Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Flashman Episode 25

This episode feels like something that was filmed very, very early in the series, but they held onto it because it wasn't up to par, and aired it in desperation. It's the first and last toku episode to be written by Keiji Terui, who has mainly a ton of '80s anime credits to his name. Japanese fans say that Toei was trying to be hip and with it by bringing in popular anime scribes like Toshiki Inoue, Michiru Shimada and Terui with Flashman, but, as we all know, Inoue's the only one who stuck. (Probably because his style is best suited for live action...and nepotism, after his daddy did so much work for Toei toku.)

This episode is just very plain, very generic. It could have been a script for anything. But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that it makes no sense for this episode to exist at this point in the series. It's all about a super monster that absorbs energy and survives attacks, with Mess's big goal being to prevent Jin from becoming Red Flash and forming the Flash King. He gets caught in a battle and restrained by a troop led by Wanda, while Green Flash tries to pilot Tank Command in his absence, when all they need to do is form Flash King, dammit, and they can't do it without Jin! (You know how it goes, it takes all five to execute the Super Cosmo Flash.)

Well, baloney. They could have easily just used Flash Titan, don't you think? You don't need everyone to combine for that. You don't need everyone to even work it, Baraki worked it alone! (Even if he did lose control of it.) Flash Titan's not shown or mentioned even ONCE. And I find that just really bizarre, and really indicative that this episode was filmed well before Flash Titan was even brought into the show. I don't know if there's proof of that beyond the evidence the episode itself presents, got a better theory?

This episode also curiously returns to some old traits of Jin and Dai; we're back to the Jin who doesn't want to trouble his team, so he sets out to take care of things himself, while this is also that cockier, Rolling-Knuckle-first-questions-later Dai from way early on. (You know, the one who punched Magu's head off.) And the heroes are seen mainly in their clothing from the Flash planets, another tip off that this episode had to have been produced earlier than its air date indicates.

The episode has enough good action to recommend it, though. It's not a bad episode, just pretty light on plot and puzzling in its placement. I love that tense scene when Ulk and Kiruto are holding Jin prisoner and Wanda's moving in for the kill, just laughing his ass off. Hirose's one of the few people who can really pull off a good sinister laugh, a villain who takes that kind of delight in the pain they bring.

Flashman Episode 24

Remember Beast Soldier The Zukonda? You know, the one Kaura brought, who pulled an arm and leg off of Flash King. The one who was shrunk and tossed into the sea by Yellow Flash and was eaten by a fish. I bet you forgot all about him. Well, Hirohisa Soda didn't! I noted in my Turboranger coverage the way Soda showed signs of burnout by leaving a few too many loose threads, but that's not the case with Flashman.

This episode sees the ghost of Zukonda returning to terrorize a small village with the help of Ley Garus, who he'll merge with and cause more mayhem. Unlucky for the bad guys, Bun just happens to be palling around with a vacationing family who he helped when their car broke down. It's another nice surrogate family episode, as Bun gets to taste a summer vacation and all of the food and fun activities it entails. And because of the premise, it goes all out in being a summer ghost story, with a lot of funky directorial choices by Takao Nagaishi, who's really experimenting with filming techniques. (One thing he's fond of in this episode is using colored camera gels, mostly blues and greens.)

So, the episode is a lot of crazy occurrences and action, and keeps up a mildly creepy atmosphere. (It's a light sort of carnival "scary," it's not going for actual horror.) With most of the episode's entire focus going to Bun, it feels like the episode acts as not only a summer vacation for Bun, but a vacation for the rest of the Flashman actors in real life, as well. Things look bad until Bun just happens to realize that Ghost Zukonda remains terrified of fish, so Bun wielding a dead fish as a weapon ends up saving the day, which plays better and funnier than it sounds.

For the sake of a mecha fight, Keflen comes along and makes Ghost Zukonda take physical shape. But what's cool about this forced mecha fight, for a change, is that they use Flash King and successfully defeat Zukonda, so it's a nice bit of revenge. Also, this whole episode was led by Kaura, with Keflen pretty pissed that one of his creations -- Garus -- was being used to just be possessed by Kaura's dead buddy. So, this might be the first indication that Keflen and Kaura are going to end up butting heads.

The episode achieves what it wants to accomplish, but it's not quite a favorite of mine. I would have either liked the others to be worked more into the episode or for us to care more about the family Bun's hanging out with; we're just dropped into the scenario in the middle of it, told of Bun's meeting them in a voiceover by the little kid of the family noting it in his journal. (The boy is played by the kid who plays Lil' Bias in the final two episodes of Liveman. It's not his first toku appearance, either, but after Lil' Bias, I just see him as evile, even when he's playing a nice, regular kid like this.) Maybe it would have helped to see Bun come to their aid and gain their friendship.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Flashman Episode 23

Here's Flashman getting back to some of that quirky humor that was prevalent in the earlier episodes, highlighting just what a unique, literally out-of-this-world group of characters we have in this show. There are two upcoming episodes that are much wackier, but this one sets the stage for those ones. I'll get into it more with those episodes, but I'll just say that Flashman has a really unique sense of humor; it really swings and goes for it when it wants to do comedy and it's a special kind of zany comedy, but never stupid.

Continuing the style of the last episode, this one's a lighter, kid-friendly summer adventure/vacation type of episode. The villain plot of this episode is a bit of a throwback to '70s tokus, I feel, in that Mess is targeting children and trying to turn them into child soldiers. It's a scenario many a toku have attempted with varying results. Some shows have played it straight to the point where it comes across a little hokey. Some shows don't take it seriously, which undermines the threat it's supposed to represent. Flashman does a good enough job at making you recognize the heroes' dilemma, their hesitance to fight these kids. I think its success in that has to do with the fact that they take this scenario -- wee soldiers is a little unintentionally goofy, it must be said -- and they distract you from noticing potential absurdity of THAT situation by wrapping it with some *intentionally* out-there comedy from another situation. And they manage to ground it and make it resonate by focusing on one of the kids who escapes brainwashing, seeing all of her friends fall victims to it.

An undercover Neferu lures kids into a scenario in which she'll have any of their wishes granted. What they're doing is placing their hand on the horn of the latest Beast Soldier as they make the wish; the monster, its horn, is what grants the wish. Weisenheimers have asked "If Mess has something like this, which can grant any wish, why not use it in bigger ways?" As in, wish for the Flashman to die. Well, I'm here to poke holes in that question. We see wishes for items and material things granted, but not much else. Maybe there's a limit to what the monster is able to grant. Also, I think you could very simply chalk this up to Keflen's ego. He's more interested in showing what he's capable of doing, the lifeforms he "creates." I could see him getting a kick out of taking something that has a power that many would like -- here, the ability to have anything you dream of made real -- and using it in a kind of small way. It's just a bonus feature of his creation, a mere quirk; in his mind, he's capable of doing even better. Only a puny human would value this silly little ability of the Beast Soldier.

As a kid makes a wish, the symbol that marks Neferu's face appears on them; they're giving something of themselves in order to get their wish, ending up under Mess' control. This episode has more of a supernatural flair than you expect from this show, but it fits in with the classic old "summertime ghost story" style this (and certainly the next episode) is going for.

Anyway, Neferu's luring and mind-washing of the kids is quickly ended by the Flashman, with the Beast Soldier losing its horn in the skirmish. The Flash guys chase after Mess, while Sara and Ruu stay behind. Sara's still holding onto the monster's detached horn, kinda unaware, as she notes the bloody knee Ruu got in the fight, wishing for some bandages. And then suddenly, out of nowhere...Ruu's wound is cleaned and bandaged! Once they get over their surprise and realize what they have in their hands, a fun little sequence ensues of the two wishing for whatever pops into their heads -- beginning with refreshments after the battle!

Some present day critics will probably slam this scene as being sexist somehow -- the girls wishing for clothes and food or showing the intelligent Sara acting "stupid" -- but it's good-natured, it's all in good fun. And I think it also plays into the Flashman's stunted growth, just how young they remain at heart, how they take pleasure in the small things in life. I love when they wish for food, and sit down to dig in, only for the Flash guys to return and get a glimpse of what they've been up while they were chasing after Mess, only to have Sara wish for her and Ruu to be taken to an amusement park to escape a scolding. And so it happens, with Korakuen Amusement Park making its THIRD appearance in Flashman.

When our heroines hear from Mess that the detached horn is only capable of granting seven wishes, the two tally up the stuff they requested only to realize they have one more remaining. Regretting some of that frivolous stuff they asked for, they realize at the same moment they could have wished to see their mother. Our heroes are kind and selfless and each want the other to have that wish, but they're...interrupted by a kid! A young girl, who was at Neferu's Brainwashorama earlier, tracks them down with Neferu's urging. She was just about to make her wish as the Flashman broke up the scene, so Sara and Ruu feel like they owe it to the girl to make her wish, which is for friends. They hesitate only because Magu contacts them and tells them of the kids being marked and taken control of, which the Flashman had been unaware of up to this point.

(Sara and Ruu both wonder why they haven't fallen into Mess' trap, with Sara coming to the conclusion that the brainwashing must only work on kids. I guess you shouldn't question the hero, who is saying the writer's words, but I think a better explanation is because they were using the horn once it was detached from the monster. If the monster uses his ability to control people through ESP, and we know the power diminishes once it's detached -- since Keflen warns of a limited amount of wishes being left, and the possibility that the monster will lose its mental abilities -- well, doesn't that seem more likely?)

