Friday 15 February 2013

Series REVIEW: Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters

Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters

When Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger ended back at the beginning of 2012, many Super Sentai fans wondered where the series could possibly go next. As news and magazine scans of the 36th Sentai team slowly leaked, the reaction was mostly surprise. From pictures alone, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters teased a shakeup of the traditional formula. Once again returning to a three piece team, gone were the traditional spandex suits - replaced with leather and zips. Each team member was accompanied by a robotic partner, padding out the team in a new and interesting way. Anticipation was high, so could Go-Busters live up to expectation?

The computer controlling the world's most-advanced energy source (known as Enetron), was infected by a virus - creating the energy being known as Messiah, who wishes to enslave humanity and create a world for machines. To stop his rampage, the scientists of the Energy Management Centre sacrificed their lives, transporting both them and Messiah into hyperspace. 13 years later, Messiah and his Vagras army resurface, and the children of three of scientists step up to fight them. Infused with a special vaccine granting each of them a special ability - Hiromu (Red Buster), Ryuji (Blue Buster) and Yoko (Yellow Buster) battle as the Go-Busters, aided by their three companion buddyroids Nick Cheeda, Gorisaki Banana and Usada Lettuce.

As the battle with Messiah's humanoid avatars Enter and Escape continue, the Go-Busters are joined by allies from an unexpected location. Having survived the trip to hyperspace, the genius scientist Jin Masato returns as Beet Buster, aided by his buddyroid partner Beet J Stag (Stag Buster). With newfound hope that their parents may have survived, the Go-Busters take the fight to Messiah. But even after the fall of the virus, Enter and the Vagras survive to continue what their majesty started.

The lead cast of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters
Busters & Buddies: Gorisaki, Ryuji, Nick, Hiromu, Yoko and Usada

When the series began, the show truly did show off the shake up the initial news had teased. Western fans were treated to hear that Power Rangers phrases and terms such as "It’s Morphin Time" and "Megazord" were included. While the former was predictable the team's transformation call, the latter referred to the giant robots of the series – on either side. Metaroids no longer grew, instead having enemy Megazords sent from hyperspace every time a new Metaroid was created. Not only did this allow for multiple fights to go on at the same time, but battles occurred in real-time - indicated by a stop clock in the corner showing the audience just how much time the Go-Busters had until the Megazord arrived. Every little detail had a scientific explanation, making this one of the few Super Sentai series that strived to make the show somewhat realistic.

Beet J Stag and Jin Masato
The ever-lovable Beet J Stag and his creator, Jin Masato

However about 10-15 episodes into the series something went wrong, eventually leading Go-Busters to earn the title of being the worst rated Sentai series of all time. The episodes themselves were still enjoyable, but the plot had crawled to a snail's pace as it became a constant power struggle between the Go-Busters and the Vagras. The spy/special ops theme seemed forgotten, as had the real-time battles the early episodes had displayed. Viewing figures dropped, and so Toei decided that a show retool was in order. The story began to move forward as the show came to a mid-series climax, essentially eliminating Messiah and promoting Enter to the position of main villain. A team up with the new Gavan Type-G served as a connection between the two halves of the show, and from then on out Go-Busters was nothing but solid gold. If you'd been enjoying the show before things got even better, and if the mid-portion had put you off this was enough to rope you back in. Tension was much higher, with plot twists you wouldn’t see coming and a much darker story with a bitter sweet ending.

Gavan Type-G's crossover into Go-Busters
Could a new Metal Heroes series be coming soon?

The Go-Busters team members vary, but together provide an excellent team dynamic. Hiromu initially comes off as a rather cold character, putting the mission before everything else. Meanwhile Yoko is the weakest of the main three, with most of her character development coming off the back of Ryuji. Despite not doing all that much until later in the show, their Buddyroid partners all play off them excellently, along with each other. With the inclusion of Jin and J, a well-needed comedic edge is added to the cast. Jin is forever cheerful, but as his story unfolds his demeanour makes things all the more heartbreaking. Meanwhile Beet J Stag is a constant source of humour, amusingly arrogant and curious about the world like a toddler. But like Jin under his boisterousness lie secrets he has to keep to himself, and later episodes show just how much he cares for his creator.

Messiah might (initially) be the head of the Vagras, but where the villains are concerned there’s only one real star of the show – Enter. Evolving from a French-talking henchman with a penchant for dressing up into the fully fledged big bad of the show, he’s earned his places as one of (if not the best) villains in Super Sentai history. Calm and collected, Enter plays his plans slowly and is always one step ahead of his enemies and remains a formidable foe throughout the series. And if you think he looks good as a human, just wait to you see the forms he takes at the end of the show...

Enter and Escape, the villains of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters
Escape and Enter

Messiah himself is a fairly unexciting villain, mostly barking orders and claiming to be superior to humans. As he loses patience in Enter’s early failings, he creates a second avatar to do his bidding – Escape. Escape comes off as a second rate Enter, fiercely loyal to Messiah even after his death and always looking for a challenge in battle. However she does develop a fairly satisfying rivalry with Ryuji, and meets her end in a particularly twisted and inspired way so all is not lost on the character. The Metaroids themselves also feature some fantastic monster designs, making it very hard to pick out a sure favourite.

Many divergences Go-Busters takes from the Super Sentai norm have already been pointed out, but there’s one element that’s the most apparent - the mecha. While almost every Super Sentai series ignores individual robots after the first few episodes, jumping straight to the combined robot, Go-Busters does the very opposite. Combined forms are used sparingly, appearing only when battling a certain Megazord type that can’t be defeated otherwise. There is no "ultimate combination" (Go-Buster King, the final combined form in the show, appears only three times). Instead almost all the mecha fights are done by the individual Buster Machines, which include a variety of interesting animals - how often do we see a rabbit mecha? The sparing use of the larger combinations works to the show's advantage, as the majority of them are clunky messes of parts that ruin the great aesthetic the singular robots have. The unique way Go-Busters handles its mecha is perhaps its biggest selling point.

The mecha (or megazords) of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters
Who needs impressive combinations when your mecha look this good?

Despite its poor viewer ratings and fair share of haters, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters is an excellent show. Every Super Sentai series has its proportion of bad episodes, the only problem was Go-Busters was unfortunate enough to have it's all in a row. While these early episodes might not feel like they're really going anywhere sometimes, there's light at the end of the tunnel and by watching them you'll be rewarded with a gripping storyline that really shows what Go-Busters should be remembered for – challenging boundaries and breaking the mould to make Super Sentai fresh again.

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