The Teahouse

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Five fantastic battle-armored samurai...

For a long time the only Ronin Warriors story was the adaptation of the 39 anime episodes, but with the 2002 DVD release the Yoroiden Samurai Trooper OVAs were at last brought into the Ronin Warriors storyline. While at times we might treat the English and Japanese versions as though they are two separate stories, as far as we're concerned it's all the same thing. Yoroiden Samurai Troopers is probably how it really happened. Ronin Warriors is the version that Ryou tells when he is really, really drunk. Which explains why he gets Rowen and Sage's virtues all scrambled and forgets how to say his own name. (By the time he gets to Gai Den he's started to sober up a little.) This version is mostly Ronin Warriors, because it's funnier. If you want a real synopsis of either you'd better go to Wikipedia, because we don't serve that here.

Season One

At last, the legendary five warriors are brought forth together to--wait where the fuck did they go?!

  The evil demon lord Talpa (Arago) has chosen a bucolic Tuesday afternoon to launch his assault on the mortal world, because that's what you do when you're an evil demon lord. You can't be an evil demon lord and be all you know, I think I'll just get a steady job in finance or something to pay the bills while I work on my antique armor collecting hobby, maybe adopt a few boys and a little girl for the second season... No. You have to go assault something, or there would be no plot.

  Professor Koji, Mia's grandfather, is breaking every university statue against nepotism by hiring Mia as his research assistant. Her only occupation appears to be typing random phrases into a Tandy1000 and occasionally eating pringles while her grandfather refuses to teach Japanese History 204 to a bunch of disinterested trust fund brats (ostensibly his job). Professor Koji has said "The world is going to end today" every time there was a stiff breeze, so when it happens this time Mia just humors him until she sees Ryou on the news. Apparently a kid with a white tiger and a magically length-changing mullet is the real sign of Apocalypse. She dashes off to bring Ryou to meet her grandfather, but the Dynasty attacks Shinjuku before that happens. Most of the extras are abducted by the Dynasty, but Mia and Yuli, a child you will soon hate, manage to stay behind. They see the five warriors meet each other for the first time before they are instantly kidnapped, the Ronins get their asses kicked by a single storm-trooper-esque random combat, and our show begins.

  Let me spare you the blow-by-blow. The Ronins don't know how to fight as a team. They almost start to get it, but then Talpa blows them all to the "most desolate regions on Earth" (which all appear to be in Japan). It also happens to land each one of them somewhere where they can hibernate in their element while Mia, Yuli, and Ryou go find them, scrapping with Talpa's warlords along the way. The Ancient One (Kaos) appears now and then to say something cryptic or throw his stick at something, Talpa fires giant balls of spaghetti into space, the Ronins discover the warlords are human dudes, and everyone wanders around post-apocalyptic Tokyo punching things, shouting sure-kills, and being homosocial. Also, between the slapping and the severe internal bleeding, I think Yuli dies about 27 times in the first season. They just keep bringing another clone in. Eventually it comes out that the Ronin armor is just like the Warlord armor (!), that the ancient made it (!!) and it used to belong to Talpa (!!11one). Meaning basically Talpa is just trying to get his stuff back. He's kind of a dick about it, though. The Ancient realizes he's just going to have to (sigh, grumble) DO something, so he sacrifices himself to create a way into the Dynasty to fight Talpa. (Cryptic old monks can no more fail to sacrifice themselves than demon lords can work at Wells Fargo.) Ryou and the others go to fight Talpa, and fail spectacularly, because Sunrise cannily figured out from Saint Seiya that pervy fangirls like seeing hot bitches in tight armor get kicked around a lot. Anubis (Sh'ten) tries to go over to the Ronin side about five times, but never really manages to do it until the last minute. Talpa is fed up with all of this shit, sucks up Warlords and Ronins alike, and reforms his body. Yuli #24 is eaten by White Blaze and nobody notices, Mia puts in her resume for a job opening somewhere in the Gundam series. Things look bad for our heroes.

