Friday 10 January 2014

Series REVIEW: Shougeki Gouraigan

Shougeki Gouraigan does Super Sentai

Every so often its nice to write about a modern tokusatsu production that isn't Super Sentai or Kamen Rider. With Garo creator Keita Amemiya taking a back seat for the franchise's latest installment, what has the prolific director/character designer been up to? Well, he's teamed up with equally well-known (but perhaps not as well regarded these days) writer Toshiki Inoue (who has contributed to numerous Sentai and Rider shows) to create Shougeki Gouraigan - a brand new show which was described as a "love comedy battle hero" show. Sounds interesting right?

The human cast of Shougeki Gouraigan
Hitomi with the completely forgettable supporting cast

In a world parallel to our own, there is a place known as the Chou Shinkai, ruled over by the Shinkai King. Beings known as Hikaribito inhabit this place, along with strange monsters known as Magii. Hikaribito that commit acts of evil are designated Kagaribito, and are sentenced to live in exile. A Hikaribito named Gou travels on his ship, the Bunba, to deliver the Kagaribito to the land of exile, however on the way there is a prison break. Among the escapees is Gou's former friend Jin, who proclaims that 1000 soldiers will arrive on Earth in 100 days to destroy it.

After arriving on Earth and disguising himself with a human form, Gou begins to seek out recruits to make a team of five people to stop this oncoming threat. He finds Shou, Geki, Rai and Gan - four Hikaribito that have come to Earth and are living in secret. The five also make friends with a girl named Hitomi, who is cursed with the unfortunate ability to see both the Magii that have come to Earth and the Hikaribito in their true forms. As the team battle Magii in preparation for the attack, Jin is making his own plans. Not only that, but a woman from Gou and Jin's past proves to be an obstacle in the way of saving the day.

An example of the show's bizarre humour
Just your average day at the hot springs

That's the main crux of the plot anyone, but no one would blame you if you forgot all about it less than a few episodes in. The first five episodes are each dedicated to introducing the main characters one by one, but following that the show quickly falls into very random territory. It becomes all about the five Hikaribito adjusting to life on Earth, going on adventures to find out what sushi is or taking a random trip to a nearby hot spring. It deals in very surreal humour that relies on seeing these elaborate costumes in everyday situations, and while quite often it isn't very funny there is something oddly charming about these episodes. The episodes all round off with a fight sequence, initially with Gou fighting against the Hikaribito to recruit them and then against the various Magii they encounter. Amemiya gets a chance to go all out with these segments, showcasing just how beautiful the costumes are and creating strange CGI backgrounds to accompany them. As an adult show, there are also boobs abound throughout Shougeki Gouraigan.

Jetman's Black Condor returns!
"Where's your sax Gai?"

Playing main villain Jin is Sentai legend Toshihide Wakamatsu, aka Gai Yuki/Black Condor from Chōjin Sentai Jetman. While it's great to see Wakamatsu in another role, Jin's character is frankly awful. He has minimal input into the episodes, and when he does appear its mostly him brooding as his secretary inappropriately touches herself. This only gets worse with the proper introduction of Rin, turning the show away from its offbeat comedy into a deadly-serious love triangle between Rin, Jin and Gou. Suddenly all the episodes are played completely straight without any real investment in the characters, making Rin feel like nothing but a horrible plot vacuum that is solely to blame for the very worst parts of the show.

Rin, Gou and Jin together
I ruin plots!

However it does manages to pull it together for a blistering finale, showcasing the best aspects of the two minds behind it. With Rin out of the picture, the original plot finally has a chance to move forward (it's a bit late coming at episode 13, but it's something I guess) and Amemiya's beautiful visuals are on top form. The show also gets another chance at being a sneaky Sentai parody, with the team briefly gaining intricately detailed suits while battling in a giant robot. Wonderful stuff.

The team adorn more traditional toku suits for the finale
Shougeki Sentai Gouraiganger?

Shougeki Gouraigan certainly isn't a series for everyone, and even those who are willing to sit through all 13 episodes are unlikely to be particularly impressed. Despite having an interesting (if a little cliche) premise, the story soon gets bogged down by dumb humour, which in turn then gets replaced with a vapid love triangle which never seems to end. Visually the suits and action sequences are fantastic, but their use is so fleeting even they are hard to give massive amounts of praise to. It's certainly an interesting series, but that doesn't really make it a good one.

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