The kid is likable and sincere and pitiful, even when she brattily grabs the horn out of Sara's hand and flees to make her wish. But then you feel bad for her because just as she's finishing her request, Neferu grabs the horn out of HER hand and sends it back to the monster. And Neferu takes real delight in it.

Once the day is saved, Sara and Ruu return to the girl, and connect with her, telling her they know what it's like to not have friends growing up. (And, boy, do they know.) She perks up once she hears the two offer to be her friends, but just then Jin and the others return with the kids who were saved from this whole ordeal, and they all enjoy a day at the amusement park. She found the friends she was looking for by sharing this whole traumatic experience with them, but it's a genuine bond, not forced as a result of magic. So, it's a lesson-learnin' episode, there are no shortcuts to what you want. But as far as lesson-learnin' episodes go, it's a fun one, one that has equal parts wackiness and genuine heart.

And, see, that's what so many of the new shows miss. They avoid being genuinely emotional out of fear of being "cheesy," so it's just 100% goofery without any sort of emotional foundation.

Neferu Disguise Watch: When luring the kids, she's dressed as what one of the books describes as a "Greek goddess."

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Flashman Episode 22

This episode's always seemed bizarre to me. The only explanation I have for it is that the staff was just shell-shocked by the dark and disturbing tone of the previous episode and was like "Hey, guys. Can we make the next one be...I dunno, about some pretty magic bird or something? Can we go somewhere nice to film it, with a lot of pretty birds and light and fun things...?" and basically just needed a mini-vacation to shake the last episode off.

The plot is bare, and probably leftover from a Changeman comic from an issue of TV Land. It certainly would work better in a show like Changeman...

The Flashman get an SOS message from a space bird, referred to only as the phoenix, that's targeted by Mess. Why? Mess wants to use its genes in order to make an immortal Beast Soldier. This phoenix also has magical abilities which it uses to help restore planets that were ruined by Mess. The bird asks for the Flashman's help as it's wounded by the pursuing Mess. Jin, through a science group which monitors space activity, is able to discover that an object -- what he knows is the bird -- landed somewhere on Namegawa Island.

Namegawa Island! The defunct resort that wanted to create a tropical island experience for its visitors, featured in several Showa-era toku shows. I mentioned the place in more detail in my coverage of Turboranger's 24th episode, an episode that meshed being a commercial for the resort in the episode's narrative rather well. Here, it's just a setting, the only purpose of it being Namegawa, really, is for the sake of comedy: the phoenix can change into other bird types, and does so for the sake of hiding from Mess, which leads to confusion since Namegawa Island's filled with a wide variety of birds, down to the flamingo and peacock.

So, the episode is a light and action-packed episode with the Flashman trying to beat Mess to finding the phoenix and guarding it. There are some cool action scenes and a couple of nice touches -- like a bloodied feather of the injured phoenix being used against this episode's teleporting monster, which is a total Fujii moment -- but the episode feels a little plain and out of place to me. You expect a little more substance with a Fujii script. But, like I said, this episode totally seems to me like a quickly assembled "let's balance out the negativity of the last one" episode that's just supposed to be a fun adventure which will kick off a couple more lighthearted, summer adventure type episodes. There's still a dilemma to the episode, there's still some danger, but the action and heroics and touches of comedy are where the focus is placed. It's not a bad episode by any means, it's just a weird one to me. I guess it helps being an animal fan, even if the phoenix spends most of its time as one strange puppet.

The next episode is much more successful as a lighthearted tension breaker episode.

Flashman Episode 21

I already covered this episode here.

Whoo! Easiest blog post ever.

The only thing I really have to add, since I'm now talking about the other episodes, and since it comes after the episode with Sumire, is that I like these back-to-back episodes focusing on the idea and hope of the Flashman finding family members. Both of these scenarios could have easily been twisted into being cliched romance stories, but they're better for avoiding the easy and predictable road. They fit more with the show's premise. And, despite episodes 10 and 14, it's made pretty clear that the Flashman are putting aside the idea of personal lives for the sake of fighting Mess. They won't even let themselves spend free time finding their family!

I also should note that this was the lowest-rated episode of the series, with a 6.2%. I don't get that. I would understand if episode 22 was the lowest, as in this episode freaked out half the audience, so they didn't want to tune in the following week. Ratings are weird. Like, why in the heck is episode 27 the highest rated episode of the show? That's so random.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Flashman Episode 20

Fujii returns with a unique storyline that, when he picks it up in about 17 episodes, obviously changes the direction of his original intent, making for a pretty damn weird adventure for Dai and the show.

Similar to episode 6, this episode is about soundwaves interfering with a plan. Only this time, it's not the Flash Hawk engines interfering with Mess' nefarious plan, it's a soundwave caused by the latest Beast Soldier interfering with the repair of Flash King! And that's not even the main point of this episode. The monster isn't created for that purpose, it's just an additional perk -- it's a vampiric monster, and this pesky sound occurs as the creature inhales the contents of its victim.

The more important point of the episode, though, is the introduction of Sumire, a high-schooler who is cornered by the monster and whose cries for help telepathically reach Dai. (Why Dai? That's the mystery.) I like that this unusual circumstance is what alerts the Flashman to Mess' location of attack; it's not the usual chancing upon their latest scheme by patrolling or hearing the news. They still happen to be nearby, but Mess amasses quite a body count before the Flashman make it to the scene!

Dai protects the mysterious girl and they end up discovering that, if they join hands, they can unleash a certain power. Their minds join, they find themselves in a trippy realm, while their bodies give off a light. This light ends up causing harm to the monster, and is eventually what destroys the sound it emits.

Sumire reminds me a little of Changeman's Nana in that she's a mystery, her powers are a mystery, and her appearance draws the attention of the bad guys, causing her to always be on the move. She's always gone by the time Dai finishes fighting off villains and returns to where she was! Unfortunately, Sumire doesn't quite get as much development and she's also not made to be as important as Nana. She's only in two episodes, and I always got the impression that more was meant for her and Dai, but Fujii was told to change direction.

Why can Sumire telepathically communicate with Dai? Why do they have this funky extrasensory power? Jin rules out it being anything special from Flash since the other four can't hear her. Dai takes this to mean that Sumire must be his little sister. (I think it would have been pretty interesting if they cast Sumire a little older and had Sumire be Dai's TWIN sister, which would explain their super connection. How tragic would it be for there to be a set of twins, with the one being kidnapped and taken away from the other for 20 years?)

So, I always assumed that maybe Fujii was going in that direction, that he was going to reveal that Sumire WAS a blood relative, but Soda and/or Suzuki decided against it. The thinking probably was that it was too early to have a team member find their family, and that it would have taken away from the Tokimura storyline since, at this point, only the three guys were in the running. And then, by the time Sumire returns, I think the mean bastards in charge knew they only wanted ONE member to find their family, and that it was going to have to be a Tokimura (since they clocked in so much time in the series, no pun intended) so...everyone else got screwed!

I'll just say...if you know the revelation about Sumire, you can watch this episode and realize "Hey, if this monster sucks people's life-force, why's it ready to attack Sumire?" There's the proof that Fujii changed the story, IMO.

Sumire is played by Akane Kudo, who I remember would pop up frequently in Machineman. I don't think she has many acting credits to her name and she's now an opera singer. Kudo's another person who I expected would do more acting, or at least go on to get a bigger role in toku. She has a real gloomy demeanor and is easily sympathetic, and I think she has a distinct look to her that sets her apart.

Anyway, I have to say that I think the monster in this one is cool. Not only does he have this stinger that extends from his snout that sucks blood and the lifeforce of his victims, but he can fire detachable stingers at the Flashman (and later Titan Boy) and suck their energy from afar. The design is this cool, insect-like creature, and not the cliched bat design you'd expect.

Flash King is repaired and back to kick some ass in this episode as Titan Boy's drained of energy. And since this episode is about siblings (maybe, at one point), Jin points out that Flash King is like Titan Boy's aniki. Aw...

Neferu Disguise Watch: As she tracks Sumire, Neferu is disguised in some crazy outfit that would only work as a stealthy disguise in the '80s.

Since this is the episode that sees the Flashman deciding to wear ordinary clothing, I'd like to take this time to highlight their Made in Planet Flash clothing. As I've said, I think they're the best of the weird/alien clothing seen in Sentai. Designed by Yutaka Izubuchi, the outfits have an alien look to them, but they're also just simple and cool looking -- he didn't go overboard in trying to make them weird. And I feel like, especially with Jin's outfit, there's some Star Wars influence, which is funny since Star Wars looked to Japan for its fashion inspiration. (And that wasn't all it looked to Japan for.) Below is Izubuchi's design sketches for each outfit. Take note of how Dai is drawn; as I've said, he's given the demeanor of the tough rebel type of guy, which is how I think the character was intended before they altered it for the actor.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Flashman Episodes 17-19

Big, big episodes that meant big, big things for the franchise, but also the show itself in what it reveals about Flash planet history. Episode 17 is my favorite one of this three-parter, and it's one that I remember loving as a kid. But these episodes don't have the big impact on me that they're supposed to, and I think it's because of the Ley Baraki character.

