Saturday, April 30, 2016

SUPER HERO TIME! Dekaranger!

EMERGENCY!  I have another Super Sentai ramble/rant/review for you!  This time it's Dekaranger, the most hard-boiled squad of all. 

The Dekarangers are more accurately called S.P.D., or Special Police Dekaranger.  Their Power Rangers adaptation was even called Power Rangers SPD.  "Deka" is the Japanese word for detective, and the Dekarangers are a special unit of space police protecting earth (or at least Japan) from alien criminals.  There are hostage negotiations, Hannibal Lecter-esque prison interviews, and even episodes inspired by film noir.  Dekaranger is not shy about its police procedural gimmick, but it hardly detracts from the quality of the show. 

- I usually refer to main characters by title or color because it's easier
- I will mention spoilers through episode 33, the first episode using SWAT Mode

The Basics

Full Title: Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger
Air Date: February 2004 to February 2005
Series Number: 28th
Video Content: 50 episodes, 4 movies

The Dekarangers are five (eventually six, and sometimes seven or eight) space police detectives who battle Alienizers, or aliens committing crimes on Earth.  Most Alienizers visit Earth from elsewhere to misbehave, but several are normal Earth residents.  Similar to the American comic book (and later film franchise) Men in Black, Dekaranger presents a world where alien immigrants live amongst humans in significant numbers.  There are SPD precincts at thousands of planets, but Dekaranger takes place almost entirely on Earth.  

The Story

The exposition for Dekaranger is straight out of a buddy cop movie: Banban "Ban" Akaza is the new recruit to the police squad, but his extreme recklessness and loud personality has him immediately clash with his new co-workers.  Ban (Deka Red) eventually becomes the team's most important member, and his single-minded devotion to justice is an inspiration to the rest of the team.  I mean, change a few details and that setup is consistent with dozens of police procedurals and movies.  And it's certainly on purpose - Dekaranger is blatantly a Super Sentai adaptation of traditional police and detective fiction, but it does so with above-average characters and storytelling for a Super Sentai show. 

Like a lot of older Sentai, or Boukenger, or most crime procedural shows, Dekaranger is very episodic.  There is less focus on a series-long narrative and much more on crimes of the week.  Or two weeks, as Dekaranger has more two-part episodes than any other Super Sentai I've seen.  Some episodes are more "typical Sentai" than others (i.e. story setup > battle on foot > story development > second battle on foot > mecha battle > resolution, in under 20 minutes), but Dekaranger's predilection for multi-part episodes allow for more time spent on a single story to let it breathe, and it's very appreciated.  A lot of Dekaranger plots feature research and detective work as part of the process for solving Alienizer crimes.  Sometimes the denouement of an episode is a sting operation or a personal confrontation instead of a mecha battle.  When there is a mecha battle, more often than not the Alienizer fights in its own giant robot instead of growing to giant size.  Dekaranger has quite a few interesting and refreshing twists on Super Sentai bits. 

And I feel like it's worth mentioning: Dekaranger probably has my favorite spate of movies for any Super Sentai show.  The two Vs movies (where they interact with the dinosaur-themed Abarangers and sorcery-themed Magirangers) are both okay, which is about as good as those crossover movies get.  The standalone Dekaranger movie introduces Deka Gold, who's a fantastic one-episode character that I wish had crossed over to the main show; the movie itself is also decent.  The fourth Dekaranger movie, Dekaranger: Ten Years After, was a fun romp filmed in 2015 (so everyone is, naturally, ten years older).  Ten Years After isn't mind-blowingly great, but it adds a few really good character moments and details of Dekaranger's world that I found quite entertaining.  I don't want to oversell them, but Dekaranger's movies are fun and interesting, which I definitely can't say of every Super Sentai. 

