Friday, August 30, 2019

Flashman Episode 44


The first real block of the endgame. Deus is stepping up and providing his own genes in making Beast Soldiers, we're getting regular villains turned into Beast Soldiers, and the Anti-Flash Phenomenon rears its ugly head for the first time.

Mess abducts Kaura's remaining Alien Hunters and splices them into the very first Deus Beast Soldier. (It's a great first scene as the Lab ship chases down Kaura and his gang, ending with Kaura in a tug-o-war with the Lab's tractor beam, using his whip to try to pull his Alien Hunter cohorts to safety.) To depict La Deus providing his genes for the new monster experiments, they have him holding his hands over a vat, dripping liquid. This then will look like blood flowing through new tubes piping throughout the Gene Synthesizer, which then lead to the chambers which hold the lifeforms that are being transformed. Once Keflen begins the creation, the music he plays begins to harm the Mess officers, who beg him to stop. He doesn't, of course, he keeps on with his work. And as he does so, he just wonders to himself why he's not affected, realizing that the others must have Deus' genes, and that's having a negative reaction, and since he's not effected, that means he must not have any Deus genes in him. This gets him to again wonder about his past. This is the guy who thinks he's Deus' equal, don't forget. Is he an equal lifeform to Deus? Less? Less than the officers, even? He doesn't know and it's been eating at him.

It might be lazy, but I'm surprised that the Deus Beast Soldier doesn't just look like Bou, Hagu and Baura squished together. But it's a totally new design, with the monster just having all of their weapons and abilities. It's not the last we see of them, though, as the monster is able to send their disembodied heads after an opponent. The main thing is, it's a strong sonuvabitch, and it beats the Flashman so badly that their powers go on the fritz and force them to retreat, which leads Neferu to kidnap the entire Tokimura family in order to lure them out of hiding! Damn, that's nasty even for Neferu.

Kaura and Gardan make it to the scene before the Flashman, with Kaura trying to grab Professor Tokimura. It might look random, but this is going to pay off in the next couple of episodes, and I love that Kaura's once again interfering, and not just for some bullshit or contrived reason. He even takes the time to mourn his Alien Hunter allies, who he's genuinely shaken up to see being used the way they are. (It's the first time we ever see Kaura in this kind of emotional state, which is near sorrowful.) Considering how outnumbered they are and what a beating they've just taken, it's a surprise that the Flashman arrive and successfully save the Tokimuras from Mess' clutches! (One thing in their favor was that the monster was temporarily distracted at the memory of Kaura's voice.)

The five heroes get the Tokimuras to safety and, as they try to embrace and comfort them after a stressful ordeal, find that they're each repelled from one another, along with an electric shock. Confused by this, Magu informs them from the Round Base that this is the Anti-Flash Phenomenon, something that develops when people from the Flash Planet are away from their home too long and begin to be rejected by a planet's climate. They chance more contact with the Tokimuras, in a sad echo of the classic scene in E.T. of Elliot and E.T. touching fingertips, only to discover the same result as earlier -- both sides are taken aback with a jolt. Confused, terrified, saddened -- the Flashman are quick to realize the meaning of this latest, tragic development: that even if they have new friends and loved ones, even if they were able to find their families, they wouldn't be able to express their love and appreciation through them with contact, even a simple holding of hands.

With the timing of the world's biggest asshole, Kaura and Gardan catch up with them, successfully making off with the professor -- Jin tries to stop them, but comes into contact with Tokimura and can't grab him because of the Anti-Flash, instead getting a whopper of a punch from Kaura. The Tokimuras are saints, man. They're frightened and upset about not only Kaura kidnapping the professor, but for what just went down with the Flashman, but they're still on the Flashman's side. They believe their words that they'll save the professor, and pity them for going through what they're going through. (There's a moment when the daughters seem afraid to touch the Flashman, but that doesn't last. You can imagine some show trying to wring some drama out of that, having the girls complain or be afraid OF the Flashman, but Flashman's smart enough to avoid that.)

How do the Flashman end up beating their unstoppable opponent, by the way? Magu arrives on the battlefield, to everyone's confusion and impatience. But he opens up the monitor stored in his belly to show a manufactured image of Kaura, calling out the names of his Alien Hunter comrades as he did earlier, and successfully gets the monster in a confused state long enough to Rolling Vulcan its ass. This is the kind of out of left field involvement from Magu I like -- not him messing with their powers and nearly killing 'em. And this is the end of the remaining Alien Hunters -- we've now entered the stage of our main villains getting picked off one by one.

So, Mess is once again stepping up their attacks, they now have renegade Kaura to contend with, and now this Anti-Flash. The Flashman can't catch a break. I always thought it was an interesting parallel that, in this episode, the Flashman begin to be affected by the Anti-Flash and the Mess officers are affected by the Deus genes within them being manipulated as Keflen creates the new Deus Beast Soldiers. They both serve to accelerate the narrative in order to wrap the series up, but it doesn't feel forced or rushed or like it's just been pulled from the air this minute by the show's staff.

Sad thing is, all Mess had to do was wait. Wait a couple of weeks, the Flashman would be dead, and they could do all the damage to Earth they wanted. Too bad Keflen pissed off Kaura one too many times, eh? Kaura's really the wrench in the plans. And it's believable that the egos and pride of these two men, Keflen and Kaura, would become the beginning of their downfall. It's not stupidity or oversight in a plan, just two guys who are used to calling their own shots and who hate each other. Kaura feels undermined by Keflen, Keflen feels threatened by Kaura. And it's another story element that feels earned and developed, not artificial or contrived. There's a lot of times where this scenario can make the characters look stupid, and there's a lot of times where this development can feel convenient. But that's not the case here. And, after this episode, Kaura has a vendetta against Deus, as well, vowing to take him down. (And he just might.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Flashman Episode 43


Oh-ho-ho...one of my favorite Sentai episodes. Not just Flashman, SENTAI. Crazy, unpredictable, shit-hitting-the-fanning.

A spiteful Keflen uses a Beast Soldier that needs to eat Kaura's Alien Hunters in order to power-up. There's no other reason this monster exists other than for Keflen to torment Kaura and get back at him. But Keflen sells La Deus on the idea of this monster gaining so much power it will cause mass destruction, so La Deus allows it. I love how Kaura bursts into the Lab, grabbing Keflen by the collar, just FURIOUS. Once away from Deus, Keflen offers to call off this plan if Kaura reveals to him what he claims to know of Keflen's past; Kaura refuses and says he'll save his allies on his own. When Keflen tells him that will be treason, Kaura's like "So what?"

It can sometimes be a little too easy when villains are undone by their pride or stubbornness. But with what you know about Kaura and Keflen, it's believable. While Keflen's always just treated Kaura like the hired help, you know Kaura considers himself more than that. The audience knows he's more than that. It's easy to imagine a show where Kaura would have just been the latest goon and a pushover, but through a combination of writing and acting, Kaura's always been so much more important, so much more of a presence. I really feel like -- and you can tell Nakata plays it -- as though Kaura's an equal. Like I said, there's a reason Nakata goes on to play a head villain in just a couple more years.

Nakata's age really helps. While he doesn't disclose his birthyear anymore, Flashman books at the time list it as 1954, making him 32 at the time. (That he no longer reveals his birthyear makes me wonder if he's even older.) So many times in toku they will cast a villain who's supposed to command respect or be mighty and formidable or very experienced, but they'll end up casting someone who's far too young to ever make any of that believable. Since I'm coming off of my RX posts, I'll again just bring up Dasmader as an example of a failure in casting. Nakata conveys all of that and more. You're never even given much background info on Kaura, but you can easily get a sense of who he is. Not unlike Ahames, he's someone who's traveled the universe, seeing all there is to see, gathering knowledge, making connections. Keflen, being an egotistical man of science, thinks that alone makes him superior to Kaura. But Kaura is wise in many other ways due to his experiences. He has knowledge Keflen would never be able to gain...including about Keflen himself. Kaura's a strong warrior, but also intelligent and cunning. You get the impression he's always one step ahead of his opponent or picking up on things that they wouldn't. He's a very dangerous person to have as an enemy.

Keflen took it too far this time. Kaura doesn't want to give him the satisfaction, so he's going to put a stop to the plan. When the Flashman see the Mess targeting the Alien Hunters from the sidelines, they don't know what to make of it. The episode puts the Flashman in the interesting position of saving and protecting their most hated of enemies, because they decide that the Alien Hunters know best of their past, so they can't just sit back and watch them all be killed. Putting a stop to the attack, the Alien Hunters scatter, with the Flashman splitting up to find each member.

We follow Bun as he takes a look around some abandoned buildings, and he eventually spots an injured Kerao within one building. He gets to Kerao and has mixed emotions -- he didn't set out to fight with an Alien Hunter if he found it, but he can't help but be angry and rough as he's grabbing and demanding answers from the wounded alien, as he's then stopped by a group of three kids. These three boys found and tried to dress Kerao's wounds and brought him to this building, which they've made a hideout. The walls are decorated with posters from all of the great genre films at the time -- Return of the Jedi, ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Last Starfighter. (There's also a poster of Cocoon.) The trio are sci-fi junkies who have radio equipment at the place, trying to send messages to space in the hopes of contacting an alien who wants to be buds. (They probably weren't the only kids who had that fantasy at that time, c'mon.) And with Kerao, they think their dreams have come true, and he's come to them and was injured when he crashed into Earth. They recognize he's in need and decide to extend a helping hand as all of those sci-fi movies taught them to, so they're trying to nurse him back to health. Bun voices his concerns, but the kids aren't listening, and especially don't like how angry and violent he was just being with Kerao.

