REVIEW: SPACE SHERIFF SHAIDER: THE NEXT GENERATION

 

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After Space Sheriff Gavan revival movie, Toei’s Metal Heroes franchise has returned once again in a pair of V-Cinema (direct to video/DVD) releases breathing new life into the second and third entries in the Space Sheriff trilogy of shows. With SPACE SHERIFF SHARIVAN: THE NEXT GENERATION sowing the seeds for a much bigger case, its time for Shaider to take the reigns in the second part of this new adventure – Space Sheriff Shaider: Next Generation. Like Sharivan, Shaider also has a new face behind the mask that many tokusatsu fans will surely recognise. This time it’s actor Hiroaki Iwanaga, who previously portrayed fan favourite Date Akira/Kamen Rider Birth in Kamen Rider OOO. While this is technically Iwanaga’s third outing as the new Shaider, it’s the first time he’s gotten top billing and a chance to really strut his stuff in the role.

As the mystery surrounding Horror Girl continues, second Shaider Shu Kawasuma arrives on Earth in pursuit of a Fuuma Beast that goes by the name of Pitapita. However for some reason he refuses to let his partner Tammy anywhere near the case, causing a strain on both their professional and personal relationships. Shu’s run in with Pitapita also brings him into contact with Hilda, the kidnapped daughter of Galactic Police commissioner Nicholas Gordon. By taking the case on alone Shu believes he’s protecting Tammy from a secret that could jeopardise her position as a Space Sheriff, but in fact he may be doing more harm than good as she resolves to back her partner up no matter what. Meanwhile Geki Ichimonji/Gavan is still on his own investigation regarding the Makuu, Madou and Fuuma copycats – continuing the case despite the commissioner asking him to stand down out of concern for his daughter. Enlisting Kai Hyuga/Sharivan along the way, the Space Sheriffs chase down  Horror Girl’s trail – leading them to both Shaider and how all these series of events have been connected.

With both films sharing the same writer and director, Shaider: Next Generation has lots in common with Sharivan: Next Generation other than naming conventions and a connected narrative. Once again we jump right in with Shu fully established as the new Shaider, complete with a seemingly long-standing partner (well, enough for them to have established a pretty solid relationship). But after a bout with the serious-faced Sharivan, Shaider is the complete opposite. Often clueless to the things going on around him and just as reliant on Tammy as she is on him, Shu is the more loveable goofball kind of hero that Hiroaki Iwanaga excels at playing. Meanwhile Tammy initially strikes as being incredibly annoying, but quickly proves to be the perfect co-star. With the scope of character relationships far smaller than it was in Sharivan the development is mostly on those two, and again running time doesn’t prove to be a problem in making two completely new characters feel like they have a believable relationship that could have spanned far longer.
It’s a pretty simple plot going in full of the usual cliches (two characters getting bound together? Never seen that one before), but has a few interesting little twists sprinkled into keep things interesting. How Horror Girl plays into things is particularly good, not only bringing out some great moments from otherwise forgettable characters but also showing that sometimes villains don’t need to have grand empires or world domination schemes to be twisted. As a portrayal of Galactic Police, cases like this are what make the Space Sheriffs interesting. It worked in Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, and it sure works here as well.
Unfortunately due to the tragic loss of original Shaider actor Hiroshi Tsuburaya in 2001 there’s no cameo from Dai Sawamura, however the film still pays its respects to the both the actor and the series he helped bring life to. In his place is a cameo from Annie (played by Naomi Morinaga) – Dai’s girlfriend and partner from the original series. While her role is rather superficial, her fond memories of Dai make a really fitting tribute to both the character and the actor. Viewers familiar with Shaider will know exactly what’s going on as she looks at an old photo of them together, but by never addressing that the character himself has passed on both Hiroshi and Dai’s legacy and story feel never-ending. It’s the perfect kind of posthumous tribute that other shows and franchises could definitely learn a thing or two from. Shaider retains the high level of action in and out of suit the previous film did, swapping out the buckets of fake blood for director Koichi Sakamoto’s other penchant – legs. While Sharivan had it’s fair share of close up skirt twirls revealing legs and/or short shorts, in Shaider Sakamoto really goes into overdrive with it. Whether the quantity of these shots is a good or bad thing is going to vary person to person, but either way they could definitely do with being far less distracting. From pointless slow motion to ridiculous sound effects, a line has to be drawn somewhere and said line is not something Sakamoto seems to have much regard for.
 
