Tokusatsu Big Bang

Hello everyone, I hope you’re enjoying your weekend. If you live in the United States, I hope you’ll get to see an excellent fireworks show tonight!

In lieu of a formal review this week, I thought it might be nice to plug a project I participated in recently, called the “tokusatsu big bang”. What that means, is that a group of writers agree to cover a specific series of topics, in this case the video genre of tokusatsu, and then a group of artists selects which story they’d like to make an accompanying non-written piece for. When the writer and artist are finished, they post both parts on the same day, for everyone to partake.

All of the stories are linked at tokubigbang.dreamwidth.org, and cover recent series of Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and Garo.

Please enjoy!

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

I generally try to stick to live-action series for this column, but when there’s an animated series that’s based on a tokusatsu franchise, it’s only fitting to make an exception.

This week, I’m revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin. Now that the series has ended (although I think I saw something about more coming later), I feel like we have a much better picture of what Yasuko Kobayashi-sensei was trying to do.

Honoo_no_Kokuin

Right up front, I of course have to acknowledge how different animation and live-action are. There are things that can be done in one format and not the other, and vice versa. As I mentioned in the “first look”, Honoo no Kokuin started out with a much bigger cast than we’ve typically seen in previous offerings. It did get whittled down as the story progressed, but there’s no denying that it contributed to a lot of the elements that typically show up in Garo falling by the wayside until that happened. Even when they did surface, they weren’t explained very well, as if the audience would already be familiar with how things work. One thing that she did well, though, was the telling of Leon’s arc. Being the title holder of Garo for most of the series, and despite seeing other characters’ threads while they were all walking separate paths, the story truly remained primarily about him.

Secondly, the cinematography was also very different, in this case especially noticeable through the lighting filters. The live-action offerings are far more muted than can really be accomplished through this style of animation. In order to help convey Leon’s journey, they had to show audience a more vibrant environment for him to discover himself and his needs. In this comparison, the fight scenes were really the only elements that aligned with a typical Garo story – even though much of the early fights in the live-action were done with suit actors, they began to animate them on the computer after a while. Oddly, it was as jarring going from animation to animation as it was going from live-action to animation (think of something like Initial D, for a good idea of the distinction). That being said, expecting that leap actually helped bring it back into focus.

All things considered, fans of the main Garo franchise will probably not like this series much, unless they have the patience to sit through the first half. It is far more recognizable after that, but the plot depends on that first half to form a basis of understanding for how it reaches the climactic ending. People coming in to Garo through the anime will hopefully be able to grasp the various live-action series without having much of an explanation as to why things are the way they are in this world. It certainly doesn’t help that it takes place in an alternate universe.

Rating: 3rd Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and Kamen Rider Drive: Haru-yasumi Gattai Special

Last weekend, we saw the second occurrence of a special event that was started between Super Sentai and Kamen Rider last year – the “haru-yasumi gattai special” (roughly translated as “spring break combination special”), a full hour of programming featuring characters from both series, and spanning the duration of the regularly scheduled Sunday morning time slot. Interactions between the two franchises have generally been limited to movies, which are typically alternate universes to either story, and even that has only begun to happen relatively recently through the “Super Hero Taisen” movie series. Last year brought us Ressha Sentai ToQger vs Kamen Rider Gaim, as a way to break up the growing tension in Gaim and show what would happen if the two groups had any influence over each other. Among the English-speaking adult audience, it was largely viewed as disruptive and a major distraction from each series’ main story.

krdriveninnin

Nagi, Kasumi, Takaharu, Shinnosuke, Yakumo, Fuuka, and Go

So imagine the surprise when a second iteration was announced, this time for Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and Kamen Rider Drive, specifically to serve as a tie-in to the “Super Hero Taisen Grand Prix” movie. It was entertaining to watch the very science-oriented Shinnosuke Tomari and the rest of the Special Investigation team try to wrap their heads around the mythology-focused ninjas, especially when they continually escaped incarceration. It’s also always nice to have side-by-side transformation sequences and roll calls. Unfortunately the combination didn’t entirely come off as smoothly as the train pulling into the local station last year, though. We also had a rehashing of the gag from last year when the antagonists are in a tall building and someone sees the sentai team’s giant robot go past the window, and someone else in the shot (who happens to be facing away from it) refuses to believe them. The episode-specific monster was probably the most interesting part.

