Sunday, August 24, 2014

My thoughts on Attack On Titan so far

Well, episode 16 of the dub aired on Toonami so it is about time that I do my usual mid-season review. Honestly, this anime is one of those where I'm struggling to understand why it got popular. The same can be said of Sword Art Online. Anyway, without further adieu, lets take a look at how Attack On Titan has been for me so far.
I'm just gonna come right out and say it, I don't like Eren Yeager. His dislike of humanity has yet to be explained and from what I've gathered so far, he has been this way since he was a child. He seems to blame humanity for his inability to leave the walls instead of the blaming the titans. He also seems to blame humanity for not throwing themselves at the titans. Early on, he showed very little care for the lives of people around him save for his mother, Mikasa, and Armin. He didn't even acknowledge that his squad was getting eaten during the Trost arc. I was actually surprised that someone actually had to tell him that people were dying and that he should at least acknowledge them for their sacrifice. The secondary and background characters seem to just be there to up the body count. A lot of them seem to be very weak-willed with the ones being afraid of the titans usually being motivated by Eren giving an uninspiring speech that amounts to him saying "Lets go kill some titans!". Mikasa is a character that I can just barely get behind since she at least admitted during the Trost arc that she screwed up and cost people their lives. A lot of the characters exist just to increase the body count.

The Titans: Honestly, I don't like the Titan' designs and I don't understand why the characters are even remotely afraid of them. Yeah they're big and can move fast but they don't even look scary. They evoke laughter given their designs, not fear. Most of them aren't even that smart so a simple strategy is enough to take the regular ones out of the equation. It sort of feels like the only reason humanity has struggled with them for so long is because they aren't thinking and just reacting to this big lumbering oaf coming toward them. There has only been one titan in the show that I've liked. It was a one-off titan who I have since dubbed "Santa Titan" and hilariously, he ate Eren. Unfortunately, that didn't last long. Confusingly, they are essentially made of hot air and are light as a feather yet can still somehow punch through a wall. That shouldn't be possible even if I suspend my disbelief. They are also photosynthetic which leaves me scratching my head even more, not so much in disbelief but because it renders their hunger for human flesh pointless from a biological perspective. They're just eating to eat and it doesn't make them look anymore terrifying.

The Body Count:
The body count in this show is absurdly high. It feels like there is almost no weight to anyone's death because it throws death after death at you so fast. It really gives off the impression that no one in this show matters at all. It makes it very difficult to feel for these background characters since most of them are being introduced at the exact moment of their death. No matter how large the cast of characters, even the most minor characters' deaths should be treated like a big event, especially when you're killing them off in big numbers like this because that is the only chance we'll have to feel for them. The "anyone can die at any moment" mentality doesn't really work in the show's favor since its usually the cannon fodder getting eaten. One death I did find funny was in episode 13, some nameless soldier was watching horrified as his friend was getting eaten and then a titan just swats him like a fly. The show also features an absurd amount of gore between the titans eating people and Eren's fights in titan form. The gore gets old very quickly to the point where it isn't even a unique aspect of the show anymore.

Pacing and Raccoon Faces: These 16 episodes felt like 32 and definitely not in a good way. This show has a ton of exposition in it. Unfortunately, it is usually used to pad out the episodes. This is one of the few anime I've seen that has so much exposition but doesn't actually say anything useful or important at all. The padding is also extremely obvious. Take the battle of Trost for example, the Titans are ravaging the city and while Jean is in the supply depo, he spends about 3 minutes doing an inner monologue and the entire time two titans are just staring at him through a broken window. While that was probably in the manga it doesn't work in the anime for one simple reason: It is supposed to be an urgent situation and everything is supposed to be happening in real time. There is no indication of a slow down time-wise that would usually go along with something like that. It just makes the show feel like its dragging its heels. The show features a bizarre phenomenon given the art style where everyone turns into raccoon people during the close-ups. Their eyes always sink-in during dramatic moments so it makes it look like they're wearing a raccoon mask. It takes away from the seriousness of a scene when all I can think during said scene is "Jeez man! What happened to your face?!".
Raccoon!! Seriously though that is gonna become a meme one day.
Overall Thoughts: There really isn't much more that I can say. I am somewhat astounded that this thing got popular. The show is insanely boring and for a show that has been applauded for its action sequences there are far too few of them with it being padded out instead by exposition. The show lacks a sense of urgency overall. Even in the middle of the Battle for Trost while titans were swarming the city the characters still found time to hand out exposition in real-time. One of the other issues I have is that the show fails to set up viable rules for the titans and even when it does, those rules vary from titan to titan. For example, titans draw their nourishment and energy from sunlight which is why they don't attack at night. Doesn't sound so bad right? Well here is where the problem comes in: Some titans take longer than others to become inactive once the sun goes down. Yeah I understand that it is done so humanity isn't just walking beyond the walls at night with no consequences but because of that, it is only a matter of time before the writer introduces titans that are powered by moonlight. Every fantasy story does one of two things: 1. They follow real world laws to some degree or 2. They don't follow those laws but explain their own rules so you understand why they work the way they do. The writer is so busy trying to make the titans mysterious that he has created situation in which he can do anything that he deems necessary and it will still fit the narrative. Because of the vagueness or outright lack of rules regarding how the world works, the show almost requires you to think of it using real world logic. Once that happens, the story and its so-called logic fall apart at the seams. Anyway, those are my thoughts on Attack On Raccoon City...I mean Titan.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Super Sentai, Hirohisa Soda and science : an analysis

Next year, Super Sentai will be 40 years old, and while the franchise kept its key elements (colored suit heroes fighting evil together) it started first as a spy/military show at the beginning (with shows like Gorenger, Battle Fever J, Sun Vulcan), then evolved more into sci-fi themes during the 80', during the Soda era, and, then starting with Turboranger, swittched motr towards fantasy themes.
The topic of this post is gonna focus mostly on the Soda era, and especially, how Hirohisa Soda explored the theme of science in his sentai shows.

