A lot of images come to mind when you think about old Japanese scifi. Sometimes its Godzilla, and sometimes it’s Astro Boy, but I think the most influential on Japanese and Western culture is sentai (Power Rangers). That is why today, we will be looking at that for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing look back on great science fiction of the past.
I thought we should take a look at the very first sentai, ‘Himitsu Sentai Gorenger’, a show almost all of us owe our childhoods too.
It was ‘Gorenger’ that would create, and take many of the tropes started with ‘Ultraman’, and really solidify them into a genre. This includes henshins (transformations) that we see made more elaborate in magical girl shows like ‘Sailor Moon‘, monsters showing up every week and always have to be defeated twice sees its way into the necessary structure of all sentai to follow, and warriors joining together to create large mechas are prominent not only in sentai, but have been a key mechanism of American shows like ‘Voltron‘, or movies like ‘Pacific Rim‘.
Depending on how you feel about the fairly repetitive episode structures, ‘Gorenger’ either deserves your gratitude or has a lot to answer for. For the time, though, its plot has been recycled by the many sentai to follow. ‘Gorenger’ had an interesting plot even as it was unerringly following the footsteps of ‘Ultraman’.
In ‘Gorenger’, peace of the world is threatened by a terrorist group called the Black Cross Army. To combat this, the United Nations created EAGLE (Earth Guardian League). However, the Black Cross Army manages to wipe most of it out, except 5 characters. They then get recruited to becoming a secret squadron equipped with powerful suits that will help them defeat the Black Cross Army. And yes, those outfits are different colors, so you can probably guess where the Power Ranger trope of having five character in five different colors. This is also a common theme to borrow in most magical girl animes.
So, for 84 episodes, they fight monster after monster, working their way through different generals until they reach the Black Cross Fuhrer… who was an alien bent on the destruction of humans the entire time! Again, this starts the trope of the enemies being otherworldly. Some future sentai shows will play with this, and have monsters come from places like Hell, different timelines, or alternate universes. Nevertheless, the enemy is never human.
Even if this sort of plot doesn’t strike you as fun to watch, at the very least the 70s campiness of it all, the insight into Japanese culture when their economy was just starting to go on a roll, and the fascinating costume designs of all the monsters is enough to garner attention for a few episodes. The good news is the plots are so predictable you don’t really need to watch them all to get a hold of the plot.
Should you never choose to watch this series, it’s still an important show to know when it comes to Japanese science fiction canon as it is hugely influential on Japanese culture even today as they turn out new sentai series every year, all of which make it to our shores not too long after.