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With the clink of champagne glasses, we begin our newest entry into the long-running Super Sentai franchise. And as the 42nd incarnation of this ongoing saga, Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger has a lot to live up to. After achieving some success by mixing up their well-worn formula with the previous series, chief among my hopes for their latest endeavor was that they’d continue to reevaluate and reinvent their style, which sometimes felt a bit old hat. It’s fitting then that we kick off the new story in a casino, as Lupinranger VS Patranger is in a gambling mood this premiere week. Let’s zipline into the first action-packed episode and see if it paid off.
We open with an exquisitely over-the-top shyster taking money from a desperate man who seems not to notice the big, glowing belly sticking out of his body, most likely ensuring that the sad sack gambler was going to lose all his cash at the game table. It doesn’t take long for us to realize we’ve met our first larger-than-life villain. But just as soon as he can crack open a can of unbridled supervillain laughter, we meet the heroes of this story. Three snazzy dressers burst through the windows, a piece of the shattering glass swinging by at just the right time to show us the magnified reflection of this trio of lovable rogues. With a flawless superhero landing, the masked lady and gentlemen have a reputation that precedes them. They’re the phantom thieves known as Lupinranger. And the smiling rascal in red pulls out a card with a symbol that looks a lot like the letter “V”. Wait a minute…
He effortlessly tosses the card across the room, slashing the shyster’s face to expose his true form, a bulbous monster with a pack of inhuman goons at his disposal called Pordermen. Despite the fact that the dozens of guns in the room are all directly pointed at them with fingers on the trigger, the Lupin trio seems unimpressed as the funky-looking Pordermen open fire. I know a few people who wish they were this immune to gunshots; it’d make life so much less stressful in certain situations, and they’re not even thieves!
What ensues is a hyper-stylish battle where guns blaze, glass bottles shatter, and sparks fly, the three mask-bearers whipping out their own sweet weapons and unleashing on the crowd of crooked cronies like it’s their job. They’re serving massive amounts of gunkata realness in this fight. Bobbing and weaving across the room, dodging bullets, returning fire, and dropkicking dudes that stand in-between, all in a few balletic motions. These guys are pros at what they do, and I can’t say it isn’t pretty to look at. Especially when you have the waterfalls of paper money and gambling chips just showering the battlefield as they do their thing. After our man in blue tosses a guy into the outdoor pool, creating a spectacular slow-motion splash, there’s no doubting that the show wants to set a certain visual standard, establishing its own unique flair.
At least as unique as one can be with these tones. We could make half a dozen comparisons to previous works within the Super Sentai canon, but it certainly isn’t the same outrageous energy as the space adventure that was 2017’s Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger. Though not much less wacky in terms of its improbably exciting events, this is a team of chic, costumed performers, practically putting on a show as they kick your ass and steal your stuff. Their movements are meticulous and deliberate, and there’s nothing ragtag about them. It’s appropriate then that the soundtrack is littered with jazzy, big band music, trumpets serenading the phantoms as they dash artfully through the enemy ranks, taking them out one-by-one until only the fat cat in charge remains.
After an explosion that would surely kill any ordinary patsy in its fiery wake, the team reveals their transformed states, the cape-flapping trinity of saviors (or something) just lounging about as flaming money descends. The costumes are wonderful, perfectly accentuating the energy of the characters presented so far. After a few brief moves, it’s time to finish this fight. Normally, that’d be where the eventful bits end, but LVP has a few tricks up its sleeve with which the show hopes to breathe new life into the usual song and dance.
Enter the second group of uniformed combatants in the show’s cast, the Special Police squadron known as Patranger. Sirens blaze as their car races down a conveniently empty street at night. Our lady in pink quickly proves she’s not playing games, cocking her very real-looking, non-fantasy gun, as the driver in green puts his game face on. The presumed team leader, also in red because Sentai, is determined to clean up the mess that is the otherworldy monsters known as Gangler. His seemingly over-serious tone here has me a bit nervous as we get our first impressions from the group. Having seen promotional material for the new series, which felt pretty doggedly determined to make me like the Lupin crew the best, I hadn’t been quite as impressed with what I’d been looking at when it came to the other side of the coin.
What I didn’t realize was that, while the Lupinrangers bogart all the style, the Patrangers are packing oodles of character and are an ultimately very likeable bunch. They bust into the underground casino, guns drawn, their fearless leader showing his badge, which just happens to have an insignia that looks like a big “S”. Wait a minute…
Before they can do much but look really shocked and in over their flammable heads, they witness the absolutely sweet final attack of the Lupinrangers. I love the effect used on their gunblasts, a sort of wave flowing around the energy stream as it cuts through the air. This may not be an official finishing move for the team, but it’s pretty enough that I’d accept it. The three perfectly-aligned blasts strike the monster and he erupts into a fireball that somehow damages nothing else in the room with no residual flames to put out. Of course.
