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Tokusatsu Stuff

Welcome back for my third installment in what is proving to be the Infinite Jest of tokusatsu reviews, except I hope to not be dead by the time this thing is finally being read by more than 4 people.

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Haha! Jokes! But seriously, I am really quite sorry that things came to this. I thought to myself, ‘Oh hey, I’ll write up a quick and dirty thing about Kakuranger as a complimentary piece to the now ancient episode of Destroy All Podcasts DX that I appeared on as a special guest,’ and then it turned into a whole thing where I wanted to give at least a little more depth than just saying “HEY THIS IS GOOD AND YOU SHOULD WATCH IT’ because I’m a wordy asshole with nothing better to do than write on and on and on about a Japanese kids’ show from the 90s.

But babies, this is where it starts to get really good! SHO KOSUGI!

Revenge of the Ninja! (ep. 28-29, “A Superstar Comes to Japan” and “The First Super Battle in History”)

Obviously, if you were hoping that Kane Kosugi’s role in the show would result in an appearance by his father, the world’s only real living ninja, then prepare for Christmas in April, because I’ve got presents! Presents covered in armor and blades and blood!

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Sho well, shows up as Jiraiya’s sensei, Gali, the man who taught and practically raised Jiraiya after his father (a cop) was brutally murdered by a yokai! However, Jiraiya’s mentor has been carrying a dark secret, and now the two of them must do super ninja battle. Let me tell you, if you love Sho Kosugi, you truly have not lived until you have seen tokusatsu-ized Sho Kosugi!

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Our episode begins as Jiraiya has embarked on his quest for one of the ancient ninja scrolls that will give him control of his new mecha. Wait what

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[After Prince junior began the revival process of Daimaoh in the previous episodes, the Kakurangers were left without the help of Mighty Shogun, so they were sent on individual missions to each track down their respective Shinobi Scroll and new mecha, which will merge to form Kakure Shogun, aka Ninja Megazord. In the prior episodes we saw Jiraiya’s teammates face their own obstacles to gain new power. So there you go…]

Jiraiya, however, does get an assist in this two-parter from Sasuke, who randomly shows up early on as the two are lured to an old west set.

In a nod to Jiraiya’s introduction to the show as a skating cowboy from America, he and Sasuke skulk about the old west town (seems like Japan’s answer to Old Tucson Studios) until they come upon a band of yokai and dorodoros. But wait, who’s this new guy in the mix?

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GALI!

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I like that Gali is initially introduced in a nondescript black gi, allowing for the impac of Sho Kosugi’s visage to make you go, “OH SHIT, IT’S HIM!” with full effect.

Jiraiya is shocked to face his former mentor so far from home, and with Gali seemingly doing the bidding of Daimao’s goons. What could it mean???

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Jiraiya doesn’t get a moment to think much about it, because Gali swiftly beats the holy fuck out of him with his karate skills.

It’s not surprising that Sho appears, but it is interesting that he does so not as Jiraiya’s actual father, but as a replacement father figure just because Kane spent his childhood appearing as Sho’s son in a number of films.

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Anyway, we get the background on Jiraiya’s father and Gali. Jiraiya’s father was a cop in California, where he and Gali were close friends and trained at Gali’s studio. One rainy night, Jiraiya’s father was murdered in the street by an unseen, blade-wielding individual, whom Jiraiya assumed was a yokai.

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However, Gali has a terrible secret that he wishes to no longer hide, as he dons his new gear given to him by the yokai Nue.

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Along with the outfit (complete with tiger print accents) comes an arsenal of special attacks, a sai that shoots lasers, and a bladed claw, which Gali does not reveal until the climax of ep. 28, at which point he reveals the truth!

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THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL!

All through the battle, Nue is hiding out in some slimy cave cheering the two combatants on, hoping they will kill each other mercilessly.

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Oh yeah, and Gali can throw hadokens like nobody’s business.

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But wait here comes Sasuke with a GUN!

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A lot more happens as the story carries over into ep. 29, in which Jiraiya and Gali have their final battle, complete with lots of blood and lots of really amazing dialogue, both of which come from Sho Kosugi’s mouth.

