Rui Kihara (Kamen Rider Amazons)
Yume Shinjo (Mr. Hiiragi’s Homeroom)
Atom Mizuishi (The Hungry Lion)
Mio Kudo (Kamen Rider Ghost)
Daimaou Kosaka (Karasu no Oyayubi)
Inori Minase (Ama Chan)
Once again the time has come to debut the brand new Super Sentai series, but this year Toei is doing things a little differently for the long-running tokusatsu franchise. Prior to the series following on from the conclusion of Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger, the 44th Super Sentai series Mashin Sentai Kiramager took to the big screen in a special Episode ZERO prequel film. Released alongside Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger vs Lupinranger vs Patranger as part of the Super Sentai Movie Party, this is the first time a new Sentai team has been debuted outside of either their own series or their predecessor’s VS movie.When the beautiful kingdom of Crystalia comes under attack from the evil Yodon forces, it’s princess Mabushina is forced to flee to their next target – Earth. Taking the five Kiramai Stones with her, Mabushina meets with Muryou Hakataminami – a friend of her father and supervisor for the CARAT organisation. In order to protect the Earth from the oncoming threat, the Kiramai Stones awaken and seek out five individuals that possess strong Kiramental power. Using the Kiramai Changers developed by CARAT, those five will become Earth’s newest heroes – the Mashin Sentai Kiramager!Sometimes in order for a franchise to move forward it has to look back at what made it so successful in the past, and if this much is true then Kiramager might just be the best 80s Sentai series you haven’t seen yet. After the near endless gimmicks and armours of Ryusoulger everything about this series screams simplicity – from their basic wheel-turning changers to the sparkly yet rather basic suits. Simple doesn’t automatically mean bad though, as Kiramger Episode ZERO does a great job of luring viewers in with this seemingly back to basics approach and intriguing storyline. It’s opening in Crystalia immediately depicts the villains as a force to be reckoned with, as the Yodon tear their way through the kingdom with ease. Though they aren’t the focus of the episode, we get a good glimpse at some of the costumes that’ll be on show this series, with one general particularly noteworthy for featuring an uncovered mouth section. It’s another hallmark of classic Sentai that’s been largely lost over the years, and on top the visible emoting Carantula (not named in the film) will provide the turmoil the “Demonic General of Betrayal” Galza will bring should allow for plenty of development on the villain side of things.From there we see Princess Mabushina come to Earth, bringing along with her a bunch of sentient flying gems. The execution of which is pretty cheap and silly, but it’s the kind of silliness the franchise has been able to pull off in the past and still deliver a great story. Although costumed side characters are still fairly common, again there’s just something wonderfully retro about Mabushina. Maybe it’s just the backstory of an alien coming to Earth lining up with several other classic Sentai series, but even the crystalline suit design has an air of nostalgia to it. Her role in the episode might be relatively simple, but she’s the catalyst to the whole series and already there’s plenty of scope for it to grow.Kiramager also brings back the meshing of “magic” and technology in full force, with the Kiramai’s power channeled through man-made gadgets built by CARAT. The fact their supervisor Hakataminami is played by Daimaou Kusaka (of PPAP/Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen fame) speaks for itself, and here he gives off a suitably comic performance. Once that groundwork is out of the way the format of the film is fairly simple – find the five Kiramagers and bring them together. Though only four of them are found here, Kiramai Red isn’t completely out of action and Juru is instead introduced through some nice side scenes that show off his eccentricities. It’s such a great way to kick off the series as well, as not only can Red take centre stage in the first proper episode without any real complaints but now Episode ZERO really feels like a special “story behind the story”. Properly introducing five characters in a single episode is a bit of a squeeze, and although technically four isn’t much better the episode still gives us a strong debut for the rest of the team.The Kiramagers are picked by their respective gems for their specific skills, but the fun part is just how those skills apply to their every day lives. Shiguru/Blue is thought to be a master swordsman, but in fact he’s just an actor. Likewise Tametomo/Yellow is a sharpshooter, but only in the sense that he’s an e-sports champion. It’s a little less on the nose with Sena/Green (although the Gekiranger reference more than makes up for it) and not quite the case with Sayo/Pink, but regardless there’s a good range of backgrounds for the team as well as variety of different personalities on show. Blue is aloof, Yellow a bit cocky, Green excitable and Pink playful yet powerful. Fans might also recognise Sayo and Shiguru from the wider world of tokusatsu, playing Kanon in Kamen Rider Ghost and Crow in Garo: Makai no Hana respectively.After the team are brought together, it’s time for them to show off their stuff. Thankfully there’s no mecha fight (or even any real mention of mecha at all) featured here, putting the focus solely on the characters themselves and what they can do. Typically a Super Sentai series will throw a fair bit of budget at those early episodes, and no matter how much it ends up drawing audiences in because of that they naturally turn out not to be all that representative of the series as a whole. While Kiramager could still be approached in exactly the same way, nothing like that particularly stood out in Episode ZERO and that’s a good thing. The fight was extremely enjoyable, but more importantly it felt like the kind of thing that would be kept up across the whole series.As previously mentioned, Kiramager’s charm lied in how refreshingly simple it was. There’s no collectible gimmicks on show here, just the Rangers themselves and their base arsenal. If anything that actually feels like a better exercise in toy advertising, since it drew more attention to a handful of things that (seemingly) function on their own without the need for anything else. Everything looked suitably flashy on screen, and it was the kind of flashiness that would be just as fun in toy form as well. Each of the Kiramagers got to show off some of their personality and skills in the fight too, showing that their skills are most definitely transferable. It’s your basic Sentai mook fight but it has plenty of heart, as well as a fun little twist at the end to keep up the more comic-heavy aspect it feels like this show is going to have.Mashin Sentai Kiramager Episode ZERO is the surprise we didn’t know Super Sentai needed. It may only be slightly longer than a typical episode, but this little prequel is more than enough to let the setting and story settle in before the series kicks off proper. Getting to see the team come together before the arrival of Red was also a great touch, as it now frees up the premiere to be justifiably red-centric without being at the detriment of the rest of the team. Between this strong debut and its slick, retro aesthetic Kiramager already has a lot going for it – fingers crossed it’s able to keep this up.