Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kyoryuger : overall thoughts after 18 episodes


As a big fan of Abaranger, when I learned that the sentai series airing in 2013 would be dinosaur themed, I was really curious about how that theme would be dealt again in the franchise. And then, the color combo of Kyoryuger was shown, with Red, Black, Blue, Green and Pink, which was never used before, and the dinosaur combination of the five heroes would  also be new.  Having one girl left me with mixed feelings, but a lot of great sentai teams, like Kakuranger, Gingaman, GogoV and Timeranger also had one girl, and not only were great teams, but also had their lone girl being a great character. I was not thrilled by the main robot,  and the dinosaur design (I like more the Bakuryuu design), and the concept of the Gattai looked too much like a  Aba remake, but it was just a nitpick. The concept of the Zyudenchi was not bad either, because it was a way to expand the dinosaur theme and mention species that aren't well known. When the photos with the main cast was shown, it didn't look bad, even if Green felt somewhat bland.
Weeks later, the design of the sixth ranger, Kyoryugold was shown, with the new robot. It wasn't bad, even if it felt like a remake of the Abarekiller/ Topugeira concept with the pterosaur mecha. 

And then, in the end of January, most of the important info about the heroes, allies, supporting characters and villains was revealed.
I was pretty curious about each hero, which seemed to have very different backgrounds, and as such, would be a pretty diverse cast, and that could add plenty of interesting stuff to explore. While Daigo (King) (Red)'s background with his dad was not the most exciting, Ian (Black) as a womanizer and adventurer who has seen his friend killed before his eyes, and, more importantly, Nobuharu (Nossan) (Blue) having a family  (sister and a niece) he wanted to protect, Souji (Green) as a high school student, and Amy (Pink) as a college student working as a waitress despite being from a wealthy family, all that had the potential to bring very interesting stories in the series. I was especially thrilled to see that the show would have a supporting cast of characters linked to the background of each ranger, some of them being played by toku veteran actors, like Nossan's sister by Ayumi Kinoshita/ Dekablue and Souji's dad by Junichi Haruta/ Dynablack-Madgallant.

There were also unfortunately some less good points in the info released. The mentor, who looked like a bipedal turkey, was in my opinion, looking pretty ridiculous for a mentor figure. But most importantly, I wasn't really thrilled by the villains. All were suit villains, with no human looking villains. But, even more important, they were themed after human emotions, and I wasn't thrilled about villains generals whose personality would be sum up as Mr Angry (the lion looking Dogold) , Mr Crybaby (the armored Aigalon) , Little Miss Sunshine (the feminine Candelilla), and Silly Clown (the kiddie Luckyuro). The concept of the Deboth looked like the concept of Abaranger's Evolian, but stripped of all the interesting elements that made the Evolian feel interesting.  Chaos looked more serious, but as the villain leader, I knew he wouldn't do much stuff, except giving orders.

Last point; the writer of Kyoryuger was Riku Sanjo, who had worked before in Kamen Rider W and Kamen Rider Fourze. Given that both series were interesting Rider shows, I was curious to see Sanjo work in a sentai show for the first time, and a such, give fresh blood to the writing in the franchise. 

All in all I had pretty much mixed feelings about Kyoryuger, with some potentially interesting elements, but also some bad stuff that could really  ruin the show.

And, then, the show's episodes started to air. Because I feel I needed to have a good perspective of the show, I try to hold my judgement until I had seen a significant number of episodes, because it was necessary to assess how the characters were written,  the storyline and storytelling were dealt.

However, after 18 episodes, I feel that I'm able to give a more detailed opinion of how the show is so far.


Unfortunately, I can say that Kyoryuger has been a pretty disappointing series so far. It hasn't been able to use its potential in an interesting way, mostly because of a lacking of quality in writing. The show's target is very little kids, and it unfortunately shows too much in the way the show is written.

Let's review each element of the series:
Heroes : Daigo is a standard, but not badly done Red ranger leader : a hot blooded reckless guy who is often not very bright, but is able to get the team together by using his charisma; it's significant that now everyone in the team call him by his chosen nickname, King. His backstory about his father, while not being the best, still has some potential.
However, one of the biggest problems of Kyoryuger is that it is unable to use the different backgrounds of its heroes, that is mentioned in their focus episodes, but pretty much is forgotten in the others. As a result, outside of their focus characters, most of the Kyoryuger feel like they're just there, and their personalities don't feel very interesting.
Ian is especially guilty of this. He's supposed to be a playboy, but it is hardly shown in the series, especially after episode 4. He's supposed to be that aloof guy, who wants revenge against his friend's murderer, but instead, he's more shown as an idiot and the fact that his rival is the very silly Aigalon really don't make his revenge arc very interesting (compare with Liveman, with the heroes having the awesomely evil Kemp as their friend's murderer)
Nossan had the potential to be an awesome character, as a guy who is older than the other members of the team who works hard to help his family and wants to protect it. However,  instead of looking mature, he's looking like an idiot who only wants to make silly puns. Besides, the family concept has also been forgotten. Nossan's niece has only been shown in three episodes and none after episode 8 so far, and Nossan only has very few scenes with her (compare Ryouga/ Abared with his niece/ adoptive daughter Mai). Besides, Yuko, Nossan's sister isn't a very likable character.
Souji is an even worst case : his high school background is only shown once in the show (episode 13). Besides, he's supposed to have a conflict with his dad, but it is resolved in one episode. Like Ian, he only feels like he's just there in episodes not focusing much on him.
Amy is the lone girl. I like that Ayuri Konno tries to make her a very lively character. Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues with the way she is written. For example, she's supposed to be the rebellious kid from a wealthy family. However, I feel that the concept of the sentai warrior from a wealthy family has been done much better with Kaori/ White Swan and Tatsuya/ TimeRed. Indeed, Kaori's wealthy background was used in a much more significant way, and her butler was much much less annoying than Amy's gentle. And Amy earning money by doing a part time job is not really used in an efficient way, unlike the way Tatsuya worked in his "Tomorrow Research" part job company (we hardly see her in her restaurant waitress job during the show). Amy is rather shown as a lazy student, not unlike Go-Busters's Yoko and a lot of her focus episodes are used to make her cheer a fellow male ranger (a stereotypical "heart of the team" role) instead of exploring her bakcground in more depth. Besides, being shown as similar to Luckyuro and as its rival isn't very flattering for her.
Last, but not least, let's talk about the sixth ranger, Utsusemimaru/Kyoryugold. He's a samurai who fought against the Deboth centuries ago, but ended trapped in Dogold until he was freed by the heroes in episode 9-10. His intro arc is pretty similar to Gaosilver's intro arc, but it is written in a much more rushed way (2 episodes, instead of the 8-9 episodes of the Rouki arc) , and it's especialy striking how the fact he's been freed from Dogold did only have limited impact on Dogold himself (unlike Rouki who has been killed in order to free Gaosilver). Utsusemimaru is a okay character, but not much more than that. His rivalry with Dogold is a little better done than Ian's with Aigalon, probably because Dogold is more believable as a violent enemy.
Last point: one big issue of Kyoryuger is how the whole team seems to worship Daigo, (yeah, even Ian) and seem to really mean it when they call him "King"

Supporting characters : Torin is the mentor figure of the Kyoryuger, who has fought against the Deboth for a long time. His design feels ridiculous (like a big turkey who seems to belong more to a Thanksgiving dinner than to a sentai team), but fortunately, his voice actor is pretty good and avoids  making him look like a complete buffoon. However, he's not the best mentor, because he seems to admire his team, especially Daigo, instead of being the one to tell them about their flaws.
The Legendary Kyoryuger: Ramirez/ Kyoryucyan : he's a likable character, despite his accent and his exaggerated optimism. Being used as a supporting character instead of a one arc character was also not a bad idea.
Kyoryugrey : he's pretty much a brutal mentor, and he's not afraid to give the heroes some hard time in order to make them stronger. His best point: he's perhaps the only character who does not worship Daigo/ King, and tell him the reasons why he sucks.
Characters related to the heroes's background : Daigo's dad is hardly seen so far in the show, so I need more time to have an opinion about him.  Except being killed by Aigalon, not much is seen about Ian's friend. Rika is a cute kid, and is pretty likable when we see her, but she's completely underused. Her mother Yuko is not a very likable character and a waste of Ayumi Kinoshita's talent. Souji's dad is a likable character, and it's nice to see that Junichi Haruta can still show some badassness at his age. However he's underused. And Gentle is pretty annoying as Amy's butler (compare with Kaori's)

