Tuesday 12 January 2016

Movie REVIEW: Shuriken Sentai Ninninger the Movie: The Dinosaur Lord's Splendid Ninja Scroll!

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger the Movie: The Dinosaur Lord's Splendid Ninja Scroll!

It's still a few weeks from it's finale, but at this point it seems fair to say that in general Shuriken Sentai Ninninger is a series that hasn't resonated all that well with Super Sentai's English-speaking fanbase. But why exactly this is the case is a subject left for a review of the series as a whole, so for now let's cast our minds back to summer 2015, when Shuriken Sentai Ninninger the Movie: The Dinosaur Lord's Splendid Ninja Scroll! was released in Japanese cinemas alongside Kamen Rider Drive: Surprise Future. 

The Ninningers prepare to transform
Ninningers on tour!

It's summer homework time for the Ninningers! The Igasakis are sent by their grandfather to help liberate a hidden shinobi village under attack from the Kibaoni Corps' samurai warlord Juza Yamihari. Upon successfully helping the village's lord Tatsunosuke Hakkaku escape, the team are surprised by what they find. Not only is the lord inexplicably unmotivated and depressed, but a curse has also transformed him into a dinosaur.

With Hakkaku in hiding, the next step is for the Ninningers to return to the village and defeat Juza Yamihari once and for all. However Yamihari has his own plans, hoping to locate the power of an "evil dragon" that is said to be found within the village. Can the Ninningers win? And will Hakkaku be able to get out of his slump to come and protect his village?

Tatsunosuke Hakkaku
Still better than the dinosaurs in Kyoryuger vs Go-Busters...

While my overall opinions on Ninninger are best saved for a series review, it was clear from my first impressions feature last year that I was at the very least impressed with the show's first episode. And while has changed rather significantly over time, a lot of what made that first episode really shines through in this movie. It opens with a blisteringly good (if short-lived) sequence of the Ninningers storming the village - complete with wall-climbing, great action and impressive fight choreography. The traditionalist "ninja village" setting the film has is a nice contrast from the modern day scenery of the series, making it feel both unique and special in terms of the backdrop. The traditional ninja aesthetic is hardly something that's untouched by Super Sentai, but sparing it from the bulk of Ninninger to use it here was probably a wise move.

Juza Yamihari also makes for a great villain - cold, ruthless and devoid of any humour whatsoever. The Kibaoni General designs have been one of the highlights of Ninninger, and Yamihari looks like he could fit right alongside them as something more impressive than just a plain old monster of the week.

Juza Yamihari
You have failed to save this city...

Of course all that potential is wasted because this is a Super Sentai summer movie, and these will continue to have wasted potential while they have a ridiculous running time which is equal to that of a standard episode. It’s been said before in these reviews and will almost inevitably be said again, but that only thing making these remotely “movie” like other than being a little bit flashier is that they are shown in cinemas. Being double-billed with the actually feature-length Kamen Rider films just makes them seem like warm-up acts. Would you consider the shorts that accompany Pixar films “movies” in their own right? Or those Pikachu shorts that go in front of the various Pokemon movies? The comparison isn’t quite so fair when you consider all the promotion and merchandising that goes into the Super Sentai summer film, but on face value it really doesn’t seem all that different.

Essentially, The Dinosaur Lord’s Splendid Ninja Scroll feels like a bunch of action sequences with a few sentences of exposition added in between to create a story. The Ninningers' initial infiltration of the castle lasts all of two minutes at the very beginning, despite the promotional footage for the film making it seem like one its biggest set pieces. The team leave and almost immediately come back, dropping off a severely underdeveloped Hakkaku who's backstory is shoehorned in within a few sentences because there isn't enough time to show it. The subsequent fight sequences at the village still have a decent amount of flare to them, but aren't anywhere near as dazzling as the one at the very beginning. Topics such as Hakkaku's depression and the "evil dragon" feel so glossed over that they may as well not be there at all, leaving you to wonder if would have just been simpler to have the Lord be an actual dinosaur rather than a cursed human. Far stranger things have happened in Super Sentai.

"We think we want you to buy this. Even we aren't really sure!"

Crammed in right at the very end is of course Dinomaru, this year’s movie exclusive mecha. Unlike the previous year where fans were treated to entirely new robot (albeit a retool of ToQOh), this time we’re back to an auxiliary robot which can also become the core component of the combined mecha. Even if you didn’t ignore Toei’s usual brand of jarring CGI, there’s very little to say about Dinomaru. It shows up, goes on a rampage for all of two minutes before combining with Shurikenjin and finishing off Yamihari in two attacks. It feels underwhelming as both a climax to the film AND as an advertisement for the toy.

Shurikenjin Dino
A dinosaur tail drill-sword thing? Never seen that one before.

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger the Movie: The Dinosaur Lord’s Splendid Ninja Scroll isn’t a bad film. It carries all the pomp and flashiness that the series has, and by placing it in a more ninja-like setting somehow makes it shine all the more. But aesthetics can only carry it so far, and the wafer-thin plotline is unlikely to leave any sort of real impression sadly. It’s unfortunate that this is once again due to Super Sentai getting the short end of the stick in the summer movie format, but until anything changes (which it won’t, given how this format has been going on for well over a decade) the subject will keep coming up. For adult fans this is certainly better than your average episode of Ninninger, but perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good.

No comments: