Thursday, 11 February 2016

Series REVIEW: Shuriken Sentai Ninninger

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger

Super Sentai has been host to a wide variety of themes and motifs over the years, but there is a handful that in the past have proven so successful that they are worth revisiting again and again. Dinosaurs is one that immediately springs to mind, as are cars/vehicles and of course ninjas. Shuriken Sentai Ninninger marks the third time Toei have produced a ninja-orientated Sentai, previously used by Ninja Sentai Kakuranger in 1994 and then Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger in 2002. The 39th entry in the franchise ran from February 2015 to February 2016, weighing in at a grand total of 47 episodes.

The Igasaki Clan
No ninja, no ninja, no ninja, no.

Centuries ago in feudal Japan, a ruthless warlord named Gengetsu Kibaoni was slain by the Igasaki Ninja clan before discarding his humanity to become a powerful Yokai. His first attempt at resurrection 400 years later was thwarted by Yoshitaka Igasaki – the man who would go on to be known as the “Last Ninja”. Now in modern time, Gengetsu’s retainer Kyuuemon Izaoi revives the Kibaoni Corps with the goal of gathering enough fear to resurrect their leader once more.

With only the Igasakis able to withstand the threat of the Kibaoni Corps, Yoshitaka’s son Tsumuji gathers a new team of heroes to follow in the footsteps of their still-living grandfather – his children Takaharu and Fuka, along with their cousins Yakumo Kato, Nagi Matsuo and Kasumi Momochi. Fighting as the Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, the team also train in the clan’s Shuriken Ninja Arts as they compete against each other for the title of Last Ninja. They are later also joined by Kinji Takigawa – the American Yokai Hunter Star Ninger who has travelled to learn from the Last Ninja. Throughout their battles they learn the history of the Igasaki clan, its links with the mysterious Kyuuemon and the existence of the End Shuriken – a treasure containing a great power which the Kibaoni Corps wish to take for themselves.

The Kibaoni Corps
Well, at least they look good right?

When the “ninjas that do not stay hidden” first burst onto television screens initial reception couldn’t have felt much more positive. The series looked as though it would be revisiting the ninja theme in full force, utilising extremely impressive stunt work that relied more on acrobatics than conventional wirework. The return to a family dynamic felt was refreshing, with the team actively competing against each other as well as working together. There was good variety in the hot-headed but skilled Takaharu, competitive magic-user Yakumo, the logical and scientific Kasumi, klutzy but determined Fuka and the more reserved yet earnest Nagi – later amplified by addition of Kinji initially working against the team before officially joining them. Ninninger truly set itself up for a lot of interesting story potential, along with characters that on paper sounded like they would be able to carry the show through right to the end.

However something clearly went wrong along the way, as the show repeatedly manages to squander every little bit of potential that initially shined through. Takaharu’s demeanour and catchphrase quickly become unbearable (though to the show’s credit he is noticeably toned down in the second half) while the others are put through minimal character developed told either through underdeveloped or repetitive storylines. Kinji’s ongoing story about seeking revenge for the death of his family and the darkness it creates inside of him comes and goes as it pleases, forgotten for long periods before being briefly revived for a fleeting moment of character growth and an underwhelming (and underused) power up. The biggest waste in the team is perhaps Kasumi, who time and time again proves herself to be the most capable of them all.

The Alumni Sentai
Watching Sentai's ninja legacy crash and burn

That same potential is also wasted on the villains, who share a similar dynamic rife with possibilities. Ninninger may have the recycled trope of some all-powerful leader in need of reviving, but it also has different members of his forces (all with their own views and methods) along with a mysterious newcomer in the form of Kyuuemon – a character with secret ties to both clans. Though Kyuuemon undoubtedly remains one of Ninninger’s biggest highlights with his constant scheming and ongoing reveals, the rest of the villains are in no way memorable or effective. Even Gengetsu’s resurrection comes far too late into the show, with the previous 40 something episodes simply telling the audience how powerful he is but never showing it. At least Dokoku was a constant presence in Shinkenger, even if his impact was largely the same.

And it doesn’t stop there either! The family dynamic offers more interesting characters in not only the Last Ninja himself, but also Tsumuji – a former student of his father who has been drained of his “nintality”. Yoshitaka might seem like a mentor character, but in actuality is standoffish, judgemental and extremely critical of his grandchildren’s methods. Again there’s plenty of mystery surrounding the character, but it’s poorly plotted and only really surfaces as the show is heading into its endgame. Tsumuji on the other hand has some really strong focus episodes and is crucial to the back story, making him one of the most memorable characters in the show despite very little active involvement. The two even make a particularly surprising appearance at the end of the series by transforming into their own versions of Aka Ninger – a moment particularly hyped up through in next episode previews but unsurprisingly amounts to very little at all. As for any other bits of family - forget it. An obviously big family built on a great ninja’s legacy and you only get the grandfather and one son? Underwhelming to say the least.

Aka Ninger x3
Oh god they're multiplying

As the 39th Super Sentai series that aired during its 40th anniversary in terms of age, Ninninger also has the strange honour of seeming like an anniversary series even though it isn’t officially treated as one. There series features several cameos from Super Sentai alumni (both in and out of suit), including Aka Ranger, Ninja Red, Hurricane Red, Shurikenger and even Magi Yellow. Even more surprising (though completely appropriate) is the appearance of Jirairya – the lead character from 1988 Metal Heroes series Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya. While some the cameos themselves amount to little in terms of the overall story, the fact they appear in the series itself (rather than a crossover movie) and have their past exploits properly acknowledged is quite remarkable. Kakuranger, Hurricaneger and Jiraiya hold a particularly special place – presenting the team with unique Shurikens which are repeatedly used throughout the show.

Jiraiya
A better ninja you've probably never heard of

The initial mecha (or Otomonin/Ninja Allies to use the show's terminology) also follow a sort of strange “tribute” pattern, lacking a clear theme and instead inspired by the various types of mecha the show has used over the years. A humanoid, a dragon, a dog, a train and a dump truck are a pretty strange mix, but somehow manage to work together and combine to create one of the more unique looking robos in the form of Shurikenjin – a giant robotic frame with a throne for its core component to sit in, complete with levels and pedals for control. Despite a strong debut which is nicely followed with Star Ninger’s Western themed Bison King, the mecha excitement does begin to slow down with the arrival of Lion HaOh and later Gekiatsu DaiOh. Both again thoroughly interesting concepts, but far less so in execution. There are also a selection of obligatory “auxiliary” allies to go alongside Shurikenjin, but all are rushed into the series and almost immediately forgotten about – making it all the more obvious that their inclusion is nothing but one giant toy advert.

Ninninger Mecha
Please buy our toys, we really need the sales...

The first draft of this review was going to end with something along the lines of “Shuriken Sentai Ninninger is the kind of wacky, colourful series that the intended audience will surely enjoy but will offer very little to an older audience”. Judging by the recent news that Ninninger is in fact the worst selling Super Sentai series in years (making just over half of what Go-Busters did), it looks that that isn’t the case either. To put it bluntly, Ninninger is about as disappointing as it gets – intriguing concepts and character dynamics gone almost completely to waste while the initially impressive action gives way to a whole load of mediocrity. The series may not be completely without merit, but it’s certainly a considerable amount of low points with very little high to balance them out.

1 comment:

horaciosi said...

"Ninninger is in fact the worst selling Super Sentai series in years (making just over half of what Go-Busters did)" And Ninninger is still getting adapted while Go-Busters gets nothing. Is there any justince in this fucking world?