Before I start complaining about Baraki, let's focus on that episode I do like, 17. It's again pretty action-heavy, and it's an episode where the Flashman feel like they're against the wall because they're still screwed without Flash King. Kaura lures them into a trap by putting to use the latest Beast Soldier's power, which is to lay explosive eggs. So, Kaura sets up a giant minefield for the Flashman. If that's not enough, a schoolbus is coming back from a field trip and encounters some of the mines, wounding the driver (he's ejected from the bus!), sending the bus to the edge of a cliff near the minefield battle ground where the Flashman are fighting!

A hijacked schoolbus is a bit of a cliche in the Showa toku shows, but I think this version is one of the better depictions. The danger is real, the threat is immediate, it's well directed. My favorite moment as a kid was when Red Flash sees the bus and races through the minefield to reach it before it falls. He's ignoring the warning and pleas of the other Flashman and just dashing his way through a bunch of explosions, being knocked out of suit. But even as Jin, he just presses on through the minefield, all while the soundtrack is playing that variation of Fighting Pose Flashman as if it were composed by Ennio Morricone. It's a great scene, and probably one of the reasons why Jin was my favorite as a kid. And I like that, once he makes his way up to the bus, he has to have one of the kids help assist him in working the stick shift, because his arm was wounded in one of the explosions. I thought that was a nice little detail, and the way Jin handles trying to comfort the kids is another great aspect of the character. (It's sad that the show backed off on showing the Flashman's natural powers, though, because Bun or Ruu could have gotten up there with ease. It would have robbed Jin of a great, cool, heroic moment, but it would have been cool to see those special powers put to use in such a way.)

I remember seeing that MMPR as a kid, when that bus (that's only carrying Bulk and Skull, somehow) is teetering off a cliff and saved by the Megazord, and thinking "What a rip-off!" it was of this Flashman. Plus, you know, it sucked that they managed to save Bulk and Skull.

Tremors occur throughout the first episode, revealed to be the dormant Flash Titan mecha breaking free of its burial. Unlike a lot of other shows, I like that they try to come up with a reason -- that upon Flash King's trashing, it sent out of a signal which was picked up by the Flash Titan, another mechanism from the Flash planet. So, it's not just a big ol' coinkydink as it so often is. The mecha belonged to the Hero Titan, a famous figure on Flash that gave his life fighting Mess throughout the solar system. His final battle occurred on a planet with a Ley Baraki, who was Keflen's first creation. Baraki is defeated by Titan, but where he expects the killing strike, he instead is given mercy: Titan values life, so he wants Baraki to keep his. This is new for someone bred for just battle, as Baraki was, and Baraki is taken aback by this. And then, he sees Mess' true colors once their forces arrive to attack Titan, not caring if Baraki ends up as collateral damage.

Titan decides to protect his enemy and helps haul Baraki off to safety. This touches Baraki, he doesn't know what to make of this gesture from the guy he was just ready to kill. But that's Hero Titan, man. He's a righteous dude. He respects Baraki as a warrior, and tells Baraki that life should be valued. (Considering what we learn of the Anti-Flash Effect and what atrocities the Mess are up to -- sacrificing lives in order to play God -- repeat viewings help add layers to Hero Titan's beliefs here.) Titan takes a fatal hit -- FROM THE LAB SHIP! -- and makes Baraki vow to take his Flash Titan arsenal to Earth, for he knows Mess will target there one day, and there will be others who follow in his heroic footsteps to fight them. (Yeah, yeah -- joke now that "FLASHMAN" is written on the side of the truck, as if he prophesized it. But maybe he was hoping "Flashman" would end up being his superhero nickname!)

With nothing to lose, and no one else who treated him as respectfully as Titan, Baraki chooses to honor his dying request, flying to and landing on Earth with the Flash Titan, hiding out until needed, going into hibernation. Once everybody realizes anybody with "Flash" in their name is on the good side, the Flashman and Baraki team-up, with Baraki agreeing to give them the Flash Titan. (There's a moment when Baraki says Jin reminds him of Hero Titan, which is pretty cool. It reminds me of that one monster in Turboranger, who was a Rakia ally, who told Riki he's the reincarnation of Rakia.)

Baraki...I really like the idea of the character and his story arc. He could have been fleshed out just a little more, but I do think there's a kind of pitiful quality to him, that he's been made to die by Mess and my take on his quick liking of Titan is, as I said, that Titan's probably the only one who showed him any respect or treated him with value. If you look at Izubuchi's design for Baraki, Baraki looks like he's an old, proud warrior, weathered by battle. He has broad shoulders, but is tall, so he looks lean. So he looks like he'd be intimidating, and he should have been, especially in the earlier sequences when he and the Flashman don't know if they're friends or foes. I bring this up as a way of saying I think Baraki doesn't work because of the casting...

Baraki is played by Haruki Joh, who plays a ton of criminals in yakuza movies. He's popped up in toku, before. (OTOH, he's in Changeman 44 along with Kazuo Niibori as the human form of an old Space Beast Soldier.) Joh is a short, chubby kind of guy, who looks like a hoodlum. (Hence, all of the yakuza roles.) Not only is he the wrong type of person for the role, but he turns the design into just this...he makes Baraki a fat little furball, an obese walking Santa beard with horns, a chubby Tribble. And Banjo Ginga voices Baraki, and I usually like Banjo Ginga, but even HE is wrong for Baraki! He sounds like he's recording his dialogue as he falls asleep on the john. Joh makes him unlikable, Banjo's doing a completely different character, so it's poor casting in both cases, and Baraki never comes to life the way he should, his story doesn't resonate the way it should, and the upcoming drama involving the character misses the mark. Baraki's the kind of character Hideaki Kusaka would knock out of the park, if he had been a little older at the time. I have another casting suggestion that I'll address in a later episode.

There's this extraneous dilemma of Baraki losing control of the Flash Titan, so it's driving recklessly, causing destruction, until he's able to get it back under control, but it's an unnecessary dilemma. (And it's something writer Soda ends up putting to better use for Land Galaxy's debut episodes of Maskman.) But the Flashman do inherit it, and I like the way Yellow points out that they should all know how to operate it because, being an invention from Flash, well, they're obviously used to that. So many times pranksters will be like "How can a Sentai team just work a new mecha perfectly their first time?" Well, SOME shows explain it! And they're usually the good shows.

Titan Boy, a new era for Super Sentai. He set the standard for the secondary mecha being small and hyper. I always thought that was a weird choice for them to make the new mecha so strange, that they seem smaller and kinda of comedic compared to the main robot. I suppose they don't want to detract from the main mecha's coolness and star power, but it's weird that the franchise gets to a point where they don't care about respecting the initial mecha, the heroes will get a new mecha component in every episode and each subsequent mecha is meant to be bigger and better than the previous.

It's strange that Flash Titan is a tractor-trailer, but if Hero Titan saw a future in which the Mess targeted Earth, then he saw a future in which Transformers-mania swept the world, so...Flash Titan is a tractor-trailer. (Really, compare the three pieces of Flash King. They're a tank and jets, but still given a futuristic/alien oddness. That care wasn't put into the Flash Titan.) It doesn't really matter, though, because I LOVED Flash Titan as a kid. I clearly remember Santa-san bringing it on Christmas and I just thought it was the coolest, best, most magical toy ever. One of the things I loved most about it was that it was easy to handle, you know? The deluxe mecha involved just too much work to gattai 'em. You're folding them, bending them, snapping things into place... And it was a pain to UNDO all that stuff to get them back into vehicle mode! Flash Titan was relatively easy to make go from the truck to Titan Boy and then Great Titan and back again. So, it was a cool toy, and one that was actually fun to play with.

So, the Flashman now have Titan Boy and FINALLY defeat the pesky eggmine-laying Beast Soldier after two episodes. They don't enjoy their victory for long, because things rarely go right for the Flashman, as they soon learn that Baraki has been taken by Kaura.

Part three deals with Baraki being tortured and used by Mess to assassinate the Flashman. Baraki, to his credit, tries to REALLY hang in there and cling to life so that he can deliver to them an important message entrusted him by Hero Titan. Weisenheimers are going to say "Why didn't he just blurt it out during his first attack on Jin when he wasn't yet controlled? Why doesn't he write a letter?" Because this shit's supposed to be going down fast, man! He doesn't have time for that. He's captured, tortured, botches his first attack on Jin and then gets taken control of, as if a puppet, by the latest Beast Soldier who forbids him from even speaking. (When the controlled Baraki is attacking the Flashman, his few words of dialogue are spoken in his head. This seems confusing since the Baraki design can't move its mouth, but look at the Flashman's reactions. From their point of view, Baraki's just attacking them without a word, and it isn't until Jin sees that Baraki's crying that he realizes that the real Baraki's there, he's not brainwashed, but manipulated into attacking against his will.)

Once the Flashman free him, Baraki takes a nice hit by Kaura's whip. He's already endured a lot of pain throughout the episode, and Jin ushers him to safety where he can barely blurt out what Hero Titan so badly wanted conveyed. All he gets out is talk about a weakness of the people from Flash, that it's what contributed to Titan's demise, and that if they don't defeat Mess soon enough then... And Baraki loses consciousness. The Beast Soldier appears and attacks him once more, finishing the job, and Baraki never again awakens to Jin's calls.

