Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who Made Sentai?

If you are a reasonably knowledgeable fan of the super sentai series, you likely consider the question in this entry's title to be a no-brainer. Well, duh, it was Shotaro Ishinomori (石ノ森章太郎 Ishinomori Shôtarô) who created HIMITSU SENTAI GORANGER. Everyone knows that Ishinomori-sensei was responsible for the creation of sentai, even if Toei did try to entertain the fiction that "sentai" and "super sentai" were different concepts for a few years. So we'll set aside that "Saburo Yatsude" (or is it "Saburo Hatte"?) group name business and just look at actual people for our purposes. Ishinomori made sentai, right?

Well, not exactly. Ishinomori did create the concept, design the characters, and that other good stuff. But was he truly the one who made sentai as we know it and love it (or loathe it, your mileage may vary)? Take a look at this page and come back when you're done :

Finished? As you might have gathered, that is a chart of the writers for every sentai episode from GORANGER (1975-77) through GEKIRANGER (2007-2008). Notice a name that is missing? Yes, Ishinomori never penned a single teleplay for any sentai. That's not all that surprising, but he was never directly involved in any of them. And by all accounts, his manga version of GORANGER diverges a great deal from the one that aired on TV.

Well then, if Ishinomori didn't make sentai, who did? I think at least a portion of the credit should go to the men and women who labored over the scripts that ended up being filmed for the shows. Two names in particular stand out - Shozo Uehara (上原正三 Uehara Shôzô) and Hiroshisa Soda (曽田博久 Soda Hirohisa). Uehara wrote the majority of episodes for the first 5 sentai series (though Susumu Takaku - 高久 進 Takaku Susumu - was the main writer of record for BATTLE FEVER J), and Soda picked up the baton to be the main writer for a mind-bending 9 straight series.

Take a look at the chart again. Soda and Uehara are at the top by a wide margin. Only four writers are even close to them : Naruhisa Arakawa (荒川稔久 Arakawa Naruhisa), the late Noboru Sugimura (杉村 升 Sugimura Noboru), Yasuko Kobayashi (小林靖子 Kobayashi Yasuko), and Junki Takegami (武上純希 Takegami Junki). Point of fact, Soda's last episode for sentai was broadcast in the early days of 1997, and he's still left everyone in the dust with 399 scripts to date. And who knows? The man could still write more!

My point here is that I feel both Uehara and especially Soda did a great deal to define the sentai series as it evolved, to the point where many of their innovations are now considered standard tropes of the show. In fact, I think they went such a long way in molding sentai's story directions that when Toshiki Inoue (井上敏樹 Inoue Toshiki) went out and did things a little differently in JETMAN, he was widely hailed as an innovator. And while he certainly was, it's worth remembering that the work of his predecessors was what made that possible.

There are many people responsible for any tokusatsu show that makes it to the air. While I certainly don't think anyone should be shortchanged in the credit department, I'd like to garner a little recognition for the folks who write the scripts for these amazing flights of fantasy. If anyone is underrated in the tokusatsu department, it's the writers of the shows.

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