Please be sure to watch the episode before you read the release notes. The release notes address things that could be confusing in the order in which they occur in the episode, and they'll probably be overwhelming and confusing if you attempt to read them first. They may also contain spoilers.
The first episode of Kakuranger can be rough going for a foreign audience, since the show dives right in to showing off how outrageously Japanese it is. As a result, and the release notes for this episode are frankly enormous. Generally, later episodes will require fewer notes, although it'll vary depending on what an episode's plot is about.
Kakuranger was written with the assumption that its audience would already know most of the things we address in these notes. Most of what is listed here would be things even a small Japanese child would already understand, just due to cultural immersion, but that even a long-time fan of tokusatsu might not have picked up yet.
[01.22.82] The Storyteller
Kakuranger's infamous "narrator," called the Storyteller in credit translations, is famous rakugo performer Sanyuutei Enjou. Rakugo is a form of Japanese comic storytelling where the performer sits on a stage, wielding a fan, and tells a funny anecdote to his gathered audience. The storyteller uses a fan as a prop, and changes his voice while playing different roles. The comedy of rakugo is usually quite broad, and many of the tales would be considered quite corny by Western standards (they're often compared to sitcom plots). It remains popular in Japan to this day as a form of folk art.
The first arc of Kakuranger puts a big emphasis on comedy, and often pokes fun at both the heroes and villains. The Storyteller is there to help remind the show's original audience that this is supposed to be a comedy, and you should be laughing at the antics of these misfit heroes and villains. Remember that prior to Kakuranger, Sentai had at most comedic scenes or episodes. The idea of a strictly comedic story arc in Sentai was something the audience at the time probably wouldn't have expected. It was probably reasonable to worry that viewers wouldn't quite understand what the show was doing without (literally) a character present to point it out.
There are certain formulaic elements of rakugo storytelling that the Storyteller emphasizes in this episode. For instance, stories always end with what is called a "fall," an abrupt interruption or sudden stop. Since Kakuranger is tokusatsu, the Storyteller's performance ends with him telling a lousy joke, then abruptly exploding. (Tokusatsu is awesome.)
If you want to get a taste of what Rakugo is like, here's the performer Shijaku Katsura performing the rakugo tale "Toki-Udon" in both Japanese and English: Part 1
, Part 2
[01:43.14] The Five Famous Ninjas
In Kakuranger, our heroes are descendants of Sarutobi Sasuke, Kirigakure Saizou, Miyoshi Seikai Nyudo, Jiraiya, and Tsuruhime. These five names would be known to the original Japanese audience as figures from folklore. That's really all you need to know about them to understand the story, just that they were five famous ninja characters from ancient Japan's Warring States.
If you want to know a little bit more, though: Sarutobi Sasuke is a folk hero, possibly based on real-life ninjas. He became a major figure in Japanese pop culture in the early 20th century, thanks to a series of children's books that gathered up folktales about him. Sarutobi was a character often associated with the idea of agility and monkey-like climbing skill; his family name literally means "monkey jump." Usually, Sarutobi is remembered as the leader of the "Sanada Ten Braves", a fictional supergroup of mythic ninjas who aided the warlord Sanada Yukimura. Kirigakure Saizou is usually counted among the Sanada Ten Braves, and is often portrayed as Sarutobi's best friend and greatest rival. This is probably why their descendants debut in the first episode together, as bickering pals.
Tsuruhime is based on an actual historical figure, though one that's obscure in English (in fact, try Googling the name and you'll mostly get Kakuranger hits). The historical Tsuruhime was not a ninja, but instead was the daughter of Oohouri Yasumochi, high priest of the Oyamazumi Shrine in Iyo. When their lord Ouchi Yoshitaka embarked on his conquest of the surrounding lands, the Oohouri family sent their oldest son Yasufusa to command their family's portion of Ouchi's army. Yasufusa was killed in battle, and so his 16-year-old sister Tsuruhime went to replace him. She lead the Oohouri armies to victory, and became especially famous for her custom-made breastplate. Called the Konito Susosu Kageodoshi Doumaru, Tsuruhime's breastplate is the only known piece of its type ever constructed for a woman. It has survived intact to this day, and is now considered a cultural artifact.
Since Seikai and Jiraiya's descendants won't appear until future episodes, we'll wait until then to cover their mythology.
Nurarihyon is a Japanese legendary creature who's often thought to be the leader of all yokai in folklore, since he is believed to lead the "hyakki yagyo," in English called the "Parade of One Hundred Monsters." This is a folk belief that on summer nights, the Nurarihyon will gather one hundred yokai together and parade them, reveling, through city streets while the humans sleep. Anyone who encountered the parade would surely die.
In folklore, the Nurarihyon is fairly different from the one we see in Kakuranger. Nurarihyon was thought to be a yokai who looked like an old man. He would break into people's houses while they were gone, drink their tea, and generally act like he owned the place. The idea that you could seal away the power of the yokai by sealing away Nurarihyon seems to be an invention of Kakuranger's writers.
[03:43.42] Yokai and Yoki
Yokai is a term used to describe a bewildering array of supernatural creatures that figure prominently in Japanese folklore, combining the kanji for "supernatural" and "weird." Yokai are often presented as dangerous to humans in folklore, but they're not necessarily evil there. Various sorts of magical animal monsters are yokai, as are certain types of demon, goblin, ghosts, and even transformed humans. Kakuranger uses monsters based on all of these different types of yokai, so it seemed best to not translate the term in any particular way. In Kakuranger, most yokai are assumed to also be ninjas, which is really just because the show is about ninjas.
Yoki seems to be something else Kakuranger's writers just made up. The term combines the supernatural yo from youkai with ki, or "life force." It's pretty logical, from a Japanese point of view, that sealing away the supernatural energy (yoki) of the world would weaken all of the yokai. Kakuranger doesn't talk a whole lot about yoki after its early episodes, but it's something to keep in mind.
[03:53.52] Street food
When we first see Sasuke and Saizou, they're arguing about whether to go for burgers or ramen. These are the two stereotypical types of fast food that were associated with young people in the early 90s. When the Storyteller yells at them to get omurice instead, he's referring to a dish sometimes called "omelet rice," a form of fusion cuisine that's really popular in Japan. It's essentially an omelet filled with fried rice and topped with ketchup. It's associated with home cooking and often served on children's menus or in diners that specialize in comfort food. So the Storyteller is basically telling Sasuke and Saizou to quit eating crap and go get some real food.
[04:47.56] Kappa Inari Shrine
There's no such thing as a "Kappa Inari Shrine," so Sasuke and Saizou should've known to be suspicious of the old man's offer. There are "Inari Shrines," though, where you propitiate the deity Inari Okami by giving an offering of food, particularly inari-zushi (sushi rice stuffed into a fried tofu pocket), other fried tofu dishes, and sake. Generally the paths to inari shrines are lined with shops that sell food and sake that can be left as an offering. These offerings are usually inexpensive. It's likely that Sasuke and Saizou were thinking they could spend a little bit of the money on a shrine offering for the old man, then keep the rest of the money in the bag for themselves.
[05:02.44] "Ninja De Gozaru!"
Ending sentences with "de gozaru" is part of an old-fashioned speech pattern, a bit comparable to how people would think of speaking with thees and thous in English. You hear it sometimes from a character who's supposed to sound a bit courtly and old-fashioned (say, Himura Kenshin in Rurouni Kenshin). It's also a speech pattern that is sometimes associated, in a weirdly specific way, with ninjas. For instance, if you watch the anime Tiger & Bunny, the hero Origami Cyclone speaks with the "de gozaru" speech pattern specifically when he is "in character" as a ninja. When he reverts to his secret identity, he speaks normally.
This can be a very difficult speech pattern to deal with in translation, depending on context. It's one thing if you're dealing with a guy like Kenshin, where its significance is obvious. It's often dropped if, say, only one character in the cast is using it, and he's using it specifically because he's a ninja. In this episode, we decided to go with the "old-fashioned" interpretation, since it's specifically the Kakuranger's ninja ancestors who speak this way. It's one of the things that sets them apart from their modern descendants.
[05:34.34] "Pass through, oh, pass through"
This is a Japanese folk song called Touryanse that's so old, its origins are largely unclear.
EDIT: Or maybe not. GUIS bro Shir says that he's always heard the song's origins explained as a reference to one of the Tokugawa shoguns. This interpretation says the song is actually a warning, saying that if you join the Tokugawa armies (by "passing through"), you'll probably die. This certainly does fit the way the song is used in the episode, and it bears looking into. The original explanation is below.