At first, Dekaranger doesn't seem to have a main villain or central conflict, but then viewers meet Agent Abrella.  Abrella is an arms dealer that provides weapons, foot soldier droids, and giant robots to Alienizer criminals.  I'll get into more detail about Abrella later, but he is definitely the most important recurring threat to the Dekarangers.  Remarkably, Abrella is introduced as an observer in the first six or seven episodes, but the Dekarangers don't learn of Abrella's identity or influence until around episode 30.  With Abrella serving as a throughline for the different Alienizer villains, Dekaranger's story feels less disjointed than other Sentai shows that take a similar approach (looking at you, Boukenger).  Overall, thanks to its unique take on Super Sentai narrative, its individually strong episodes, and the uniting presence of Abrella, Dekaranger's story is excellent. 

The Dekarangers

The Heroes

Deka Red: Ban (Banban Akaza), a reckless fireball of an officer
Deka Blue: Hoji (Houji Tomasu), a skilled sniper and leader
Deka Green: Sen-chan (Senichi Enari), a brilliant, eccentric detective
Deka Yellow: Jasmine (Marika Reimon), an ESPer with psychic powers
Deka Pink: Umeko (Koume Kodou), a bubble bath enthusiast
Deka Break (White): Tetsu (Tekkan Aira), an elite space police operative

The Dekarangers are an elite police unit of five (later six) officers managed by Doggie Kruger, an alien resembling a tall, blue, anthropomorphic dog, and assisted by Swan Shiratori, an alien resembling a human woman with hair accessories.  Deka Red is almost an exaggerated example of an intense, over-excitable red ranger. He handles every situation by diving in headfirst and has a loud, direct personality. Red clashes often with Blue (whom Red always calls "partner," much to Blue's chagrin).  Blue's a serious dude and a perfectionist, but he's a good cop and often leads operations.  Green is excellent at using inductive reasoning to solve crimes, but is a bit of a space case (he does his best thinking in a headstand).  Yellow has psychic powers (she can read someone's mind or determine an object's origin by touching it) and loves puns.  Pink is my least-favorite in the team, as the bulk of her skillset is changing clothes rapidly and spending much of her free time in a bathtub.

The cast increases in size with the addition of Deka Break (as in "daybreak," but his color is white), a special operative brought in to deal with a particularly tough Alienizer.  He initially disdains the Dekarangers as too emotionally attached to their work, but eventually respects them (he affectionately calls the other Dekarangers his "senpai") and stays on after his assignment to work with them.  Doggie and Swan are fantastic supporting characters, especially Doggie, who balances being a stern superior officer and an understanding mentor very well (despite looking kinda like Huckleberry Hound).  Swan is the team's tech expert, maintaining their vehicles and developing new technology.  Doggie also occasionally helps the Dekarangers as Deka Master, a black Dekaranger with the number 100 emblazoned on his suit (Deka Master is included in the first image of this post).  Swan also has a ranger transformation, but does it only once in the entire show. 

The atmosphere of Dekaranger's cast is very friendly - there aren't any real assholes in the team, and Doggie gives a nickname to each ranger (which I think is common in Japanese cop shows).  Each episode gets multiple episodes to star (just like most Super Sentai series), but Dekaranger is unusually attentive to its entire cast.  Red probably gets the most shine, but I specifically remember multiple episodes focused on each ranger, plus a few for Doggie and Swan as well.  Remarkably balanced cast, similar to Dairanger in that regard.  It does help that Dekaranger is an episodic show without a series-long storyline focusing on a particular hero

The Villains

The enemies in Dekaranger are usually Alienizers, a catch-all term for space alien criminals.  Alienizers are typically described by an origin planet adjective and then a given name, like "Quotaian Dagonel" (alien named Dagonel from the planet Quota).  Alienizers sometimes work alone, but often buy robotic foot soldiers called Anaraoids or giant mecha called Kaijuki ("heavy industrial machine") from Agent Abrella.  Anaroids are often led by upgraded blue and orange variants, and Kaijuki come in a ton of shapes and sizes. 