He might be a suited villain, but Kerao's pretty pathetic here. His head's bandaged. The mask has seen better days, but you can just imagine they're further wounds. The suit actor is Minoru "Magu" Watanabe, who's a little guy, and Kerao has a huge noggin, so he just looks weighed down by it, it gives him a kind of exhausted look. As the kids give him water to drink, Kerao just makes these grunting, sad, Mr. Bean noises. But you know he's in bad shape when he's willing to accept water from these strange kids. And you know he's actually appreciative when he garbles out his name when the kids ask him. Even Bun's doubtful at how dangerous Kerao actually is at this point, but before he can mull it over any more, the place is found and attacked by Wanda and the Beast Soldier and a troop of Zoros. Bun tries to get the kids to safety, but they won't budge unless Kerao's helped, too, so they try to get him up and going while Bun stays in the enclosed space fighting off Wanda!

The kids and Kerao end up running right into the center of Mess, being attacked by Ulk and Kiruto. By the time Bun joins them, everyone's on the battlefield -- Mess, the other Flashman, Kaura, the remaining Alien Hunters. A mysterious blast attacks nearly everyone as a strange figure descends from the sky...Yoshinori mothafuckin' Okamoto! The man is dressed similar to Kaura and joins Kaura's side, announcing he's Bo Gardan, Kaura's right-hand man. (Fun fact: my family used to refer to this guy as "Kaura's brother.") The Flashman and Mess are in deep shit now, Francis. As a big old fight breaks out, Red tells Bun to get Kerao out of danger. Don't the Flashman have enough opponents? Did they really need Yoshinori Okamoto to come along and kick their ass? I've always loved how Kaura basically has his own Sentai team with the Alien Hunters, and then Gardan comes along as basically the sixth hero of his team.

When they reach a safe spot, Bun's rejoined by the kids, who he tells to leave since things are going nuts. They make him promise to look after Kerao and he does; one of the boys gifts Kerao with his dog-tags, saying they're something he treasures. Kerao barely can croak out a pained thank you. (Kerao speaks for the first time in this episode, his name and just these two words. No voice actor is credited, but they do a lot with so little. Call me crazy for playing Name That Voice with three words, but it sounds a little like Takeshi Kuwabara.) Bun carries Kerao away on his back -- Bun's a small guy, and even though Kerao is, too, you can tell he's having some trouble. Eventually, along the way, Bun drops Kerao. Panicked that he further injured him, he checks him over and then goes to a nearby stream to get a handful of water for him. Bun kinda marvels that he's somehow found compassion for the injured alien, an enemy. (The boys' belief in peace and decency and that nothing comes from hate helps inspire Bun.) Before his thoughts can dwell too long, he gets a taste of Kaura's laser whip -- Kaura arrives with Gardan, and offers Bun a dry thanks for taking care of Kerao. Bun loses consciousness just as Mess catches up with Kaura, leading to the big showdown...

Wanda announces that the Alien Hunters must be handed over. Kaura refuses. From the Lab, Keflen communicates -- if Kaura persists, that means he's going against Mess. He'd be a traitor, their enemy. Kaura says that with Bo Gardan now with him, he ain't afraid of Keflen OR Deus. And then we get the big, crazy sight of Mess VS the Alien Hunters -- Gardan's beating up Ulk and Kiruto, Kaura's taking on Neferu (strangling her with his whip!) while fighting off Wanda, while the other Alien Hunters beat up Zoros. I remember finding this a pretty shocking turn of events, weird to see the villains fighting each other like this, in such a nasty and brutal way. Soda takes what he did with Super Giluke and goes to the next level -- while Super Giluke was fueled by revenge and took advantage of his officers, sacrificing them as he saw fit, he was still a part of Gozma. Even if Ahames was in charge at that point, Bazuu sanctioned his actions. So to have a villain completely break free from the villain faction, becoming their enemy who then spends the rest of the series trying to interfere with them was pretty surprising. And nowadays, they'd have Kaura henshin into some superhero-ish form and that would take away from it all.

Bun regains consciousness and catches a glimpse of this madness, seeing that Kerao is still knocking on death's door. He makes his way over to check on Kerao only to find the monster of the week trying to nab Kerao on one of its tentacles, to eat him. Bun shields Kerao and ends up entangled, urging Kerao to get to safety. Unsuccessfully trying to fight off the monster, Bun is shocked to see Kerao grab his gun and rise. He aims at Bun, which upsets him. He tried to bury all of his hatred and ill-feelings towards Kerao in order to help him, to try to believe in him as much as those kids did. What was all of that for if Kerao's now just going to essentially shoot him in the back? Only Kerao shoots the monster's tentacle attached to Bun, freeing him. He then shoots at the monster, only to find a newly launched tentacle attaching to him; the monster pulls Kerao into its large mouth, devouring him within seconds, the dog-tags he was gifted falling to the ground. While it's just Kerao's suit actor crawling through the open mouth of the empty monster costume, the way it's filmed and just the quick, sudden brutality of Kerao being eaten was always a lasting shock to me. It's a violent image. And, somehow, despite the guy being a vicious villain, despite him being masked and mainly silent, this death scene works. Watanabe's acting the heck out of it, Ishiwata's selling the emotion. You actually feel sorry and even sad for Kerao. (Listen to how pissed Ishiwata's voiceovers are when he's transforming and posing as Blue Flash.)

But the kids and Bun DID get through to the Alien Hunter Kerao, and when the battle's over, Bun tracks down the kids to return the dog-tags and tell them what happened. At least he doesn't sugarcoat it, like coming up with some BS that Kerao got better and left Earth! No, he tells them that Kerao died saving him, that the kindness they showed him got through to him. (Ruu notes that maybe he didn't originate as an evil alien.) It gives the kids happiness and a sense of hope, they feel triumph. They wanted to believe in the feelings of those movies. I like that this story is told in this way, with the outright reference to those films by Spielberg and others that were so monumental at the time.

The sci-fi wave created by Star Wars was calming down by 1986, and I certainly think Flashman and Spielban were the culmination of all of those works, all of the feelings for and about those movies, and end up being great send-offs to the sci-fi reign. To call to mind those movies and their depictions of space and aliens, and their desire for expansion of knowledge and kindness and universal peace in this story where a nasty *villain* character has a change of heart and saves one of our heroes is a fitting tribute to the spirit of those films. It's a nice acknowledgement of the way those movies inspired not only people, but other pop-culture, including this show we're watching right now. It's a nice little love-letter and tip of the hat as Flashman, SCI-FI MADNESS, as the space and sci-fi era of toku winds down.

Spielban gets a much happier ending than Flashman, though. Which is interesting when you think about it. Flashman, a Sentai show, those shows that are for just the stupid little kids who eat their boogers while Kamen Rider and Metal Heroes are for discerning viewers and adults who collect art and drink the finest wine! (If you're a foreigner using Google to translate this from English to your own language, the preceding sentence is sarcasm. This one, too.) Spielban's finale is notorious for how little it makes sense, and it's the one written by the more famous writer, Shozo Uehara. Hirohisa Soda needs more respect, man.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Flashman Episode 42


This one picks up the thread from the previous episode, with the Flash heroines now knowing one of them is the Tokimura. This gets mixed up with the bizarre (but, IMO, cool) villain plan of luring the Flashman into video games after kidnapped kids, which kind of clashes with the seriousness of the hero half of the episode. I guess this is the show's attempt at kinda having a "goofy one before the serious shit goes down," but...it ain't easy to do when things are getting so emotional for our heroes, and we're also just a couple of episodes away from them finding out the Earth is killing them, so...there's not a lot of room for holiday shenanigans or palling around with a villain! Flashman has real shit to contend with.

You've gotta feel bad for Ruu in the first scene of the episode, when she's giddily preparing to meet Setsuko Tokimura, with a bouquet of roses, only to see that Sara's beaten her to the punch in getting to her and asking her stuff. It's twice as sad when you're familiar with the series, knowing how overlooked Ruu's been and know that she's not the Tokimura daughter. Sara spots her and she tries to BS her way out with some excuse that she was on patrol and was just stopping to say hi, but...yeah, poor Ruu. This leads Sara to wonder how they can find out for sure what happened on that day 20 years ago, which leads her to going to check out an Earth observation center for reports of odd occurrences and UFO sightings at the time. Too bad that the computer she's researching this info on is overtaken by the latest monster, who can enter machines and take over its circuitry, but she manages to save the info on a floppy disc before getting into a Mess battle.

She pins all of her hopes of finding out the answers to her questions on this floppy disc, which ends up just quickly being destroyed by Kaura. "You think I'm going to let you find any answers?" He's a bastard, because...he knows! Chances are, Sara wasn't going to get much out of that disk, but he breaks it, anyway, and just laughs his ass off. Meanwhile, the nitpicker in me is wondering why Sara or one of the others didn't think to look into something like this episodes and episodes ago, but...I guess, maybe, emotions have been running so high lately that they're at a place where they feel they can ignore their initial vow to not spend time looking for their parents (when there was work as Flashman to be done).

The big action of the episode is the Flashman choosing to enter a computer to save a bunch of people Mess has kidnapped; they try to depict this, as best they can, as like a video game, first starting out as a sidescroller fighting game, but then it just gets increasingly crazy. Ideally, the show would have had 8-bit animated Flashman and make this all look like a video game, but...they make the best of it when it's just meant to be a nutty little bit of fun. They totally convey the completely random and bizarre feel of '80s video games, though, in what the show throws at the Flashman -- climbing up poles to save a victim, swinging from vines, being attacked by giant oni and tengu masks. There's so many times I'll revisit a video game from the '80s and just be like "What the hell were the programmers smoking to come up with this?" A very unique Japanese wacky tobaccy which was outlawed after the Famicom was dunzo. The heroines are the ones to save the day, bringing back their twinning attacks from 35 (which I think is cool) and breaking everyone out of the game.

