Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gokaiger vs. Return of Jetman

I've now seen the second and third episodes of GOKAIGER, and found them to be pretty satisfying. I like the direction that is being mapped out for the development of the plotline and characters. I'm unsure how the inevitable "extra senshi" (a.k.a. Sixth Ranger) will be incorporated into this structure, but Toei has already proven to be fairly ingenious in their handling of their tokusatsu properties over the last decade.

During the promotional build-up for GOKAIGER, I had a couple of friends who thought I might be a little upset with the depiction of Chojin Sentai Jetman in this show - especially the gender-swapping implied in the promotional material. Nah. Actually, to take the latter point first, the females assuming formerly male identities (and vice-versa) doesn't much faze me. It's just another gimmick, and apart from the snickering arrested adolescents (which, admittedly, are legion), I don't see why anyone should think it's a big deal.

The larger factor is that, despite my thinking CHOJIN SENTAI JETMAN is one of the better sentai series, I don't hold any particular kinship for those characters over any other sentai. I know this sounds strange coming from a guy who will now and forever be linked to Return of Jetman, but hear me out. When Lewis Smith and I latched onto JETMAN in the mid-1990s, neither of us had seen a whole lot of full episodes of ANY sentai. JETMAN was cool not only because it was good (and it was!), but because we could follow along with the story.

Well, I've seen a lot more sentai since the birth of "Return of Jetman" almost (*choke*) 16 years ago. In the context of that larger tapestry, well...JETMAN is still pretty good. However, it's not quite as awe-inspiring as it was when I first discovered it. I've learned more about the shows that preceded it, and there have been quite a few that have appeared since. There is less of a mystique to JETMAN than there was back when I was still a relative newbie.

So, I no longer view CHOJIN SENTAI JETMAN as the pinnacle of sentai? Heh, I'm not sure I ever did. But realistically speaking, each sentai series is just one aspect of a larger whole, and some will work better than others for each viewer. I still love JETMAN and all its many characters and quirks. But honestly, I probably love the members of HIMITSU SENTAI GORANGER more. And Big One from JAKQ. There's even a chance a couple of the Gokaigers could reach that status someday (yes, I'm really digging it).

Now that I have seen GOKAIGER, I really feel like I finished ROJ just in the nick of time. One of the great difficulties in putting together sentai fiction is the urge to try to compete with what Toei is putting on the screen. After all, your imagination should be able to surpass what can be done on a limited budget. The chief reasons to do fanfiction (to me) are 1) romance/sex stories and 2) wish-fulfillment. ROJ was always about "2" far more than "1" (at least in terms of pre-established characters). ROJ was also the time-honored "fan sentai" (see also: fan Ultra, fan Rider, fan Space Sheriff, etc.), so it got to be a hybrid of both types of sentai fiction.

The trouble is, competing with Toei is hard. As I alluded to above, they've shown a willingness to do "impossible" things lately. Extended parallel world stories seemed unthinkable in 1996; in 2011, we've already seen KAMEN RIDER DECADE. The single biggest original "hook" that ROJ has is that it's a second generation sentai. Will Toei try something similar in GOKAIGER? I wouldn't bet against it.

It would be hard working on ROJ now that something like GOKAIGER is out there. Granted, the show will probably not deal with JETMAN stuff as much as I did. I also doubt it will have featured roles for Masaru Komyoji and Johnny Sokko! Still, it's sort of difficult to get behind "wish fulfillment" stories when those wishes have, in fact, been fulfilled. Do people write fan stories where Superman meets Spider-Man and they have an adventure together? Maybe, but I doubt it happens a lot. Why? Because we've seen that story - several times, in fact.

What I'm saying is that it's hard to sit down and try to imagine what's "impossible" in a world where ALL RIDERS VS. DAISHOCKER already exists, and the next Rider movie will feature Kikaida, Kikaida-01, Zubat, and Inazuman. This is a world where Tackle has returned, and it looks as if every single sentai hero will get at least a token cameo in one series. Those are the kind of wild pipe dreams that fueled our "what if?" scenarios once, and now they're real.

I remain proud of all the work everyone involved with ROJ did, and am sort of amused by how we anticipated the future in some respects. However, I'm even happier than ever that the story itself is finished. I don't relish the idea of trying to match wits with Toei on their own turf anymore. The challenge is just too much. Those guys are tough!

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