Judging by the red cop’s highly agitated reaction, it’s clear he’s no fan of the caped crew, who stole the glowing thingamabob from the safe embedded in the monster’s belly before blowing him up. It’s cops and robbers, as only the tokusatsu subgenre could deliver. And though he vows to arrest the Lupinrangers along with any Gangler he finds, our lead officer finds himself ducking from LupinRed’s flying mech, which launches straight off of his VS Changer gun and grows to full size, offering the perfect outlandish getaway for the phantom thieves, literally bidding the other team adieu.
Rubbing it in like only the Lupin crew can, they leave another card behind, like magicians at a show, hoping to spread the word of their dazzling activity. And the moment our red-clad cop utters his next words, I know I’m going to love him. In the most charmingly overdramatic fashion, the words “Onore, Lupinranger!” (“Damn you, Lupinranger”) echo through the giant hole in the wall, into the night air. The sort of line heard often in classic tokusatsu, often by villains cursing the heroes who have foiled yet another of their dastardly schemes. Most commonly known in the Heisei Era as one of the catchphrases of the vengeful Narutaki in 2009’s Kamen Rider Decade. It’s the clarion call of superpowered obsessives with too much time on their hands, virtually steaming with hatred for the object of their aggression, who often regards them as adorable pet nuisances. This situation is no different, as the thieves flit away leaving their would-be capturers in the dust, fuming at their operation being thwarted yet again.
I can’t say why I’m so smitten with this character, whose name we soon learn is Asuka Keiichiro. I only know that, once I see his scrunched-up stinkface when he hears how the whole city seems to be glorifying the Lupinrangers’ exploits, I can’t help but fall in love. This crimson cop is saltier than the Red Sea and there’s little to stop the flow of bile that rushes through the pulsing veins that are no doubt on the verge of popping from his head as he sits on a park bench listening to people talk about how cool the thieving threesome is. He’s the last living millennial to read a physical newspaper on a regular basis, and as he crumples it between his hands in frustration, I have to think he’s imagining it as LupinRed’s head.
Seemingly never one to let the chance for a good entrance pass him by, LupinRed himself, Yano Kairi, appears as if on cue. He warns the man that, at the angle he’s standing, there’s no way he’ll be able to toss that crumpled paper into the distant trash can. And while Keiichiro stands frozen in place, let me take this moment to say, my dude is styling and profiling today. They both are, actually. Even their basic civilian wear may be an indication of the stark difference between the two team leaders. Keiichiro is decked out in fine business attire while Kairi is keeping it casual on this blessed morning, still lovingly taunting the man who clearly has no idea that he’s in the presence of the thief he wants so desperately to see in handcuffs. Naturally, Keiichiro can’t resist trying his luck and throws the paper anyway, and just like our unfortunate gambler from the opening, he takes another loss.
Here to interrupt Kairi’s fun is the team’s handler and attendant, Kogure. The Alfred to their Batman. He accepts the spoils of the previous battle’s victory, the cube-like artifact swiped from the casino monster. Kogure sinks the object into the page of a large book, magically capturing it within. The book cover reads “Lupin Collection”, which we know from a handy flashback to be a haul of secretly-gathered treasures from Arsene Lupin, whose name carried through history a hundred years after the collection was complete. Each item apparently endowing its owner with supernatural enchantment, making them rather valuable to the likes of the Gangler and sought after by the Patrangers. Though Arsene’s descendant remains a disgraced shut-in (the next upcoming Ranger, perhaps) after the Gangler broke into the vault, scattering the treasures ages ago, it seems Kairi is less interested in the expository infodump for our viewing benefit. He’s more concerned with a mysterious promise made to him and his people.
Speaking of, our waitress in yellow, Hayami Umika, and cook in blue, Yoimachi Touma, are both at their day jobs, working at Bistro Jurer. That makes two restaurant sets between LVP and the current iteration of its sister show, Kamen Rider Build. They just love food prep in henshin hero shows. A long tradition stretches back through both franchises of the heroes setting up shop in a cafe, or bar, or other food service location, where the heroes either work or regularly appear, the place sometimes doubling as a secret base with hidden chambers. Not much to see here, except simply to tell us that this is where they work, and Umika can catch falling table objects before they hit the ground, like any self-respecting martial artsy hero should. I’m only disappointed that the glass wasn’t also filled with liquid so Umika can demonstrate that she even manages to keep the beverage within undisturbed.