It seems to tell the story of a parent (probably a mother) and child traveling through a checkpoint on the way to a shrine, and was probably originally sung by children. There's a children's game that goes along with it, where two children link arms for form a "castle arch," and other children walk or run beneath them. In modern-day Japan, it's played at crosswalks to indicate when it's safe to cross the street. In Kakuranger, the yokai sing it to mislead Sasuke and Saizou into following the singing girl, who seems to be promising them safe passage.
[06:52.98] Hana Ichi Monme
Another super-traditional Japanese children's song, sung as part of a children's game that's similar to "Red Rover." The "hana ichi monme" part of the lyrics borders on being complete nonsense, sung largely to keep time in the song. The monme is an ancient Japanese unit of measurement, equivalent to 3.75 grams. The phrase "hana ichi monme" literally means "a flower weighs one monme," and has no relevance to the other lyrics of the song. Since it's a nonsense-phrase anyway, we opted to leave it in Japanese so viewers wouldn't think too much about that part of the lyrics. The part we translated is the part that's relevant to how the yokai are treating Sasuke and Saizou.
In Japanese folklore, cucumbers are said to be a kappa's favorite food. Their second-favorite is human children. So when Japanese families went to bathe or swim in a river or pond, they might toss cucumbers in first to distract any kappa dwelling nearby. In Kakuranger, Kappa's ability to transform the money into cucumbers plays on the association from folklore, but doesn't directly reference anything from it.
There's two things to note with Sandayuu. You may notice that Sandayuu is written a little differently than the other characters. That's because he's speaking in an unusual dialect, Sanuki-ben,that originates in the Kagawa Prefecture (once called Sanuki Province) of the island of Shikoku. The dialect is characterized primarily by changes of diction. Shikoku is a small southern island, and so its people use slightly different terms to refer to things than a person from Tokyo would. The accent seems to be associated, culturally, with people who are from far away and have curious but not unpleasant customs. For Kakuranger, we've decided to interpret it as a mild Irish brogue. Generally we try to keep accent translations mild, so the text remains easy to read.
Also, Sandayuu is also based loosely on a famous ninja from folklore. Sandayuu's inspiration is Momochi Sandayuu, who trained the famous ninja Ishikawa Goemon. This relationship ended with Sandayuu being made to look the fool, as Goemon ends up stealing one of Sandayuu's swords and one of his mistresses.
The Storyteller says a little about kappa in this episode, but there's plenty he leaves out. Kappa are a sort of turtle-like goblin believed to live in any sizable lake, pool, or stream. Although kappa make mischief for humans, drowning or even eating them, they're not considered intrinsically evil. Kappa are counted among the suijin or "water deities," and there are kappa shrines throughout Japan where they can be given prayers and offerings (pickled octopus, cucumber, and sake are traditional). You could say that Kappa only make trouble for humans who are especially foolish or reckless. This episode's plot reflects that belief, as the Kappa chides Sasuke and Saizou for being greedy and easily fooled.
[11:10.84] Street Fashion Yokai
In addition to Kappa, this episode also introduces us to the yokai Azukiarai, Nurikabe, and Mokumokuren. It's worth pointing out here that while Kakuranger's monster designs are based somewhat on traditional representations of monsters, they're not meant to be entirely faithful. The idea behind Kakuranger's monster suits is traditional yokai mixed with then-contemporary street fashions and other symbols of urban living. So you have the brightly-colored Kappa in swim goggles, an Azukiarai that lives in a trash can, Nurikabe's wall is covered in graffiti, and a Mokumokuren that acts like a flasher. We'll get more into the specific mythologies of these yokai when we see them again, later in the show. For now, just bear in mind that the show is displaying these designs to get its idea of city-dwelling yokai across to an audience that would've quickly recognized the pattern in the unusual designs.
[12:47.82] "What's with the getup?"
This is a fairly loose translation of Sasuke's line. A more literal translation would be "What are you, a kogal?" Kogal is Japanese slang that describes an extremely fashionable, pretty, but often vapid teenage girl. In the 90s, a kogal fashion trend was wearing a scarf over your hair. Sasuke's essentially making fun at Tsuruhime's weird ninja getup, by comparing her ninja costume's headgear to a kogal hair scarf. The line's meant to come off a bit rude, and cast Sasuke in an unflattering light. For this particular line, we just opted to translate around the reference, since it was easy to make the line's meaning clear without a direct kogal reference.
[14:06.04] Mighty Shogun
His Japanese name is "Muteki Shogun."
