August 28, 2011
The publication date of this post is August 28th, 2011, the day the final episode of Kamen Rider OOO aired. To mark the occasion, let’s look at something I’ve sunk more money into this year than I care to think about: OOO’s henshin gear!
OOO’s henshin belt is the OOO Driver. “Driver” seems to be the new standard term for henshin belts, a bit of a shame they don’t come up with more unique names anymore. Names aside, the OOO Driver itself is pretty nice. The buckle is glossy black and silver with metallic blue “circuit” detailing. When wearing the belt, on your left hip is a small holder for easy access to up to six OOO Medals. This holder is amusingly styled after the type of belt mounted change holders a vendor on the street might use. On your right hip is the OOO Scanner, where all the electronics and magic really reside. I’ll discuss that more in a bit, but on the belt it has its own holster clip, keeping it securely in place when not in use. The straps for the belt also feature release buttons, allowing them to be easily detached from the buckle for display if you prefer.
The central theme of Kamen Rider OOO is OOO Medals. Each medal bears the crest of a particular animal, and grants OOO a unique power. Medals are primarily classified as Core Medals or Cell Medals, shown above the translucent Condor Core next to the dull gray Condor Cell. Core Medals are the “core” of the beings called Greeeds. Each Greeed has nine cores: 3 head cores, 3 body cores, and three leg cores. Which part of the body the core corresponds to is indicated by bars on the back of the medal: 1 for head, 2 for body, 3 for legs. You can see the back of the Kamakiri Core on the right has two bars, indicating it is a body core. Cell Medals “stick” to core medals to form the remainder of a Greeed’s body mass, and can be created by having a creature called a Yummy feed off human desire. In the context of the toys, Core Medals are made of translucent plastic with a gold painted metal ring. These medals feel very substantial when held, and are very nicely made.
Cell Medals are made from simple, unpainted gray plastic. This indicates their relatively lower value, and are not functionally interchangeable with the Core Medals. On the back of Cell Medals is a large “X”, since they do not activate any power for OOO (though they are utilized by Kamen Rider Birth).
Inside each medal is an RFID chip, which is activated and read when the OOO Scanner passes over it. This is the same technology being applied to credit cards and passports, allowing you to wave them near a pad for them to be read. IMO, this technology is better applied to toys, since the security implications make me cringe.
To use the OOO Driver, load three medals into it. They should be, in order, one head core, one body core, and one leg core. Above we see the three medals that make up OOO’s “default” form: Taka (head), Tora (body) and Batta (legs). In practice, the toy doesn’t really care. Put them out of order, use three head cores, use cell medals, it’ll still work in a basic sense. Once the medals are loaded, the front part of the buckle can be tilted to prepare for scanning.
Take the OOO Scanner, and squeeze the large button hidden inside its grip area. This will cause the scanner to light up and begin making a pulsing standby sound. Starting from your right with the head medal, run the scanner through the track along the bottom edge of the buckle so it passes over each medal in turn. As you pass the medals, the red lights along the front edge will illuminate one by one. If you go slowly, the scanner will announce the name of each medal as you pass. If you go quickly, it will announce them all at the end. Make sure to catch the hidden sensor at the end of the buckle to signal the scanner you’re done. The OOO Scanner will announce the names of the medals, then play a sound effect. The effect you get will either be generic, or a unique “jingle” if you scanned a special combo. The above set is OOO’s default TaToBa Combo. The scanner will play the special jingle for the combo: “Ta-To-Ba TaToBa Ta-To-Ba!” All the other combos are made up by using all three medals of the same color. These single color combos also get a sound effect related to the animal group they represent (screeching bird, buzzing insects, etc.) Here is the list:
TaToBa — Taka • Tora • Batta, OOO default combo
RaToraTah — Lion • Tora • Cheetah, cat combo
GataKiriBa — Kuwagata • Kamakiri • Batta, insect combo
SaGouZou — Sai • Gorilla • Zou, large mammal combo
TaJaDoru — Taka • Kujaku • Condor, bird combo
ShaUTa — Shachi • Unagi • Tako, aquatic combo
PuToTyra — Ptera • Tricera • Tyranno, dinosaur combo (in the show, these medals cannot mix with other medals)
BuraKaWani — Cobra • Kame • Wani, reptile combo (movie exclusive)
To use OOO’s hissastsu techniques, scan the same set of medals you just scanned a second time, and the OOO Scanner will announce “Scanning Charge!” It will then play the combo’s animal noise if applicable, followed by a hissastsu sound effect.
OOO Medal Holder
It’s not long before the number of medals OOO and his partner Ankh are using becomes a bit difficult to manage. They begin to use a special OOO Medal Holder, which of course Bandai produced and sold. For what it is, it’s actually pretty nice. It’s made of the same glossy black plastic with metallic blue detailing as the OOO Driver. It has a really solid hinge, and two slide locks to keep it from spilling open. Inside, it’s lined with a sort of stiff foam rubber with cutouts for 24 medals. The medals fit snugly into the cutouts and do not tend to fall out. For what it is, it’s a pretty nice little piece, and a stylish way to house and protect the investment you made in all those medals. Shown here is my collection, featuring all 18 Core Medals from the TV series, and the Condor Cell which comes with the case itself. These are all the “deluxe” versions of the medals, rather than the gashapon or candy toy versions which are slightly lower quality. Here’s the breakdown of where the deluxe cores come from:
OOO Driver: Taka, Tora, Batta, Kamakiri
Medal Set o1: Lion, Cheetah, Kuwagata
Medal Set 02: Sai, Gorilla, Zou
TaJa Spinner: Kujaku, Condor
Medal Set 03: Shachi, Unagi, Tako
Medal Set 04: Ptera, Tricera, Tyranno
The Cobra, Kame and Wani cores come in Medal Set SP, which I haven’t been able to get ahold of yet. There’s also Medal Set EX, featuring the Cores from Kamen Rider OOO & W feat. Skull: Movie War Core, but their names aren’t actually spoken by the OOO Scanner. A few promotional medals like a kangaroo have also been released as magazine premiums in Japan, and they actually do work, though they aren’t part of any combo.
Though each body medal features a “weapon”, like the Tora Claws or the Kamakiri Blades, only two were released as actual toys: the TaJa Spinner and MedaGabuRyu. TaJa Spinner appears on the left arm whenever the Kujaku Core is used. In form, it’s sort of a small shield, looking like a giant Core Medal featuring the crest of the TaJaDoru combo. Detailing as expected of Bandai’s DX role play toys, is nice, but I feel like its design could use more variation of color. Its overall effect is rather bland. Functionality is also not all that great. There’s a trigger on the hand grip (which may be too small for adult hands). Pushing the trigger plays a sound of a fireball being launched, but a light on the front would have sold this much better.
