Sunday 14 April 2024

First Impressions: Shinkalion: Change the World

Shinkalion: Change the World

Proving that trains and giant robots continue to be a winning combination, the Shinkansen Robo Henkei Shinkalion franchise has returned for a third instalment in 2024 - but this time mixing things up a little bit. Not only does Shinkalion: Change the World appear to be starting afresh with a brand new continuity (ignoring the 2018-19 original series and its 2021-22 sequel Shinkalion Z), but it's also working with a slightly older cast. From a production standpoint things have slightly changed too, with Production I.G. and Signal.MD taking over animation duties from OLM. The first episode has also been made available worldwide via the official Shinkalion YouTube channel, albeit without subtitles.

Ina OnariTaisei Onari

As a child, Taisei Onari was told by his older sister to grow up to become a cool person - someone that's kind and has something to protect. Several years later, Taisei's sister has gone missing but he continues to aspire to be that person.

Transferring to his sister's former school Shinkai Academy Junior High in the hopes of finding clues to her whereabouts, Taisei soon makes friends with the school's railway club - Ryota Kuzuryu and its president Mai Ome. When a mysterious creature dubbed an "Unknown" attacks, the club reveals that they are a cover for the Evolution Railway Development Agency (ERDA) - an organisation that has developed transforming 'Shinkalion' robots to battle the Unknown. Revealed to have the aptitude to be a pilot, Taisei is invited to drive the Shinkalion.

Ryota and MaiThe E5 Shinkalion

With the first two Shinkalion series having established a very firm timeline and demographic, the sudden shift with Change the World makes its presence known very quickly even if fundamentally this isn't actually all that different from previous premieres. A whole new continuity is similarly surprising, but with Shinkalion Z lacking the lustre of its predecessor one might argue that starting afresh might be the way forward - giving the show a chance to stand on its own merits. It's clear that at the very least the writing staff have faith in it - this episode opting to be almost entirely character-driven and delaying Taisei's debut as a pilot. A flash-forward preview gives fans a taste of what they can expect from the show in terms of action, but the transformation sequences, gimmicks and such have been safely tucked away for episode two.

As previously mentioned despite the shift in cast the fundamentals are still very much Shinkalion - our main character is some sort of train fanatic, he has an AI companion, he's the "chosen one" with the aptitude to pilot the E5 etc. So with all those familiar traits in place, what Change the World does well in its first episode is build up a good sense of mystery. No sooner than we're introduced to Taisei's sister Ina there's a time-skip and she's suddenly missing - with her disappearance being a driving force for both Taisei and raising further questions with both the supporting cast and ERDA. Everyone in the school knows who she is, Taisei's abilities are somehow linked to being related to her - none of it is particularly original storytelling or setup at this point but they'll certainly be key parts of the series going forward. If there's one thing Shinkalion is good at it's taking characters in interesting directions (such as Seiryu's defection in the original series or Abuto's heel-turn in Z), so by setting up all these questions now there's hope Change the World will be cooking in a few episodes' time once everything is settled in.

VinaExploring the Metaverse

Both previous Shinkalion series have played with fairly large casts despite having its core favourites, but the opening credits (played at the end of the episode in typical premiere style) and promotional images for Change the World suggest we will be dealing with a slightly larger core cast this time around - highlighting five main pilots instead of three. Naturally we don't meet them all in this episode, but the few we do you're able to get a good sense of. Taisei seems like a pretty likeable protagonist - not completely bogged down by his sister's disappearance and also showing the kind of love for trains that's essential in a Shinkalion protagonist. Ryota and Mai are similarly likeable, though it's strange that Mai isn't among the (currently revealed) pilots for the series so it'll be interesting to see what the show's plans are for her. The group's teacher and ERDA operative Kadomichi Takanawa is another curious case, as this early on there's a throwaway line he says to himself which feels like it may be the basis for his character and/or some juicy backstory.

One aspect that is completely new and unique to Change the World is the use of the Metaverse, where the characters appear to be able to build their own virtual railways as well as have the Shinkalion compatibility tests take place. It's also where this season's robotic mascot Vina can completely come to life, as she is trapped as Taisei's phone navi in the real world. Unlike previous mascots who were directly some sort of machine, Vina is a virtual entity designed as a robotic Shinkansen attendant. She does however display the same expressiveness as her predecessors. It's currently unclear how involved the Metaverse will be in the storyline of Change the World, but with the virtual world appearing multiple times in the episode it's safe to assume it'll have some importance. It all feels very akin to the evolution of the Gundam Build Fighters series, albeit in a much lesser state.

As previously mentioned robot action was pretty fleeting in this episode, but flash-forward at the beginning together with the Unknown's rampage give a good indication of what the show is going to be like in terms of visuals. Despite the studio changeover, things don't actually look all that different. It's the same CGI action fans will be familiar with from the previous two series, right down to the use of capture fields to set the fights against a plainer backdrop. The Unknown featured was a good if somewhat generic monster design -  giving off strong "enemy robot" vibes whilst in-keeping with the train motif. Again fights looked good but next to nothing was given away in terms of gimmickry - the opening credits and of course the toys have given some of it a way but for a full breakdown on how Change the World is going to stand out you'll have to tune in to episode two.

The ShinkalionsAn Unknown

All in all it's a pretty strong start for Shinkalion: Change the World, setting up its new continuity and characters well without losing that Shinkalion spark. The decision to make this first episode primarily about the characters was a big part of establishing this, showing confidence in the story and not making it quite so obviously a toy-selling series straight out the gate. Without any continuity to hold the show back it's a brave new world for Shinkalion, so fingers crossed Change the World can capture the same magic that made the first series particularly special.

No comments: