Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ressha Sentai ToQger Episode 3 Review: Kagura is Disembarking???

Hello everyone! Thomas Ledbetter aka The Toku Buster here! At the time of this post, I would like to apologize for the lack of reviews and content from me the past two weeks seeing how my computer went through some major technical difficulties. But nevertheless, to make up for it, I will be posting reviews of episodes 3, 4, and 5 of Tokkyuger the weekend of the time of this post. But anyways, with episode three, this episode didn't have as many "fun" or "silly" moments compared to episodes 1 and 2, but that is because this episode focused mainly on development for Kagura, and I enjoyed the episode overall.

For this review however, instead of talking about what I did and didn't like, I'm going to try to go in chronological order and talk about the events in the episodes one after another and see how that works out.

In the cold open for the episode, the Conductor and Ticket give a little more development as to Hikari's theory of not only why the Tokkyugers are the Tokkyugers, but also of that they were originally part of a town that was consumed by darkness. It is then explained by the Conductor that because of their imagination, they were almost in a sense "rejected" by the darkened town and transported onto the Rainbow Line, which I actually think is a really interesting idea to think and ponder about.

We then learn that getting on the Rainbow Line is probably the reason the Tokkyugers lost their memories of their town and so forth, and that if they "disembark", they may get their memories back. All of them are set on not disembarking except for Kagura, as she is curious to see to know what her hometown was like and of her family, which I hope will definitely be a big theme that Tokkyuger will explore, because it's a very deep and interesting one at that. And with this thought that Kagura has, she accidentally leaves the train because while at one of the stations, she sees a sign that says "Return to your town" and tries to look closer at it.

And who is to show up at the station Kagura was left at? The Shadow Line, of course! Specifically we have the Chain Shadow, who is actually a pretty cool yet creepy monster-of-the-week. His design is actually pretty inventive with one of his arms being a broken chain, and the voice actor gives him a very intimating and creepy tone, especially with the little song he sings whenever he is dragging his coffin.

Then we of course get to see Kagura kick some footsoldier butts being badass as always. Once again, I love how much the Imagination Power is tied into the right scenes, especially with Kagura and her style of fighting. Despite her awesome fighting skills though, she is inevitably captured by the Chain Shadow.

We then get to see the hideout of the Shadow Line with the main 4 villains as always. There is a bit of foreshadowing of some conflict between Madame Noir and Baron Nero, but the main focus it seems is on Miss Greeta's affection for General Schwarz, which is another interesting idea when it comes to the villains.

When the Tokkyugers then realize that they not only left Kagura back at the last station, but that said station was corrupted by the Shadow Line, they make a special trip back in order to save her. However, through being in the coffin with some other children that are captured, Kagura realizes how much she truly wants to be a Tokkyuger and save those kids. This leads up to her going full-on 'ULTIMATE GIRL' and punching herself out of the coffin dimension, which is probably one of the most awesome scenes in the series thus far.

Kagura all charged up then tries to take out the monster completely single-handedly, and even if she is somewhat unsuccessful, her fight scenes are really well done and put together, and the choreography and the fight moves are spot-on.

Now I want to talk about my favorite part of all the episode: the childhood flashbacks. The reason I love these pieces so much is because of how much insight it gives into the characters and that each time one of these flashbacks happens. For example, Raito talks about the time that Kagura pretended to be a mermaid and that she almost drowned with him. That shows full well Kagura's personality and that because of her Imagination, she can take the situation too far and potentially get herself and her friends hurt, which is a very interesting development for Kagura and really gives insight into her character as a whole. I also like these scenes because they show bit by bit parts of their childhoods and their memories, which helps develop the plot and story along really nicely.

Once that is over, they kill the Chain Shadow with (fittingly) a giant pair of pink pliers, and then the monster grows and they bring out TokkyuOh and defeat the monster....which then leads to the VERY infamous TokkyuOh joke that everyone and their mother who has watched this episode has made. I actually thought this was too clever on Toei's part seeing how people made jokes on that the toy version of TokkyuOh could do that EXACT THING before the show let alone this episode came out...Now, do I even need to say any more??? THE PICTURE EXPLAINS ITSELF!

