Uchu Sentai Kyuranger series midpoint review

Warning: since I didn’t do a "first impressions," this is probably going to cover a LOT of ground and be somewhat lacking in specific details while probably spoiling quite a lot, so if you want the spoiler-free recommendation: it has my Stardust seal of "watch it."

Okay, with that out of the way, on to the basics, because chances are if you’re not already a Super Sentai fan, you have no idea what I’m talking about. If you’re a Power Rangers fan or otherwise follow me on Mastodon, conveniently located on the wider Fediverse (which, if you’re seeing this, you probably do), you’ve probably heard about it in some manner. Uchu Sentai Kyuranger is being partially developed into Power Rangers Cosmic Fury in the giant robot battles only, for a paltry 10 episode run, which really is just going to gut the show and everything that actually makes it good, which is a lot, because the giant robot fights are really the weakest part of the show. I can really only hope that putting it on Netflix like this is a test run for a full treatment if it does numbers, because you could probably find enough material for 10 giant monster fights in, I dunno, 10 or fewer episodes, really, by which I mean if they’re even going to be super focused on even sticking with the colors they have, you could probably find 10 episodes with those colors in them somewhere or else maybe just pay Toei to cobble something together like has happened since basically the beginning of Power Rangers as a franchise with the "Zyu 1.5" and "Zyu 2" footage that made it easier to redub certain bits into English and extended the footage a bit to fill in a gap until they could start working with the next series. That’s worth talking about in a Rant at some point maybe if I feel like it, but if the props are already all there, it wouldn’t be completely out there of them to ask for a few custom fights because shipping costumes tends not to end well. Like, I don’t think there’s BEEN a time when anything was shipped across the ocean for use in Power Rangers and all of it arrived in one piece. It’s like there’s a curse or something.

ANYway, Uchu Sentai Kyuranger was given a potential Power Rangers treatment some ages ago and sounded amazing, and there’s absolutely a Rant of the Moment that’s going to talk about that, but to refocus on what’s happening here, this is about Kyuranger itself as a series and covering why it should really be given your attention on its own merits.

Episode 1

The show starts in media res with Lucky literally crashing an ongoing battle between Kyurangers Hammie (Green), robotic bull wrestler Champ (Black), and Spada (Yellow) pretty much directly after the establishing shots. Lucky, you will see, is aptly named, with an absurd level of good luck that often expresses itself in unconventional ways, like, say, clearing a path through a horde of enemies by way of a magnificent crash that absolutely totals your space motorcycle. This is frankly the first time of many where unexpected benefits result from Lucky’s personal mortal peril/general clumsiness/literally throwing darts everyone has to dive out of the way of. It’s never actually safe to be around him, but somehow nobody ever dies from it and to all of the actors’ credit, they sell the heck out of it. The trio bring him back to their starship base, Orion, where you’re introduced to their cutesy robotic pilot/secretary, Raptor 283, and the concept of Rebellion, which is a large resistance organization against the oppressive Jark Matter (no, that is not a typo (you get used to it)) regime attempting to control/destroy/really whatever is most convenient the galaxy and have very much already won. You, naturally, only actually ever see a very small portion of it, largely, but not entirely, limited to the Kyurangers themselves. Anyway, Lucky expresses his excitement about joining the Kyurangers and they ask if he really has his own Kyutama (which roughly translates to "Nine Marble," but is largely treated as a proper noun since there are actually 88+ of them, one for each modern constellation and some additional special ones, with the name specifically because of the Kyurangers themselves, of which prophesy holds there are 9, forming the conceit of the show and therefore a lot of its jargon). Lucky basically shouts "NOT YET!" and gleefully runs off with a stolen morpher in hand to find one on his newly repaired space cycle, which he promptly crashes again in a fiery explosion that somehow ends it, but not him, and is immediately presented with a Kyutama dangling right in his face. Trying to take it, however, ends with him in a scuffle with its owner, Garu, a ferocious lupine fighter who looks a bit like a wolf had a baby with a blue dragon and the result grew up and got some tribal tattoos across half his face. Also he kind of adorably has heterochromia, with one eye blood red and the other a very pretty azure, both located in a black void serving as the eyeholes that nevertheless make it always look like his eyebrows are raised. It is very easy for him to play "sad puppy" with this and they capitalize on it in close-ups, but it otherwise blends in enough that pulling the camera back just a bit hides it enough to let the actor’s body language do the talking. If it’s not clear, this design immediately won me over. Anyway, he does not appreciate Lucky’s grabby mits and is about to make short work of him in front of onlooking locals. The other three Kyurangers break this up to have an adult conversation with Garu about the thing adorning his necklace and Lucky more or less immediately provokes him into another fight, which after a cut has somehow taken them to a beautiful black sand beach where Garu is pretty much wiping the floor with him. Long story short, the two end up talking it out with their fists and Lucky ends up with the upper hand because he, unlike Garu, has drive and a will to fight and let me just say it’s a real credit to the team to have him giving a pep talk while duking it out and it coming off as completely natural.

Naturally, the bad guys show up and decide to make an example of Lucky by hurling him into space and it’s at this point that Lucky is literally saved by his desire to become a Kyuranger by manifesting his very own Kyutama from the æther and a Leonid meteor shower to ride back down to the battle from his very own constellation of origin, completely wrecking the enemy combatants and finding the time to stick the landing and pose in the burning destruction before flying off after Hammie and Spada in a leonine spaceship that just happens to be in a nearby volcano, but not before demonstrating he can literally summon a meteor shower whenever he wants now as a special attack. Garu, in seeing this impossibly badass display and Champ having been left behind with literally the entire remainder of enemy forces kinda going, "uh, a little help would’ve been appreciated, guys," has a moment of PTSD and decides that he can’t see any more innocent people hurt, at which point his fighting spirit reacts with his Kyutama and he grabs a morpher to use it with. He then proceeds to be a complete badass in his own right with a feral and acrobatic fighting style that has no right to be cool as it is, earning him a gentle ribbing from Champ with an, "Oh, so you can do it when you want to, huh?"

The two fly off in their own Zords, the wolf of which happens to be near enough by on an icy moon (bearing in mind that this one is actually in its constellation of origin, so that at least makes sense) and the two of them form the legs of the first Megazord, which was otherwise not actually doing too badly just flying around space powered by the thrusters still exposed in the knees.

The five of them beat the giant robot battle, Lucky and Garu get personalized team jackets in their colors, and this, folks, is the end of Episode 1. It’s only up from here. Yeah, you might have forgotten reading all that, but this is literally the first episode and it’s already packed with enough content for a 2-parter and yet it somehow balances that mayhem by interspersing plot seamlessly in the action.

Episodes 2-25, and the Movie(s) (SPOILERS! click to skip)

Without delving too deep into minutiae, the team collects a pair of thieves, Balance and Naga, to become the Gold and Silver Rangers, and it’s revealed that the Kyutama have a limited energy pool, which means there needs to be some way of determining who goes out on missions, because 5 is just kinda the magic number. In doing this, you’re introduced to the leader of Rebellion, Shou Ronpo, a purple Chinese dragon in a snazzy outfit with a penchant for kicking up the music and lights for a good dance and having his head very much in the clouds, with non-sequitor lapses of logic and occasional obsessing over minor details that’s not quite ADHD and feels a bit more like he’s a bit divorced from reality by the weight of his position, because he’s certainly capable of getting serious. The team is introduced to Earth and the extreme measures Jark Matter is taking to subjugate and drain the planet of its Planesium, which for simplicity’s sake is both an energy source and the only thing keeping planets from violently exploding. Don’t question it. You’re also introduced to Stinger as a villainous Orange Ranger. Shou ends up sending Raptor down to get him some peaches only for her to end up wrapped up in a fight and Spada to give her both barrels for getting involved, revealing she’s actually quite the dreamer. Spada thinks this is a defect, but this doesn’t sit well with Lucky. Regardless, Raptor returns to Orion in a huff with a can of peaches, which Shou immediately starts gnawing on unsuccessfully. After a heart-to-heart with Lucky, Raptor similarly summons her own Kyutama to herself and proceeds to become a mach-speed aerial dual-pistol rapid shooter and sniper and easily the most powerful base form of any Ranger on the team, though this is severely limited in later battles where she unfortunately fails to capitalize on her flight much less speed and proves she’s not really anything special on the ground, which is where she by necessity spends most of her time because making that kind of high-speed aerial sequence is expensive and it would quickly make one question why she’s not essentially a lock for any mission they expect to spend in open spaces. She still shows hints of being a formidable fighter anytime they can afford a crane for some wire work. Anyway, Stinger’s façade cracks when he’s forced to kidnap young brothers Kotaro and Jiro, who are taken hostage for the audacity of throwing rocks at the bad guys, and, as it turns out, he was acting as a spy, making him actually the first Kyuranger Shou found, who Shou simply forgot to tell everyone was actually on their side. He keeps spying a bit, but that officially brings all 9 of them together. The viewer is then introduced to the Pegasus Kyutama, which grants a fairly interesting "shield" as Power Rangers knows them, though this one is actually intelligent and goes by Pega-San. This arc takes a couple episodes and ends with Pega-San going to sleep due to needing to recharge and no, he does not return by the midpoint, though that’s not to say he won’t before the end, as he does get requested, but not given. And, like, the prop did suffer a bit of cracking or at least creasing in its rubber-over-foam construction, which is basically unavoidable, speaking as someone who owned a toy ball like that for more than 5 seconds. I don’t think there was any structural damage, but that doesn’t mean something didn’t happen offscreen, so chances are they maybe needed to mold a new one, but it’s clear they have plans for it.