  Ryou, while lying sorta naked with a bunch of other guys inside Talpa's body, realizes after some twenty-odd episodes that hey, wait, what the fuck, shouldn't this Armor have a united form? And aren't we supposed to win? Everybody hauls out their scripts to have a look and sure enough, after some woo-woo business about fighting and joining souls, and oh crap Sunrise contracted another season of this trainwreck, Ryou discovers the Inferno Armor button right next to his oil dipstick and the distributor cap. He transforms into new white armor with the power of his friends!(Which for some reason the dub calls Hariel's armor, because apparently some tool thought kids wouldn't be able to understand Ryou can wear two different outfits. Like Barbie has nine million different versions/careers/nationalities, but one dude in an anime changing his pants is too much. Bad enough that the dub has to be making talking noises constantly even when there's no dialog in the Japanese version, apparently we're all too stupid to grasp the most basic trope of every anime hero team ever, which has been around since episode 37 of Bison Shonen Go! was scrawled on a cave in Hokkaido three million years ago.) Regardless of action figure misnomers, the Inferno armor kicks Talpa's tail, the Ronins float back to earth in little colored bubbles, and everyone really hopes they get more money for the next season, because some of these episodes seriously look like they were drawn for peanuts, by peanuts, with peanuts.

Season Two

This show was only supposed to only be one season long, so you guys better make up some shit fast.

  It's season two, and the Ronins have decamped to Mia's dead grandfather's mansion. Either Japan pays its professors a fortune or Koji-sensei must have been running meth on the side a la Breaking Bad, because this place is a 57-room mansion with cabin and lake adjacent on fifteen acres of virgin timber. And now it's Mia's! So of course the first thing to do is let five underage boys and a tiger move in with her. Everyone's relaxing: Mia's studiously examining Professor Koji's floppies full of nothing but text in Wingdings, Rowen and Sage are stealing Mia's car to joyride around Tokyo and hang out in construction sites, Kento and Sai are doing some kind of extremely homosexual lawn ballet (Kento insisting this is some totally normal athletic behavior by saying "time to get tough!" does not make it any less gay), and Ryou is sleeping for possibly days on end while wearing a pair of acid-washed skinny jeans that are four sizes too small. I fear for his testicles.

  Ryou feels fine, though. Which means it's time to have a few throwaway episodes with a baddie of the week, to get Ryou some new swords to go with his new white armor, and for White Blaze to get his own transformation form as Black Blaze, a name that I expect took the story guys approximately nine seconds to think up. All this larking about finding swords in the woods and dressing up tigers can't possibly last, and it ends soon enough with each of the Ronins having a ~*~*~*~*mysterious vision~~*~*~*~*~ about going off to find themselves or slice through rocks or whatever, in a sequence that is pretty much the Japanese opening credits with the Ancient jimmied in. Meanwhile, Sekhmet (Naaza) has made a fake Sai of the Torrent out of his venom, a torch, used chewing gum, and a hairpin, and swears the copy is enough to beat Sai. Talpa, who still has his body somehow? Thinks that this is a good way to get the rest of his armor back, because waiting for it to turn up on eBay is just taking too long. Sai finds enlightenment but gets dragged back to the Dynasty in spite of that, and before you can say "trope" the same thing has happened to Sage and Kento. But not with the copies. Just with the kidnapping. (Which is a shame, because multiple evil twin options would make for some hot fanfic.)

  But not only is Talpa back, it seems like the Ancient is back, too! Only he's got red hair. Hrm. Rowen and Ryou have a run-in with the mysterious Lady Kyra, the only competent person on the Dynasty side, perhaps because she weakens everyone with her special perfume: Lady Kyra's Wisteria Whoopass. Rowen and Ryou are about to get hauled off as well when the Ancient's staff appears! And somehow it manages to make the Inferno armor even though only Rowen is there? Perhaps the Ancient borrowed a couple of paperclips and half a roll of duct-tape from Sekhmet, because it works. This blatant ignoring of plot logic is clearly a Warlord Talent, because when the Ancient takes off his hat it's none other than Anubis! Who has decided he will help the Ronins by... forswearing his armor and not using it at all which is really obnoxious because that would be more helpful I think than waving around Kaos' old magic stick but nobody asked me.