At the Japan Branch of the futuristic Global Special Police Organization, we catch up with Myoujin Tsukasa and her small arsenal of guns and ammo spread out on the table. And since this is twice in under ten minutes the show has chosen to associate her with weapons, I’m taking this as an intentional cue to us about her character. Homegirl’s not messing around when it comes to the hardware. You fux with her at your own peril. Greenhorn Hikawa Sakuya gives her a case of the sighs with his super-enthusiastic aura taking up every inch of the room as he presents her with tea and salutes with such intensity that I’m afraid one day he’ll get stuck like that. They both stand at attention when their boss enters the room.
Happy Black History Month, folks. It’s Commissioner Hilltop, Super Sentai’s first mentor character of African descent, and one of very few international faces in a gauntlet of casts for the franchise. I instantly like the cut of his jib as the grinning commander lets them stand at ease. Actor Ike Nwala’s body language is perfect here, as Hilltop identifies the treat he offers his subordinates as yokan. An inviting presence in the office of these aspiring, new heroes. Less inviting is the completely superfluous robot assistant Jim Carter, who for some reason (which I’m sure would be obvious once I understood the reference) has no arms. At least not until later when he randomly grows some. I don’t know what his design inspiration is supposed to be. I only know that I don’t really care about anything he says or does and I really wish he’d stop. But there’s no stopping the smooth operator that is Hilltop, who takes everything in stride.
Including the implication that the casino was harvesting the organs of their unknowing clientele, so the actions of the Lupinrangers was technically a good thing. Keiichiro’s ears, along with the rest of him, are burning. He immediately marches into the room, shouting at poor Sakuya. He clumsily tells us more stuff that everyone in the room clearly already knows, explaining that their Tactical Unit is designed to handle things ordinary cops cannot. Also, he hates those bandits with the fire of a thousand suns, but nobody said that. Thieves are thieves, he insists, and he won’t let them usurp the good people of the GSPO on his watch. Tell em, Keiichiro!
Before the scene ends, there’s an absurd moment where Tsukasa rushes over to put a piece of yokan in Keiichiro’s mouth as if to pacify him before he goes too far with the overwhelmed Sakuya. I must have rewatched the moment ten times, when he says “umai” (“tasty”) with the sternest, most serious-business face you’ve ever seen. Perfection.
Elsewhere, the extradimensional crime organization known as Gangler gathers for a big dinner party, showing off a bunch of monster designs right off the bat. I always love these group scenes in tokusatsu. The style of these special effects-laden series are such that formula dictates the appearance of a new monster for nearly every story interval, introduced and dispatched, one shortly after the other, and on and on. It’s not unheard of, but nevertheless is more rare to see such a large assemblage of fancily-designed costumes all at once. It looks like, so far, LVP has chosen not to include any villains in its ranks with a human appearance, preferring instead to go entirely with suited stunt actors portraying each character. It’s not always my favorite choice, as I want to see at least one relatable face in the crowd, but if the heroic side of the cast continues to grow, I can understand the desire not to overwhelm with too much too soon. And, you know, on-camera actors typically get paid the big bucks, so… there’s that.
In any case, mob boss Dogranio Yaboon takes his seat at the head of the table, and I love the long push-in shot as we hover over the food, between the flickering candles, closer and closer toward the wine-drinking villain. He’s decided to choose a successor who will inherit his position after he’s gone. The first to conquer the Earth gets to warm the big chair once he kicks the bucket. An idea that excites his guests mightily. But a quiet laugh suggests that all may not quite be what it seems with our newest baddy, as he prepares to sip his drink with a mouthless face.
In attendance at Dogranio’s shindig was the monstrous jewel thief Garatto Nago, who just happens to be the next assigned target for the Lupin team. Kogure hands Kairi the elegantly-sealed envelope, containing the photograph of Nago’s human disguise (as many Gangler infiltrators will apparently have). With a name and location, they have everything they need to move in. And Kairi, like myself, is ready to get on with it, so he rushes all of Bistro Jurer’s hungry customers out the door. They don’t have to go home but they have to get the hell outta there, as the phantom thieves have bigger fish monsters to fry. First thing’s first, they have to have a majestic suiting-up sequence, where the burning photo is dropped perfectly onto a literal silver platter as tall top hats, sparkling pins, and ornate masks are slipped into place, and the trio is out the door.
Expertly swinging into Nago’s hideout on zipline cables, stealthily flipping and sprinting from one dark corner to another, all Assassin’s Creed-like, they enter the abandoned structure, avoiding detection by Pordermen until they arrive at their intended quarry. I pretty much love all of it, except that weird moment where the footage is clearly sped up as Kairi lets loose his hardcore parkour skillz. They even throw in the “gymnastics routine through laser sensors” drill just to play up their abilities to the absolute max here. It’s safe to say this is a very flexible threesome. Also, Touma uses his mech gadget to crack the super-tough three-digit passcode on the door to gain entry to the building’s innermost spot.
