Super Sentai Series That May Have Aired During A "Champion Year For Toei's Tokusatsu"
I got this idea from Shogo B'Stard's blog though my views can be very different from his. For instance, I'm actually a fan of Hurricanger and Boukenger and he's not. I can agree with a few things he says positive about Power Rangers Time Force but I prefer Timeranger in spite of all the weaknesses he pointed out. Is this year a champion year for Toei's Tokusatsu? I don't think so considering that Zyuohger really has hit low (but I'm still a fan) though Kamen Rider EX-AID is a pretty interesting show. I don't know how Kamen Rider Ghost fared but I think I'll give it a rewatch.
So what are my picks for Super Sentai shows that aired during what I might call as a champion year for Toei? That happens when Toei either offers better servings than usual for more than one season or they manage to hit big with their respective targets. It may also be considered as the time of the year when there's more than one major hit going on. So let's get moving shall we? Remember some of these are just my picks so feel free to disagree.
Hikari Sentai Maskman (1989)
I definitely agree with Shogo that 1987 was a champion year though I haven't seen more of Metalder. Maybe I'm just showing some biases again because I couldn't look at VR Troopers the same way after seeing Metalder's badass action. But what shows were more important for me in the year of 1989? Kamen Rider Black and Hikari Sentai Maskman! Kamen Rider Black became such a huge hit for Kamen Rider that a sequel called Kamen Rider Black RX (which didn't get enough popularity) was created. But let's talk about Maskman first which I think is quite underrated but it was a show that managed to break grounds.
Maskman is probably another groundbreaker aside from Bioman, Changeman and Flashman, Head writer Hirohisa Soda may be considered as the genius that revolutionized and introduced new ways to innovate Super Sentai writing. It has the first love story ever for Super Sentai with Takeru meeting the mysterious girl Mio. The show has a cast that's a rare find for Super Sentai these days. I feel that so many good Tokusatsu acting can match up to Maskman's really good acting. So I'm even thinking that why didn't Kazunori Inaba the one playing Red Mask get that popular as his "successor" Tori Matsuzaka? What also may have made Maskman pretty much a groundbreaker is that Soda himself was constantly innovating with new ideas even if later, both Turboranger and Fiveman didn't do as well due to his burnout. But I can't deny how Maskman starts to make more complicated plots where Soda manages another leap towards better writing.
Kamen Rider Black of that year was definitely a leap for many. Okay, I haven't seen much of the Showa era yet but I can say Black itself was a good experimental season. The season managed to actually improve a lot of stuff from its predecessors. Black's plot reinvented the first Kamen Rider's plot while adding the plot of the succeeding Century King. Gorgom appears to be more nightmarish than all of Shocker's incarnations or spin-offs due to the dawn of newer, better special effects that Shocker never had except in Heisei crossover movies. Plus, part of the plan is the suspense as Kotaro must struggle as his foster brother Nobuhiko got revived as Shadow Moon. I know the series had some problems like Bilgenia's sudden departure or Shadow Moon lacks personality but it was good innovative writing in its own way. So really, what happened that Kamen Rider Black RX wasn't as good and some even critics love to say that the sequel was super horrible?
Chojin Sentai Jetman (1991)
Fiveman nearly cancelled Super Sentai due to low toy sales and that's quite a step backward. Even if I'm a fan of Fiveman but I must accept that it didn't do well during its airing. Super Sentai was ready to end anytime soon but one show saved Super Sentai from eventual cancellation. No, it wasn't Gekisou Sentai Carranger but it was Chojin Sentai Jetman. Secondary writer Toshiki Inoue had his one and only headwriting job for Tokusatsu with Jetman. They wanted to end Super Sentai with Jetman but the show's popularity really broke expectation thus a new era of Super Sentai begun. Though I may want to call this as the era that ended the pre-Zyuranger era since Toei and Saban would eventually join forces to create Power Rangers. This was also the year that Winspector's successor Solbrain came to be.
