Toei's Long Innovative Journey With Tokusatsu During The Heisei Era
The Heisei era is ending and the Reiwa ending is about to begin on May 1, 2019. I feel the need to write yet another entry regarding the Heisei era and the innovative struggle to keep things going. The Showa era ended in 1989 and we've got some important events. Kamen Rider Black RX started in the Showa era and ended up entering into the Heisei era early on. Then we have Jiban and Turboranger which are the first true pure Heisei era Metal Hero and Super Sentai entries. Now we've got to think about the innovative struggle of the Heisei era.
Turboranger was the second to the last of Hirohisa Soda's jobs as a headwriter and Jiban was the first Metal Hero written by the late Noboru Sugimura. Black RX wasn't as well-received as its highly ambitious predecessor Kamen Rider Black. Then the end of the 1980s came with the 1990s which I consider to be the best storytelling era as far as Super Sentai and some Metal Hero shows are concerned. Then the era would be heavily focused from the 1990s to the 2010s. A lot of these innovations are done because of one thing -- competition from other shows that make Tokusatsu such as Tsubayara and Tomica.
The 90s era...
The 1990s started with a blockbuster and a flop. Fiveman was the end of Soda's career as a headwriter as he was really burnt out and interest of said series was low. Winspector started to redefine Metal Hero in a more mature way. Fiveman would later be succeeded by Jetman which would keep interest in the Super Sentai series going. Super Sentai would be going on straight and so would Metal Hero until Robotack's final episode in early 1999.
There were multiple attempts to revive Kamen Rider in the 90s after Kamen Rider Black RX supposedly caused a meltdown. Then again wasn't it that the Showa era Kamen Riders were practically grounded on well hiatuses? Kamen Rider Stronger and Kamen Rider Stronger have a four years gap. Kamen Rider Super-1 and Kamen Rider Black had a six year gap. Now, you have Kamen Rider Black RX that effectively wrapped up the Showa era. Did the lack of popularity for Black RX cause the 11 year hiatus? Then we have the 90s which featured movies such as Kamen Rider Shin, Kamen Rider ZO (no NOT Zi-O) and Kamen Rider J -- neither movie became a series and suffered the same fate as Kamen Rider ZX during teh Showa era.
So it seemed Toei was actually getting ambitious with Metal Hero, Not satisfied with Jiban's Robocop motif going on -- they probably decided to create shows that would try to explore the "more mature side" of stuff.
Metal Hero had an ambitious streak that somehow created several tough acts to follow. Winspector's success gave birth to its direct sequel Solbrain. Exceedraft became the final of the Rescue Police Trilogy which was probably planned as it is -- a trilogy. I heard Exceedraft was supposedly meant to be its own continuity yet it was later reconnected to the first two Rescue Police series. Exceedraft did have some midseason changes such as the Devil in a business suit and more supernatural elements kicking in over science fiction. What made all three series unique from other Metal Heroes was their not having a central organization and maybe its inspiration from X-Files or any American primetime show not meant for children.
Then you have Janperson as a fully mechanical Robocop. I never thought Janperson was from Toei until I went into the Internet when I was in my late high school years. I considered the level of violence almost the same if not more than the Robocop TV series (which came after Janperson). I remembered liking this show for all the additions such as Kaoru Segusa (the show's version of Marie Lazarus), the new partner Gun Gibson and Tatewaki becoming a bio-cyborg known as Billgoldy (imagine Boddicker getting used for the Robocop-2 project). I would consider Janperson as an ambitious show -- far more ambitious than the already ambitious Jiban. I'd call that to be the best Metal Hero masterpiece ever!
The Metal Hero series would have Blue SWAT and B-Fighter. Unfortunately, B-Fighter was followed by the less successful B-Fighter. An attempt to make Metal Hero more kid-friendly just backfired. Both Kabutack and Robotack were the final two series. Robotack's final episode title really showed how Metal Hero would be at a demise.
