Takaaki Utsunomiya is one of Toei’s most successful tokusatsu producers, having produced hit after hit, but this year sees him producing his first dud in Lupinranger vs Patranger. Let’s take a look at his style and how it’s both present and absent in this year’s Super Sentai series.
It’s no secret that Super Sentai has been struggling for the last few years. Lupinranger vs Patranger is poised to become the lowest performing Sentai toy line to date. Although the quality of a show and the performance of its toys are not directly related, having a certificated hit maker on hand can’t hurt.
Utsunomiya has been around Toei since at least 2001, having worked on various Super Sentai shows, but it wasn’t until 2009 that he took the reigns as chief producer. Samurai Sentai Shinkenger was Utsunomiya’s first series as a chief producer and is often regarded as a modern-day Jetman – it had good toy sales alongside a TV show whose story and characters became rather large mainstream hits. Utsunomiya went on to produce Kamen Rider Wizard, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, and Ressha Sentai ToQger, all hits and in the case of ToQger, arguably the last hit Sentai has had. It wasn’t until 2016’s Dobutsu Sentai Zyuohger that Utsunomiya produced his first under-performer.
While ToQger saw a fractional drop in line with TV trends from Kyoryuger, Zyuohger dropped almost a full percentage point with average viewing figures of 3.3%, compared to the 3.8% seen in the last few years. This was the sort of drop in line with Go-Busters from Gokaiger. Despite the slide in viewership figures, toy sales were up, slightly, but they were up. Kyuranger showed even greater promise in sales but still under-performed compared to Bandai Namco’s initial projections. Still, despite that under-performance, Kyuranger showed a decent jump in figures, although still on the low end for Sentai.
Utsunomiya was then brought on to produce the current series, the first series to feature two dueling teams in Super Sentai history. It was likely hoped that a unique toyline with two sides complimented by a well-made series might revive interest in the franchise. Unfortunately, numbers are seeing historic lows in both ratings and toy sales. As of episode 41, LupinPat‘s average ratings are sitting at 2.9%, the lowest in franchise history.
It’s likely that Utsunomiya was brought on to bring his trademark tension and drama, hoping that these qualities would compliment a series with dueling teams. For whatever reason, LupinPat isn’t showcasing a lot of Utsunomiya’s classic traits. But what exactly are those traits?
The first and probably most obvious one is the introduction of a new enemy largely unconnected to the show’s central antagonists. Let’s be clear, introducing new villains is not and has never been a trait exclusive to Utsunomiya, but the manner in which he implements them are very closely associated with his shows. This is a trait that often appeared in Utsunomiya’s Sentai shows. Shinkenger’s Akumaro, Gokaiger’s Basco, and Zyuohger’s Bunglay. The outlier among these is Basco, having appeared much earlier than the other villains, he was nonetheless unrelated to the central Zangyack threat.
With Shinkenger and Zyuohger, the introductions of Akumaro and Bunglay meant the main story revolving around the central antagonists came to a screeching halt. When the villains meet their ultimate demise, the main story gets back on its feet and proceeds towards its conclusion. Shinkenger, in particular, highlights this trait as Kaoru Shiba, the proper red ranger and leader of the Shinkenger team, is introduced in the episode following Akumaro’s demise.
ToQger uses the idea of a new villain in a more traditional sense as it is one more closely connected with the enemies of the series. In Gokaiger, there is a stronger connection to the lead character, Basco having been Marvelous’s friend in the past. With shows like Shinkenger and Zyuohger, these villains are more or less completely unrelated to anything we’ve seen beforehand. Although an argument can be made that Akumaro is still a member of the Gedoshu, he is largely unrelated to any of the characters who came before and his grand plot was largely unrelated to that of the show’s central antagonist.
LupinPat introduced the character of Zamigo, an ice-using creature with a human form who is the culprit behind the disappearance of the Lupinranger’s loved ones, but he has been strangely absent from the show. At one point, the character went nearly three months without making an appearance. LupinPat takes things one step further and introduced the character Raimon, a superpower Gangler who is around for a handful of episodes before being defeated.
Utsunomiya’s leads tend to be young and quite confident but not the loudmouth reds seen earlier in the 2000s. Although due to the nature of LupinPat having two teams, one of those characters is still present, but so is the traditional Utsunomiya red. Kairi can be seen as being cut from the same cloth as Takeru, Right, and Yamato: smart, strong, and confident but not necessarily in the boisterous mold of the Sentai shounen type that regularly appear in the Super Sentai series. Patranger’s Keiichiro is the first time Utsunomiya has produced a red ranger who is in line with the boisterous-natured red that came into prominence around the time of Hurricanger. Although, if you’re being pedantic, the argument can still be made that Kairi is the lead character in the show, due to the lack of depth found in the Patranger’s story.
Finally, LupinPat‘s story doesn’t seem to have the depth Utsunomiya’s previous shows did. This isn’t speaking to the quality of the show but rather the plot threads and how often they’re touched upon. The series is about the search for the Lupinranger’s loved ones and the Patranger’s quest to stop both the Gangler and Lupinrangers. Despite basic structures being there, the series doesn’t explore its stories to the lengths of ToQger, Shinkenger, or give backstories to its enemy generals with the depth of those seen in Gokaiger. LupinPat presents a mostly episodic show, with each new Lupin Collection piece bringing the team closer to finding their loved ones yet any sense of progress not really being felt. A character as important as Zamigo is absent for large swaths of time. It’s odd that for as important as the character was in taking the Lupinranger’s loved ones away, he has barely been present.
For an unexplained reason, LupinPat is playing out like more of Utsunomiya’s greatest hits, much in the same way that Fiveman played out as main writer Hirohisa Soda’s greatest hits. The results are very much the same – shows that seem to fit the mold of their lead creative type but failing to offer the depth of those shows that made them a success.