Villains: When I saw the Deboth's design and the short description of each general, I was fearing that the villains would be pretty uninteresting characters. Chaos had a statue of Liberty design, and the generals have designs inspired from the Wizard of Oz characters  (Candelilla/ Dorothy, Luckyuro/ Scarecrow, Aigalon/ Tin Man, Dogold/ Lion) And unfortunately, I've been right.
Chaos is the only one of the Deboth that can be taken  seriously; he's pretty serious, and in the episodes he's involved in fights  (episode 7 and episode 10, both showing his rivalry with Torin), she's shown as a dangerous enemy.
However, Chaos is literaly surrounded by idiots, who look much more silly than dangerous. And the "human emotion" theme isn't what I call the most interesting one.
Aigalon is the armored " knight of sorrow". He knows how to fight, and he's the one who has killed Ian's friend. However, his crybaby personality and his overall stupidity makes him impossible to be taken seriously as a villain and rival.
Dogold is the "knight of anger". He's revealed to be a living armor who needs a body to move. While he's able to use the bodies of Cambrima (high level mooks), those bodies only last a few weeks, and he'd rather use the body of a stronger being. He's found that stronger body by trapping Utsusemimaru and using his body. However, when we first see him, he seems to have forgotten about that, and a big flaw of Kyoryuger is the inconsistent way he's written, especially in episode 9: at the beginning, he seems to have forgotten about Utsusemimaru, and then, we see him as a mastermind (with Chaos) who trapped Utsusemimaru by using his anger. Because he's a pretty violent general, because of his perpetual anger, he is more believable as a rival to Kyoryugold. However, he still feels like an one-dimensional villain
Candelilla: the "Knight of Joy":  she's not very interesting, and feels like a complete stereotype instead of a character. Besides, it seems that her main plots all involve "singing the Deboth song to manipulate humans", and it seems that Riku Sanjo doesn't know how to use her beyond that, as seen by the way she's not shown in many episodes starting with episode 12.
Luckyuro: he feels like a silly character, both in his design and his personality. He's the one who makes the monster grow. He's difficult to take seriously as a villain,  because of his silliness, but at least, he's supposed to be silly.
The monsters's design feel silly, but are not too badly done. The Zorima are ugly, but the concept of having them aggregating together to make huge monsters isn't a bad idea, even if the Big Zorima are unfortunately very ugly too.

Storyline : Millions of years ago, the Deboth army was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Only a few survived with their spirits being kept in Zyudenchi "Beast Batteries", with the Wise God Torin keeping mechanical bodies, the Zyudenryu, for ten of the most powerful dinosaurs.
Now, in modern time, the Deboth start attack the new dominant species, humans being, by attacking all over the globe, hoping to bring back to life their leader, the huge Master Deboth. However, Torin, aware of their nefariosu projects, decide to seek strong and brave warriors who would be able to beceom partners with the Zyudenryu after defeating them, and become the new warrios of justice, the Kyoryuger. He managed to gather together four young men and a young girl, who would oppose the Deboth.
There is not much more to say, and after 18 episodes, the most significant plot is the addition of new warriors and new Zyudenryu, with the return of former Kyoryuger, who had opposed the Deboth centuries ago (Kyoryucyan and Kyoryugrey), but were fighting alone with Torin, and as a result, couldn't match the whole Deboth team.
One of the biggest issues of Kyoryuger is the way it's unable to bring interesting secondary arcs. For example, theere was supposed to be an arc where the heroes were taking their time to reveal to each other, but it didn't feel like it was very well done, because there wasn't any real relevant reason to hide their true identity. Likewise, the "Utsusemimaru tries to be tough, even if he's nice" didn't work that well either, and was abandoned after only two episodes. The Kyoryugold intro arc was pretty rushed, especially compared with the similar Gaosilver one.  The use of many additional rangers feels like a easy way to try to get attention. Last, but not least, the heroes are supposed to try to protect their private life, but in fact, the show almost doesn't focus on the heroes's private lives. Instead, we mostly see them hanging out in the Kyoryuger base.

Weapons and mechas: the Zyudenryu feels like if the Bakuryuu were designed in a siller way, and the concept of the robot gattai is too much similar to the Bakuryuu change. The Gaburevolver is a fun transforming device, however, the dancing stuff before the Kyoryuchanges become quickly old.
The Zyudenchi are supposed to be themed after dinosaurs, but it feels more like being themes as bizarre powers (the most annoying one being without a doubt Ovirapoo). However, at least the show tried to use its dinosaur motif.

Conclusion: Despite seeming like it had some nice potential, Kyoryuger is a pretty disappointing show which doesn't use its character in an interesting way, focuses too much on silly comedy that is only sporadically funny, and has some bad storytelling. One big issue is that the writing feels really childish, even by Sentai standards, and it's an huge problem, because a lot of the issues of the series aren't linked to its concepts, but the way they're used, and as such, by the way the show is written. In his first sentai show, Riku Sanjo is really disappointing, and I'm afraid that since the 18 episodes were disappointing, the remainder of the show is gonna be bad as well.

Some ways Kyoryuger could improve:
- Focus more on the main heroes's private  lives, in order to flesh them better, and even try to write an arc linked to their private lives
- In the next episodes, Kyoryuviolet is gonna appear: it would be nice if the character, who isn't a spirit ranger, would be used in an interesting way, and try to make his granddaughter an interesting addition to the show
- Bring some fresh blood in the villain team, by introducing a new threat to the heroes (and not, the Master Deboth avatar isn't enough, since he's gonna certainly be used to show Plesion and the new gattai new robots look awesome).  Indeed, Dogold and Aigalon really already feel old.

Overall score so far 5.5/10 (and only because I am a great fan of the Super Sentai concept)





 

 




Saturday, June 22, 2013

Taiyo sentai Sun Vulcan : an unique early sentai


 










 
Justice 
vs 


Evil

(er; aren't we seeing a trend here?)  XD
Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan (which can be translated as "Solar Task Force Sun Vulcan") was the fifth Super Sentai Series, airing in Japan from February 1981 to January 1982 (it's in fact the sentai that was airing when I was born ;) ) At the time it aired, it was in fact the third sentai series (Gorenger and JAKQ have been included later in the franchise).   At that time, Super Sentai was a franchise that was still building its identity, and Sun Vulcan did bring a lot of new elements in the franchise, and has in itself some unique characteristics:

- Sun Vulcan was the first sentai series with a team of only three members (Vul Eagle (Red), Vul Shark (Blue),  and Vul Panther (Yellow) (and the last without any additional heroes, among official sentai teams)
- It's the first series with animal themed heroes (Eagle, Shark, Panther), with each animal included in the design of the suit  : Red has a Eagle, a bird from the sky, Blue has a shark, a fish from the sea, and Yellow has a Panther (actually a cheetah), a mammal from the ground ; animals are an important theme of the show, with the big shuttle having a jaguar design, and the heroes having an animal (safari) park close to their base
- It's the only team without any female member
- Sun Vulcan introduces the concept of the heroes's big robot made of combining mechas, with the Sun Vulcan Robo being in two parts, by the combination of two mechas , the Cosmo Vulcan, Vul Eagle's flying jet and the Bull Vulcan, Vul Shark and Vul Panther's land vehicle
- It's the only series that can be seen as the direct sequel of its predecessor, Denshi Sentai Denziman, with both having a main villainess in common, Queen Hedorian. However, Sun Vulcan itself works very well as a standalone show, since it isn't needed to have watched Denziman to enjoy Sun Vulcan.

