Monday, February 27, 2012

Super Sentai Roundup – Go Over Time and Space

Timeranger is the Super Sentai series that heralded the new millennium – and what a season it was. With a plot that gets deeper as time goes on and interesting characters, this season of Super Sentai (and the closely adapted Power Rangers version, Time Force) is highly regarded by most fans.

Our story begins in the year 3000, where the sky is kinda orange-ish and lots of doves are flying around for some reason. Maybe they are the only species of birds left on the planet, I don’t know. Anyway the Time Police or whatever is doing some sort of meeting when suddenly something big happens – Don Dorneiro, a notorious future criminal boss, and two of his subordinates, manage to travel 1000 years in the past along with a prison full of future criminals (it makes more sense in context.)

In the process, four individuals are hurled into the past along with the Don. They encounter a poor schmuck that just happened to be jogging nearby and thanks to some weird circumstances, recruit the guy into their group and become TIMERANGEEEEEER!!. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous, but nothing in this world happens by chance – destiny plays a large part in how the characters develop.

You see, that’s the theme of Timeranger: is destiny locked in place or can it be changed by one’s own actions? There’s a difference of opinion between the guys from the future and the guy from the past (who happens to be the Red ranger of this season), and that shapes a lot of interpersonal conflicts. Unfortunately some characters are developed better than others and that leads me to want more development out of TimeGreen or TimeBlue.

We also get a very strong willed female lead in Time Pink, who is effectively the leader of the group (Red still leads in battle and is a major force in the way the Timerangers fight, but he does not call all the shots.) This season’s red is a careful balance between the hot blooded idiots of other seasons and the stoic serious reds of others.

Like some other seasons the main villains are not as overtly evil as other Super Sentai villains, but they are still evil enough. And people die in this series. Civilan deaths are mostly implied but do happen instead of other seasons that gloss over them. Most of the characters, friend of foe, have their own stories to tell and their own personal pains. Also, enemies of the week are not completely destroyed when defeated in their giant forms: their giant forms are actually a consequence of their method of incarceration backfiring: a method of cryogenic stasis ala Demolition Man that leads to super inflation once you take off a special sticker that controls the process.

Timeranger is one of the earlier series to use CG, notably during the transformation sequence. At first glance this is done in a way that it isn’t noticeable, but careful viewers will be able to see the difference. The mecha transformations are made way more simple here, with two robots and a limited range of transformations.

Despite its relative seriousness, Timeranger still has the occasional silly episode, including a trippy episode that pits our heroes in different genres like westerns or samurai or whatnot. It still ends up being one of the ‘darker’ seasons of Super Sentai, and an enjoyable way to start the decade. The intensity of the last 10 or so episodes is well worth the price of watching the show.

A little postscript: the opening song, Jiku, is my single most favorite Super Sentai Opening ever.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Super Sentai Roundup – Action, Perfect and Industrial Revolution!

