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Recently Watched Shows • Monster Zero x SciFi Japan - Archive Only

Recently Watched Shows

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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Tue Jul 05, 2022 12:07 am

So, did anyone else check out any shows over the past two years?

When MZ broke in March 2020, I had just finished watching Ultra Q for the first time and I had just started watching Ultraman. I hadn't dipped my toes in the vast ocean of tokusatsu TV shows prior to then, other than watching Ultraman Nexus as a teen and the first two episodes of Ultraman in college. As a young kid, I was mainly interested in seeking out all of the Godzilla movies. I didn't really broaden my attention to Gamera and other monsters until my teen years and then I was pretty exclusively interested in the film side of Japanese sci-fi throughout my twenties. Once the pandemic lockdowns began, there was obviously a lot more time to watch things at home, and between Mill Creek releasing most of the Ultra series on BRD and Shout Factory streaming multiple Kamen Rider and Super Sentai shows on Tubi, I figured it was time to take the plunge into this side of tokusatsu that I had mostly ignored.

Through the rest of 2020, I watched all of UltraSeven, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, Kamen Rider Kuuga, Return of Ultraman, UltraSeven X, Zone Fighter, Neo Ultra Q, Ultraman Max and Ultraman Ace. I also rewatched all of Ultraman Nexus and the film Ultraman: The Next, and I started watching Kamen Rider, Ultraman Tiga, Seiju Sentai Gingaman and the Heisei-era UltraSeven specials.

I finished those latter four in 2021 and I proceeded to watch all of Ultraman Taro, Kamen Rider Agito, Ultraman Leo, Iron King, Gosei Sentai Dairanger, the new anime series Godzilla: Singular Point on Netflix, Gridman, the first season of the Ultraman anime on Netflix, Super Robot Red Baron and Kamen Rider Black. I also started watching Ultraman 80 and Ninja Sentai Kakuranger.

So far this year, I've finished those two shows and I've watched all of Kamen Rider Ryuki, Ultraman: Towards the Future, Mirrorman and Space Sheriff Gavan. I'm currently watching Himitsu Sentai Goranger, Space Sheriff Sharivan, Ultraman Dyna and Kamen Rider 555, four shows from different franchises and different decades!

It has been a revelatory two years. I've seen so much tokusatsu that I had never seen before and there's still so much more that I haven't seen yet!
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby lhb412 » Tue Jul 05, 2022 11:01 pm

^ I haven't been as proficient as you, but in these past 2 years I've roughly followed the same course! I'd already finished the new Blu-rays of Ultra Q, Ultraman and Ultraseven and I was in the middle of Return of Ultraman when lockdown hit.

By the way, watching Return of Ultraman was revelatory. That series has some of the greatest tokusatsu effects I've ever seen. The way they use foreground and background miniatures to frame Ultraman and the monsters to make practically every shot an interesting looking composition? It really feels like this is the series where they crack the formula, too. Ultraman and Ultraseven get all the press, but most subsequent series feel more like Return of Ultraman.

So... watched Return, Ace (quality varies wildly with this one, when it's at its best it's brilliant pop art) Taro, Ginga, Ginga S, X, Orb, Orb Origin, Geed, R/B, Z (on YouTube, natch - best modern show, too), rewatched Ultra Q, Neo Ultra Q (why doesn't anyone talk about this series? It's excellent), Gridman, was 30 episodes deep into 80 when I got too antsy about getting to the '90s shows, watched Tiga and now am almost done with Dyna. Tiga is great... but I gotta say; prefer Dyna!

The only Kamen Rider I've watched, besides the first few episodes of the OG series, is Kuuga - the first Rider series I've completed, and an excellent one at that! I suppose I'll get the Zero-One blu-ray soon. Want to at least dip into sentai. I'm thinking Jetman?

Honestly, I've git a terrifyingly tall pile of blu-rays bought in the last 8 months or so that I need to get to. Mostly movies, but I see Future Boy Conan and Kolchak:The Night Stalker in there.
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Sat Jul 09, 2022 11:38 pm

^ My favorite Ultra series that I’ve seen is UltraSeven but Return of Ultraman is a very close second! It really does feel just as cinematic as its predecessors. UltraSeven took the core elements of Ultraman and made them part of a broader sci-fi premise, whereas Return went back to the core concepts of Ultraman and built on them in a contemporary setting.