Keflen's main plan with this monster, though, was for it to get information from the Lab's main computer. Kaura catches him and outs him in front of La Deus -- with the added thought that perhaps Keflen was trying to discover secrets of La Deus' -- who punishes him. It's quite a sight to see Keflen lying in pain on the Lab's floor, Kaura standing over him and chuckling. Despite the way this looks, Keflen won't take it lying down, and this will lead directly to the next episode when Keflen takes the silver gloves off and gives it back to Kaura. I like the idea of this episode being that both the Flashman and Keflen are making attempts at finding the answers to their past.

All in all, this episode is kinda uneven. But, like I said, I think it's really trying to fill the role of the goofy/silly/weird one before the final episodes, which is hard to do when things aren't really turning out for our heroes. It stays true to the characters and what they're going through; so I give the show credit for not dropping stuff just for the sake of putting them in a completely comedic scenario. As wacky as the video game stuff, as humorously as some of those scenes are directed, it's still an urgent situation -- the Flashman are racing to save the hostages. No room for a musical number there.

I'd also like to note that, after it's made giant, the monster of the week successfully jumps into Flash King and makes it go amok and send attack blasts throughout the cockpit. The Flashman's solution to this problem is the solution given to me by every single tech support person I'd call for computer problems in the '90s -- shut down/restart the computer. But unlike then, this solution ends up working out for the Flashman.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Flashman Episode 41


People will be like "Oh, the turned-into-a-kid trope, that stock plot," or whatever, but...this was the first time a Sentai had done it, and it's not done for laughs or as a gimmick as it typically is, but in a more meaningful way that brings together a lot of the show's themes. AND this episode solves one mystery, creating another.

What's strange about this episode is that I don't feel like we're entirely clear on what Mess hopes to obtain with this monster, but rather than feel like a plot hole or loose end, that's OK, because the episode chooses to instead focus on Dai's trauma and this week's big hero, Setsuko Tokimura. (I guess their plan was to turn all of the Flashman into kids to make them easy pickins, but they're only successful with Dai.)

It's just an ordinary day of patrolling for the Flashman when they get ambushed by a Mess attack. The latest Beast Soldier attacks Dai, wrapping him in a shroud which gradually reverts him back to childhood. (Props once again to, um, props/costumes, for recreating Dai's outfit in kid size. Both his current Earth outfit and, later in a flashback, the funky get-up from the Flash planet.) Dai doesn't recognize the Flashman, his memory apparently being set back to the age he's been turned back to. He doesn't recognize Earth, expecting Green Star. Seeing a small dog scares him. Nothing the Flashman say helps him, and he runs off in pure terror and confusion. Being told by the others that he's on Earth, he becomes totally focused on the idea of finding his mother. (In a pretty sad scene, he's looking in on a house where two kids are being read a story as they fall asleep by their mother; Dai ends up spending the night in a junkyard, sleeping in a pipe, alone and cold.)

The next morning, Jin's asked Setsuko Tokimura if she could pose as Dai's mother and comfort him and at least get him to stop running off and putting himself in danger. Dai awakens to her calls, joyful. She brings him food, and he's so overjoyed to have found his mom that he can barely even eat. The Flashman are grateful to the Tokimuras and relieved to see Dai calmed. And then...it all comes crashing down. Kaura appears. "Dai...that woman's not your mother." Words that echo and stab Dai like a blade, sending him once again into his panic. So, Kaura's just provided a piece of the series-long puzzle -- DAI IS OUT OF THE RUNNING for the "Who is the Tokimura?" game. Setsuko pleads with Dai to not listen to him, but he's soon running away once more, with Jin condemning Kaura for being so damn cruel. Setsuko has a point -- can they even trust Kaura? Probably, just because he's trying to be viciously cruel here. But he's also not a liar, which is something we'll find out in a few more episodes.

Keflen rips Kaura a new one for interfering, thinking the situation was best left to play out as it was. Kaura claims he did it in the interest of the plan succeeding, claiming that if Dai believed he found his mother, that their love might be enough to undo the monster's spell, as it were. Some of that might be true, but...c'mon. Kaura was just being a dick, too. And it's an interesting move on the part of the writers to remove one of the Flashman from the running so soon.

Kid Dai can't catch a break and is constantly grabbed by either Wanda, Ulk or Kiruto before managing to break away. (He retains his super strength, so he at least knocks off a few Zoros with ease.) At one point, he's knocked off a cliff, and is grabbed by...Setsuko! Injured and bleeding, she pours all of her strength and soul to pull Dai back to safety. After seeing her struggle, Dai comes to the conclusion that she HAS to be his mother after all, after putting up such a fight to save him. But before anybody can have any happiness, the monster appears and puts his shroud over the two of them, Mess threatening to revert both back to infants. Dai's frightened, while Setsuko tries to comfort him, telling him not to be afraid even though she visibly is. She begins to cry and...her tears, falling upon Dai, break through the monster's shroud and undo his work, turning Dai back into an adult. (So, Kaura was telling the truth at least about one thing -- that love could be the monster's undoing. Keflen and Deus laughed him off, probably because they're typical villains whose only concept of love is how much they love themselves.) Setsuko's unconscious, with the Flashman entrusting the professor to get her to safety as they go off to fight the monster.

Surprise turn number two...after the battle, we're shown the next day, as Setsuko's being wheeled out of the hospital. She claims that the shock of enduring the monster attack has caused her to regain her memories of 20 years ago, and she knows now that it their baby that was kidnapped was female. The Flash guys are shocked in a bad way, the Flash ladies shocked in a hopeful way. The Tokimuras have come to be an important part of the Flashman's life on Earth, but you can tell Sara and Ruu always felt kinda left out in the previous Tokimura adventures, because of the professor being so sure it was a son that was taken. (Why can't they give the professor a first name, dammit? I'm tired of typing "the professor.") The professor, by the way, it a bit of an oddball in this last scene. Jin and Bun are obviously pretty heartbroken to hear Setsuko's news, and he's just kinda laughing off his misremembering like "Eh, what can ya do? All y'all babies look alike!" You can't hate the guy, though, he's supposed to be somewhat kooky. He just seems easygoing. And he gets a nice bit earlier in the episode when Jin's thanking him and his wife for going along with his plan and the professor's like "Of course we'll help with this kind of thing, don't be silly."

I just like this episode. It could have been goofy, but it's far from it. (Like I said; the hero being turned to a kid is something that IS played for laughs in most of the subsequent shows that use it.) It's a nice, strong, heartfelt episode with big reveals, great Kaura moments, and finally gives Setsuko Tokimura more to do, and she really delivers. Tamie Kubota gives a great performance in this episode, and Noritake Kohinata is also pretty good as kid Dai. The character's state is a constant panic and he's often crying and that could have easily turned out annoying, but he never is, and you really feel bad for him.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Flashman Episode 40


A pretty tense, dark, atmospheric episode written and directed by Takao Nagaishi. Nagaishi wrote a few scripts in the '70s, so the fact that he wrote this isn't unusual, but it is a little unusual for somebody to get to write and direct the same episode. I mean, the only other cases I can think of that happening in a toku is with a couple of Showa Ultraman episodes and then Keita Amemiya with some of the GARO entries. I don't know how or why Nagaishi came to writing an episode of Flashman -- it's always strange when somebody who hasn't written for the show writes an episode so late in its run, so I wonder if he was just filling a slot that was vacated by sub-writers like Michiru Shimada and Kenji Terui not doing more than one each. I like to think he just had an idea and a vision for an episode and was passionate about bringing it to life. Whatever the case, it's fortunate that Toei let him do it. It's a standout episode and has its own feel to it, and it's experimental feeling. This episode could have been a three-parter.

It begins with Jin taking an early morning jog, just taking in and appreciating the refreshing Earth morning. He's watched by a masked stranger, who uses a mechanical device to transport him to another location. That place? A mysterious city run by Mess called the Execution City; they're kidnapping people and plan to do mass conversions into Beast Soldiers. Jin's quickly spotted by Kaura, who has him imprisoned, and he's eventually freed by that masked stranger, a woman named Shibel, who brought him there in order to put an end to this plan of Mess'.

Shibel was kidnapped by Kaura as a young girl and raised by him. She works for him/Mess, in charge of this so-called Execution City, overseeing this latest plan, the XX Plan. But she doesn't have a taste for Mess' cruelty, violence and destruction. She's a good person, whose values were shaped by a children's book she found as a kid, Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince. The book was actually Jin's; his mother was reading it to him as the lights of Kaura's UFO shined upon him and abducted him, twenty years ago. Like a useless omake that came with Kaura's bigger fish, he just casually tosses the book to the child Shibel, not knowing or caring that she'd actually read the book and take its lessons to heart, one day rebelling against him. (This episode makes it seem like maybe Kaura picks up some stuff as he's abducting kids, giving the impression of a pirate, kinda like maybe he plunders and sifts through the extra stuff he might pick up along with the creature he's after.)

Shibel's a bit of a mystery, and one can imagine her crazy upbringing since she was raised by Kaura. Where is she from in the universe? Could she actually be human? Was she accidentally kidnapped by Kaura along with another person, ending up another extraneity from his haul that Kaura kept? (That's damn sad -- the idea that Kaura, say, kidnapped two people for Mess, Mess only wanted the one, leaving the one with Kaura. What a damn twisted story, the reverse of the Flashman's -- being raised instead by a very evil alien, and yet it's the decency in a story from Earth about selflessness and sacrifice that saves her soul.)