  So now it's time for Rowen and Ryou to go rescue the other three Ronins, and kick Talpa's ass (again)! This takes--and I have just made careful count--approximately 437 episodes. During these episodes you have to deal with Badamon, a ghost-priest crony of Talpa's who won Most Racist Accent In Dub Award '98, who insists on going on about this Hariel nonsense for episodes on end. Providing a break from this, Anubis hangs out with Mia and Yuli so they can go after some Jewel of Life McGuffin, which Mia straight-faced insists is hidden in the nearest body of water: Jewel Lake. Jewel Lake, which is far enough away they have to drive to get there. That is the nearest body of water. Jewel Lake. Not the giant ass lake which is in Mia's own backyard and visible right through the goddamn window of her house. No, some other nearest lake, not the actual nearest lake. There is only one explanation for this: Mia can't see the lake.

  (Friends. Perhaps you know someone with the tragic condition known as Lake Blindness. It affects 1 in 6 anime sidekicks. These poor people see nothing but void when other people see bodies of water. For the most badly affected, even puddles can be pockets of emptiness. Even worse than the inability to enjoy basic scenery, these hapless souls are always losing things. Every time one of the Ronins jumps in a lake they cease to exist. Car keys dropped in a gutter vanish without a trace. Fish come from some terrifying nothing beyond the beach. Spare a thought for the bodies of water blotted out by Lake Blindness, and for the inevitable eventual drowning of those who suffer from it. Consider donating to a Lake Blindness research organization today.)

  In spite of Mia's condition and Badamon's exposition, Sai et al get un-kidnapped while Kyra--who had her necklace damaged--begins to have flashbacks to a childhood spent on the set of a king fu movie. Or possibly among the Ancient's clan. Kyra's attempt to remember her past is thwarted by Badamon just possessing her, and since everyone else is in Talpa's clutches (yes again), it's up to Anubis to defeat/save her. He does this by putting on his Oni armor again, attacking Kyra, giving Kyra his armor, and dying dramatically before falling off a bridge into a lake. (Mia instantly forgets he ever existed.) This whole tactic seems like a pretty good idea to Ryou, who does the same thing to Talpa by forcing the Inferno armor on him in their final battle. This paralyzes Talpa long enough for the Ronins to strike, though they're so upset about possibly killing Ryou in the process, they get all naked and weepy and glowy about it while striking their blows. I am not making this up. Lucky for Ryou, Yuli's Jewel of Life keeps Ryou from being killed, making everybody REALLY SORRY FOR HATING HIM ALL THIS TIME. With Talpa finally dead, they all decide the best thing to do now is to put on matching letterman jackets and play baseball with the Jewel of Life. I'm not making this up, either. Kyra and the three extant warlords are now good guys, but not so good as to join in with these jackholes. So they take off for the Dynasty, and it's the last we see of them (they must have read the scripts for the OVAs). But that's okay, because the world is now protected by the RONIN WARRIORS. *echo effect*

Gai Den

Nobody told them that NYC and LA are in fact thousands of miles apart.

  Sage's armor is staggering around New York City killing people, and there is some spooky mumbo-jumbo going on from some talking potato named Shikaisen who handily refers to himself in the third person. Meanwhile back in Japan, Ryou's treated to a birthday party replete with bow-bedecked tigers and underage drinking. A TV nearby plays footage from the murders in NYC, because Japanese TV always reported on random murders in New York in the late 80's, due to their startling rarity. (There were no more than twenty a day, I'm guessing.) Sage is mysteriously absent. Everybody else looks fucking fantastic, like they were all animated by someone who could draw. This is Gai Den, the first RW/YST OVA.

