If you were with Super Sentai Series for a long time, you know that usually Anniversary shows aren’t that good. At best. Back when Toei used to count years instead of teams and when Battle Fever J (バトルフィーバーJ) used to count as the first Super Sentai thanks to copyright problems between Toei and Ishinomori Shōtarō-sensei (creator of Kamen Rider, Super Sentai Series, Robot Keiji and many other amazing titles), 1989 show, Kōsoku Sentai Turboranger (高速戦隊ターボレンジャー) introduced the idea of making all previous teams to meet together and it sure looked great, but unfortunately, the whole thing ended up as a short special (sometimes counts as the first episode of the series), in which heroes from the past wish new ones good luck, while the series itself was so extremely generic that there was almost nothing to remember about it.
The next attempt to make Anniversary series, that also officially added two original series (Himitsu Sentai Gorenger / 秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー and J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai / ジャッカー電撃隊) to Toei’s timeline, happened in 1995, in Chōriki Sentai Ōranger (超力戦隊オーレンジャー) series, which turned out to be one of the most unlucky series in whole Super Sentai history. Series itself brought a serious drop of popularity, while thanks to how military-based concept with a lot of destruction didn’t fit in 1995, when a lot of bad things happened in Japan and caused a lot of casualties, Toei simply panicked and tried to fix the show on the way, but only ended up killing it completely. The result was that Ōranger became another series with literally nothing special about it aside from main concept.
2001 series, Hyakujū Sentai Gaoranger (百獣戦隊ガオレンジャー), tried to avoid this circle of bad luck and introduced the idea of counting teams instead of years (and also celebrating every five years instead of every 10). Which was actually a really nice idea thanks to how Gorenger series last two years instead of usual one (1980 series, Denshi Sentai Denziman / 電子戦隊デンジマン was supposed to get second year too, but Toei was unable to keep actors together and series ended up getting direct sequel called Taiyō Sentai Sun Vulcan / 太陽戦隊サンバルカン) and before Battle Fever J introduced the first giant robot in Super Sentai Series, there was the whole year taken by Toei’s Spider-Man adaptation (スパイダーマン), so, counting years didn’t have much sense anyway. Maybe thanks to that Gaoranger was unable to become the best Anniversary series for the time being, especially thanks to how it used hell of a lot of CGI and shined really bright thanks to that. Unfortunately, it was aired only two years after Seijū Sentai Gingaman (星獣戦隊ギンガマン), which had extremely similar concept. Similar suits, similar moves, etc. So, it was really hard to stop thinking about it as “Gingaman v.2”.
The first real attempt to make something different for Anniversary was in 2006 series, GōGō Sentai Boukenger (轟轟戦隊ボウケンジャー) that tried to turn its own episodes in some sort of tributes to previous shows, but thanks to how there were way too many copy / pasted stand-alone episodes (also called “fillers”) before and there were actually some series almost fully made from those (Turboranger, Chikyū Sentai Fiveman / 地球戦隊ファイブマン and many more), the idea didn’t work. Just because we’ve already seen all those fillers for like a million times before and the fact that Boukenger series brought them back as tributes didn’t change the fact that it was really boring to watch all that again. Moreover, even though Boukenger series had amazing concept, it was even unable to finish its own story properly and some important fact were told only in official guide. Which was unbelievably bad thing for 2006 series. “Want to know what’s that mysterious person’s true identity? Buy yourself a guide!”. All that wasn’t cool to say the least.
So, that was a history of Super Sentai Series’ Anniversary shows. Why am I telling you all that? Well, of course, it’s because the series I’m going to review today, is Anniversary one too. It was a pretty long introduction, but it’s really important to understand the importance of what Toei did in their 2011 series, Kaizoku Sentai Gōkaiger (海賊戦隊ゴーカイジャー). Not only they finally got out of that bad luck circle, they also made a huge revolution in the whole Anniversary thing. You know, it’s fun, but it’s even hard to find where to start. I think I’ll start where Boukenger left and say that Gōkaiger won’t even try to do the same thing. Turn the old fillers into Anniversary tributes was a bad idea and Toei sure learned their lesson. Instead, they tried to find something unique for their new Anniversary team. And they sure did it.