Both Tiga and Dyna are terrific. I’m almost done with the fourth disc of Dyna but I’m not sure which series I prefer. The monsters, characters and stories in both shows by and large are very inspired, and they have a visual aesthetic (shot on video at a higher frame rate) that reminds me of a lot of live-action kids shows that I watched in the ‘90s. The Heisei-era UltraSeven specials are definitely worth checking out! They’re a direct continuation of the original UltraSeven series, ignoring the retconning of Seven into the world of Ultraman and any connection to the Ultra Brothers or any later shows. There are fansubbed versions that are easy to find on YouTube. The two NTV specials from 1994 are pretty good, then the three ‘30th Anniversary Memorial Trilogy’ specials from 1998 are really good, and then the six ‘The Final Chapters’ specials from 1999 are really freaking awesome, but then the five ‘35th Anniversary Evolution’ specials from 2002 are just decent.

The only Ultraman movie that I’ve seen is still The Next and the only Ultra shows I’ve seen past Max are the shorter standalones: UltraSeven X, Neo Ultra Q and the Netflix anime. Neo Ultra Q is indeed fantastic! If Ultra Q is the Japanese counterpart to The Twilight Zone then Neo Ultra Q is like the Japanese counterpart to Black Mirror. I was tempted to watch Ultraman Z on YouTube when TPC streamed it with subtitles in 2020 but I’d rather watch all of the shows, films and side stories from Mebius onward in sequence.

Regarding the original Kamen Rider, I watched 26 episodes before taking a break from it to watch all of Kuuga (which is awesome), and then I took another break from it after episode 53. It’s a fun show but it’s incredibly repetitious and it barely shakes things up as it goes on. Of course it wasn’t made to be binge-watched in the streaming era, and it’s easy to see why it struck a chord with Japanese kids in the early ‘70s, but the fact that this show catapulted Kamen Rider to rivaling Ultraman in popularity seems similar to how Daiei’s Gamera vs. Viras was able to stand toe-to-toe with Toho’s Destroy All Monsters despite having a lot less money and creativity put into it. The Ultra shows from the beginning seem to have tried to present viewers with different things happening from one episode to the next as much as they could, whereas the original Kamen Rider made about 5% of that effort to not be repetitive, and yet it lasted for 98 episodes over two years. One highlight of the show is Hideo Amamoto showing up midway through in a recurring role as a new Shocker general named Doctor Death.

Kuuga made me want to watch more Heisei-era Kamen Rider, so I watched Agito on Prime Video via the Toku streaming channel, and Ryuki on Tubi courtesy of Shout Factory. I really liked Agito. It starts off as a bit of a Kuuga rehash, making brief references to the events of Kuuga and presenting a new lead hero and a new race of villainous monsters with little development, but it finds its own identity as it continues. I’d rank it below Kuuga overall but it is worth watching. I liked Ryuki even more than Agito. It takes a couple of the broad concepts that Agito explored and builds a very different premise around them. Ryuki is set in its own world, not a continuation of any prior series, and while it retains the same visual aesthetic and serialized soap-opera structure as Kuuga and Agito, it’s also a bit more episodic. There are more clearly defined mini-sagas and even some stories contained to single episodes, and the focus of the series also shifts as characters are introduced and as they’re killed off, so Ryuki delivers more variety than either of its predecessors. I’d say Kuuga is better overall but I heartily recommend Ryuki.

I got the Kamen Rider Zero-One set from Shout but I haven’t watched it yet. I’m only five episodes into 555 on Toku and I’m liking it. It has a pretty different premise from Kuuga, Agito or Ryuki.

Black is the best Kamen Rider series that I’ve seen. After Toei went through a similar trajectory with the Showa-era shows as TPC did with the Ultra franchise (on the air from 1971-1975 and back on the air from 1979-1981), Kamen Rider Black was a complete reboot that debuted in 1987. It reminds me of Gamera:GotU in how it’s a new origin story that does a better and more thorough job of defining the character than the original work. The first four episodes along with the twelfth were written by Shozo Uehara, who was the head writer on Return of Ultraman, and Susumu Kurobe has a recurring role as an evil scientist. Black is like a bridge between the repetitiously episodic style of the original Kamen Rider and the heavily serialized approach of the Heisei-era shows. Most of the episodes tell self-contained stories but there’s an overarching, personal conflict between lead character Kotaro Minami and the sinister Golgom cult that transformed him, a conflict which escalates brilliantly in the show’s later episodes.

