This past weekend, for me, has been a shining example of why I love Japanese tokusatsu super hero shows. If you’re new to reading me, “tokusatsu” is Japanese for “special effects.” This generally applies to the genre of live-action monster movies (example: the Godzilla franchise) and super hero shows (example: the Super Sentai franchise, where Power Rangers comes from). This weekend in particular, I finished two series I’ve been following for a while and have thoroughly enjoyed: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and Kamen Rider Black.
This weekend saw the end of the then-current 35th Super Sentai series - Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger (Pirate Task Force Gokaiger). The theme of the show is two-fold. One, it’s pirates, and who can’t get behind a team of pirate super heroes. Two, and more importantly, it’s an anniversary series. The Gokaiger team has the ability to transform into past rangers, and most episodes focus on a specific past team. The series even opens with every ranger of the previous 34 series fighting an army of bad guys. Point of reference, Power Rangers didn’t come about until the 16th Super Sentai series, so imagine basically doubling every power ranger ever.
The series isn’t terribly deep or complex. This pirate team brought together by their captain/red ranger Captain Marvelous (love the names) fight against the galactic, evil Zangyack Empire in the unconquered backwaters of the universe (meaning Earth). A year earlier, all 34 previous Sentai teams spent all their powers to drive back the Zangyack Empire from Earth, and now they’ve returned just as the Gokaiger team is on Earth looking for the Universe’s Greatest Treasures. Their journeys have lead them to the powers of their predecessors, and through actually meeting them on Earth, they gain more powerful abilities and a greater understanding of what it is to be a Super Sentai.
The series doesn’t necessarily require prior knowledge of any of the past shows. It’s made mostly for young kids who couldn’t have seen shows from the ’80s or ’90s, but their parents and a certain nostalgia market would. A superficial familiarity will suffice (see: Wikipedia).
The characters are all fun and generally light-hearted, which surprisingly hides a fairly dark past for most of them. Gai/GokaiSilver seems to be a fan favorite because he is the audience. He’s the Super Sentai fanboy who always wanted to be one of his heroes, and suddenly he is. Along side a team that originally doesn’t care about being heroes.
The reason to like this isn’t a hard one to grasp. It’s a tribute to the past, one that any fan of a previous series can enjoy. The characters are cool. The action is incredibly well done. It’s just an overall fun show to watch as it ramps up all the way throughout it’s explosive and exciting ending.
I also finished the series Kamen Rider Black this weekend. It is the 8th Kamen Rider series, running between 1987-1988, and I’ve been following it on and off for about three years. The story is of a young man named Kotaro Minami who is abducted with his surrogate brother on their 19th birthday by an evil cult called Golgom. Golgom plan on using these two to fulfill a prophesy by becoming mystic cyborgs and fight for the right to be their new leader and control their armies of animal mutants to wipe out humanity and rule the world. Something goes wrong in the brainwashing phase, and Kotaro breaks free and spends 51 episodes using the abilities Golgom gives him to fight against them and protect humanity as Kamen Rider Black.
It’s pretty episodic and formulaic (it is a kid’s show, after all), with most episodes featuring some kid stumbling upon a Golgom plot and Kotaro/Kamen Rider Black then stumbling upon the kid and having to take down Golgom’s latest anime mutant and teach the kid a life lesson at the same time. It also shows its age, with 80s style everywhere and heavily reused stock effects and footage. Once you’ve seen Kamen Rider Black do a Rider Punch and Rider Kick once, you’ve seen how it’s done throughout the entire show.
Where the show excels is in the acting of Tetsuo Kurata, who portrays Kotaro/Kamen Rider Black. Kurata does an amazing job conveying his emotions to the audience. Sure, those emotions are usually limited to worried desperation and serious responsibility, but he does it so well. Most of Golgom’s plots are either silly or absurd, but how Kotaro takes them seriously makes the audience take them seriously. The camaraderie and respect Kotaro feels for his few allies, especially his semi-sentient motorcycle Battle Hopper, are so genuine that the audience shares them. While his villains are often comical, his struggle feels so real that the audience believes it.
This is a guy who loses most of this family and is later forced to fight the one person he is closest with in the whole world, and the conflicting senses of sorrow and duty add a character depth that gives this children’s action drama some meat. The last ten episodes alone are just a great roller coaster ride leading up to the final climatic battle and emotional finish.
Plus aside from the aforementioned stock effects, the actual action and combat are often captivating. If you’re a fan of super hero action and tons of emotional melodrama, and you can sit through repetitive plot lines, then Kamen Rider Black is a great series to pick up. One of my favorite Rider series, if not THE favorite.
That’s my tokusatsu fandom for the weekend. What have you been into lately?