Monday, 30 April 2012

Series REVIEW: Engine Sentai Go-Onger



Engine Sentai Go-onger is the 32nd Super Sentai series and the third to have some sort of car motif (although it’s a lot looser in this one). Three generals of the Gaiark - a group dedicated to creating a polluted world they can rule over, invade Earth with their sights on polluting it. Following them are three inhabitants of Engine world (one of 11 different worlds that exist, another being ours – the ‘human’ world), who recruit three people to become Go-ongers and fight the Gaiark. These three are a racing driver named Sōsuke Esumi (Go-on Red), a former bus driver and aspiring mechanic Renn Kōsaka (Blue) and racing track worker Saki Rōyama (Yellow). Soon the team expands as 2 more engines come to the human world and recruit Hant Jō and Gunpei Ishihara as Go-on Green and Black respectively. Co-ordinated by Bomper, a small robot also hailing from the Engine world, the Go-onger team battle against the Gaiark and their Banki monsters. As time goes on, they find they aren’t the only ones with Go-onger powers as they meet brother and sister team Hiroto (Gold) and Miu (Silver) Sutō – the Go-on Wings.

Go-onger is a pretty light hearted series at heart and really has fun with that at times – such as the episode where both the Go-ongers and Gaiark team up to beat a monster that grows when it hears loud music, but will shrink if it hears a sweet song. After failed attempts by Hiroto and a hilarious hair metal effort from Yogostein and Kitaneidas, Mui, Saki and Kegaleshia team up to form a pop idol unit – complete with an interesting version of the show’s closing theme. I’ve often found the comedy to feel forced in other Sentai series, but here it feels natural and manages to flicker between laughs and seriousness nicely. That isn't to say there aren’t moments where it feels forced (i.e. introducing a new, competent villain during a 2-part Christmas special probably wasn't the best move) but for the most part it worked far better than expected.

The Go-ongers themselves are unfortunately not a lot to write a home about. Each one fills a different role in the team, and there’s never really that much develop outside those characters. The introduction of the Go-on Wings does help to liven things up a bit, and the drastic difference between the Go-ongers determination to act on impulse and the Wing’s cold strategic logic makes their initially strained relationship that much more interest. Still, the teams do eventually come to get along, and so Hiroto and Miu do lighten up quite a lot. Still, the difference in tactics does thankfully remain and show every so often (which is particularly reassuring given its essential to Hiroto’s character). Personally, it was refreshing for me to have a series where I didn't gravitate toward the red ranger (like I do for Gokaiger, Shinkenger and Magiranger). By the end of the series I’d certainly developed a fondness for Miu, but I also felt Gunpei and Hiroto was also excellently represented.

The engines themselves however completely steal the show when it comes to the protagonists. Giving each component of the mecha a personality and accompanying anime styled sprite was perhaps a bold movement, but in the end Super Sentai is mainly for children and this really shines throughout Go-onger. The super deformed avatars for engines when their souls are being projected though the morphers are adorable, and it means the engines (along with Bomper, who is equally as adorable) themselves get some spotlight episodes. Admittedly these are sparse, but when they do appear they are without a doubt some of the strongest episodes of the show. The mecha are interesting as there are 4 different ‘main robots’ (each made of 3 separate engines) and then G6, 9 and 12 combinations. These combinations do get a bit cluttered as they get bigger, but at the same time it does show nicely show how much bigger they are getting and the strength of unity between the Go-ongers and the engines.

On the other side, the Gaiark ministers are all excellent well-rounded characters. What sets them apart from other Sentai villains and make them more interesting as characters is also how they work with each other and the obvious friendship that the three share with each other and their comrades. Yogostein’s relationship with his subordinate Hiramechimedes and how he comes to terms with his defeat/death is an excellent example of this, as is how Kegalesia and Kitaneidas deal with Yogostein’s death and their eventual rebellion against the series big bad – the Gaiark Prime Minister Yogoshimacritein.

Engine Sentai Go-onger was a really hard series for me to give a final rating on, it frequently fluctuated between a high three and a low four. In the end I decided to give it the four, because it had a particularly strong ending that leads neatly into the Go-onger/Shinkenger crossover movie and once it had finished, I really began to miss the characters. To summarise - it’s a very good Sentai series that’s strongly weakened by the fact the core cast is completely out shined by the rest of the cast, but still really enjoyable if you don’t mind a series that doesn't take itself as seriously as some of the other Super Sentai series out there.