Uchu Sentai Kyuranger – Episode 31 Review
After going back to the past to change history, the Kyurangers returned to discover the world in a slightly more dystopian place than they left it, now that Garu and Kotaro have been captured, the Orion is badly damaged, and everything they just did seemed like it was for nothing. The start of this episode felt hopeless in a way that only this particular Sentai show can do. Part of Kyuranger‘s appeal to me is that it’s the story of the universe being freed from evil rather than a universe being defended from evil. Because of that, the show is able to go to some slightly darker places and make things a little more desperate than a show like Zyuohger was able to. In Zyuohger, it was all about maintaining the status quo of a world at peace. In Kyuranger, the status quo is awful and needs to be changed. Not only is that way harder to do but it makes our heroes more proactive and, to a degree, more heroic, because they actually have to take matters into their own hands and change the universe rather than sit around doing nothing between adventures. It was nice to see the start of this episode take advantage of that hopelessness and give our heroes a huge challenge to deal with.
At first I thought it was a bit weird to have two plot lines, the time travel and Naga’s emotions, going on at the same time when they seem to have nothing to do with each other. Seeing how it actually played out though, I’m impressed at how the show kept momentum going across the two. A lot of the set up for this episode, like Balance’s plan and Garu and Kotaro being captured, happened off screen while we were watching the others in the past. It feels like we’re being dropped straight into Part 2 of a 2 parter without seeing Part 1, and it gives the whole episode a certain energy. It only takes a few scenes for Team Past to get caught up with Team Present and then we’re off to save Naga, which allows us to just charge head-first into the action.
An amazing amount of credit has to be given to Taiki Yamazaki, who gives three distinct performances in this episode as Naga, evil Naga, and Echidna. He does really well with all three parts, and given how this episode ends, I’m looking forward to seeing how his performance of Naga develops as the character learns to control his emotions. Evil Naga has been such an amazing villain ranger for the series, with the stand out moment for me this episode being when he makes Echidna turn the gun on herself. It’s such a dark moment and Naga’s laughter makes it, like he’s toying with her rather than killing her in a less brutal way. It was a nice change of pace to have a good ranger turn evil rather than an evil ranger turn good, even though we sort of already had that this year with Stinger.
Usually I’d say a ranger made to act evil due to being under the spell of a villain is unsatisfying compared to a ranger who’s evil because they actually believe the villains have a point, but the way the ‘breaking of the spell’ is handled in this episode makes it a lot better than, say, when Zyuoh TheWorld turned good (I swear I liked Zyuohger, I’m using that series for examples). By using the visual metaphor of a fight between tiny Nagas in Naga’s head, there’s a little more depth to the conflict here that just a big switch that makes people good or bad. Also, it’s clear that this arc has had a lasting impact on Naga that will influence his character in coming episodes rather than it being something to be swept away immediately. Overall, I’ve very happy with how this arc resolved.
The final fight was also pretty satisfying. The tiny monster growing ‘giant’ gag was clever and I loved the new instrumental version of the usual henshin/roll call theme. Fighting a giant evil Naga as the final mecha fight of the arc was not only fitting but also a nice change of pace. In recent years we’ve started seeing Sentai use giant versions of regular henchmen during mecha battles and it’s been a good way to mix things up. Having a more obviously humanoid character fighting at that scale rather than a robot or a monster is a striking image that helps to give the fights some freshness. Giant Naga for example is able to flip around while fighting Kyutamajin in a way the actors in huge bulky monster suits just aren’t able to.
Episode 31 wrapped everything up neatly while still leaving us with plenty of directions to go in the future with Naga’s character. There’s also the strand of the damaged Orion left over from the time travel arc to deal with. Kyuranger really knows how to keep the plates spinning.
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