Now it's five Super Sentai shows down, [yet to be determined] to go! Here's a review for GoGo Sentai Boukenger. Ready, go!
"Bouken" is Japanese for "adventure" and the Boukengers are (perhaps unsurprisingly) adventurers. Boukenger is also the 30th Super Sentai series, and its episodes and characters are full of references to older series. Well, sort of. Take a look at Ryuuwon and tell me you don't see the Megazord. I'll explain that in better detail later. The bottom line is that Boukenger is about adventurer rangers searching for legendary treasures, Indiana Jones style. Hell, the tagline could be "THAT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM" because, well, the Boukengers literally live in a museum.
- I usually refer to main characters by title or color because it's easier
- I will mention spoilers through episode 29, when Zuban debuts
Full Title: GoGo Sentai Boukenger
Air Date: February 2006 to February 2007
Series Number: 30th
Video Content: 49 episodes, 3 movies
The Boukengers are special agents of Search Guard Successor (SGS), a mega-corporation dedicated to locating Precious. "Precious" are defined as artifacts that are more powerful or advanced than current modern technology, and are typically either of a mystical or alien origin. SGS isn't the only organization searching for Precious; groups that intend to use Precious for malicious purposes are identified as Negative Syndicates. To recap: the Boukengers are sponsored by SGS to search for Precious and to prevent Negative Syndicates from obtaining them. SGS wants to lock up Precious in vaults; Negative Syndicates want to use Precious for evil. That's the gist of it.
The first episode of Boukenger was an exciting 20 minutes that sold me on the entire series. Our five heroes are investigating an ancient temple of the Gordom Civilization and encounter explosive traps, hidden rooms, a crumbling bridge, and an ancient evil (a sealed-away Gordom priest bent on world domination). There's a surprising betrayal, multiple dramatic rescues, and some truly reckless behavior on display. Hell of a first episode. It establishes the Boukengers as treasure-hunting, globetrotting adventurers, even though 100% of their adventures take place in Japan and nearby islands. It established several key character relationships and introduced one of Boukenger's major villains (Gordom High Priest Gaja), but maybe set my series expectations too high.
Moreso than any Super Sentai series made after 1990, Boukenger is episodic in nature. Each episode is a new Precious being identified and searched for, and by the episode's end the Boukengers locate it, fight Negatives to obtain it, and either lock the Precious safely away or otherwise neutralize any threat it poses. Sure, there are a few multi-episode arcs, but in general that's how each one goes. Occasional story arcs go specifically into the Boukengers' pasts (Bouken Yellow in particular has a very memorable arc in this regard), but even then always a story told in one or two episodes, centered around obtaining Precious. Most of the Precious in the series are inspired by tales from real-world folklore and mythology - there are episodes about the Japanese stories of Kaguya and Momotaro, and another about Cinderella's glass slippers. Several of these episodes are really good, and the full slate has a fair balance of comedy and seriousness. Boukenger's tone isn't overly dark or lighthearted; the show attempts to capture a spirit of adventure in its stories and mostly succeeds in doing so.
The disparate nature of the episodes can be a problem - there isn't really a build to a final conflict, with the series ending on a few multi-part episodes to pay off the various villain story arcs. Because the villains' storylines and motivations are spread out across FOUR groups of villains, it feels like these stories end too quickly and lacked a proper setup. There isn't even a "main villain" so much as one of the four being defeated in the final episode. Boukenger has the least-satisfying final 10 episodes of any Super Sentai I've seen. Sure, it delivers closure for most of the important characters, but it happens a bit too quickly and easily.
Bouken Red: Satoru Akashi, a former treasure hunter known as The Immortal Fang
Bouken Black: Masumi Inou, a former treasure hunter determined to surpass Red
Bouken Blue: Souta Mogami, a former spy specializing in information gathering
Bouken Yellow: Natsuki Mamiya, an amnesiac companion of Black
Bouken Pink: Sakura Nishihori, a former military special forces soldier
Bouken Silver: Eiji Takaoka, the last scion of a family of demon hunters
The initial five Boukengers are already assembled at the start of the series, and viewers are quickly informed of the group dynamic within a few episodes. Red is single-minded and daring, caring about adventures over basically anything else; at one point he opts to chase after a prize solo, leaving clues for the other Boukengers (so they can have their own adventure) instead of telling SGS what he's doing. Still, he cares about his comrades and is a selfless, capable leader. Blue is rational, calm, and trusting of Red, but has a weakness for pretty girls (he's a bit of a player). Pink is serious and fastidious to a fault, and harbors an obvious crush on Red. Black may care less about adventuring and more about prestige - he resents Red's attitude and success and is determined to surpass him (a surprisingly common trait in Super Sentai teams). Yellow is an amnesiac found buried underground by Black prior to them joining the Boukengers. Yellow is clumsy and flighty, but she holds her own during adventures (mostly).
