Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Toqger : a review, and why that show sucks.
Let's just say that Toqger is likely one of the worst sentai ever made, because it suffers of massive flaws in most elements of the show :
- Heroes : the five main heroes are some of the blandest main characters I've seen in sentai. They don't show much depth, Right being the hot blooded one, Tokatti, the clumsy one, Mio the "big sister" one, Hikari the serious one and Kagura the cure ditzy one. Other than that, most the the episodes trying to focus on them individually are pretty much using stock plots which aren't giving them much personality and background. Of course, it's explained by the fact they're just overgrown kids who are in adult bodies, but still have children's minds. But it's precisely why the concept doesn't really work for the characters, since it makes them feel pretty bland and doesn't allow much development. Besides, they pretty much share a common background ; so not much room for exploration.
Akira, the sixth ranger, is a Shadow who, because of remorse for his past actions, has ljoined the Rainbow line to atone for his "crimes" (basically, making rain, which isn't really THAT horrible as a crime), and eventually becomes the sixth Toqger because of Right. However, as Akira, he isn't very interesting, and his catchphrase " my death place" is pretty annoying. While he can show some comedy because of his ridiculously serious expression, it doesn't really make him striking. His only potentialy interesting plot is his relationship with Schwartz, especially after the latter becomes also a traitor in the Shadow Line's eyes.
Allies : It's pretty telling when the smartest character in the show is a monkey puppet. and even despite this, Ticket is usually annoying with its grating voice. And the less we talk about the Conductor, Wagon, or the president of the Rainbow line and his bunny head, the better.
Villains : they're the most interesting characters of the show and even despite that, they're pretty uneven. The most interesting element with the Shadow line is how dyfunctional the villain group is, with most of the villains having an antagonism against the others. Another good point about the Shadow Line is that the generals are skilled fighters, and that they regularly show it.
Mork and Nero are the least interesting of the Shadow Line, merely standard generals who mostly care about spreading darkness. Madame Noire is most interesting, because she tried to take over the Shadow Line by using her daughter Gritta to marry and then "eat" the Emperor of the Shadow Line, Zet. Unfortunately for her, her plan backfired, and since then, she's pretty much forced to work for Zet, her only hope to break free being the fact that her daughter might not have been completely consumed by the emperor. However, that concern about her daughter isn't consistent with the fact she used her as a tool to get power.
Gritta, Noire's daughter is interesting because she hasn't shown much evil, and she showed loving feelings for General Schwartz. However, despite not wanting to marry the emperor, she was forced to do so after failing to run away, because of Noire's insistence and Schwartz's betrayal. After eating Emperor Zet, she briefly became Empress of Shadow, but at the end, Zet ended up taking over her, and now, she's stuck into the Emperor's body. Gritta has some potential, because she's more innocent than evil but she needs more screen time.
Schwartz and Zet are the most interesting characters. Zet, despite being the Emperor of Darkness, doesn't care about his generals, monsters and spreading darkness, but only is obsessed about light, shining, and spends most of the time being bored. While he's supposed to be the Big Bad, and even if he's not especially nice, and has shown impressive amounts of power, he doesn't seem to care anough to feel really like a Big Bad. It has some potential as a story, but unfortunately, it also adds to the stalling of the plot.
Schwartz is more interesting : he's pretty much an outcast among the Shadow, because, rather than darkness, he's more interested by military conquest using war trains. He's a cunning and cruel general, but he's also shown an honorable side. While he ended up betraying Gritta, because he hoped that by helping Madame Noire in her usurping plot, he would be allowed to have his army and conquer the world using his trains and soldiers, he was still touched by Miss Gritta's feelings for her, and when the young girl sacrificed herself to save him from a Toqger attack, and ended up being taken over by Zet, Schwartz started to feel genuine remorse in what his action did to the young girl, and, after being banished by Zet, wanted to avenge himself and Gritta to find some redemption.
As such, his relationship with Akira/ Zaram might be interesting to see, given both are driven by remorse now.
Plot : The Toqger, who are actually kids who managed to escape a town ovetaken by darkness thansk to their imagination ended up grown up by the president of the Rainbow Line and now fight the e Shadow Line, using the power of Imagination and are looking for their home city.
While the concept isn't that bad, unfortunately the execution is pretty badly done, notably because og Kobayashi is very poorly talented in storytelling, once again. Indeed, the heroes are only likely to find their hometown in the final episodes, which means that there still need to find some plot for the middle episodes. While there has been some nice elements, with important plots being forshadowed in previous episodes, Toqger still suffers from plot stalling.
