Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fukumi Kuroda : on screen, the villainous Queen Ahames in Changeman ; a real Changeman in real life

     The Changeman (left), their friends ... and some former enemies : humans and aliens together

                                         The evil Queen Ahames, played by Fukumi Kuroda

The real Fukumi Kuroda (center) in April 2013,  as she receives a plaque of appointment as a tourism ambassador of Gyeonggi province in South Korea, with Gyeonggi governor Kim Moon-soo (right) and Gyeonggi Tourism Organization chief executive Hwang Joon-kee.

1) Changeman : a sentai series about war which goes beyond good vs evil. 

 Dengeki Sentai Changeman is the ninth series in the Super Sentai franchise, and shows the fight of the Changeman and their allies from the Earth Defense Force against the evil Gozma, aliens who want to conquer Earth. However, Hirohisa Soda wisely avoided a simplistic plot with Humans = Good, Aliens= Evil. In several episodes, Changeman show aliens who are shown not to be evil (notably, in episodes 11, 16,  23, 26, 45), with a best example being the Rigelian Nana, who became a recurring character  as an ally of the Changeman. More importantly, most of the Gozma themselves were in fact shown to be forced to fight for Star King Bazoo. Some Monsters of the week were shown to be either victims of Bazoo, often forced to fight the Changeman for him (like Taro in episode 7, the tragic case of Prince Icaros in episode 41, and even the sadistic Pain in episode 28). More importantly, even most of the main generals of Gozma were in fact shown to be coerced into fighting for Bazoo with the hope that they will be rewarded with their own planet's restoration, like  Shima, Giluke and Ahames. While they were cruel, they fought for the same reason the Changeman were fighting : to protect their home planet. Gator was working with Bazoo because he was very afraid of him, even if deep down, he wished nothing more but to be with his family. Even Gyodai, the monster involved in making the Space Beast Warriors grow was nothing but an innocent animal which feels very lonely.
As such, the Changeman quickly realized that not all aliens were evil, that they had to learn a lot about the universe and the people and creatures living far away from Earth, and they often showed friendship feelings and compassion towards the many aliens who became victims of Bazoo's cruelty.
They even started to feel compassionate feelings for their enemies, like in episode 24 with Gyodai, or with Gator and his family when Gator's wife and kid started to appear on Earth, and even Shima once Tsurugi discovered her hidden sweet self in episode 46. More than ever, they realized that the evil of Bazoo was the real responsible of all the suffering, even for other aliens, even for enemies, and a climactic reveal was the fact that their own mentor, Ibuki (shown in the right of the picture above) was himself an alien. But the Changeman knew already how aliens and humans weren't that differnet, and they still trusted him. At the end, humans and aliens worked together to defeat Bazoo and start a new area of peace. Shima, Gator and Gyodai became the first sentai villains who not  managed to find redemption, and survived the fight against the heroes, becoming their allies at the very end.
A big message of Changeman is that war destroys every side, not just your own, and that understanding your opponent, even if he's different from you, is very important.

However, while aliens are still sci-fi material, war is unfortunately a real life issue, which can strain a lot relationship between people from different countries

2) Japan and South Korea : a tormented history 

As neighbouring countries, Japan and Korea have a long and tormented history between them. One of the darkest eras of Japan and Korea's long relationship was the annexion of the Korean peninsule by the Japanese Empire in 1910, which followed the Japan-Korean treaty of 1905 which had made Korea a Japanese protectorate. Japanese rule over Korea lasted 35 years, and stopped with the Japanese capitulation at the end of World War 2. Japanese during that era ruled Korea like a colony, with the ownership of land and of most of the large scale firms being under Japanese leadership, and, especially the later years, started a policy of cultural assimilation. Opposition to Japanese rule was strongly repressed. Of course, the Japanese rule over Korea took its worst turn during World War II, with the conscription of Korean men into the Japanese army, hundred of thousands male laborers being forced to be sent in Japan to help in the war industry, and of course, the thousands of Korean women forced to become "comfort women" (in other words, "sex slaves").  During the war, thousands of Korean laborers died.
After the war, Korea became a sovereign country again, with in 1948, the division of Korea into North (allied with USSR) and South (allied with the US) Koreas. While North Korea became the appaling dictatorship under the Kim dynasty, South Korea became with time a developed country and one of the "Four Dragons" of the Far East. Resentment between South Korea and Japan was very high, and the two countries only started having economic and diplomatic relations in 1965, twenty years after the end of the war. Since then, South Korea and Japan have become very important economic partners, and they even hosted together the FIFA (Soccer)  World Cup in 2002. However, anti-Japanese feeling is still very present in South Korea, and several issues (territorial disputes, historical issues) sour the relationship between the two countries. During a long time, Japanese cultural products (music, movies, anime, mangas, TV shows) were banned in South Korea, with the ban starting to be lifted only at the end of the 1990'. Moreover, prejudices against South Korea, usually fueled bu ignorance exist also in Japan.

