Friday, 14 December 2012

Series REVIEW: Chōjin Sentai Jetman

Chōjin Sentai Jetman

For what will probably be my last past tokusatsu review of 2012, we return to Super Sentai for a series that's widely regarded as one of the best the franchise has to offer. Chōjin Sentai Jetman is the 15th entry, following on from Chikyu Sentai Fiveman. It ran for a total of 51 episodes between 1991 and 1992. Some notable trivia includes the fact it was the last Super Sentai series to not have any form of Power Rangers adaptation, and its success in Japan led to it even receiving a (non-canon) manga sequel.

In the year 199X, a defence agency known as the Sky Force protect the peace on Earth. Among its officers are Ryu Tendoh, along with his fiancée Rei Aoi. The two were to be part of an experiment to create superhuman soldiers using "birdonic waves". However following Ryu's successful transformation into the first Jetman (Red Hawk), their ship is attacked by creatures from another dimension known as the Vyram, killing Rie and scattering the remaining four birdonic waves on Earth. Here the hit rich heiress Kaori Rokumeikan, gambling womaniser Gai Yuki, highschool student Ako Hayasaka and nature-loving gardener Raita Oishi.

Under the command of the project director Aya , Ryu recruits the four to become the remaining Jetman - White Swan, Black Condor, Blue Swallow and Yellow Owl. Using superhuman strength, hi-tech weapons and giant mecha, together they fight to put a stop the Vyram's dimensional beasts and their plot to conquer our dimension.

Chōjin Sentai Jetman cast: Ako, Kaori, Ryu, Raita and Gai
The cast of Jetman: Ako, Kaori, Ryu, Raita and Gai

One of the initial draws of Chōjin Sentai Jetman is its cast, who unlike many Super Sentai heroes have never met each other prior to the story. Each come from very different backgrounds and personalities often clash, with the team splitting up on more than one occasion. Ryu is a suitable Red Hawk in that he shares the "natural born leader" traits most Reds have, but also has flaws that run deep throughout the series. Already haunted by the death of Rie, these demons get a whole lot worse when she is revealed to have been brainwashed and made into a Vyram official. This also gets in the way of his relationship with Kaori, who falls in love with him and becomes the centre of a love triangle involving her, Ryu and Gai. Kaori herself starts out as perhaps the least likeable of the core cast, but some early focus episodes help evolve her character from a spoiled rich girl to a determined fighter who's been thrust into an unfamiliar world. Ako and Raita are much more light-hearted characters (getting significantly less deep development in the process), but their enjoyable personalities (Raita's good hearted but has low self-esteem, while Ako's a cheerful high schooler with a love for money) are enough to see them through even when they don't have the spotlight on them.

Chōjin Sentai Jetman Gai Yuki (Black Condor)
Gai Yuki: Drinker, smoker, saxman, warrior, hero, legend.

Then we come onto the subject of Gai, who's like no other Sentai team member that's come before him, and perhaps after either. A loner who fights dirty and hates being told what to do, he undergoes the most development in the duration of Jetman. His initial animosity toward Ryu for forcing him to join the team evolves into a rivalry as he fights for Kaori's love, before it turning into a true friendship. There isn't a character quite like Gai Yuki, and even 22 years later remains one of the best characters the franchise has ever produced.

Chōjin Sentai Jetman Vyram Radiguet, Maria, Tran and Grey
The Vyram watch events from their dimensional base.

The interesting cast dynamic is also carried through into the Vyram, who are at each others throats almost as much as they are with the Jetman. At the forefront is Radiguet, a badass with little time for anything but conquering. Being a child Tran offers a different kind of scheming, but is often looked down upon his fellow Vyram commanders for being so young...until he returns with a new look and powers to prove his worth. As mentioned earlier Maria is a resurrected Rie, devoid of her former memories and initially forced to serve Radiguet. Last but by no means least there's Grey, a robot with a taste for the finer things in life (he smokes, drinks and enjoys music) who shares an interesting dynamic with both of the lead Jetman characters. He's part of an alternate love triangle with Ryu due to his infatuation with Maria, and also shares a respected rivalry with Gai. He doesn't do much on the grand scheme of things in terms of plotting like Radiguet and Tran(za), but his onscreen presence is never forgotten.

Chōjin Sentai Jetman Great Icarus & Tetra Boy
The Great Icarus stands alongside Tetra Boy

With all these great characters, does the series fall short in any of the design areas? The suits show a clear influence from the anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, replacing the long, flowing capes for unique underarm wings. The suit has a good balance of the core colour and white, and the bird theme shines through nicely. The mecha are the weakest element of the show, but even they are worthy of praise. The series' main robot, Jet Icarus, is the formation of five individual bird-like mecha that can also form into a separate giant vehicle named the Icarus Haken. For those who appreciate even a little bit of realism in their Super Sentai series, expect a good bit of size changing going on when Jet Icarus is formed. They are eventually joined by the Jet Garuda, a single robot notable for its unique bird head and giant talons in place of hands. Together these two are able to merge into the Great Icarus. Finally, the third robot is Tetra Boy, a rather energetic self aware machine that can transform into the Tetra Buster cannon for the main mecha to utilise. Jet Icarus is perhaps the last of the "boxy" looking Super Sentai robos, but still a great design and armed to the teeth with a sword, an axe and even a ball and chain.

Jetman comes from a time in Super Sentai where darker storyl ines were much more common and unhindered by toy advertising. Playing to these strengths, it features memorable protagonists with notable flaws, interesting villains and an underlying storyline which remains gripping even throughout its mostly episodic nature. Boasting one of the most memorable endings in Super Sentai, it is truly a series not to be missed.

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