Promises, promises.

It’s all determined salutes and solemn vows on this episode of Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger. And as we settle into this “cops and robbers” series, it hits me just how much the franchise has begun to change its tune. I think we were onto something when we speculated that, in its own way, the Super Sentai brand has been slowly creeping back to the forward-thinking Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters flavor in the last few years. I recently described the 2012 series as being ahead of its time, with its slick style, its character-centric stories, and a seeming intent to move the show into a new era. They just moved at such a fast clip that some diehards felt left in the dust with the whiplash it gave the fan community. And so, after a couple series that could be described as part of the “back-to-basics” years, we’ve been stealth evolving this colorful saga, seeding in new ideas, innovative design choices, and alterations to the show’s general makeup that, in my view, are for the better. Whatever the reasons for the show that now stands before us, I’m glad for the effort, because it so far has been an exciting ride.

The premiere episode ended on the cliffhanger that saw our lovably disgruntled cops get a new lease on life when they whipped out items from the famed Lupin Collection: More VS Changers, just like those used by the thieving Lupinrangers they’ve come to capture. Episode 2 kicks off with a showdown between the Lupinrangers and the all-new Patrangers, making their first official battle one where they face members of another sentai. Truly, these are strange days.

I like that we don’t immediately pair up the two opposing teams by suit color. Of course, it’s not hard when the only similar colors are the guys in red, but even they end up fighting people in other costumes. It’s an image that I’m sure is irresistible, and I don’t disagree with it, but I have always found it an amusing thought during these big Ranger-on-Ranger brawls, when each hero apparently takes a second to find someone with the same color on their suit and goes after them so they match. Gotta look good while you’re trying to tear each other apart. Don’t wanna get linked up with someone whose costume clashes with your own, what a fashion nightmare that would be, eh?

Here, our man in green, PatranNigo discovers while fighting LupinRed that he can shatter entire falling crates with a single punch and be virtually unharmed by an effort that, for him, feels so minimal now. An interesting way to first discover your newfound strength, in the midst of combat with a rival sentai. There’s a handy slow-mo shot where LupinRed fires his VS Changer gun and we can see an actual bullet release from the muzzle, proving that there are projectiles being shot out rather just a pure burst of energy. PatranIchigo catches the monster, Garatto Nago, and is ready to fire his own glowy bullets until his color twin tackles him just in time, keeping the Gangler from being destroyed so the Lupin Collection item he’s hiding within his body might be recovered. Of course, Ichigo only sees a criminal protecting another criminal, so ass-kicking season is officially open. Nago takes the opportunity to bounce as the madness continues.

I find it absolutely hilarious that part of the sound effects used when the Lupinrangers summon their giant Dial Fighter mechs to escape is a club air horn. That’s gotta be intentional, right? They have to know what they did there. The Patranger team is getting trolled by a bunch of party animals! They’re not about to be outdone by this band of hooligans. The cops bust out their Trigger Machine mechs, ready to tear up the curiously empty streets in hot pursuit of their targets as we head on into our first taste of the show’s opening credits.

I think I like the visuals of the opener more than the song, though I do appreciate the dueling vocals they’ve got going on. Two voices, each representing a different side of the rift between the two teams, battling it out for dominance both in the story and throughout the music. All the anime-inspired touches of the thing are a delight. The Patranger boss Hilltop doesn’t get much to do this week, but half a second of him looking fresh AF in the opener is worth like two full minutes of someone else, so I’ll allow it. Kogure looks a bit shady (what else is new?) as he clutches the Lupin Collection book, pages fluttering out revealing the image of the Lupin gang frozen within. It’s uncertain if this represents a literal trap the three are all caught up in, as if they can’t back out even if they wanted to, or a metaphorical trap, in the sense that they’re bound by the incoming backstory sequence, but either way, it’s a striking image. So too is that of their apparent nemesis, the mysterious Gangler with the brimmed hat whose fate seems intertwined with theirs. Just like the destinies of all those fighting against the Gangler, as we see the teams in civilian form walking by each other on the street, only for the image of Kairi in casual wear to change to masked phantom form the moment Keiichiro’s back is to him. Love it.

After the credits, we’re back into the action, and to one of the greatest individual mecha sequences we’ve had in eleventy eons. Seriously, the combination of modern visual effects and classic model work, pyrotechnics, and other time-honored tokusatsu techniques is astounding. The Dial Fighters sweep across the skies while the Trigger Machines pursue on land. LupinRed’s mech twists between buildings, underneath bridges, and over freeways in the maze of a cityscape set out before them, a virtual playground for mech action.

