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I was determined not to come back with another Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger review that talked predominately about lead character Lucky, but it seems my fate was written in the constellations. This show, about a team of futuristic space trekkers boldly going up against the Jark Matter Empire, quickly became a new favorite for me, winning me over with its adventurous theme, great characters, and fun ideas. To this day, my feelings in that regard have not changed. Though I suppose I’ve squished those sentiments into a tiny side pocket now that the show has so aggressively pursued one of Super Sentai‘s worst habits: Putting an inordinate amount of attention onto the dude in red.

The luckiest liberator in the whole wide universe is not only the unofficially official leader of this enormous team of multi-colored do-gooders, set to travel far, far away, and rescue the innocent masses from Jark Matter’s clutches. He’s also the team mascot, the head cheerleader, the lead quarterback, the MVP, the coach, and the cheering fan in the stands all at once. The only part of this team he refuses to be is one of the guys sitting on the bench, waiting his turn so someone else can get some game time in. You thought you weren’t watching a Lucky episode this week? Silly reviewer! You haven’t figured out yet that every episode is a Lucky episode! He’s just letting the others make-believe they’ve got the spotlight for a few minutes before inevitably taking it back from them. And, like a freshman with his first girlfriend, experiencing his first not-so-great time in the sack, even when it’s not going as we imagined, Lucky’s teammates still end up sort of grateful to have experienced it with him.

And before the takeaway of this review somehow becomes that Kyuranger is a bad show, let’s stress this point right now, and may it be burned into our retinas for all time so that there’s no confusion at all. Kyuranger is a damn good show.

It’s hilarious, exciting, and has often made me cheer for its heroes and the many great times I’ve had with them through the 38+ episodes of their journey so far. I love Naga and his emotionally confused obstacle course of a life as he endeavors to become a little more human, surrounded by some of the strangest examples he could have in a tokusatsu universe. I’m continuously impressed by the show’s ability to tell long-form stories that span several episodes, always pushing to do more and be bigger than what previous efforts in the Super Sentai melange have dared to. I’m in love with the designs for the great Shou Lonpou’s beautiful RyuuCommander costume (among others) and the Kyutama collectible items the team has been tasked with gathering. And I’m blown away by the show’s willingness to dig deep into the backstory of its own expansive universe, yet another thing that sets it apart from predecessors.

And yes, I like Lucky. I like that his silly ability to pull miracles out of his black hole continues to baffle those new to his antics, and that several occasions have come up since his introduction that challenge this same over-the-top trope. I believe Kizu Takumi’s performance in a way that others, in similar roles, would have sadly pulled me out of the experience, somehow making some impossibly wacky material seem like kind of a big deal, even vital enough that I’m compelled to sit up and pay attention. The only thing – literally the one, single, solitary detail – that I keep returning to as a problem, is that the show seems to like him even more. Like, a lot. Yet, unlike myself, it feels unwilling to divert its gaze from his face for more than a few minutes at a time. I mean, I deliberately waited a while to discuss the show again just so I’d have more to say than this and ShishiRed still managed to occupy the lion’s share of my thoughts.

Now we come to the story arc in which our fearless leader discovers his royal blood. And something must be in the water, because tokusatsu is positively overflowing with crowned combatants suddenly. From government power changing hands on Kamen Rider Build to heroes getting a king’s ransom in power upgrades on Ultraman Geed, the land of special effects drama is filled to the brim with multitasking world leaders. Do they have Twitter in Lucky’s future?

Lucky first returns to planet Luth, from wince he first set out on his journey to see the universe, only later revealing that his mission was a little more focused than we had been lead to believe. The seemingly carefree starfighter had originally left this planet to find his father, who had sent him away from their true homeworld long ago with little explanation to go with his Superman-esque space capsule escape, from what must have been a pretty dangerous situation. Reuniting with his little buddy Caesar (because what else do you call a CG lion toy?), he’s determined to rescue the people there oppressed by Jark Matter. Along the way, we meet the old man tasked with looking after the willful hero, only letting slip in a moment of weakness that Lucky is indeed a prince. And I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Of course he is! He was basically already treated like a prince anyway, you might as well make it literal, at this point. They just took subtext and made it text.

