Monday 15 January 2024

Movie REVIEW: Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger the Movie: Adventure Heaven

Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger the Movie: Adventure Heaven

Truth be told, Super Sentai Summer movies are rarely full of surprises. That isn't to say that the content itself can't be a lot of fun, but rarely could they be described as unpredictable. However the last few years has proven quite interesting for the near-50-year-old franchise as it's slightly diverged from the usual Super Sentai tropes and set-up, and Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger is certainly no exception. Released as a double-bill alongside Kamen Rider Geats the Movie: 4 Aces and the Black Fox, Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger the Movie: Adventure Heaven is the first big-screen outing for the 47th Super Sentai series, written by series head-write Minato Takano and directed by Kazuya Kamihoriuchi.

Gira's CoronationDevonica's arrival

On the day of Gira's coronation as King of Shugoddam, a mysterious stranger arrives inviting the Kings to Hakabaka – the land of the dead. Gira immediately recognises the stranger as Devonica, a childhood friend who lived at the same orphanage until she disappeared on her 20th birthday. Devonica explains that in order to be crowned Gira must be judged by his ancestors.

Arriving in Hakabaka, Ran and Kaguragi immediately disappear while Gira, Yanma and Rita are attacked by the ghosts of their former enemies. They are then saved by Reiniol Husty – the first King of Shuggodam. He takes Gira away and declares him too kind to rule the Kingdom, revealing a plot to return to the living realm and rule Shugoddam once more. Can Gira prove his worth? And what illusions in the land of the dead have befallen the other Kings?

The Kings in HakabakaReiniol Husty

Super Sentai Summer movies are a funny thing. While there's always the element of them having a bigger budget than your average episode (usually signalled by a particularly well-choreographed fight scene at the beginning) and of course the obligatory movie-exclusive toys, in terms of story there's rarely that much that truly sets them apart. Of course this isn't helped by their running time, usually a paltry half an hour compared to the far more involved Kamen Rider movies. However much like the series itself Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger is here to do things a little differently, and that starts by weaving its plot in far more tightly with that of the series itself. By taking place during Gira's coronation (episode 23 of the series), Adventure Heaven is almost neatly sandwiched before the two-year time skip that occurs before the show's second half. This is the perfect space to occupy as it helps it feel like an intrinsic part of the show whilst also not strictly being needed for any context that comes afterward. Adventure Heaven is then further enhanced by the "Complete Edition" that was released on the Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub and DVD/Blu-Ray, adding in both previous cut scenes and all-new footage. Taking the running time up to a more respectable 40 minutes, the scope feels much greater and helps create that "movie" feel that so many previous instalments have lacked. Adventure Heaven isn't the first Super Sentai movie to get a director's cut, but it definitely needs to be more commonplace.

Of course, even without those things King-Ohger has always marched to a different beat – the pacing of the film being very different to your average Super Sentai Summer event. This is perhaps best highlighted by the fact that the team don't transform until around 30 minutes in, making the majority of the film entirely character-driven. The same can of course be said for the show itself, but it's always interesting to see these movies attempt to put the spectacle elsewhere. There also isn't a mecha battle in sight, which is another common element of the main series. Avataro Sentai Donbrothers did a similar thing with New First Love Hero, but their comedy was at the forefront. Here it's the characters, lore and setting – making it a very different experience even if the fundamentals are the same.

But the notion of spectacle is a little different here, because one of the key things a Super Sentai movie would do King-Ohger is already doing on a weekly basis. Upping the CGI budget to create strange new worlds or scenery that couldn't necessarily be realised on a TV budget? King-Ohger already has that in spades. Though the film doesn't swing in the opposite direction by using more location footage instead, it is able to create a look that's sufficiently different to that of the TV series through the vibrant colours and fantastical landscapes of Hakabaka. There's a larger discussion to be had about how well King-Ohger has managed its use of virtual production overall, but regardless Adventure Heaven is certainly on brand for the series.

Himeno meets her parentsA figure from Kaguragi's past

If there's one thing to be certain about with this film though, it's that despite how good it is it would be SO much better if you were able to watch it when it was originally released. As a lead-in to King-Ohger's mid-series retool, Adventure Heaven features a lot of foreshadowing for what was to eventually come. While knowing these things certainly doesn't make the film any less satisfying, hints like a "greater catastrophe to come" (which of course are the Galactinsects, heralded by the cameo appearance of Dagded Dujardin at the end of the film) and the apparent survival of Racles definitely give the story far more weight. There's even the appearance of characters' whose importance will become that much clearer later on, such as Iroki – the former Lord of Tofu who Kaguragi succeeded.

That latter inclusion also contributes to why the film works so well – despite primarily being a Gira storyline, it makes a good attempt at giving each of the cast a key scene that relates to the setting. Nearly each cast member that is, because in traditional Super Sentai Summer movie style the role of the sixth ranger is greatly reduced – with Jeramie only turning up for the beginning and then at the very end for the fight sequence. First and foremost Adventure Heaven is a great character piece for Gira – showcasing his resolve and why he should be King of Shuggodom. While Devonica isn't a fairly deep character, her backstory weaves into Gira's well resulting in her becoming a great supporting character in his story and the overall lore of King-Ohger. Meanwhile the encounters Kaguragi, Rita and Himeno have whilst in Hakabata similarly help affirm their characters, as well as the relationships they have with their retainers. Though Yanma doesn't share a similar experience, his efforts to help the group leave the land of the dead are just as much a testament to his character.

Featuring Reiniol Husty as the primary (and for that matter only) antagonist is also an interesting choice, giving (much like the series itself) Adventure Heaven a far more nuanced approach when it comes to villains. While Reiniol's actions over the course of the film are difficult to justify, his intent is a different matter with the knowledge/hindsight of what the "catastrophe" he refers to actually is. The fact the film employs a human villain between its two halves also sets is apart whilst continuing to build up the lore of King-Ohger and the impact of the Husty lineage. Then on top of all that his transformed/monster form is just cool as hell - giving Adventure Heaven just the right dose of spectacle for its climax.

Reiniol transformedGira crowned

Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger the Movie: Adventure Heaven turning out to be one of the most movie-like Super Sentai Summer movies was a bit of a surprise, but certainly not an unpleasant one. While it might have been nice to see this film at the time of release and experience all the foreshadowing while it was still a mystery, the "Complete Edition" most non-Japanese fans will be experiencing this through will undoubtedly be the more satisfying product. Carefully balancing on the tightrope of enriching the series without being essential to its understanding, it manages to do what King-Ohger does best and showcase the characters without having to rely on the usual Super Sentai tropes. Given its placing in the series timeline, it only got better from here too.


M said...

Are you going to do a "First Impressions" of the new Garo?

Alex said...

I am indeed! I watched it today so will hopefully be up tomorrow/Wednesday.

CPF said...

How do you the Kingohger movie pairs up with and against the Geats movie? It feels a bit weird to say this, but the plots of each other feels like a reverse of the usual Super Sentai and Kamen Rider movie plots.