Jetman happens to be one of the most overrated shows of all time. You can think about how people say it's the best Super Sentai ever. Come on, there are other shows before and after Jetman that may be considered better. Some of its darker and edgier predecessors are Changeman, Flashman, Maskman and Liveman. Other better shows may be Dairanger, Megaranger, GoGoFive or Timeranger. But again, one can't deny that Jetman may be a huge leap in innovative writing for Super Sentai. It also had a new formula where Ryu the red ranger must try to get four civilians to help him fight. Along the way, the Jetmen try to learn what it means to be a team especially with Gai Yuki himself. The show also had a complex love polygon that goes beyond the Gai Yuki likes Kaori but she likes Ryu but Ryu likes Rie scenario. Maybe, I could also think one of the most "beloved" villains ever Count Radiguet is a huge step in Super Sentai villain cruelty. I guess without him we may not get other really fearsome ones like Lt. Col. Shadam or Grand Witch Grandienne.
The other show for this year was Solbrain which was Winspector's successor. Okay, I dropped it as a child since I didn't really take an immediate liking to it. But after seeing Winspector and now I'm watching Solbrain released by Sailor Otaku (also alternatively called as Weeaboo Shogun). Solbrain is another show that actually challenges the audience to think outside of the box. Solbrain focuses on incidents related to trying to save people before they fall into the path that they need to be destroyed. I feel like after watching both Winspector and some episodes of Solbrain that Dekaranger lacks the police drama that were in those shows. Take note that I do like Dekaranger with its cool new features, it may be a major hit but the Rescue Police series just have more drama.
Gosei Sentai Dairanger (1993)
I guess this is a huge champion year. We've got Toei's threefold big success for this year with Dairanger, Janperson and its triumphant entry to the United States with Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Zyuranger came in with a new more child friendly formula and it somehow worked but Dairanger managed to do better in the late Noboru Sugimura's term as a head writer. Janperson entered as a fully robotic version of Robocop. Toei also expanded its market overseas when Mighty Morphin' finally aired in the United States. This would be the first year Toei actually hit success in both Eastern and Western markets.
So what's with Dairanger as major hit of a Super Sentai? I could say Zyuranger wasn't really much of a classic. IMO, Zyuranger tend to be too kid-focused. I think Abaranger's been the better season. Dairanger has had a lot of cool looking toys, flashy martial arts and a lot of cool stories. I think it's really the most action intense Super Sentai series ever. There's a lot of cool mysteries with Dairanger which tried to improvise on what Maskman left behind as a martial arts series driven by aura power. Aside fro Maskman, show somehow gave tribute to a lot of 80s Super Sentai like the reuse of mythical animals (Changeman), the color coding and the characters. Unlike Zyuranger, the Dairangers are more focused. Zyuranger just tends to focus more on the child of the week while this show meets the balance. The plots of Dairanger are also pretty interesting like Daigo's relationship with Kujaku, the Gorma's internal conflict, Kou has had more meaning as a child ranger than Justin ever had in Power Rangers Turbo and the Gorma's complicated story. This also left a lot of stuff that left viewers to decide for themselves.
I could also name Janperson as part of the reason why this is a champion year. I don't know what to say about Exceedraft just yet but I feel Janperson definitely one of a kind Metal Hero. He's supposedly a Robocop type hero but he's got no human past like Jiban did. The whole series wasn't very typical to Tokusatsu and it had a unique formula. The hero Janperson was once the defective android known as MX-A1 but his own creator Kaoru Saeugas (shades of Marie Lazarus from the Robocop 3 film) went against her superiors. The result was that the robot MX-A1 becomes a Robocop-inspired android with no human past. He fought against the three underground organizations namely the Tatewaki Konzern, the Neo Guild and the Super Science Network each fighting for domination over Japan as well as the world.
1993 was was also the very year Toei entered into the United States with Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. While I personally have no intention to fully rewatch it or even watch it but I still think of it as part of the champion year. Toei and Saban managed to create a monster hit that allowed Toei to hit big time in the American market. Both Saban and Toei have worked with each other. Saban pays Toei for the royalty fees as part of the deal to get Toei's share in the American market. Bandai also had another target market. In short, business was already booming for Toei thanks to Mighty Morphin. That year was also the year of Jurassic Park hence Toei had its successful entry to American soil. But again, I don't and will never consider myself a fan of Power Rangers fan even if I don't hate it.