TaJa Spinner is able to activate its own hissastu attack separate from Scanning Charge. To do this, open the TaJa Spinner and fill it with seven medals of any kind. Close the cover, and pull back the handle. When the OOO Scanner is set in the track at the front, it’ll press a button causing the medals inside to rapidly spin past. After they’ve all passed, push the scanner the rest of the way through to catch another sensor. It will announce the names of the first six medals that passed it, then say “Giga Scan!” After this, the trigger on the TaJa Spinner will play a bigger attack sound effect. Why they include space for seven medals when only six matter is curious. It seems they could’ve spaced them out and adjusted the timing so everything would just work with six, if that’s all the memory in the scanner can handle.
The OOO Driver is great. The medal system allows for a lot of variation, and they’re neat little collectibles. The belt itself is a blast, though the cost to get all the medals can be daunting. Try not to get scalped on the price of the medal sets, they’re not worth more than 1500 yen at most. The TaJa Spinner is a little more lacklustre. I just somehow expected… more. Even just the addition of a light on the front would have been a big improvement. If all you want is the Kujaku and Condor Cores, you may want to consider getting the gashapon or candy toy versions.
August 21, 2011
The sixth member of the Gokaiger team is GokaiSilver, able to access the powers of 15 “sixth” Rangers from previous teams (further additional members’ keys are still held by a privateer called Basco). Given to him by DragonRanger, TimeFire and AbareKiller are the Grand Powers of TimeRanger, ZyuRanger and AbaRanger. These three together allow GokaiSilver access to his personal mecha in three different forms. As in the show, let’s start with GouJyuuDrill
Using the Grand Power of Mirai Sentai Timeranger, GokaiSilver can summon GouJyuuDrill through a time portal. Though he uses TimeFire’s key to activate the power, the idea of a ship seems to relate more to TimeJet Gamma than to TimeFire’s V-Rex. Also, I don’t own V-Rex as it’s huge and expensive. There’s not a whole lot to directly compare to TimeJet Gamma besides GouJyuuDrill’s vaguely triangular shape. For the most part, this mode is a concession to the other two, so it’s a bit of a mess. I find this mode somewhat unstable as well, since the front drill part comes off very easily. The main gimmick of the toy is that the drill features a wind up motor, and that is functional in this mode.
Using the DragonRanger key activates the Grand Power of Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger, famous in the US as the basis for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. GouJyuuDrill transforms into GouJyuuRex! GouJyuuRex is an obvious tribute to Dragon Caesar, given the drill tail and the now paleontologically incorrect posture. GouJyuuRex features good articulation at the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and fingers. He can also open his mouth, but this is really part of a later transformation. The wind-up drill also still works on his tail, a cool feature sadly missing from Dragon Caesar.
AbareKiller gives activates Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger’s Grand Power, and GouJyuuJin finally appears! Again, though GokaiSilver accesses it through AbareKiller’s key, GouJyuuJin is obviously referencing AbarenOh rather than KillerOh. Though they keep their drills on opposite arms, that’s the most striking common feature, along with the large T-Rex feet. GouJyuuJin has excellent posability, a feature that also hails back to AbarenOh. GouJyuuJin can actually outdo AbarenOh by coming to a full kneeling position, as a consequence of how the legs must be for GouJyuuRex. As GouJyuuJin, both the drill arm and T-Rex head arm can wind up and spin. Unique to this form is how they’re activated, a small dial on the back that functions similarly to GokaiOh’s GokaiDial. Turning the dial to the right activates the left arm, then the right. Turning the dial to the left activates both simultaneously.
GouJyuuJin also features two alternate weapon modes for the drill arm. The first is referred to as “shield mode” and it mostly used to spin and block attacks. This mode is extremely reminiscent of the spinning tail weapon used by Dinobot in Transformers: Beast Wars, to the extent that I wouldn’t believe the designer wasn’t inspired by Dinobot. The other alternate mode is a trident, similar to the trident that GokaiSilver himself uses.
One last thing is the interaction with GokaiOh. GouJyuuJin once again uses the standard Super Sentai arm joint, so swapping arms with many mecha of recent years is possible. More to the point though, GouJyuuJin’s motorized features are compatible with GokaiOh’s Open Gimmick, by way of the same pins that push out through the arm joint when the dial is turned. GouJyuuJin’s instructions demonstrate GouJyuuGokaiOh by swapping GouJyuuJin’s arms onto GokaiOh. Spinning GokaiOh’s GokaiDial will activate the spinning motors in place of opening the doors on GokaiJet and GokaiRacer. This combo has not been used on the show, and I’m not sure it ever will, but there it is. Likewise, you can put GokaiOh’s arms onto GouJyuuJin and they will pop open when the dial is turned.
GouJyuuJin is awesome. Unlike GokaiOh, it’s got a lot of play value all by itself thanks to being a triple changer, and the outstanding posability (by DX Sentai mecha standards). The wind up feature is surprisingly fun, and much less expensive than an electronic version. I’d recommend it to anybody who likes the DX Sentai mecha toys, even if you don’t have GokaiOh.
August 14, 2011
As discussed in the GokaiOh review, the 2011 Super Sentai is Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, a team of pirates who can take the form of all 34 previous Sentai teams. This leads to some pretty wild and varied action scenes as the Gokaigers change forms, powers and therefore fighting styles at will. The method for doing this, of course, is their henshin device: a phone changer called Mobirates.
Mobirates is big. Really big. Sentai phone changers are already much bigger than real-life cell phones. I wouldn’t want to have something the size of the Magirangers’ MagiPhone in my pocket all the time. Even then, as you can see in the photo above Mobirates (left) completely dwarfs MagiPhone (right). Wow. The size is good and bad. Role play toys are typically made under scale to suit children, so it’s nice to have something with some bulk. On the other hand, holding this thing up to your head like a phone demonstrates how ridiculously out of scale it is with real phones. Especially given the part extending out of the back, I would’ve liked to see some sort of holster or method for attaching it to a belt included, as it’s impossible to pocket. Aside from size, Mobirates shows some nice texture detailing in the red areas, contrasting with the smooth glossy parts. The leather-like texture with the gold fittings also helps sell visually the idea that maybe it does come from the high seas of the 17th century.
Open, we see the top “screen” featuring a pair of cutlasses and a small red LED in the center. On the bottom we have a keyhole which serves the phone’s main gimmick, and the keypad in a font reminiscent of the time period of pirates. There’s more of the nice red texture around the keypad, along with some gold detailing around the key hole. Only the white keys work, the star burst in the top center functions as “enter”. There are numerous codes that can be keyed in to make Mobirates call out something, I’ll list a few here.
