Saturday 12 August 2017

Movie REVIEW: Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Returns: Give Me Your Life! Earth Champion Tournament

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Returns: Give Me Your Life! Earth Champion Tournament

It's amazing how fast time flies. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger's big 35th anniversary bash was a whole six years ago, which means now Super Sentai's 40th anniversary has now passed us as well. That said, Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger still has a few last hurrahs left in it - not just presumably from next year's vs. series movie but also their obligatory epilogue movie, Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Returns: Give Me Your Life! Earth Champion Tournament! When we last left the Zyuohgers quite a lot had changed for planet Earth, and we rejoin Yamato, Leo, Sela, Tusk, Amu and Misao as part of this brave new world.

The Zyuohgers return once againPocane Di Niro

Some time after the merging of the Earth and Zyuland, humans and Zyumans live peacefully together and the six Zyuohgers have all gone their separate ways. However the team are brought together once more when they're invited to participate in a fighting tournament to declare Earth's newest champion. Eager to live up to his title Misao accepts, with Yamato and Leo also joining. Sela also agrees, seeing it as a chance to finally have an even rematch with Leo.

As the tournament gets underway, Bard appears and reveals to Yamato that the tournament's mysterious host, Pocane De Niro, is not all what he seems. While Misao, Leo and Sela advance in the tournament, the remaining Zyuohgers have to infiltrate De Niro's betting palace and put a stop to the former Dethgalian's evil schemes.

Sela vs LeoThe Zyuohgers

If there's one thing Zyuohger Returns does well straight from the get-go, it's establishing its place at the very end of the show's timeline. When the initial outline for the film was first announced some fans assumed its tournament would revolve around humans and zyumans trying to live together in their new world, but instead it kicks off with the two species already living in perfect harmony. While the former plot might have made an enjoyable film, this set up fits Zyuohger's message about humans and animals coming together far better.

With a such a great starting point it's a shame that the film's character development isn't as even as it  could be. Some characters it manages to do exceptionally well, while others don't really play much of a significant role at all. The three characters that mainly benefit from the story are Misao, Leo and Sela - all of whom successfully build upon their development in the show and/or events that happened within it. The Misao here is cheerful and confident - a far cry from the mentally tortured hero he was when he first joined the team. Watching him come to accept himself and overcome his traumas was one of Zyuohger's biggest highlights, so seeing him living so happily now is equally satisfying. His subplot mainly revolves around his entry into the tournament and eventual face off against Lilian, a rhinoceros Zyumen also vying to become Champion. Although their interactions get off to a bad start with two cliche "accidental pervert" gags, the direction the plot heads in is much better - eventually not just giving Misao the happy ending he's always deserved but playing that one obvious direction Zyuohger was yet to go down.

Misao vs LilianSela challenges Leo

Meanwhile Leo and Sela's storyline runs a bit deeper, building upon their fight in episode four and Leo holding back against Sela just because she's a woman. Though the plot point isn't something that came up particularly often in Zyuohger, it's an important part of Sela's character - she wants to be seen as an equal, and not just someone who "needs protecting" simply because of her gender. With the current rise in female action heroes and further push for equality this message couldn't have come at a better time. Even though it's just a subplot this conflict really is at the heart of Zyuohger Returns, which just goes to show how strong the show's characters really were. Even when it might not be the main focus of the film, it's their struggles that the viewer really cares about.

Unfortunately for the other characters there isn't quite as much to praise. Tusk and Amu both opt out of participating in the tournament, while Yamato is quickly pulled out of the action to help Bard in his investigation of Di Niro. Tusk had plenty of focus episodes in the series so him taking a backseat here isn't a huge loss, but Amu is the one character that's a bit lacking throughout. While she may have had her own solo bit in Chou Super Hero Taisen, it would have been nice to get little bit more about her or her backstory in the show itself. Unlike those two Yamato plays a big part in getting the story movie, but none of it really adds to his character. It is however nice to see him working properly alongside Bard, and in turn for Bard to have a substantial role in the movie at all. Shame that the film couldn't have found a way to bring Larri back in some way as well. But all this doesn't mean that the film still doesn't have fun with these characters - the scenes of Yamato, Tusk and Amu infiltrating Di Niro's casino incognito are Sentai silliness at its best and exactly the kind of humour Zyuohger has always done so well at.

Yamato, Amu and Tusk in disguisePocane's human form

As far as everything else goes it's pretty much business as usual for a Super Sentai Returns movie. Pocane Di Niro is an enjoyable, though rather forgettable, villain for the film and his motivations of games for profit is a nice twist of the Dethgalian's senseless blood games. In usual fashion the fallen generals get to make a brief return, with even the extremely short-lived Jagged making an appearance and being the butt of the film's best joke. Given that the guy died in the very first episode, I'd almost forgotten that the guy was of any real importance as well. Truth be told though ensuing action scenes as enjoyable as ever, they're actually one of the less engaging parts of the film. And maybe this is a good thing, because it means Zyuohger has reached its satisfying conclusion. While stories of their newly merged world might sound interesting, as superheroes they've fought hard and to add anything else now is just unnecessary.

With this film coming long after the toys have ceased production and Bandai have moved onto Kyuranger, it's ironic that Zyuohger Returns acts as a far better advertisement for Cube Condor than The Heart Pounding Circus Panic! ever managed to be. While the summer movie exclusive mecha may not be the focal point it was there, both it and its owner Perle both play a large part in the film and Condor responsible for some of its key action sequences - even appearing in place of more prominent animals like Cube Whale. The film's big moment however is of course the appearance of Zyuoh Condor - a third bird-themed Zyuohger that continues Sentai's newfound love for regular purple ranger appearances. Many will likely be disappointed to hear that this isn't a brand new member to the Zyuohger roster (though arguably there weren't that many suitable candidates), but his appearance is handled in a unique way that not only keeps Cube Condor's abilities special, but also keeps the overuse of Zyuoh Eagle repaints somewhat sensible.

Zyuoh CondorCube Condor joins the fight

Not straying too far away from the status quo has always been what Zyuohger did best, but Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Returns: Give Me Your Life! Earth Champion Tournament certainly offers a very different landscape to what we usually see at the end of a Super Sentai series. In terms of structure though it's pretty much business as usual, and what the film lacks in even development it makes up for in some fantastic moments that build upon the series itself. Most of all though it's just plain old fun, which is arguably the main criteria for these epilogues now that the threat of the main villain is long behind us. Even with a Kyuranger crossover looming in 2018, Zyuohger Returns is a fitting end to the latest animal Sentai and the 40th anniversary as a whole.

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