She frees Jin and sets about her mission, only to have Mess interfere. The Beast Soldier this week can create unbreakable shackles on people, and by Keflen's orders, he has Kaura shackled together with Jin, and sends them away from the center of operation. It results in a really cool scene of Jin and Kaura, battling each other -- chained together -- at night, in a heavy storm. Kaura! The guy who's basically always besting the Flashman in battle, the one responsible for kidnapping them, the one with all of the answers. It's a slow, brutal fight (Kaura even at one point is struck by lightning!), and it looks like it lasted a while, because when we next see them, they're both unconscious and it's daylight. They've both seen better days, but there's no time for Jin to rest, because Mess is speeding up their XX plans. Jin's really put through the wringer in this episode, hauled away on his morning jog, beaten, imprisoned, getting into a brutal brawl with Kaura. He's just in red sweats the entire episode, and it gives this added sense of vulnerability. He might as well have just been grabbed by Shibel when he was waking up still in pajamas.

At one point, Shibel brings over the remaining Flashman, and they're all pretty much on the run, hiding from Mess forces who are after them. When they finally come upon Jin and Kaura, Shibel manages to break the chain by revealing she has a weaponized cybernetic implant in her chest. That's another mystery about her, now isn't it? Could it have been a Mess experiment? Did Kaura take her to some funky black market surgeon from a cyberpunk story? Did she sneak and have this implanted on her own? I like to think that last option. Because people like to laugh that it looks like she has a "booby cannon," but I think it's supposed to be a heart. And doesn't that make sense with her love for The Happy Prince? The prince who lived in a guarded illusion of happiness, but when he died and became a statue, saw all of the suffering that happened in the cities outside of his walls. And he tries to help as much as he can, and eventually dies of a broken heart, a lead heart that can't be destroyed when the rest of the statue is. A heart that's taken by an angel to God in Heaven.

So I like to think that, at some point, Shibel, in secret, got that weaponized heart implant, to honor that story, and knowing that she would one day need it and use it for good. And she ends up, like the prince and his swallow ally in that book, using it and sacrificing herself for the betterment of others. She frees humans from all of the chambers they're in, from being turned into Beast Soldiers, and then destroys the facilities, dying herself in the process. I think it would have been a nice touch if her cyborg heart had survived, been found in the rubble, as another nod to the story, and where Jin could have laid the book to rest with her. (He does leave the book behind at a makeshift grave at least.)

I like to think that what Nagaishi is saying with this episode, with Shibel's being inspired by the old children's tale, is that these stories are important, they're something that helps shape you, and if you take their lessons to heart, you can carry the lessons well into adulthood and they still apply and can be used in positive ways. So, basically like if the character was motivated by a toku. The book was a little light of hope in what had to have been a tragic and brutal childhood for Shibel.

This episode could have easily been a two- or three-parter. With Shibel's background, her connection to Kaura, Mess' evil plan... And we could certainly have used more reaction from Kaura that the girl he raised as his own turned on him and Mess. (He's probably secretly happy that she ruined Mess' plan, but what were his own feelings?)

And I of course should mention that Shibel is played by Mina Asami, who would soon go on to play Mio and Igam in Maskman. I think she's good in the role, and really has a steely toughness that makes you believe that she grew up in a really harsh and unpleasant environment, but -- as we also see in Maskman -- she's also able to convey a kindness and grace.

One last thing that's caused debate amongst Flash fans, though. The flashback to Jin's kidnapping doesn't line up with what we were shown earlier in the series. I think that can be explained, though. In this episode, Jin takes a beating from Kaura and the Alien Hunters and is imprisoned within a strange device. I feel like that state of exhaustion and stress could have unlocked a memory, and what we saw before was either just a fuzzy recollection or just what I call "TV show memory" -- what we were shown wasn't really Jin's memory, but just a scenario playing out for the benefit of the audience.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Flashman Episode 39


A nice, but bittersweet episode for Sara, and a kind of episode you'd never see nowadays. (There's no toy to sell to fix her emotional pain! She's not going to get over her problems by just going "SMILE, HAPPY!")

It's autumn and Sara's strolling down a leave-covered path, lost in her thoughts. She's down in the dumps, lonely, connecting the start of this feeling to the season. She sees couples happy and feels a bit envious. She thinks thoughts and feels feelings everybody does (male or female), but is always embarrassed to admit. So, it's far from the best time for Neferu to be testing the latest monster's abilities, which is creating goggles that let you "read" thoughts, but Neferu's a villain and that's what she does...and then she, Ulk and Kiruto taunt and torment Sara's feelings of loneliness, her wanting to live life and fall in love. Sara's mortified to have her private thoughts known, least of all by the enemy!

Mess' plan is to distribute these goggles/glasses and have the city erupt in arguments, distrust and hatred once everyone learns each other's true feelings. I have to say...that's a cynical take that's pretty surprising for 1986. It's in more recent shows and movies where there will be something similar, with a character who can read minds, and everything that's heard is always just negative. I think people can be easily judgmental, and there's times where they can have a negative thought easily surface and it will actually horrify them, but pop culture really goes overboard with just what absolutely horrific shit they think people are thinking nonstop. Says something about these showbiz types, eh?

Anyway, once Sara sees the goggles in action, she successfully tracks down and fights off a Mess attack. When the others end up joining her, she just grabs Pink's Flash Hawk and takes off after the villains on her own. Red's worried because he hasn't seen her behave in such a way, which leads up to the heart of the episode, which is when Jin finds Sara and saves her from an attack, Sara's once again taunted by Mess for her secret feelings, and you can see her just shrivel and die inside since, this time, someone else is here to hear about it, and it's Jin. Later after they escape, Jin shows genuine concern for her being unusually hotheaded. I always think of Sara as melancholic and an introvert -- she doesn't bring other people down with her sadness, but she keeps it private and suffers in silence. So, to see her show some anger has to be shocking to Jin, who as eldest pretty much knows everyone on the team best and is not only their leader, but is in the role of elder brother. She finally opens up, talking of how embarrassed she is to feel the way she does, that it doesn't make her feel like a warrior, and Jin corrects her. That she feels the way she does is just proof that she's a normal Earth girl. Isn't that their goal? For their hardships, they just want back a shot at a normal life on their home planet? (At this stage of the game, writer Hirohisa Soda obviously knew the endgame, and so this episode becomes twice as sad.) Jin's happy for her, congratulating her, offering her words of kindness, when maybe she expected to be scolded or ridiculed, and that breaks through her feelings of shame and motivates her to face off with Neferu...

Since Sara's deepest, most personal and private thoughts are violated, since she was preyed upon in such a vulnerable time, it becomes a personal battle for her. She wants to put a stop to Neferu's plans herself, for the sake of everyone else who is suffering like her -- maybe even worse. And what's great is that she uses the goggles against Neferu, when Neferu becomes Neferura and starts sending illusions Sara's way, she uses the goggles to discover Neferura's plan of attack and just walks 'em off. When Neferura causes a fiery explosion, Sara knows it's an illusion and charges through. When Neferura splits the earth, Sara just runs right over the supposed crevice. So much for those nifty illusion powers, eh?

It's just a nice little episode, with a great emotional performance from Nakamura, and some nice filming in the fall setting by Minoru Yamada. And not only does Nakamura bring a lot of emotion to her performance, but fearlessness later when she takes on a lot of action scenes -- swinging from a crane, running from a massive Yamaoka explosion that would make Dynaman squirm. And before anyone scoffs about an episode that deals with the heroine just wanting romance, I'll point you to the final scene of the episode, when the other Flashman are wondering if Ruu's anything like that. Does autumn conjure up feelings of romance for Ruu, dreams of dates? "Nah, I just think about the eats."

This episode marks the debut of the improved design for Neferura -- they don't even explain it, but it's so much better than the original. (They don't try to gloss over the original either; Neferu transforms into that cutesy-faced version and then does a Goranger-y spin and becomes the new, more fearsome design.)

There's also a bit on the Keflen v Kaura front. Keflen's going through his hopes for the plans for La Deus, as Kaura spies nearby. Kaura's just kind of thinking to himself "Eh, Keflen, that mook, *grumble*" and Keflen lets Kaura know he's standing there, not as stealthy as he thought. Keflen raises a pair of the monster's goggles as if he's putting them on, but tosses them at Kaura instead. He says something like "I don't need these to read your mind. And you're to refer to me as Great Professor Lee Keflen." How'd he know?! Kaura's a bad-ass, but Keflen's no slouch.

One small thing I'd like to note. When Sara's fantasizing about a boyfriend, she's with a guy whose identity is being concealed with special-effects -- but if you watch the episode preview at the end of 38, you can see the footage WITHOUT the effects. I can't tell for certain who it is, but I always thought it would be funny if it was Yellow Flash suit actor Masato Akada. (It probably IS just some JAC guy.)

Neferu Disguise Watch: She, Ulk and Kiruto -- for reasons unknown -- are disguised as schoolgirls at the start of the episode.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Flashman Episode 38


Inoue's final script for the series and it's a wild one. Not having the idea of infighting amongst the Flashman out of his system, he goes to the limit here. And not only that, but he practically has Wanda save the day! That's so Inoue.

In this one, Jin experiences the birthday from hell. It's not sad enough that he doesn't know his actual birthday, so they're trying to have this makeshift birthday (he was designated on Flash Star) be good enough, but Kaura has to come along with a Beast Soldier that possesses the other four Flashman members, who proceed to spend the day nearly beating Jin to death? And if that's not enough, there's a point where the four act like they're healed, and approach Jin when he's at a low point. He thinks the storm has passed, but...nah, they're still bad, and the fight's back on.

This episode looks like another "let's try to save some money episodes" -- there's pretty much only two locales, a park and a cave entrance -- but it makes up for it with an emotional punch. This episode kinda spooked me out when I was a kid -- maybe that's the point, and maybe that's why the Flashman never had any natural reason to argue. Because an episode like this comes along where they're made evil, and made to LOOK evil, and it's a total shock that messes you up. You feel Jin's pain. Tarumi's great in this episode; I especially love the hurt look he gives when he finally caves in and fights Bad!Dai and Bad!Bun back, punching them, after holding back for so long. All of 'em are great in this episode, especially Ishiwata and Yoshida, who seem to like playing villains. (It's a shame Yoshida never went on to play a regular Sentai villain.) Ishiwata's really committed and even puts on this creepy, growling voice, which he retains for Blue Flash's voiceovers.