Mirai Sentai Timeranger (2000)
After Dairanger, it took some time before another champion year arrived. Remember that Kamen Rider had a hiatus after Kamen Rider Black RX's lack of popularity. After Janperson, Metal Hero may have not been as good. B-Fighter's sequel B-Fighter Kabuto wasn't as good but I'd still watch both shows over Beetleborgs and Beetleborgs Metallix. Then Kabutack and Robotack kicked in and I don't think the kiddie formula worked back then. Hmmm... just think that a lot of innovative ideas don't always work the first time around, right? Then we had that hiatus. After that, we have the triumphant return of Kamen Rider with the first ever Heisei Rider, Kamen Rider Kuuga.
Timeranger may be best called a "finale for yet another era of Super Sentai". It's also considered by some as Yasuko Kobayashi's magnum opus though others may think of Gingaman or Shinkenger. Timeranger appears itself as an atypical Super Sentai series with the real enemy being fate itself. Even with some positives that some people can name about Power Rangers Time Force (which was also a hit) but I still prefer Timeranger's writing. The plot is usually one to get into the more complex side of stuff. The story revolves around everyone fighting their own destiny whether it's the heroes or the villains. The team has four people from the Year 3,000 but ends up in the Year 2,000 with a man from the present as their leader. They're tasked to capture the Londarz Prisoners while they must fight against fate itself. This also resulted to a lot of plot twists and fate itself is the main villain of the series. It's pretty much an atypical series just like next year's Kamen Rider Agito.
Kamen Rider Kuuga is indeed a huge remodeling of the Kamen Rider franchise. The writing format started to change to the soapbox television drama format. Kuuga seems to be more or less standalone from what the Showa era had to offer. The show had some complex mysteries like the Grongi actually speak in a language that do contain some spoilers for future events. The hero Yousuke Godai is constantly seeking to learn about his new powers while he's at the risk of losing his humanity. This was also Naruhisa Arakawa's big entrance as a head writer. Ironically, most of Arakawa's works were usually lighter and softer like Abaranger, Dekaranger and Gokaiger plus I always felt he should have been assigned as ToQGer's headwriter instead.
Whether or not Lightspeed Rescue should be included is still to be seen. Although I don't think Lightspeed Rescue is all that great but I still don't want to dismiss its positive points. Just because I'm not somebody who really likes Power Rangers doesn't mean I won't name some few points like Sean CW Johnson's role as Carter Grayson or that Mike Chat's an accomplished martial artist. It's still best to view Lightspeed Rescue as its own show than compare it too much to GoGoFive. Go compare GoGoFive to Fiveman and Magiranger instead.
Hyajakuu Sentai Gaoranger (2001)
This year is probably a huge champion year. Gaoranger is the 25th anniversary and it really, really made waves in the innovation department. It was also the year that Inoue himself fired his one last masterpiece namely Kamen Rider Agito. It was also the year of Power Rangers Time Force which is probably Judd Lynn's magnum opus though I fear he's already headed for burnout.
Gaoranger's no doubt one huge anniversary season with good acting, good writing and new innovative stuff that kept the Super Sentai franchise going for years. On the other hand, Wild Force which came in the year after was criticized for the bad acting and the shoddy Forever Red crossover. Watching Gaoranger made me think it was time for a new revolution for a more child-friendly series without compromising the overall quality. It was also the year of multi-gattai as a new innovative concept that kept toy sales going for some time. The series may have had some some weaknesses like the lack of a real main villain but it was still well handed. I believe the series is an important contributor to innovative changes in Super Sentai.
Kamen Rider Agito is considered as Inoue's magnum opus during his days when he was a head writer. I'd agree with Shogo's statement that it's a sprawling ambitious tapestry. I feel like some elements of Timeranger were taken in here like the anti-hero in Hojo or the fight against fate. Agito happens to be a very atypical Kamen Rider in one way or another. The whole conflict is more related with mankind's evolution than anything else. The enemies aren't there to take over the world and they're very selective of who they kill. It turns out that they're killing people with the power to evolve into Kamen Rider Agito. The stories are so layered in some way that it really creates a complex story. Maybe, just maybe my only problem is how Hojo Toru as a character and why he's made an antagonist towards the G3 Team. Why does Inoue like to write a lot and I mean a lot of douchebags into his shows?