So, what did I think of this episode? I thought it was, once again, just as good as 1 and 2. It didn't have as much humor and fun laughs in it (unless you count the unintentional/cleverly intentional TokkyuOh joke), but I thought it was a really good episode that not only developed Kagura as a main character, but that it also developed the main plot and made the story even more interesting. Hey, isn't that the whole point of any show after all? Thus, I will give this episode a solid A!

Next Episode: Development for the last 2 Tokkyugers, Tokatchi and Mio!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ressha Sentai ToQger Episode 2 Review: We Are All Here!

Hello everyone! Thomas Ledbetter aka The Toku Buster here! I am continuing my Tokkyuger episode reviews as planned, and this time we are covering the 2nd episode! I actually thought that this episode wasn't as "fun" or "over-the-top" as the first episode, but overall, I still really enjoyed it.

The biggest difference between episodes 1 and 2 is of the tone and what the episode focuses on. While the first episode definitely focused more on the fun aspect of the show, the second focused on some of the deeper themes and development to come throughout the show. I think that doing it like that actually works in favor of the show because it captures both tones that the show is trying to set out to show. It's like the over-the-top and fun nature of the first episode is what pulled me in to the show's world, and then the 2nd episode dives more into the development now that I'm in "hook, line, and sinker".

Anyways, onto the actual episode, this episode is definitely a big development episode for Hikari, who ironically out of the main four was the only one who DIDN'T get some sort of focus in the first episode. What's interesting about Hikari is that it seems to me that HE is actually the more analytical and logical person of the team instead of 
Tokatti, who seems to me as the "smart one" of the group but seems to be used for more comic relief than for actually being a thinker type of character. This is shown with his questioning of the Tokkyugers being "as good as dead", and that they may not actually be dead but that their memories have just become a lot more hazy because they may have been in a city that was ravaged by the Shadow Line when they were little, which is a pretty interesting idea.

I also like the idea that when the people in the cities that are taken over by the Shadow Line are in despair, dark energy comes out of their bodies. It seems to me that the dark energy will be used in some way for the plans and the arrival of the "Emperor of Darkness" as they are calling him on the Shadow Line.

In this episode, I love the Saber Shadow and the idea of having random civilians engage in duels like the one shown. It's not necessarily a "new" idea since I have seen it in Sentai shows before, but nevertheless I have always liked the idea of people having to turn against others against their will to fight by control of the monster.

We also got to meet Wagon for the first time in this episode, who seems to be pretty fun and cheery so far. She reminds me of both Naomi from Den-O and Colon from Liveman (though why she reminds me of Colon I have no idea. Maybe it's just the android thing, I don't know.). And also, I forgot to touch on this in my episode 1 review, but the Conductor and Ticket are hilarious.

The action in this episode was just as fun and top-notch at the first episode. I really like the TokkyuBlaster attack with the Scope Ressha. The attack looks like a splitting bullet that whenever it hits an enemy, it multiplies into multiple ones and hit the rest of the enemies, which I think is really cool. I also loved the train battle between Raito and Saber Shadow. Even if it was pretty damn CGI heavy, it was pretty edgy and cool for a fight scene. It's like taking a classic train battle from an old western or Indiana Jones movie and then having the trains FLY! It was just pure awesome in my book!

This episode also had some pretty funny moments. My favorite moment in the entire episode is when Saber Shadow raised up his swords not realizing he was going through a tunnel and they broke. Some may say that that was an incompetent thing, but I thought it was hilarious mainly because of how the show isn't meant to be taken TOO seriously (at least not yet), so I can definitely say that this kind of comedy fits well with the show (even if it does have a bit of plot convenience mixed in with it).

