Once upon a time, back in 1991, there were manly men and courageous women fighting the forces of evil. Some fought for duty and righteous, some fought in spite of their own self interests, some fought one another, but all fought to protect the world. One such team made of these individuals appeared before teenagers with attitude rose up from Angel Grove. Their exploits are chronicled in the 15th Super Sentai series – Choujin Sentai Jetman.
Choujin Sentai Jetman, or Birdman Squadron Jetman, is a story about the struggle of the five-man team Jetman to protect the Earth fro the Back Dimensional conquerors called the Vyram. Originally, the plan is for the Jetman team to be composed of highly-trained soldiers of Sky Force bathed in birdonic rays to have enhanced abilities and the power to transform into the Jetman.
Things don’t go quite as planned as the Vyram attack sooner than expected. Only soldier Ryū Tendo gets the ray treatment, gaining the abilities of Red Hawk (Jetman’s red ranger). An accident showers birdonic rays onto four random civilians, eventually making up the Jetman team.
Jetman excels at having great characters and the dynamics between them. Most of the Jetman team fills standard stereotypes but have some layers of depth to them. The most interesting dynamic is that between Ryū and Gai/Black Condor. The animosity Gai has for Ryū forcing him to join Jetman evolves into a rivalry for Kaori’s love and finally becomes a strong respect and friendship. Everyone else plays off well off one another, like Raita/Yellow Owl’s low self esteem and Ako/Blue Swallow’s little sister character. Their chief and mentor Aya commands respect from everyone, even Gai who hates being ordered around, and also manages to stay personable.
The villains themselves are almost equally interesting. The main bad guys are Vyram members Radiquet, Grey, Maria and Tran. They take turns against the Jetman, as the winner gets to lead all the Vyram. Radiguet is power hungry and the right kind of crazy. Tran is a psychotic kid who probably drove his parents to insanity and suicide. Grey’s a robot with a taste for wine and classical music. Maria wants power and to defeat the Jetman, just how Radiguet wants her to be. They constantly bicker as they all don’t seem to like one another, except for Grey and Maria.
While the characters are great, they lack motivation. More so on the Vyram side. The Jetman want to protect their home world, which makes enough sense. The Vyram, however, never give a feel for why they’re attacking the Earth, other than the usual “it’s next in our dimensional conquest tour.” The only one that really gets any history is Maria. Luckily, their character and interactions almost overshadow the lack of back story.
For a children’s show, Jetman is surprisingly dark and mature. Deaths are scattered throughout the series. Hearts are broken. Characters are brought to tears. Main characters indulge in vices, with Gai and Grey both enjoying a smoke, a drink and gambling.
Without giving too much away, the ending has some depressing moments. With that said, there are still playful episodes, and the characters all manage to have fun. It’s a great mix of a little bit of darker drama in the typical light Super Sentai series.
Getting to the actual suit time, what little of it is pretty good. I love the costumes. While the Gatchaman inspirations are obvious, they don’t keep the suits from being original. They have a nice balance of their primary color and secondary white, and in White Swan’s case, most of the secondary white is inverted to pink. The flat shoulder pads are neat. The underarm wings are used just enough to both not get old and not seem underused. With each suit comes a hand gun, a sword and a gauntlet for combat, and all are used their fair share.
The combat is generally exciting when it makes sense. Unfortunately, there are times when the team leaves you wondering why they used one weapon instead of another obviously more effective one. Even more unfortunately is that the combat really gets good when the Jetman team is in uniform, which often takes too long. The show probably could have fixed this with a bigger budget, but instead we’re often waiting for them to get a clue and transform. A couple of different team line-up shots would have been nice too.
Of course, with almost every Super Sentai series, we have to discuss the giant robots. Jetman has three; I believe the first with that many in a Super Sentai series. The first, Jet Icarus, is bland and box-like, especially compared to the then-next year’s Daizyujin from Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. On the plus side, it’s decked out with weapons like an axe, a ball and chain, a hammer and even a rocket punch. The next two robots, Jet Garuda and Tetra Boy, are the exact opposite with better designs and few armaments.
Now, does the show endure? It’s almost twenty years old now. In terms of effects, it’s not any worse than what we saw in that first season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It’s still early enough that the visual effects are at a minimum. For those few of you who like your CGI transformations and zords, you’re out of luck. It’s all models and special effects. The clothes are reminiscent of the era. So are some of the things they could still get away with (smoking and drinking). You can tell it’s an early ‘90s production, but it doesn’t really suffer from it.
That’s Jetman. Great characters. Great costumes. The story suffers a little from the villains lacking motivation, but it’s made up for with the characters’ relationships and development. If only it had a bigger budget for more suit time and maybe a better designed Jet Icarus. If you get the chance, give the series a try.
(pictures from Super Sentai Images)