First Look: Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger

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Yamato Kazakiri is a well meaning but clumsy zoologist who accidentally tumbles through a portal to a mystic parallel dimension full of human-like animals known as Zyumans. At the same time, evil aliens called the Deathgaliens invade Earth, planning to use it as the field for their 100th Blood Game. Yamato must team up with four of the Zyuman Guardians to fight off the invasion. Together they’ll defend the planet as the Animal Sentai, Zyuohger!

Zigg’s Verdict: On A Wing And A Prayer

It’s been something of a rough time to be a fan of Super Sentai what with back to back sub-par seasons and an increasing sense of creative ennui to the franchise. Zyuohger has a lot to prove then, not only needing a strong bounce-back performance but also needing to carry the weight of this being the 40th anniversary (and 40th season) of the franchise. As they normally do when they’re in a tight spot, the show’s producers have gone back to basics – make it flashy, make it funny and make it very, very stupid.

The result of this is some of the most bizarre genre and motif mashing I’ve seen…well ever, and it’s hard not to fall in love with the pure insanity of it all. Dollar store animal costumes meets evil aliens (who are called Deathgaliens for god’s sake) meets bizarre pixel-art Minecraft tech toy design? It’s certainly like nothing we’ve ever seen before and that’s important, as the Super Sentai franchise is so formulaic that it’s the little details which help shows stand out from each other. It’s difficult to gauge the cast from such a short time with them but they all seem into it at first glance, and it helps we’ve got a Red Ranger who seems not to be treated like God himself. I had a huge amount of fun with this episode and I hope the series can keep up that momentum. Also, that theme song is basically the closest thing you’ll get to a modern super robot song and I love it.

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Aqua’s Verdict: Furry Fun

After an entire year of the perishable Ninninger, a show that was lousy at best and insulting at worst, it’s good to finally see Super Sentai be good again… for now. Sadly enough, I know better than to get hyped for a tokusatsu show based on its first episode alone by now. Toku premieres are always a spectacle, with impressive fight choreographies and cinematic set pieces, but they’re not necessarily indicative of the show’s actual quality. Spectacle is not what makes a Sentai show great. It’s the characters that matter, and after two years of the show being little more than a soulless commercial patched together entirely from pages of the Cynical Corporate Goon’s Handbook for Appealing to Children, I won’t be fooled again by the prospect of cool stunt work if I don’t know who’ll be doing it. I don’t exactly blame Zyohger for teaching us close to squat about its characters in the very first episode, but by now I know that at this point, we have nothing meaningful to say about a Super Sentai show based on its premiere alone.

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What we do have, are impressions and prospects, and for what it is worth, Zyuohger’s have me optimistic at least. Head writer Junko Komura was one of the writers on Gokaiger, for one, and this first episode already guaranteed that some of Ninninger and ToQger‘s very worst flaws won’t be making a return. One, our Red Ranger this year can actually act. Two, the jokes are actual jokes, and not rehearsed stock lines engineered in a lab to be as ‘wacky’ as possible. And three, the sheer effort put into the sets — boasting impressive computer-generated imagery, set dressing on the level of Toei’s famous jidai geki studio park and tons of extras dressed in different, elaborate costumes — makes the Iwasaki Dojo look like a ramshackle amateur theatre stage. Compared to Ninninger‘s sense-numbing phantasmagoria of bad design decisions, Zyuohger has an enjoyably consistent aesthetic. Cubes good, pyramids bad; it’s simple as that, and these motifs return everywhere, from the environments over the mechs all the way to the monster designs.

It may seem like a minor detail, but seeing Zyuogher‘s consistency in practice is incredibly refreshing. In stead of ToQger and Ninninger’s incredibly tiring, trashy cavalcade of hideous fashion, noisy transformation trinkets and far-fetched gimmicks being shoved down viewers’ throats, everything in Zyuohger feels like it belongs, and I cannot stress enough how satisfying that is. Make no mistake, Super Sentai indeed works best when it is silly and over-the-top, but that is not an excuse to make it obnoxious or just have it not make any sense whatsoever. These last few years, Toei has been incapable of telling the difference, but now Zyuohger seems ready to prove that a show can be campy without assuming its viewers to be easily excitable halfwits. Hopefully it will be able to turn that promise into something I’ll want to commit to very soon. In any case, I’m very excited to see if Zyuohger can keep on keepin’ on.

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Iro’s Verdict: Savagely Silly

And that’s probably a good thing? There’s a razor’s edge between campy and just plain stupid, and Super Sentai is at its best when it steps directly up to that divide without crossing it. Ninninger stepped right over and kept walking, and I’d say that it’s still too early to tell what’s going on with Zyuohger. Everything is so ridiculous (animal heads! arcade themed baddies! weapons even more toy-like than usual!) that I can’t help but laugh-groan every time anything happens. The difference being that I only groaned while watching Ninninger, unmoved by its attempts at either comedy or drama. Here’s hoping that Zyuohger can stay the right kind of dumb going forward.

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