I like so much about the Baraki character. He's a bad-ass in just this episode alone, and there's just such a sorrowful quality to the character. Not just his background, how little he was valued by Mess, but the way he pushes past the pain of being tortured, just wanting to live long enough to deliver the Flashman the warning of what will end up being the deadly Anti-Flash Effect. But, again, the casting doesn't make the character soar the way he should, and that's a shame, because it's a neat story, and a more meaningful way to introduce a new mecha than any modern show cares to do. Beating a dead horse, but stories of Titan and Baraki are something I could see being prequel/spinoff novels or comics. (Titan especially.)

I thought this episode was cool and weird when I was a kid, the creepy monster controlling Jin and Baraki with invisible strings, and that moment when Green Flash knocks Baraki's sword out of his hands and it ends up accidentally severing the monster's strings, revealing its ability to the Flashman. I just thought it was neat. It's also great how pissed off Jin gets at Baraki's death. Red Flash really does make Mess pay; a lot of toku heroes say that, but Jin means it, and makes it so. Spoiler alert: he pretty much is responsible for every villain death in the show save one -- someone who's a biggie and taken down by a surprising character.

I should also note that episode 19 is the last episode in which the Flashman will wear their funky alien outfits regularly. From here on, they wear ordinary Earth clothes, saving the funky alien stuff only for scenes at the Round Base. I like those unique outfits, and I think they're the best of the "funky outfits" we've seen Sentai heroes wear (others being Zyuranger and Gingaman), but I also like that the Flashman reach a point where they just want to go out dressed normally. That's sometimes a criticism with Zyu or Ginga, and it's one that Flash avoids.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Flashman Episode 16

There's a LOT packed into this episode, it's filled with action, and it runs the gamut in emotion. It feels like it could be one of the movies, it's doing so much and feels like such an event. Kaura's debut was an event, and that approach continues into this episode, a direct continuation, and THEN it gets into a three-parter that's so big and, yes, such an event that Toei will edit them together and put it on the big screen as Flashman's second movie.

But before getting to any of that...this episode. I happen to really like this episode, and my enjoyment is boosted by the fact that I didn't even have this episode for a while, so it still feels "fresh" to me. In it, Mess is full of themselves for their absolute pwnage of the Flashman. A confident Kaura decides to go ahead with a plan in which last week's surviving Beast Soldier, The Zukonda, will go around Japan and capture people for Mess' use. Zukonda's given an ability in which he takes a large gold ring and, if he places it on a person, that person will be wrapped in a capsule and shrunken down to micro size where Zukonda can easily store all of those he kidnaps, leaving room for plenty of specimens.

Our heroes have tasted defeat and are battered, but regroup and set out to stop Kaura's plan, which I don't have to say is what happened to them, but on an even larger scale. Not only are they recovering, though, but they don't have Flash King! So, for the entire episode, they're very conscious of how to put a stop to Zukonda -- they know if they kill him, he'll just be enlarged and they won't be able to stop him. If this was a newer show, all the Flashman would have to do is grunt and yell an inane catchphrase and they'll be rewarded by the Bandai Gods, but this is a Showa show, and the Flashman will have to achieve victory on their own.

A great turn this episode takes is that Sara, while trying to protect a little girl who Kaura's targeting, is caught in a capsule with the girl and miniaturized. What makes it great is that Sara starts to experience some deeply buried trauma, reliving her own kidnapping, but she's able to eventually pull herself together for the sake of the kid. (And the set-up provides great visuals, as the girl is being chased at an airfield by a HELICOPTER-RIDING Kaura.) I think this is a nice exploration of Sara's character, that she's thoughtful and caring of other people, despite her own sadness and tragedy. There's something about the way Yoko Nakamura plays Sara that makes Sara seem just so sorrowful. She's not, like, unfriendly or a downer, she can enjoy herself and become cheerfully lost in a moment, but I always think of Sara as having a sad quality. You just want to root for her and have things go right for her; Nakamura makes her really sympathetic.

Yoko Nakamura was supposed to be a big deal in this show. Her star was on the rise, she was a singer who had several popular singles and an album before transitioning into acting, with Flashman serving as a big break. While Nakamura and Sara were popular, overall she only ended up with a handful of guest appearances and variety show appearances on her resume, and she never released any more music than that initial album and singles. (It's a shame, because she's a good actress and had the potential to grow into a great singer.) She fell off of the radar for a bit, but I remember co-star Sayoko Hagiwara saying on her blog at one point that she had kept in contact with Nakamura, who said she was happy to be out of the spotlight and living a normal life.

I've always wondered if we didn't get more from Nakamura because of some showbiz ugliness or if she was just unhappy with a celebrity lifestyle. I was surprised, yet glad that she ended up appearing at a Flashman reunion for the 30th anniversary. It's said that she didn't want any pictures of her released, which is why -- if you saw any of the official pictures of the five from the event -- the pictures would be, like, 75x75 in size! But some nosy fan was able to find and post pictures from private gatherings that took place after that event. Officially, I wag my finger at disrespecting Nakamura's request, but secretly I'm glad they were sneakily posted. I don't know why she didn't want pictures to get out, because I don't think she looks all that different.

And despite having a relatively small output, Nakamura remains popular to this day, to the point where fans successfully badgered Sony into re-releasing her album onto CD, with all of her singles and B-Sides included as bonus tracks. (Too bad they weren't able to get her Flashman, song, though, dammit, and make it truly complete.) I think Nakamura could have been a big celebrity in Japan if she hadn't stepped away.

OK, enough Nakamura fanboying. At this low point for Sara, she decides to snap herself out of it for the little girl's sake. The girl was at the wrong place in the wrong time, on her way to the airport to wait for her mother, who's returning from overseas for the first time in a decade. (Her mother had to seek treatment for a medical ailment.) And the girl's pretty young, she probably didn't really get to know her mother well at all before she had to leave. It's too close to home for Sara that this girl was targeted and captured by Kaura, being robbed of finally meeting her mom, being pulled from family the way the Flashman were.

Things are bleak enough with Sara and the girl captured in a miniature capsule, with the episode turning into a race between Mess and the Flashman as the Flashman try to keep the capsule safe. But then it gets even worse when the capsule is dropped into the sea in a Kaura attack, where a gluttonous pig of a fish eats it! It doesn't play as goofy as that sounds, and you can make Jonah connections if you want, but it's also kind of like "Damn! Those two can't get a break." That's just about as hopeless as it could get for those two, right? But Sara remains positive, trying not to let the girl fall into sadness. And they're against the clock, too, since, you know, the fish will eventually digest them. (They, and all those captured, are eventually freed by Red Flash destroying the component Zukonda wears in which he creates the pesky capturing rings from, which Kaura quickly restores.)

The way the Flashman end up disposing of this week's monster is funny and creative, though; they can't just blow him away with Rolling Vulcan, so Red Flash comes up with an appropriate way to get rid of him -- they get the monster to place one of the rings around himself, shrinking and encapsulating him. For good measure, Yellow Flash gets revenge by chucking the pill-sized capsule into the sea, where it quickly gets swallowed by a fish. Kaura lets them enjoy their little victory, and tells them as much, but he and they know they won't be able to keep on going without Flash King.

An episode with a good pace, tons of action, and great character moments. (See: Bun's reaction to Jin's command that they all jump off the Classic Toku Bridge to evade Mess's forces, which have them covered.) It's sad that pieces of this episode weren't worked into the movie edit.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Flashman Episode 15

I'm so glad it worked out that Nagaishi was the one to direct this episode. Because this is the big one. This is the arrival of Sir Kaura, OBE. A very important part of the series, and Nagaishi makes sure to debut this character with the flair and grandness required in an episode that ends on a shocking cliffhanger, marking a new direction for the franchise.

This episode begins by misleading the audience into thinking it's going to be some quirky and comedically-flavored episode, but...oh, no. It ain't. Far from it. We start with a tiny Kragen in the midst of regenerating, when he suddenly flees the Lab in horror! The Mess officers chase after him, the Flashman get involved. But what is it that's scaring Kragen? Deus and Keflen know -- he senses the return of Kaura. And Kragen was right to be afraid, because he soon finds himself EATEN by a mysterious Beast Soldier, The Zukonda, who ends up being an underling of Kaura's. Kaura then makes his presence known...

I love the way they film this scene. The way it's presented, the way it's filmed, the use of music. Everything goes dark and the wind kicks up. The sky turns red and a ship lands. A big figure walks heavily down the stairs which extend from the ship, each footfall kicking off an electric charge. They do a damn good job of making this such a big reveal, conveying just what a formidable and dangerous threat this guy is. Neferu looks more than a little scared to find out who he is, and if you're able to scare freaking Neferu...!

