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It’s been a while since I could say that I was loving both the current Kamen Rider series and the current Super Sentai at once. More often than not, the recipe is off for one or the other. And while I’m no Spada, I’d say that Uchu Sentai Kyuranger‘s blend of wacky fantasy and epic drama provides a well-Balanced meal for my tokusatsu soul. Let’s catch up on recent events with this show, and wonder what we did to deserve them.

When last we discussed Kyuranger, our terminally red hero Lucky was about to jump into the past to join the time-displaced portion of this ever-growing team of space adventurers, once again proving that even time travel can’t keep Red off the screen for more than a few seconds in a row. It’s for a good reason, but one can’t help but notice how continuously Lucky (along with his many recent Red predecessors) gets the attention. The one major downside of all of it is that, while the show is telling a great story, it’s doing so by selling us on even more glorification of the guy who’s already got it in spades.

Lucky arrives in Earth’s past to find half his team thoroughly wrecked after a vicious encounter with series villain Don Armage, their ship, the Orion, in ruins. With the help of their alien ally, also called Orion, they barely escape their first encounter, but Lucky is badly injured. A mere flake of power from Don Armage is casually shot right into his suit, piercing his body in a flash, and he goes down. This… is a lot more than I expected to happen on this trip. Now, time as we know it has to be changed. Unless we’re to assume that this had always been the chain of events leading us to the first episode. In which case, all of this needed to happen in order for things to play out the way we’ve already seen them. Is your head hurting yet?

Orion, who is about fifty times cooler than his American namesake from Power Rangers Super Megaforce, has been dropping hints like nobody’s business, letting on that he’s got a kid in the Leo System. So much that, when the time comes for them to directly tell us the big secret, there’s no surprise left. But the very idea of it is still totally rad. In the short time that they shared, Lucky and Orion played off each other amazingly well. Orion being one of the few heroes without a shiny costume to stand next to a suited toku warrior and not look out of place, the possibility of him being Lucky’s father (or at least a close ancestor) was a surprising revelation that adds a lot to that weird Clark Kent origin story he got earlier.

Showcasing Lucky’s roots in this unconventional way, the hero born of Leo and Orion, is another reason why Kyuranger has impressed me more than Sentai’s last few offerings. You just don’t get this kind of backstory, and attention to character in a lot of other series. At least not in a way that I would like, with characters I’ve been made to care for so quickly, on a show that feels made to impress. While I loved Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, and its jaunty space-pirate cast was positively electric, there was always this blind spot (or Black Hole, if you prefer) when it came to the characters. What we got was often fantastic, but whether it’s because of that show’s crossover-friendly premise or because it just simply wasn’t interested in much else half the time, I can’t help but wonder to this day about what we didn’t get from them. I find myself wondering a lot less with Kyuranger, because more often than not, it goes there. My only wish is that it would “go there” with a few of the other characters too.

And while it is fun to watch Lucky march onto the shredded battlefield all cool-like, rejuvenated after a chi bath from his buddy Tsurugi, who did some vague magic nonsense to fix him, and it’s lovely that ShishiRedOrion has a bunch of neat tricks to screw Don Armage up, I just keep thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole team got sumthin like that?

Remember when the Mahou Sentai Magiranger family ascended to Legend form? Or when the Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger cops upgraded to SWAT? What happened to team power-ups in Sentai? I’m not insisting that every series be the same, or that individualized forms be abolished, but this team-based show feels less about the team when one guy shuffles through a gauntlet of upgrades and everyone else just hangs back with their base powers, which look more and more generic beneath his lengthening shadow. Mix it up!

After the sobering death of Orion (a man so badass he refuses to fall when killed) and a farewell to Xiao and Champ, who choose to stay behind and spread the word about Kyuranger’s eventual rise in the future, the rest of the team expects to arrive in a world free of Armage’s rule. Instead, they find that things haven’t changed much at all, and their biggest problem when Lucky had left is still in need of solving. As if they’d let the others do it without him.

I continue to be impressed by this show’s interest in developing these characters and their world, as Naga, long after the point where most of us expected this story to keep going, is still rampaging as the evil HebitsukaiMetal. After the formerly emotionless youth was corrupted by an explosion of negative feelings, he’s become quite the handful, rivaling that of his Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon equivalent, Dark Mercury. Raise one hand if you forgot about her. Raise two if you carry the shame of never knowing such greatness.

So, our heroes devise a ridiculous plan to use another random Kyutama, the full assortment of which you seriously could not pay me to keep track of, to shrink Naga’s best friend Balance to microscopic scale and enter his deliciously psychotic brain. What does one have to smoke to come up with this as a solution?

We’re treated to a trippy sequence in which there are basically three Nagas. There’s the physical, full-sized Naga, out in the “real world”, about to make mince out of a couple of his former teammates. There’s the normal Naga, who I can only guess is just a metaphysical representation of his innocence, despite the fact that we’re supposed to be inside his actual brain, not a psychic realm or illusion. And then there’s the other Naga in his brain, HebitsukaiMetal, who obviously represents his dark side, enslaving the lovable Classic Silver.

It feels like a lifetime ago that we were first introduced to Naga and Balance as the “BN Thieves” running around committing theft and colluding with the fringes of Don Armage’s posse to get a score. They went from that to fighting alongside a group of heroes to save the universe from an oppressive empire, until finally being driven to this state, where Naga has almost killed his entire team by now, along with Echidna, whom he tried to make shoot herself with her own gun earlier in the episode. It may be cloaked in silly window dressing, but this show is determined to draw some emotion out of you.

Finally, the Naga of old is able to fight back and rescue Balance, proclaiming that these negative emotions that have been released within him are not the ones he sought all this time. And with the help of (you guessed it) ShishiRedOrion, he sends the enemy packing, returning to the team at long last. Interestingly, Naga gets to keep the weird Metal outfit as an apparent upgrade, so… Not exactly the kind of non-Red enhancement I was talking about, but it’s better than nothing.

The next episode appears to bring some much-needed focus to Raptor, WashiPink, though it won’t shock me to learn that this is linked to what is about to be a new toy intro.

While strange and imperfect, Kyuranger rarely ceases to entertain, adding to and improving upon a lot of elements that other entries in the franchise have failed to impress with lately. Its worst drawback is that it’s happening at the same time as the new hotness that is Kamen Rider Build, showing us how it’s done time and again during its short but sweet run so far. Two good shows to watch at once? In my book, that’s the best problem to have.