A Beginner’s Gide to Tokusatsu. Part 2, Sentai!

article by Orville E. Wright

Part One: Kaiju

 

Hello again. This is the second part of my Beginner’s Guide to Tokusatsu. Let us pick up with the other genre of tokusatsu Americans have most likely heard of, Sentai, though they know it as Power Rangers.

Before we talk about Power Rangers, an important question must first be answered:  What is Sentai? Sentai is the Japanese word for platoon or task force. In this context, it refers to a team of spandex-clad super heroes who go around fighting monsters, demons, and evil robots with special toyetic weapons and robots.

Unlike Kaiju movies or American comics, Sentai does not generally have the same characters every season. Generally, with a new year comes a new series, a new group of baddies, and a new team with new powers. But there are characters that do make reoccurring cameos, namely, the first red ranger, Akarenjā.

Gorangers go!

But Gorangers, the first Sentai series, is not a good place to start for beginners. Instead, let us talk of Power Rangers.

Power Rangers was created in 1993 by Saban Entertainment. The story is that Hiam Saban saw some footage of some Sentai and thought that it would be popular if it was in the states, with American actors and plots. He then proposed this deal to Toei, the people responsible for Godzilla and most other tokusatsu, and they agreed. And with that Power Rangers was born, to wild success.

Rita/Bandora in all her evilness

For those who do not know, the original premise to Power Rangers is that five teenagers with attitude are drafted by an ancient space wizard named Zordon to fight an evil space witch named Rita Repulsa. To help them against the Rita’s Monsters, Zordon gives the teen special devices called morphers tat allow them to transform into their alter egos, the Power Rangers. He also gives them access to giant robots called Zords, which can be combined to form a Mega Zord that will help them to defeat Rita’s monsters when they turn giant. He also gives them three rules that tell them how to use their powers. The three rules are: 1) Never use the power for personal gain, 2) do not escalate a battle unless forced to–read “do not use giant robot except to fight giant monster,” and 3) keep your identities a secret.

The thing Power Rangers did that was so clever was to take the action scene of a Japanese Sentai TV show, add in new scenes of English actors, and use them to make a new show. This practice was done to many tokusatsu, including the original English Godzilla movie.

Zordon greets the Power Rangers

Now the interesting thing is that the original Sentai is often more dramatic then the American version. This was certainly the case with the original Power Rangers and its base show, Zyuranger.

Zyuranger is about a group of five, later six, ancient warriors from the dinosaur times fighting the evil witch Bandora and her evil army of clay monsters, as she tries to turn the whole earth into one big wasteland. These legendary warriors can call on their ancient gods, the Guardian Beast, to help the warriors transform into their Sentai forms and fight when the monsters inevitably grow big.

The Zyurangers and the Wizards

Zyurangers understood drama better that Power Rangers. For example, in Power Rangers, there is an episode where Rita sends a chicken monster after them, and Bully, the Blue Ranger and tech wiz, builds a flying car that never shows up again. In Zyuranger, the equivalent two-parter was about Bandora trying to get dinosaur eggs from the prince of a group of people that had been turned into monkey men because the chicken monster, Dora Cockatrice, had tricked them into breaking the laws of the guardian dinosaurs. Not only is the two-parter zanier in concept than the Power Rangers episode, it is also more interesting and better handled. The stakes are higher. Dire consequences will occur immediately if Bandora gets the eggs. Nothing immediate will happen if Rita beats the rangers with the giant chicken monster.

If you want to start watching Power Rangers, just look it up on Netflix, it has all the seasons. As for specific shows, I suggest the original, Zeo, and In Space. Thy are all one continuous story. Also try R.P.M., S.P.D., and Lightspeed Rescue. R.P.M. is a post-apocalypse story with humans fighting evil robots with giant animal-themed car robots. It is serious and somewhat dark, but it knows when to have fun. S.P.D is a police drama about the Space Patrol Delta’s B Team fighting an evil warlord named Emperor Gruumm. It is zany, but it is able to be dramatic. Lightspeed Rescue is about a government-run group of power rangers who fight evil demons and rescue people from the danger these demons create. It is awesome and has one of the few American only Rangers, the Titanium Ranger.

Bandora’s palace on the moon-complete with neon sign

If you want to watch the Sentai shows, that will be harder. The only way to watch them legitimately is on Shout TV’s web site, and Shout does not have them all. For Power Rangers fans, start with Zyurangers. It is weird but good.

I also highly recommend Dairangers. It is one of the best shows I have ever seen, even with the weak first few episodes. It starts out rather weird and just gets better. It is about a group of humans who are drafted by a mysterious old master named Kaku to fight the evil forces of the Gorma, a group of monsters from 8,000 years ago themed after different objects, from keys, to pots, to coping machines. The plot really gets good after the Key Jester appears in episode three. Like all TV shows there are some weak episodes, but none I would call bad.

If you can find it, try Kyreugers. It is aimed at kids, but it is a very fun show, nonetheless. It is about a group of five rangers who are drafted into a battle against an evil group called the Deboth Army by a mysterious blue bird man named Wise God Torin. The Deboth Army wants to wipe out all human life and revive their leader Deboth. Their M.O. for reviving him is to use different emotion themed monsters to gather the emotions of humans to revive him. The emotions they are collecting are, Happiness, Sadness, and Anger. The good guys use the leftover power of the dinosaurs–in the form of batteries–to transform, to call their mechs, and ro use dinosaurs pun-themed powers. It makes more sense than it sounds.

That will be all for now. Next time, we will discuss Sentai’s darker older brother, Kamen Rider. Till then, my young friend, go forth and enjoy the worlds of Japanese Children’s Entertainment.

 

Part Three: Kamen Riders

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Orville E. Wright, the son of L. Jagi Lamplighter and John C. Wright, is a small Pokémon plush toy brought to life by mad science.