Thursday, 13 February 2014

Series REVIEW: Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger

Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger

It feels like only yesterday that I was saying goodbye to Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters and summing up my feeling of the show right here on this blog. However quicker than you know an entire year has gone past and here I am reviewing Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger - the succeeding Super Sentai series and 37th in the franchise overall. After the (in my opinion of course) sorely underrated Go-Busters went down as the least successful entry in the franchise yet, Toei had no choice but to opt for a back to basics approach. And judging by the toy sales, returning to the ever popular dinosaur motif was the right way to go...

Millions of years ago in the age of the dinosaurs, the Deboss Army invaded Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs in their attack. The battle wages on for thousands of years, but Deboss were evetually defeated by the Wise God Torin and the Zyudenryu - ancient dinosaur guardians. In the present day, the Deboss Army - consisting of High Priest Chaos, Raging Knight Dogold, Sorrowful Knight Aigaron, Joyful Knight Candelira and the Funfilled Spy Luckiero, resurface with plans to resurrect their fallen leader. Torin and the remaining Zyudenryu select five brave individuals - Daigo "King" Kiryu (Kyoryu Red), Ian Yorkland (Kyoryu Black), Nobuharu "Nossan" Udo (Kyoryu Blue), Souji Rippukan (Kyoryu Green) and Amy Yuuzuki (Kyoryu Pink) to become the new Kyoryugers and fight back against the Deboss threat.

The Deboss Army - Aigaron, Dogold, Chaos, Candelira and Luckiero
The Deboss of Oz

During their fight they are aided by the ancient spirit rangers Ramirez and Tessai (Kyoryu Cyan and Grey respectively) before gaining a new permanent ally in the form Utsusemimaru/"Utchy" (Kyoryu Gold). The team would later be joined by two more Kyoryugers - Kyoryu Violet and Silver, as the battle intensifies and shocking revelations about the Deboss army are revealed.

Despite being the third series to use the dinosaur theme, Kyoryuger is a show that's littered with good ideas - even when it's reusing concepts. The theme makes good use of the numerous theories of what killed out the dinosaurs in real life, using these ideas in the form of a trio of reoccuring monsters (ice age, virus and meteorite). The Deboss Army generals are particularly interesting as they utilize positive emotions and as well as negative ones - meaning that in rare instances their evil schemes involve spreading joy or happiness in addition to the usual carnage and sorrow. The Kyoryuger team begin divided, wary of sharing their secret identities with each other until their camaraderie eventually unites them. It's an angle Super Sentai hasn't played it a long, long time (if ever), and makes for a so much more interesting opening.

The heroes of Kyoryuger
Daigo and his merry band of men

Revisited Super Sentai concepts include an alien/inhuman mentor and "evil" sixth ranger, although these play out a little differently to their predecessors so that even when you know what to expect in the long run there are still nicely.

However for the list of good things Kyoryuger does, there's also a pretty significant list of bad to go with it. As well as the dinosaur motif, the show uses a rather heavy music theme too which stretches into both the narrative. Its inclusion itself isn't the problem - in fact the two actually work quite well together storywise. The problem is the execution of the musical element, which see the rangers samba dancing to transform amid a clashing musical jingle. This gets even worse when Kyoryu Gold is thrown into the mix, resulting in a second jingle is added into the sequence creating an inaudible mash of sound. The mecha transformation sequences also suffer from this problem in the beginning - Kyoryuger takes much appreciated effort to create an elaborate transformation sequence (especially for a robot that's so simplistic) and then spoils it by overlaying an annoying and repetitive musical jingle over the top. Admittedly this is something that mellows out considerably as the show goes on (and I'd be lying if I said the dance wasn't catchy) and so feels like a minor complaint, but still something very apparent in early episodes that could potentially deter viewers.

Kyoryu Red Carnival mode
This is nearly as stupid as it looks

But Kyoryuger's biggest problem is without a doubt its main hero - Daigo "King" Kiryu. While Super Sentai has certainly placed greater focus on a specific team member (usually Red) before, Kyoryuger does it to such painful lengths that at times you wonder why the show isn't just called "King Sentai Daigoranger". Even ignoring the fact he's the only character to receive a powered up form, Daigo is constantly represented as near perfect - the team leader, the glue that holds it together, the strongest fighter, the most skilled etc. There is even an episode that highlights that Daigo's weakness is that he is too perfect. The other five Kyoryugers all come have their own interesting backgrounds and receive some form of development to varying degrees, but always feel like Daigo's support team rather than actual team members. It says a lot that my favourite episodes involving the Kyoryugers as a team was the two part story where Daigo thought he was a dinosaur and was thus absent.

As a direct result of the previous complaint, Kyoryuger suffers from not expanding on some of its more interesting dynamics as much as it could have. Utchy and Dogold share a rivalry dynamic that is fairly well upheld for the majority of the show, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the much more interesting revenge subplot between Ian and Aigaron. This story has a brilliant opening and conclusion, yet comes up so fleetingly in the rest of the story that it doesn't feel as well grounded as it should. The same applies to the character of Candelira, who's schemes usually prove to be the more interesting of the Deboss but largely is relegated to singing or standing in the background smiling. I'm not denying she has some fantastic moments (episode 40 is one of the best in the entire series) but given her eventual role in the show finale it feels like her importance could have been referenced a lot more. Finally comes the romantic pairing properly established in the final few episodes - thinly mentioned previously, these episodes lay it on so thick that it feels more like a character assassination than a blossoming romance.

The Wise God Torin
Deka Master's new sparring partner

Thankfully that even with the red hero hogging the spotlight, Kyoryuger has some absolutely brilliant characters that you long to see more of. The show is the first time a Sentai show has properly featured a team bigger than seven (Dekaranger did it but appearances were very fleeting), with a total of 10 Kyoryugers appearing plus a movie-exclusive evil ranger. Using the concept of Spirit Rangers, it features rangers from different time periods and nationalities as well as ones that aren't even human - giving a bigger scope to a Sentai team than ever before. Even the side characters are great - with veteran Super Sentai actors returning in new roles as the core Kyoryugers' family members. It may not sound like much, but it really makes them feel like proper characters rather than a group with no interaction outside of each other.

After last year's complex and (somewhat) realistic mecha designs, it's not surprise that the Zyudenryu are also given a simplistic approach. Kyoryuger features a total of 11 dinosaur mecha, though six of them are simply limbs that attach to four larger bodies. The dumbed-down approach doesn't work particularly well on screen, and is even more disappointing when only three components are needed to form Kyoryuzin despite it being a FIVE piece team. Kyoryuger does a bad enough job of cementing the team dynamic with Daigo, it doesn't need another thing adding to it.

The five mecha combinations of the series (excluding variations)
MECHA HUDDLE!

Reviews are always something that should be taken as guidelines rather than the literal truth, given that one person's opinion isn't going to be the same as another's. Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger was a very popular show among children and fans alike, and the toy line has reported to have been the most successful for the franchise in 10 years. It was bright, colourful, loud and placed a big emphasis on fun - something Super Sentai needed after the darker tones of Go-Busters and something kids (rightly so) would go wild for. But even with all of this in mind I still don't consider Kyoryuger to have been anything special. The protagonist was insufferable, and many of its best story ideas felt underdeveloped and/or wasted potential. It's a show that I'm ecstatic pleased its intended audience, but not one I see myself missing or feeling the need to revisit any time in the near future.

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