We may have witnessed the creation of a new type of episode, and I’m not entirely sold on whether that’s a good thing. While it allows for some in-series alternatives, it also removes a week from both shows, causing them to be forced to tell their full arcs over a shorter period of time. It’ll be interesting to see where Toei goes with this as they continue to move forward.

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Ressha Sentai ToQger

Twice a year, the main tokusatsu (special effects filming) franchises conclude one story, and prepare to start the next one – Kamen Rider in the fall, and Super Sentai in the winter. Last week marked the passing of the baton from Ressha Sentai ToQger to Shuriken Sentai Ninninger.

TOQ08-1002

Tokusatsu series (both riders and sentai) generally have two main themes – a physical theme and an emotional theme, in ToQger’s case these being trains and the railroad, and the power of imagination. The biggest gimmick at the outset last year was that the five team members weren’t being referred to by their colors, like previous teams had been. Each of them had a numerical designation, and once transformed, they were able to change colors among themselves. It was actually pretty entertaining, because various members were caught by surprise from it. The most prominent rule governing the ToQger world was that items worked the way characters thought they did – if they could imagine it, that made the item’s behavior reality. The various trains combined to form a giant robot because ToQ-1 though that was something they should be able to do, and he figured out how to use the mid-season power up by imagining it as well.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, most tokusatsu falls into the category of “these are stories which are designed to sell toys” (sort of like Pokemon, if that helps). With every new physical theme, there comes a whole new set of transformation devices, play weapons, figurines, and other associated items. Most people will say that a show’s success actually depends on how well these toys sell, and they’re not wrong. Frankly speaking, ToQger has some fun toys. ToQ-1 through 5 transform using a wrist brace that actual train car pieces slide into, and since there’s potential to transfer colors, the brace was programmed to remember which one you put in first. There’s even a deluxe box that comes with all five colors of trains, and they assemble to make the robot… but they also all fit into the brace (the basic box usually only comes pre-packaged with the red piece for any team you’re looking at). Also, they’re trains, for goodness sake.

That’s not to say the show isn’t also important, though. The progression of any particular story can usually be anticipated by looking at who the head writer is. The head writer for ToQger was Yasuko Kobayashi, who also wrote for Tokumei Sentai GoBusters, Kamen Rider OOO, Kamen Rider Den-O, and Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (she’s also done some work with Garo, including Honoo no Kokuin, but that’s a different article). Except for GoBusters, which was a darker story the whole way through, her work tends to start out on the light side, and then part way through start to drop some seriously heavy ideas on everyone, eventually ending on a heart-wrenching note in the finale. She did not fail to deliver this time around.

ToQger will not likely be adapted for western audiences for various reasons, not least of which being ToQ-1 transferring to pink, but I think that’s okay. GoBusters wasn’t adapted either, and when they looked at Shinkenger, they made a pretty close copy of the source story (from what I understand… sadly, I haven’t watched that version yet). We’re a few hours away from the premiere of Ninninger, so the only thing to do is keep looking forward.

This series may not necessarily be the best one to come into the franchise on, although your mileage may vary. Even if you watch something else first, I definitely recommend coming back to it.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

A First Look at “Garo: Honoo no Kokuin”

Having now watched the first episode of the Garo anime (sub-titled “Honoo no Kokuin)… and being a fan of the tokusatsu franchise it was birthed from, and knowing that some fans of the franchise aren’t liking the anime, I’d like to make a few observations.

1) This is a story they probably wouldn’t tell in the live-action format – and not because of the required cinematography or effects, as we know they have a pretty darn good animation department all on their own… no, just based on the story itself. it feels like they took a little bit of “Yami o Terasu Mono” and dialed it up a few notches, although it remains to be seen how long it will take Garo and Zoro to redeem their reputation

2) All of the characters have western names, and the setting feels very medieval – where the toku franchise took place in some far-secluded mystical part of Japan, this series very much does not. I don’t know how it ties in to the rest of canon, and I doubt they’ll bother to explain how the armor manages to get from point A to point B (sort of like how we still don’t know how it went from the Saejimas to Ryuuga either). We also haven’t seen Zaruba yet, so there’s no way of telling at this point what he’ll be able to do to pull it all together

3) it has a bigger regular cast – another possible reason for them to tell the story by animation

I’ll probably keep watching simply because I’m a completionist, and I do see potential for it to fall into the regular Garo tropes… I don’t mind waiting to see what lies ahead.

