Pile of Shame
Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman

by Justin Sevakis,

Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman

It's always a terrifying thing, going back to old shows you loved when you were younger and revisiting them. Many of them, comedies in particular, tend to age very poorly. They connect with us at the time, but humor is just so particular and fickle -- what made you laugh as a kid will very often make you roll your eyes (or worse) as an adult. And so, it was with great trepidation that I finally pulled out my DVD of Shinesman and popped it in for the first time in well over a decade.

Shinesman was a two-part OAV from 1996, produced by Sony Music Entertainment and animated by Production I.G from a shoujo manga by Kaim Tachibana, which had been running for a few years by that point, and eventually ran 9 volumes. The manga was a light-hearted sentai series parody that took all of the silly villains, transformations and color coordination of your typical Japanese superhero squad and set it in the comparatively dull and buttoned-up world of corporate salarymen. Being shoujo manga, of course, the mostly male cast were drawn with the appropriate level of willowy attractiveness. (The characters are nearly all named after voice actors that the manga-ka hoped would play them someday, and luckily her wish came true.)

New recruit at Right Trading Co., Matsumoto quickly finds himself catching the eye of the manager lady of Human Resources, Ms. Sakakibara, who immediately hires him and places him on a team of her handpicked employees, who by night, are superheroes known as Shinesman, fighting against the evil forces of Planet Voice. (The aliens are led by Prince Sasaki and his faithful servant Seki -- both of whom have taken up incognito employment at Science Electronics Corporation.) All of this means that Matsumoto stays inordinately busy -- almost too busy to care for his indescribably lovable little brother Yota, a generic "great kid" whose favorite TV show is the sentai series "Greatman".

The OAV includes a brief flashback to explain all of this, but is mostly dedicated to an arc wherein Science Electronics works with Right Trading to sponsor a Greatman show at the new theme park in town. This means that the daytime Salaryman Shinesman guys are working directly with the aliens and not even knowing it. Complicating things further is when Prince Sasaki's bratty cousin Princess Shina comes to visit, full of idiotic optimism about how SHE'LL be the one to take down the Shinesmen once and for all!

The original Japanese version of the OAV was cute, but a little on the dull side, and oddly restrained for a parody. Nearly all of the humor came from the contrast between the business world and the dopey sentai clichés, and that really only goes so far. (Much is made of the Shinesman color scheme, which includes the very business-friendly gray, sepia, moss green and salmon pink.) Indeed, some scenes play the satire so straight that it's hard to tell sometimes that you're even watching a parody. The show's big appeal to Western fans came due to the English dub, which didn't change much of anything story or situationally, but injected some much needed sarcasm and wackiness into the delivery.

The result was, at the time of its release, something a little magical. A blend of the weird satire of the original, and ADR Writer/Director Scott Houle's sense of nerd-snark. Rather than just rewrite the lines to match lip-flap, Houle was able to take a step back and really observe when the real silliness of the sentai world came to a head. At those moments, he tweaked the script ever so slightly to give it a sharper comedic edge. Then, with his usual stable of actors at Coastal Recording, including Scott Simpson, Tamara Burnham and Pamela Weidner (Matsumoto/Red, Hidaka/Salmon Pink, and Princess Shina, respectively), he was able to make that script really come alive with some light, fun interplay, the sort that's nearly impossible to pull off in ADR where everyone's recording their lines separately.

The show ended up a sleeper hit for Media Blasters back at the tail end of the VHS era. A couple of years later they put out a DVD. While the wacky humor didn't work for everyone, enough fans found it funny enough that even hardcore anti-dub otaku could often be heard quoting its more memorable lines. It was a big enough hit that many fans were surprised and disappointed to find out that it was virtually unknown in Japan, and merchandise from the show was nearly impossible to find. There was a single half-hearted attempt to scanlate the manga some years back, but it petered out before even getting through a single graphic novel. The disc quietly went out of print a few years ago, and it's far enough in the rear view mirror now that many younger fans today have never even heard of it.

So, viewed with fresh eyes today, does it hold up? Mostly. The dub tries to follow the anime's lead in that it contrasts everyday relaxed speech with stiff businessman dialogue, but it doesn't quite work. The business dialogue is ridiculously passive-voice and oddly lumbering, and ends up just sounding like a clunky translation. There's some dated slang ("this place is the BOMB!"), and some jokes that just land with a thud today. But overall, there's still a great sense of fun to the whole thing. It might not be as laugh-out-loud funny as it seemed 15 years ago, but it's still a good time.

To be honest, I have a feeling this show might actually still appeal more to younger fans today, rather than grizzled old-timers like myself. There's a sweet innocence and joy to the show: it's a satire completely free of cynicism or weariness at the hoary old genre trappings it spoofs. While some aspects of the show haven't aged so well, I can see younger fans who are only a year or two into their anime obsessions really enjoying the show. Sentai shows are so by-the-numbers and predictable, you really only need to have seen an episode of Power Rangers at some point in your life to know what's being parodied.

All these years later, Shinesman is still a fun time. And given how many old anime comedies I can no longer stomach, that is such an enormous relief.

Japanese Name: 特務戦隊シャインズマン (Tokumu Sentai SHAINZUMAN)

Media Type: OAV

Length: 2 x 25 min.

Vintage: 1996

Genres: Comedy, Sentai Parody, Shoujo

Availability (Japan): A (Japanese only) DVD was released in 2002 but is now out of print. It almost certainly looks better than the Media Blasters disc. The used prices aren't so bad as of this writing.

Availability (English): The Media Blasters disc, while long out of print, is easy to find used online for not too much money. It's a little ratty looking by today's standards, but still quite watchable.

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