I am back to talk about the lesser known, The High School Heroes. Which was a drama that aired this past summer into fall, starring the Johnny’s Jr. group Bishonen. This project got on my radar since I enjoyed their previous summer drama, and for once it was airing locally on TV too! So, let’s take a look at what these heroes are about.
Gosei School has a long history. One with an overly ambitious principal, who is willing to achieve his goals and manipulate his students and teachers into compliance by any means needed. Enter the School Defense Force, a club centered around protecting the school and based around the premise of Super Sentai’s of the past. The leader of this little known club, which is also on the verge of being disbanded is Manaka Taisei (Iwasaki Taisho). He is determined to round up four more members, ace pitcher Takigawa Yusuke (Nasu Yuto), basketball star Domon Ryuhei (Sato Ryuga), dancer Moriyama Naoya (Fujii Naoki), and eventually a girl to be the pink ranger to round out the unit. However, he’s challenged not only by the disinterest of his pre-selected recruits, girls thinking he’s weird so they won’t join him, but most critically the student council president Oura Hyuma (Ukisho Hidaka) who seems determined to get the club disbanded. Hoping to boost Taisei’s image is Morimura Hana (Yanai Yumena), joined by the illustrator and fellow student Sakurai Ichika (Kanasashi Issei) to get the School Defense Force in action, since the school is under attack in more ways then one!
Let me be abundantly clear; until this year I have never watched a true “tokusatsu” series.
(My first being Girl Gun Lady actually) Tokusatsu being a semi-specialized type of media focusing on costumes, special effects, and usually with heroes fighting monsters of some sort. Those in the know think Kamen Rider, Ultraman, for the Westerner’s think along the lines of Power Rangers. So while I’m not the best judge of where exactly this falls in the grand scheme of this genre; you can tell there was a lot of love put into this series.
For one, they got Takahashi Yuya whose written several Kamen Rider series as the screenwriter. That’s a huge boost in terms of conceptualization and overall story structure. There’s then Takezono Hajime, the director of Bishonen’s prior drama Matsu no Shonen in the mix. The pre-established familiarity between actors and director really worked in their favor here. The icing on the cake is the cameo’s of various tokusatsu actors from past. I love when things like that are intentionally included.
There’s a nice balance of old-school, at least to my knowledge, homages and modern touches as well. The transformation device, which typically exists as it’s own item, is incorporated as being an app on their smartphones. Anyone can download it, but not everyone can activate it. Similar circumstances for the maijin or the bad guys of the series. The costuming and special effects are given, but they’re slick and sensible. I thought the designs for the various Maijin characters was brilliant, a fine line between stunning and cheesy. The opening sequence got me every single time: it’s just so dramatic with explosions and fighting sequences where you know no one got hurt. It’s just a pure fun but on point in elements that really got you primed for each episode.
I have to say that plot wise, at least for the first five-ish episodes read exactly the way you think they will. Power of friendship and believing in high-school level justice, recruit the new members, unlock tragic back stories, etc. It’s not the most original or intense premise ever, but it works. More importantly, there’s enough clues and unresolved moments that built into the remaining episodes that lead in well to the final battle. I give major props to Takahashi Yuya for managing to write such a tight, but well thought out story.
As far as acting goes, it’s very mixed bag here. All the supporting cast members, be it fellow Johnny’s Jr or other tokusatsu franchise cameos were excellent. It was nice to see Yanai Yumena again this time as Hana, (she was in Manatsu no Shonen too), but it’s a shame her character didn’t get utilized as well as I’d hoped. The same thing happening to Ryuhei, played by Ryuga, and Naoya played by Naoki. They got their episode, but once it was over they were more or less side-lined. Ichika, played by Issei almost falls into this category, but Ichika’s story is significantly of more interest to me. It’s not the most critical secondary story, but the most engaging of all of them after Taisei.
I get why Taisho was picked to be the lead Taisei over everyone else. In this particular instance, he really delivered a fairly nuanced performance. The transformation from semi-socially awkward otaku to being a real hero was subtle but intense. Coupled with Taisei’s backstory and just how well it fit into the story, really worked out well. Nasu Yuto as Yusuke surprised me here. Not because of his character in particular, Yusuke only stands out because he’s the unofficial second in command character, but Yuto himself. Yuto seems to be developing a certain spark as an actor that draws your attention to him naturally whenever he’s on screen. I’m curious to see if this is just the Johnny’s group drama effect, or if this is a general performance thing. Only time will tell.
Now, for Ukisho Hidaka as Oura Hyuma. After the happening that was MuneKimi, I didn’t know what to expect performance-wise. Hyuma as a character is a very paint by the numbers antagonist as I could read where his character would go, more or less, from the start. It wasn’t disappointing, but rather expected. As for Ukisho’s actual performance, it was passable. I think more of it had to do with it being set up to succeed, i.e. being a Bishonen drama, prior experience with the director, etc, then a success through his own merit. But at least here Ukisho was a solid antagonist.
I do want to squeeze in a bit about the action scenes. The fight choreography in this one is superb, but it does fall into one of two categories at all times. The first being the more campy sequences, where you can tell no one is really ‘connecting’ their hits. It’s all for fun and homage, and really still enjoyable to watch. The second is a more serious, they are suppose to be actually doing some damage here, sequences. It’s very easy to tell the two apart, and seeing when and where each style is used makes a very fun watch. I was genuinely impressed by all of Bishonen’s delivery in terms of this aspect since, to my knowledge, they did most of their own stunts. Thankfully, as icing on the cake, these were filmed in a way that I could track the action and who was doing what well.
Overall, The High School Heroes is a great series to watch to see if tokusatsu franchises are for you. The bonus being it’s not a huge commitment, and a really tight story to keep you engaged throughout. It’s not the best of the best, but it does a stand up job being both an homage, and it’s own unique entry in the genre’s landscape. Until next time, see next post!