Tuesday 9 August 2016

Movie REVIEW: Come Back! Shuriken Sentai Ninninger: Ninnin Girls vs. Boys FINAL WARS

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger: Ninnin Girls vs. Boys FINAL WARS

Though all Super Sentai series eventually come to an end, that doesn't mean that viewers have seen the last of that team just yet. While their final (save for the odd big movie crossover) appearance is usually reserved for the succeeding team's Vs. Series movie, the Returns V-Cinema release has also becoming something of an annual tradition in the past few years. These usually truly take place at the end of a show's timeline, acting as the end of their story while also throwing in a few new surprises as well. 2016 was the turn of Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, returning in the heftily titled Come Back! Shuriken Sentai Ninninger: Ninnin Girls vs. Boys FINAL WARS. While the general English-speaking consensus seems to be that Ninninger failed to impress, could one last outing be enough to turn some of that around?

The Ninningers return
One more WASSHOI

Two years after the defeat of Gengetsu Kibaoni and the death of their grandfather Yoshitaka Igasaki, the Ninningers have gone their separate ways to further their individual training. As the six return to the dojo to see how each other have progressed, the boys quickly find themselves under attack from remnant Yokai forces. However here to save the day are the Ninnin Girls - a popular new ninja idol troupe consisting of Fuuka and Kasumi! Managing them is none other than Sakurako Igasaki - Takaharu and Fuuka's estranged and equally ninja-obsessed mother!

As Sakurako becomes protective of the Ninnin Girls brand she's created, she challenges the boys to face against her idol group. If they lose, they must give up their swords, shurikens and stop calling themselves Igasaki clan members. What follows is a series of battles between the Igasaki girls and boys, as new members appear and Fuuka puts her training to the test against her brother. However, Ariake no Kata is also patiently waiting to take revenge against the Ninningers and rebuild the family that they destroyed.

Sakurako Igasaki
Mother knows best

Ask any viewer and they'll probably give you 101 different problems they had with Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, however one that they'll all agree on is how glossed over the family aspect of it felt. Here you have this renowned family of ninjas, yet next to no information on anyone outside the circle of characters that appeared in the show. Just how Takaharu and Fuuka's mother played into it all was a question that constantly came up - and its one that they've finally decided to answer in Ninnin Girls vs. Boys. Sakurako Igasaki is a popular "ninja producer", just as fanatical as her son but more obsessed with the popularity and idol side of it. This results in the creation of the Ninnin Girls - an extension of Fuuka's desire to become a ninja idol done in a more stereotypical idol sense. Cue Fuuka and Kasumi dressing up in silly looking frilly versions of their outfits, along with the new names of "Ninnin White" and "Ninnin Pink". Ninnin Girls vs. Boys may not feature singing and dancing to complete the whole idol aesthetic nor is it the first time Sentai has done such a thing, but it's definitely pushing it at a time where it couldn't feel more relevant.

However look past the silly setting and ridiculous costumes, and what you have is a story that thrusts the female team members into the spotlight for once. The film may essentially be Shuriken Sentai Ninninger Returns, but the plot itself is very much Fuuka's to own. Takaharu's antics were constantly the centre point of Ninninger, but here she gets to step out of her brother's shadow and prove her worth. And by doing so, it somehow feels like the rest of the team is better for it as well.

An animated outing
Pretty Shuriken Sentai Ninja Cure

One aspect of Ninnin Girls vs. Boys that was heavily advertised in the lead up to release was the inclusion of animated sequences of Fuuka and Kasumi, provided by the staff behind the Pretty Cure franchise and done in the same style. As interesting as this may seem (and perhaps the closest we'll get to a Super Sentai anime any time soon), this actually turns out to be one of the most forgettable aspects of the film. It's only one 30-second attack sequence (played twice), which doesn't really fit with the rest of the film other than as an attempt to tie on with some of the other vaguely ninja-related quirkiness going on. Don't go into this film expecting any memorable animated action, because you'll either be sorely disappointed or left wanting an animated Sentai outing all the more.

Another aspect of Ninninger that was sorely lacking was its villains, who for the most part seemed to sit around in a darkened room achieving very little in the grand scheme of things. The worst offender in all of this was undoubtedly Ariake no Kata, so it's great to see her taking charge in this film as she tries to resurrect her pushed aside son Mangetsu. Backing her up is also Juza Yumihari, who previously made a great impression as the villain in Ninninger's summer movie The Dinosaur Lord's Splendid Ninja Scroll. This isn't the only summer movie callback in the film either, with Dinomaru making an appearance for the mecha battle. It's no surprise when you realise both were written by the same person (Kento Shimoyama), and given that these are probably the two best bits of Ninninger fiction is great to see them so closely tied together.

Luna Kokonoe
Not the first Sentai idol named Luna

But of course the big draw of this movie is the addition of a brand new Ninninger, similar to the introduction of ToQ #7 in last year's Ressha Sentai ToQger Returns movie. Joining the Igasakis is Luna Kokonoe, who makes Super Sentai history as the first female green ranger Mido Ninger. Although Luna's introduction feels a little abrupt and half-hearted, the real reason behind her inclusion is to bring back a character far more familiar to viewers - Kyuemon, who was already arguably the best and most interesting character in Ninninger as a whole. The film may do an absolutely terrible job of clarifying just how long Luna is possessed by the spirit of Kyuemon, but once he makes his reappearance everything falls into place nicely. It's unfortunate that the Mido Ninger helmet is simply a recolour of Aka Ninger, but things like this come to be expected from Returns movies and it actually does tie into the mythos of the show pretty well - what with the green ninja intended to be the rival to the red ninja and all. Most importantly this is also something that was previously set up during Ninninger's finale, making it far more important/relevant than the obvious hook that was introduction of ToQ #7.

Momo Ninger
Green (no longer) with evil

Despite a bit of a daft set up and a little bit of time to get itself going, Come Back! Shuriken Sentai Ninninger: Ninnin Girls vs. Boys FINAL WARS reveals itself to be a pretty enjoyable movie and easily one of the best bits of Ninninger fiction out there (though admittedly the competition isn't exactly fierce). While maybe not quite as engaging as Kyoryuger's 100 Years Later or the frankly unbeatable Go-Busters vs. Go-Busters, this V-cinema offering embraces all the best parts of Ninninger while putting the female characters at the forefront of the story in a meaningful way for once. It's a shame it had to only come right at the end, but if there's any bit of Ninninger fiction that's worth watching again and again its this one.

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