Saturday, September 1, 2012

POWER RANGERS WEEK 7: "An Appropriately Delusional Finish"

 Hello and welcome back to the final installment of Power Rangers Week here at Witless Prattle. Last time, I tried to give a thumbnail sketch of the show that originated Power Rangers, Super Sentai, but I imagine it's touch to encapsulate 37 years of programming in one article. (Maybe I'll do a Super Sentai Week sometime) I wanted to close with something I'd been wanting to talk about for awhile now.

 Concomitant with the anniversary of Super Sentai, not only was an anniversary season  mooted (Gokaiger) but a more grown-up sentai show for older audiences was also released. Unlike what usually happens over here when things are made more grown up, this didn't feature dismemberment or anyone getting raped or bullshit like that (a "mature" Super Sentai show would be 1) ridiculous and 2) unbearable, plus, someone else is already doing it, kinda) it would, instead, be a zany parody of. . .well, everything, really. This is how the website tries to explain it:

 "Adding some new blood and abandoning the taboos and restrictions of the sentai genre, this is a forbidden reverse sentai series meant for the adult core group."

 Right. That should clear it up.

 It's called Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger ("Unofficial Task Force Akibaranger," as since they're the product of delusions they don't exist in the real world, and also because they're not part of the regular 37 Super Sentais) and it's a humdinger. I'm not satisfied with the quote from before--so here's another explanation from the website:

"Super Sentai shows have a glorious tradition that has been going for 36 years. But in its shadow there's a pile of discarded material, wild delusions and ulterior motives, which have been supporting the toku series without ever having the chance to actually shine in the open. And now that tremendous chaotic power has finally burst out. Its name is 'Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger!"

 As with all zany Japanese comedies, it consists mostly of yelling, mugging and pointing at things, but wrapped around all the slapstick is an interesting show that tries to do a lot of interesting things with the standard Super Sentai model and a couple of long-cherished ideas about storytelling. It helps even more that the comedy bits are equally funny as well. And there's also a very impressive twist in the finale of the series that's worth looking at, and that means to discuss it, we're gonna have to spoil the hell out of it.

 Akibaranger is the story of three hopeless otaku (for want of a longer explanation, let's just say "geeks") who are recruited by Hakase Hiroyo, proprietor of a Super Sentai themed restaurant to use their exceptional delusional power (their tendency to daydream to a ridiculous level) and  defend Akihabara (which is apparently nerd's paradise) from the Stema Otsu Coproration, which wants to replace the rampant nerdiness in Akihabara with something--anything--else. Naturally they send a woman in Nazi drag and granny glasses, ©Shiina, or "Malshiima" to acheive this end, because Japan.

 The Akibarangers are not really the kind of people you would trust with this kind of responility, as they're so geeky their obsessions rule their lives. You have Akagi/AkibaRed, 29 year old Sentai obsessive who can rattle off all sorts of inane factoids at will, but who is unable to talk to Sayaka, his would-be love interest.Yumeria/AkibaYellow is a cosplay fanatic who writes and draws slashfic about various characters (and yes, this is actually a plot point in this show) and Mistuki/AkibaBlue is the youngest of the group and the least nerdy and thinks AkibaRed and AkibaYellow are sad and weird, respectively. She sort of has a point.

 At least that's how it starts. The first six episodes are pretty much a stock Sentai parody. Malshiina appears with her first monster in the usual Sentai rock quarry, find out she's not dressed for this at all and walks off, shivering. The Akibarangers are constantly started by the explosions that go off behind them and when they do their series of poses introducing themselves--AkibaRed always uses a famous Sentai hero or villain, AkibaYellow goes on a long discursive rant about Comiket, and AkibaBlue doesn't really get why any of this is necessary at all. Upon destroying the monster, the Akibarangers wait the better part of the day for it to grow to giant-size, only to be disappointed. Oh yeah, and their giant robot is a transforming Prius.

