Saturday 30 April 2016

Movie REVIEW: Shuriken Sentai Ninninger vs. ToQger

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger vs ToQger

The annual Super Sentai Versus Series team up movie is more than just a tradition, it's an event. The fact they come around every year might mean that crossovers aren't all that scarce or special in the tokusatsu world, but they all act as an end point for two shows that have (hopefully) captured audiences for the past two years. For the the current team it may only be until they return next year for a second crossover, but for the returning one this truly could be the end so its always important to make it a good one. 2015's entry into the series is Shuriken Sentai Ninninger vs. ToQger: Ninja in Wonderland, bringing ninjas and trains together in a film full of flash and imagination.

The Ninningers and ToQgers together

The Ninningers awaken to find themselves on a mysterious train, floating in and out of various elaborate dreams. As they begin to seemingly be picked off one by one in these dreams, five mysterious people appear within them to warn them it's a trap. The ToQgers have returned, and have been tasked with saving the ninja team from the clutches of the Shadow Line-powered Yokai Wanyūdō. However they're are unable to save Takaharu and he is taken to the Dark Doctor Mavro - a ninja-obsessed member of the Shadow Line.

Stealing Takaharu's nintality to produce the evil clone Dark Akaninger, Mavro plans to use it to flood the world in darkness. Takaharu himself is also in trouble, as he begins to find himself slowing fading away after Mavro's tampering. It's up to the combined forces of the Ninningers and the ToQgers to put a stop to the doctor's evil plans and save Takaharu before it's too late.

Takaharu slumbers on a Shadow Line train
Something about this seems awfully familiar...

One of the biggest problems cited when it comes to Super Sentai is uneven development between its six (or more) members, so when you consider that these crossovers are playing with double the cast on approximately an hour's running time it's not really a surprise that these things tend to come out rather red-centric. And while the main plot of Ninninger vs. ToQger is certainly that, the movie actually strikes a rather good balance and manages to get good use out of all its stars. The story might focus on Takaharu and Right, but in the lead up to the climax all the memorable scenes are provided by the rest of the characters. Meanwhile Emperor Mavro is an excellent addition to the Shadow Line - a gleefully insane villain boasting another of the great monster designs ToQger did so well.

The plot itself might not be the most original of things (hey look, another dark red ranger) but it does provide enough unique spins on the tired old tropes to hold everything together nicely. The two series' respective tones are extremely similar which allow both teams to stay firmly within their comfort zones while bouncing off of each other to increase the zaniness ten-fold. Those unwilling to fully embrace both show's eccentric comedy and special attacks might not have a particularly fun time with the movie, but for the rest will have fun seeing it constantly upping the ante in that respect.

Doctor Mavro and the dark Akaninger
Not to be confused with the Emperor of the Armada

Topping things off is of course the giant robot fight - a staple of all Super Sentai productions whether they be movies or episodes. However the one Ninninger vs. ToQger is truly a spectacle, and undoubtedly among the best the franchise has produced in recent years. A night time battle sequence is usually remarkable on its own, but this one also (rather appropriately) has bundles of imagination on its side. ToQger's use of Kuliners means more than just a blown-up version of the monster, while the interaction between the two series' respective mecha is both simple yet ingenuitive. It's a dazzling end to an already well done movie, and makes the fight feel more than just a Super Sentai trope that's just there to tick boxes.

The mecha
When the squad rolls in

However there is one big downside to this movie, and that's the notable absence of both show's extended casts - particularly in ToQger's case. There's no appearance from Gritta, Conductor or Wagon, along with only very minimal appearances from both Ticket and the child versions of the ToQgers. On the Ninninger side of things Kyuuemon is the only main villain to make a (rather fleeting and not very plot-centric) appearance, and both Tsumuji and Yoshitaka have similarly small roles. This minimalistic approach isn't just limited to characters either, as the Ninninger's Chozetsu mode only appears alongside Lion Ha-Oh and Hyper ToQ (both the powers and the mecha) are forgotten about altogether. One could argue that the restraint shown here allows for a tighter plot and more character focus and they would be making a very valid point, but at the same time the VS movies are an event that also acts as a "last hurrah" for the returning team. ToQger's strengths often lied in both its villains and its supporting cast just as much as the main team, so to forsake them does make it feel like they're going out on less of a bang than they perhaps deserve.

A versus movie isn't all goodbyes though - it also acts as a sneak preview hello to the latest team to join the Super Sentai franchise. The first appearance of the Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger follows in the footsteps of the last few cameos in that the team don't interact with their predecessors, however previous attempts of this are improved upon by being almost self-referential to that fact. The Zyuohgers' personalities lend themselves well to a team who don't really know who they're fighting against, and the battle itself provides a good laugh while impressively displaying each of their individual powers. The team also feel perfectly in character to their series' selves, which can often be a problem with these early cameo appearances.

The Zyuohgers
A new challenger approaches!

Given the lukewarm reception to Ninninger and the fandom's seemingly divisive stance on ToQger there are many people out there that probably won't even give Shuriken Sentai Ninninger vs. ToQger a proper look in. However give it a fair chance and you'll find that this film often defies expectations, comfortably earning its place as one of the better Super Sentai VS movies out there. Though it might not act as the most fitting send off to ToQger, it's still a highly enjoyable film that provides plenty of spectacle while at the same time maintaining a reasonably good balance between its 12 stars. A final treat for ToQger fans, and a shining example that not everything Ninninger-related was bad.

1 comment:

Lucas said...

At least this wasn't a Ninja Sentai-themed crossover first and a Ninninger and ToQger crossover dead last (looking at you, Kyoryuger vs Go-Busters)