1) Soda's first shows : first attempts into the science theme

 As soon as Takeyuki Suzuki became chief producer and Hirohisa Soda became the head writer in Super Sentai, they showed their interest in exploring the science theme. While the previous shows were more spy like themed, Gogle V and Dynaman were the shows which made the transition between the spy era to the Sci-fi era.

In GoggleV, the villains group, Deathdark were actually the ones responsible for all the evil science in the world. They had (at least at first) two major evil scientist, Dr Iguana and Dr Sasoriya. Even their leader, Fuhrer Taboo himself, was pretty much an entity made from evil science. Deathdark was indeed the symbol of how science can become evil. On the good side, the heroes were helped by the Computer boys and girls, who were precocious kids able to deal wtih technology, and as such, involved in "good science" . However, that was pretty much how far Goggle V went into exploring the science theme.

The next show, Dynaman even had the word "science" in its title "Kagaku (science) sentai Dynaman" . Here, the ones interested in science were more the heroes, who were trying different scientific projects, with very variable levels of success, when they weren't saving the world from the Jashinka. They hoped to help their fellow humans thanks to their projects, and make their dreams come true. Unlike the villains, those dreams weren't involving harming people or world conquest, so it wasn't "evil science". However, despite the title, science was not so much at the center of the show.

Goggle V and Dynaman were mostly light hearted shows, pretty episodic, and while Soda alreay started using the science theme, he didn't explore it in depth. However, after two sentai shows as head writer where he stayed safe in its writing, but gained also experience as head writer, Soda strarted to explore in depth the science motif in his later shows.

2) Bioman, Flashman and Liveman : the Soda science trilogy

The era between Bioman and Liveman is pretty much the apex of Soda's writing in the sentai franchise and when he wrote his best shows. Among those shows, he explored the science theme in three of them, Bioman, Flashman and Liveman. A central theme in all of those shows is how science can be impressive, but if ethics and heart are forgotten, science becomes evil, and as such, worthless and vain. Those shows also explore human relationship, notably those between family, friends, and identity is also a key theme.

2-1) Bioman : robotics vs life

Bioman tells the story of the Bioman, five heroes chosen by Peebo and the Bio-Robot, the only survivors of Planet Bio,  to fight the New Empire Gear and protect Earth from them. They were chosen because they had in them an awesome power, the Bio-Particles.
The history of the planet Bio is very telling of the wonders and dangers of science. Planet Bio was much more advanced in technology than Earth, as it can be seen with Peebo and the Bio-Robot, who have awesome technology, and how the Bio Particles were able to make the Bioman grow much stronger than normal humans. However, it's that same technology that caused the complete destruction of planet Bio, which shows how misused technology can have awful results. The destructive power of the Anti-Bio Particles was even shown with the characters of Bio Hunter Silva and his robot Balzion. Silva was pretty much the incarnation of destructive science, with his "destroy" obsession. Actually, Peebo and Bio Robot had pretty much as a mission to prevent planet Bio's ultimate fate to happen in other planets.

However, Earth was threatened by such a dangerous fate. Indeed, the Neo Empire Gear, an empire of mecha-humans, created by the Doctor Man, was trying to conquer Earth. Dr Man was at first an human scientist, named Hideo Kageyama, who was married with a son. However, he ended up being obsessed into being even more intelligent, and ended up using a device who increased his brain capacities, but made him look older. In order to stay alive, Dr Man would become part machine. Because he was obsessed into being seen as the greatest scientist ever, he created by himself the Gear Empire, creating impressive robots and cyborgs (the Big three, the Beastnoids and the big robots). Dr Man was certainly one of the most impressive scientist in the robotic field, and he several times showed how much he could make even more impressive robots and power ups in his empire.
However, that quest for science made him pretty much forsake all kindness and human feelings. Human feelings were for him a weakness, even when he happened to feel them despite himslef, as seen in the Prince arc. Indeed, Dr Man wanted to have a successor, who would be with him for world conquest, and built a robot, Prince, who looked like the son he abandoned. However, when Prince began showing feelings, he pretty much rejected him, modifying it to become a killing machine. But even after the Prince arc, he still wished to have someone to rule Earth with him. When his actual son appeared, Dr Man tried to convince him into joining the  New Empire Gear, sio they can rule the world as father and son. However, when Shuichi refused, Dr Man pretty much disowned him, even ready to have him killed. Soon afterwards, Dr Man decided to completely become a Mecha-human, erasing all that was remaining of his humanity.
Dr Man believed in the superiority of Mecha-humans, strong and powerful machines, over humans, weak creatures with feelings. Science was everything for him, and feelings were something to throw away. He saw himslef as the triumph of robotic science.