I don’t know who was the first person to introduce the idea about so-called Ranger Keys, but the guy deserves a medal. Or two. Or three. Or 35. To make it short, in Gōkaiger series Earth met the biggest danger ever - a huge fleet of Space Empire Zangyack. All 34 existed Super Sentai fought it and were able to win, but as the result, all of them lost their powers and those powers ended up scattered across the whole Universe. Every hero’s power ended up in so-called Ranger Key and the one who’ll find such key will be able to use the power in it and turn himself / herself (female person can use male hero’s power and vice versa, so, a lot of gender bender stuff included here) into the power’s owner. Like the one, who have Akarenger’s key, will be able to become Akarenger from Gorenger series. How great is that? There’s no words to describe how. And for more than one reason.
The most obvious reason is, of course, that Gōkaiger series is the biggest present for hardcore Super Sentai fans Toei ever made. Because seeing a heroes, whose goal is to collect all Ranger Keys to obtain “The biggest treasure in the whole Universe”, turning themselves into various heroes from the past - from Himitsu Sentai Gorenger to Tensō Sentai Goseiger (天装戦隊ゴセイジャー), is absolutely amazing thing. It’s like totally new experience, something that we’ve never seen before. And thanks to how 34 previous teams mean almost 200 heroes, Gōkaiger series was limited only by imagination of screenwriters (and trust me, they had a lot). But that’s one thing. Another one is that it’s simply the best commercial solution Toei and BANDAI (who’s producing all kind of toys and video games based on Super Sentai Series) ever found. Since Gaoranger series, Super Sentai shows became highly oriented on toys selling (selling toys was always I high priority, but Gaoranger series brought the idea on brand new level) and some series were even ruined a bit by it. Like Ninpū Sentai Hurricaneger (忍風戦隊ハリケンジャー) and Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (侍戦隊シンケンジャー), in which toys felt like something that series didn’t really need and even felt like something with totally different and much more childish design than the main thing. But thanks to how BANDAI was in need to sell a lot of various toys, Toei kept adding various weird stuff nobody actually asked for. Karakuri Balls, Hiden Disks, you name it. In Gōkaiger there was simply no such problem. As I already said above, previous shows presented Toei with almost 200 heroes and by selling all of them as Ranger Keys, that can be putted into henshin devices called Mobilates that can name the team of corresponding keys with sound, Toei and BANDAI were able to make a fortune.
Everybody wanted to have Keys with their favorite teams, even adults, who used to love some series in the past, and since this series will also try really hard to make heroes from the past likable, it’s like Toei found a gold mine. A gold mine that not only didn’t ruin the series itself in favor of toys, but actually made it extremely fun and exciting to watch. No, really, Ranger Keys are one of the best ideas Toei ever found. The idea was so good that actually, judging by how poor most of the previous Anniversary series were, there was no need to do anything else to make Gōkaiger a huge success. Heroes, who can turn into any hero from the past as the main concept is good, fresh and exciting enough to make series interesting. But thankfully, Toei didn’t stop there.
“Thankfully” because, even though Gōkaiger’s main concept won’t give you any time to think, when you’ll finally able to, you’ll think about how copycat heroes aren’t enough to make its own face for the series. I mean, OK, heroes this time can become anyone, but who’re heroes themselves this time? Who’re Gōkaigers? What’s interesting about them, aside from how they can copy anyone? It was a really dangerous trap for Toei, because such thought had a huge poaaibility to become a deadly aftertaste for the series. Aftertaste that was even able to kill DVD sales. Like “OK, it was exciting to watch, but since I don’t care about Gōkaigers themselves, I don’t really want to re-watch their adventures much.” Thankfully, Toei thought about that too and tried to make their series not only exciting, but also interesting to watch. And again, there’s a lot of things to say. But let’s start from the beginning.
First of all, Gōkaigers are… pirates. Yamada Yūki-san (山田裕貴), who played sub-leader, Joe Gibken (aka GōkaiBlue) in this series, in one of the interviews said that he was surprised about new heroes being pirates and there’s no wonder, thanks to how pirates usually are bad guys and Gingaman team even fought space pirates before. Like Uchū Kaizoku Barban from Gingaman series, Gōkaigers are space pirates and they’ll try really hard to look like ones. But what’s interesting about them is even though they’re rogues and won’t follow any rules, they also have Super Sentai Spirits in them and can’t just stay and watch villains killing people and conquering the planet. So, they’ll end up defending the Earth, but in their own way. Very showy way that is.
