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From Gokaiger to Go-Busters – Where Sentai’s Been and Where It’s Going Part 1

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger

Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters is the 36th Sentai, airing directly after the end of Gokaiger throughout 2012. While many fans say that any Sentai after Gokaiger is going to have a hard job following that series, they don’t realize that this is probably true for all the wrong reasons. Sentai is nearing a crossroads it hasn’t been at in nearly15 years, one that proves toy sales are not the be all, end all of the tokusatsu world. 

While a fan-favorite Sentai for those in the Western world, Gokaiger actually failed to preform in the greater context of TV. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger was seen in the eyes of Toei executives as a series that was probably going to perform very well all around. After all, Kamen Rider Decade, a series with a very similar concept, brought Kamen Rider as a franchise into an era of popularity and success never before seen. The first episode of Gokaiger comes along and the ratings for the first episode grab a 6.6% audience share. That first episode rating was actually fairly remarkable for Sentai, as of late finding it difficult to average above 6%, so that had to be a good sign, right? Wrong.

Jump forward 53 weeks and Gokaiger is ending and while many things can be said about its story lines and what it did and didn’t do right, one thing was certain: ratings tanked. As a series Gokaiger averaged 4.9% in ratings, half a point less than Goseiger and a full point less than Shinkenger. The least viewed series in three years might not sound too bad, but the problem becomes worse when you learn that the ratings for the show actually net Gokaiger the title of the Sentai with the third worst ratings average in its entire 35 year history. Definitely not a good thing for a blow out anniversary series. Interestingly enough, Gokaiger’s toyline itself managed to rack up decent sales and tied with Go-Onger as the second most successful toyline since Abaranger.

Gokaiger, a show that was meant to inspire feelings of nostalgia within older fans of Sentai and excite kids with these strange new heroes that they’ve never seen before. Unfortunately, Gokaiger managed to do neither of these. The episodes featuring the guests were some of the least viewed of the series and in addition to this, the series never found itself above a certain ratings point. Gokaiger’s success as a toy line could actually be bad news for Toei and fans of the shows. Why?

Bandai is Sentai’s toy maker, Toei is the actual production company. There are a few more players, but these are the two major forces that we’re going to be focusing on for now. Toei makes the show and Bandai makes the toy, ideally you want both to do well so you get revenue sources going in to both fields. Why is this? Well beyond the fact that it’s just good business, Bandai actually foots a hefty portion of the bill for making this show, so much so that 99% of the commercials aired during Sentai are…for Sentai. These are expensive shows to make, as much as folks might not think they look too high quality, producing a yearly TV show at this quality is expensive and it requires a decent amount of pay off to be worth the money spent on it, this is where the problem comes in.

When a show does bad on TV and on DVD like Gokaiger (full disclosure, Sentai generally doesn’t do well on home media) and the toy line does more than just okay, but amazing, you begin to wonder something that I’m sure the people who sign the money away for these shows do as well. Does Sentai really need a TV show to survive? Granted, Toei does own the license as a whole, but Bandai also retains a decent ownership. The point here is that, if a show fails, and fails quite spectacularly on TV, yet its toyline does amazing, why would anyone think it needs to stay on the air when the products do just fine despite the minimal audience.

This might be a bold claim, but it seems perfectly clear to me that Toei is wondering the same thing here. Gokaiger failed to attract viewers and worse, it failed to retain viewers. While Goseiger saw a drop in its viewership average compared to Shinkenger, it was still the second most viewed Sentai in the last five years. Gokaiger not only lost this audience, but lost additional audience and brought sentai into levels it has not been in since Ohranger and Carranger. Now, wait just one moment! Didn’t Carranger supposedly save Sentai? You might be wondering. Well, yes and no, this is one that doesn’t have a clear cut answer.

While Carranger actually holds the title as the second least viewed Sentai as of 2012, it has one of the top five Sentai toylines of the entire decade that is the 1990s. Ohranger had some pretty crummy ratings as well, but it had phenomenal toy sales, so great that as far as is discernible with the available date, Ohranger is quite possibly the most successful Sentai toyline ever. If we can ever get full franchise numbers I’ll be jumping for joy to do comparisons and break downs. As it stands, numbers that are available go all the way back to Jetman and nothing even comes close to matching Ohranger except for Carranger.

Sentai didn’t die then and I don’t believe it’s going to die now, we should all be clear of that. The point of this article isn’t to rant about Sentai being in danger of dying. After Carranger, we got Megaranger, a very different show than what had been seen in quite some time. There was a change in formula and energy, giving us a much younger cast than we’ve had in ages. For as “you darn kids get off my lawn!” as Kakuranger wanted to be, its cast, with the exception of Ninja White’s actress, were all in their mid to late 20s. The show saw a more fluid plot and an attempt at less episodic structures, but more than this, it found a new home.

Since the late 80s Sentai found itself airing in the early evenings on what was considered prime time. Along comes the 7th episode of Megaranger and suddenly the show finds itself airing in that very familiar Sunday morning TV time spot, this time airing right before Metal Heroes. Metal Heroes was historically a stronger ratings grabber, only being ousted by Sentai once in its entire history. The move was two fold, piggyback off of that franchise’s numbers and audience and grab a new audience by completely changing demographics.

While it’s been claimed that Sentai was always a kids show, it was actually aimed at families before Megaranger. The difference sure doesn’t sound big, but it’s the sort of demographic that means the production crew try to cater the show to older viewers in a way as well. With the advent of Megaranger, this franchise found that new target demographics: kids. And why? Because toys sale like hot cakes when they’re at the top of their game. Ohranger and Carranger proved that a Sentai does not have to be a great ratings grabber to do phenomenal as a toy line. Megaranger saw the introduction of a fairly more toyetic approach and this has continued to be a staple of the franchise ever since.

Come back tomorrow for part two!

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