Tuesday 13 February 2018

First Impressions: Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger

Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger

Now that Uchu Sentai Kyuranger has properly broken the mould with its 12-member team, it's time for Super Sentai to really start experimenting with its format. 2018 is going to be a huge year for the franchise, as for the first time in its 43 year history it will be debuting not one, but TWO different Super Sentai teams in the same series. This year it's all about cops and robbers with Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger, capitalising on Japan's love for the "phantom thief" character archetype popularised by the likes of the Lupin III series and (more recently) Persona 5. Of course where there are dashing thieves the law enforcement isn't too far behind, which means the two teams will likely be butting heads even as they face off against a common enemy.

The Lupin CollectionThe Patrangers

The Lupin Collection, a wealth of items stolen by the legendary gentleman thief Arsène Lupin has been stolen by an interdimensional crime syndicate known as the Gangler. Tasked with the collection's return are the Kaitou Sentai Lupinrangers - three thieves drafted by a mysterious butler who works for the descendants of Lupin himself. They are Kairi Yano (Lupin Red), Toma Yomaichi (Lupin Blue) and Umika Hayami (Lupin Yellow) - each with their own reason for becoming a Lupinranger.

Meanwhile the Global Police Special Organisation have their own mission - to retrieve the collection, take down the Gangler and restore order. They've also assembled the elite team Keiichiro Asaka (Patren #1), Sakuya Hikawa (Patren #2) and Tsukasa Myojin (Patren #3) - the Keisatsu Sentai Patranger. However due to their law-breaking methods the Lupinrangers are also a target of the police, with the two teams at odds as the race to retrieve the Lupin Collection begins!

The LupinrangersKeiichiro, Sakuya & Tsukasa

This is something I bring up every year but is always worth repeating - Super Sentai premiere episodes are rarely indicative of a show's overall quality. These early few episodes are where the show pulls out all the stops, dazzling the audience with flashy visuals that quickly disappear once it properly finds its week-by-week footing. Even largely disliked entries like Ninninger had impressive first episodes, so try not to take it as a sign that this is exactly the kind of series we'll be getting for the next year. That said, when you get opening episodes like this, it's very hard NOT to get that excited.

Juggling two teams in a debut episode could have easily been a disaster, especially when you take into account how rushed Kyuranger’s premiere was this time last year. So it’s nice to see Lupinranger vs Patranger kick off at a far more relaxed pace – retaining all of the punch and glamour a premiere needs but also holding back on some of the bigger things for subsequent episodes. Instead of trying to strike a balance between the two teams episode ones leans more heavily towards properly introducing the Lupinrangers, and there isn’t a mecha sequence in sight. The roleplay item feel similarly downplayed, appearing wherever necessary but not commanding scenes in such a way that the whole thing feels nothing but a toy ad. That isn’t to say the merchandise shilling isn’t there (this is Super Sentai after all), but it doesn’t feel half as rapid fire as premieres from the last few years.

Kairi, Toma & UmikaKogure

So this episode is mainly about getting to know the Lupinrangers, with the Patrangers taking a bit of a backseat for the time being. The two teams do but heads a bit, but the Patranger introductions are mostly side stuff and their first transformation serves as the episode cliffhanger. While the character dynamic between the two teams is going to be at the core of what makes this series stand out from the others, the style juxtaposition between the two teams in general already gives the show two distinct flavours. You’ve got the café-running Lupinrangers with their fancy clothes and even fancier transformation sequence, while the Patrangers have their techy base (complete with its own robot), matching uniforms and a split second transformation. Each team encompasses a different style the franchise has taken at one point or another, and between the two of them will be able to draw on a lot of cues from the older series whilst also trying out new things. On the subject of older Sentai, be sure to take a good look for all the repurposed Sentai toys/props that make up the Lupin Collection. Seems like Arsène was quite the fan.

Given the need for this first episode to be as eye-catching as possible it made perfect sense to make it all about the Lupinrangers. This trio are all about style, from their cool personalities and extravagant dress sense all the way to the flashy entrances and showy choreography. Whilst the finer details of their individual motivations are yet to be revealed in-show, what we do know is that they’ve each agreed to an “every man for himself” approach when it comes to fighting. That isn’t to say they aren’t a team, but they aren’t prepared to burden each other in the heat of battle. It’s a pretty unique dynamic straight off the bat, and while almost certainly likely to change as they grow as characters gives them plenty of breadth for storytelling in these all-important early episodes.

The Gangler of the weekDirector Hilltop & Jim Carter

The Patrangers also make a good first impression, with the highly-strung Keichiiro already making a strong case as one of the most interesting personalities the show has on offer. That said, the Patrangers overall placement in the episode did give me some cause for concern. Admittedly my familiarity with the Phantom Thief genre is limited, but I get the impression that since the Patrangers aren’t going to be catching the Lupinrangers any time soon their effectiveness will be severely reduced when stacked up alongside them. Keiichiro’s little exchange with Kairi in the park is fun, but creates this initial impression of a frustrated cop who can’t keep up with the suave thief. The shot of Patren #1 floundering about in the water in the next episode preview doesn’t do much to dispel that notion either. Of course this could simply be down to the episode’s Lupinranger focus and future episodes will be the reverse, but striking this balance is going to be absolutely critical to the show’s success.

Our villains for the year are the Ganglers, who already seem like a pretty interesting bunch. After Kyuranger brought the atmosphere with its Jark Matter takeover but then largely failed to deliver when to individual characters, the bar is fairly low for this show to impress with both its weekly monsters and overarching generals. The monster designs are looking suitably sharp, but what really stood out here was Dogranio Yubin’s introduction and his promise to pass his legacy on to a worthy successor. It’s not the most original of ideas, but it’s a nice change of pace to see the henchmen being the ones with the grand ambition rather than the leader.

Dogranio YubinThe Ganglers

So yes, Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger is off to a very good start. Personally it isn't my favourite Super Sentai premiere since I started watching the franchise on a weekly basis (that honour still goes to Go-Busters), but the new dynamic combined with flashy visuals and a more relaxed pace to show off the characters rather than the toys shows a lot of promise.  Providing that this was just a Lupinranger-heavy debut and that the Patrangers will be shown off in an equally impressive light going forwards, it should be a very exciting year indeed. Now are you on Team Lupinranger, or Team Patranger?

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