Let's review each element of Sun Vulcan
 
 1) Heroes
The protagonists of the show belong to a military force under the responsibility of the UN, the Guardians of World Peace (GWP). When Black Magma began to attack, the UN decided to create a special team which would be able to fight them, the Solar Task Force Sun Vulcan
The Sun Vulcan base is built underneath a restaurant, the Snack Safari next to a Safari park acting as a front.
Sun Vulcan is a team of three men, and it's interesting to notice that each of them (except the second Vul Eagle) have their animal totem in their last name

a) Ryusuke Ohwashi/Vul Eagle I  (washi = Japanese for Eagle) : a GWP air force officer who has become a top pilot of the organization. He's the leader of the team during the first half of the show (episodes 1-23). After a few months as Vul Eagle, he had to leave because he has been called by the NASA to help in a space colony project.
Takayuki  Hiba/ Vul Eagle II : Ohwashi's successor as Vul Eagle, he's a fellow air force officer, and also a martial arts expert, notably in Kendo. After Black Magma has been defeated, he went back in his job as an instructor in the air force

b) Kinya Samejima/ Vul Shark (Same = Japanese for Shark : A naval officer at the GWP and an oceanographer. He has lived in Africa for a time with his parents and little brother, but he lost them during a war that was happening there. It's that trauma that motivated him to join the GWP and then, the Sun Vulcan team as Vul Shark, as he hates violence. After Black Magma's defeat, he resumed his work as an oceanographer.

c) Asao Hyou/ Vul Panther (Hyou = Japanese for Panther) : An officer from the Ranger force at the GWP. He's a big eater, especially of curry rice from the Snack Safari, and he has a phobia of dogs (among them, CC). He has also a goofy personality, and is the comic relief of the team, often made fun by the children at the Snack safari and his own teammates. He likes pretty girls, especially Misa Arashiyama, his chief's daughter. He has a father that owns a lot of property and is also a big eater with some goofy tendencies. After Black Magma's defeat, he decided to go back in his town to help his dad.


2) Allies

Daizaburo Arashiyama: the commander of the Sun Vulcan team. A strict officer and an effective leader for the team, he has a major role in the fight against Black Magma, and as such, is seen as an important target by the enemy. He's also the chef of the Snack Safari restaurant, and he has to deal with his idiotic chef apprentice Sukehachi. He has also to deal with the hardships of being the father of a pretty young woman with a lively personality. He is very friendly with children, and likes a lot playing games with them, as he was an expert in a lot of children games when he was younger. He's the one who finally inflict the final blow to Black Magma by destroying their true Leader, the Omnipotent God.

Misa Arashiyama. The commander's daughter, she's the feminine element of the Sun Vulcan team, as an assistant to the team. Despite not being a fighter, she tries to help the Sun Vulcan in every way she can, like assisting them in their investigation and helping civilians caught into Black Magma schemes. She loves her dad and has a fun personality, and is pretty much the heart of the team, with everyone liking her. She has also some fencing skills, that she used once disguising as the Beautiful Swordswoman White Rose Mask.

Yazawa Sukehachi: Appears in episode 23, as a apprentice cook at the Snack Safari : his personality can be sum up in one word: idiot. He's a comic relief character.

CC: a little talking dog, with a sarcastic personality, who likes a lot to make fun of Vul Panther and Sukehachi.

3) Arsenal
The Sun Vulcan change into their suits thanks to their Sun Vulcan Brace. Each Brace has the color and the animal of each team member. The Sun Vulcan's main weapon is the Vulcan Stick. However, each team member uses a lot special moves named after their totem animal in their fights against Black Magma. To destroy a enemy monster (Monger), they use as a final attack the Vulcan Ball, an exploding ball, that is thrown by Vul Eagle, then Vul Panther sends the ball to Vul Shark that sends it back to Vul Eagle, who at last send it at the Monger that is destroyed (before getting big, of course ;)  ). However, the Vulcan Ball was ineffective against  Inazuma  Ginga, so the Sun Vulcan made a new final weapon, the New Vulcan Ball, which was a more powerful weapon, being the combination of three explosive balls sent by the three heroes by the Triple Attack. The three balls combine into a unique ball that is sent by Vul Panther to Vul Shark, who sends it to Vul Eagle, which throws it to the enemy, who's usually destroyed.
The Sun Vulcan also have vehicles :  Eagle has a jeep, the Sand Vulcan, while  Shark and Panther have a motorbike each.
In order to fight the enlarged enemies, the Sun Vulcan use the Sun Vulcan Robo, which is composed of two mechas, the Cosmo Vulcan, a jet piloted by Vul Eagle and the Bull Vulcan, a land vehicle piloted by Vul Shark and Vul Panther. Both mechas are stored into the Jaguar Vulcan, a jaguar looking shuttle.  The Sun Vulcan Robo's final attack is the Aura Plasma Return (Aura Plasma Kaeshi), which is used to finish off the enlarged enemies

 4) Villains

The Machine Empire Black Magma are the enemies of the Sun Vulcan and of humanity, who want to take over the Earth and destroy humans. They target Japan because the countries has many volcanoes, and as such plenty of magma power that Black Magma seeks to get power. They have their headquarters in the North Pole


a) F├╝hrer (Sotou) Hell Satan :  the ruler of Black Magma, who is draped in black. He's a ruthless leader that would do anything to conquer Earth and defeat the Sun Vulcan and is enraged by each of Black Magma's failures because of them. However, despite being a cruel and vicious  he has a weakness: he fears the Black Sun God that he worships and respects above everything. He's the one who brought back to life Queen Hedorian from the Vader Clan, to help him in his fights. When Inazuma Ginga came and fought the Sun Vulcan and even withstood the Vulcan Ball, he was impressed by his strength, and wanted to have him as his second in command. However, when Inazuman Ginga, who believed he has been betrayed by him, destroyed his god's icon, he was furious and fought him in a duel to the death, that he lost, and ended up beheaded, which revealed his robotic nature. However, soon afterwards, it was revealed that Hell Satan wasn't the true leader of Black Magma.
The true leader was the Omnipotent God who was a living brain in a capsule and had an immense amount of power. The Omnipotent God brought back Hell Satan to life as a ghost, and then, Hell Satan, under his orders, began to bring terror to Queen Hedorian who was involved in the plot leading to his death, eventually killing her by rusting her artifical heart which eventually stopped working. He  then had revenge against Inazuma Ginga by turning him into a Monger, that was eventually destroyed by the Sun Vulcan. However, at the end, in a last confrontation, the Omnipotent God was destroyed by Chief Arashiyama, and with him, Hell Satan's ghost.

b) The Zero Girls. They are a quartet of female officers, Zero One (clad in red clothes), Zero Two (clad in Black clothes), Zero Three (clad in green clothes), and Zero Four (clad in purple clothes). Zero One was the leader. Despite looking like human women, they're in fact androids. They are Hell Satan's main field officers, and they are the ones leading the attacks against Earth and humanity. They are cruel, ruthless, cold blooded killers, that would kill without any hesitation unarmed civilians, including children. They're also smart, and try to plan their evil schemes in the best way they can, well aware of the trouble that they could have because of the Sun Vulcan. They involved themselves in Black Magma's evil plots in many ways. They often disguise as ordinary women to deceive humans and manipulate them into their schemes. They also attack civilians, often using blackmail to make them cooperate in their evil plots. The Zero Girls are also the ones that lead the Machinemen (Black Magma's mooks) and Mongers (Black Magma's Monsters) in the battles against the Sun Vulcan, and they often fight the Sun Vulcan themselves, Zero One using knives, Two using cards, Three using swords and Four using yo-yos, and have proven to hold their own against them. In episode 22, Zero One was killed in a cave in provoked by Jaguar Vulcan, as she was trying to kill the Sun Vulcan and some unarmed civilians while in a cave. When Amazon Killer came, she replaced Zero One as the Zero Girls leader. Zero Two, Three and Four continued to fight for Black Magma with Amazon killer, first under Hell Satan's authority, then under Queen Hedorian after Hell Satan's death. However, after Queen Hedorian's death, and learning of Hedoran and Amazon Killer's duplicity, the remaining Zero Girls refused Amazon Killer's leadership,being loyal to the Omnipotent God, as true officers of the Machine Empire Black Magma. They finally had a final battle with the Sun Vulcan, fighting them with the King Magma, a big robot created by the Omnipotent God. They piloted the King Magma and fought the Sun Vulcan Robo, taking advantage of a solar eclipse, that was weakening the heroes's robot. However, when the sun came back, and thanks to a boreal aurora, the Sun Vulcan were able use the Aura Plasma Return to destroy the King Magma, killing the three remaining Zero Girls at the same time.

