Saturday, 14 March 2020

First Impressions: Mashin Sentai Kiramager

Mashin Sentai Kiramager

Mashin Sentai Kiramager has arrived, and although technically the series already began with the special prequel Episode ZERO movie it just wouldn't feel right to welcome in the 44th Super Sentai series without also giving some early impressions on its first proper episode. So strap on your Kiramai Changer and prepare your Kiramentality, because this episode wastes no time in jumping into the main action. The series is being written by tokusatu veteran Naruhisa Arakawa (Kamen Rider Kuuga, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and so much more) and directed by Kyohei Yamaguchi - a regular to Kamen Rider but a relative newcomer to Sentai.

The Attack BeginsThe Fifth Kiramager Found

As the Yodonheim Empire launch their attack on Earth, the four Kiramagers are assembled whilst the Red Kiramai Stone leaves to find the team's fifth member. His target his Juru Atsuta, a high school student with an active imagination and love for art.

But Juru doesn't feel he has what it takes to become a Kiramager, with the team also showing doubt in his abilities. However with a bit of reassurance, it's Juru's talents not only save the day but prove to be exactly what the Mashin Sentai Kiramager need.

The Kiramager teamJuru Atsuta

With Episode ZERO having already done all of the heavy lifting in terms of story set up, the first episode of Mashin Sentai Kiramager wastes no time in getting straight to the point. The monster attack is already here and four fifths of the team are all ready for action. However even if the viewer hadn't been able to catch the prequel film beforehand, that doesn't mean this episode would be completely lost on them. It may be a lot looser on the specifics, but all the important bits that you'd need to know are their either via the exposition or the simple fact that they're obvious Super Sentai tropes. Character names are displayed via onscreen text, with Princess Mabusheena filling Juru in on who all the main players are in this battle. It's obvious more so than ever that Juru is meant to be the audience surrogate for the series, and since he's pretty sketchy on all the details at the moment there's no problem in the audience being either. It'll all be made clearer to him in future episodes, so if someone for whatever reason haven't caught the movie before then they'll be just as caught up then.

As suspected by his minimal role in the prequel film, this premiere was very much a red-centric episode. In fact the remaining four members had very little to do in episode at all outside of being there for the battle sequence and having their characters generally re-established. For another Super Sentai series this might be a bad thing, but the existence of Episode ZERO makes it much easier to overlook here. But what makes it even easier to overlook is just how well Juru is characterised here. As stated earlier he's very much the audience surrogate for the show, particularly through the fact he's established as both an artist and a bit of a dreamer. Super Sentai, as well as tokusatsu in general, has an extremely passionate fanbase that thrives in creativity. However many of us face doubt and insecurity - leading us to potentially not put this talent and creativity on show. That's exactly what happens to Juru here - he doesn't consider himself a warrior in the same vein as the others, leading him to doubt his abilities and his place on the team. It's only with reassurance from Mabusheena and the Red Stone that's he's able to take pride in those abilities and become the leader of the team. It's exactly the kind of story Super Sentai should be teaching its audience, because one day those talents could lead to great things.

Yodonheim watchJuru's art

That said, this framing does already run the risk of making Kiramai Red overly powerful. His imagination has been immediately weaponised, not only conjuring up weapon combinations but also the Kiramai Machines and (although not realised just yet) their eventual robot form. Ressha Sentai ToQger had similar ideas but this is on a much greater scale, as ToQ #5's similar imagination powers were usually just played up for laughs. For episode one it gets the plot moving along smoothly and cements exactly what Juru brings to the team, but how it'll continue to play later on in the series is a much bigger question. An episode or more preferably arc on artists' block seems inevitable, and I really look forward to seeing how it's handled given the positive morals this episode alone has already set.

It is a shame that we don't get to spend as much time with the other Kiramagers in comparison, but the little we do get to see of both them and their respective Kiramai Stones is a lot of fun. Here they're of more visual importance than narrative, showing off the abilities (and more importantly toys) of the team. The suit acting also does a great job of conveying their personalties, such as Saya/Pink's playfulness or Tametomo/Yellow cockiness. His arrogance could have gotten annoying, but him being the butt of the joke twice hilariously brought him back down into place. These first episodes usually have to be non-stop action just to get that target demographic hooked so what we had here wasn't really out of the ordinary, but definitely solid foundations for a series to build itself up on.

Kiramagers TransformedBehind the wheel

Likewise the villains were barely a footnote either, which is a bit disappointing but with so much to balance in this first episode it's fair to say they served their purpose. There's plenty of time for character complexities later, right now the imminent threat is far more important. The episode takes a leaf out of Ryusoulger's book with its nondescript kaiju, but the next episode preview has already confirmed that more conventional monsters of the week are about to follow. Truthfully though this kind of monster was the perfect choice for a first episode, since it presents a large and immediate threat without needing any sort of context or story around it. It's an obstacle, and the newly formed team have to work together to defeat it.

The fight sequences were excellent, and much like Episode ZERO didn't overly rely on gimmicks and instead let just a handful of toys (on top of the characters themselves of course) do the talking. There's a flashy sword and a disc-firing gun, which can be combined into a flashy disc-firing sword gun - what more do you need? It was nice that Red's arrival to the team wasn't just completely preoccupied with fighting either, as some civilian rescue was also thrown in. Again it's far from a new concept for Super Sentai, but it's been a while since it felt like it was a central part of the sequence to that extent.

Kiramai Red to the rescue!The Kiramai Machines

This high quality action also applied to the vehicle sequences, which despite also having a fair bit of CGI heavily lean into one of my personal favourite elements of tokusatsu as a medium - physical props. From the carefully structured cityscape to the interactive Kiramai Vehicles, Kiramager's premiere really went all in on making its toys look good. The designs of the vehicles are simple but effective, correctly letting the crystalline sections of each one be the focal point rather than going too heavy on the detail. There's no sign of Kiramazin here, which is good because it lets the individual vehicles have a moment in the spotlight before they eventually just become stock footage for the combination. While Kiramager's miniature work here might not have felt as revolutionary for Super Sentai as Ryusoulger's debut did, the same quality of craftsmanship was certainly there.

Mashin Sentai Kiramager is an absolute blast. It's equal parts GoGo-V, Go-Onger and ToQger - cherry-picking all of their very best elements while having some great action, catchy songs and an infectious ending dance to boot. Every year I try to remind myself that these first episodes are rarely indicative of an entire series, but when they're as good as this it's very hard not to get excited. Whether or not Super Sentai as a whole is in trouble is a different argument for another time, but regardless here's hoping 2020 is a particularly good year for the franchise.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

My Shiny Toys Robots (Alex), what is your favorite Sentai of the Post-Gokaiger Era? Mine is Kyuranger!

Alex said...

Go-Busters for sure!

Stephen Cassat said...

My favorite has to be Go-Busters as well. Loved that the suits weren't spandex. Another favorite is Zyuohger.