With convention season starting, and Anime Boston lurching ever-closer, I’d like to begin sharing a bit of preparation. While the details haven’t been nailed out entirely, if all goes well, I’ll be joining Sam Kusek of A Life in Panels & Ken Haley of Sequential Ink on a panel focused on Sentai, and the genre’s relative place in Japanese society in comparison to the role held by American super-heroes. Tonight, I’ll lead off with a brief introduction to Sentai as a whole, and in subsequent installments, build from this foundation to form my arguments.
The term sentai literally translates to squadron, task force, group or wing. The word was primarily used in this context during World War II to describe units in the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force and Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.
In a more modern context, the term is shorthand for “Super Sentai” – a genre of live-action TV shows. Super Sentai shows are usually tokusatsu (literally: special filming) titles, or shows that feature superheroes, and feature extensive use of special effects. The titles revolve around around a group of five or fewer heroes that gain super powers through some means, and use their powers to fight the good fight against malevolent forces that threaten the planet.
Super Sentai titles follow a strict “Monster of the Week” format, in which the cast is threatened by a new threat with every weekly installment. To deal with these growing dangers, the Super Sentai heroes are usually given giant robots to pilot, which usually combine into a larger, more powerful version that will surely eliminate the threat at hand.
If you’ve noticed a pattern that results in lots of toys and other merch, you’re not crazy. Many of the more popular Super Sentai shows are used to sell toys to the younger set as a secondary goal. But this is a different story for a different day.
The west isn’t entirely excluded from the influence of Super Sentai. In America, a number of sentai shows have been adapted and Americanized for television viewing. More famous examples include Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, VR Troopers, and Masked Rider which use stock footage from numerous popular Super Sentai titles. In particular, Power Rangers borrows heavily from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, Masked Rider adapts Kamen Rider, and VR Troopers serves as a mishmash of three shows: Metal Hero Series: Superhuman Machine Metalder, Dimensional Warrior Spielban, and Space Sheriff Shaider.
Thank you for reading through this brief introductory piece. Beginning in the next installment, I’ll begin delving into panel materials, and trying to piece Sentai and western comics together in some sensical fashion.
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