The Movie! (SPOILERS! click to skip)

…is called Kamen Rider × Super Sentai: Chou Super Hero Taisen and that mouthful chronologically takes place before Episode 7, but I didn’t watch it in that order because I didn’t realize the ads were for anything more than a Kamen Rider episode. It’s over 90 minutes and I was going to do a full review for it, but, uh, there’s really not enough content for that.

So here’s a mini-review. It’s… okay. Not terrible, not great. The thing starts off with the Kyurangers coming to save the day from an unknown enemy, which turns out to be from Xevious because that’s how Kamen Rider Ex-Aid rolls. I think. I haven’t actually watched it and those guys seem to think this sort of behavior is exceptional, but what happens is the Kyurangers are unable to permanently defeat the Xevious boss (it just respawns) and call a retreat. Meanwhile, Amu from Jyuohger ends up in the hospital and you get some establishing stuff about who everyone is from Ex-Aid and it’s enough to make sense out of who all the characters are and their motivations: Emu is the perky medical resident, Hiiro is the cold surgeon, and Poppy is a pink-haired video game character who poses as a nurse and has the power to digitize people. Plus, like, whoever else happens to show up for 2 seconds, but those three are the only ones who matter outside of the spectacle. Amu explains that Xevious already destroyed Jyuland (which to cut to the chase is where animal-people who can mostly transform into humans at will live(d) and it’s sort of not entirely clear whether it’s a different dimension or just very far away, but if that got wrecked you know the problem is everywhere) and the Ex-Aid folks decide to investigate this fictional Chou Super Hero Taisen game. Meanwhile, the Kyurangers beam down and end up meeting the Ex-Aid crowd and duking it out over Poppy due to her powers, but after Balance and Naga sort of capture her and everyone sorts out their differences from fighting each other (which Lucky is absurdly enthusiastic about since he didn’t see it as a thing he’d ever get to do) to fighting Galaxian to save the populace with the help of, among others, a duplicate of Hiiro and another guy from Ex-Aid who’s already dead because they just happen to exist in the game, the Kamen Riders say they’ll handle it and the Kyurangers mostly are just like "Okay!" and disappear from the movie, except Naga and Balance. Amu helps a bit in the convincing and sticks around. And, like, it’s at this point that you realize exactly what this movie is: fanservice featuring literally whoever was free to film or phone in some voice work. Which, I mean, this thing was apparently SUPER popular in Japan, but watching as an American viewer who’s most familiar with the portion of the cast who largely tap out at this point, I kind of more or less had to watch it on its own merits.

Also, and I really must stress this, but from a continuity/canonicity standpoint, this movie simply does not explain how the Kyurangers ended up near main timeline Earth where all of the rest of it happens. And it also doesn’t track with the two respective series, which crossed over the week after this movie released and they didn’t know each other, so, like, if you have to choose whether the episodes are canon or the movie is canon, the episodes are part of the series, which determines canon. This isn’t the problem it could be, honestly, but it’s very clear from the Kyuranger side that the two are different universes and then just… doesn’t explain how they got there in either the movie OR in Kamen Rider Ex-Aid in the big movie launch special they had. And, like, I feel this is kind of a failure on the Kamen Rider writers’ part like they weren’t told this. And this is very much a Kamen Rider movie first. It feels like the Super Sentai writers were more or less consulted a bit for dialogue because the core premise and events are 100% Ex-Aid.

After a little beating around the bush, Amu goes with Poppy into Chou Super Hero Taisen and battles with some incredibly dated 1970s Riders commence only for the Gold Ranger from Kyoryuger to show up and save Amu and at this point I’m not going to focus too hard on names because it’s going to be a mix of ones that I know and am comfortable with and a bunch of Kamen Rider characters I’ve never seen before and, well, I haven’t seen Kyoryuger, either, but while he manages to pop up again several more times, he doesn’t contribute to the plot despite his generous screen time, so I really don’t care, sorry, not sorry. It’s really most notable in that he, unlike some of the other denizens, seems to have free will, which isn’t strictly exclusive, but seems to be granted selectively.

Anyway, there’s some pretty great character stuff in a tournament Emu has to participate in because of the "rules" imposed by digital Hiiro, with a mandate to choose a team with him as "red" despite his suit being pink except he has a form that’s "red enough" and a former red Rider gets put in the pink slot because his name is Momotaros, "momo" being "pink" in Japanese. And he more or less has a squabble with the blue and yellow reps from his series and prevents them from being chosen, they try to pick Kamen Rider Ghost for blue only for Yakumo of Ninninger to just suddenly drop in for no real reason because they’re too slow on the draw, and then, in probably the funniest joke on the Super Sentai side, Yakumo elects to choose his teacher, Tsubasa Ozu/MagiYellow, only to accidentally select Masato Jin/Beet Buster, who is played by the same actor, who also has a recurring minor role in Kyuranger as the famous Hoshi Minato and frankly I’m pretty sure has graced like every series since his first appearance as a cameo, character, or random nobody and I’m not entirely sure he doesn’t just live in the studio "Phantom of the Opera" style subsisting on the crew’s snack table. Anyway, with him not taking no for an answer, the last slot basically chooses itself with a lawyer offering a contract that catches on fire for a really creative scene transition that I think is worth mentioning just because fire is hard and it’s done so well.

To skip through the rest, it’s basically 90% fighting and some of it is fighting between nobody you’re even supposed to care about to establish the tournament just so they can show off the costumes they’ve collected and the most disappointing thing is Yakumo, despite selling himself on his ability to combine ninja skills with straight-up magic, uses neither.

And just to touch on the fighting since it’s 90% of the movie, while it’s impressive that some of the fights are choreographed with almost no cuts, it’s ruined by the shaky cam. Like, you know shaky cam? It’s everywhere in here and honestly it made me nauseous at some points. You simply cannot get through a big fight scene in this movie without the camera all but flipping end over end with shaky cam.

Anyway, to cut to the actual story, in summary, a kid named Eight was the child prodigee programmer of this game and decided to somehow digitize himself into it rather than undergo heart surgery. Digital Hiiro isn’t actually running things as you’re initially led to believe; Eight is and he now wants to destroy the real world, leaving only the digital world, because he… doesn’t care about either of them, or anything, at all. Anyway, Hiiro has some time to shine as the surgeon Eight refused and once you realize that the kid’s name is Eight and he made this game, all the weird double-diamond logos everywhere suddenly fall into place. Hiiro manages to beat his digital self as Eight’s #1 servant and digital Hiiro hands over a new morphing power and a fat stack of hero cards because he does legitimately want to help Eight and was just holding off on it because Eight didn’t want it just like he hadn’t wanted surgery, but is convinced that being proactive might be in everyone’s best interest as he dies. Emu managed to catch up to the kid during the tournament and pinky swore he’d talk to him again, and, like, despite being absolutely screwed by some new rules imposed on him designed to make him more or less instantly lose a 3-on-1 battle with impossible HP levels, he survives long enough to smash enough walls to find a power-up on his last hit point that switches his and the enemies’ HP and he finishes them off in a really clever bit that feels like a shining point of the movie. Everyone advances and between him and Naga as another person with no emotions and Naga actually pulling an emotional crying scene where he cries for Eight literally not caring about whether the whole world is destroyed, that, uh, they distract him for long enough for Hiiro to unilaterally destroy the digital tunnel letting a buttload of legacy bad guys attack the real world and Emu gets PISSED at Hiiro for this, but then after the big final battle Hiiro reveals he only destroyed it until the last bit that Eight could use to come back to the real world, so he does and asks if it means he can’t be with his friends anymore and they tell him he can always just still have them in the game without having to be in it, The End. Okay, that’s not fair at all, the ending really works and represents Eight finding it in himself to have emotions again and care about stuff and specifically people, because his lack of emotions apparently stemmed from just being bored with literally everything as a child genius somehow. So, like, there’s personal growth, but also a longing for things he’s come to retroactively appreciate, and promises made between him and Naga and what seems to be a promise being kept between him and Emu, so, like, the actual emotional part of the ending and the ending credits theme work incredibly well.

Oh, and the Kyurangers and Jyuohgers are part of the last battle in morphed form, just to show that everyone is still alive and get some voice lines from the rest of the Jyuohger cast, which they did actually give along with everyone else who does more than grunt in the heat of battle, which is pretty cool, I guess.

And, like, I’ll actually say the last half hour or so when the actual story gets moving is actually just sort of… nice? Like, if the whole movie had been like that, I probably would have liked it a lot more on the whole.

So would I recommend it? I mean if you’re a big fan of both Super Sentai and Kamen Rider and know who the heck most of these people are, this movie was literally made for you, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. The cinematography ranges from competent to pure garbage and there are just a TON of bizarre sound mixing issues and all of that ranges from distracting to nauseating and since it doesn’t fit in with series canon or introduce anything new to either series, the only reason it needed to exist was for people to point at the screen and fan squeal for 90 minutes.