It's getting tiresome to repeat, but Izubuchi delivers another great, fresh monster design in this one. All of his monsters in this show are pretty much great. But Flashman also takes great care and detail in bringing these designs to life, the costumes are usually just so well-made and look to have money and effort going into making them. This Beast Soldier is a five-faced, vicious-looking, furry bastard -- his extra faces separate from him, becoming masks that possess whoever's unlucky enough to have them fit to their face. Kaura's plan is nearly a success -- the four Flashman get the mask early on, with Red Flash slicing in half the mask that was targeting him.

This episode's also notable for putting even more cracks in the Keflen and Kaura situation. This monster is a find of Kaura's, this plan is his, and he's arrogantly boasting about what an instant success it is, that Keflen's a failure who's too damn old to be in the game. When Keflen catches the species of beast Kaura's monster is, he nearly lets Kaura in on a secret before catching himself -- it's info he'll use to his advantage, and Kaura's too full of himself to catch the slip up and just gets more insults in. But it's gonna cost him!

The secret is that the species of monster has a weak reaction to gamma light rays. And what can cause gamma rays to flash? When Red Flash's Prism Sei-ken crosses blades with Wanda's Killer Saber. So Keflen sends Wanda to "assist" Kaura with his plan, with Wanda intent on fighting Red Flash on his own. Red Flash picks up on the monster's hold weakening, injuring the others as he fights Wanda, eventually grabbing the Killer Saber, luring the others to him and crossing the blades. The constant blasts of gamma rays free them, but his business isn't over -- he charges after the monster in that awesome scene that was used in the kickass sword-fighting montage in Gaoranger VS Super Sentai. (And it's not a good day to be a Beast Soldier, because when the other four are freed, they're all pissed off and transform just to get a vengeful hit in on the monster.)

After his failure, a PISSED Kaura faces Keflen, accusing him of sabotage. He figures out that the Killer Saber is made of crystallized gamma light particles, and that he only sent Wanda because he knew that. I love the way Shimizu plays this scene, just casually playing the Gene Synthesizer, with just a mocking tone of voice, unable to hide his satisfied smirk, just totally talking down to Kaura after all of the trash talking Kaura did about him. "You didn't know everything like you thought. You're too young, Kaura," Keflen says, leaving him with a taunting laugh, the way Kaura's done him. You know Kaura's not going to let this slide. Nakata's just so furious in this scene, it's great. You just knew he was going to end up playing a MAIN villain one day. (Who knew it was only going to be two years later, though? I remember the first time I found out Bias was Kaura and was like "HUH?!")

I like that last scene, of Jin and the others standing on a bridge at nightfall, Jin vowing to never forget that day. When the others apologize, he waves it off, knowing it wasn't their fault. They each are so happy that Jin's so forgiving, saving his anger as fuel to keep fighting Mess. Dai begins to say something starting with "We...we're," and Jin finishes for him, saying "Flashman," but I always liked to think he was going to say "family."

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Flashman Episode 37


Kunio Fujii's last script for the series, which sees the return of Sumire, bringing her story to a conclusion. It's nice to tie up loose ends -- some other shows wouldn't have bothered -- but I always thought that this didn't come close to Fujii's original intentions with this character, her connection to Dai, and what her story was going to be.

It's revealed that Sumire actually died in 1978 and she's a ghost that's wandered because she doesn't accept her death; her connection with Dai, the telepathy, their ability to teleport places, is because she found a piece of crystal she found as a kid, which ends up being a piece of Green Star that once broke away upon its creation. She treated it as a treasure and ended up being buried with it, and its energy forged her bond with Dai. (She also confirms for Dai that she's not his sister.)

Sumire contacts Dai again out of the blue because the latest devilish Beast Soldier is gathering the souls of dead kids, turning them into vampiric mini-devils which suck people's souls. Since she's wandered and not been able to face her own death, she understands those souls who feel unfulfilled, with dreams unrealized, so she wants Dai to put a stop to this monster and let the souls return to rest. Once he and the other Flashman successfully put a stop to the monster, and with her secret revealed, Sumire takes an angellic appearance, bids farewell to Dai and goes to rest in peace. (I like that Dai tells Sumire she can watch over the spirits of those who were similar to her and those other fallen kids who couldn't rest because they didn't get to live their lives.) She accepts death more readily, telling Dai that, while she missed out on a lot life had to offer, she at least got to experience her first love. (Thankfully, Dai was only interested in her as a sister.)

It might not be the story Fujii had intended to tell, but I like it for its supernatural angle, the sympathetic nature of Sumire and the dark, otherworldly atmosphere from director Takao Nagaishi. It's a sweet storyline, but...pretty damn weird, I'll admit. I give it credit though for avoiding predictability -- if Sumire had just been some random alien species, that wouldn't work as well. (Not to toot my own horn, but I still like my idea of Sumire being Dai's twin who was left behind on Earth.) And it's a good case for the Flashman to work on -- they should be able to understand and relate to the feeling of dead youths whose spirits can't find rest because their lives were cut short.

Evidence that Ghost Sumire wasn't Fujii's plan? In Sumire's first episode, she was targeted by that Beast Soldier, whose M.O. was to drain people's warmth/life. Well, that monster would know if it was a ghost he had in his clutches, now wouldn't he?

The monster of the week -- The Devilub -- is crazy, formidable and creepy; green, devilish. Keflen strays from his usual methods and creates the monster from spirits and youkai genes! The monster absorbs souls and sends them to an underworld within itself! The suit makes the monster just seem tall and huge, really fearsome, and it's a well-made suit and another great Izubuchi design. The bad part? The monster has a mustache that just...it works in Izubuchi's sketch, but not in live action, on a suit. It's like he has Groucho glasses on.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Flashman Episode 36


An episode about the bad guys peddling a bug that shits gold. Sound familiar? Kamen Rider Black goes on to steal this episode a little over a year later, only they make it terrible.

It might not be a totally essential episode, but I like it, and it certainly isn't as bad as that Black episode. It's kinda just one for the kids, focused on kids. Flashman doesn't remember the kids a lot, so they'll toss in ones like this every now and then.

In that dreadful episode of Black, Golgom's plan was to convince people to buy these bugs and rely on them for any financial purpose. People would get lazy depending on the gold created from these bugs and society would collapse! It was a goofy episode, more of a Crisis plot than a Golgom one. Here in Flashman, Mess are giving away these bugs to kids to raise as pets, with the promise that any metal it eats -- even simple screws and bolts -- will cause it to make gold. What really happens is that the bugs will eat enough metal and eventually emit a corrosive gas from its mouth, which we see causes a ton of problems when they'll end up eating through buildings and gas pipes and so on.

We follow a group of kids who gets one of the bugs, and all they really want is enough money to buy a good violin for a girl they like. (Two million yen!) Jin gets mixed up with them, being drawn to the music the girl plays, but quickly recognizes that the bug they have is bad news, and he spends most of the episode trying to convince them to see that. The kids give him a lot of hell, and Jin really has the patience of a saint.

The funny thing is, once Jin learns where the kids got the bug, they approach the disguised Mess vendors who...immediately freak at the sight of the Flashman coming to bust them. They don't even try to keep up appearances and pass the scam off as something semi-legitimate. It's flip out and reveal themselves! Oh, well, Kaura doesn't seem to mind -- this is his operation, as strange as it is, and he knows they've already given enough of the bugs away to cause serious damage. The monster who the miniature slugs derive from also emits a corrosive gas, so we get a lot of those effects I like where the Flashman's shields will be eaten away and dissolve.

And after so many episodes lately with the reduced villain cast, it's great to have them all back together on screen for this episode. The previous episode was just Wandala and Ulk and Kiruto, for example. Before that would be Neferu (mainly as Neferura) and Ulk and Kiruto. Here's it's everybody working for Mess, and it's awesome, leading to really big fights with some of Yamaoka's trademark long tracking shots. And it's fun to see Wanda, Neferu, Ulk and Kiruto disguised as humans, peddling the magic bug that creates gold. (That's even something the Black episode rips off -- Birugenia disguises himself as a human in it!)

This episode also features a crucial little tease from Kaura after a tense little face-off between him and Keflen; Keflen's furious at Kaura for taking charge of a plan without his permission and tries to put him in his place as just the mere bounty hunter, the sideline help. A seriously pissed-off Kaura blocks an attack of Keflen's and gets in his face, insinuating he knows a big secret of his true identity, so tread lightly, mutha! (Jouji Nakata's little mocking laugh here is great.) This is the beginning of what will be Kaura's rebellion, and it's one of the things that makes Kaura my favorite Sentai villain -- through his work and experience, he not only has the answers our heroes desperately want, but he also has the goods on one of the main villains! He's a great warrior, but also really cunning, such a formidable threat. Jouji Nakata brings SO much to the role on his own, the show is extremely fortunate to have him.

Any other show would have ended this episode by having the Flashman buy that expensive violin the kids wanted, but not Flashman. They don't have that money! So they just try to get the group of boys to push past their shyness, make that connection, and approach the girl and let her know they appreciate her music. It's sweet that Flashman want to help kids since they had a lonely and unhappy childhood, as the narrator reminds us; the kids listening to the girl play and letting her know they appreciate her music is probably more rewarding to her than if they bought that fancy new violin.