However, science without humanity and kindness is meaningless. Dr Man's foil in that regard is Dr Shibata, who ended up to be none other than Gou Shiro's father, Gou Shuichiro. Like Dr Man, Dr Shibata has abandoned his family, and decided to become a Mecha human to become more powerful adn be able to oppose Gear. However, unlike Dr Man, he never forgot how human feelings are important. Even as a Mecha human, he cared about his son Shiro, deeply regretting how he was forced to abandon him. While he wasn't there for Shiro, he pretty much adopted Dr Man's son, becoming his father figure. When his son was in danger, he risked his life to save him, and ended up sacrificing his life to save him, Shuichi and the other Bioman. While he recognized the strength of Dr Man's robotic science, he never forgot how human feelings were the most important things, even if he wasn't human anymore. 
He even created a device which was able to create human feelings in machine, and managed to introduce humanity in a Mecha human, Miki. Miki was created to power up Satan Megas, a robot designed to defeat the Bioman, but once she gained her human feelings, Miki refused to go along with the plan, even sacrificing herself to stop the robot and save the Bioman. Even earlier, Blue Three was able to create feelings into Prince, awakening his desire to see his mother. All those elements proved that it wasn't being an human or being a robot which were the key element of being human, but much more recognizing the importance of human feelings, and the importance of kindness. After all, wasn't the Bioman's man ally a robot?

At the end, the Neo Empire Gear is defeated, the heart and strength of the Bioman overcoming the heartless science of Dr Man. The final confrontation showed Dr Man as a complete shadow of his former self, even unable to recognize his own son, having seemingly completely forgotten of his human past, only seeing himself as Dr Man, the ultimate Mecha-Human ands scientist. Even despite that, his son talked to him like a son, trying to awaken his human self. Soon after his death, his last hidden weapon, a earth destroying bomb, was revealed and the Bioman were able to stop it. Had Dr Man, touched by his son's words, revealed the weapon to the Bioman for them to stop it? The show remains ambiguous about that.

2) Flashman : manipulating life.

Flashman was the second show where Soda explored the science theme. Unlike Bioman, the main scientific theme was manipulating lifeforms, mixing genes. This theme is the major theme of the villain group, the Mess. Mess's ambitions was world conquest, and manipulating lifeforms to create the ultimate lifeform. Lee Keflen was the major scientist of Mess, using a synthetizer to manipulate DNA, mixing the genes of different lifeforms to create powerful creatures. Las Deus, Mess's leader was pretty much a powerful creature made from an ultimate mix of living beings. Mess's main generals, Ley Wanda, Ley Nefel, Ley Galus, Nefel's henchwomen, Ulk and Kilt were also creatures the result of genetic manipulation and mixing of different creatures's DNA. Of course, the monsters are also created by genetic manipulation, and Keflen created Kragen, a creature making his monsters grow, by manipulating a jellyfish.

Mess only saw other living creatures as material for genetic manipulation, seeking to take the most powerful creatures by mixing different creatures's genetic material. That's why they hired the Alien Hunters to kidnap five young children, separating them from their families, to use them for their evil experiments. However, those children were saved from such an horrible fate thanks to kind aliens, and when Mess decided to come to Earth to use Earth creatures for their evil projects, those five children, having reached their adult age, went ot Earth to stop them, becoming the Flashman.

A key theme of Flashman is identity and origins. The Flashman, having been separated from their parents very young, didn't remember about their families, and when they came to Earth to protect their native planet from Mess, they also longed to meet their families and know where they came from. In earth, the Flashman ended up meeting a man, Dr Tokimura who lost one of his children 20 years before, at the time the Flashman were kidnapped, and was using all his scientific power to go back in time, and save his child from such fate. The Flashman soon realized that Dr Tokimura was probably the father of one of them, and he, his wife and their other daughters became pretty much the Flashman's earth family (at the end, it would be revealed that Dr Tokimura's lost child was none other than Sara/Yellow Flash)).

It's very interesting to see the opposition of life manipulation vs origins and family in Flashman. The Flashman want to meet their families, their roots, and love Earth because it's where they come from. The Tokimura family is the symbol of that identity quest, and is pretty much a family for all the Flashman (and Sara's actual family). Because the Mess creatures are just fabrications created from mixing plenty of creatures, they don't have a real identity. Ley Wanda was distressed to discover he was merely the result of a DNA mix from hideous space creatures. While Wanda and Nefel were able to gain great powers thanks to Keflen's manipulations, they had no roots, except Keflen's laboratory.  Lastly, Lee Keflen had pretty much forgotten his own roots. He only saw himself as the best scientist in genetic manipulation, and when Sir Kaura, the leader of the aliens hunters, reminded him he was himslef an Earthling, kidnapped long ago by Mess, he was violently in denial, refusing such a pathetic background.

However, at the end, Flashman showed once again that manipulating life was meaningless, if such creatures don't have anything to relate to. The Flashman's great strength was based on their powerful link to Earth, even becoming stronger thanks to the Tokimura, who were as close as a family as they could get. All of Keflen's creatures ended up being defeated, and with her death, Nefel showed how she saw Keflen as her dad, because he created her, showing she still wanted to have someone she saw as a family. Keflen ended up dying in his own science, lost in his obsession in manipulating life. Even if, at the end, the Flashman were forced to leave Earth, they still had in them powerful memories of their home planet, and the hope they might come back later.

