Monday, November 3, 2014

Space Sheriff shows : some random thoughts

1) Space Sheriffs shows : similarities with early sentai shows.

In 1982, Uchuu Keji Gavan (Space Sheriff Gavan) aired in Japan, starting the Metal Hero franchise, which would last until the late 90'. The first series of that franchise were the shows called the "Space Sheriff" trilogy : Gavan, Sharivan and Shaider, which involved a hero linked to an intergalactic police force. All three shows had a basic plot : an evil organization which had already destroyed several planets and civilizations start to threaten Earth, trying to conquer it (Makuu in Gavan, Madou in Sharivan and Fuuma in Shaider), and the Universe police, based on Planet Bird, send a new officer, helped by a female assistant to thwart their evil plans and protect Earth.

However, despite the heroes being called Space Sheriffs, the shows didn't really have a "cop show feeling". Gavan, Sharivan and Shaider were mostly episodic shows with a few long running arcs which had their climax in the final episodes of the show. The explanation of that relative lack of "cop show" feeling can be explained by the fact the heroes are acting pretty much  incognito on Earth, looking like civilians to most citizens of Earth.
Most of the episodes involved a plot from the villains to conquer and submit humanity using a Monster of the week, often involving disruption of society, and the hero would find about that plot, and then, face the evil group and defeat the monster of the week involved in a final climactic battle in an evil dimensions where the monster would be stronger. In a lot of cases, the hero would find about the plot by meeting a civilian who ended up caught in the plot, or who has someone close to him caught in it ; in the latter case, the civilian is often a kid.

Space Sheriff shows are very formulaic : each episode include scenes in the villain's lair where the evil plot of the week is explained, the first part of the episode has its storyline centered about the plot, showing civilains caught in the plot and the hero investigating, with often a first fight against the enemies, and the Monster of the week. The last minutes of the episode include the climactic fight, a short first part in the normal universe where the heroes fight the monsters, mooks and the main generals, and then, most of the showdown between the Monster of the Week and the hero in his metal suit in a special dimension, showing strange visual effects (visually, it looks like something coming from hallucinations). To get into the special dimension, the hero would use his motorcycle. The enemy would also send a big flying war machine to attack the hero, and also flying jets, and the hero uses his special big spaceship to destroy the enemy ships and aircraft. At the end, the hero kills the monster using his Laser Blade. A short final scene concludes the episode, concluding by a short narration.

Sounds familiar? No wonder : those plots are incredibly similar to those of early sentai shows, notably Battle Fever, Denziman and Sun Vulcan. Even if in the first case, the shows involve a group of heroes when the Metal Hero shows only involve an unique one, the plots of the individual episodes aren't that different from plots from sentai episodes. It can be easily explained by the fact that the creative team between the early sentai shows and the Space Sheriff shows is pretty much the same with Shouzo Uehara as main writer and Susumu Yoshikawa as main producer (and the star of the first show, Kenji Ohba has played a sentai member in both Battle Fever and Denziman (Battle Kenya and Denziblue)) . The shows involving that team are often very episodic, and a lot of focus is given to the individual plots. The villains groups also have enemy groups taking a lot from early sentai villains : Fuuma, Madou and Maku have concepts pretty similar to the Vader clan. The Big Bad is a classic devil like entity (similar to Satan Egos from Battle Fever or most Toei Big Bads), and the generals also have their roots from early sentai shows :  in Gavan, Hunter Killer is a male general, who lead the plots and can also be involved in direct fights, like Denziman's General Hedrer, Poe from Shaider is an androgynous version of Hedder from Battle Fever, the Girl Army of Shaider are similar to the Zero Girls from Sun Vulcan. Interestingly, Dr Polter and General Gyrer from Sharivan are similar to Deathgiller and Mazurka from Goggle V, even if that sentai show was the first one not involving Uehara, while stil having the influence of the early Uehara shows.
Interestingly, while the Space Sheriff don't fight monsters in giant forms, they still use giant mechas in their fights to destroy enemy spaceships, and those are often transforming mechas with a robot like mode, like the Battle Formations from Sharivan's Grand Birth and Vavilos's Battle Formation. In the following show, Juspion (involving the same creative team), the sentai like element would be even stronger, given that time the show would include confrontation between giant monsters and the hero in a big robot.

