Tuesday 24 February 2015

First Impressions: Shuriken Sentai Ninninger

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger

Super Sentai isn't a franchise to shy away from using the same theme multiple times. After recently hitting the hat-trick for dinosaurs with Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, 2015 marks the third use of ninjas with Shuriken Sentai Ninninger. With declining ratings and toy competition from the non-stop juggernaut that is Yo-Kai Watch, it isn't all that surprising Toei are playing it safe again with a motif that's proved a success in the past. After the final two episodes of Ressha Sentai ToQger were pushed back due to television coverage of tragic world news, Ninninger premiered a week later than originally intended on 22nd February. With that date actually marking "Ninja day" in Japan, it's surprising it wasn't meant to start that day anyway.

This first episode, entitled "We Are Ninja", turned out to be an incredibly fast-paced one - quickly skimming through the main plot and introducing almost all of the team's arsenal at once. The story goes that back in the Sengoku Period of Japan the evil warlord Gengetsu Kibaoni was slain by the Igasaki Ninja clan, vowing to return as a Youkai 444 years later and take over. His return was eventually thwarted by Yoshitaka Iwasaki (known as the Last Ninja), who imprisoned him using 48 sealing shuriken. However this revival wasn't the one originally promised, and three generations later Yoshitaka's grandchildren must master the Shuriken Ninja Arts to become Ninningers. They are Takaharu Igasaki (AkaNinger), his younger sister Fuka (ShiroNinger) and their cousins Yakumo Kato (AoNinger), Yagi Matsuo (KiNinger) and Kasumi Momochi (MomoNinger).

With Ninninger taking the slogan "Shinobi, but not hidden", you've probably already guessed that this isn't a group of ninjas that are going to be typically silent and stealthy. Like most Super Sentai openers this is a suitably flashy episode, opening with an extended Aka Ninger fight sequence rather than the usual opening sequence. The fight sequences are fast paced and well choreographed, with the heroes performing all sorts of flips and ninja trickery. The team are as you'd expect a more comical Sentai to be - with a special focus on Takaharu and his dedication to the ninja arts. Red-centricity is nothing new for Super Sentai, but hopefully this show will handle it more like ToQger and less like Kyoryuger. Following that we only really get a good idea of Fuka's personality, but the other three still have the odd moments to get their basic character traits across. Ninninger has clearly taken influence from the previously ninja-themed Kakuranger and Hurricaneger, as well as family-oriented teams GoGo-V  and Magiranger with a little bit of Shinkenger thrown into the mix too. That's a pretty great blend - and this episode brought out the best elements of all of them while also bringing something fresh too.

But as impressive as the Ninninger fight sequences were, the episode really belonged to that incredible mecha sequence. Ninninger doesn't just feature an interesting and diverse range of mecha components that homage a number of older Sentai shows - it also takes the suit work to a whole new level. Seeing Shinobimaru (Aka Ninja's humanoid mecha) perform all sorts of rolls and flips is just an incredible thing to behold, opening all sorts of possibilities for future battles. And then there's Shurikenjin himself, which features Shinobimaru OPERATING LEVERS AND PEDALS to make the larger robot work. The detailing and ingenuity that went into Ninninger's mecha is just mindblowing - Go-Busters already has a serious contender on its hands. 

But as highly enjoyable as it was, there were a few things that stuck out for me personally. As mentioned earlier the pacing of this episode was INCREDIBLY fast, to the point where a lot of the things being introduced felt somewhat rushed. Both the individual mecha and Shurikenjin could have easily been held back until the second episode, giving this one more of a chance to expand the plot and focus more on the Ninninger fight scenes. But time is money and there are toys to sell, and with the toys having already coming out a week earlier than the show this probably worked out for the best. The main villains got very little focus this episode - Gengetsu himself only really popping up once and his subordinate Kyuemon Izayoi mostly skulking around. The designs are pretty good (though not ToQger levels of great) but the story behind them is pretty generic demon Sengoku stuff that's been done hundreds of times before. Still, with so little to go off here things could very easily change.

Finally there's the matter of ShiroNinger, whose jokes felt far more forced than the other comic moments of the episode. The idea that Fuka is just as goofy as her brother and father definitely works, but a banana peel joke? Maybe not so much. This was then followed by her inability to control Wanmaru (who is awesome if not a little pointless in the Shurikenjin combo), which would have worked for me better if it had been followed by the awesome dog mecha doing something badass. At the end of the day this is a kids show and children will surely LOVE those jokes, but they stuck out to me as the only times the well-timed humour fell pretty flat.

Despite me having a few issues here and there that I felt the need to air, this was another really strong opening episode for Super Sentai and Shuriken Sentai Ninninger is showing some real promise. Even if the story is lacking a little bit now, the incredible visuals were more than enough to make up for it. If this level of action is what we get when ninjas decide not to hide and get all colourful, then maybe more should start taking the same approach as well.

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