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. =)

Samurai Sentai Shinkenger Review: One of the best Sentai's EVAR!!!!!

There are many many many different shows out there that are presented to us, all which are somewhat unique in their own ways. However, out of the thousands of shows that come on every single year around the world, only a select few have the development, the skill, and the true emotional impact to truly be called the best of the best…and in the world of Tokusatsu, Super Sentai specifically, only one show like that truly rings in my heart, that being the highly-acclaimed Super Sentai series of 2009, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. Ippitsu Soujou!
The Shiba Clan, who has said 17 other generations before, have been fighting the Gedoushuu, beings born from the Sanzu River who have fallen into despair and live literally “off the beaten path”, for hundreds of years. The Gedoushuu are led by the merciless and ferocious supreme general, Chimatsuri Doukoku. The young Lord of the Shiba clan, Takeru Shiba, has taken under his wing four retainers who have been raised from childhood to be samurai, and together with the Samurai power known as Mojikara, they henshin into the Shinkengers and fight against the Gedoushuu and their servants, the Ayakashi, in order to seal Doukoku and bring peace to the world again.

The story of Shinkenger is both very simple and yet very complex all at the same time, but that is the beauty of it in general. On the outside, it is a show about a Samurai leader and his retainers fighting against a powerful foe, but on the inside, Shinkenger is about not only what being a retainer, a lord, and what being on a team means, but about what it means to conform and not to conform, what it means to rejoice the good times, to suffer the bad, and most importantly, what it truly means to live on and off the beaten path. This not only goes for the main heroes of the story, but also for the Gedoushuu as well, and from a psychological standpoint, the ideas presented are very interesting and thought provoking. The head writer of Shinkenger was Yasuko Kobayashi, who is best known for her writings of Shakugan no Shana, Claymore, and, oh yeah…ATTACK ON TITAN….yeah. She is also no stranger to the Toku genre as she was head writer for shows like Gingaman, Timeranger, Kamen Rider Ryuki, and Kamen Rider Den-O. Because of this, you probably expect some pretty damn good storytelling, and Shinkenger is no exception to this rule. The writing is very strong, the developments in the story and in the characters for the most part are very consistent, and Kobayashi really brings the heart and soul of these characters to life in such a fantastic way.

One thing I love about Shinkenger in particular is how plot points carry over from one episode to another. Even filler episodes feel like they have significance in helping develop the story, and without those fillers we wouldn’t be able to know these characters, understand them, and connect with them like we do.  Some filler episodes do serve no real purpose in the overall story, but all of them are still very entertaining as is. With all these elements and more put together, it creates a wonderful story that keeps you invested from beginning to end throughout the 49 episode period!  If I had only one real complaint, it would be that the aspects of Mojikara and what it is are never really explained, which in turn bugs me when some episodes try to focus on increasing Mojikara. That is just a small nitpick of mine though and not something to worry about too much in the grand scheme of things.

For the Characters, we will first start with the Shiba clan leader himself, Takeru Shiba. Character-wise, he is very much a loner type of leader, always wanting to get things done himself and wanting to protect his team members as much as possible. However, he has his reasons for this, not wanting to bring these people into battle and have them face this tough of an enemy. I think that his characterization is handled very well and that throughout each episode, we get to see more of who Takeru is and what he is going through. There is a huge twist in his character by the end of the series that I do not want to spoil, and at first, I didn’t like it, but by the end of the show, it made sense why it was there.

Next up are the four retainers; Ryuunosuke, Mako, Chiaki, and Kotoha. I know I am ignoring Genta at the moment, but I will save him for last. I think that even though Shinkenger is definitely a red-focused show, the rest of the main cast holds up really well.

Ryuunosuke, for a Sentai Blue Ranger, is actually very unique in some respects. Like most blues, he is very skillful and loyal to his Red counterpart, but not in the “I respect you, you respect me” aspect but more of a devotional aspect, Ryuunosuke would do anything for Takeru because he believes it is his duty to do so.  Whenever he feels like he has failed, he begs Takeru to forgive him, and that also plays into how over the top he is as well.  Whether he is fighting an Ayakashi like an absolute badass or just randomly arguing with one of the other five, it brings some really unique flavor to his character and makes him such an awesome character.

Mako is of course the kickass Sentai pink of the series, and like most pinks, her character is not only really good at kicking ass (and looking good doing it), but she also has her sensitive and deep moments as well, especially between her and Takeru near the later half of the series.  

Chiaki is the determined “rebel without a cause” on the team, and he definitely fills that role very well. He is definitely less disciplined than the other four on the team due to his upbringing as a child. However, what I think makes Chiaki so cool is not just his personality, but also the way he develops throughout the series from said rebel without a cause into a full-fledged Samurai, and it’s character development at some of its most badass and awesome.
      Lastly, Kotoha is the shy but optimistic support for the team. I’ve just always loved Kotoha so much because of how calm and optimistic she is, even during her sadder moments in the series. She always tends to think down of herself due to personal reasons, but her doing that has always really interested me in her outlook of not only herself, but also the friends and mentors around her, which makes her one of my favorite characters in a Sentai series, and definitely my favorite Sentai Yellow.
Oh, remember those filler episodes I mentioned earlier being important? Well, these four are the reason for their importance. Having these filler episodes in there to focus on the other four really helps develop all four of the retainers to the same level as Takeru was developed. I would like to also applaud the acting of the entire main cast, both heroes and villains, especially Tori Matsuzaka as Takeru who does an absolutely groundbreaking performance in the role and really brings the character to life in such a dramatic and grand way.
Next, we move to ShinkenGold, Genta Umemori. Genta is….special, to say the least. I saved him for last not because he is bad, but for exactly the opposite reason. I think that Genta may not be as developed as the other five leads, but that he always steals the show when he is on screen, whether it is during a battle with an Ayakashi or when he’s just embarrassing himself for the hell of it, and without his happiness and joy in the scenes he is in, the show wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as it is.
There aren’t very many supporting characters, but for the few there are, they are very well written for what they’re worth, mainly including Takeru’s mentor, Jii, who is one of the coolest mentors I have ever seen in a Super Sentai series. Sometimes, you don’t always need a flashy costume and a cool voice in order to be a badass mentor. *Cough-Torin-Cough*…Sorry about that. Anyways, moving on.

