeing a kidnapped Megumi, he's oblivious to Kemp's sneak attack. Who saves him from certain death? Koron. And in that moment, he realizes her importance, what she means to him, and that she's more than just a machine. (I kinda always wished they'd point out how the late Doctor Hoshi made her, and in a way he lives on through her, but I guess that's just implied.) And then Falcon kicks ass and finally shows Koron the attention and respect she deserves.

This would have been the ideal episode to debut the Falcon Saber in. It's a sword battle episode, not to mention Sword Brain breaks the Falcon Sword. Why Falcon Saber debuted out of nowhere, pointlessly in the previous episode is a mystery.

Episode 24

A stinky, stinky stinkfest written by the usually dependable Kunio Fujii. C'mon, Fujii! You're better than this!

This episode is usually my go-to example for when a once-excellent show just hits a low of such unimaginative depths. I'll be like "Oh, this episode is this show's pig-school episode." Liveman's the show that made me realize that all of a toku's worst or weakest episodes can be found in the 20s.

Continuing the trend of executives seemingly wanting to soften Liveman, this episode is the show's way of weaseling out of the "fuck studying, enjoy life" message of episodes 19 - 21 by having Yuusuke preach to a kid to stay in school and eat his greens! Initially, the episode is instead trying to convey the message that, hey, while the Kid Guest Star of the Week isn't good in his school subjects, he IS good and passionate about his hobbies, and that's just as valid. That's kind of a surprising message, but the episode soon backpedals by having Yuusuke tell him to "get good at school stuff, too!"

The story surrounding this is Mazenda's plan of offering kids studying shortcuts, which ends up turning them into pig people in the end. Whatever jollies she got out of this plan is lost on me,'s just goofy. Not as dumb as karaoke'ing people to sleep like Butchy, but...dumb for an organization that considers themselves super geniuses.

Episodes 25 & 26

You want to know how low Liveman's budget is being cut? These two episodes set in the boonies are considered their big vacation episodes. The first episode is a ho-hum episode where Yellow Lion ends up teaching a kid to find his courage, as the Brain Beast revives dead monsters. The second sees the kid returning with another kid pal and at least gets back to Liveman's life theme. We all know how the Japanese kids love their beetle collecting in the summer, so this is a summer episode that I see as playing into that. Some beetles are enlarged as a side-effect of Volt's nearby experiments, and the beetles go on to help the kids, which really grosses them out, but they -- and the Liveman -- come to appreciate their help and sacrifice. I think the drab locations hurt these episodes.

Episode 27

The Volt have been talking about the "Giga Plan" for a few episodes now, and this one's going to be kicking that off. Bad news, man.

Liveman's budget cuts continue, as this episode takes place entirely at a rocky terrain and the big guest star is Yumeno from Dynaman, here playing Megumi's dad. OK. Early Liveman would film at real locations -- and varying locations. But the show reaches a point where they're nearly ALWAYS outside and always at an eyesore of a forest or rocky terrain. And if they ARE indoors, it's obviously a set. And the show barely has guest stars! And look, when it does, it's gotdamn Yumeno! You know that guy works for five yen and some sake.

The show also just gets this grimy look to it, like they're filming on a lesser film stock. Everything just ends up making the show seem cheaper, dirtier, smaller -- everything's so insular, just being reduced to the Liveman. And when the show's neutered as its been, when the CORE premise is gutted and it's no longer about the friends and the betrayal but just often Generic Villain Plan 101, it just makes the show seem small-scale. And not in a good way, like it's small-scale and character driven. In a way that's just sparse.

It's an interesting idea to bring in one of the hero's parents. It's a good idea to bring in Megumi's, because she's been having bad luck with her own episodes, and she's the brains of the team, so it would be nice to get a peek into her private life and where she comes from. But, no...the cheapness of the show makes Megumi's dad look like some insane mountain-dweller who they just stumble upon, and he takes it upon himself to get in on some action. Oh, and while he's just happened to run into Megumi, he's got some potential husband candidates for her, too! It's just done in such a bogus, inorganic way. The only noteworthy part is this: Megumi seems kind of distant from her father, yet cherished his teaching her archery, so that's a nice part of the episode. Also, the episode mentions the Liveman severing ties with their families while they're Liveman, which is interesting.