Bouken Silver feels a little out of place as a Sixth Ranger. He's a monk-like warrior dedicated to eliminating the Ashu, an ancient tribe of demons with only a few left alive. When the Boukengers aid Silver in defeating the Ashu, he's invited to the team; later all six Boukengers end up fighting the revived Ashu, now called the Questers. After joining, Silver immediately clashes with the rest of the team, Black in particular. Whatever. I don't mind having the Sixth Ranger be serious and aloof, but Bouken Silver doesn't add much to the team dynamic. Around episode 25 to 30, the Boukengers find a powerful golden sword Precious that can transform into a humanoid warrior named Zuban. Zuban can be wielded in sword form or fight alongside the Boukengers in warrior form, and enlarge himself to mecha size as well. Zuban is hilarious (he only words he says are "zun," "ban," and "zuban") and I enjoyed his presence on the team more than that of the moody Silver.
The six Boukengers are distinct characters and have some fun interactions, but... sometimes their personalities frustrate me. Black is very attached to Yellow, but otherwise he doesn't seem to care about the Boukengers as a team. Yellow is so hilariously under-qualified to be part of an elite squadron of treasure hunters that I'm curious as to why she was hired in the first place, but at least she has a really good story subplot about her memory and family. Red is so reckless that I was dumbfounded at times. Pink is mostly an appealing character, but not very believable as former special forces. Blue is my favorite character in the show, as he has a fun personality and is a capable fighter and teammate. Many of my favorite episodes starred Blue. Overall, a decent group of monster-fighting young people, but not the best Super Sentai has to offer.
As I've mentioned several times in this post, there are four groups of villains (collectively called Negative Syndicates or just "Negative") working against the Boukengers. Usually each episode involves the Boukengers fighting one of these groups, but occasionally they team up or the Boukengers end up battling a neutral threat rather than a Negative. Every enemy (including both recurring villains and monsters of the week) have their visual design inspired by a mecha from a past Super Sentai series; this gimmick definitely comes from Boukenger being the 30th-anniversary show. I could easily see the connection between Ryuuwon and Zyuranger's Daizyujin (aka the original Power Rangers MegaZord). As another example, Quester Gai and Quester Rei are visually inspired by DairenOh and KibadaiOh, the two chief mecha of Dairanger.
The four Negative Syndicates in play in Boukenger are the Gordom Civilization (led by High Priest Gaja), the Jaryuu Tribe (led by King Ryuuwon), the Dark Shadow gang, and the Questers. Gaja is a sorcerer seeking to revive his ancient people with the power of Precious and take over the world; the Gordom use foot soldiers called Karths that Gaja seems to lend to the other three Negative Syndicates quite often, heh. Ryuuwon is a reptilian monster who wants to eliminate humanity and replace them with his dinosaur-like Jaryuu. Dark Shadow is a trio of ninjas consisting of Gekkou (an old owl), Yaiba (a masked swordsman), and Shizuka (a pretty woman) who steal Precious to sell them unscrupulously. The Questers are former members of the Ashu (the demons hunted by Bouken Silver), rebuilt with modern technology and bent on eliminating all humans. Ryuuwon and Bouken Red clash often; Black duels Yaiba multiple times; and Blue openly flirts with Shizuka in virtually all of their encounters.
Those four villains have a variety of ways to introduce monsters of the week (Ryuuwon uses crazy dinosaur arena rituals to create new dragons, Gekkou makes monsters using ninja magic, etc.) but overall their schemes aren't anything terribly unique for Super Sentai. It does create a diverse group of monsters for the Boukengers to fight (golem-like monsters from Gaja, dinosaurs from Ryuuwon, ninja monsters from Gekkou, and cyborgs from the Questers), but ultimately it's just six or seven antagonists splitting screen time and lacking character development. My favorite villains in Boukenger were the Questers because their armor looks dope as fuck and they always seemed more threatening than the wheezing Gaja or the flippant Shizuka.
Bouken Red: uses a spear, pilots dump truck and jet mecha
Bouken Black: uses a hammer, pilots race car and construction crane mecha
Bouken Blue: uses a fan gauntlet, pilots gyrocopter and cement mixer mecha
Bouken Yellow: uses shovel claws, pilots bulldozer and drill mecha
Bouken Pink: uses an assault rifle, pilots submarine and excavator mecha
Bouken Silver: uses a staff, pilots police car, ambulance, and fire truck mecha
The fight scenes in Boukenger are serviceable, but rarely special. The Boukengers are each armed with a sword and a gun (just like 90+% of other Super Sentai), plus a unique weapon, listed above. Bouken Silver uses a staff that can be used in melee combat, but also transforms into a sniper rifle and a metal detector (...sure.). A few of the weapons the Boukengers use are certainly unusual - Blue has a powerful glove-mounted fan, and Yellow's "Bucket Scooper" weapons are backhoe shovels mounted over her hands. Their finishing move is a special cannon adapted from two of their mecha - a cement shot to immobilize enemies followed by a drill shot to defeat them. But, well, the action in suits isn't that special.