I also really liked the battle between Tokkyu-Oh and Saber Shadow too. It was pretty quick, but it reminded me a lot of something out of an old spaghetti western movie and it definitely was cool, especially with the classic move of the "bad guy shoots before they get to five" trick that a lot of old westerns do. But anyway, that's just me reminiscing in a bit of nostalgia. 

Overall, I definitely really liked this episode just like the first. It goes deeper into plot development and characters, but doesn't loose really any of the fun and energy and excitement of the first episode. Thus to match with the first episode, I give this episode a solid A!

Next Episode: More development for Kagura!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ressha Sentai ToQger Episode 1 Review: Time To Board the Imagination Train!

Hello everyone! Thomas Ledbetter aka The Toku Buster here! For the first time ever for any Tokusatsu show that I have watched, I am going to be doing episodic reviews of the newest Sentai series, Ressha Sentai Tokkyuger (or ToQger), every Saturday until the series ends in February 2015! I am really excited to do this because I am anticipating what this show has to offer, especially with the Shinkenger team being back to do another show. So, with that long-winded introduction, what ARE my thoughts on my first episode of Tokkyuger?....I actually liked it even more than I anticipated. Let's break all of this down from the starting gate (Get it? Starting Gate?...God my puns are awful)!

To start off, I really like the Opening for the show. It's REALLY catch and fits the tone of the show well. It got me pumped and ready for the show and it caught me in "hook line and sinker". From the first time I heard it, it made me really giddy to see and hear it, and I just absolutely love it! The opening scene too before the opening really threw me right into the action of what was going on and was really fun to watch.

The first thing that I really liked is how right out of the starting gate, bits of the Tokkyugers personalities are shown, especially in Raito, who I think is one of the most enjoyable Sentai Reds I've seen in a very long time, especially since the last two Reds, Hiromu and Daigo, left a lot to be desired. He definitely made a really good impression on me in that he is a very optimistic and, of course, imaginative red. This is shown tenfold in not only his fighting, but in the flashback scenes near the beginning where he remembers the Tokkyugers as his childhood friends. I really liked that scene since it really established that the Tokkyugers are definitely pretty well-bonded friends and how much affinity they have for each

Tokatti is definitely the more analytical and strategic type of guy, but with his over-thinking and concentration on the little details, he misses some of the bigger details and is sometimes REALLY clumsy, even in battle. This is shown in both battle when he talks to himself and during the flashback when he tries to scientifically explain space and what not. I also really like his unintentional kind of humor, especially with how unexpected and subtle it all is to me. I literally laughed out loud when he stepped out of the train car and fell flat on his face because he didn't pay attention to the warning to "Watch your step" when he got off the train. I also loved the moment when he tried to shoot down the Kuros and he didn't know where they were gonna shoot so he ran off. I think I'm definitely going to enjoy him just about as much as I will Raito.

Mio is definitely the resident bad-ass fighting chick of the Tokkyugers (though Kagura is also like that to an extent, but we'll get to her in a minute). There wasn't as much focus put on her and Hikari, but I definitely like Mio's attitude, with how funny but tough and cool she can be all at the same time. I love the gag where she gets angry at the Kuros for not only trying to sneak attack on her, but for doing it anyways after she told them not to. I just thought that was plain hilarious. 

Out of all the Tokkyugers, Hikari looks like he got the least amount of focus this episode. He seemed definitely like the skilled swordsman type and is a pretty cool fighter, but beyond that, there isn't very much yet to see.

And then there's the Kairiki Girl herself, Kagura....*sigh*, where in the living hell do I begin with her? I ask that not because I don't like her...but I ask that because there is SO DAMN MUCH to talk about her! I think she is actually the most fascinating and interesting out of all of the Tokkyugers so far, mainly in her power in general. Remember when the info was released on her in that her Imagination Power was really great but mostly used in a more negative manner? Well, this episode perfectly illustrates that in the most AWESOME WAY EVER! I love when specifically not once, but twice uses her Imagination Power to gain the strength to defeat the Kuros. I love this not only because it shows off her personality through that fight, but also shows how the Imagination Power works and what it's really capable of at its full potential and power.