  Suspecting shenanigans (as Sage I guess never misses a chance for free liquor), Ryou and the others head to NYC to find out what's up. It seems that Sage was lured to New York with rumors of an antique sword, and then captured in a cunning trap (consisting of a bottle of LA Looks hair gel placed under a box propped up with a stick). Though disaster is narrowly avoided when Shikaisen makes the Ronins' plane crash in NY harbor, other disasters (Sai's pants, Rowen's backwards painters cap) simply have to be borne. Once in NYC, Rowen hunts down the photographer who took the pictures of the Halo armor. Also looking for the photographer is Luna, an animate collection of neon-colored hair elastics stuffed firmly into a pair of denim bike shorts. She wants revenge for her brother, murdered by the Halo armor. (I would like revenge for her terrible dialog.) Rowen, being the humongous brainbox he is, finds the photographer has been stabbed and decides the best course of action is to pull out the knife to have a better look at it. Luna mistakes him for the murderer. Oh no. How will they ever get this sorted. It is a terrible misunderstanding.

  The Ronins are staying with Kento's Uncle Chin at his restaurant/bordello in Chinatown, right as he's hosting his Guinness World Book of Records bid for Most Ethnic Stereotypes in a Single Establishment. Luna crashes the joint to attack Rowen, but runs off when she sees he has a bunch of friends with him. She vows to come back. Ryou and Kento have a substanceless fight about not eating dumplings off the floor going after Luna. Somewhere Else, Sage is having horrible nightmares while hooked up to some "scientific" equipment, wearing earphones that, judging from his expression, must be playing a Justin Timberlake album on non-stop repeat. Now would be a good time for his armor to go cause a fuss in NYC. After all, nobody's doing anything, just Sai creepily watching Ryou while he sleeps.

  Sage's armor seems to be a whole lot more badass without Sage in it, as it mauls the other four Ronins and levels several acres of historic New York buildings before you can say Robert Moses. Also, the Ronins can't do any of their sure-kills because Americans stand around cheering and watching instead of screaming and fleeing like Japanese mobs. Luckily, one of the mob members is Luna, who realizes these assholes in armor are good assholes in armor, and she helps Ryou and an injured Rowen escape underground. Rowen's bleeding while Luna and Ryou are totally getting hot for each other, because nothing does it for Ryou more than an Oscar Clip speech about hapless poor NYC orphans and revenge and murder. Sai and Kento turn up before Ryou can become a father, and they get back to Uncle Chin's restaurant.

  ONLY IT HAS BEEN ATTACKED AND YULI AND MIA HAVE BEEN KIDNAPPED. Shocking, I know. Shikaisen's goons are holding them for ransom unless the other Ronins come to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to--(......Wait. Sage is in Los Angeles?! How the fuck has his armor been getting back and forth to NYC? On a plane? Why the hell didn't Shikaisen lure them all to LA to begin with? Why is Shikaisen even IN Los Angeles? How is this happening in a matter of days when it takes like nine hours to fly cross-country? Who the fuck wrote this--)

  Ahem. The Ronins go to LA to get Sage, Mia, and Yuli, taking Luna with them, because it seems like a Terrible Idea. They fall into Shikaisen's trap almost immediately. Shikaisen has a scientist (Lupin III in an uncredited cameo) to help him research the armor, even though he had no idea there were five armors. Jesus, it's like he didn't even watch the TV show. Mia actually does something useful by taking out the scientist, while Shikaisen tries to kill Yuli. (So maybe he has seen the TV show.) Luna rushes in to save Yuli/revenge blah revenge, and of course is clobbered and dies tragically in Ryou's arms. Ryou armors up while weeping (not advised in the owner's manual) and they use the Inferno Armor to take out Shikaisen. They then all fly back to New York to throw some flowers in the East River, presumably in mourning for Ryou's chances of ever Making It With A Girl.

Legend of Kikoutei

In which everybody jumps a big, vaguely-racist, boomerang-wielding shark.

  It's hot as hell in Japan. So naturally Rowen is wearing a turtleneck, sweatshirt, long pants and boots. And he's the smart one. Things can only go downhill from here. Sai and Kento are surfing, Ryou is dicking around someplace in town, and who the hell knows where Sage is. (Arguing with his agent about having to be kidnapped again, I'm guessing, because he gets kidnapped in this one too, making him 3-3. But that's getting ahead of things.)

