REVIEW: DOUBUTSU SENTAI ZYUOHGER

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Starring

Masaki Nakao (Cheer Boys!!)
Miki Yanagi (Kakegurui)
Shohei Nanba (Sengoku Basara)
Tsurugi Watanabe (Does the Flower Bloom?)
Haruka Tateishi (Prison 13)
Naoki Kunishima (You Are the Apple of My Eye)
Susumu Terajima (Human Trust)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Kohei Murakami (Kamen Rider 555)
Unshō Ishizuka (Choushinsei Flashman)
Shun Nishime (Kamen Rider Ghost)
Aoi Yuki (Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger)
Kenshiro Iwai (Code Blue)
Masami Horiuchi (Kamen Rider Drive)
Sayuri Inoue (The Hatsumori Bemars)
Seiya Osada (Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger)
Ayana Shiramoto (Kamen Rider Amazons)
Eriko Moriwaki (Kamen Rider Agito)
Ryota Ozawa (Nozokime)
Yūki Yamada (Holiday Love)
Mao Ichimichi (Uchu Sentai Kyuranger)
Kazuki Shimizu (A Day of One Herb)
Yui Koike (Daily Lives of High School Boys)
Junya Ikeda (Garo: Kami no Kiba)
Tomokazu Seki (Shuriken Sentai Ninninger)
Hiroaki Iwanaga (Kamen Rider 000)
Tomiyuki Kunihiro (Sleeping Bride)

doubutsu-sentai-zyuohger-1121483a-6b6a-4ade-8f3b-4a08f4720b2-resize-750There are some themes and motifs that Super Sentai will always come back to. In 2013 the long-running franchise turned to dinosaurs for a third time with Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, and more recently it also did ninjas for a third time with Shuriken Sentai Ninninger. With that in mind, it seems almost fitting that the 40th anniversary Toei would revisit yet another popular motif – animals. 2016-2017 was the year of Doubutsu Sentai Zyohger, the 40th team in the Super Sentai series and released as part of Toei’s “Super Hero Year” anniversary celebrations.

After falling through a mysterious portal to a world of anthropomorphic animals known as Zyuland, zoologist Yamato Kazakiri encounters four of its people – Sela (a shark), Leo (a Lion), Amu (a Tiger) and Tusk (an Elephant), and is accused of stealing one of the six Champions Symbols that power the link between the two worlds. However their meeting coincides with the arrival of the Dethgalians – a group of aliens who have decided on the Earth as the site for their 100th Blood Game. As Yamato returns to Earth with the four Zyumen in tow, the five are able to use the Champions Symbols to become Earth’s newest guardians – the Zyuohgers. The team are able to fend off the Dethgalians first attack but upon their return to the Link Cube the Zyumen find the sixth Symbol missing, stranding them on Earth until it is found.

Blending in with humanity, the four Zyumen join Yamato as they search for the means to return home while fighting off the Dethgalian attacks. Eventually the Dethgalians raise the stakes as they create their own Zyuohger, created from three kidnapped Zyuman and the brainwashed human Mondo Misao. After freeing Misao from their clutches, he joins the team as Zyuoh The World as the Blood Games continue.

Starring two humans and four anthropomorphic animals, Zyuohger immediately sets itself apart from the usual Super Sentai formula of either an entirely human team or one limited to one or two “different” members. Sure the Zyumen adopt human disguises fairly quickly, but their clothing and tails (or in Sela’s case, fin) serve as a constant reminder that Zyuohger is playing with a slightly different dynamic. Don’t be too fooled into thinking Zyuohger is any less red-centric that most other Super Sentai though – it’s still Yamato that gets the most development, the most power ups (three animals compared to the others’ one) and the big speeches/action sequences.However presentation is key, and Zyuohger still manages to make the four Zyumen feel suitably fleshed out even if they aren’t getting the same treatment as their human teammate. They all get their obligatory spotlight episodes as their time to shine, but each Zyuman has their own distinct and well-realised personality that makes their interactions a joy to watch. A particularly great standalone episode is 32, where a monster attack causes the characters’ “hidden personalities” to also come on show.

But in terms of characterisation it’s actually Misao that deserves the most praise, who has arguably emerged as one of the most realistic and relatable characters the franchise has ever put out. As if his turn as an evil ranger and unique tri-coloured suit wasn’t enough to earn him a place in the cool books, the show’s honest depiction of someone suffering from depression is quite unlike anything Sentai has tackled before. Yes his fluctuating mood is the butt of numerous (and admittedly funny) jokes, but the actual narrative is relatively sincere in the way it portrays his constantly shifting mental state, survivors’ guilt and difficulty overcoming his emotions. Combine this with Yamato’s own parental turmoil, and Zyuohger has done a pretty good job of tackling issues rarely seen in Super Sentai these days.

