Thursday 14 March 2019

Miniseries REVIEW: Super Sentai Strongest Battle

After running consecutively for over 40 years, it isn't all that surprising that the release pattern for Super Sentai has become fairly predictable by now. So when Toei do decide to do something that deviates from the norm, it feels like a pretty big deal. The first big shock of 2019 was from the news that Kaito Sentai Lupinranger vs. Keisatsu Sentai Patranger wouldn't immediately be followed with Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger, but rather a four part crossover special celebrating the legacy of Super Sentai. Super Sentai Strongest Battle (aka Super Sentai Saikyo Battle) brings together previous cast members in an all-out battle royale, as well as featuring the debut appearance of the fourth dinosaur Sentai team.

On the faraway planet Nemesis, a mysterious girl named Rita has summoned 160 heroes from the 43 Super Sentai teams to compete in a special tournament. Divided into 32 teams of five, their aim is collect various gemstones which when put together will allow the winner to have any wish they desire granted. One such team competing is "Team Oddball" – comprised of Zyuohger's Yamato, Gokaiger's Captain Marvelous, Ninninger's Takaharu, Kyuranger's Stinger and ToQger's Kagura.

However something more sinister is lurking within the tournament, as the powerful knight Gaisorg arrives to battle against the strongest opponents. With Luka having gone missing in the Gokaiger's last battle with him and Rita willingly allowing Gaisorg to run amok in the tournament, the five heroes must work together to find out the truth behind the "Super Sentai Greatest Battle".

If the Super Hero Taisen films have taught us anything, it's that huge-scale franchise crossovers rarely work. It's almost impossible to make that many characters work onscreen in a single film or special, and the end result is usually something that sounds a lot more spectacular than it actually is. However it does feel like Toei are beginning to learn from their mistakes, and with Super Sentai Strongest Battle they're actually able to side-step many of the pitfalls these sort of specials fall victim to. Not only does it focus on a small group of characters that's only about the size of a conventional Super Sentai team, but the crossover element is actually the backdrop rather than the plot itself. It mainly works as an excuse to bring all of these characters together, while the core of the story is investigating both Rita and Gaisorg.

Furthermore writer Naruhisa Arakawa (the man behind both Gokaiger and Kamen Rider Kuuga) really keeps a grasp on Sentai history and how it all maps together. Previous interactions between different series are both remembered and acknowledged, such as the Gokaiger's appearance in Zyuohger or even Doggie Kruger meeting some of the Kyurangers in the Space Squad promotional episode. Little touches like this really help cement Super Sentai as a shared universe even with the wealth of narrative inconsistencies if you did put them altogether, which also helps the crossover feel much bigger than it actually is. The miniseries even pulls from the most unexpected of places, bringing back a Zyuranger villain as its big bad despite it not actually featuring any of the Zyurangers. On a similar note, having a character named Rita feels too on the nose to just be a coincidence. As a four-part special the story is relatively simple and skips a lot of the finer details, but it's strong enough to keep the momentum going.

Making up a team of three reds, an orange and a pink might seem an odd (if incredibly colour coordinated) mix, but you can’t really argue with the results. The five members of Team Oddball all go together brilliantly, playing off together so well that you almost forget that they come from five completely different teams. Given Gokaiger’s popularity and its status as an anniversary series the special could have gone the easy route and just made Marvelous the team leader, but Arakawa stays true to the character. Marvelous is standoffish, obstinate and gives the impression he couldn’t care less about his teammates, but you know that under it all he’s one of them even if he won’t admit it. Meanwhile Yamato continues to proves why he’s one of the best reds the franchise has put out in recent years, proving himself a true leader even with a completely different team. As the most popular Kyuranger character Stinger was another solid choice to return, driving the story forward through his investigation of planet Nemesis. Takaharu and Kagura are (rather fittingly) more oddball choices, but both are integrated into the story well. Takaharu is one of those characters that definitely works better in a crossover scenario than he does in his own series, proving to be nowhere near as grating here as he was in Ninninger. The special also features a key appearance from Doggie Kruger, as well as brief but welcome out-of-suit cameos from the likes of Bouken Silver, Gao Red and Patren #1.

Then there’s the matchups themselves, which despite not being the story focus delve into the sort of fantasy showdowns a name like “Super Sentai Strongest Battle” promises. ToQ #5 vs Deka Master isn’t a fight I ever expected to see in Super Sentai, but I’m glad it did because its turned out to be among the franchise’s most memorable offerings. Similarly Yamato taking on Gao Red, Vul Shark and Ginga Green singlehandedly is equally explosive - with Yamato charging through his three power sets in a brilliantly choreographed clash of colours. On top of all that you have the repeated battles against Gaisorg, as well as an epic climax featuring five separate super modes and a brilliant tribute to Goranger.

Finally you have the cameo appearance from the Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger, which goes nicely against the grain by only featuring the black and green members of the team. Though their inclusion is fairly similar to how the new Sentai team would be utilised in the annual Versus movies (they show up and easily defeat a villain etc.), but is nicely woven into each episode as them making their way underground through Nemesis. Each snippet highlights them or one of their abilities, making a good little taster of what's to come in the next series. It's because these little bits are intersped throughout that their sudden appearance at the end doesn't feel completely superfluous even though in the grand scheme of things it is. While Ryusoulger still feels like Kyoryuger 2.0 in many ways what we do get to see here is certainly enough to generate buzz about the series, so fingers crossed 2019 is going to be a good year for Super Sentai.

Though Super Sentai Strongest Battle might seem like a late-game crossover conceived to both fill time before the newest series and take attention away from the failure of the previous one, it has actually turned out to be one of the most exciting and well-thought out crossovers the franchise has had in a long time. As well as paying close attention to previously established continuity it features actor cameos, throwbacks to older shows, fun matchups and fantastic fight sequences. The story itself might be thin on the ground, but as far as sheer entertainment goes it couldn't be much better.


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, do you plan on reviewing Timeranger? It's one of the most interesting and complex stories Super Sentai has produced, and Shout Factory already released it on DVD.

Alex said...

One day - absolutely. When exactly though I couldn’t tell you. Im pretty behind on buying the Shout DVDs (I’ve only got Zyu to Oh right now) and would like to get Kaku to GoGo V before tackling Timeranger as I’m trying to buy them in order. If there’s demand though maybe I’ll look into getting Timeranger sooner! :)

Anonymous said...

Kamen Rider 4, Gorider and now this. That´s exactly what Super Hero Taisen should hhave beem.

Ang Peng How said...

This show is really nice, I liked it!! Because two of my favourite Rangers (Gokai Red and Sasori Orange) returned. Even though the Super Sentai Series is going to a new era.

Anon said...

All the shout dvd's/shout sentai can be watched for free on Just type Sentai into the search bar