Moreover, even though Gōkaiger will be able to turn themselves into any hero from the past (if they have corresponding key that is), it won’t be enough. To get real power, they’ll need more than that. They’ll need so-called Ōinaru Chikara (大いなる力 / Great Powers). And to obtain those, they’ll need to prove that they have more than Keys. They’ll need to prove that they fully understood and inherited the most important things for those, whose keys they have in their possession now. So, it won’t be like Gōkaigers will be strong only because they happened to have keys of true heroes from the past, it’ll be like Gōkaigers will inherit all those important things that made previous 34 teams special. Toei really thought the series through this time and their new team both looks heroic and has it’s own unique face. Gōkaigers’ quest for Ōinaru Chikara is also designed as a series of serious challenges, so, series also avoiced a huge mistake that was made in Engine Sentai Go-onger (炎神戦隊ゴーオンジャー) - heroes this time won’t look like they don’t need to overcome anything. Quite the opposite, Gōkaigers will need to overcome a lot of difficulties that their predecessors overcame before them. No matter how you look at it, it’s a perfect concept.
Perfect concept that also allowed Toei to add another kick ass feature - guests. I mean, OK, guests were always there and Hurricaneger series even played funny tricks to us by making Ōba Kenji-san (大葉健二) eating anpan as a reference to his character from Denziman series (Ōme Daigorō, aka DenziBlue was a huge anpan lover), but this time it’ll be different thanks to how all guests will appear as their old characters from Super Sentai Series. And there won’t be just one, or two old faces. There’ll be a lot. There’ll be so many that I won’t even try to name them all. Let’s just say that there’ll heroes from all times - from Akarenger himself, Makoto Naoya-san (誠直也), to full Goseiger team in crossover movie. That will include most of the masked Sentai heroes from the past (“most” thanks to how X1 Mask and Magne Senshi won’t appear thanks to how they lost their powers in the original series) in masked forms. Which is another mind blowing thing to see in this series. I mean, seeing almost 200 heroes at the same time is something that is simply impossible to forget.
But let’s return to our guests. As you can guess, their main purpose here not to steal the spotlight from Gōkaigers (which is simply impossible thanks to how all of them lost their powers to transform), but to test Gōkaigers and decide if they’re worthy to use their powers, or not. And since all of the characters are unique and their corresponding teams have different personal values, it’ll be really interesting. Gōkaiger episodes will be tributes too, but not in Boukenger way. This time it’ll be much more deep, interesting and original. Like stories themselves will be fresh and new, but deep in them there’ll be something that will make us to remember about heroes from the past with guests as the final touch. Like in Tokusō Sentai Dekaranger (特捜戦隊デカレンジャー) episode Gōkaigers will need to show that they have a true pride that police officers from Dekaranger series used to have, in Kyūkyū Sentai GoGoFive (救急戦隊ゴーゴーファイブ) one they’ll need to show that they treasure every person’s life, while Mahō Sentai Magiranger (魔法戦隊マジレンジャー) will be all about courage. Toei’s screenwriters did absolutely amazing job this time and utilized each guest really carefully. They tried to avoid making them the main thing, but they always included something to make us feel their importance and uniqueness. And it’s really good for them, since this time they worked with guests like legendary Yūki Gai, aka BlackCondor from Chōjin Sentai Jetman (鳥人戦隊ジェットマン) and there was simply no chance that both old and hardcore fans would forgive poor tributes.
But, as I already said, tributes in this series are awesome. It’s simply the best thing of this kind ever happened in Super Sentai Series (especially thanks to how not only regular actors from the past, but also suit actors and the other important people will appear.) And not only thanks to the main thing, but also thanks to hell of a lot of small details. Let me tell you something - if you watched Gōkaiger series without watching all previous ones, you didn’t see a half of it. I’m not kidding, or exaggerating here. Remember all those hidden references in Bakuryū Sentai Abaranger (爆竜戦隊アバレンジャー) series? It was interesting thing as is, but this time it’s much more deep and complicated. Something that may look like a simple sentence for new blood will make hardcore fans to go “I see what you did there!” way and it won’t be only about words. Items, design, story details… The whole thing is literally made from beautiful small tributes. For true fans it’ll be like infinite joy to watch and re-watch this series without an end thanks to how it’s full of Super Sentai past. It’s like a heaven for otaku.
