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.

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