It's something small, but ties back into the Flashman's trying to make up for their stolen childhood. They isolate themselves at Roundbase most of the time, they're all business and try to be on call constantly to combat Mess, like it's their literal job, but when they DO get the opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves, they try to enjoy anything they can. They appreciate the small things. Whether it's Bun going crazy for balloons or Jin enjoying this girl's violin playing or Sara's small slice of happiness at buying an earring she liked -- the Flashman haven't had a lot of happiness in their lives, but they try, dammit, and especially try to make up for it. And when you rewatch the show, knowing where the final episodes go, it makes the show even more tragic. The Flashman really get dumped on, but they don't let it get them down...

That's something that, along with the fact that they're all so decent and nice and get along, is something that could ring false or hollow or make them seem flat in a lesser show, but I don't think that's the case here. I truly believe in these characters, I think they still manage to be distinct (they're not just dudley do-rights), and I think the cast plays a big part of that. They're all good in their roles, they all believe in it. The fact that the entire cast -- heroes and villains -- remain so close to this day says a lot. They're proud of their time on Flashman, they believed in what they were doing, and it shows.

Neferu Disguise Watch: She disguises herself -- and gets all of the other Mess officers in on the fun -- as an ordinary Earth woman in order to give away some of them gold pooin' slugs.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Flashman Episode 35


Speaking of Inoue, he returns and gives us this crazy and awesome episode, that really highlights the great and unique flavor this show can have.

Inoue does have his pet ideas that he'll haul out every now and then, but not the damned falling in water thing. Things like jerk guest characters, glorifying a villain, bickering heroines, tennis playing, wanting to culture you like you're a dumb-dumb, having a character lose a hand or arm, star-crossed romances, heroes gone bad, doomed friendships, powers being handed off to other characters...

This episode hits a few. We got the tennis. We got the bickering heroines. We got a slight attempt at being cultured. Another thing Inoue likes? Conflict amongst heroes. Remember how I said a few posts back that the Flashman team seems to always get along? Inoue must have noticed that, too. You might think Sara overreacts, but I don't. (More on that in my coverage of the next episode.)

What begins as a fun day hitting stores and shopping ends in a nightmare tennis match. When did the Flashman learn how to play tennis, you ask? They obviously didn't, because Bun is using his crazy ninja ability to jump and hit balls and Ruu's resorting to returning serves with kicks. (You don't want to be playing against Bun and Ruu. Dai and Sara find this out the hard way.) When Sara's newly bought earring is destroyed by one of the balls Ruu kicks back to her, she gets pissed, and soon the match turns into Sara and Ruu truly competing, the match becoming a hailstorm of tennis balls that nobody escapes uninjured.

It's a very quick, very funny scene that needs seen to be believed. Believe it or not, there was a time when Flashman's excessively quirky humor was really special and stood out and was one of the things that made the show so fondly remembered. If you're a modern viewer going back and watching this episode, though, it plays completely differently. Toku shows have lost their damn mind and the scene is certainly not as bizarre and cartoonish and unique as it once was. So, keep that in mind, kids! In a pre-Carranger, pre-Den-O world, this episode of Flashman and episode 26 were some of the nuttiest depictions of comedy you'd seen in a toku.

That whole match leaves Sara and Ruu in a bad place, just bickering nonstop afterward. And wouldn't you know it? The villain plan leaves no other choice but for them to put aside their anger and work in unison. The monster generates soundwaves which can coordinate with Wandala and extend his 3-Second Kill maneuver into twice the length. Magu finds the precise soundwaves that will counteract the monster's, turning it into a music piece, a duet to be played by piano. (We get a line by Jin about how beautiful the piano is, how he didn't imagine such a beautiful thing on the Earth. Inoue telling you to stop listening to your Kajagoogoo, kids. Culture!) Combatting the monster with pure music -- Inoue foresaw Hibiki almost 20 years before he took that show over!

Sara and Ruu play and play and play to get it right, Ruu's fingers eventually bleeding, like Magu is J.K. Simmons from that movie everyone pretended to watch. Their hard work pays off in success, mending their friendship and also providing new maneuvers as Flashman, in another hilarious scene in which they just completely take over the fight scene, leaving the three guys to watch, frozen in bewilderment, left in the dust. (And ordering Red to get moving on calling for the Rolling Vulcan when he's too slow.)

Last, but not least, this great villain line Inoue has for Wandala, to the three Flashman, going into a hopeless fight: "You're men who don't fear death. Your lives will decorate my sword nicely." I like how Wandala challenges the Flashman by just sending his Killer Saber down to pierce a mountaintop, emitting a current to tip off the Flashman.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Flashman Episode 34


Fujii returns to script this standout episode, which has a great performance by guest star Nami Munakata and top notch direction by Takao Nagaishi. (He gets great performances from the episode's two leads, has atmospheric night shoots for monster attacks, fills the episode with artful shots, and makes the most out of an isolated location.)

The latest Beast Soldier -- made from the genes of a venomous moth and venomous spider, filled also with an elixir made from a poisonous plant -- spreads a poison throughout the city, causing people to fall ill. Bun falls victim and then falls into a raging stream, which make the Flashman fear for his life. Bun is discovered by a woman and is taken back to her cabin, where she nurses him back to health and recognizes the symptoms he's suffering from and a way to cure it. In the throes of the illness and fever, Bun senses the woman and begins to dream of his mother, forging this idea that he's being taken care of by his mother. When he recuperates, he learns that the woman lives alone, and that she had a son who died in a mountain accident when he was around Bun's age. (Props to the, uh, prop department -- the photo we're shown of her son is someone who DOES resemble Yasuhiro Ishiwata a bit.)

Bun's eventually cured, but not quite recovered enough to go join the others in their fight -- he tries to leave, but is stopped by the woman, Kayoko, who uses some tough love. Part of it is just talking sense, that Bun's in no condition to go face the monster who nearly killed him, but some of it is her feeling guilt and regret at not helping prevent her son's death in the past, not wanting to repeat that kind of loss. So, Bun remains, and learns of the way she cured him -- she recognized the poison Bun was suffering from and knew what local plants counteracted it. Discovering Bun survived and there's an antidote to the poisonous elixir the monster is using, Kayoko is targeted by Mess -- with Neferu, Ulk and Kiruto popping up in her tiny cabin and attacking, with Neferu getting Kayoko into a stranglehold! Thankfully, the Flashman arrive in time for Bun to get Kayoko to safety, where she recognizes what Bun's been doing as a Flashman and offers him words of encouragement, feeling confident in letting him go and face danger. He sets out and beats the monster with the others, Kayoko's words echoing in a low moment and helping him fight through.

The episode ends with Kayoko giving the Flashman a big supply of the plant with the counteragent to be used to save the victims of the city. (Unlike many a toku, simply killing the monster doesn't reverse its attack.) There's just such a sad sweetness to the scene, as Bun thinks of how he'd like to revisit Kayoko (we know he won't get the chance), and as Kayoko stealthily follows the Flashman down a long path as they leave, wanting to see Bun off. The last shot is of Bun joyously calling her mom, and...it's just a great episode, another driving the home the point that family can mean many things. Bun finds the closest thing he has to a mom, he represents her son and she's able to let go of the loneliness and lingering regret she feels for not being able to do anything for her late son.

Neferu's bad-ass in this episode, man. That scene when she's got Kayoko in a stranglehold, but just drops her so she can get in a nice kick to Bun's face. Damn.

All in all, this is just a sweet, well-made, well-acted episode. Shougo Awards for all of the key players involved.

One last thing I want to point out. This episode features a wounded Bun going missing after falling into a stream, and the episode title is literally "Bun Falls Into a Stream," but guess what, you silly bastards? Toshiki Inoue had nothing to do with it! So that's not something unique to him, so let's retire that.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Flashman Episode 33


This one's kind of problematic. It's the type of episode that would be eviscerated by the modern viewers -- you know, those nutters who can't let go of Liveman 31 or the Jetman elevator scene. Viewers who watch old media and sharpen their axes for anything that doesn't line up with the modern way of thinking, or like to misconstrue and warp something so they can feign outrage to fit in. That would be the case if more people saw Flashman, and until they do, and this episode gets the harsh criticism it no doubt will, I guess I'll draw first blood.

It's pretty much a standalone episode, which is needed after so many interconnected ones. Jin's in a judo tournament (for some reason -- why's Jin taking up judo all of a sudden? It's weird.) and the match comes down to him and a dude named Otaki, who's played by Gou Ibuki -- if you're a toku fan, you might recognize him as the dude who gave Koutarou Road Sector or as Ryou's dad in Dairanger. He's a known character actor, and is considered a bit of a big deal when Toei gets him for a toku role, not unlike Changeman's Jun Fujimaki or Flashman's Akira Ishihama. Otaki beats Jin as Jin's distracted by the overly enthusiastic cheering by Otaki's young son, Kiyoshi. Otaki's a single father who works at a power plant, and when the factory is destroyed as part of Mess' latest plan, he has the misfortune to be a witness to the secret of their latest scheme and gets the crap beat out of him by Ulk and Kiruto.

Otaki's son, who's still very young, witnesses this ass-kicking and is upset, clamming up about what happened to his dad and what he saw. His big motivation? He's upset that his dad got beat up by two women, and tries to protect his honor. When Mess continue to target his dad -- and eventually him -- Jin becomes bodyguard, eventually earning the boy's trust and getting the complete details. (The plot is that Ulk and Kiruto disguise themselves as humans and are able to smuggle the latest Space Beast Soldier into areas where it can cause destruction -- utility sites, government buildings, etc. The monster's made from Ulk and Kiruto's genes, so they can hide it and make it appear from thin air. I kinda wonder if this monster was intended to be Ulk and Kiruto's power-up, and that they would have merged, Barom 1 style, to become this monster, but the idea was dropped and it ends up in this standalone appearance as a regular monster instead.)

