Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Why Goseiger Failed

  As another Sentai season ends and we look forward to Kaizoku Sentai Goukaiger, very few of us seem sad to watch Goseiger go. Think back to last year, when we watched the hand-off from ShinkenRed to GoseiRed. So many people spoke about feeling sad as they watched the torch pass hands - I even spotted a couple of fanboys sheepishly admitting to shedding a manly tear. Even a year before that, when ShinkenRed clashed Comically Oversized Swords with Go-onRed, there were people getting misty-eyed at saying goodbye to the Go-ongers (who weren't even that popular with fandom in general).

 But as we say goodbye to Goseiger? Nobody, save for a handful of loyal fans, seems that bothered. This is the series that has aired every weekend for just over a year now, and as it came to a close most of us were dry-eyed and impatient for the Goukaiger preview afterwards - that is, if we even watched the finale.

 Where did Goseiger go wrong?

 As the series began, fandom reaction was tentatively hopeful. The angels concept was a new one, and seemed to suggest that we might see something fresh and unusual from our new Sentai heroes. Many pointed out an old-school vibe from the series, and toku fandom loves nothing more than nostalgia. But as the series went on, more and more viewers began to drop it. It's nowhere near the first time fandom hasn't liked a Sentai. As I previously mentioned, Go-onger was just a few years back and is looked upon by many fans as the worst Sentai of the decade, if not ever. But while Go-onger inspired exclamations of violent dislike and passionate debates between those who liked it and those who seriously didn't, in contrast Goseiger was barely discussed. Fandom's interest in it ended not with a bang but a whimper.

 I'll admit it upfront: I'm one of those people whose interest in Goseiger slowed to a standstill somewhere around episode twentysomething. As far as I'm concerned, there are three big reasons Goseiger didn't do as well with fans as it could have.

 Reason: Shallow Heroes
 When Goseiger began, I was instantly in love with half of them. Alata was small and sweet - but with a bite. The transformation from cute and chirpy to fierce and furious in fight scenes was a joy for me to watch. I still think Yudai Chiba handled the dual aspects of Alata perfectly - I believe absolutely that Alata's Princess Sparklepony personality is genuine, yet at the same time I would be terrified to go up against him in a fight.

 Eri, meanwhile, was in some ways a stereotypical ditzy Pink, but the first couple of episodes also established her as one of the most capable members of the team in battle. She was at an Umeko with a Sakura's fight skills. Our other heroine, Moune, was a refreshing return to the tomboy Yellow tradition, after a good few years of sunny, mostly harmless Yellows. Most interesting was her genuine excitement for battle: it's not often we see a Sentai girl who really enjoys being aggressive.

 Hyde was the calm, dignified straight man, with a glaring lack of clan partner that promised a juicy backstory. And Agri... well, his personality was surely on its way.

 It was such a good start. Apparently it was such a good start that the writers sat back, kicked off their shoes and decided they didn't need to actually go any further. Alata remained Sweet But Not To Be Messed With. Moune never developed from Enthusiastically Aggressive. And Agri's personality was still stuck in the mail somewhere.

 Don't get me wrong: I like the Goseiger's core personality traits. I just wish they had been given more than two each. It's not a good thing when I can completely, comprehensively describe a character in one sentence. And heck, I couldn't even manage that for Agri. Who the hell is this guy? Is he impatient? Is he shy? Is he extroverted? Does he spend a long time in the shower? Just give me something, anything beyond "he smiles when he's angry", which could just be Kyousuke Hamao's inability to act anyway. There are random strangers I've passed on the street that I could tell you more about than Agri.

 To be fair, Hyde's backstory showed up as promised. And it was... underwhelming. After the excitement of a GoseiGreen suit wore off, I realised all Magis had given me was more questions that the series would never answer. How did Hyde and Magis meet? Did Hyde know him very well or were they still getting to know each other?

 How did any of the Goseiger partners meet (I can gather how Agri and Moune met, before you say)? Alata and Eri were childhood friends, and we were treated to a few sparse clips of their childhood, but I came away feeling as if I hadn't learnt anything. What's Skick culture like? Do the Gosei clans all live separately or together? If separately than what do their homelands look like? I'm not asking for incredible feats of CGI here, Toei, I'd have completely accepted it if you'd stuck Agri and Moune in one of your many abandoned quarries and declared it the Landick homeland.

 Or what about their families? Okay, Moune clearly has mummy issues but that's all I really know. Is Hyde an only child? Does Alata have any siblings or has Eri always taken that role for him? With no knowledge of their history or their culture, I was left feeling like the Goseigers were just islands, floating untethered with no context.

 But let's be generous and say that maybe that was intentional. Goseiger is about a group of people living outside their own homes and history, after all. Maybe we were left with so little information about them to make them seem all the more foreign and alien to Earth. Except that theory falls down once you take a look at Nozomu.

 Sometimes I felt like the writers forgot Nozomu was there. Essentially the mouthpiece for the audience, Nozomu could have asked the Goseigers all the things I wanted so badly to know. Or if the Goseigers were meant to be the mysterious creatures they ended up being, then perhaps Nozomu could have driven the point home - by being the fully realised, fleshed out person that the Goseigers couldn't be.

 But then he just kind of wandered around in green outfits that consistently made fanboys wonder if he was Dairanger's Kou Mark II and did very little other than occasionally lip wobble at GoseiKnight.