I like that there are sirens blaring as they run through the streets like this. At first, I thought they were completely empty, just devoid of any possible human presence that isn’t our six costumed combatants, but on a rewatch, I did catch a few vehicles conveniently placed on the sidelines with absolutely no exceptions. Despite the fact that this has presumably never happened before (at least as far as the Patranger’s vehicles are concerned), the people of this city are remarkably fast and orderly when it comes to these gigantic battles shredding buildings and dropping billboards only for the half-destroyed debris to get all-the-way-destroyed by the secondary blasts that soon follow. Move!

The ultimate insult comes for Keiichiro when, as PatranIchigo, he leaps from his mech to pursue LupinRed when he flies over water, where the Trigger Machine seemingly cannot follow. He’s so determined to cuff this crook, and in a more classic series, such an outpouring of emotion would somehow miraculously mean it’s about to work, but instead Kairi’s Fighter just slightly turns, leaving Ichigo without a wing to grab or land on, which means the only place to go is down. They even added the cartoon sound effect of the ground disappearing from under the character right before they realize they’re defeated. Into the water he goes, to nurse his increasingly painful crimefighting blue balls (red balls? ah, let’s just move on).

The two groups go off to their own separate corners as civilian life takes over, kinda sorta. The Lupins return to their restaurant setting, emptied after Kairi unceremoniously kicked out all their patrons, which is probably for the best because they can’t very well brood over recent events with a gaggle of hangry guests complaining about flies in their soup. Umika notes that, despite the six heroes transforming with the same changers, the resulting henshin produces pretty drastically different results, one side becoming “gentleman thieves”, the other superpowered police. What a coincidence that it’s so perfectly split between the two groups like that, three on three, each trio with a different theme to their powerset. Of course, tokusatsu shows (to say nothing of just shows in general) are riddled with ridiculous coincidences that we’re just conditioned not to notice or care about, but since they pointed this one out to us, I’m thinking it’s not one of those. It’s not unbelievable to think that both teams are backed by the same unifying entity, at least from a distant, whether that be the descendant of famed thief Arsene Lupin or someone we haven’t met yet. Someone who might have already had all six Changers (perhaps more) in their possession and is just hoping that the two sides will attack the same problem – the Gangler and the Collection – from different angles, maximizing the possibilities for success. It’s just that no one told the men and women on the ground about it.

Before Umika can suggest that maybe their side could just let the cops knock off the Gangler themselves, Kairi and Touma both shout her down. Despite their objective to retrieve the Collection items, it’s clear that the boys have an intense desire to see the Gangler defeated, and not just by any random police officers.

Speaking of intense desires, Kairi finds Keiichiro addressing a crowd of citizens in the aftermath of their battle, where we get a deeper peak into what makes this curmudgeonly cop tick. I love that the show is addressing this, by the way. With all the carnage that has already unfolded (though it’s presented with about as much a fun tone as you could possibly muster without taking me right out of the story) it makes sense that law enforcement agencies, among others, would be overrun with ordinary people who have experienced some kind of loss. A good section of the city just got trashed. Even without the two human factions, the Gangler themselves have already been making mischief, stealing organs, and blowing stuff up left and right. While I find Keiichiro’s frustrated disdain for the Lupin crew to be a total riot, it’s nice to see this flipping of the coin, showing what it actually means to him that the Gangler and those with that kind of power have done to the city he’s sworn to protect and serve. It’s not just an easy joke without substance. If there’s nothing else about him that Kairi can relate to, it seems this is the one place where he and Keiichiro are alike. Aside from the aforementioned color scheme, I mean.

But the color references haven’t quite stopped flowing yet, as a series of flashbacks commences, starting with Kairi himself, who returns to the spot where he last saw an important person in his life. His whole team, in fact, is haunted by memories of lost loved ones, the stories of whom I suspect we’ll learn more about in time. Each team member finds themselves standing in the place their cherished person was last seen, which serve almost like a public grave for these victims with no bodies left to bury. Kairi seems to have had a fight with his elder brother, who chases him through the street until Kairi angrily pushes him into some boxes in the alley. The box happens to have a bunch of red rose petals, which spill out as Kairi keeps walking, barely noticing the man in a hat that passes by. Seconds later, Kairi hears a cry. Returning to the alley, he finds his brother encased in a block of ice, which soon shatters to nothing before his eyes. I’m honestly still not that engaged by Itou Asahi’s performance, but the production does everything in its power to make this sequence work, including throwing those flower petals all around him as he howls into the night with confusion and regret over this strange occurrence.