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We’re presented with a far more complex plot than what you’re used to in any of Sho’s usual faire: Instead of the typical revenge story featuring a father and son, we have Kane’s real father murdered and replaced by his killer, whom Kane must now kill to complete the cycle.

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That’s some fucking tragic shit right there, man.

Oh wait, I nearly forgot that Jiraiya does indeed retain the Shinobi Scroll, and with it he gets his new mecha, a giant robot frog.

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That jumps and shit.

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And spits out tiny mechanical fascimiles of itself that then latch onto the monster of the week (Nue) and blow him the fuck up.

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Jeremy and I have talked about some sentai shows making you look forward to the robot-monster fights because the human drama stuff isn’t particularly interesting. I think we both agreed that Jetman and Kakuranger don’t fall into that category of sentai series. In fact, this is an episode where the mecha fight probably isn’t even necessary. I’d be fine with the episode ending with Gali’s death and rolling the credits.

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But then we would miss out on Mufasa Gali, looking down upon Jiraiya and smiling. And who the fuck wants to be deprived of that?

And now, some more thoughts on Sho Kosugi and ninja dads…

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What’s it like having Sho Kosugi as your dad?

Through movies like Revenge of the Ninja and Pray for Death, and then going into this two-part episode of Kakuranger, I’m left wondering about ninja dads.

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Are ninja dads the best dads?

Is ninja fatherly love deeper than that of the non-ninja father?

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My first adult memory of Sho Kosugi was when I popped a Korean DVD of 9 Deaths of the Ninja in and saw the opening credits. I saw some of Kosugi’s ninja movies as a kid, but had nearly forgotten them altogether until I stumbled upon 9DotN in the electronics market in Seoul during my brief time as an ESL teacher.

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This would also be same timeframe during which I would watch Super Sentai and Metal Heroes shows for the first time on youtube. Chalk it up to having a lot of free time during non-work hours, which I filled with copious amounts of vegging on the mattress with my laptop and a cardboard bowl of instant kimchi ramen.

It was not unlike a religious experience, viewing these films and shows, and Sho Kosugi became a fatherly prophet of blood and vengeance, accompanied by the great senshi apostles of Toei.

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Hence my joy at the serendipitous marriage of Sho and Toei tokusatsu in the form of Jiraiya’s mentor.

Next time:

Hey guess what! Next time we’ll look at a Tsuruhime-centric episode! That’s right! And she’s bringing some old friends, the PUNISHMENT SAILOR SISTERS!

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Thanks for reading! Until next time…

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TBC

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Welcome back for part two of my look at the best episodes of Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, my current favorite entry in Toei’s Super Sentai series of shows (although this might be a thing that changes frequently as I watch more shows, who knows).

Before I jump into it, I wanted to acknowledge and pass along the very good news that Sasuke (Ninja Red) is slated to appear in an upcoming episode of Toei’s current (and just started) series, Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, which so far has been a fun series (with definite hints of Kakuranger).

Anyway…

Previously, we covered the premise of Kakuranger and the Flower Kunoichi Gang, the best evil Sentai team ever. But if you thought that was all there was to love about Kakuranger, then prepare for much, much more.

The Heavy Metal Concert From Hell! (Ep. 23, “Blitzkrieg!! The Strange White Bird”)

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At the beginning of the series, we were shown how the ancestors of our heroes sealed the evil power of yokai way, and then how that evil was now escaping in the present day (of the early 90s). Unlike previous shows like Zyuranger or Jetman, we aren’t given a main villain right up front, but instead we see the heroes deal with seemingly loosely affiliated yokai. At a certain point, however, we finally meet somebody that seems intent on uniting the Kakurangers’ enemies, and that guy is Young Prince Junior.

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The lead villain for the first half of the series, Young Prince Junior (or Young Noble Junior, depending on the translation/interpretation) is a real treat to watch, as he wails on guitars and pianos and yells about his plans to destroy Kakuranger.

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Looking sort of like Billy Idol if he decided to start stealing just a hint of GWAR’s fashion sense — a look that we really need more of in the world — Prince Junior picks up the title of Epic Sentai Villain previously held by Witch Bandora in Zyuranger, combining her style of insane schemes with the melodrama and ego of Jetman’s Radiguet. Taking things to a whole other place is his alternate form, that of Gashadokuro, a Megadeth-esque skeleton trooper (which Power Ranger fans will recognize as Rito Revolto).