As for Super Sentai, did you watch any Power Rangers as a kid? I was into the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers so that made me really curious to check out the three Sentai shows it was sourced from: Zyuranger, Dairanger and Kakuranger, all of which are just delightful. Jetman was the series that immediately preceded Zyuranger but I haven’t seen that one yet. I watched the 1998-1999 series Gingaman because it was adapted into Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy, which was the one I watched the most after the original as a kid and which (probably not coincidentally) was the Power Rangers series that Fox Kids was airing during the majority of Godzilla: The Series’ run. Gingaman is fun but it’s also a lot less inspired and more generic compared to those earlier three that I’ve seen.

One thing about the Super Sentai shows of the ‘90s is that every episode runs almost exactly 20 minutes long including their end credits and next-episode previews, so their episodes are a few minutes shorter than those of most other tokusatsu series. That isn’t to their detriment at all, as it’s possible to watch a whole series in less time than other shows that have around 50 episodes. I’m about 30 episodes into the original Goranger series from 1975-1977 and it has 25-minute episodes, so I wonder when the Sentai episodes started getting shorter. Goranger’s action is less like that of the ‘90s Sentai shows and more like the action in the original Kamen Rider, with the heroes punching and kicking lots of faceless henchmen, the villains of the week exploding when they’re defeated, and no giant transforming robots or rampaging kaiju in sight. It’s much more fun than the original Kamen Rider, though, with a lot less repetition in the storytelling and a varied cast of heroes. Shozo Uehara was also the head writer on Goranger, having penned 51 of the show’s 84 episodes.

One other show I absolutely have to recommend is Space Sheriff Gavan, the first show in Toei’s Metal Hero franchise from 1982-1983. The toku shows that Japanese networks scrambled to put on the air in the ‘70s were generally mixing and matching tropes from Ultraman and Kamen Rider to varying degrees of success. Space Sheriff Gavan is built on the Kamen Rider template and the head writer, yet again, was Shozo Uehara! He wrote 37 of the show’s 44 episodes and he clearly understood the importance of offering viewers as much variety as possible within the framework of the show’s formula. Whenever Gavan battles a monster sent by the evil Makuu Empire, they’re able to manipulate the Earth’s axis to create a type of black hole known as a Makuu Space, wherein their monsters are three times as powerful and Gavan is forced to do battle amid trippy, nightmarish imagery. The customary fights shot on location in quarries and fields are supplemented with wide composite shots establishing them as fighting within Makuu Space under multicolored skies, a clever way of making the most of budget limits. Space Sheriff Gavan is an action-packed series filled with hand-to-hand combat, wire-fu stunts, spaceship laser battles, giant transforming starbeast action and swordplay. Being produced right in the thick of Star Wars mania between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the climax of each episode is Gavan having a swordfight with that week’s villain and activating his “Laser Blade” to give it a shiny blue glow. Lead actor Kenji Ohba carries the series as Gavan but the show also gets a lot out of the Makuu villains and their internal drama. Oh, and the music rocks!

I know we could get away with posting links to fansubbed downloads at this point but I'll just stick with forum tradition and say PM me if you'd like to be pointed in the direction of any of these shows (even though such archives aren't hard to find).
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby lhb412 » Mon Jul 11, 2022 10:27 am

^ I'm vaguely aware of where the fansubs and such are, but with so many official releases I'm concentrating (and can barely keep up) with those.

I didn't watch Power Rangers as a kid (actually preferred Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad!), but watched some of the reruns as a teenager when Disney had the rights. I don't really have any strong nostalgic connection with a particular PR season. Jetman seems attractive because I hear it's a bit more character/melodrama focused!

I don't know too much about the Ultraseven direct to video series, but I actually have an interesting connection to it: walking in on the episode where Seven fights King Joe in the G-Fest viewing room circa 2001 was my introduction to the franchise! I hope we get them licensed for release. The clips I've seen certainly look cool, and the idea of a series more aimed at an older audience is appealing.

(edit)

Oh, and a couple of months ago I scored this 20 year old Japanese DVD set of all the showa era Kamen Rider movies (theatrical special is a better term, since they're only 40 minutes long and a few of them are just re-edits of TV episodes). It's an English friendly release! Admittedly, the subtitles are a tad wonky - but still! I haven't watched them yet, but I fast forwarded to make sure this old import DVD even worked and everything plays except for the final Kamen Rider Black movie, which gets unwatchable glitchy. That was the one I most wanted to see!
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Thu Jul 14, 2022 11:09 pm

^ That is awesome! Is that Japanese DVD a licensed release? It's so unusual for them to have English subtitles. I actually haven't seen any of the theater specials or side media yet for Kamen Rider Black or any other show that I've watched. I should check them out soon.