The last piece I want to talk about character-wise is of the Gedoushuu. This is ironically one of my biggest problems and yet one of my biggest praises character-wise. My problem is that I wish that Doukoku and some of the other Gedoushuu were developed more. If I was Kobayashi, I would’ve tried to give Doukoku and the others development somewhat similar to Dayuu and Juuzou in how they may have fallen to Gedou and become Gedoushuu. Even though I would’ve like to have seen more, Doukoku definitely fills the role of final boss to the Shinkenger very well. However, my qualms are made up for with the development of two other central baddies I mentioned earlier: Dayuu and Juuzou. Having those two villains in the show be as developed as they are really brings up a fascinating concept when it comes to the origins of the Gedoushuu and the Ayakashi. Dayuu is more quiet with her playing her Shamisen, which does actually help calm Doukoku when he is angry. This actually plays into their relationship more and makes very slight development for Doukoku, and it shows there actually is a rapport between the main villains themselves, which is interesting to me. Juuzou on the other hand is more of a stray Gedoushuu that likes to hide in the shadows, but is trying to find the perfect enemy to fight with his Uramasa in hand, and the dynamic between him and Takeru is excellently done. The back stories of Juuzou and Dayuu falling to Gedou due to their dark lives and pasts are not only heartbreaking and get you invested in the resolve of the Gedoushuu to an extent.  It creates an interesting dynamic of the Gedoushuu and who they were before falling into despair.  What is so fascinating about this specifically is that the main goal of the Gedoushuu is to bring humans into despair in order to increase the amount of water in the Sanzu River. Hmm…interesting when you think about it, ain’t it?
               The themes and styles of Shinkenger are heavily based on Samurai cinema and Chanbara films, which were highly iconic and influential in Japan. I absolutely love the concept of blending old types of technology with more modern types of technology. For example how the Shodophone is a blend of a cellphone and a calligraphy brush, or how the Shinkenmaru is a blend of a katana and a praxinoscope. I also love the suit designs as well. They are simple but effective, with the black and white Y on the chest with the Shiba clan insignia resembling a Japanese samurai robe, the balance of the colors on each suit, and the kanji as the main helmet piece to really complete the look of the suits.

The design of the Origami are also interesting to say the very least, though the Samurai Ha-Oh is an absolute cluster of a mecha. The production work is pretty much top-notch all the way through the series. The older Edo period type of feel along with Kuroko around helping citizens paired with the technology of today not only contrasts each other well, but it also surprisingly fits too.  It makes for a very interesting world for the viewer all around.
As mentioned before, the production work for Shinkenger is very good, and the action is no exception.  The fights are well paced, very well choreographed, and have good special effects overall. A very unique change when it comes to Sentai is that this is not a very gun-heavy show, and that most of the stunts involve lots and lots of swordplay, which makes the style of the fights all the more impressive to see unfold. This also lessens the use of special effects and heightens the use of more practical techniques and choreography, which is a really nice change of pace action wise.
What is even more unique is that of the robot fights. Contrary to what I expect in Sentai currently, the big robot fights don’t have very much CGI in general. Most of the effects use actual suits and real explosions instead of computer-generated puppets and superimposed explosions. Some fights in the show do involve CGI and imposed explosions to an extent, but not to a point where it downgrades the rest of the more practical action scenes. The direction for the action is really good, and as expected from pretty much any Sentai, delivers on all levels as an action show.
The composer for Shinkenger’s music was Hiroshi Takaki, and all in all, he did an absolutely fantastic job in the music department. It’s just the kind of OST I want in a show; Music that not only fits with the show, but music so good that you want to listen to it outside of the show as well, and there are definitely a few tracks that I listen to on a regular basis outside of the show. The show does use some bits of rock here and there, but many more tracks use more epic and orchestral instruments, and it really fits the tone of the show surprisingly well. The opening (sung by Psychic Lover) and ending (sung by Hideaki Takatori) are also really catchy and fun to listen to, though the ending provided for some sense of tonal whiplash after the final moments of some of the sad episodes. One specific track I want to mention is a track called “Something Treasured Left Behind”, which is one of the most uplifting and yet one of the most depressing tracks I have ever heard in a Sentai series to date. Literally the tone of the song changes completely depending on the scene it is in during the show, but also when I listen to it on its own depending on my mood, and it is one of my absolute favorite tracks to date in Sentai. I hate to use the word “perfect” to describe a show, but to me, Shinkenger is very close to being perfect. It has a complex and thought-provoking story, wonderful heroes and villains, interesting style, amazing action and music, and is all around such a damn masterpiece in the world of Sentai. Due to all of this, I give Samurai Sentai Shinkenger a solid A+!