Kaura and his group of hoodlums are the Alien Hunters, the group who works for Mess and tracks down and kidnaps lifeforms from all over the universe to be used in Mess's experiments. Kaura's arrived because word has hit him of the trouble Mess has had in dealing with the Flashman, so he's here to help. And that's bad news for our heroes, who are going to be engaging directly with the man responsible for their trauma, and that he's such a tough bastard. (His first reaction to noticing the Flashman? Giving them the line your grandparents give you when they haven't seen you for a while. "Flashman, you've gotten big." That's a pretty mean way to say "I know who you are, and you know who I am and what I did. Let's get along, eh?") Nagaishi's direction in this reveal...he's really committed to getting you to realize just how momentous this character's arrival is. Kaura's not just the latest forgettable lieutenant goon who's going to be failing to fight the Flashman, he's an important part of the series, and a very deadly enemy.

Kaura's my favorite Sentai villain. I love what he brings to the show; he's the guy who kidnapped our heroes, he's a smart and resourceful character, he's strong and intimidating, he's a ruthless son of a bitch, and yet at the same time...he's the one who has all of our heroes' answers. They hate his guts, but we'll see a few times throughout the show where they'll question killing him or his cohorts since they know better than anyone else the details of their past. So he really has the upper hand over our heroes, in many ways. I always felt like he had a bit of an upper hand over our villains, as well! Mess NEEDS him, but he don't need them! He's traveled the universe, he's amassed knowledge and connections. And he knows some of their secrets, too. But he's a pro. Right now, he works for Mess, so that's who he's going to side with. And you get the feeling that he isn't some greedy guy who goes where the work is, but that this sick little venture of capturing lifeforms is Kaura's area of expertise, so he's allied with whoever values that skill. But you never feel like he's the new guy or some hired hand; Kaura really comes across like an equal to Deus and Keflen, even if he really isn't. I see Kaura as being kind of "street smart," so you know the mad scientists like Deus and Keflen look down on him, but they're very fixated on their one area of interest, while Kaura comes across as a man of the universe, with knowledge in a wide-spanning range of areas.

So much of what makes Kaura successful is Jouji Nakata's performance. Keeping with the rest of the Mess performers, he hits the ground running and immediately finds the character. And Nakata was surprisingly young at the time, he's in his early 30s here! But he conveys such a power of a seasoned warrior and this sense that Kaura has really just done and seen it all. He moves with deliberateness, he speaks quietly. He seems so much more mature and threatening to the Flashman. He can get pissed and growl and be damned intimidating, but he's never over-the-top. Most of Nakata's performance is extremely understated. And Nakata's also able to keep right up with and seem like an equal to a veteran actor like Koji Shimizu. Nakata makes Kaura believable. And as I mentioned before with the other Mess actors, it seems to me like Nakata has a secret to the character only he knows. (I do remember an interview with him where he went into detail about a backstory he created for Kaura, thinking of him as a vicious soldier who rallied up similar allies and became a mercenary.)

Remember I have a name for the villains that join a show late, I call them The Sixth Villains. Privately, I call them "the Kauras," because since I jumped into Changeman well into its run, I didn't know Ahames was a late addition to the show. To me, she was always there. Seeing Flashman from the start, seeing what a big presentation it was bringing in Kaura, I was under the impression it was a new thing they were doing, so any time a new villain was brought into a show, it was "Oh, he's this show's Kaura." A common trait in a lot of the Sixth Villains is their outsider status or outright rejection of the regular villains, or they'll have some ulterior motive for helping the regular villains. While that will come into play later in the series, right now it's neat to see a new villain who's on the same page as our regular villains, is on a kind of equal ground and who isn't sneaking around to fulfill their own agenda. Spoiler alert: things go to shit between Mess and Kaura, and he'll be just as deadly an enemy to them as he is Flashman, but right now, he's working for them.

The majority of this episode is Kaura causing mayhem in the city and kicking the Flashman's asses all over the map. At one point, the Beast Soldier working for him clones itself, which ultimately ends with the Flash King fighting TWO giant Beast Soldiers by the end of this episode and...losing. It's a rough fight, the Flashman manage to take the clone down, but not before Flash King's given a thrashing himself, losing an arm and leg. The episode ends on a quiet, eerie shot of the Flash King lying in pieces in the night, as a panicked Magu calls for the Flashman to respond over the com. (A nice touch is a shooting star going by in the background.) They're silent, and the narrator even puts out the idea that they could be dead. We're also shown a scene of a pretty joyful Mess. A pretty dark way to end the episode, and a bit of a shock at the time. Mechas take beatings in one of the final episodes, but here's episode FIFTEEN and Flash King hasn't just taken a beating but is BROKEN! We're used to these mecha fights going down the same way; here you're expecting the typical formula, the attacks, the Super Cosmo Flash, the pose of victory. We're not supposed to have the mecha's limbs torn off, it go down in a sparking mess, with our heroes unconscious! What the hell are our heroes going to do, man?! Well, you gotta wait a week to find out.

So...Kaura totally stomps all over the Flashman in his first episode. It's a GREAT way to bring in an awesome new villain. Kaura's my favorite, and he's just going to keep bringing the pain for our heroes. Physical pain, psychological pain. It's like he's a writer on this show -- he's not going to make things easy for the Flashman.

This episode features the debut of the tease of what lies behind La Deus's mask. In his celebration of the Flashman's defeat, he turns from the others, his mask cracks, and we see just a spooky eyeball that belongs to a whitened face. This will happen several times throughout the show and we don't quite get a pay-off, but it's creepy and memorable. The show ends up kinda changing its tune about what's behind that mask, but it still ends up keeping him mysterious in a good way.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Flashman Episode 14

Toshiki Inoue's first script for the series -- and his first toku script, period! It involves what goes on to be one of his favorite scenarios in that one of our heroes falls for a character who's a pesky ne'er-do-well. In this case, it's a sukeban that Bun gets involved with. They're initially at each other's throats and challenge each other, but once they're on the run from Mess, they start to take a liking to one another. This episode works better than the similar episodes Inoue wrote for Liveman and Turboranger, and a lot of that's probably thanks to the performances, the characters' ages and the situation they're put in.

When Bun is patrolling on his motorcycle, he makes the mistake of riding into sukeban Yuki's turf, and soon finds himself challenged by her and her bike gang. Bun manages to win thanks to using some of those abilities he developed growing up on Blue Star. And meanwhile, as he's screwing around with these biker punks, Neferu stands on a nearby building, wielding a gun, ready to assassinate Bun! When the biker gang get in the way, preventing her from taking a nice, clean, fatal shot, Neferu pretty much snaps and devotes the rest of the episode to tracking down Bun and killing him. We don't get an explanation of why she's so damned determined to do Bun in, in this episode, but Neferu probably has her reasons...

That's one of the great things about the Mess actors; when you really look at the characters, you realize that the show holds its cards close to its chest -- they want their villains to be sort of mysterious, so you don't find out a whole hell of a lot about them. But all of the actors just dig in and relish their roles. I always said that it feels to me like all of the actors have a secret about their characters that only they know. The Mess villains just feel like they have so much more life and presence and a shared history and closeness to one another, and I think A LOT of that is do to the actors...

And I feel like that's especially true of Neferu, who I think the show likes to keep as an enigma, they like her being an unpredictable spark. But Hagiwara brings SO much to the role -- whether she was rebelling after playing a couple of heroines or whatever the reason, she just really hits the ground running and isn't afraid to be as evil and nasty as Neferu needs to be. It's also surprising to me how tough and formidable Hagiwara is able to make Neferu when she's still pretty young, she's about 23 for most of Flashman's run. But you never doubt Neferu's capability or power -- she plays her with a conviction and a confidence and makes Neferu STRONG. Neferu can and will beat you the hell up, and probably take great delight in doing so. When we first see Neferu in action, she stabs a guy through the throat with her baton, and then smirks as she looks down at his corpse! And people wonder why I never thought Mele was cool.

But I like that the character is also the spy of Mess; as noted, she's a master of disguise, and she's often in charge of the plans that require her and Ulk and Kiruto to infiltrate an area. She's a formidable warrior, dangerous, but by being a spy, there's still kind of an unpredictability to the character in that she's honorable, but...she'll do what needs to be done to win. If that involves kidnapping some kids, she'll do it. If that involves faking her own death, she'll do it. (Spoiler alert.) If that involves trying to gun down Bun from across the city, she has no problem with that.

So, Bun bests Yuki's gang and Yuki's after him, wanting to settle the score. Yuki's got a rep to protect, she's a gang leader! She goes into a monologue about how she was orphaned, raised by the streets, the only lullabies she ever heard were the roar of engines! Bun takes pity on her, locking onto the part about her being an orphan, but before anything can happen, Neferu strikes, and the episode becomes about Bun and Yuki on the run from Neferu and the latest Beast Soldier.

Like Bun's previous outing, this one also takes place largely at Korakuen Amusement Park, strangely, but the show manages to still convey the sense of an intense pursuit as Bun and Yuki try their best to make a getaway or hide out in corners of the park, only to quickly be found. Director Takao Nagaishi gives this episode a quick pace that helps further convey intensity and propulsive action despite what you'd think of as a limited setting. Credit also to action director Junji Yamaoka, who's making the most of the setting and throwing all he can at Bun, which Yasuhiro Ishiwata just takes, because he always likes to dive into action scenes. Bun uses his Blue Star acquired climbing skills to make a lot of his getaways with Yuki, and at one point, the two find themselves in danger of being run over by a roller-coaster-riding Neferu! (Further credit to Hagiwara for just seeming chill standing in this front roller coaster car.)