We also got to have a little look at the main four villains for the show and the Shadow Line itself. The plot that they are trying to achieve isn't clear yet, but it's definitely hinted at with the appearance of Miss Greeta, who is Madame Noir's daugher, and how the Madame is planning to "prepare a station full of wonderful darkness" for her daughter as she puts it. Also, both Baron Nero and General Schwarz look really cool and badass in the few seconds we get to see them. The atmosphere of the Shadow Line headquarters itself is also really awesome and gives off a really creepy and scary tone, which is just what you expect from an evil lair.

Now to talk about what everyone has been waiting for: The Action Scenes! I thought that they were actually pretty well done overall. For starters, the Henshin Sequence was pretty damn sweet. While it was standard fare for Super Sentai, I thought it was really cool nonetheless. I loved how the suits formed on them and how the Resshas laid out tracks near the helmets that would become the visors, and then having the callout of the Tokkyuger's rollcall from the changer itself was just the cherry on top for me.

I also thought that the weapons were really cool too, the Home Trigger and Tekkyou Claw in particular. The Home Trigger actually freezes the enemies in place before firing, which is pretty cool and makes it a lot easier to shoot at the enemy and be flashy about it. The funniest part of the entire episode though was when Kagura shrunk the footsoldiers with the Tekkyou Claw and had to crush them all like little ants. That moment had me rolling on the floor laughing like it was nobody's business.

I also really like the idea of the Norikae Changes, not just from an action standpoint but also from a character standpoint as well. It's something that Super Sentai has really never done before, and by having the ability to switch suits, it shows that the color of the suits don't necessarily matter and that just because you're in a different doesn't mean the way you fight changes. In doing so, it puts less emphasis on the suits and fighting and tons more emphasis on the people inside those suits, which is what makes the concept all the more interesting and groundbreaking in the first place.

The final attack for the Tokkyugers is really interesting with the Rainbow Rush creating whatever the Tokkyugers imagine to destroy the monster, which as I have mentioned before is a straight homage to the Goranger's final attack, the Goranger Storm/Hurricane in where they did something very similar in that the projectile that hit the enemy formed the one thing that would kill it. In this case, since the Bag Shadow was kidnapping children, he was destroyed by a huge toppling stack of crying Jizo statues....Hmm, interesting poetic justice, eh?

The mecha fight was also pretty awesome too with the Tokkyu-Oh absolutely owning the Bag Shadow's ass in a giant monster fight. The only disappointment of this episode was the Gattai sequence in that it was done with mostly CGI. This is really weird seeing how not only were the trains miniatures and that they could've done the combination with just modified miniatures, but that last year with Kyoryuger (at least in the beginning), the Gattai sequences were done with miniatures, which feels out of place for Kyoryuger but NOT for Tokkyuger. But hey, to each their own.

There is one last thing I would like to talk about in regards to this episode, and that is......

Yep...the Tokkyugers were chosen because they essentially died....while some people may say that this is a really weird and asinine idea, I actually think it's quite interesting to say the least. I don't know how or why this will tie in to the series, but I bet there will be an explanation at some point soon on what this means. I just think it sounds like a new and radical idea that Sentai hasn't gone down before. I just hope all goes well for it.

So, overall, I really liked this episode a lot! It showed some pretty interesting and likable characters, the action was really top-notch, and it laid the foundation and groundwork for what I hope to be a really good show to come in the future. Thus I give the first episode of Tokkyuger a very solid A!

Next Episode: NORIKAE CHANGES GALORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ressha Sentai Tokkyuger (烈車戦隊トッキュウジャー): My Initial Thoughts So Far

Hello Tokusatsu fans one and all! I apologize for my absence on this blog for the past couple of weeks. I was not only studying and getting ready for my Midterms (which at the time of this post are only a few days from now), but I am also catching up on some Tokusatsu and watching many different shows all at once, but I have been meaning to update this blog and get things back up and running at full speed ahead! So, with all of that said, now that there are only 2 weeks left before Kyoryuger is finished, I would like to recap and talk about my thoughts on the news and stuff that has been released so far about the 38th Super Sentai Series set to premiere on February 16th, Ressha Sentai Tokkyuger (烈車戦隊トッキュウジャー)!