0001–0035 — Says the name of the appropriate Sentai team, Goranger through Gokaiger
1992, 2001–2005, 2008–2011 — Says “Gattai!”, then the name of the mecha corresponding to that year’s team, followed by one of “Iku ze!”, “Hasshin!” or “Ganbare!” (Odd that Daizyujin is specifically included while DaiBouken and GekiTouja are skipped)
5091 — Hasshin! Go~kaiMachine!
5501 — Hasshin! Go~kaiGalleon!
There are numerous others, including a few somewhat silly holiday greetings, various cheers for the Gokaigers, etc. A full list can be found here. You’ll need to be able to read Japanese to see what each code is, but at least you can see which numbers will in fact do something.
In order to henshin with Mobirates, you don’t actually use the keypad. Instead, you use an item called a Ranger Key. When the 34 previous Sentai teams lost their powers defending Earth from the Zangyack Empire, the powers were sealed in Ranger Keys and scattered throughout the universe. AkaRed was able to gather all the keys aside from the additional (6th, 7th, etc) Rangers and passed them onto Marvelous who became GokaiRed. To begin, they must transform using their respective Gokaiger key. Ranger Keys begin as a little figurine of the Ranger they embody. To turn them into a key, just flip their arms up, then the legs to reveal the actual key part. The Ranger Keys have a decent amount of detail for their size. It should be noted though the ones that come from gashapon or candy toys have stickers instead of painted details.
To activate Mobirates’ henshin mode, insert a Ranger Key, turn it, and of course call out the henshin phrase “Gokai Change!” The cutlasses on top will rearrange to form a crossed image, and reveal the skull/Ranger Key to complete the Gokaigers’ logo. The red LED will flash, and Mobirates will call out the name of the appropriate team followed by a henshin sound. Gokaiger keys have a unique henshin sound, all others use a generic one.
I actually bought my Mobirates as part of the “Narikiri Set” (Roleplay Set) which includes the Gokaigers’ belt GokaiBuckle, and the first additional Ranger Key set. In the show, the Gokaigers are able to think of the key they want, and it will appear from the GokaiBuckle when the big button on top is pressed. Then, they’re able to “Gokai Change” at will into any previous Sentai member (even if it doesn’t match their color or gender). Obviously the toy can’t make things appear from nowhere, but you can put one in beforehand, then take it back out. That’s… all it does. As a belt, it’s large and rather garish. It looks like a championship belt. As part of the set, it’s not a bad inclusion, but I wouldn’t buy it on its own.
Finally, here are the 10 keys that come with the Narikiri Set. For those keeping score, here’s which keys come with what if you buy them separately:
Mobirates: GokaiRed, ShinkenRed, Go-OnRed
GokaiBuckle: GokaiPink, GokaiGreen
Ranger Key Set 01: VulEagle, GaoRed, DekaRed, MagiRed, GekiRed
GokaiBlue and GokaiYellow come with the GokaiGun and GokaiSaber respectively. I have a few more keys on the way, but really you get the idea. As I said before, the keys themselves are kind of nice little collectibles all on their own, but don’t spend more than retail on them. They’re not worth it. Coming in October, Bandai is actually releasing the treasure chest the Gokaigers use to hold the keys. Whether it will be full size and able to contain all 199 keys (should you be insane enough to collect them all), we’ll have to see.
Overall, Mobirates is a pretty fun changer. It is on the expensive side, likely due to its size and the complexity of the Ranger Key system. Hopefully this trend of expensive and elaborate changers won’t continue beyond Goseiger and Gokaiger, but for this special occasion Mobirates has a lot of play value. In addition to the main Ranger Key function, it says all kinds of stuff, and is very well sculpted so it looks great on display.
August 7, 2011
2011 is a big year for Super Sentai. It marks the 35th series in the franchise, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. Rather than the method used for Gaoranger (25) and Boukenger (30) where they just got a slightly bigger team-up special. The Gokaigers can take on the form and powers of all 34 previous Sentai teams, in a manner similar to Kamen Rider Decade. That we’ll cover in more detail in the review of their henshin device, Mobirates. For now, let’s look at the mecha — the GokaiMachines.
Here we have the mecha for the five main Gokaigers. GokaiGalleon, GokaiJet, GokaiRacer, GokaiTrailer, and GokaiMarine. Individually, they don’t do much on their own, even in the show. In the series, GokaiGalleon is the Gokaigers’ home and main method of transportation. The other GokaiMachines nest inside each other, and eventually into GokaiGalleon, but this is not possible with the toys. Their stylings are all pretty boxy, but there’s a good reason for that.
The combined form of the five GokaiMachines is GokaiOh! Heavily reinforcing the pirate theme of the Gokaigers, GokaiOh sports a stylish pirate hat and dual cutlasses (GokaiKen). As a combined robot, GokaiOh is very nice looking, with lots of detail all over. The GokaiKen can be attached to holders at his waist in appropriately swashbuckling fashion. The standard Sentai arm joint is employed for the arms and legs, leading to potential for some amusing unintended combinations with older toys. GokaiOh’s main feature is what Bandai refers to as the “Open Gimmick”. By rotating the GokaiDial on GokaiOh’s back, doors on each mecha open like a treasure chest. By default, this only reveals the GokaiHo cannon inside GokaiGalleon, able to perform the Gokai Star Burst attack. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as by meeting other previous Sentai teams, GokaiOh can gain new abilities, referred to as Grand Powers (大いなる力 ooi naru chikara).
Some of these Grand Powers simply deploy an attack or weapon for GokaiOh. Examples would be the Gekirangers causing the spiritual forms of their Geki Beasts to deploy from GokaiOh and attack, or the Boukengers allowing GokaiOh to use DaiBouken’s GoGo Ken. The most significant Grand Powers cause one of a previous team’s mecha to physically appear. The first of these was MagiDragon from MagiRanger, which I deliberately skipped because I found it somewhat silly looking in this incarnation (though I love the original). The second to appear was DekaRed’s PatStriker, from Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger.
PatStriker is shown here with the original Dekaranger version on the left, and the Gokaiger version on the right. For Gokaiger, PatStriker’s details have been reworked slightly, but nothing near the level of MagiDragon. It’s actually substantially slimmed down and looks a lot sleeker. Some Gokaiger specific adornments, like their cross cutlass logo and a somewhat silly rainbow decoration were also added. Armaments are upgraded with twin beam cannons on the front, and gatling guns in each wheel. The fold out grabber arms on the back are no longer present. Like the original, the new PatStriker features electronic lights and sounds. Powering it on causes the same chirp to play as when the SP Licenses are powered on, a nice touch. Pressing the button on top will play either the same siren effect as the original, or the Gokai Change system’s voice saying “PatStriker, hasshin!” followed by the siren again. Both effects also cause the roof lights to flash. Like MagiDragon, PatStriker is able to break apart into five pieces and nest inside the GokaiMachines, preparing to unleash the Open Gimmick.
