Super Sentai Over the Years: A 40th Anniversary Special – Part 2: 1986-1995

The Golden Age/Towards Decline (1986 – 1995)

We ended off last week on a high note with Dengeki Sentai Changeman, a series a lot consider to be the best Sentai series of all time. Changeman gets some strong competition later on, with Choushinsei FlashmanHikari Sentai Maskman and Choujuu Sentai Liveman all being very, very strong entries, one after another.

With Ultraman and Kamen Rider both absent for most of the decade, and the Metal Hero series providing little competition, the 80’s eventually proved to be a very important decade for the Super Sentai genre.

During this time, a Golden Age of transformation was initiated under the reign of Soda Hirohisa as its chief writer. Gone were the days of trippy one-dimensional plots that aimed only to entertain and nothing more. Soda’s Sentai series contained dramatic, complex plots with serious overtones and relatable characters, both good and evil, which led to some of the more memorable

However, Soda’s quality began to decline from Kousoku Sentai Turboranger onwards to his final series Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman, of which rumours of franchise cancellation due to poor ratings started to go around.

The early 90’s was a dark period for Super Sentai, although it did have some high quality series in Choujin Sentai Jetman, Gosei Sentai Dairanger and Ninja Sentai Kakuranger. Then came Chouriki Sentai Ohranger, which showed some promise in its initial episodes but soon lost its direction in the tragic aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the sarin gas terror attacks in the Tokyo subway system.

Let us now continue our Super Sentai history lesson starting with 1986’s Flashman!


10. Choushinsei Flashman (1986)

FLASHMAN

Separated at birth

Original broadcast run: Mar 1, 1986 – Feb 21, 1987 (50 episodes)

“PRISM FLASH!”

Twenty years ago, five children were kidnapped by the Reconstructive Empire Mess for the purposes of experimentation. After being rescued and trained by the Flash aliens, they return to Earth to search for their parents and combat Mess as the Choushinsei Flashman!

Another product of Soda’s reign, Flashman delivered a fresh take on the Super Sentai concept, and stood out because of its heroes’ tragic, and unique origins, as compared to its predecessors. They, as much as anyone else would, wanted answers to their own existence, yet they would not have much time due to a cleverly designed plot device known as the Anti-Flash Phenomenon. Flashman also boasted a host of great villains (who were arguably more popular than the heroes) with their own conflicts, contributing to a remarkable 10th anniversary entry in the Super Sentai franchise.

Written by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
– First Sentai team to have a secondary robot in Flash Titan, which can detach its truck cab to become Titan Boy. Titan Boy can subsequently combine with its trailer to become Great Titan.
Hagiwara Sayoko (Tachibana Rei/Dyna Pink) plays Ley Nefel, the white-haired, leopard-skinned field commander of Mess.
– Enter Hirose Yutaka (Ley Wanda), in his first regular villain role. Hirose would go on to play several notable villains in the franchise.
Nakata Joji, plays Sir Cowler of the Alien Hunters. Two years later, he takes up the big bad role as the Great Professor Bias.
– First Sentai team without a mentor. As a robot assistant, Mag does not count.

11. Hikari Sentai Maskman/Light Task Force Maskman (1987)

MASKMAN

Wouldn’t wanna mess with these kungfu masters

Original broadcast run: Feb 28, 1987 – Feb 20, 1988 (51 episodes)

“AURA MASK!”

Five youngsters, each specialising in a particular martial art style, were picked by Commander Sugata, an excellent scientist and martial artist himself, to utilise a mystical energy known as “Aura Power” and become the Hikari Sentai Maskman to defend the surface world against the Underground Empire Tube.

Maskman focused mainly on martial arts and the spiritual development of the human body, becoming the first series to divert from pure science fiction, which had been an important component of the genre since Denjiman. It was also the first Sentai to have a heavy romance element, with some fans complaining that it overshadowed the main plot and left a lot to be desired of the other characters. However, Maskman was generally well-received.

Written by Kim Hong. Additional writing by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
– First Sentai team to have a five-piece combining mecha!
– First Sentai team whose sidearms did not come with an accompanying shield.
– First Sentai team to have its bazooka destroyed (Shot Bomber) and replaced (Jet Cannon). Also the first Sentai whose bazooka had a secondary function as a vehicle.
– First Sentai team to have a sixth member. Asuka Ryo/X1 Mask appears in Episode 39. X1 Mask is the Maskman prototype.
– Maskman was extremely popular in the Philippines.