I have to admit most of my favorite Super Sentai series are in the 90s. Fiveman nearly ended Super Sentai and Jetman caused it to rise like a phoenix. Jetman was so popular that it also had a follow-up alternate sequel to the Manga and a TV encyclopedia. The Manga is considered non-canon though it kept Gai Yuki's death intact. The TV encyclopedia was written by Toshiki Inoue himself. Jetman was a transition to the Sugimura era -- and the end of the pre-Power Rangers era. Jetman would be the final Super Sentai not to get localized for the Americans -- though ToQGer and perhaps Kyuranger took that title now!
Sugimura started different approaches with Takeyuki Suzuki who was the head producer from Goggle V up to Kakuranger. It was also the time when Shinichiro Shirakura was a co-producer. Boy, does he love to make people bleed! Shirakura was a co-producer with Jetman (supplement producer for episode 30) as well as Zyuranger and Dairanger. I guess that explains why we've got lots of conflict. He was also going to be the head producer of Kamen Rider Agito, Kamen Rider Faiz and Kamen Rider Ryuki before Kamen Rider Zi-O. Kakuranger was the second to the last work and then we had Ohranger as Sugimura's last.
It was said that Ohranger nearly ended Super Sentai and Carranger supposedly saved it. In reality, both shows had a 4.4% to 4.8% rating but had good toy sales -- Ohranger more so. Carranger's toy sales probably still kept the budget going. Megaranger was finally introduced as the debut of Shigenori Takatera who would play a role in reviving Kamen Rider. Megaranger would be yet another ambitious show considering that it paid tribute to Soda's era even if said writer had nothing to do with it. Gingaman then followed Megaranger which also did well.
GoGoFive was going to the last 90s Super Sentai series -- Fiveman started the 90s with a family oriented series and GoGoFive ended it with one as well! I guess they had the idea of working in with Rescue Police concept (from Metal Hero which sadly ended in January 24, 1999) and GoGoFive would premiere on February 21, 1999. The series also had some kind of doomsday theme going. Remember the rumor that the world would supposedly end in 2000 and there was also the real life Grand Cross Event which creatively wrote itself into Grandienne's arrival. I guess executives were so well-pleased with Junki Takegami with Megaranger that they made him GoGoFive's head writer and later Go-Onger's head writer. So why wasn't he assigned to ToQGer which is too another Super Sentai that somehow sings, "Who are the people in your neighborhood?"
The 2000s era would end one era of Super Sentai and begin another era of Kamen Rider. Timeranger was the last Super Sentai series of the 20th century. Kamen Rider Kuuga was the successful revival of Kamen Rider and Naruhisa Arakawa's first task as a head writer. Inoue would be more focused on Kamen Rider than Super Sentai later. It had me wondering why wasn't he made a major writer in Timeranger? Timeranger was also a pretty ambitious series which did well with adults but didn't get as much toy sales. Then we know where Super Sentai went -- the direction of multi-gattai which seems to be the most successful innovative and evolving formula ever!
Gaoranger would the the 25th Super Sentai series and the start of a new era. Ever remembered Timeranger's final clip show after the finale? It somehow made Timeranger look like a finale and Gaoranger was to be an "effective reboot" except that Gaoranger vs. Super Sentai still honored all Super Sentai series -- even if said show can be considered a reboot for the Super Sentai franchise. It was also the era when CGI started to evolve and replace stuff. Stop motion was effectively getting replaced with CGI. I wonder will suit actors end up using motion capture instead of mecha suits any time soon?
The CGI season would soon produce better mecha fight scenes. I can't imagine of multi-gattai would still use stop motion -- something that would no longer work as well as it used to. Some themes would get a new interpretation during the 2000s. Hurricanger would redo ninjas, Abaranger would redo dinosaurs, Dekaranger would redo rescue police series in Super Sentai form (and had some classic Metal Hero references) and Magiranger would be the third sibling Super Sentai.
After Magiranger -- there were some creative juices going on. Boukenger would be the first adventure Super Sentai. Gekiranger was trying to combine wild animals with Dairanger's theme and it's my personal favorite 2000s Super Sentai. Go-Onger was trying to be an environmental Super Sentai while trying to do comedy like Carranger. Shinkenger would be the first samurai Super Sentai series and perhaps Kobayashi's most praised headwriting work -- though my favorite will always be Timeranger.
