Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sentai Mini-Reviews Part I: Zyuranger and Dairanger

So, I was doing some thinking about why I haven't posted much about Sentai, aside from the recent Go-Busters review, and I found that truthfully, it is partly because I don't have as much to say about many of the Sentai titles that I have seen.  I'll finish watching a Sentai show, and my reaction will be something along the lines of, "Well, that was pretty cool."  The end.

Anyway, In light of this fact, I thought I might try to do some short reviews that cover the basics of what I liked and disliked about the shows that I have seen, which seems like a less tedious task than doing my usual, long-winded reviews.  For my first entry in this new series and style of review, I have decided to take a look at both Zyuranger and Dairanger, since they are still fairly fresh in my mind, and the fact that they fall right next to each other in the Sentai production chronology is convenient.

Another interesting thing to mention is that Zyuranger and Dairanger are the first shows to have footage spliced with cheesy American acting for Power Rangers.  While I personally find Power Rangers to be corny and watered-down in comparison to its Sentai counterparts, that is a blog entry for another time, I suppose.

Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger

Made in 1992, Zyuranger relates the story of five warriors that have risen after millions of years of slumber in order to defeat the witch, Bandora, who is accidentally released from the magical container that sealed her and her minions.  These warriors use the power of the Guardian Beasts, which are essentially dinosaur deities.   The show was heavily inspired by JRPGs, as puzzles and magical items often play important roles in many episodes.

Looks familiar.

Surprisingly, the tone of Zyuranger often ends up being rather silly and zany, which can be jarring to some viewers at first.  Things can get dark and kinda creepy, especially when Bandora attempts to summon Great Satan.  The Zyurangers aren't exactly the most memorable characters in the franchise, but Geki and Burai (TyrannoRanger and DragonRanger) stand out, probably due to the drama behind their relationship, especially since Burai is an enemy at first. Of course, tokusatsu doesn't shy away from main characters dying, and Burai is fated to a rather sad death.

Feels were had.

Bandora is fun to watch, probably due to Machiko Soga's performance.  She is great in her other Sentai roles, too, such as Queen Hedorian (Denjiman/Sun Vulcan).  She has a great dislike for children and often gets her DoraMonsters to do terrible things to them.  She actually has a pretty sad back story, which isn't revealed until near the end, but it sheds light on her motivations.

I don't know if nostalgia is playing a factor here, but I admit that I really like the costumes, whether "normal" attire or suited up for combat.  The mech designs are great and even hold their own against more recent designs.  The special effects are neat, though it gets corny when they obviously opt to use an action figure for certain mech sequences.  The soundtrack has some nice orchestral pieces.  Heck, they released a two CD symphonic suite for Zyuranger.

Overall, Zyuranger is an interesting experience.  If you watched Power Rangers as a kid, you pretty much owe it to yourself to try out the original.  In my opinion, it is a superior show, and Zyuranger honestly isn't even the best that Sentai has to offer.  It's decent enough, but there are Sentai seasons that are much more engaging.

Want a rating?  I think I'd place Zyuranger at ★★★☆☆.

Gosei Sentai Dairanger

On to Dairanger.  Dairanger is about five descendants of the ancient Dai tribe, a tribe that flourished thousands of years ago and battled the militaristic Gorma tribe in order to save the world.  Essentially, the Gorma have risen again to attempt round two at world takeover, prompting the mysterious Master Kaku to train these Dai tribe descendants in the ways of Qi power.  Dairanger was heavily inspired by Chinese mythology and martial arts.

Plotwise, Dairanger is one of the darker, more violent Sentai series.  Each character has somewhat of a dramatic subplot that revolves around some other character/s.  However, some of these subplots are handled unevenly.  For instance, Daigo (Shishi Ranger) and his relationship/romance with Kujaku takes up a lot of screen time and gets pretty intense, whereas Kazu (Qilin Ranger) is somewhat underdeveloped and neglected, having only a small arc concerning his friend, Kameo, and a few random episodes that feature him somewhat.  Despite this uneven character development, I found myself really liking the Dairangers.  Daigo and Kazu are easily among my favorite Greens and Yellows, respectively.  Reactions will vary in regard to Kou as Kiba Ranger, the sixth Dairanger, since he's just a kid and behaves as such.

Looks familiar.

The Gorma tribe makes for an interesting group of enemies.  The monsters of the week can be kinda derpy, but the main enemies tend to be serious and a bit dark.  The Gorma triumvirate, consisting of Shadam, Gara, and Zydos, are the ones that typically hatch the plans, and they tie prominently into much of the drama.  The Gorma leader, Gorma XV, is insane and surprisingly childlike, though he's arguably not terribly important.  As a whole, the Gorma are sadistic, menacing, engaging, and memorable.

(left to right) Zydos, Shadam, and Gara

The action in Dairanger is superb.  From what I understand, the Dairanger actors all had either stunt or martial arts experience.  These guys can fight and get really intense, which really bumps the show up a couple of notches.  Their out of suit roll call toward the end of the series is pretty much the best that I have ever seen in Sentai.  Seriously, Youtube it.  The suits are also some of the best that Sentai has to offer.  They are easily top 3 for my personal favorite Sentai suits.  You have to wonder why Saban only stole/reproduced the Kiba Ranger suit for Power Rangers and neglected to do anything with the others, not that I'm complaining. 

Crazy awesome suits

Dairanger suffers from the typical Sentai issues of the time, including some under or uneven development, and the shorter 20-minute run time causes the mech fights to be rushed.  The plot seems rushed toward the end, and the final big twist seems like a bit of an asspull.  Also, ignore the final episode.  It didn't happen.  Okay, maybe it did.  It's horrifically silly and pointless, but you can at least tell the actors had fun doing it.

Overall, Dairanger is easily one of the best Sentai shows. Despite the typical Sentai flaws of the time, it manages to be engaging, dark, and interesting.  Gosei (Five Star) Sentai Dairanger lives up to its name, earning a ★★★★★ rating from me.  It does have a few plot issues and unevenness, but I feel like its strengths make up for it.