12. Choujuu Sentai Liveman (1988)

LIVEMAN

The ol’ tale of friendship and betrayal, played up several notches

Original broadcast run: Feb 27, 1988 – Feb 18, 1989 (49 episodes)

“LIVEMAN!”

Three ambitious geniuses from the elite institute Academia leave to join the evil organisation Volt, killing two classmates on the night of their departure. The murder is witnessed by Amamiya Yuusuke, Oohara Jou and Misaki Megumi, who eventually complete the pair’s research, becoming the Choujuu Sentai Liveman to battle against their former friends and stop Volt.

Liveman was a series with one of the darkest and most serious tones of the entire franchise, building upon the themes of youthful idealism, friendship and betrayal, with excellent character development on both sides of the coin. Despite the obvious vendetta that was presented in the beginning, the series eventually headed in the direction of redemption for the Volt scientists, with the Livemen doing everything they could to protect the Earth and save their friends. Liveman was the last great Sentai of the 80’s (because Turboranger after it was rather lacklustre).

P.S. Liveman is the author’s favourite Super Sentai series of all time.

Written by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
– First series to feature a female Blue member
– Second Sentai to have three members. However, Liveman is also the first team to have more than one member join later on (Black Bison, Green Sai)
– First team to have Black and Green members in the same team.
– First Sentai team to have a ‘Super’ robot – A combination of the first and second robots.
– First Sentai team to have animal-based mecha
– First Super Sentai series to have the team build their own powers
– First Super Sentai series to have its theme song sung by a member of the team, in this case, Shima Daisuke, who plays Amamiya Yuusuke/Red Falcon
– The last Sentai series to have a pure carrier mecha that did nothing but carry the other mecha to battle.

13. Kousoku Sentai Turboranger (1989)

TURBORANGER

Silon, bring me five teenagers with attitude!!

Original broadcast run: Mar 3, 1989 – Feb 23, 1990 (51 episodes)

“TURBORANGER!”

Twenty-thousand years ago, the Bouma Hundred Tribes were sealed away in a battle with the human race, assisted by the Fairies. However, pollution has weakened the seal, allowing the Bouma to escape and continue their unfinished work in present day. The last remaining Fairy, Silon, working alongside Dr. Dazai, a scientist, summons five high school students to become the Kousoku Sentai Turboranger!

A group of students takes up the mantle to defend Earth once again, but instead of being university students like the Liveman team, the Turborangers are the first Sentai team made up of high school students. Turboranger was Soda’s 8th Sentai series, and many fans felt that this was where his early quality began to diminish. Ratings took a dive after the change in time slot midway through the season, leading to rumours of cancellation that would plague the franchise for several years after. However, it was not all that bad, as Satou Kenta received massive applause for his performance at Super Sentai Spirits Live 2004 and 2006, dressed as Honoo Riki complete with his Turbo Brace.

Written by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
Kousoku Sentai Turboranger was originally the 10th anniversary series
– The theme song was performed by none other than Satou Kenta, who plays Honoo Riki/Red Turbo.
Turboranger is the first Super Sentai series to debut in the Heisei era (the current Japanese emperor’s reign)
– The series was originally going to be called Gekisou Sentai Carranger, but for unknown reasons it was changed. Carranger, however, would be used seven years later.
– The first Sentai to have a transforming base mecha, and a seven-piece robot combination.

14. Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman (1990)

FIVEMAN

Victims of the worst family vacation ever

Original broadcast run: Mar 2, 1990 – Feb 8, 1991 (48 episodes)

“FIVEMAN!”

In the year 1970, while conducting research on the planet Sedon, Dr. Hoshikawa and his wife were separated from their five children in an attack by the Zone Empire, forcing their sentient robot, Arthur G6, to bring the children back to Earth in order to save their lives. Twenty years later, the Zone begin their invasion of Earth. The Hoshikawa siblings have now become teachers, but have also been developing the technology to defend Earth against an attack from Zone, as the Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman!

After years of writing and possibly a burnout of ideas, Fiveman was apparently the legendary Soda’s final series under the power of his pen before rescinding the position and passing the torch to new blood. Unfortunately, it was not the best of send-offs as Fiveman has been said to have almost killed the franchise due to the inconsistent pacing and tone. Fiveman was also the first Sentai series to introduce the siblings/family team motif years before the arrival of GoGoV, Magiranger and Ninninger.

