Thursday 2 December 2021

Movie REVIEW: Kaizoku Sentai: Ten Gokaiger

Kaizoku Sentai: Ten Gokaiger

One of the greatest joys about the Super Sentai franchise is that no one's ever really gone. Even when a series has completed its year-long run, that team will likely return for both a Versus movie the following year and cameos in future productions. A select few have even been lucky enough to get a new V-Cinema film ten years later. Super Sentai may be celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2021, but that also means its celebrating the tenth anniversary of its 35th anniversary series - Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. And to mark the occasion the pirate Sentai are back in Kaizoku Sentai: Ten Gokaiger - a brand new film continuing their  story as well as debuting a whole new selection of Ranger Keys. The film was written by Gokaiger's head writer Naruhisa Arakawa, and directed by Shojiro Nakazawa.

The Gokai Galleon DestroyedDon and Gai Reunited

Ten years have passed the Gokaiger defeated Ackdos Gil and helped bring down the Space Empire Zangyack. Since then it seems as though the team have gone their separate ways, with Gai Ikari returning to Earth to help set up the "Super Sentai Derby Colosseum" - a sport where the general public bet on fights between Ranger copies produced by the Ranger Keys. The money made from the sport then helps funds the defence of the Earth against any future threats.

Don arrives on Earth to discover the Colosseum's popularity in full swing, but it isn't long before Captain Marvelous appears with the intent of bringing it down. With Luka after the bounty on Marvelous' head, Ahim on a secret mission in Crystalia and Joe nowhere to be seen, it seems as though the bonds the Gokaigers shared are well and truly broken. Can Gai stop Marvelous? And who is really operating in the shadows behind the Ministry of Defense?

Marvelous' New LookMarvelous vs Gai

Between the great characters, brilliant costumes, addictive gimmicks (the Ranger Keys are still undoubtedly one of the best things Bandai have ever done within the franchise) and of course all the wonderful anniversary elements it's no surprise that Gokaiger is a firm fan-favourite series. However it's also fair to say that their post-show appearances (wonderful as they've been) are all fairly similar in approach. They do things by their own rules and don’t play well with others, but deep down they've got hearts of gold and usually have some sort of secret plan up their sleeves. It's a setup that's felt synonymous with Gokaiger ever since Marvelous and Tsukasa Kadoya hatched tokusatsu's most over the top scheme in Super Hero Taisen, so of course Kaizoku Sentai: Ten Gokaiger sees a similar thing going on once again. However rather than being eye-roll inducing, the setup is pretty perfect for a Gokaiger tenth anniversary event. It's a celebration of everything that made Gokaiger so popular in the first place, so of course it needs to play into how badass the team think they are compared to the goofballs they actually are. Right from the get-go it's immediately obvious that they're planning something, the fun is in watching it all unfold.

Of course the plot does require a little acceptance on the audience's behalf in order to get the most out of it. While the idea of the Earth creating some sort of Super Sentai defence system has a lot to offer the story, the notion of every team willingly giving them up (even with the promise they'll get them back if there's trouble) and happily letting them become part of an elaborate betting game feels a little less plausible. One can only assume it was thanks to a little persuasion by Gai, who as both an Earthling and a Super Sentai fanboy saw the merit in bringing them all together. The latter point also perfectly explains why he'd be happy to watch dream matchups turn into a spectator sport. Let go of these little things, and Ten Gokaiger really does have a lot to offer – perhaps more than it's able to sufficiently cram into its one-hour runtime. For example the Minister of Defence's secret plan, in which he plans to use the Ranger Keys as an invasion army to turn the Earth into a galactic superpower after so many alien invasions, is such a brilliant inversion of Super Sentai dynamics that it could easily be the plot of an entire series. But alas time is fleeting, and although it might have been nice to see these ideas fleshed out more they still provide the perfect groundwork for the film. 

