Friday, 2 September 2011

Series REVIEW: Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger


Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger is the 28th entry into the Super Sentai franchise, following on from Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger and preceding Mahou Sentai Magiranger. The story begins when Banban Akaza (nicknamed Ban/DekaRed) is transferred to the Earth branch of the SPD (Special Police Dekaranger) and arrives in the city of Megalopolis. His teammates are Houji Tomasu (Hojo/DekaBlue), Sen'ichi Enari (Sen-chan/DekaGreen), Marika Reimon (Jasmine/Deka Yellow) and Koume Koudou (Umeko/DekaPink). Under the guidance of their chief, the Anubian alien Doggie Kruger and scientist Swan Shiratori the Dekarangers defend the city of alien criminals, known as alienizers. Midway through the series, they are also joined by Tekkan Aira (Tetsu/DekaBreak), an elite member of SPD's Tokkyou division.

The main cast are excellent, each having very contrasting personalities and thus being able to to bounce off each other well and each adding something different to the combined team. Between the 5 (or 6) of them there is no obvious leader, so the chain of command fluctuates episode to episode depending what the operation is. Despite the format of the show (which I'll get into next) each character has their background explored adequately and the relationships between them are properly expanded on.

What's instantly the most noticeable thing about Dekaranger is the format of the show. There's no evil witch/demon/empire trying to take over the world, no ongoing story about a team of heroes preventing the world from turning to ash etc. Instead, Dekaranger is an episodic series that deals with the SPD dealing with "low-key" criminals (well, on a Sentai scale anyway) such as murders and arms dealers. Most episodes are stand alone from each other (with multi-part episodes appearing every so often, usually when there's a new addition to the cast and/or arsenal) and a minimal amount of recurring antagonists. The variety of alienizers in the series is massive - there's everything from the standard hulking sentai monsters to small prop aliens, aliens in human clothing (the space mafia, complete in tuxedos, was a highlight of mine) to even humanoid villains with human faces. Not that all the aliens are villains of course, because the world of Dekaranger is one where aliens live among us, meaning there are plenty of 'ordinary citizen' alien characters too.

Midway-in the series does begin to sow seeds for its finale episodes, and the Dekaranger's main antagonist is revealed in full - Agent Abrella. As I said before, Abrella isn't the typical Sentai villain dealing in galactic conquest, he's only interested in one thing - money. From smuggling to developing weapons to sell on the black market, most one shot villains in the series have had some contact with Abrella. His minimal use in the majority of the series makes him a much more interesting character, and when he's eventually fully revealed its apparent how effective he is for a criminal with such simplistic aspirations. Certainly one of Sentai's most memorable offerings in the villain department.

The next thing to mention would be the impressive amount of rangers this series boasts - a total of 10. Besides the main 6, Doggie Kruger also has the ability to transform into the too-awesome-for-words DekaMaster, Swan makes a one-shot appearance as DekaSwan, and then there are also one-off appearances from DekaBright (the head of the Tokkyou division) and DekaGold (movie only). While appearances from the other rangers are scarce, its a rare treat to see more than 6 rangers outside of a team-up movie, and helps emphasise the larger scale of the SPD. DekaMaster is also without a doubt the highlight of the show, stealing every scene he's included in. If I had to recommend this series for a single reason, it would be for Doggie.

Finally, the other thing that sets Dekaranger apart from other Sentai series is its approach to mecha fights. Since the villains of this series are aliens rather than outright monsters, there's actually very little 'growing' in the show (some aliens do grow to fight the Dekaranger mecha, but that only happens a handful of times). What Dekaranger provides instead is some alienizer-piloted mecha (named Kaijuki in the show), giving us some genuine mecha vs mecha fights. The enemy mecha designs are varied at best (some are excellent, while others look like an after thought) and its not long before the same design starts appearing in different colour schemes but with the amount of character design that had to go into this show, its a pretty fair trade-off and an excellent change of pace. The episodes don't always end with 'giant monster/mecha fights Dekaranger Robo and is beaten' either - mecha fights often begin an episode rather than end it, and more often than not (well, until DekaWing Robo comes around) the alienizer is killed by the Dekarangers themselves rather than the robot. This mix-up of events helps the show be less formulaic than standard Sentai show, meaning you're not watching the same plot progression over and over again. The Dekaranger mecha themselves are all excellent, particularly Dekaranger Robo - individually looking like futuristic police vehicles and together having a nice uniform combination that at the same time stands out (its also nice to see a main mecha that doesn't use a sword as its main weapon). The later combination with Dekabreak's DekaBike is just as smooth, adding armour in all the right places to prevent it from looking like a mesh of vehicle parts. DekaWing Robo doesn't really have much focus as individual components, but more than makes up for it in combined mode (not only does it form a brilliant robot, but can also turn into a GIANT FREAKING GUN). Deka Base Robo (as the name suggests...the robot mode of the mobile part of Deka Base) is the weakest of the lineup, but its easy to let slide given both its gigantic size and that fact that (in-show) it was built to be more of a giant weapon than a mobile robot.

It may be small, but the show does suffer from one flaw - the narration. It's not so much that the narration is bad, more that it's horrifically repetitive. When certain key moments happen in the show (such as Jasmine's ESP powers, Sen's thinking pose and judgement time) narration appears over the show to explain what's happening. The only problem is, it does that for every single episode that moment appears, and as you can expect 'judgement time' happens EVERY EPISODE. Hearing the explanation in the first 10 episodes or so makes sense as its a chance to fully come to grasps with the concepts of the show (not that they're difficult to get anyway), but hearing them in episode 20, 40 or even 50 (that's right, the last episode) is ridiculous - no one would just jump on the show at that point, so what's the point of explaining it again?

Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger is a show that gets a lot of praise, and it deserves every single bit of it. The wide range of aesthetics and alien design really help create the impression of a world filled with alien life, the main team all work fantastically together and apart and it has a very minimal amount of forgettable episodes. Arguably one of the best Sentai Series of the noughties, and certainly a worthy contender for a top spot in the franchise's 35 year history.

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