First Impressions: Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger

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Wait, what? Even more 3D people on my animu blog? Welcome to the beginning of The Glorio Blog’s Super Sentai coverage! As with Kamen Rider before it, tokusatsu veteran Dragonzigg and (now relative) newcomer Aquagaze will be teaming up to cover every episode of the show where simply posing is enough to set off colour coded explosions behind you. Together they’ll navigate a world full of prehistoric beasts, alarmingly attractive actors and more spandex than you’re probably comfortable with! Vamola!

Recap: Millions of years ago, mighty dinosaurs ruled the Earth, until they were wiped out by the evil Deboss Legion. Now, in the present day, the Legion has awoken once again, and threatens all of humanity. Our only hope lies with five young men and women who have attained the power of the dinosaurs. Together, they battle evil as the Voltasaur Sentai, Kyoryuger!

Aquagaze‘s Thoughts: Toei, oh, Toei. Do you still think your target audience actually stops watching your shows when they outgrow your demographic? After Zyuranger (aka the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers) in 1992 and Abaranger (aka Power Rangers Dino Thunder) in 2003, 2013 marks the explosive debut of the third dinosaur-themed and thirty-seventh overall Super Sentai, the Kyoryugers. After the last installment, Go-Busters, sought to take a turn for the more serious and considerably crank down some much beloved Super Sentai staples, resulting in a subpar viewership, it is obvious that Kyoryuger is meant to fix this from the very beginning: it is simple, loud and to the point. Oh, and it has dinosaurs!

While Super Sentai is often less story-driven than its counterpart Kamen Rider, this first episode shows very little hint of an overarching plot or mythology aside from “heroes with cool dinosaur powers fight bad monsters”. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many Super Sentai shows get around with wacky hijinks, cool fights and quirky characters. The cast of Kyoryuger, though surprisingly and maybe even dangerously low on estrogen, are very distinctly characterized and at first glance, every single one of the actors seems to be having lots of fun performing — which is something that, in my opinion, can forgive many (minor) flaws.

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  • The Red Ranger of this season is Daigo Kiriyu, a hyperactive world traveler slash bomb of glee, in the footsteps of many Red Rangers before him. He’s an absolute joy to watch and I hope his insane fighting tactics, like sliding down a mountain on a rock and launching himself at the enemy via dinosaur, become a vital part of his character.
  • Our Blue Ranger is Nobuharu Udo, a surprisingly old, clownish working class hero, who seems to be rather embarrassed about revealing his true identity to the other Rangers. I would be surprised if head writer Riku Sanjo, of Kamen Rider W fame, does not develop this interesting dynamic any further. By the way, what was he doing on the North Pole?
  • The Pink Ranger and sadly enough, sole girl on the team is Amy Yuzuki, a plucky little princess with a spunky streak from the distant, otherworldly planet known as America. I am glad her personality seems to be heading beyond being “the girl”, combining the traditional Pink Ranger cuteness with the Yellow Ranger tomboyishness.
  • Souji Rippukan is the Green Ranger, a young high schooler who seems to be rather aloof and quiet. Indeed, for once the Green Ranger is not the clown of the bunch, but fear not: he’s still the youngest. Archetypes exist to be exploited, so it seems. Judging from his badass fighting style, Souji seems to be an expert swordsman and judging by the fact that he defeated the henchmen attacking Japan, I am going to guess he will be the traditionally “Japanese” member of the team.
  • For now, the sole bad apple in this quirky cast seems to be the Black Ranger. Ian Yorkland is a flamboyant womanizer from Europe — which, as previously established, is a single country in the world of Super Sentai — who unfortunately flunks his introduction by doing nothing but sexually harassing girls and being an arrogant prick. He almost makes up for it with his gunslinging, though. Almost.

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It seems evident from the very beginning that these heroes will be carrying the weight of the show on their shoulders, not an intricate overarching plot. Action seems to be a very big focus of this installment, which is something I can only encourage. The five Rangers each have a very distinct fighting style and the standard weapons of the season are especially badass. The first episode contains lots and lots of fighting, involving humans, henchmen, monsters and of course, dinosaurs. In fact, the action was so prominent and over-the-top, the episode felt very disjointed at times. I can understand the show is very excited to show off all the admittedly awesome powers its heroes have, evidenced by the very frequent tossing around of terminology. Kyoryuger is quite all over the place, yet I am convinced it will settle down a bit when the bigger budget for the first few episodes runs out and the show has managed to establish itself. Vamola!

