Saturday 10 July 2021

Movie REVIEW: Mashin Sentai Kiramager vs Ryusoulger

Mashin Sentai Kiramager vs Ryusoulger

Even at a time where many tokusatsu projects have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, some traditions just can't be passed over. The (mostly) annual Super Sentai V-cinema (or V-cinext as it prefers to be called nowadays) Versus Series returned in 2021 for its 27th instalment – Mashin Sentai Kiramager vs Ryusoulger. Kiramentality and chivalry join forces in this crossover movie written by Ayumi Shimo, who wrote episodes for both Mashin Sentai Kiramager and Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger as well as Uchu Sentai Kyuranger vs Space Squad tie-in miniseries Hero Mama League. The film was directed by tokusatsu regular Koichi Sakamoto, who again worked on episodes for both series.

Movie Jamen strikes!Kou meets Juuru

The Yodon Empire latest scheme sees theatre-goers being sucked into movie worlds created by Movie Jamen! As the Kiramagers investigate, they are joined by Koh, who has recently returned from his travels around the world to reunite with his friends. They soon discover that the other Ryusoulgers have also been sucked into the movie worlds, and that Yodon have also employed the help of a number of Minosaurs in their plan.

As Takamichi and Canalo face off against Yodonna in the real world, the Kiramagers and Ryusoulgers are paired off and forced to play against each other in a variety of movie scenarios. Will the combined efforts of Koh and Juuru be enough to find a way out and save their friends? 

Melt and TametomoTeams United

With these VS series movies somewhat acting as an epilogue to the returning team it’s always interesting to see how things might have changed for them since the conclusion of their series. For many teams it just feels like business as usual, but for the Ryusoulgers their job protecting the planet was effectively done. Their powers were resealed, and the team went their separate ways. That immediately gives an added sense of powerlessness to Kiramager vs Ryusoulger's story, but not in a way that ever makes the characters feel helpless. Rather it's a slow burn that builds towards the team finally being able to make that transformation once again, as well as leaving the audience curious as to just how it will come about.

The success of these crossover films often lies in just how successfully it's able to blend the key aspects of both shows, especially when it's at a disadvantage of one show's conflict already being resolved. Kiramager vs Ryusoulger plays it safe by keeping the core storyline to the kind of plot you'd expect to see from a standard Kiramager episode (not that that's in any way a bad thing) and then enhancing it with Ryusoulger elements. For example the Jamenshi are always a lot of fun to begin with, but then using one as the host for a Minosaur enhances both types of monsters. But on top of this, everything about the setting of Kiramager vs Ryusoulger just works. The "movies within a movie" set up gives an a nice sense of grandeur befitting of a feature length production, whilst (intentional or otherwise) Movie Jamen himself comes off as a twisted tongue-in-cheek reference to Japan's beloved Anti-Film Piracy mascot. Most of all it allows it to simply have fun, putting pairing off the characters and putting them in all these cliche film scenerios complete with an aspect ratio change. It's able to squeeze in a musical number as part of the story, and then on top of all this you later have the hilarious visual of the monster trying to edit his own film using Adobe Premier Pro. It's all very silly in the best ways possible, but still manages to feel heartfelt and/or epic in all the right places.

A Director MinosaurMovie Jamen & Mabushina

Though the film is a bit more Kiramager heavy when it comes to story it doesn't ever feel like the Ryusoulgers are completely left behind, as each of the team are paired off together in these aforementioned movie scenarios. Not only is a fantastic way to get these characters to play off each other in different ways, but it's also a nice little spin on the "versus" aspect of the crossover. For the most part it just goes the obvious route of pairing matching colours together, but it does make one divergence so that it all fits together nicely. Melt is paired with Tametomo as they're both tacticians, while swordsmen Shiguru and Bamba duke it out in the samurai film. Admittedly there isn't this level of nuance to all of the pairings, but the fact it can be identified in some of them definitely makes it a lot more fun. Even though these are the parts necessarily pushing the story, they do nevertheless allow for some of its more memorable sequences.