Every now and then Bun and Yuki will find a spot where they can relax and talk and they get to start to liking one another; Yuki's eventually kidnapped and used as bait to lure Bun into a trap, but Yuki overhears the monster's weakness while in captivity and eventually gets Bun the info they need to destroy it. Being so impressed with Bun and how he handled the situation and stepped up to fight, no matter how badly he was hurt, leads Yuki to abandon her sukeban ways and just resume her normal life... It turns out she was a bullshitter; she ain't no orphan, she's a rich girl, whose parents are alive and well! This could have been annoying, but since this episode's meant to be a breezy action romance, and since Yuki's so young, I think it manages to work as the fun little episode and scenario it's supposed to. Ishiwata and guest Chiharu Shukuri play well against each other and make it work. We never see Yuki again, but I feel like it's basically what happened to the flower shop girl from Dai's episode -- the Flashman know they have no time for romance. They got work to do!

So, Bun uses a lot of the powers he acquired on Blue Star in this episode. And I never realized it for quite a while, but...this is pretty much the last time the series ever really puts to full use any of those superpowers the Flashman have which are independent of their transforming abilities. That was one of the things that made them unique! And it's another tie to Superman, the idea that they developed abilities by being raised on a planet that wasn't their own. Flashman was the first show to have the heroes have powers on their own, powers that had nothing to do with their transforming. The closest would probably be Bioman, who had some briefly utilized perks of having Bio Particles, like communicating with animals. Sentai then got into giving the heroes Aura Power or magic or whatever, and I understand that the Power Rangers franchise got a bit crazy in the Disney years by giving the heroes superpowers while they were unmorphed, but Flashman was pretty much the first. And they had traditional superhero super-powers, like super-strength, speed, levitating/flying. And so many of these early episodes highlighted their abilities, it was yet another of the show's many quirks...but the show starts to dial it down.

Neferu Disguise Watch: She dresses as some Duran Duran fangirl when she's out to assassinate Bun. A totally inconspicuous disguise for an assassin! I guess the thinking behind this outfit is that she WANTS to be seen, because then that means it will be more people for her to kill, and that would make her day.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Flashman Episodes 12 & 13 (Don't Fnck With Hirose)

I find these episodes interesting because they're not really a two-parter in the standard sense, but 13's definitely a reaction to the events in 12. Each episode could be watched independently and nothing would be lost -- in fact, I was missing episode 13 for quite a while -- but when taken together, they become stronger and more meaningful. There's not a cliffhanger to tie episodes together, but it's more of a serialization, in a way.

The first episode is basically Wanda drunk on his own abilities, eventually getting pwned by Red Flash, and then getting his revenge in the second episode.

These episodes aren't just good for the action, but I also like the way they incorporate some of Jin's trauma into the first part, as well as getting to know Wanda a little more. The Mess lieutenants, I'll call them, they're all business, all evildoing. They lack the shades of grey that Soda liked to give most of his villains, so they might not seem as layered, but I still think they work surprisingly well, and you feel like you can figure out what they're all about regardless. It makes sense that they're just loyal and are mainly about the job, when they've been created to be that way. But A LOT of what really helps is the acting. Sayoko Hagiwara, Yutaka Hirose, Miyuki Nagato -- they're all great performers who are taking things seriously and aren't afraid to just go for it. (In a good way, not in some hammy they-don't-care way.)

People might ask why I'm so hard on modern shows' villains or don't think Rio or Enter or Basco's as cool as people pretend they are, but...sorry, I was spoiled by Hirohisa Soda villains. Not only that, but spoiled by great villain actors like Munemaru Kouda, Shohei Yamamoto, Fukumi Kuroda, Kouji Shimizu, Hagiwara, Hirose, Jouji Nakata, Yoshinori Okamoto...

I think Yutaka Hirose's Wanda is the first truly well done villain of his type in toku. Wanda's a lot like Dynaman's Megiddo, to use one example -- the young, pompous, egotistical, vain, but proud warrior. Now, most actors tend to make characters like that weak, whiny, prissy, a clownish joke. That's how Kenju Hayashi portrayed Megiddo, but add on top of that that Hayashi seems like he's not taking the role seriously. His performance is damn close to some over-acting silent film villain, and he doesn't appreciate a lot of the good writing going into his character, and it makes the great turns that character takes in the later part of the series suffer. Some nincompoops like to dismiss Hirose as being "over-the-top" or "hammy" or "campy," but they're wrong. He's energetic, and he's giving it his all. He's one of, if not the, best villain performer in toku history, one of the most memorable, he made a lasting mark, and I think the franchise is the better for his involvement.

I truly believe that Hirose is the only performer in the world, from any point in time, who could have pulled off Kemp's Beauty Beast form. Most performers would get an outfit and name like that and really goof it up, but not Hirose -- he retains Kemp's dangerousness, rage, competence, confidence, and makes the character remain a threat. I think Hirose's being an action actor helps make it easier for him to remain menacing and imposing despite some of the wild designs he's given, but he's also a good actor, you can tell he's committed and having a ball, but still taking everything seriously enough to make his characters believable, make them seem real and not cartoonish. I think that's a big task, and you can point to a lot of people who can't quite pull it off, and certainly not many who do it with the ease and success of Hirose, who's just a natural. (IMO, Hirose and Hiroshi Miyauchi are at the top of the mountain in terms of being great toku actors who were born for this stuff.) The world of Super Sentai is richer for having Hirose in it, and it burns my bacon that wise-ass modern fans just like to laugh at him or treat his characters like some camp joke. (People like to make gay jokes about Beauty Beast Kemp. Kemp's only gay in that he loves himself. The whole point of the character is that he's a vain egomaniac! I always think of the Sex Pistols song "No Feelings" when thinking of this aspect of Kemp's character.)

In part one, Wanda's enjoying a lot of new powers, like teleportation, telekinesis, more strength than he usually has. He makes mincemeat of the Flashman, and makes Red Flash retreat when he senses a weak spot -- three nasty scars from where an Alien Hunter grabbed him as a kid, scars that Wanda takes advantage of by having them cause Jin immense pain. There's kind of a point/counterpoint between Jin and Wanda in this episode, it's about self-acceptance; Jin has to accept the pain of his past and keep in mind the past training his unique experience brought him, while Wanda ultimately loses the day because he ends up becoming utterly repulsed to discover just what he's made from. His new powers are a temporary perk of the five creatures he consists of having their biorhythm in synch -- which happens once every 50 years, so Wanda's at least 50 years old! -- and Keflen seems all too happy to rob Wanda of the high he's on by revealing what he's made of. What's interesting is that the Beast Soldier of the week, who works in synch with Wanda himself, is also made of the same creatures. The design is obviously very Wanda-like, but it's not just a simple rehash. But it's interesting to me that it's basically a mirror and reminder to Wanda of how he could have really been.

In the final fight, Red Flash actually cuts off one of Wanda's wings! That's another thing reminiscent of Megidoo, where Dyna Red cut one of his tails off in the first episode. It's kinda like Flashman wants to do the Megiddo situation but well. The episode ends with Wanda standing atop a mountain, overseeing a celebrating Flashman team, just filled with rage and vowing revenge on Jin. Some toku shows will have an episode like this, and an ending like this, and take a while -- or never -- to deliver on it. Not Flashman -- the very next episode will be Wanda's revenge. Wanda's revenge is to send Ulk and Kiruto to attack Jin -- getting his blood on their claws, which they provide to Keflen to make a Beast Soldier from Jin's genes that's able to match Jin's movements.

This is a great plan for Wanda, and his revenge comes from the fact that neither Jin/Red Flash nor the Beast Soldier will ever get the upper hand, and both will fight until they drop dead of exhaustion -- we see Jin and the monster fight day and night! Neither has a chance of winning. (But what does win the day? Teamwork. Yellow Flash offers to basically be used as a stool, allowing Red Flash to jump off of her in mid-flight to get a higher point of attack on the mimicking monster. It's the kind of desperate but quick thinking move a ninja would pull. I also like the touch of having the enlarged monster still being able to predict Jin's moves, so he lets Green and Blue pilot the Flash King in order to win.)

While episode 12 was written by main writer Hirohisa Soda, episode 13 is written by Kunio Fujii. So, I kinda feel like that that's an indication that maybe it wasn't planned for it to match 12 or be a direct follow-up, but that it was a happy accident that, with a couple of tweaks, worked in the show's favor. I think the original scenario was to just have a monster that uses Jin's genes, and that Wanda was going to be the one overseeing the plan, but that a few bits were added to have it play directly off of the previous one, and it just served in making stronger episodes.

Minoru Yamada directed both 12 and 13 and there's a lot of great shots in both episodes, and a surprising amount of night shooting. (I love the beginning of 12, with Wanda at Tokyo Tower at night, and the scene of Jin fighting the Beast Soldier with his DNA at night is AWESOME, especially with the way they have the lights behind Red Flash's goggles blinking.)

Episode 12 is the debut of Wanda's Killer Saber. If you're going to be a good rival to Kazuo Niibori, you best load up on swords.

