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Monday, December 5, 2016

Revisiting Janperson

Recently, I've been rewatching my favorite tokusatsu series, Tokusou Robo (Robot Detective) Janperson. It's the 1993 installment of the defunct metal hero metaseries (this series includes Gavan, Shaider, Spielban and Beetle Fighter/Beetleborgs). I remember watching it on channels 5 and 13 back in the mid- to late 1990s here in Quezon City, so it was a memorable habit during that part of my life. I'll leave details about the series that I don't mention here to other bloggers, such as Sean Akizuki's, to fill in,

As for my own views, I like Janperson as one of the better character designs in tokusatsu. He looks more fully armored than other metal heroes, being a robot. He also sports a respectable arsenal, something I look for in character design. I sure hope to get a figure of him with that weapon set.

However, I'll comment on the story, too. Janperson is one of the more non-formulaic Japanese toku series. It doesn't have one single "evil empire" to fight, as there are actuallly three major crime organizations in the story. No henshin sequence, as Janperson is a robot and doesn't transform into a human. Enemies range from humans to robots to mutants, the whole gamut of things you can pull from comics. The stories are more science fiction than action, with some police procedural feel to it.

It's also a series that sort of reverses the Hollywood convention of making robots evil, such as in Terminator. This is likely based on the Luddite fear of robots taking over human jobs, something Stephen Hawking has commented on. Another probable basis of that fear is the idea that if robots become develop human-like AI, they will become more evil than humans. I disagree, and find it hypocritical. I've complained in a blog post about how robots are overly demonized in popular culture. Janperson nicely reversed it, because despite being the robot, he has good in him while the three main villains are very human.

In fact, one of the villains, Reiko Ayanokouji, is a good example of the "road to hell is paved by good intentions" saying. An environmentalist, she dreams of making the Earth beautiful again, but she wants to do this by killing humanity. This is a good example of what I wrote in my other blog, that people who want their version of good imposed upon the world actually become the real evil.

In that sense, Janperson inadvertently also touches on what it means to be human. This is also explored in one of the obvious inspirations of this show, Robocop (as Robocop 3 showed the same year). But Janperson carries the Asimovian approach, exploring how close a robot can get to being human (Robocop was a cyborg and not a robot). And probably being even more human than other humans.

There are likely other shows and stories with the robot-good/human-evil theme, and I ought to keep my eye out for them. But while I haven't found something, Janperson will be the first thing I'll remember if I'm to cite a story with that theme.

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