Talking about otaku. Special member this time will be otaku from Earth, who’s totally obsessed with Super Sentai Series and it’ll be another amazing addition to the series. Because first, hardcore Super Sentai fan in such series is something to see, and second - he’ll add variety to Gōkaiger crew. Like in Shinkenger series, special member this time isn’t our usual “I’m so cool since I’m special!” hero, he’ll play an important role in the concept and add the unique feeling. And that’s another thing about Gōkaiger. Even though I can’t say that its main story is really complicated (quite the opposite actually, it’s really straightforward thanks to how historic stuff ate most of the Gōkaigers time), Gōkaigers still have some personal stuff. Even villains got some personal inner conflicts, even though this time they’re really dull and not even close to the epicness that we’ve seen in Shinkenger series. Villains are big in numbers this time, but aside from that they aren’t that special. Which doesn’t mean that there’s nothing interesting about them though.
As for design, Gōkaiger is one of those series that will make you to really notice and enjoy it. Remember how hikama elements were integrated in Shinkengers’ suits? Gōkaiger series is trying to do the same with pirate elements. It’s like Toei tried to do more than colorful suits again and not only helmets, but also suits this time are really stylish and interesting. Even giant robot this time feels fresh and original thanks to how it’ll absorb Ōinaru Chikara to unlock the new unique features, based on whose power was used. Like there’ll be dragon from Magirangers’ powers, etc. But what’s really cool this time is… fight choreography. The one to work on it was Ishigaki Hirofumi-san (石垣広文), who started with such job on Hurricaneger stage and also did a lot of suit actor job in the past. Like he was BlackBison in Chōjū Sentai Liveman (超獣戦隊ライブマン), BlackTurbo in Turboranger, FiveBlue in Fiveman, YellowOwl in Jetman, TigerRanger in Kyōryū Sentai Zyūranger (恐竜戦隊ジュウレンジャー), KirinRanger in Gosei Sentai Dairanger (五星戦隊ダイレンジャー, NinjaYellow in Ninja Sentai Kakuranger (忍者戦隊カクレンジャー), etc. In other words, the man knows what he’s doing and he’s doing… awesome here.
First of all, Gōkaigers' fight choreography is 50% of swords and 50% of guns. Explosive mixture that fits pirates extremely well, thanks to how it’s hard to imagine pirate without both gun and sword. But there’s also something that makes Gōkaiger really special. I mean, after Dengeki Sentai Changeman (電撃戦隊チェンジマン) introduced bazooka-like weapons, Super Sentai Series just played with proportions. More fists in Dairanger, more guns in Dekaranger, etc. But Gōkaiger introduced something that we never seen before. It looked impossible in 2011, but it looks like there’s nothing impossible for Gōkaigers, so here comes… dual wielding! What so special about it? Yes, DekaRed from Dekaranger series used two guns long ago. But let me explain. Every Gōkaiger member will have one gun and one sword by default. Nothing new here, right? It was like that for ages in Super Sentai Series. But both will be used at the same time without changing one into another, or even putting one back. Swords and guns will be used at the same time and fight choreography for that will be just awesome. But even that isn’t the most interesting thing here. The most interesting thing is that heroes will… exchange weapon! That’s it. One character will be the best with two swords, another one will do better with two guns, but all of them will start with one gun and one sword and will need to exchange during the battle. Of course, the exchange won’t be just “Here, take this…” It’ll be much more interesting and showy. Actually, the exchange thing will be one of the most exciting things in the battles. It’s really cool, interesting and exciting.