 Admittedly, this is funny enough, but 13 episodes of it would be spreading it a bit too thin, which is why in episode 6, after establishing that the Akibarangers are just another delusion (soon after a fight, we inevitably cut back to the real world. and the Akibarangers are just throwing punches at nothing like utter goofs) but apparently thanks to their use of their delusion power, the barriers between worlds have fallen apart and Malshiima appears in the real world. This leads to a few episodes where the dynamic of the show changes all of a sudden--Hiroyo learns that Malshiima was actually a rejected character design her father did for an anime that she was the voice actor for, her father returns as Doctor Zed, who is a cyborg for heaven only knows what reason, and she is cursed that every time the Rangers use their powers she comes closer to death. Meanwhile, Malshiima is a bit confused, because the Stema Otsu Corporation they were supposed to be working for has apparently been superseded by the Delusion Empire, which is now a fleet of alien ships all of a sudden.

 Oh, and Agaki gets replaced by another AkibaRed, as he has been summoned to work for the Pentagon in Virginia, despite the fact that that makes exactly no sense at all on many many levels. Akagi contemplates the unusual turn of events and how they seem to be clumsily shifting the course of the show, and by Episode 11, things have taken a turn for the Grant Morrison, as Akagi realises he's in a TV show called Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger, and all these weird plot developments like the . . .uh. . .nearly everything in the last half of the paragraph above, is part of the show being retooled by the shows writer "Saburo Hatte," (who, naturally, doesn't exist--it's a pen name used by Toei) When the plot wrinkles stop, Akagi decides this can only mean one thing--the retool hasn't worked, and the show's being cancelled.

 Stick with me--the rest of this will probably break your mind.

 Naturally, he tries a mild way of stopping the show from ending by creating foreshadowing for events that can't possibly be resolved immediately . . .which are resolved, immediately. Moreover, the Delusion Empire is taken over by latecoming villain Delu-Knight, who wants a final battle with Akagi. Akagi realises that their final battle means the end of the show and tries to keep putting off Delu-Knight by saying their final battle will happen. . .but not for about six months.

 Delu-Knight is having none of this and summons his giant robot, Boomerang Titan. The Akibarangers mech grows to giant size and kicks the Rangers into the cockpit, so the Rangers blow it up. Willing to let Boomerang Titan rampage through the city if it means prolonging the show, this all goes to hell when one of them throws a soda can at Boomerang Titan which manages to destroy the mech despite that not making any sense.

 Worse still, Doctor Zed decides to turn good, which makes every despair that there's no way to prolong the show, at least Malshiina's still alive and just as willing to prolong their battle, only it's out of their hands--the show's ending (there's a giant "END" title) and even hacking it to bits doesn't stop the nonexistent writer from finally slapping his hand over the camera lens and the show ending.

 Don't take my word for it--watch the damn thing yourself:

Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger - 12 by Raul_Gonzalez_6

 This being Akibaranger, naturally, we have one more episode, which is a clip show which is a densely metatextual commentary on the show itself, and clip-shows in general.

 I love this show so much. It is utterly insane and kind of brilliant in the way it evolves from a stupid parody to an all-out assault on the fourth wall. I especially like Akagi's comment that despite being unofficial, the Akibarangers won't be forgotten, because nerds don't forget anything, however unofficial, non-canon, or retconned away, because damn if that's not an awful truth that cuts across all borders. The whole metatextual levels and callbacks to older sentai shows (and everything else they call back to) is put together in a very intricate way, and really, even if the comedy sails over your head, structurally it's a very interesting show. The Grant Morrison comparison wasn't a specious one, as he did this same kind of thing in Animal Man.

 And with that, Power Rangers Week draws to a close. From the hits this was . . .surprisingly popular, though I couldn't imagine why this is. In any event, I hope you enjoyed it, and we here at Witless Prattle will resume normal service just as soon as we are sure what "normal" is.

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