If you like UltraSeven, you'll definitely like the Heisei-era specials, especially the ones from '98-'99. They're a worthy continuation of the original series with thought-provoking stories. Koji Moritsugu returns as Dan and Sandayu Dokamumushi reprises his role as Furuhashi.
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby lhb412 » Thu Jul 14, 2022 11:31 pm

^ I was amazed the release was English friendly. I assumed it was a bootleg, albeit a fancy (book packaging holding two discs with a clear plastic slipcover) bootleg! But no; this was the rare official Japanese release we should have all imported two decades ago without having to go region free or rip the file and add downloaded subs or whatever.

There were a few releases at the bookstore that I imagine were traded in by the same person: a HK DVD of the Tiga movie, the first of Generation Kikaida's Kikaida volumes, and Japanese DVDs of the second Cosmos movie and a random volume of Cosmos episodes... oh, and the first Funimation Tiga volume!
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Mon Oct 10, 2022 10:53 pm

In the time since I finished Ultraman Dyna, I've watched all 13 episodes of the 1993 Japan-US co-production Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (aka Ultraman Powered). What a drag. Every episode is a remake of a specific episode of the original Ultraman, which invites direct comparisons that don't do this show any favors. The redesigned monster suits look really cool but the monster action scenes are pathetic and the miniatures look terrible. The cast isn't bad though. The lead character Kenichi Kai is played by Kane Kosugi, who went on to play Jiraiya (NinjaBlack) in Ninja Sentai Kakuranger as well as mutant EDF soldier Kazama in Godzilla: Final Wars. The music that plays during the episodes is good too, although the opening theme and end credits songs are not good. The show overall is not good. It's no surprise that this never aired on American television.

I finished watching Himitsu Sentai Goranger, which has become my favorite Super Sentai series that I've watched so far. It's so delightfully insane! It's rooted in the spy thriller genre, without any of the giant combining robots battling kaiju that had become the norm by the '90s. The Gorangers are specialized soldiers of the organization EAGLE who stand against the Black Cross Army's evil operations. The names of the Gorangers are combinations of Japanese words for their colors with the English word ranger: Akaranger, Aoranger, Kiranger, Momoranger and Midoranger. The five leads who play the Gorangers outside of their suits are terrific. The villains of the week are a rotating cycle of Black Cross Army officers who aren't quite human, each sporting a unique and often ridiculous motif to their masks and their names: Diamond Mask, Gear Mask, Fork Mask, Baseball Mask, etc. The show's music is so catchy and the action is gloriously goofy. At 84 episodes, it's the second-longest tokusatsu series after the original Kamen Rider (98 episodes), but whereas I had to take breaks from Kamen Rider before I could get through it all, I devoured all of Goranger in under five months. The lunacy of '90s Sentai makes more sense to me now that I've seen where it all came from. Goranger reflects a unique time in toku history because it started airing just weeks after the release of Terror of Mechagodzilla and the end of Ultraman Leo's run, as though Godzilla and Ultraman were tapping out and passing the ball to the Gorangers.

I also finished watching Space Sheriff Sharivan. It's a direct follow-up to Space Sheriff Gavan featuring several returning cast members in supporting roles. The formula is unchanged from Gavan, just starring a new hero with new weapons who takes on a new overarching evil organization. While that makes it less fresh than Gavan, and while some of the plot turns are a bit more contrived, Sharivan is just as much fun as its predecessor and I do appreciate how they didn't just recycle the same running plot threads as Gavan.

I also finished watching Kamen Rider 555, the fourth Heisei-Era series after Kuuga, Agito and Ryuki. It's not as good as its predecessors but I liked how it took its characters in some new and unexpected directions.

Along with rewatching Godzilla: Singular Point, I'm currently watching Chikyu Sentai Fiveman, Space Sheriff Shaider and Kamen Rider Black RX. I intend to start watching Ultraman Gaia later this week. I'm hitting the '80s and '90s shows hard right now.
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Sat Nov 26, 2022 12:08 pm

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities - I've seen all eight episodes of this anthology series on Netflix and it is just as awesome as you'd expect! The episodes are all self-contained horror stories with different directors and casts. Each of these stories is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible, and I didn't even watch any trailers or ads for this show. My favorites are episodes three and seven but the whole series is fantastic!
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Sat Dec 24, 2022 9:32 pm

Kamen Rider Black RX (1988-1989) - I've watched all 47 episodes of this series, which was airing on Japanese television when I was born. It's a direct follow-up to Kamen Rider Black with Tetsuo Kurata reprising the lead role of Kotaro Minami.

