Born Of An Atom Bomb

Image and thought dump for the various projects of Jared Axelrod

Author of The Battle of Blood & Ink and The Cockroach Strikes

Battle of Blood and Ink

Dead Kids On A Train

Let’s talk about Ressha Sentai ToQger for a moment.

Ressha Sentai ToQger is the most recent iteration of Power Rangers, currently airing in Japan. It also a waking nightmare.

To start off with these 5 teenagers above with were given those railroad crossing gate-themed wrist-devices by a mysterious individual called The Conductor. The Conductor rides the Rainbow Line train, and enlists our heroes to stop the Shadow Line train from taking over the earth by covering it in darkness. Our five heroes of them have amnesia, unable to remember anything after their childhoods. According to Ticket, the monkey hand-puppet worn by The Conductor, that’s because they’re dead.

The revelation, mind you, is how the first episode ends. “That’s because you’re dead,” the monkey puppet says. Smash to credits.

Damn, Japan.

Here’s the thing, though. Who these possibly dead amnesiac kids are is unimportant. These heroes are gleefully presented as cyphers, men and women with no past, no lives, and who, thanks to the special “changing lines” gimmick of their wrist devices,  are literally interchangeable.

This because the main narrative weight is given to the Shadow Line. The beautiful, beautiful Shadow Line.

Who are the Shadow Line? Let’s see, there’s General Shwartz, who is some sort of Nazi cyborg with a shriveled death-rictus for a face. He is our romantic lead. There’s Baron Nero, who’s elegant frock coat accessorized with over-sized raven skulls paints him to be the group’s fussbudget. True to form, he’s only one actually interested in tormenting humanity. Madame Noir, who’s head is a mass of tentacles with a mask in front of it, may be wearing her dead husband’s beaked face as hat. She’s got her own plans and schemes. That last ogre-looking one is Gritta, whom Madame Noir is pushing into a marriage with the Emperor of Darkness. Gritta, however is in love with General Shwartz.

Gritta will be your favorite character. When she is torn between her marriage and her love for the Nazi Cyborg Corpse you will gasp at the fake tears running down her immobile latex face. When Gritta grabs a knife and runs away from home, you will be concerned for her safety. And when the horror that is her wedding happens, YOU WILL NOT BE PREPARED.

George R.R. Martin dreams of writing a wedding like the one in Ressha Sentai ToQger.

Ressha Sentai ToQger laughs at traditional plot structure. Despite existing as one of the most formulaic stories known to humanity–the kid’s superhero tale–it nevertheless has a weird, dream-logic narrative. Adding to the weird Shining Time Station decor and the Guilermo del Toro-esque designs of the monsters, there’s a strong Lynchian vibe to every episode. Citizens in normal suburban towns act in unusual, often violent ways. Characters die multiple times, brushing it off. Bodies and identities are as mutable as clay.Written words change reality. The faceless robot is only interested in sex. And through it all, that weird monkey puppet knows more than he is letting on.

Though our heroes win every episode, it feels less and less like a victory. Despite their clear enthusiasm, they are horrible at being superheroes. The best that can be said is that they don’t make matter worse. The Shadow Line has more soldiers, more towns, more screen time. By focusing on the villains, Ressha Sentai ToQger calls in to question its heroes’ very heroism. Sure, their doing good things, but what is the point?

In the most recent episode, Ressha Sentai ToQger got as close as any show whose main fuel is madness to presenting its thesis statement. The ToQuers enter a town that had been taken over completely by the Shadow Line. This town was no longer on any map, and seemed to exist inside a black hole. The denizens of the town are frozen in place, neither alive nor dead, merely immobile. This, the show is saying, over halfway through the season, this is what we’re fighting against.

Most shows of this type, where the heroes literally transform and the main fanbase is about to go through puberty, wring out their tension from body horror, people forced to become monsters against their will. Not Ressha Sentai ToQger. What is the most scary here isn’t becoming something else. It’s not becoming anything at all. A petrified apathy, where nothing changes. In a true dream-logic metaphor that would have made Grant Morrison punch the air if only he’d thought of it, Ressha Sentai ToQger reveals that the worst thing to happen to you is nothing at all.

Nothing happens. For all eternity.

Ressha Sentai ToQger is show for babies that is about rainbow-colored heroes fighting monsters with the power of imagination. But it is also a 48-episode meditation on coping with death. By using dead kids on a train.