13 episodes in to this new viewing of Zyuranger and I thought it was about time for a review of the first quarter as a whole. Series in Japan can be broken up into 13 episode chunks, so hey, why not? That seems like a nice place to inspect everything the series has given us so far. You might have noticed that I started reviewing the show with episode six and…I will probably eventually get back to reviewing the first five. But for now, I’ll cover everything that I can in this summary/review.
For anyone living under a rock, Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger is the 16th series in the long running Sentai franchise. This is the series that was used as the basis for the original season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Zyuranger features the first regular addition to the cast with Burai/Dragon Ranger, played by Shiro Izumi, known for his earlier work as Change Pegasus in 1985’s Dengeki Sentai Changeman. The series is said to draw inspiration from three major sources: fairy tales, biblical stories, and J-RPGs that were popular at the time.
I’ve seen Zyuranger a few times before, I think this would be my third time watching it. Each view has given me a new insight into the series and a new way to think about it. Initially, I was not a fan of the series, at all. I thought it to be boring and bland, it felt like nothing ever happened. Honestly, that first time I watched the show was simply because, hey, it’s that show that Power Rangers is based on. Why not? I thought it got a little better towards the end, but my opinions weren’t favorable. I watched it a second time a few years ago and…I’m not sure what happened, but I enjoy it more. I found it to be a lighter series, but one that knew how to deliver on its themes, even if its characters weren’t the most developed. Now we come to this third viewing of the show. I’m mostly watching it again because I wanted to review it, but at the same time, I’ve managed to rack up a lot of behind the scenes information and just some interesting insight thanks to people like ShougoB’stard, Kou Aidou, and Lxnxara, among others.
The basic story so far is that long ago, there was a war against an evil witch by the name of Bandora, played by the legendary actress, Machiko Soga, known for having played numberous villains from all sorts of shows ranging from Battle Fever J to Queen Pandora in Jikuu Senshi Spielban. The war eventually ends with Bandora and her minions being sealed away on planet Nemesis, a planet that only passes by earth once in a blue moon. Back on Earth, there were five tribes, each guarded by a portion of the spirit of DaiZyuJin, the god in their world. These five tribes selected their best warriors and put them into a deep slumber, to be watched over by the warlock known as Barza until the day comes that they might need to return to protect the world.
The five warriors are known as Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger, or Dinosaur Tribe Zyuranger. Zyuranger is one of those very few Sentai shows (as in, one of two) where we actually have the Kanji for the team name. Usually the name is rendered in Katakana, but Zyuranger actually has a Kanji spelling in the main series logo. Zyuranger here means Beast Ranger. For whatever the reason, an alternate system of romanizing was used in the title of the series. Zyu is actually said as Juu, as in, Juuken Sentai Gekiranger, and it means â€œbeastâ€. Given the tribal aspect to the mythos of the show, I think Dinosaur Tribe Zyuranger is a pretty decent and cool way to translate the title. But we’re going on a tangent here!
Zyuranger is composed of five different warriors from the five different tribes of the ancient world. Geki, the Tyranno Ranger, is the prince of the Yamato tribe. Goushi, the Mammoth Ranger, is the knight of the Sharma tribe. Dan, the Tricera Ranger, is the knight of the Etof tribe. Boi, the Tiger Ranger, is the knight of the Daim tribe. And Mei, the Ptera Ranger, is the princess of the Risha tribe.
Thus far, Geki has gotten the most development as a character in the series. He’s your typical stoic leader, dedicated to the mission. But, you do get these hints of him being dedicated to the mission because of certain values he holds to be absolute. It’s not just â€œHey, let’s make this dude all into the mission just ’cause, kay?â€, Geki’s belief in justice always prevailing makes you see him as a guy always trying to do the right thing. And indeed, he pretty much is one of those perfect hero characters. Not perfect in the sense that he never fails, but in the sense that he’s always unwavering in what he believes. From time to time, we’ll see some brilliance on the part of actor Yuta Mochizuki, these little…moments, traits, just things that deliver the impression of someone who feels for the victims of the Bandora’s plots. It’s not always there, but when it is, damn is it awesome.
