Monday, 20 February 2012

Series REVIEW: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger


2011 saw Toei celebrate the 35th anniversary of their Super Sentai franchise, and boy did they do it in style. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is a 51-episode series that aired between February 2011 and February 2012, along with three cinematic releases. Not only did it feature an all new Sentai team, but also gave them the ability to transform into members of the other 35 Sentai teams via Ranger keys and saw guest appearances from the franchise's 35 year history.

Following the "Legendary War", in which the 34 past Super Sentai teams gave up their powers in order to protect the Earth from invasion from the Zangyack Empire, a group of space pirates come to the planet in search of "The Greatest Treasure in the Universe", which can only be acquired after obtaining the "greater powers" of the 34 Super Sentai teams. Having acquired the powers of the former teams in the form of ranger keys, these pirates are able to use their abilities as well as become the 35th Super Sentai team, the Gokaiger.

The Legendary War saw the return of the 34 Sentai teams of the past.

When the Zangyack return to threaten Earth once again, this motley crew of wanted pirates - made up of a former Red Pirate under the guidance of the mysterious AkaRed (Captain Marvelous/Gokai Red), a former Zangyack soldier (Joe Gibken/Gokai Blue), a homeless thief (Luka Millfy/ Gokai Yellow), a shanghaied mechanic (Don Dogoier aka 'Doc'/Gokai Green) and the princess of a destroyed world (Ahim de Famille/Gokai Pink) step up to the task of defending the Earth in absence of its heroes. While initially the team could care less about the fate of the Earth, when they learn more about its past heroes and are joined by die-hard Sentai fanboy Gai Ikari (Gokai Silver), they soon learn what it means to not just be Super Sentai, but to be heroes.

What makes the Gokaiger's interesting is that they aren't straightforward heroes, nor do they want to be. They fight the Zangyack because they're in the way of their goal, not because they have any interest in protecting the Earth. Each character comes from a very different background, yet work really well in threes (particularly Marvelous/Joe/Luka and Doc/Ahim/Gai) and when paired with someone else. Detailed back stories are all there (with some taking longer to come out than others) and they are all a pleasure to watch on screen without any significant weak element.

From left to right: Ahim, Doc, Gai, Marvelous, Joe, Luka

Gokaiger's villains on the other hand were a varied bunch. While the Zangyack obviously presented a big enough threat to the Earth that the Sentai had to give up their powers to save it, the Empire's overconfidence means this rarely ever comes across in the actual show. Pampered Prince Warz Gil is a great character, but credible villain he is not. When his father Akdos Gil eventually arrives on the scene, he also does very little until the very end. However this does not dampen the show since arguably its greatest villain (and possibly one of the best in Super Sentai in general) is Basco ta Jolokia, a privateer looking to gain the treasure for his very own. Having an interesting back story with Marvelous and crushing the Gokaiger's at almost every turn, he is ruthless, deceitful and everything a good villain  should be. The Zangyack set the premise and provide the explosive finale, but Basco is the threat that keeps the audience glued.

Basco: a true villain.

Plot-wise one of the primary draws of Gokaiger is its legend tribute episodes, in which the Gokaiger would meet a Super Sentai veteran, often gaining their greater power in the process. All 34 Super Sentai teams saw at least one actor returning, from Goranger all the way up until Goseiger. Many of these episodes reflected the returning actor's show (e.g. the Carranger tribute episode was heavy slapstick) and some even saw the return of previous villains. Not only did it make it fitting tribute, but it also brought aspects of the show closer together and explained them as canon. The Gokaiger's cameo appearance in the Goseiger vs. Shinkenger movie is no longer considered a write-off, instead how and why they were there in the first place is explained.

Shinkenger's Kaoru Shiba was one of the show's many guest stars.

As you'd expect this year's mecha also saw a pirate motif, but much like its pilots came with a flavour of past Super Sentai. The team's main base of operations, the Gokai Galleon, also formed the torso of their mecha GokaiOh (combined with four other vehicles that never served any other real purpose other than to be limbs) which could also call upon the powers of past Super Sentai, with some past mecha combining with the robot to call upon even greater powers. The Magidragon from 'Mahou Sentai Magiranger' granted the Gokaigers the power up of MagiGokaiOh, while the Patstriker from 'Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger' gave them DekaGokaiOh. Meanwhile 'Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger's' GaoLion gave them power ups from both Gaoranger and Shinkenger, and 'Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger's' Furaimaru also made a welcome return. A new character was also created in the spirit of 'Engine Sentai Go-Onger' - Machalcon, the son of engines Speedor and BeaRV. Gokai's Silver's Gozyujin was a triple tribute to Zyuranger, Timeranger and Abaranger and could be combined with GokaiOh (along with Machalcon) to give the Gokaiger's their own greater power - Kanzen GokaiOh!

GokaiOh

While I enjoyed the show's mecha, they were one of the flawed aspects of the show. Several of the combinations omitted components (such as GokaiOh's limbs) and Kanzen GokaiOh only saw the use of the Galleon torso and Gozyujin's arms. After numerous series that left no spare parts when it came to ultimate combos, it happening in Gokaiger may be a little disappointing for some.

Companies should take note - THIS is how you do an anniversary series. While previous anniversary shows such as Gaoranger and Boukenger failed to really celebrate the franchise as a whole, Gokaiger managed to do just that while having its own engaging characters and storyline. Gokaiger is a must see for all Super Sentai and tokusatsu fans. I would even recommend it highly to those who have never strayed away from Power Rangers, as the story is easy to get to grips with and despite being an anniversary series makes an excellent jumping in point to Super Sentai (since it gives you somewhat of a taste of each show, and then you can go back and watch your favourites). You only need to take a look at the past year of posts on this blog to see how much Gokaiger has affected me and my personal fandoms. While I will miss the show greatly I am looking forward to their return in April's 'Super Hero Taisen' movie, when the Super Sentai teams will go head to head against the Kamen Riders.

But for now - "Goodbye, space pirates"

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