I think the biggest success of the movie was actually getting me curious and interested in who some of the Kamen Rider folks were. As big a fan as I am of Super Sentai, Kamen Rider never quite grabbed me in no small part due to just how violent and bloody it seems to be, where main characters die all the time and even the wiki has overarching gore and disturbing imagery warnings at the top of multiple series. Not just episodes, but the whole run of the show. And, like, having heard from people online about how Amazons was a total gorefest because it could get away with extreme graphic violence on Amazon Prime, I just… really kinda felt reinforced for many years that none of it was worth getting invested in because if the heroes can’t even reliably survive halfway through a season, what the heck is the point in even watching? That’s not even giving the actors a reliable paycheck much less me feeling any kind of payoff for my investment. Super Sentai has character deaths on very rare occasions and it’s always incredibly dramatic, but in Kamen Rider, it’s a Tuesday. But, like, I kinda feel like some of them might be worth checking out inasmuch as they might not have quite so much of that and maybe give a few interesting ones a chance? There certainly seem to be ones with good characters on offer. At the same time, I have to say that my interest is a bit cautious because I DO know that many of them are so royally F’d up and I just don’t find that kind of thing enjoyable. So at the very least maybe I might be able to find 1-2 good ones? Like, it will take some sorting through the wiki to determine which ones are least likely to give me nightmares, but if I can find a couple I might actually enjoy, then this movie will at least have opened a couple avenues. And ultimately I think that’s worth something.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆, you could do worse as a fan, but I asked "why does this even matter?" multiple times through the runtime as more fights happened with no dramatic reason or stakes. They weren’t bad fights (maybe a B+ for some of them and none above an A; Ninninger set a high bar with A+ after A+ and Kyuranger itself has some pretty darn good ones and ranges A- to the occasional A+, so maybe call me spoiled), but the movie lacks structure for most of its run and just has fight after fight for literally no reason sometimes and the fights don’t so much dominate the runtime as are briefly interrupted with bits of plot on occasion. For the most part, this movie can be replicated by taking all your action figures and smashing them together for an hour and a half and it’s not until the final third of the movie that it actually gets to the point. When it does, it’s not bad! But I will say given how hyped up it was that I was disappointed. I guess what I will say in its defense is that it takes time to establish the characters, sets things up early that pay off way later, and did a fantastic job of at least getting a large number of people into a recording booth for a few minutes even if it couldn’t get them in front of a camera. It’s not without merit, but a lot of that merit is interspersed between fights that, really, just kinda felt like so much padding, even as objectively decent fights, because of a combination of shaky cam and lack of narrative necessity. It dragged in spots, but it’s ultimately eminently watchable, if not really necessary. Just maybe don’t feel bad about fast-forwarding on occasion.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming

The team is then tasked with finding the 3 Kyutama that make up the former single constellation called Argo Navis and none of them has any use other than that; Wikipedia has the names if you care, but through a series of coincidences Shou reveals himself as an artificial Ranger with a time limit when some powerful old enemies show up and then, because the original purpose of the Draco Kyutama was apparently granting wishes, which allowed him to at least wish himself into being a reasonable facsimile of a Kyuranger, combined with the 9 Kyurangers’ powers nearby, he’s effectively able to wish himself into full Rangerhood, complete with a powerful Zord of his own. Oh, and that Kotaro kid? He comes back, sans brother, which incredibly does not sit well with Stinger (Jiro is safe with their grandpa, but still), but Kotaro ends up stealing a morpher from Lucky, who has no sense of irony about it whatsoever, and the Ursa Minor Kyutama, which just happens to house the ghost of the former leader of Rebellion and former owner of Shou’s fancy jacket, Big Bear, who decides to work with the materials at hand, possesses the kid in the form of slapping a silly sky blue wig on him, and ends up lending his remaining power somehow into making the Kyutama the morphing kind, while also giving him the Ursa Major one to allow him to grow 3 stories tall, which quickly becomes his signature tactic. Though to say Stinger is not on board with him fighting by spanking enemies is an understatement and as soon as they get him his own color-coded jacket, they ship him off to a training facility to cram some actual martial arts into him. He’s gone for less time than you’d think given he’s a child actor and, you know, labor laws, and is surprisingly present starting a couple episodes later.

Anyway, through a series of unfortunate events, Champ dies, Stinger kills his older brother, they cross over with Dekaranger, Champ gets better (Stinger’s brother doesn’t), and Tsurugi ends up waking up from cryo stasis in the Argo Navis ship, which seems to have been either physically stored within the Kyutama that summons it or else just happens to be in literally the first river they find (which of the two isn’t entirely clear since it comes up from underwater) and it’s a perfectly functional boat, but also serves as a spacecraft, and Tsurugi promptly declares that they can all go home now, because he’s here to save the day!

[insert "Everyone disliked that." meme]

So while Tsurugi isn’t so much tooting his own horn as somehow playing a whole brass band announcing his arrival with a fanfare wherever he goes, the plot comes to a full and complete crash for 3 whole episodes where everyone is held hostage by this guy, who takes down a whole freaking armada with his personal sword weapon on foot and then later shows everyone his personal Zords and Megazord just for funsies all while spouting about how he invented both space travel and Raptor and was president of the whole galaxy and God help them all, it turns out he’s not blowing smoke! It was just all erased from history by a villain who literally can rewrite it at will in his book, so while all of that stuff happened, it hasn’t been taught in school for long enough everyone’s long forgotten about it.

But also he quickly starts struggling against enemies he should have no problems with, who he remembers, but who don’t remember him at all. So there are already problems showing up, not the least of which being that he’s 99.99999% sure he killed Don Armage, the leader of Jark Matter, forever ago, so a lot of stuff simply is not adding up. But it really feels like he blew through whatever ridiculous power reserves he had built up and hasn’t realized it yet or that the power source probably has become much more limited than he’s used to.

Anyway, by the end of this 3-episode train wreck, the rest of the cast has wrested the plot back out of his grubby hands and he’s actually somehow managed to redeem himself by the truth coming out that he was intentionally pushing everyone away because he started with 88 best friends in his last fight with Armage and there are only 2 known survivors (him included), so his solution to people not dying anymore is to shoulder the burden himself, and coming off his high horse and having honest interactions actually rehabilitates his character surprisingly well (and quickly!), and naturally it’s Lucky who gets through to him, but, like, in a way where he’s still ticked off at him and more calling him on his BS and having none of it, so Tsurugi is the one who has to give. I will admit that clawing my way through this arc took me MONTHS because nobody else on the show could stand him and quite frankly neither could I, so after stomaching the first 2 episodes of it, my whole body rebelled at the third, and it took me like 5 tries when there was even enough in me to try before I finally got through it, but was ultimately glad I did, because it’s only actually a few minutes in before the rest of the cast suddenly decides this is going to be their show again. Yes, he really is that insufferable that I literally took like 5 months to find it in myself to sit through like 5 minutes, so, you know, I put that here in both the interest of full disclosure and also just so you the reader know that you can personally maybe put your hands over your ears and go "LA LA LA" until everyone else crashes his party with Spada and Raptor and the series manages to flip its vehicle back over and hesitantly try starting it back up again. Thankfully, it doesn’t explode!

The team then goes to a clock planet where they all have to face down memories of people from their past to prevent them from turning the 12 keys for the 12 hours within a half hour time limit and you get to see Kotaro’s dead mom be proud of him and it’s actually a really good episode that makes use of some past costumes that wouldn’t otherwise have seen daylight again and still finds time to be hilarious, because everyone’s memories aren’t necessarily things they need to fight; some of them are people they very much want to spend time with because the goal isn’t to actually necessarily harm them, just stop them from turning all the keys, and some people have a much easier time of it than others. There’s also some character setup that flows into the next episode.

The Movie 2: Electric Poo! (spoilers (like all of them) click to skip)

Okay, calling this a "movie" is generous, but it’s *deep breath* Uchu Sentai Kyuranger The Movie: The Geth Indaver’s Counterattack. A mini-review will very much suffice here, because the title is longer than the runtime.

