You might be familiar with the 90s American superhero TV show “Power Rangers”. The show saw five teenagers transform into colourful jumpsuit superheroes, each one of them associated with a “zord” – aka giant robots – in the form of dinosaurs, who helped them fight dangerous enemies coming from remote space.
But not many people know that the American superhero series is actually an adaptation of the Japanese genre of the so-called “super sentai”, created and promoted by Toei Company, that at the time had been going for around 20 years.
Let’s discover more about the Japanese superhero series Super Sentai.
What Is Super Sentai?
“Super sentai” is a Japanese genre of superhero drama in which a group of teenagers in colourful suits vows to fight evil aboard giant robots. Each series has a different plot and different characters, but they all have common recurring elements: the superheroes are usually five, wearing coloured costumes provided with a helmet. Each superhero corresponds to a specific colour and has a signature weapon and skill to fight corporate size evil organizations which are plotting to destroy civilization as we know it. From the third series onwards, giant robots, “mecha”, start to appear, becoming an intrinsic feature of super sentai.
The Power Ranger series has been inspired by a particular Japanese super sentai that aired in February 1992, called “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger”.
The Japanese original version had different peculiarities compared to the American counterpart and also to the previous super sentai. That’s why Zyuranger is considered a milestone in the history of the genre that brought new ideas and renovated a genre that was slowly sinking in popularity. Zyuranger incorporates more fantasy elements, and the protagonists are not contemporary teenagers but young people from a prehistoric era awakened from their eternal sleep.
The First Super Sentai Series
Photo credits: Wikipedia
“Himitsu Sentai Gorenger” was the first – and also the longest, with 84 episodes – Super Sentai series ever. The story follows the Earth Guard League, aka EAGLE, as they fight the terrorist group Black Cross Army, led by the Black Cross Führer, using governmental technology that grants them superhuman strength and speed.
When this very first season came out, “Super Sentai” was not yet established as a brand, but the success of Gorenger allowed the franchise to expand and grow – with ups and downs – until today, with a whopping 47 series that followed sue.
The second series that was trying to ride the wave of Gorenger’s success in 1977, J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai, was, on the contrary, a huge flop to the point that it seemed like no further development of the brand could be worth it.
But things rapidly changed when in 1978 Toei Company decided to collaborate with Marvel
to produce the live-action Television series Spider-Man inspired by the Marvel comic superhero with considerable success. The main element introduced in this series were “mecha”, giant humanoid robots controlled by humans, which would become a staple of the super sentai series onwards.
Japanese Superhero Series Today
Photo credit: Wikipedia
The genre almost inevitably gradually started losing popularity, with the 2010s being the years with the lowest ratings, even though there is no sign that the franchise will end soon. Toei Company still produces super sentai after almost 50 years, thanks to a devoted fanbase.
The new super sentai series premiered in 2021, “Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger”, in 2022 “Avataro Sentai Donbrothers”, and “Ohsama Sentai King-ohger” is coming out in March this year.
Far from super sentai becoming unpopular soon, 2021 witnessed the opening of the very first ever super sentai-themed restaurant in Pasola Resort (a karaoke and restaurant chain) in the neighbourhood of Ikebukuro in Tokyo. Here you can have a taste of some curry dishes inspired by the series (other than a whole lot variety of Japanese food).
We Are Still Not Over Super Sentai and Japanese Superhero Series
If you are new to the Japanese super sentai genre, start catching up from an old classic, “Zyuranger”; if you prefer something with a more modern touch, give a shot to “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger” which aired in 2009 is one of the favourite super sentai of the Heisei era; or tune in to TV Asahi on March 5th to view the brand new “Ohsama Sentai King-ohger”.
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