After 8 years, Team TokuNet Staff Writer Brody Salzman sails back into the 35th anniversary Super Sentai with a fresh look.
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers. Please be advised.
It’s been ten years since Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger aired. I wasn’t even a tokusatsu fan, yet. I watched Gokaiger about two years after it started and was so genuinely blown away that I binged it all in just two weeks while dealing with school and extracurriculars. Never before had I been so hooked that I would binge 50 episodes of a show that fast. I credit Gokaiger with stuffing me full of tokusatsu knowledge and passion right from the start, and my memories of those characters and adventures stuck with me all these years.
But did it hold up?
With Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger now underway and taking the anniversary-themed Sentai torch from the pirates, I was worried that neither show would match up to my expectations set by my original watch-through. When it comes to Gokaiger, I’ve never been so happy to be worried over nothing.
The announcement of Kaizoku Sentai 10 Gokaiger only adds to the excitement of the 45th anniversary celebration since the pirates have become representatives who stand for all of Super Sentai history, and with a memorial Mobirates, Ranger Keys, and the new Gokai Galleon Key on the way, it’s about time I take you back through what makes the original series such a gold standard for the Super Sentai Series.
What follows is a detailed analysis of my recent experience watching Gokaiger and my thoughts as related to my first time watching. For a lengthy discussion of our favorite showy pirates with more unique perspectives, consider checking out February’s TokuNet Podcast after reading this review. This Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger retrospective features Team TokuNet’s Yasin Bulhan, Josh Saucedo, and Ashton Liu and was recorded just in time for the 10-year anniversary of Super Sentai‘s greatest treasure hunt.
Now, let’s make this showy!
A Double Dose of Nostalgia
Gokaiger is unique in its position as an anniversary series. For longtime fans and parents who grew up with Super Sentai, Gokaiger tosses throwbacks to some fan-favorite teams right into the first episode including the first-ever Sentai formed on Earth, Himitsu Sentai Gorenger. This was my first time learning of its existence, and it caught me by such complete utter surprise to see.
But why? What was so shocking about this one? In case you’ve managed to avoid hearing about it up ‘till now, let explain the premise.
Kaizoku (or “Pirate”) Sentai Gokaiger is the 35th team in Super Sentai history. Prior to the beginning of the show, the previous 34 teams fought together in the “Legendary War” against the Space Empire Zangyack, but it took all their power to protect Earth. The result was each team’s powers leaving their bodies and taking the shape of small “Ranger Keys” that look like each Sentai ranger which spread through outer space.
In the present day, the five Gokaigers are space pirates who rebel against the Zangyack Empire in pursuit of the greatest treasure in the universe which is called… The Greatest Treasure in the Universe…
The Gokaigers’ travels saw them collecting the many Ranger Keys lost to Earth’s heroes before returning to Earth with the Keys. They’ll need those powers in order to find the treasure which, supposedly, is hidden somewhere on our home planet. Since the Gokaigers are alien pirates, they don’t really care much about protecting Earth from the returning Zangyack or about returning the Ranger Keys to their rightful owners. In fact, the Gokaigers didn’t even know those powers came from Earth in the first place. When they find out in episode 2, they accept the information and change nothing about their attitude.
And yet, episode 1 sees the Gokaigers engage the Zangyack invasion force in battle after seeing them attacking both innocent kids and the adults watching over those children. The intensity and violence in this debut were beyond anything I had seen (note I hadn’t watched a ton) in Power Rangers, going so far as to directly threaten this group of women and children with serious deadly force and destroying the surrounding city. This first battle is where the unique fighting style of the Gokaigers is revealed. Each pirate has a Gokai Saber and Gokai Gun which are very pirate-like weapons, and they toss weapons to one another mid-battle to accommodate team members who are better with guns or swords for double gun and dual sword action!
By this point, we’ve been shown the initial transformation of the pirates using Gokaiger Ranger Keys. And then, in the middle of it all, the Gokaigers pull more Ranger Keys from their belts and transform into the Gorengers. “Power Rangers turning into OTHER Power Rangers?! WHAT IS HAPPENING???” 2013-me thought to himself. On my first watch, that wasn’t all that caught me by surprise.
This staff writer- yours truly- a closet Power Rangers fan who had not yet come to terms with his love for tokusatsu heroes watched the first series of “Gokai Changes” (what the Gokaigers’ transformations are called) and basked in the glory of the unexpected appearances of the Power Rangers Samurai and Power Rangers Mystic Force suits. Seeing the Samurai Rangers impressed me, but seeing the Mystic Force Rangers triggered my nostalgia in a powerful way. That was the first Power Rangers show I ever tried to stick with as it aired, and it was the first morpher I owned.