The mecha in Boukenger are large, color-coded versions of somewhat normal vehicles, and they're introduced QUICK. The group starts with five, and they have ten by episode 10 and 13 by episode 18. The first five mecha combine into Super Daibouken and can "equip" the next four as arm replacements. The first ten mecha combine into the unwieldly Ultimate Daibouken, and Bouken Silver's mecha can transform into a mecha of their own, eventually combining with Ultimate Daibouken into a mess of 12 or 13 pieces. Yikes. There's also ANOTHER five-piece mecha introduced in the episode 30 to 35 range, bringing the total count up to 18 mecha. The giant robot combat in Boukenger is decent, but after awhile the mecha are so heavy and awkward that I started fast-forwarding through scenes. That's a bad look.
I'm probably being too much of a downer here - the fight coreography isn't bad in Boukenger, especially early on when they're introducing a new mecha almost every episode (incapacitating foes with cement never gets old). I'm spoiled by the excellent in-suit combat of Dairanger, Gekiranger, and Gokaiger, and I have a personal preference against combined mechs formed by more than six pieces. I also thought the end-of-show mecha in Shinkenger were too clunky and overwrought. The monster designs and episode themes in Boukenger are pretty good and make for some really interesting gimmick fights - the battles between Blue and Shizuka in the Rainbow Clothes episode are awesome. I've just been fortunate to begin my Super Sentai career with shows with incredible action, and Boukenger doesn't live up to those.
I don't love the Boukengers' super suits. The extra white in the legs and torso looks okay, but the silver logo in the chest isn't attractive and the helmets don't look very good at all. I'm not opposed to vehicle-themed helmets, but the Boukengers' aren't distinct or interesting. Silver's suit looks a little better, but that's only because I like the abundance of black and orange in it. On the flipside, I think that out of suits the Boukengers have a nice thing going for them. The tan-and-color-coded-camo jackets are pretty cool (I kinda want Black's jacket for myself) and look unique among Super Sentai casual wear. Those jackets fit their being members of a quasi-military group and wearing similar uniforms. Yellow and Pink look hella-cute in khaki skirts, too.
The main gadget used by the Boukengers is a GoGo Accellular (a delightful portmanteau of accelerate and cellular), basically a phone with a wheel at the end. The Accellular is a communicator, a tracker, a makeshift grappling hook, and also a morpher, requiring its wheel protrusion to roll against something (usually a jacket sleeve) to transform. In one fight Black blocks one of Yaiba's sword strikes with the Accellular wheel to suit up and it's AWESOME. The Boukengers' roll call sequence is decent, with unique poses and titles for each character. Not terribly unique, but at least it's not as time-consuming as Dairanger or Gekiranger. The sets in Boukenger are pretty neat; their secret museum apartment is great, and there are fight scenes in a wide variety of forest, mountain, beach, town, and empty rock quarry (of course) environments. Lots of hiking around woods and mountains in search of hidden caves. Like, a lot. But overall most of Boukenger's Super Sentai traditions and gimmicks are up to par.
One unique feature of Boukenger is the Sentai Encyclopedia mini-presentation that takes place after each end credits sequence. After nearly every episode, the Boukengers give a quick 30 seconds detailing a prior Super Sentai series or a piece of Super Sentai tradition (i.e. combining mecha, Sixth Rangers). There are at least 40 of these bits, and they're fun and informative. Especially when the group dresses up or goes for a big visual gag, heh. Musically, Boukenger is on the strong side. The opening and ending themes are a bit generic, but peppy and pleasant at best and inoffensive at worst. The musical cues in Boukenger stood out to me - the transform and eyecatch sequences feature a singsong "Boukengeeeer START UP!" chorus that I enjoyed hearing. Pretty good Super Sentai for audio.
The Final Word
Favorite Hero: Bouken Blue
Favorite Villain: Quester Gai
Favorite Mecha: GoGo Mixer (lol, it's a cement mixer)
Favorite Episodes: The Glass Slippers (26), The Rainbow Clothes (38)
Boukenger is my least-favorite of the six Super Sentai shows I've watched, but that's in large part because the other five were great. Boukenger has a mostly-appealing cast, a few really fun themes and gimmicks, and some standout episodes. It also has four groups of villains that all seem underdeveloped; I feel that the multiple villain groups and episodic format of the series both do more harm than good in the long run. Boukenger isn't a bad Super Sentai show by any means, but it never quite lived up to the promise of its excellent first episode.
I've finished watching Dekaranger, so that's guaranteed to be the next Super Sentai review on this blog. I'm also working on a couple game reviews and another long-form Persona article (!?) but I don't know when those will be ready. I'm currently watching four Super Sentai shows at once because I'm a crazy person: Jetman, ToQger, Zyuranger, and the currently-airing Zyuohger. Don't know which of those I'll finish first, but I'm furthest along in Jetman. I'll be back again before too long. Trying to recommit to writing at least a few posts a month.