Life After Death: Learning To Cope From Gokaiger’s “Wings Forever”

The day before my Thanksgiving break, I decided to catch up on Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. I’ve got a dozen or so episodes left to watch, and though I knew I wouldn’t watch all of them in one afternoon surely I could watch two or three and whittle it down before the rest of my vacation… so I can spend it watching more shows.

I lead a full life.

So, to fully enjoy my backlogged episodes of The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire, I fired up episode 28, “Wings Forever,” of Gokaiger, ready to be mindlessly entertained by the (mis)adventures of those cunning space pirates in spandex. Goooo-kaija!

Twenty-five minutes later, I sit silent in a bustling campus office, thinking about how I let go of the departed loved ones in my life.

Warning: Spoilers. Screen caps were taken from the TV-Nihon fansub of the episode.

For the uninitiated, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is the 35th installment in the long-running Super Sentai franchise in Japan. In other words, it’s the original series before the show is adapted into a season of Power Rangers. To celebrate the milestone of thirty-five years, the producers went balls out and created a crisislike season: The evil Space Empire Zangyack, seeking to take over Earth, went to war with the 34 Super Sentai, or every single Power Ranger that ever existed, ever. The opening battle from the first episode (and later edited to open the movie, 199 Hero Great Battle) became a minor internet hit.

The show begins shortly after the Legend War with a band of space pirates (just go with it) in possession of the Ranger Keys, which contains the powers of the previous Super Sentai. They are hunted down by the Zangyack Empire, and find themselves strangers on Earth. They soon grow fond of our planet and become its guardians, so they seek the previous Sentais’ Grand Powers (usually new Megazord power-ups) to fight the Zangyack Empire.

“Everybody got that?”

Despite the gimmick of returning actors and costumes, Gokaiger has been a fantastic series by its storytelling merits alone. The Gokaigers themselves are either three-dimensional and interesting, or just so damn entertaining you can’t help but laugh at their antics. They originally leaned towards a morally gray area, they were hesitant to protect the planet. They’re pirates, and cared only for themselves. Of course they eventually had to protect Earth, but it was a bit of a slow burn and even up to the episode I’m at there’s still a sense of “Yeah we’ll help you, but still, fuck you.” Gokaiger’s Red Ranger, Captain Marvelous (…yeah…), is one of the most interesting characters to lead a Super Sentai outfit. Fitting with the pirate motif, the Captain is arrogant, selfish, and cares little about the people around him, including the robot parrot/assisstant Navi who navigates (get it?) the heroes on their quest. Is he a manly man? Not necessarily, but he’s still a badass who doesn’t have time for your shit.

In episode 28, “Wings Forever,” the episode starts  in a jazz bar occupied by two socialites. It’s an odd setting to begin an episode about space pirates, and while not a particularly unusual image, there’s something a little off. It’s too serene. The lone male and female are dressed in white and play cards with an undisclosed stipulation. There is no money at stake. The man is disappointed with the bar’s liquor and decides to try another drink elsewhere.

This show is for kids, by the way.

The hardest of the hardcore fans will know where this episode is going. The actor and his character traits give off a clue of who he is, but to the uninitiated all of this is still hard to read. Myself, I had an idea, and when I saw this scene I was excited this part of the Super Sentai mythology was going to be the focus. I just didn’t expect how much it would move me.

Elsewhere, the Zangyack Empire is fed up with another boots-to-asses whooping by the Gokaigers, who have accumulated enough Grand Powers to be a force to reckon with. Desperate, the Zangyack hire the galaxy’s toughest and most expensive bounty hunter to bring the Gokaigers to them. He is Kiaido, and immediately meeting him you do not want to fuck with him. Covered in shades of red and crimson, Kiaido’s deep voice and no-nonsense weaponry embodies a warrior who continually seeks battle with no honor, only profit and entertainment. His philosophy is that of chaos, not too unlike The Joker. He seeks money and does so by catching bounties. By fighting. Not because he has something to prove or to fill an empty void. He does it because he straight-up doesn’t care. To cure his boredom.

And he’s clashed swords with Captain Marvelous before.