3) Liveman : the core show about science and intelligence vs ethics and life

Liveman is the show in which Soda explored in most depth the theme of science and how using it without any conscience only causes ruin. Livemna explores the core of all science : human intelligence.

In Liveman, both main heroes and main villains have a common link: a science academy, where the most brilliant men and women study, in order to advance science and humanity. Only the most intelligent people are admitted there. The heroes Yuusuke, Jou and Megumi were studying there, and hoped to help humanity by learning and experimenting. However, three other students, and friends of the heroes, Kenji, Rui and Gou weren't interested in doing science for humanity's sake, but were more interested in more remarkable deeds, interested in science for itself, rather than for its ultimate aim, helping fellow humans. As such, they quickly caught the interest of a secret group, Volt, who had the brilliant Professor Bias as their leader. Bias soon tested Kenji, Rui and Gou to check if they were worthy of joining Volt. Once he has realized they were worthy, Bias made them join Volt, and one night, Kenji, Rui and Gou left the academy in secret to join Volt's headquarters. However, at that time, they were caught by the heroes and two of their friends and fellow students Takuji and Mari. Kenji ended up killing Takuji and Mari before going into Volt's spaceship. Yuusuke, Jou and Megumi were left mourning them, appaled by their former friends's betrayal.

Two years later, while the Academy was about to launch a spaceship, a mysterious army attacked the academy, destroying the spaceship and the academy, killing everyone in the academy, except the three heroes. It would be soon revealed that the ones responsible for the attack were none other than the Volt army, lead by three commanders, Kenji (who became Dr Kemp), Rui (who beame Dr Mazenda) and Gou (who became Dr Obler). 
The Volt generals soon revealed their belief: Earth should only belong to the most intelligent, other humans were pretty much like trash, and that intelligence was the ultimate value.
However, the heroes soon revealed that they had been preparing for such a situation since Takuji and Mari's death, and have used all their work and power to be ready to oppose their former friends, becoming the Liveman, with powerful suits, creating the Live machines, who coudl fuse into the Live Robot. They used all the resources of the science that was available to them to oppose Volt's evil and protect Earth and life. It's very telling that the climax of Liveman's opening arc is the protection of a pregnant woman, who eventually giave birth to a baby, a new life on Earth.

Since the beginning, the core conflict of Liveman was shown: the heroes, using science to protect others, protect life vs Volt, valuing science and intelligence for itself and their ambitions, and despising anything else. Yuusuke and Jou weren't the smartest in the Academy, but they never forgot what was really important. Kemp, Mazenda and Obler were only caring about being the best, and despised theuir fellow humans, pretty much forgetting they were themselves human.

Indeed, the Volt generals did everything to distance themselves from their humanity. Kemp started modifying his own body to become much more powerful,, becoming BijuKemp, adding monstruous feathures to his body, making it look less human but more powerful. Mazenda, obsessed by her beauty, modified her own body to make it more robotic, and more powerful by adding weapons in the machine part of her body. Obler went even further, changing his body to make it completely inhuman. Bias wanted his generals to do everything they can to help him conquer Earth, praising or scolding them according to how worthy their efforts were. The Volt generals wanted more than anything Bias's praise, and have the privilege to rule Earth with him.

However, despite all their intelligence, Kemp, Mazenda and Obler were unable to win against the heroes, because the Liveman overcame them, because they were fueled by their desire to protect Earth. Besides, despite their arrogance, some cracks appeared in the villains's side. All of them wanted more than anything to be praised by Bias, showing that underneath their arrogance, they felt more insecure than they admitted it. Despite being supposed to despise love, Mazenda seemed obsessed by it, and when she decided to throw away all her kind feelings, there were still some regret in her heart.

However, the most obvious case is the case of Obler. Indeed, it has been soon revealed that Gou, despite being brilliant, was pretty much forced into being obsessed by studying because of his overbearing mother, who knew her son was very gifted, and forced him to study even if, deep inside himself, he really wanted to play. At the end, his obsession with studying, joining the Academy, and even joining Volt and show how smart he was had at its core his desire to have his mother's approval. When Yuusuke realized that, he decided to talk to Gou's mom. While at first, she was proud of seeing her son carign so much for his experiments, she was horrified to see what her son had become. However, when Yuusuke made her realize that SHE was the one who made Gou become what he became, Gou's mother realizd that, instead of forcing her son to study and valuing her mind over everything else, she should have left him play with friends and love him over his intelligence, Gou was able to see the light and become his previous self, saving his mom from his fellow Volt, and, eventually seeking redemption for his crimes.

Gou's story is really a good symbol of the whole theme of Liveman : praising intelligence ofr intelligence itself is vain, stupid and destructive: heart is more important, and intelligence is worthless if ethics, love and respect for life isn't there.

However the show alos shows how lacking intelligence and instruction can be painful. The character of Busujima Arashi is a brutish thug who doesn't know how to count without using his fingers. He despised the people of the Academy, but in fact, was secretly jealous of the intelligence which was so lacking in him. After being noticed by Bias because he was strong enough to subdue a Volt monster and use it for his crimes, Arashi was brought to the leader of Volt who used a device to enhance his intelligence, making him become a Volt genera, Dr Ashura. As Dr Ashura, he was more arrogant than ever, always happy to tease and torment his fellow Volt generals, notably those coming from the Academy, having at last the intelligence he suffered so much of lacking before.

