Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Five Things Toei Loves

 Watch a handful of Sentai shows and a couple of Kamen Riders, and you'll start noticing similarities. It's not just you: there are just some tropes and plots that Toei uses again and again. Sure, at a glance the tragic melodrama of Kamen Rider 555 and the feel-good family hijinks of Mahou Sentai Magiranger have nothing in common, but there are some plots and themes that Toei just can't keep itself away from.

5. Creepy Children
 Whether it's The Shining's Grady girls or The Omen's Damien, creepy kids pop up again and again in fiction, and Toei's no stranger to them either. With Super Sentai, Kamen Rider and Ultraman being marketed to children anyway, kid characters are a popular choice - and they can't always be heroes like Gosei Sentai Dairanger's Kou or the more recent Tensou Sentai Goseiger's Nozomu.

Agito's OverLord of Darkness
 Kamen Rider Kiva introduces us to Arms Monster Ramon, actually a 127 year old fish monster in the form of a 13 year old boy. Ramon, although working for the protagonists, is nevertheless vaguely disturbing with his laidback approach to killing. The miniature monster even makes an attempt on Wataru's life, a fact that is promptly (and strangely) glossed over for the rest of the series.

 Or what about Kamen Rider Agito's OverLord of Darkness? A mysterious and powerful villain bent on genocide of the human race, who did Toei choose for the role? A tiny Kamiki Ryunosuke, who hadn't even hit the double digits at that point.

4. Awkward Setting Transitions
 If by any chance, we were to hand over Toei's back catalogue to a spaceship full of aliens who knew nothing about Earth geography, it's very likely that those aliens would come away with the impression that Japan is full of cities with forests and empty quarries sitting in the middle of them. The kings of clumsy setting transitions, Toei loves forests and quarries. Never mind the fact that the majority of Toei tokusatsu is set in Tokyo, why not have the heroes chase a villain out of a busy city street only to find themselves smack bang in the middle of a sprawling forest? Watch just a handful of episodes of Super Sentai and you'll soon discover that in Tokyo, a gigantic quarry is only a backflip away.

3. Weird Families
 At the beginning of this article I mentioned Magiranger's happy Ozu family. However the truth is that for every well-adjusted family in a Toei show, I can give you five utterly messed up ones. How about Kamen Rider Den-O's head-hurtingly confusing family dynamics? The Den-O movies see a teenaged Ryoutarou travelling around with his adult grandson, his pre-pubescent niece and, occasionally, her parents who haven't had her yet.

W's Wakana and Philip
 Kamen Rider W gave us the Sonozakis, a family that Freud could have written an entire book about. The currently airing Kamen Rider OOO introduces Hina and her almost-dead-but-not-quite brother, whose body is being possessed by a monster who has made multiple attempts to kill her. And before you start thinking Super Sentai might be free of this particular oddity, Jyuken Sentai Gekiranger devoted an entire story arc to the problem of hero Jan's father being forced to repeatedly beat him up, while it seems there isn't a single member of the Samurai Sentai Shinkenger team who doesn't have family issues of some sort.

2. Cross-dressing
 Only in the world of tokusatsu can the fans rest in absolute certainty that they will be given at least one episode in which a character cross-dresses for the sake of humanity's continued existence. For Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger's Tetsu, cross-dressing to save the day happened so often that upon seeing him show up to save her in a dress in Magiranger vs Dekaranger, fellow team-mate Jasmine shrugged, "well, it's no different from a usual day". The Shinkenger OVA gave us the somewhat more rare example of a girl cross-dressing, with Kotoha and Mako decked out as schoolboys (and the boys as girls-pretending-to-be-boys, in some sort of strange re-enactment of a Blur single).

 Just to prove that they can multi-task, Toei combined number three on this list with cross-dressing when Kiva's Otoya forced his son Wataru to dress up as a girl and walk around with him in public.

1. Puns
 I thought a lot about what deserved the top spot on this list. I considered the apparently ubiquitous man-eating rivers littering Kamen Rider and the mandatory visits to Kyoto in Super Sentai, but if there's something that Toei loves more than anything else, it has to be puns. If Toei were a person, it would be that guy who constantly plays on the double-meaning of everything and then laughs at his own jokes.

 If the currently airing OOO is anything to go by, Toei's obsession with puns is not showing any signs of dying: our new hero fights Yummys (pronounced "yami", the same as the Japanese for "darkness"), created by the Greeed. If that pun didn't make you groan, then Toei's not doing their job right.

 Let's be fair: any franchise as old as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai is going to repeat itself. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, and for me, part of the fun of a Toei series is spotting the little elements that they just can't seem to resist adding again and again.


  1. #2. You forgot the Boukenger Cinderella episode.

    #1. You need to watch the Saban-era Power Rangers to appreciate the subtlety of puns in Toei's work. Luckily, Power Rangers Samurai is a Saban-era series. :D

  2. #2 And Philip's cross-dressing.

  3. #5 Mezool ring a bell? Her human form is...a schoolgirl in her early teens. Now if that ain't creepy, I don't know what is.

  4. Philip (and Ryuunosuke) make awesome girls. Ryuunouske even more, he does that outside of SS.

  5. You forgot to mention Ryuunusuke dressing up as a bride 8D And then going on later about how he needs more practice XD

    And yeah...just why did Otoya make him wear a dress? And have one handy, at that (with accessories and makeup too) I know he was saying stuff about "understanding women by acting as one" but...and doesn't that imply he did that too? XD Wasn't the weird toe walking thing creepy enough?;;