Thus far, the rest of the team can probably be described in stereotypes as far as who they are in character. Goushi is the dedicated knight, Dan is the wannabe ladies man, Boi is the precocious member of the team and Mei is…erm, yeah. Mei probably gets it the worst out of these four. It’s hard to identify her character because she doesn’t get a terrible amount of focus. Episode 13 gave her the most focus and that’s probably why it’s one of my favorites thus far. From what little we see of Mei in there, we learn that she’s…dedicated to her mission, but she’s also freaking scared of facing her fears, especially when she has to go at them alone. She’s brave with a team, but on her own she really needs to have a firm ground to stand on and face her demons.
Bandora and her gang aren’t too much to write home about just yet. They seem like your typical bunch of silly villains. Even the silent Grifforzar is prone to moments of amusing acting. Bandora is your typical witch character, she seems to hate kids. But, as this is a show based on fairy tales, nothing is really as it seems. When you watch Bandora’s plots, she specifically targets the happiness of children and their connection to their parents. There’s gotta be a reason for this, right? We’ll come back to that later on in the series.
In general, Zyuranger is a very entertaining show right now. It’s actually doing something that I love in that it delivers multiple two parters. Sentai isn’t known for having a lot of two parters, but writer Noboru Sugimura seems to love them. More power to him. At 19 minutes an episode, these major developments can be rather tricky to work into one solid week. I think they’ve managed to circumvent this running time by essentially crafting a large story and splitting it into two parts. We’ve had four two parters thus far, eight episodes. That’s right. We’re 13 episodes into the series and we’ve had eight episodes that cover story and develop the world of the show. That’s crazy for a Sentai.
The done-in-ones can range from entertaining to pretty boring. There has only been one episode I’ve not enjoyed in the series thus far and that would have to be episode 12. It felt so bland, as if there was no main character or focal point. Even the kid of the week doesn’t get a major portion of screen time compared to everyone else. This was an episode written by Takaku Susumu, a long-time Sentai writer in its early years, returning after a ten year hiatus. It does have that stock plot sort of feel to it. Sympathy for the characters is nowhere to be found in the viewer here. I think this episode tries to blend the stock Sentai plots with the unique form of character focus Zyuranger has and it sort of fails. Susumu isn’t the greatest at mimicking this style.
So what is that style? Probably one of my favorite aspects to the show. It’s that in the character focus episodes, the single character doesn’t overpower everyone else. You would be having a hard time actually calling them character focus episodes if not for the history Sentai has with them. Zyuranger, more than a lot of other Sentai out there, truly feels like an ensemble show. Of course, this leads to characters not getting the greatest of development at this point. Beyond Geki and Mei, though only just barely, we don’t have a great insight into who our other heroes are. Still, it’s an interesting framing device for the focus episodes and one I love. It helps make the show feel less formulaic and more like a natural series of events and progression.
Another random thing I’ve been loving about this show is its use of mecha. It’s sparring. For a show that absolutely breaks the mold and gives you some great and fun to watch mecha scenes, they’re not overpowering. Liveman introduced us to Land Lion, something never done in Sentai to that point, and Zyuranger introduced us to Tyrannosaurus and the other parts of DaiZyuJin. When they fight, a sense of realism in their movements is there. It’s like you’re actually watching these creatures move around and battle, most of the time. It’s a huge improvement over Jetman and just about every Sentai up to this point. Jet and tank action can only ever go so far.
I’m getting away from my point here again. Basically it’s that, for a show as innovative in its robotic puppet work, the robots don’t appear in every episode. We’ve had a few shows that wait some time before introducing us to the robot, but Zyuranger ranks up there was the second highest, I think, along with Gingaman and just behind Dairanger’s 8th episode introduction of DairenOh. So the robot is introduced late and guess what? We still don’t get robot action in every episode! The team working on Zyuranger know when and when not to shoehorn a battle in and I love it. The episodes often move at a much more fluid pace thanks to this.
So in short, Zyuranger’s a pretty rad show right now. It’s not terribly deep as far as the characters go, but the world itself is getting some great exposure.
source: Rising Sun Tokusatsu