When the GokaiDial is turned using the DekaRangers’ Grand Power, PatStriker is revealed and DekaGokaiOh is formed! A new sound effect is played to mark this new formation. The presence of PatStriker, and especially its lights, on the chests evokes the image of DekaRanger Robo. It should also be noted that for combinations such as this, GokaiGalleon’s door is removable, so it doesn’t hang awkwardly off the front. Pressing PatStriker’s button again will cause it to play a sound effect for the Gokai Full Burst attack, where GokaiOh cuts loose with all of PatStriker’s gatling guns at once.
DekaGokaiOh has a variant mode where the doors on the limbs close, and the two front end pieces of PatStriker become twin pistols. In this mode, DekaGokaiOh is able to perform acrobatic gunfighting moves similar to Dekaranger Robo, or DekaRed himself. Dekaranger Robo is also included in this photo for comparison, which also gives an idea of how big GokaiOh is.
A while after PatStriker, the Gekirangers are able to summon GaoLion from Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger. GaoLion is much larger than MagiDragon and PatStriker, forming an imposing presence all on its own. Unfortunately (very much so), I don’t have GaoKing, so I can’t show a comparison to the original GaoLion. The styling, as with PatStriker has been changed a bit, most notable the addition of a “handle” between his jet boosters that will come into play later. Powering on GaoLion plays the flute tune used when the Gao Animals were summoned. Pressing the button on top of GaoLion’s head causes four pieces of his mane to stand up, his eyes to light, and one of three growling/slashing effects to play.
GokaiOh can separate from its legs and join atop GaoLion’s shoulders to form GaoGokaiOh. This combination is similar to GaoIcarus separating from its legs and combining with an (even more) gigantic GaoLion to form GaoCentaurus. GokaiOh is still able to use its GokaiKen in this form. Turning the GokaiDial will open the arms and chest (though the legs do nothing for now). Though nothing is inside, in the show this would cause the Gokai Animal Heart attack to be fired from the openings.
GaoLion isn’t finished yet. When the Gokaigers gain the Grand Power from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, GaoLion once again appears. This time though, it separates into pieces and recombines fully with GokaiOh. GaoLion’s pieces can’t be enclosed fully within the GokaiMachines, but that’s OK because they each feature their own Open Gimmick.
When the combination is complete and the GokaiDial turns, panels on each of GaoLion’s parts open and reveal one of the Shinkengers’ respective kanji. At the same time, GaoLion will play an effect of kabuki-style drums often associated with the Shinkengers. GokaiOh’s GokaiKen are combined with the handle from GaoLion’s back to form a large naginata, which is ShinkenGokaiOh’s primary fighting weapon. Pressing GaoLion’s head button will play one of two slashing attack sounds.
Like Deka- and Gao- GokaiOh, ShinkenGokaiOh uses some visual cues to evoke the image of the original mecha it’s based upon. The presence of the lion head on the chest (though much larger), and the samurai helmet are the biggest ones. I actually sort of like GokaiOh’s helmet better. One interesting point is that the actual kanji on ShinkenOh were all broken up, and are therefore much more apparent on GokaiOh. ShinkenGokaiOh can also use a scaled up version of ShinkenRed’s Rekka Daizanto to perform Gokai Samurai Giri. The actual size of this weapon on the toy is a little disappointing, and rather too thick, so I tend to display with the naginata instead. ShinkenOh’s DaiShinken is a much nicer weapon.
Overall, I’m pleased with these two additional GokaiMachines. GokaiOh is a bit lacking by itself, but with these two the investment pays of with a lot of fun to be had. The inclusion of electronics even on the smaller PatStriker is really nice. Though GaoGokaiOh is a bit silly, both GaoLion itself and ShinkenGokaiOh are fittingly impressive in person. I recommend GokaiOh in combination with one or both of the other two very highly.
June 11, 2011
Iris has taken over the whole front page. Can’t have that, can we?
I recently decided to make an effort to watch as much of the classic Showa-era Kamen Rider series as I could find. This was largely inspired by KITsubs taking up subbing the original Kamen Rider. If you haven’t checked out their work, I highly recommend it. The first series I was able to watch in full was Kamen Rider V3, thanks to it being available on DVD from Generation Kikaida. V3 was the second Kamen Rider series, following directly off the original.
In V3, a new organization called Destron has risen from the ashes of the Shocker organization from the original series. Kazami Shiro witnesses a murder perpetrated by Destron, and they make several attempts to kill him as well. After those attempts fail, they outright attack the Kazami family. Rider 1 and Rider 2 try to help, but are too late, and only Shiro survives. Mourning the loss of his parents and sister, Shiro insists the Double Riders turn him into a cyborg like them. They refuse, but are forced to change their minds after Shiro is injured while saving the Riders in a failed raid on Destron’s base. Kazami Shiro is reborn as Kamen Rider V3, sporting a dragonfly inspired look, and powered by a Double Typhoon belt infused with the energy of both Rider 1 and Rider 2. As explained in the series, this gives him both Rider 1’s masterful technique and Rider 2’s incredible strength. V3 has a wide variety of fighting techniques, claiming to have 26 secrets which are revealed over the course of the series. Some are offensive attacks like the V3 Reverse Kick, some are defensive like his “hardened” bullet-proof muscles, and some are utility like the “V3 Hopper” surveillance device on his belt.
Shiro, as Kamen Rider V3 works alongside the Double Riders to fight Destron. However, the Double Riders are soon apparently killed when they carry a kaijin away from a populated area before he explodes, leaving V3 to fight Destron. V3 is not alone, however, and does have some extra help. Returning from the original series is Tachibana Tobei, who builds for V3 a motorcycle called the Hurricane, and continues to support V3 as he did the Double Riders. Acting as romantic interest and general damsel in distress is Tama Junko, another unwitting witness to Destron whom Shiro rescued in episode 1. V3 also has the Shonen Kamen Rider Tai (Boy Kamen Rider Squad), a group of young boys all across Japan who scout for Destron activity. How snooping around Destron operations wearing bright red jackets and ball caps that look like V3’s face doesn’t get them all killed, I’ll never know.
V3’s most notable help comes very late in the series, in the form of Yuuki Jouji. Jouji is a Destron scientist who turns on the organization. As punishment, his right arm is painfully melted off. Before he can be killed, he’s rescued by a few of his colleagues. As they attempt to avoid capture, they help Jouji create for himself a cybernetic arm, turning him into Riderman. Riderman’s arm has a couple different modes, but the ones you generally see are Rope Arm and Power Arm. Power Arm looks like a set of pincers, and increases Riderman’s strength. Rope Arm is the one most commonly seen, and itself has a couple different abilities. It can be used as a grappling hook, a mace, or to fire a net to ensnare foes.
