Every season of Super Sentai has some silly humor, but none so much as this one. Here's a review of Carranger. Race to the finsh!
- I usually refer to main characters by title or color because it's easier
- I will mention spoilers through episode 31, when the Carrangers meet VRV Master
Full Title: Gekisou Sentai Carranger
Air Date: March 1996 to February 1997
Series Number: 20th
Video Content: 48 episodes, 2 movies
Carranger's basic story setup seems normal for a superhero show, at least at first glance. The sole survivor of a planet overrun by evil forces escapes to Earth, and bestows special powers to five young people when those same evil forces make Earth their next target. This new Super Sentai team is Earth's last line of defense from total destruction at the hands of the Bowzock. Sounds typical, right? Well, these powers come from magical car constellations and Bowzock is a space biker gang planning to destroy earth so its leader can impress his girlfriend. The five Carrangers work in an automotive repair garage together, and that's probably the least crazy thing about their series.
The biggest story thread in Carranger is probably spun through Dapp, the alien refugee that granted the Carrangers their powers. There are multiple episodes dealing with Dapp's experiences on Earth, his connection to the Carrangers, and special circumstances about Dapp's home and upbringing. A lot of the major plot points run through Dapp, and while he's annoying, there's a few surprises and dramatic moments present. It's pretty good. Carranger's story doesn't quite build to a logical finale with foreshadowing, and also isn't totally disparate and bloated with filler; it feels a little messy, but isn't hard to follow and is often enjoyable. Most of the filler episodes revolve around individual rangers, and a lot of them are excellent.
The other consistent story threads surround specific villains. The evil consultant Richhiker has a small story arc play over a few episodes around the middle of the series. More important is the very, very odd love triangle between Red Racer, Beauty Zonnette, and Red Racer's true identity, Kyosuke. Zonnette fails to realize that Red Racer and Kyosuke are the same person, which creates several mistaken identity situations, eventually leading to a very surprising fight scene and an impressive end to the story. I was shocked at how much I liked the comedy AND the romance of Zonnette's story, especially since Zonnette's actress isn't great.
One weakness to the Carranger story is that the stakes rarely feel high. The Bowzock are so silly and there are so many jokes and parody elements that the story is impossible to take even semi-seriously, and the best Sentai stories have dark undercurrents and villains that feel like real threats. Only a few Bowzock schemes and Carranger dramas had me intrigued for reasons other than comedy. During the final few episodes of Carranger the story takes a VERY dark turn that came as a surprise, but it's the only one of its kind. I don't want to shortchange Carranger's story though, as it's far from all bad. Carranger is probably the funniest Sentai, a few subplots are executed well (especially Red Racer and Zonnette's), and there are several great individual episodes. Just... don't expect a build to an epic confrontation until the last 8 episodes or so.
Red Racer: Kyosuke Jinnai, a somewhat lazy test driver
Blue Racer: Naoki Domon, an 18-year-old automotive engineer
Green Racer: Minoru Uesugi, the Pegasus Garage sales rep
Yellow Racer: Natsumi Shinohara, a talented car mechanic
Pink Racer: Yoko Yagami, the Pegasus Garage office manager
I enjoy how the Carrangers interact socially. They have solid chemistry and react to the insane happenings in their town with a fair balance of incredulity and acceptance. I also like that they have real jobs, which is something I loved about Dairanger and is uncommon in modern Sentai. Red is lazy and a bit of a goof, but takes charge when necessary and is quite likable. Blue is an over-serious teenager who's treated like a kid brother by the rest of the team. Green is clumsy and speaks with an Osaka accent. Yellow is an older-sister archetype and a capable mechanic, and Pink is a little bossy of the other employees, and fussy about things like sweets and her weight. In general I preferred episodes focusing on Red, Blue, or Yellow, and didn't enjoy Green or Pink's antics as much.
Carranger's absurdist tone carries over into their supporting cast, starting with the alien Dapp. Dapp, formerly of Planet Hazard, looks like a combination of Yoda from Star Wars and the baby from the sitcom Dinosaurs. He also begins wearing sunglasses, bling, and a Michael Jordan jersey in the second half of Carranger. Dapp is.. not an unwelcome presence on the show, but he's not one of the best Sentai mentors. Signalman, a space traffic officer who decides to take residence in Japan, assists the Carrangers on occasion, defending the city from Bowzock and other traffic law violators in his giant mecha. Signalman's Boy Scout-like commitments to justice and duty are fertile ground for comedic situations. Around the series midpoint, a mysterious stranger named VRV Master shows up to give the Carrangers sage advice and a second set of mecha. VRV Master has a pretty interesting story role, but it doesn't take shape until near the end of the show.