When Hell Satan and the Zero Girls realized how dangerous opponents the Sun Vulcan were, they decided to use as alllies members of the Vader Clan.

a) Queen Hedorian : the former Queen of the Vader Clan, that was encased in ice after her defeat by the Denziman. She was brought back to life by Hell Satan, that gave her an artificial heart. As a result, she couldn't leave Black Magma, but, because of her hatred for humans, and to get revenge for the destruction of the Vader Clan, became her ally and second in command in the attack against Earth and humans. She used a lot her sorcery skills in her schemes against Sun Vulcan, and her powers were well appreciated by Hell Satan. She shows a pretty vain personality, still believing of her power of seduction, and lusting for stuff like diamonds and nice clothes. As such, she brings some comic relief in the villains's side. Her magical powers are weakened by the ESPER powers of descendants of the Denzi planet, which make her suffer a lot. When Inazuma Ginga came, she was afraid of being sidelined by him, and risking being banished by Hell Satan because she would be useless. As a result, she plotted with Amazon Killer to turn Inazuma Ginga and Hell Satan against each other, and played a key role in Hell Satan's demise, and then becoming Black Magma's queen. However, her victory was short lived and she was haunted by Hell Satan's ghost appearances. Hell Satan often appeared before her to terrorize her, and made her artificial heart rust. While her heart could have been replaced, she had become so paranoid that she didn't trust anyone, and refused the operation, instead trying to appease the Black Sun God by sacrificing Misa Arashiyama to him. However, before being able to sacrifice her, she died because her artificial heart stopped functioning.

b) Amazon Killer : Calling herself the Galactic Wanderer, she's a Vader officer that came from space.  She appeared in episode 23. After Zero One's death, she's been called by Queen Hedorian, and came to Earth to join her Queen. At her first encounter with Black Magma, she showed her strength by withstanding an attack from the Machinemen and the Zero Girls. Impressed by her powers, Hell Satan ordered her to destroy the Sun Vulcan base, and she managed to accomplish her mission successfully. She replaced Zero One as the leader of the Zero girls and has shown to be as skilled as her predecessor, as much in spy work, disguising as a normal woman to decieve humans, as in leading plots and battles, as the commander officer of the Zero Girls, Mongers and Machineman, and she also fought the Sun Vulcan using her short sword to create explosions. However, unlike Zero One, she was only loyal to Queen Hedorian, always concerned when she was suffering and ready to do anything to help her. When Inazuma Ginga appears, she knew that he couldn't be trusted; indeed, she had been his partner, and has seen his treachering personality, and they have been shown to betray each other. Losing her role as filed commander because of him, she plotted with the Queen to manipulate Inazuma Ginga and Hell Satan to fight each other. However, after her Queen's death, she realized that noone in Black Magma was loyal to her, and she tried to find the Omnipotent God to kill him and become Queen of the Machine Empire. However, after finding him, she failed at defeating the Black Magma leader, and was forced by him to fight the Sun Vulcan. She battled the Sun Vulcan in a final fight, realizing that noone in Black Magma would help her. She managed to put a good fight against the three heroes, even managing to withstand the New Vulcan Ball. However, she was very weakened, and as a final act of defiance against the Omnipotent God, instead of fighting the Sun Vulcan, she decided to kill herself by stabbing herself with her sword, telling the Sun Vulcan the location of the Omnipotent God. After her death, the heroes paid their respect to a worthy opponent by a last salute.


In Episode 45, a new villain, Inazuma Ginga appears. He's a pirate from outer space that was fleeing the Space police by coming in Earth. He was formerly Amazon Killer's partner in crime, but Inazuman Ginga betrayed Amazon Killer by taking all the loot from a heist they've both done, and Amazon Killer retaliated by amking him fall into a trap set by the Space Police. He quickly managed to escape, and once in Earth, he attacked a military base to get powerful weapons. Then, he fought the Sun Vulcan, who failed to defeat him, even by using the Vulcan Ball. Impressed by his strength, Hell Satan wanted him to work with Black Magma, despite Amazon Killer's protests. Inazuma Ginga did everything to gain the trust of Hell Satan, even accepting being locked in a cell without protesting when he was suspected of betrayal by Queen Hedorian, and refusing Amazon Killer's suggestion of rebellion. Eventually, Hell Satan freed him, allowed him to create his own Monger, Fighter Monger, which he used to fight the Sun Vulcan, and, because of his power, wanted to make him his second in command to replace Queen Hedorian. As a result, Hedorian and Amazon Killer did everything to plant the seeds of distrust between Hell Satan and Inazuma Ginga, and eventually succeeded, Hell Satan sabotaging the damaged Fighter Monger and Inazuma Ginga destroying Black Sun God's icon. As a result, Inazuma Ginga fought Hell Satan to the death, and won. However, he had no loyalty to Queen Hedorian, and decided to get for himself the Sun Vulcan Robo, which power he wouls use to conquer the galaxy. He tried to get the big robot by using Vul Eagle as an hostage, but failed. He then went to the Black Magma base to use the already captured Misa to get the robot, but at that time, the Omnipotent God overpowered him, and Hell Satan turned him into a mindless Monger, Inazuma Monger, that would eventually be destroyed by the Sun Vulcan.


Other than the main villain, Black Magma fought the heroes using expendable underlings

The MOTW: they are lifeforms created using Magma Energy, by the combination of animal elements and machine components ; they're called Mongers, and are very important fighter for the Black Magma empire.

Dark Q : they are andoids created by Black Magma to do inflitration work. They can have the appearance of any human, and in a lot of cases, they've been created using the appearances of people close to their targets, often after having killed the real ones  (people and officers involved with the Guardians of World Peace, or the Japanese governement, or in some very cruel cases, the children of scientists which discoveries would be used for evil). They're efficient spies, often bringing useful information to Black Magma. However, in one case, the Dark Q literaly became the mask, when one disguised as a botanist's dead daughter eventually ended up genuinely seeing the scientist as her father. Once exposed, the Dark Q can be quickly destroyed by the heroes. However, after Zero One's death, the Dark Q were not used anymore.

Machinemen: Black Magma's robotic mooks, which are clad in black and red

Story
When the Machine Empire Black Magma decided to conquer Earth from their base in the North pole, and made their declaration of war to the UN, a special team, the Sun Vulcan, was created to stop them. The show tells the stories of the different plots of Black Magma to conquer Earth, destroy humanity and defeat the Sun Vulcan, always to be stopped by the heroes.
Sun Vulcan is mostly an episodic show. However, it can be separated in four parts, and it's pretty striking to notice how the tone of the show evolves with time.

1) Episode 1-4 : First attacks of Black Magma against humanity, and first counterattacks from Sun Vulcan. During those few episodes, the show has a military/spy theme, with the important use of the Dark Q spies, and Black Magma using terrorist tactics to create chaos and destruction on Earth. At that time, the show has a serious tone, with all the villains being machine themed.  