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As far as “metal-ness” goes with Prince Junior, we could get into all sorts of discussions about where he would fall on the spectrum, from the Slayer end of things down to the “metal-in-logo-only” spot, where you’ll find Kip Winger. The way I’d calculate our villain is probably somewhere above Twisted Sister’s cameo in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but a smidge below Alice Cooper’s set in Wayne’s World.

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Sadly, Junior isn’t the true big bad of the show. His father, the high lord of all evil yokai Daimaou, has been locked away, waiting to return to our realm, and will eventually show up to take over as the Big Boss of the series, and frankly, he’s nowhere near as entertaining. He’s definitely the dad jeans of Tokusatsu Final Bosses.

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Not since Kamen Rider Amazon have I been so disappointed by a change in lead villains. Thankfully Daimaou is still a monster, unlike Amazon’s Great Emperor Zero, a doof in a stupid headdress.

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Anyway, all that nonsense aside, the road to Daimaou’s return is paved with Sentai gold, starting with this episode. Prince Junior begins the process of resurrecting his father by turning children to stone — actual human-sized stone slabs…

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…and using their souls to build a GIANT SKULL CASTLE ON TOP OF A SKYSCRAPER.

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Then, he proceeds to PERFORM THE MOST EVIL METAL CONCERT INSIDE THE GIANT SKULL.

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This is the kind of thing that would pop up all the time on something like Metalocalypse, I suppose, but frankly it would probably end on that show with a cynical gag about a bunch of people being dead as a result, and as much as I enjoy Metalocalypse, I mean come on.

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Eventually too much bad shit happens and a new ally must enter the scene. The Kakurangers are left beaten and rough, powerless against the might of Junior’s Skull Fortress and the kaiju of the week, Umibozu. That’s when we meet Tsubasamaru (hinted at in the episode title) a giant mechanical bird that shoots missiles from its wings.

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Tsubasamaru joins with the Mighty Shogun, and together they blow some shit up and save the day. The kids are brought back to life and everything is great.

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You know, except for the whole “Daimaou is coming back soon and you’re all gonna die” thing.

But wait, I almost forgot!

At the very beginning of the episode, Tsuruhime celebrates the bond the rangers now have by giving each of them FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS!

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So then it makes all the more sense that by the end of the episode, the rangers have made a new friend, huh?

Anyway, that’s all for now. Deciding to write about Kakuranger has proven to be a bigger task than I first imagined, so what I thought would be a single listicle-like entry is unfolding into a multi-part waste of time likely stretching out for weeks. I appreciate everybody who has made it this far and wishes to check out the next installment of Watch More Toku, in which we (finally) see what happens when Sho Kosugi, the only true ninja on Earth, appears on a Super Sentai show.

I know, I know, I keep promising Sho Kosugi, and once again you are forced to wait. MY APOLOGIES!

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Let that hold you over until next time!

As an aside, I want to give a shout out to Grown Ups In Spandex, the folks responsible for the fansubs of Kakuranger I’ve been using. Without their work, I’d probably still be awkwardly staring at unintelligible clips on YouTube and wondering what the hell this show is about. Fansubbing takes a lot of time and work to do, and is technically illegal, but hey, we can’t really sit around hoping Shout Factory puts out more DVD sets of Sentai shows, now can we?

PS here are some extra stills of Prince Junior being awesome

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Do you like:

Ninjas?

Yokai?

Robots?

Villains dressed in pseudo-GWAR armor that wail on guitars and transform into skeleton dudes?

Kane Kosugi?

SHO KOSUGI?

GIANT-ASS SKULLS MADE FROM THE SOULS OF CHILDREN???

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any or all of the above, then I have the show for you!

N I N J A   S E N T A I   K A K U R A N G E R ! ! !

Fairly recently, I had the awesome opportunity to discuss Ninja Sentai Kakuranger with my good friend and creative partner Jeremy on Destroy All Podcasts DX. If you have not listened to it, do yourself a favor and GO DOWNLOAD IT RIGHT NOW…

Part 1 of Podcast

Part 2 of Podcast

Okay, finished? No? Well then fine. Let’s get into where I even started with this.

