Wednesday 21 June 2023

Movie REVIEW: Avataro Sentai Donbrothers vs Zenkaiger

Avataro Sentai Donbrothers vs Zenkaiger

With Super Sentai being on a bit of a roll lately the annual crossover movies have become that little bit more exciting, and the combination of two shows which helped shake up that all-too-familiar template definitely felt like something to take note of. The 45th and 46th Super Sentai series clash in Avataro Sentai Donbrothers vs Zenkaiger, the 29th instalment in the long-running VS series. Head writers Junko Komura (Zenkaiger) and Toshiki Inoue (Donbrothers) both return to guide their respective series alongside director Katsuya Watanabe, with the film taking place following the conclusions of both shows.

The Zenkaigers return home (again)The Kashiwa Mochi King

Following their interdimensional tour around the various parallel worlds, the Zenkaigers return home to find their own world in a state of disarray. Everyone has become obsessed with making Kashiwa Mochi, offering it all to the "Kashiwa Mochi King". Not only do they discover that a new Kashiwa Mochi World has appeared, but this so-called king is none other than Zox! Can they break Kashiwa Mochi World's spell and return everyone to normal?

Meanwhile it's been a year since Taro lost his memories, and the Donbrothers have continued to fight under the new leadership of Jiro. But as the private lives of the group have all begun to flourish, the team has become somewhat strained. Just as Taro suddenly regains his memories, each of them requests to leave the Donbrothers once and for all. Can the return of their leader remind them the true meaning of the group?

The new DonbrothersTaro Returns

Although the VS series films are rarely “versus” films as such (although that said we learn here that the VS actually stands for “Victory Super”), they can be considered proper crossover films. It’s a point where two different series intersect, but they have one narrative that may or may not have future bearing on either one. Which is why it’s particularly interesting (and rather disappointing) that Avataro Sentai Donbrothers vs Zenkaiger does things differently. Rather than follow the tried and tested format, the film instead takes inspiration from the early Kamen Rider Movie War films and splits itself into three parts - a Zenkaiger story, a Donbrothers story, and then a final act which loosely brings the two together. “Loosely” being the key word here, because there really is very little connective tissue here. There’s a hint of potential early on when (Zenkaiger) Kaito briefly sees Candy Café Colorful turn into Café Donbura (a wonderful nod to their shared location behind the scenes), but that really is about it. Both stories are completely standalone, and even the crossover bit just comes from both villains turning up at the same place at the same time. But hey, at least it was nice enough to have the Zenkaigers remember Taro from his debut appearance in their show.

This format is a massive blow to anyone who was hoping to see these two teams interact more, because there's no doubt based on what we've seen of them individually that it would have been brilliant. Even outside of some of the more overt connections to the two series have (Kaito, Candy Café Colorful/Café Donbura) there are also so many other similarities between the two that could have been mined. Despite the Donbrothers turning into the Dynaman team during the fight, the two teams' links to previous Sentai teams and the different ways they call upon their powers goes unmentioned. Anyone who's watched either series wouldn't expecting to get full blown explanations on the supposed connections between these two series, but even if they were poked fun at with either series' brand of humour it would be something. Jokes like the title of the film not even appearing until its almost over are funny, but they definitely aren't worth all the wasted potential it could have had instead.

Kaito meets KaitoDynaman!

One of the biggest frustrations in the case of the Zenkaigers though is there's just no advancements in story or character whatsoever. With VS films seemingly taking place at the end of both series now (as opposed to the end of the preceding series and towards the end of the current like they used to) they kind of serve as epilogues to both, and Zenkaiger already had a more direct one in Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger vs Kiramager vs Senpaiger. We've already seen how the Zenkaigers are moving on with their lives and how Stacey has helped rebuild Kikaitopia, so what we have here is effectively an epilogue of an epilogue – and it's all too familiar. Yes it may make a few jokes here and there about how it's retreading old ground, but it doesn't really make it that much more effective. Placed within the series itself this would come across as a serviceable yet somewhat forgettable episode of Zenkaiger, which possibly isn't bad in and of itself but a little disappointing for what this film is billed as.

That isn't to say there aren't some fun moments here, because even the most average of Zenkaiger episodes usually have some laughs buried within. Moments like Zox proclaiming himself the Kashiwa Mochi King (complete with crown and cape) or the Zenkaigers becoming illegal mochi sellers to disrupt people's loyalty to him are wonderfully absurd, and exactly the kind of silly storytelling that makes Zenkaiger so loveable in the first place. Just seeing these characters again is always a joy too, especially with the likes of Isao Goshikida/Hakaizer being included amongst the regular cast.

Kashiwa Mochi WorldBlack market mochi

Thankfully the Donbrothers portion of the film fares better, from both a character and plot point of view. With the series having just ended this segment acts as a true epilogue to the series, showing what the team have been up to in the year away as well as bringing Taro back so he'll be around for future spin-offs/crossovers. While it is a bit of a shame that his ending was walked back so quickly, these things are so rarely permanent in Super Sentai or Kamen Rider that it's just come to be expected by now. Plus when it's a character so charismatic as Taro, of course you want to see more of him. It's interesting to see all of the Donbrothers (including the Noto) having all attained their dreams but in doing so almost lose sight of what they are, and it's a good source of tension for the story to go alongside the periphery monster stuff. On that note, of course the film was going to see Minoru Ono return once more as the Donbrothers' "final" enemy. His reoccurring battles with the team proved a great source of continuity for the series (particularly since the Hitotsuki were rarely the focus of Donbrothers), so end-capping his story here feels just as essential as doing the same for the Donbrothers themselves.