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Cruising with Zipcon, Miyazaki’s Issues with Anime, Danball Senki, Kikader, and Twitch plays Pokemon

The crew is joined by Eric Murray who comes with coverage of the first Zipcon. They then look at the new reboot of the classic Tokusatsu Kikaider. Moving forward they look at the news that Dentsu USA has partnered with Nicktoons to bring LBX (Danball Senki) to the United States. With that they talk about Hayao Miyazaki’s comments that the problem with the anime industry is that it is full of Otaku Wrapping things up we drive past “Twitch Plays Pokémon” and discuss the wonders of it.

Read more

Samurai Flamenco

When I first sat down and watched Samurai Flamenco it was because we talked about the music on this site. I typically avoid the “must see” anime from my friends for fear of another “Tiger and Bunny,” “Gokaiger,” or “Naruto.” What I mean by those, all of which are incredible shows, is the fans of those shows are extreme to the point it ruins the experience of the show for a casual watcher.
To a causal western viewer with limited knowledge of the Japanese entertainment industry and idols, part of Masayoshi’s (main character) career and fandoms may be a bit perplexing. Looking at this show from the view of someone who is familiar with the culture, this show is an amazing ride. Someone who does not have the cultural context of the children’s tokusatu television, idols (and the related culture), Japanese entertainment news, and variety television this show can come across as a bit shallow or lack luster.
Samurai Flamenco is deeply entrenched in Japanese culture. So much so that its charm is how rooted it is in the culture.
My first impression of the show was a “this is cute” with a serious touch of the “boy love” between the main characters, Masayoshi and Hidenori. The show then becomes a slow transformation of the Masayoshi into a mostly self confident Japanese celebrity and super hero.

The story to date:
* Boy is a super hero fan
* Boy is trying to be a model and using his model money to become a super hero
* Boy makes reputation as super hero and gets help from others
* Boy builds confidence and becomes better model and becomes famous
* Boy meets idol girls who create a “magical girl” team to fight evil
* Boy saves the Japan.
* Boy becomes a part of super hero team.
* Boy saves world
* Boy becomes criminal by corrupt government officials.

OK, that is incredibly over simplification of the shows plot, but that is what you are getting when you remove the cultural references from the show. The show is a collection of tropes creatively put together using a shared cultural knowledge as the glue binding it together.
As an avid comic book reader of the 1980’s I have recognize that this show is a collection of traditional western comic book tropes as well as Japanese Tokusatsu ones. In many ways I am reminded of Spiderman of that era, continuously thrown into every Marvel property with little to no reason or purpose other than to be there. You can look at Transformers #3 as perfect example Spiderman just plopped into a story for no real reason. The same could be said for Samurai Flamenco and the Sentai* he was thrust into. The main character is picked up and thrown into a secret organization for no reason other than “it was there.” While it is an amazing concept, the lead up is blunt and awkward. While the organization that the sentai is associated with seems to come out of nowhere, an astute watcher can creatively fill in the blanks from the disappearances of a key character for various reasons throughout the first 10 episodes.
As the series progresses, the level of absurdity does as well. Just as the ever increasing graphic violence in Gantz becomes acceptable over the course of the manga and show, the similar occurs with the absurdity in Samurai Flamenco. As the show progresses the world of comic book and children’s television super heroes and super vilians become more integrated and real to the characters and the viewer. By the 13th episode the sentai seems normal and reasonable where as in episodes 1 through 7 would be completely unrealistic and would turn viewers away.
In the end I would not be terrifically surprised, if like the opening credits from episode 1-13 show, that the entire series was Masayoshi’s dream and ends with him waking up in the hospital.
The art style of Samurai Flamenco is a crisp and stays true to its tokusatsu designs. The story is fun. The music is increidble.
Check it out on Hulu or Crunchyroll.

*Sentai translates into squadron, team, battalion

A Look at Setsucon, Gaim, Power Rangers, and More

The cast looks back at Setsucon 2014. Then discuss the upcoming skipping of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters for Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger as Power Rangers Dino Charge. Finally they do a recap of the current status of Kamen Rider Gaim and then talk about D-Boys/D2.

References:
Setsucon
Gearbox Union
Drink’n Boys
Official Kamen Rider Gaim
TV Asahi Official Gaim
D2 Official Website
TV Asahi Official ToQger
Toei Official Toqger
Sabotage as covered by Japanese Idol Dempagumi.inc