 GoseiKnight is the only hero in this series I cannot criticise. Ironically when he first showed up I was Not Keen. I thought the concept of him being a Header was a tired merchandising device and his stoic personality was even more tired. I was completely wrong: GoseiKnight's development from hard-headed and ruthless to a true hero was the best thing about Goseiger, and his being a Header brought about one of the best moments of drama of the entire series. With GoseiKnight the writers proved they could do satisfying character development... they just didn't bother with the other five Goseigers.

 Reason: Shallow Villains
 Fine, Goseiger is not the only Sentai series to have two-dimensional, lifeless heroes. Gekiranger, which I actually consider one of the best written Sentai shows of the past decade, never bothered to develop any of the Gekirangers who weren't Jan, leaving us with a rather flat and uninteresting team. What Gekiranger did instead was develop its villains.

 Goseiger did not.

 Okay, Goseiger was at a disadvantage. Gekiranger had the uncommon advantage of human villains, a rarity for a Sentai series. With human actors you get varied expressions and nuances (unless you have employed Tori Matsuzaka) that we react to, because as social animals we're trained from birth to read facial expressions and tics. With rubber suits that element is removed, and the voice and suit actors have to work that much harder to make up for it. Sentai villains need to have big, larger than life personalities because it's so difficult to communicate the subtleties of identity when you're dressed as a giant slimy blob. Go on, test it out: go and rent a massive green blob costume, stand on a street corner and attempt to express something like "ambivalence".

 So did Goseiger's villains have the big personalities they needed? They didn't even get the "personality" part right, let alone the part where it needs to be a big one. Try and tell me something about Robogog or Kinggon, go on. It didn't help that Goseiger switched villains every five seconds. Maybe the writers thought that a big climactic show-down against the villains was what the series needed to boost its drama, but it didn't interest me for the same reason none of us wet our pants every time a sports match, any sports match at all, is on television: a show-down between People We Don't Care About versus People We Don't Care About is not that interesting.

 The single constant in Goseiger's villains was Bladerun. A crafty character who was clearly up to no good from the very first time we saw him, fandom as a whole managed to work up some enthusiasm for him. He seemed to promise something more than simply the Goseigers soundly defeating villainous group after villainous group. The revelation that he had soundly manipulated Robogog and his subsequent callous betrayal of Metal Alice gave us a truly juicy episode.

 But was Bladerun really that great? Certainly, he was one of the best things about Goseiger and easily the most interesting villain of the series, but would he have been so compelling a character if he'd been the lead villain in Timeranger, with its detailed heroes, or Gekiranger, where most of the main villains burst at the seams with rich inner lives and motives? We liked Bladerun because he was a break from the monotony of the   characters around him, not because he was inherently that great a character.

 Reason: Shallow Story
 I touched on this briefly when I was talking about the lack of backstory for Goseiger's heroes, but let's return to it, because in many ways it's Goseiger's biggest disappointment: where is the story? We've got the basics: the Goseigers are stuck on Earth and need to protect it from outside forces, while also looking for a way to restore the Tower that will allow them to go home.

 And that's it.

 There's nothing wrong with Goseiger's main plot, but such a premise could easily have been used to branch off to other stories, other ideas. Tell me more about Gosei World. What does it look like? What are its citizens like? Is there tension between the clans, as Moune and Agri's constant little jabs at Hyde's Seaick nature would suggest, or is everyone a big happy family?

 Failing that, tell me about the villains and their worlds. Or heck, tell me more about Nozomu and his life. We were given one fleeting mention of his mother, and then she was never heard from again. What was Nozomu like before he met the Goseigers? What's his school life like? Does he own any items of clothing that aren't plaid?

 Rather than taking the opportunities its premise gifted it with, Goseiger instead relied on a steady diet of cliche filler (which I actually don't mind in small doses) and Show-downs Nobody Cared About. Time that could have used to develop the characters further or answer questions that would have fleshed out the universe was instead spent on tired cliche after tired cliche.

 And after fifty episodes, I realised I still couldn't apply a single adjective to Agri's personality.

 EDIT (27/05/11)
 And on the flip side, an interesting post has been made on LiveJournal's Sentai community about why Goseiger wasn't so bad as I make it sound here. Check it out!


  1. I think Retsu and Ran did get a liiittle developement in Geki. Granted, at least half of Retsu's development/backstory involved his older brother...and Ran's only backstory episode was that bit about her mom trying to marry her off somewhere (who'd have thought Ran was an heiress? O.o)

    But yeah; This was the first sentai that I've seen (though I've only seen Geki, Shinken and Go-on besides this) that I just...dropped off of. I mean, part of that was I had things to do so didn't keep up with the episodes but...I just wasn't as compelled to get back to it as if it had been something like Shinkenger. I think I even had a bit of that problem near the end of Goonger but...

    At any rate...I really was disappointed in the lack of back story. I was also looking forward to the mysterious lack of a second water-user.

  2. I think it's no coincidence that the extent of development Ran and Retsu (Gou and Ken too) got was based around their family. I mean, I truly feel that was more for Jan's development benefit than theirs: he's surrounded by people interacting with their families for the entire series, so when the revelations about his own family hit him it's that much harder. But that's another long overanalytical post. :D

  3. You have a point. ^ ^ It was quite a surprise about his father too O.o Retsu got about twice as much as Ran though, merely because his big bro was Gekiviolet XD I'd have liked to have seen more overprotective brothering too lD Retsu is adorable when he gets irritated. (I really liked the mirror episode too)

    Not that Ran's mom didn't rock it in the kimono and naginata.

  4. Agree with almost everything, especially the part about Agri. But for Alata, I think there is a good amount of development in his personality. True is that he might not change much, but as the show progressed, Alata seemed to have more thoughtful thinking than his teammates.