While Black was still a very traditionally formulaic tokusatsu series, it brought a lot of inspiration and an inventive approach to the material. Like Toei's Metal Hero series that had debuted during Kamen Rider's hiatus, Black mined a lot of drama between its villain characters, which really enhanced the show's overarching narrative because of the personal connection between Kotaro and the evil Gorgom cult. Black RX's core premise isn't as compelling because there isn't a personal connection like that between Kotaro and the Crisis Empire here. This show comes across as exactly what it is, a show that was made to try to carry on the popularity of its predecessor even though that series reached its logical narrative conclusion. Even though it stars the same lead character played by the same actor, it's not so much a continuation of Black and more like Kotaro just went on to get caught up in the events of a whole different tokusatsu series after his show finished. Some of the show's specific inter-villain dramatic twists are reminiscent of what occurred a few years prior on Space Sheriff Sharivan, and like the lead heroes on the three Space Sheriff series, Kamen Rider Black RX often finishes off his monstrous opponents by using a not-lightsaber beam sword.

All that being said, it's still a very enjoyable series. The action, music and character designs are steeped in late-'80s style, and the cast always gives it their all. Also, although I haven't yet seen any of the Showa-era Kamen Rider series between the original and Black, the impression I got from watching Black was that it was a complete reboot that wasn't set in the same continuity as any prior show. Without going into details, Black RX makes it clear that's not the case toward the end of the series. It's fun to see what unfolds but it does seem like a retcon.


I'm currently three episodes into Kamen Rider Black Sun. I'll wait until I finish the series to post my thoughts, but... :shock: :shock: :shock:
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Sun Jan 01, 2023 12:04 am

Chikyu Sentai Fiveman (1990-1991) - I've watched all 48 episodes of this Sentai series that Shout Factory released on DVD back in September. It's such a wholesome and heartfelt show. The premise is that the five heroes are a team of brothers and sisters who work as elementary school teachers. Gaku (FiveRed) is the oldest of the Hoshikawa siblings, followed by Ken (FiveBlue) and Kazumi (FivePink), with twins Fumiya (FiveBlack) and Remi (FiveYellow) being the youngest. When Gaku, Ken and Kazumi are children, their scientist parents travel with them into outer space on a quest to restore life to planets that have mysteriously died. They land on planet Shidon, where Fumiya and Remi are later born, and they live there together with their robot assistant Arthur G6 while working to help a pair of surviving native Shidonians grow flowers again on their planet. When forces from the ruthless Zone Empire return to Shidon to ensure that the planet they destroyed will remain dead, the Hoshikawa children are horrified to see their parents die. Arthur G6 escapes with the children to Earth and raises them as a surrogate parent. Twenty years later, the children have grown up to become elementary school teachers. When the Zone Empire reaches Earth intending to make it the thousandth dead planet that they offer to their Galactic Empress Meadow, the Hoshikawa siblings ride into action together with the Earth Squadron Fiveman battle technology that they've developed to defend the planet.

Everything about this show is just so endearingly wholesome. It's all about bonds between siblings, between parents and their children, and between teachers and students. The cast totally carries it. The villains are a motley bunch and Arthur G6 is voiced by Rica Matsumoto. The action is dynamic and colorful and the music is very catchy. It's a fun and heartfelt series through and through.


Space Sheriff Shaider (1984-1985) - I've also watched all 49 episodes of this third series in Toei's Metal Hero franchise, which was also the final series in the franchise's initial Space Sheriff saga. Just as Sharivan didn't stray from the formula that Gavan established, Shaider likewise doesn't break from the mold of its predecessors. I've watched all three of these shows in sequence throughout this year and it really is like watching one continuous series. Each show has a different lead hero with a different female sidekick who battle a different villainous organization headed by a different grand master seemingly built into the wall of his base.

Like its predecessors, most episodes of Space Sheriff Shaider follow the template of Shaider and Annie investigating mysterious events until they uncover Fuuma's scheme, then they battle Fuuma's latest Strange Beast and Great Emperor Kubilai orders his forces to open Strange Space, in which Shaider continues the battle amid trippy imagery until he finishes off the Strange Beast and saves the day. Also like its predecessors, there are occasional episodes that largely forgo any story and are primarily about putting Shaider through the ringer in a series of bizarre, over-the-top settings.