Kamen Rider would meet several new ambitious. The first seven nightmare filled Heisei Rider seasons were trying a lot of stuff such as evolving the secondary Kamen Riders in the show, maybe some throwbacks to popular culture (such as Kamen Rider Blade could be a throwback to Yugioh, Kamen Rider Faiz could be a throwback to X-Men and Kamen Rider Kabuto may be paying tribute to Independence Day) and other stuff. Kamen Rider Ryuki was a highly ambitious project yet it was muddled by executive meddling -- which audience probably didn't take too well. Then you have Kamen Rider Faiz which is all written by Inoue -- he was so proud that he appeared in said show! Years later, an Inoue lookalike would appear in Kamen Rider Build.
Then we have the toning down which happened with Kamen Rider Kiva (which was trying to be a Care Bears season but I'm a fan of it even if Inoue was really burnt out), Kamen Rider Den-O and Kamen Rider Decade. Kamen Rider Decade got a sudden cancellation and one could think of the infamous Decade Meltdown. Is it possible Toei did it out of a desperate move to save money? Maybe they did but its main character Tsukasa is still making guest appearances every now and then. I may still call it a "sequel" to Saban's old shame called Mashed Rider but it's still way better from the budget and Shinkenger Arc can officially and forever burn "A Friend in Need" three parter in Mighty Morphin'. Hmmm at least some of the fewer episode Kamen Riders such as Kamen Rider X, Kamen Rider Amazon and Kamen Rider Stronger had a definite finale in contrast to Decade!
The post-decade series would have the struggle of, "What will we do with Kamen Rider?" yet again. I really appreciate a lot of effort done starting with Kamen Rider W which succeeded in having a 2009-2010 run after Decade's abrupt cancellation. W was going to be that Kamen Rider that would continue the effort. This is also where Naomi Takebe would also show more of her stuff -- while I don't like her with Super Sentai yet I appreciate her existence with Kamen Rider. Then everything would start moving itself to the next decade.
The 2010s is yet another decade. Goseiger was going to with the angels theme but I guess Shinkenger is a tough act to follow. Kamen Rider was also going to enter the 2010s -- I guess Decade was meant to wrap up well 2000 to 2009? I can't be too sure either but we know Decade was the 10th entry of the franchise.
Now Gokaiger would be that hugely ambitious Super Sentai -- if not the most ambitious project Toei ever made! Gokaiger would invite plenty of old school veterans and give tribute to the 34 previous Super Sentai seasons with various episodes. Okay, not everyone got a tribute due to constraints but we know it's the biggest anniversary ever. The only thing I don't like about Gokaiger is when it's praised as the best Super Sentai series ever or when it's treated as a cheat sheet. Fortunately, not everyone thinks Gokaiger gives them everything they need to know. Phew! Well, it would be a tough
act to follow. It was also that time I found myself having taste fatigue.
The challenge of staying afloat after Gokaiger is really that tough. Go-Busters was really trying to redo some basics. I'm a fan of Go-Busters and personally I think I'm more open to rewatching it than Gokaiger though my mood changes a lot. I heard Go-Busters did suffer from TV ratings but did we account for the fact that the digital age was already getting more developed? TV ratings may no longer be the best measuring rod these days in contrast to audience reception -- you're probably watching Super Sentai through other means now! Go-Busters was probably meant to be its own continuity or not -- we did have a crossover with Gavan featuring the successor named Retsu Ichijouji and Shelly (who's acted by Suzuka Morita).
Then we know the Super Hero Taisen movie happened and you know how much I FREAKING HATE IT! I decided to watch it to see just how bad it was and man many people were right about it. I can't decide which is worse between my bad stories (and I admit, I'm no professional writer) or the bad stories written by professional writter Shoji "Patrick Star" Yonemura. The movie is so full of whining and sob stories that it's so irritating. It really makes me glad that Shinichiro Shirakura finally pulled the plug off. Most movies are just so-so and I can't decide which is worse between my biggest old shame with lots of characters (which makes readers lose focus as another valid reason to bash it) OR a movie that would say, "Let's take all the Toku heroes and put them in one movie!" I wonder why hasn't Toei really considered removing Patrick Star? Every Super Hero Taisen movie tends to be that terrible -- maybe except Kamen Rider Grand Prix but again maybe I've changed my mind!