  So yes, it's hot! Sai is having misgivings about fighting and wearing armor, fearing it might be turning him evil. He must have missed the twelve or so episodes of the TV series where that was already hashed out and resolved. Jungle foliage and animals are appearing downtown in some Jumanji-esque mirage, when suddenly, Ryou is attacked by some random guy! This random guy is Mukala, and he is from "Africa". That is, he's from the made-up Japafrica where people wear miniskirts and body paint, hop a lot, don't talk, and wield giant boomerangs. Because nothing says "Africa" like boomerangs. Unless that is some other continent that starts with A. Let's just say that the presentation of Africa and Africans in this OVA makes Gai Den's Chinese Stereotype Uncle Chin seem fair and measured.

  Mukala beats the snot out of Ryou and fanservices Ryou's clothes up a little before everyone else arrives just in time for a throwdown. That's when Mukala reveals that he has inferno armor too! Only it is black! And he wants to fight Ryou's inferno armor! Only he can't! Because Sai can't get it up give up his power to Ryou. He is full of doubts and angst! and also everyone else is looking a little evil. Mukala, who apparently only came to Japan on a one-day mystical antagonist visa, hauls Sage and Ryou through a portal back home to Tanzania. Once there, his girlfriend Naria turns up to yell exposition at him for a full twenty minutes about how their tribe worships the black armor as a god, how Mukala, their leader, was never supposed to put it on, how he's become a total jerk lately, and also he always leaves the toilet seat up, which even in a pre-industrial armor-worshiping undiscovered tribe where everyone speaks Japanese as a native language is totally annoying. Ryou and Sage hang around on an elephant listening to this and feeling really awkward because ugh, it's like going to a friend's house and he's getting yelled at by his mom for not taking out the trash and dude you just wanted to have MtDew and play some Mario Cart, you know?

  Back in Japan, Rowen and Kento are being all PA at Sai for not giving it up for the Inferno armor, and Sai responds to this by clocking Rowen right in the fucking face before running off crying for the lake. Where Rowen and Kento leave him when they fly to Africa with Mia and Yuli. (Sai, these guys are jerks and maybe you should find some new friends.) Luckily, White Blaze is there to keep Sai company, though not in time to stop Sai from throwing his armor in the lake. Which will keep it away from Mia, at least.

  Once in Africa, Mukala pretty quickly demolishes everybody, takes their armor, and drains their power, leaving them suffering from brain fever or the vapors or whatever I just can't be arsed with this OVA. Mukala's determined to have all the things and all the powers and all the armors! This is because the armor itself wants to fight until everything is destroyed in a quest for battle lust! Or something. Things look dire when Sai decides no wait his friends need him. So he fishes his armor out of the lake, magically turns up in Tanzania along with White Blaze, and his feels virtue heals the other four members of his OT5. Sai gives up his armor to go join the others, but soon enough they've all got it on again, only without their helmets, to show that they aren't controlled by their armors, or that they have had so much blunt force head injury by now that helmets are kind of redundant. And there's the fact that Mukala crunched them up a bit earlier. Whatever, climatic fight scene! Ryou and Mukala collide! Naria rides White Blaze into the explosion to stop them! Also there's a big CGI eclipse, and honestly it's so jarring and out of place that it makes the rest of the OVA a little vague. There is an earth-shattering kaboom! And a shitload of cherry petals. Naria and White Blaze are saved. Ryou is wearing Kento's sweatshirt. The armors are presumably(?) destroyed. Mukala has his one line ("Naria!") and that's a cut. No really. That's the end. I don't know how they get back home. I don't know how they explain the tiger to customs. I don't know WHY there was INFERNO ARMOR in AFRICA. I have no idea why Naria has no pupils or what she sees in Mukala, the culturally appropriative mute palette-swapped Ryou. "Wow," I can hear you thinking, "Good thing there's another OVA! It must explain all this somehow!"

  Well, you're half right.