While that approach isn't original, I can't say it's a bad thing. If Space Sheriff Gavan had remained on the air for three years from 1982 to 1985 instead of being replaced by Sharivan and later Shaider, it still would have stuck with that same formula that it established. While it may be contrived for each successive series to introduce a brand new organization of villains bent on galactic conquest out of nowhere, it is better to let each series reach its logical conclusion instead of dragging one series out for several years.

As far as broad series arcs go, without going into spoilers, Gavan certainly had the most natural one from the outset. Sharivan's series arc was more contrived but still a lot of fun. Shaider's series arc also has some really contrived elements but it's more creative than Sharivan overall. That's all just nitpicking, though, as all three Space Sheriff shows are equally fun to watch. I hadn't seen any of Toei's Metal Hero shows before this year and I'm glad that I started from the beginning.
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby lhb412 » Sun Jan 01, 2023 1:35 am

^ You're certainly making your way through big chunks of toku history. I'm making a New Year's resolution to do something similar in '23 (I'd better get on it!).
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Sun Jan 08, 2023 1:59 am

^ I figure it's better late than never. This whole television side of toku is something I neglected prior to my thirties so this is all just me catching up.

Throughout 2022, I finished watching Ultraman 80 and Ninja Sentai Kakuranger and I watched all of Kamen Rider Ryuki, Ultraman: Towards the Future, Mirrorman, Space Sheriff Gavan, Ultraman Dyna, Kamen Rider 555, Himitsu Sentai Goranger, Space Sheriff Sharivan, Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero, Kamen Rider Black RX, Chikyu Sentai Fiveman, Space Sheriff Shaider and Kamen Rider Black Sun, and I’m midway through Ultraman Gaia.

This year, I want to try to watch more movies that I've never seen before, both classic and modern. That's been the trade-off for spending so much of my limited home entertainment time since 2020 watching all of these toku shows that I've never seen before. Even in prior years, I've never been able to keep up with most new films that I want to see but I've gotten even worse at it in this decade so far. It's easier to make time for 25-minute episodes than for movies that run 90 minutes or longer but I do want to catch up on more films this year. Still, I'm not going to stop watching new-to-me toku series and I won't run out of shows to check out for years to come. I'm really eager to start watching Ultraman Mebius before this year is over but I still want to watch the Zearth films, Neos, Cosmos and the Cosmos film trilogy first. I recently picked up Discotek's standard-definition BRD release of the fourth Metal Hero series, Megabeast Investigator Juspion, which I'll start watching this weekend. The next Sentai series that I'll start soon will be the second series, JAKQ Dengekitai. The next Kamen Rider series that I watch will likewise be the second series, Kamen Rider V3. I still haven't seen any of the Showa-era Kamen Rider shows that aired between the original series and Black, and I'm curious to see more of the older takes on Kamen Rider now that I've seen several of the more modern shows. Speaking of which...

Kamen Rider Black Sun (2022) - I finished watching this on Prime Video last Saturday. People, this show is a landmark in tokusatsu production quality! Seriously, this 10-episode series stands toe-to-toe with any of the serialized Marvel shows made for Netflix or Disney+. It's bold, inspired, adult-oriented, powerfully acted and it just goes for it, with a brilliant mix of practical and visual effects helmed by Kiyotaka Taguchi.

You don't need to have seen the original Kamen Rider Black to enjoy or understand this show but I do recommend watching that classic series first because you will appreciate what this new series does even more. Kamen Rider Black Sun is a reboot that takes a lot of the core elements and characters of Kamen Rider Black and reimagines them in a new, modern-day story. It doesn't have anything to do with Kamen Rider Black RX, so it won't make a difference if you watch Black Sun without having seen Black RX.

These 10 episodes tell a single, serialized story that's ambitious in scope and unflinchingly political. Kamen Rider Black Sun is like the antithesis of Shin Godzilla in a lot of ways.

Let me provide a little context for what I mean by that. Unlike the United States, in which there are still two major political parties that are both dominant electoral forces, Japan's bicameral legislature (the National Diet) has been dominated almost exclusively by one political party since 1955, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP lost control of the House of Representatives in the 1993 election to the left-wing Japan Socialist Party (JSP) but the LDP regained majority control in 1996 when the JSP dissolved. The LDP lost control of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors in 2009 to the center-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The DPJ's Naoto Kan was Prime Minister of Japan during the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011 when it took the government hours to declare a state of emergency and even longer to order evacuations of the affected areas. Kan resigned in August 2011 and the LDP regained majority control of Japanese government in 2012, which it has maintained in elections ever since.

