Thursday, March 10, 2016

SUPER HERO TIME! Gokaiger!


My third venture into Super Sentai was also my favorite thus far.  Yeah, this review is going to be effusive as fuck.  Let's Gokaiger!

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is an anniversary series (or at least an anniversary that's a multiple of five), so it's reasonable to expect that there might be references to past Super Sentai shows, right?  Right.  Well, Gokaiger goes above and beyond that expectation.  There are cameos from dozens of Super Sentai warriors from the first 34 seasons and specific homage episodes for twenty of the Super Sentai seasons.  All 34 Super Sentai teams have their powers employed by the Gokaigers themselves (more on this later).  Gokaiger is a Super Sentai show about pirates, freedom, and the very nature of what Super Sentai is.  It's loaded with fanservice for Super Sentai fans (most of which I didn't fully appreciate, being new to Super Sentai), and also educational for newer fans of the series.  And it's done with style. 

NOTES
- I usually refer to main characters by title or color because it's easier
- I will mention spoilers through episode 31, when Basco ta Jolokia shows his true colors

The Basics

Full Title: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger
Air Date: February 2011 to February 2012
Series Number: 35th
Video Content: 51 episodes, 6 movies, 1 special

Gokaiger opens with one of the most spectacular sequences in Super Sentai history: Earth is invaded by a group of aliens called the Zangyack, and the first 34 Super Sentai teams do battle with the Zangyack invasion force.  It's a short montage of about 200 heroes in spandex fighting aliens and it's goddamn magnificent.  Ultimately, the Super Sentai army repels the Zangyack, but at a cost of losing their powers, which are scattered into space.  Enter the Gokaigers, a crew of space pirates that found the lost Super Sentai powers (in the form of Ranger Keys) and believe that the Ranger Keys are means to finding The Greatest Treasure in the Universe, located somewhere on Earth.

Super Sentai tends to do some kind of special theme or gimmick for anniversaries that are multiples of 5.  For the 25th and 30th anniversary shows (Gaoranger and Boukenger), Toei made two "Vs. Super Sentai" movies featuring cameos from several past Super Sentai teams.  Gokaiger ups the ante by bringing back suits and moves from ALL THIRTY-FOUR prior Super Sentai series.  The Gokaigers can use the Ranger Keys to transform into any Super Sentai warrior from the past.  It's total fanservice, but it's also a fun gimmick with tremendous variety (they transform, or "Gokai Change," at least twice per episode). And like I said earlier, it's educational for viewers that don't know every Super Sentai already.  Like me. 

And I need to say it: Gokaiger feels a lot like One Piece.  One Piece is the most popular manga (long-form comic book) in Japanese history, with over 380 million volumes sold.  That's over 150 million more than Dragon Ball / DBZ and 160 million more than Naruto (Dragon Ball is #3 overall, Naruto is #4 overall).  One Piece is about a crew of do-gooding pirates in search of the greatest treasure in the world; I'm a fan of One Piece and read each new chapter as soon as it's translated into English.  I won't go into deep detail, but trust me - there are dozens of similarities between Gokaiger and One Piece, from character traits to story ideas to the opening theme song.  I love One Piece, and Gokaiger is influenced by One Piece to some degree without being a copycat.  That's totally acceptable, especially since Gokaiger's such a well-made show. 

The Story

Right as the Gokaigers arrive, the Zangyack Empire sends a new invasion fleet to Earth. The pirate Super Sentai is more interested in searching for treasure than defending the planet, but end up fighting Zangyack and righting wrongs all the time anyway.  In order to find The Greatest Treasure in the Universe, the Gokaigers need to use the Ranger Keys they found in their earlier journeys to obtain the Grand Powers of all 34 previous Super Sentai teams.  "Grand Power" isn't a very consistent concept, but it usually means that the previous team needs to acknowledge the Gokaigers as their successor, and in turn that lets them summon the former team's mecha using the Ranger Keys.  The first Grand Power that the Gokaigers obtain is the MagiDragon from Mahou Sentai Magiranger, but only after Gokai Red and Gokai Green pass a test of courage presented by the former Magi Red. 

Episodes of Gokaiger are some combination of the Gokaigers seeking to obtain a new Grand Power, the Gokaigers fighting off Zangyack forces trying to take out the space pirates, or the Gokaigers confronting someone or something from their past.  It's awesome - there's an established end goal (The Greatest Treasure in the Universe) with steps moving towards that goal throughout the show; there are plenty of character and team-building moments for all six members of the cast; and the final dozen episodes provide closure for each major storyline and subplot.  It's a very satisfying run overall.  The six Gokaiger movies are a mix of epic Super Sentai clashes with some very self-aware references and cameos, my favorite being Gokaiger vs. Gavan, which pits the Gokaigers against Space Sherriff Gavan, the main character of a 1981 superhero show.  All of the Gokaiger movies are at least decent watches. If you get into Gokaiger, you might as well watch the accompanying movies. 

