Monday, March 2, 2020

Ryusoulger: Sentai's Rock Bottom

I love Super Sentai. I'm Sentai Guy (though I prefer Sentaiman), it's my favorite of the toku franchises, it's one of my favorite variations and depictions of superhero entertainment. I've often been accused of taking these shows too seriously, but I've also been accused of trashing too many modern shows. Both accusations are true, and both come from a similar point of origin -- I know how good Super Sentai can be, so it's really disheartening and infuriating when it's not shown the respect or care it deserves -- by annoying fans who think it's all about the lulz to the complacent people and/or unimaginative bean-counters running the shows.

I've been a part of the online fandom for so long and I've seen so many obits written for the franchise. Pretty much every year since 1999 has been said to be Sentai's last year. Every other toku franchise has had a period of dormancy, if not outright death, and Sentai's not bulletproof. I'm not delusional in thinking it's going to be on the airwaves forever, but I often let out a skeptical scoff when it rolls around to the time when people like to retweet a fuzzy translation of a scrap of info posted on 2ch about Sentai's ratings or toy sales and try to somehow prophesize the future of the franchise from those.

Toei couldn't make it more obvious these past several years that they're just fed up with even trying to put out a good show. Ratings shrink, toy sales drop, and you can just picture them shrugging and being like "Eh, whatcha gonna do?" Sentai fans who like to plug their ears from the doomsdayers are often mocked and ridiculed for being somewhat arrogant in thinking Sentai will last forever, but I say it's Toei that's the arrogant party in half-assing shows and thinking everyone's gonna lick up whatever they serve. And with Toei favoring Kamen Rider and turning that franchise into the Swiss Army Knife of toku, Sentai's certainly...not even given the back seat, but put in the trunk of the car, with only a couple of holes for air drilled in.

"Shougo, the quality of the shows is highly subjective!" I disagree, but that's not what I want to point out. Disregarding rumors and doomsdayers, I've felt like the franchise has been on thin ice. But what really gave me pause and made me say "Oh, shit" was Hasbro buying out Power Rangers. What Bandai sold throughout the world through Power Rangers was a HUGE chunk of the revenue Super Sentai earned. Bandai, the longtime backbone of the franchise -- nearly all of these shows -- out of the picture, bought out by a rival! So, when that happened, I felt like that was just a horrible blow to the franchise, that its days were numbered. My feeling is that it will limp to the 45th anniversary series and go out on that.

So, when Ryusoulger started, and the doomsdayers were so adamant that the franchise was riding on it, I wanted to give it a fair shake. Unlike the past few shows that I'd get bored by and the episodes would pile up, I really wanted to keep up with it as it aired. If my favorite toku franchise was that close to death, I wanted to at least try to watch it as close to "real time" as I could. And I did manage to be pretty successful in keeping up with it each week, only being held up when I had problems with downloads.

I really wanted to give Ryusoulger a chance, but...I've hated it from pretty much the first episode. And it's been a constant hate. There's not one episode that I was like "OK, that was at least cool or interesting or funny." Not ONE. SINGLE. GOOD. WORTHWHILE. EPISODE. From top to bottom, Toei could not make it any clearer that they just don't give a shit and aren't trying AT ALL with the show. It's not even just basic or generic or by-the-numbers. It has absolutely nothing going for it, nothing to hang your hat on. NOTHING. There is no "there" there. Some of my less favorite shows or the weaker entries, I can at least look at and think "Well, there WAS potential for that to be better, but they zigged instead of zagged and/or just didn't care." Ryusoulger never showed a single spark of potential.

I often will try to watch a new toku and think of the shows that impacted me growing up. I'll think how I ended up, years after they went off the air, still thinking about a show or rewatching it or spending a gross amount of money on a piece of its merchandise on Yahoo Japan. And so I'll step back and scrutinize a newer show, I'll try to think if there's anything in a newer show to inspire such devotion in a kid. Hey, maybe Patranger could inspire a kid to be a cop. Maybe Kyuranger was their gateway to sci-fi. Maybe Ninninger's goofiness charmed a kid and they'll remember it with SOME fondness. Maybe they wanted to travel on the Rainbow Line and will still think of ToQger as they swipe their train pass. But there's just nothing I can see a kid going on to like about Ryusoulger. Even the adult fans are trying way too hard to pretend like there's something there, and you know damn well everything they've bought is going to be listed for sale within a month of the show's finale. "Ugh, why'd I buy this crap?"

