Many years ago, the Last Ninja sealed the demon lord Kibaoni away. Now though Kibaoni has returned and only the Last Ninjas’s descendants, the Igasaki Clan, can stop him! Together they’ll don the spandex and battle evil as the least subtle shinobi ever, the Shuriken Sentai, Ninninger!
Zigg’s Verdict: Out of the Shadows
Super Sentai has been running for so long at this point that it’s almost impossible to make the show seem entirely fresh, and while you can say many things about Ninninger, ‘original’ is definitely not one of them. You’ve got the classic family setup from countless sentai of the past, a thoroughly traditional ninja gimmick that’s been used to great effect already in Ninja Sentai Kakuranger and Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger, wacky stereotype characters, monsters that grow huge, and dumb combining robots. If it’s all so strictly formula though, why does it feel so fresh?
Part of it is the benefit of time of course. With the team here at Glorio not having been exposed to the rainbow spandex for almost a full year, even such base cliches are refreshing to see on the screen. But that’s also selling the show itself short, as it seems to be a well made, well cast production that, crucially, also seems like a lot of fun. The Ninningers are only a tiny step away from the base sterotypes that the ToQgers were, but that tiny step is enough and as a result they seem to be a fun group to spend time with. Part of that is the decreased reliance on camera-mugging Japanese humour (though there’s still some) and a return to the flat out insanity which makes tokusatsu so great. The fights are slick, the special effects just the right level of bad and the acting just the kind of scenery chewing caricature you want. I’m especially intrigued by the double presence of both Cool Dad and Cool Grandad, as older presences are unusual in sentai and they both seem to fill cheerily out-of-the-box roles. It’s difficult to glean too much from an episode as fast paced and formulaic as this, but I definitely feel some of the magic is back.
Production Note: As ever, we’re getting our episodes from the marvelous ninjas at Over-Time Subs. Head there to grab the latest episodes and follow us on our colour coded adventure!
Aqua’s Verdict: Believe it
The beginning of a new Super Sentai is always a bit of an event, even if the pilot episodes themselves are often not a lot to write home about. There’s only so much meaty story and characterization to explore in 22 minutes reserved almost exclusively to showing off this season’s toys and Shuriken Sentai Ninninger suffers particularly heavily from this unfortunate obligation. Three minutes into the episode, our Red Ranger is already picking fights and only a few minutes after, the entire team is already bombarded with expository information they should by all accounts already be familiar with. Save for the brilliance of a possessed chainsaw turning into a wisecracking weasel, Ninninger failed to immediately suck me into its universe with creative gimmicks or aesthetics like Shinkenger or Gokaiger managed to. Even the utter drivel that was ToQger managed to create a more original, endearing universe from the get-go. It’s a relief then, that Ninninger is superior to ToQger in pretty much every other way.
Regardless of how little we actually know about them, the Ninningers are a fun bunch to be around, enthusiastic without being childish and dorky without being incompetent. Takaharu is as red Ranger as they come, but Shunsuke Nishikawa plays the role with a lot more conviction than Jun Shison did last year. Aside from him, white Ranger Fuuka is the only other ranger to get a considerable amount of screen time, which she fills with the swaths of adorableness her dorky hat deserves. Like Kyoryuger, Ninninger‘s characters seem to be archetypes played with verve, and the enormous contribution the actors bring to a Sentai series’ overall quality should never be underestimated. We might not know that much about them yet, but seriously, what show with a cool kung-fu grandpa spewing English everywhere could ever have bad characters?
It’s a bit hard to get used to the screaming colours of Super Sentai again after a year without it, but Ninninger quickly brings back the over-the-top action we know and love from Kyoryuger after ToQger watered it down with cheap effects and poor attempts at comedy. There is humour in Ninninger, for certain, though it fuels the excitement rather than interrupting it, eschewing a lot of the unfunny non-sequiturs and fourth-wall breaking that characterize bad Japanese comedy in favour of enjoyable, traditional gags you can’t help but crack a smile at. Watched back to back with the jitter-tastic Kamen Rider Drive, Ninninger looks like a shining masterpiece of action choreography. The fight with the individual mechs is as chaotically fun as these things usually are, though the giant combined robot itself isn’t too shabby either. With strong characters, fun jokes and good action, Ninninger has all the makings of a good Sentai — though this first episode felt like a proof of concept pilot more than anything. Hopefully a more character-driven second episode will be able to reel me in completely.
Euri’s Verdict: Four ninja stars out of five
It’s been a while since I’ve ridden the Toku train. ToQger lacked the energy and fun vibes that I’d become used to while watching Kyouryuger, and Kamen Rider Drive just wasn’t doing it for me either. In fact, the release of Ninninger crept up on me completely, and it was folks talking about it on Twitter that reminded me that we were due a new series. It’s always tough to judge a show on the first episode, but I’m quietly confident that we’re in for something far more akin to Kyoryuger. We’ve got an interesting group of relatives from various parts of the world, and while they’re dragged into this show because of some end-of-the-world scenario, it seems like they’re going to have fun with it. The introduction of the not-so-Last Ninja at the end of the episode basically confirmed that this was going to be far more light-hearted without going into creepy hand-puppet territory.
However, there are a few things that I didn’t enjoy in the first episode. The first is the overall pacing; you’d be forgiven to believe that this was some kind of proof of concept episode given how much stuff they cram into twenty minutes. Things like the Toadtoad Gun and the Mecha-Shift Star didn’t need to show up immediately, especially when we have a pretty good excuse for the five Ninningers to not know what these tools do. Instead, they feel pretty ham-fisted. A larger than normal merchandise push to kick off a new series.
There was plenty to get excited about, though. The transformation sequence is super cool, the individual mecha look interesting (even though the dump truck and train are somewhat baffling additions), and the combined mecha is well designed, certainly leagues above the original mecha in ToQger. Hopefully the characters will develop well, though even now I’m doubtful that it can top that of Kyouryuger. Perhaps I should stop being pessimistic, but honestly I’m so excited to have a dumb Sentai show to watch again. I’m going to be so bummed out if it’s all downhill from here.