Final Thoughts: Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger

After a year in space it’s time to come back down to Earth and talk about what we thought of the 41st Super Sentai

Zigg’s Thoughts

Super Sentai has been running so long now that its fluctuations in quality are more akin to slow turnings of the tide, rather than rapid improvements or dropoffs. 2016’s Zyuohger suggested that the franchise was beginning to find its way again after a few decidedly dodgy series, and despite lacking some of the scruffy charm of its immediate predecessor, I think Kyuranger has largely continued to put the series back on an upward trajectory, spinning a fun if familiar tale with a lot of dopey enjoyment to be found in it.

As pretty much anybody could have predicted the moment that they announced the show would have nine rangers (a number which ultimately expanded to twelve), characterisation and individual plot arcs are the thing which suffered most in this particular spin of the stock sentai story wheel. The cast is so large that even with 48 episodes there’s not really time to give them all decent backstories or well-rounded plot arcs, and to be honest that’s not something Sentai does particularly well when there are only six characters. Predictably, it’s the reds who get the most focus – Lucky is the sort of cheerily teflon personality that makes the Red Ranger position despised by most adult fans, but he’s mostly likeable and generally avoids being super annoying. The plot arc with his father feels highly tacked on though, and doesn’t really do much to change his overall personality. Disappeared dads are such omnipresent fodder in Japanese media (Zyuohger‘s Red Ranger Yamato also had a big, tacked on plot arc about his) it’s really hard to get invested in such a surface level story. Our other Red, Tsurugi, I’m probably a bit less into. He’s fine, but the boastful, show-off part of his personality isn’t really taken far enough for the joke to be especially funny. I must admit I’d have felt much better about his overall contribution to the show if he’d actually died at the end, since it would have added a bit more punch into his arc. As it is he’s mostly inoffensive, but kind of feels like a waste of space once his obligatory powerups become unimportant.

Of all of our other heroes, it’s probably Stinger who gets the most focus, what with his showdown with his older brother Evil Space Taketora  Scorpio (Gaim veteran Yuki Kubota effortlessly stealing every scene he’s in), his bash brothers relationship with Champ, and his role as a mentor to young Kotaro. I wouldn’t say that either of the latter two are particularly compelling, but he at least has the most story, even if it’s not the best. At the other end of the scale, we’ve got Hammy, Raptor, Sparda, and Garu, all of whom get pretty minimal to non-existant character development. Raptor often doesn’t even get to join the team in the field, mostly serving as mission control, which is a real shame since she’s pretty funny in the few chances she gets to shine. I’m less cut up about the other three, since Hammy and Sparda are mostly just flat, uninteresting characters, and while Garu is good for the occasional laugh there’s not really much to him either – he might be the most ineffectual Blue ranger in history.

Everyone else sort of falls in the middle, with a few decent little tidbits of character but nothing too outstanding. The show seemed to have a habit of letting plotlines it wasn’t 100% committed to fizzle out a bit, what with Champ’s hunt for his creator being solved by one of the most ludicrous twists I’ve seen in a while, and Kotaro’s determination to fight for earth largely forgotten after his introductory episodes. Amazingly, I actually would have been fine with a bit more Kotaro – his actor Shota Taguchi is one of the better child actors Sentai has employed and it seemed like there were opportunities to tell some fun stories with his fish-out-of-water viewpoint. Naga doesn’t actually get much more character development than the others, but it’s certainly more memorable, due to the ludicrous amount of mugging Taiki Yamazaki throws in.

Even by tokusatsu standards the Naga story arc is an astonishing display of campy overacting, and that in turn makes it extremely fun and memorable. In fact, I’d say in general Kyuranger was at its best when it embraced pure comedy and silliness. I’m not saying that I didn’t care at all about Tsurugi’s struggle with guilt over the death of his friends, but i certainly enjoyed his struggle with a rice cooker on his head much more. With perhaps less of a chance to really get deep on individual characters, I think that makes the more lighthearted, ridiculous moments stand out more. It reminds me a lot of Kyoryuger, which had a similar issue with a lot of rangers, a lack of enough solid story for them all, and a consequent decision to up the physical comedy factor.

That might make for a show that is shallow, but it also makes for one which is eminently enjoyable popcorn entertainment. I don’t think that I’ll be acclaiming Kyuranger as a classic years from now, but it’s been a fabulous slice of fun for half an hour every week. When it came down to it I was always eager to watch another episode, and I think that’s one of the best compliments you can pay to any piece of media.

Iro’s Thoughts

I’ve only been around with Super Sentai since Ninninger (not counting my time as a child with Power Rangers of course), but it’s plain to see that it’s one of the most formulaic shows in town. The broad strokes don’t change, only some specifics, and so it comes down to those to determine whether Kyuranger was ultimately enjoyable or not.

The show’s main problem is that – for a show all about globes – Kyuranger didn’t have a very well-rounded cast. One could argue (correctly) that Super Sentai never really does, but when you’ve got a grand total of twelve rangers, someone’s going to be left in the dust. Lucky and Tsurugi – being Red Rangers #1 and #2 – get the bulk of screentime, of course, while Raptor, Hammy, and Garu seem like afterthoughts for almost the entire show. That said, the handful of focused arcs are decent for Sentai, with Stinger’s stint as a focus character chilling him out early enough to use him as comic relief from then on, and the Daaark Naga sequence being a standout in both character development and incredible overacting.

It also feels like a conscious effort was made to make Kyuranger even goofier and kid-oriented than usual for the franchise, though this isn’t a bad thing by any means. My understanding is there hasn’t been a child ranger in years, and while I was initially sceptical of Kotaro (remember Justin from Power Rangers Turbo?), he was well acted for a kid and had good interactions with the rest of the cast. The monsters tended towards amazingly stupid both in powers and designs, the exact kind of garbage I want; I’ll be hard pressed to forget the nefarious birthday-stealing robot or the attack of the evil household appliances.

Broadly speaking, I’d say Kyuranger was on the ball more often than not. I enjoyed my time with it, but unlike Zyuohger, I don’t really feel like I’m going to miss it as we get rolling on Lupinranger VS Patranger.

Random Observations

  • Thanks as always to the crew over at Over-Time for their exemplary subbing work.
  • One of the hazards of working with children – Kotaro noticeably grows taller and changes appearance over the course of the show.
  • Tsurugi eating curry in the final scene is almost certainly another in a long running line of references to the very first Sentai series, Himitsu Sentai Goranger.
  • The final count for Kyutama toys power-ups is just under a hundred
  • Come back tomorrow for a First Look at the new sentai series, Lupinranger Vs Patranger!
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