Are Darker And Edgier Super Sentai Seasons No Longer Feasible?
As trends change every now and then, Super Sentai ends up getting its development team to innovate for the children's market. While I could enjoy some lighter and softer Super Sentai like Zyuohger is pretty entertaining for me, I tend to prefer darker and edgier. Ironically, I didn't take much of a liking to Go-Busters compared to Zyuohger. Most of my favorite series (based on my own personal preferences anyway) are on the darker and edgier.
But is darker and edgier still feasible? Let's try to take a review of the trends that happened. Remember that I'm just sharing my opinion on series I've seen from start to end and some very limited knowledge.
Warning! Spoilers ahead! Read at your own risk!
Introduction stage of Super Sentai
Himitsu Sentai Goranger was the very first Super Sentai. So I've seen a few episodes and clips. The first episode shocks me in some way. There's this huge massacre you don't see in the super new school Super Sentai. But back then, Goranger was a simpler time. Yes, a simpler time yet I have to admit the whole violence was there even in the first episode. I'm even putting a screenshot of the episode where Kiranger II was killed by being impaled at the stomach before Kiranger I returns. Like really, do they show that to kids? Back then, there weren't much objections to such violence so I guess that's why it went on and on.
For a show with a very BASIC plot considering it's still the third Super Sentai series, I'm still WTF disturbed with a few scenes that Battle Fever J had. Satan Egos may just be there for the sake of being there but that guy is still intimidating voice-wise. A lot of people die here in the story. While Diane Martin was lucky to leave alive, Kensaku Shiraishi was given quite a bloody beating. The only thing that saved the scene from being too brutal was well... old school special effects. For a series that's still in Super Sentai's "introductory stage", I still feel that maybe only an older fan can enjoy it these days.
Super Sentai tried to take an approach on lighter and softer series. Sun Vulcan may have badass action but I feel the show lacked the darker and edgier approach Battle Fever J had. While watching Sun Vulcan, I personally found the first half BORING while the second half was more interesting. There's always a lot of rough times with super duper old school Super Sentai. Not so many fans would fully understand the struggle and I count myself in! For one, most of my old school favorites were mostly post-Sun Vulcan. But I'd still attempt to watch them like I'm also watching some new school Super Sentai at times.
Hirohisa Soda's era
Hirohisa Soda or should I say, "The father of innovative Super Sentai writing!" started out with Dai Sentai Goggle V and Kagaku Sentai Dynaman, two pretty basic series with a lot of badass action. Goggle V and Dynaman can't be considered darker and edgier in spite of all the violence it shows. People do bleed but most of the deaths seem to be cartoony. Like, I can't forget the whole scene of black smoke that turns people into toxic chemicals, when a monster supposedly eats a person most of the eating has NO BLOOD or remains of the person?
But I guess after two seasons, producer Takeyuki Suzuki started the whole "let's try to click with older fans". I could consider some of these seasons as the "Super Sentai series that aged well for older fans." But I don't think any child today would be that interested in them!
Chodenshi Bioman was my first Super Sentai. Okay, it's not THAT serious but I can't forget some sad scenes. I don't think any child who watched it could forget how Mika Koizumi died in the tenth episode, the episode where Peebo revealed the entire cause of Planet Bio's sad fate, the scene where Miki sacrificed herself so Satan Megas could be destroyed or how Shiro Gou's reunion with his missing father was short-lived. I don't know how a new generation of Super Sentai fans will respond today!
Perhaps Soda's first move to make Super Sentai more serious was during the "Space Saga". Although Dengeki Sentai Changeman and Choshinsei Flashman aren't direct sequels nor did a crossover movie happen (WHY TOEI WHY?!) but I still consider them as part of the "Space Saga". So why we got two space themed Super Sentai in a row is a mystery. That's much different than how Maskman, Dairanger and Gekiranger were set some years apart or how Zyuranger, Abaranger and Kyoryuger existed in three different decades. I keep hearing how both shows were that serious.
Watching the first few episodes of Changeman and Flashman as of late gives me that mix of a serious feel and super detailed episodes that I don't find in super old school or super new school. Both shows became a success during their time probably due to the space theme. Both shows tried to really put a lot of tragic events. Some that I've heard of are like how the Space Empire Gozma really has a dark presence. The events of Flashman have five children who got kidnapped by space aliens and grew up on Planet Flash. Flashman's events really have them returning from some lost galaxy, they want to reconnect with Earth only to discover their time in a lost galaxy has made them allergic to Earth itself. In the end, they're forced to leave the planet back to the lost galaxy... while still hoping to return home to Earth someday.
