Wednesday, 28 September 2011
天体戦士サンレッド/ Tentai Senshi Sanreddo / Astro Fighter Sunred
It took a long while to finish watching Sunred, because I waited months for the original subtitling group to release the final two episodes of the second season. Eventually, I decided to just track down the alternatives for my last two morsels of pleasure. Because short though its episodes were, Tentai Senshi Sunred has been one of the funniest and most likeable series I’ve ever seen, and a great companion piece to Detroit Metal City, as both began airing in 2008 and packaged themselves in short, snappy 10-minute episodes. Both were rather successful, although DMC seems to have struck much more of a chord in English-speaking fandom, perhaps being rather more immediate. Sunred is smarter, though, and has the honour of having its brilliant pastiche of an opening immortalised in my favourite Nico Douga medley.
Indeed, everything that Sunred is comes from pastiche, and a brilliant reversal. The starting point is the world of sentai TV shows, the best-known in the West being the heavily-adapted Power Rangers – heroes in colourful suits and masks battle against superpowered monsters sent by an evil organisation seeking to take over the world. But the twist in Sunred is that the cartoony premise is then overlaid by a heavy dose of real life: what does the evil organisation do when not in battle? How do they make a living and what happens to monsters outside the battles? What if they all live together in a big house, trying to get ordinary jobs? What if they live near one of the heroes and treat him as a neighbour and work colleague? What if he has a troubled relationship with his girlfriend, while the head of the evil organisation is actually a lovely guy who seems to be much better at understanding her than the hero is?
Sunred is often portrayed as a sentai story in which the good guy is a bullying oaf and the bad guys are all good people who happen to look like monsters, but that would be greatly oversimplifying. They’re all just ordinary people, with their faults and their virtues, and their mistakes cause them problems, whoever they are. And the result is utterly hilarious.
Many of the jokes revolve around the nature of the monsters. There are the ones who just look absurd or have very one-note powers for a quick gag or two. There are the ones who are completely useless, like the guy who is just a piece of prawn for sushi, or the ones who get laughs from trying to act tough when they are totally adorable and impossible to take seriously. But the real reason Sunred works so well is that most of the humour works regardless of the setting. With the relationship between Red and the main antagonist Vamp-sama, for example, the absurdity of the fact that these two archetypes are squabbling over cooking or how to go about doing chores is only an additional layer on what is already genuinely funny dialogue. That’s why Sunred is so good – it is simply good writing.
I will always remember Sunred with fondness. I’m even tempted to one day go to see Kawasaki, the city in which the story is set. It’s not hard to reach from Tokyo, after all, the two cities barely being separate entities – if you’re in Shibuya, for example, you’re about the same distance from the series’ beloved Mizonokuchi as from, say, Akihabara or Ueno.