It was my fourth Super Sentai series and I can confidently say Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters may be my favorite one so far.
It was an experimental season that toyed with formula. It featured a dramatic, emotional storyline, but didn’t forget to have a little fun to help put things into perspective. It had legitimate and truly surprising twists that kept things exciting. It had a large group of likeable characters and a deliciously crafty and slick villain.
In other words, it had everything I look for in a Sentai (or Power Rangers for that matter) series.
Being that Power Rangers RPM is my favorite Power Rangers season, it was easy for me to jump right into Go-Busters, a series that seemed almost like it was meant to be a sequel to the former. Both series managed to balance a heavy and dramatic storyline with some light and quirky touches.
And in addition to the similar plot points, both series also seemed to draw the same flabbergasted responses from their companies and talk of behind the scenes shuffling.
It is interesting to see the comments Saban had about RPM and now comments Bandai has made about Go-Busters.
But when I enjoy a series as much as I have Go-Busters, I don’t really care. And it’s one of those times I ignore the violent reactions and just enjoy what I want to enjoy.
Yes, it’s a shame Go-Busters didn’t seem to attract the kiddies and affect their toy-buying habits. But as a creative person myself, seeing the effort and vision Toei (originally) had by commissioning a season like Go-Busters was exciting.
Trying New Things
Go-Busters was undoubtedly an experimental season. Toei tried a lot of different things, tweaking the Sentai formula, but still keeping the franchise’s basic DNA intact.
The leather suits with no trace of spandex continued a trend that started with Goseiger‘s two-toned unis and Gokaiger‘s layered pirate outfits. Go-Busters‘ suits were definitely fresh and contemporary
The henshin sequences weren’t stock footage. Even if it would’ve been very easy to use considering they wore uniforms whenever heading out to battle.
A Sentai and Power Rangers staple is the 2nd life of the monster of the week. Go-Busters worked around that, using the story to remove the need for the redundant 2nd lives, but presenting a fresh way to include the all-important mecha fights. The season not only broke away from the standard Sentai episode format, they also used a fresh fight dynamic that had half the team fighting the giant robos with the other fighting the smaller enemy.
That set-up helped create some excitingly different mecha fights as well as more dynamic fight sequences.
Some may say our main three were cookie cutter characters. I’d argue every Sentai or Power Rangers series has Rangers who fit a certain mold.
But Hiromu, Ryuji and Yoko’s individual personalities were highlighted by their Buddyroids. They were connected and that allowed the Buddyroids to be their own characters as well. It was great to see Nick, Gorisaki and Usada get as much screen time and some good stories for themselves.
But it was their painful past that helped drive the three of them. The overall story arc could’ve overshadowed the individual personalities, but it helped form their characters. They had a work-like approach to the mission at hand and their pain and suffering drove them, connected then. As much as they worked as a team, they also had their own ways of dealing with their past and how to move on to the future. That dynamic helped ground the overall story.
Nakamura, Morishita and Kuroki were also given a lot to do and that’s not always the case. Their own character development helped legitimize many scenes with the Go-Busters, for example the scenes of them sending the Go-Busters off into the Subdimension the first time and their protest and later worry when the Go-Busters would go to the Subdimension for the last time. Those kinds of scenes wouldn’t have worked without them having established their place on the team as well as not having formed that connection beyond just work.
And of course there’s Jin and J. Jin was an interestingly different character on his own, but also a representative of the greater story at hand. He and J, like the Go-Busters and their Buddyroids, played off of each other so well. Jin had a fun-loving, nonchalant personality, but still with a sense of maturity and experience. And as we saw, his presence was the representation of what this past year has been all about; what everyone had to go through the last 13 years and the noble sacrifices they’ve all had to make.
J is in a class all on his own. His fascination with nature, his eagerness to do whatever he wants (including playing dress up), and his genuine care for Jin; all a recipe for maybe one of the most fun and likeable characters you’ll ever meet.
Enter was an excellent villain. Campy, but cool at the same time. A smart and clever adversary who presented a legitimate challenge to the Go-Busters and grew from merely being a lackey to becoming the real and only threat. And while Escape may have had the potential for much more story, she nonetheless provided an extra dimension to Enter’s character and plans.
Go-Busters may be a more plot-driven series, but that plot completely falls apart without strong, distinct characters. And Go-Busters had ‘em.
Dark and Light
Like Saban’s discounting of RPM (and inexplicably Jungle Fury) as being too dark, necessitating a need for a more happy, fun and comedic Power Rangers season for the first effort in Samurai (read: Let’s go back to the 90s!), so did Bandai turn their noses to Go-Busters and assumedly help push for the season we’ll be getting now. (Samba!)
Now Go-Busters‘ storyline was considerably heavy, sure. Our three Go-Busters lost their families when they were still kids when they and dozens, hundreds of other people are sucked into a Subdimension and trapped there for 13 years. For all anyone knows, they’re dead.
