To celebrate Hikari Sentai Maskman’s 30th anniversary, I decided to make a post, listing my picks for the show’s Top 10 Episodes (multi-parters will be counted as one). Maskman for me was one of those shows which frequently had very strong stand-alone episodes which stood very well on it’s own. Maskman also has it’s fair share of awesome story arcs which make use of the vast unique world and concepts it makes use of. But I’ve always felt season long story arcs aren’t much to write home about, if the individual episodes themselves are not strong themselves. Good strong episodes help add to the overall big picture I feel.
What I feel Maskman does for Sentai is it’s particular approach on grounded and humanized storytelling. Now, sure, Maskman is far from the only show to do this (shows like Liveman, Jetman, Dairanger, Timeranger, Kuuga, etc all do this too). But I think what makes Maskman’s flavor of this approach so memorable and worthwhile has to do with a lot of the elements which make up Maskman. Maskman was a season which was treading a lot of new ground. Taking a bit of a break from the cosmic sci-fi settings of Changeman and Flashman, and trying to focus on characters who felt relatively more “normal.” Maskman follows characters who had lived fairly regular lives, yet had chosen to be heroes for the sake of saving the world from the Underground Empire Tube.
Before I begin, here are some honorary mentions which came close to making my list (there’s a lot. The final list took some thought to finalize): Episodes 6, 7, 12, 14, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 33, 35, 38, 39, 41, 46, 48, 50, 51
10. Episode 19
This episode focuses a bit on Akira’s backstory, showing what his life was like before he became a Maskman, as well as exploring what exactly he had left behind in doing so. He had left behind old friends of his, without saying goodbye (later revealed to be a result of his own personal weaknesses). Akira in this episode loses his memory and accidentally returns to his old friends, but does not recognize anyone. But as he spends time with them, the Maskman (who are watching from afar) realize how happy Akira is, and knowing that this was the life he had to toss aside to become a hero. Great stuff.
9. Episode 25
Another Akira focus episode (though Haruka and Momoko get some decent screen time too!). In this episode, Akira enters a tournament, which unknown to him, is rigged by the Tube. The episode explores Akira’s past with his mother. How she wants Akira to keep on trying, to never give up, and to keep on fighting. And fighting he does! This episode has a lot of spectacular martial arts action! And Akira’s actor, Issei Hirota really shows off everything he’s capable of, with plenty of amazing sword work! It’s a fun and even touching episode, made even stronger with those excellently directed flashback scenes with Akira’s mother. On top of that, it’s also fun to see how the episode observes Akira through Haruka and Momoko at times, as the two are having fun goofing around, yet at the same time really feel for Akira. Great cast chemistry right there!
8. Episode 8
An Akira episode… and a Momoko episode! In this episode, it’s kinda established that as strong as Akira and Momoko are, they are possibly the two weaker members of the team, as they goof up on their training. Things get worse when Takeru, Kenta, and Haruka all get encased in ice by Igam’s next plan. The stakes are very high, and it’s great seeing Akira and Momoko lunge into battle in their attempts to save the other 3 Maskman, despite the steep odds. Again, this episode also demonstrates some of the great cast chemistry the show has. They’re a goofy lovable bunch who are just really happy to be alive, yet are always ready to sarcastically take jabs at each other. These guys just really know how to live!
7. Episode 34
A Momoko episode, guest-starring Yasuhiro Ishiwata (Bun from Flashman)! In this episode, Tube’s Ground Beast, Gron Doggler is granted the ability by Emperor Zeba to turn into a human named Hikaru (portrayed by Ishiwata) to slyly take down the Maskman. However, via flashback scenes of a woman whom Gron Doggler had fallen for, Hikaru is smitten when he sees Momoko and her very similar appearance to the woman. Hoping to use the disguise as his one and only chance to attempt to experience love, Hikaru dates Momoko. And the date seems to go very well. The two have a lot of fun hanging out with each other. But we all know that there is no happy end to this. Not when the Tube Empire is ruled by a tyrant like Emperor Zeba. It’s a great episode for Momoko, and pretty bittersweet too.