When first they meet, V3 and Riderman do not get along. Shiro believes Jouji is putting himself at unnecessary risk, but Jouji is driven by rage and determined to get his revenge. This leads to a couple physical confrontations between V3 and Riderman, but eventually they reconcile and begin to function as partners. Riderman is killed when he manually pilots a deadly missile to prevent it from hitting Tokyo, and V3 posthumously declares him Kamen Rider 4. Riderman does show up in later crossover specials, but his survival is never explained in the TV series itself. After Riderman’s death, V3 finally defeats Destron’s great leader, restores peace for the time being, and rides off into the sunset.
Overall, V3 is an excellent example of Showa-era Kamen Rider in its purest form. The original series had some birthing pains as it pioneered this style of show, but by V3 that’s all worked out and you have a very polished final product. Aspects of V3 can be seen running through to this day, including having conflict between Riders, and a format that tells each story over two episodes as has seen reemergence with Kamen Rider W and Kamen Rider OOO. In a certain sense, this is the one to watch, as it takes the benefit of all the lessons learned during the original series, and improves upon it. About the only thing I didn’t like was actually Riderman. I found him to be obnoxious, and his powers lame and uninspiring. Considering he appears in less than 10 episodes, it actually bothers me that he’s considered one of the “main” Kamen Riders, where supporting Riders of the Heisei era are not. Riderman aside though, V3 is a great series. If you can stomach the cheesy early 70’s costumes and effects, I definitely recommend giving V3 a watch.
July 12, 2010
The 2005 Super Sentai series, Mahou Sentai Magiranger, is one of my favorite of the franchise. As such, something I’ve long wanted to add to my collection is the Magirangers’ henshin device, the Magiphone. More than just a henshin device, the Magiphone was central to the casting of all sorts of magical spells in the series.
The exterior of the phone shows gold painted details over a gloss black base. The gold is not reflective nor terribly glossy, but rather matte in finish. This is likely for the best, as it might have been too overbearing otherwise. Prominently featured is the “M” logo of Magitopia, seen frequently throughout the series.
Opening the phone reveals the keypad and screen. The screen is a reflective sticker with a somewhat kaleidoscopic pattern to it. The keys are very well done, made of a single sheet of soft plastic with switches underneath. The resulting effect has a nice feel to it. When the phone is powered on, a red light flashes at the base of the screen, which becomes more important later. Dialing numbers will produce varying beep tones, and pressing the Call button will make a ringing sound until the End button is pressed.
A button on the side of the phone causes the inner part of the screen to flip upward, transforming it to wand mode. The red light that was under the screen now protrudes from the tip. Keying in various codes followed by the Enter button will make the phone repeat the magic words that correspond to the numbers, followed by a sound effect. As it can only remember 4 numbers, only the last 4 numbers keyed will be repeated. The numbers correspond to the magic words as follows:
1 – Maaji
2 – Jiruma
3 – Jijiru
4 – Majine
5 – Jinga
6 – Majiro
7 – Majika
8 – Jii
9 – Majuna
0 – Maji
There are four specific spells that have a unique sound effect, all others get one of several generic effects. Those special spells are as follows:
1-0-6 – Maagi Magi Majio – Mahou Henshin, turn into Magirangers
1-0-7 – Maagi Magi Majika – Mahou Dai Henshin, turn into the Magi Majin
1-2-0-5 – Maagi Jiruma Magi Jinga – Combine the Magi Majin into MagiKing
8-3 – Transforms the MagiSticks into the Magirangers’ individual weapons
Overall, the MagiPhone is well made and pretty fun. It can to some level reproduce almost any spell used by the MagiRangers in the show (aside from the ones from the DialRod and a few oddballs). The flip transformation action is also very satisfying. Very nice addition to a Sentai changer collection.
March 25, 2010
I recently decided, on a whim, to rewatch 2004’s Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger. I’ll be getting to the show itself soon, but while clicking around eBay while watching I found something nice. This is the Master License, a special version of the Dekarangers’ SP License henshin device used by their boss Doggie Kruger. Doggie uses it to become the ultra-badass DekaMaster whenever he feels his subordinates are in too deep.
Since Dekaranger is based around a police detective theme, the SP License is based on a detective’s badge holder. The normal SP License has a white door with black text, but the Master License goes with an all-black color scheme with the text outlined in gold. In its closed form, it has a good size, feeling pretty good even in my adult sized hand. It may actually be 1:1 scale to the show. In use, the license has three operating modes, selected by a slider switch on the side. This switch physically releases 3 layers of flaps depending on where it’s positioned, giving the illusion that the interior of the license changes for each mode. It’s a clever effect, and works really well. Also, the classic cool move with a detective’s badge is to snap it closed by flicking your wrist, which the license will do, though it may take a bit of practice to flick it shut with all three flaps open.
The first mode is “Change”. This is the mode used to actually transform into DekaMaster. The Master License features a variant of the Dekaranger badge that incorporates Doggie’s rank insignia. Below, you have a sticker showing DekaMaster’s ID information. It also includes a blank ID sticker if you wanted to fill your own info in and make the license truly yours. There is a small bit of Engrish here. DekaMaster’s sword is named D-Sword Vega (his rival had its counterpart Sword Altair). This is misspelled as D-SWORDBEGA on the Master License. When you open the license in Change mode, you get the standard henshin effect, but there is a wolf howl mixed in since Doggie is, literally, a dog alien from the planet Anubis. Pressing the button again just produces a police siren by itself, as it does in the show when the Dekarangers flash their badge at the end of their intro speech.
The second mode is phone. This is where the main functional difference is between the Master License and the standard SP License. Opening the license in Phone mode causes it to make a phone ringing sound until you press the button again. On the standard SP License, pressing the button again just yields a series of beeping sounds. On the Master License, you randomly get one of 11 voice clips from the 5 main Dekarangers, which is pretty neat. This is probably the main reason to opt for the Master License over the standard version.
The final, and most interesting mode, is “Judge”. The Dekarangers use this mode to request a verdict from the galaxy’s highest court, whether or not the Alienizer suspects are approved for “Delete”. Opening the license causes it to say “Judgement Time!” and make a ticking clock noise. Pressing the button again causes it to deliver its verdict, indicated by one of two sound effects for guilty or innocent. Of course, since there’s no galactic court for the toy license to contact, it just randomly decides this. The ratio is heavily weighted toward guilty though, since in the show itself they only on rare occasion did not get approval for delete. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a Sentai series if they didn’t blow up the monster. This also makes it more amusing to “judge” your friends and relatives if they don’t realize the odds are so stacked against them.