During the first 10 episodes, , except a showdown with Schwartz, pretty much nothing happens, except some standard plots involving Shadow Monsters. While episodes 11 and 12 introduce the Emperor, and the heroes meet at last most of the main villains, it doesn't really raises the stakes for the heroes, notably because of the lack of leadership from Zet. The introduction of the sixth ranger Akira isn't done in very memorable episodes, and at the end, the next really significant arc happens during episodes 22 and 23, with the "Noire's usurping plot with Gritta marrying Zet" with a big showdown opposing the heroes in one side, and Schwartz and a newly empress Gritta on the other side. At the end, Zet overtakes Gritta, banishes Schwartz and pretty much tames Noire. However, after episode 23, the plot pretty much stalls, with nothing really significant happening during the next 15 episodes. The arrival of the new villainess, Mork, doesn't change much in the statu quo, the appearance of the Hyper Mode, and the new mechas (the Hyper Terminal notably) aren't really well done, since they're done in individual episodes, which almost feel like fillers, with silly monsters : a very striking element is how in those key episodes, the villains are more fighting each other than are fighting the heroes. In fact, in episode 35, with the appearance of the Toqrainbow, the biggest robot, the heroes are more saved by Zet's unpredictable character and Schwartz's dealing with Akira than by their own power . Another wasted opportunity is the use of the Shadow Towns, overtaken by the Shadow Line and guarded by Overseers which have a chess theme. What should have been key episodes ended up being written pretty much as fillers.
A key element is also the lack of rivalry between heroes and villains : Right's rivalry with Zet doesn't feel right, because Zet cares too little about darkness and taking over the world to feel like a worthy enemy to hate. Besides, as it was said before, the real rivalries the Shadow Line generals have are more between each other than against the heroes. Sometimes, the heroes feel like they are the guest stars of their own show. Because of that, there is a lack of intensity in the conflicts, and it's hard to care for them. Moreover, because of the blandness of the heroes, it's also hard to realy care for them and their quest; heck, even the reveals they're overgrown kids feels like "yes, so what"? ; notably because the show fails to use that background in a really dramatic effect in most of the show, and the reveal doesn't really change anything for the heroes.Because of how bland they are, it's difficult to really care for the heroes. As said before, it's a similar situation that Go-Busters had : a long running plot that is pretty much bound to stall most of the series; it's interesting that Go-Busters had to deal with its main plot midway, because the show stalled too much. Here, a similar plot (children looking for their parents who are stuck in a place overtaken by evil) is still ongoing.
The train gimmick isn't badly done, but the "Norikae changes" gimmick where the heroes change colors is usually more cofusing than interesting (no wonder he's less used in late episodes). The mechas's design are okay but not remarkable, and some robots are pretty much too "clusterfuck", especially Toqrainbow.
To sum up, Toqger suffers a lot from its bland heroes and supporting characters, a very mediocre storytelling with main plots which stalls too long, uneven villains, and a lack of imagination shown by the excessive use of stock plot in individual episodes, which is ridiculous because of how much imagination is supposed to be a major theme, and as such, is likely one of the worst sentai show ever made.
Additional thoughts, after the Christmas arc :
I had high hopes for that arc, especially since it would at last change the statu quo, and bring the climax of several subplots started in previous episodes, Gritta still alive inside Zett, Schwartz's rebellion and quest to save Gritta, Noire's plot to get back her daughter, and, more importantly, Akira leaving the Shadow Line to join Schwartz.
To be fair, I must admit that those subplots weren't that badly done : indeed, Schwartz and Noire free Gritta from Zett's body, and Schwartz learns what it means to fight for the sake of others : his character development is nicely done, and his sacrifice is moving : it was a nice symbol to see his eyes shine before his death, thesymbol of finding the "Kira Kira" that Zett is so obsessed with. The interactions between Akira/Zaram and Schwartz alos show how much those two were similar and kindred souls before Zatram's betrayal, and the irony of Schwartz becoming like Zaram is nice to see. Oh, and Zett becoming Toq6go was fun too.
Unfortunately, as a whole, I felt that that Christmas arc was not very good, for several reasons :
- first, it tries too much to make us see Zett as that horrible villain, even if in truth, all he wanted to do is to be left alone, and that he's never the one who attacks first : most of his actions are in self defense, and while he had Gritta in him, he didn't want Mork and Nero to attack her. Moreover, interestingly, he almost only fights his fellow Shadow Line generals, only attacking Right when the latter prevented him to kill Zaram/Akira, even if in truth, Zett was in self-defense situation. Even if Zett indeed kills Noire and Schwartz, he's completely justified to do so, since both wanted to take his life. Moreover, the show wants us to feel sorry for Noire while she was using her daughter as a tool for her ambitions : I never felt any real selflessness in her actions, unlike Schwartz's.
- second, the Toqgers themselves : I've never seen a situation where the main heroes of the show were so sidelined : they felt like guest stars in their own story : most of the climactic moments involved internal fighting within the Shadow Line, and it's significant that in most of the arc, Akira appeared as his Zaram guise. I really felt like the Toqgers were more witnesses than anything else, which is absolutely ridiculous in such shows. The final robot battle was completely devoid of any thrill, because despite the huge number of Kurainers to destroy, it was obvious that that outburst had absolutely no direction : I felt nothing during the big robot fight because all the climactic moments happened before.
- third, I feel that by resolving the Schwartz plot too early, the show missed the opportunity to put Akira in a more difficult situation where he would be forced to fight his friends, since during that whole arc, Akira and the others Toqger weren't really on opposite sides (Even Akira said so). While it's touching to see Akira realize how much the Toqger care for him, at the end, the show carefully avoided a potentially interesting plot.
- Fourth, am I the only one to feel that Mork and Nero are completely irrelevant characters? They pretty did nothing really meaningful in that arc, and were as sidelined as the Toqger : such a waste
As such, that Christmas plot once again highlighted the big flaws of Toqger as well as its few good points as well.