Super Sentai, the Japanese superhero series that ultimately gave the West its own legion of superheroes in the Power Rangers franchise, turns 45 this year. It’s celebrating in suitably zany style, with a new series that sees its heroes take inspiration from past teams. Or, more accurately for some of them, their giant robots, including one iconic robot in particular.
This past weekend Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger officially kicked off in Japan, introducing the 45th official team in the long-running franchise’s history. Like past anniversary series before it — such as Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger (adapted, rather terribly, as Power Rangers Super Megaforce) — Zenkaiger’s own team theme takes inspiration from past teams from the series. More specifically, it does so with a bit of a twist: only one hero on the squad this year is actually a human. The other four heroes are sentient robots who, instead of slapping on sparkly Spandex when they transform, take on armours inspired by the giant mecha (known in Power Rangers as zords) from past Super Sentai shows.
In Zenkaiger, the Earth — now part of a multiverse of Earths, protected by their own Sentai — has mysteriously fused with Kikaitopia, a society of androids. After some initial shock, because, y’know, suddenly there’s a race of android beings wandering around contemporary Tokyo, humanity and the Kikainoids start getting along. That is, until the sinister ruling elite of Kikainoid society, the Tojitendo, invade the fused world to lock it away, as they have done with the other worlds of the multiverse. Yadda yadda yadda, bad guys menace Tokyo, and so, our new team of heroes is born to fight the threat.
At first, there’s only one Zenkaiger, Kaito, the lone human — who discovers that his parents were secretly researching the multiverse and prepared for a day when their world might be invaded. When the Tojitendo attack, Kaito decides to go and try and find people to help fight them back and recruit them as Zenkaigers themselves. And that’s how we meet Juran, who becomes the second member of the team.
Juran is…well, like I said, he’s a Himbo. Apparently, he spent the month Kikaitopia and Earth have been fused just wandering around looking for humans to hang out with, crashing random teenage parties with his groceries. He’s very sweet, and earnest, and kind of very dumb, but when Kaito sees him protecting a human child from the Tojitendo’s assault, it becomes clear that deep down there’s a hero inside him. So, the world’s quickest superhero-onboarding session later, Juran transforms into Zenkai Juran, and if you’re a Power Rangers fan, you can probably see some familiarities.
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Juran’s “suit” of armour is directly inspired by the mecha of the 16th Sentai team, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, better known here as the show that provided the action footage for the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. So he essentially transforms into a human-sized Megazord, which is really cool and quite silly. But Juran can also — like a certain other tokusatsu hero — change size and become an actual, transforming giant robot when he needs to, becoming even more Megazord-like when he’s forced to stop a giant kaiju summoned by the Tojitendo.
It’s all really silly, and it’ll be fascinating to see if and how Hasbro eventually comes to adapt the show itself as a future Power Rangers series (that is if it isn’t too busy focusing on its upcoming self-created world of Ranger movies and shows, separate from its parallel adaptation of Super Sentai). Because really, who can resist the idea of the original Megazord running around as its own sentient, and very silly robot hero?
Only Kaito and Juran appear in Zenkaiger’s first episode, but there are more robot heroes on the way — each with their own transformation paying homage to a past mecha, including the likes of Magiranger/Mystic Force, Gaoranger/Wild Force, and Boukenger/Operation Overdrive. But it’s perhaps fitting that as the first robot hero we’ve met so far (and with his strong link to the almighty Power Rangers nostalgia of the West), Juran’s a fast favourite.
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