3) Fukumi Kuroda : a lifelong project of bringing Japan and South Korea closer. 

Fukumi Kuroda is known by the toku fandom as the actress who played Queen Ahames in Changeman. Years after the show ended, she is still happy of her involvement in the show, and still loved her role as Ahames. However, Mrs Kuroda has had a very long career as an actress, and she's still active as of 2014. Born in July the 21th 1956, she had a career starting in the 70' and has been involved in many movies and TV shows.

However, a turning point in her life started in the mid 80's when, after becoming infatuated with South Korea volleyball player Kang Man-soo, she started discovering South Korea. She learnt the Korean language and visited plenty of places in South Korea, of course the big cities like Seoul, but also the rurals areas, meeting  Korean people, learning about their daily lives and of course, started to like them. She wrote a book  in 1988 about her experiences in Korea, Seoul My Heart. After discovering South Korea and their people, and realizing with anger about the discrimination the Korean minority suffered in Japan, she understood that it was very important for Japanese people to know more about Korea, the country, the people and their culture.  She really wants to show the kindness of Korean people to other Japanese.
During the Seoul Olympic Games, as the only actress able to speak Korean and thus, being able to talk with Korean locals, she did broadcasts for Fuji TV in South Korea. A few years later, in 1994, she wrote a South Korea guidebook,  Seoul no Tetsujin, which became a big hit, and she wrote updated versions in 1997 and 2001. Her guidebooks focused mostly on places with plenty of activity, such as marketplaces, which allowed to discover more about Korean daily life. Because of her involvement in bridging Japan and South Korea, she even managed to become a director of the Japan Organizing Committee of the FIFA World Cup, despite knowing nothing about soccer. In 2004, Kuroda was among the cast of the Korean series "Stained Glass". Of course, during the "Korean Wave" when Japanese people discovered a lot about Korean pop culture, Kuroda did her best to make Japanese people know more about Korea. For example, she spoke to Japanese audiences about her trips on Korea, and the people there (an example shown in a link below).
The years 2010' showed once again how Kuroda was important in bringing together Korea and Japan. In 2010, she was amember of an executive committee at a Korea-Japan exchange festival in Tokyo.  She was named honorary ambassador for the Yeosu expo in 2012. And in 2013, as shown in the picture above , Kuroda has been designated a tourism ambassador of Gyeonggi Province for two years.
Her efforts to make Korea be known to Japanese people have been appreciated by both Japanese and Korean people and Kuroda has become a major voice in making Japanese and Korean people understand each other.

4)  A controversial memorial

However, as warmy as her efforts about making Japanese and Korean people understand each other better have been received, one of her initiatives unfortunately became controversial. In 2008, she proposed and paid for a memorial for a Korean kamikaze who died in World War II in the young man's hometown, because she felt that despite fighting for Japan, he was also a victim of war, and wanted to make his soul rest. However, while the memorial has been built, it couldn't be unveiled because of the anger of Korean people who mostly saw those kamikazes as traitors who collaborated with the Japan colonizer. It showed that, despite her efforts, there is still a lot to do to heal the wounds of war.
That episode is very interesting because of her role as Ahames, since Ahames herself died in a kamikaze attack in the Changeman headquarters, destroying them. She sacrificed herself hoping that her planet could be restored, in a desperate move towards the one she initially fought against, but ended up obeying, because she felt she had no other choice. Ahames was much more than a classical toku villainess, but a woman who had a noble goal in mind, even if she did very evil and cruel deeds. She was a proud and arrogant woman, but at the same time, showed a very submissive attitude towards bazoo, because she realized she felt powerless against him. it's no wonder that Kuroda was attracted to a role who was very dfferent from classical female roles.  And Ahames's death is another element showing Changeman's strong theme about how the evil of war hurt and destroy all sides involved, and how it is important to try to heal those wounds to get a better future.
However, in real life, wounds take a lot of time to heal, and there are still plenty of steps before South Korea and Japan have normal relations. But Mrs Kuroda has brought a very important contribution in making the people of both countries wanting to know more about each other and overcome prejudices. And isn't that a theme that Hirohisa Soda explored in Changeman? Kuroda is probably a true real life Changeman in that regard.

