Saturday, 9 April 2011

Series REVIEW: Samurai Sentai Shinkenger


The 33rd entry in Toei's Super Sentai franchise. For eighteen generations, the Shiba household have protected the world from the evil forces of the Gedoushu - monsters that enter our world through cracks and plan to flood the world with water from the Sanzu river (which is essential to their survival). In present day, their leader Doukoku Chimatsuri is freed from his seal and intends to continue this ambition. Takeru Shiba, the youngest head of the Shiba clan and ShinkenRed, must gather together his four vassals (servants from other households) to fight the forces of the Gedoushu. Initially Takeru maintains aloof and detached from his vassals, preferring to fight alone. But as the story progresses and Takeru's childhood friend Genta joins the Shinkengers as ShinkenGold, Takeru becomes far more comfortable around people, beginning to treat them as friends. But Takeru is different from the lords that have preceded him, and the vassals slowly learn that his dark secret may be the reason for the way he has acted.

Before I begin dissecting the plot, I have to say that Samurai Sentai Shinkenger is one of the most visually pleasing series I've watched in a while. I'm a huge fan of the costumes themselves - which give off a nice Samurai flavour without being too heavy or over the top (in comparison to, say, Hurricanger) and each have an unique symbol for the visor. Each are very distinct from each other, but maintain a very nice sense of uniform. The origami mecha are also very well done, despite being restricted by the shapes each of them need to be able to transform into. Their combination, Shinken-Oh, has quickly become one of my favourite Super Sentai mecha. It's a lot less universal than perhaps other series are, but one of its strengths lie in how uniquely Japanese it is. Aside from a few jokes which I found difficult to follow as a Westerner (Ebi Origami) it was still completely enjoyable and understandable, while teaching me a lot of new things about Japan and Samurai culture.

The plot itself is relatively series, but is not opposed to diverging into moments of comedy relief now and again (Genta's arrival really brings a new light to the series, and this firmly placed him as easily my favourite Shinkenger). The Shinkengers display a wide variety of character types, Ryunosuke (ShinkenBlue) as a loyal servant to his lord, competitive Chiaki (ShinkenGreen), big-sister Mako (ShinkenPink) and the clumsy but good-hearted Kotoha (ShinkenYellow). A few members of the Gedoushu even receive an ample amount of development - particularly Juzo, who is far more than a generic monster villain.

At 49 episodes (plus a mini-movie, 2 crossover films and various other shorts) Shinkenger is by no means a short series. Because of its length, its only natural that quite of the few of the episodes just come across as filler. However each of these episodes neatly manages to focus on one or two members of the main cast, and so none go without providing some form of character insight or development.

Another issue I found with the series was Doukoku, who in comparison to some of the other Gedoushu (particularly Juzo and Dayu, but later also Shitari and Akumaro) seems rather undeveloped. For the majority of the series he seems to do very little other than drink sake, shout a lot and occasionally moan about a hangover. When he suddenly appears on Earth for the first time toward the end of the series we finally get a look at how powerful he really is, but this is quickly dampened by him disappearing for several episodes so that Akumaro can take centre stage. Only in Shinkenger's final acts does Doukoku really come into his own and seem like a true threat. While head monsters often don't seem to do very much until the final episodes, atleast they're usually calling the shots. A final note in the flaws of Shinkenger is some of the later origami combinations (particularly Samurai Ha-Oh), which look like a mess of parts that could rival the ones seen in Go-Onger. Half of Samurai Ha-Oh is a goddamn battle platform that seems to serve no purpose other than for it to float around on and have a very big gun.

Admittedly the flaws are small, but at the same time its enough to stop Shinkenger from being the perfect series. It is however, an excellent series that any fans of the genre should check out. As my first full foray into the Super Sentai franchise (I saw Gokaiger first, but that's still ongoing) it has certainly interested me enough to keep on watching. Part of me is wondering how the US adaption Power Rangers Samurai - is going to cope if it keeps sticking as close to the Shinkenger storyline as it is now. Not only because the themes are extremely Japanese and will seem weird with a Western cast, but also because nobody on Samurai has the acting talent to pull off the development and plot twists that make Shinkenger so endearing in the first place.

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