Thursday, 5 July 2012

Series REVIEW: Hikōnin Sentai Akibaranger

However you look at it, Super Sentai is kids show. It may have a large adult fanbase, but it has and probably always will be mainly for children. So what if Toei made a Sentai show strictly for adults? Well our prayers have been answered....somewhat. Hikōnin (Unofficial) Sentai Akibaranger is a 13-episode series is an adult parody Super Sentai series geared for adult fans of the show and is not part of the main Super Sentai series of shows. Just like in reality, Super Sentai is a long-running television show within the world of Akibaranger.

Our heroes

In the otaku paradise of Akihabara, three individuals are chosen by a scientist to become the unofficial Sentai Akibaranger, protecting Akihabara from the evil Stema Otsu Corporation and their attempts to destroy otaku culture. These three individuals - long time Super Sentai fan and 29-year-old delivery boy Nobuo Akagi, 18-year-old martial artist Mitsuki Aoyagi and 23-year-old cosplay fanatic Yumeria Moegi battle the Corporation head Malshina and her Chief Clerks in a delusional world, where their Sentai abilities are amplified and are able to call upon the help of past Super Sentai heroes.

But as the Akibarangers' delusional powers grow stronger and stronger, the fight eventually breaks out into the real world. Here they must not only face Dr Z, the true mastermind villain, but also the Delusion Empire and some very abrupt changes in the storyline.

Malshina, a sure sign this show isn't for kids

Akibaranger does some bold things with the traditional Super Sentai formula, and the first being shaking things up with a one man, 2 girls team. In fact, the show is pretty much dominated by (human) female cast members. Nobuo (Akiba Red) is exactly how you'd expect a Super Sentai fanboy given the opportunity to be a superhero to be, a stereotypical nerd but with a heart of gold. Mitsuki (Akiba Blue) starts out as perhaps the least interesting of the three, a more serious character who simply became an Akibaranger for the chance to become a stronger fighter. But as she learns to appreciate Super Sentai and her inner-nerd is exposed she becomes a much stronger character. Finally we have Yumeria (Akiba Yellow), the oddball of the group. From her various cosplays to her yaoi-fixation and seemingly never ending roll-calls, Yumeria is to fangirls what Nobuo is to fanboys. The three have an excellent dynamic together, which grows as the characters get to know each other and become friends. The Akibaranger suits are equally as wacky, playing with extremes that you'd never see on an official Sentai costume.

With a small ranger cast, Akibaranger equally relies on strong antagonists and secondary characters. Malshina (played by Adult Video actress Honoka) is a fantastic villain, oozing personality and playing off the Akibarangers (particularly Akiba Red) well. Assisting the Akibarangers are their mentor Hiroyo Hakase and her assistant KozuKozu Mita, Sentai heroine cosplay extraordinaire. The two become more intertwined with the story as it progresses, the story at one point being just as much about Hakase as it is our heroes.

Of course what would any Sentai team be without their own giant robot?

The series contains a huge number of Super Sentai references, from story lines and characters to actors and production. When the Akibarangers achieve their first victory against a monster, they sit around waiting for him to grow (which never happens). When the story begins to mysteriously change, Nobuo doesn't take long to realise its akin to what happened to Sun Vulcan back in 1981. Even the background is chock full of blink-and-you'll-miss-it references and homages (after all, their base of operations is a Sentai-themed cafe covered wall to wall in various toys and props).

Deka Red of Dekaranger, Bouken Red of Boukenger and Red Hawk of Jetman all show up at various stages to assist the Akibarangers, leaving them with their own "inordinate powers" - giant Deka Wappers, the Bouken Scooper and Jet Winger respectively. These weapons combine to form the Akibarangers Inordinate Cannon, adding yet another trope to the team's impressive arsenal. A more interesting cameo comes in the form of Kazuo Niborii, suit actor for 14 different Red's in Super Sentai's history. A show like Akibaranger is perfect for handing the spotlight to those who have helped the franchise become what it is, and Niborii's inclusion was well-deserved.

Some old heroes dropping by

But even among Akibaranger's constant barrage of comedy, there lies a story which still has a lot of emotion. Episode five shows a different side to Yumeria, guest starring singer/voice acting legend Rica Matsumoto (perhaps better known as Satoshi/Ash in Pokemon) as her mother. While the story still contains Akibaranger's trademark brand of humour, its a very heartwarming episode that shows that even a parody series can pull off emotion and deeper story lines when the time comes. As the show breaks down into its final act, it become a whole different beast. Just like the classic Looney Tunes cartoon "Duck Amuck", Akibaranger tackles its metafiction in a way that doesn't just break the fourth wall, it tears it down altogether.

A prominent theme within the show is also the anime Nijiyome Academy Z-Cune Aoi, which all three characters are huge fans of. The MMZ-01, the Akibaranger's transformation device and weapon, is modelled on the character, and the show's relevance to the overall story becomes clearer as the plot progresses. What little of the show is presented in Akibaranger is beautifully animated, and suggests that it plays up to many magical girl/moe stereotypes just as Akibaranger does with otaku and Super Sentai. With a manga and mobile phone game on the way, I wouldn't be surprised if Toei announce an anime spin-off in the near future.

Meet Aoi-tan!

Sadly all good things must come to an end, and although the final episode of Akibaranger may be a recap episode, even that manages to be fun and play around with various tropes of the franchise. Reviewing their past adventure as an opportunity to gain a second season, the team provide commentary throughout the clip-show. Throw in some amusing product placement for future S.H. Figuarts toys and the final realisation that the Akibaranger's task had been given to them to fill up the remaining broadcast slot at the cheapest budget possible.

Gokaiger may have been a celebration of Super Sentai within the franchise's overall story, but Akibaranger is one outside it. It manages to celebrate the show and perhaps more importantly, its fans, in a way the former never could, resulting in a show that keeps surprising you until the very end and is sadly gone before you know it. During the final episode Nobuo explains to his team mates that if they're show is remembered by otaku like him, then everything they've done up until this point is all worth it. And this is exactly what they've done. If ANY Super Sentai series deserves a chance at a second season, forget about the official Sentai - the unofficial ones have done far more in far less time to earn it.

1 comment:

Tom Badguy said...

That looks like some weird shit, lol. =)