[14.33.24] Doron Changer
Doron is a Japanese sound effect specifically associated with ninjas vanishing in a burst of smoke, say after a smoke bomb has gone off. It doesn't really have a direct English equivalent. We played with a few ways of translating this, but ultimately they sounded very labored, so we've decided to let the device name stand as-is. There's a pop culture theme running through Kakuranger that's expressed by use of comic book sound effects for various things, and the use of Doron in the transformation device's item is part of that.
(There's also, to be honest, something that comes up in episode 3 that influenced our decision. If you've already seen Kakuranger, you probably know who I'm talking about.)
Kappamaki are better known on sushi menus as "cucumber rolls." This type of sushi, which is sliced cucumber wrapped in rice and seaweed, takes its Japanese name from the kappa's famous fondness for cucumber. Usually we would translate the name of a food like this, since it has a common English alternative, but then you'd lose the play on words.
[15:30.88] Don't blow your top!
What Kappa's saying here in Japanese is "otsumu-tenten", which is a 'baby talk' way of telling someone to pat their head. Some parents play this game with crying babies or toddlers, to get them to calm down and focus on something less stressful. Colloquially, the expression can also be used in a snide, condescending sort of way to tell someone to calm down. That's how Kappa is using the expression here, so we translated it with a roughly equivalent American expression that refers to the head, "Don't blow your top!"
There's also a joke about kappas here. One of the beliefs about them in folklore is that there's an indentation on the tops of their heads that must remain full of water at all times. If the water splashes out, the kappa will immediately become paralyzed or die. So sometimes if a kappa plans to spend a lot of time on land, he wears a metal cap to cover up the indentation and keep the water safely in his head. When Kappa smacks his head while saying this line, you can hear the sound of water splashing-- the water implied to be beneath his yellow swim cap.
[15:33.82] Super Henge
Henge means "change," but it's an extremely Japanese way of saying "change," bordering on old-fashioned. Sometimes transforming monsters from Japanese myths are called hengeyokai, with the henge indicating their ability to change shape (from, say, a human to an animal). We decided to preserve Henge in this case, since it's obvious from context what it means, but maybe not so obvious that something extremely Japanese is supposed to be happening.
(Also... again, there's stuff in episode 3 that influences our stance on this pretty fundamentally.)
[16:50.84] Shu Shu Shu
During the fight, the words "Shu! Shu! Shu!," written in Roman letters, appear on the screen. Much like the "Zbaaaakk!" you see earlier, this is a sound effect. It's just a peculiarly Japanese one, for all that it's written with the Roman alphabet. "Shushu" is the sound of something whooshing. When used with ninjas, shushu usually refers to the sound of them running quickly, or to the sound of them rapidly throwing shuriken. Kakuranger uses it almost exclusively for shuriken throws.
[16:53.70] Kakure Ninpo
The basic translation for "ninpo" is ninja arts, but in Kakuranger, ninpo is basically just magic. If you are a sufficiently good ninja, you can make just about anything happen. The "Kaku" in Kakuranger comes from "kakure," which means "hidden." Certain attacks or items the Kakurangers use frequently incorporate the word kakure into their names.
[17:09.86] The Blade, Kakuremaru
Kakuremaru is the name of the swords the Kakurangers use, so we've treated their names as proper nouns (as is customary for swords in English). The -maru part of the name is used frequently for weapons and ships. Literally it means "circle," but when used as part of a name, it means "noble" or "exalted."
The "hiken" part is tricky. The kanji are "secret" and "sword," but together they refer to exotic or advanced forms of swordplay. So we think the "hiken" is supposed to indicate that the Kakuremaru is a particularly high-quality sword, that can be used to execute advanced techniques. We've handled this by translating hiken as "blade," and treating it as a sort of epithet or title for the sword ("The Blade, Kakuremaru").
[17:38.12] Ninpo Basketball
I'm sure you're wondering "Why is Kappa calling it a basketball when he's clearly kicking it like a soccer ball?" We've checked and checked this, but that does appear to be what Kappa is saying. Maybe one of the writers got a bit confused?
Dororon is a more forceful version of the doron sound effect that the Doron Changer is named after. The repetition is basically just for singing along with the song.
Makibishi is the Japanese term for what are called caltrops or spikes in English. They're small bits of sharpened metal you scatter on the ground to frustrate pursuers. This is usually something we'd translate, but the way it's used in the song made us think that what the word meant was far less important than how it sounded when you were singing along.