Indeed, intelligence and science, if used wisely, are very important, since if the heroes are able to stop Volt's evil plans, it's thanks to their wisdom, technology, which, coupled with hard work, deep feelings of friendship, and of course, kindness and a powerful feeling of justice, made them overcome all the ordeals. Intelligence was important, but was only was part of a whole, where kindness, a respect for life and others, even if they're less smart, compassion are key qualities.

At the end, the Volt generals realized that they had been in fact only being used as pawns by Professor Bias, who used their arrogance, desire to display their intelligence for hos own real ambition : stay immortal using the power of the most intelligent people's brain. He made his generals compete against each other to make their brain become a 1000 point brain, an adequate brain to be used as life force power. Once Bias had no use of Ashura, he turned him back into Arashi, making him lose his intelligence; Arashi ended up giving his life to get revenge against Bias. Mazenda, after turning almost all her body into a machine, and despite Gou's warning, became a 1000 poitn brain, and as a result, Bias's prey. Mazenda at last realized she has been used, tried to flle, and at the end, turned herslef into a full machine, to prevent Bias from using her brain. However, she realized she also lost everything, so obsessed with her desire for greatness that she forgot how such simple things as the beauty of the sea or the sky,  wishing at last she could have stayed human like her former comrade Gou. While Kemp, who had become crazy after the reveal, let Bias take his brain, at the end, hearing Megumi's word about the beauty of life, he rebelled at last against Bias and, together with other victims of Bias, helped in his downfall.

Bias, who used his intelligence and science manipulating other smart people for his own ends, ended up destroyed, spending his last moments blind and unable to realize what happened around him. The whole Volt project was destroyed at last, and all the destruction it caused ended up being for nothing, useless destruction, science, intelligence which ended up being worthless. All that remained were the heroes, who were able to stop that meaningless destruction, thanks to not only their intelligence and science, but also their heart, kindness, strong feelings of friendship and love for their fellow humans.

In that show, more than every other, Soda showed how true there is in that old saying "science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul" (a quote from the French authour Fran├žois Rabelais). Intelligence and science are first to help others, not to fulfill selfish ambitions, and feel superior to others.

3) Super Sentai and science after Liveman

After Liveman, Soda seemed to have explored as much as he could the science theme, and in his last two shows, Turboranger and Fiveman, science takes pretty much a backseat. In fact, Turboranger was the start of the "fantasy era" of Super Sentai, with its fairy theme, and since Liveman, very few sentai shows had science as its central theme even if several sentai series had scientist and engineers as important characters, since technology is a key ally of sentai team.

Ohranger had the potential to explore the risks of reckless science, as the Baranoia were initially created by the ancient Pangea civilization, but the show never explored in depth that theme, probably, because external events induced a retool of the show.

However, two years after, Megaranger again made science a central theme of the show. Indeed, the core conflict of the show ended up being the opposition of two scientists , Dr Kubota, the creator of the Mega suits, who ended up being the mentor of the Megaranger, and Dr Samejima who became Dr Hinelar the main scientist of the Nejiregia, and then its leader. Kubota tried, to improve performances of humans thanks to the help of technology, while Samejima tried to modify the human body itself. While Samejima's  experiments were more ambitious, Kubota's were safer. Samejima ended up experimenting on his own daughter, causing her death as a result. Samejima ended up shunned by the scientific community, but his arrogance prevented him to realize that he wasn't a victim of ungrateful humans, but rather of hiw own recklessness. It's that same recklessness which made him go to the Nejiregia dimension, even if Kubota warned him of how risky it was.

Once he joined the Nejiregia, Samejima found in King Javious I the ideal partner for him to do the science he wanted to do, showing how great his science was, creating such impressive fighters, such as the Nejire Beasts, his generals Shibolena (who had his lost daughter's appearance, and who saw herself as such) and Yugande, and the Nejirangers. However, even his most impressive science wasn't enough to beat the Megaranger, who had the help of Kubota's wise mentoring and all the I-Net's science. Even if he used the worst of the human nature to break the Megaranger's resolve in the final arc, even humanity was able to prove how wrong he was, when at last, the Megaranger's schoolmates, after shunning them after learning of their identioty as Megaranger, ended up cheering them for the final fight.
At the end, Kubota, the cautious scientist, always caring about those he involved in his work, prevailed over Hinelar, the arrogant scientist who wanted to be right against everyone, despite the obvious evidence. Hinelar, the evil arrogant scientist, like Dr Man, Keflen and Bias, ended up being destroyed as a result of his own deeds.

Megaranger was the last show where science was a central theme, even if a similar theme was seen in the Rider show, Kamen Rider Fourze. Since Megaranger, and especially since Gaoranger, Super Sentai used much less science fiction themes and more fantasy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hard Boiled license : a very special episode of Dekaranger

                                                          A happiness that won't last

1) Synopsis

"Hard boiled license" is episode 37 of Dekaranger, written by Naruhisa Arakawa. It's an episode focused on Hoji, his relationship with Teresa, a young woman which is an alien from the planet Mich, while investigating a case involving young women being murdered. This case is especially important for Hoji since it could be the key for him to earn the Gold badge, allowijg to be promoted into a Tokkyuo (a special investigator).
It's soon revealed that the culprit in the young women's murders is none other than Claudo, the younger brother of the young woman whom Hoji is involved with. Teresa was sick, and Claudo was trying to find a cure, killing young women to take from them a nutrient which would help his sister to be cured from her disease. Of course, during the course of the investigation, Hoji realizes the link between Claudo and the murders, and ends up torn between his love for Teresa and his duty as a Dekaranger. Of course, as the professional he is, he ends up killing Claudo in order to prevent murders. As a result, it of course ends his relationship with Teresa. While he ends up earning his Gold license, he's not able to accept it.

