When the lead heroes of four of Tatsunoko Productions’ most beloved anime series are plucked from their separate stories and thrown into the CG animated blender that is Infini-T Force, the result is a surprisingly sensitive, character-focused musing on life, which just happens to have a truckload of explosions.
Having been fed a steady diet of the shake-and-bake battle marathons of the tokusatsu subgenre, where some crossovers are more about how many collectible toys can be mixed and matched between the characters than how any of their lives may be affected by it all, this was a refreshing ride. That’s not to ignore the many times heroes of Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, Ultraman and the like gather up from their respective continuities and tear up the battlefield. Indeed, many of those adventures lend themselves to some touching experiences. And for those that don’t, sometimes you just want to shut off the brain and smile at all the pretty colors. And no one would blame Tatsunoko if they had chosen to take this route with their treasured icons of Gatchaman, Casshan, Hurricane Polimar, and Tekkaman. Instead, they chose a story that balances the super-ultra-destructo-beams with heavy doses of humanity.
After an apocalyptic opening in which the worlds of past Tatsunoko series are seemingly ruined by an impossible event, our four displaced heroes are quickly drawn to the girl in a fifth reality whose life looked relatively unremarkable from a glance. Little does young Emi know that the fate of the multiverse may rest on the decisions she’s about to make, with the power of a god in her annoyingly casual hands.
I say “annoying” because the show makes the bold choice of centering its plot around a character that is… to use a charitable term, unlikable. Of course, she has good reason to be so salty, but before we get to it, she’s basically insulted the living hell out of everyone who gives two craps about her, likely spurring several members of the audience to question why people have to keep protecting her. I don’t immediately see this as a problem, though it might have been nice if she weren’t the sole girl on the protagonist’s side.
One might expect that, if you want to offset someone unlikable, you pair them up with someone possessing near-perfect attributes, who could show her the way toward a more optimistic lease on life. And that’s where Ken the Eagle comes in. He’s not that. At all. In fact, I’d say he’s the second least likeable character in the piece.
What’s amusing about this is that his outdated naivety about Emi and the world he finds himself in (which seems to have progressed socially quite a lot compared to his life in Gatchaman) actually works very well with Emi’s dismissive tendencies. She doesn’t put up with his sexist tone and laughs at his overly shouty dramatics, while it’s exactly that in-your-face attitude she may need to shake herself out of the funk she’s been sinking into for the past few years. The two complement each other amazingly well, and if they don’t get together or something by the end of this, something is wrong with the world.
Meanwhile, the machinations of Emi’s father Kaido and his crew of interdimensional rivals/allies continue to spin new ways for the crew to eat dirt before their twisted plans can be thwarted. Enter the deliciously evil Damian Gray, chewing up the scenery like he just got outta fat camp. Like all of Kaido’s dark comrades, there’s more than just a simple world domination scheme hiding behind his delicate frame. This dandy supervillain was once on the side of the angels, but an act of betrayal sent him over the edge, and he’s been creepily mixing random French into his dialogue ever since. “You’re a truly virtuous man, Takeshi” he says, before dropping off the edge of a building. “How nauseating.”
Leading up to the most recent installments was a short gauntlet of episodes that each seemed about establishing the heroes and the outlooks on life that they bring with them from their separate journeys. Along the way, we learn of the tragic past of two men on opposite ends of the heroic spectrum, both of whom had their humanity wiped away to serve dangerous purposes. And whether their intentions were noble or nefarious, the road taken to get there is no less distressing. One hero tells a story simply by his transformation, in which his scarred body is burned with lasers, in what must be the most painful-looking henshin I’ve witnessed since Shin Kamen Rider. Tekkaman waits with hope that his people, tucked away in an uncertain hibernation, will one day be revived. But with his native universe gone, and Kaido’s forces sending dark clones of his team against them, I suspect that won’t be easy.
Given the makeup of this narrative, I do wonder about that fight, where the four of them tangle with assassin versions of themselves. Of course, a perfectly good reason for their deployment is given in the episodes prior, but since the show is about alternate realities, I can’t help but wonder if those could actually have been the “real” Ken, Takeshi, and Joji, just simply from a different Earth. It’s doubtful, but it might be fun to hear someone elaborate on that plot with some good ole-fashioned fan-fiction. With the multiverse at your fingertips, the possibilities are pretty endless.
Why, even a member of the aforementioned Super Sentai could even make an appearance. Not on the battlefield, of course, but at a Halloween celebration. It’s just a costume of some generic knockoff-looking Red Warrior, but as a toku fan, it’s always fun to see these things. Especially in a show that may as well be the anime equivalent of a Super Sentai team-up. Or rather, a Super Hero Taisen movie turned into a series, in which iconic figures from multiple shows and films are brought together to save the world and set off the biggest fireworks display in recorded history (until the next one).
Undoubtedly, this show’s most exciting episode is the one sharing the series’ name, simply titled “Infini-T Force”. In the fallout of previous encounters, Ken finds himself without his trusty Gatchaman powers – no flight, no armor, no assortment of crimefighting gadgetry to save him – as Emi and the team he’s begun to call friends are in mortal peril.
After relentless chastisement from Emi, who reduces the team to a bunch of men who only assume the role of superhero because they like using their powers and showing off (to which I say there must be at least a kernel of truth), Ken must prove his mettle against an enemy that mimics the skills of his entire crew. With a little guidance from his newfound fam, that is. After the fire walk through the melting pot of philosophies from each show in episodes leading up to it, “Infini-T Force” is the period at the end of the statement of heroism made by these classic characters. Also, Ken just looks freaking cool. Like, all the time. Seriously, kudos to the designers.
If I were to change anything about the series, it might be the ultimate reason for Kaido’s plan to steal the mythic Case, the wielder of which will have any wish granted by its immense power. I suppose I’ve just seen one too many shows where the second half heads in this direction, and I couldn’t really muster the appreciation this time. Though they do get points for the creative use of multidimensional shenanigans. The sequence in which Emi has a conversation with someone who is both there and not there, witnessing events that both include and don’t include her, is definitely among the show’s most arresting.
Now approaching its eighth episode, Infini-T Force is a fun show, undoubtedly packed with moments of nostalgia, swelling with emotion but not so much that you forget that it’s probably the high-flying, thunderstruck, knuckle-crunching battles that brought you there to begin with. It’s an imperfect show set in an imperfect universe, but speaking as a resident of one of those, I’d say that’s just fine.