The piratey nature of the Gokaigers is important to the tone of the show.  The starting five Gokaigers aren't from Earth - technically they're humanoid aliens from five different planets.  The crew makes it clear from the beginning that they're on Earth for selfish reasons, but in the process of searching for treasure they inadvertently save the lives of millions of humans and eventually make connections with all of their Super Sentai predecessors.  Even if the Gokaigers themselves would never admit it, they're the Earth's hope.  And being pirates doesn't make the Gokaigers villains; by the Gokaigers' own definition, pirates simply do whatever they please and the only thing a pirate values more than treasure is freedom.  The Gokaigers aren't quite anti-heroes, but the crew's rakish attitude and rejection of the hero label (at least initially) make them feel unique among Super Sentai teams. 

The Gokaigers

The Heroes

Gokai Red: Captain Marvelous, space pirate extraordinaire
Gokai Blue: Joe Gibken, expert swordsman
Gokai Yellow: Luka Millfy, crafty thief
Gokai Green: Don "Doc" Dogoier, mechanic and cook
Gokai Pink: Ahim de Famille, former princess of Planet Famille
Gokai Silver: Gai Ikari, Super Sentai fanboy

The Gokaiger crew is a team of misfits led by Captain Marvelous (Gokai Red), the former first mate of the Red Pirates that originally found all the Ranger Keys.  Blue is a former Zangyack commando who deserted the empire and was picked up by Red.  Yellow is a thief who crossed paths with Red and Blue while she was looting some Zangyack goods.  Green is a handyman who was recruited by Red after he helped fix the Gokai Galleon's computer.  Pink was the princess of a planet annihilated by the Zangyack and begged to join the crew after seeing their bounties appear in Zangyack newspapers.  Red, Yellow, and Blue are excellent fighters, while Green and Pink aren't quite as combat-ready as the other three.  All five are pretty as hell and probably work as models or something.  I think that's required for Super Sentai nowadays. 

The group dynamic of the Gokaigers is fun.  Red is cocky and impulsive, but values the lives of his crew above all else.  Blue is a serious warrior, Yellow is obsessed with money, Green is intelligent but cowardly, and Pink is refined and polite to a fault.  The scenes featuring the Gokaigers spending time together outside of combat are as fun as a good sitcom; the comedy in Gokaiger is definitely better than average for Super Sentai.  Many episodes will pair up the team in comic and/or unusual situations to see their personalities play off each other, and it's usually a delight.  I especially liked when Yellow and Green match up, since I love Yellow's tough girl confidence clashing with Green's awkward fussiness.  It's adorable.  Do I ship Luka and Doc?  I guess I kinda do. 

Let's talk about Gokai Silver.  Gai Ikari is an earthling (i.e. an actual human) who is an enthusiastic Super Sentai fanboy.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the prior 34 Super Sentai, which is a valuable resource that the rest of the crew mostly lacks.  Silver joins the team in the range of episodes from 17 to 19, after he receives a Gokai Change device in a dream (in which he meets three Super Sentai warriors that died in their respective series) and insists that he join to protect Earth.  Red accepts him into the crew after seeing Silver in action and makes him a "apprentice pirate."  Silver has the most powers and gimmicks of any of the Gokaigers (more on this later), but it also a lighthearted goofball who is motivated by a sense of justice more so than the others.  Silver is a fun addition to the show, but sometimes he takes over the story at the expense of the rest of the cast.  Sixth Rangers do that sometimes. 

The Villains

The Zangyack Empire is the evil organization opposing the Gokaigers and they're... well... definitely an evil space alien empire.  Their foot soldiers are called Gormin, which look like purple and grey stormtroopers (with blue and red stronger versions as well), and their monsters of the week are officers called "action commanders" in the fan-subbed versions I watched. Commanders are all aliens or cyborgs, but vary so wildly in appearance that I can't tell if there's a unifying theme present or not.  Some of them are definitely references to specific older series, but I couldn't identify any on my own.  The most memorable action commander by far was Jealousito, who shows up in four different Gokaiger episodes and movies. He's a comedy character that is... difficult to explain, but definitely amusing. 