The appearances, personalities, and modus operandi of each Alienizer vary wildly, which I suppose makes sense given that they're space aliens from a huge variety of planets.  Most of the time their intentions are criminal (i.e. stealing a particular object or inflicting death or destruction because they're psycopaths), but on occasion their intentions are personal (there's a birdlike samurai Alienizer that wants to defeat Doggie in a sword fight) or businesslike (Abrella has funded dozens of wars, all for the money).  My favorite was Speckionian Genio, the Alienizer who killed White's parents, and was subsequently arrested by White several years later.  In the first Genio episode, White interviews him in prison for insight to help catch a copycat Alienizer, and in the second, Genio breaks out of prison for revenge.  Damn, that was a good two-parter. 

Agent Abrella is a really interesting main villain, in part because he's barely seen by the viewers (only a few brief cameos in the first several episodes) and because the Dekarangers aren't even aware of his existence until past the halfway point of the show.  Once Abrella is revealed, we see him at work much more often (including him creating special Alienizer armor to combat SWAT Mode), but he still works strictly behind the scenes until nearly the very end of the show.  Sure, Abrella looks like the 1950s version of Red Hood, which I suppose is fitting, since he also resembles a bat.  And sure, he doesn't have demonstrable fighting ability outside of a mech.  But Abrella is also one of the coolest mastermind villains in any Super Sentai show I've seen. Dekaranger has some great bad guys.  

Agent Abrella and 3 Alienizers

The Action

Deka Red: uses dual pistols, six-wheeled police car mecha
Deka Blue: uses baton and sniper rifle, gyro copter mecha
Deka Green: uses baton and shotgun, truck and trailer mecha
Deka Yellow: uses baton and machine gun, armored car mecha
Deka Pink: uses baton and machine gun, warning sign car mecha
Deka Break (White): uses Brace Throttle gauntlet, giant motorcycle mecha

The in-suit combat in Dekaranger is mostly average, unless Doggie or White are involved.  The main team of five are equipped with batons and firearms, but Red wields dual pistols that combine into a larger rifle.  The weapons that Blue, Green, Yellow, and Pink have small differences but I could barely ever tell, and the fighting styles other than Red (who is a wildman who goes in pistols blazing) weren't distinct.  In general, the fighting in Dekaranger doesn't feel as unique as other Super Sentai shows.  The team cannon finisher is great, but only because their pet robot dog Murphy (who I am 100% sure is named after Robocop) turns into the cannon.  That's awesome. 

The extra rangers have much more interesting fighting styles than the main five.  White is a master martial artist who uses a special gauntlet called the Brace Throttle, which can add a huge variety of properties to his strikes after he "revs up" the gauntlet, including electric shocks, enhanced strength, or shockwaves.  When Doggie Kruger becomes Deka Master, he uses a special katana called the D-Sword Vega to fell foes.  It's pretty cool.  I wish Deka Master was in more episodes. Around the 30-episode mark, the five main Dekarangers pass a special exam to use "SWAT Mode," in which they put on armor, equip high-powered assault rifles, and gain access to some special gadgets.  SWAT Mode is dope as fuck and even comes with a cool theme song. 

I enjoyed most of the mecha fight scenes in Dekaranger.  Each hero has a unique police-themed vehicle, and they combine into a mecha called Dekaranger Robo.  Deka Break has a giant robot motorcycle called Deka Bike that can form into a giant robot of his own.  Yes, Dekaranger Robo can ride the Deka Bike, and yes, it's awesome.  The Dekarangers' base also can transform into a super-giant mecha (called, unsurprisingly, Deka Base Robo), but Deka Base Robo transformations aren't very frequent.  The best stuff is with Dekaranger Robo and Deka Bike, especially since it feels so non-standard for Sentai.  Dekaranger Robo does John Woo-style dives and cover-based shooting in giant robot fights, which is way cool.  The weakest parts of this group of mecha are the Dekarangers' vehicles themselves, which range from decent (I like Deka Yellow's armored car) to truly awful (Deka Pink's billboard thing is one of the worst mecha in Super Sentai history). 