Soda pursued more darker and edgier with Hikari Sentai Maskman and Chojuu Sentai Liveman. I still can't forget why I didn't immediately like Maskman as a child. It was "too serious" for me and I always felt it wasn't my type of show. I only started liking it after I grew into my teenager years. Liveman was a show I watched as an adult and I felt "at home" with. I didn't even think I would like Liveman. I thought Hurricanger was already "good" even with a few badly subbed episodes. Now moving on.
From what I heard, Maskman didn't do well immediately with the children as much as with the older fans. I guess it was "too mature" for children while it was really working well with the adults. The whole love story between Takeru and Mio is already something that maybe children can't understand so much at that time. There's a lot of deeper plots. But right now, I can't really determine the degree of seriousness of all of Soda's works. The series was truly a complex story. I guess children were more after the toys the show had to offer than the show itself.
Liveman also that formula. I felt like Liveman is Soda's darkest and edgiest work. I even think that show is darker and edgier than Jetman itself. Unlike Jetman, there was hardly a comical moment and if there were, I didn't find myself laughing to most of them. Liveman started to explore again the consequences of evil science which was done in Bioman and Flashman. Only this time, the whole conflict is focused on Earth while the first two were at an intergalactic scale in some way. The show had a lot and I mean a lot of conflict between one's past and present.
After Liveman, I felt like Kosoku Sentai Turboranger and Chikyu Sentai Fiveman started to deviate from darker and edgier. I don't blame the lower ratings on them being lighter and softer. I feel like it was more of Hirohisa Soda crashing into Burnout Ville. They could have worked better if Toei got a new head writer. Fiveman also nearly cancelled Super Sentai if it weren't for the toy sales.
Jetman to Timeranger
Chojin Sentai Jetman was intended to be the last Super Sentai but the series got so good that Super Sentai got back on its tracks again. Jetman had a new head writer Toshiki Inoue who would later be responsible for another masterpiece called Kamen Rider Agito. While Jetman today can get a divided fanbase which I believe happens due to a generation gap, but back then it really did so well that instead of a "finale" it became an "era opener". Fiveman was indeed the finale of Hirohisa Soda's era and Jetman started a whole new era or one can view this series as "transitional". But I don't dare credit its darker and edgier nature but its innovative writing to why interest in Super Sentai got renewed. It was followed by Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger which I don't think was that good.
To say Jetman is darker and edgier than all its predecessors and successors is an exaggeration. Maybe you need to Liveman and Gosei Sentai Dairanger first before you can jump into that conclusion or Gekiranger and Go-Busters. It's time to focus on Dairanger. Zyuranger was considered "lighter and softer" during its days but I wouldn't say that after watching Abaranger and Kyoryuger! But Dairanger? Well it's really more serious than Jetman and the only thing that I felt that made it "less scary" was that Daisuke Tachi from Jetman didn't act as Shadam! But storywise, I think it's still more serious than Jetman and Liveman. IMO, it's been the darkest and edgiest Super Sentai when I compile my recent series.
After some time, we get to see Kakuranger and Ohranger. Ohranger wanted to be darker and edgier but external circumstances started to force retooling. So Ohranger didn't really nearly cause Super Sentai's cancellation which I believe we have its cool toys and merchandise to thank for it. After Ohranger, they started introducing the super comedic Carranger. For a comedy, I didn't think Carranger was THAT wacky. Megaranger was well-balanced. Gingaman and GoGoFive weren't as darker and edgier than I thought them to be.
Timeranger was an attempt to return to darker and edgier. I guess people started to move on from the Sarin Gas incident. Timeranger was literally a complex battle with fate. The series returned to more serious roots than its predecessor GoGoFive. While GoGoFive had some fun moments but Timeranger had less of them. A lot of fans felt this was Yasuko Kobayashi's Magnum Opus. The show had a lot of conspiracies and deaths with it. The series tried to return to that violent feel with Dairanger... something that was noticeably absent from Carranger up to GoGoFive! The show itself was well-received though most of the series after it wouldn't have its level of seriousness.
From Gaoranger up to Zyuohger... the era of mostly lighter and softer Super Sentai seasons!
