"Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger": The Powerless Rangers Face Off Against Moe
After the Gokaigers defended Earth with the powers of all the 34 previous Super Sentai, peace was found at last. Well, until it was time for Busters the following week, when the 36th Super Sentai, Tokumei Sentai GoBusters premiered. For nearly four decades, the heroes of Super Sentai have defended Earth and beyond from evil forces. For almost half that time, their adventures have been coming to America in the adaptation series Power Rangers. The legendary franchise has shaped the course of Japanese children’s entertainment for years, and has come up with a few regular features.
Designed for an adult fan audience (with the first episode declaring that “good boys and girls shouldn’t watch this”) on the basis that it ruins the illusion that Super Sentai are real, Akibaranger (the heroes of Japan’s Akihabara, or “Akiba”) features three youths powered by the grand delusion of being heroes. Launching out of the Super Sentai Secret Base (a maid cafe with the hostesses dressed as previous heroes), they’ll defend the town as best they can.
Except, they don’t have a giant robot.
Nobuo Akagi, major fan of the Super Sentai franchise, transforms into AkibaRed, the dashingly cool hero … or at least, he likes to think so. It’s a break from his day job as a delivery boy. Mizuki Aoyagi is a high school martial artist, who has apparently never seen any of the franchise, but is the first one chosen to be AkibaBlue. Somewhere in the middle is cosplay-crazy office lady Yumeria Moegi, who transforms into AkibaYellow. Facing off against an evil organization wishing to demolish Akihabara (staffed by Sacrificial Corporate Goons), the heroes transform using a special device: a toy from AkibaRed’s favorite cartoon, Nijoyome Academy Z-Cune Aoi.
The budget’s obviously a little lower than a normal series; the Corporate Goons are just a mask on top of regular clothes, and the same costume is reused for a different monster in the first two episodes. Admittedly, much of the “giant robot” battle in the second episode is CG, but when your giant robot is a Toyota Prius, it’s an excuse not to have to pull out the giant battle sets that Tokumei Sentai GoBusters is using at the moment. Still, the main three suits are nice and unique enough, featuring more armor than the normal spandex allots, and filled with odd bits, such as AkibaRed’s hair capable of being used as an attack, and AkibaBlue having bear panties.
If you’re a fan of Super Sentai, the set of the Super Sentai Secret Base will have you analyzing every prop and toy in the background. This is ignoring the general amount of fan service the series includes: DekaRed’s actor (and the character of DekaRed … and a stunt actor as DekaRed, as well) appear in the second episode, supplying some publicity for the Japanese dub of Power Rangers SPD and fulfilling the “this show breaks the illusion” concept.
In fact, the concept of the Grand Delusion is amazing. To put it succinctly: the Akibarangers don’t exist, and don’t have a giant robot. When they transform, they share a mental illusion. The second episode shows their fight from the first from the real-world perspective, and it’s hilarious to see the trio swinging and hitting air in front of a restaurant as people walk by, staring. It turns out someone called the cops, who took care of the villains they thought they were fighting. In the second episode, they get hyped to fight with a giant robot, but Machine Itassher (the aforementioned Toyota Prius) is too insane for them at the moment; they need to lose more reality to have a cool giant robot battle.
If you’re a fan of moe, you’ll be sorely insulted … or find it hilarious. “Moe” is the dangerous trend of anime girls being cute and deadly, or some other odd combination (epitomized by Karl Olson in http://karlrolson.com/nerd2x.php?id=wetm ). The fans of the show-within-a-show are all gangly nerds (or, in AkibaBlue’s case, try to hide it), presented as a plague on society; in fact, the motivation of the villains is to destroy Akihabara, as it’s dangerous to Japan’s culture. Sadly, the second episode doesn’t actually feature any animation or imagined dialogue with the lead girl, but it does feature a theme song of hers being used to transform Machine Itassher. Z-Cune Aoi is ever-present, but more as a cultural touchstone than a plot point; future episodes might change this.
Chances are, we’ll never see Unofficial Sentai Akibaranger in America. The amount of footage actually usable in a Power Rangers series is minimal (it’s doubtful Saban would let a Yellow Ranger get groped and have a Blue Ranger get spanked), and yet, it’s purported 12-13 episode run would make it an amazing fit for a single-series set. FUNimation has dipped their toe in the tokusatsu waters with Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City, and there’s enough interest in “Adult Power Rangers” in America to get stuff like Sexy Rangers and such on shelves. If the title could be legally wrangled into this country, it’d be a great set to have. Until then, it looks like fans might have to settle with fan subs and the action figures found at anime conventions.
I can’t recommend the series enough to track down; if you’ve ever seen an episode of Power Rangers and wondered what was up with the explosions behind them as they pose, this series will at least lampshade it for you.