There are many many many different shows out there that are presented to us, all which are somewhat unique in their own ways. However, out of the thousands of shows that come on every single year around the world, only a select few have the development, the skill, and the true emotional impact to truly be called the best of the best…and in the world of Tokusatsu, Super Sentai specifically, only one show like that truly rings in my heart, that being the highly-acclaimed Super Sentai series of 2009, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. Ippitsu Soujou!
The Shiba Clan, who has said 17 other generations before, have been fighting the Gedoushuu, beings born from the Sanzu River who have fallen into despair and live literally “off the beaten path”, for hundreds of years. The Gedoushuu are led by the merciless and ferocious supreme general, Chimatsuri Doukoku. The young Lord of the Shiba clan, Takeru Shiba, has taken under his wing four retainers who have been raised from childhood to be samurai, and together with the Samurai power known as Mojikara, they henshin into the Shinkengers and fight against the Gedoushuu and their servants, the Ayakashi, in order to seal Doukoku and bring peace to the world again.
The story of Shinkenger is both very simple and yet very complex all at the same time, but that is the beauty of it in general. On the outside, it is a show about a Samurai leader and his retainers fighting against a powerful foe, but on the inside, Shinkenger is about not only what being a retainer, a lord, and what being on a team means, but about what it means to conform and not to conform, what it means to rejoice the good times, to suffer the bad, and most importantly, what it truly means to live on and off the beaten path. This not only goes for the main heroes of the story, but also for the Gedoushuu as well, and from a psychological standpoint, the ideas presented are very interesting and thought provoking. The head writer of Shinkenger was Yasuko Kobayashi, who is best known for her writings of Shakugan no Shana, Claymore, and, oh yeah…ATTACK ON TITAN….yeah. She is also no stranger to the Toku genre as she was head writer for shows like Gingaman, Timeranger, Kamen Rider Ryuki, and Kamen Rider Den-O. Because of this, you probably expect some pretty damn good storytelling, and Shinkenger is no exception to this rule. The writing is very strong, the developments in the story and in the characters for the most part are very consistent, and Kobayashi really brings the heart and soul of these characters to life in such a fantastic way.
One thing I love about Shinkenger in particular is how plot points carry over from one episode to another. Even filler episodes feel like they have significance in helping develop the story, and without those fillers we wouldn’t be able to know these characters, understand them, and connect with them like we do. Some filler episodes do serve no real purpose in the overall story, but all of them are still very entertaining as is. With all these elements and more put together, it creates a wonderful story that keeps you invested from beginning to end throughout the 49 episode period! If I had only one real complaint, it would be that the aspects of Mojikara and what it is are never really explained, which in turn bugs me when some episodes try to focus on increasing Mojikara. That is just a small nitpick of mine though and not something to worry about too much in the grand scheme of things.
For the Characters, we will first start with the Shiba clan leader himself, Takeru Shiba. Character-wise, he is very much a loner type of leader, always wanting to get things done himself and wanting to protect his team members as much as possible. However, he has his reasons for this, not wanting to bring these people into battle and have them face this tough of an enemy. I think that his characterization is handled very well and that throughout each episode, we get to see more of who Takeru is and what he is going through. There is a huge twist in his character by the end of the series that I do not want to spoil, and at first, I didn’t like it, but by the end of the show, it made sense why it was there.
Next up are the four retainers; Ryuunosuke, Mako, Chiaki, and Kotoha. I know I am ignoring Genta at the moment, but I will save him for last. I think that even though Shinkenger is definitely a red-focused show, the rest of the main cast holds up really well.
Ryuunosuke, for a Sentai Blue Ranger, is actually very unique in some respects. Like most blues, he is very skillful and loyal to his Red counterpart, but not in the “I respect you, you respect me” aspect but more of a devotional aspect, Ryuunosuke would do anything for Takeru because he believes it is his duty to do so. Whenever he feels like he has failed, he begs Takeru to forgive him, and that also plays into how over the top he is as well. Whether he is fighting an Ayakashi like an absolute badass or just randomly arguing with one of the other five, it brings some really unique flavor to his character and makes him such an awesome character.
Mako is of course the kickass Sentai pink of the series, and like most pinks, her character is not only really good at kicking ass (and looking good doing it), but she also has her sensitive and deep moments as well, especially between her and Takeru near the later half of the series.
Chiaki is the determined “rebel without a cause” on the team, and he definitely fills that role very well. He is definitely less disciplined than the other four on the team due to his upbringing as a child. However, what I think makes Chiaki so cool is not just his personality, but also the way he develops throughout the series from said rebel without a cause into a full-fledged Samurai, and it’s character development at some of its most badass and awesome.
Lastly, Kotoha is the shy but optimistic support for the team. I’ve just always loved Kotoha so much because of how calm and optimistic she is, even during her sadder moments in the series. She always tends to think down of herself due to personal reasons, but her doing that has always really interested me in her outlook of not only herself, but also the friends and mentors around her, which makes her one of my favorite characters in a Sentai series, and definitely my favorite Sentai Yellow.
Oh, remember those filler episodes I mentioned earlier being important? Well, these four are the reason for their importance. Having these filler episodes in there to focus on the other four really helps develop all four of the retainers to the same level as Takeru was developed. I would like to also applaud the acting of the entire main cast, both heroes and villains, especially Tori Matsuzaka as Takeru who does an absolutely groundbreaking performance in the role and really brings the character to life in such a dramatic and grand way.
