Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Series REVIEW: Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger

Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger

After 42 years doing roughly the same thing over and over, it's hard to not to agree that Super Sentai is in dire need of a shakeup. Not that there was ever fundamentally wrong with what the franchise was doing, but declining audience ratings and a varying results when it comes to toy sales speak for themselves. Toei threw a curveball into the formula by introducing a total of 12 rangers in Uchu Sentai Kyuranger to some success, but in order to secure the longevity of the franchise they also tried to think bigger. The result of that planning is Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger - the 42nd Super Sentai series that introduces not just one, but TWO different teams. Combining the ever-popular Phantom Thief motif with their law-enforcement rivals, Lupinranger vs Patranger doesn't just see the Sentai teams face off against an invading evil, but also against each other.

The Phantom TheivesKaitou Sentai Lupinranger

The Lupin Collection - a selection of treasures acquired by the legendary Phantom Thief Arsene Lupin. Legend has it that when the whole collection is brought together, they have the power to grant a single wish. One year ago Kairi Yano, Toma Yoimachi and Umika Hayami had loved ones taken away from them by a member of the interdimensional crime group Gangler. Their only hope to get their loved ones back is to reclaim the Collection from the safes of the individual Gangler members, evading the law as the Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger.

However the Gangler have their own plans for the Earth. With their leader Dogranio Yabun set to retire, he's offering his criminal empire to the one Gangler who can successfully take over the planet. Defending humanity from their attacks is the Global Special Police Organisation, with officers Keichiiro Asaka, Sakuya Hikawa and Tsukasa Myojin also using powers from the Lupin Collection to become the Keisatsu Sentai Patranger. Though the two teams share the same goal of hunting the Gangler down, their objectives are very different - bringing them into conflict just as much as it does an uneasy alliance.

The Global Special Police OrganisationKeisatsu Sentai Patranger

Although the introduction of two different Super Sentai teams at once may seem like the franchise doing something more daring for once, Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger isn't a series that's afraid to double down on its references either. The biggest giveaway to this is how the "throwaway" (i.e. not part of either team's main arsenal) pieces in the Lupin Collection are all repainted props from past shows, but there's also a lot to draw from how the show presents its two opposing teams. Granted this is a bit of an oversimplification, but the Lupinrangers represent the "new" school of Super Sentai – elaborate transformations, a lengthier role call sequence and a personal stake in the fight against the villains. By comparison the Patrangers feel considerably more old school in their execution – shorter transformations and role call sequences, as well a more general end goal that's more about protecting the planet than it is about the individuals. Even their naming conventions represent two different patterns scattered throughout Sentai history. All of this immediately covers a lot of ground and makes the two teams feel more distinct from each other, which should in theory make the show a lot more interesting.

And as far as the Lupinrangers themselves go, the show has a fair bit to offer. There might be two teams in the series title but they are undoubtedly the emotional core of the series. Both the story and the characters themselves sell their regret at being unable to saved their loved ones (Kairi's older brother, Toma's fiancé and Umika's best friend) really well, and the fact the plot evolves to be a lot more complex than a simple "collect the items and have your wish granted" story does it a lot of favours in the long run. Though the show is undoubtedly red-centric the other two do get their fair share of the spotlight as well, with each of them getting to show their unique (if perhaps generic in certain cases) personalities. A lot of their conflict with the police can be chalked up to bad communication, but at the very least it does a good job of highlighting the difference in their approaches and why they butt heads. The added dynamic of two teams fighting each other while also fighting the villains is bolstered by some very strong action directing, as the show employs drones and body cams to add a lot more flare and variety to the fight scenes. Like the Lupinrangers themselves, Lupinranger VS Patranger uses visual flare to leave a big impression.

Noël TakaoLupin X

The Patrangers on the other hand aren't so lucky. When Phantom Thieves are involved the police are always going to be there to make them look better to some extent, but in a show where both teams get headline billing the expectation of equal development isn't much to ask for. It isn't even that the Patrangers are just portrayed as inept and/or a joke either, it's that the majority of the time they feel like the B plot – the team there to get rid of the mooks and be the supporting act while the Lupinrangers go for the grand prize. Even sadder is the fact that for the most part they're brilliant characters as well. His narrow mindedness and short temper may be the butt of a lot comedy and conflict in the series, but Keichiiro is a hero through and through – a police officer with a heart of gold who's firm about the law because he's convinced it's the best way to protect everyone. Tsukasa is headstrong, calculating and capable – a fantastic female role model and another incredibly likable character. Sakuya is the weak link in that his advances toward Umika become more uncomfortable as the series progresses, but in the early episodes his role as the plucky young rookie who just wants to please his teammates creates a great dynamic. It isn't that the Patrangers are without their focus episodes or moments of brilliance, it's that if you were to lay out the series as a whole and mark out all the key plot episodes theirs would barely make the cut. They even have fantastic supporting characters in Director Hilltop and Jim Carter, the former deserving a mention in this review for being the most prominent black character in a Super Sentai series thus far but doesn't actually do very much worthy of mention within the show itself.

