Monday 16 February 2015

Series REVIEW: Ressha Sentai ToQger

Ressha Sentai ToQger

As a tokusatsu fan there's nothing that quite makes me realise how fast a year goes by then when a currently airing series ends - especially in the case of Super Sentai. With the yearly switchover happening less than two months into the new year it's always a sign that the new year has properly kicked in, and this time it's the turn of the 38th entry in the franchise - Ressha Sentai ToQger. Following on from the successful (in terms of toy sales anyway) dinosaur-themed Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, ToQger takes on something very close to the hearts of the Japanese for it's motif - trains! However it's not just limited to this popular form of public transport, also taking on rainbows, light and imagination to form the core of what the show is all about. So not another dark Sentai show then.

There exists a mystical railways known as the Rainbow line, which can only be seen by those possessing great imagination. Protectors of the light, they are opposed by the Shadow Line - who seek to extend their influence by plunging areas in darkness using residents' fears and sadness. Through doing so the Shadow Line will also be able to awaken their Emperor, Z, who in turn will consume all light in the world so that only the darkness remains.

The ToQgers
Mio, Tokatti, Right, Hikari, Kagura & Akira

As a means of combatting the Shadow Line, the Rainbow line appoints five individuals to become it's warriors - the ToQgers. Right, Tokatti, Mio, Hikari and Kagura are all childhood friends, also fighting to regain missing memories of their hometown after it was swallowed by the Shadow Line. As they fight against the darkness they are eventually joined by Akira - a shadow who has turned his back on his past to fight alongside the ToQgers as their sixth member. Uncovering their lost memories also reveals that there is far more to why to these five were chosen to become ToQgers, with the Rainbow Line holding a secret that could change their lives forever.

If that short description doesn't give you a good idea about the general tone of ToQger, from the very first episode we also have a conductor that screams "IMAGINATION" at the top of his voice, a sentient monkey puppet on the hand of said conductor, a pink ranger that can become super strong simply by believing it and a cannon that shoots a variety of unusual objects to destroy the monster of the week. So yes, ToQger is an extremely kid-friendly Super Sentai series that revels in it's silliness and is all the stronger for it. Sadly that tone isn't for everyone and while airing ToQger definitely had it's fair share of detractors, but to be honest if you're complaining that a children's show about brightly coloured superheroes is too kiddy that you're perhaps in the wrong fandom.

Conductor, Ticket, Wagon and the Rainbow Line President
Letting the picture speak for itself here

But this kid-friendliness isn't just for the sake of appeasing it's target audience, it's also cleverly woven into the show's storyline in a way that completely justifies every ridiculous move it makes. There's a very good reason that mainly only children can see the Rainbow Line, and it doesn't take a genius to connect the dots and work out why our five heroes were chosen to become ToQgers. It takes very good storytelling to deliver an predictable twist, yet still reveal it in a satisfying way. The main characters are all childish and silly in their own ways, but each one has their own little bit of backstory and development (though in typical Super Sentai fashion, some get multiple episodes dedicated to it and others are left with one or two). So as you can expect Right gets most of the focus by being ToQ #1 (aka the red one), but even then the show still nicely manages to hold together it's team dynamic. Right is the strongest and is part of all the show's big moments, but he isn't quite the infallible show-stealer Daigo was in Kyoryuger. He makes mistakes, his friends call him out on these and the mid-season power-up doesn't solely belongs to him. With the importance the show places on friendship a little more balance could have certainly been better, but what we did get certainly wasn't bad.

The Shadow Line
Madame Noir, General Schwarz and Baron Nero of the Shadow Line

But like some of the other more recent Super Sentai entries, ToQger proves that it isn't always the heroes that are most interesting characters. In addition to sporting some of the most intricate and best looking costume designs (along with Grita, who's something different alright), the Shadow Line are often more engaging than the heroes we're supposed to be rooting for. When a show has a group of villains one turning out to be a scheming backstabber isn't that uncommon, but amongst the ranks of the Shadows there's two schemers, two fiercely loyal servants and even a semi-unrequited love story. For a group that's only made up of six characters, that's some really nice variety. With the ToQgers horribly outclassed almost every time they go up against a Shadow Line general (it's good that the villains don't lose their edge to the very end, but it gets incredibly stale after about halfway into the show), their infighting is what keeps things interesting - especially with a good clash of personalities. A honourable general, a lovesick child, a loyal mother - not the kind of things you'd usually expect among the ranks of the bad guys. Even Z himself has a lot more to him than your typical "evil emperor of darkness". I'd even go as far to say he's the most tragic character of the show, wanting to almost escape his heritage in favour of "shining" only to have darkness constantly thrust upon him at every turn by fate.

Emperor of Darkness Z
I actually feel sorry for the guy

Then there's the matter of the "filler" episodes, which are always a major factor in making or breaking a fan's enjoyment of this kind. I'm not a huge fan of the term "filler" myself, but for those who don't know what I mean it's the episodes that don't necessarily advance the plot in any way. In annual franchises like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, there's usually a fair amount of these each series. The main problem with ToQger's is that they seem to come at the most inopportune times. With so many interesting revelations about the ToQgers and all the treachery going with the Shadow Line, there's nothing more disheartening than having the story halted temporarily just as it seems it's coming to a head. These episodes also massive vary in terms of quality - ToQger offers some amazing laugh out loud one-shots, but then other episodes will likely leave you completely cold. An upside to though is that the really good ones are dotted throughout the series, so you won't be done with them all right away nor will you have to trudge through the bulk of it to make your way to the good stuff.

Upon ToQger's initial reveal many were disappointed by the simplicity of both the costumes and the mecha, and if you're one who looks for a bit more intricacy in the designs than this is another aspect that could prove an issue. Though ToQger presents a very interesting gimmick in having the team able to alternate their colours, the suits are very simple in design and not to everyone's tastes. Likewise the mecha aren't that complicated either, with the robots largely made up on trains connected side by side with little transforming involved. Things do get a little more interesting as the show progresses, not just through big robot combos that rival those seen in both Go-Onger and Shinkenger but also the introduction of an orange ranger - the first in Super Sentai since 1979's Battle Fever J. Colour trumps complexity, and hopefully the flashy visuals that accompany this might be enough to persuade you that this isn't always a bad thing.

There's no point pretending this didn't happen, so let's snicker and move on...

Ressha Sentai ToQger is a series that rarely broke the mould for Super Sentai, but did everything you'd expect a children's show about colourful superheroes powered by trains and imagination to do and more. Despite its flaws ToQger is a show that fully embraces its motifs, gimmicks and absurdity in every way possible - through the aesthetic, the story and perhaps most importantly the characters. The look and how it often comes dangerously close to being too silly for it's own good may deter some, but give the show the chance it deserves and you'll no doubt find it a rewarding watch.


Anonymous said...

I watch it and find that its not that bad, I actually liking it from the very first episode, well and I'm quite agree with your review(most of it)

SteCasseKing said...

A 4/5 for ToQer O.o, that's different. most people including myself see it as the bottom of the barrel of sentai shows. not hard to see why with the childishness of the characters and the shoehorning in of concepts like the train mecha that makes it look absolutely horrible.

Stephen Cassat said...

I honestly believe that Toqger is one of the better sentai in recent memory. It had everything that you could ever want. And it had one of the best premises. The best people out there are those who are older now than they remember, but they still retain their great sense of childish wonder and IMAGINATION. As in the words of the great Albert Einstein "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, imagination embraces the entire world.

Chris(tian) said...

I finished the series and the movie last week. This page sums my feelings up perfectly.

Neko-Nyan said...

Someone is mad lol

Myriad said...

I'm put off by ToQger's overwhelming childishness. It's just so hard to watch——the suit designs, the morphers, the Megazord, the characters. It's too much.