Lastly, the long running plots often feel like space opera fantasy, with the hero trying to find his destiny and fulfill a quest: Gavan would search for his father, Sharivan would fight to save his native planet, looking for a mystical Crystal, and Shaider, as a former archeologist would find the secret of the mysterious Fuuma civilization, its links with the Nasca civilizations, as well as his own origins. Shairvan had the most detailed plot, with some recurring characters being fellow Iga planet survivors. Those fantasy elements take a lot from those seen in Denziman. The following shows involving Uehara and Yoshikawa would have similar fantasy elements, while being often more plot driven (Juspion especially has a "space opera feeling", especially with its early episodes happening in other planets, and Spielban also had a family drama not unlike Gavan). Gavan and Sharivan are especially interesting since Sharivan is the direct sequel of Gavan : the hero who would become Sharivan appeared in the final arc of Gavan, and Gavan is a major supporting character of Sharivan, as a mentor figure. As such, they show an huge world building involving several planets and universe and even more giving the "space opera" feeling when the shows (notably Sharivan) reach their main arc episodes. Shaider, while being in the same universe, has a more "standalone feeling", with Gavan and Sharivan not appearing in the main series, except a special episode.

2) Shaider : the assistant is the co-star.

Shaider, compared to its preceding Space Sheriff shows has a very distinctive element  ; it involves a very active assistant, Annie. While Gavan and Sharivan had also female assistants, (Gavan had Mimi, who could change into a bird, and Sharivan had Lilly), those ones were mostly staying in the base, and only very occasionally working on the battlefield with the hero. Ohba and Watari, Gavan and Sharivan were the undisputed stars of their shows. The episodes were follwoing Gavan and Sharivan in their investigation, often showing them involved in plenty of action, even without changing into their metal suits.
However, in Shaider, Annie was pretty much as much involved in the action as Shaider, at least before the final showdown between the suit hero and the monster. Several very interesting elements makes Annie very different from her predecessors :
-  her name : "Annie" is a real "first name" (a foreign one) and sounds much more serious than the cute "Mimi" and "Lilly" which are two repeated katakanas. (that use of serious names would be used again in Spielban, where the hero's assistant (later two assistants) have serious foreign names : Diana and then, Helen (the latter being the hero's sister and would also be played by Annie's actress, Naomi Morinaga)
- she also has her own song, which is regularly played during the show "Annie ni omakase" , which highlights her determination in fighting Fuuma
-she has her own car, a yellow one, and odten uses it to get into the action
- she is very involved in the action, having fight scenes in most episodes, and in many of them, she has even more out of suit fight than Shaider himself
- in the final narration, Annie is included  with Shaider, unlike her predecessors, more than ever confirming her status as a co-star.

An important explanation of that anomaly is linked to the actor playing the hero : Kenji Ohba and Hiroshi Watari were both actors with plenty of action experience, coming from the Japan Action Club, (Ohba has been a suit actor in sentai series, including those he starred in). As such, Gavan and Sharivan displayed a lot their main actor's action skills, with plenty of out of suit action. Moreover, both Ohba and Watari were charismatic actors and had no trouble carrying their shows on their own.
However, Shaider's actor, Hiroshi Tsuburaya (grandson of Eiji Tsuburaya, who was the creator of Ultraman and the one involved in the special effects of Godzilla (in a way Godzilla's creator)) had very little action experience and actign experience, and while he managed to hold his own in Shaider, he had neither the action skills or the charisma of Ohba and Watari. As such, the assistant character had her role being increased a lot, was played by Naomi Morinaga, an actress who had been involved in the Japan Action Club, and as such, could bring her fighting skills (and her good looks), while Shaider was mainly involved in the final climactic fight in the Fushigi dimension. Annie became soon very popular, even more than Shaider, and as such, was pretty much the co-star, being almost the equal of the main hero, while Mimi and Lilly had more limited supporting roles. While Mimi and Lilly were assistants to Gavan and Sharivan, Annie was more of a partner to Shaider, being very active. Very active supporting female characters would also appear in Spielban, with Diana and Helen, and in Jiban, where Yoko is also involved in a lot of the non suit action scenes as the "female cop with the gun".