The officers of the Zangyack are a mostly-interesting bunch.  Their leader, Warz Gill, is the crown prince of the empire, but not an accomplished fighter or general.  Warz is a whiny jerk of a boss that gives out orders while the Action Commanders do all the fighting.  Damaras is a strategist aiding Warz Gill who's quite frustrated with his assignment; Barizorg is Warz Gill's loyal cyborg bodyguard with a connection to Gokai Blue's past; Insarn is the team's science officer, who augments the power of the Action Commanders in her experiments and can use an energy beam to turn Zangyack fighters giant-size.  The most memorable villain of Gokaiger sadly shows up in only a dozen episodes: Basco ta Jolokia, a privateer hired by the Zangyack to take out the Gokaigers.  Basco can also use the powers of past Super Sentai warriors, but not in the same way as our heroes (he summons and controls them with an... evil trumpet?).  He's also a former associate of Gokai Red and seeks the Greatest Treasure in the Universe.  Basco can transform into a powerful armored pirate-monster, but usually appears human and lets his pet monkey, Sally, do most of the fighting. 

The Zangyack are decent as Super Sentai villains, but they aren't terribly memorable in the long run.  Having Warz Gill set up as a petulant, entitled heir rather than an intimidating badass makes the Zangyack seem less threatening in general (until a plot twist around episode 37 or 38 that forces a change in the Zangyack's methods).  Barizorg and Damaras are pretty cool as evil lieutenant characters (even if Barizorg's visual design looks unfinished) and Basco is an excellent rival / sub-villain. Still, I didn't like the Zangyack as much as the villains in Shinkenger or Gekiranger.  Could've used more Basco episodes. 

The Zangyack Empire

The Action

Gokai Red: uses the powers of past Red Rangers
Gokai Blue: uses the powers of past Blue Rangers
Gokai Yellow: uses the powers of past Yellow Rangers
Gokai Green: uses the powers of past Green and Black Rangers
Gokai Pink: uses the powers of past Pink and White Rangers
Gokai Silver: uses the powers of past Sixth Rangers

You see those brief descriptions above?  Yep, the Gokaigers can use the powers of any past Super Sentai fighter by unsheathing the appropriate Ranger Key and twisting it in their Mobilates device (mobile phone / pirates portmanteau).  This results in many, many assemblages of past Super Sentai teams, in which our heroes use their predecessors' suits, weapons, and special moves.  It's pretty neat.  Gokaiger taught me that Goggle V used rhythmic gymnastics martial arts (!?) and that it's very easy to confuse Turboranger and Carranger.  The cut of a Gokai Change suit is consistent with the sexes of the Gokaigers and not the original rangers - for example, when the Gokaigers transform into the Jetman team (which had a male Yellow and female Blue), Blue wears trousers and Yellow wears a skirt.  Also, the color combinations aren't always 100% consistent.  Gekiranger has no Black or Green, so Gokai Green uses the Geki Violet key when it's time to Geki Waza.  There are plenty of similar exceptions; sometimes the team does themed transformations like all of one color that naturally break these rules.  It's totally dope seeing all the crazy Gokai Changes. 

When the Gokaigers fight in their standard pirate getup the action is still pretty good.  The team fights with cutlasses and pistols, and rapidly pass weapons around in combat - Blue and Yellow favor dual swords and Green and Pink prefer dual pistols.  Each Gokaiger has a distinct fighting style, which is always a plus (my favorite was Yellow's stylish sword-spinning chain attacks).  The mecha weren't as appealing for me - the Gokaigers' mecha battles are heavily CGI and the mechs almost never shown untransformed, except for Gokai Red's Gokai Galleon (which doubles as their headquarters).  Seriously, you never see Pink's submarine or Blue's jet in action.  The non-Red vehicles could have been literally anything and it wouldn't have mattered, since they just pop out of the Gokai Galleon and immediately combine.  GokaiOh on its own looks pretty cool, though (giant robot with a jaunty pirate hat!), and the multitude of supermoves it gains from Grand Powers can be fun: we're talking dragons launching out of its chest, lions launching out of its chest, a sword bigger than a space battleship, you name it.  GokaiOh uses at least fifteen Grand Powers over the course of the series.

Gokai Silver has his own set of weapons and mecha, because of course he does.  Silver wields a trident instead of a cutlass/gun combo (pretty cool) and mostly Gokai Changes into the fifteen "Sixth Rangers" and later a few "Extra Heroes" from the first 34 Super Sentai teams (also cool).  Silver uses time travel powers to summon a super-mecha-drill from the future (...what?) that can transform into tyrannosaurus rex and knight-like warrior forms (wow) or even duplicate into all three at once (...).  Silver's unique finishing move in ground combat is using "Gold Mode," which combines the power of the first 15 Sixth Rangers into a golden breastplate, after which Silver executes a 16-hit combo on the enemy summoning the power of all 16 Sixth Rangers at the same time.  Yeah that's a little ridiculous.  I like Gokai Silver as a character, but his moveset and battle power seems at least equal to Gokai Red, if not higher, and he wins fights on his own with startling regularity.  Sort of how Superman makes Aquaman seem unnecessary in the Justice League, Gokai Silver is a little much at times. 
 