Upon finding the Gokaigers, Kiaido intimidates and taunts the Captain, psyching him out. No one has accomplished this feat before in the series. The Captain has been beaten down, but never out. Here, the Captain is in absolute fear. Kiaido has been the only one to ever grab the heart and mind of the Captain and traumatize him to the point of insanity. This is shown in what I believe to be one of the most incredibly well-shot and artistically rich scene the series has shown thus far.

Kiaido is an absolute maniac. Upon boredom by the Captain’s fight, he self-inflicts his own chest to even the score. The fate of this battle specifically is unknown. In the present, the Captain and the rest morph. Despite the effort, Kiaido makes quick work of the Gokaigers. They’re sent back, bruised and beaten.

In an odd turn of events, Navi foretells the Gokaigers a riddle which clues them into what they should do next. It’s a recurring element in the series, and allows the well-versed viewer to build anticipation over the appearance of a previous Ranger or Rangers. Gai, the Silver Ranger, is a third-wall-breaking character (if there is such a thing) that has sped up the guessing game. Here, Navi foretells of a fiery bird that will vanquish the enemy. The audience’s anticipation is reaching a pinch, and Gai just seals the deal.

Choujin Sentai Jetman was and still is one of the most critically-acclaimed and popular installments in the Super Sentai franchise. Airing from 1991-1992, the Gatchaman-tribute Sentai took to the skies with its storytelling and drama that was unseen in a children’s television series at the time. While I hate to equate “dark and mature” to “good” because that is an unhealthy line of thinking,  it has to be credited that Jetman was at the very least different. Even in the few episodes I saw I felt like the tone was different and nothing at all like another Sentai, such as Go-onger. One day I’d like to sit down and watch all of Jetman, but that’s another story…

TL;DR: If the Super Sentai mythos was like the Batman franchise, Jetman is Batman: The Animated Series, or Tim Burton’s Batman.

In the second act, the Gokaiger are off to find the Jetman. Gai mentions their whereabouts: Two of them are now married, one became a pop star, and another runs an online vegan grocery.

…sure. Why not.

Were you keeping track? That’s four Rangers accounted for. Out of five.

The Gokaiger split up trying to locate the members of the Jetman when they encounter a stranger on a bike.

“Yo.”

He smooth talks with Luka (Yellow Ranger) and nabs Joe‘s (Blue Ranger) and the Captain’s morphers. He engages with the Captain in an incredibly one-sided fight. And shit gets real.

Gai is unable to see the stranger. After laying the smack down on the Captain, the stranger identifies himself as Yuki Gai. Back at the base, Gai (Jesus…) mentions that the fifth Jetman, the Black Condor, was “missing.” Frustrated, the Captain goes on his own into the woods and encounters Yuki Gai again. He leads the Captain deep into the woods, and once more, the episode blows me away with its cinematography. Gray colors and an early dawn lighting clashes with yellows and muted greens. A haunting yet hopeful soundtrack accompanies a heartbreaking image, heartbreaking for many reasons.

Yuuki Gai has been dead for nineteen years.

In the last moments of the Jetman series, the Jetman overcome their big bad villain, and three years later find themselves beginning their new lives. Ryuu and Kaori, aka Red Hawk and White Swan respectively, are getting married. Yuki had originally crushed on Kaori, and was often on the sending part of an unrequited love (I know what that’s like, buddy.). Soon, Kaori gave in and dated Yuki, but there was too much friction that they had to let each other go. Soon, Kaori fell in love with Ryuu, whom Yuki often butted heads with during their time saving the world as Jetman.

On his way to their wedding with flowers in hand, Yuki saves a woman from a mugger and is stabbed to death by the criminal’s switchblade. He is late for the ceremony, and dies just after making it to the reception.

Fans often speculated whether or not Yuki Gai actually did die, like Spike in Cowboy Bebop. It was a stab wound, which wasn’t fatal enough that he made it all the way to the wedding and didn’t bleed out. Also, the rest of the Jetman came to his aid as he laid on the bench at the wedding reception. The camera pans out as that image happens, so for many years it was unclear if his character was truly dead. A sequel graphic novel released in 1996 introduced a new character, Jeff, who became the replacement Black Condor. The graphic novel, however, was theorized to be out of continuity and thus Yuki Gai’s fate remained unknown.

Until now.