And, of course, changes. Thanks to how every team has its own unique fighting style, it was hell of a lot of work for Ishigaki-san and suit actors. But guess what? Not only they were able to make Gōkaigers to fully become heroes from the past by copying their moves (actually, since most of suit actors, who worked for this series were out there for ages, they remembered a lot of old moves very well), they also added some showy elements to make us feel like there are Gōkaigers inside of those suits. And it was a actually a really hard thing to do - to imitate a heroes from the past, but at the same time to make it feel like a new heroes are inside the suits. Finally, some of the old teams got improved fight choreography. Like when you’ll watch Go-Ongers in action you’ll wonder where all those cool moves were in their original series. Fight choreography this time is that good. They even brought back an element that was forgotten right after the very first Super Sentai show - Himitsu Sentai Gorenger. I mean comic way of fighting. The one that Ōiwa Daita-san, aka Kirenger, used. Remember how it was about him? He looked totally funny in battles, he used to fall a lot, it often looked like enemies are about to get him, but in the end he was the victorious. Exactly because he was funny and used to fall a lot. Such thing was used a little here and there from time to time, but it was never used on the same level with Gorenger. Gōkaiger series made it return and shine again. When you’ll see GōkaiGreen fighting, you’ll think about Ōiwa Daita-san right away, but GōkaiGreen’s moves will also have their own twists, of course, so, it’s not like Toei just copy / pasted the old thing.
As for those, who made all that possible, the red one this is Fukuzawa Hirofumi-san (福沢博文) again. He played leaders for ages, but moved from his position in Goseiger series to play the hero in blue thanks to how tall Hyde (aka GoseiBlue) was. Previously he was moved from playing red leader in Magiranger series, where he wore the green suit. All that allowed Fukuzawa-san to say in DVD interviews that he played not only red members, but you know how it is about him - he’s the best as the leader. He also had a lot of fun this time with the most showy moves in the whole series. Oshikawa Yoshifumi-san (押川善文), Takeuchi Yasuhiro-san (竹内康博) and Nogawa Mizuho-san (野川瑞穂), who worked with Fukuzawa-san in previous show, were still there, so, they were able to provide amazing teamwork (especially the first two, who worked with Fukuzawa-san for a very long time), while yellow member this time is a big surprise. The most active of two Hachisuka (蜂須賀) twins, Hachisuka Yūichi-san (蜂須賀祐一) will return in the main team in his 49 (his brother, Hachisuka Shōji-san / 蜂須賀昭二, won’t play a big part in this series, but he will appear in a crossover movie as PinkFive from Bioman)! Hachisuka Yūichi-san was very active since 1985 (Changeman series), where he played ChangePhoenix and he played a lot of female heroes since then. He did it so professionally that it even affected his moves in real life (he started to move a lot in feminine way). As he said in interview, it isn’t about his personality, it’s about his job, and he’s sure doing it perfectly, in a way of true professional. Not only he was able to move like a girl, while fighting, he also captured his character extremely well. Well, everybody in this series did. And that’s probably why in the end regular actors built really strong bonds with their suit actors. No, really, you won’t see regular actors hugging their suit actors and crying during the filming of the final scene often. And you won’t often see suit actors playing friendly pranks with regular ones just to make everybody smile and feel better. In this series the whole thing was like a perfect teamwork.
So, action in Gōkaiger series is something to see. Even if you think that you’ve seen everything, this series can surprise you with full blast hurricane action with twists and amazing small details. Action sure has a lot of spotlight here. Which doesn’t mean that there’s nothing for regular actors to do. Even though Gōkaigers will aim for their mutual goal, all of them have their personal one too. All of them have interesting backstories and unique complicated characters. A girl from ruined planet, who wants to buy a planet for orphans, a princess, who joined pirate crew to give people from her ruined planet a hope to live… Even though story this time is all about challenges and don’t have much personal twists for Gōkaigers, there’s still a lot of feelings. It’s just all of them accumulated around two things - heroes from the past and Gōkaigers’ personal stuff. To tell you the truth, Toei was able to create one of the most likable characters in history exactly thanks to how touching it is about their personal stories. And probably thanks to that actors, who played them started to love them so much.
We already seen some really dedicated actors before. Like Beppu Ayumi-san (別府あゆみ) from Magiranger series and Suzuki Shōgo-san (鈴木勝吾) from Shinkenger, who cried a lot when filming was over, but this time when filming of the final scene was over, the whole main cast cried. Even boys. Cried so much that they were literally unable to speak. It was included on DVD / Blu-ray as a part of Making Of movies and it’s sure something to see. I mean, you won’t often see such dedicated cast. Such dedication helps them a lot with their acting, but what’s the most important here is that Gōkaiger cast is made of actors, who’re great just because of what they are. Like Ichimichi Mao-san (市道 真央; aka M • A • O)’s face and what she can do with it is totally priceless and Toei sure used it, Yamada Yūki-san (山田裕貴) really fits his character thanks to how he has really manly appearance, while actually he’s very sensitive inside, etc. I can’t say that anyone here can beat Aiba Hiroki-san (相葉裕樹) from Shinkenger series when it comes to acting skills, but they’re absolutely great in their own way and, what’s more important, they’re on their right places.