Links about Kuroda and Korea :

Thanks for Shougo's Changeman's website for the photo of the Changeman cast.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My thoughts on Super Megaforce Silver and Super Megaforce so far

Since Super Megaforce is going on summer break, I figured it was time to do this now that the silver ranger is part of the team as well. Getting right to the point, I'll start with him and then move on to the rest of the show.
Orion: His two-part premier was alright. Personality-wise, they wanted to give him a tragic back-story that oddly makes him feel like a bit like Tyzon from Overdrive at the moment. They did an alright job of keeping his identity secret in the first half of the two parter but sadly they gave it away at the end of the first part. That is something I really think they should have saved for part two. Having the rangers arrive with the enemy already defeated in the first part was a nice touch as it was a decent indicator of his strength despite not seeing him fight on screen during those instances.

As for the rest of the show, it has been meh so far with most of the episodes feeling like rehashed Gokaiger episodes only with bad editing and build up problems. The copy and paste episodes have been ok for the most part except in the case of the Blue Saber Saga episode but I'll get to that one in a minute. To simplify things, I'll only go into detail about the best and worst tribute episodes so far.

Worst tribute episode: That goes to the Blue Saber Saga for now. It earned that title for the simple reason that the script is not only a straight-up copy and paste of the Shinkenger tribute from Gokaiger plot-wise, but it feels like it was written solely with adapting Joe from Gokaiger in mind, not written for Noah's actual character. It was a major out-of-character moment for Noah as he is more of the thinker/nerd character type.
There was no reason for him to get depressed at all after losing the sword fight, nor did he play into his already established character so far. They should have had him try to out-think the monster. I would've cut them some slack if they had at least played up his sword training in more of a strategic manner with him using his nerd side to somewhat predict the attacks, finding a blind-spot in the attack, or have him training so he can calculate the angle of the attacks as a counter-measure. Instead he immediately thinks "Well I lost so I've got to train with a sword more." and all he really learns from the encounter is that he can use more than one sword at once. I know they were somewhat limited in their options thanks to stock footage but I think they would've been able to come up with something more in character for him.

Best tribute episode: Ironically, the best episode so far is a tribute to a PR season that I don't like, that being Jungle Fury. Granted I'm using the word "best" loosely there. It also features the return of Casey who in my opinion is the blandest red ranger in the franchise, next to Troy of course. Now going by all of that I should dislike the episode but it was executed decently. It kept relatively close to Jungle Fury's continuity aspects and the scenes with Emma and Jake training flowed really well. Though Casey was a little too on-the-nose when he guess their animal spirits. Granted they did use the word "spirit" a little too much for my taste but overall it was better done than most of the episodes outside of the season premier.

Main problems: Well one of my problems is the lack of a plot other than "protect the city" and the first half sort of had the same problem. Granted while most of the PR seasons' plots centered around protecting the city, we at least got some sub-plots to help spice things up. With this, it just feels far too episodic with the characters not being interesting enough to make up for it. The rangers also seriously need to tone down the talking during the fights as there is far too much banter going on, even by PR standards. Its a bit distracting constantly hearing bad jokes in the middle of a fight.
The concept of older rangers showing up in the context of adapting the source material does sound like a good idea but it doesn't really make that much sense to me for one simple reason: A lot of the veteran rangers STILL have their powers yet chose to sit back and watch instead of helping the current team. In Gokaiger, they at least had a valid reason for being unable to help during the show since they were basically powerless. To make it more illogical, the Megaforce city is the only city shown being attacked and no other city is hinted at being attacked. It just makes the veterans look bad. When Jayden said "we're watching you.", I wanted to punch him and ask where the veterans were during the attack. I get it, we're meant to assume that they're fighting the Armada in other parts of the world but that hasn't really been shown or even hinted at as of yet. It would've made much more sense from a story telling perspective had the Legend War been done at the end of the Megaforce half instead of saved for the end of Super Megaforce. Other-wise the veterans showing up just feels tacked on for the sake of nostalgia. The fact that they still have their powers while the ranger keys exist also violates a piece of continuity from the MMPR era. That condition being that there can never be two of the same power at one time other-wise it can be very dangerous for the morphing grid. The ranger keys in PR would technically count as duplicate powers. So they just shot themselves in the foot since a lot of the veterans still presumably have their powers.
Pre-Zyu suits showing up: I'll have a post where I go into more detail up later. For now, I'll just say that the suits really have no reason to be in there if they're not going to properly explain why they're there. They've basically blown a hole in their continuity without giving an in-show explanation for it. It just makes the editing department look lazy when they can easily cut out the five second clips they've shown of those suits. It also makes the writers look lazy when all they need to do is write a two-second line saying "These powers are from other planets.". Writing them off as new powers accessible by Super Mega mode can only stretch so far. Granted Zordon did say there were rangers from other planets back in MMPR but here is the problem, most of their target audience today wouldn't know that bit of continuity. People are trying to come up with fan theories to explain why those suits are showing up, and while that is a valiant effort, it is ridiculous for it to be left to the fans to do so. When a company alters a franchise's continuity, the burden of explanation rests squarely on the shoulders of the company, not the fans. I give the Dairanger suits a bit of a pass since they are post-Zyu and they did technically have a presence in the franchise thanks to Kibaranger being used as the MMPR white ranger. I'll be keeping a count of the non-PR suits showing up until we get some sort of explanation.