As the Gokaiger discover the fate of the mysterious Yuki Gai, Joe begins to understand what Yuki’s role in this all means. Even after his death, the bond Yuki had with his teammates is still as strong as it was during their time as Jetman, almost twenty years later. The surviving heroes regularly visit their fallen comrade’s gravesite, leaving gifts that reference the character’s traits and quriks. The normal and happy lives the remaining Jetman lead are so fragile under the threat of the Zangyack, however, that Gai takes it upon himself even in his death to protect them, to protect his loved ones.

Under a freeway, Kiaido and minions are approached by a stranger in black.

Yuki Gai, the entire time, was protecting his Jetman brethren. He prevented and intimidated the Gokaiger from reaching out to the Jetman because they cannot afford to risk their lives for a cause they no longer have a part in. Gai, a man with literally nothing to lose, takes up the responsibility of protecting them. Frustrated that the Gokaiger weren’t up to snuff, evidenced by his brawls with Captain and Joe, Gai steps up to Kiaido.

In the climax, Gai provides philosophy majors a thesis on existentialism and transforms into the Black Condor, defying the use of the Black Condor Ranger Key (in possession of Doc, the Green Ranger). He engages with the monsters and pleases the nostalgic viewers, for old time’s sake. He is, however, no match for Kiaido.

The Captain, in an internal battle, overcomes his fear of Kiaido and delivers what I think is one of the most powerful simple and short dialogue in the series. What the Captain says embodies what this entire blog post is all about.

Yuki Gai is knocked back by Kiaido and demorphs from the Black Condor. As the Gokaiger surround him and stare down Kiaido, Yuki Gai talks like the pimp he is. “So, you’ve finally overcome your fear, eh?”

The power to overcome oneself, the power to overcome one’s limitations… the power of one’s will, to overcome death.

Yuki nods approvingly. “So you finally understand our Grand Power. Go get him already.”

The episode ends as you’d expect, the Gokaigers defeat Kiaido. Yuki Gai, knowing his work is done, disappears, never to be seen on Earth again. Poor Gai still never saw him. He returns to the bar, obviously a metaphor for the afterlife. The woman he was dealing with was revealed to be a goddess or God herself (Wow, bold of you, Sentai.). Yuki wins another game of cards, and plays a song on his saxophone, serenading his only company.

The episode was, in my opinion, the best I’ve seen of the series thus far. It handled mature themes, maturely. I’ll have to write a whole ‘nother blog about it but “maturity” in the arts isn’t scaled by the booze, sex, or drugs your characters do. Real maturity stems from how you or the writers approach sensitive subjects, such as death, sexuality, or morality. Writing a superhero who drinks a lot and curses isn’t mature. Writing a superhero who drinks because he’s coping with something is, or can be. In this episode, otherwise adult subjects were handled with intellect and care. Blood was drawn tastefully and non-gratuitously. Violence was a means to protect, and violence for money was a perversion of strength. Most of all, and the purpose of this post, “Wings Forever” dealt with a grim subject, death, and approached it with hope and optimism.

In what I think is the understatement of the year, losing a loved one is never easy. I’ve seen friend and those close to me torn by the absence of someone special. Just this week I almost lost someone who was fighting what she believed was a losing battle, and I felt powerless to help her. I could have been without one friend this week, and I was lucky others were stronger than I to reach out.

In your mourning, you should never forget the impact that loved one had on you. Not only should you treasure memories, but the lessons you learned from or together should be applied in your daily life, every day. As long as you carry on, that person is never truly gone. They are forever with you, in your mind and in your heart. Your bond or relationship with that person is a grand power, a bond that exceeds life. Did I learn this all from a kid’s television show? No. A turn of events lately allowed me to come to this conclusion. My coincidental viewing of this episode, however, was timely and reinforced what I’ve been observing for quite some time.

The last funeral I attended was two years ago, and though I knew it was impossible, I hoped to never attend another one again. But all life comes to an end, and I was naive to think such a thing. I’ve since learned to accept that, yes, life will end. But one shouldn’t dwell on such feelings, for you’ll take the time you spend here for granted. Enjoy the here and now, create memories for you to look back on like an old movie, so you can still smile even when you’re old and gray. Even if all relationships and bonds are fleeting, if there is at least one still strong enough, then that person can never truly die. The lessons I’ve learned from my uncle were invaluable, and so I take what I learned from him every day, a bond that lives on even after death.

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