Also, before I go into any more on this show, I will NOT call Tokkyuger by its official romanization, "ToQger". In my opinion, I just think that the name just kind of  looks silly and stupid like that. And yes, I know that they have the "Q" in the title not only to match with their insignia on their buckle but because of the "kyu" in Tokkyuger, but I still think it doesn't fit very well. They could have made the romanization into "To9ger" and it would've made just as much sense as this (I hope people get why I said "To9ger")!...Anyways, time to depart for the real show!:
The Tokkyugers, who are said to be childhood friends, with a special force called Imagination Power, protect the Rainbow Line and Earth's peace from the evil forces of the Shadow Line. The Tokkyuger headquarters is on a train and they are accompanied by a man simply known as Conductor, who is the team's commander and who carries a puppet on his hand named Ticket, and an android waitress named Wagon. Personality wise, Raito (TokkyuIchigou) is the energetic and impulsive leader who has the most Imagination Power, Tokatsuchi (TokkyuNigou) is the analytical overthinker, Mio (TokkyuSangou) is the sporty woman and big sister, Hikari (TokkyuYongou) is the skilled soldier but also rebel, and Kagura (TokkyuGogou) is the oddball and overly hyper "kawaii" girl of the group.

The villains of the Tokkyugers are the underground empire, Shadow Line, who like the Tokkyugers, have their headquarters in a train called the Kuliner. The footsoldiers are called Kuros and the members of the group are General Schwartz, Baron Nero, Madame Noire, and Miss Greeta

The Tokkyugers themselves have the power to change their suit colors similar to changing rail cars and can utilize the Rail Slasher (Ichigou), Form Trigger (Nigou), Shingou Hammer (Sangou), Tunnel Axe (Yongou), and Tekkyo Claw (Gogou), which can combine into the Renketsu Bazooka, which when imagining the weak spots and disliked things of the enemy, fires a final attack at the enemy of said weak point.

They can also utilize the TokkyuResshas, which are not only used for their henshin device, but can grow to larger size into the RedRessha, BlueRessha, YellowRessha, GreenRessha, and PinkRessha, which can then combine into the Ressha Gattai Tokkyu-Oh, a giant mecha composed of all 5 trains and piloted by the Tokkyugers themselves.

The show will be produced by Takaaki Utsunomiya and Kei Ishikawa, it will be written by Yasuko Kobayashi, and the director will be Shojiro Nakazawa. The opening theme will be "Ressha Sentai Tokkyuger" by Daiki Ise, and the ending theme will be "ByunByun! Tokkyuger" by Project R.

So, what are my thoughts on all of the stuff for Tokkyuger so far?....I'm actually really really excited for this show. The most important reason is that the Shinkenger team is back to do another Sentai. Lately with Go-Busters and Kyoryuger, the shows have been nothing but lackluster, and since Shinkenger is my favorite Sentai of all time, I hope that these guys can breathe life back into the Sentai franchise as a whole! My only worry is that since Tokkyuger seems like a completely different beast from Shinkenger not only in style but in tone, it may still not work well as a whole, even with the Shinkenger team at the helm this time around. But beyond that, I am excited that the Shinkenger team is back for one more show.

Also, even though at first I HATED the designs of the Tokkyugers, they actually grew on me rather quickly and actually don't seem that bad to me anymore. If they had some more detail, I would probably like them more, but overall, the suit designs aren't half bad. I also think the weapons and Resshas are really cool too (though the weapons definitely resemble the Super Highway Buster weapons from Go-Onger) and that the Renketsu Bazooka creating whatever the Tokkyugers imagine in an attack hearkens all the way back to the original Super Sentai series, Himitsu Sentai Goranger and their final attack, the Goranger Storm, which eventually evolved into the Goranger Hurricane, in where they would kick a soccer ball/football at the monster and it would create whatever the Gorangers imagined out of it to defeat the monster.