Anyway, U.S.K.T.M.T.G.I.C. can really only come basically right in between Episodes 25 and 26 and unfortunately doesn’t feel necessary or like it has a real spot in the continuity other than that being the only spot the whole team is together and about when the movie was in theaters. It is, at best, an interruption of the flow between the two episodes it can vaguely slot between and at worst feels like 2 episodes they wrote, couldn’t figure out when to air, and then ran out of money on while shooting and decided the theaters were more lucrative than throwing it on YouTube like some of the other supplemental material. Like, it introduces a new Megazord core with some good design work put into it that it’ll be a shame not to see again in the series, but other than that, it’s just under 35 minutes long including credits, so an episode and a half, and it’s not even a GOOD episode and a half. It starts in media res assuming you already know and care about everyone with zero establishing explanation and immediately kills off Shou on something just barely legally distinct from the Death Star as it heads on a collision course for Earth, which I would call a spoiler if it weren’t literally in the beginning credits of several episodes just for marketing purposes and, like, their reactions to it are shockingly well-acted? They are shockingly realistically sad about Shou’s death and the fact Earth has a Death Star crashing into it soon as some baffling step 1 or maybe just happy detour to releasing Cerberus despite Cerberus being located in its own constellation and the heroes seeing no other choice than to try to assemble Cerberus first because they simply don’t have anything that can destroy a Death Star (maybe they should’ve hit up the Bothans for the plans). So they grimly decide to go to the 3 planets where the 3 pieces are scattered in the Cerberus area of space despite it being a known deathtrap. That’s like the only thing this has thing going for it: gravitas in the performances that makes it much less cartoonish than the series. But none of that feels appropriate or earned. Crap just happens for no reason and with no explanation, there is no indication of a significant budgetary boost, and the events don’t get adequate time to breathe. It should have been like double the length or at least another 10 minutes (equivalent to TWO episodes) to feel like anything more than a parody cut, but hey, you get to see Lucky ride Garu (as a fur-covered dirt bike with his Zord’s face rather than his for some baffling reason where the headlight should be, but we’ll swing back to that, because "swinging" is going to be a topic). Like, that and some really softcore dirt bike stunts are the only thing that separates this from the series because Japan actually has pretty strict laws on motorcycle stunts due to the dangers they pose and that more or less eliminated them from Super Sentai ironically just in time for Zyuranger, which of course was made into the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The US has never really seen motorcycle stunts in Power Rangers for that reason and it was probably a deciding factor in why Doggie Crueger has a 4-wheeler. Anyway, get ready to spend a few minutes watching various angles of Lucky and Garu-the-dirt-bike chasing a villain on a not-Garu dirt bike in pretty much a straight line down a forest path that decidedly does not look like a deathtrap while Champ actually gets to show off his pro wrestling skills in a cage match on a snow planet that might feasibly be a deathtrap until they just get poofed into a warm building and, God, I can’t even remember what the main baddie of the villainous trio is even doing with Stinger, Balance, and Naga, other than fighting, I think(?), because the only thing I can guarantee with who’s left over is that Raptor is on the Orion because she basically doesn’t leave the ship for the whole movie when you’d think that flying might be useful. When I say "there was no budget," it’s that kind of thing I’m talking about. If this were an acutal movie and not a couple rejected episodes stitched together, you’d think they could muster a little something for that. Oh, right, yeah, it was fighting, because I remember wondering why they didn’t just beat a retreat with the Cerberus piece in hand, because it’s not like he had any means of stopping them. Also it was in a really pretty garden/ruin that, once again, looks nothing like a deathtrap. Like, I think maybe the sky in Lucky and Garu’s planet has a red tint or something. Still not a deathtrap. Everything cuts between the three separate teams in their low-stakes shenanigans just to make it feel like it’s taking longer, but that ultimately reduces the weight of each set of events because you don’t get to digest it and honestly even mashed together, none of the three teams’ segments are more than a few minutes combined, and seriously, cutting between different segments to make them all feel longer is a very old trick, but here it just kinda feels cheap because for that to actually work, you need to have each segment feel like it’s long enough for anything to actually be happening or else you’re just cutting between short, empty segments, and the only one that accomplishes that is Champ’s wrestling, which honestly could have carried a lot and feels like the only one that needed more of it. Then in the end the bad guys have 2 of the 3 pieces to Cerberus and call the heroes to a showdown with I can’t even remember what leverage other than maybe attacking Earth because it seems popular and that’s honestly more justification than anyone else has to do it. But, like, everyone including Shou shows up because of course he wasn’t actually dead and there’s a battle and Cerberus of course gets summoned and the villain chooses now to give us his villainous backstory which is, in the laziest "twist" ever, just another guy who used to know Shou in Rebellion and got kicked out for *checks notes* wanting to summon Cerberus, so literally nothing’s changed in his motivations and this is kind of the moment where he slings blame for his decision to join Jark Matter at Shou because his "betrayal" somehow "forced" that (note: this is classic DARVO), and the team is split up basically half and half to deal with the baddie and the rampaging Zord blasting the heck out of Japan with its trio of mouth cannons. In the only thing that actually feels clever here, they use the Hercules Kyutama for Lucky to rip his cockpit out of his own Zord and slam it into a restrained Cerberus with the help of 4 of the others to conveniently form the arms and legs and even then it’s kind of only meaningful if you’re like me and know Greek mythology, but, uh, if not, enjoy! Anyway, Cerberus gets tamed, they power it up with the Moon function of the Hikari Kyutama (thankfully suggested by Garu because it makes sense for the resident wolf to suggest a dog mech might get similar benefits), and the thing grows so big that, uh, I’m pretty sure it stepped on Japan. Like, all of it. But the Earth survives! The Death Star gets thrown back into space and then blown up. The heroes then split Cerberus back up, The End. I’m pretty sure the bad guy dies on the ground at some point before he and the rest of Japan get stuck in the gum on the bottom of the giant Megazord shoe. Anyway, the movie is completely superfluous, eminently forgettable, will have zero impact on the plot, doesn’t have Kotaro or Tsurugi show up until the very end, and really only exists to sell a new toy that, again, would have been nice to get as a recurring feature for how well designed it was, but they literally split it back up and send it to 3 unknown parts of the galaxy rather than putting it back in its own system, which is already considered a deathtrap, and, like, I really, honestly feel like I would have been better off not knowing any of this existed at all.

So there’s the summary! I watched it so you don’t have to! A mess cobbled together into less than the runtime of 2 episodes that probably could have used the length of 3 to be good and establish anything or even just another 10 minutes for the length of 2 to be passable, filled with props that clearly included some leftovers that they couldn’t use elsewhere because of Japanese law and also probably because Garu’s suit has limited enough visibility that his actor would have 100% died riding what was clearly designed to be HIS personal dirt bike and special effects that quite frankly aren’t even special by standard episode standards, all acted for the big screen, but written for the cutting room floor.

Verdict: ★★☆☆☆, because I’m feeling generous and can’t find a working half star character. It’s watchable. Not great, but watchable.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. Again.

If there’s a criticism of the storytelling, it’s that some things feel like wasted potential and like things don’t always develop in natural directions. And, I mean, I understand it as a writer myself. Sometimes you need to choose what to develop and sometimes the easiest answer is whatever was the most recent because that’s what the audience is most likely to remember or what streamlines things the most because this is an action series, not a soap opera where it’s 100% character interaction. And sometimes, just as I keep watching, things can come back far later than expected with an event to rekindle something that trailed off forever ago. So it’s not always that things are forgotten; they just need a little spark to rekindle when there’s time to get to it. Some of that actually comes after the midpoint, but, to be really honest, with 48 episodes, the midpoint is the exact end of the Tsurugi train wreck and a new major arc starts directly after, so I’m giving the series the benefit of the doubt (and also I thought that it would be 50+ episodes and didn’t check, but SHH!).

But overall, with very few exceptions, the show always feels like it’s going somewhere and still finds time for comedy, drama, great character moments, stinging losses, both happy and painful victories, and ever-increasing stakes that are never a matter of getting a new toy or even if they are, having to earn that by mastering the new toy and never just using it as a go-to or getting lazy with it. The heroes may not always feel like they’re respecting their limited energy supply, and it never seems to run out on them except in terms of individual powers, some of which are stated to never refill and thus are ultimately destroyed in the end, but at the same time, having to engage more of the team at once mostly stands in for where other series would come up with something to put on store shelves. The team faces down ever more dangerous threats by working together or coming up with creative solutions. And in many cases that makes an individual episode uniquely worth watching. The heroes often find a way to do the seemingly impossible with deceptively simple solutions.

The kit

To explain what a Kyutama even is, it’s an orb, sometimes colored, but also sometimes just plain clear, with 2 halves as held together by a base with a number sticker on it and arm extending to the top. They are very much plastic and there’s no real attempt to hide this, but with the flick of the thumb, you can slide an outer layer around to combine two halves of the picture on either side into something identifiable to "activate" it before sticking it in your morpher of choice to actually use it. As a MacGuffin, they’re always in theme, and in terms of design, they’re pretty darn cool, even if it’s unexplained why they’re labeled in English when there’s no number, which is true of a lot of things, honestly, like it was already being prepped for the US audience. All of it is in a 7-segment font that unlike most clocks has a bulge in the center to make it more of a hexagon without well-defined corners or maybe an oval with the top and bottom sanded flat. It’s a nice font and they use it elswhere, so it’s probably well worth whatever they paid to license it.

Regardless, the morphers du jour ultimately include the Seiza Blasters and later a couple personal devices, but the Seiza Blasters are a pretty useful utility tool, having a gun function complete with a flip-out handle and trigger despite also strapping to the arm for use with a button on a hand grip as a secondary trigger and being a useful shield and punch enhancer for hand-to-hand combat. As part of the transformation sequence, they also project a large, flat star in the corresponding color that the Kyurangers often point at the ground and stand on, but which also can double as a well-timed shield that seems nigh-impenetrable, protecting them from incoming enemy fire or even granting them breathing room from an enemy charge.