In hindsight, the prologue clearly sets this up to happen, but I suppose it hadn’t occurred to me that they would completely transform into teams of the past. The idea completely destroyed my concept of what Power Rangers could be. If I wasn’t hooked from the less-than-heroic pirates and the idea of every “Power Ranger” in history, including so many I didn’t know about, fighting together in a war, I was absolutely hooked now!
I really need to emphasize that before Gokaiger, having many different forms wasn’t even common in Super Sentai or Power Rangers. Sure, you get probably one team power-up and maybe a battlizer in Power Rangers, but for a team so thematically heavy with the pirate motif to entirely become rangers of the past… it was absolutely mind-blowing and groundbreaking at the time. I nearly jumped out of my seat when it first happened! The pure hype carried through the entire rest of the fight and left me ravenous for more!
But let’s back up for a moment.
I was not a longtime Super Sentai fan. I was entirely new to the series. And yet, somehow, I still felt the nostalgic pandering of the concept from a combination of both my own interest in Power Rangers and the framing of the Super Sentai as a legacy with such a rich history. I really felt from the beginning like I had walked into a universe of something special, and I did.
On a rewatch, the first episode hits me with less force since I know what’s coming. And yet, for the first time with this rewatch, I could feel a legitimate connection to the original Sentai heroes the pirates were transforming into. This connection especially hooked me during the Legendary War sequence. By this point, I’m already quite familiar with the franchise. I’ve seen Go-Onger, Shinkenger, and Goseiger since my first time watching Gokaiger. I’d even seen Zyuranger and Abaranger in preparation for both reviews and the TokuNet Dino Sentai Retrospective podcast episode.
Of course, I need to recognize how much that first experience affected me. There may be some bias involved that comes from the nostalgic feeling I get re-watching my first ever Sentai show after so long. I already love the pirate crew, and seeing them in action again felt good. The end result was a nostalgic feeling for the entire franchise multiplied by my new nostalgia for the Gokaigers themselves.
Still, even if you’ve previously only had fond memories of Power Rangers, I’m positive that Gokaiger will make a powerful first impression so long as your mind is open. Whether you’ve only seen Power Rangers, any Super Sentai, or if this is your first time watching a tokusatsu hero show, I’m sure you’ll feel some of that infectious nostalgia even if it’s secondhand.
This is only the beginning of the journey. Every aspect of this show overflows with personality and love for the legacy of all the shows it was built on the backs of. Let’s discuss how Gokaiger crafts a near-perfect Super Sentai show for newcomers and longtime fans.
A Showy Showcasing of Shows from the Past
I think my absolute favorite thing that tokusatsu hero shows can do from the start to get me invested is to (1) come up with a unique theme and (2) create deep thematic consistency in the powers and story. Both are things in which Gokaiger shines. It goes without saying that “pirates who pirate past powers” is a unique angle. The consistency of the pirate theming is pretty obvious in that phrase. Even so, when I say “deep thematic consistency,” I’m talking about when a character or suit design perfectly matches the overall themes/motifs of the show in story, abilities, and visual traits. My go-to example of this is Toucon Boost Damashii from Kamen Rider Ghost.
(Skip the next paragraph if you prefer to avoid minor spoilers for Kamen Rider Ghost.)
After 12 episodes of Kamen Rider Ghost with Takeru Tenkuuji saying “my life’s gonna burn bright” even after becoming a ghost, he gives up his one chance to come back to life for the sake of saving Kamen Rider Specter’s sister. The spirit of his late father rewards him when that soul becomes a fire-powered upgrade. Takeru’s father’s soul and his own literally “burn bright,” and this is driven further by the Sunglasseslasher- a sword with sunglasses on it. Takeru can even put Eyecons (designed like eyeballs because they’re spooky) INTO the sunglasses because of course he can. Sunglasses shield eyes from bright light.
THIS is “thematic consistency.” Each aspect of Kamen Rider Ghost‘s theme from powers to story to visual designs came together to create perfect synergy in the moment that introduced Toucon Boost. That is the level of thematic consistency I admire most. Gokaiger comes close to achieving the ideal for me, albeit less tightly intertwined than with Toucon Boost.
The show’s theme is “pirates + Super Sentai history,” and the conclusion which I mentioned before seems obvious in hindsight: pirates who “pirate” (steal and then use) the powers of past heroes. This very aspect was pointed out in the Goseiger vs Shinkenger crossover movie during the Gokaigers’ debut cameo.
The fan service that comes from seeing a team of true rebels with such a different characterization (compared to the usual heroic teams) straight up turn into past heroes is just exhilarating. Each Gokai Change will normally involve the logo of the previous team (or a symbol associated with the Ranger whose powers are being used) appearing and forming the suit in a flash of light.
When a team has an entire episode dedicated to it, the Gokaigers will often fully recreate the original transformation sequence in some way. As passionate as I am about thematic consistency, I’m at least as passionate about transformation sequences. These tribute transformations are definitely some of the most exciting parts of the tribute episodes. It hits especially hard when you’ve seen the show being honored in that episode. In short, it’s pure fan service.
