Thursday, March 01, 2012

Super Sentai Roundup – Let’s Make This Showy as F**k

This is going to be a long one.
Le Prologue
I mentioned before in my writeup on Jetman that I’ve been watching this stuff for a long time now. Bioman and Shaider were my first tokusatsu shows, Ultraman and Fireman (Magmaman) shortly after. The ball has kept on rolling from there. I can recall numerous afternoons with cousins deciding who should be Red One, Green Two, etc. I can recall instances where I played with the only Super Sentai/Power Ranger merchandise I had – a non transformable Megazord and a small replica of the BioJets.
So you see, nostalgia is a huge factor in why I watch these things. The idea of being a kid at heart and loving the shows that one has watched in one’s youth appeals to me personally. Add that to shit randomly exploding, ridiculous situations, spontaneous cosplay and dudes in suits fighting over small scale replicas of cities and you have the complete package.
I caught up to the Super Sentai franchise after a long period of not watching any tokusatsu by watching a special feature on Super Sentai History – released for the 30th anniversary of the franchise, the 30 minute feature basically enumerated all 30 Super Sentai teams from Goranger (a Shintaro Ishinomori innovation, providing a spiritual link between Kamen Rider from the very start) to Boukenger, the current season (at the time). It was a fun program and it showed me that the shows I had watched as a child were only a small part of a much larger franchise that at the time had gone on uninterrupted for thirty years.
At around the same time, a few years ago I learned of the Super Sentai vs. series. Basically that year’s team would team up with last year’s time and kick ass together. They were in themselves an enjoyable addition to the season itself. During certain seasons, like the 25th and 30th anniversaries for Super Sentai, there would be something extra special – the team from that particular season (Gaoranger and Boukenger respectively,) would team up with selected individuals from past series. Most notably, Big One from J.A.K.Q., the second overall Sentai series guest starred in the 25th anniversary.
That fucking blew my mind back then. How awesome would it be, I imagined, if somehow they would gather everyone up and fought like this super hard enemy? It was a dream, I thought. It would never come true.
Well shit, I was wrong.
A Bunch of Hearty Pirates
Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is the 35th anniversary series of the Super Sentai franchise. Somehow, somewhere, in the planning stages of this series, some inspired fellow probably thought of the same things as I did. Surprisingly, the fellows at the top agreed. And the final product is one concentrated mass of pure AWESOME. Seriously, give that man a medal, a new car, a new house and several Nobel prizes in the field of awesomeness. Jetman may have been a modern classic, and it may still be one of the best Super Sentai series ever, but this one? It might just be the MOST AWESOME SEASON EVER.
Basically the story is this: ALL previous 34 Super Sentai teams exist in the same universe. A few years back this badass space empire, Zangyack, decided to invade the hell out of Earth. This empire is no pushover – no one in history has been able to beat them, and all the planets they’ve invaded have ended up destroyed or occupied. In response, all the Super Sentai teams from Goranger to Goseiger (last year’s season) fight the armies of Zangyack. ALL OF THEM.

Just look at it. LOOK AT IT.
Let that sink in for a while. YES, IT IS AS AWESOME AS IT SOUNDS. The first episode basically explodes this battle in your face. The sheer logistics is staggering. 180+ people in spandex + around 50 more people in monster suits just beating the shit out of each other.
Anyway, Zangyack proves too much even for the combined might of our heroes, until the leader (Goranger’s Akaranger) decides to do this combined spirit attack that finally wipes out the fleet for good. Unfortunately this also means that in exchange, all of the powers of the Super Sentai teams are sacrificed for this final attack, leading them to be scattered into space.
This all happens in the first two minutes of the first episode. And I was like HOLY SHIT I CAME IN MY PANTS.
Later a bunch of space pirates arrive on Earth. They’ve collected most of the scattered powers (manifested as Ranger keys) and are looking to acquire the greatest treasure in the universe, something that can only be attained by collecting all the powers. Cue toymakers shitting bricks from the sales figures.
Our intrepid heroes are just a bunch of pirates with no stake whatsoever on earth: they just want their booty. But as they collect more powers they realize that this little backwater planet may be truly worth saving after all.
A Blast from the Past
The story is constructed in a way where episodes highlighting the growth of individual characters are mixed with Tribute Episodes. Basically during tribute episodes they gang meets with a member of a past Sentai Team and they teach them something that increases their powers. Again, let that sink in for a moment. Again, these episodes are AS AWESOME AS THEY SOUND.
The logistics of getting at least one member per past Sentai Team (in some cases, up to three) and SUCCEEDING AT IT just blows my fucking mind. Our Super Sentai alumnae can still kick ass even in old age, and even out of costume. The awesomeness was so much that sometimes writers for the original series wrote for the tribute episodes, thus making some of them wholehearted, well referenced tributes to those original series. Watch the Dairanger and Jetman tributes for example. You WILL shed manly tears if you know these series.
That’s why this series succeeds so fucking much. Nostalgia is a great factor in how people like me view Super Sentai, and watching a series like this makes that nostalgia, well, come in its figurative pants. It succeeds in so many levels as well. To the beginner it is a good entrypoint into Super Sentai as a whole. A casual viewer might be blown away by the sheer idea of so many teams coming back together. And a hardcore fan of the franchise will be blown away at the sheer complexity and consistency of the series’ internal continuity.