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Now, I love me some tokusatsu, and after initially getting my Sentai feet wet with Choujin Sentai Jetman (entry coming soon), I took it upon myself to pick another Super Sentai series. But wait!

With pretty much all of the Power Rangers series now available streaming via Amazon Prime and Netflix, I had, on late nights when subtitles are worthless whilst doing work, taken to watching some of those rather… unique takes on Toei’s properties, and forced myself to watch Alien Rangers (the short span of MMPR episodes that utilized Kakuranger costumes and the original set of mecha). I use the word “forced” intentionally, because guys, Alien Rangers is really, really bad.

Watching Alien Rangers made me curious about what we all missed out on with the original source material, and thankfully, I was able to easily locate fansubs of Kakuranger.

Again, I am very intentional about word choice here. I am exceedingly thankful about finding Kakuranger, because life is better with Kakuranger in it.

Anybody who tuned into my guest appearance on Destroy All Podcasts got a pretty good idea of what there is to love in just the first few episodes of Kakuranger, but believe me, there is more. Those first few episodes are but a taste of what the show becomes, and even when it seems like it’s about to abandon all those fun things you grow attached to in the first half of the series, it still tops itself again and again.

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Ninja Ninja

Super brief synopsis if you haven’t listened to the podcast: Hundreds of years ago, five great ninja fought the evil yokai and their master, and sealed them away using magic. Flash forward to the present day (early 90s Japan) where we meet the descendants of the ninja, now living carefree (and money-free) lives as teenagers with attitude. Thanks to the scheming of a kappa (turtle-like yokai) disguised as an old man, two of our soon-to-be-heroes accidentally release the rest of the monsters, and are quickly recruited by Tsuruhime (Kakuranger White) to join her in the fight against the evil yokai.

(Again, please go listen to the show, because Jeremy did some outstanding research on the famous pop culture icons that the Kakuranger members are based upon, essentially Japanese pulp heroes that have been used again and again in anime and live action productions; plus, he and I both have super cool voices and we’re very charming people!)

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Super Henge!

The show, of course, follows the Super Sentai formula of a team of heroes that henshin into spandex-clad super-ninjas that pilot robots and blow monsters the fuck up. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!

Fitting with a few other Toei series, the central villain changes over the course of the series, with heavy metal mofo Prince Junior eventually giving way to his father, Daimaou (Master Vile in Power Rangers), while the heroes go on a quest to gain bigger and badder mecha to fight evil.

After replacing their initial mecha – the Giant Beast Generals (aka Shogunzords) – with the slimmer Jusho Fighters – the Rangers must go on a quest to revive and control the Super Ninja Beasts (aka Ninjazords) and form Kakure Daishogun!

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“But do I have to watch the whole show?”

YES! Er, well, actually, you can do whatever you want. And if you just want to see some of the most exciting key episodes, I’ve put together some  highlights of my favorite episodes to watch after the initial four.

A Love Song for Kunoichi Gangs (Ep. 20, “The Flower Kunoichi Gang”)

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Jeremy and I did talk just a small bit about the Flower Kunoichi Gang (or Flowered Kunoichi Team, depending on the translation), which for the uninitiated, is a Sentai-like team of evil female assassins.

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The gang (I’m going with gang because everybody knows girl gangs are the best and “team” just sounds like kid stuff) makes several more appearances, including my favorite in episode 20, where they harass and bully a child in a San Francisco 49ers shirt just to get to Sasuke.

The child isn’t safe even when he goes home to his mother!

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But the gang takes it all to whole other level when they ramp up their attacks, going so far as to chase Sasuke and the kid while riding the Kunoichi Missile!

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And then SHOOTING AT THEM WITH MACHINE GUNS!

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These cat/flower-themed ninja badasses won’t stop until all of Kakuranger are dead, but even worse, they’re just plain mean mothers.

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That’s it for now, but next time in Part 2, we’ll look at Skull Castles, The True Power of Evil Heavy Metal, Sho Kosugi, Teen Girl Heroes, and possibly most importantly, my love for Ninjaman (hint to podcast listeners: turns out Ninjaman is a gajillion times better than Ninjor)!

SHOUntil then…

TBC

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