Post-Timeranger Super Sentai started the trend of less serious Super Sentai. Gaoranger was a huge jump from Timeranger's seriousness to lighter and softer. A lot of Super Sentai shows during this era were closer to America's TV-Y7-FV. But at the same time, there was a stark contrast between Super Sentai and Kamen Rider for some time. But there were times when Super Sentai tried to return to being darker and edgier.
Gekiranger was again a huge jump from Boukenger. After Boukenger, Gekiranger entered in with a lot of cool innovations. The multi-gattai mecha had a face lift and we had a lot of cool training scenes so they can learn to use some of the new mecha. Although the action scenes aren't as good as Dairanger's or Maskman's but I can't deny the tone feels like the pre-Carranger days in terms of seriousness. Compared to Boukenger, Gekiranger wasn't so well-received by the audiences. I guess having darker and edgier after seven years of fun and adventure isn't a good idea. I thought that Gekiranger could have aimed to become another comedy series instead if they wanted higher ratings.
After Gekiranger, it was mostly back to lighter and softer. I felt Go-onger was funnier than Carranger but not as well-written. We had Shinkenger which was again in the middle and its multi-gattai mecha wasn't as well done as Gekiranger. Goseiger was just plain. Gokaiger like Boukenger tried to focus on the hype and succeeded with a huge bang of an anniversary season. All these shows were really focused on lighter and softer tones.
Like Gekiranger, Go-Busters came in after Gokaiger. Gokaiger was already a fun season so why attempt another darker and edgier Super Sentai when lighter and softer Super Sentai series is doing better? While Gekiranger still had some audience share, Go-Busters started to fall into a slump and I'm among a few people to think that it's a decent series though I might end up watching Go-onger over this one. I think the bigger problem is with executive meddling while Yasuko Kobayashi was on the road to burnout. I think it's really a mistake to keep putting darker and edgier Super Sentai just after you had five years of fun Super Sentai. Plus, toy sales were low and while older fans may like it but it also turned out not to be feasible in the long run.
Conclusion to this rather long rambling...
Fortunately, Toei did some smart moves by returning back to the badly needed lighter and softer. Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, Ressha Sentai ToQGer, Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and recently Doubotsu Sentai Zyuohger were all more feasible than Go-Busters. I guess at this point, it's safe to say that lighter and softer is now the new trend of Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. Just think that after Kamen Rider Kabuto, most of the Heisei Riders started to become lighter and softer. Then we ended up having lighter and softer as what's more feasible than darker and edgier. After all, isn't Super Sentai meant to be catered to children as the primary audience? Most of Super Sentai's innovation is focused on successfully selling Bandai Merchandise. Everything else like quality writing and action scenes are most likely secondary concerns. They didn't need more mecha to make a good story better but it was absolutely needed to sell more toys.
It's just like me going to my favorite restaurants. I remembered the time there were some items in their menus which I liked a lot. But because they didn't generate enough sales then those items had to be removed. I am disappointed about the loss of my favorite food item but I understand the decision why it had to be phased out. While I may not be pleased to have certain items removed from the menu, I'm still commending the restaurant for actually choosing to remove certain items because they were no longer feasible. You can't stock a lot of food items and only a few people buy it. Stocking for where the demand is the smart feasible decision is a smart move. I know there are times I wished Super Sentai already ended but I can understand why Toei still keeps it running as of late. It's because if they did cancel it they lose a lot of cash. I felt like cancelling Metal Hero was because it was no longer feasible. Still makes me miss a lot of food variations that I liked but a lot of customers didn't like. But I understand why phasing out something from the menu happens because if they didn't then I can't eat more delicious food that they have to offer.
It's just like I may not like Super Sentai as much as I used to. It doesn't mean that I can't commend Toei Ltd. for making decisions that keeps their franchises alive for a next generation of children. In my case, I'd recommend sticking to lighter and softer Super Sentai and Kamen Rider with occasional denser and wackier to keep the franchises running until both eventually exhausts themselves. But again, Super Sentai ends up having a lot of "finales" then another era caters to a new generation of children who know NOTHING about what may be their "super duper old school" unless something like Gokaiger or Ninninger shows up. Zyuohger as of late has been less nostalgic and more concentrated on the current generation of children. So pretty much, I still think Toei should continue Super Sentai for the sake of the new generation of children fans even if older fans may not like it anymore. After all, didn't they make the most cash from toy sales?