Not One Space Pirate, a Whole Squad of Them

Illustration for article titled Not One Space Pirate, a Whole Squad of Them

They're pirates in space. But they've got more than guns and swords. They've got cell phones and groovy collars. Arrgh!

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Earlier this year, the 35th Super Sentai show debuted on Japanese television. In the West, the Super Sentai series is known as Power Rangers and features a "sentai" or "battle squad" of color-coded super heroes.

The term "sentai" was used by the Japanese during World War II, and after the country became demilitarized, shows like Super Sentai, an off-shoot of the tokusatsu boom, allowed Japanese boys to enjoy militaristic themes and motifs, but not in an explicitly militaristic manner.

The 35th Super Sentai series is pirate-themed and dubbed Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger ("Pirate Squad Gokaiger").

The show takes pirate tropes, but gives them a knowing, futuristic spin, such as a robotic parrot named "Navi", which is also the Japanese word for a car navigational system.

Illustration for article titled Not One Space Pirate, a Whole Squad of Them
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Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger's Goukai-oh (Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku)

Space pirates are a long standing motif in both the West and Japan. During the 1970s, Japan went a little crazy for space pirates with manga (and later anime) Space Pirate Captain Harlock, which was created by Leiji Matsumoto of Star Blazers fame.

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By the 1980s, the term "space pirates" found its way into Metroid, though not as futuristic sea dogs, but as pillaging insectoids.

The Super Sentai series itself has featured space pirates called the Space Pirates Barban as the baddies, casting curvy pin-up model Kei Mizutani (pictured) as Steerwoman Shelinda.

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The Gokaiger aren't fighting the Space Pirates Barban, but the Space Empire Zangyack.

Illustration for article titled Not One Space Pirate, a Whole Squad of Them
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Late 1990s bikini queen Kei Mizutani (星獣戦隊ギンガマン | Toei)

Gokaiger wield swords, called goukai-ken, and pistols, called goukai-gun, but also carry a cell-phone-looking transformation device dubbed "mobairets" (a word play on "mobile" and "pirates"), as well as keys that allow them to change into Super Sentai heroes of yesteryear.

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The Gokaiger series is a hit, with Bandai Namco, who owns the marketing license, spawning the usual array of toy weapons, figures, and kiddy arcade games. It's not the best live-action sci-fi kiddy show on television (that would be Kamen Rider OOO), but it is the best dressed. Check out those collars.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome—game related and beyond.

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(Top photo: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku)

DISCUSSION

Gokaiger is the first Super Sentai I've seriously watched since..... well, Power Rangers in like 2000. I'm seriously enjoying it. After trying to watch Shinkenger and not being able to get into it (despite the EPIC soundtrack), and completely missing Goseiger, Gokaiger is certainly a unique - and very enjoyable - twist on the whole "regular humans with special powers bestowed to protect the planet" concept. It certainly doesn't hurt that they're truly going all-out with the production this time around, either.

Grown-ass man watching tokusatsu.... feels good, bro.

Also, video games.

(edit) I was actually looking up information about other non-Japanese tokusatsu series as I saw this post appear in my newsfeed - and stumbled upon some Korean show called Ray Force, which looks really spectacular from what little I've seen of it. Something of a cross between Kamen and Sentai, but I need to see more of it to judge properly....