Thursday, 12 March 2015

Movie REVIEW: Space Sheriff Shaider: Next Generation

Space Sheriff Shaider: Next Generation

After a prolonged period of silence following the Space Sheriff Gavan revival movie, Toei's Metal Heroes franchise has returned once again in a pair of V-Cinema (direct to video/DVD) releases breathing new life into the second and third entries in the Space Sheriff trilogy of shows. With Space Sheriff Sharivan: Next Generation sowing the seeds for a much bigger case, its time for Shaider to take the reigns in the second part of this new adventure - Space Sheriff Shaider: Next Generation. Like Sharivan, Shaider also has a new face behind the mask that many tokusatsu fans will surely recognise. This time it's actor Hiroaki Iwanaga, who previously portrayed fan favourite Date Akira/Kamen Rider Birth in Kamen Rider OOO. While this is technically Iwanaga's third outing as the new Shaider, it's the first time he's gotten top billing and a chance to really strut his stuff in the role.

Shu & Tammy
Space Sheriff Shirtless: Abs Generation

As the mystery surrounding Horror Girl continues, second Shaider Shu Kawasuma arrives on Earth in pursuit of a Fuuma Beast that goes by the name of Pitapita. However for some reason he refuses to let his partner Tammy anywhere near the case, causing a strain on both their professional and personal relationships. Shu's run in with Pitapita also brings him into contact with Hilda, the kidnapped daughter of Galactic Police commissioner Nicholas Gordon. By taking the case on alone Shu believes he's protecting Tammy from a secret that could jeopardise her position as a Space Sheriff, but in fact he may be doing more harm than good as she resolves to back her partner up no matter what.

Meanwhile Geki Ichimonji/Gavan is still on his own investigation regarding the Makuu, Madou and Fuuma copycats - continuing the case despite the commissioner asking him to stand down out of concern for his daughter. Enlisting Kai Hyuga/Sharivan along the way, the Space Sheriffs chase down  Horror Girl's trail - leading them to both Shaider and how all these series of events have been connected.

Pitapita takes Hilda hostage
Squids gone wild

With both films sharing the same writer and director, Shaider: Next Generation has lots in common with Sharivan: Next Generation other than naming conventions and a connected narrative. Once again we jump right in with Shu fully established as the new Shaider, complete with a seemingly long-standing partner (well, enough for them to have established a pretty solid relationship). But after a bout with the serious-faced Sharivan, Shaider is the complete opposite. Often clueless to the things going on around him and just as reliant on Tammy as she is on him, Shu is the more loveable goofball kind of hero that Hiroaki Iwanaga excels at playing. Meanwhile Tammy initially strikes as being incredibly annoying, but quickly proves to be the perfect co-star. With the scope of character relationships far smaller than it was in Sharivan the development is mostly on those two, and again running time doesn't prove to be a problem in making two completely new characters feel like they have a believable relationship that could have spanned far longer.

It's a pretty simple plot going in full of the usual cliches (two characters getting bound together? Never seen that one before), but has a few interesting little twists sprinkled into keep things interesting. How Horror Girl plays into things is particularly good, not only bringing out some great moments from otherwise forgettable characters but also showing that sometimes villains don't need to have grand empires or world domination schemes to be twisted. As a portrayal of Galactic Police, cases like this are what make the Space Sheriffs interesting. It worked in Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, and it sure works here as well.

Annie reminisces.
Cameos done respectfully
Unfortunately due to the tragic loss of original Shaider actor Hiroshi Tsuburaya in 2001 there's no cameo from Dai Sawamura, however the film still pays its respects to the both the actor and the series he helped bring life to. In his place is a cameo from Annie (played by Naomi Morinaga) - Dai's girlfriend and partner from the original series. While her role is rather superficial, her fond memories of Dai make a really fitting tribute to both the character and the actor. Viewers familiar with Shaider will know exactly what's going on as she looks at an old photo of them together, but by never addressing that the character himself has passed on both Hiroshi and Dai's legacy and story feel never-ending. It's the perfect kind of posthumous tribute that other shows and franchises could definitely learn a thing or two from.

Shaider retains the high level of action in and out of suit the previous film did, swapping out the buckets of fake blood for director Koichi Sakamoto's other penchant - legs. While Sharivan had it's fair share of close up skirt twirls revealing legs and/or short shorts, in Shaider Sakamoto really goes into overdrive with it. Whether the quantity of these shots is a good or bad thing is going to vary person to person, but either way they could definitely do with being far less distracting. From pointless slow motion to ridiculous sound effects, a line has to be drawn somewhere and said line is not something Sakamoto seems to have much regard for. 

Geki & Kai
Space Sheriff Sitcom: Coming to a screen near you

With the Horror Girl mystery still lingering from the Sharivan movie, Shaider: Next Generation also gives a much more prominent to Gavan's investigation. Make no mistake Shaider is still the one getting top billing, but it's a nice little story that adds an extra dynamic to the more simplistic scenario going down on Earth. On the other hand the film essentially has Geki doing all the legwork when it comes to the mystery element, which takes away a bit of Shu's thunder even if he's easily the more charismatic of the two. On the subject of Geki, his personality seems to have had a complete overhaul from his earlier appearances in Gavan: The Movie, Go-Busters and (to a lesser extent) Super Hero Taisen Z. Between this and Sharivan it's clear that the stern, overly judgemental version of the character is gone - replaced with a cheerier, much more likeable one that still has the sharp mind and skills worthy of the Gavan title.

Of course this all culminates in a flashy finale featuring all three Space Sheriffs, along with CGI models of their respective ships flying through Hyper Makuu Space. Though its mostly style over substance including very little action or purpose that could have been similarly achieved elsewhere, it's great to see the three heroes together on what feels much more like equal footing. The Space Sheriffs are quite unique amongst Toei's tokusatsu heroes in that they work brilliantly both individually and as a unit, and with three films dedicated to them individually it'd be quite interesting to see how these three different personalities would work together in a shared feature.

Space Sheriffs: A new generation
Fighting for truth, justice and shiny suits everywhere

Space Sheriff Shaider: Next Generation is another brilliant entry to a new generation of Metal Heroes, and further proof of the Gavan movie's shortcomings. While other standalone films struggle to get believable and/or relatable characters into a one-time production, the Next Generation films have arguably created the perfect breeding ground for future Metal Heroes instalments. Wildly nostalgia and a whole new chapter all at once, these are revivals well worth your time.

1 comment:

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