2) Episodes 5-22 : Episode 5 brings the comeback of Queen Hedorian from Denziman. During that era, the military/ spy theme is still present, notably with the plots using the Dark Q, but with Hedorian's addition, the shows adds a mystical element, with the Queen using her magical powers in some plots. When some very dark plots happen during that era (like Misa's kidnapping (episode 8), a mentor of Vul Shark being killed and replaced by a Dark Q replica who tries to kill his model's family (episode 9), or the plot involving using a scientist's grief over his dead daughter with the help of a Dark Q having said daughter's appearance (episode 11), but some comedic plot appear, notably driven by comic relief characters, like Vul Panther on the heroes's side  or Queen Hedorian on the villains's side. That era stops with Zero One's death in episode 22. After that era, the Dark Q robots aren't used any more.

3) Episodes 23-44 : In episode 23, a lot of changes happens in Sun Vulcan: Amazon Killer is called by Queen Hedorian and becomes the next female chief officer. The Sun Vulcan is destroyed, but quickly, is replaced by a new one. Ohwashi leaves, and is replaced by Hiba.
During that era, the tone is more light hearted, the military/spy theme is less prominent (notably because of the absence of the Dark Q spy), the violence is somewhat toned down compared with previous episodes, and the comedic element is increased by the arrival of the new comic relief character, Sukehachi, and the increased focus on the weirdness of the Mongers. Despite that, the plot is still the same, telling of the different plots of Sun Vulcan to crush humanity, with some pretty threatening plot, like destroying the food supply, or creating a devastatign earthquake. An interesting element is the arc involving siblings being descendants of the Denzi planet people who came to Earth, because that arc makes the link between Sun Vulcan and the universe of Denziman, while giving focus on Queen Hedorian.

4) Episodes 45-50 : the final plot and the destruction of the Black Magma Empire. Interestingly, the evil empire is at least as much, if not more, damaged by internal conflicts as by Sun Vulcan's actions. That final arc is triggered by Inazuma Ginga's arrival. Because of his treacherous personality, he had a key role in destroying the unity between the different members of Black Magma. Because he threatened Hedorian and Amazon Killer's status in Black Magma, the two Vader women decided to take over the empire by having Inazuma Ginga and Hell Satan fight each other, resulting in Hell Satan's death, and Hedorina becoming the leader of Black Magma. However, that victory would be short lived, and Hedorian would be soon killed by the Omnipotent God, who revealed his true role as Black Magma's leader by bringing back Hell Satan to life, and having him kill Queen Hedorian and defeat Inazuma Ginga by turning him into a Monger, which would be eventually be killed by the Sun Vulcan. Before her death, Hedorian has managed to kidnap Misa Arashiyama, and the Omnipotent God used her to bring Chief Arashiyama and the Sun Vulcan to the Black Magma Headquarter for a final showdown. The Sun Vulcan first fought Amazon Killer, who was forced to fight for the evil god, despite having no loyalty for him. The fight was a tough one, Amazon Killer remarkably resisting the heroes's attacks, even when fighting alone, without any help from the Zero Girls or the Machinemen. Eventually, she killed herself, as a final defiant gesture against the Black Magma Leader. The second showdonw involved a robot fight between the heroes in the Sun Vulcan Robo and the Zero Girls in a Black Magma robot, the King Magma. Black Magma used a solar eclipse to have the Sun Vulcan Robo at its weakest, in order to defeat it, but eventually, the heroes managed to destroy the enemy robot and the Zero Girls. Surprised by that defeat, the Omnipotent God did a final challenge to the Sun Vulcan by using Misa to get the Sun Vulcan commander to surrender. However, Arashiyama quickly understood that the God used an illusion to deceive him, and eventually destroyed the living brain. The Sun Vulcan then saved Misa, and left the Black Magma headquarter which was blowing up. And then, peace was at last back on Earth, with the Machine Empire gone once and for all.


My personal feelings about Sun Vulcan
Sun Vulcan is a very interesting series  in the history of Super Sentai. It was the last show with Shouzo Uehara as head writer and Susumu Yoshikawa as producer. As mentioned above, Sun Vulcan introduced a lot of new elements in the sentai franchise. Some of them would have a lasting effect: Sun Vulcan was the first to use animal themed heroes and the first team with three core heroes, which is a trend that would be used later. Liveman for example did an obvious homage to Sun Vulcan, starting with three heroes, the Red one being a bird of prey, the Blue one a marine predator and the Yellow one a Big cat; Hurricanger, by using the same animals as Liveman, also indirectly did an homage to Sun Vulcan. While sentai shows with three heroes are a minority in Super Sentai, at least 5 sentai series (Liveman, Hurricanger, Abaranger, Gekiranger and Go-Busters) started with a core team of three heroes in red, blue and yellow, all having an animal theme, even if, unlike Sun Vulcan, those shows had additional heroes. Last but not least, Sun Vulcan started the Gattai concept, with the robot being the fusion of several individual mechas, a concet that would become a trademark of Super Sentai.

Sun Vulcan is a show that is typical of early 80' sentai show. It's a very episodic series, with very few arcs. Most of the episodes are self contained, and tell a complete story, as typical of that era.

One of the biggest flaws of Sun Vulcan are its heroes. Sun Vulcan almost never focuses on its characters, and as such, both Vul Eagles and Vul Shark feel like completely bland characters.  Vul Shark had one episode focusing on his background, where he is seen to lose his cool because of his past trauma, but it's only used there, and other than that, he only seems to be there, but doesn't show any real personality Both Vul Eagles are even blander, especially Ohwashi who seems only to be there as well, and Hiba, which only real distinctive characteristic is his kendo skills. As the comic relief character, Hyo fares better, and shows much more personality, and he also benefits of having a whole episode where he interacts with his father. However as a whole, the main heroes aren't really impressive.

Chief Arashiyama is a very good commander, and a well done character. He shows several sides, from the serious chief, to the loving father, the chef that has to deal with an idiot cook and a man who still loves playing with kids, and has such, has kept a young heart.
His daughter Misa is less interesting: while she is a nice assistant to the team, and helps them whenever she can, she plays too often  a conventional role of damsel in distress.

CC and Sukehachi are only comic relief characters, without much depth.

The villains are more interesting, but still remain in a lot of way pretty conventional villains of that era of sentai. One striking element of Black Magma is its huge number of female characters. In contrast with its lack of female ranger, Sun Vulcan has probably one of the biggest female villain cast ever in toku, with 5 female characters, all played by actresses, being main villainesses. That trend of a big female villain cast has started with Denziman, and would be used again in the Metal Hero franchise (which is the franchise where Sun Vulcan head writer and producer would be involved after Sun Vulcan), notably in series like Shaider (if one see Poe as a female character despite being played like a man, Shaider has even more female main enemies than Sun Vulcan), Spielban, and Jiban, all having a mostly female villain cast.
Sun Vulcan has two legendary toku villainesses playing actresses, with Machiko Soga as Hedorian, and  Yukie Kagawa as Amazon Killer.
Hell Satan is your classic villain leader, completely evil (given his name, it was expected xD ), and staying in the headquarters, planning evil plots. Hoxever, it's funny to notice how Hell Satan has shown much more badass stuff when he was dead than when he was alive. The Omnipotent God is a classic twist last minute real leader, but he's not very interesting.  The Zero girls are impressive evil officers, ruthless, competent , cruel, but also using very cleverly their good looks when disguised as ordinary women.  They were a true challenge to the Sun Vulcan. Amazon Killer was as impressive as the Zero Girls when fighting the heroes, and as a Black Magma general, but she showed also a more complex side, because of her true loyalty to her Queen. She did an impressive last fight against the heroes, fighting alone against three opponents, and it's remarkable how she showed defiance against a ruler she didn't want to fight for, and used her last forces to give information to the Sun Vulcan to help them destroy the God. Yukie Kagawa did a great job.  Queen Hedorian is back from Denziman, but intead of being the leader, she merely a second in command. Machiko Soga is deliciously over the top as ever, and it's obvious that the real reason Hedorian is back is to allow Machiko Soga to be again the over the top evil queen, with her evil laugh and her over  the top personality. The queen is obviosuly the comic relief of the villain side. Lastly, Inazuma Ginga is your usual treacherous villain, who works for noone but himself. He's the one who triggers the destruction of the Black Magma empire. However, because he appears very late, his storyline seems to be done in a pretty rushed way.

