Takaaki Utsunomiya: Working On Samurais, Pirates, Wizards, Trains And Beasts
Picture above taken from Them's Fightin' Words
When it comes to producer Takaaki Utsunomiya - I can't help but think of the fact that he was responsible for Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Kamen Rider Wizard and Ressha Sentai ToQGer. So I'll do this bit of sharing my views on his previous works and how it might affect the next Super Sentai series namely Doubotsu Sentai Zyuohger. I liked his first two shows but the rest left me pretty mixed. I'll share my personal opinions on how he has been as a producer for Toei Ltd.
His first job as a head producer for Super Sentai was with Samurai Sentai Shinkenger which is easily my favorite of this list. After the Timeranger era, Super Sentai had a new formula of being close to TV-Y7-FV standards in America in terms of allowable violence while maintaining a certain degree of Japanese culture in the shows. That was the era that was focused on experimenting on different types of multi-gattai. The quality of handling a show's new elements then depended on the producers, writers and the ability of the cast to carry out their part. Shinkenger was an era that brought in the old and the new in such a way and even if it's not really Kobayashi's best work but I can't deny it's my favorite Super Sentai series produced by him.
Under his production, this season was as show you could really see that the cast members were still doing a lot of out-of-suit civilian fight scenes even if they weren't as good as the 80s or 90s action scenes. Even if the show had some "plot stall" but the show was enjoyable even during that time. I felt this show is good but a lot of fans tend to overrate it as Kobayashi's masterpiece when it isn't. I'm a fan of this show but I think this show is plain overrated for stupid reasons because of the show's generous amount of eye candy in several levels combined with quality writing, production and the main cast made the show memorable in its own way. Production-wise, this show is a masterpiece of Utsunomiya but writing-wise, I would say that Kobayashi has had written better with other Super Sentai seasons as the head writer for Seijuu Sentai Gingaman and Mirai Sentai Timeranger.
After Shinkenger and Goseiger (I really don't think it's a good show), it was nice to finally get Gokaiger which is my second favorite work. While I've confessed I find Boukenger and Gaoranger as better anniversary seasons but I cannot deny the hard work put into this show. You have lots of former cast members coming back for a guest appearance even if their contracts with Toei Ltd. have long ended. Yes, the show was definitely another entry that while I had a problem with the Zangyacks being "inferior villains" in the long run compared to how other villain groups were but I was glad the show brought the neutrally-aligned villain Basco into the scene. Yes, Basco is one of my favorite villains who really knows how to get the job done and mess up with the heroes. What might be evident of seeing Utsunomiya's hand in it was also that Gai Ikari was sort of like the show's version of Genta Umemori where both sixth rangers get their wishes to become rangers fulfilled.
Gokaiger was more of a huge crossover that existed in the VS. Universe considering how in reality that a Super Sentai timeline is just impossible due to the self-contained nature of most Super Sentai series. The series tends to also get too much praise as the "best Super Sentai ever" while it's time to ask the question of how much of older Super Sentai have they seen to make that judgment. Watching Gokaiger is just the tip of the iceberg, you better watch older and newer series from start to end before making the final judgment. Like Shinkenger, the show owes its quality of the main cast, writing and production making it a memorable anniversary season. Best season? Not really but I'd still say it's still one of the best seasons of Super Sentai.
In between, I could talk about Kamen Rider Wizard which was Utsunomiya's first job as a head producer for Kamen Rider. There were some pre-Decade shows that were horrible for me like let's say Kamen Rider Hibiki, I think Kamen Rider Kabuto gets me mixed (but I enjoy the action) or that while Kamen Rider Faiz addresses the issues of racism in the human/Orphnoch war it does spin around in circles while Kamen Rider Kiva was a fun silly show to watch. In the case of Kamen Rider Wizard, I would admit that I feel the show itself is more watchable (for my taste) than the other magic-themed Toku namely Mahou Sentai Magiranger or was I just too busy looking at Rinko or Medusa drooling over the girls to ever notice the show's weaker points? I would dare say yes that's why I overlooked the weaknesses until later because of the girls. I'll confess, it also happened to me during Shinkenger.
The show itself had some weaknesses like I thought the villains weren't all that solid or that Kamen Rider Fourze and Kamen Rider OOO were better written. An example is that Shunpei ends up treated more as comic relief than he is as a useful ally for Hiroto. It may not be that good but I was still entertained by the show's rainbow and teddy bear setting. I thought the show's theme of wizards was better than than when it was used in Magiranger. I felt this show may not be as good as Kamen Rider Kiva but I would still think that it's better than the next Super Sentai under Utsunomiya's production namely ToQGer. After looking at Wizard, I wonder is he still really qualified to be a producer for Kamen Rider or should he stick to Super Sentai? Then again, I think Wizard's weakness was on its writer Kida than it would be on its producer Utsunomiya.
I was excited about him coming back for ToQGer but not really much for Yasuko Kobayashi considering that while I do like Gobusters, it's not that good. The difference between ToQGer and Gobusters is that Kobayashi still tried to write a good story but I guess executives meddled in with her plans like they did with Kamen Rider Ryuki. In ToQGer, I felt like that while Super Sentai was meant for a younger audience but I just don't feel like enjoying it. When I heard it won an award for promoting safety rules and yes it did. I thought that Winspector, Solbrain, Exceedraft, GogoFive and Lightspeed Rescue are all better candidates or recipients for that safety rules award.
It's not about the show being a world of rainbows, teddy bears and comedy-horror but it was how the show ended up in its writing and production. I mean what's lighter and softer can be a good show and what's darker and edgier can be a bad show. It was almost like Kobayashi saying, "That's it, I quit." and the show could have been better maybe if they had Junki Takegami or Naruhisa Arakawa as the writer. Fortunately, Ninninger is still entertaining enough to keep me occupied but I was enjoying Kamen Drive more as I was enjoying Kamen Rider Gaim more than ToQGer. Even after watching this show from from start to end, I really couldn't like it as much as some of its predecessors.
So how will Zyuohger be when it finally appears after the inevitable end of Ninninger? It depends on circumstances as innovation has a lot of trial and error into it so it means it's time to look at past mistakes and past successes at the same time. I hope it will get better since there are three possibilities for next year's Sentai either it ahs the same quality as its predecessor (ex. Gaoranger, Abaranger), it can outdo its predecessor (Dairanger, Carranger, Megaranger, Hirohisa Soda's series from Goggle V up to Liveman) or it is not better than its predecessor (ex. Turboranger and Fiveman, Ohranger). With Junko Komura who has been responsible for some of Gokaiger's episodes and Akibaranger, I guess he's another new era head writer aside from Kento Shimoyama. I hope that Komura comes up with something new for a new generation of Super Sentai.
Hopefully, we're going to get better results for an anniversary season. What Super Sentai needs now is what as Kazunori Inaba's statement between Super Sentai and Power Rangers. When he said, "These days not much at all." I felt like he was referring to Ninninger in the stunts department. What I hope Zyuohger will have are the badly needed main cast doing their own fight scenes before the stuntmen comes in. I hope that one way or another, Zyuohger will have those badly needed cast members doing their own fight scenes than rely too much on the stunt doubles. Here's me keeping my fingers crossed for Zyuohger hoping that this anniversary be an improvement for the next generation and open a new era of Super Sentai.