Bonds and the formation of bonds is the heart of Donbrothers, and that's one aspect this epilogue really does well. Though in most cases it's only brief, we get to see where they all now – with Tsubasa continuing a relationship with Sononi whilst Tsuyoshi is with Natsumi. The team seem to have remained close (with Tsubasa and Tsuyoshi having properly repaired their friendship, much to Natsumi's dismay), but the distance between them is widening. Taro was the glue that held them together, and this is a good little story about them realising both that and what's truly important to their lives. Taro's return naturally also has a big impact on Sonoi, who we quickly see has left the Donbrothers. His later appearance when he finally reunites with his rival-turned-friend is one of the strongest parts of the entire film, truly highlighting how far both these characters have come. It also proves to be one of the biggest points of curiousity as well, ending on a bit of a cliffhanger likely to be resolved in some of the upcoming specials. We aren't quite done with Donbrothers yet!

Taro and SonoiJiro

However there is one character that doesn't come out faring too well, and unfortunately it's the one that could have probably done with more fleshing out in the series as well. Jiro is a particularly unusual case of sixth ranger, having been introduced into the series and largely forgotten about for the most part (with some episodes since his introduction omitting him entirely) before being given a reasonably good final arc which brings his character(s) together. Him becoming leader of the Donbrothers following Taro's departure is again a logical progression for the character, but making him so damn unlikeable in the process is unfortunate. Jiro is frankly unbearable for a lot of this movie, arrogant from his new-found wealth and obsessed with his control over the Donbrothers rather than the members themselves. Even in the final act he's still trying to hold on to his leadership, despite being part of the full team roll call. While there were signs within the series itself that Jiro had this kind of personality in him, the way his final arc rounded up made him come across as far more level-headed. So while not necessarily a "wrong" direction for the character, it does feel a bit mean-spirited in light of the happier endings everyone else is getting.

When the two stories do finally come together for the final act, it's the glorious collaboration we all expected but also a painful reminder of what the whole of this film should have been. Neither Zenkaiger or Donbrothers are the kind of series to play things straight, and their distinct brands of humour gel together perfectly. Though it's a shame that having two Kaitos running around wasn't played up more, the film refusing to give any sort of reasoning or explanation for Donbrothers' "true hero" Kaito was undoubtedly the best decision to make being both the funniest explanation and the only one the fandom as a whole would probably accept. Though a big pyrotechnic-laden battle at the foot of Mt Iwafune is just about the most cliché Super Sentai VS movie climax you can get, the rollcall and team interactions are more than enough to make up for it. Straight off the bat it's the first time we get every show-ranger from Zenkaiger in on the action, with little touches like Isao's hand gestures during the transformation (Hakaizer of course lacking a transformation device) showing how good Zenkaiger is at sneaking in little visual jokes that could easily go unnoticed. On the other side, while we may have already the Noto incorporated as part of the team it's still a sign of just how far Donbrothers has come. The bad taste of how the film handled Jiro remains, but seeing Vroon wowed by Shinichi's haikus or Juran's reaction to fighting alongside a dog are the interactions we came to see.

Kashiwa Mochi Kikaiki & Kikai Kashiwa Mochi WorldGolDon Zenkaizer & Don Zenkai Momotaro

Mecha action seems to be a thing of the past in VS movies now but to make up for it there does seem to be an increase in movie-exclusive power-ups, with Donbrothers vs Zenkaiger taking a relatively simple but certainly effective route. Here we see Taro and Kaito embrace the power of the VS Gear to become Don Zenkai Momotaro and GolDon Zenkaizer – effectively getting versions of the other's power set. Both are good-looking sets of additional armour for the characters, further highlighting how well the two work together visually as well as in a narrative sense. It's a shame that the power-up doesn't get much outing other than for a final attack but it's the kind of thing to be expected really. When the film has such little crossover element clinging on dearly to what it does have only feels natural, so it remains a brief but well-remembered highlight.

While it should have always been expected that these two madcap series were going to break away and do their own thing, it's a pity that it's led to Avataro Sentai Donbrothers vs Zenkaiger being pretty underwhelming as a crossover movie. Rather than be fully treated to the full potential of their wonderful casts interacting, instead we're treated to a mediocre Zenkaiger episode, a reasonable Donbrothers epilogue and an all too brief final act that brings them together. Between the series themselves and all the specials they've received (or are about to receive) there's been plenty of opportunity to enjoy them as standalones – how they come together was supposed to be the main event. What we have here isn't necessarily bad, but it easily could have been so much more.


CPF said...

Yeah, that Jiro part really cheesed me off, kinda screwing his character development in the process. Anyway to fix that in future Donbrothers installments?

Oar said...

Honestly thought Jiro basically being an antagonist here was actually pretty interesting and I find myself wishing they leaned even harder into it! He talked a bunch about wanting to surpass Taro (and even attacking him outright over it on more than one occasion) so seeing it boil over here is a neat idea for a story. Pretty ridiculous that we didn't see the conclusion of his and Sonoi's rematch! But I guess we had to make time for the annual, by-the-numbers quarry fight...

Tokusatsu Correcter White and Nerdy said...

Bro This Guy is at it Again You Suck at Reviewing

Alex said...

Stop reading them then. Or actually reply with legitimate reasons why you disagree instead of sending me monthly spam comments telling me how I should die just because you don't like what one random person wrote on the internet.