About the story: Sun Vulcan's main story is a classic good vs evil storyline, and it doesn't have much depth. During most the the show, the main plot is completely stagnant, and you have the feeling that they only remembred that they had to conclude their story 6 episodes before the end. As a result, they introduced all the internal fights in the enemy side, and it feels like when the Sun Vulcan eventually come for the final showdown, almost all the work is already done, with a lot of their main enemies already dead. Thar final storyline with the conflicts between villains feel rushed, and the reveal of the true nature of the Black Magma Leader feels almost like it has been introduced as the last moment (I say "almost", because of the mention of the Black Sun God in episode 5)  It's not unlike the previous sentai series, Denziman, where most of the Vader clan is destroyed by internal conflict among the villains.
More interesting is the very diverse kind of individual stories in Sun Vulcan. Some stories are pretty dark, but could be also be touching, especially in early episodes, the best examples being episode 9 and 11 (see above), or episode 19, which shows in a sincere way the suffering of a boy neglected by his father. Other stories show Black Magma having serious plans, but the tone was balanced by the very silly looking monsters of the week, or the focus on comedic characters or a weird monster : some examples involving the episodes with Vul Panther's dad, or the one with the tomboy reporter. Others are completely weird, notably episodes showing Hedorian's weird behaviour, like the treasure hunt by brainwashing a young man into believing he was his pirate ancestor, with Machiko Soga doing a dance, or the ones involving Hedorian's desire for diamonds or nice clothes.

Sun Vulcan tone's evolution is very interesting because it wants to have a serious tone, at least at the beginning,  while at the same time clearly wanting to be appealing to kids.
At the beginning, the tone is serious, with the spy/ military team, and the villains's plot were in a lot of cases very cruel. The Black Magma were villains that had to be taken very seriously, and the Dark Q were pretty creepy villains.
However, since the beginning, the series brought some material appealing to kids, like VulPanther's comic relief status, CC the talking dog, and the animal theme. With Hedorian's introduction, the villain side gained a comic relief character as well, and Machiko Soga was here again to play the evil, but at the same time hilarious witch queen. Besides, a lot of episodes had children as central characters, which kids would relate with. There are alos a lot of children going in the snack safari bar, with  nice scenes of Arashiyama playing with them, or them making fun of the comic relief characters of the series.  Another element that is very kid appealing is the music, which is very upbeat, and the songs are very catchy, especially those sung by Akira Kushida, who already shows he's a legend of toku singers. That upbeat music helps a lot to bring some light heartedness in Sun Vulcan, notably during the giant fights. Lastly, starting with episode 23, the tone became more light hearted, with the nex comic relief character, and the discarding of the Dark Q.

The best element of Sun Vulcan is without a doubt its action. Every episode is packed with action, and the episodes are very well done fight scenes. An interesting element is how, in a lot of fight scenes, the heroes and villains would do very silly things, like weird moves, bizare weapons (like whack a mole stuff) , and some comedy was pretty nicely added in the fight scenes. Because of tthe action, most of the episodes are pretty entertaining.

Conclusion
Sun Vulcan is a worthy entry of the sentai franchise, and it started a lot of new stuff that is used in almost every sentai series. The series is pretty entertaining, because of its fun action, some fun characters, and a lot of standalone stories that were well done.
However, Sun Vulcan has a lot of issues.  The heroes are very bland and their personalities aren't developed at all; it's striking how the change of red ranger has almost changed nothing in the dynamic of the team and interactions between the heroes. The villain are dangerous, but aren't very original.
Lastly, the final storyline seems very rushed, and it's striking how the plot stalls during most of the show, and most of the important stuff in the main storyline is almost entirely told in the last six episodes.
Because of those issues, Sun Vulcan can't be seen as one of the best sentai series. However, it's still an entertaining show, and I give it a score of 7/10








Friday, June 14, 2013

Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue: a dark and adult-oriented telling of the Kamen Rider mythos

Shin: Kamen Rider: Prologue has been made in 1991, as a V-cinema movie celebrating the 20 years of the Kamen Rider franchise: it was co-written by Jun'ichi Miyashita and Jou Onodera and directed by Osamu Tsuji.