2) Analysis

The story of this episode is of course very melodramatic, and it has all the components to be a complete tear jerker, including its soundtrack dominated by Teresa's bittersweet song. While melodrama has already been used in Super Sentai, several elements make that episode stand out compared with other melodramatic episodes and with other Dekaranger episodes, and makes that episode look more like a police drama episode rather than a classic toku episode: 

- A very limited amount of action scenes : there is no fight scene in that episode : when the Dekaranger appear, the suspect flees, and in all the course of the episode, is only shot twice (including one fatally) by Hoji

- Very limited screen time for the other rangers, who are pretty there only to either comment the story, or help in the investigation.

- A huge focus on the three main characters of the drama : Hoji, Teresa and Claudo, their motivations, their relationship, and how tragedy ends up changing forever their lives.

- Claudo is almost exclusively shown in his human form, in a way to increase the empathy the viewer has for the character, and how tragic his death ends up: the story wouldn't have been very different if he had been an human. It also helps underplaying the "special effect" part of the episode.

- Very little classic "hero vs villain" dialogue : instead of stock classic toku dialogue, the show uses more "drama" dialogue, or even, no dialogue at all. 

- No giant robot fight, and no "Judgement time scene" : the episode avoids almost all the gimmicks seen in most Dekaranger episodes, and, by avoiding the spectacular over the top scenes, makes even more the episode feel like a drama show.

- Claudo's death : instead of a classic "Delete" scene, he's merely killed by a gunshot which could have been done in a police drama.

- No classic "final narration" ending up with "tatakae, Tokusaou sentai Dekaranger" ; the end scene is a bittersweet scene between Hoji and Teresa, without dialogue, only the song soundtrack : more a "drama" episode ending scene than a sentai episode ending scene. More than ever, the episode is more about the drama between the three protagonists than a "sentai vs alien criminal" one.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blue SWAT : a show which evolved a lot with time

Blue SWAT tells the adventures of the three last survivors of the blue SWAT, a special force who fights against alien invaders. Sho (blue armor), Sara (purple armor) and Sig (grey armor) confront an evil alien group, the Space Mafia, who wants to conquer Earth and destroy humanity, and is responsible for the destruction of the blue SWAT branch.

Blue SWAT has a very interesting place in Metal Hero history. It's the last show before the beginning of the B-Fighter era, and it follows Janperson, the show that immediately followed the Rescue Police era. As a police robot fighting criminal organizations, Janperson was strongly linked to the Rescue Police era. Blue SWAT also had a "special police" spirit, at least at the beginning, since the blue SWAT was a police/army like force, and the name of the antagonists "Space Mafia" also wanted to keep a "crimefighter" concept. Since the heroes are the lone survivors and pretty act alone, it also follows Janperson's lead, who was also a robot without links to an official force.
However, Blue SWAT evolved a lot during its airing, and, in a lot of ways, the late episodes of Blue SWAT pave the way for the B-Fighter era. One interesting element of Blue SWAT, which is common with the B-Fighter era, and was there since the beginning, is the composition of the group : two men (okay, a man and an alien) and a woman. While the concept of three Metal Heroes had been started since Winspector, it's Miyashita's Metal Hero shows which started the sentai like "three humans Metal Hero group" , with Exceedraft first, and then Blue SWAT.

In that post, I'm going to give a description of Blue SWAT and how it changed during its airing, in the way heroes, villains, and storytelling have been  written.

1) Episodes 1-18 : the supernatural horror/thriller era : a detective show and hidden aliens

A crowd of people walking, then a monstrous hand turning into an human hand, a scary monstrous alien face, a screaming siren, and the blue SWAT rushing to the action : here is the beginning of the opening of Blue SWAT and it sums up very well the spirit of that first era of the show.

Indeed, the main threat here is a hidden alien force, the Space Mafia, who wants to invade Earth and have started their invasion secretly, without being noticed by humans. Their main strategy involves "invading " an human body, and then starting terror attacks under their human guises, while hiding their UFOs. However, a secret organization was in their way, the Blue SWAT. To get rid of that threat, the aliens destroyed the Blue SWAT HQ, killing everyone, after invading a Blue SWAT member. Unfortunately for the aliens, three members of the blue SWAT survived, a man, Sho Narumi, a woman, Sara Misugi and a alien from the space SWAT using an human body, Sig. Those three heroes decided to keep the Blue SWAT alive, and to fight the Space Mafia, helped by a technology nerd, Seiji Usami. As a cover, they created a detective agency named Blue Research, hiring a young student, Sumire Asou, who isn't aware of their secret identity as Blue SWAT,  as their secretary.

