Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gokaiger Is Go

After talking about it, I finally relented and found the time to watch the first episode of KAIZOKU SENTAI GOKAIGER. To the surprise of pretty much no one, I thought it was really well-done and clever. I still question how practical it's going to be having five (and later, even more) members pulling all these multiple identity switches each episode. It was hard enough just for Kamen Rider Decade, and he was only one guy!

One aspect of the show that I liked was the ambivalence of our proto-heroes. They are, in fact, pirates (though more like JDs or rabble rousers), and it's made abundantly clear that they are going to have to grow into their roles as heroes. Since one of the great things about super sentai, and indeed a lot of Japanese superheroes, is the journey the series entails, this is a promising way to kick things off. They clearly seem like the type that WILL do the right thing, but they aren't quite there...yet.

I would be remiss if I didn't also address the opening, which is the big attention-grabber uniting 34 previous super sentai. It's a "wow" moment if there ever was one for the durable series, and while influenced by the opener from KAMEN RIDER DECADE, it is also notable for its differences. Once again, Toei displays their incredible genius in making the entirety of the series (from 1975 to the present) relevant as a whole. Toei is just SO GOOD at making sentai into a sort of honored fraternity filled with tradition that is handed down from one year to the next. I have a suspicion that the meetings of old and new in this series will be markedly different than the stories seen in DECADE.

Oh, and the hints. I feel like there were a number of characters and teams given spotlights (albeit fleeting) during the sentai war that will likely be important later. Was it an accident we get a good look at Big One from JAKQ? Maybe to set up a Hiroshi Miyauchi appearance? Or how about the tantalizing glimpse of Dragon Ranger from KYORYU SENTAI ZYURANGER? Most Americans would recognize the costume from the Green Ranger in MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS, but there is the small detail that Dragon Ranger was totally dead by the time ZYURANGER concluded. Toei has been known to play fast and loose with such continuity, but this raises a boatload of questions. Is this the original Dragon Ranger? Was he resurrected? Or is this someone new in that uniform?

And on and on. One aspect that might be lost on the average non-Japanese viewer (but not this one!) was the voice casting during this sequence. Now, I don't know if these were lifted from the old shows or new recordings, but I heard a number of familiar voices throughout this big fight. I mean, there was no mistaking that I distinctly heard Yuta Mochizuki coming from Tyrano Ranger. But it was one character in particular that stood out to me, and left me with confidence that GOKAIGER will be just as rewarding a journey for the viewer as it is for its buccaneer heroes.

I'm talking about Aka Ranger, the ORIGINAL Red Ranger, from HIMITSU SENTAI GORANGER. He is depicted as unquestionably the leader among some 200 or so costumed champions. I was so heartened to see Aka Ranger essentially being placed on the same nigh-mythic level as Kamen Riders 1 and 2. But then he spoke, and I realized it was NAOYA MAKOTO - the actor who played Aka Ranger's alter ego Tsuyoshi Kaijo in GORANGER - doing the lines. That was the moment where I almost lost it in sheer enthusiasm.

It was only last year that I observed that Naoya Makoto clearly had no issue working with Toei or in super sentai (he appeared in the Abaranger film in 2003), so why not recruit him to reprise probably his most famous role? It seems Toei has found the right project to do just that, and with just a little bit of dialogue, they cemented a whole lot of legitimacy for their legacy sentai. Well played, Toei. Well played.

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