Random Observations

  • It is still extremely strange to not have a Yellow Ranger. Unsurprisingly, the last time this happened was more than 25 years ago, in Dengeki Sentai Changeman.
  • Apparently, there is only a single female Ranger this season because the producers thought it would be rather inconceivable for a girl to have beaten a dinosaur and gained its powers. Yeah. They considered a male Yellow Ranger, but then they thought viewers would automatically assume this Ranger to be too feminine, because yellow is traditionally a female colour nowadays. Bad marks there, Toei. Very bad marks.
  • No Sentai would be complete without some famous voices. Torin, the bird god serving as the team’s mentor, is voiced by Toshiyuki Morikawa, the voice of Dante and Sephiroth; the pink villainess, Canderilla, is voiced by Haruka Tomatsu (Zigg’s note – She’s Morgiana!) and the narration is done by veteran actor Shigeru Chiba, better known as that other famous Final Fantasy villain.
  • What’s with the pool being featured in both the OP and the ED? I’m guessing it’ll be the “usual spot” for the Rangers.

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Dragonzigg’s Thoughts: One of the interesting things about watching the Super Sentai franchise grow and change over time is that since the shows are extremely populist and commercially driven, they tend to shift radically in style, tone and substance. In fact, one of the criticisms of the last decade or so of Sentai has been that it’s become more homogenous, and its individual seasons less diverse, as the showrunners lock further and further onto their target audience.

After the colossal self indulgence that was 2011’s 35th anniversary series Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Toei appeared to be attempting a soft reboot of the series with the recently concluded Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, ditching the iconic spandex in favour of rubber and leather and giving the show a cool, tech driven spy movie sheen in contrast to the overtly fantastical preceding series (Samurai, Angels, Pirates). It was interesting, brave and a commercial bomb, becoming one of the lowest rated Sentai of all time. Critical reaction to the series has ranged from ‘total garbage’ to ‘hidden gem’ but it’s clear Toei, who undertook a costly and controversial mid-season retool, were not impressed.

The reason I go into this is to put Kyoryuger in context – it’s a retreat to safer ground. The spandex is back. The goofiness is back (although it never truly left). Dinosaurs will never not be cool to the young boys Sentai is made for, and have already powered two hugely sucessful iterations. There’s only one girl, because when you’re 8 years old girls just get in the way. The team’s leader is once again a goofy talking animal (Dekaranger, Gekiranger) rather than a military man at a desk. Kyoryuger needs to put the series back on track, and it’s pulling every trick in the book to do so.

Given that knowledge, the eager-to-please rush of this first episode becomes slightly more understandable. It’s a madcap, frenetic rush to throw every single cool and awesome thing at you as fast as possible, and plot, character or any sort of slow buildup be damned. We jump from country to country, location to location and fight to fight with barely a pause for breath before we’re whipped away again. It’s dizzying and not exactly good technique, but there’s no denying it’s damn exciting and really gets the whole ‘living cartoon’ feel across.

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Unlike Aqua, I don’t think we see enough of the individual Kyoryugers in this episode to really get a handle on their personalities, but I’ll make a few choice observations. Our hero Daigo falls into the ‘ridiculously upbeat and smiley’ branch of Red Rangers (rather than the ‘awesome but dickish branch’). I suspect his relentless cheeriness may grate after a while and it’s kind of annoying they immediately fall back onto the ‘disappeared dad’ backstory that has been done to death, but for now he’s a rather charming breath of fresh air. I actually rather enjoyed Ian’s snobbishness, and his attempts at being a charming lothario stay on the right side of silly. Seeing Nobuharu among the team is actually quite disconcerting – at 30 he’s way older than 99% of Sentai (apparently the initial pitch had him at 45), and combined with his scraggy beard and scruffy hair really make him stand out, a good thing in my book.