The Style

Seeing two hundred-plus Gokai Changes over the course of Gokaiger is like a Super Sentai fashion show.  You see every suit in series history (from 1975 up to 2011) and that's awesome.  But let's talk about the Gokaigers' suits themselves: they're pretty fuckin' dope.  The jackets look great, and the helmet shape (while not my favorite) is unique, and a fair approximation of a pirate hat.  The boots, gloves, and belts look good, and I appreciate how much black and silver are in each suit.  Gokai Silver's altered uni, with a bandanna-styled helmet and a different collar, is solid.  Outside of battle, the Gokaigers don't have a huge variety of outfits, but each of them has a distinct jacket that looks AWESOME. Seriously, look at Captain Marvelous's coat.  Hot damn.  All six Gokaigers dress uniquely (and in a flashy manner), even if they don't change it up often. 

The key gadget used by the Gokaigers is the Mobilates transform device I mentioned earlier (Gokai Silver has a similar one called a Gokai Cellular), in conjunction with the 200+ Ranger Keys.  These Ranger Keys are basically small plastic figurines somewhat larger than a typical LEGO man, but with a key an inch long extending from the bottom once the figure snaps open (the key part is obscured by the figurine's legs).  Since there is a Ranger Key for every Super Sentai ever (plus some "extra heroes" like Zuban from Boukenger and MagiMother from Magiranger), this amounts to around 220 keys in total, and you bet your ass you can buy all of them.  Well, a few were exclusive to vending machines and promotional materials (!), but the highly collectible nature of the Ranger Keys and their regular presence in the show makes them quite desirable, I'm sure.  Hell, I definitely looked into prices for a couple Ranger Key sets, but I never pulled the trigger ($23 on eBay for the five Gekirangers is a bit much). 

I appreciated that Gokaiger's versions of traditional Sentai roll calls, transformation shout-outs, and team finishing moves were somewhat brief.  They transform so many times each episode that it's probably necessary, and the Final Wave finishing move doesn't take long to perform but still looks cool as hell.  I wish I could say the same for the mecha stuff, which isn't overlong but still typically has a brief payoff (throw out a Grand Power and it's game over) for a lengthy setup of assembling a variety of robots.  The music in Gokaiger is top-notch; the opening theme song is cheery and energetic ("Let's go Let's Gokaiger!") and each ending theme video is a sideshow of about a dozen Super Sentai series.  During Gokai Changes and fight scenes, the music of nearly every Super Sentai show shows up, which is pretty awesome.  For the record, my favorite Super Sentai main theme is Dekaranger's, and the Dekaranger homage episode has an AWESOME musical cue after they transform.  Gokaiger has some real nice audio going for it. 

Gokai Change: All Yellow

The Final Word

Favorite Hero: Gokai Yellow
Favorite Villain: Basco ta Jolokia
Favorite Mecha: Gokai Galleon
Favorite Episodes: Dairanger homage episode (33), Gokai Pink origin episode (41)

Gokaiger is a hell of a Super Sentai show.  It has great characters, a serviceable story, above-average action scenes, and a gimmick that provides more diversity than any other show in Super Sentai history.  Captain Marvelous is a really solid Red Ranger, but he's outshined by probably my favorite supporting cast in Super Sentai.  I fuckin' adore all of them.  Watching Gokaiger made me interested to see other Super Sentai shows just from their Gokaiger cameos.  Sure, the Zangyack Empire isn't the best evil organization in Super Sentai and Gokai Silver upsets the team's power balance in a negative way, but I barely give a shit.  My Super Sentai obsession continues today in large part because Gokaiger was so much fun.  It's 100% my favorite Super Sentai show now, and I'll want to watch it again eventually.  Not sure that's true of any other tokusatsu.

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My ongoing Super Sentai thirst is still being quenched, most recently by Dekaranger and Jetman.  I'm about 20 episodes into each of those, and I'm enjoying them quite a bit.  I'm also watching new episodes of Zyuohger as they air, but only four have dropped so far.  I still have a Dairanger review and a Boukenger review to write, plus like twenty for video games that I may not ever get to.  Oh well.  See you on these pages again soon, maybe. 

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