Overall, I think this is a pretty clever changer. Like the show it comes from, it is pretty unique among Sentai changers. It is neither the traditional wrist changer, nor exactly the more modern phone changer. The real standout is the entertaining Judge mode, justifying your harsh and violent sense of justice… except when it randomly decides not to. I wouldn’t spend a fortune on it though. Regardless of the variant you get, it’s probably not worth more than $40 sealed. If you get a chance to pick it up at a reasonable price though, I recommend doing so.
March 25, 2010
I’ve been paying attention to the progress of HD media formats since the HD format war kicked off in 2006. I was determined not to buy anything until things shook out and one format emerged as the standard, and it seems like most of the world agreed. Eventually, things tipped in favor of Blu-Ray, and in March 2008, HD-DVD met its end. This is when I consider the true kickoff to Blu-Ray (BD) as the next-gen optical disc format.
However, I still didn’t move. Most of my DVD collection, by far, is anime. For whatever reason, I feel more compelled to “collect” anime than I do American movies. The anime industry hadn’t (and still hasn’t) moved onto BD in a major way. Unlike DVD, whose ability to have multiple audio and subtitle tracks on one disc was a massive advantage for anime, BD doesn’t offer anything much more to anime than an increase in quality. Also, BD is reportedly terribly expensive to license and produce, causing the small independent companies that release the bulk of anime in the US to tread carefully. However, it finally came that something gave me the push I needed — Gundam Unicorn was being released simultaneously worldwide, but only on BD.
With my preorder for Unicorn in place, it was time to get myself a BD player. I considered the PS3, but I have next to no interest in the PS3’s game library at this time, and James Rolfe’s impressions of controlling it as a BD player as well as configuring the audio were less than inspiring. So, I hit the Internet to find out what a good stand-alone BD player was. Since DVD is still a huge part of my viewing, I went with the Panasonic DMP-BD60P-K, as its DVD upscaling ability was praised much more than its Sony counterparts.
I’ve gathered 7 BD discs in the past month, 4 live action films and two anime releases (including Gundam Unicorn). I only have a 720p TV right now, viewing the BD as a bit of an investment in the future, but even then I can clearly see the difference. Not only are things generally sharper and more detailed, but the compression is much better. Gone is the macroblocking in dark scenes and the cross-luminance rainbows in fine detail. When it comes to the actual quality of the show, I have no gripes about BD.
Unfortunately, this thing was developed by Sony, and we all know nothing can be straightforward with them. The biggest problem with BD is the different spec levels or “profiles”. Depending on when your player was made, it may or may not support features which are mandatory on current players. The first players used profile 1.0, which is pretty much just a very high quality DVD. Nothing fancy. Profile 1.1 introduced “Bonus View”, which is an embedded picture-in-picture which can be used for commentary or to show storyboards with the movie, or whatever else they come up with. Profile 2.0, which is supposed to be the “final” profile (for now) introduces BD-Live, the ability for BD discs to connect to the Internet to pull down additional content, participate in live events, or even upload user-created content related to the film.
Now, the profiles also updated the hardware requirements for the player. Profile 1.0 players didn’t really need anything a DVD player didn’t have, aside from it being beefed up with a blue laser diode and processors that could handle BD’s compression formats. Profile 1.1 began to require 256mb of storage, as well as secondary audio and video decoders that would be necessary for the Bonus View feature. Profile 2.0 began to require Internet connectivity (ethernet, wifi or both) and 1gb of storage, both to accomodate BD-Live. Now, all of those things were options even during Profile 1.0, and expensive players might have them. The PS3 certainly did. However, if your older player lacks the necessary hardware, no amount of firmware updates is going to qualify it for the higher specs. Indeed, if it lacks the Internet connectivity, you probably can’t update the firmware anyway, so it’s a moot point.
So, multiple software versions and a list of hardware features. Sound like anything you know? Yeah, it’s the “system requirements” you see on the box for every piece of computer software you ever bought. Make no mistake, your BD player is a computer, and if your setup doesn’t meet its requirements, you may not be able to play a newer disc. Or, at least not be able to take advantage of all its features. That’s what you always wanted right? System requirements for a damn movie? To cope with this, you will often find some sort of warning on the packaging of BD discs informing the customer that the BD disc is made to the highest possible standards, and that if certain features don’t work the customer’s player probably doesn’t support it. Warner Bros even puts a little paper insert into the case to make sure you notice this message. What a joke. I honestly laughed when I first saw this.
One other issue we have isn’t really Sony or the BD format’s fault, but a matter of needing to maintain backward compatibility with older equipment. Most people understand that they need to upgrade to an HDTV to see the HD video on Blu-Ray. What they may not realize, or may be unwilling to do, is replace their surround sound receiver. So, although BD supports shiny new lossless audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, all BD discs also need to support secondary Dolby Digital or standard DTS tracks for older receivers. The player must be configured according to the capabilities of the receiver to output the proper audio track. This is what bit James with his PS3, needing to tell it to output plain old PCM audio instead of the straight compressed bitstream coming off the disc. My Panasonic player’s factory defaults are for the lowest common denominator, so it will work out of the box with any receiver, at least on some level. If your receiver is more capable, you can consult a confusing as hell matrix in the manual which tell you what combination of settings will yield what results. Oh, fun.
And what about the anime? It seems the anime industry is taking Steve Jobs to heart and considering BD a “bag of hurt”. There are only a few dozen anime releases on BD in the US, and many of them are DBZ movies from Funimation. Obviously, Funimation will have no trouble making that investment back with a sure-fire cash cow like DBZ. Going forward, I see some new titles like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood slated for release on BD, but then neither season of Gundam 00 got the BD treatment. Some shows like Claymore and D.Gray-man were released on BD sometime after their DVD release, which is confusing and frustrating. Very little catalog material from any company has been upgraded, though you can get Samurai Champloo on BD, and Disney released a few Ghibli films on BD to coincide with the release of Ponyo.
BD also has the problem of needing to contend with the changing nature of consumers, and the push to put everything online. Many are heralding the end of physical media entirely, pointing at successful ventures like iTunes or Netflix’s Watch Instantly. Videophiles however are not, and will not any time soon, be satisfied with the quality of streaming or downloadable video. BD is just so high bandwidth that it can afford to have obscenely high bitrates, because it rests on a 50GB disc. The masses of people are not videophiles though. This may leave BD in a similar position as LaserDisc occupied. The masses may well stick with DVD or online video due to low cost and/or convenience, while videophiles put up with the expense and hassle of configuring their BD equipment and juggling discs. Just as videophiles were willing to put up with bulky, awkward and expensive LDs, but the masses were perfectly content with VHS.