The Style

I'm conflicted on Dekaranger's suits.  I think the helmets' visors are too broad (except Doggie's, which looks great) and the siren lights on the side are too gaudy.  I'm torn about the number symbols on the torsos, because they're hella cool when you notice them but seem just like an odd two-tone choice if the number isn't jumping out at you.  The silver and gold highlights look solid, though, and the rangers outside the main five (White, Doggie, Swan, and two one-off characters) look better than the mains.  Outside of battle, the Dekarangers' clothes are nice and distinct.  The star design on the jumpsuits looks good.  Doggie's formal space uniform is great.  I'm (maybe surprisingly?) okay with the choices of casual wear in Dekaranger.

Dekaranger has one of the most inspired gadget designs in Super Sentai history in their SP License.  The SP License is a police badge that flips open, and is used for transformation, communication, and judgments.  Flipping and presenting the badge following by an "EMERGENCY" call (in English) is an excellent transformation scene.  During a full team roll call, each Dekaranger has a special Dekaranger-defining phrase to recite while they pose, and while I think the roll call drags on too long (a thought I also share for Dairanger and Gekiranger), it's still pretty cool.  Deka Green's quip is "investigating with futuristic technology!" which is just terrific.   

That "Judgment" button on the SP License refers to another Dekaranger gimmick, in which the Dekarangers must "judge" an Alienizer before obtaining permission to kill them.  The License uses a 30-second countdown to sentence an Alienizer after an 8-month trial (on a judiciary planet where time flows much, much more quickly relative to Earth).  Most of the time the Alienizer is found guilty and approved for deletion, but occasionally Judgments don't result in approval, after which there needs to be more investigation by the Dekarangers.  The Judgment concept  shows a remarkable amount of respect to police work in general, which definitely isn't reflected in the trigger-happy, largely racist police work that happens in the United States.  The Baltimore PD ain't no Special Police Dekaranger.

Dekaranger makes some pretty interesting musical choices.  The opening theme is a mostly-generic J-rock song with a FABULOUS opening hook, lots of random English ("Action! Perfect! Get on!"), and a high-energy vibe overall.  I love it.  It's one of my favorite Super Sentai openers.  Unfortunately, Dekaranger's ending themes aren't as fun.  One is a lounge-singing bit set in a nightclub that I think is supposed to be fun big-band swing, but comes across as awkward.  During some episodes that focus on Yellow and/or Pink, there's a special ending music video with the two lady rangers singing a "Girls in Trouble!" pop song that I absolutely hated.  I'm not totally opposed to girly bubblegum J-pop most of the time, but I am definitely opposed to that annoying mess of a tune.

Swan Shiratori and Doggie Kruger

The Final Word

Favorite Hero: Deka Green
Favorite Villain: Speckionian Genio
Favorite Mecha: Deka Bike
Favorite Episodes: Genio (28-29), Celeb Game (34)

Dekaranger is a hell of a good Super Sentai show.  It has a very interesting take on the Sentai formula and its main characters are appealing.  Dekaranger doesn't have my favorite story or combat in Super Sentai, but it does a ton of small things VERY well and has several standout episodes.  There's a lot to like here, and if you're interested in Super Sentai and haven't given Dekaranger a chance, it's worth your time and consideration. 


I'm starting to get behind on my Super Sentai writing (but not NEARLY as far behind as I am on games writing).  I've already finished ToQger so that one's next, and I'm about 40 episodes into Jetman, so that one's following.  After those it's a toss-up between Zyuranger and Carranger.  I'm in the episode 25-35 range in both of those.  After I finish those three, it'll be ten Super Sentai shows down.  Sounds like a top ten list to me. 

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