And, of course, narration. Gōkaiger series using Boukenger formula, where narrator’s voice is also an important part of toys (remember how great Ōta Shinichirō-san / 太田真一郎 did in Boukenger?), but bringing the idea on brand new level. In one of the interviews Seki Tomokazu-san (関智一), who’ll narrate this series, mentioned Ōhira Tōru-san (大平透), the very first narrator in Super Sentai Series, who narrated a lot of series in a row, and Seki-san took a very important thing from him. And that thing is - passion. In Super Sentai Series there were a lot of narrators, who did really, good, but after Ōhira-san it felt like a lot of them missed something. Missed some sort of spark. And that’s what Seki-san brought back in an absolutely epic way - spark. Henshin into various heroes from the past this time will be great not only because of the idea itself, but also because Seki-san’s voice. And the fact that he’ll also voice finishing moves is just amazing. I really wonder if it’s even possible to forget his epic “Fi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-inal Wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ave!!!~” Since I’ve seen all Super Sentai shows, which means that I’ve heard Ōhira-san at his best, it was really hard to surprise me with the narration, but Seki-san did it and did it oh-so-great.
Finally, soundtrack. It’s fun, but it’s probably the series’ most weak point. But not because it’s bad, but because it’s the only part of it that isn’t ideal. Lack of character songs and cheapest ending since Go-Onger series (yes, another generic “rap” without proper rhyme that any musician can compose in a few minutes) are a serious punch for musical part, while the main theme didn’t try to make it any easier. The thing is - this time it’s really soft. Yep, even though we have really showy kick ass team here, the main theme is really soft. Up to the point where you’ll remember Kyōryū Sentai Zyūranger and Gekisō Sentai Carranger (激走戦隊カーレンジャー). But the thing is - there’s a trick in main theme. It didn’t try to be cheap like ending and you’ll need time to get into it. Main theme is trying to bring the feeling of freedom. “Open sea” feeling of pirate adventures. Which fits series absolutely perfectly and adds a lot to the main concept and showy part. Such main theme was exactly what Gōkaiger series needed, but as I already said, it’ll take some time to understand it fully, thanks to how usually main theme is better to be as showy as possible. A lot of other songs on soundtrack are all about experiments too. Like Hagane no Kokoro GōkaiSilver song mixed hard rock, soft pop and gypsy-like melodies in one single track to create something absolutely unique. All that is really cool and sure worth buying on CD, but if you’re not a huge Project.R fan, or aren’t ready to pay for anything with Mizuki Ichirō-san (水木一郎) in it (even though it’s always a good idea), it may take some time for you to start loving this OST. Aside from extremely poor ending, it may be really tricky and full of experiments. As for the background music, it’s all about Yamashita Kōsuke-san (山下康介) this time and with such promising motif he was able to do a lot of good things.
So… wow… It’s a lot of text this time. 10 A4 pages actually. But, you know, when it’s about Gōkaiger series, it’s impossible to tell about the most important things in only a few words. Just because it’s the most complicated thing ever happened for Super Sentai Anniversary. Finally, after a lot of years, Toei was able to break their Anniversary curse and achieve a huge success. And the secret is - Gōkaiger series is extremely likable for new blood and at the same time make old fans to cry from joy thanks to all those amazing tributes and references. Gōkaiger series’ magic is that it can connect generations with its amazing showy fight choreography, likable modern characters and deep thoughts about the past at the same time, but make sure to remember what I’ve said about - if you didn’t see all previous shows, you didn’t see a half of this series. Gōkaiger’s attention to the past is so deep that sometimes it’s simply impossible to understand what’s going on without knowing about the originals. Gōkaiger series is the biggest present true Super Sentai fans could ask for and serious message to new blood - don’t underestimate the past!