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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!

TRBzImS

“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

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.

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