Tuesday 13 April 2021

First Impressions: Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z

Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z

As if SSSS.Dynazenon and Godzilla Singular Point weren’t enough to convince you that this is a particularly great season for mecha anime, it’s all aboard the the bullet trains once more as Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion returns for a second series! The 2018 smash hit from TakaraTomy, Japan Railways Group and OLM, Inc. returns with a fresh new look - now going by the title of Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z. So get ready for more in-depth train trivia, potentially surprising cameos and wonderful robot fights that’ll tempt you to pick up some toys, because if the first series was anything to go by then Shinkalion Z should prove quite the wild ride.

New hero ShinAbuto

It’s been some years since the Ultra Evolution Institute’s fight against the Kitoralsus, and the Earth continues to live in peace. At Yokokawa intrepid young investigator Shin arrives with his sister Ayu to solve the mystery of an alien sighted at the Maruyama Substation, but also stumbles across the site where a Shinkansen-like robot once battled against an enemy that threatened the world.

Whilst exploring Yokokawa Shin makes new friends, as well as those that mock him for his dream of one day befriending a real extraterrestrial. But when a mechanical monster attacks, Shin discovers that his new friends are part of a secret organisation acting underneath Usui Pass Heritage Railway Station - and they’re about to launch their own Shinkalion! Without a pilot displaying the correct compatibility, Shin must step forward into battle and become the latest Shinkalion driver.

A monster attacks!The E-5 Hayabusa

It’s a fairly common trait for all toy-orientated cartoons that come back for a second series - not only do they refresh themselves with a revamped toy line sporting new gimmicks, but the series itself is also reinvigorated with a brand new cast of characters. Though the ending of Shinkalion the Movie didn’t necessarily suggest that the adventures of Hayato and friends had come to a natural conclusion, the fairly conclusive note of the main series suggested that a time skip probably was the best way to go for Shinkalion Z. After years of a peace it’s time for a new threat to rise up, as well as a new team to combat it. Unfortunately it isn’t a straightforward passing of the torch that we see here (none of the old Shinkalion cast show up in this premiere), but there’s plenty of time for that in the future. It’s still a very obvious changing of the guard, and with it comes a worry that the show will simply retread old ground with a lick of new paint rather than doing something wholly new. The show’s opening credits don’t completely dispel that fear either - with the new (initial) trio of Shinkalion and their drivers not looking all that different to what came before.

Putting those fears to one side though, this first episode did manage to at least establish itself in a way that felt new. We’ve moved to a whole new setting, and new protagonist Shin certainly isn’t the same breed of train otaku Hayato was. Instead he’s obsessed with solving all of the world’s mysteries (just be sure to lump them all in as “the occult”) and one day befriending an alien. Not repeating Hayato’s obsession was definitely a smart move, but without a main character to convey that all-important Japan Rail trivia it does make you wonder where that’s going to be coming from going forwards. Nevertheless Shin is every bit of excitable as Hayato was, and his desire to befriend an alien already feels like it’ll be a parallel to Hayato attempts to make peace with the Kitoralsus.

But while the Shin may be a slight alteration from the template Hayato previously set, arguably it’s the supporting characters who really reflect the change-up in Shinkalion Z. There are certainly still some similarities, but the alternations to roles and/or ages makes it already feel quite different to what came before. Shin arrives in Yokokawa with his older sister Ayu - a budding journalist who doesn’t seem too dissimilar to her brother when it comes to investigating. They also meet another (as of yet unnamed) woman who appears to be an actual journalist (or at the very least photographer). We briefly meet the staff of a considerably scaled-down branch of (presumably) the Ultra Evolution - rusty from battle after so many years of peace. No real indication on the villains for the series yet other than a shadowy figure, so there’s still plenty to be uncovered there.

A new villainSmat

The most interesting addition to the cast here is Abuto, a boy around Shin’s age that could have easily been the new Hayato. He already has the link to the Shinkalion, and even has his own Shashot-esque partner in Smat - a transforming smartphone device that also acts as the Shinkalion passcode device, the Z-Reader. However it’s quickly established that Abuto doesn’t have the required synchronisation rate to pilot a Shinkalion - and judging by the opening credits (which admittedly come at the end of this episode) that might not be changing any time soon. This poses an interesting dynamic for who feels like will be the secondary character going forwards. Is he going to stay comfortably in a supporting role or will his inability to pilot cause contention?

As this new enemy makes their first move we see the debut of the Shinkalion Z Hayabusa E5, and the first bit of mecha fighting action the show has to offer. The first major alteration to these sequences that’s hopefully here to stay is the removal of the capture fields, explained here by the satellite not working after years floating dormant. Whereas the capture fields worked well in the previous series, without them the fights have the potential to be even more visually impressive as the backgrounds won’t be lost in the process. It also adds greater story potential, since the fights won’t have the ability to be so clandestine. Visually the new E5 Hayabusa doesn’t really bring anything new to the table but there is a fresh energy brought to the fight thanks to its new driver, as well as the new mechanics that allow the robot to properly mimic its driver’s moves. The battle also closes up with a fantastic new finishing attack, carrying over all the fun little quirks previously established (“Do not cross the red line!”) but adding some sharp new visuals along the way. For those tuning in after watching the previous series this was a pure comfort sequence, reassuring the audience that even though a lot has changed the core of the series is still very much the same.

E5 TransformedShin takes control

While (understandable as it may be for the format of the show) I’m a little wary about essentially starting all over again with a whole new cast, this was a good start for Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z. The new cast didn’t immediately grab me in the same way that Hayato originally did, but the time skip and setting have presented enough mystery that I’m curious to see where the story is going next. Thankfully it feels like a given that the original crew will show up at some point, however in what capacity is yet to be seen. Regardless Shinkalion Z is sure to deliver another year of solid transforming train action at the very least, which certainly shouldn’t go ignored.

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