Ever since watching Jetman in 2008 I’ve watched a good number of new Tokusatsu Shows, Supaidaman being one of them. From the earliest ancestor of the Super Sentai series, I’m going to discuss two series that just aired within the past decade.
As the 2000s rolled by, Super Sentai underwent a lot of changes. Plots veered towards more family friendly fare owing to the changed timeslot (Sunday mornings as opposed to primetime) with the occasional serious storyline propping up at times. Competition from other morning shows, like for example Pokemon, challenged the status of tokusatsu shows. The Superhero Time programming block was then started on TV Asahi, consisting of a Kamen Rider series and a Super Sentai series.
While the plots and characterization changed, the things I loved about the franchise were still there: giant robots, random explosions out of nowhere and episodes that make you wonder what the writers were smoking on that particular day.
Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger
Dekaranger is the 2004-2005 Super Sentai series with a police motif. Similar to Timeranger (of course, without the time concept) it involves capturing and/or arresting criminals… FROM SPACE! It also has a talking dog as a commander. No shit. No one even makes the effort to make the mouth opening match the voice, but who cares? As the show goes on you realize it doesn’t really matter, as this particular character (Doggie Kruger) kicks major ass.
Banban (or just Ban) Akaza is a rookie cop who gets transferred to the SPD (Special Police Dekaranger) branch on earth. He is reckless and tends to wreak some collateral damage in the process of catching some bad guys. He is then joined by four other people and they go out and fight crime… Space Crime that is.
One notable difference in Dekaranger is that the bad guys are not under one big evil organization like (for example) the Tube Empire in Maskman or the Machine Empire thingy in Bioman. Instead, criminals come and go, supported by this bat guy named Abrella who is more of a supporter than an actual scary bad guy (at least until the last few eps.) One’s mileage may vary on how effective this turns out to be. Another is that the giant forms of the monsters of the week are different; they do not increase in size, instead they are given machines by Abrella to pilot, kinda like Bioman.
Our heroes are joined later on by the requisite 6th ranger (and a seventh and tentative eighth) who fight crime along with them. Each new person has their own set of special powers and tends to make things more interesting and drive the plot forward. The Dekarangers themselves get a special upgrade courtesy of a SWAT/Special Forces like training episode.
Character wise the Dekarangers are pretty decently characterized, but honestly there was no one in the series that was really as notable as they should have been (other than maybe Doggie, and for all the right reasons). There’s a backstory and character episodes for everyone so everyone gets their share of the spotlight. The actors are pretty decent, with most of them getting bigger roles in movies or doramas or as voice actresses in anime.
There are various references to pop culture, like that one episode where a criminal named Tyler tries to open an illegal “fighting club.” Sound familiar? There are even a few noir-ish episodes that people may appreciate.
Anyway, Dekaranger is a fun series of the 2000-2010 decade. While not the best, it holds up quite well and is a fun watch.
Engine Sentai Go-Onger
The title for this series weirded me out when I first saw it. It came of the heels of an awesome season (Gekiranger) which had awesome chopsocky martial arts and shit. This one was about fighting pollution and racing. Er… WTF? Don’t cars make a lot of pollution in the first place?
Anyway, while trying to wrap my head around that one, the story. Our world is part of eleven dimensions/universes that look like membranes in space time. Gaiark, our evil organization for this series, consists of a bunch of nincompoops who want to pollute the earth or something like that. I guess they want to rule the earth too, after all the polluting is done.
Go-onger is a comedy series, much like Carranger was in the nineties. The villains are mostly harmless other than the occasional act of evil and pose little threat in most episodes. But as a comedy series, the plot kinda drags during the first third of the series. Other than a few episodes the plot meandered during this part, and it’s easy to see how the show could lose its viewership early on.
As the show moves into the halfway mark however, the introduction of the Go-on Wings and some new enemies that are a little more threatening give the show some quality moments (but still in the background of a comedy show.) This is where the show finally gets off the ground.
The characters are characterized well enough, but some of them get the short end of the stick (I’m trying to remember from having seen this last year, but all I can remember is Saki’s evil sister for some reason.) That’s kinda sad considering how serious episodes could at least have been replaced by character centric ones.
This is kinda sad considering they had good talent for this one. Most of the people in Go-Onger had been in doramas before, and the rookies were at least decent actors. Notable is former AV actress Nao Oikawa, who I would not have noticed if not for the fact that I saw one of her movies before and you just can’t forget something like that. Hehe.
The main draw here is the mecha and the insane number of combinations you can make from switching parts and putting them in different configurations. The toymakers for this season probably went crazy designing all of this stuff. With 12 engines you can make a lot of stuff happen.
Go-Onger is an average season that took too long to start up its engine so to speak. It’s sandwiched between two really great seasons and in terms of the 2000-2010 seasons it suffers a bit in comparison.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

back from the dead

time to shift gears (er, from parking?) and write some new stuff. It's almost been a year hasn't it? Oh well.