Thursday 22 April 2021

Miniseries REVIEW: Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger Spin-Off: Zenkai Red's Great Introduction

Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger Spin-Off: Zenkai Red's Great Introduction

As the 45th anniversary series, there's no doubt that Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger is going to celebrate the legacy of Super Sentai in some big ways. Before the show had even begun airing it received a big screen movie debut, and now only a couple of episodes in fans have already been treated to its first spin-off special. Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger Spin-Off: Zenkai Red's Great Introduction is a two-part miniseries that released exclusively on the streaming service TELASA. Chronologically it takes place after the aforementioned Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger the Movie, and before the show's seventh episode. The special introduces a new challenger to the Zenkaiger leadership, played by actor/singer Daiki Ise - who performed the opening song for Ressha Sentai ToQger as well as songs for both Kyoryuger and Ninninger.

Akaranger berates ZenkaizerZenkai Red

Kaito has been having bad dreams where his Super Sentai predecessors tell him he isn't good enough to lead the 45th team - and all for the simple reason that he isn't a red ranger! The lack of sleep this is causing has affected him in battle, and to make matters worse there's a new Zenkaiger on the scene looking to create the "true" Zenkaigers - the mysteriously cool Zenkai Red!

Meanwhile the Tojitend Dynasty are cooking up their own scheme with their latest (but somewhat familiar) monster - Normal Villain World! But that's not all, as there's another strange occurrence on top of all of this. Just why are the Kikainoids suddenly becoming human?

Normal Villain WorldHuman Kikainoids

Super Sentai is a franchise that’s built itself up on tropes. Sure it’s tried to change things up slightly over the years, but it’s that familiarity that’s not only helped it endure over the years but also turned it into a genre that’s been referenced, parodied and copied across the globe. And now for its 45th anniversary series, Zenkaiger seems to be tearing many of these conventions down. It has that all-important Super Sentai spirit and ultimately is no different where it truly counts, but visually there’s no denying it offers a very different Super Sentai experience on first glance. Both the writers and the show itself are fully aware of this, and Zenkai Red’s Great Introduction offers a chance to explore it in a fitting manner. While there’s no reason this miniseries (if you can call two episodes a miniseries anyway) couldn’t have technically been part of the show itself, making it a Spin-off special does give it that little bit extra air of prestige. It’s the anniversary show, and it deserves to get all the additional nice things like a streaming service special.

Kaito having insecurities over not being a red ranger and thus not a suitable leader for the team is a brilliant idea for a story line. As Gege himself suggests in the episode, the red ranger is the linchpin of a Sentai team - the piece of the puzzle that more often than not makes them so much stronger. Of course it’s all in Kaito’s head, but even the tiniest break in tradition is enough to cause him concern. This in turn goes perfectly with the fact that his teammates are all robots, leading into an exploration of Gaon’s love of humans and dislike of Kikainoids. Fans will already know that this has already been highlighted within the show itself, but actually turning them into humans puts a different spin on it. We know that Gaon loves humans, but there’s a good reason why actually being one isn’t a wish come true for him. But until all that’s revealed, it seems as though the team is being pulled apart for fitting the mould of a traditional Sentai team. It’s wonderfully self-aware, yet delivers an engaging storyline instead of taking the easy route and falling into the realms of parody.

Zenkai Red UnmaskedGaon turns human!

This whole story is held together by the arrival of the mysterious Zenkai Red, who leaves such an impression that you half wish he was sticking around for the whole show. Daiki Ise plays the character brilliantly - suave, sophisticated and with that traditional sense of justice, Zenkai Red embodies those early Super Sentai leaders in the same way Zenkaizer seems to embody modern ones. Even the suit, which is just an all-red recolour of Zenkaizer’s, looks superb. Usually in a special like this characters like Zenkai Red will just show up with little to no explanation, but while this does keep an air of vagueness about his civilian identity there is at least a proper story built around him. The ending may be somewhat vague about the impact this special has on Zenkaiger as a whole (frustratingly so in fact), however it does leave a glimmer of hope that Zenkai Red could show up again in some capacity. This is still very early days for the series after all.

The other big allure in this special is seeing the Kikainoids as humans, who despite not being played by any notable actors in the tokusatsu world really do look like these characters transformed. We really don’t spend enough time with any if them in human form (hence why I think there’s still scope to explore it in the series proper, even though the sentiment and development behind it would need to be different), but the looks and mannerisms are spot on. For a brief second we get to see what the Zenkaiger might be like as a conventional Super Sentai team, and while it’s definitely not worth trading what we have it’s still pretty damn cool nonetheless.

Turning human!Normal Villain World reveals his plan

There’s an awful lot going on in this special when it comes to guest cast members, but there’s always an element of recycling to these things as well. The special effectively acts as a sequel to the Zenkaiger’s debut movie (which is yet to be seen by people outside of Japan), mainly due to the reuse of its vilain. This isn’t the same Super Villain World though! Normal Villain World is instead the embodiment of his predecessor’s bitterness over not growing giant - another fun piece of self-referential humour. This collage of past Super Sentai villains is too good of a suit to just use once though, so it’s good that it gets another outing here. The focus isn’t really on the villains much in this special but there’s still time to have some fun with Normal Villain World, particularly with his “dream” of being beaten by a real Sentai team.

But of course it wouldn’t be a Super Sentai anniversary without some returning faces, and while Zenkaiger doesn’t seem to be going all out to Gokaiger’s extent just yet it still knows how to do it with the greatest impact. As Kaito is reassured by the past Super Sentai leaders who just didn’t happen to be red (or in a handful of cases, just have a lot of white on their suits…clearly they needed to make up the numbers), who should show up but Kakuranger’s Tsuruhime/Ninja White (Satomi Hirose) - arguably one of the most iconic non-Red leaders in the whole franchise. Sure JAKQ’s Big One was the first and he’s present too, but if Hiroshi Miyauchi isn’t appearing to mark the occasion the first non-red, non-male leader was absolutely the best choice.

Lupinranger & Patranger lend a handTsuruhime returns

Tokusatsu streaming service specials often feel superfluous, and though Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger Spin-Off: Zenkai Red’s Grand Introduction isn’t essential to the series at all it’s still an example of this kind of done special done right. Self-aware but still telling an interesting story, it’s a celebration of Super Sentai that plays to the strengths of both the tropes the franchise has helped create and the little ways Zenkaiger stands out from the crowd. Getting something this fun as early into the series as we are is pretty incredible, and bodes well for anything else Toei might have planned for Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger over the next year.


M said...

I loved the metacommentary that Normal Villain World said: "I prefer two female members when possible, normal"

Mark Grayson said...

When Tsuruhime say "Your appearance, form, or gender doesn't matter. What's important is your heart"... wow.. That's one of the most powerful messages in Super Sentai. A franchise that can truly reach everyone, regardless of gender, age or nationality.