Wednesday, 26 July 2023

Special REVIEW: Yodonna 3: Yodonna's Valentine

Yodonna 3: Yodonna's Valentine

The Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub has provided some pretty strange specials over the past few years, but there are few quite as weird as Mashin Sentai Kiramager Spin-Off: Yodonna. Bringing back the fan-favourite villain from the 2020-2021 Super Sentai series is one thing, but place in this strange adult-orientated special full of violence, cosplay and very obvious titillation is another. However it was clearly a success with its target audience, because a few years later and she's back once again in Yodonna 3: Yodonna's Valentine. Once again the Yodonheim general brings with her some familiar tokusatsu alumni in a story that just has to be seen to be believed, written by Tete Inoue and directed by Koichi Sakamoto.

Yodonna must learn loveHern

Once again in the Yodon afterlife, Yodonna once again makes a bid to regain her mortality. Having previously learned about pleasure, hate, anger and sadness, Hern tasks her with learning about one final emotion before being granted resurrection – love.

Returning to the human world, Yodonna meets Miko – an eccentric young girl who agrees to teach Yodonna all about romance just like it is in the movies. One thing leads to another, and soon Yodonna is set to go on a date with Tametomo Imizu (Kiramei Yellow) – blissfully unaware that his potential valentine is his former enemy. But for Yodonna true love might actually be closer than she thought, as well as a sinister scheme to resurrect Emperor Yodon...

Yodonna meets MikoYodonna and Miko

Looking back on the first two Yodonna specials, it feels as though its production staff were throwing everything at the wall with it to see what sticks. Expanding on minor Kiramager characters, organised crime, heightened violence, provocative scenes – it's all a very surreal experience that doesn't really gel with Mashin Sentai Kiramager's sparkly demeanour. While that hasn't really changed that much for Yodonna 3, it does at the very least have much more of a clearer focus. Rather than focusing on a multitude of human emotions, here it's just love Yodonna has to learn to understand – with the special taking the form of a fairly straightforward love story built on all those familiar clich├ęs.

The straightforwardness of the story also results in arguably better focus on Yodonna herself, as well as a small cast to work with. Though this is a follow-up to the previous specials it also works as a reset of sorts, notably dropping Mizuki (and thus also any connection to Juuru) from the cast and pairing Yodonna up with a new girl. On the one hand it is a little disappointing to see that dynamic forgotten, but it does result in perhaps a greater focus on Yodonna herself. Her characterisation has remained fairly consistent in these specials as a villain genuinely looking to learn, and in that learning she’s eventually able to find redemption. 

A Yodonna costume changeMiko teaches Yodonna about love

But despite a smaller and less Kiramager-centric cast Yodonna 3 does surprisingly tie back to Yodonna's place in the series a little better, with a new villain on the scene determined to resurrect the show's big bad. With Yodonna having been revealed to share Yodon's body, naturally this makes her the key component of such a plan. While there isn't a whole lot to say about Hanidora or her plan (which is largely just exposition), the character herself looks good and is a nice expansion to Yodon society. As part of the TTFC special the suit is almost certainly kitbashed from existing parts, but she fits the Kiramager villain aesthetic well and certainly wouldn't have looked amiss in the series proper.

Guest stars were a big part of the first wave of Yodonna specials and it's nice to see that's been kept up here as well, even if again on a slightly smaller scale. On top of Rui Kihara returning to reprise his role as Tametomo the most significant addition to the cast here is Hinami Mori as Miko – Mori having recently starred as Flint Goldtsuiker in Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger and all its various crossovers/spinoffs. Seeing Yodonna interact with Mori and not be Flint feels a little strange at first given all the crossover potential Zenkaiger has, but she plays the part so well that it's actually quite sad when their romance doesn't have the happy ending Yodonna hoped for. Also making a guest appearance is Noritaka Hamao aka George Karizaki from Kamen Rider Revice – with some nice little references to said role thrown in during his short but memorable cameo.

A familiar (Fenix) faceTametomo returns

Truth be told the romance angle is actually quite sweet on paper, and there's definitely something to be said for the growing amount of representation these shows are having now by having Yodonna genuinely fall in love with a woman. But that said, the nature of the Yodonna makes it hard to necessarily take at face value. Though admittedly it isn't quite as violent or leery this time around, there are times were the presentation doesn't feel all that different. The multiple costume changes, the leering close-ups – that very specific fetish these specials exist to fulfil is still being catered for. As such when one of the biggest scenes of the special is a slow-motion close-up of Yodonna and Miko kissing it definitely feels like it's there to titillate first and foremost – as though this special wants to be remembered as "the time Yodonna made out with Flint's actress". If someone is able to find more value in that then fantastic, but while they continue open with big disclaimers (no matter how tongue-in-cheek they may be) about how they're "intended for adults and children shouldn't be watching" it also seems fair to approach them with a healthy degree of suspicion.

Not all of those costume changes are completely fanservice-driven though, and in the absence of any toys to flog Yodonna 3 surprises by giving her a new outfit/form for the final battle. Of course not being a typical tokusatsu protagonist it eschews tradition by actually being a scaled-down version of her usual attire, presumably allowing for far more freedom when it comes to action scenes. Said fight is just about what you'd expect from a Sakamoto production starring a female heroine, delivering some great fight choreography whilst also covering off his mandatory twirls and leg shots. The violence may be toned down compared to the previous specials but the collateral damage certainly isn't – it's not often you see the hero win the day inside a restaurant set completely ablaze during the fight.

HanidoraYodonna's new form

While Yodonna 3: Yodonna's Valentine might be a little more focussed than the previous specials, it's still the same brand of weird fever dream that makes you question why these things exist in the first place. There's a really wholesome story about Yodonna finding love in here – but it exists within such an obvious lens of fanservice and festishisation that it’s not so easy to perceive the motivations behind it as wholesome. It does however offer a nice little expansion on Yodonna and the world of Kiramager whilst offering some fun cameos, and with the ending (quite literally) offering a new lease of life on the character there may be scope for more one day – even if the idea of where Toei would go with it next is a little concerning.

1 comment:

M said...

I'm curious to see you doing a review of Kamen Rider Outsiders but who knows when it is going to end