However the Dethgalians fall on the simpler side of the Super Sentai villain spectrum, setting out with very little background other than “some aliens are here to destroy things”. While their motivations don’t make for particularly deep storytelling, seeing their leader Genis’ see everything as a game for his amusement works in their favour – painting him as a chilling opponent unphased by setbacks and always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else. It isn’t until the arrival of the megabeast hunter Bunglay that things begin to take an interesting turn, as the weekly monsters are recycled and pushed to one side story-wise. It brings forward development for Genis own generals (or “players”) – Quval and Azald. Although his attendant Naria is still left with no personality outside of being unflinchingly loyal, those two are pushed to be more than that.

Aesthetically Zyuohger thrives on simplicity, reflected both in the suits and the cube-themed animal mecha. The latter’s case is something that didn’t necessarily translate well when it came to the toys (minipla notwithstanding), but onscreen work rather well – with the cute brightly coloured animals giving Zyuohger a unique visual identity that sets it apart from the similarly themed Gaoranger. The simpler designs also make for far more fluid robot designs, which while boxy in nature don’t have the same unappealing pile-of-parts look many “ultimate” combos now suffer from. There’s nothing especially new to be had here and the combination of animals and retro-styled video game cubes doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but as far as the show goes it definitely works.

Finally as the 40th entry in the franchise Zyuohger does have some anniversary element to it, but in the more reserved sense (akin to Gaoranger or Boukenger) rather than an all-out celebration like Gokaiger was. Gokaiger is far too fresh in everyone’s memories to try and top it yet, so instead Zyuohger’s main strength is in that it is simply a solid Super Sentai series. It never really tries to reinvent the wheel, but knows the tropes of the franchise well enough to keep them fresh and entertaining. Throwing a mecha battle in at the start of an episode might not sound like much, but for a show that’s stuck to its format so rigidly for decades it comes as a welcome surprise.Of course it wouldn’t be an anniversary without cameos, and while the Zyuohger vs Ninninger movie covers the bulk of that there’s also a wonderful two-part story here featuring the return of the Gokaigers. The two teams have a wonderful dynamic, with Gokaigers going about their heroism in their usual standoffish way. But most importantly these two episodes are integral to Zyuohger’s plot as well, making them far more than just some well-polished fanservice and the perfect opportunity to officially add the post-Gokaiger shows to the Ranger Key collection.

While there are undoubtedly some areas Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger could have done better in, that doesn’t change the fact that this is arguably the strongest Super Sentai has been in the last few years. Even through its usual Red-centricity Zyuohger displays memorable characters with their own unique traits, arcs and development – presenting the feeling of a well-rounded and equal cast even when it doesn’t quite feel like that on paper. Additionally the villains for the most part all had their own stories to tell, which despite not coming into the spotlight enough were all well signposted and kept the show interesting. It also works perfectly as an anniversary series – not by attempting the same thing as Gokaiger but instead simply coming out as a well-crafted series that does all the things a good Super Sentai series should. Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger might be the one offering a much-needed shakeup to the formula, but 2016 was a definitely a year where Super Sentai shined.untitled

REVIEW: DOUBUTSU SENTAI ZYUOHGER: THE MOVIE: THE HEART POUNDING CIRCUS PANIC!

 

Starring

Masaki Nakao (Cheer Boys!!)
Miki Yanagi (Kakegurui)
Shohei Nanba (Sengoku Basara)
Tsurugi Watanabe (Does the Flower Bloom?)
Haruka Tateishi (Prison 13)
Naoki Kunishima (You Are the Apple of My Eye)
Susumu Terajima (Human Trust)

853full-the-initiation-of-sarah----------------------------------(2006)-screenshot (1)2016 might have been billed as Super Hero Year, but as far as the summer goes it was the same standard fare for both Kamen Rider and Super Sentai as the two franchises appeared in their usual cinematic double bill. This year it was the turn of Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger and Kamen Rider Ghost, who also crossed into each other’s series earlier in the year for a quick cameo. Zyuohger’s summer movie was entitled The Heart Pounding Circus Panic!, and had a running time of only 28 minutes – not much longer than your average television episode.The circus is in town and you can bet that the Zyuohgers want to see it! However this circus is particularly special, as it turns out to be run by a group of fellow Zyuman. But just as the show reaches its finale they are interrupted by Domidoll – the self-proclaimed ringleader of the space circus. As part of his plan to turn the universe into a giant circus stage, Domidoll kidnaps both the Zyuman troupe and the children in the audience – planning to use their fear as an energy source to destroy the Earth. After the Zyuohgers are swiftly defeated by Domidoll and an enslaved Cube Condor, Amu, Sela, Tusk and Leo quickly join the evil ringleader’s list of captives. With only Yamato and Misao left, it’s up to the human Zyuohgers to free their comrades and put an end to Domidoll’s plans.Plot wise it’s about as basic as you can get – new villain turns up, kidnaps some kids and wants to harness their tears/fear/insert emotion here to destroy the planet. Sure there’s the whole circus theme surrounding it, but ultimately it doesn’t really add that much to the whole thing outside a nicely designed monster suit and a circus show montage at the beginning. Misao seems to barely feature in the film at all, which is bit disappointing considering the character had already been around for a fair bit in the show by the time the movie was released. There’s also of course the annual summer movie toy to sell, which in this case is Cube Condor – a retool of Zyuoh Gorilla that can also combine with Cubes Tiger and Elephant to become Condor Wild. The film gets most of its advertising out of the way at the very beginning with the opening mecha fight, with Cube Condor only really prominently returning at the very end to provide the finishing blow. But even then the Cube remains a focal point of the film as the best friend of Perle, a child in the Zyuman Circus.One area the film delivers on though is the visuals. While not necessarily any better than what the show has to offer, Zyuohger has been pretty good on the action front and this movie is no exception. Kicking things off immediately with a mecha battle is a nice way to shake the format up a bit and despite that bold opening the concluding mecha fight doesn’t lose any of its edge. The same goes for the small-scale fight scenes, which show off some good choreography as the individual Zyuohgers show off their animalistic powers. It’s the kind of film that when you sit down and watch you’ll get easily sucked in by the bright colours, explosions and action sequences, but soon quickly realise that flash is all it really has to offer.The film isn’t completely without its references to Super Sentai’s 40 year history, although you’ll really need a keen eye to catch them. The film rather impressively has one reference to every Super Sentai series that came before Zyuohger – ranging from background appearances of past weapons to flyers, signs and even cameos from some of the franchise’s more prominent animal characters. These are of course Dekaranger’s Doggie Kruger, Gekiranger’s Master Shafu, Kyoryuger’s Torin and ToQger’s Ticket – all of whom show up during the end credits dance sequence. Good luck finding them though, because with the exception of Ticket they really all are blink and you’ll miss it cameos. From a fan perspective it does add that little bit extra to the movie to sit down and try and find everything, but it doesn’t particularly make the film any more exciting to sit through.drive-angry-3d-film-reviewIt’s another fun Super Sentai movie, just doesn’t add anything special to the the 40th anniversary. Sit back and just enjoy.