Overall, it has been a meh show with hints of laziness on the production side so far. However, I can tell they are making some effort here and there which is more than I can say for the first half of the show.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My thoughts on Kamen Rider Gaim so far

Well since Gaim is just about at the halfway point, I figured it was time to do this. Here are my thoughts on what I've seen from Gaim so far. There will be some spoilers here since its hard to talk about these characters and their motives without spoiling anything, especially in DJ Sagara's case.
The first seven episodes struck a small nerve with me because it felt like it was sort of pumping out riders just to introduce toys with some characterization for each new rider so I won't label these episodes as filler. It sort of gave me flashbacks of Wizard's Dragon Style arc given how quickly the new riders showed up. Those episodes lacked plot development but thinking back on them, the characterization more than made up for that. The show also had a habit of flip-flopping tones during these episodes but the show started picking a tone in episode 8 when we get Kaito's motivation. Urobochi has definitely hit his stride now as the last 16 episodes have been all plot and have done rather well in keeping my interest. Though I still say Urobochi could've kicked the plot into gear before episode 8.

The suits for the most part have been alright with their biggest problem being the shoulder pads as those look far too large and tended to flop around too much during the fight scenes early in the show with Pine Arms being the worst offender in that category. It seems they've fixed the floppy shoulder pad problem though as I haven't noticed it in a while. My favorite suit is Ryugen's as the shoulder pads strangely work in its favor. However, the worst suit design so far has to be Suika Arms because its physical suit is just a big green fist and a box for Gaim's head since its purely a CGI form. It is some of the worst CGI I've ever seen as at certain times it looks like someone just drew on the film.
No one should have okay-ed this...at all!
It is a form that definitely should've been slimmed down and made into a human-sized suit for the suit actor or made to act as an independent robot for a non-rider character like Powerdizer from Fourze. Can't speak much for its design, its just a big watermelon themed mech suit. Thought the weapon for it changes depending on the rider using it which is a nice touch. The Jinba forms are interesting because even though they have the same weapon, each Jinba form makes up for that by increasing a certain aspect of Gaim's natural abilities such as strength, speed, and hearing. I can only guess what Jinba Melon will increase. I like Kachidoki Arms' design as it looks like an upgraded version of Orange Arms. It looks nicely balanced and the helmet and chest-plate are nicely detailed. A really nice touch is that the flags on its back can double as weapons which makes the flags a great choice on the designer's part. The red, yellow, orange, and black goes really well with the silver bolts on the suit. Its weird to think that this isn't even his final form since it looks like it could be.
Originally, it looked like the suit actors were having trouble adjusting to their weapons but they've definitely gotten used to them now. Baron's suit actor still sort of uses Banana Arms' lance like a sword but that works rather well when he fights in a corridor or enclosed space. Gaim's suit actor has finally gotten used to Strawberry Arms' daggers and has begun using them in a reverse-grip style which flows more naturally in a fight than the way he was holding them before.