Power Rangers Time Force can be added. As much as I tend to prefer the Super Sentai counterpart but again, just because I'm not a fan of Power Rangers doesn't mean I won't point out what I think was done better. Time Force had Jason Faunt and Erin Cahill who came out feeling more enthusiastic about their roles than Masaru Nagai and Mika Katsumura. Jen's not that much of a cold person as Yuuri was in Timeranger. Ransik was a pretty interesting villain though I disagree with Shogo's opinion of the villain as an "improved version of Dr. Giba". Time Force may have actually given an important lesson that you don't need to be that serious to write such a good story. But I still think I'd rather stick to Super Sentai for most of its run. After Time Force, Power Rangers really went down the drain for most of its run with super rushed reasons and Nickelodeon's unnecessary splitting into two seasons. But again, I won't deny that there are some Power Rangers seasons that manage to stand out against the rest of the entries.
Gougou Sentai Boukenger (2006)
This was the time when Super Sentai hit its 30th season and Kamen Rider Kabuto also aired. At the same time, Power Rangers already entered the dork age with Disney and the Kalish era. But I could talk about these two shows that tend to get too much fan reception: Boukenger and Kamen Rider Kabuto.
Boukenger starts off as another mold breaker. It's the first Super Sentai with multiple factions battling for the top spot. It's the adventuring theme where the Boukengers collect these items called Precious. Is it really that good a season as I thought it was? Not really, the Boukengers tend to act like they're always drinking. The show isn't all that good especially if you consider some of its predecessors and successors. But I can't deny that I'm a fan of the adventuring theme. So it was mainly written by Sho Aikawa who's pretty much hit or miss. As far as I'm concerned, I'm in for the wacky adventure this show has to offer to the audience. I think it's pretty overrated though because it has better acting and action than Operation Overdrive. From what I heard Operation Overdrive was a huge anniversary flop and I have no intention to watch it.
The other is Kamen Rider Kabuto which featured Shoji Yonemura and a more or less burnt out Toshiki Inoue as part of the team. This may be considered Yonemura's one shot wonder because after that, he just simply fell apart. It's almost like how Power Rangers SPD was a one shot wonder with Bruce Kalish. So far, I think Kabuto's premise is enjoyable with all the references to some sci-fi movies. Tendou though can be quite annoying with his Gary Stu attitude. I still think that it's probably one of the most overrated Kamen Riders ever. I guess this also meant a lot of toy sales.
Jyuken Sentai Gekiranger (2007)
This is where I'm going to get subjective and objective in some way. This was the year of both Gekiranger and Kamen Rider Den-O. Gekiranger felt it was a series that wanted Super Sentai to return to darker and edgier. Kamen Rider Den-O was trying to do more lighter and softer for Kamen Rider. I guess this is where I'm showing some of my views vs. what may be facts.
As said, Gekiranger is trying to redo the days when Super Sentai usually did things a lot more seriously. I feel this show is a hybrid of two major blockbusters namely Dairanger and Gaoranger. A lot of kung fu moves are named after animals so Gekiranger may have gotten the concept better than Dairanger did. But in terms of writing I feel Dairanger was more focused since Gekiranger belongs to the post-Timeranger era where multi-gattai has been more commonly used. The show featured a lot of creative Wuxia style writing and other ways to give tribute to Hong Kong cinema. The show had a lot of flashy merchandise to make up for ratings lower than Boukenger. I personally prefer this show over Boukenger. Like Maskman, the show seemed like it didn't do that well during its airing but it may have created a following in some way. This may have helped older audiences get in touch with their Toku spirits.
Kamen Rider Den-O is another popular season. I guess children do love time travel. I don't know if it's safe to say that Den-O succeeded where Changerion failed since I haven't seen the other show. This show though tends to get really confusing and it's taking time travel to a whole new level. The show may have clicked with both younger and older audiences. There's some cool toys for the children. There may have been some complex plots for older audiences. On the other hand, the overuse of time travel is a weakness in this show for me. I guess you better watch Timeranger instead. Then again, it's all about preference isn't it?
Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (2009)
This year was well... pretty mixed. It was the 10th entry of the Heisei Kamen Rider so that's a milestone. Kamen Rider Decade kicked in but it really is a messy show though the concept was fixed with Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. Decade only lasted for freaking 31 episodes making it the shortest Kamen Rider in the Heisei era. But this year also featured some resurgence that aside from Shinkenger you also have Kamen Rider W to make up for Decade's lack of performance.