Next, we move to ShinkenGold, Genta Umemori. Genta is….special, to say the least. I saved him for last not because he is bad, but for exactly the opposite reason. I think that Genta may not be as developed as the other five leads, but that he always steals the show when he is on screen, whether it is during a battle with an Ayakashi or when he’s just embarrassing himself for the hell of it, and without his happiness and joy in the scenes he is in, the show wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as it is.
There aren’t very many supporting characters, but for the few there are, they are very well written for what they’re worth, mainly including Takeru’s mentor, Jii, who is one of the coolest mentors I have ever seen in a Super Sentai series. Sometimes, you don’t always need a flashy costume and a cool voice in order to be a badass mentor. *Cough-Torin-Cough*…Sorry about that. Anyways, moving on.
The last piece I want to talk about character-wise is of the Gedoushuu. This is ironically one of my biggest problems and yet one of my biggest praises character-wise. My problem is that I wish that Doukoku and some of the other Gedoushuu were developed more. If I was Kobayashi, I would’ve tried to give Doukoku and the others development somewhat similar to Dayuu and Juuzou in how they may have fallen to Gedou and become Gedoushuu. Even though I would’ve like to have seen more, Doukoku definitely fills the role of final boss to the Shinkenger very well. However, my qualms are made up for with the development of two other central baddies I mentioned earlier: Dayuu and Juuzou. Having those two villains in the show be as developed as they are really brings up a fascinating concept when it comes to the origins of the Gedoushuu and the Ayakashi. Dayuu is more quiet with her playing her Shamisen, which does actually help calm Doukoku when he is angry. This actually plays into their relationship more and makes very slight development for Doukoku, and it shows there actually is a rapport between the main villains themselves, which is interesting to me. Juuzou on the other hand is more of a stray Gedoushuu that likes to hide in the shadows, but is trying to find the perfect enemy to fight with his Uramasa in hand, and the dynamic between him and Takeru is excellently done. The back stories of Juuzou and Dayuu falling to Gedou due to their dark lives and pasts are not only heartbreaking and get you invested in the resolve of the Gedoushuu to an extent. It creates an interesting dynamic of the Gedoushuu and who they were before falling into despair. What is so fascinating about this specifically is that the main goal of the Gedoushuu is to bring humans into despair in order to increase the amount of water in the Sanzu River. Hmm…interesting when you think about it, ain’t it?
The themes and styles of Shinkenger are heavily based on Samurai cinema and Chanbara films, which were highly iconic and influential in Japan. I absolutely love the concept of blending old types of technology with more modern types of technology. For example how the Shodophone is a blend of a cellphone and a calligraphy brush, or how the Shinkenmaru is a blend of a katana and a praxinoscope. I also love the suit designs as well. They are simple but effective, with the black and white Y on the chest with the Shiba clan insignia resembling a Japanese samurai robe, the balance of the colors on each suit, and the kanji as the main helmet piece to really complete the look of the suits.
The design of the Origami are also interesting to say the very least, though the Samurai Ha-Oh is an absolute cluster of a mecha. The production work is pretty much top-notch all the way through the series. The older Edo period type of feel along with Kuroko around helping citizens paired with the technology of today not only contrasts each other well, but it also surprisingly fits too. It makes for a very interesting world for the viewer all around.
As mentioned before, the production work for Shinkenger is very good, and the action is no exception. The fights are well paced, very well choreographed, and have good special effects overall. A very unique change when it comes to Sentai is that this is not a very gun-heavy show, and that most of the stunts involve lots and lots of swordplay, which makes the style of the fights all the more impressive to see unfold. This also lessens the use of special effects and heightens the use of more practical techniques and choreography, which is a really nice change of pace action wise.
What is even more unique is that of the robot fights. Contrary to what I expect in Sentai currently, the big robot fights don’t have very much CGI in general. Most of the effects use actual suits and real explosions instead of computer-generated puppets and superimposed explosions. Some fights in the show do involve CGI and imposed explosions to an extent, but not to a point where it downgrades the rest of the more practical action scenes. The direction for the action is really good, and as expected from pretty much any Sentai, delivers on all levels as an action show.
The composer for Shinkenger’s music was Hiroshi Takaki, and all in all, he did an absolutely fantastic job in the music department. It’s just the kind of OST I want in a show; Music that not only fits with the show, but music so good that you want to listen to it outside of the show as well, and there are definitely a few tracks that I listen to on a regular basis outside of the show. The show does use some bits of rock here and there, but many more tracks use more epic and orchestral instruments, and it really fits the tone of the show surprisingly well. The opening (sung by Psychic Lover) and ending (sung by Hideaki Takatori) are also really catchy and fun to listen to, though the ending provided for some sense of tonal whiplash after the final moments of some of the sad episodes. One specific track I want to mention is a track called “Something Treasured Left Behind”, which is one of the most uplifting and yet one of the most depressing tracks I have ever heard in a Sentai series to date. Literally the tone of the song changes completely depending on the scene it is in during the show, but also when I listen to it on its own depending on my mood, and it is one of my absolute favorite tracks to date in Sentai. I hate to use the word “perfect” to describe a show, but to me, Shinkenger is very close to being perfect. It has a complex and thought-provoking story, wonderful heroes and villains, interesting style, amazing action and music, and is all around such a damn masterpiece in the world of Sentai. Due to all of this, I give Samurai Sentai Shinkenger a solid A+!