While Carranger was probably the Sentai that made Toei take notice of the toyetic approach, it was Ohrranger that started it. So, in a sense, Ohranger up to Timeranger are all in their own category. Why is this? Balance. While it may seem as if introducing a ton of toys into the shows might be a bad thing, it can be a good thing if there is balance and the line of shows that are Ohranger, Carranger, Megaranger, Gingaman, Go Go V, and Timeranger all managed to get this right. Sadly, things floundered a bit with the last two shows. Not so much in the balance, but in their appeals.
While Timeranger, written by Yasuko Kobayashi, remember the name because it’s coming back, had some pretty massive appeal as far it show goes, its toy line was the least profitable of its era and still remains the least successful toyline in at least 20 years. Go Go V had some bad ratings, for its time, and its toy sales weren’t exactly amazing. We now had two years in a row of shows not doing quite so great. The 25th anniversary was coming up and Toei needed to change things up a bit – enter Gaoranger.
Gaoranger was a show that introduced the term Mecha Zoo to the fan lexicon. If the shows before Gaoranger were toyetic, Gaoranger itself was nothing short of a toy tornado. This show gave us more mecha than ever before (or since) and balanced them well. That balance I spoke of earlier still managed to hang around, even with the challenge the toy line for Gaoranger presented. On the appeal front, Gaoranger became the most viewed Sentai in 20 years and one of the most viewed Sentai of all time. The show still can’t touch the numbers of Shouwa era Sentai, but modern day series would envy it.
Gaoranger represented yet another change in Sentai, one that lasted for more than a decade. With Timeranger, Sentai entered this era of dramatic story telling, almost mimicking the popular J-Dramas of the day. The actors were considered to be a mark above what Sentai had known before, and indeed, the Timeranger cast was a pretty amazing group. Gaoranger had balance as far as the toyetic aspects go, but now it needed to find that balance in its broad appeal and it did so. Gaoranger was the sort of show that both adults and children were able to enjoy together, capturing that family demographic again.
The thing with Sentai is that it’s never quite been a steady player with the trends of overall TV ratings. In general, TV ratings have gone down, it’s a change that becomes visible with each new decade, but ever since the 90s, Sentai has stayed in the same area. This is why the numbers for Ohranger and Carranger were particularly devastating when these shows were considered modern. Sentai was adjusting to lower numbers and the crew at Toei weren’t even confident of what was in store for Sentai. There was a period of nearly seven years that had each cast being told their show was probably going to be the last one. A top Sentai crew member has been quoted as saying “I’m not sure where Sentai’s future is,” because of the uncertainty. Sentai was entering an era of change in the early 90s, but that’s a story for another day.
So back to Gaoranger, cool show, kids liked it, adults liked it, the toys sold, Toei wanted to do it again. Hurricanger, Abaranger, Boukenger, Gekiranger, Go-Onger, Shinkenger, all shows that follow the Gaoranger concept of “throw toys at it!” whenever a problem arose. Amazingly enough, shows like Dekaranger and Magiranger were the exceptions and seen as toy light shows, yet their toy ratio was about the same as the Ohranger~Timeranger era. Gaoranger brought Sentai into this new era, bringing along different production values and heavy CGI for the first time in Sentai’s long history. Just as Liveman had been a huge show for introducing the impressive puppet work of Yellow Lion’s mecha, Gaoranger brought Sentai into the modern era and is seen by some as the point where CGI began to overtake practical effects.
Now we’re skipping all the way to Gokaiger and the recent years of Sentai. Shinkenger and Goseiger were shows with different approaches to the Sentai formula. One show took the Timeranger idea of high drama further by giving us what many consider to be the most dramatic season ever and it showed, the production values were even improved quite a lot over previous shows this time around. Shinkenger saw the advent of boom mics in Sentai filming (all audio was dubbed in beforehand) and for the first time ever, the use of HD cameras with the amazing RED system. Wildly popular, become the first Sentai ever to see the release of a post-series follow up, Shinkenger was also written by Yasuko Kobayashi.
Goseiger, a show not quite loved by Sentai fans, also had a different approach to the Sentai formula. For the first time ever, we saw a Sentai team defeat the entire presence of threat in the first arc before a new one came along, followed by another. Despite these changes, Goseiger was actually a very episodic Sentai that reminds me of the “slice of life” anime genre, that is, a genre that focuses on the every day problems of the team more often than not. The characters were all very angelic, given the theme, and carried a mystique of peculiarity not seen in Sentai characters before.
Gokaiger came along and had a very alpha-male sort of cast. The characters were boisterous, brash, rude, and didn’t care for protecting earth. They were the antithesis of a Sentai cast. The show featured a story that revolved around the idea that these characters were nothing like their Sentai elders and needed to learn the basic tenants of what it meant to be a hero. The series introduced older characters from the franchise of the history to help the Gokaigers learn what it means to be a Sentai. The show went so far in this theme that we even saw our first Ranger who was an avid Sentai fan. And it failed.
Gokaiger turned away viewers in general, but as I mentioned earlier, its lowest rated episodes were also the “Legend” episodes, the ones that older Sentai cast members coming back. It can be argued that the series did a poor job at using these guest stars, often side lining them, but this changed after a while and these episodes still brought in lower ratings than usual for this series. Gokaiger’s least viewed episodes were actually part of the Hurricanger and Kakuranger tributes.
There was no doubt about it, as much of a fan favorite as it was, Gokaiger didn’t perform well. This was a year when Toei probably would have thought slightly better than normal would have been underperforming. To actually have unperformed? Things needed to change, and change is going to be what summarizes the third and final part of the article in more ways than one.