3) Dekaranger : Arakawa's tribute to the Metal Hero Franchise, notably the Space Sheriff shows

Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, the 28th sentai series has a police theme : the heroes are cops from a special police  force (SPD) involved in dealing with alien criminals. Dekaranger was a cop show sentai involving a intergalactic police force which has branches in plenty of planets in the universe, with the Dekaranger being those involved in the Earth Branch. Intergalactic police force opposing evil aliens in the whole universe? That concept is very similar to the Space Sheriffs in the Metal Hero franchise.
Indeed, Naruhisa Arakawa is a big fan of Shouzo Uehara's work and of the Metal hero Franchise, notably the Space Sheriffs series, and in Dekaranger, he had the opportunity with his producer Hideaki Tsukada to pay homages to those shows.
As said before, the SPD force has a concept similar to the Space police of Uehara shows : the Dekaranger are pretty much a Uchuu Keiji Sentai force. Dekaranger also had the repetitive narration used in the Space Sheriff shows ( the narrator explaning every time Sen's thinking pose and Jasmine's ESPER 's skills is reminiscent of how the transforming process is described once an episode in Gavan, Sharivan and Shaider).  Moreover, the Dekawing Robot is an homage to Shaider's Vavilos, having both a Robot mode and a Gun mode. The Special Police having its headquarters outside Earth and involving bird aliens are other nods.

However, unlike the Space Sheriff shows, Dekaranger have a real cop show feeling, with the heroes being  known police officers, the existence of aliens being pretty much public knowledge and the enemies being independant criminals instead of being the subordonates of a bigger gang. Indeed, the Alienizers in Dekaranger are acting on their own, have a strong individuality and not mere monsters created by the main leaders. The Dekaranger investigation has a "cop show" investigation feeling. A very telling element is how, unlike most sentai series, the giant fights involve usually robots piloted by the alien criminals and not alines being themselves enlarged.

That "cop show" feeling is nonethless reminiscent of other Metal Hero series, namely the Rescue Police trilogy. Indeed, in those shows, the antagonists were also criminals acting on their own, and not within a central "evil organization". Unlike Dekaranger, most of the criminals were ordinary humans, often played by classic toku actors. However, the cop show feeling was present with the central headquarters with the mentor, and the cop team. Indeed, the Rescue Police team were investigating crimes in order to discover the culprit and bring him to justice.
A very notable element of the Rescue police show is the lack of regular villains, with the "criminal of the week" being completely at the center of each plot ; while Dekaranger had one recurring villain, Agent Abrella, he wans't a leader type, and Dekaranger still had the individual criminals being at the center, like in the Rescue Police shows.
Moreover, the Rescue Police shows involved several colored suit heroes ; while Winspector had only one human Metal Hero, Exceedraft was pretty much a three man sentai team (Red, Blue and Kis (Yellow)). As such, those shows pretty much announced Dekaranger, even if they belonged to a different franchise.

Funny note : the "Tokusou" used in Dekaranger's title is used in plenty of Metal Hero shows's titles, notably Exceedraft, Juspion and Janperson.

4) Sharivan NEXT GENERATION : Arakawa's tribute to the Space Sheriff franchise, with a few Dekaranger nods

2014 : Arakawa writes two V-Cinema Metal Hero movies, Sharivan and Shaider's Next Generation . While the Space Sheriff franchise had already been revived in recent years, starting by bringing back the original Gavan in a crossover movie with Gokaiger, (Gokaiger vs Gavan, also written by Arakawa), several movies following the success of the Gokaiger vs Gavan started to bring a new generation of Space Sheriffs, which were the successors of the original ones. A Gavan movie introducing a new Gavan , Geki Ichimonji has been done one year after Gokaiger vs Gavan. New Gavan also appeared in crossover episodes with Go-Busters. Sharivan and Shaider were also shown to have new successors as well, which would also appear in Super Hero Taisen Z.
In 2014, new Sharivan and Shaider had their own movies (with New Gavan also guest starring), written by Arakawa and produced by Tsukada (the Dekaranger team).
Having seen the Sharivan movie, here are my thoughts :

- the Sharivan movie is of course very reminiscent of the original Sharivan show, with the same suit, the Space Police force with the headquarters, the assistant having her named being two repeated kanas (shishi), and of course, the involvement of Gavan, (here, Neo Gavan) as a supporting character. Of course Hiroshi Watari, the original Sharivan appears as a mentor figure. Moreover, the sountrack includes mostly the music from the Sharivan shows, songs, background music (with a guest appearance of the Gavan theme at the beginning). Soem of the enemy names and design are also reminiscent of Sharivan, with General Gyrer and Gamadon. And, in classic Sharivan style, a showdown in a special dimension is also displayed. The movie has also Gavan nods, like the opening scene involving Gavan and the character of the Horror Girl.