Carranger does well by its cast. Each of them gets multiple focus episodes, and while Red does get the most story shine, his subplot with Zonnette is funny and eventually even poignant. Minor recurring characters like the Pegasus Garage owner's son and the owner of the Imo-Yokan shop get starring opportunities here and there. Somehow, the performances of the Carrangers fit the wacky tone of the show, but are human enough to still seem like real people. Carranger's cast is a net positive, especially Red Racer, who isn't too hammy or too flat as the lead character in a very odd sort of superhero show.
The villains of Carranger and their evil plots are as ridiculous as Sentai comes. The Bowzock are cartoonish aliens patterned after flamboyant Japanese biker gangs called Bosozoku, and are more a group of troublemakers than an organization dedicated to crime or evil. Their motivations are good times, wanton destruction, and the Bowzock leader Gynamo trying to impress his attractive colleague Beauty Zonnette. The problem is that the Bowzock are strong enough and disregard outer space traffic safety laws so blatantly that their antics can destroy entire planets (like Dapp's home world). And I have to mention: when Carranger's gangster aliens turn into giants to battle the Carrangers' mecha, they do so by eating a special brand of imo-yokan. That's a jellied pastry made from potato. For some reason, potato treats turns biker aliens into giants. Fuckin' Carranger, man.
The key players in the Bowzock are the blue-armored leader President Gynamo, his goblin-looking lieutenant Zelmoda, the portly engineer Grotch, and the humanoid Beauty Zonnette. In the middle third of Carranger they're assisted by an evildoing consultant named Professor Richhiker and late in the series they ally with a mysterious figure named Exhaus. For the most part, the Bowzock are portrayed as goofballs whose initial evil plot is to blow up the earth for a fireworks display. Their plans alternate between blowing up the Earth and wiping out the Carrangers, but it isn't very consistent, and they rarely feel very threatening until the plots get a little darker in the Exhaus episodes.
The foot soldiers of the Bowzock are called Wumpers, and they may be the silliest motherfuckers in Super Sentai history. They dress in shades of fluorescent pink, green, and blue, and rarely seem competent in combat. Zelmoda often releases packs of Wumpers by opening a crate full of them from his space-bike. The monster-of-the-week Bowzocks all have alliterative double initials, i.e. N.N. Nerenko, A.A. Abanba, P.P. Chiipuri. Each Bowzock is "the best" at something within the team; for example, B.B. Donpa is the gang's best musician and B. B. Koiya is the gang's best gardener. Naturally, each monster's weekly scheme is informed by their specialty.
Blue Racer: wields dual Muffler Guns, pilots pickup truck and police car mecha
Green Racer: wields an Engine Cannon, pilots minivan and dump truck mecha
Yellow Racer: wields Side Knuckles, pilots SUV and bulldozer mecha
Pink Racer: wields a Bumper Bow, pilots sedan and ambulance mecha
The plots and schemes of the Bowzock are silly in Carranger, but the show's fights feel standard for Sentai. Everyone one on the team wields a sword and a blaster, and they can summon a tiny F1 car to their side which separates into unique automotive-themed weapons (detailed above). The suit martial arts in Carranger aren't excellent like Dairanger or subpar like Jetman, but didn't feel like a negative. Also, it's worth noting that the Carrangers are NOT trained fighters. They never fight the Bowzock out of suit (except in one memorable case where Red fights without transforming to prove a point) and later on in the series it makes for some dramatic moments. It's too bad, because I like seeing good action out of suit (it's probably best in Dairanger, but present in many 80s and 90s Sentai), but at least that element of the show is consistent.
The mecha action in Carranger is usually pretty good. The starting mecha, RV Robo, has a pretty cool transformation sequence, with the five cars speeding into place in mid-drive (it looks better than I'm making it sound). Its finisher is a rapidly-spinning sword move that I also found cool. The second mecha, VRV Robo, is a much larger and more intimidating combination, that also gets more action out of the individual component mecha (Green's V Dump has enemies tripping over giant iron balls contained in the truck bed, which is great). VRV Robo's finisher is firing two giant cannons summoned from the vehicles' base, which I should probably mention is hidden underneath the Tokyo Dome. That's dope. Signalman's mecha, Sirender, is a giant white police car that transforms into a humanoid form that sort of resembles Signalman. Sirender's a pretty good guest mecha.