Umika and Touma each found people they cared for in blocks of ice, all apparently murdered by the same haunting figure with the brimmed hat. In Touma’s case, it seemed the woman was wearing a ring. A fiance? A wife? The third victim is in similar attire to Umika, so we’ll assume it’s a classmate and friend. All seemingly killed when the ice shatters, though this is Super Sentai we’re talking about, so there’s at least a 40% chance they’re actually still alive, teleported elsewhere, stuck in limbo, or otherwise waiting to get rescued, even if the next part of this joint flashback doesn’t hold true. Kogure appears before Kairi, his arrival at once hopeful and ominous, like a divine figure with one angelic wing and one demonic one, both wrapped around these grief-stricken youths, vulnerable and waiting to be taken advantage of. Or something. We can’t really be sure it’s all that deep, but everything in the setup tells me there may be more to Kogure and his appearance to Kairi than the obvious.

The trio gathers, having been given the VS Changers, power enough to take back the Lupin Collection stolen by the interdimensional Gangler monsters and get their revenge, and once the Collection is made whole again, the promise awaits that they can restore their lost loved ones. We’ll see how that goes. They don’t seem to have a lot of doubts as they make a pact to see this thing through. Let’s hope they don’t regret it.

When Garatto Nago rears his ugly head again, the masked trio enters the fray with a renewed sense of purpose. As he uses his Collection item to blast them with fire, the transformed Yellow and Blue show off another function to their Lupin Swords with the Magic Hand feature, grasping his… magic hands so he can’t easily use them against the team. I think this is possibly the least silly “real-life object turned into a toku weapon” thing I’ve seen in a while. Not distracting, just a basic function that doesn’t scream for you to notice it. LupinRed cracks the restrained Nago’s safe and recovers the Collection item just as the po-lees roll up on them.

Keiichiro, Sakuya, and Tsukasa finally get to show off their own fancy transformation, having withheld its majesty from us in the prior week. Honestly, it’s a pretty standard sequence as transformations go, but even that feels somewhat in keeping with the character of the team. Overall, they’re much more of a no-nonsense group, which gets down to business as soon as possible (or at least as soon as the naturally showy Super Sentai tradition will allow). The badge insignias molded onto their helmets sparkle as PatranIchigo, PatranNigo, and PatranSango salute.

Interestingly, we don’t even witness the arrival of the Porderman foot soldiers. One second, Ichigo is proudly announcing that the Global Police are here to chew bubble gum and pound criminals into the pavement, and in the very next shot, he’s already doing just that to the Pordermen. I know a time-jump happened between commercial breaks, it’s just amusing that we’re already skipping the pleasantries to get down to the nitty-gritty. I guess they really are no-nonsense! They won’t even wait for the enemy to show up before somehow already snatching weaves and taking names.

Despite LupinBlue’s insistence that this isn’t a matter for the Five-O, the Patrangers too have a promise to keep, to the citizenry that’s been ignored in the power struggle between the three factions. Kairi can’t seem to shake the moment he had watching Keiichiro with the people earlier, so against the expectations of his teammates, LupinRed pulls a sick wall-walking move and blasts an enemy or two off of PatranIchigo’s back. After getting dragged out of the melee, Blue and Yellow wonder what’s going on, and the Pordermen politely wait for Red to explain to Ichigo that they’ve got what they came for so the Patrangers can handle the leftovers. The Pordermen resume attacking Ichigo, who may have caught a glimpse of a deeper soul behind the red visor of his enemy. When Sakuya asks if they should pursue, Keiichiro prioritizes the Gangler instead.

And I’m sure a bunch of people loved it, but the ensuing defeat of the Pordermen falls into the category of the distracting real-life stuff we were just talking about. I know it’s all in good fun, but it took me out of the show for a minute when the Patrangers suddenly pulled out megaphones and forced the approaching bad guys to comply with their orders, then just battered them until they exploded. I just don’t find that particularly satisfying, or funny, or really anything other than a cue to go make a sammich and hope that something cooler will be happening by the time I return. (And, to be clear, I was unimpressed because of the goofy megaphone thing, not because of, um… anything else.)