Each of the 9 primary Kyurangers has a personal configuration of the standard sidearm, which can be used as a gun and has a flip-down shaft that doubles as a rapier, with additional parts in a double axe head and a modest blade, all of which can combine into various swords, scythes, and even claws depending on what you add and what you flip around. It’s an ingenious design that has excellent personalization and flexibility using limited parts. Not all potential configurations actually get used; there’s really no guan dao deal as would be possible if you used the sword configuration and flipped down the spear shaft, but Stinger uses it as a spear with the knife as the business end and Kotaro ends up following in his footsteps on that when he’s not using his weighted scarf as poi. Nobody really uses it as a poll axe or war rake with the axe head or axe head in claw configuration, either. The closest you get is Naga using it as a scythe using the knife twisted around because it does that at a 90° angle. I won’t say it’s a complaint or anything and I wouldn’t even expect the toy to have names for those configurations because, you know, the toys are more or less where the money is, and I can only assume they have voice action since it’s so important in the show, but as tempting as it is to maybe import some merch, I wouldn’t exactly fault them for not being quite so thorough as to somehow cover literally every possibly combination. OOH! Yeah, you could also make a kama with it! Uh, sorry, there’s a reason I kind of vaguely want one. I’ve mentioned it back in my writing on Final Fantasy Wiki, but I am a total weapon geek. Like, not guns (I appreciate a pretty gun, but I honestly could not tell you the difference between most things other than "pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, and Thompson Type-C"), but I find pre-modern weaponry and martial arts inherently beautiful, so I could definitely tell a pilum from a bill or oxtongue.

The characters

We’ll start with Garu just to get it out of the way and start with how he swings as promised, but Garu quickly amasses a pile of hints that he’s gay or at the very least bi. While he’s not physically affectionate or anything and it’s played for laughs, you couldn’t get more Freudian with him if he slipped into a floating barge of cigars. I’ll be honest, I heard this general sentiment from furries on Twitter before I ever started watching the series and had assumed it was wishful thinking, but NOPE! It’s definitely there and easily read. Not that there’s anything wrong with that and there’s so much else to his character that it’s far from his entire personality or even a significant fraction of it, but it does sort of find ways of keeping happening and I think it’s notable if only because he has such a macho persona, the subversion of which is actually the source of most of his appeal. Garu is what passes for one of the adults in the room, not that any one person is truly the adult in the room with this cast, but he’s fun to watch specifically because the suit actor that plays him both in morphed and unmorphed form is so clearly throwing 110% into the portrayal and having a ball, which has come through since during his con appearances when asked to do the roll call, which I understand he’s obliged fans with enthusiastically, or at least did for a while after the series wrapped. Anything gets old after a while, but the energy he puts into even the closing credits dance makes him incredibly entertaining to watch. It’s always fun watching a performer have fun. Anyway, have you ever suddenly realized there’s a favorite you never knew you had? Because this guy’s rap sheet is like 90% of my favorites from every series I’ve watched and it’s clear this guy has the heart of a character actor, which is probably why he’s such a force of nature here. But Garu as a character has a lot of complexity right off the bat as a broken man who’s also an excellent fighter and Lucky’s drive offers him a glimmer of hope, so right off the bat Lucky becomes the most important person in his life. Garu isn’t the smartest on the team (though everyone is more or less as not-very-smart as makes the comedy work, he tends to take the brunt of it due to dog logic, though in some cases, such as the absence of an identifiable smell, you can kinda see where it comes from with a little thought) and some of his canine traits offer endearing qualities specifically because things like his excitability are in direct conflict with his tough guy persona. The character shines most when he’s not trying to put on airs. Garu is and very much feels like a man trying to figure out who he is again after years of emptiness. He’s older than most of the others, but at the same time he’s lost so many years since his youth that he’s well behind in certain ways and those ways tend to get filled in with canine traits that mesh well with some of his rougher edges to make him feel less like he has a duality between man and canine and more that he’s a whole person who is both and doesn’t have to apologize for it, with his bestial nature feeling celebrated. While almost everyone has some kind of special power, his bestial nature is inherent and always on, allowing his heightened senses to show through on occasion, but also defining him as a combatant and how he carries himself. He’s a very sympathetic character who still takes his lumps and is the butt of many jokes and it’s okay to feel like he sometimes deserves it and at the same time feel bad for him. There are so many things he’s juggling in his personal growth that he is flawed and yet deserving of happiness, so it’s very easy to be happy for him when he’s happy, too, and ultimately that usually expresses itself in him being a little silly. I’ll come right out and say he’s my favorite character here just because he’s really not any one stock like most of the others and the way his traits interact with each other makes him interesting, relatable, and approachable despite the imposing way he carries himself. There is also quite frequently some excellent symbolism for those who are paying attention in the scenes where he finds some way of slowly piecing himself back together. As far as the cast goes, his amount of screen time and development indicates someone cared about the character in the writers’ room.

Champ is the other adult in the room off the bat, in that he’s sort of an ideal kid-friendly face wrestler the type of whom would probably hoist a kid onto his shoulder to hold up a title belt. If anything, his interactions with Garu are the most interesting because Garu and he both play off the other’s competitive nature and there’s a mutual respect between them that never really gets questioned or breached, but unfortunately becomes less important as Champ starts revealing the ways his past is wrapped up with Stinger’s. I honestly would have liked to see more form between Champ and Garu, and later Champ and Kotaro, but Champ’s relationship with Stinger for better or worse takes center stage if only because of their shared history, which means that Champ doesn’t feel like he has much to do as a character other than ruminate on his past and latch onto Stinger due to his place in it, when there are people he could be forming more meaningful bonds with. As a founding member of the team, at least as far as you’re initially presented, Champ seems comfortable with Hammie and Spada, but doesn’t have particularly deep bonds with either of them. He eventually starts to share some spotlight with Balance about how they both benefit from not being organic beings, but that usually is in the formula of Balance complaining about his condition and Champ reminding him he’s not actually subject to that particular physical frailty and Balance going "oh, right!" and doing a jig or something. In contrast, he barely interacts with Raptor at all despite them both being robots and knowing each other since before Episode 1. Like, Champ was specifically built for combat and while Raptor wasn’t, he doesn’t seem to have any opinion one way or the other on that, or much of one of her as a person. And on one side, one could also make an assumption he’s not really a judgmental person, but on the other, he’s not afraid to comment on anything if he happens to be around; more he just sort of states things like they’re given facts with a hearty laugh. And that sort of sums Champ up as a character. He’s mostly a shallow façade who’s marketably goofy with a handful of catch phrases and while he certainly has real emotions and can form emotional bonds, he reserves them almost exclusively for his past. And not really in a way that feels like he’s afraid of getting close to anyone again despite his trauma. There are flashes of other things with potential to form, but all of it is largely forgotten as soon as his past comes back to haunt him. It feels like the writers are happy to truck him out as a combatant just because his suit actor (Jiro Okamoto) is a powerhouse who’s been doing this for almost 40 years and probably calls 50 pounds of latex "pajamas," which means he’s visually distinguished by his bulk and being probably one of 3 people in the world at most who can do stunts in a helmet with long horns without breaking his neck, which, I mean, okay, there are legitimate fans of this guy specifically as a stuntman and I have to side-track and say that his talents put him in the top percentage of his industry and will keep him there for decades to come. Utmost respect to him and his craft. But to get back on track, the problem is for all the screen time Champ gets, they never seem to find enough of it to develop him as anyone with eyes in the present. And that’s a problem, because he’s a very shallow character with a very deep backstory and it feels like his whole arc sheds a lot of what could have made him more interesting to focus on resolving everything they’ve established. Otherwise, while he doesn’t get to show it off often, as a combat robot, he does have enhanced strength, which sort of acts as his personal superpower, but it’s easy to forget he has it because it doesn’t make him an immediately obviously more powerful combatant. He’s a likable character: affable, wholesome, and charming in his own quirky way. But his competitive streak is something that comes out quickly as one of his key traits and feels like it should lend itself for deeper bonds with his similarly competitive teammates, especially Garu, but also Lucky, Hammie, and even Kotaro. And his face wrestler persona absolutely should give him a warm spot for Kotaro specifically. His being a robot gives him more to do with Balance as a mechanical lifeform than it does with fellow actual robot Raptor 283. I’m not saying he should be the heart of the team, but he feels like a victim of the way the show ends up sort of pairing people up when they form a strong bond at all. I could understand if he didn’t get paired up, because not everyone does, but he gets paired up with the wrong person, which is kind of a problem.

And while we’re on that, let’s talk about Stinger, resident walking pharmacy by way of a scorpion tail housing a natural chemistry set, because he’s absolutely another one with a few surprises behind him, but for the most part he’s really… just kind of not worth pairing up with Champ. Like, I can understand why he handles their shared past the way he does, because he knows he has no real way of defending his side of the story, but when it comes out organically, Champ sort of latches onto him as a partner in a way that’s far beyond forgiveness and in a way that Stinger doesn’t reciprocate or even particularly want. Stinger is far more important to Champ than Champ is to Stinger. Meanwhile Stinger also has to juggle that with Kotaro in a way that’s much more organic and makes much more sense and is just more interesting. Stinger and Kotaro are introduced to each other long before they become teammates and Stinger’s own familial trauma is very quickly tangled with Kotaro’s decision to run off to join the team. Stinger, quite understandably, sees this as irresponsible and feels with quite a bit of merit that Kotaro is not ready for this kind of activity. Stinger is himself a younger brother. That’s where his trauma comes from. Kotaro is an older brother who wants to flip the script to be HIS younger brother and Stinger feels neither prepared for this nor that it’s right for Jiro as Kotaro’s younger brother. At the same time, Kotaro is one of the few people who finds a way to get through to Stinger, who doesn’t so much have emotional walls up as he is hunkered in an emotional bunker a mile below a trauma mountain. Stinger, unlike Champ, is very much the type who keeps his distance intentionally because he’s been hurt. His relationship with Kotaro is one of very few things that makes him feel anything. Having that put him off balance does a lot to crack the aloof façade he keeps. More importantly, it feels earned. Stinger is not a particularly interesting character in a bubble, but he becomes interesting when you bounce the right people off him. Kotaro does that. Champ doesn’t. And I would really prefer if Champ as a character would stop trying to make it happen. Stinger as a character really doesn’t deserve to be "paired" up with two other teammates and being paired up with Kotaro is the best use of either of them. Or if you’re going to have them all be a three ingredient soup, it would at least make more sense for them to form a family of sorts with Champ serving as the father figure to Kotaro, because it’s pretty obvious Kotaro really doesn’t have one and could use a moderating influence that Stinger cannot provide. As it stands, Champ and Kotaro are more or less competing for his attention and Stinger only really seems equipped to maybe do something with Kotaro’s. He’s… slowly warming up to Champ, but still doesn’t have the attachment to Champ that Champ has to him, though one seems to be forming.