In a big battle in which Caesar turns out to be more than just a cute friend Lucky’s dad sent to keep him company, the little lion becomes a really big lion, joining with the other Voyager mechs and blasting the enemy to kingdom come. At last, Lucky can return to his real home, the planet Cayenne, but while there is a bit of crying, it’s not quite the tearful reunion anyone expected. Dear old dad appears to be a total puppet for Jark Matter, making his subjects suffer under their rule. Lucky can hardly believe his eyes. Which appear to be leaking as he confronts the man whose distant reaction to the returning hero seems too unlike someone with Lucky blood coursing through their veins. Why isn’t this man shouting and punching the air? Or at least winning lots and lots of victories by simply declaring that he’s awesome?

In fact, this man is not Lucky’s father but a cheap clone made of sand. Like the wicked witch of The Wizard of Oz, just douse him with water and watch him dissolve. And what a crushing blow Jark Matter has dealt to the poor cosmonaut prince. He had just been told that his thought-dead father was alive and well, only to learn that he was an evil tyrant who suckled at the teat of his space lord, twisting the knife even further when it’s revealed that even this was a lie. At least when he was a royal bastard, Lucky had hope of winning the king over and having a dad again. Now, he’s got no king to win over and no dad to play space catch with. He’ll have to settle for the consolation prize that his true father never betrayed his people in the way that the fake king was made to. Although it affords him the gift of upgrading, within about an hour’s running time, from the role of prince to that of king. The uncontested ruler of an entire planet. Talk about lucky!

And, while Lucky’s new white coat is very becoming, emphasizing the white of his ShishiRed Orion form, he hangs it up for the next adventure, seeking to breach the giant shield that protects Jark Matter’s mother territory, Southern Cross. Commander Lonpou’s having a tough time of late, struggling to figure out his place on the team, which has grown so self-sufficient and capable that his supposed leadership seems superfluous. And the team indeed had spent some time without him when he chose to stay in the past with Champ in their time-traveling escapades a while back.

But as the crew is broken up and seemingly turned against him, he eventually reveals that his knowledge of this team and its many eccentricities is second to none. He sees through the trap set by Jark Matter’s minions and releases the others from the bonds of its trickery. Of course, this happens after RyuuCommander takes heavy inspiration from the show’s other red guy, Tsurugi, and before ShishiRed somewhat randomly faces the resurrected Mecha Madako in an entirely separate battle, but I’ll take what I can get of the non-red focus.

I like that Lonpou gets to display some martial arts prowess, in a kung fu-inspired battle where he bests the planet’s resident monster-in-charge in single combat before the group reunites for the finishing blows. And now the team is one step closer to gathering the Kyu Energy needed to smash the barrier protecting Southern Cross, where we can presume the true leader of Jark Matter awaits.

The next leg of the journey swings us back around to the dynamic duo of Champ and Stinger, as the hulking android’s creator makes his return. And not a moment too soon.

If I haven’t resigned myself to the fact that Kyuranger will never escape the long, red shadow of its lucky red leader by now, there’s something wrong. It’s baked into the recipe of the show, and of the family of shows, that these characters are apart of. And, while that is a bit of a bummer, I can’t help but want to look on the bright side. Because ultimately, the narrow focus on only a few characters more often than most others is not always a trope handled so gracefully. In fact, much of the time, that focus is placed with characters I like far less, in stories I don’t find half as engaging. If it’s my fate to watch this grinning, ruthlessly optimistic super-loon lead the charge at nearly every opportunity, I can rest easy knowing that the ride will still be worth it.

Your mileage may vary, but Kyuranger has managed to break through one hurdle after another that had set back the Super Sentai franchise for years, balancing strong characterization and ongoing stories with a heavy dose of whimsy and fun. I’m not sleeping on the first title from this franchise in years that has captured my attention to this degree. If it’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’ll settle for something that remains better for me than the sand clones that came before it. Just add water, and watch the competition dissolve. Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger is still standing.

 

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