Synopsis
At night, a woman is attacked and killed in a gruesome way. Soon afterwards, a young couple in a car is targeted as well, but when they're about to be attacked, police comes and try to stop the killer. However, they fail, and the killer, a monstruous creature escapes. At the same time, a young man (Shin Kazamatsuri) wakes up, and is soon comforted by a nurse, who is also his girlfriend, Ai Asuka.
Then, a bunch of cars enter a scientific research center, the Institute of Super Science (ISS) and a bunch of people are greeted by the ISS's head, Iwao Himuro, who makes them visit their research laboratories. In one of them, we see the young man, his girlfriend and two researchers (Daimon Kazamatsuri, Shin's father, and Giichi Onizuka). Himuro explains that the aim of the research is to make the human body stronger by increasing regenerating abilities, to help curing diseases like AIDS and cancer. Shin seems to be the experiment subject.  At the lab, we see the two researchers argue, Onizuka wanting to go at a further stage of their experiment when Shin's dad being more cautious, especially since the test subject is his son, even if Shin doesn't mind being so. Soon afterwards, we see Shin and Ai do some exercise in a sports center, and there they meet Yuki, Shin's friend, who reminds him of his dream as a motorcycle racer, which he gave up to help his father for his research. However, then, we see Shin and Ai have some sweet time together, as they're spotted by a woman with sunglasses.
The next evening, Shin is jogging when he sees Onizuka going alone in the night. He follow him to an abandoned building, only to see him doing crazy experiments on himself in a lab made there , and when Onizuka feels pain, Shin feels pain at the same time. Then, the lab is attacked by a bunch of people with firearms, led by the woman with sunglasses, who shoot everywhere in the lab, especially targeting Onizuka, who tries to avoid the bullets. Shin tries to avoid the shootings, but soon loses consciousness while a sudden change happens on Onizuka, and the armed people are killed in a gruesome way.  When Shin wakes up, he sees the bodies of the killed agents, and he believes he's the one responsible for the massacre. The next day, he meets Onizuka, because he needs to know more about the research, threatening him to talk about the events of the night. Onizuka explains that his research focused on the strange powers seen in different animals, especially insects, and that he's fascinated by insects, especially grasshoppers, which he thinks are the creature of the future, more than humans. He's especially fascinated by their telepathic powers. He then tells Shin, and his father that the research is gonna go on, even if they don't want to. Shin comes back to the building, and there meets the woman with sunglasses, Sarah, who tells him that her aim is to destroy the syndicate who pays for the ISS, and that they're looking for the same thing. But as they're about to talk more, Sarah noticed that they're targeted by a sniper (already seen before as Himuro's assistant). Sarah saves Shin, and both her and the sniper shoot at each other. At the end, Shin manages to escape, while Sarah seems to kill the sniper, after shooting him and making him fall from the half destroyed building.However, it is revealed later that he survived.
Shin goes back to the sports center and the pool, and there, meets Ai and Yuki, and tells him of his fear and horror of being a killer, , even wanting his friends to leave him because he's dangerous. However, Ai stays with him and tries to comfort him by swimming in the pool with him.
The show then shows Onizuka locked in a straightjacket, and kept prisoner by Imuro, who mocks his passion for insects, and also mocks science as well. Himuro then meets Shin's dad to tell him that Onizuka has quit, and that he must go on with the research, while at the same time telling mysterious people by phone that he's gonna send an interesting sample this night. Himiro clearly shows Shin's dad he has no other option and keeps him prisoner.  Shin then questions why noone is concerned by the fact someone's missing.
The next night, Shin investigates the science center when he begins to feel a painful feeling, like if someone was calling him.  He visits Onizuka's lab, full of cages with grasshoppers. At the same time, security guard are closing a truck which seems to contain a dangerous creature, and then a convoy with the truck and a car leave the research center. Shin follows the convoy with his motorbike, because he seems to be able to communicate with the trapped creature. The convoy is then ambushed by a big truck, which makes the convoy's truck lose control and falling. At the same time, the big truck  opens, and a bunch of gunmen, led by Sarah, start to shoot at the guards., with deadly results. However, Himuro's assistant escapes, while Sarah and her men approach ISS's truck, and decide to make it explode with a bazooka. In ISS's truck, a creature tries to get out. Shin tries to stop Sarah and her men to destroy the truck, but in vain. Flames appear, and an insect like monster is burning in the flames, and eventually dies. The monster is revealed to be a transformed Onizuka. At the same time, Shin begins to experience incredible pain, and ends up transforming himslef into a big scary green grasshopper-like monster. As Sarah witnesses the transformation and is hesitating about shooting the monster, Himuro's assistant comes, and tries to kill the young woman, who's saved by Shin in monster form. Himuro's assistant himself turns into a monstruous creature, and fights Shin. At the end, the fight ends without any winner, and Shin runs away, while Sarah is unable to shoot him with his bazooka. Shin (in monster form) then meets Ai who apologizes to him, and he takes her in his arms (still while being a monster). The next day, Sarah talks in English to her boss and tries to explain that despite being a monster, Shin seems to have kept his human heart, and tries to convince her boss not to kill him. However,  she fails, and is ordered to kill him. At the same time, Ai explains everything to Shin, that Sarah is a CIA agent, and that the real aim of the syndicate and ISS is to use the research on regenerating powers to create super strong soldiers, which would be sold and bring money to the syndicate. Onizuka did crazy research on grasshoppers because of his beliefs, and ISS let him do so, since it could help for their goals. Indeed, Onizuka managed to get to the next step of the research, and has changed himself and Shin into true monstruous and very powerful human-grasshoppers hybrids. It was for that reason that Shin and Onizuka were able to communicate through telepathy  At the same time, Himuro explain the same to Shin's dad, explaining how Shin is a precious sample now. Ai geos back to ISS to confron her boss, but is soon captured as well, and then, learns that she's pregnant with Shin's child, who is gonna be a human- grasshopper creature as well.
Ai soon experiences pain from her pregnant state, and Shin's dad demands help from Himuro. Himuro opens the door of the room where Ai adn Shin's dad are locked, but at the same time, a yellow light appears (which shows the unborn child's powers), and incapacitates Himuro and his men, and the two prisoners run away to escape.. Shin receives the telepathic cry of the creature (even if he ignores its existence so far), and  runs towards the center. Ai and Shin's dad try to get out of the center, but every door is closing in front of them, and they soon end up trapped. However, Shin tears up the door and comes to help. They're soon attacked by both the ISS's security men, and at the same time, Sarah's men who are attacking ISS. Shin, his dad and Ai try to escape only to confront Himuro, who, with nothing to lose, decides to kill them. He tries to kill Shin and mortally wounds Ai who tried to protect Shin. Ai dies, her last words being to ask Shin to protect her child, whatever appearance he has. Furious and full of grief, Shin turns into his monster appearance and kills the frightened Himuro in a very bloody way. Soon afterwards, Hiromu's assistant comes in monster form, and the two creatures sart a very violent fight to the death, with Shin eventually severing his opponent's head and spine from the rest of its body. The head explodes, and Shin and his dad escape with Ai's body. Outside, they meet Sarah and her men. Sarah explains that she has no choice but kill Shin, but as she's about to shoot, an helicopter comes (likely from the Syndicate), and Sarah and her men are shot and bombed from above. Shin's dad is captured in a net sent by the helicopter and Shin himslef is captured, while trying to save his dad. However, Sarah is able to shoot the helicopter with her bazooka, destroying it and the buiding below (and likely, Shin's dad as well). The story ends with Shin carrying his girlfriend's dead body, his only hope being his future child.

Comments
Shin Kamen Rider prologue is a very violent movie. Almost every character in the movie die, and in a lot of cases, in very gruesome and bloody ways. The movie ends in a pretty depressing way, the hero having lost almost everything in his life, his father, his lover, and he's even not human anymore. His only ray of hope is his future child.
While the movie is very violent and that the special element of that show is how violent and dark it is, since the violence isn't that different from early toku violence, notably Showa era Rider shows. However, it's true that the violence is shown much more crudely than in Rider TV shows, even showing the hero in monster form  violently killing a defenseless man (as despicable as the man was)
The storyline uses elements already seen in previous rider shows : Kamen Rider Black has shown the hero  hero being subject of experiment by his father, with the latter realizing too late the true meaning of the organization he's been involved with, and paying the ultimate price for it. The concept of the girlfriend involved in a way has been done in Kamen Rider X.
However, what makes that movie so special is the way the story is told. Shin Kamen Rider prologue is basically an extended first episode of a Showa Rider show Usually, in those "first episodes", the way the protagonist becomes a "remodeled man" is detailed. Here, instead of being a 25 minutes long, it's a 1 hour and a half movie. Thus, the concept can be explored in much more depth than in a 25 minutes episode, and more elements can be introduced, like the  crazy scientist and the CIA subplot.
There is another important element that makes the movie even more stand out its storyline : instead of being a crazy cult which members are mostly monsters or cyborg like creatures, here, the antagonists are all human with the Big Bad being a corrupted executive, who works for a creepy syndicate.
Instead of showing us villain with over the top outfits  and animal like monsters, the real villains were normal looking people wearing ordinary clothes. It gave the movie a more realistic aspect and highlighted much more than in previous Rider shows the evil in humans.   
Another interesting element of the story is that every character is tainted : even the most sympathetic characters have been in a way corrupted: the hero's dad and girlfriend, who were accomplice of the horrible stuff done to him. Even the hero himself was at first a willing participant to the crazy experiments he was undergoing, and at the end, kills a human with his own ends, despite the latter being unable to fight back (of course, said human was the movie's main antagonist, who has killed the hero's girlfriend just before, and it was difficult not to cheer Shin when he killed him) . The people who fight the syndicate (the CIA agents, led by Sarah) show also a ruthless side, having no problem killing people involved in ISS.
While the movie was a new approch to the Kamen Rider mythos, it's interesting to see that the involvement of humans as villains instead of monsters seems to come from the Metal Hero shows from that era, like Winspector, which had in a lot of cases, ordinary criminals as antagonists instead of the usual Monsters of the Week. Indeed, the more realistic tone is pretty similar to the one appearing in the Metal Hero shows of that era.
It's worthy to notice that one of the writers of the show is Junichi Miyashita, who has worked on Winspector and he would use a lot of the themes used in that movie in a Metal Hero show he would be head writer of : Janperson. Indeed, the Institute of Super Science would find its spiritual successor in the Super Science Network (SS-N) in Janperson, which is one of its villain group. Like the ISS, SS-N is doing experiments to make powerful mutant creatures, and is not above using humans to make them. Moreover, the concept of the corrupt executive antagonist would be used in Janperson , with the character of Ryusaburo Tatewaki, leader of the Tatewaki conzern, who also would use violence and deception to reach his aims. 
Lastly, Shin Kamen Rider movie prologue wouls also have an influence on Heisei Rider series. In the movie, Sarah is seen to have trouble dealing with Shin, because he's a monster. In Agito, the conflict between official forces and the too powerful Riders would be also a big theme.  Heisei Rider series would also use corrupt companies as antagonists, like the Smart Brain in Faiz and the Foundation X in the W/ Fourze universe. Lastly, in both W and Fourze, the antagonists are corrupted people closely associated with the heroes (especially Fourze).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Super sentai and dinosaurs : an evolution storyline



It's common knowledge : kids love dinosaurs. As a result, it was unavoidable that Toei would use dinosaurs in its major tokusatsu franchise, Super Sentai. Dinosaurs and prehistoric animals have appeared as early as Battle Fever J as Monsters of the week. With the appearance of animal mechas in Liveman, it was only a matter of time that a dinosaur themed Super Sentai would be made. And it would be in 1992, with Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger the first dinosaur themed sentai series. Since then, two other dino-themed series have followed: in 2003, Bakuryuu sentai Abaranger, and in 2013, the current super sentai series, Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger. Besides, dino-themed mechas have appeared in other series such as Timeranger, Go-onger, Shinkenger, Goseiger and Gokaiger.