It’s clear that the production team behind Gokaiger shares a deep love of past Sentai. The pirates call out attack names from past teams, and old visual effects or new ones meant to emulate the old ones are used. Each Gokai Change grants access to all the powers that come with each ranger’s form, and the show takes every opportunity to showcase that, even allowing the Gokaigers to find new uses for old powers.
What about the Gokaigers themselves, though? How are their base powers treated? Interestingly, transforming seems to be only a basic power-up and armor for the pirates. Each member of the crew has such a strong personality which the suit actors manage to emulate perfectly in action sequences. From Captain Marvelous’s nonchalant and confident gunshots to Luka’s sweeping sword strikes and sassy gestures to even Don’s bumbling around the set as he somehow manages to trip up his enemies, the suit actors are spot-on.
The suits themselves were some of the most unique up to the point when Gokaiger first aired with flashy open pirate jackets and a Jolly Roger-inspired symbol that uses swords instead of bones to convey the pirate imagery. The helmets emulate people wearing a stereotypical pirate hat as a base.
Visors, meanwhile, are often the most interesting part of Sentai helmet designs. It’s so easy to make them all look too similar, and the subtle differences affect the vibe of each character. When I looked closely at the Gokaigers’ visors, I noticed a fascinating detail. Each visor is based on the Gorenger of the same color. The design influence is subtle, but it’s most recognizable on Gokai Pink with the heart shape formed in part by her “hat” brim and with Gokai Blue whose V-shaped visor resembles a flipped version of Aorenger’s. Meanwhile, the spikes coming off the bottom of the visors add an edge that brilliantly matches the pirate vibe.
The Gokaigers’ designs are fitting as pirates, standing out from all the more heroic teams of the past, and they have just a dash of influence from the original Sentai to sell the anniversary connection. The cherry on top is their normal Gokai Change which summons, in place of a team logo, 3 “X’s” and a “V”. These pass over the pirates, forming their suits. It’s an easy detail to overlook, but it’s actually meant to represent roman numeral 35 (XXXV), another nod to the 35th anniversary. Not to mention that “X” marks the spot… because PIRATES! I adore everything about the Gokaigers’ powers, personas, and visual designs. These things are only enhanced by the story.
Marvelous was friends with AkaRed, the spirit of all Sentai red rangers who first appeared in the 30th-anniversary movie GoGo Sentai Boukenger VS Super Sentai five years prior. AkaRed was traveling through space as a pirate to gather the Ranger Keys for the Sentai who lost their powers, but in true heroic fashion, he sacrificed himself to save Marvelous after a betrayal. This influence would drive Marvelous to pursue justice alongside his dream of finding the Greatest Treasure in the Universe.
Left with the Gokai Galleon pirate-spaceship, the robotic parrot navigator Navi, and the Ranger Keys and Mobirates, Marvelous set off to find the remaining Ranger Keys and gather a crew so he could finally obtain the Greatest Treasure in the Universe.
Additionally, the Gokaigers need to earn the “Greater Powers” of each Sentai from history in order for the treasure to be found. In order to earn those powers, they must earn the respect of that Sentai and be willingly granted the Greater Powers. This perfect setup allows the show to follow an episodic format while continually developing and deepening each Gokaiger over time. Some pirates get more focus than others, but you get a sense as you watch that the team needs everyone to function as a crew.
So let’s review.
The theme is pirates who pirate powers of the past. The designs stand out while paying tribute to the origins of Super Sentai. The pirates actually fully utilize the powers of past teams. The story is centered around the Gokaigers earning the respect of those past teams in order to achieve their goal which naturally develops into those very self-centered pirates growing to understand, respect, and strive to be like the heroes that came before them.
That very story leads to them being pirates who chase their own dreams unapologetically while simultaneously being heroes who defend Earth, the innocent, and the legacy of Super Sentai because it matters to them and because it’s the right thing to do.
The fact that Gokaiger manages to accomplish all these things with plenty of clever cameos along the way absolutely astounds me.
Did I just finish my review? What’s left?
Ahoy, Mateys! The Crew Assembles
This show doesn’t work without its incredible ensemble cast. Every Gokaiger has a fascinating relationship with one another, and I have reasons for being attached to every member of this crew. I said before that you get the sense while watching that every member of the crew is necessary, and I’d like to explain why.
Captain Marvelous/Gokai Red
Marvelous is exactly what you’d expect of a typical pirate captain. Marvelous is cocky, loud-mouthed, and greedy… but that’s not all he is. He’s a goofball who loves to have fun, and the one thing he’ll defend faster than his right to chase treasure is his team… also his curry. While he doesn’t like to make himself vulnerable in front of the others, he’s often the first to jump to a friend’s defense when they’re in trouble. He genuinely cares about everyone in his crew. Of course he does. He hand-picked each one through unique circumstances.
