Wednesday 6 March 2024

First Impressions: Bakuage Sentai Boonboomger

Bakuage Sentai Boonboomger

Having proved to be a guaranteed hit in the past, there are some themes that Super Sentai will always revisit every few years. Dinosaurs and ninjas are two of the most obvious ones, along with the subject of 2024's entry into the franchise - vehicles. After trying some new things last year with Ohsama Sentai King-Ohger, Super Sentai looks to be moving back into its comfort zone with its 48th series Bakuage Sentai Boonboomger. Newcomer to the franchise Atsuhiro Tomioka joins as its head writer, with Shojiro Nakazawa (who has worked on a number of Super Sentai series since Timeranger) as director. Following their work on King-Ohger, Jun Watanabe and Hiroshi Butsuda also return as action director and SFX director respectively. 

Mira meets TaiyaThe Hashiryan arrive!

Mira Shifuto is whisked away from her arranged wedding by a mysterious stranger, who reveals that he has been hired by her actual boyfriend to drop her off at the airport so they can run away together. Their getaway is complicated by the arrival of the Hashiryan - a mafia of aliens who have come to take the planet. When they transform Mira's wedding dress into a monster to gather human screams (which they ca use as fuel), the stranger - Taiya Hando, transforms into a tire-clad hero to battle against it.

Inspired by Taiya's advice to take the wheel for herself, Mira chooses to fight alongside him. Joined by Taiya's friend and informant Ishiro Meita, the three become the Bakuage Sentai Boonboomger - together fighting back against the Hashiryan.

Bun RedBoonboomger Robo

Any expectations of Boonboomger's premiere episode breaking the mould for Super Sentai in the same way the previous few shows have done should be lowered right now, as after a few years of immediately apparent innovation this is far more familiar ground for the franchise. However this shouldn't necessarily be viewed as a bad thing, because this is a Super Sentai premiere that comes in knowing exactly what it needs to do and is very confident about it. As box-ticking exercise it's comfortably able to pull off all those familiar Super Sentai tropes without flaw, doing so with a style and sense of humour that pulls you in and leaves you wanting more.

Introduction of its characters is one thing it does particularly well, initially focusing on the core trio of the Boonboomger team with the promise of two more to come (one of which is teased in the episode itself). Similarly to Donbrothers' premiere its done from the perspective of the team's (currently) lone female hero, as she starts out as a civilian before joining the team as its latest member. But whereas joining the Donbrothers was something Haruka met with confusion, becoming a Boonboomger is something Mira does with the utmost enthusiasm. The idea of her "taking the wheel" after being previously being passive in her life is simple but effective motivation, whilst her excitement over transforming and joining in the roll call is adorable. Mira is the one we learn the most about in this episode, with Taiya and Hando (as well the whole Boonboomger operation) a little more mysterious. That said we spend just as much time with Taiya in this episode as we do Mira, and it doesn't take much to show off just how cool this year's Red is going to be. From his casual intervention at Mira's wedding to his quick acceptable of her joining the team, Taiya oozes charisma. Comparatively we learn a lot less about Ishiro, but his more calculating demeanour makes him a good foil to Taiya. Also as a side note, Super Sentai has always had some top notch puns in its character names but this year's are particularly great.

Mira ShifutoIshiro and Mira transform

The villains also seem pretty straightforward – they're a gang of evil aliens that have come to wreak havoc on the Earth…pretty standard Super Sentai stuff. But even if they aren't necessarily breaking new ground they're already proving to be quite a bit of fun, emanating some strong Carranger vibes with the way they just show up and immediately decide to cause chaos on the roads. The suit designs for both Dekotorade and Ittasha are both wonderful – suitably colourful and silly but also with that slight hint of menace that lets you immediately identify them as the bad guys. Throw into the mix a silly little car that can be carried around but also grow into a giant vehicle the villains can ride around on (Yeiyei Yakura) and you have a pretty interesting bunch. The idea of transforming everyday items into monsters is another Super Sentai staple – a fun idea but whether it stands out will ultimately depend on how well its utilised. Either way, a wedding dress monster is a left-field opener for a car-themed Sentai.

In addition to introducing the characters and creating enough interest in the story for viewers to continue, one of the main aims of the premiere episode is to show off the action sequences in the most dazzling way possible. Usually Toei will pull out all the stops for this first episode, to the point where it can be difficult for the rest of the series to keep up with the pace it sets. Boonboomger's premiere doesn't really do anything quite like that, managing to walk the fine line between looking impressive enough to suck you in whilst making it seem feasible that the rest of the series can look like this as well. What it does have a very good grasp of is speed, with Bun Red's debut fight in particular able to convey the vehicle motif with the right level of energy and excitement. The fight choreography is superb, and little touches like the use of the suit's tires (as well as control over them via the weapon in steering wheel mode) kept things interesting.

Dekotorade and IttashaPiloting the mecha

Following the show's initial announcement there's been a lot of discussion about the suits themselves, but regardless of your opinion they're definitely shown off to full effect in this episode. The simplicity of the suits themselves is a good tactic to highlight some of the wilder elements the design – namely the tires on the boots, back and of course the helmet. The tire helmets are certainly bold, and at the same time very fitting to the feel of the series as a whole. The transformation sequence is clean, and works well both as a quick transformation and a longer stock-footage one (both of which we see in the episode). It's also wonderful to see the tires have a practical purpose as well as an aesthetic one – not just in battle but also the rather brilliant way both the tires and seatbelt have been integrated into the mecha cockpits.

On the subject of mecha, this was another big area where the episode began to feel like familiar Super Sentai again. After King-Ohger dabbled in multiple episodes not having any mecha footage whatsoever, to go back to the "team defeats monster, monster grows, mecha defeats monster again" format is like the return of an old friend. That said some of the innovation brought about by newer shows is still present here, with the Boonboomgers engaging in a high-speed chase with Yeiyei Yaruka in a CGI 'Highway Space' akin to the avatar space Donbrothers' mecha fights took place in. It's a fun little high-octane sequence which adds a further dynamic to the mecha fight, and will hopefully continue to give the individual vehicles something to do before the combination. Once said combination sets in it all gets a bit familiar again, with physical suits fighting on a miniature cityscape. It all looks fantastic, and it's reassuring to see that while the fight goes all out to make mecha look as cool and enticing as possible it still retains a sense of humour about it all. The addition of the core component also being both sentient and among the team's ground support also adds an extra dynamic, which could play out interestingly in future episodes.

A chase in Highway SpaceBoonboomger Robo attacks

After King-Ohger felt like it was looking forward to the future of Super Sentai, Bakuage Sentai Boonboomger feels like it's remembering the past. While the return to a more traditional format may be disappointing to some, Boonboomger's premiere feels like some real comfort food - while it may feel like you know exactly what you're going to get, you also know what you're going to get is going to be good. With immediately likeable characters, great action and a brilliant sense of humour Boonboomger already looks on its way to be another solid entry in the franchise. And who knows, maybe the familiar formatting is all a ruse and the show could surprise us yet.

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