Tuesday 19 March 2019

First Impressions: Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger

Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger

If there's one thing Toei feel they can always rely on to save the Super Sentai franchise when it's in a pinch, it's dinosaurs. Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger was there to raise toy sales after Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters failed to meet expectations, and now after Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger vs Keisatsu Sentai Patranger struggled to leave a mark they're hoping that Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger will do the same. Ryusoulger will be the fourth series in the franchise to utilise a dinosaur motif, and the 43rd entry in the franchise overall. Ryusoul Black and Ryusoul Green previously made cameo appearances in the four part Super Sentai Strongest Battle special, which bridged the gap between this series and its predecessor.

Kou, Melt and Asuna are three members of the Ryusoul Tribe who have been selected to become Ryusoulgers - guardians that 65 million years ago helped defend the Earth from the dictating Druidon Tribe. In the present day their duty is to protect the temple that houses the Kishiryu they draw their power from, but when the Druidon Tribe return both the new Ryusoulgers and their predecessors are called into battle once more.

When their masters make the ultimate sacrifice to defend the planet, the newest team of Ryusoulgers must continue their legacy - tasked with uniting with comrades that have left the tribe to fight back against the Druidon Tribe once more.

On a purely surface level it isn't hard to see just how Toei are hoping that Ryusoulger will be the merchandising hit that Lupinranger vs Patranger wasn't. On top of simply being the fourth dinosaur Sentai, the series combines several obvious elements of Kyoryuger (the colour layout, the dancing transformation, "armed on" weaponry) with what was undoubtedly one of the most popular collectible gimmicks from Super Sentai in the last decade or so - the Ranger Keys. From a purely marketing standpoint it all feels especially safe.

As far as first episodes go its fairly fast paced and story-driven, so there isn't a whole lot of time to get to know the characters. Black and Green are even missing from the episode entirely, setting up the team in a similar way Kyoryuger did back in 2013. Having the older Masters appear and transform alongside the main cast was a very nice touch though, g just because it gave some emotional weight to the episode but also because seeing multiple rangers wearing the same colours is a rare treat. It also wasn't any surprise to see that the episode was rather red-centric, focusing not only on his later battle with Tankjo inside the temple (and subsequent awakening of Kishiryu Oh) but also featuring him in the big opening battle of the episode. Honestly at this stage none of the characters personalities really stand out so there's very little to say about them, for better and for worse.

Perhaps to offset that though, this premiere also did a fair bit where side characters are concerned as well. On top of the aforementioned Ryusoulger masters there was also the Tribe Elder, who presumably will act as mentor to the new team. The episode also gave a rather strange introduction to Ui - a budding YouTuber who stumbles across the Ryusoulgers and their hidden land. Judging by the episode her role in the series is mostly going to be a comedic one, but adding a character whose background is outside the Ryusoulgers is a nice touch. The last few shows have mainly featured a core cast with very little going on in the periphery, so it’ll be a nice change of pace to have a side character who can operate outside of the main action. A lot like what Power Rangers does with its comedy relief really.

But while this was a pretty consistent episode that successfully showed off just what Ryusoulger has to offer, it also sometimes took away from what could have been much bigger moments. For example the episode holds back until the very end the full transformation sequence and roll call, but by that point you’ve already seen the Ryusoulgers transform multiple times (albeit quick changes) so it doesn’t quite have the wow factor that it should. On the other hand, the actual story isn’t quite the Kyoryuger clone many feared that it might be, as head writer Junpei Yamaoka (a newcomer to Super Sentai) instead channels the likes of Seijuu Sentai Gingaman into his story. The bigger focus on the tribe and knight elements was an excellent move to make the episode stand out more. On the directorial side of things this series is being led by Kazuya Kamihoriuchi, who recently garnered attention for the unique style he brought to Kamen Rider Build. Though this episode didn’t get too experimental it did set out a good sense of the style Kamihoriuchi will be going for - with plenty of rural and outdoor scenery that makes a nice contrast to the overtly urban Lupinranger vs Patranger.

The biggest weak link of the episode was the introduction of its villains. Lupinranger vs Patranger immediately brought its A-game with the best suit design it had to offer, and Ryusoulger feels fairly weak in comparison. Neither Druidon general introduced in the episode (Tankjo and Kureon) are especially impressive, failing visually to either stand out as anything more than just monster of the week fare or poor Kyoryuger clones. Both were completely outclassed by the giant Minosaur which rampages throughout the episode, which despite being mindless adds a nice bit of traditional kaiju action. Super Sentai may dabble with these kind of monsters often, but this is the first time in a while that it's successfully given off some real Ultraman vibes.

This nicely leads on to what will undoubtedly be the biggest talking point of the episode, and what has possibly been the biggest talking point since it was teased in the initial trailer - the mecha fights. Though the individual Kishiryu aren't seen until the very end the episode does however debut the combined Kishiryu Oh Three Knights - sporting a much sleeker design than is usually seen in Super Sentai. With this also comes considerably more athletic fight choreography, as Kishiryu Oh sprints, spins and leaps into action. After the previous series have felt far more CGI-centric this is an incredible breath of fresh air, and really embraces all the practical effects that make tokusatsu stand out as a medium. Even if the series fails to deliver narratively, if these are the kinds of visuals it can deliver consecutively over the next year then it'll be one of the most memorable Super Sentai in recent years for that alone.

Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger is off to a solid start, but if there's anything I've learned from watching and reviewing Super Sentai premiere episodes is that they are rarely indicative of a show's overall quality. So while this episode might have shown off some solid visuals and an extremely impressive mecha battle, the big question is whether the series is going to be able to maintain that momentum going forwards or whether this was just a case of throwing all the budget into the first few episodes. I'd like to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I've been burned before. However with Kazuya Kamihoriuchi in the director's chair and some fresh blood on the writing staff, its hard not to see the potential Ryusoulger has. At the very least it's got all the makings of a financially successful series, and that's a win Super Sentai definitely needs right now.

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