The show can't even be bothered to try to come up with any kind of lore. It's literally no more than "bad guys once came from space and they're here and again and you dino knights must fight them." The heroes are all together, have a place to live and a doofy sidekick and everything worked out by episode 3 and the show is just, literally, the most boiled down nothing of a "plot" -- bad guys roam city, heroes show up, time for funny dance credits. That's IT. Nothing happens, nothing new occurs in the show. Well, you have the obligatory "hero 'earns' new toy weapon" in every damn episode, but it makes no differences -- it's all used in the same way and forgotten by the next episode or, at the very least, until it's a super very tough bad guy who they have to use all of their toys against before getting a new toy to beat that bad guy and until next time! *sigh*

The show doesn't even attempt to provide a history for the villains until it's two episodes before the finale! And what it does come up with, it thinks is some kind of mind-blowing, deep twist, but it's something that's been seen in toku countless times and, even worse, doesn't even really jibe with the shaky house of cards this show was "building." It's the kind of thing that would be the backstory printed on the packaging of the toys early on, when they were accidentally basing it off of ancient, unused ideas from the working stages.

A show offering so little, you at least hope there will be engaging cast members, cool designs, awesome fight scenes -- SOMEthing, right? Well, Ryusoulger doesn't think so.

The cast...

Koh sucks. The show mistakenly thinks he's interesting and devotes nearly everything to him, but he has zip personality and actor Hayate Ichinose is TERRIBLE. You know, when I watched the first episode, I thought he really stunk as the "gosh, gee, aw shucks" perpetual kid, but by the time Master Tuxedo Kamen bit it and he became all business, I thought "Ah! Well, if the character was meant to be innocent, but had to grow up quick, and will be kinda angry, then it doesn't matter he couldn't pull off the one side, he was cast to play the other." But, nope, Koh instantly forgets about the death of his mentor and all that, and the show just forces him into the role of Opie just doesn't work. Ichinose stinks, with just two modes of acting -- forcing a huge, exaggerated, goofy grin to his face -- seeming like the T-800 when he's trying to learn to smile -- and making a stank face when "angry."

Koh's meant to be the innocent, trusting, hopeful happy kid of the team, but the show's so damned lazy in its inconsistency that it can't even remember that, later on forcing in some backstory about how Koh was a combative jerk when he was a kid, and it just doesn't make sense with how the show tried to present him. And even then...Koh and his teammates just don't have much in the personality department, so Koh doesn't have anything going behind his nice guy act. They really want him to be like Alata, but Alata had the youthful and kind-seeming Yuudai Chiba to make his childish and pure angelic character take off. For most of Ryusoulger, I didn't want to blame the cast members -- they're really not being given much of anything to work with beyond an archetype. But Goseiger didn't exactly have depth, and Chiba didn't start that show as a strong performer, but he managed to do a lot with a similar character in a similarly lazy production, so a certain amount of blame needs to be put on Ichinose, because I DO think he's the worst one in the show. The others would be fine given better material. Ichinose is really just as much of a dead-eyed zero as Goggle Five's Ryouji Akagi, nobody's favorite Red. I think I would have rather had Tyramigo be Red, which wouldn't make sense but be an improvement, and when Shougo's pushing for a suit over an actual actor, you know there's a problem.

Sentai focusing too much on Red has long been a complaint by viewers. Not me, because Red's the star, no matter who on the show might be designated the leader, or a better character, or a better actor or whatever. But I'll complain here, because of how sucky Koh is, and the way the show mistakenly thinks he's interesting to the point where it feels like the show couldn't care less about ANYone else in it. So many episodes are dedicated to Koh while the rest of the cast are just watching him from the sidelines -- so many times where it's up to only Red to have a mecha fight while the others play cheerleader from the ground. No matter how much a Red of a previous Sentai hogged the spotlight, I've never felt like a Sentai could get by with just Red. But you could cut all of the other team members from Ryusoulger and easily have the same show. Kingoo sucked and was an attention hog, but the show still pretended like the other members mattered. Not Ryusoulger -- it's happy to turn its characters into being fellow viewers of the Koh Show.

Melto was my favorite of the show from the beginning, and I think actor Keito Tsuna is the only one who seems like he wants to be in the show. Everyone else acts like it's a contractual obligation or a stepping stone, but Tsuna's trying, and Melto's the only one to me who seems more like a living, breathing character, even though he's stuck with that stupid wig and is relegated to just solving the day's dilemma and barking out the solution. He's the requisite all-business guy, but he can do comedy, and the comedy comes from his awkwardness at being put into goofy situations when it's not his style, so it works better than just the random horse hockey the show will force upon the others.