I also absolutely adore how they're actually going to be using actual miniatures for the TokkyuResshas instead of using so much CGI, which in terms of Sentai would be a really nice change of pace. I also think the concept of the color changing is interesting and I'm wondering how that will play into the fight scenes and set them apart from all the other Sentai that came before. The design of  Wagon is....weird, but it not only references to Kamen Rider Den-O with the waitress, but also homages Colon from Liveman, which is pretty cool to me. The villain designs are also really cool too, specifically the Kuros, who look like monster versions of train bandits out of an old western movie.

Also, Tokkyu-Oh looks pretty cool as well (at least in the show, but not as much in toy form). I love that they are going back to having separate cockpits for each of the TokkyuResshas and then having them all be in one cockpit for the Tokkyu-Oh. By the way, that combined cockpit for Tokkyu-Oh is BAD-ASS!

The only real bad things I am seeing with Tokkyuger is really in it's tone and the way it is presented. What my biggest fear is is that it will end up going down the same path as Go-Busters and Kyoryuger did and end up making such a upbeat but bland tone that it will end up killing the series from the very beginning. I hope that doesn't happen, especially with the Shinkenger team on board, but it may happen. However, the show hasn't even started airing yet and it could honestly be really really good, even with the more upbeat and light tone. But for all of the Toku fans out there far and wide, only time will tell if that will be the case or not.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Evolution (and utter De-Evolution) of Mainstream Tokusatsu

In honor of Kyoryuger's almost completion and the countdown to Ressha Sentai Tokkyuger, I decided I would talk about something that has been on my mind for a while about the genre of Tokusatsu. After looking through lots of Tokusatsu lately, I have found a bit of a pattern. I have noticed that lately, Super Sentai as a whole has been taking a downhill spiral to less deep character-driven stories and more action and comedy driven stories. Yes, comedy and action is good, especially in Sentai, but I believe it also needs to balance out that comedy and action with relatable and deep character development, and both Super Sentai and Kamen Rider have been lacking that dramatically. Let me give you my best examples:

I'll be using Super Sentai as my example here, but it and Kamen Rider are taking a tumble for the worst. My biggest example of this is Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, the most recently completed Sentai series. This post isn't here to review Go-Busters, but I think what it represents will definitely get across my argument well. The biggest problem I had with Go-Busters is not only that its characters were very bland and one-note and really didn't have any big defining character arcs beyond "my parents are dead", but that it relied too much on it's action and comedy to really carry the story, and even those elements were very very VERY lackluster in my opinion. Enter (aka Pinocchio if you have seen the show) is also a really big pushover and halfway through the series COMPLETELY changes his goals and priorities for no reason other than that is what the writers and producers want him to do.

After doing a lot of thinking about why this is happening to Go-Busters (and to the current Sentai, Kyoryuger as well but not to the same extent), and then it hit me as the priorities of Enter changed in Go-Busters, so did the priorities of Toei Co., the studio that creates these shows. During the halfway point of Go-Busters, the ratings dropped significantly to the point that Go-Busters ended the main storyline by episode 30 and created a brand-new one to fill out the other 20 episodes of space: The tone was different, the characters were different, and everything had changed from the first half: It has turned from boring and somewhat tolerable to annoying and mind-numbingly awful, and that was when the downward spiral truly started.

With this, my conclusion is more or less this: Because of the ratings drop from Go-Busters in the middle of its run, Toei is probably going in this direction in order to get the ratings back to normal so they can go along with the franchise. From what I've heard, Kyoryuger is pretty popular in Japan right now, all I hope is that they go in a different and more character-driven direction for Tokkyuger, and with the Shinkenger team on board to do Tokkyuger, that may seem like a good possibility. Let's just keep our hopes up for now. =)