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.

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