That… That’s a Star Trek reference for anybody who, uh… Nevermind.
The end of Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger comes with a bittersweet quality as we close out on this space adventure television series. Through 48 episodes, the crew of the Orion have traveled the universe righting the wrongs of the oppressive Jark Matter empire, working to save it from the clutches of the ruthless Don Armage. It’s an exciting final chapter. Though I can’t help but shake this feeling. That, as I look back on the last leg of the journey, some thoughts probably shouldn’t be lingering in my mind. Thoughts like “Well, they did a lot better with this negative thing than that other show.” As if failing less obviously than a past disappointment should be counted as a positive rather than just a given. Suffice it to say, my feelings on the subject of this show, which I largely enjoyed, are a little bit all over the place. But hey, considering the star-spanning saviors that populate this colorful series, maybe that’s just me getting into the Kyuranger spirit! Talk about lucky, amirite?!
Kyuranger was a bit of an experiment within the enduring Super Sentai franchise, which stretches back to the 70s with primary-colored heroes saving the day from all manner of dark organization, lethal lab rats, futuristic crooks, and invading aliens all before lunchtime. I loved that this crew bucked tradition with a fresh look for some of the designs and a cast that blew up from the traditional five-person team to as big as twelve lead characters. As my title suggests, I’m a big fan of space opera, so the show was already cozying up to me before it started. And when it began in earnest, I found that I quickly grew enamored with this disparate squad of aliens from across this new universe, some with a human appearance, others notsomuch. A great way to play up the larger-than-life setting but also a clever balancing act where the show can have more series regulars in the cast than usual but still ultimately sport about the same number of on-screen actors. Think smarter, not harder, that’s what I always say!
Of course – and if you’ve been following these reviews the whole time and are sick of hearing it, please believe me that I’m just as sick of bringing it up, but I can only work with what the show gives me – there was a catch, and his name was Lucky. Listen, bruh. I love you but I’m not in love with you. You need to stop blowing up my cell every five minutes filling up my mailbox with enthusiastic slogans about how we’re destined to do great things together all day erry day. I get it. You really like justice and wanna save the universe. But can we take a break and see other people? I NEED TO SEE OTHER PEOPLE, LUCKY!
It’s nice that we got the extended arcs where the emotionless HebitsukaiSilver is taken to the dark side, Naga becoming the sinister, emotional merry-go-round that was HebitsukaiMetal before ultimately turning that darkness against the monster that had unleashed it. Naga got plenty to do, but what about (the now ironically-named) Balance? We pay brief lipservice to the super-cool idea that he’s a living machine presence, something quite different from the lovably gruff, man-made hunk of robot that is Champ. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see an episode or two about that dissimilarity? What makes TenbinGold tick, not just as a person who gets to have a birthday (Seriously, what is it with Super Sentai and birthdays? Is there a clause somewhere that requires at least one per year?) and angst melodramatically if people don’t openly celebrate with him? Tell me something more about his people in the same way we learned of his BN Thieves partner Naga, or SasoriOrange and the surprisingly well-told tale of Stinger and his treacherous elder brother Scorpio.
I’d add Champ to that list of great characters who also get great arcs, but as I run back through the events of the show, I’m struggling to put a handle on exactly what that arc was. Maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention, but at a certain point, the entire subplot with Champ’s creator Dr. Anton completely got away from me. Like a twitching fish yanked out of the sea (or, in this case, a cybernetic brain) it just wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to really get into it. And believe me, I was all in when this thing started. I loved that Champ was a driven guy, ready to dish out some righteous payback to anyone who worked for Jark Matter, including who he believed was against him at the time, SasoriOrange himself. The friendship between Stinger and Champ saved his story, putting two unlikely allies together, sorting out grudges after first setting them as rivals with the misunderstanding that lead us to believe Stinger had murdered Anton.