Asuna...I liked the idea of her being a bit of a stubborn blockhead who was unaware of her strength, but all that went out of the window for the sake of her just being a foodie who everyone needed to remind you was cute. That's about it with her. She just stands in the background making goofy, pouty faces and talks about wanting to eat. She also gets stupider with each episode. Great character.

I could never like Towa based on how horribly he started the series. He was really a sick son of a bitch, too damn eager to kill people in order to stop the monster attack before it got started. But once he joined the team he was supposed to be the innocent and caring youngster and get the hell out of here.

Bamba doesn't come close to being the cool guy they think he is. The biggest problem is actor Tatsuya Kishida, who's awkward and who you can tell is just one of those geeks who became a meathead, like Mike Tyson, Lou Ferrigno or Rosie O'Donnell. He's not tough, he's not cool. He just looks downward and scowls. And, again, he just has no character. He makes Bouken Black seem like the cool, complicated Condor-type he was supposed to be. These characters have nothing going for them and no internal life. The actors are just flapping around with their heads chopped off and if anyone on the production gave a shit, they would have guided them.

A lot of people seem to hate Kanalo, but I find him to be one of the lesser offensive sixth heroes in a while. His shtick is repetitive, but he's at least not too obnoxious about it. It's easy to picture a cartoonier, more obnoxious way to play this type of character, but actor Katsumi Hyodo is surprisingly toned down. (I'm tired of gold and silver sixth heroes, though.) And along with Kanalo came Oto, who made such an impact because the character and actress, Sora Tamaki, are so energetic and full of life that she causes the biggest sign of life on the hero side of things. (No wonder she takes a liking to Melto, the most lively of the heroes.) Too bad her character's so pointless, though...

Nada was another sign of life, but they brought him on far too late and wrote him off far too early. Because, OMG, you can't have anybody who's interesting and lively there to take the spotlight off of boring Koh, even though that's a job so easy that plastic Tyramigo does it whenever he shares an episode with him. Even though Nada could be a bit of a pest, actor Seiya Osada still made him likable, and he really reminded of some of the action actors of old, like a Keiichi Wada. Too bad Toei wasn't trying to make their Space Sheriff TNG movies now, because I think Osada would have been a great new Gavan, a more worthy successor to Kenji Ohba than the awkward, terrible, charisma-free Yuuma Ishigaki. (I blame the failure of those movies entirely on the casting of the three Space Sheriffs.) Maybe, though, maybe if they finally get around to doing another Space Squad and bring in Fire as they hinted... I really like Winspector and Kagawa, and it's basically all because of what a cool, fun, decent guy Masaru Yamashita is. He'd be a tough act to follow, but I think Osada could do it.

Ui and her dad are completely useless, I don't know why the show even bothers with them. (I do like the actor who plays Ui's dad, but he deserved more than the show's ever given him.) They're just there to give the Ryusoulger a hangout, but that could have been done with just about anything, like gratuitous Ultraman Jack's random eateries. As characters, it's not like Gingaman, where Yuuta was their connection to modern civilization, or Goseiger, where Nozomu was Alata's mirror and a connection to humanity. There's no connection between the characters. The show's such a haphazard mess that they decide to have a storyline where a monster is born from Ui land at about episode three, when it was wayyyyyyyyyyyy too early for them to have bonded with her to care. Not that the show ever ends up writing anything sufficient enough to make that scenario soar. Likewise, the show waits far too long to have episodes about Koh distrusting Tyramigo. And again: Ultraman Jack just randomly shows up whenever the show feels like it, without rhyme or reason. Where the hell was everyone's attention during the making of this show?! It's so unplanned, and not in a good "let's keep things spontaneous way," but in a lazy-ass, extremely careless and unprofessional way.

I don't even want to talk about the bad guys, do I have to? Kreon was fun for a minute, but quickly became tiresome. The regular generals are all useless, more fugily-designed blobs of color brought to you by Masato Hisa, all wasting good voice-actors for characters that are flatter than the heroes. I like the idea of the monsters of the week being created from humans, but this show is just so lazy that it never wants to bother writing an interesting scenario around that. (The show not only fails as basic superhero entertainment of good guy versus bad guy, but also in delivering any kind of simple moralistic episode. See, for example, the episode about the teen girl race car driver who had to learn the lesson of, I dunno, not pressuring herself to become the world's best race car driver or something? See the shit this show doles out? And ask yourself this: how many times have you tuned in to NASCAR and seen a Japanese teenage girl driving one of the cars? What the hell is this?!)

The creation of the Minusaurs and the Ryusoul Masters are the only slightly good ideas this show has, and both are squandered. Especially the Masters, who were mostly all stupidly killed in the first episode, so they return as ghostly visions or whatever, and who are brought into an episode by consultation of coin tosses.