Shinkenger is pretty much what I call as something that came in for too long. I even wonder what took so long to make a samurai themed Super Sentai? But there we have it and it may not be what I wanted but it was enjoyable in its own way. There were a lot of funny moments without becoming a slapstick. In short, it's a pretty well-balanced show with the right amount of comic humor and seriousness in contrast to its predecessor Go-onger. On the other hand, it's pretty much an overrated series because of the likable cast. Again, I always felt like Takeru Shiba himself is so overrated. Mako and Kotoha are probably also that overrated. The cast may be the most overrated cast ever. Plus. they're the first Super Sentai series to officially have a Super Sentai/Kamen Rider crossover. Even with its popularity but I don't want to call it as Yasuko Kobayashi's magnum opus with Super Sentai. I still suggest people should watch Gingaman and Timeranger. Meanwhile, you may just ignore Power Rangers Samurai altogether.
It was also the year of Kamen Rider's escape from what could have been the dork age. Kamen Rider Decade could have been a good anniversary season but I guess the producers had no idea on what to do it just yet. Instead of making a blockbuster the show just fell apart and only had 31 episodes left with a cliffhanger. It ended up as what I love to call it as Saban's Masked Rider repackaged with better aesthetics and a better crossover with a sister show but the writing is so terrible. You had to watch the movie which came months later just to see how it ended. Fortunately, we had Kamen Rider W in the same said year. W was a pretty good series for Kamen Rider and it had its intended run. The downside of the Decade disaster was that Kamen Rider would have be shown from October to October instead of the intended January/February to January/February run. But still, I'm glad that W managed to give a good recovery from what Decade had given.
Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger (2011)
This was the year when we've had Kamen Rider OOO, Kamen Rider Fourze and the biggest crossover over with Gokaiger. I felt this year was pretty much another champion year though some may disagree. But I'm a fan of OOO and Fourze myself. Even if I don't consider myself a huge Gokaiger fan (maybe I'm just avoiding bandwagoners) but I still think the show succeeded in creating a mega-crossover series that both younger and older audiences could enjoy.
Gokaiger is one ambitious Super Sentai series and it succeeded where Kamen Rider Decade failed. Okay, Toei may have not been able to bring a lot or cram in everything in one season but it's still the best anniversary execution Toei has offered for its fans. You have Super Sentai alumni showing up teaching the Gokaigers and granting them the Greater Power per Super Sentai season. You have the Gokaigers using the powers of the previous Super Sentai. You have a massive crossover mayhem that you can't deny is not easy to repeat. It easily made up for the so-so Goseiger which didn't do as well or was just under Shinkenger's shadow. While I personally prefer Shinkenger over Gokaiger but the latter does have a lot of hype with now it gathered everyone. It's just so good that it couldn't be a finale. But it may be a finale for one era. After Gokaiger, Super Sentai entered into a franchise fatigue and Zyuohger just hit a new level of low. I guess after everyone had a lot of juicy steaks made from premium beef we end up having lesser quality beef. I guess there's more than meets the eye to why Super Sentai is hitting low right now.
Kamen Rider OOO and Kamen Rider Fourze may have also been pretty popular. I personally prefer OOO over Den-O. Kamen Rider Fourze was also a series that managed to at least help lighten things up by next year with the incoming Go-Busters. Both shows had some cool gimmicks for toy sales. While OOO and Fourze aren't typical to the more serious theme Kamen Rider had for some time but the writing styles are pretty innovative. I even dare say that Fourze had given a dirty finger to the awful sitcom known as Saban's Mashed Rider. As much as Kamen Rider got more kiddie ever since Kamen Rider Kiva but I still have to say that as long as the writing and action is good then I'm fine with it. As of late, I feel Kamen Rider is still doing good even if I'm somewhat stuck on the bigger classics like Kuuga and Agito. But again, I'd watch OOO and Fourze over Kamen Rider Hibiki.
So this may just be a partial, incomplete list of the years when Toei gave its audience better servings than usual and/or it big time jackpots with toy sales. This list may still be subject to correction. While Super Sentai has had stayed afloat by constant innovation but one must remember that there are also times a franchise meets its fatigue. Right now, Super Sentai has entered the fatigue zone and it may take longer before it fully recovers unlike before. My choices were based on where Toei may have actually done something much better than usual.