It's awesome to know that Niibori probably looks this pissed behind the mask during each sword fight scene.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Flashman Episode 11

I don't think this is a bad episode or a pointless one, but as one of only two episodes Ruu gets all to herself, it's a LITTLE bit disappointing. (The second one she gets is a really bonkers comedic episode; any other episode she'll get is shared with Sara.) Mayumi Yoshida's a JAC actress, and it's a little unusual she was never given an episode focused solely on her that highlighted her fighting abilities; Ruu is instead put into strange or comedic situations.

I feel like Ruu and Dai were both originally envisioned being one way, but circumstances changed those original plans. Dai, in Yutaka Izubuchi's sketch for his alien wardrobe, is drawn with a scowl, and in that traditional "brooding guy" anime style. In episode two, Dai mentions that he trained on Green Star thinking mainly of revenge. Ruu, I feel, is kind of sarcastic and comes across like a tough gal in the first few episodes. (Think of when a frightened Bun jumps into her arms when he sees the dying Alien Hunter. The way she says "You've gotta be kiddin' me," and just drops Bun is pretty wise-ass and cool.) Look at Yoshida's expression in the earlier credit sequences -- she looks like she wants to kill someone! But then they change that, refilm that shot in the opening.

So, I think they were both meant to be badder, cooler characters than they ended up being. I attribute part of their softening to casting; Kihachiro Uemura IS a cool guy, and as a kung-fu fighter, he's obviously a tough guy, but he comes across as just a really easygoing nice guy. (I've wondered if some of the pleasantness Uemura gives Dai is a way to compensate for the difference in age that he was at the time in comparison to how young Dai is meant to be. That he plays up a kind of wholesomeness to come across as being younger.) Mayumi Yoshida is likewise cool and, as a JAC member, knows how to kick ass. But I think she might have a natural sense of humor that's more on the silly side than the sarcastic, so THAT is the humor that comes through more and what the show begins to shape scenarios around.

The other reason I think these two characters are softened from how they were probably originally intended was just so the team meshed better. While I think it would have been interesting and closer to reality to have a couple of the Flashman members be more negative in their reaction to their situation, being scarred or angry about it -- and I think that would have made for interesting conflicts in terms of dramatic storytelling -- the show chose to instead present us with positive, optimistic heroes. I see the Flashman team as surrogate siblings, and they're all so believably close seeming, they all have a good rapport, they were all meant to be raised to be decent people. At this point of the show, it's tragic that they were kidnapped as babies and raised on another planet, but it's supposed to also be pretty cool and fun that they have these abilities nobody else does, and that they manage to be so upbeat despite their circumstances.

Anyway, every Sentai show has a team member it sadly neglects, and for Flashman, that would be Ruu. In this episode, the latest Beast Soldier hatches and imprints on Ruu, mistakenly thinking she's its mother. We've seen many-a Sentai episodes like this, folks, and we know how they always turn out, but keep in mind that Flashman was only the tenth Sentai (or eighth Super Sentai if you're old school), so it was still a pretty new scenario at the time! What gives this episode an advantage over other similarly styled episodes is that it's a variation on the Flashman-finds-a-surrogate-family-member. In this case, Ruu gets a son, but it's more kind of like a baby brother she never had.

But see how better this episode would have played if Ruu HAD been a sarcastic bad girl? And then here's this cutesy monster that thinks she's its mom, and it puts her in an awkward spot, but she comes around to actually liking it? I think that would have made it stronger. That and a better monster design. This is the one design of Izubuchi's for this show that I don't like, but it might be more in the way the suit is crafted than the design itself.

And while the show unfortunately doesn't use either Yoshida or Ruu to their full potential, I still think she's a good performer, a Pink Senshi who stands out, and still kick-ass. On that note, time for something random. In the OP credits, the song gets to the "Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!" right on Ruu's shot, and so I used to think that they were saying "Ruu! Ruu! Ruu!" As in, Ruu's going to be so much of a bad-ass, she's gonna get referenced in the song!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Flashman Episode 10

Fujii's second outing. And this one has some nice shots, some kick-ass action, another great Izubuchi monster design, but it's not offering much in terms of story. Fujii's also repeating himself; this episode is eerily similar to an episode of Changeman he did (also number 10), but doesn't have nearly as much going for it, not the same stakes. But it's a perfectly decent episode. I get the feeling that someone was like "Hey, let's take a break from the crazy concepts and quirkiness and just do something straightforward."

The plot is thus: Dai meets and falls for a girl who works in a flower shop. The latest Beast Soldier is based on a rose. Neferu poses as the flower shop girl to trap Dai. And that's about it. What's more straightforward than that?

Compare it to the Changeman where Hayate, the cool ladies' man, rescues a woman who works at a flower shop. Surprise! The woman is Shiima, and it's all a ruse to lead Hayate back to the shop, where the latest monster imprisons and holds him -- and, eventually, the rest of the Changeman team -- in a dark void.

The best thing about Flashman's version of the scenario is that Dai knows something is off when Neferu's impersonating the flower shop girl -- she carelessly steps on a dandelion, when Dai knows that's her favorite flower type -- and he goes along with it, faking his death so he can take advantage when the villains inevitably get too cocky thinking they've successfully killed one of 'em. Dai also fights with brass knuckles in this episode, which is pretty damn cool, but the only time he does this.

I get why they'd want to take an opportunity to do a romance, though, and Uemura plays it with a surprising amount of gentleness, and actress Masami Hosoi is totally sweet and likable, so you understand why Dai's immediately head over heels. The episode has some fun moments in which Magu misdiagnoses what's wrong with Dai, which concerns the others, when it's just plain old infatuation, but they don't get the mileage out of that quirkiness that they could have. This episode focuses on the action.

The actress playing Sayuri, the flower shop girl, popped up quite a few times in toku of the time, playing Kenta's artist love interest in Maskman's seventh episode and the cop that Gai hits on in Jetman's third episode being two examples. I always wondered why she never got a more substantial role, I think she would have made a good heroine.

Neferu Disguise Watch: She full-on ninjas by creating a false face and completely transforming into Sayuri.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Flashman Episodes 8-9

Pivotal two-parter that introduces characters who will remain an important part of the show until the end. In this adventure, the Flashman must protect a scientist and his family once they become the target of Mess. The scientist's newly finished invention -- a time machine -- has a component which ends up interfering with Mess's latest plan, which involves a Beast Soldier that can easily slip through dimensions, and it kidnaps kids and stows them away in another dimension. (Sara and Bun are eventually caught and trapped, too.)

So, these episodes are kind of combining the monster dilemmas of episodes 6 and 7, but they're varied enough that it's not all that noticeable unless you've seen this show too many times, like me, or some asshole, like me, points it out. Not only is this monster and predicament differentiated enough, but it's not entirely the point of these episodes. The most important thing is the introduction of the Tokimura family, their history, their past and future connection to the Flashman...

Twenty years ago, as they walked one evening, Dr. Tokimura and his wife had their child abducted right before their eyes. They were hit with a mysterious beam, their child vanished, they lost consciousness and eventually woke up with altered memories and a mysterious piece of technology in hand. To be honest, I never really understood this. The Alien Hunters choose at that moment to nab the baby Tokimura; why leave the mechanism? Was it a mistake? That's pretty sloppy work for Kaura or his squad. How's this thing even left behind? Or was the mechanism left because THAT'S what causes the memory alteration/erasure? Maybe, but that's just a theory, because the show doesn't answer that...EVER.

And, Soda clearly changes the plans he had for this storyline throughout the show. In these episodes, it's strongly hinted that Dr. Tokimura remembers at least this much: that it was a boy child they had that was kidnapped. It's set up that one of the three Flashman guys is a Tokimura. But, as we know, it's not a boy that ends up being the Tokimura. This show is 32 years old, so let's just say it -- it ends up being Sara. And with Tokimura now having two other daughters, it makes sense. But that's still obviously a change of plans, and it causes a couple of hiccups in the Tokimuras storyline. (Because I think even by episode 29, it was still being indicated that the kidnapped Tokimura was a boy. So...that's a late change in plans.)

And it could have really only been Dai or Bun who was their son, anyway. Jin was three when he was kidnapped, and the show later shows us two different scenarios of him running while being chased by an Alien Hunter and in a dream of when he was kidnapped as his mom read to him. He wasn't a baby in a stroller, is what I'm saying. (I kinda think the show was going to go with Bun being the Tokimura -- the two Tokimura daughters take an instant liking to him, and the way episode 29 is presented leans pretty hard in that direction. There's also the fact that actor Yasuhiro Ishiwata gained popularity with female viewers, so I imagine they wanted to highlight him a little, before deciding to give the storyline to the already-popular singer Yoko Nakamura/Sara, and trying to play the scenario as more of a surprise twist. Also, you know that Sara's the smart one of the team, as in child-of-a-genius.)

The change of plans is not something that breaks the show, from my point of view. I know some people find the Tokimura storyline frustrating. My own brother, when I made him watch all of Flashman for the first time, his biggest gripe was "Man, they dragged out that Tokimura stuff too long." But, for me, what I found to be the strongest aspect of the Tokimuras' involvement, what I think the main intent here originally was didn't matter who the REAL Tokimura was. The Tokimuras took in all of the Flashman, and the Flashman all accepted the Tokimuras as their family. And that's just a really nice, strong, meaningful, impactful sentiment. This series is filled with characters like that -- the Flashman will meet surrogate parents or siblings throughout the show (including the people of Flash, it should be noted) -- but none as strong as the Tokimuras. That one of the Flashman team is an actual Tokimura is just an added bonus.