A cool thing about the show is how it handles the form changes. Certain forms are actively being used to counter specific types of Invess. Pine and Mango are used mostly to combat armored enemies. Strawberry Arms is mostly used on flying Invess and Suika Arms is used to counter larger than normal Invess. It really shows that the characters have gotten used to how their powers work and are actively applying strategy in terms of form changing. It also means they don't have to keep constantly spamming their newest form to win each fight. The characters have also grown more comfortable with their weapons and it shows they're growing as fighters. Though Kouta does still act like an amateur at times and ends up flailing his sword around. I'm not complaining there as it shows that they are still basically untrained kids' fighting each other.

There are a lot of characters to cover so I'll start with the seemingly neutral ones, specifically a character that struck a severe nerve with me early on. Thats right, its the seeming fan favorite Oren Pierre Alfonso aka Kamen Rider Bravo. His comedy aggravated me early on as he is a trained soldier yet his comedic antics originally made it hard for me to take him seriously. Thankfully, he has gotten a bit more tolerable now that he has a punching bag for his comedic antics, that being Jonouchi. He has also begun showing more of his professional fighting side and he has actually somewhat grown on my to the point where I don't find him annoying anymore. We haven't seen him since episode 18 so I can't help but wonder what he has been up to.
Speaking of Gridon, I can't help but think he'll end up being the more strategic of the riders as he seems more than willing to use others for his own goals and toss them aside once they are of no further use. Jonouchi has some decent potential and I'm really interested in what they'll do with him once he gets done using Oren. Hase was an alright character and I really felt bad for him near the end. His death was sad and it helped show the gravity of the situation. It also showed there was more to fear from Helheim than just the Invess.

One of the most intriguing things about Gaim so far is the various ideologies the characters subscribe to. I like Kouta because of his optimistic outlook on things and his drive to change the world without compromising his morals. Micchi's dilemma is interesting since he is now pretty much working for Yggdrasil but he clearly cares about his friends even if he knows he might have to stab them in the back in order to protect them. He has even semi-adopted his brother's way of lying to people so they can keep clinging to their happiness. It will be interesting to see how that works out for him since the secret will inevitably get out. Kaito's take on power is interesting given his background with Yggdrasil and even though he has semi-partnered with Ryoma, I can't help but think there is more to it than him simply seeking out the Overlord Invess to test his might. It will be interesting when all their various ideologies and motivations come to a boiling point.
The Yggdrasil riders are honestly some of the more threatening Kamen Rider villains I've seen. I'm actually hesitant to call Takakora a villain since he is legitimately doing what he thinks is right. He is a man who will do whatever needs to be done to protect humanity's future and he follows the ideology that nothing in the world comes without sacrifice. He is completely at odds with Kouta's ideology which has lead to some great fights between the two so far. I like Ryoma because you can easily tell that he is one of those smart, scheming, devious, villains from the first moment he appeared on-screen. Every time the man is on-screen, part of me hopes that he tips his hand while part of me hopes he doesn't because I like the suspense. The man is even able to make Takatora think he is on his side. As for Sid, the guy is clearly a cold, callous type of villain who is more than willing to dirty his hands to achieve his goals. He seemed to take some joy in using the Beat Riders and even had this deliciously evil smirk on his face when he killed Hase. Yoko/Marika is honestly the most terrifying of the Yggdrasil riders mostly due to her mannerisms when she moves and speaks. Even when she is smiling and talking calmly, you get the sense that she would strangle you if you turned your back on her. She legitimately sends a chill down my spine every time she speaks. Her being Marika's suit actress as well as her actual actress works pretty well and the fight scenes really get kicked up when she fights both in and out of suit. Unlike the main riders' suits, the shoulder pads for the Yggdrasil riders actually look quite nice and the single shoulder pad look works great for them.
Finally, I get to DJ Sagara. In all honesty, the guy kind of scares me because we don't exactly know what his goal is. He is more than willing to push Kouta deeper and deeper into the fight for some unknown reason and even told him to remake the world with his own hands. I'm actually wondering why he is so interested in Kouta. He seems to be more of a neutral party at present and he definitely isn't human given that he created the Kachidoki lockseed. He seems to have some connection to the Mai-lookalike and even wanted to know why she took such an interest in Kouta. I'm curious to see what Urobochi will do with him.

The show's take on heroes and villains is a rather interesting one as not everyone is straight-up good or outright evil. Most of the characters' motives can arguably be seen as right  and a justified solution to the problem, even if I happen to disagree with them. It really helps to show that under dire circumstances that what is right and what is wrong really only depends on your perspective. Anyway, those are my thoughts on Gaim so far and I'm curious to see where Urobochi will take the show now. It is just might end up taking my number 3 spot from Kamen Rider W.