REVIEW: Shuriken Sentai Ninninger vs. ToQGer the Movie: Ninjas in Wonderland

 

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CAST

Shunsuke Nishikawa (Super Hero Taisen GP: Kamen Rider 3)
Gaku Matsumoto (Ressha Sentai ToQger vs. Kyoryuger)
Kaito Nakamura (Shuriken Sentai Ninninger vs. ToQger)
Yuuka Yano (Come Back! Shuriken Sentai Ninninger)
Kasumi Yamaya (Space Sheriff Shaider: Next Generation)
Hideya Tawada (The Boy Inside)
Jun Shison (Survival Family)
Jin Hiramaki (Ressha Sentai ToQger)
Riria (Zero: Black Blood)
Ryusei Yokohama (Rainbow Days)
Ai Moritaka (Beginners)
Shin Nagahama (Ressha Sentai ToQger)
Toshihiro Yashiba (All Esper Dayo!)
Takashi Sasano (The Hidden Blade)
Ryota Yamasato (Terrace House)
Megumi Han (Twin Star Exorcists)
Masaki Nakao (Your Turn To Kill)
Miki Yanagi (Futari Monologue)
Shohei Nanba (Kamen Rider W)
Tsurugi Watanabe (Hana Wa Sakuka)
Haruka Tateishi (Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger)

 

The Ninningers awaken to find themselves on a mysterious train, floating in and out of various elaborate dreams. As they begin to seemingly be picked off one by one in these dreams, five mysterious people appear within them to warn them it’s a trap. The ToQgers have returned, and have been tasked with saving the ninja team from the clutches of the Shadow Line-powered Yokai Wanyūdō. However they’re are unable to save Takaharu and he is taken to the Dark Doctor Mavro – a ninja-obsessed member of the Shadow Line.

Stealing Takaharu’s nintality to produce the evil clone Dark Akaninger, Mavro plans to use it to flood the world in darkness. Takaharu himself is also in trouble, as he begins to find himself slowing fading away after Mavro’s tampering. It’s up to the combined forces of the Ninningers and the ToQgers to put a stop to the doctor’s evil plans and save Takaharu before it’s too late.

Ninninger vs. ToQger  strikes a rather good balance and manages to get good use out of all its stars. The story might focus on Takaharu and Right, but in the lead up to the climax all the memorable scenes are provided by the rest of the characters. Meanwhile Emperor Mavro is an excellent addition to the Shadow Line – a gleefully insane villain boasting another of the great monster designs ToQger did so well.

The plot itself provides enough unique spins to hold everything together nicely. The two series’ respective tones are extremely similar which allow both teams to stay firmly within their comfort zones while bouncing off of each other to increase the zaniness ten-fold.

Topping things off is of course the giant robot fight – a staple of all Super Sentai productions whether they be movies or episodes. However the one Ninninger vs. ToQger is truly a spectacle, and undoubtedly among the best the franchise has produced in recent years. A night time battle sequence is usually remarkable on its own, but this one also  has bundles of imagination on its side. ToQger’s use of Kuliners means more than just a blown-up version of the monster, while the interaction between the two series’ respective mecha is both simple yet ingenuitive. It’s a dazzling end to an already well done movie, and makes the fight feel more than just a Super Sentai trope that’s just there to tick boxes.

A final treat for ToQger fans, and a shining example of how good Ninninger is.