TV Review: Gekisou Sentai Carranger (1996-1997)

Original Run: March 1st, 1996 – February 7th, 1997
Created by: Toei, Yoshio Urasawa
Directed by: Yoshiaki Kobayashi
Written by: various
Music by: Naritaka Takayama (themes), Toshihiko Sahashi
Cast: Yūji Kishi, Yoshihiro Masujima, Yoshihiro Fukuda, Yuka Motohashi, Atsuko Kurusu, Rika Nanase

Toei, TV Asahi, 48 Episodes, 20 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Fans might see these characters and recognize them from Power Rangers Turbo but like all things Power Rangers, the majority of the action came from Japan’s Super Sentai franchise. In the case of Turbo, they borrowed heavily from this series, Gekisou Sentai Carranger.

Overall, this was one of the weaker Sentai series that I have seen but it still had really enjoyable parts and characters I ended up caring about.

In the American version, they had to create a new female villain character, as Zonnette from this show was way too scantily clad and there were scenes that featured too much sexual suggestion. I guess Japanese kids are more mature at dealing with sexy hot chicks in their television shows than the American kids are. Or, at least, the American puritan censors.

The premise for this show is one of the most bizarre, even for Sentai standards. The heroes here are “fighting for traffic safety” and they get their powers from some sort of automobile-themed cosmic force.

The big villain, who doesn’t appear until the last dozen or so episodes, has the grand scheme of building a network of super highways in space. I was never quite sure why that was even a bad thing, other than he wanted to destroy other planets and specifically their roads in order to achieve this strange goal.

Here’s the thing, though, Sentai doesn’t have to make any sort of logical sense and it rarely does. In a lot of ways, it’s all a self-parody of tokusatsu tropes and it’s very self-aware. While I’m not quite sure how Japanese kids interpret this stuff, it still makes for wacky, bizarre, entertaining television for those who are into really bonkers shit.

One thing that Gekisou Sentai Carranger did have working for it was the designs of the characters, specifically the villains and secondary heroes. Also, the Bowzock ship was one of the coolest I’ve seen in any sci-fi show or movie. It’s basically a mechanical orb made of what looks like moving, tangled razorwire.

Overall, there are much better Sentai series out there but this was still fun and enjoyable if this stuff is up your alley.

Rating: 6.75/10

TV Review: Chōjin Sentai Jetman (1991-1992)

Original Run: February 15th, 1991 – February 14th, 1992
Created by: Toei
Directed by: Keita Amemiya
Written by: various
Music by: Kazuhiko Toyama, Hironobu Kageyama (themes)
Cast: Kōtarō Tanaka, Rika Kishida, Tomihisa Naruse, Sayuri Uchida, Toshihide Wakamatsu

Toei Company, 51 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It’s been ages since I watched a Super Sentai series and because of that, I’m now way behind on the stuff that Shout! Factory has released in the United States. So I figured I really needed to jump on it and experience more of this great, classic tokusatsu program.

For those that might not know, this series was originally intended to be the one that they were going to use to create the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. However, producers of that show ended up using its successor, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger.

With that, this is the first Sentai show that I’ve watched that wasn’t turned into a Power Rangers series. This also makes it the oldest show that I’ve seen in the franchise.

Overall, this was damn enjoyable if kid friendly tokusatsu is your thing.

The thing I liked most was the characters. For the most part, this set of heroes were well-balanced, pretty well developed and they had great chemistry with each other. I especially liked how the bond evolved between Ryū a.k.a. Red Hawk and Gai a.k.a. Black Condor evolved over the course of the show. By the end, these two guys were complete badasses and honestly, either of them could’ve been team leader.

I also really liked Ako a.k.a. Blue Swallow. She was a cool character with some good stories and she might be my favorite female hero that I’ve seen out of all the Sentai shows I’ve watched, thus far.