What continuity, you may ask? Certain things that you pick up watching the individual seasons and movies and vs. specials show up in Gokaiger. Several villains that appeared during the vs. movies and the series have successors that appear in Tribute Episodes. Take the Timeranger tribute: while it is explained well during the episode, one who has watched Timeranger will basically squeal with fanboy delight seeing the reenacted transformation sequence and fight scene set to THE ORIGINAL THEME MUSIC, as well as the episode’s epilogue of sorts for one of the characters. Gokaiger not only keeps an orderly continuity for itself, it ties up loose ends from other preceeding series and movies.
Some may just have brief cameos. Some, like the Hurricaneger tribute, have a full fledged vs movie over the course of two episodes. Pirates vs. Ninjas! But those cameos are well worth the price of admission.
As for the cast, this is one of my favorite bunch of characters in Super Sentai. With the unfortunate exception of this season’s Sixth Ranger, all of the pirates in Gokaiger are developed very well. Each one has a backstory, a motivation, hopes and dreams and each of them grows as a character as the story goes on. Add that to the fact that a good number of these guys are new to acting and that makes it more amazing. Kudos goes to the main cast for playing characters I can invest myself emotionally in, something that you don’t see that often in recent series. With all that pressure, being the anniversary series and all, the main actors and actresses have proven themselves over the past year.
The mecha are given more CGI treatment than usual, making some battles more frantic and acrobatic. Add that to the fact that most Special Powers give the Gokaigers’ mecha more addons and special abilities and you see that it pays off in spades. Again, toy manufacturers somewhere may be having a party over this awesome shit.
While the enemies are sometimes bumbly or comical, Zangyack is an enemy you do not want to mess with. Throughout the series there is this sense of dread that one feels. One feels that this is a war, and all the odds are against our heroes, and the end may not be a happy one for everyone. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt since previous, darker Super Sentai series of the late eighties, and Jetman, which I still hold in high regard.
The various movies and specials arealso sweet additions to the already epic cake of awesomeness. The movie, 199 Hero Battle, is the Goseiger vs. Gokaiger movie. It is exactly as it sounds in the title as well, as 199 heroes appear in this series. Then, this January, a crossover movie was made between Super Sentai and the Metal Heroes series (which included Shaider) – Gokaiger vs. Gavan. If that wasn’t epic enough, the upcoming summer movie crosses over Super Sentai with the Kamen Rider series, which has its 40th anniversary this year.
In summary, this series is one continuous infusion of awesome from start to finish. Very highly recommended. Quite simply the best season ever.
And yeah, I just had to include pics of Mao Ichimichi and Yui Koike in there. Just because.
(To understand most of what was going on, I watched the following in order. Not necessary, but it helps with the overall enjoyment of the series)
All of Gekiranger
The Gekiranger vs. Boukenger Movie
All of Shinkenger
Gokaiger episode 1-16
199 Hero Climactic Battle
Gokaiger episode 17-39
Goseiger vs. Shinkenger
Gokaiger episode 40-51

Super Sentai Roundup – Onward, Samurai

After an OK season with Go-Onger, the folks over at Toei decided to make a Samurai themed Super Sentai series. With at least two series based on ninjas, it makes you wonder how they could have passed over the concept.

Thankfully, it works really well, and thanks in part to the writing skills of Yasuko Kobayashi and the excellent cast, Shinkenger is the best Super Sentai season of the first decade of the millennium, and one in my personal top five. This show is so full of awesome moments that it is totally a season worth watching.

The main plot is: the Shiba Clan has been protecting the world against an evil monster named Chimatsuri Dokoku for 18 generations. The last time Dokoku invaded, it was a total asskicking on the humans’ side: the Shiba Clan were decimated, the former Shinkengers (composed of the 17th head and his retainers) were severely injured or killed, and the world is saved at the last minute thanks to the special ability of the clan, sealing the enemy in the Sanzu river. The current 18th head of the clan is Takeru Shiba, who (in contrast to Red warriors of recent seasons) is level headed and stoic. He then summons four of his retainers as Dokoku slowly begins to revive.

I found the characterization of Takeru to be very refreshing. There haven’t been a lot of Reds like this in a long time (if at all) and Tori Matsuzaka does a very good job doing his thing. In fact, this season has a great range of characters that grow as the series goes on. This season has one of the best casts in recent memory, and it shows.

One very notable thing is that the last arc changes EVERYTHING. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you finish Shinkenger and watch it again after seeing the last 10 episodes, certain character nuances make sense in a different way than original. This is genius, as it adds replay value to the series. Imagine that!

There are various references to jidaigeki films (Zatoichi, Mito Komon, etc.) that you can see. Even if you’re just a casual fan and know nothing, it is still impressively cool seeing it. The series is structured like a long play that you would probably see in some Japanese traditional production or something, with each episode being one chapter or act in a play.

The mecha are decent with a number of transformations, though not as much as last season. The final form is so ridiculously bulky that it doesn’t walk – it rolls around the ground.

Anyways, watch it.