A major theme of that era of the show is "secrecy, undercover" : both heroes and villains are fighting pretty much in secret, trying not being noticed.
The heroes use their "detective agency" as a cover, and the fact Sumire doesn't know at first the truth about them is significant. Each episode involves them finding out a Alien plot, either by checking strange cases in the press, or through the Blue research customers. Once suspecting an alien plot, the Blue SWAT team starts their investigations, uncovers the alien plot and defeats the aliens. It's also during that era that the background of the heroes, notably the human ones, Shou (with the arc involving his rival) and Sara (as a former LA cop who joined the Blue SWAT after her partner died because of an alien), are explored. Sig's alien background and his past as a member of the space SWAT is also mentioned. The tone of those episodes is usually gritty, but often tragic with death (notably Shou's rival's).
 It's significant that the titles of the first episodes are short, using english words as katakana, feeling like codenames.Interestingly, once Sumire finds out the truth about the blue SWAT and officially joins them as their helper, the title gimmick changes and episodes have standard titles.

Likewise, the way the villains are written also show an "undercover" theme. The aliens mostly act using an human host, in order to accomplish their evil plans. Interestingly, with a few exceptions, we only see three major "types" of aliens (the Leto, Bona and Kell types), which appear in a recurring way in the show, even if they're in fact different aliens. When the heroes realize that the human has been "invaded" by an alien, the alien usually comes out of his human host in order to fight the heroes. This step is usually shown in a spectacular way, in order to make the alien "coming out" a major element of each episode. The fact that the alien types are the same is used to even more focus on the importance of the involvement of the human host body as their cover. Most of the time, when they're out of the human host, the aliens are shown as voiceless killing machines.
Some recurring villain generals are also shown in a recurring way. However, during that era, they're only shown in their human host, and to make their alien nature known to the viewers, the show uses a "deep voice" which is heard at the same time the human host talks. Besides, they usually meet in ordinary places, as if they were really human.
Lastly, the enemies aren't named, which makes the "unknown menace" theme even greater.

During that era, the series has really a "supernatural detective show" vibe, with an horror side, but displayed in a realistic way. The fact that the aliens hide among humans using their body gives a complete "paranoia" vibe, since everyone around you might be a disguised alien. Blue SWAT'stone is pretty much in the spirit of its predecessor, Janperson, who alos involved hidden heroes fighting hidden villains.

2) Episodes 19-30 : The Sig/Zagi era : a transition era.

Episode 19 was a complete turning point of Blue SWAT : for the first time, the recurring villains were shown in their actual alien guises, with their actual names shown : Jisp, the leader, and his lieutenants, Zodor and Riga. (later in the era, the recurring woman villainess, Yanimi, would be identified and shown in her alien guise). It is also revealed that Jisp uses as an human body host a teenage boy who is none other than Zagi, the son of the human Sig uses as an host. Gou Hirose, the man Sig uses as a body was actually dead aafter an accident, but his son Zagi was just in a coma.
The "alien using human host body" theme was explored in depth during that arc. Indeed, Sig had to explore how using the body of a man created a link between him and the son of his host, and how Sig realized he saw Zagi as if he was his son. As a result, being forced to fight his main enemy who was using his son's body was especially harsh for him, especially since Jisp sadistically talked as if he was the real Zagi, or calling Sig "papa", in order to torture him even more.

However, it's also during that arc that blue SWAT underwent massive changes.
The aliens being at last named made the "undercover theme" being much downplayed, favoring instead a focus on the rivalries between heroes and villains, especially the one between Sig and Jisp/Zagi. The villains showed a more classical hierarchy commander-lieutenant-mooks. The three types of aliens shown before as "Monster of the week theme" were now downgraded as mook status. It's also during that era that the Space Mafia enemies began to have a more classic "evil lair" instead of appearing in random places.

Other changes appeared in episode 23-24 : the detective agency was destroyed, and, at the sam time, the "detective show"  gimmick. But more importantly, a new character, a friendly alien, Gold Platinum, was introduced in the show. He appeared, crossing dimensions and outer space in a golden light,  whenever Shou was displaying great anger against the Space Mafia aliens because of their dastardly deeds,  (usually when he screams "YURUSANE"), to assist them in fighting the Space Mafia (acting pretty much as a deus ex machina ally). After Gold Platinum's appearance, many episodes involved some "kids of the week", who were pretty much the main characters of the episodes they appeared. Both Gold Platinum and the "kid of the week" gimmick were intended to bring a more "kid friendly tone" in the show.

That arc ended with Jisp being forced out of Zagi's body notably thanks to Zagi's willpower, and Zagi's sleeping body was placed in a secret cave,  protected by a device created by Gold Platinum. Shou also gained a power up armor thanks to Gold Platinum, and the first hints about a bigger bad, Queen, alos appeared at the end.

That arc pretty much was the one where Blue SWAT turned from a "supernatural detective/horror show into a much more classic "human vs aliens" tokusatsu show, with armored heroes, with a hot blooded main hero (Shou's hot blooded screams summoning Gold Platinum gimmick even increased the focus on Shou's "hot blooded" personality). A very telling symbol of those changes can be seen in the beginning of the opening theme, which replaced the "aliens among us" element by a focus on Gold Platinum, with, later, Shou's power up.

3) Episode 31-51 : the Jisp/J and Q/Queen era : a classic tokusatsu show.