The pirates back togetherThe Super Sentai Colosseum

For many people a lot of Gokaiger's appeal comes from just how much it tries to create a connected Super Sentai universe with its numerous references and cameos from Sentai alumni, but for Ten Gokaiger it's nice to get a film that's above all about the Gokaigers themselves. That isn't to say all the cameos and Gokai changes have been completely stripped from the film – they're just not the focus. Ahim's trip to Crystalia is the perfect example of this – it leads to a great Takamichi/Kiramei Silver cameo and nicely brings Mashin Sentai Kiramager into the Gokaiger fold, but the whole scene is mere minutes of the overall runtime. Meanwhile moments like Hiroya Matsumoto appearing as a Colosseum commentator alongside Kei Hosogai (who previously played Basco) and then lamenting at Magi Yellow and Beet Buster's defeat in a match, or the appearance of the real-life Super Sentai 45th anniversary encyclopaedia, are fun fan nods rather than big moments. And this is a good thing, because a Gokaiger film should be about the Gokaigers first and foremost. From Don and Gai's over the top mannerisms to Captain Marvelous blazing down to Earth on a crashing spaceship like some intergalactic Jack Sparrow, it feels like these characters have barely been away at all.

With the team effectively split up for the majority of the film it provides an opportunity to develop some different dynamics among them, even if it means some characters get to appear a little more than others. It's very easy to break the Gokaigers down into Marvelous, Joe and Luka as the "tough guys" and then Ahim, Don and Gai as the team's softer side, but Ten Gokaiger doesn't play it quite as straightforward as that – with each character playing a slightly different role in the story. Don and Gai set things up with some light-hearted antics and plenty of exposition, with Marvelous dropping in to bring the conflict. While Luka tries a rather unconvincing (if entirely in character) stint as a bounty hunter, Ahim's continued partnership with Marvelous makes for a good dynamic between two of the team that you wouldn't instantly pair together. Sadly Joe gets the least to work with in the film, helping to bring things together for a flashy finale but offering little elsewhere. But you can guarantee that everything Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger does, it does with as much style and swagger as possible. The new costumes are the perfect update to their classic threads, emphasising both how much time has passed since the series as well as the darker "loner pirate" personas they're all pretending to convey. Or in Ahim's case, the badass pirate princess she always has been. 

Masatoshi NiwanoThe Bakut Pirates

One of the biggest highlights of the film is also the numerous continuity nods it has to the series itself. Arakawa has really dug through his time on the show to provide the perfect memorial, with each reference sure to bring a smile to fans' faces no matter how small. Building the Ministry's Ranger Key system from the remnants of Basco's Rapparatta is one thing, but Masatoshi Niwano - the boy who stole the Shinken Red key and taught Marvelous about the Earth's value coming back is what really hits home. From a behind the scenes sense it's a shame that it isn't the same actor playing him, but Marvelous repeating his words back to him when Niwano begins to lose faith in humans just goes to show how much the Gokaigers grew over the course of the series to become a worthy, if slightly unorthodox, Super Sentai team. The film even manages to take the Gokaigers' special appearance on Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger into account, briefly explaining what Navi's been up to on Earth after inadvertently being left there.

Not everything ties back to the series though, which is why perhaps the villains stand out as the film's weakest element. While there's nothing specifically bad about them, in terms of characters there's nothing standout either. A completely separate entity to the Zangyack, the Bakut Pirates are new set of villains with very little introduction – their reputation as a group that were able to best Marvelous (and "take" his left eye) only briefly told through flashbacks. For the majority of the film they maintain human disguise, only showing their true selves once their plan has been fully uncovered and the Gokaigers reunite to save the day. Though Gokaiger maintains its flair for monster design with Badley and Rem, it does say a lot that the most memorable of the group is Metal Yoshida (Oren/Kamen Rider Bravo in Kamen Rider Gaim) jumping around semi-naked in heavy make-up. It isn't that the Gokaigers fighting against another pirate crew is particularly bad, it's just the aforementioned idea of the Earth "fighting back" is a lot more interesting. Once the Bakut Pirates have been outed, the film jumps straight into the finale and consequences for the Minister of Defence (a human who allied himself with the pirates) are largely glossed over.

