Friday, 24 May 2013

Series REVIEW: Big Bad Beetleborgs

Big Bad Beetleborgs Saban Juuko B-Fighter

While Power Rangers and Masked Rider borrowed from Toei's two most successful tokusatsu franchises, they also had two other shows that borrowed from their third lesser-known-but-still-beloved Metal Heroes franchise. Whilst VR Troopers took the difficult task of merged three wholly unrelated shows into one, Big Bad Beetleborgs took the two B-Fighters series as its inspiration. The first season of Beetleborgs ran for a total of 53 episodes in 1996-7, and would later be followed by sequel series Beetleborgs Metallix.

Beetleborgs Drew, Jo Roland
"Three typical average kids, inside a haunted mansion..."

While the easiest way to get the plot quickly would be listen to the infectiously catchy theme song, I shall relay it here too. Beetleborgs takes place in the town of Chaterville, and follows kids Drew, his sister Jo and Roland. When exploring the haunted Hillhurst Mansion as part of a dare, they are attacked by a number of monsters and inadvertently release a phantasm named Flabber from his pipe organ prison. As gratitude, Flabber offers to grant the kids one wish. The three choose to wish to become their favourite comic book superheroes - the Big Bad Beetleborgs.

However in gaining the Beetleborg powers, they also get everything else that comes with it. Flabber's magic also brings the Beetleborgs enemies the Magnavores to life, led by the evil Vexor. As the Magnavores summon more monsters from the comic books in order to take over the planet, the new real-life Beetleborgs must fight using all their powers to defend the Earth and find a way to send them back to the comic world.

Beetleborgs Flabber
"Just by chance freed a ghost, who looked like Jay Leno..."

A show where kids are the protagonists you say? Surely a recipe for disaster! Actually it turns out far better that you might expect, possibly because the whole team are kids as opposed to one in say, Power Rangers Turbo. For child actors they all play their characters well (well for a show of this caliber anyway), and are far from the worst thing this show has to offer. Well, that is until episode 39, where Jo's actor changes over via a rather convoluted story. Things like this can't be helped due to behind-the-scenes reasons, but Jo #2 is nowhere near as likable or convincing as the original and sticks out like a sore thumb for the remainder of the series. Oh well, maybe she gets better in Metallix.

The real draw of Big Bad Beetleborgs is the suits themselves. The metallic, armoured bug look is quite different to most other Saban-adapted Tokusatsu series (save for VR Troopers) and by the looks of it good use was gotten out of them as there's quite a bit of new footage. Unfortunately the splicing between this and the Juuko B-Fighter footage is rather and obvious, and isn't helped by the major weapon issue the series has. While in B-Fighter the guns are grey, in Beetleborgs they're...pink and purple. And it switches between the two each fight sequence A LOT. Glaring issues aside, the Beetleborg suits, their weapons and A.Vs (giant bug shaped assault vehicles) are a pleasure to watch.

Beetleborgs Hillhurst Monsters Mums Wolfgang Fangula Frankenbeans
Decent characters? Maybe. Utterly pointless here. Most likely.

The real problem with Beetleborgs is that it isn't quite the show it would like you to think it is. The main premise of the show is these children gaining the powers of comic book superheroes to battle the villains who have been brought to life, and for a Power Rangers-esque show that's a pretty cool concept on paper. It's one that the series tries to stick to, whether it be for better (the "lifted from the comics" transformation sequences) or for worse (the over abundance of Adam West Batman style sound effects appearing on screen). The trouble lies in this main plot is actually very rarely the central plot, with most episodes revolving around hi-jinks with the Hillhurst monsters. The general consensus on these characters is rather negative, but I don't particularly think any of them are bad characters. Flabber is basically Saban ripping off the Genie from Disney's Aladdin, and the other four monsters (Count Fangula, Mums, Frankenbeans and Wolfie) all have their comedy moments. But NONE of these characters need to be in the show, and that's the flaw. If this was a show primarily about kids having adventures in a haunted house it would be excellent at what it does.

Beetleborgs Magnavores Vexor Jara Typhus Noxic
The Magnavores. Also known as the idiot club.

What also isn't helping Beetleborgs' case is just how pathetically incompetent the villains are. Vexor stands around doing mostly nothing for all 53 episodes, and his three "generals" (Noxic, Typhus and Jara) are bumbling idiots. There's nothing wrong with comic relief characters, but at least show how they are actually a problem for the heroes once in a while. The monsters of the week are also usually dispatched pretty easily, it only taking one or two laser blasts to send them flying back to the comics.

However despite these rather glaring flaws, when the show is at its best it is golden. The very peak of Beetleborgs is the six-part Shadowborg arc, which sees the heroes face off against an evil Beetleborg. It's a very straightforward plot, but works so well for the series. The Shadowborg is an absolute badass, besting the Beetleborgs at every turn and stealing their powers, forcing the creation of a fourth white Beetleborg. Ultimately this Beetleborg doesn't fit at all with the rest, only lasts for a few episodes and is a throwaway character who is never seen again after the arc ends, but at least the show makes an effort to raise the stakes. The arc ends with the Blue Beetleborg getting a beautiful new upgrade form, which is seen all but 3 or 4 times afterward. If you watch this show enjoy the hell out of the Shadowborg arc, but once it's done the show moves back to its usual mundane affairs. That is until the last two episodes when we're introduced to the equally badass Nukus, but that's more of a set up to the next season than anything else.

Beetleborgs Shadowborg
A much needed hint of badass.

Beetleborgs is a disappointing series, but I personally wouldn't go as far to completely write it off as so many people have. It's not the same sort of animal as Power Rangers, no matter how much it would like to pretend it is. If you can go into the show expecting a semi enjoyable kids show that's balls-to-the-wall crazy and NOT a full-blown superhero show, there are things to be enjoyed about it. And if all else fails, the Juuko B-Fighter suits and vehicles are gorgeous and this could be the only chance you'll have to appreciate them in English (be it dubbed or subbed) any time soon.


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