There aren’t a lot of tokusatsu podcasts out there, there are only two that I know of in fact. One of them, the first one I ever started listening to, kind of drives me crazy because the hosts are complete tokusatsu traditionalists and on a recent episode, they really went into why they want all tokusatsu, specifically Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, to be pretty much the same year after year after year. I absolutely do not want that at all. It’s one thing that drives me nuts but I hear it all the time, especially coming from the fanatical tokusatsu crowd. Oh, Super Sentai has a long tradition! Hey, Kamen Rider is very traditional! It’s all nonsense. In fact, the reason so many people either like or don’t like particular shows is because these shows either embrace or distance themselves from these so-called traditions. The fact is, tradition is bunk. You get people whining about shows based on what happened in other shows. They bitched about Kamen Rider Den-O because the hero didn’t ride around on a motorcycle! They bitch about shows because they don’t have Rider Kicks! Some even complain because the Riders don’t wear scarves like they did in the Showa days! They complain because Super Sentai shows don’t have heroes of particular colors, or that a certain color ought to be a certain gender or another! Things have to follow a specific pattern, they have to occur in a certain order, they have to happen at a particular time or it’s just not <fill in the blank>!
I think it’s a lot easier if you just leave all that nonsense behind. A show must stand or fall entirely on it’s own merits, not on the “traditions” of other shows in the same genre or under the same title. At least that’s what I’d like to see and that’s what I’d like to have happen, it makes no sense to me to want to see the same show over and over and over again, year after year.
But you know something? I was wrong when I said that these shows don’t embrace traditions. They do. I suppose that after you’ve been making the same kind of show over and over and over for 35+ years, you fall into a pattern, but especially in the Super Sentai arena, those patterns get kind of ridiculous. For most Super Sentai shows, for instance, you start with either 3 or 5 rangers. Never 2 or 4. The red ranger always leads and is usually added in the first episode. It’s very common for the initial rangers to have serious personality problems and in-fight. Right around episode 16 or so, you add a new ranger. This ranger is almost never accepted immediately. It takes about 10 episodes for them to be embraced as a part of the team. The bad guys start off being almost unbeatable, but around the middle of the series, they become much easier to defeat. At about the 3/4 mark, the bad guys are replaced by an even stronger “leader” that’s been behind the scenes the whole time, or who often just comes out of nowhere. If it varies from this, toku fans scream. These are tropes that happen time and time again, but I have no idea what came first, the chicken or the egg. Did Toei start doing that and fans started to expect it, or did fans start to expect it and Toei started playing to their expectations? More than likely, Bandai, who produces the toys, has started pushing Toei to do the same things over and over again because they recognize that it makes the toys sell better. So much is determined by marketability these days, everyone has to have a gimmick. It’s a cell phone or a lock or cards or some kind of artifact that they can make toys out of for Japanese kids to wear to school. The mecha in Super Sentai are also pushed by Bandai, no longer is there a single giant robot, now there are tons of them. Why? More toys to sell! Every character gets upgrades during the course of the show, their armor changes so Bandai can crank out more action figures. A lot of these shows are completely driven by their merchandising, often to the detriment of the storyline. I wish it would all go away.
Oh, I know Bandai has to sell toys or the shows go off the air, but couldn’t they take some chances? After all, the most popular, successful and long-running Kamen Rider series in history, Kamen Rider Den-O, took a lot of chances, it broke the mold and both Toei and Bandai laughed all the way to the bank. But you know something? Den-O is also largely hated among tokusatsu fans because it didn’t follow the pattern. It wasn’t predictable. It wasn’t the same-old same-old. In fact, I find myself being drawn to shows that are different, my favorite series are the ones that dared to go their own way. I loved Den-O, it is probably my favorite Kamen Rider series of the Heisei era. I also loved Kamen Rider Fourze for the same reason, it was different, maybe even silly, but it was unique. And how about Decade? I actually like Decade, unlike the traditionalists. On the Super Sentai side? One of my favorite series in recent memory was 2005’s Magiranger. Why? It was different! It dared to step outside of the typical tropes and just be a fun series. Heck, look at Akibaranger, which was a complete send-up of the sentai genre. It made fun of all of the tropes, it’s clear that the Japanese are aware of what they’re doing, so why do they do it? Because it sells? I don’t think that’s a good enough reason.
How about the most recent Kamen Rider series that some vocal people in the tokusatsu fandom claimed was horrible before they had even seen it, based on the fact that it had a fruit theme. You know something? They were wrong. It’s a fantastic show, but now that they know they messed up, they won’t admit their fault. Why is it great? Because it’s not the same old thing.
There’s been the suggestion that Toei stop doing a Super Sentai series and a Kamen Rider series every year, maybe changing it up and releasing Super Sentai and an independent series one year, then an independent and a Kamen Rider the next, so that they can still do things that are non-traditional and keep the traditionalists happy. I don’t buy it. The Kamen Rider name sells. The Super Sentai name sells. Just attaching those names to the series makes more money. Maybe the traditionalists need to stop being so traditional and accept that just because it says Super Sentai, it’s not going to march mindlessly through all of the tropes set up over the past 40 years. Maybe because it’s called Kamen Rider doesn’t mean it will follow the formula that we’ve seen since 1971. Variety is the spice of life and maybe if we focus on just having a fun show, rather than an identical show every year, the popularity of the line might come back.
Wouldn’t that be nice?