Tuesday 9 March 2021

First Impressions: Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger

Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger

It's been a whole ten years since Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, so the time is ripe for another big Super Sentai anniversary series. And in celebration of the 45th anniversary, the franchise is getting one hell of a shakeup when it comes to team dynamics. Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger will see a single human ranger team up with a team of four robot characters, each based on a past Super Sentai mecha. On top of that, our lead character isn't the team's red ranger either - instead being predominantly white with multicoloured decor akin to JAKQ's Big One (or more specifically, the Varidorin from Himitsu Sentai Goranger). Even compared to some of the more experimental series Super Sentai has done recently, visually it doesn't look like anything that's come before. The series is being developed by Junko KĊmura, head writer on both Zyuohger and Lupinranger vs Patranger but fittingly also behind a number of Gokaiger episodes. The lead director is Shojiro Nakazawa, whose also worked on a number of series but most notably Gekiranger, Shinkenger and Ninninger.

The Gorangers capturedIntroducing Kaito

In their bid to conquer all parallel worlds, the Tojitend Dynasty have trapped all 44 previous Super Sentai worlds within small gears. In their attempt to take the last one standing, something goes wrong and instead  the human world is fused with that of the Kikanoids - mechanical beings that the Tojitend Dynasty rule over.

Over several months the humans and Kikanoids begin to live in harmony, that is until the Dynasty decide to conquer the old fashioned way. To face this new threat, Kaito Goshikida embraces the Super Sentai powers left to him by his parents, becoming Zenkaizer! He soon teams up with Juran, a Kikainoid unhappy with the actions of the Dynasty. Together they form the beginning of the Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger, to protect the multiverse and hopefully solve the mystery behind Kaito's missing parents.

Kaito meets JuranZenkaiger are born!

Another Super Sentai anniversary, another potential ongoing debate about how all these series fit together and whether the franchise actually has some sort of tangible timeline. Thankfully Zenkaiger sets things straight from the very beginning, establishing that for the purposes of this series each Super Sentai series takes place in its own parallel universe. There’s been arguments for this in the past (with the vs movies and Gokaiger then taking place in another separate universe), but there’s also plenty of examples that prove it isn’t a rule across the board. As far as Zenkaiger is concerned we know exactly where the series stands, which gives it the chance to present such a strong opening. We see Goranger, Zyuranger and Kiramager all ensnared by the Tojitend Dynasty in some great sequences that impressively match up both new and existing footage. Topping something as grandiose as Gokaiger’s legend battle would be nearly impossible, so Zenkaiger has done the right thing taking a more lowkey approach but definitely dialling up the threat level. The combined efforts of the Super Sentai may have been able to hold back the Zangyack, but here the three teams seem pretty much defenceless.

But even with all the anniversary references pushed aside for one moment, Zenkaiger’s premiere episodes has a lot to take in. No sooner than we discover what has happened to the past Sentai’s parallel worlds we’re introduced to Kaito’s world, which is then almost immediately merged with that of the Kikainoids. Then following the opening credit sequence (which is great by the way) there’s already been a short time jump to show how the two worlds have become accustomed to each other. It’s a rapid bit of world building, but done well enough that it doesn’t feel particularly lacking. But on top of all that we’ve got the villains’ introduction and motivations, establishing Kaito’s missing parents as parallel world scientists, Kaito and Juran’s first meeting AND the formation of the Zenkaiger. It’s a lot to pack into 20 minutes, and half the cast hasn’t even been properly introduced yet!

A new baseZenkaizer

However it’s that slow introduction of the team that’ll make these early episodes of Zenkaiger all the more appealing. It’s been a long while since we’ve had a team be built up in such a way - even shows that introduced them gradually like Kyuranger had some members already established right from the beginning. It’s a chance to give each character a proper introduction and the background they deserve, as well as see how the dynamic changes as the team gets bigger. If you like the look of the rest of the team though fear not, they are all poking around in this episode! Most are just quick cameos, but with one working amongst as the villains' cleaning staff that should definitely make an interesting story in the next few weeks.

