Friday 1 October 2021

Miniseries REVIEW: Mashin Sentai Kiramager Spin-Off: Yodonna

Mashin Sentai Kiramager Spin-Off: Yodonna

For the past few years the Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub has been home to some of the weirder spin-off titles in the world of Toei-brand tokusatsu, however other than a few notable exceptions it's fair to say that these exclusive specials have been mostly Kamen Rider driven. However 2021 saw Super Sentai get in on the action once again with Mashin Sentai Kiramager Spin-Off: Yodonna, the first exclusive Super Sentai special to appear on the service since Hero Mama League and Keisatsu Sentai Patranger feat. Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger ~ Another Patren 2gou all the way back in 2018. As the title suggests this sequel to Mashin Sentai Kiramager thrusts Yodonheim's villainous secretary Yodonna into the lead role, with the two part special written by Tete Inoue and directed by Koichi Sakamoto. Yodonna marks the first time in Super Sentai history that a special has focused on a villain, and it sure is something...

The Yodon AfterlifeYodonna meets Mizuki

Following her death at the end of Kiramager Yodonna has arrived at Yodon afterlife and is awaiting her judgement to see if she will make it into Yodon Heaven. After being shown a device which can revive the dead by absorbing the life force from another being, Yodonna returns to Earth with a plan to steal the life energy from Juru Atsuta/Kiramei Red.

However Yodonna inadvertently connects the device to Juru's girlfriend Mizuki Kakihara, causing the two to become connected until the transfer is completed. While Yodonna attempts to learn the four basic human emotions from Mizuki, she also becomes entangled in Mizuki's own affairs. An accidental phone swap with her policeman brother has gotten her mixed up with an organised crime gang, and she's going to need Yodonna's strength to save both herself and her brother.

Mizuki CapturedCrime boss Hideki Kujirasaki

The opening title card for the Yodonna spin-off warns that this special features "no sparkling", and instead "only glaring". There are scenes of extreme violence, and any children watching should only do so whilst accompanied by an adult. The tonal whiplash of the Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub specials has been around since the very beginning - back when Takeshi Asukura violently beat up Emu Hojo in Kamen Rider Brave: Let's Survive! Revival of the Beast Rider Squad. But while Kamen Rider fans have now had four years of seeing just how edgy these specials will go when it comes to violence, seeing it in a Super Sentai setting is a whole different ball game. Yodonna might not be all that different in just how much it tries to push the envelope, but with Mashin Sentai Kiramager being as happy and colourful as it was watching Yodonna snapping necks in bloody fistfights against criminals makes for a very bizarre viewing experience. Especially when that's presented alongside something as seemingly innocuous as Mizuki doing the Kiramager end theme dance.

But let's be honest, there was an element of fetishising to Yodonna's character from the very beginning. As quirky and fun as the character may be, the staff behind Kiramager knew EXACTLY what they were doing when it came to her domineering personality and closeups of her sticking her tongue out or various other facial expressions. The "please step on me crowd" found a new hero in Yodonna, and this is simply Toei responding to that popularity. Can't say I blame them, but for it to be attached to a show like Kiramager feels almost seedy at times. On top the added levels of violence the Yodonna spin-off has there are also other 'adult' elements intended to appease the target audience, such as the prominence of maid outfits or the physical way Mizuki and Yodonna's body-swapping plays out over the course of the story. You could perhaps present an argument for how the latter element plays a more significant part in the development of their relationship, but it's hard to deny that it's there for anything other the sexualisation first and foremost.

Drills and bloodA kiss

As weird as all of this might sound, the weirdest thing of all is that it doesn't actually make Yodonna an inherently bad special. In fact, throughout all the weirdness and tonal whiplash going on there's actually quite a lot to like about it. Yodonna, much like the other Yodonheim generals, was an interesting character and as the only "human" one out of the bunch was always the one most likely to get some sort of expansion like this. Similarly Mizuki was criminally underused in the main series, despite offering a key character dynamic and being central to some of the show's most memorable episodes. Seeing them both again in any capacity is extremely welcome, but it was a really pleasant surprise to see them brought together in this new dynamic - and one that works really well no less. While Mizuki is key to Yodonna learning human emotions in order to return to life, Mizuki turns to Yodonna to become stronger without turning to Juru for help. Though their meeting is entirely an accident and initially based on deception (Yodonna is stealing Mizuki's life force after all), they eventually come to understand and trust each other. Best of all this is done with extremely minimal inclusion of the rest of Kiramager's cast, with only Juru and Tametomo making brief appearances in the whole thing. Though it serves as a sequel piece to Kiramager it very much stands on its own, both for the benefit of the characters it's focusing on and the fact it's very easily skippable if none of what you've read so far sounds like your cup of tea.

The plot, which largely deals with organised crime and police corruption, is a pretty basic one but feels pretty out of the ordinary given it's all happening within a Super Sentai special. All things considered it's fairly high stakes, with the first part ending on a surprising cliffhanger (and not just in that it was surprising that a second part was being made). Though there are some Yodonheim shenanigans going on in the background which come to a head toward the end, the completely over the top portrayal of crime gangs and seedy maid cafes is somewhat grounded in its approach. It's weirdly engaging in that even if you're not necessarily enjoying it it's strange enough that you actively want to see what happens next - which might not sound like the most ringing endorsement but is far better than it being completely unwatchable. 

Tametomo and JuruMizuki dances

The action sequences are another area where Yodonna is particularly strong, if somewhat contentious. Being a Koichi Sakamoto product tokusatsu fans probably know exactly what to expect from him by now, but while the man definitely knows how to deliver a fight sequence without the boundaries of a children's television show he pretty much goes full Sakamoto here. From Yodonna fighting in both a maid outfit and school uniform to all the leg that gets shown off, as competent as the fight sequences may be they are full cheesecake. It's quite funny that between all the violence and other bits of fetishisation going on in the special, a slow motion spin which would result in a very obvious panty shot is where the censors are called in. If you are able to overlook all that though, you will at least be rewarded with some well choreographed and surprisingly brutal fights. The bone breaking and neck snapping has already been neatly covered, but with a distinct lack of monster characters in this special all the fights are with "real" people, and none of them hold back.

As a final note, Yodonna is positively LOADED with cameos and guest appearances. The special includes the likes of Yƍsuke Kishi (Stinger in Kyuranger), Yu Kamio (Dr. Maki in Kamen Rider OOO), Hideo Ishiguro (Gai in Ultraman Orb) and many many more - with Sakamoto clearly having gone through his whole contacts list to get as many people in on it as possible. There's even a few AV stars thrown into the mix, further adding to the whole "not for kids" thing Yodonna has going on. Even if you're not a fan of the content itself, just going through and trying to spot all the cameos makes this special worth the watch.

Snapping necksThe one place this thing shows some restraint...

Even now I'm still not entirely convinced that Mashin Sentai Kiramager Spin-Off: Yodonna is a thing that actually happened. Though the special is a great expansion on both Yodonna and Mizuki's characters that allows them to develop a relationship outside of the core Kiramager cast, but its more "adult" qualities make it feel like a bizarre fever dream created to a sate a very specific corner of the show's (or more specifically Yodonna's) audience. It isn't especially bad, more that it's just very strange. The conclusion to the special teases the possibility of a third instalment one day, and even if that never comes to fruition based on the success of this it's likely Toei will pursue similar Super Sentai projects in the future. Even if they turn out as strange as this, I can't deny that I'm morbidly curious.

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