Friday 25 August 2017

Movie REVIEW: Space Squad: Gavan vs. Dekaranger

Space Squad: Gavan vs Dekaranger

Crossovers can be a strange thing. Sometimes they can pair up the most unexpected of things (take the recent DC Comics/Looney Tunes crossover for example) and others are such perfect match ups that you can’t believe they didn’t happen sooner. The pairing of Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger and Space Sheriff Gavan definitely counts as the latter. After the roaring success of their 10 Years After special, the space-cop Super Sentai team are back once again and teaming up with the new Gavan, Geki Jumonji – who took on the mantle in the 2012 Gavan movie and subsequently appeared in Super Hero Taisen Z as well as the Next Generation Sharivan and Shaider movies. Space Squad: Gavan vs. Dekaranger isn’t just a match made in heaven, it’s one with its sights set on the wider Sentai and Metal Heroes universes as well.

Gavan vs Mad GallantSpace Sheriff Gavan, Geki

While chasing down an intergalactic arms deal, Geki and his partner Shelly are lured into a trap by Juspion’s resurrected foe Mad Gallant – now leading a branch of the mysterious Genmakuu Syndicate. Not only is the new Gavan humiliated in battle, but Shelly is shot and taken by a mysterious assailant. Removed from the case due to his thirst for vengeance, Geki goes rogue and turns to the Dekarangers for help.

Together the two branches of space police investigate Mad Gallant’s scheme, taking them from a diaper factory all the way to another dimension where a long fallen evil is about to rise again. Can the combined forces of the Dekarangers and Gavan defeat the Genmakuu? And will Gavan be able to best Mad Gallant’s sword skills?

Sen & Umeko's WeddingThe cast of Space Squad

One of the biggest advantages to Dekaranger’s more episodic storytelling was that while the show was still able to end with a higher stakes battle, there was no finite ending to it. Whereas most Super Sentai series end with the team defeating the evil they came together to defend against in the first place, this was just a particularly bad day for the Dekarangers. Characters were promoted and the team dynamic shifted, but as 10 Years After proved there are still plenty of stories to tell. It’s a shame that Ban’s new position doesn’t properly integrate him back into the team until the very end, but for the other Dekarangers it really seems that the more things change the more they stay the same. Picking up where 10 Years After left off the relationship between Umeko and Sen plays a big part in the story, and we get to see the two characters finally tie the knot. All of the show’s main players are back, with both Tetsu and Doggie getting in on the action in-suit as well.

But with the Dekarangers as the veterans of this story, it’s Geki’s character development that’s central to this story. Even though it’s been five years since his debut the new Gavan can still be quite a difficult character to get on with at times in terms of personality. His brash, impulsive nature is a lot more bearable in Sentai reds because at least there they’re playing off characters, but Gavan is more of a solo player. So having him rely on a team is a big step towards humbling him, preparing him to be the Space Sheriff Retsu knew he always could be as well as something bigger. You don’t need the characters constantly reminding you to know that Geki is essentially what Ban was like at the beginning of Dekaranger, so to now see Ban in a position of authority mentoring someone else is a fantastic evolution of his character. Just as Ban was brought to position where he can now competently lead the Fire Squad, here Geki not only becomes the Space Sheriff Retsu knew he could become but also the leader of something bigger – the Space Squad. Retsu himself isn’t quite done yet either, and though not as prominent as he used to be continues to be a big part of Geki’s growth while being just as badass as ever. Kenji Ohba truly is a tokusatsu treasure.

The Dekarangers returnKenji Ohba as Retsu Ichijoji

With the villains also comes a second Metal Heroes element – incorporating Juspion antagonists Mad Gallant and Satan Goth into the mix as well. Even without any prior knowledge of the show (which isn’t in any way essential viewing to follow Space Squad), Mad Gallant immediately oozes the kind of presence you know doesn’t come from an all-new character. Not once but twice is he able to completely overcome Gavan, and it’s a testament to just how striking the suit design that it remains barely unchanged from his original appearance back in 1985. Even when the villain is needlessly unmasked, the two distinctly different personas work together to create something really memorable. Working alongside Mad Gallant are the "Space Kunoichi" Benikiba (a villain from yet another Metal Heroes show - Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya), as well as alien assassin Cronen – who in a wonderfully Dekaranger-esque bit of name play hails from the planet Berg. Whereas Cronen is more or less just a glorified Alienizer for the film, Benikiba is a little more interesting. Though slightly updated visually she's still a perfect throwback to the Showa era villains of the 70s/80s, and character-wise the film leaves her shrouded in mystery. Her sense of honour makes her more than just a cliche villain, while her unwavering dedication to the "Prophet Fumein" makes her perhaps the most dedicated of the three. Though we don't ever get an answer to who or what Fumein is, it's clear that Benikiba could continue to be a major player in the story yet to come.

The genius of Space Squad as a concept though isn’t just that it’s a perfect Dekaranger/Gavan crossover, it also has the potential to expand into so much more. Incorporating elements from Juspion were just a sign of things to come, with potential future Space Squad instalments teasing the likes of the B-Fighters, Janperson, the Megarangers, Gingaman and more from both Super Sentai and Metal Heroes. The fact that the film even finds a way to slip in an Akibaranger reference of all things just shows how ambitious this series could become should it continue to go on. In interviews director Koichi Sakamoto has directly compared Space Squad to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, going as far to even call it the first step in creating his tokusatsu equivalent of The Avengers. Since usually these sort of multi-franchise crossovers seem to come with very little internal logic to them, the thought of Toei moving into something that isn't immediately rushed into is a very exciting concept indeed.

Benikiba and Mad GallantCronen of the planet Berg

Whereas the Girls in Trouble prequel episode showed obvious problems when it came to managing its tone, Space Squad is far more comfortable at striking the balance of offering something with a little more bite while at the same time not straying too far away from the original material. Part of Dekaranger’s charm was that it was unafraid to be inherently silly at times, and that silliness shines through in the Smile & Gentleness Diaper co. - who come complete with their own catchy ad jingle. While the film does have its fair share of blood and some rather unsettling levels of violence towards the captured Shelly (did the production staff just really dislike Kotoha or something?), neither element feels like it’s trying to turn either property into something it’s not.

Sakamoto thankfully also puts aside his love for fanservice to properly focus on the other element that earned him his reputation – fantastic action sequences. Whether it’s in-suit or untransformed fights, there’s a certain slickness to Space Squad that elevates it above the norm and emphasises its cinematic qualities. While the stylised lens flare is undoubtedly overkill, there is a nice juxtaposition between the inviting natural light of its Earth/planet-based scenes and the overpowering, artificial light of the spaceship/station sequences. Similarly the gun-toting Dekarangers offer a different kind of action to Gavan’s swordplay, so the film has plenty of variety on offer to keep things exciting.

Gavan channels JuspionDekaranger SWAT!

Toei may have produced an abundance of crossovers across their various tokusatsu properties, but you can count on one hand the number of truly spectacular ones (most of which fall under Kamen Rider’s Movie Wars banner). Space Squad: Gavan vs Dekaranger can happily be counted among them. 13 years on the Dekarangers are just as fantastic as ever while the Gavan cast continue to prove that they’re being wasted on just the occasional movie and tie-in episode (seriously, just make a combined Space Sheriff show already Toei). This isn’t a crossover that just works, it’s one that’s come together to suggest something even bigger. If Toei can now deliver what they tease at the end of the movie, this could be their first step in creating a shared universe that their previous crossovers have always lacked – coherency.

No comments: