Tuesday 18 February 2014

First Impressions: Ressha Sentai ToQger

Ressha Sentai ToQger

With Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger all said and done it's time to move on to a brand new year of Super Sentai. But how do you follow up such a popular motif like dinosaurs? With Japan's favourite mode of transportation of course! Hop aboard the imagination station with the train-themed Ressha Sentai ToQger (pronounced 'Tokkyuger'), a series which aims to appeal to the locomotive-obssesed collectors of Japan as well as kids.

Those with strong imaginations (mostly children) are able to see the Rainbow Line, a mystical railway where five giant colourful trains run piloted by five warriors - the ToQgers. The ToQgers fight against the Shadow Line, a group that use the power of fear and sadness to make their own railway line engulf the world in darkness. This episode sees Right (ToQ #1/Red) join the ranks of the ToQgers and childhood friends Tokatti (ToQ #2/Blue), Mio (ToQ #3/Yellow), Hikari (ToQ #4/Green) and Kagura (ToQ #5/Pink), all of whom seem to have memories of each other missing. Guiding them in their fight is the mysterious Conductor, along with his seemingly sentient hand puppet Ticket.

As per the norm for Super Sentai the first episode of a new series primarily focuses on the flash and gimmicks. While this is usually done to great effect, ToQger felt like one of the best looking shows in a long time. The simplistic look of the suits has been a divisive subject among the fanbase, but hopefully seeing them in motion will dispel any doubts about them. On the other hand, the Shadow Line generals (which are only seen very briefly in the episode) are complex and beautiful designs - their mechanical aesthetic and black/purple colour schemes juxtaposing wonderfully with the ToQgers bright colours. Miniature work has always been one of my favourite aspects of tokusatsu and here it works well in tandem with the CGI, with plenty of gorgeous rainbow line shots. I could honestly watch the ToQOh combination sequence repeatedly its so good.

As for the plot and characters we don't learn a whole lot other than the general setting and character archetypes, but one thing is certain - ToQger is going to be gloriously silly. While admittedly Kyoryuger wasn't one to shy away from silliness, ToQger fully embraces it and incorporates it much more into the narrative - featuring slapstick, visual gags and even a little bit of fourth-wall breaking. But despite its silliness, the episode takes quite a dark turn at the end, raising a lot of questions about our heroes and just why they in particular have been chosen to become ToQgers.

The episode also debuts the ToQgers rather unique gimmick - the ability to swap their colours depending on the train plugged into their ToQ Changer. It's a very memorable first appearance in that the ToQgers are completely new to it too, leading to a fight scene where they're very obviously just messing around with the powers while fighting. In general the fight scenes of this first episode suggest that the imagination power is going to play a big part in things both narrative-wise and as a source of humour - Kagura is definitely one to watch out for in this regard.

I'm more wary of first impressions now after loving the first episode of Kyoryuger and eventually getting burned out on it as the weeks went by, but I can't deny I'm very excited for ToQger. Everything just clicked perfectly, and the story is showing great potential to have some underlying depth even beyond the silliness. The hype train is about to leave the station, and I'm most definitely aboard.

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