Like the heroes, the villains were a really cool team that also had solid chemistry. I love that they were only really unified in trying to destroy the Jetman team and to dominate the world. I loved the power struggles between them, how they evolved over the series and ultimately, how they probably could’ve won had they not allowed their egos to make them work against one another.

Looking beyond the cool characters and story, I also dug the hell out of the look of the show. I thought the Jetman team’s costumes were superb and they are definitely one of the best looking Sentai teams of all-time.

This series also had some cool monsters. The real standout, I thought, was the ramen cup noodles monster. He just had a cool design and any monster that shoots out shrimp boomerangs is going to leave an impression.

Chōjin Sentai Jetman is pretty high up on the short list of the Super Sentai shows I’ve watched. However, this is only my fifth and there are a lot more to experience. I think that this one will maintain a spot close to the top, though.

Rating: 8.25/10

Book Review: LIFE: Godzilla: The King of the Monsters

I love when LIFE and other similar magazines do special issues like this. I also like to review the ones I pickup and read through because magazines are dying and I’d hate to see editions like these fade away forever.

It should come as no secret that I’m a massive Godzilla fan. It’s one of my favorite franchises and I’ve watched the movies as long as I’ve been alive. I also know this franchise just about as well as anyone can.

So with that, this was a pretty fun and engaging read. Honestly, there’s nothing new here as far as information and history go but for those who aren’t as versed as myself or other hardcore kaiju lovers, this magazine is a good place to start your education. Granted, there are much better and deeper sources to delve into but you might not be that obsessed.

This has some good articles about the monster, his allies, his enemies and the film franchise they live in. It was all pretty solid and I took my time with this magazine, not wanting to rush through it.

It’s also chock full of images from all eras and it’s just a good presentation, all around.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Gamera the Brave (2005)

Also known as: Chiisaki yûsha-tachi: Gamera (original Japanese title)
Release Date: Junes 10th, 2005
Directed by: Ryuta Tasaki
Written by: Yukari Tatsui
Music by: Yoko Ueno
Cast: Ryo Tomioka, Kanji Tsuda, Kaho

Shochiku, Kadokawa Daiei Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

Gamera the Brave is the first kid friendly Gamera movie since the original film series that ended about a quarter of a century before this was made.

This follows the ’90s Gamera trilogy of films that were very dark but also, very cool and very, very awesome.

I really enjoyed this for what it was and it did have some moments that hit you in the feels in that special way that only a kids’ tokusatsu TV show or movie can hit you in the feels. If you’re a fan of the genre, you know what I mean.

This film is also kind of magical in that it effectively brings you back to that headspace where you were a little kid enjoying things like this.

Overall, I liked the story and I liked the special effects, even if they were pretty much all CGI and this picture was lacking the traditional “guy in a rubber suit” trope. I liked that the previous trilogy of film employed CGI and really good practical effects. However, the CGI was better than what was the norm for Japanese sci-fi in the mid-’00s.

I liked the characters, I especially liked the main kid and I thought the concept of the pet baby turtle growing into a new, young Gamera was a cool idea. I also thought that the villain monster was one of the best in the franchise and he was sort of an homage to Barugon in how he uses his extending tongue as a weapon.

I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would. It was the only Gamera film I hadn’t seen at all but that’s also because it wasn’t very accessible to those of us in the States until I just discovered it streaming for what I believe is the first time.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

Also known as: Gamera 3: Jashin kakusei (original Japanese title), Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris (alternative title), Gamera 1999: The Absolute Guardian of the Universe (UK closing credits title), Gamera 3 (unofficial title)
Release Date: March 6th, 1999 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito, Shusuke Kaneko
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ai Maeda, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai K.K., Toho Co. Ltd., 108 Minutes

Review:

“Every creature, however unappealing, fights to the last to survive. Humanity as well.” – Mayumi Nagamine

This is the last of the awesome trilogy of Gamera films directed by Shusuke Kaneko. With that, this also concludes the storyline of his reoccurring characters and brings to a close this version of Gamera canon.

