Monday, March 14, 2016

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Episodes 1-5 Review

We're still a little over a week from officially declaring Spring but you can totally feel the season in the air. Birds are chirping, clocks have jumped ahead. Along with this thrilling renewal we're treated to yet another installment in the Super Sentai franchise. That's right kiddies, after a brief hiatus from the subject it's time once again to talk about Japanese people in spandex.

my original plan was to write this up after the third episode, which later became the more popular four-episode test, thanks to a wealth of other topics to cover I've been able to hold off until episode five and the results are looking good. In simplest terms this series is already proving to be more confident and comfortable in its skin than Ninninger, and it may even have the brains to avoid some of the issues that affected ToQger. I can hardly believe it but maybe I'll actually be able to cover a truly excellent Sentai for once. Let me tell you what I'm going on about.

Storyline: Right at the start of Episode one we're introduced to Yamato, a young man who serves as a forest tour guide, loves animals, and carries a strange cube around for luck. Within minutes he's warped into an alternate realm where Zyumens (animal folk) live. After a quick series of misunderstandings, Yamato returns to our world with four Zyumen in pursuit.
While all those dimensional antics play out, a strange space vessel belonging to a group known as Deathgalians marks Earth as the newest target of their death games. Apparently destruction, agony, and mass extinction are considered the highest form of entertainment for these buggers.
During the first Deathgalian attack, the Zyuman use cubes, henceforth known as champion symbols to transform into Zyuohger, a multicolored hero squad that enhances their animal based powers. Battle quickly ensues, during which Yamato becomes the first human to transform in such a fashion. The gateway between our world and the zyuman's is damaged during the tussle, causing our heroes to be stranded.
So far that's the main thrust of the story. The Zyumans crash with Yamato and his uncle while searching out the missing cube that will allow them to return home and also defending the world from evil aliens. There hasn't been any major twists as yet but there have been small hints as to he nature of the champion symbols along with a Zyuman who helped Yamato as a child.

Theme: As you can probably gather, animals are on full display with this series. Not only are four of our heroes animal people, but Yamato's uncle is a strange fellow who dresses as different species and takes on their mannerisms for the sake of “cough” science. It's totally not some kind of twisted role playing. Every episode even has a little post credit bumper showcasing different beasts for kids to learn about.
The secondary theme is cubes. We're talking Minecraft style blocks here. From the changeable weapons to different animal zords, they're all blocks of some kind. I'll admit I'm not quite sure what this has to do with anything other than the Japanese catching on to block based gaming, though one of the villains was likewise composed of blocks and some of their small aircraft are pyramid shaped. Seems like there's a plan in place for something but I'll be damned if I know what it is.
Speaking of the villains, they're an odd sort with a gaming bent to their activities. Not only is global destruction a fun activity for them but they even give underlings continues in the form of arcade tokens laced with genes from the big boss. Perhaps at some point this will serve as a commentary on the difference between natural and artificial life but for now it's just a fun splash of flavor.


Yamato, Zyuoh Eagle/ Zyuoh Gorilla (red)

For the past several years, the basic personality type for red rangers has been stubborn and stupid. Yamato is a considerable change from that as his defining characteristics are kindness and affection for all living things. He's may be the nicest sap on TV today.
When he was a child, Yamato ran away from home and got injured in a storm until a hawkman helped him out and gave him a lucky cube which later serves as his champion symbol. Ever since that moment he's studied animals so he actually has a little bit of brains to back up his heroics.
In case you're wondering why he gets a double animal listing it's because in episode five, a gorilla Zyuman grants his powers to aid in battle. This allows Yamato to flip a portion of his helmet up and change to his gorilla form which is really just an inflatable muscle suit. The common belief right now is that every team member will eventually receive such an upgrade. I just hope the girls don't turn into muscle monsters too.

Sela, Zyuoh Shark (blu)

Sela is possibly the least developed member of the team thus far. She's the toughest of the two girls, a skilled fighter with a slight chip on her shoulder. Most of her development has revolved around here rivalry with Leo who she rightfully believes went easy on her during a martial arts tournament. So far this issue remains unresolved so expect a few more tussles between these two as the show continues.
I really hope Sela receives some good developments separate from that sub-plot as there's something just plain interesting about her. Maybe it's the actress or perhaps it's that she doesn't quite match any other Sentai heroine from the past few years. Whatever it is, cute girls in shark tights deserve better.

Leo, Zyuoh Lion (yellow)

Leo may be my favorite member of the team so far. A chivalrous blowhard whose actor plays him loud and proud. I imagine his role over time will be both the comedic relief as well as pillar of strength. Since a portion of his development is tied up with Sela's rivalry, there's a chance we may see him grow and start to accept the power of women. Or maybe he'll just continue to be a fun jackass. Either way, I like this guy.

Tusk, Zyuoh Elephant (green)

Tusk serves the rather thankless role of the smart and grumpy team member. When the show first started, he didn't want anything to do with Yamato as he did not wish to owe anything to a human. That rough, judgmental tone as come down a bit in the following episodes but I wouldn't be surprised to see it pop up again sometime. Naturally his stick in the mud nature has already been used for comedic effect.

Amu, Zyuoh Tiger (white)

Under normal circumstances, Amu would be the adorable ditsy girl and while she is cute as a pet store display there's already been hints that's she's got more going on upstairs than most would figure. I think what we've got here is the sensible member of the team. While everyone else is driven by pride, passion, or intellect, she keeps things more balanced and in focus. It's a smart design for the team dynamic since she's more traditionally girly than Sela while packing enough brains to serve as a decent role model.

Review: What stuck out immediately for me during the first episode is how retro this series feels. From the costume design to the action end even the theme song, it all feels like an older Sentai. I consider that a great move as some of the more recent series have gone for a shiny streamlined style that ends up washing away some of the franchise personality. There's very little here that separates Zyouhger from the older Sentai series other than it not being quite as dark and cruel.
As it stands, the villains are despicable and provide a real challenge, the heroes have a wide range of personalities, the action is tight, the girls are cute, and the whole thing just feels like a more confident production than what we've been treated to over the past few years. All this could change over time as every series seems to alter course at one point or another. For now this feels like a fine upgrade over last years model. Ninninger was a completely serviceable series but it always felt like it was holding back. Zyuohger on the other hand feels like it has so much to cover than it can barely fit it all in to each episode. That wealth of riches makes for very refreshing viewing.

I'm gonna continue with Zyouhger recaps and experiment with the format and style until I find something I like. Right now, I have to go deal with the real world. You all stay classy.  

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