Written by Jaclyn Ngan
Sentai Claim to Fame
– First Sentai team to comprise of siblings.
– First Sentai team to have a team-based power-up armour, the Five Tector.
– Arthur G6, the team’s mentor, can transform into their
– Five Robo reverted to the three-piece mecha format used in earlier Sentai, and even vaguely resembled some of them, most notably Flash King.
Uemura Kihachirou, who played Dai/Green Flash in Choushinsei Flashman, plays the recurring villain Chevalier.

15. Choujin Sentai Jetman (1991)

JETMAN

Original broadcast run: Feb 15, 1991 – Feb 14, 1992 (51 episodes)

“CROSS CHANGER!”

The Earth defense agency Sky Force selects five elite soldiers to receive the Birdonic Wave, a new technology that can give them superhuman abilities. However, the procedure is interrupted by an attack from the Dimensional War Party Vyram, scattering the remaining four Birdonic Waves across Japan. Commander Odagiri Aya and Tendou Ryu, the only soldier to receive the wave, must find the four civilians and convince them to fight alongside him as the Choujin Sentai Jetman!

After the mess that was Fiveman, there was a scramble to rekindle the viewership and bring back the older fans, and thus Jetman was born. With a new head writer (Inoue Toshiki), Jetman advanced dramatic storytelling in the Tokusatsu genre, with stronger character development through a larger focus on interpersonal relationships (not just romantic ones) than previous seasons. This made Jetman arguably one of the most popular Super Sentai series of all time.

Written by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
– Jetman was the first Tokusatsu series headed by Inoue Toshiki, who would go on to be a very popular Tokusatsu writer.
Jetman was the first Sentai series, and perhaps the first Tokusatsu series, to have a female mentor.
– First combining robot to have an alternate form – Jet Icarus can also become the Jet Phoenix.
– First Sentai to be replaced entirely (by the Neo Jetmen), but the original team soon reclaimed their places.
– Tran is the first child villain in Super Sentai. However, he accelerates his own growth to become the powerful Emperor Tranza, palyed by Hirose Yutaka.

16. Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger (1992)

ZYURANGER

Jurassic Park rangers

Original broadcast run: Feb 21, 1992 – Feb 12, 1993 (50 episodes)

“DINO BUCKLER!”

Five warriors that were put to slumber from millions of years ago were awoken in order to defeat the witch Bandora, and thus they formed Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger.  The Zyurangers transform with the Dino Buckler. “Dino Buckler!”

Zyuranger had a certain humor and cheesy tone to it, even coming off as silly for some. The character development and relationship though, especially the storyline between the two brothers, Geki and Burai, made the series a much more enjoyable watch. While Zyuranger is mostly an acquired taste, it became retroactively popular in the 2000’s, with advancement in Internet technology and English-speaking Power Rangers fans all clamouring for a copy to compare it to the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers season.

Written by Muhd Nur Hidayat
Sentai Claim to Fame
– First Sentai team from an entirely different time period. The Zyurangers were in hibernation until the need to awaken them came about.
– First Sentai team to have sentient mecha, both in separate forms and combined. Daizyujin is also actually a physical incarnation of the ancient God worshipped by the five tribes which the Zyuranger originate from.
– First Sentai team to have a regular sixth member in Dragon Ranger.
– The first Super Sentai series to be adapted in a foreign language, with foreign actors spliced in with the Japanese stunt footage along with an entirely new storyline, as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in the USA and worldwide. Power Rangers eventually became extremely popular worldwide.
– Additional footage, known colloquially as ‘Zyu2’, was shot by Toei exclusively for Power Rangers.

17. Gosei Sentai Dairanger (1993)

DAIRANGER

Original broadcast run: Feb 19, 1993 – Feb 11, 1994 (51 episodes)

“KIRYOKU TENSHIN, AURA CHANGER!”

After the war ended thousands of years ago between the Gorma and Dai Tribe, the Gorma Tribe revived to take over the world. Five descendants from the Dai tribe were eventually chosen to become the Gosei Sentai Dairanger, to battle the Gorma Tribe.

Dairanger was one of the better Sentai series, in terms of action, both in and out of costume. Each member of the team practised a specific martial art style, which showed in their fights. To top it off, it had a much more serious story and development as compared to Zyuranger. Also, contributing to its popularity, Dairanger was especially sought after in the West, where its mecha and Kibaranger were used in Power Rangers, but the rest of the show wasn’t.

