The 15th entry in Japan’s long-running ‘Super Sentai’ series delivers on all fronts with a captivating story, lovable characters, and a villainous force that’s so detestably evil you can’t help but respect their dedication to being existential inconveniences
As someone who has been a Power Rangers fan for as long as I can remember, I’ve spent a number of years eyeing the franchise’s Japanese origins. When I found out that the wholesome ass-kicking show with the rambunctious mecha battles and dazzlingly colourful combat scenes had actually originated in the East and merely been adapted with a new storyline and character elements for the West, I was intrigued. What sort of hyperactive, subtitled fun was I missing out on? Was I in fact watching a largely bastardized and inferior copy of a series that deserved to be witnessed in its raw, original form? Was I getting too invested in a show about rainbow spandex-clad teenagers fighting rubber monsters? Well, that depends on which incarnation of the 45-year-old series you’re watching. On both Super Sentai and Power Ranger fronts, the quality varies from series to series. Some are considered absolute must-see classics, whilst others are encouraged to be avoided and left to remain unseen in the darkest, deepest pits of…somewhere dark.
I wanted to start off our Sentai journey with an entry that is widely regarded as one of the best (and darkest) of all Super Sentais, Choujin Sentai Jetman. I went into Jetman knowing nothing about the series, so that every twist and turn the show threw my way would have the maximum impact. I was joined by my fellow writer Dave (hello Dave) for the 52-episode escapade and following the conclusion of the final episode, we have some things to say with maybe one or two bird-related puns as we go along.
First impressions are everything, and Jetman soars high in that regard. The show’s opening theme, sung by Hironobu Kageyama of Dragon Ball fame is a fun, catchy tune that will get stuck in your head thanks to its earworm of a chorus. You’ll be mindlessly mumbling ‘JETTO, JETTO, JETTOMAN!’ for days.
Dave: “It’s a bop. If you haven’t made sweet love to your significant other/body pillow to the Jetman theme, can you really say you’ve made love at all? “
Jetman‘s main cast is well-fleshed out for the most part, with a good mix of likeable, sympathetic and downright despicable. The core Ranger team consisting of Ryu (red), Gai (black), Ako (blue), Kaori (pink), and Raita (yellow) aren’t immediately all chummy with one another and spend over half the series at odds with their teammates before truly bonding and becoming firm friends. That’s mostly down to Gai Yuki, AKA Black Condor AKA The most awesome Ranger I’ve ever seen (sorry, fanboying a bit [Understandable, one of Gai’s introductory scenes features him knocking back liquor and delivering a sweet sax solo ~ Dave]) Gai is a ladies’ man with a chip on his shoulder who does not meld too well with the team’s leader, Ryu Tendo. The pair frequently clash, resulting in more than one occasion of Gai walking away or even coming to blows with Ryu. The other teammates are considerably less volatile than Gai and function pretty well together much earlier on, with one or two stumbles along the way. Their commander, the ever-lovely Aya Odigiri keeps them in line and provides them with a whole arsenal of toys to blast the bad guys with. I was initially expecting her to be a stern hardass who never so much as cracked a smile, but Commander Aya (She’s a Queen~ Dave) was surprisingly nice and jelled well with the rest of the Jetmen.
Dave: “The villains are a race of genocidal aliens from the reverse dimension calling themselves the Vyram, led by four conquerors. They are:
- Count Radiguet—the interdimensional incel and fucker of mothers.
- Tran—psychokinetic and psychotic child with a Nintendo Power Glove.
- Grey—a robot designed to promote drugs to impressionable Japanese children.
- Maria—constant source of dramatic tension and BDSM fantasies.
Hellbent on the destruction of humanity in every dimension they may find it, they turn human objects and ideas into monsters so humanity kills itself in both gruesome and poetic fashion.
The Vyram are interesting because they have no single leader, but compete to see who can defeat the bird people first and earn the right to reign supreme. It’s evident early on that if they learned to cooperate like the Jetmen, they would win whenever they want, but instead they choose to mock and undermine each other’s schemes instead. Yet, it’s that same commitment to indulging in every vice they claim to be punishing humanity for, that makes them such compelling villains. While they are shown softer sides occasionally, the show doesn’t shy away from all the explicit murder and terror they are responsible for. Radiguet in particular is a complete bastard, with displays of sociopathy that would be considered unsettling even on adult television. I love him.”
Jetman flies off to a good start with its introductory episode that establishes the inciting event that kicks the whole thing into motion. In 1991, the international defense agency known as Sky Force maintains a steady peace on Earth via their command centre, the Earth Ship. Scientists of Sky Force develop a brand-new energy source that can bestow amazing powers upon its willing subjects. This power source, the aptly-named Birdonic Waves is what the Sky Force hopes to use in order to create a new breed of hero, The Jetman. Five candidates are put forward by the director of the project Aya Odagiri, including Ryu Tendo and his girlfriend Rie.
Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan and the Earth Ship comes under fire from the dastardly, glamorously-dressed villain faction Vyram. They come from the Back Dimension, which is pretty much the mirror opposite of our own, a ‘Front’ Dimension if you will. After successfully wiping out all life in the Back Dimension, the Vyram aim their goals of conquest at Earth and all hope seems lost when everyone onboard the Earth ship is killed except for Aya and Ryu, who is left reeling after witnessing his girlfriend Rie sucked out of the ship, seemingly to her doom. Luckily, Ryu was able to successfully undergo the process of absorbing the Birdonic Waves, and is able to escape to Earth with Aya. The waves travel across the city, coming into contact with four more humans who will all eventually come together to form the titular team.
Dave: “If you have approached this story from the perspective of a Power Rangers fan, the emphasis on the dynamic interpersonal relationships rather than the self-contained, monster-of-the-week hijinks might be a bit of departure. While there are plenty of wacky single episode characters and developments, the heart of the story is the ongoing emotional hardships they have to overcome: grief, distrust, confidence, and a love triangle with so many individual parts it’s more like a love millennium puzzle. More complex and weighty questions are asked like is humanity really worth saving? None of these issues are resolved in the span of a single episode, but they are wounds only healed with the salve of healthy communication, multiple giant robot manufacturing sessions, and most importantly, time.
As an aside, the majority of the Power Rangers series that delve into more uncomfortable subject matters like this are the ones that more closely adapt the Sentai equivalent, such as Time Force and Wild Force, with RPM being a notable exception. Having said that, Super Sentai are just as likely to deliver a saccharine season full of comedy and low stakes hijinks. There’s a season out there for everyone.
Ultimately, the overarching theme of Jetman is one of collaboration. That is, despite our individual differences and grievances, if we’re willing to take the time to understand each other, we can find common ground while embracing what makes us unique to become more than the sum of our parts. This is the essence of human progress. The nail that sticks out doesn’t get hammered down. It’s joined by four other flamboyantly dressed nails at the end of a large baseball bat and used to thoroughly unmake the kneecaps of creepy, toxic, hypocritical smurfs from the racist dimension.”
Choujin Sentai Jetman is a phenominal series that represents the zenith of what you can expect from a team-based tokusatsu show, while also serving as a delectable time capsule of 90s television. There are a few missteps here and there such as the underutilisation of Ako and Raita (and how in some episodes, Raita’s character is reduced to being “the overweight guy”), but the show manages to balance drama, romance, action, and marketing children’s toys with ease. The emotional highs and lows it confronts the audience with will galvanise children for the future ahead of them and provide adults with genuinely gripping television.