Alternate title: Ronin Warriors 3: The Search for More Money

  Suzunagi is a ghostly fashion disaster with an idee fixe and a mommy complex, so hell bent for revenge that she's waited thirty-nine episodes, four drama cds, and two OVAs to get around to doing it. She intends to seal up the five warriors in some swank new mystical armor as payback for that time her dad's theater got a bad Yelp review. (Ahaha just kidding, the shogun had him executed and burned the place down. Everybody's a critic.) It seems the play he put on not only offended the Shogun, it also predicted the Ronin's battles centuries before anime was even invented. But instead of using his clairvoyance to play the ponies, Suzunagi's dad gets himself offed. Suzunagi is really put out about the whole thing, and decides to take out the future armor-bearers prophesied in the play instead of, idek, the guy who actually killed her parents and ruined her life. One can't help wondering if all the lights are just not on upstairs with this girl. I'm not sure what else would inspire someone to go around wearing a picket fence collar and a napkin ring on her forehead. (She also wears a giant rosary and ruff sometimes too, but at least she manages to not do this all at the same time.)

  One at a time she captures the guys and connives, finagles, and sometimes outright shoves them into their prison-armors, which is sort of like trying to get an unwilling cat into its carrier when you were supposed to be at the vet five minutes ago. This takes place over the course of five OVA episodes, each one comprising 99% clipshow footage with not-even-relevant voiceover, and 1% new footage, which is all very pretty but incredibly depressing. (Nobody is happy in Message. It's against the rules.)

  As a matter of fact, the one redeeming quality of Message is that the new sequences are pretty, if stilted. That's because they were all almost single-handedly illustrated by Shioyama, which is why in one part Ryou listens to his voicemail for--no lie--fourteen minutes. One. Cel. We timed it once.

  Suzunagi finally stops monologing about the seasons or whatthefuckever long enough to realize that these dudes she's stalking are actually kinda nice and sympathetic to her suffering, they have in fact been through plenty of shit themselves because of this armor crap, and maybe she was being kind of a jerk. By that point she's got everybody but Ryou, who after a phonebooth breakup with Mia goes to Suzunagi and puts on the new Wildfire armor willingly. (The sequence of her dressing Ryou in the new armor is actually one of the nicest parts of the whole deal.) The upshot is that the guys get some sexy new armor, and Suzunagi gets the therapy she so obviously needs. Also, Yuli wins a kendo tournament somewhere. Possibly in another anime series. Because let's be honest, this one is done.

  Now for a serious poscript: While this may sound like I don't like Message, that's not really the case. I've watched it raw, subbed, dubbed, and on a bun with french fries, and it's got some really nice moments, even if Sage's hair is a weird color the whole time. The voicemail sequence (once I watched it in something other than raw Japanese) is actually touching. The real shock about the OVA is the sudden change in tone between it and Kikoutei (to say nothing of the jump from the earlier parts), but Sunrise isn't entirely to blame. While it's obvious that the five guys are not the same as they were in 1988, neither is the Japan that created them. In 1988, Japan was on top of the world, its economy booming and its culture a fascination for the rest of the world. Everything seemed possible. The Yoroiden Samurai Troopers tv series is a 39-episode celebration of that. But by the time Message was released, the economic bubble had burst, and Japan's Lost Decade was just beginning. Multicolored samurai heroes extoling the virtues of the past must have been one hell of a hard sell. At the end of Message, when Ryou and the others look out on an uncertain future, solemn trepidation and quiet hope is the best they can give it. The undergear of their new armor is no longer white, but black, and the colors are muted. Their happy childhood, and the happy childhood of so many in Japan, is over.

  For that reason alone, Message is hard to watch. But even without existential cultural angst, it's still a low budget five-part OVA that should have been an hour long, and in the end it killed off the series it was trying so hard to save.

  But don't look so depressed! There's plenty of fan fiction!

Fasten seat-belt sign is on
Gai Den features a plane crashing in the NYC harbor decades before the actual "Miracle" on the Hudson. (That one was caused by a goose, not a demon.)