The action scenes in Carranger, like many other aspects of the show, are most memorable when they get strange. In one episode Blue Racer (out of suit) and a visiting foreign princess are chased around an amusement park by an Olympics-themed athlete Bowzock; in another a pizza chef Bowzock traps the Carrangers in a giant oven and bakes them into a pizza (Signalman eventually rescues them). These plot setups result in pretty entertaining action sequences and resolutions most of the time. These events are completely silly, but the show approaches them with earnestness. The action in Carranger is pretty good more often than not.
I think the Carranger suits are solid. The colors are bold and dominate the suit, without seeming like PJs (looking at you, Gekiranger). The visors are distinct and look decent, even though I typically don't love vehicle-themed visors. The boots, gloves, and splash of yellow on the chest all look great. Out of suit, the Carrangers live in a truly unfortunate fashion era. Green wears ill-fitting suits (classic car salesman attire) and Red favors a patterned shirt that is NOT stylish. I didn't like Pink's shimmery blouses or Blue's yellow-green shirt-vest at all. In the garage all five occasionally wear red or white jumpsuits, with Yellow wearing them the most often (makes sense, as she's their mechanic). Maybe they should have worn those more? Signalman is a little gaudy-looking, VRV Master's suit is cool as fuck, and Dapp might be the worst-dressed Sentai character ever.
The collection of gadgets used by the Carrangers have a few fun twists; their wrist-mounted Accel Changers resemble automatic gear shifts, and activate by turning a key. There's a terrific engine-revving sound that goes with the transformation sequence, alongside a fairly standard roll call. The Carranger's pose post-roll call is an arm-spinning thumbs-up classic that is referenced later in both Gokaiger and Kamen Rider Drive (that pose rules). The Carrangers have small speeder vehicles that they use for awhile, but around episode 20 they upgrade to maybe the best ground vehicles in Super Sentai history: a flashy red Camaro called Pegasus Thunder and a blue Jeep named Dragon Cruiser. These two "Legendary Vehicles" are sentient, untamed space-traveling cars that eventually agree to team up with the Carrangers. The circumstances of finding Pegasus Thunder and Dragon Cruiser are epic and hilarious, and make up one of the best Carranger episodes.
The Carrangers' home base is the Pegasus Garage (Dapp has a secret chamber off to one side), which is ostensibly a real garage, with a storefront and everything. I like that real-world groundedness more than mystical / sci-fi Sentai secret bases that look like they're on different planets. The Bowzock's base, however, is literally on a different planet, and their space saloon is every bit as wacky and diverse as the gang itself. Great stuff. Uncommonly, Carranger changes its opening theme song partway through the show's run, around episode 15 or 16. The new arrangement has a cooler opening lick than the original, and in both versions it's a catchy song with lots of very bright synth and brass. I liked enough not to skip it every time. The end credits song is ludicrous, with a Caribbean pop beat (?) and lyrics from the perspective of a Wumper asking the Carrangers to go easy on them next time. Yup. Carranger is some silly shit.
The Final Word
Favorite Hero: Red Racer
Favorite Villain: Beauty Zonnette
Favorite Mecha: V Dump
Favorite Episodes: Pegasus Thunder (20), Yellow Racer's wrench (44)
I feel like I've been slightly unfair to Carranger over the course of this review, since I've mentioned its parody elements and general weirdness in almost every paragraph. Carranger is an entertaining Sentai. Its action is at least up to par, its cast is likable, the story takes a few interesting turns, and the filler episodes are very good. Carranger is the funniest and most absurd Super Sentai show ever made, and I say that with affection and admiration.
I'm not dead, I've just been busy with other things! I still have reviews of Zyuranger and Kamen Rider OOO to write, plus I've been watching Zyuohger every week and a bunch of Kamen Rider shows over the past few months. I'm not sure which show I'll finish next - I'd give equal odds to Kamen Rider Drive and Kamen Rider Fourze, both of which I'm in the neighborhood of episode 40. I'm also making rapid progress in Kamen Rider Kiva and Kamen Rider W, which I started much later than those other two. Lots and lots of tokusatsu in my life recently, but it was shelved for awhile because I've been playing Dragon Quest VII 3DS and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice for the past several weeks. Oh, and I started playing an MMORPG for the first time (!!!). That's eaten up a lot of time.