With the Horror Girl mystery still lingering from the Sharivan movie, Shaider: Next Generation also gives a much more prominent to Gavan’s investigation. Make no mistake Shaider is still the one getting top billing, but it’s a nice little story that adds an extra dynamic to the more simplistic scenario going down on Earth. On the other hand the film essentially has Geki doing all the legwork when it comes to the mystery element, which takes away a bit of Shu’s thunder even if he’s easily the more charismatic of the two. On the subject of Geki, his personality seems to have had a complete overhaul from his earlier appearances in Gavan: The Movie, Go-Busters and (to a lesser extent) Super Hero Taisen Z. Between this and Sharivan it’s clear that the stern, overly judgemental version of the character is gone – replaced with a cheerier, much more likeable one that still has the sharp mind and skills worthy of the Gavan title.
Of course this all culminates in a flashy finale featuring all three Space Sheriffs, along with CGI models of their respective ships flying through Hyper Makuu Space. Though its mostly style over substance including very little action or purpose that could have been similarly achieved elsewhere, it’s great to see the three heroes together on what feels much more like equal footing. The Space Sheriffs are quite unique amongst Toei’s tokusatsu heroes in that they work brilliantly both individually and as a unit, and with three films dedicated to them individually it’d be quite interesting to see how these three different personalities would work together in a shared feature. pace Sheriff Shaider: Next Generation is another brilliant entry to a new generation of Metal Heroes, and further proof of the Gavan movie’s shortcomings. While other standalone films struggle to get believable and/or relatable characters into a one-time production, the Next Generation films have arguably created the perfect breeding ground for future Metal Heroes instalments. Wildly nostalgia and a whole new chapter all at once, these are revivals well worth your time.

REVIEW: SPACE SHERIFF SHARIVAN: THE NEXT GENERATION

 

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When copycat criminals imitating the Makuu, Madou and Fuuma organisations surface across the galaxy, the Space Sheriffs are called into action to put a stop to their previously-defeated foes once and for all. While the Geki Ichimonji (the second Gavan) heads up his own investigation, new Sharivan Kai Hyuga is sent to Earth on a mission to stop a shipment of Hyper-M – a drug that turns its users into violent killers before eventually killing them. But Kai also has also been given a top secret mission – there’s a spy amongst the ranks in the Galactic Police, and it’s his job to confirm the prime suspect.Teaming up with his childhood friend and fellow Space Sheriff Seigi, Kai must learn there’s more to being Sharivan than simply relying on cold hard logic and calculations. Because not only are they not enough, but traitors are usually the person you’d least expect. Unlike the Gavan movie which introduced its new characters over a slow-burning first half, Sharivan: Next Generation jumps straight in where it’s important. Though we’ve only previously met Kai through two rather brief cameos, this film forgoes a tiresome origin story so we can see the Space Sheriff near the top of his game. The character still has quite a bit of developing to do, but this “on the job” character development makes for a far better film that one that sees him scrambling around for half an hour or so joining the Galactic Police. Here Kai already has the title of Sharivan, but he’s yet to truly earn it.
5375169ac1dbd8a0626f63fd_godzilla-1998Kai isn’t the only character who’s practically a blank slate either, with the entire cast of this film being made up of new faces. These include space scientist and partner to Sharivan Sisi, the aforementioned Seigi and his partner Eileen, as well as the rather wonderfully-named Commissioner Gordon. An hour isn’t a whole lot of time to give these characters particularly well-rounded personalities, yet the film manages to do a great job with the limited timeframe it has. Rather than simply tell the audience what each character is like, it’s shown through the narrative itself. Even characters like Sisi who have very few lines feel like actual characters thanks to making the most of what is done with them. Despite none of these characters having any sort of interactions elsewhere, all of their relationships feel natural and established beforehand. Of course it wouldn’t be a proper Sharivan revival without an appearance by original Sharivan Den Iga, which works in the same brilliant way Retsu Ichijoji’s did in the Gavan movie. Enough to satisfy, but not completely stealing the spotlight from the new guys either.The great cast helps ease the pressure off the story itself, which at its core isn’t the most complex of narratives out there. The traitor is obvious right from the start, and Kai’s evolution to “true” Space Sheriff isn’t exactly unfamiliar either. But around this are a lot of other neat little twists that help make the Space Sheriff universe that much richer. Going hand in hand with this are some truly brilliant fight sequences, courtesy of veteran director Koichi Sakamoto. The actual in-suit stuff may be limited to two excellent fights, but the out of stuff suit often proves equally as satisfying. There are even rare moments where the CGI pulls off some pretty great cityscapes, even if other shots remind you just how laughable it can beat times.Sharivan: Next Generation also introduces a brand new Space Sheriff to the Metal Heroes franchise in the form of the golden Estevan. While in execution this may just be a shiny repaint of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger vs Gavan villain Gavan Bootleg (which is actually a massive hint about this film in itself), it does represent some interesting possibilities for the future. Like the original version of this suit Estevan may be a one-time deal, but his presence confirms that the Galactic Police aren’t just limited to three Space Sheriffs. If the Metal Heroes franchise were to ever receive a proper relaunch it would mostly likely be focusing on these guys, so could an all-new Space Sheriff be at the forefront of all of that? It’s all wild speculation, but maybe that’s a good way to capitalise on nostalgia and propel the franchise in a comfortable new direction.