So, overall, I consider my BD player an investment in the future. As things come out on BD, I’ll be able to pick them up in that format, enabling me to enjoy the higher quality, and enjoy it even more once my existing TV ages out and gets replaced. The pickings for anime at the moment, however, are horribly slim. Fans of American movies though, you can get just about whatever you want. As long as it’s not Star Wars or anything else George Lucas controls, because he’s being a dickhead again. If you don’t consider yourself a videophile, it may be worth your while to wait and see how this whole online video thing shakes out. Before long, you may be able to pull any movie you want off Netflix right from your TV, and never look at a physical disc again.
November 27, 2009
Recently there has been much buzz online about Bandai and Disney relaunching the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The show will be re-aired on ABC Family, and Bandai has a whole line of freshly tooled toys ready to hit the market (including a new version of the MegaZord). With all this going on, I decided to seek out and finally rewatch the show after I hadn’t seen it in at least a decade. I have a fair amount of Super Sentai under my belt now, including Zyuranger, and wanted to really see how it stacked up. I was going to mention here that the episodes were available on iTunes, but they aren’t anymore. Not sure if that has to do with the relaunch or what. If that’s how they’re going to be though, and not have the episodes for sale or streaming anywhere, well… you know what I had to do. The versions that were on iTunes were the post-9/11 cuts which had some shots of building destruction removed anyway. I’d rather see the original cuts released. Methods of content acquisition aside though, on with the review.
Saban’s concept for Power Rangers, one that they pitched many times before it was picked up, was to take footage from a Japanese tokusatsu series and splice it with new footage of American actors to make a new, English-language series. This must’ve sounded insane to the network execs, and who could really blame them. The result would be disjointed and silly as hell. However, circumstances aligned in the correct way, and Fox Kids was in need of a throwaway mid-season series. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was greenlighted, creating 40 episodes based on the 50-episode series Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger.
Compared to Zyuranger, the premise was substantially altered. Instead of five ancient warriors waiting in suspended animation until they are needed to fight off the witch Bandora who has a personal grudge with them, Power Rangers has five freshly recruited “teenagers with attitude” battling Rita Repulsa who wants little more than to destroy the Earth. Why does she want to do that? Who knows, maybe it’s blocking her view of Venus. Instead of a wise old elf watching over them, the Power Rangers are supported by an interdimensional being called Zordon and his perpetually annoying robot assistant Alpha-5. In addition, they control giant battle machines called Zords, a more traditional idea than Zyuranger’s sentient dinosaur gods.
During this initial batch of 40 episodes, the fact that it’s written around existing footage is painfully obvious. The Power Rangers were granted the ability to teleport into battle, which conveniently explains away the sudden shifts in setting. However, this also causes the plot to leap all over the place just as suddenly. Some episodes it’s almost like there are two shows going on, one a bad Saved by the Bell clone, the other a superhero series, and never the twain shall meet. “Civilian” scenes would have the Rangers doing some bullcrap to promote peace, or help the environment, or whatever soapbox it is they’re on today. Then, suddenly, Rita will attack them, they’ll fight some putties, then transform and teleport to a totally different place to slug it out with a monster. When that’s done, it’s back to the good old Youth Center to resolve the story from before and drill in today’s moral.
This first part of the series would be almost unbearable at times, aside from two saving graces — Farkus Bulkmeier and Eugene Skullovich, aka Bulk & Skull. Played by Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy, these two bumbling wannabe bullies are always good for a chuckle. Often, I found whatever antics they were up to more interesting than what the Rangers were doing. You can hardly blame Bulk & Skull for wanting to pick on the Rangers either. I mean, they really were a bunch of dweebs.
Contrary to all expecations, Power Rangers was a smash hit. Kids all over the country were running around karate kicking each other and singing “Go Go Power Rangers!”, myself included. Problem: Saban didn’t have much Zyuranger left to work with. Almost all the usable footage had been exhausted making the initial 40 episodes. A couple more were created with what was left, plus an episode featuring an encore of the Pudgy Pig consisting of almost all American footage. Meanwhile, Saban prepared a nice little surprise.
Zyu2 — The Zyuranger episodes that never were
Saban went back to Toei with a request: Shoot another half season (25 episodes) worth of Ranger fights and corresponding Zord battles. Toei agreed, and designed 25 new Zyuranger-styled monster costumes as well as dragging the Zyurangers’ suits out of mothballs. Saban even got them to include elements tailored to Power Rangers, such as a relationship between the Green and Pink Rangers which didn’t exist in Zyuranger. This footage is often referred to by Power Rangers and Sentai fans as “Zyu2”. Since these were not full Zyuranger episodes, just costume and Zord fights, the only place to see them is in Power Rangers.
Since Saban was now working with footage that was made specifically for Power Rangers, they had a much easier time creating cohesive stories. The last 20 episodes of the season contain some of its best and most memorable. The stories are better, it’s less jumpy, the actors are improving, even Bulk and Skull are funnier. There was even new combination footage for MegaZord and UltraZord. The new MegaZord sequence is interesting since it has them going directly to MegaZord without going through the tank mode first, but it’s also pretty obvious that Toei shot these new sequences using the toys. This isn’t new, all the original footage of Kyuukyoku Daizyujin (UltraZord) was the toys, but these new sequences make it more apparent so I don’t like them as much.
In Zyu2, the Green Ranger was even revived, something that never happened in Zyuranger. Ironically he was more active after his revival with his temporary powers than he had been before. In his previous stint, Saban had to work around the fact that Burai (Zyuranger’s Dragon Ranger) had a very limited amount of time to live from the very start. Whenever he would leave his special “lapseless room”, his remaining life would decrease. For this reason, Burai would only come out to fight when his Dragon Caesar was needed. Thanks to that, MMPR’s Green Ranger never participated in a ground fight while transformed, they would always have to find a way to write him out until it was time to call out the Zords. In the Zyu2 footage though, Green Ranger is frequently right there with the others kicking ass and taking names. This is great for fans of the Dragon Ranger/Green Ranger (and who isn’t his fan, honestly).
The Zyu2 episodes are also where they started using the show’s famous battle themes. Songs like “Fight”, “We Need a Hero”, “Combat” and “5-4-1” help to really up the excitement level of the fights. They are also genuinely pretty damn good songs. Ron Wasserman, under the pseudonyms Aaron Waters and The Mighty RAW, was called in to create the new themes. Wasserman had previously performed the series’ infectious opening theme “Go Go Power Rangers”. Though I think the drums were done with a drum machine, Wasserman’s vocals and guitar created some truly memorable stuff not befitting a mere childrens’ TV series.