Jin cheers the boy up by revealing to him that the women who beat up his dad aren't human, therefore that his dad fought them and survived makes him even braver than the son knows. So, that's the problematic part of this episode, the insinuation that this guy could in no way lose to two women unless they were, like, totally monstrous and inhuman. Hirohisa Soda made great contributions to the franchise by writing strong women characters, so it's unfortunate that this episode is so clumsy in what it sets out to do. It could have been Wanda or a couple of Alien Hunters who fought the dad -- it's that the dad lost that bothered the kid. By having it be Ulk and Kiruto, so it's worded as "he lost to those two women," it takes on a sexist shade that I don't think is what's intended.

I'm Shougo B'Stard and I don't agree with this message, but...you've gotta kind of put it in perspective. These shows are geared towards boys (and I feel like Flashman will haul out episodes geared completely to the youngsters after heavier episodes or arcs). And this was 1986. And Japan's a male-dominated society. The boy in the story is very young, so he wouldn't know better, and role models -- especially if it's dad -- are important. The lesson of this episode isn't that women can't beat men, but that losing, period, didn't make his dad any less of the person or champ than he was. But with the casting of a macho guy like Gou Ibuki as the dad, it's easy for it to morph into taking on that other interpretation. (Ibuki's wasted in this episode, to be honest. I think he would have been a much better Ley Baraki. Change the design a bit so you can see him more, don't have him dubbed by Banjo Ginga and he would have been better as wore-down warrior who was once a lethal bad-ass, but turned good.)

The REAL problem of the episode, for me, is the final scene. Jin-tachi are back at the dojo watching as Otaki is training with his son. Jin starts sparring with the kid, while Dai spars with Sara and Ruu with Bun. The episode ends on a freeze frame of the three Flashman guys being flipped and defeated. Now, to me, THIS is the real sexism of the episode. Since Jin's being flipped by the kid, he's obviously letting the kid win, duh. So it stands that the other two are letting the Flash women win, and it's all a sham, like...it couldn't be possible for them to best the guys, lulz. Get out of here. You know damn well Ruu could break Bun's back over her knee like she's Bane. C'mon. He's a small fry.

I do have to say, though, that I found the scene of Ulk and Kiruto beating up Otaki unsettling when I was a kid. It's just a short burst of violence, ending with Otaki hitting his head against a building and getting a bloody slash, falling into unconsciousness.

Oh, and in this episode, the Flashman debut a new weapon and attack. It might be a result of their new powers, but it still doesn't make it seem any less random. It's the Super Spear, and it's a crystal spear that's formed by them uniting their swords from the Prism Shooter. It's treated like a final attack, but, no, they still need to use Rolling Vulcan to finish the monster. I've never really understood the point of the Super Spear. But at least it's not some ugly toy they're shilling.

Anyway, it's a shame that this episode has its problems, because a focus on Ulk and Kiruto should have been pretty cool. And their monster causes a lot of damage! They destroy so many facilities that it ends up causing water shortages and blackouts throughout Tokyo. That ain't fun. But, you know, isn't it interesting that this episode has a couple of things going for it, that you can talk about? A kid witnessing the villain plan and then being targeted by villains is often the plot of every '70s toku, and it never goes deeper than that, always focusing more on the chase. This episode's dealing with something, even if that something seems warped to a Western fan in 2019. And this episode shouldn't be totally ignored, since Touta Tarumi gives a good, sincere and heartfelt performance. Don't cheat Tarumi because you want to be on a moral high horse!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Flashman Episode 32


The culmination of the past several episodes as the Flashman finally get a power-up. I always kinda thought they should have obtained a power-up once their powers returned at the end of the last episode, but I guess that doesn't make much sense, so we get this episode which...looks to be kinda trying to save some money. We needed the wrap-up of this arc, with the Flashman successfully getting their power-up, but the save-some-money feel holds it back a little. It's a really reduced episode, with hardly any scenes of other cast members that aren't the Flashman. (Even Neferu spends most of this episode as Neferura, so...someone didn't want to pay Sayoko Hagiwara, just her suit actress! Who probably makes much less, and I can't imagine Hagiwara making that much herself...)

The episode is focused on Magu as he experiments on the Flashman suits' source of energy, their individual forehead prisms, to try to power them up. (Considering what they just went through, I don't think it's the time to be messing around with their powers, but that's me.) Thinking he's successful, the Flashman find out the hard way in their next battle he wasn't, as each of their prisms fall from their helmets and shatter. This leads to each Flashman member ripping Magu a new exhausthole, as Magu is determined to fix his mistake and complete his experiment.

The episode will work for you depending on how much you like Magu. I like Magu more than Peebo, but not as much as I like Koron. Magu's just supposed to be cute, they don't try to humanize him like Koron, and they don't try to make him as important as Earthur G6. (God, the ONLY thing that Flashman-wannabe Fiveman did better than Flashman was have Earthur G6 be a surrogate parent. If Magu had that same role, or even if he just was, like, the butler of the Flash aliens and the team got to know him and befriend him when they were kids, that would really help the show.) Anyway, I guess all of that about Magu's addressed a bit here, and it IS sad that he just wanted to feel useful to the team in this episode. There's a nice scene with Jin offering him encouraging words -- which leads him to come through and save the day -- but, like I said, I don't think Magu should've been messing with this stuff since they just went through a few episodes getting kicked around until their powers came back in full strength. He could have at least told them! I think that's what bugs me, that he does it in secret, the little round bastard.

Magu takes the shattered prisms and tries to restore them. How? He needs massive heat and massive pressure to do it, and uses the power reactor in the Flash Titan, the only thing that could have gotten the job done. I point this out because it's nice that he didn't just get a new package of upgraded prisms from Bandai, as he would have in a modern show. He used his saucer-shaped noggin to solve the problem.

In fact, he does successfully complete his experiment and gives the Flashman new powers and NONE of the new powers rely on a new toy or trinket or anything for Bandai to plug. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. I've always kind of been mixed on these new moves each of the Flashman have, though, compared to the old ones they're replacing. I liked Red's Fire Thunder more than his new Super Cutter move and accompanying special effect. I liked Snow Freeze and Mach Blizzard more than Yellow's new Super Version, which just turns her into a taketombo effects graphic. (Not to mention -- the usage of coldness made more sense for her, duh.) Blue's Prism Ball effect is given a more updated effect, but since it's just a blob colored over in SFX, it loses the notion that it's a crystalized ball to match the other members' crystalized weapons. (Too bad they could never get Prism Ball to look crystalline to match the others. It's either a graphic or a large rubber ball, but imagine a plastic ball. Maybe that would have been too hamster ball-like, though?) So, the only new power I really like is Pink's Super Tap.

Now, it might seem weird for a superhero to have a tap-dance-based attack. And ordinarily I'd agree. But the way it's depicted in Flashman is pretty cool -- she causes tremors! She cracks open the ground for it to swallow opponents! The special effects might not hold up, but it's a pretty neat power, if you ask me. (And you didn't, but it's my blog, so if you're reading this, you might as well have asked me.)

The monster of the week also has a cool design, and his gimmick is that he turns things invisible. While this is shown through fun little sequences of turning cars invisible only to have them crash or Blue Flash's Flash Hawk being turned invisible as Blue Flash freaks at riding nothing, the coolest idea is the monster turning floating orb-bombs invisible and sending them the Flashman's way. The destruction caused by this monster isn't fully conveyed with the episode's money-saving feel, so that's a shame, since it's the first Mess plan in a few episodes to not focus completely on targeting the Flashman. They're finally trying to get back to messing with the world, no pun intended.

I don't want to give the impression that this episode is bad, or I don't like it or that it's -- ugh -- "filler." It just doesn't feel like the exciting exclamation point at the end of this arc that it should. It doesn't have the same urgency or tension as the past few episodes, and doesn't have the same heart or emotional resonance as the previous episodes had by using the Tokimuras. Sorry, Magu, you're just the cute mascot. I said it in my post about Sentai's Mentors and Allies -- Magu seems kind of pointless to me since Jin and Sara are supposed to be so intelligent and scientific, so they could and should easily figure out most of what Magu does. Magu's not like Peebo, in the role of mentor, because Jin is. And wouldn't this episode be more interesting if Jin or Sara had been trying to make the upgrades, but miscalculated? It would be an even bigger and higher stakes version of the Changeman episode with the Anti-Gravity belts. There's not a whole lot of conflict between the Flashman members, which is a bit understandable since they're supposed to be so close from sharing the same experience. But it's a bit of a cheat to have this situation that they can just take out on the cute robot, isn't it?

Flashman Episode 31


We're winding down on this arc of the Flashman's seeming to be depowering while their villains are powering up. The episode begins mid-battle with the latest Beast Soldier, and it's never a good sign for our heroes when the episode begins like that -- it tends to mean things will be going south for 'em. During this battle, all five have their powers conk out. Wandala has them cornered, ready to freeze them when Tokimura arrives to bail them out in his own invention, what he calls a supercar.

Tokimura volunteers to help the Flashman out of their dilemma and look for the answers they seek. Knowing Magu has to have some knowledge of their situation that he can't access, Tokimura cracks open Magu's noggin and hacks it. (I remember, as a kid, feeling like Tokimura was a jerk for doing this, but it actually plays comedically, and is a scene I now find funny thanks to how casually actor Ishihama plays it.)

It's sweet how much the Tokimuras want to help out and repay the Flashman. Daughters Midori and Kaori decide to set out to a university to enlist the help of a Nobel prize winning scientist to help (remember, they think their dad is well-intentioned, but a bit of a kook), only to be targeted by Mess, who want them to take them to the Flashman. The five arrive to save the Tokimura girls, and they feel bad to have been the reason for the Flashman to show themselves. (So, it's a good thing they're not around to know that the Beast Soldier lays a sneak attack, sending them a gross slime which attaches itself to a host body.)