Little did we know “Anton” would turn out to be a complete cartoon villain who stays drunk AF on the Jark Matter kool-aid and is just generally an awful human being in the end. I did not care for how this character was developed, in the long, roundabout way they chose to do it. Ultimately, I found myself happy when it finally looked like they might do away with him, and it still took too long when we finally got to that merciful episode. Au revoir, professor.
What mildly amuses me is that a character that I saw a lot less of ends up being more of a welcome presence in the end, as the bizarrely-designed alien pop star Minato always brightened my mood. Not just because he was played by Matsumoto Hiroya (MagiYellow of Mahou Sentai Magiranger and Beet Buster of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters) who has never not been awesome, but because it helped open up the universe which Super Sentai, on occasion, can make look a bit smaller than it should. Even when we have a canvas as vast as the one implied with Kyuranger, worlds overflowing with life across lightyears of space, the inordinate amount of time we spent on Earth or with people who looked identical in every way to Japanese Earthlings kind of confuses that a bit. Of course, I would have greatly preferred him without the giant fro and antennae.
And it might have washed down a bit better if Hammi, whose connection to Minato was stronger than the rest of her posse, had gotten as much opportunity as those mentioned above to really play up an arc of her own. And let’s not pretend that being a fan of Minato or having that one good episode where she inspired an alien kid counts as an arc. She joins Spada and Raptor as characters who get placed in the leftovers pile in terms of story. Spada and Raptor getting a slight romantic subplot, implying that there are feelings shared between them, but it’s no surprise that it doesn’t entirely cohere into anything by the finale. It’s appreciated that they do get a final scene that can be interpreted as the duo starting something new together, but the fact that they considered it at all is definitely a left-field pitch for me. Where did that come from, exactly? At what point was I meant to notice? Was it before or after the halfway point of the series?
Meanwhile, Lucky and Tsurugi, the two guys in red, have a couple-thousand field days with the tidal wave of development threatening to drown us as it rises up against the fandom shores. Lucky’s dead dad turns out to be less dead than advertised (and it was such a great final statement, I thought) so he has to do his Darth Vader thing. Struggling to find a way to free the once-noble king from the bonds of Don Armage, at first feeling that it’s hopeless, but then remembering that he’s Lucky and there’s no such thing as hopeless for him. It may sound like a joke but the best part of the whole affair is when dad finally dies for real. Not because we’re finally done with him but because there was so much going on that felt like we were filling in the blanks on a rather obvious story that I had hoped we could avoid. Especially since we had already seemed to subvert the “evil father” trope by revealing, in the first place, that he had died before Lucky could even reach him, and Lucky was forced to say goodbye to his memory while defeating his impostor. Perfect! Stupendous!
Sadly, the show was just setting us up for the “big surprise” that he was, in fact, dead only from a certain point of view. So here we go, on the usual ride with the expected peaks and valleys, when we already had a great ending that felt satisfying and, in its own way, even uplifting. Shattering a reasonably mature take on the loss of a loved one by instead telling us that this person wasn’t entirely lost. The only comfort I get is that he ultimately dies anyway, not merely as a victim but a hero who leaves this last sacrificial gesture for the son he missed out on raising, winning the day by stopping a bomb powerful enough to wipe out all known life. It’s a pretty epic end. I guess I just liked the more realistic approach of Lucky never having that moment and instead deciding to accept it and push forward anyway, without the fourth act of the dad coming back yet again, after all that development.
In comparison, Tsurugi’s own resurfacing ghost turns out to be a more interesting twist of fate. And it involves a non-human who actually looks non-human! Cuervo was his trusted ally in the fight against Don Armage in the past, who gave his life to help Tsurugi win the historic battle. But moments before his last breath, the spirit of Don Armage came to the bird-like hero, like a demon on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. The moment of revelation, when his wings stretch out to show off his almost angelic form to poor Tsurugi, counts as one of the better moments of the show’s final episodes. The Don Armage of the present is the Cuervo of the past, his heroic spirit diseased and perverted by the selfish darkness of this monster, creating a fallen angel who refused to go to heaven in the fateful moment when it called to him.