All that combined to bring the series its own identity during the Zyu2 era. No longer was it merely a hacked up Zyuranger, it was its own entity with its own style and appeal. This trend would continue into the second and third seasons as they relied less and less on the Japanese footage. It does beg the question though, what would this have been if Saban had just made their own show? Could they have come up with a concept that would have worked as well? I’m not sure, but at the very least it has introduced a lot of young Americans to tokusatsu and Super Sentai in particular. Though I still think the Super Sentai shows are overall better, MMPR is pretty enjoyable once it hits its stride and shouldn’t be totally written off.
October 3, 2009
This summer season has been fairly busy for me. I’ve had a lot of things taking up my time. As a result, my viewing of new Japanese TV goodies was pretty light. One show I did make time for, however, was “Buzzer Beat”.
Initially, I wasn’t sure I was going to watch it. When I pulled up its info on the D-Addicts Wiki, what leapt out at me is that this was a show about a basketball team with neon pink uniforms. Since I have little interest in basketball, especially in such an obnoxious color scheme, I thought I might take a pass on it. On closer inspection though, there were three reasons why I decided I had to see this show, which I will now enumerate:
1. Yamashita Tomohisa
2. Kitagawa Keiko
3. Aibu Saki
Yamashita Tomohisa was one of the first actors I noticed when I began watching JDramas. While he’s unlikely to show up on any lists of the greatest 21st century actors, he has a sort of subtle goofiness about him that makes his characters very entertaining. In 2007’s “Proposal Daisakusen”, he played a character who was completely clueless in how to deal with women. His performance must have been good, as I was simultaneously rooting for him, and falling off the sofa yelling at him for being such a blockhead. He brings a similar sort of aloof cluelessness to “Buzzer Beat” in its lead character Kamiya Naoki.
Kitagawa Keiko dates back with me even farther than Yamashita. Kitagawa had a main role in the very first live action Japanese TV series I ever watched: Pretty Guardian Sailormoon. “PGSM” as it’s commonly called was a 2003 adaptation of the 90’s manga and anime classic “Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon”, successfully blending elements of the manga, the anime and original material into a pretty compelling story. Unfortunately, it was plagued by some middling to bad acting on the part of the central five actresses — with one exception. Kitagawa Keiko turned in a surprisingly competent performance as Sailor Mars, despite just having been plucked from the ranks of gravure idols (as were the other four). In a surprisingly wise move among idols, Keiko decided to attend college after the completion of the series rather than immediately pursue a celebrity career. Recently, she has returned to acting, doing a few movies before returning to TV with “Mop Girl” for which she won an award. In “Buzzer Beat”, she plays Shirakawa Riko.
Aibu Saki I first encountered in 2006’s “Attention Please” where she played a supporting role as the main character’s friend. Since then, I’ve seen her move up into larger roles and recently landing some leads in shows like “Zettai Kareshi” and “Utahime”. Saki typically plays very pure and innocent characters. However, in “Buzzer Beat”, her role as Nanami Natsuki allows her to play a woman who, while outwardly poised and well liked, secretly is spiteful and even vicious toward those she believes have wronged her. Saki handles the duality well, successfully acting like a good, upstanding person while simultaneously using subtle facial expressions to indicate her character’s true nature to the audience.
The story primarily follows Kamiya Naoki (Yamashita), a player for a Japanese pro basketball team called the JC ARCS. As the series begins, Naoki loses his cell phone on the bus, which is found by a young violinist named Shirakawa Riko (Kitagawa). The ARCS’ head coach, Kawasaki Tomoya (Ito Hideaki) comes to retrieve the phone, and also winds up arranging for a date with Riko. Naoki, meanwhile, asks his girlfriend and the ARCS’ head cheerleader Natsuki (Aibu) to marry him if they win the championship. However, the ARCS are quickly eliminated from the playoffs, where Naoki made a less than stellar performance.
As the off-season begins, Naoki is fully depressed. He heads to a local park to practice, where he finds a girl practicing her violin on the court. As it turns out, this is Riko, whose apartment neighbors the park. Riko is unaware that Naoki is the owner of the cell phone she had found earlier, but they have a pleasant conversation and begin a sort of friendship. Later, when Kawasaki brings Riko to one of the ARCS’ practices, she notices Naoki’s poor performance on the court. Without thinking, she disrupts the practice by yelling out to him, calling him an idiot. The unusual encouragement from Riko seems to rejuvenate Naoki, and he starts to play better. As they continue to encounter each other in the park, Naoki and Riko promise to chase their respective dreams of winning the championship and becoming a professional violinist.
Meanwhile, one of the ARCS’ new players, Yoyogi Ren (Kaneko Nobuaki), has his eye on Natsuki. He begins to appeal to a “bad” side he says he can see in her, and soon they begin an affair. After Naoki discovers them in the locker room, he breaks things off with Natsuki. Natsuki begins to show more and more of her vindictive side as she continues and on again/off again relationship with Yoyogi while also going out of her way to make Naoki more miserable. As Naoki and Riko begin to grow closer, things become more complicated when Natsuki begins to notice their relationship, as does Kawasaki who was quite in love with Riko despite her never feeling much spark for him.
“Buzzer Beat”, thankfully, manages to build its drama on character development with basketball merely as a background. This is good for me because the basketball is the least interesting aspect. What basketball scenes that do show up are well executed and exciting. However, the bulk of the story regards the evolution of the characters’ various relationships, the obstacles in the way of their various romances, and the sacrifices they have to make in order to chase their dreams. This is supported well by strong performances from the cast all around. I can’t really find fault with any of the actors. Some of the plot devices used were a little forced, but I can forgive that, as this is primarily a character driven story.
One thing I found interesting is that the show presents pro basketball in Japan as a very nascent industry, with pretty low attendance. They don’t even get their games broadcast on TV. Finding this odd, I checked, and indeed pro basketball in Japan is a relatively new thing. The unfortunately named BJ-League was formed only in 2005, currently featuring 13 teams, with 3 more to be added next year, and planned expansion to 24 by 2014. None of the teams are named the JC ARCS, however, and the real teams do get their games broadcast, albeit on satellite stations.
“Buzzer Beat” is overall a very good example of JDrama. It features a number of currently significant actors, and serves well to introduce someone to the overall structure and tone of its genre. Specifically, it’s a “renai renzoku” or “romance serial”, a very common format. Don’t let the word romance scare you off though, these shows feature typically strong writing, multiple types of plotlines and a good sense of humor that differentiate “renai renzoku” from the interminable soap operas your mother has been watching for 30 years. Also, Japanese prime time dramas (with a few exceptions) only last for one 13-week TV season, with the final episode count typically around 10-12. That makes the barrier for entry very low, since you never have to jump in halfway through a very long series. If you’re curious about modern JDrama, “Buzzer Beat” would not be a bad place to start.