But there’s always hope. And the Go-Busters as well as their mentor and commander held on to that hope until it was dashed right before their eyes.
That looming darkness and somber mission gave the season a sense of gravitas and heft that I look for on a Sentai or Power Rangers.
Yes, I look for gravitas in a “children’s program.”
Even kids’ shows need a reason for heroes to exist. And after 20 or 35 years, some situations can become a little tired.
But that basic premise provided for some incredible episodes and amazing scenes. They had a big reason to fight and they took on that challenge even when it could’ve been the most emotionally painful thing to do.
That’s heavy stuff for a Sunday morning show.
But before one can point and say “See! That’s why it failed!”, one must also point to how the series had more than plenty fun and lighthearted moments to break what would be an overly depressing time.
Like Power Rangers RPM (and like what Saban apparently chose to ignore when they made their initial comments), Go-Busters used comedy and quirky moments (and episodes) to put things into perspective. That even though they had this huge task ahead of them, a huge emotional and physical challenge, it by no means meant it was the be all, end all of their existence.
They carried a big weight on their shoulders, but that doesn’t mean they can’t laugh about chickens or robots going on strike or workplace awkwardness. In fact, a lot of the season’s most poignant moments came from lighter plots.
It is absurd to think to that kids don’t respond to something that doesn’t feature slapstick or puns every other second. Like I’ve pointed out in every critique I’ve made of Power Rangers since Saban reclaimed the franchise, kids these days are smarter and more sophisticated. A 5 year old kid today would likely not be in to the same things a 5 year old kid in the 90s (like I was) was in to.
But in the grander scheme of the season, Go-Busters had a story to tell and it wasn’t backing off from telling it. And this is all about the story. What it means for the business and commercial side of things, I could care less.
One of the many things Go-Busters dared to do differently was to feature multiple climaxes. And that can be an amazing viewing experience to have that many thrilling finale-like events in a season.
Indeed, Go-Busters‘ episodes 30 and 44 rivaled any actual finale episode from either Sentai or Power Rangers. Both episodes were emotional and meaningful thrill rides; conclusions that wrapped things up, but were never definite.
The first Messiah shutdown was shocking in many ways, not the least of which having their families who had a sliver of a chance to survive tell the Go-Busters to basically leave them for dead to help save the world. It was a dramatic, exciting, but incredibly poignant and deep episode that brought everything they had been fighting for the last 29 episodes to a head.
Many say Go-Busters should’ve ended there or that the season started going to hell after that episode. But after Episode 30, it presented the Go-Busters a chance to work through the crap they just had to go through, not to mention 13 years of emotional suffering. And it helped solidify the overall arc of Enter as a villain and their ultimate, end-game adversary.
That all lead to the Christmas episode, Mission 44. It would’ve been lazy and irresponsible for Go-Busters to have let Christmas go by without a big episode. Christmas pretty much helped drive the series. That Christmas Day, 13 years before, is why there even is a Go-Busters. Mission 30 presented the seemingly insurmountable challenge of having to come up with an episode that’d top that.
But with Mission 44, they did. It was an incredible, action-packed and emotionally-driven episode that, for a second time, brought everything back into perspective. It would’ve been easy to save the events of this episode for the actual finale instead of six weeks before (Saban probably would).
But they made it an amazing and memorable episode that helped bring real closure to what had been a huge part of their lives.
These (now two) excellent episodes put a lot of pressure into having the actual season finale live up to the impossibly high standard. And while I don’t think the finale quite did, it still worked. Enter’s year long journey led up to that moment. The Go-Busters had ended their beef with Messiah, avenged their families’ deaths, twice in fact. Now it was time for them to stop Enter, their final adversary. It took them 13 years to bring closure for their loss and now they were going to do everything they could to avoid anyone else having to go through the same suffering.
Making the ultimate sacrifice, after having experienced such loss that would really discourage anyone else from doing the same, helped make Mission 50 a more than satisfying conclusion. And in turn, made Go-Busters a creative success.
Everything I Look For
Directionless? Loss of focus? I think they had plenty direction and focus considering how the three climaxes wrapped up distinct story arcs. Even the most amazing series will have duds and shallow filler episodes. But to have meaningful conclusions that resonated, Go-Busters succeeded in telling their story.
And it was a story filled with what I look for in a Sentai or Power Rangers series. It had a strong, dramatic story. It had rootable and likeable characters. It had exciting action. It had a great villain. It balanced heavy and dark with light and fluffy. It had a great, talented cast.
But maybe, most importantly, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters started a journey and satisfyingly concluded it. Both visually and emotionally, Go-Busters left a resonating mark for this Sentai and Power Rangers fan. And that’s all that’s important to me.