This show doesn't make things easy for our heroes, but they try to get by. I feel like it's a little more realistic that they don't all find their family members over the course of the show. And the one family who they DO find is due to special circumstances -- if Dr. Tokimura weren't eccentric, weren't a scientist and inventor, if he weren't so intelligent, he might not have remembered the incident of the abduction and he definitely wouldn't have tried (and succeeded!) in inventing a freaking time machine as a way to solve the problem. He knows deep down what happened, and even his own family dismisses him as a kook, but he puts that alien technology he was left with to use, and that's what puts him on Mess's radar and brings him into the Flashman's lives. He's a unique person in an extraordinary circumstance. As sad as it is, maybe everyone else's parents were just ordinary folks who weren't ever able to shake the effects of the memory tampering. There's a good chance that, even if they were able to stay on Earth, that the Flashman still might not have found their families. And that's why it's so great and important that the show will involve these surrogate families. It's a worthy message to put out there, especially considering Flashman's being inspired by the news item of Japanese orphans returning from China after being abandoned during the war.

And I like that the Tokimuras accept the Flashman so easy, and that the Flashman basically helped bring the Tokimuras closer together. It's easy to imagine that Tokimura's probably neglected his family for the sake of his invention; wife Setsuko doesn't remember much about that night, but you can tell she's just worried about her husband. Daughters Kaori and Midori don't really believe him and think he's wacko. But meeting the Flashman, having them confirm Dr. Tokimura's wild tale, having them help make his invention a success, Setsuko and the kids see Tokimura in a new light, they're relieved, they respect him again. I like that last scene, filmed at night (or the very, very early morning), the Tokimura girls wishing they HAD found an answer who among the Flashman could be their sibling, with Dr. Tokimura basically right then adopting the five.

I kind of have a bit of a problem with Akira Ishihama as Dr. Tokimura, though. He's not a bad actor, he's been around for ages, and he was considered a get for the show. What I like most about his performance is that he just seems very ordinary. A lot of performers will lock onto "eccentric scientist" and turn it into a cartoon or skit character. (One example that comes immediately to mind is the inventor grandfather in Kamen Rider ZO.) Ishihama is thankfully more restrained and realistic than that, but my big problem with him is that he's just way too mellow. Like, nothing fazes the dude! He gets excited when he's flying through time, OK, but he's reallllllly chill in moments that call for tension or reaction, like when he's making hostage exchanges with Mess or getting kidnapped and beaten by Kaura later on. He'll make Tokimura seem just really at ease with or resigned to the predicament surrounding him. It's a bizarre choice. (Setsuko and the girls are good, sympathetic casting, at least. Setsuko's actress, Tamie Kubota, also played Gavan's Earthling mother -- so, she's been the mother of two toku heroes!)

Our heroes show again just how big their hearts are in these episodes, though. When Neferu kidnaps Tokimura's daughters (Kaori and Midori) and wants to make an exchange for the alien mechanism he uses for his time-machine, the Flashman urge him to make that deal, even after he points out it's the best chance to find out about their past. Later on, Sara and Ruu eventually push Tokimura to use the time-machine again, because they're happy at the idea that one of their teammates might be close to realizing that dream they all have. Nobody's petty or jealous or grumpy on this team, they're all just such nice people.

And, like I said, the Flashman never seem to me like they're phony or just TOO good and unbelievable. I'm a grumpy bastard myself, I can find those goody two-shoes heroes boring or irritating. I compared Flashman's scenario to a reverse Superman, so I'll bring him up again. I loved Superman growing up, and reached a point where I thought it was "cool" to trash him for his goodness, but realized that was silly and started liking him again, and all that he represented. A lot of what I like about Superman comes from Christopher Reeve. His Superman was the pure and decent guy from the comics, who represented justice and fairness, and it's something that could have come across as extremely artificial when you make that character living flesh, but he made him believable. (The tagline of the first Superman movie was "you'll believe a man can fly." But the more impressive special effect was Reeve making Superman feel real.) I feel like the five Flashman are similarly believable. They're not flat, they're not 1D, they're not dull. They're characters whose life was marked by tragedy, but they try to get through the best way they can, by being the best people they can.

I know some people scratch their chins over the way time-travel's handled in this show, the fact that it's even a thing in this show. It seems strange, but I think it kind of fits in well with how sci-fi Flashman is. Sci-fi was so popular in the '80s, time-travel stories were popular, the decade was really looking to the future, excited about technological possibilities. What I like about the way the time-travel is depicted in this show is that...although Tokimura says he hopes to go and get his son back, the time-traveling ends up being more like he's able to witness the past, but not interact or tamper with it, and I think that's an interesting way to play it. You're introducing this larger-than-life scenario, and it's going to provide you and the characters information, but it's not going to be a crutch used to fill plotholes. It will play deus ex time machina a couple of times, but it's not going to betray the narrative. Tokimura doesn't get the answers he's looking for here -- he makes it back to 1966, but the machine falters, returns him and needs repaired.

And I just have to add that, when I was a kid, I thought the dimensions the Beast Soldier pulled the characters into was cool and spooky. There was just something unsettling about the way Sara and Bun were RIGHT IN FRONT OF the others, but couldn't be seen or helped, just heard.

Neferu Disguise Watch: In episode 8, she's in one of her favorite disguises -- Sayoko Hagiwara rocking '80s fashion. Here, it's Sayoko Hagiwara looking like an '80s mall girl.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Flashman Episode 7


I'm sure this episode is one that's seen by modern viewers who will laugh or think it's "cheesy" or whatever -- "LOL, balloons save the day!" -- but I like it. And while it was an episode I liked as a kid, I didn't know what it was saying with these characters to appreciate it the way it should be appreciated, so nostalgia's not playing much of an effect here.

This is the first script for this series by Kunio Fujii. This episode, really, encapsulates the entire theme of the Flashman having lost their childhood. And it's not done in a goofy way, it's not done in a way that makes them seem stupid, it's done in a simple way that gets the point across. But I'll be blunt on this point: this was obviously a Save-Some-Money episode, because it takes place entirely at (and therefore is an advertisement for) Korakuen Amusement Park. But they make it work to their advantage!

The Flash team visits said amusement park and are in awe of it. They're enjoying themselves in a way that's new to them, and making up for those lost years of youth. When they spot a boy nearby, chasing after a balloon that gets away from him, floating and getting stuck in a tree, Bun comes to the rescue with his fancy climbing ability. He grabs the balloon and returns it to the kid, who lets him have it. (The kid helps out at his parent's toy shop at the park.) Fascinated by the balloon, Bun returns to the others, and they all react excitedly. I like that we have these moments of the Flash team enjoying and appreciating the small things in life; in this scene it's balloons, later on, Bun's sadly taking in the entire toy store, thinking of all the moments he's missed. They're not only making up for lost time, but getting to know their home planet, and don't take anything for granted. (A trait that will help them out later in the show, I tells you.)

And like the villains they are, Mess uses the Flashman just relaxing and enjoying their balloon to strike, popping the balloon and debuting the latest Beast Soldier to wreak havoc. This monster was made partially out of a chameleon's genes, so it's able to blend into its surroundings, appearing virtually invisible, and beat the Flashman with ease. The trump card for our heroes? The very balloons they just discovered. A multi-colored group of balloons pass through the monster, messing up its camouflaging ability, and revealing its location. Bun returns to that toy shop, buys a lot of balloons from that kid he met earlier, and successfully ruins Mess's plans.

The kid is a nice counterpoint to the Flashman; he's a little humorless, serious for his age. He doesn't really understand why these weirdos are so amused by balloons, but doesn't care as long as they pay. The episode ends with Bun leading the others to send balloons flying -- Bun says the balloons are filled with his dreams, and that he hopes they reach the Flash planets. It's a variation on that old school activity, remember tying a message to a balloon and letting it float off? It's a nice thought, and this is appropriate for our team. (We're also told that he hopes it's viewed as a message of hope for anyone terrorized by Mess. Let's just hope things didn't turn out 99 Luftballons here, and that Bun didn't kick off some crazy intergalactic war.)

I wonder if it's due to the show being delayed, meaning maybe they got to spend more time together, but our cast of heroes is just instantly gelled. They all just seem to hit the ground running and start the show strong and just keep going. They're a good group of performers, with a good chemistry -- you believe they're friends, you believe they're just so full of wonder. They never make the characters seem stupid or immature, just curious, wanting to enjoy themselves and make the most of their situation. Our heroes are bright and optimistic -- even later in the show, when things go to shit for them -- and it's always believable. They never seem like blank, empty-headed, sugary nerd phonies, there to just spout PSAs. That's pretty tricky to pull off, and all five Flashman actors ace it from the get go.

Random note: After Kragen enlarges the monster, shrinking down after sending its energy and landing on Kiruto's shoulder, you can tell there had just been some BTS shenanigans and that Hirose, Nagato and Kojima are all barely stifling laughter. It's freaking funny and I'd love to know what was crackin' them up so much.