That era can be divided in two parts : a transition era (episodes 31-36), with Jisp as the main leader of the enemy group, and episodes 37-51, the final arc era with Q/Queen as the Big Bad, leader of the Space Mafia and J/Jisp as his treacherous second in command.

After the end of the Zagi era, for the first time, a main general, Jisp would be shown without an human guise during several episodes : it's a very symbolic step, showing that the Space Mafia would be now written as a more classic alien force. Another key element in that era is the appearance of distinct Monsters (rather aliens) of the week : Blue SWAT's episodes pretty much became "monster of the week" stories, often using stock plots, with Jisp sending a Monster of the week to defeat the Blue SWAT. Another interesting element is the  recurring appearance of even more friendly "aliens of the week" (episodes 31, 35 39 and 47 being good examples) ; more than ever, the aliens aren't shown as a hidden threat, but as part of a big universe, where only a specific group, the Space Mafia is evil, who target at least as much humans as friendly aliens.

Episode 37 introduced at last the final main villain and leader of the Space Mafia : Mademoiselle Q/Queen (played by Miyuki Nagato, the Ulk of Flashman). Queen had two female aliens as aides. At the same time, Jisp gained a new human body, named Monsieur J, a man with a funny costume and an over the top attitude, with evil laughs and screams. Jisp's alien form alos changed, turning from a sober but scary appearance to a more over the top looking one. Generally speaking the villains had a classic toku "over the top" design, notably Queen's face and outfit, her aides's design, and Jisp's human host's suit and alien design.  
More than ever, the stories involved classic stories, involving heroes against MOTW, or having direct rivalries between the main villains, notably Jisp and Queen.Other classic plots included fellow Space Mafia backstabbing, and a rivalry between Queen and Jisp.

A few changes also were noticed on the hero side : Shou gained a new weapon, Gold Platinum was more involved than ever, notably with the appearance of the Gold Fortress, Gold Platinum's spaceship, and at last Sig began to become an human, after staying so much time inside his human host's body. That last arc involving Sid was the continuation of the Zagi plot, which would conclude in Zagi coming out at last of his coma, thanks to a surgery involving Sig, and Sig becoming Zagi's father.

As expected, that era ended up with final fights against the villains, with at the end the heroes winning and Earth saved, as expected, even if it was at the price of Gold Platinum's life.

That final era, with its fantasy tone, strayed a lot from the initial detective show Blue SWAT was at the beginning. However, that fantasy tone is a good precursor of the following Metal Hero shows, the B-Fighter shows, which involved a trio of heroes (two men, one woman) in metallic insect design suits fighting supernatural villains with over the top designs.
Blue SWAT's changes during its airing is pretty much thus also how the whole Metal Hero shows changed, going from the "Rescue Police" era (which Blue SWAT's early era was a continuation) to the more sentai like B-Fighter era, which tone is pretty much announced in Blue SWAT's late episodes

4) Some feelings about Blue SWAT and the show's evolution

A show which displays such massive changes during its airing is a show that struggled to be successful. It's obvious that the realistic tone of the beginning has been unpopular, and as a result, Blue SWAT had to become a more standard toku show to be appealing, especially to a child audience.
As expected, those changes forced Blue SWAT to be pretty inconsistent in its theme, notably by the disappearance of the "secrecy" feeling, and turning from a "realistic" show into a more fantasy one.

It's obvious that, at the beginning, Blue SWAT had a very original concept, with the heroes and aliens fighting while trying to remain hidden from the world. The "detective show" theme was fun and well done.
However, it's also true that Blue SWAT was very episodic and seemed to lack some direction in its plot, and the fact the same alien suit were used over and over didn't help.

The changes that began in the Sig/Zagi arc, and were confirmed in the final 20 episodes had both positive and negative effects.

On the positive side: having named villains and having more interactions between heroes and main villains helped the narrative of the show, with strong rivalries and story arcs, especially the great Sig/Zagi one. Blue SWAT felt less episodic and more arc driven, and it made Blue SWAT easier to follow. Besides, the rivalries between heroes and main villains made the fights feel more intense. It also allowed more world building, notably by the appearance of more aliens.

On the negative side : by becoming a more classical toku show, Blue SWAT pretty much lost its unique tone, and as such, most of its originality. The final era of Blue SWAT feels very generic. Another problem was Gold Platinum, who isn't a very interesting character, and , even worse, made Sho being written as even more over the top as before. As such, his angry screams, instead of feeling intense, ended up feeling pretty comedic. It felt like screaming "YURUSANE" was a comic gimmick to call Super Gold alien to the rescue. The most dramatic moments of the episodes became pretty much comedic and lost their intensity because of that, which was a shame. Gold Platinum ended up being much more a gimmick than a real character, his personality was boring and generic, frankly, when he sacrifices himslef, you're most tempted to feel "good riddance" than feeling any sadness. A last problem was the fact that, especially starting with the Jisp/Zagi era, Sara became pretty much a background character, completely overshadowed by Shou's status as main character, with his power up and relationship with Gold Platinum, and Sig's Zagi arc.

5) Conclusion
Blue SWAT is a Metal Hero show that had to evolve a lot during its airing, for the better and (often) for the worse. Its evolution is pretty much indicative of the evolution of the Metal Hero era, from the Rescue Police era, with their realistic tone and "cop show" feeling to the B-Fighter, sentai like fantasy era.