In my previous post I mentioned how I love Pirate Sentai Gokaiger, it’s insanely fun, but it doesn’t usually inspire me to actually write about it on here. So much of it is “stupid awesome” pirate shenanigans that it’s really easy to forget that it can touch deeper topics, and that, in fact, most of the main characters have had fairly dark backstories revealed.
Case in point, the stoic Joe Gibken. An earlier two parter revealed that before being the first member of Marvelous’ merry band of pirates, Joe was a member of the Zangyack empire’s Special Forces. The episodes don’t really dwell on the origin of the situation, but Joe was very obviously misguided as to Zangyack’s true nature. I assume it was probably similar to how Luke Skywalker originally wanted to join the Imperial Academy so he could become a pilot, probably a matter of having been fed propaganda and not having had a reason to question it*. Joe starts to see Zangyack for what they are when he’s ordered to murder children. He refuses and is branded a traitor, along with his mentor and friend Sid Bamick, who has realized the empire is evil and that they’ve been lied to.
*Personally, I think it might have been more interesting if it was more like New Caprica Police from Battlestar Galactica, meaning humans choosing to work for the occupying force because they believe they are helping restore order when in reality they are being used to oppress their own kind.
Sid is captured while holding off Zangyack forces so Joe can escape, and the catalyst that leads to these revelations via flashback is that Joe eventually finds out that after being captured Sid was “weaponized”. His personality and memories were destroyed when he was turned into Barizorg, a cyborg that retains his superb swordsman skills. The two parter deals with Joe’s shock and grief over these realizations, and also with him realizing that while Sid may not remember him, he has new people to live and fight for.
Episode 30 revisits the issue from another angle. Long story short, Zangyack’s latest scheme is creating more cyborgs like Barizorg, which leads to the Gokaigers finding the blueprints for the process and to Joe’s hope that there might be a way to reverse the process and save Sid. Obviously, as the audience, we want Joe’s hope to be rewarded, we want him to get his friend back. Instead, Joe finds out that the process is irreversible and that Sid may as well be dead, because there really is nothing left of him. The stark cruelty of the fact is a reminder that underneath a franchise of Sunday morning kids’ shows, whose reason for existence ultimately is selling toys, are stories that aren’t always as simple as it might appear at first glance. These are worlds where bad shit happens sometimes, where there aren’t always easy answers, and where people have to learn to learn to deal with whatever life throws at them as best they can.
So in a way, Joe has lose Sid all over again. After realizing what had happened to Sid, Joe still had hope, but now he sees that hope destroyed. His first impulse is to be angry at himself for having dared to hope in the first place. He’s angry because the hope that some part of Sid was still there to be saved made him hesitate when he fought Barizorg (in the two parter from earlier in the series) and he didn’t destroy the cyborg. Essentially he’s faulting himself for being human, for not being an emotionless, jaded warrior that can react coldly and mercilessly. Of course, the fact that grief can wound him so deeply is precisely the reason he is who he is, those feelings are what made him reject the Zangyack empire. Another character points out this fact, and also makes him realize that even though Sid is gone, Joe can still honor his memory, and fight for who Sid was.
This episode wasn’t simply about Joe being forced to accept a cruel truth or about the loss of hope. It’s about Joe learning to accept the inevitable, about him learning to live with the fact that his friend is truly gone; but also about learning to accept his grief. It’s about Joe learning that it’s okay to let himself feel all of that, and about how ultimately that acceptance can lead to strength. Sid is gone, and Joe won’t forget him but now that is a burden he’s chosen to carry. He’s grown because of it, he’s become a stronger, better man.