Tuesday 27 December 2016

Movie REVIEW: Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger the Movie: The Heart Pounding Circus Panic!

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger the Movie - The Heart Pounding Circus Panic

2016 might have been billed as Super Hero Year, but as far as the summer goes it was the same standard fare for both Kamen Rider and Super Sentai as the two franchises appeared in their usual cinematic double bill. This year it was the turn of Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger and Kamen Rider Ghost, who also crossed into each other's series earlier in the year for a quick cameo. Zyuohger's summer movie was entitled The Heart Pounding Circus Panic!, and had a running time of only 28 minutes - not much longer than your average television episode.

Circus music intensifies

The circus is in town and you can bet that the Zyuohgers want to see it! However this circus is particularly special, as it turns out to be run by a group of fellow Zyuman. But just as the show reaches its finale they are interrupted by Domidoll - the self-proclaimed ringleader of the space circus. As part of his plan to turn the universe into a giant circus stage, Domidoll kidnaps both the Zyuman troupe and the children in the audience - planning to use their fear as an energy source to destroy the Earth.

After the Zyuohgers are swiftly defeated by Domidoll and an enslaved Cube Condor, Amu, Sela, Tusk and Leo quickly join the evil ringleader's list of captives. With only Yamato and Misao left, it's up to the human Zyuohgers to free their comrades and put an end to Domidoll's plans.

Zyuoh Eagle
Yamato gets serious

Ever since Super Sentai and Kamen Rider began sharing a summer movie spot it's fair to say that Super Sentai has been on the short end of the stick, receiving "movies" around 30 minutes in length that barely have enough time for development while Rider gets a full feature-length production. On occasion Super Sentai has been able to come out with a movie that feels like something more than just a slightly longer episode, buy admittedly it isn't often. Unfortunately The Heart Pounding Circus Panic! isn't one of those times, and Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger has come away with one of the most forgettable summer movies in recent years.

Plot-wise it's about as basic as you can get - new villain turns up, kidnaps some kids and wants to harness their tears/fear/insert emotion here to destroy the planet. Sure there's the whole circus theme surrounding it, but ultimately it doesn't really add that much to the whole thing outside a nicely designed monster suit and a circus show montage at the beginning. Here you have a cast where two thirds of which are humanoid animals, along with a villain that looks like an animal tamer and absolutely nothing interesting is done with it. It's almost as if the furtherest Zyuohger wants to take the whole Zyuman element is to throw some actors in cheap masks and be done with it. Misao seems to barely feature in the film at all, which is bit disappointing considering the character had already been around for a fair bit in the show by the time the movie was released. Super Sentai movies are rarely anything special but they usually at least have some element that at least tries to make them feel it. The Heart Pounding Circus Panic! doesn't have any of this, at best it just feels like well-made filler that simply acts as a pre-show for the (presumably) far more interesting Kamen Rider Ghost movie.

The most money animal mask salesmen have ever made

There's also of course the annual summer movie toy to sell, which in this case is Cube Condor - a retool of Zyuoh Gorilla that can also combine with Cubes Tiger and Elephant to become Condor Wild. The film gets most of its advertising out of the way at the very beginning with the opening mecha fight, with Cube Condor only really prominently returning at the very end to provide the finishing blow. But even then the Cube remains a focal point of the film as the best friend of Perle, a child in the Zyuman Circus.

One area the film does thankfully deliver on though is the visuals. While not necessarily any better than what the show has to offer, Zyuohger has been pretty good on the action front and this movie is no exception. Kicking things off immediately with a mecha battle is a nice way to shake the format up a bit (even if the context that follows afterwards is underwhelming) and despite that bold opening the concluding mecha fight doesn't lose any of its edge. The same goes for the small-scale fight scenes, which show off some good choreography as the individual Zyuohgers show off their animalistic powers. It's the kind of film that when you sit down and watch you'll get easily sucked in by the bright colours, explosions and action sequences, but soon quickly realise that flash is all it really has to offer.

Condor Wild
Why didn't the toy have cool wings?

However the film isn't completely without its references to Super Sentai's 40 year history, although you'll really need a keen eye to catch them. The film rather impressively has one reference to every Super Sentai series that came before Zyuohger - ranging from background appearances of past weapons to flyers, signs and even cameos from some of the franchise's more prominent animal characters. These are of course Dekaranger's Doggie Kruger, Gekiranger's Master Shafu, Kyoryuger's Torin and ToQger's Ticket - all of whom show up during the end credits dance sequence. Good luck finding them though, because with the exception of Ticket they really all are blink and you'll miss it cameos. From a fan perspective it does add that little bit extra to the movie to sit down and try and find everything, but it doesn't particularly make the film any more exciting to sit through.

Ticket's cameo
The easiest cameo to spot

2016 marked the 40th anniversary of the Super Sentai franchise, and one would think that a milestone like that would be celebrated with something special. I don't think anyone is expecting Gokaiger level theatrics every five years, but at least something that stands out from the usual antics Super Sentai puts on every year. Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger the Movie: The Heart Pounding Circus Panic! isn't just another entry in the franchise's underwhelming line of summer movies, it's one of the most underwhelming yet - offering less than a standard Zyuohger episode does with a wafer-thin plot, rushed story and forgettable new characters. While the true anniversary stuff has most likely been held back for Zyuohger vs. Ninninger, this is a film that should have been so much more no matter how you look at it.

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