I’ve got to say, though, Kaneko went out with a bang and this isn’t just my favorite Gamera film of his trilogy but it is my favorite Gamera film of them all!

This one took a longer break from its predecessor and with that, I think they had more time to fine tune it and refine it from a story and script standpoint to working out some of the special effects kinks.

The end result is a film that looks better and plays better than any of its predecessors.

I enjoy the story in this a lot and even if it doesn’t come across as wholly original (it feels like something lifted from an Ultraman episode), it still works for this film series and provides Gamera fans with a neat, energetic conclusion to possibly the best version of the property.

Furthermore, the enemy monster in this is really damn cool and it’s an unfortunate creature with a personal grudge against Gamera. Basically, the monster Gamera fights isn’t simply evil and its reason for fighting Gamera is pretty damn justified.

That being said, the third act of this movie is really f’n good. If you’re already a kaiju or tokusatsu fan, you should really dig it. The final battle is the best in the series and the final moments of the film are pretty heavy and emotional.

If Daiei really wanted to take Gamera seriously and give fans something great, this is where they truly succeeded. The two films before this one really set the ground work and built a solid foundation but this shows that their efforts paid off and the studio and director delivered.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

Also known as: Gamera 2: Region shurai (original Japanese title), Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, Gamera 2: Assault of the Legion (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 13th, 1996 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Maki Mizuno, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Tamotsu Ishibashi

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Tokuma International, Toho Co. Ltd., 99 Minutes

Review:

The second of the three Heisei era Gamera films is pretty good. While I think it’s predecessor is a bit better, these movies are really consistent and much better than the original, really hokey Gamera movies from the Showa era.

Now while I like the first one more, this picture does have one of the best looking kaiju villains in motion picture history.

love Legion, even if the monster is a sort of mishmash ripoff of Biolante and Destroyah from the Heisei era Godzilla movies.

Since Gamera, himself, was Daiei’s attempt at ripping off Godzilla in the ’60s, “borrowing” heavily from a more popular franchise isn’t really anything new for this series. Besides, we’ve had some pretty original and cool monsters in the Gamera franchise and even some of them were ripped off for other films: most notably Guiron was used as “inspiration” for Knifehead in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

This film picks up a year or so after the events of the previous movie, which saw Gamera destroy a bunch of Gaos. Here, he returns to fight what is the biggest threat he’s ever faced in the franchise. Since this era is a reboot of the franchise, those older movies don’t really exist in the same canon but Gamera’s challenge in this chapter, is still his greatest.

This employs pretty good practical special effects for the time. As I said with the previous review, these ’90s Gamera films are good enough to rival the ’90s Godzilla movies.

Now I don’t like this as much as the 1995 reboot but it’s still a fun, solid, “giant monsters smashing everything” flick. Plus, the villain is cooler than Gaos, which might sound like sacrilege to some diehard, old school Gamera fans but sorry, Legion is just a cool f’n monster that was well-designed and looked really intimidating.

Overall, this is pretty satisfying. If Gamera films are your thing, this era provided the best of the lot and they’re all damn consistent.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Also known as: Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen (original Japanese title), Gamera: Giant Monster Midair Showdown (Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Toho Co. Ltd., 96 Minutes

Review:

Gamera movies are a lot of fun for hardcore fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks that want to go deeper than just the regular Godzilla films.

However, they were always sort of shit. That is, until this movie came out in 1995 and gave the world a Gamera picture that was taken really seriously and may actually be as good as the ’90s Godzilla movies. Hell, I’d say this is even better than some of them.

This has a darker tone than the jovial kids movies of the original run of films. Also, this has a harder edge and the monsters are more played up for scares than slapstick comic relief.

I like that the studio stuck to using actors in monster suits, as well as great miniature sets for them to wreck while duking it out over the course of the story.

In fact, the special effects for the time and budget are exceptionally good. Quality-wise, this is one of the best looking kaiju movies of the Heisei era.