My only wish is that we had been given more time to fully grasp Cuervo’s perspective on this. Tsurugi had never been a favorite character of mine. I always liked the idea of him more than the actual person, though I suppose that kickass HououSoldier costume helped a bit. I wish I could nail down exactly what created the disconnect for me, but I can say without hesitation that Tsurugi’s final episodes are his best for me. His usual self-assured attitude, which had always served him well in the past, is tested to its breaking point when confronted by a friend he was certain saw him as a trusted comrade but instead harbored unsettling feelings for him. Feelings which Don Armage no doubt seized upon and amplified over the long years while Tsurugi slept in suspended animation.
Fans sometimes joke about the 9348594 endings of Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, and it seems like Kyuranger has more in common with that series than an actor in yellow gleefully hamming it up for the proceedings. One of many episodes which you could be forgiven for thinking was the series finale was the death of Don Armage by way of Cuervo. Instead, the viral Armage just hitches a ride with Tsurugi instead and forces him to be the villain’s newest vessel.
All of this happens while we work through a subplot involving Tsurugi slowly dying, and I have no patience for it. There was no tension to his supposedly inevitable death for me, unless you count my impatient foot-tapping as I watched and waited for them to reveal the exact method of saving him. He was never in any danger and I just couldn’t be bothered to let them in for this one.
Ultimately though, letting people in turns out to be a prevailing theme, in a sense. Not just in the hilariously literal sense that Don Armage proposes to abduct every living being within his grasp, forcing them all to exist only as part of him as he remakes the universe itself. But in the more emotional sense that what holds the people of this reality back is that they’ve lost hope. And since the Kyuranger team is lead by hope on legs, the solution is simple. Just let Lucky scream at everybody for a few minutes, then the team can all join in, and everybody can scream together.
It’s honestly not a bad scene, with the team imploring the people of the universe trapped within Don Armage’s body to fight back against the darkness that oppresses them, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of something I had said in a review elsewhere recently about this same type of scene. That the final key to victory is essentially people just shouting at other people and a miracle results because of it. For all its reinvention of basic stuff, from the general aesthetic to casting of the show, Kyuranger is a startlingly conventional program. Nothing wrong with fitting a tradition, and it most certainly will not be the last to do so. But I suppose I was so entreated by the few bits of freshness that I was getting that I wanted a couple more slices from that tasty pie.
In the end, Armage’s plot to absorb and recreate the universe in his own image fails, and our heroes wipe the floor with him for the last time (for now). Before it’s over, Lucky reenacts that amazing sequence from the premiere where he rides into battle on the back of a falling meteor before saving the day with his team. I thought I was about to go ham for a second there when all his teammates got taken and it looked like he was going to win the entire battle virtually solo. I’ve seen what that’s like and I’m not terribly anxious to watch it again. But Kyuranger’s final battle plays out as it should, with the full team announcing themselves together, battling side-by-side to make a difference, because only together can they prove themselves worthy against the singular arrogance of a creature like Don Armage. That’s how you do it, folks.
Looking back, I’m still uncertain how I feel about the series on the whole. I think it’s still very raw for me, having been rubbed the wrong way a few too many times by certain subplots that didn’t quite go my way. Its greatest accomplishment perhaps was that it showed me the possibilities. By venturing, if only slightly, outside of Super Sentai’s normal comfort zone and doing so in a commercially viable way, they prove what can be done with an extra coat of creative paint. Now, keep those juices flowing and carry it on to your next installment. My greatest hope is that they’re not satisfied with the merest gains made here, and that what comes after will reach higher than before, creating something truly unique.
I have two words for the incoming Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger vs Keisatsu Sentai Patranger, which I’m sure the Kyuranger squad would approve of as they look to the fresh faces hoping to win our hearts in their place.
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