Written by Muhd Nur Hidayat. Additional writing by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
– First Sentai team to have a kid member (Kou was only 9 when he became Kibaranger)
– First Sentai team to have ancestors and descendants wielding the same powers.
– Most of the themes, motifs, and characters in Dairanger are of Chinese-Buddhist origin.
– First Sentai team to have an ethnically Chinese warrior, Tenpusei Rin. Although her actress Takahashi Natsuki is Japanese, the character is established to be from China in the first episode and speaks perfect Japanese.
– Dairanger did not receive a full American adaptation, with its mecha, Kibaranger and monsters of the week used for Power Rangers, but other elements, like hero suits and core villains, were left aside.

18. Ninja Sentai Kakuranger (1994)

KAKURANGER

Probably trying to make amends for another one of Saizou’s screw-ups

Original broadcast run: Feb 18, 1994 – Feb 24, 1995 (53 episodes)

“SUPER HENGE, DORON CHANGER!”

Ninja Sentai Kakuranger consists of five ninjas who are descendants of legendary ninjas and masters of the Kakureryu Ninjutsu. Their mission is to once again seal away the Youkai Army, who have broken free. The five ninjas become Kakuranger with their Doron Changer, using the henshin call is “Super Henge!”

Kakuranger was a well-balanced and overall light-hearted series with a bizarre touch, as seen most often in the battles with the Youkai, which are littered with 60’s Batman-style sound effect speech bubbles. The series was also somewhat a satirical look at how Western pop culture had influenced the then-youth of Japan, which included not only the Kakurangers themselves but the Youkai as well, providing for some hilarious moments onscreen.

Written by Muhd Nur Hidayat. Additional writing by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
– The third longest Super Sentai series, at 53 episodes, behind Gorenger (84 episodes) and Changeman (55 episodes)
– First Sentai series to have a female leader, who is also the youngest member of the team.
– First Sentai series where the team is absorbed in essence into their main mecha, rather than piloting it from a cockpit (Muteki Shogun). Kakure Dai Shogun had a cockpit.
– First Sentai team to have an extra hero in Ninjaman. He is also the first hero character in the franchise to be giant transforming.
– Like Dairanger before it, Kakuranger did not receive a full American adaptation. However, its mecha were used as the Ninja and Shogun Zords in MMPR Season 3 while the suit were used for the Alien Rangers.
– Kosugi Kane, who played Jiraiya, is the first male Super Sentai warrior to have played an Ultraman (the first overall actor, and female, was Hagiwara Sayoko, who had already been Yullian in Ultraman 80). He played Kenichi Kai, who became Ultraman in the American-made Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero. Kosugi was also the second American actor to be a Super Sentai warrior. The first was Diane Martin, from Battle Fever J.
– Gali, the character involved in the death of Jiraiya’s father and his upbringing, is played by Kosugi Sho. You guessed it, Kane’s real-life dad, who was already a popular martial artist and actor.
– The Hanaranger were the first all-evil, all-female Sentai team which weren’t a copy of the presiding team.
– Kakure Dai Shogun is the first Super Sentai mecha to have a CGI rendition, from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers movie.

19. Chouriki Sentai Ohranger (1995)

OHRANGER

Smallest cockpits..EVER!

Original broadcast run: Mar 3, 1995 – Feb 23, 1996 (48 episodes)

“CHOURIKI HENSHIN!”

When the Machine Empire Baranoia launches an invasion on Earth, five officers from the elite military force UAOH harness the mystical “Chou-riki” energies uncovered from ruins of the lost civilisation Pangaea, to become Earth’s last defence against Baranoia – the Chouriki Sentai Ohranger!

Heralded as the 20th anniversary series, Ohranger started off in similar vein as the Soda-era 80’s Sentai, with the premise of an alien invasion. However, Japan was struck with two tragedies in 1995 – the Great Hanshin earthquake and the Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks, forcing a midway change in series tone and almost resulting in the cancellation of the franchise, if not for the success of its toy sales. Conclusion? A mixed bag of tricks, through no fault of the writers really.

Written by Basil Yeo
Sentai Claim to Fame
– Miyauchi Hiroshi makes his return to Sentai as Chief Counsellor Miura Naoyuki, making Ohranger the first and only Sentai series in which a past hero actor fills the role of a mentor.
– First Sentai team to have a five-piece secondary robot, Oh Blocker.
– Ohranger was the second Sentai with a giant transforming ‘Extra Hero’ – Gunmajin
– At more than 600 million years old, Kingranger is the oldest Sentai warrior in existence
Ohranger was the first series since JAKQ Dengekitai to team-up with its predecessor in an exclusive VS movie special, which eventually became a cultural norm in Super Sentai in the years to come.

NEXT WEEK: Part 3 – 1996 – 2005: Revival/The Silver Age