The LDP has long been the party of Japanese nationalism. For decades, one of the most notorious trends among Japanese nationalists has been a predilection for historical revisionism, specifically regarding the Empire of Japan's culpability in perpetuating colonial and military atrocities before and during WWII. In the 1990s, a right-wing movement devoted to school textbook reform produced new textbooks which denied that the Nanjing Massacre ever happened or that the Japanese military ever forced women into sexual slavery. It took the Japanese government until the late 1990s just to finally acknowledge the existence of Unit 731, the covert unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that carried out horrific and lethal experiments on hundreds of thousands of people, and detailed information about Unit 731 has rarely ever been taught in Japanese schools. When the 2001 Hollywood film Pearl Harbor opened in Japan, a news crew outside of a theater interviewed people waiting in line who were excited to see the new Ben Affleck movie but genuinely knew nothing about the real historical event on which it was based. As time has passed, more and more Japanese people have grown to think of their country's role in WWII as being nothing but the victim of devastating atomic bombings by the United States, without recognizing the years of Japanese imperial invasion, slaughter and human rights abuses that led to that outcome.

When the LDP regained power in December 2012, the Diet re-elected Shinzo Abe as prime minister later that month. Abe had previously been prime minister for a year from 2006 to 2007 but his second tenure lasted nearly eight years until he eventually resigned in September 2020. Abe himself was the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, who mercilessly ruled Japan's Manchurian colony in the 1930s, was subsequently imprisoned by the US for three years after WWII as a suspected Class-A war criminal, and still went on to help form the LDP and then was Japan's prime minister from 1957 to 1960. Abe also served as a special adviser to the far-right ultranationalist lobbying group Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), formed in 1997, which holds historical revisionism and Japanese constitutional reform among its official goals and is deeply entwined with the LDP. Along with opposition to civil rights for women and LGBT people, some of the core beliefs of Nippon Kaigi are that "Japan should be applauded for liberating much of East Asia from Western colonial powers; that the 1946–1948 Tokyo War Crimes tribunals were illegitimate; and that killings by Imperial Japanese troops during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre were exaggerated or fabricated." Although nationalists in Japan generally value the United States as an ally against the threat of aggression by China, Russia or North Korea, they also resent what they have long seen as Japan being kept on a leash by the US rather than the two nations standing on equal footing with each other. The push for reforming Japan's post-WWII constitution is primarily focused on amending or abolishing Article 9, which renounces Japan's right to wage war and prohibits Japan's military from engaging in any kind of collective self-defense operations on behalf of the country's allies. Although the constitution still has never been formally amended, Abe's cabinet in 2014 circumvented the Diet and the public by issuing a declaration which reinterpreted the principle of minimum necessary force described in Article 9 as allowing Japan to participate in collective self-defense operations in the event that one of Japan's allies is attacked.

Shin Godzilla was made to resonate with the Japanese voting populace who largely swung back to the LDP after 2011. The movie's first act is an allegory for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. More specifically, the first act of Shin Godzilla completely flays the real-time response to that disaster by the DPJ and Prime Minister Kan's cabinet five years prior. The movie doesn't have to specify which party or which administration it's lambasting because audiences in Japan had lived through that disaster and they recognized the allegory immediately. The rest of the movie is a parable for the common people of Japan reasserting their will through the government to save the country from a major nuclear crisis. When the Japanese government receives a diagram of the US military's proposed zone for bombing Godzilla in Tokyo, characters remark that the damage would be worse than Godzilla. Yaguchi at one point cites the 3 million Japanese lives lost during WWII after the old Imperial Army's unfounded optimism, and later there are two historical photographs that fill the screen to remind viewers that Japan was once the victim of two atomic bombings, but the movie avoids even broaching the subject of the many millions of noncombatant lives in the Asia-Pacific theater who were slaughtered by the Empire of Japan. Ultimately, Godzilla is defeated by an international military operation that is very decidedly led by Japan, which the film depicts as the alternative to having Tokyo nuked by Japan's international allies should the country fall in line with their way of handling things. From beginning to end, Shin Godzilla is a story that was tailored to Japanese people of the nationalist, LDP and/or Nippon Kaigi persuasion.