Not everyone is completely trapped in these movie worlds though, as Juuru and Koh have a lot more agency and thus naturally drive the story forward. This is a particularly good movie for Juuru in terms of character, who has set out to enter a drawing competition but isn't able to get inspired when he's trying to force it. Kiramager played a bit with the idea of artist's block in the series itself but not quite in the same way it is here, and as the "veteran" character Koh being the one to help guide him through it creates a nice dynamic for the two reds. Meanwhile outside of Movie Jamen's creations we get a good sixth ranger team up as Takamichi and Canalo take on Yodonna head-on, leading to some hilarious scenes of Canalo trying to woo the villainess in his typically hapless way.

Canalo & YodonnaDance number!

The rangers themselves aren't the only characters getting a good outing here either, as it ensures the side characters get to play some sort of part as well. It's always hit or miss just how many extended cast members you'll get in a movie that's already juggling an average of 12 heroes, so even the most inconsequential of appearances are appreciated. That said, both Mabushina and Oto feel comfortably integrated into the plot, and Kleon is also brought back to ensure to make that much-needed Minosaur element work without having to go to effort of creating a whole new character. It's a shame Wiserue wasn't brought along with him, but at least his absence was explained. Overall even though the story is fairly basic in the grand scheme of things, there's a lot of good character stuff going on here across the board. Again not all of it is especially deep, but everyone is getting to do their part to help make Kiramager vs Ryusoulger as good as it is.

The somewhat slow and character-focused build up culminates in a fantastic team-up fight sequence, which pretty much checks every box of what a fan would want from a movie like this. Koichi Sakamoto goes full Sakamoto here (minus the egregious fanservice), treating the movie to the full works when it comes to fast-paced choreography and more explosions than a Disneyland fireworks show. Even the role call sequence is a big moment, completely ditching any of the usual stock footage and fully integrated into the fight itself. After seeing the various Kiramager/Ryusoulger pairings develop in the movie world we now see them fully blossom on the battlefield, each one showing off their various fighting styles and capturing the parallels between them – whether it's in colour or personality. The crossover element is fully realized with the appearance of new KiramaiSoul forms for the Ryusoulgers, building upon the team's already expansive arsenal as well as nicely complimenting the Kiramagers' own Go forms. What makes the fight work so well though is that the story perfectly set it up so that each duo would have an actual monster to defeat, rather than having just the reds defeat a monster and everyone else tackling foot soldiers. It's even great to see Yodonna get in on the action, getting her own little explosive finisher in a way that definitely feels unorthodox where the heroes are the ones kicking ass. It's moments like this that remind you clearly just how popular the character is, to the point she even managed to get her own Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub special arriving in August.

Kiramei Soul!Yodonna Explosion

The ground level action isn't the only fight scene that delivers either, as the showdown with Movie Jamen culminates in a great mecha team-up featuring both Kiramazin and Kishiryuoh. The sealing of the Kishiryu goes hand in hand with the loss of the Ryusouylger's powers, so the story is careful to tiptoe around this fact as well – not completely undoing the significance of that ending but cleverly using Kiramager's own mechanics to let them participate. Seeing the teams appear in the other's cockpit is always the big joy of these crossovers but in the absence of that a solid team-up fight is a worthy replacement, since both series already excelled in the mecha department.

As a final note the big shadow looming over this film though is of course the absence of Ui Tatsui, whose actress Mana Kinjo tragically passed away at the end of 2020 at only 24. Though her appearances in Ryusoulger eventually declined due to Kinjo's unspecified illness, Ui was a shining light throughout the whole of the series and the film ensures that she's still very much a presence. Kou's words to Juuru regarding his artist's block directly references Ui's own experiences as a vlogger, and it's only through his friendship with her that Kou is able to give him the advice that eventually helps save the day. It's a touching scene that reminds you just how great the character was, and it's hard not to shed a tear at the sight of the Ryusoulger cast altogether during better days.

A mecha explosionRemembering Ui

There's been a strong run of Super Sentai versus movies in the past few years but Mashin Sentai Kiramager vs Rysoulger is the best in some time, striking a fantastic balance between both teams in a story that also plays to the strengths of both. Although an argument could be made for the core of the story being particularly red-centric, it's perfectly balanced with some fantastic pairings that really get to shine in this colourful movie setting. Most importantly though it doesn't detract from the ending of Ryusoulger, using the sacrifice of their powers as a plot point whilst also reassuring fans that they'll always be here to protect the planet. You'll laugh, you'll cry, but above all else you'll just have a brilliant time with this movie.

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