Just to tie this up a bit, even though it’s all way out of order of appearance, Kotaro is a surprisingly good child character because he is very much not prepared for the life he thought he was. He’s a kid who’s more than a little bit of a stinker and very easily causes trouble because that’s what kids do, and he makes a lot of mistakes because that’s what kids do. America especially has this weird obsession with child characters who are miniature adults and that’s simply not how kids work. But parents THINK that’s what kids should be like and consider that a role model and, like, that’s what all the adult characters are for. I’m not saying that there aren’t good kids and bad kids; bullies exist and so do so many kinds of good kid I couldn’t possibly list them all. I’m just going to point out that there are no perfect kids and therapy seems to be getting really popular these days with adults who never lived in a world where Calvin and Hobbes was in the newspaper. If you want a perfect kid, you don’t want a kid, you want a dog. Maybe give one of those a test drive before you commit to the next 18 years, just sayin’. The show’s handling of Kotaro is everything it should be because Kotaro has guidance. That’s the most important thing you can do with a child character is show them making mistakes or having questions and getting guidance on it because that depicts a child navigating the world with proper support. Look, this isn’t something like a Teen Pregnant Skipper doll or whatever a late night talk show host might cook up; this is really about depicting a reality for many children. Kotaro is, more or less, an orphan. He has no father figure to speak of; his mother is explicitly dead. He offloads his younger brother onto their grandpa, which wouldn’t be necessary if they had a meaningful parental unit. It takes a village to raise a child. And a lot of kids really don’t have that benefit. You may have been lucky enough to have grown up in a world where hitting a baseball through a window got you marched up to the front door to apologize, but in today’s world, kids have to navigate it knowing they could get sued. The world is a big, scary place and the more support a kid can have, the better. That’s not to say parents aren’t essential for that support; they are. It’s saying that teachers, neighbors, aunts and uncles, grandparents, older siblings, trusted parents of other children, and everyone else make that support network stronger. And not everyone has that healthy network. Parenting is harder than ever in our digital era and things can blindside you as a parent out of left field because things can sneak their way into what you’d already vetted and God only knows what’s coming from people whose parents aren’t doing that vetting. You can’t be everywhere to protect them. That’s where having other people you trust in the picture helps. Kotaro starts off very attached to Stinger as an older brother figure, but Stinger isn’t the only one helping guide him. Shou helps a bit; probably more than anyone else but Stinger. Even Tsurugi pitches in not long after he joins the team. Kotaro is depicted as a child who initially has far too little protection and ends up in a dangerous situation because of it, and only through the kindness of what eventually becomes the support network he needed makes it out the other side of that situation. The guidance they provide helps him start growing as a person. And that, that right there, is really important for kids to see. It’s not that Kotaro becomes a Ranger that’s important; that’s secondary for keeping the audience interested in him at all. The best episodes with Kotaro in them all have to deal with him getting help navigating complex situations or the goodness of his heart having a positive impact on others. Kotaro shows a kid who knows it’s okay to ask for help. Who, at times, has to make a hard decision. And most importantly, it contextualizes it in very human terms every single time. Kotaro never has his finger on a big, red button. Not a literal one, anyway. No, he has to do things like choose between how much more time he can get with the mother he lost before the whole puzzle resets and makes it harder for everyone around him. There’s no reason HE has to solve his part of the puzzle; literally any of the others could do it at any time. And there’s no reason he can’t just not; the puzzle will reset, yes, but then the others just have to redo it. The whole reason all of them are collected there in the first place is because two of them went off to do it and just weren’t fast enough. They probably reset the puzzle multiple times. There’s no limit on it. The others put the decision in his hands because they know there are no easy answers and the stakes are deceptively low. But they don’t feel low to him and he makes the decision that he’s going to solve his piece of the puzzle and use the time left to make his mother proud. Like, if you’re a mother; isn’t that the exact type of decision you’d want your kid to make? Kotaro is not a perfect kid, but his heart is in the right place and that’s important. Watching the others warm up to him one by one is really just heartwarming. And I guess that’s kind of its own superpower. Kotaro doesn’t fire lasers or anything, being a normal human from Earth, but his good heart always shows through in the end and it has a way of bringing out the good in everyone around him.

To move on to some of the others, in terms of raw development, Hammie is definitely the winner. Like, early on, she sort of just… feels all of her emotions at an 8 out of 10, so she’s in stitches at basically anything when she’s in a good mood at all and pretty pouty and impetuous when things aren’t going the way she expects and what the others deem "scary" when she’s mad. Like, she’s not a 10 out of 10 in all of them, and maybe might dip down to brush a 6? But being a happy character, it’s easy to basically dismiss her as "the girl who laughs at anything." And, like, this starts changing pretty quickly because it’s obviously not working for the character, so she keeps the perkiness and a lot of her extremes are toned down and the character just suddenly clicks. And I think they did what they did in the first place to have her be a polar opposite of Naga as a guy with no emotions at all, but at the same time neither of them ends up being the "solution" to the other and she’s allowed to stand on her own and actually show some chops, because it’s obvious that by the series start she’s become the team’s field leader. So they lean into that with her by pitting her more or less directly against Lucky for the position because so much of the team has coalesced around him in a sort of old guard/new guard setup with Garu thrown in since despite being initially on Lucky’s side, he’s down for a competition. And that really works for him as a character, too, but more importantly when they end up trying to find ways to determine what to compete over, Hammie gets a real humanizing moment because it turns out she just doesn’t understand Lucky. Shou explains it to her in gentle terms and then that’s what gets her back on board the first out of anyone else to make it work. And while Lucky ultimately "wins," he kind of just… says they don’t need any one leader. Which the show actually takes quite a bit to heart, because there are times when Hammie gets to show off her tactical chops afterward to show why she was effective field leader of the initial trio in the first place and why she thought she deserved the title officially. She’s a capable young woman who knows how to put her invisibility powers to good use for infiltration, how to coordinate a team, and also how to deal in emotional matters, because once that quirk gets toned down, she proves herself capable of driving the emotional impetus of an episode. I really feel that the actress would make an excellent dramatic actress if given half the chance, because there are times when she just sells herself as so genuine that it’s easy to get a sense of range. But Hammie as a character demonstrates that her most valuable asset is teamwork, whether she’s calling the shots or not, and frankly when it comes to emotional matters, maybe she’s still a little more emotional than average, but it’s in a much more subtle, constructive way. Hammie sidesteps the Pink Ranger pitfall of being The Girl because it never feels like she’s actually forced to be the one who deals in emotional matters; it’s all very natural and flows naturally from a genuine sense of empathy. She ends up feeling like a very whole, nuanced character far before the midpoint and it’s mad props to the writers for understanding what was and wasn’t working right away and the actress for bringing such talent to the role that she can bring such humanity to the role through what feels like a subtle fish-eye lens. I won’t say Hammie is my favorite character—as stated above, that would be Garu—but I will say I consider her the best, at least one she’s gotten off the ground.

Naga in contrast is sort of a deconstruction of someone without emotions and I’m not sure they always really know what to do with him. He has an existing relationship with Balance and the two coordinate excellently with each other, but Balance sort of is just driving his life and isn’t quite equipped to do it whether he realizes it or not. So Naga is always most interesting when he gets to be his own person, but he’ll sometimes just do something for a whole episode that makes no sense and doesn’t feel in character and when he’s just moving around, he either is expressing the wrong emotion or maybe he’s actually applying something he learned correctly and it’s the latter that makes for some really sweet moments. Like Balance has a birthday and Naga’s gift to him is putting himself in a box and smiling when Balance opens it and he’s been practicing smiling for like a week or something because it’s something he has a lot of trouble doing and it was the best thing he could think of to give to his best friend who’s tried to help him so much. And so, really, it’s not that Naga isn’t thoughtful or that he doesn’t care, but he’s simply unable to comprehend what everyone around him experiences and he’s trying. I’m going to come out and say he’s not really a hero for the autism spectrum like other characters even in Super Sentai. The Pink Ranger Kasumi in Ninninger is far more appropriate to that. Naga doesn’t have any real spectrum traits other than his lack of emotion and the situation with them is treated as a conscious choice of his society for the sake of peace, so really, it’s not that he’s not capable, it’s just buried very deep. Naga is an interesting, even lovable character when the writers know what to do with him, and can be surprisingly relatable in the right context for anyone who’s ever felt shut out. But his development is very slow and that can work for and against him as a character. Otherwise, he comes with a natural petrifying gaze, where he can freeze people as long as he can maintain eye contact, and this comes in handy more often than anyone else’s active ability and even more often than some of their passive abilities.

