Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger – Episode 1 Review

Remember how I said in my last review that Ninninger had some of the best designs in years? Turns out I spoke one week too soon.

The first thing that struck me about Zyuohger was just how good everything looked. With the exception of the animal people (I swear some of the ones in the background were wearing those horse masks you can buy online), the design of the new series is phenomenal. The new suits look instantly iconic and cool without being too complicated and I especially love the choice of core colours; red, blue, yellow, green, and white. Although many will no doubt have a problem with the over-simplified designs of the mecha, I personally love the idea. Having a main mecha comprised of three interchangeable animals opens the door for many Kamen Rider OOO-esque combinations of body parts. That and animal-themed Sentai always lend themselves so well to having huge numbers of mecha. Speaking of which, this episode sets up a future explanation for why the red ranger has an eagle motif despite being a human, but personally I’d have gone with an ape to further tie in to the theme that humans are just as much a part of Earth’s wildlife as any other animal.

The enemy designs impressed me a lot too, so much so that I actually didn’t realise that the guy who looked like Lord Sauron was actually just a regular Monster of the Week. He looked so imposing that I just assumed he was this series’ version of Zeltrax or Gabi Raizou or Goldar (now there’s a weird set of comparisons). Also, I can’t tell if it’s just because I was struck by the new-ness of everything but I feel like the CGI has really stepped up since Ninninger. It’s still quite obviously CGI, and the spaceships still look as cartoonish as ever, but there were a few establishing shots of Zyuland (not to be confused with New Zyuland where they filmed Lord of the Rings) that actually looked pretty decent, particularly when CGI backdrops were blended with the crowded market scenes. Speaking of which, as bad as some of them looked, I do applaud the series for giving the animal people practical masks, some of which had moving mouths and features. Then again, I suppose people in rubber suits are sort of why we watch tokusatsu. Other than that, this episode was just full of great little visual details, like the cube explosion when the mecha defeated the giant Sauron at the end. Jeez, what is it with me and Lord of the Rings today?

It’s far too early to comment on the characters themselves as, like with all Sentai premiers, this episode was mainly designed to set up the premise. We’ll most likely get a run of character-focused episodes for the next few weeks that continue to evolve and develop the main plot before we start to slip into filler. It’s at that point in the series that we’ll know whether or not this premise and these characters have enough to hold our attention for 50 or so weeks. Still, I do like what little plot we’re given here. The basic idea is simple but most importantly didn’t feel as rushed as a lot of other first toku episodes. There were also a lot of great idea here and glimpses at a much more substantive story that I can’t wait to see built upon in the future. For example, the villains seem to be from an alien culture that treats intergalactic conquest as a game. That’s so much more interesting than a group who are after some weird indefinable concept, like ‘darkness’ from ToQger or ‘fear’ from Ninninger. Also, the brief flashbacks we saw of Yamato getting his cube from an eagle dude have the potential to go in some cool directions. As long as they don’t do what Ninninger did with Kyuemon by setting up a mysterious character but taking way too long to actually wrap up any of the mysteries.

The thing that surprised me the most about this first episode is that other than the logo at the very start, there were no acknowledgements whatsoever that this was Super Sentai‘s 40th series. At one point the main villain bloke (I’ll learn the names eventually) talks about celebrating the 100th stage of their game, and they so easily could have made it the 40th stage just as a nice little reference. Not that I mind at all, I was just surprised that after all the anniversary celebrations surrounding the 35th series that there wasn’t an even bigger fanfare for the 40th. Personally I don’t really need any references to the 40th within the show itself, and I’m glad that the Zyuohgers have more of an individual identity as a team than the Gokaigers have. All I need for a good Sentai anniversary is a big ridiculous crossover movie. Take notes Doctor Who: nobody does an anniversary special like Super Sentai.

I’ll be able to comment more on the series as a whole in a later review but this was a very promising start that honestly has me excited to see where it could all go from here. There are still huge elements of the series that feel underdeveloped, like what the main villain’s overall goal is, but as a first episode this did everything that it needed to do. It gave us a feel for the series, showed off the team’s new powers with some great fight scenes, and established both the alien invaders and the animal people: two cultures that I hope get a lot more attention in the future. The preview at the end makes it look like the aliens are going to be getting more focus next episode along with Tusk, the green elephant guy. After this introduction I’m looking forward to seeing what else Zyuohger has in store.

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