Really though, this one was all about the action, and it was pretty stellar. It’s a brave decision (and one which I suspect, due to budgetary constraints, we won’t see as much in coming weeks) to have Gabutyra on the screen as much as he is, but it’s one that pays off. I’m especially pleased Toei didn’t cop out and simply make him all CGI, choosing to mix traditional model work with computers for the more dynamic scenes. It’s a mix which pays off with some excellent battles, with Gabutyra’s throwdown against the giant, freaky looking mook dinosaur…things fantastically done and full of crunching blows and flying debris.

The on the ground action is no less excellent, even though it’s occasionally hard to follow. We’re given no explanation of how the Beast Batteries or the Garurevolvers work, but we’re also shown that they’re super awesome. A toy porn sequence like this is pretty obligatory for a first episode, but it’s really pulled off with verve and style, and I LOVE the idea that the Garucalibur swords can combine with the guns to form badass shotguns. That’s something I’d buy in a heartbeat. The fighting and stuntwork is excellent – that should pretty much be taken as read whenever Toei’s stunt team are on a production. There’s also the pleasing return of some of Super Sentai‘s more theatrical excesses, something the more serious Go-Busters largely eschewed. We’ve got the full role call, the crazy team posing and the nearly obligatory explosions of coloured smoke. It’s like the nineties never left.

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There’s so much crammed into this first episode that it’s difficult to know when to stop – we haven’t even talked about Torin or the villains for example. This article is already too long though, so I’ll restrain myself. Given we’ve got an entire year of these jokers to put up with, I wouldn’t take anything too substantial from just one episode, but it does seem Kyoryuger aims to be a show of boundless energy, embracing the silly and the awesome to make something that’s not too deep, but tacky, bombastic entertainment. If they can keep up the addictive sugar rush of this first episode, they’ll do all that and more.

Random Observations

  • The villainous base is pretty clearly a giant curled up body, in a rather effectively disturbing piece of design.
  • Creature and monster subtitles return for the first time since 2006’s Mahou Sentai Magiranger.
  • Immediately after the caption says ‘Europe’ a character speaks in an American accent. When we reach ‘America’ the parking sign displays some dubious grammar, including spelling Wednesday as two words (‘Wed Nesday’)
  • In a rare piece of sloppy editing the two shots of Daigo as the monster explodes are clearly in completely different locations and Gabutyra is not in the second one.
  • The international crew (including a Japanese-American Pink Ranger) and dancing references suggest a homage to one of the earliest and weirdest Sentai, 1979’s Battle Fever J.
  • The production staff for the show has a great track record. It’s directed by Koichi Sakamoto, longtime executive producer/liason on Power Rangers (and the true culprit behind the controversial ‘kalishsplosions’) and director of the irrepressibly fun Kamen Rider Fourze. The head writer Riki Sanjo wrote the excellent Kamen Rider Double and previously worked with Sakomoto on both that show and Fourze.

4 thoughts on “First Impressions: Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger

  1. I don’t believe any season had a woman playing the red ranger. If there was, I would watch the hell out of it to see how the audience would react to her leadership ability being questioned by every person in the team, constantly just because she has a uterus.

    • Shinkenger has *a* female Red Ranger, though she’s definitely not the one who appears throughout most of the show and to say much more woulda a spoiler. I think a proper full-time female Red is unlikely, not for overtly sexist reasons but simply because Super Sentai is a show aimed at boys (remember the adult audience is a vocal minority), and therefore it absolutely makes sense to make the hero male. I agree I’d love to see it however.

      • That is interesting information. I just read it off the wiki (basphemy, I know). At present, I will still rate Akibaranger as the best thing in the (parody?) super sentai universe because of the blatant inversion of many of the tropes, including of course, having more women on the team and having (shock, horror) a few female otaku fans.

    • I was only saying this today! Strange! 😀 But yeah, I’d love to see a female leader of the team, a female Red Ranger would be amazing! It would be totally different to previous Super Sentai and would make a good change! Plus it would be great for girls to say to their brothers “I’m the leader, listen to me for a change!” instead of standing in the background while their brother plays the hero! xD

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