I probably should not admit to anybody on Earth that I have spent most evenings for the past month watching VR Troopers on Netflix, and yet here we are. Even when I’m completely sober, I still want to watch it. And I swear, when I was a kid I didn’t feel like this.
In the period of time between then and now, my interest in Japanese “tokusatsu” shows has grown exponentially, mostly due to the internet and an increase in my awareness of such things.
As a kid, I figured out pretty quickly while watching my first episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers that the footage with the actual Rangers, Zord, and monster were not shot by the same people that shot all the stuff with the dumb teens and Bulk & Skull. Granted, I had prior exposure to Masked Rider and Kikaider when I was about 3 or 4, living in Honolulu, but my memories of that were barely existent by the time I saw Power Rangers; what mattered was that I associated this kind of stuff with Japan, so I pretty much put 2 and 2 together and figured out that Power Rangers was just Americanizing Japanese live action shows.
And let’s be honest: it is not unfair or wrong for me to make that kinda of connection. The television programs aired in Japan are so purely Japanese on just a basic cultural level, while Americans in the TV industry here were until recently not nearly that creative, and it was bizarre to see this kind of stuff on American television. Stuff that wasn’t made here still sticks out like a sore thumb.
So as a kid when this show was coming out, I only had a passing interest in it, and the only reason any existed was because I knew it was Japanese in origin. I only ever saw it when I was home, sick from school, and nothing else was on TV, and when I did, all I remember is the Japanese stuff.
Anyway, what am I getting at? Well, I guess I’ve been hammering on the fact that fans of Tokusatsu might have an interest in watching this, and should.
The other part? If you like things that are insanely bad, you should probably watch this as well.
While the awesome, cheesy, lower-image-quality parts of the show with Grimlord, all the robots/mutants, and such are what drew me in initially (and certainly entertain in that area), seeing the ways the American producers had to adapt the original material becomes even more entertaining.
See, for the first season, they took two distinct, separate Japanese series (Spielban and Metalder*), borrowed the action footage (all the stuff involving the metal hero in question and/or the various monsters) and then shot new footage with American actors to fill everything in-between (this is the same practice used for the Power Rangers series), creating new shows in the process. It was kind of a more extreme take on the method used to create Robotech. So right off the bat, whatever was going on in that footage, the American producers and writers had to make what they came up with connect with it. This gets really entertaining when you see the writers coming up with a subplot involving the Troopers’ alter egos that mirrors or parallels the plot of the original footage.
But better yet, it becomes more entertaining when the Japanese episode footage involves a kidnapping.
These episodes exist in every tokusatsu series, from Iron King to Go Ranger to Supaidaman to Power Rangers; somebody close to our hero is kidnapped by the bad guys, and the hero has to fight the baddies and rescue that person. Frequently that person is a potential love interest, while more often it is a child, perhaps a younger brother, nephew, cousin, or family member of a close friend. Since it’s Japanese, that person is pretty visibly Japanese as well.
That’s where the fun begins.
There are at least two episodes in the first season of VR Troopers that involve the kidnapping of a boy, and so each time you get to watch the folks at Saban find some way to introduce an Asian boy into the story. One episode, it’s just some Little League kid who’s some kind of baseball phenom who just happens to be asian; and the next, it’s Tao(the owner of the local dojo in the American footage)’s visiting nephew. Somebody was put in charge of dressing each kid in a costume that matched the costume worn by the kid in the Japanese footage.
Naturally, you could also assume that somebody was given the job of finding a kid that matched the kid in the Japanese footage. And that is where you would be wrong.
In particular, look at the episode “The Couch Potato Kid,” where you somehow end up with two child actors that look nothing alike. The only things they have in common are that they’re Asian and they’re boys. It’s actually pretty ridiculous how different they look.
It’s really quite beautiful, and I think it’s entertaining in the same way that watching stupid people try to function is. Added to that are the ridiculous premises of each episode. One episode sees the bad guy, Ziktor/Grimlord, kidnap a litter of puppies. Another sees him interfering with go kart racing, while yet another involves Grimlord creating an obstacle course for his minions to run because he was inspired by the Troopers doing the same thing for the local kids.
This is a show that will actually begin with the main character rescuing a stray kitten, and somehow have it lead to robot dudes fighting each other and blowing up.
But what makes it better is that it’s combined with that weird, crazy Japanese action sci-fi stuff, complete with dudes doing karate in crazy rubber and chrome suits. What’s not to love about that?
And the combination? It only gets better when the Japanese footage contains this many explosions. Seriously, shit blows up on this show. Ryan Steele/Metalder is jumping around in a nondescript rock quarry-esque set, dodging lasers and missiles, and then about 13 different explosives go off in the background. These dudes duel with laser swords and blaster guns, and then each fight shot is capped off with a handful of big, fiery explosions. Michael Bay wishes he was this efficient with pyro.
My recommendation is the aforementioned episode “The Couch Potato Kid,” because it also happens to be the coolest episode of the bunch. See, this episode shows the lead bad guy, Grimlord, making all of his mutant/robot/cyborg minions fight it out to determine who will have the honor of fighting the VR Troopers on Grimlord’s behalf. What you end up with is a crazy, kaijin-infested episode of Takeshi’s Castle, as all of the foam rubber robot monsters try to survive an obstacle course as they’re broken into Laff-A-Lympics-style teams. It’s pretty cool, especially when you think about how rarely you get to see all the cool monsters in any of these shows get this much screen time.
Is it good TV? Oh hell no, but it’s insane, and not in the same way that Toddlers and Tiaras is insane.