However, a notable element of the Sharivan movie is its more complex plot compared to those seen in a Space Sheriff shows. Indeed, unlike them, Sharivan has really more of a "cop movie" feeling, with an investigation, criminals being arrested, and the Space Sheriff indeed feel like space cops... pretty much like the Dekaranger, actually. A flashback involving Neo Sharivan and Den Iga fels more like a Dekaranger situation than a Uchuu Keiji one.
 Indeed, in a lot of ways Neo Sharivan has a lot in common with Dekablue : both are very  professional cops who use logic  in their work and hope to be the best by more developing their skills.

(beware  : major SPOILERS below)

Neo Sharivan, like Dekablue are praised for their skills, but are also shown to lack something special who would make them completely true heroes in the eyes of their mentors (while it's never said explicitely in Dekaranger, the fact that Ban has more the interest of Doggie than Hoji is the telling element). Both are also shown to make mistakes because of errors in their appreciation of the situation (Hoji in episode 3-4 of Dekaranger, Neo-Sharivan several times in the movie). In fact, cold logic vs passion is a major theme of the show, and the main lesson Sharivan learns in the movie is how important passion and especially passion for justice is the major element in being a Space Sheriff. He especially realizes it when meeting a fellow Space Sheriff, Gencer,  who felt so deeply his passion for justice that he was even ready to have his mody modified, and having a monstruous appearance in order to be able to infiltrate a criminal gang, renouncing his former life, leaving everything behind as an officially dead officer, sacrificing his human form, and putting his life at high risk (and sadly, eventually dying) just to protect peace and humans. Sharivan was without a doubt incredibly moved by the incredible passion of that man, and he learnt the true meaning of being a Space Sheriff thanks to him.
It's only after realizing that that Den Iga could at last aknowledge him as a true Sheriff.

Likewise, in Dekaranger, Doggie Kruger saw in Ban the passion for justice, despite Ban's tendency to make mistakes. That's why he saw him as an important asset of the team, and it's interesting how Ban (Dekared) and Hoji (Dekablue)'s interactions are highlighted, contrasting Ban's passion to Hoji's cool logic. And given their respective colors, there is no mystery which one is seen as the most valuable.

Moreover, the main conflict of the movie is pretty much taken from episode 11 of Dekaranger, a Dekablue focus episode : the enemy is none other than a friend and colleague of Dekablue, who chose to become criminals because of greed, and the hero didn't realize it at first, blinded by their friendship to the culprit, and deeply shocked when learning the truth. (while Hunter Killer in Gavan is also a former corrupted cop and traitor, he was shown as a villain since the beginning).

Another element making the Sharivan movie feel like a cop movie : tellingly, while the original General Gyrer was a warrior, the one seen in the movie is merely a thug, the kind of criminal thug seen in cop shows : his defeat is pretty much anticlimactic, ending up arrested by Sharivan, and he's last seen being interrogated by Gavan confessing how he was involved in his criminal activities, shown as a pathetic criminal rather than the warrior seen in the original series (even if they shared the same "MASATSU" scream when the heroes were appearing). Similarly, Gamagon is shown also as a criminal rather than the beast seen in the original series. Unlike in former Space Sheriff shows (but similar to the Gokaiger vs Gavan movie), the Space Sheriff are seen arresting criminals instead of killing them.

More importantly, unlike the original series, the climax of the movie doesn't involve Sharivan fighting a monster : the three monsters shown in the movie are a first fighting Gavan in the opening scene, Gamagon, who is only shown in the first half, and ends up  killing himself by accident, and Guardbeast, who is in fact a undercover cop. The true villain is Sharivan's colleague and "best friend", Estevan/Seigi (Seigi meaning justice, the irony is very strong), and the climactif fight involves two Space Sheriffs, the hero and the traitor, ending with the arrest of the villain, (while most Space Sheriffs plots end with the death of the villain).

Your thoughts?

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