Plus, I like the cast in this a lot more than what’s typical in these sort of films. The core characters stand out, have purpose and make the human part of the story a worthwhile one, which can often times just get in the way of what audiences really want to see, which is giant monster mayhem. 

This also sets up future films, which for this era in the Gamera franchise led to a pretty impressive trilogy.

From memory, I feel like each sequel improved upon its predecessor but since it’s been so long since I’ve watched these, I’ll refrain from actually stating that until I revisit and review them in the coming weeks.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Wrath of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin gyakushû (original Japanese title), Daimajin Strikes Again, Majin Strikes Again, The Return of Giant Majin, Return of Majin (US alternative titles)
Release Date: December 21st, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuo Mori
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Hideki Ninomiya, Shinji Hori, Masahide Iizuka, Muneyuki Nagatomo, Junichiro Yamashita, Toru Abe, Takashi Nakamura, Hiroshi Nawa, Tanie Kitabayashi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 87 Minutes

Review:

This is the third and final Daimajin film. These movies were all shot and released in the same year. Sadly, this great concept didn’t continue on like other kaiju and tokusatsu franchises but maybe that’s for the best as every Daimajin film has real quality.

From memory, this was my least favorite. However, seeing them all again after so long, I have to say that this one slightly edges out the other two. I think that the first one had the better story and the second one had the better finale. However, this one seems to be the most balanced, as its story rivals the first film, its action rivals the second while both of those things are really, really good.

This installment in the series is also carried by a group of child actors. This can often times be disastrous or just lack in quality but these kids were great and loveable.

I also really liked the three samurai that were trying to capture the runaway kids. They had good chemistry and they played off of the kids really well.

The story primarily follows these kids on a great journey across a region of feudal Japan. It draws allusions to The Fellowship of the Ring in that way, as they have to reach their objective over a long distance while being pursued by a great, deadly force.

In the end, we get to see the giant stone demon come back to life and crush vile tyrants. This is always the highlight of these films and it is used to great effect, here, even if some of the shots appeared to be reused from the previous films. This was pretty common in Japanese kaiju pictures, though, but at least it isn’t a technique that was as bastardized as it would become in the Gamera movies.

I love the hell out of this series. But what I love even more is that they don’t lose steam and that the series goes out on a bang.

That being said, I’m fine that there are only three of these and the short-lived franchise quit while it was ahead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin ikaru (original title), The Return of Giant Majin (US TV title), Majin (Spain)
Release Date: August 13th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Shiho Fujimura, Taro Marui, Takashi Kanda

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 79 Minutes

Review:

Return of Daimajin was the second of three Daimajin movies, which were all filmed at the same time and were all released in Japan in the same year: 1966.

All the films have a very similar premise in that they see a giant, stone protector arrive to smash the hell out of tyrannical warlords who try to exploit the weak and the poor.

These are also period pieces and have the feel of a jidaigeki picture until the big demon monster shows up and essentially transforms these into kaiju movies in their third act.

Overall, I found this film’s story to be a bit weaker than the first picture but that was offset by the big finale, which I liked a lot more in this installment. I think a lot of that has to do with Daimajin literally parting the water like the Red Sea in the Bible and slowly walking towards the village full of tyrants, building tension and horror.

Also, the evil tyrant’s death was simply awesome.

I also thought that the special effects felt a bit more refined and perfected. The miniature work was solid and it holds up over fifty years later.

The action also played better and it was just cool seeing the big demon crush these scumbags while tearing down their town.

While at face value, this movie might just come across as “more of the same”, it’s the subtle differences that make it work. I guess it’s kind of like Friday the 13th movies where they follow a predictable formula in the same type of setting but if you’re a fan of the films, you don’t care and each one just has something special and unique within it.

Most people probably won’t dig these movies and that’s fine. However, for kaiju cinema fans that haven’t experienced any of these, you really should check them out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.