In creating a team with one human ranger (at least for the time being anyway), Toei have also effectively created a series where they can justifiably get away with having a leader that takes up the majority of the development and/or storylines. Not that this will necessarily be the case for Kaito, but with this episode already laying on the missing parents backstory pretty thickly it isn’t unreasonable to assume that might be the case. Kaito seems like he’ll be a great character - no particularly strong personality traits to immediately pick out like with some previous reds but honest, likeable and with a strong sense of justice - sometimes that’s all you really need. But for me at least it was Juran that really stole the show here. He’s a loveable oaf that just wants to party with his new human friends, but he’s now had that taken away from him by Tojitend’s forces. One second he’s a cool dude, the next he’s just another killer robot terrorising humanity. It’s quite heartbreaking how quickly people turn on him, which makes his new bond with Kaito all the stronger. That scene where he just shoots a mook in the background to check the gun works though? Side-splittingly brilliant.

The Tojitend DynastyChanneling Zyuohger

The villains are looking to be a great bunch too, and even if their personalities turn out to be a bit of a let down at least they’ll be good to look. With so many robotic characters in the show already the Tojitend needed to mix it up that little bit more, and between a general on tank treads as well as the king Bokkowaus being a giant mechanical wall with a face (and one hand) I’d say they did that pretty nicely. Bokkowaus’ pet bird Gege is an interesting counterpoint to the Zenkaiger's Secchan (their trusty Super Sentai encyclopaedia), and I’m curious to see if they’ll ever interact or if there’s any relation there.

Our first fight sequence is high on spectacle, with the two Zenkaigers battling with a created explosion before each drawing upon the powers of their Super Sentai predecessors. Unlike Gokaiger which dealt in straight transformation, Zenkaiger is more about mirroring their abilities - Kaito uses the Zyuohger medal to gain Zyuoh Eagle’s wings, while Jyuran gains ninja-like speed and skill from the Ninninger medal. Again it’s nice that another big anniversary series can celebrate the past in a similar way, yet feel completely distinct in the way it does so. The fight then rounds off with the kind of simultaneous ranger/mecha battle we previously saw Kiramager perfect, with Zenkaiser taking care of things on ground level as Jyuran grows giant and shows off some impressive new abilities. Zenkaiger is going to be enjoying some classic super robot gimmickry going forwards with symmetrical docking combinations, but for now we simply get to enjoy Jyuran’s transformation from a Daizyujin tribute act into a full dinosaur. The mecha fight uses a fair bit of CGI to have that little bit more speed, but there are some great closeup shots of physical suits in there and the miniature building work is impressive as always. The final blows, which are shown onscreen concurrently, are a particularly eye-catching way to cap off a strong first episode.

Juran transformedFinal Attack!

With how well Kiramager turned out its hard not to go into Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger without a certain degree of hype, and with a prominent writer for Gokaiger also onboard there are plenty of signs pointing towards the show being another quality Super Sentai anniversary celebration. As always first episodes tend to be especially explosive and things could easily change as time goes on, but with how different Zenkaiger looks and feels (while at the same time being undeniably Super Sentai), it could have enough of a draw to encourage fans to keep watching. Kiramager has gone down well with fans but sales were still lacking (which is unsurprising due to COVID really), so Super Sentai could really do with a win that does totally defy expectations. Let’s hope Zenkaiger is it.


Neko-Nyan said...

Zyuran leapfroging over buildings then using a billboard to surf on an enemy's energy beam makes this series an instant win. I don't need anything else to be convinced of its absolute genius :D

M said...

I wonder if Zenkaiger will have cameos from Past Sentai Members like Gokaiger had.

Unknown said...

Sales were down for Kiramaiger damn! You think if Corvid hadn't happened, sales would have been up?

Alex said...

Toy sales are a hard thing to gauge (and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert about it), but based on the Bandai sales lists they publish it didn’t live up to expectations. Business as usual for Sentai really.