What I was less certain about, as promotional materials made it obvious that this would be happening, was the inclusion of PatranUgo (Combination). When the team pulls out another Collection item called Good Striker and uses it to merge the three members into a single hero, I’m not sure what to expect. Preview images were not kind to my eyes. I was joking about fashion nightmares before, but that… that didn’t look great. To my surprise, I wasn’t completely reaching for a sick bag when the three finally did their DBZ fusion and actually became Ugo. It’s still not my favorite design, but seeing it in action, albeit briefly and pretty much just to fire the big finisher-blast, was a pretty welcome cap to the scene. I also really like the trail of flame leading to the target as Nago is blown up. Very Back to the Future. Outatime indeed.

What remains of Nago is the safe left behind after the blast, but Gangler villainess Goshu shows up to revive him, using another Collection item, which I’m guessing we’ll be seeing over and over again as the series rolls on. It quickly restores him to life, which I guess would be one way to bring back dead loved ones, if you don’t mind them being really tall. Nago grows to giant size, which the Lupinrangers take as their call to arms, summoning the Dial Fighters back into action. This time, Good Striker is down to clown with them, detaching itself from PatranUgo’s changer and flying into Kairi’s cockpit.

Apparently, Good Striker is sentient, as it starts talking to Kairi, explaining his situation. He’s not one to take sides. He’s more of a freelance power-up, going wherever the wind takes him. First, he was chilling with the Patrangers, now he’s with the Lupinrangers. A neat concept. Another indicator that these teams may be separate but also equal when it comes to their ultimate source and benefactor. And also a nice way to keep the opposing squads from having a big humanoid mech battle (for now), as evidenced by the ensuing events.

Good Striker increases in size and links up with the Dial Fighters to become a giant robot, which it’s fair to assume he’ll also do with the Trigger Machines whenever the spirit moves him. For now, it’s Lupin Kaiser’s time to shine, and shine he does. Holy smokes, this is a great robot battle. Just as with the earlier chase sequence, this one pulls out all the stops, sending Kaiser all over the city, flipping and flying between buildings, dodging missiles and barreling through the streets toward the enemy. Windows shatter as the robot sweeps past. The amount of detail is extraordinary. It’s most definitely not something we should get used to. These sequences are here to show off the potential of these heroes and their arsenal, playing everything up to the max. I’ll not be shocked if we don’t get stuff like that every week, but it sets a nice tone for what’s to come. Also, Good Striker apparently has a million different forms, as he’s now seen with a sort of puppet-like avatar inside the cockpit. A face with bat wings and an appropriate top hat. He likes to stay on brand. Thank the trees he’s not flying around all the time to talk everyone’s ear off yet, but until he proves himself to be as endearing as Kivat from Kamen Rider Kiva, I’m more than cool with him chilling in the cockpit with the heroes as they take out the Gangler.

The separated Patrangers watch as Lupin Kaiser blasts Nago with a sawblade attack (and really, who needs those two bridges they casually cut through anyway, right?) and after a series of amazing feats of visual and special effects wizardry, the final attack is delivered. A rapid-fire assault that sees Nago finally destroyed for good. I’ll assume the Collection item he held is fine and safely back in Goshu’s ridged hands after that glorious victory lap.

Back at the bistro, the Lupins return to their day job in peace, Umika nicknaming their new toy pal Goodie, for short. Works for me. Then the trio is startled by the sudden appearance of the other trio. The Tactical Unit of the Global Police has just entered their place of work. Do they know who they really are?

Of course not. They’re probably just here to eat, but we’ll pretend it’s as tense a moment as they’re playing it up to be until we see the other side of this cliffhanger in episode three. No closing credits for this show. We’re taking the year off, it seems, and following the Heisei Era Kamen Rider tradition of giving the extra screentime to the story and other odds and ends. I’m more than fine with that. Sometimes, change is good. Keep it up.

Another strong episode in the can for Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger. I do hope that we will eventually cycle over to the Patranger crew as the primary focus for some episodes, as it could get a little tiring having two teams but always favoring one. Super Sentai already has a habit of favoring the guy in red. Or, more accurately at this point, guys plural, because just like Pringles, you can’t have just one. I wouldn’t mind so much if it didn’t feel sometimes like other members of the team were sacrificed to make it happen, reduced from official main characters to almost unofficial supporting characters on their own show where they are featured leads. Which the Patrangers definitely are, and they deserve their due all the same.

Also, more Hilltop. You always go full Hilltop.

Until next time, team(s).


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