6. Episode 18
A Haruka focus episode. In this episode, we learn more of her backstory of how she was raised by her father to fight like a ninja, and to set aside anything which was deemed “girly” by her father. This included her playing with a doll she loved named Mary. Haruka manages to eventually reunite with Mary, by coincidence of running into her in an antique store. But she lets another little girl who wants it, have it. However, the episode soon becomes a race against time, as Mary is infested with a Ground Beast who can bring great harm to the little girl, as well as many others. The episode is touching, and the constant running around of the characters really keeps you on the edge of your seat, as time begins to run out. Haruka kicks a lot of butt in this episode, while also seeing just how much she was robbed of having a childhood of a normal girl.
5. Episode 20
Another Momoko focus episode. This episode has her pitted against Dokuro Doggler (who has a pretty awesomely freaky transformation sequence!), who puts two of her martial arts students in danger. Momoko is severely put to the test as she fights against the enemies to save her students, while also proving to them her pride as a martial artist, by fighting out of suit! The episode has a lot of awesome out of suit action with Momoko, to the point where we get her iconic moment where she punches a hole through Dokuro Doggler out of suit! The episode however ends on a bittersweet note as Momoko gets really thrashed to the point where she is unable to help join her team to pilot the Great Five. And things don’t turn out very spectacular for Great Five. Despite a crushing defeat, Momoko still manages to save her students, while also keeping her pride. Great episode.
4. Episode 10
Perhaps one of my favorite duels ever in Sentai. Takeru vs Igam. Igam decides he is going to finish Takeru off once and for all, by challenging him to a cage match. The battle is very well set up and gives off a very intense feeling in the way it’s directed. The duel has a lot of emotion going on as the two characters despise each others’ guts, due to their relationships to Princess Ial. Of course, this is far from the last time Takeru and Igam go at each other, but I feel the episode visually shows a lot of just what’s clashing between the two. And the action is still very thrilling, making you wonder if Takeru can hang in there.
3. Episodes 43, 44, 45
A 3-parter arc, focusing on Akira becoming the Underground Knight Unas. This arc is a follow up to episodes 14 and 35. We see some creepy directing as Akira is suddenly hearing these eerie chants from the Underground, which would soon transform him into a minion of Igam’s. It’s really cool seeing how Akira actually leaves the team for a while, becoming a temporary villain. The arc is also chock full of so many great storytelling. We get bits and pieces of Kiros being a jerk and wanting revenge on Akira, Kiros trying to uncover more on the mysteries of Lethal Doggler, as well as Igam’s gender and burden now finally being revealed to the characters. I feel the arc is a great representation of the kind of storytelling Maskman shows, as well as showing off it’s vast world and plot lines.
2. Episodes 1, 2, 3
I’ve always felt a premiere to a show should always focus on trying to express what kind of show it wants to be from the get go, and to present it all at the very start. It should introduce and explore what sort of ideas the show is going for, as well as helping draw the audience into it. And I feel Maskman doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The show immediately sets up it’s conflict between Tube and the over world. As well as Takeru losing his love, Mio, and how he is now faced with new responsibilities as the leader of the Maskman, and how he cannot allow his inner feelings towards Mio to interfere with that. We’re also introduced to the world of Maskman, which expresses that it’s a world built on the concepts of New Age (which had gotten very popular during the time). We are introduced to ideas like Auras, Pyramid Power, Hollow Earth Theory, etc.
1. Episode 49
One of my favorite episodes ever in Maskman. It’s Takeru’s final attempt to try and save Mio, while she’s in the clutches of Kiros, who has also gotten desperate. It’s a big race against time as Takeru (with the help of Kenta) attempts to track down Kiros, who is also being hunted down by Igam. The conflicts are a lot of fun to follow. And it’s just awesome and surprisingly even a bit sad to see just how things turn out for Kiros in the end. For me, Takeru and Kiros’ rivalry over Mio is a big part of what makes Maskman for me. As well as how Igam is involved in the conflict too. And it’s just so satisfying to see how the stories wrap up.