Of course, we can’t get by with at least one reminder that there’s A Girl in the cast, as she overreacts to a tiny spider hanging out in the biggest air vents known to man which the three crouch within side-by-side. Touma covers Umika’s mouth before she screams but it proves futile as Pordermen shoot the enormous vents to smithereens shortly after, revealing the three intruders who have come for the treasure hiding in Nago’s chest. The Gangler look like they’re ready to do some damage, but so does Touma as he raises a fist toward Umika as if threatening violence. Maybe now’s not the time, dude. A better time might be never? I mean, it’s still early, but I’m just thinking out loud here. As laser beams start flying left and right, the GSPO gets reports of Gangler activity, prompting the immediate deployment of our three-person unit. But before they rush out, Hilltop’s got a surprise that’ll help even up the odds.
Using the Lupin Collection item in his possession, Nago assaults the phantom crew with columns of fire, but their freestyle walking is too legit to quit, so he resorts to using a couple of his many arms and holds Touma and Umika hostage while Kairi stands silent. Nago assumes incorrectly that Kairi won’t fire while his comrades are in the way. A brief flashback, sure to be elaborated upon in future episodes, seems to guide his hand. A mysterious promise made between the three roguish heroes spurs him on and he pulls the trigger, bringing the ceiling down on Nago and his captives. Only after the stupefied monster drags himself from the fallen debris does he realize that Kairi’s buddies were able to escape harm, pulling an Underworld and blasting a hole into the floor, dropping to safety. They rejoin Kairi as a speech explains their harsh but effective philosophy. They had assumed already that he wasn’t going to save him, so they worked to save themselves when the opportunity arose. It’s this risky mentality that they live by, an understanding shared between the three of them, which could incite as much disaster as it helps avoid. But then, I did say they were roguish.
But while I like the sentiment of this team that throws caution to the wind, just hoping they can snatch victories from the snapping jaws of defeat, I can’t help but feel a little lukewarm on the leading face of those ideals. As I said, it’s still early, and there’s plenty of room to change minds, but I haven’t found Itou Asahi to be the most engaging actor to don the red suit. It’s not a lack of enthusiasm that’s the problem. Truthfully, there are quite a few Reds that could use a little less of that. There’s just something missing in the performance. A dynamism in his expression and his overall delivery. He needs some milk. Fortunately, the general feel of the character as written, along with the total exquisiteness of the Lupinranger team as a whole, picks up a lot of the slack. I like this group.
So, the three lock their individualized mech gadgets onto the VS Changers and begin the transformation sequence, which concludes with the teammates snapping fingers in a night setting, brightened by what doubles as both a stage spotlight and a police searchlight, tracing across a brick wall with a “wanted” sign posted to it before revealing the transformed heroes as they strike a pose and announce themselves.
I dig it.
An interesting technique is employed in the closing showdown, where the team fights both with guns and giant swords that look like rejected keyblade designs from Kingdom Hearts (though I love them). The footage appears to be recorded in a slightly different frame rate compared to the rest of the episode for select shots. In which, the camera moves in unusual ways, barreling around legs, under arms, and throughout the thickest part of the fight as limbs and sabers fly in every direction. A cool idea, bringing a different visual flavor to the proceedings, though the slight dip in photographic quality doesn’t quite escape notice.
Before the Lupins can wrap up the fight, a warning shot is fired from afar. It’s the Patran crew, and they’ve got VS Changers that look identical to the ones giving the thieves their fancy powers. Everyone’s questions are put on hold as the three activate their own mech devices in tandem with the VS Changer, and fire a blast that initiates a transformation. I’m guessing this isn’t their official henshin sequence, but rather a quickie makeover just to hold us over until the big, extravagant reveal in an upcoming episode that better showcases the second team of costumed warriors.
Keiichiro is the red PatranIchigo (Number One), Sakuya is the green PatranNigo (Number Two), and Tsukasa is the pink PatranSango (Number Three), each holding up the corresponding number of fingers before hitting that team pose and announcing themselves as Patranger. With guns raised, they’re ready to settle the score with Lupinranger. I can’t wait to see it.
Many longtime fans will have a blast picking apart numerous similarities to be found between one of the two teams and a multitude of past incarnations of this franchise. And while I definitely was feeling the vibes of quite a few old series, what actually endears me to the show is its interest in shaking up the status quo and introducing two opposing groups of heroes to be set against each other as rivals. If nothing else impressed me this week, from the lovably grumpy PatranIchigo to the mega-stylish action fun of Lupinranger, this alone makes the series worth a second look. While I tripped over a couple exposition anvils and could have done without some moments I felt were needlessly awkward, I found myself smiling at the antics of this new cast and the beginning of their adventures. I want more.
TIme will tell if Lupinranger VS Patranger can steal my heart as easily as they recover artifacts from the Lupin Collection. But for now, I’m pleased to let them try.
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