There's so many times watching this show that I felt like I was watching a knock-off Super Sentai show, or like when there's a show or movie about a character who likes toku, and the production of that show will go and shoot their own mock toku because they don't want to clear rights for footage from a real show. Ryusoulger is something like Gransazer or Zyushowan. (Actually, since this is the Koh Show, it's more like Radioactive Sentai Alexthunder, the one-man Sentai show seen in Zebraman.) And Toei should be ashamed that the 43rd entry in their 45-year-old franchise looks like an amateur hour imitator. And not only was Toei's heart not in it, but the staff. So much was made about Kazuya Kamihoriuchi being the show's director and, while he provided a nice shot now and then, it's obvious he didn't want to be moved from precious old Kamen Rider to lowly old Super Sentai, so he was just there for a paycheck.

And a bigger deal was made out of the show getting Junpei Yamaoka as writer. It's sad that, for years, I've wanted Toei to go back to getting someone from a drama background, not just an anime background, as main writer. But Yamaoka wasn't the one, he wasn't up to task. I think he's too young and just doesn't seem like he even knows what a Super Sentai should be like. He comes across to me more like one of those people who are kind of snobbily dismissive like "Oh, I know what those shows are like, that's an easy gig," when, no, it's difficult to write a good Super Sentai, and you need to put in the effort and you've gotta be prepared for the crazy year-long schedule it takes to write one. Ryusoulger couldn't be any more unplanned. I just don't think he cared. You can watch the show and realize that in its emptiness.

It's just so disheartening to know that the franchise is in jeopardy and Toei sends in this listless, unambitious, bar-lowering show to try and save the day. I would always just sit, aghast, while watching it. It doesn't even aim for the bare minimum, it's just a complete and total waste of time -- it's not even entertaining by any definition of the word. It's the only Super Sentai entry I probably would never recommend to anyone. Skip it, you won't miss out on ANYthing, it's a total waste of time. It really is the franchise's rock bottom. From how absolutely nothing it is to the way it needed to pull out all of the stops for the sake of the's a failure. There's nowhere to go but up, but do you really think Kiramager is going to save the day? No. By bringing in fan favorite creative people, it might seem a little better than Ryusoulger, but *scoff* that's not a tall order, now is it? If Ninninger aired now, people would be more accepting of it. Super Sentai is unique. In the glut of superhero entertainment in this day and age, it needs to be doing more to wow you, not less -- not less than less. And it would be nice if Toei would put in the effort to remind people that Super Sentai is special, and not to be taken for granted. But not even they believe in it anymore.

Saying all that...I don't really know where to rank it on my list of Sentai Rankings. For just how nothing it is, what little it accomplishes, I'd like to rank it dead last. I hate to say it, but Kyoryuger at least has more of a pulse to it than Ryusoulger. But Kyoryuger is still just so damned obnoxious and cringe-inducing that it fought really, really hard to earn its spot as the worst show. So, Ryusoulger, enjoy beating Kyoryuger, but still being worse and somehow putting in even less of a zero effort than that freaking running-in-circles Kyuranger. (Kyuranger failed, but at least pretended to have a story so it could run in circles. There's no running, jogging or even limping in circles for Ryusoulger -- nothing happens in the damn show! It doesn't even *pretend* to have a storyline or lore or stakes. You can watch episode one and then episode forty-eight and not miss a thing!) For a show about soul, it ain't got one. Just when you think it can't get any more pointless and lazy than Zyuohger...

I still remember being halfway through the first episode and being like "Hopefully Toei's going to slap up a banner that's like 'Just kidding! This isn't your new show for the year, just a trick. It's really going to be more of Super Sentai Saikyou Battle!'" And that would explain the no effort behind the production and the generic nothingness. (But, seriously, imagine how fun a full series of Saikyou Battle would have been instead.)

And it sucks that...for years, I've suggested the suffix "soldier" as an alternative for Super Sentai. With dorky Power Rangers putting me off of "ranger," I always thought soldier would be a cool sounding substitute. "Timesoldier," for example. It wouldn't be that difficult, it would just be so-ru-jaa. A lot of people have disagreed with me, saying it wouldn't "sound good" to the Japanese or be too complicated or whatever. But here comes Ryusoulger -- "soldier" is obviously not what they intended, even as a pun, but it's written the same way. And this show sucking so bad probably blows a chance of "soldier" ever being used. Same thing with "busters," although no big loss there, because it was beyond dumb. "Busters," pfft.

How did Abaranger manage to escape the Curse of the Dino Sentai? All of the other dinosaur-related Sentai shows are fucking abysmal.