Gokai Change!Swapping Colours

That all said, if you are mainly watching Ten Gokaiger to see what changes they pull out this time then you're still in for a treat. While there's sadly no full team changes to rave about here, the ones they have chosen to insert are definitely ones for maximum fanservice. Most significantly we see Marvelous and Ahim run through a series of all-Red changes from Zyuohger up to Kiramager, neatly covering all of the series we've yet to see the Gokaiger transform into. Not only do you get the fun of seeing the two characters running through these Reds' attacks and catchphrases (Marvelous exclaiming "Yossha lucky!" is quite the moment), but also the joy of seeing Ryusoul Red, Kiramei Red and Lupin Red in female suit form as well. In fact gender-swapped suits are quite the focal point for the film's changes, as the film later also sees Luka and Don swap keys – in turn a cheeky reference back to the show's body-swap episode. It's not a huge moment by any means, but perfectly illustrates the fluidity the Ranger Keys has to offer and why they're such a beloved gimmick.

With minimal Gokai Changes and mecha battles rarely appearing in the 10 Years After films, Ten Gokaiger's finale is something a little different. After a wonderful series of fight scenes where the team pair off to remind us all of their unique fighting styles, the team call upon the grand powers of the fallen Gokai Galleon to call upon new powers. Admittedly the idea of GokaiOh being reborn as limb weapons for each respective Gokaiger might seem a little silly, but it's the kind of silly that only tokusatsu manages to pull off in the most badass way possible. While Ahim and Luka go all Itano Circus with their leg mounted rocket launchers, Don gets a giant cannon and Joe a giant hand full of swords. Meanwhile Marvelous gets to wear the front of the Galleon as a vest, adding to his swagger with a fancy cape too. Finally we have all of these pieces coming together, effectively building GokaiOh on top of Gokai Red for one extremely showy final attack. Between all the new Ranger Keys, the tenth anniversary Mobirates, the Gokai Galleon key and the recently announced SHODO figures (which just so happen to come with these "Cross Armour" parts) there's definitely a much heavier merchandise drive than there usually is with these tenth anniversary films, but because Gokaiger is already so drenched in gimmickry none of it feels shoehorned in at all.

The Gokai Galleon KeyGokai Red - Galleon Armour Mode

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is a very special series to Super Sentai fans new and old, so seeing the gang back together once again ten years later is both a dream come true and a horrible reminder of just how quickly time passes. Kaizoku Sentai: Ten Gokaiger celebrates all things Gokaiger, but most importantly of all it's a celebration of the Gokaigers themselves. You've still got your wider franchise cameos and references, but the film reminds you that all that wouldn't have necessarily worked without this loveable band of goofball pirates to carry it through. While it may have been nice to see some of the story ideas expanded on in a longer film, what we did get here is far from unsatisfying. Ten years later, and the Gokaigers are just as showy as ever.


M said...

What is your favorite Sentai 10 Years Later Movie?

Alex said...

Dekaranger probably, though this is a very close second!

Valerie Rieta said...

The Ten Gokaiger Movie was great for me, but there are some disappointments about it:
•Riria Kojima-Baba and Ai Moritaka refused to reprised their roles as Mio Natsume/ToQ 4gou and Kagura Izumi/ToQ 5gou respectively.
•Nada Gaisoulg, who defeated the Gokaigers in the Super Sentai Strongest Battle in 2019, did not return here in the movie.
•The supposedly other Gokai Changes (i.e. Male KiramaiGreen, Female RyusoulBlack, etc.) did not appeared.
•No cameos of the Zenkaigers (except at end credits), Zox Goldtweaker/TwoKaizer and Tojitendo (who captured the Gokaigers and imprisoned them in their gears).
My rating: 9/10

rogerph2015 said...

Okay, so Kaizoku Sentai Ten Gokaiger took place 2 years after the Super Sentai Strongest Battle, right? But did it also took place before or during the time when Tojitendo, Zenkaiger's enemy, invaded the Super Sentai Worlds and captured all of the 44 Super Sentai Teams, including the Gokaigers, and imprisoned them into their gears?
About Mio Natsume/ToQ 3gou and Kagura Izumi/ToQ 5gou, Kaoruko Ishii and Rara Shimizu portrayed the younger versions of the two ToQ Girls. Therefore, their older actresses Riria Kojima-Baba and Ai Moritaka were unavailable, sadly.
The movie could've been awesome only if the actors and actresses from 2012 to 2019 could've been returned, but it won't happen due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alex Just wondering will you be taking a look at Unofficial Sentai: The Highschool Heroes?

Alex said...

It's next on the list!