Balance in contrast is pretty much all there as soon as he arrives. Sometimes you need a quirky, flamboyant comic relief character and Balance is one. He doesn’t have a whole lot of depth, but sometimes that’s not necessary in a large cast and for what he is, he works. Balance is primarily a sort of lovable rogue, a bit low on the maturity scale, but adept at "procurement" less in terms of pickpocketing and more in terms of infiltration and treasure hunting. He’s also what mostly passes for their resident inventor, which is aided by his being a mechanical lifeform, which is distinct from being a robot because while he’s the youngest of his kind, they are still, somehow, "born" in some sense rather than "made" and celebrate birthdays despite their incalculably long lifecycles. He’s able to easily hack things like doors, has general touch-based (or close to it) electrical powers that he can gain some distance with using cables that emerge from his wrists (all of which unfortunately gets quickly forgotten), and like the robotic members of the team isn’t subject to the same physical frailties to things like extreme temperatures that the organic members are, which the writers always seem to remember to make him forget for a quick joke. Balance is goofy, but he’s surprisingly smart and knowledgeable when the story needs him to be, and at the same time he really doesn’t need to be anything else. At the same time, he can also be surprisingly caring, at least when it comes to Naga. Balance loves Naga like family and while some of this is built over the course of the series, it doesn’t make that any less real by the midpoint. He may only really be there because Naga is, but only two things are important to Balance: treasure and Naga. And his first bit of character growth that unlocks his Kyutama is realizing that Naga comes first.

To move on to Tsurugi, he introduces himself as a patently unlikable "God’s gift to the world" type and it’s only after he hijacks the show for 2 episodes and the beginning of a 3rd with everyone determining he’s somehow as impossibly brilliant as he says he is even though it’s all been erased from history books that Lucky actually gets through to him and nails what he’s been doing: trying to push everyone away because he lost almost 88 of his best friends in a climactic battle and can’t stand the thought of losing more and determining the best way to resolve the problem is alone, whether everyone else likes it or not. Everyone else not liking it turns out to maybe not be the best solution for a bunch of people who were literally chosen by the stars for their will to fight. Like, that’s not a group of people who are just going to do things like "go home" and "let someone else handle it." Two of them literally summoned that power to themselves by sheer force of will; another one wished for it so hard his actual constellation came to life to challenge him on whether he could possibly mean it that much, and the last of them had resolve enough for the ghost of a powerful leader to sacrifice almost his entire immortal soul to make it happen before moving on. These are not decisions anyone made lightly. And, to his credit, Tsurugi actually comes to an almost immediate appreciation of Lucky for having none of his BS and keeps finding new ways of being impressed by him, both as a combatant due to their similar choice of weapon and as a person. Like, he’s still occasionally an arrogant prat, and he’s frankly downright merciless to his enemies, and he still can’t seem to figure out that maybe it’s not so much that everyone is suddenly stronger as he might have completely blown through the lion’s share of his own power in a very short period showing off without realizing that Kyu Energy has become a much more limited resource, but at least he became redeemable and seems on track to find things to genuinely appreciate about everyone around him. Tsurugi being an Earth human has no natural superpowers, but he did used to have one granted by the Phoenix Kyutama: immortality. He gave it up long ago before going into cryostasis, but still kiiinda/sorta moves around like he’s not used to mortality quite yet.

Spada is sort of interesting because he’s defined less by his relationship with any one person other than maybe Raptor and more by his profession as a chef and that serves as his roundabout motivation for fighting. Like, okay, I keep talking about everyone’s trauma like it’s unique. Literally all of the heroes have past trauma. Basically everyone in the galaxy has trauma from Jark Matter having taken over. Spada became a chef because there were hungry mouths to feed on his planet and he wanted to learn how to solve that with the limited resources on hand. You don’t actually get to see that planet in the first half of the show, but then so much of the show is on Earth or whatever barely-habited planet happens to have the next Kyutama that inasmuch as you can talk about any of their homeworlds in the present tense, you don’t get to see any of them. But Spada can be described as a sort of "heart and hearth" character, where his altruism is a core part of his identity. He cares about people in a general sense and this can sometimes cause him problems in a specific sense when his heart leads him in a direction that might cause the others trouble. He’s not there to follow orders; he’s there to help, and sometimes that means he follows his heart instead because his heart comes first. Spada is probably the most independent of the heroes and the least committed to Rebellion as a structure in subtle ways, though he’s totally committed to being a Ranger. He’s not afraid to disagree rather than ingratiate himself, but he’s never blunt or rude about it. He has a sense of class as a head chef should. He’s not afraid to disobey orders because as far as he’s concerned, in matters of the food and the hungry, he’s #1, even if he’s only leading a team of 1. If there’s a choice between following orders and helping people, he will choose to help people every time. And while there are many, many times when he’s wrong, he always finds a way to apologize by cooking up something delicious, usually in a way that directly celebrates the other’s achievement. Spada is a guy who cares very much, whether its his teammates or total strangers. He has standards he expects from others as a professional, but he also has standards for himself. If all he was offered was to be a fighter, he wouldn’t be there. Spada is not primarily a fighter and does not identify that way. Fighting is secondary to helping and he’s there to help. Spada otherwise is the resident water specialist, but it only comes up once and it’s not entirely clear whether it’s a natural power or related to his Ranger power set. His effective superpower is, of course, his fantastic cooking, which serves as an excuse for them to have delicious food on set basically every alternate episode, so maybe take that as a warning if seeing food and people eating is uncomfortable for you, because it happens all the time here. But dramatically speaking, every time he cooks, it’s basically team-building, often celebrating someone’s accomplishments or otherwise serving as some of the happiest bits of their downtime. It’s also his means of showing he accepts someone, because he’s clear that he chooses his clientele, and that on its own can carry dramatic weight for his character.

Raptor 283 is actually introduced right away, but doesn’t become a Ranger until a bit later. She serves as the pilot and in times of need mechanic for Orion, who she considers her "uncle," and is their secretary on top of it, giving the mission briefings and possibly helping process the collected data of the organization into useful information for the team. She’s also quite the daydreamer and apparently dreamed for some time about being a Kyuranger. And it’s ultimately this desire that sets her apart from the other Type 283 units and summons her Kyutama directly to her just like Lucky did. Raptor initially doesn’t engage in combat unmorphed, as her model simply isn’t designed for it, but by the time the series midpoint hits, she’s slowly started doing so as a subtle nod to the experience she’s gained. Raptor is a pretty static character in most regards. She’s a more than a little spoony, with romantic fantasies about her human teammates specifically, Naga excluded, but also surprisingly Shou. Which strikes me as a little strange, honestly, unless it’s because she attaches to people who have specifically rescued her in some way, which Spada hasn’t so far in the series and might be an interesting flashback sequence, because it’s obvious from the get-go that he cares about her as a person, even if he doesn’t take her will to fight seriously until she proves it by becoming a Ranger. Which is to say Spada initially sees her as someone fragile who must be protected and he’s going to do that protecting because that’s who he is as a person. But that’s tempered by his berating her for trying to defend herself rather than just running away and doesn’t seem like the sort of thing she’d actually idolize, so there probably was something before that that made him her seemingly primary fantasy, and to be fair, he seems to know and keep several secrets about her and only relates them to the team when they become relevant. The two have been through a lot together, with Spada being the first official Kyuranger on the team. Raptor is used to thinking of herself as weak and it makes sense in a way that she’d attach romantic feelings to people she felt took care of her in some way, which is different from the obvious that she might latch onto Champ as a fellow robot because, quite frankly, I don’t think Champ with his tendency toward shallow interactions put any emphasis on her or took her all that seriously, though he’s quick to accept her as a comrade when she becomes a Ranger. If all she wanted was a big, strong man, Champ would be ideal, but what she really wants is a prince. Otherwise, Raptor as a character mostly alternates between breathless fantasy, mechanical efficiency, and bouts of rage where she’s not afraid to get physical, but it’s less that she’s tsundere and more that they find a way to keep her cute even so by reducing it to slapstick. She’ll snap her pointing stick before she snaps a teammate and while Shou suffers the worst of it from her, the worst she really does is shove a pair of cans of peaches into his collarbone or physically shake him after most of an episode of buildup. I will say if I had to pick a second favorite, it would probably be her, but then I also have long dreamed about being a Ranger and would probably settle for pink at this point if it would be my only opportunity, though chances are if the power found me, no matter what it was, it would find a way of turning blue. Even if they already had two of them, it would find something darker, lighter, or in between, because that’s just what’s in my blood. Anyway, as a dreamer myself in a profession where documentation is 50% of the job and "going outside" isn’t one of the perks, I find Raptor instantly relatable.