Kamen Rider Black Sun goes hard in the complete opposite direction. The show's premise is that people known as kaijin, who have the ability to transform into anthropomorphic animal forms, have lived in Japan for decades and are treated as second-class citizens. The story begins with a teen activist named Aoi Izumi delivering an impassioned speech at the United Nations urging the countries of the world to recognize the civil rights of kaijin. "The value of human and kaijin lives outweighs that of the Earth. There isn't even one gram of difference in their worth," she says. Back in Tokyo, a throng of anti-kaijin protesters led by an angry man with a megaphone marches through the streets calling for kaijin to be expelled from Japan or exterminated altogether. A smaller group of counterprotesters follows them, calling for equal rights and the end of discrimination against kaijin, with police struggling to keep the groups separated as they walk. When two officers restrain a counterprotester who ran toward the protesters, he asks them "What are you doing? Are police officers being violent against citizens now?" to which one of the officers replies, "Citizen? What are you saying, you kaijin?" When the man then transforms into his fly kaijin form in front of them, the other officer shoots him in a panic. Several other counterprotesters transform into their kaijin forms and briefly riot against the police before being forced to scatter, as the anti-kaijin protesters continue marching through the streets.

In the original Kamen Rider Black, Gorgom is an ancient cult bent on world domination that serves as the show's central antagonists, ruled by the unseen Creation King and led by the Three High Priests, Darom, Bishum and Baraom. In Kamen Rider Black Sun, Gorgom is originally formed by eight student protesters, both human & kaijin, in 1972 as a Zenkyoto group to push for equality between humans and kaijin. When Darom, Bishum and Baraom present the group's formal proposal for improving treatment of kaijin to Prime Minister Michinosuke Dounami, he surprises them by accepting their terms and agreeing to provide kaijin with equal opportunities for education and work. However, he then reveals that this is just the position his administration will take with the public, and that he agreed to meet with them for the purpose of forming a new political party together. "Sooner or later," he explains, "I plan to reform the constitution so that I can use military power overseas. When that day comes, the 200,000 votes from the kaijin will be helpful." He continues, "It's also worth mentioning, that when we start a war with another country, I'll have the kaijin fight at the frontlines as military weapons."

By 2022, the Gorgom Party is the long-dominant party in Japan's government and it's led by Prime Minister Shinichi Dounami, the grandson of former Prime Minister Michinosuke Dounami. He publicly maintains the party's position that kaijin deserve to live in harmony with humans but there is no real check on his power. During a legislative session on a bill proposed by Dounami, a member of the opposition party calls it a war bill and declares that it would prevent security and put Japanese citizens and the self-defense force at higher risk. She demands to hear answers from the prime minister but he directs his chief cabinet secretary to the microphone, who insists that they would halt all military activity to focus on safety if, by any chance, a battle were to erupt in a location where Japan's self-defense force is deployed. He also insists that the bill is not a war bill and should be called peaceful security legislation. When the opposition member still insists that Prime Minister Dounami answer in his own words, he approaches the microphone, puts on his reading glasses and reads the exact same response from a page. She criticizes him for repeating it word for word and says he'll never get the approval of citizens like that. Afterward, when Dounami walks with his cabinet through the Diet while ignoring the press, he turns to his chief cabinet secretary and says, "Getting the citizens' approval? I never intended to. The majority of this world was created without getting their approval. They don't get that, and that's why they'll always be the opposing party."

There's a lot more to scrutinize but I don't want to get into too much detail about the plot. Suffice to say that when the show eventually touches on the origins of the kaijin, the parallels to Unit 731 are undeniable. The Gorgom Party is a brazen allegory for the real-life LDP and the show shines a light on the party's link to Japan's imperial past, a point exemplified by a scene in which the Creation King sits inside an old shrine with the Imperial Seal of Japan adorned over the entrance. Kamen Rider Black Sun is a fearlessly political series and it doesn't pull its punches. It also boasts memorable characters, brutal action sequences and a beautiful score. This series is fantastic!
Last edited by Benjamin Haines on Thu Feb 02, 2023 10:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby lhb412 » Sun Jan 08, 2023 2:26 pm

^ I'll come back to read all that in a few months. Decided to hold off on watching Black Sun when the tantalizingly close February release date of the original Kamen Rider Black on Blu-ray was an announced. I'll see the original, then the reboot. I know this new version is very different, but I also hear it reappropriates elements of the original in clever ways.
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Re: Recently Watched Shows

Postby Benjamin Haines » Sun Jan 08, 2023 7:49 pm

^ I would never spoil a show without warning! The only spoilers in my last post are regarding Shin Godzilla. I typed all that for readers who haven't yet seen Kamen Rider Black Sun. I look forward to discussing the show's story and characters in detail once you and more people have seen it but I couldn't wait to ruminate on some of the show's political subtext.

Yes, definitely watch Black first. It isn't necessary in order to understand or enjoy Black Sun but it will be so much more rewarding.
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