REVIEW: Space Sheriff Gavan the Movie

While these days the likes of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai are main-stayers in the world of tokusatsu, there’s one Toei franchise that seemed all but forgotten. However the last few years have proved to be something of a Metal Heroes revival, with the original Space Sheriff Gavan teaming up with the Gokaigers before a whole new Gavan film was announced. To further promote the film, this new Gavan made a guest appearance on Go-Busters, and he (alongside other past Metal Heroes characters) will star in Super Hero Taisen Z alongside both Sentai and Riders later this year. Could this indeed be a new beginning for Metal Heroes? That depends just how well Gavan Type-G’s cinematic debut went down…When friends Geki Jumonji and Toya Okuma are lost on a space mission to Mars, they leave their third friend Itsuki alone on Earth, the only person who believes the two to still be alive. A year later, Itsuki is attacked by a monster and protected by a silvery hero – the legendary space sheriff Gavan. Revealing himself to be Geki, Itsuki learns of what happened to their spacecraft and the fate of Toya. Geki explains that he has returned to Earth to prevent the mysterious Master Brighton from resurrecting Don Horror and his Maku Space Mafia. When the sinister plot takes an unexpected turn and Itsuki is kidnapped, Geki must rely on help from the original Gavan Retsu Ichijouji to defeat the Maku and save the universe, earning his title as a space sheriff.With little in the way of fansubs available for Metal Heroes series, a lot of people will probably be going into this film in the dark about the history of Gavan (save the two recent Sentai team ups). Thankfully you won’t need any background knowledge, as while this does continue on somewhat from the original Gavan series it is very much a relaunch. The characters are all brand new save for a few veterans, and the story very much focusses on Geki earning his place as the new Gavan (known as Gavan Type-G). Despite it’s 83 minute run time its a fairly fast paced film, with an extremely predictable plot twist midway in. It’s heavy on character since this is an all-new cast, but unfortunately it results in a sad shortage of the Gavan suit in action. What little there is is fantastic (and there are plenty of untransformed fight sequences too), but for a film named Space Sheriff Gavan, Gavan appears very little outside of the final battle.The film may be about the arrival of a new Gavan, but it wouldn’t be right without a proper send off the original Gavan, played by legendary tokusatsu actor Kenji Ohba. If Gokaiger vs. Gavan didn’t convince you the this guy still had it when it came to playing Retsu, this film certainly will. But despite very much having the ability to, Kenji doesn’t completely steal the show and only enforces its greatness, making it the perfect in terms of passing the torch from the old to the new.Though Gavan is the first Metal Hero and seemingly one of the most popular in Japan (Western audiences will be more familiar with Metalder, Spielban and the B-Fighters due to the likes of VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs), there are in fact three Space Sheriff series. His predecessors Sharivan and Shaider also make an appearance in the film, again played by all new actors. Geki Violet/Gou actor Riku Miura plays the new Sharivan Kai Hyuga while Kamen Rider Birth/Date actor Hiroaki Iwanaga is the new Shaider Shu Karasuma. While this would have been an excellent chance to see all three Space Sheriffs onscreen together for a glorious revival, sadly their role is reduced to little more than a cameo – appearing untransformed near the beginning and then enjoying a brief fight sequence at the movie’s climax. Arguably giving equal focus to all 3 would have made the movie suffer (and after all it is called Space Sheriff Gavan), it would have been nice to see their role be a bit more crucial to the film. One can hope that if a new Metal Heroes series does come of this, we’ll be seeing a lot more of both Sharivan and Shaider.While Space Sheriff Gavan is clearly a pilot for what will hopefully be a new Metal Heroes series, that doesn’t stop it from being a pretty enjoyable standalone movie. Yes the plot twists are predictable and the transformed fight scenes minimal, but this slick retro sci-fi slice of tokusatsu proves a great alternative to the usual Super Sentai and Kamen Rider outings. If Metal Heroes were to make a return to Japanese television screens, I for one would welcome it.