These problems are only furthered with the arrival of Noël Takao, the GSPO special investigator who doubles as both Patren X and Lupin X. While a double agent might seem like to perfect way to shake up the formula and eventually bring the two teams together, there's very little balance to speak of it quickly becomes clear that Noël's loyalties really lie with the Lupinrangers. If Kairi were to be considered the main character of the show then Noël would certainly come in as a close second, with later arcs particularly revolving around him and his stake in the retrieval of the Lupin Collection. However elements such as his origin (a fact unknown to both teams) fall completely flat, with the show failing to do both adequate build up or follow it up in any significant way. Noël himself may be likeable enough as a character, but what he actually adds to the show outside of filling in exposition blanks and allowing for easy truces between the two teams feels a lot more questionable in hindsight.

LupinkaiserPatkaiser

This imbalance between promoting the two teams doesn't just relate to character development either, as it very quickly begins to show itself in terms of arsenal and power ups as well. Making it so that the two teams couldn't call upon their combined mecha at the same time was an interesting way to play it in a series with "versus" in the title (though it makes sense if you think about how much collateral damage the Patrangers would cause trying to arrest a giant robot), but the way it chose to divide the powers made sense from a marketing point of view. The Lupinrangers commanded the aerial "Dial Fighter" vehicles, while the Patrangers could call upon the land-based "Trigger Machines". The show and toys always allowed for some cross-compatibility because they were fundamentally the same thing, but it was a good way to show a proper divide between the two teams and keep things balanced. Or at least it would have been, but promotion quickly sways in the way of the Lupinrangers and soon they're the ones getting all the power ups. From super modes to multiple mecha formations, the Patrangers take a huge backseat when it comes to showing off the show's toyetic qualities. It becomes especially obvious when you have moments like Patren #1 dramatically shooting a Trigger vehicle that releases a suit power up, only for the power up itself to land on Noël. It gets even more ridiculous when said power up has a huge Patranger police badge as its central emblem, but Noël is using it as Lupin X. Admittedly this means that when the Patrangers finally do get to have their turn at the new toys it feels like a big moment, but more often than not it comes as a case of too little, too late. With toy sales almost immediately down on the show some of this is almost certainly down to middle-management in order to salvage sales for the rest of its run, but it really hurts the presentation and quality of the series overall.

But the problems don't just start and end with the juggling of two teams either, as the villains also have their own issues that are hard to ignore. Again from a purely story point of view the set up is actually really good. You have the bored gangster prepared to give it all up for a bit of entertainment, and monsters of the week that work for both the Lupinranger and Patrangers end goals. Then on top of all that you have the wildcard - Zamigo Delma, the Gangler responsible for freezing the Lupinrangers' loved ones played by the ever brilliant Jingi Irie (Kikaider REBOOT). The suit design is top notch, Dogranio especially showing off just how great Sentai monsters can look when Toe is brining their A-game to a series. The problem is though that despite being integral to the Lupinrangers' story, Zamigo disappears from the story for a significant amount of time - leaving the main narrative to poorly meander for episodes on end until he shows up more prominently for the show's final stretch. I'm not familiar enough with what went on behind the scenes to know whether this was just a case of Irie's scheduling, but it does feel like that could possibly be the case. Dogranio's generals don't really get much in the way of adequate development either, though in a bit of a role reversal it's actually Gauche (the female general that's also responsible for making the Ganglers grow) that perhaps gets the better deal.

Dogranio YabunZamigo Delma

From the very beginning Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger vs Keisatsu Sentai Patranger that had plenty of potential, offering a new dynamic that the franchise has never maintained throughout an entire series as well as something fresh that could revitalise Super Sentai for years to come. However due to a combination of unbalanced development, poorly handled storylines and a doubling down on toy advertising due to flagging sales the series very rarely reached this potential. The odd moments where it's able to hit that greatness are just a painful reminder of what the whole series could have been like. The fact Super Sentai is returning to the tried and testing "Dinosaur Sentai" for 2019 speaks for itself really, things definitely could have gone much better here.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great review ! Can´t wait for the next ones !

Mark said...

This sentai reminded me of Wizard : both have a lot of style but with little substance.

Oar said...

I love this show a lot, and I feel more strongly about it than most other Sentais. Simultaneously, it's because I enjoy it so much that it's many flaws hurt in my eyes all the more! Still, I appreciate a show like this more than one that doesn't leave an impression.

Unknown said...

I agree that the Patrangers were sidelined too much. And they should have thrown in hints to Noel's background earlier in his appearances rather than shoehorning it to the end. But otherwise I did find the series enjoyable in spite of its flaws.

Δverno said...

Totally agree with you. The show is painfully biased in favor of the lupins which makes it very hard for me to watch since I really loved the Patrangers.

Neko-Nyan said...

You know, I enjoy your reviews so much that I can't be mad at them even when I don't agree with them :D