Powerless, still weak from the previous battle and now fighting off the Beast Soldier's parasitic slime, the Flashman are again cornered by Wandala when Tokimura finally solves their problem -- he discovers that the Flash planets are aligned, an anomaly which causes the energies the planets emit to cancel each other out. He can't calculate how long the effect will last, which Magu helps figure out, coming to the answer that they should shift out of alignment in sixty minutes. Once that happens, the Flashman's abilities and powers should be restored. This leads to a neat segment where the Flashman decide to run and stall for time, hurling themselves from cliffs to avoid attacks and just having to suck it up and endure. They just make it, transforming and winning the day...and it's sad, because it probably gives them a false hope. Throughout the episode, they're talking about Baraki's dying words. They think they're going to be killed at one point by Wandala. And then their powers are restored, and they probably think that's it for their problems, that it's all over and...well, those of us who have seen the show know better.

The Tokimuras are just such a kind, helpful bunch, I don't understand some of the criticism I see against them out there. Here they help pull the Flashman out of danger and discover crucial information, and the ending scene is touching when the five are saying a farewell to the Tokimuras, with the narrator saying that they each wished the Tokimuras were their real family.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Flashman Episode 30


Neferu's turn to power up! And the show's smart enough to not show us the process SHE went through -- it would be repetitive and unnecessary. Plus, it leaves something to the imagination. She refused Keflen's summons in the previous episode out of terror, and she couldn't bear to hear Wanda's screams. But Neferu's a bad-ass, so I imagine once she caught a glimpse of Wanda, she was like "Pfff...if Johnny Bravo can handle it, I sure as hell can. And I won't be screaming like some punk, either. And I'll be sure to come out of the other side with a cooler power than stopping time for three measly seconds."

Because, while Wanda does manage to cause a lot of trouble with those three lousy seconds, Neferu's new power as the Phantom Beast Neferura has the better, more useful power, IMO -- to cause illusions. (The show seems to favor Wandala's Time Stop, though, because Neferura never uses her illusions that much.) She puts her new ability to nasty effect in this episode; first, the Flashman are lured out by the Alien Hunters kidnapping babies. (And as I've said before, if there's one thing the Flashman can't stand Mess doing, it's repeating the horror that happened to them 20 years ago.) Once the Flashman are lured out into a field and Neferura makes her reveal, she traps them in a batshit illusion which makes them relive the sensation and trauma of their own kidnapping. Damn! That's so cruel. (The scenes of the Alien Hunters creeping around through the night, kidnapping babies, is pretty disturbing, too, and had to have upset young viewers.)

It's an interesting way they depict Neferura's world of illusions -- it's conveyed mostly by unsettling filming techniques and by the actors' performances. Since Neferura's looking to get them to respond to deep feelings they experienced when infants and toddlers, you're not going to be able to convey that sense of dread and pain to the viewer, so unsettling filming techniques is an interesting way to convey that deep torture. (It's pretty unpleasant having a big portion of the episode that's divided by color -- the screen being split, alternating between a diagonal and vertical line, each section colored either red or blue.)

The newly kidnapped babies are put to use in the illusion, their cries, the situation they're in triggering the Flashman's reliving of their own experience, which hits Sara the hardest. We see her get glimpses of being plucked from her home by Kerao, otherwise the team's experience is presented in a way that's mostly suggestive. While I like those nutty Space Sheriff episodes of this type where it's just a bunch of insane, nonsensical, drug-induced WTFery thrown at you, you could easily imagine the Flashman staff going for that kind of thing here, but they don't, and that's a good choice. It would be harder to take seriously. And while they haul out those moai which represent Toku WTFery, it's still fairly reserved. Here, it's pretty unclear just what the characters are enduring, and something about the mystery of that helps make it creepier.

Again, I like these Phantom Beast forms bringing supernatural elements to the show, similar to the way Super Giluke does in Changeman. And while I like this design for Neferura and think the costume is very well made...the face is on the cutesy side, which is a strange choice, off-putting and doesn't lend itself well to the feeling these upgrades are meant to evoke. Spoiler alert, they thankfully address this and she -- with no in-show explanation -- in a later episode changes expression, into a more ferocious, bestial face, far more fitting of the creepy and intimidating power these forms are meant to represent.

The high point of the episode is, as the Flashman are giving in to their base fears, Magu has the idea to enlist the Tokimuras to send words of encouragement via the Prism Flash. Hearing from "mother" and "father" give them the drive they need to fight through and defeat the monster, even though their powers are showing further signs of faltering. (Geez, the psychological trauma wasn't enough for our heroes, but the mysterious buggy powers pop up, too. See the difference between heroes who are overpowered and heroes who struggle for their victories?) Prior to this scene is the professor sounding pretty certain that Bun is his son, with Setsuko voicing her hesitation, not wanting him to get his hopes up. (She thinks Bun was doing a kindness and trying to get through to the injured professor; it's interesting that this scene turns into Magu busting through the hospital to have the Tokimuras return that kindness.) So, the mystery of who the Tokimura child is continues.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Flashman Episode 29


Wanda's time to power-up. The titles for the forms that Wanda and Neferu get are called the "Phantom Beast Soldiers." Keflen begins this episode by noting Garus' death; he says loss of life is essential to all of his experiments, many lifeforms are sacrificed for the sake of his creating new ones, and he's learned of yet another new life form: the Phantom Beast Soldiers.

There's probably a TV Magazine that explains it more, but the show only briefly suggests that Keflen has made a kind of supernatural discovery, and that's what's really the factor of these "phantom" forms. Keflen's phrasing, asking Wanda and Neferu which one is willing to "give their life," also makes me think that they actually have to DIE to obtain this power-up and these supernatural abilities, and I think that's pretty interesting, combining science with the supernatural. Wanda's the one who volunteers, and his screams as he's being worked on by Keflen are proof enough that the procedure is painful and, yeah, probably deadly, and it's enough to make Neferu cover her ears and shout out his name in concern.

(I really like how Hirose plays this scene; he goes from being legitimately terrified by the idea of undergoing whatever crazy experiment he knows Keflen's planning, and he doesn't want to be as weak as Garus, but he has faith in Keflen and quickly summons the courage to volunteer. The way he enters what I call the "Test Tube" -- where the monsters of the weak typically appear once they're created -- is pretty cool, too. He's just still and prepared...until the pain hits.)

As Magu examines Jin for possibilities of why his power went on the fritz in the previous episode, Wanda leads an attack for the sole purpose of calling out the Flashman. Wanting to prevent more destruction, the Flashman comply, meeting Wanda where he transforms into the hideous monster, his Phantom form, Wandala. The henshin sequence is the beginning of what will be many crazy henshin sequences for Hirose, in which he makes his mad expressions and ghoulish growls, transforming into a usually crazily-costumed character. In this sequence, they have Wanda's pompadour scattering all over the place in what must have been the origin of my family nicknaming Wanda, and subsequently Beauty Beast Kemp, as "cotton candy-head." As in "Hey, this actor looks familiar. Do I know him?" "Yeah, it's Cotton Candy-head."

The Wandala design is pretty cool and creepy and I like it, even though it's no substitute for Hirose. It's a scary look, and Hirose gives a menacing, growling voice performance, and I love the added touch that Wandala's eyes are able to light up. This dude needs an official figure.

With Wandala's new form comes new abilities, the biggest being the ability to stop time for three seconds. He can move independently and is able to strike, and being one bad sonuvabitch, three seconds is enough for him to cause major, major damage, so holster those jokes about three seconds being useless. (I've always wondered if there was a significance to that particular time limit, some kind of mythology I'm not aware of or something.) Wandala freezes time to attack the Flashman just as Dr. Tokimura is firing up his newly rebuilt time-machine, ready to go into the past and search for answers again!

This is what a well-oiled, fast-paced, jam-packed show Flashman is -- this is the first time we see the Tokimuras since their first appearance TWENTY EPISODES AGO! And it doesn't feel that long ago at all. Flashman's done a great job of just throwing great episode after episode at you that you haven't had the chance to stop and realize that the Tokimuras haven't been seen since their debut.

Wandala's Time Stop is noticed by Tokimura in his machine, just as the machine malfunctions and explodes, sending him to the hospital. Tokimura's family eventually notifies the Flashman via Magu in a panic, while the Flashman are all on the run after being pwned by Wandala. The news of the seriously wounded Professor Tokimura hits Bun the hardest, and he makes it his mission to make it to the hospital to see him just in case he doesn't pull through. (The Flashman had been successful in hiding from Mess after taking such a beating; Bun hitching a ride to the hospital gets noticed immediately by the newest Beast Soldier. Also: Blue Flash's powers went on the fritz during battle the same way Jin's did. Not a good time to disobey orders, Bun! But you can't fault him for it.)

The scene of a dirtied and hurt Bun making his way to Tokimura's hospital room is well done by all the actors, and it's a scene that always made me believe that Bun was originally intended to be the real Tokimura. I noted before that the daughters take an instant liking and acceptance to Bun, and here everyone's noting how much like a son Bun seems. Not only that, but Bun's sad speech -- about how he spent his time on the harsh Blue Star just wanting to return to Earth and find his father -- ends with tears that waken the professor, the first time he becomes conscious since his injury. But the clincher? When Bun leaves on Flashman business, the half out-of-it Tokimura father reaches for Bun, his hand up in the air, the shot recalling the flashback we see of when the Tokimura child was abducted and he reached upward for his child before losing consciousness. C'mon. That says to me they were beginning to lay down the resolution of this story, that the choice was Bun. (Kaori's actress even says in one of the book's interviews that she was certain Bun would be the real sibling.)

A favorite moment of mine is when Wanda's attacking the hospital, trash-talking the Flashman, pointing out that he knows there's something going on with their wonky powers -- the way Tarumi plays Jin here is great, he's REALLY just pissed and fed up with Wanda.

So, a turnaround from the last episode, in that the stakes are high, our heroes are really feeling the pressure, and we have more emotionally resonant, deeper content.