Shou acts as the leader of Rebellion and at times you wonder if the weight of it on his mind hasn’t at least partially divorced him from reality. I wouldn’t say he’s actually the ADHD type, but he does sometimes hyperfocus on things like making new catch phrases when much more important stuff is going on around him and he’s certainly eccentric, enjoying himself a good dance and seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of canned food. He’ll often come out with non-sequitors and bizarre lapses or leaps in logic and while some of this results in accidental brilliance, it seems to take a lot at first to get his head out of the clouds and feet on the ground. This resolves a bit once he’s able to put some of his past to rest, but mostly it’s when he slows down that he can have a real heart-to-heart with whoever needs it and some of the wisdom that almost certainly earned him the position comes through. Despite all of his mental quirks and his bad back, he’s actually only 40 when you’d assume he was more like 60 from his white hair and beard. That alone makes him "old" by modern Ranger standards, but Champ is also 40 and Garu is 35 and otherwise acting as the old man on the block in terms of life experience in the sea of attractive 20-somethings that make the series marketable. Like, Champ could maybe pass for a fun uncle, but Garu has the depth to comment more on things like tactics. Shou is a bit different because you’d assume his wisdom is maybe a bit more "earned" than his age would otherwise indicate, as would be his mental lapses and back problems. Not that you don’t potentially start having back problems earlier than that (especially from playing injured in sports; take care of your body, kids, you only get one), but it’s not exactly a trait you see in superheroes, whose shelf life tends to be considered a little longer than that due to their enhanced physical health and activity. But no, Shou is playing the role of eccentric, forgetful old man when he’s really not that old at all. And it’s not that his character doesn’t work; it just doesn’t really work with his age and there’s not a real justification of why the timeline needed to be that way, at least not yet. In terms of mentors, the show really gets to have it both ways with him: he’s a good mentor when the team needs it and a good comedic character when they don’t.

And that really brings us to Lucky as the last of them, because honestly there’s a lot less to talk about for him as a character. He’s endlessly optimistic, which basically warps reality around him in ways that are at least obliquely beneficial. It’s treated as him "making his own luck" through the power of positivity and persistence and while there’s a good message there, the show’s treatment of it is… maybe a little harmful in its simplicity sometimes. Which isn’t to say that Lucky is only absurdly lucky; he has the ability to give a good pep talk and call out the harm he sees others doing, even among his teammates. He’s not exactly gentle about it and usually ends up shouting at people, or shouting while they throw hands in Garu’s specific case because that’s just the language Garu as the resident tough guy speaks, but at the same time, Lucky seems to have a unique ability to also key in on and speak the others’ language. In the end, it’s not always that he and whoever he’s shouting at are necessarily suddenly best friends or even really in agreement so much as they at least understand the other’s perspective and agree to work toward a common goal. And it’s not that Lucky even naturally likes or gets along with everyone, either; he very much does not like Tsurugi and still finds common ground with him to work toward a common goal, though in certain ways the two are more alike than either would admit and Tsurugi to his credit starts to see Lucky’s potential after he’s gotten to know him a little better. At the same time, Lucky has a lot of faith in people because he seems to have inherent trust in how certain things work, like being absolutely adamant that Stinger can’t really be a bad guy because he fully trusts that a Kyutama wouldn’t respond to someone like that. And, like, he’s right, and yes, that’s absolutely how things work, despite all evidence to the contrary that Stinger initially offers. Lucky is also a firm believer in dreams, hope, the inherent truth of wholehearted beliefs, and people’s right to happiness, so anything that impinges on that has his immediate ire. To Lucky, at least as long as there’s not evidence to the contrary, anything that someone believes without doubt is worth treating as reason enough to believe it as truth, because there has to be some reason they believe it and he trusts that. To Lucky, dreams are what separate the living from the dead. Lucky, in his own way, has a deep understanding of what makes a person a person. And while he’s mostly a cartoon, it’s these sort of things he gets totally serious about and it never feels like it’s out of character. Lucky is the type who runs around erratically with a doofy grin and somehow everything always works out, but if he has a bone to pick with you, you know you deserve it. I guess that was quite a bit more about Lucky than I expected to write, actually. Anyway, Lucky serves as something of the moral compass of the team and is definitely the one most of its members ended up pulled into the gravity of and everyone comes to trust his bizarre luck as a form of inherent protection if nothing else, since it very much always protects him if not anyone else. The way it saves him can be completely oblique, but whatever pratfall he experiences generally saves him from worse. I won’t say he necessarily has plot armor, inasmuch as basically all the heroes almost always have plot armor, but chances are he’s going to be exempted from something that happens to wreck everyone else and only gets wrecked himself if the others are still standing, and then he’ll probably mope a bit about it before somehow swooping in with a solution to save the day. Like, Lucky does have many cases where he does mope around because he doesn’t see a solution to something and the first time especially everyone else is pretty shocked by it, but while they never quite get used to it, that’s just kind of part of his "process" and what keeps him feeling human.

I also have to say that while there are very few recurring villains, the ones there are seem to be pretty well thought out. Often they have personal importance to one of the heroes and beating them usually comes after multiple hard-fought battles to make them feel like a real threat. They never go down to just trying to brute-force it and always require some kind of innovative solution or emotional breakthrough. It’s never a matter of getting a new addition to the toyline because the toyline is centered around only a few actual standalone bits of merch and a hundred coin-op vending machine prizes.

About the toyline, though…

I think it’s really to the show’s credit that they resisted the temptation to keep coming out with new powers and forms and such. Like, they start with the pretense of 9 Rangers and end up with 12, which all amounts to a new Zord each, plus whatever couple additions they might have, but for the most part they get all the mileage they need out of new combinations rather than new toys. All of the heroes use the same weapons throughout, all of the enemies go down to the same Zords as ever, maybe you get a new configuration that can fly or something, maybe you get a new ally whose Zord has some cool new attack, but generally speaking, the midpoint of the series has your significant power-ups being new ways of smashing together existing toys with only a few real additions required to make it work. People might get powered up by a new power, but they just glow or something to show the enhancement or someone gets a new helmet attachment and it’s only after the actual midpoint (which I won’t actually fully reference here, just for the sake of finishing it as a "midpoint review," but the midpoint is very much the beginning of an arc) that there’s actually a major change to the toy lineup. And even then, they aren’t like other shows (looking at you, Ninninger!) where any kind of new power gets used maybe once or twice before it’s on to the next shiny object. Things become part of the kit, but it never becomes necessary to truck them out 100% of the time.

And, like, I think there’s a lot to be said for that. Not because it reduces so much of the line to gambling, but because the parts of the line that are reduced to gambling are the least necessary and the rest is focused purely on your own preferences, imagination, and creativity. The show does a lot with surprisingly little and doesn’t need to do the whole "oh, no, they destroyed our last superweapon, guess we need a new one" thing that’s so, so easy with this type of show. Like, objectively there are probably about as many toys as any other series, but it’s all so front-loaded that it’s not tiresome. The first handful of episodes are definitely a whirlwind of new characters and therefore figures, but at the same time, the whole point is you can pick and choose, so there’s no real requirement to get everything all at once, either, and I’m sure there were box sets to get you started. I suppose the best thing I can call it is "graceful." Or at least "graceful enough." Yes, front-loading it does mean that a lot of it hits all at once and that does mean the first handful of episodes are rough, but then after that, everything has time to breathe and gel.

As for the actual toys themselves, well, expect a review of a couple of them, I guess, because I looked into them out of curiosity and found an embarrassingly good deal on eBay by accident and then realized I was basically committed to getting the actual functional piece to that and threw up my hands and just got whatever else I wanted. I’m not going to say how much it actually cost, because my dignity is already curled up rocking in a burrow, but I will say I’ve made far more embarrassing recent purchases and at least this I know what I’m going to do with. Sort of. If I can figure out shelf space. Look, nobody’s perfect. XD

In summary

If all you wanted was the summary and somehow missed it at the top, here it is. The first half of the series, inasmuch as the last few episodes ending in the 24th are technically the last and I went a little past that, do represent the culmination of the team’s efforts up to that point and a new arc starts immediately after that starts the second half of the series off strong.

The characters are great and any real weakness in how they’re written is very quickly evolved into something that works. All of them are ultimately full of surprises. Even some of the villains find the time to be interesting.

The good guys don’t always win at the end of the episode and in fact as the stakes rise, they often lose for multiple episodes in a row until they find the right strategy. It’s a given that as the good guys they’ll always win in the end, but they certainly have to work for it on a regular basis.

In how I’d rate the series, it’s definitely in my top 5 and while there is some incredibly stiff competition from Dairanger, Go-Buster, and Dekaranger, I honestly think that as I watch more of it, it’s winning the #1 spot for me. I’ll be able to elaborate more on that in the second half review that’s quickly forming in my head, but trying to keep more of that out of this first half review has been difficult and the temptation to move some of this into whatever that will be is strong. I’ve decided on a recap instead, but only because I think it’s important to illustrate the light at the end of the tunnel that serves as payoff for the conclusion of that arc. This is very much a serialized series and things do not reset at the end of the episode, so as I’ve kept watching while writing this, more just keeps building. I’m not 100% sure that it’s stolen the crown from Go-Buster quite yet, but I do feel if you asked me what my favorite was off the top of my head, Kyuranger would be my first answer if only because it’s the one freshest on my mind. You really have to bear in mind that that’s a pretty solid argument because Go-Buster is a show I literally stopped watching because I didn’t want it to end. Kyuranger isn’t quite up to that, but while I will still hold, similar to Garu and Hammie, that Go-Buster is the best, I am quickly coming to feel that Kyuranger is my favorite.