Wednesday 22 February 2012

Series REVIEW: Choujuu Sentai Liveman

For the first time my Super Sentai viewing has taken me back to the days before Power Rangers adaptations, all the way back to 1988-89 when Choujuu Sentai Liveman was on Japanese television screens. Although officially the 12th entry in the Super Sentai franchise (sandwiched between Maskman and Turboranger), the series was also celebrated as the 10th anniversary of Super Sentai as Goranger and J.A.K.Q. would not be officially considered part of the franchise until later. The series ran for a total of 49 episodes.

Academia Island is an elite school where gifted students gather from around the world to enhance their knowledge. Among them are Yusuke Amamiya, Joh Ohara and Megumi Misaki. Along with Takuji Yano and Mari Aikawa, the five aim to create a suit strong enough for space exploration. However three other Academia students - Kenji Tsukigata, Rui Senda, and Goh Omura, believe their talents are being wasted and are invited by the mysterious Great Professor Bias to join the evil organisation Volt in order to meet their full potential. When Yusuke and friend see the three leaving Earth to join Volt, Kenji draws a gun on them - murdering both Takuji and Mari in the process.

Two years later, Volt begin their plans to conquer Earth - with Kenji, Rui and Goh now taking the names of Doctor Kemp, Mazenda and Obler. Academia Island is destroyed and many killed in the invasion, but Yusuke, Joh and Megumi have been preparing and take up the mantles of Red Falcon, Yellow Lion and Blue Dolphin - the Choujuu Sentai Liveman! During their battles they are eventually joined by Tetsuya (Black Bison) and Jun-ichi (Green Sai), the respective younger brothers of Takuji and Mari, and the five attempt to learn the dark secrets behind not only Volt, but Bias himself.

From left to right: Joh, Megumi, Yusuke, Tetsuya, Jun-ichi & the Liveman's robot assistant Colon

A first for Super Sentai, but something that would be repeated in the future, is the initial team comprising of three members. As the team stays this way for a total of 30 episodes, this gives the viewer plenty of time to get to know Yusuke, Joh and Megumi. Each are very fleshed out, initially driven to fight for revenge but soon learn that there's far more value in fighting to protect the Earth (not to say they didn't think that was important to begin with). Yusuke really grows into his role as leader, initially hot headed and rebellious. Joh is the more short tempered member of the team, but has the strength to back up his actions when he dives head first into danger while Megumi is clever, skilled and compassionate. Despite their fantastic quality of development, the same cannot be said for Tetsuya and Jun-ichi when they are finally introduced. Again initially driven by revenge, only this time once this is overcome the two mainly fall into the background - and are especially overshadowed by the primary three come the closing chapter. While I liked the suit designs of Black Bison and Green Sai (I really liked the Liveman aesthetic in general for that matter), I feel the characters should have either been given a lot more to work with or dropped completely out of the story.

Doctors Ohbler (prior to his transformation), Kemp and Mazenda

The quality of the villains is pretty much exactly the same as the protagonists - those that are introduced from the get-go are brilliant, but later ones don't get the same quality of writing. Kemp, Mazenda and Ohbler are simply brilliant characters - from their drive to better themselves at the cost of their own humanity to their rivalries with the Livemen. Ohbler is soon replaced (but returns in an attempt to redeem himself towards the end of the show) and new villain Ashura joins the fray, along side alien geniuses Guildo and Butchy. This is really where Bias begins to play the villains off against each other as well as the Livemen, but only Ashura receives a decent background. Guildo and Butchy simply come out of nowhere, with Butchy seemingly filling the more "kid-friendly" aspect of the villains both in looks and personality. The division isn't quite so clear cut as it is with the heroes, but the level of development is very similar.

Great Professor Bias

Great Professor Bias provides an excellent source of mystery throughout the show, his true plans and motives not even revealed until the final ten episodes. The downside to this is that his identity and back story are never fully explained, not even in the final episode. While I enjoyed the mystery behind Bias, I was disappointed by the lack of any real payoff. However his defeat is handled very differently to anything I've yet seen in a Super Sentai show, and certainly comes across as one of the more memorable.

Another Sentai first than happened in Liveman is the use of animal themed mecha. While the falcon/lion motifs are quite obvious in the Jet Falcon and Land Lion, the Aqua Dolphin comes across as a little dull in comparison. However their combined mode of LiveRobo is a beautiful design that displays a lot of retro charm. Liveman also saw the first secondary mecha, the LiveBoxer (comprised of the Bison Liner and Sai Fire), however LiveBox might be a more apt name - the torso is HUGE (but through the art of costume changes shrinks down when the fight sequences kick in). Of course two mecha also means a combination, and thankfully the lackluster LiveBoxer does not bring down the look of SuperLiveRobo at all.


However, and this might just be because I'm more used to post-2000 mecha fights at this stage, the mecha battles were duller and felt more tacked on than usual. Often they lasted little more than two minutes, with the mecha being thrown around by the monster for a while and then destroying it quickly with a finishing attack.

Choujuu Sentai Liveman had every potential to be the perfect series. The characterisation and development of the initial cast is flawless and the mysterious of Volt are left unanswered until the very end of the series. However its flaw is that it goes on to introduce new characters of both teams about halfway through the series, and these characters never become as interesting as the already established cast. While in Guildo and Butchy's case this might be more understand due to their purpose, but it meant the revelation of their true identities lacked the powerful punch it could have had.

Liveman is a very interesting series, and one you might find yourself watching more for the civilian sequences than the action.

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