I'm gonna focus now on the three main dinosaur sentai series: Zyuranger, Abaranger and Kyoryuger. It can be noticed that the exploration of the dinosaur motif went deeper with each series, with Zyuranger being the beginning, with a few well known animals, Abaranger going more in detail with more species, and Kyoryuger being able to go even further.


1) Zyuranger

Zyuranger came at a time when the animal mechas were just beginning to appear in the sentai franchise, and, at that time, most of the mechas appearing were, first, the individual mechas for each hero, then, a second robot (Zyuranger introduced the first regular sixth ranger) and, at last, a big mecha towards episode 30. The animals in Zyuranger were prehistoric animals, but only about half of them were dinosaurs, and there were even two mammals among them. Each of the main 5 rangers was themed after an animal, and their mechas, weapon and even for three of them, their motorcycle was themed after them. The sixth ranger even had a non prehistoric animal, a dragon, as his theme. Zyuranger was the starting point of the dinosaur theme in the franchise, and at that time, all kind of prehistoric animals were included into the theme, even mammals. Another point: the tyrannosaurus had an upright stance, that was shown to be inaccurate.

Species in Zyuranger

Dinosaurs
Tyrannosaurus (Red Ranger's animal)
Triceratops (Blue Ranger's animal)
Brachiosaurus

Other prehistoric reptiles
Pteranodon (Pink Ranger's animal)

Prehistoric mammals
Mammoth (Black Ranger's animal)
Saber-tooth Tiger (Yellow Ranger's animal)

Other
Dragon (Sixth ranger (green)'s animal)

2) Abaranger
Abaranger aired eleven years after Zyuranger, in 2003. Between Zyuranger and Abaranger, a lot of series have developed the animal mecha concept, and the number of individual mechas has increased a lot, starting with Kakuranger. Moreover, CGI were used a lot more, and Gaoranger used CGI to great effects and had a huge ranger of animal mechas. As a result, Abaranger was able to show more diverse dinosaurs than its dino predecessor, the designs could be more precise and accurate with paleontological data. An example was the way the Tyrannosaurus stance was changed as a more horizontal, and, as such, more accurate. Abaranger used its dinosaur motif in the mechas and weapons of the heroes. While some of the mechas weren't true dinosaurs, they were all prehistoric reptiles, and, unlike Zyuranger, most of them were true dinosaurs.  As much as 16 prehistoric reptimes were mentioned, and while most fo them are "stock dinosaurs" (meaning dinosaurs often mentioned in popular culture)

Let's review Abaranger's animals: I'll show in bold the dinosaurs (and other animals) which had a mecha themed after them; in the other cases, I'll mention how the dinosaur was shown

Dinosaurs

Saurischians

Sauropods
Brachiosaurus (Black ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)

Theropods

Big theropods
Tyrannosaurus (Red Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Carnotaurus (movie mecha)
Spinosaurus ( theme of the helmet of the third main robot)

Small theropods
Velociraptor (or Deinonychus) (Road Raptors, a horse-like way of transportation for the four main rangers (Red, Blue, Yellow and Black)

Ornithischians

Thyreophora
Stegosaurus
Ankylosaurus

Neoornithischian

Ornithopods
Parasaurolophus

Marginocephalia
a) Ceratopsian
Triceratops (Blue Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Chasmosaurus (Movie mecha)
Styracosaurus (mecha and Red's special weapon)
b) Other
Pachycephalosaurus

Other archosaurs

Pterosaurs
Pteranodon (Yellow Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Tupuxuara (Additional(White) Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Rhamphorhynchus ( theme of the weapons of the third main robot)

Other reptiles
Dimetrodon 

A few fun  details: the Abaranger's enemies had some prehistoric animals as themes, with the ammonite being a theme of the evil armor, and Anomalocaris as enemy ships. Last, a supporting character had a crocodile theme, crocodiles being distantly related to dinosaurs (crocodiles are archosaurs)


3) Kyoryuger
Ten years after Abaranger, a new dinosaur themed sentai series is airing this year: Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger. At the time Abaranger was made, Super Sentai had already tried the maximum number of mechas it could use in sentai, and as such, Kyoryuger couldn't go much further than Abaranger in the diversity of dinosaurs as the heroes's mechas. It can be noticed that the mechas and gattai in Kyoryuger are pretty similar to those seen in Abaranger, and, with a few exceptions, pretty use the same species. However, Kyoryuger has found a way to explore more the dinosaur theme by using the concept of the Zyudenchi (the Beast Battery), that would be used with the heroes's weapons and would be able to make special attacks. While the number of mechas in Kyoryuger would be pretty similar to Aba's (10 mechas in regular series (vs 11 in Aba);  1 special movie mecha (vs 2 in Aba)), three additional dinos would be used to make weapons or vehicles, and ten other animals would be used as batteries for the special attacks. Like Abaranger, most of the animals used in Kyoryuger are dinosaurs; however, some mechas and batteries use non dinosaur reptiles, and even the ammonite was used in a battery. While the dinosaurs and other reptiles used for the mechas are pretty "stock dinosaurs", some of the dinosaurs used as batteries are less known.
Kyoryuger also went a little further than Abaranger by highlighting the relationship between dinosaurs and birds, and introducing the concept of feathers in dinos
I'll show in bold the dinosaurs used as mechas, and mention their partner when he (or she) is a main character; when the animal is used in another way than merely a special attack or being a part of Bragigigas's mecha, it will be mentioned.


Dinosaurs

Saurischians

Sauropods
Brachiosaurus 
Seismosaurus (Diplodocus)

Theropods

Big theropods
Tyrannosaurus (Red Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Spinosaurus (movie mecha)
Allosaurus

Small theropods
Velociraptor (Green Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Deinonychus (mechas used as bikes by the main heroes)
Oviraptor
Fukuiraptor

Ornithischians

Thyreophora
Stegosaurs
Stegosaurus (Blue Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Kentrosaurus (Battery used to make the weapon made from the five individual weapon of each main ranger, the Kentrospiker, used in final attacks)

Ankylosaurs
Ankylosaurus

Neoornithischian

Ornithopods
Parasaurolophus (Black ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Iguanodon


Marginocephalia
a) Ceratopsian
Triceratops (Pink Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Styracosaurus 
b) Other
Pachycephalosaurus

Other archosaurs

Pterosaurs
Pteranodon (Additional (Gold) Ranger's mecha partner and main weapon)
Tupandactylus ( theme of the weapons of the third main robot)

Crocodiles
Deinosuchus (special weapon)


Other reptiles

Plesiosaurs
Plesiosaurus 
Futabasaurus

Turtles
Archelon

Other animals
Ammonite (shelled cephalopod)

Fun detail: Torin, the heroes's mentor, has a bird or feathered dinosaur theme ; as such, he's pretty much the way Kyoryuger links dinosaurs and birds


Note:  Theropods were classified not according to their phylogenic group, but rather by their size; I did it, because Tyrannosaurus is more closely related to Velociraptor and Deinonychus than to other similar looking dinosaurs like Allosaurus and Carnotaurus, and I wanted to avoid putting the big  carnivorous dinosaurs apart.
For the curious ones, here is the phylogenic classification of theropods in each show

Abaranger:
Theropods

Ceratosaurs
Carnotaurus

Tetanurians

Megalosaurs
Spinosaurus  

Coelurosaurs
Tyrannosaurus
Velociraptor (or Deinonychus)

Kyoryuger

Theropods
 
Tetanurians

Megalosaurs
Spinosaurus  

Carnosaurs
Allosaurus
Fukuiraptor

Coelurosaurs
a) Tyrannosaurids
Tyrannosaurus
b) Maniraptors
Velociraptor
Deinonychus
Oviraptor