Then we can consider another era where past successes are dug up. Go-Busters soon got into Kyoryuger (and lately we have Ryusoulger using the dinosaur gimmick though surprisingly, I'm actually interested in it due to the RPG-ish theme) as the third dinosaur Super Sentai. I remembered how I did like the series' good action scenes but just couldn't take Daigo's oh-so hyperactive state of mind. I just thought it was that time I just felt like maybe Super Sentai needed a break.
ToQGer was a success as far as getting something is concerned. The low ratings no longer mattered probably due to most of its fans weren't watching it on TV. It even got the Railroad Day Award for making children more aware of trains. Although it was Kobayashi's weakest moment for Super Sentai yet she crafted very likable characters in the ToQGers. There's some interesting moments such as the ToQGers trying to remember who they are and to finding out who they are. I may have initially disliked it but I ended up warming up to it the same way I warm up to Kamen Rider Kiva and Fiveman.
Ninninger is well for me the weakest ninja series. While I can really say it's better than Power Rangers Ninja Steel but it's only because Takaharu is nowhere near as stupid as Victor and Monty, there's no summer break to stop the flow and some good tribute episodes. It also had lower toy sales and I always considered their swords to be flimsy. But overtime the series grew on me to a certain extent -- maybe it's because Ninja Steel just plain SUCKS EVEN HARDER to the point that it made me write a piece questioning if Power Rangers will die any time soon.
What was worse is that Zyuohger's ratings were really PLUNGING yet toy sales managed to recover. Though I always thought of it that really happened to what should have been a big celebration?! It did have Gokaiger tribute episodes but those can't bail the show out. The show at first was good until Nakao or Zyuoh The World finally arrived. Nakao's whining just got that annoying. The ratings were so low that it's amazing Super Sentai still survived.
Then I could say that Kamen Rider after Kamen Rider W started rebranding itself yet again. No longer was Kamen Rider confined to the stereotype of darker and edgier. More Kamen Riders would follow the lighter and softer. Kamen Rider OOO was Kobayashi's second attempt at a lighter and softer Kamen Rider. Kamen Rider Fourze is mostly a teenybopper comedy style with lots of interesting action -- I would admit that I tend to screw people who dislike this show. Kamen Rider Wizard is well boring and I only watched it because Medusa was one hot villain. Kamen Rider Gaim came and it filled my needs when Super Sentai wasn't pleasing me that much as it used to be. Kamen Rider Drive is also a good series for me -- I'd consider it Sanjo's redeeming point after I felt Kyoryuger wasn't my cup of tea. Then Kamen Rider EX-AID and Kamen Rider Build came with some good drama and action. Too bad EX-AID got cut short to 44 episodes! Build for me was good though the ending is somewhat weird and still has me mixed -- at least it kept development for the show's two main characters!
Then one could consider 2017 to 2018 to be highly ambitious years. Super Sentai went back to the space theme after so many years! Kyuranger became the first space Super Sentai and it had good toy sales and it's a success. I do have problems with Lone Starr Lucky (at times) though considering the writers tend to give him too much focus but he gets better. Lupinranger vs. Patranger is also highly ambitious with having two small teams in one season -- though toy sales got low during its airing though a surplus this year is possible. This also somehow helped me think that good audience reception doesn't always mean toy sales. You can have good audience reception and high toy sales and good audience reception with lower toy sales. I guess it's because Super Sentai may be primarily aimed at children yet you've got teenagers and adults watching it too! Adult fans may have a more different thinking than those who buy the toys.
Then we're back to dinosaurs probably because we've got to sell toys, right? The struggle for Super Sentai may still be on (again) in that area even if there are still people who still watch the newer seasons. Meanwhile, Kamen Rider somehow is beating Super Sentai in toy sales. Is Kamen Rider going to be more lucrative than its sister show Super Sentai? What new innovation or even measures will be needed? I can't be certain but we know that innovation is not going to be easy, you will even get a series of failures and yet it's a vital force that drives anything forward. Competition is still there and success is no easy road. You've got to cross the difficult path and be ready before you can truly accomplish something big!
Just remember innovation should be applied and pursued with Spiderman's quote -- "With great power comes great responsibility."