His sense of righteousness and justice is as much a part of him as his stand-offish nature, in part thanks to his being rescued by AkaRed’s sacrifice. Marvelous deeply respected AkaRed. A lot of returning cast members from past shows found Marvelous hard to get along with, especially literal angel Alata/Gosei Red. However, getting to know Marvelous even the littlest bit shows what a good person he is. After all, his response when the children he saved in episode 1 wanted to thank him was that he didn’t care about saving them but rather about avenging a curry restaurant that was destroyed before he could eat, and that was obviously an act; one that we see referenced in the final episode before the team sets sail for its next goal.
It’s really important to emphasize the fact that Marvelous does act like a selfish jerk, but his kind-hearted heroic persona is always hiding within him. He will achieve his dream on his own terms without compromise, but he’ll do things how he chooses along the way as he’s thrilled by the adventure of his treasure hunt. That’s what pirates do. That’s how pirates are. And yet, Marvelous finds that he needs his crew as much as they need him to lead. He never asks for their help, but he can always rely on them even when he tells them not to get involved in his own fights. Marvelous is a leader deserving of his crew’s respect, but they add a balance that he needs.
Joe Gibken/Gokai Blue
Joe was the first crewmate Marvelous recruited after encountering him while battling the Zangyack Empire’s forces. Previously, Joe was allied with the Zangyack who trained him rigorously in the way of the sword as a high-ranking officer. His superior, Sid, taught him most of what he knows. When he refused to follow an order to execute children, he was taken as a prisoner and given a dangerous electric collar. Sid helped Joe escape, but he got left behind.
When Joe happened upon the lone Captain Marvelous fighting against some Zangyack soldiers, he saw Marvelous was being overwhelmed. Joe hopped in to help fight. The two emerged victorious, and Marvelous asked Joe to join the crew after removing his collar.
From that point on, Joe was loyal to Marvelous and his dream of finding the Greatest Treasure in the Universe. The two share a deep bond, and Joe goes to great lengths during the show for Marvelous even when Marvelous seems like he doesn’t want Joe’s help. When Joe discovers that Sid was turned into a cyborg soldier called Barizorg, he has trouble facing Sid in battle, thrown off by facing his techniques. It’s only with the support of the others that Joe is able to come out on top as the superior swordfighter and destroy Barizorg, effectively freeing Sid’s spirit from the mindless servitude of the Zangyack.
This is the gist of Joe’s entire arc apart from learning more about what the Super Sentai mean to the world, but he did manage to bond with another “Joe;” specifically Joh Ohara, Liveman’s Yellow Lion. Joh had also lost precious friends and gave Joe advice which allowed him to steel his resolve and defeat Barizorg. Joe is a rather stoic pirate sworn to the art of sword-fighting and laser-focused on the things he sets out to achieve, but his bonds run deeper than most of the other pirates. Superhero Taisen shows an emotional side to Joe that didn’t come out much in Gokaiger, but it’s clear even without that movie that Joe is Marvelous’s right hand. The two depend on each other deeply, and that makes Joe an indispensable member of the crew.
Luka Millfy/Gokai Yellow
I make no secret of the fact that Luka is a favorite of mine; partly because she’s played by the incredible Mao Ichimichi, but doesn’t everyone feel the same? Really though, she’s the feisty brute of the group, always obsessed with riches and living in luxury despite her low-class behavior. Her fixation on luxury makes sense considering she and a group of children she cared for, including her sister, were left on the streets following the Zangyack occupying their planet. She and a partner in crime (who looked after their group with her) swore to find the money to leave that place and take care of everyone. While she was in the middle of a heist in a Zangyack base, Luka ran into Marvelous and Joe who offered her a chance at the Greatest Treasure in the Universe. They definitely needed her thievery skills.
Luka’s backstory defines her persona much like the others, but her bonds don’t run as deep from that alone. Still, she shares Marvelous’s passion and will go to any length for her dream- a common theme in this show. So long as her goals align with the others, of course she’ll be there for them. At least, that’s how it started. The truth is Luka’s a much deeper character than that. She has things she values beyond just money and luxury. In an early episode where she works as a maid for a rich family, (yeah, I know you know that one, you person of culture, you) she comes to understand that even when living a life at the top of society, there are more valuable things like connections to others. Except I think she was already well aware and just needed a reminder.
Luka’s closest relationship is with Ahim de Famille, a princess whose planet was destroyed by the Zangyack, leaving her homeless. Luka sees the dainty Ahim as a little sister, perhaps as a coping mechanism for having tragically lost her real sister. I’ll touch more on this shortly, but that’s the thing about Luka. She’s a lot more sentimental than she lets on. She puts on this persona where she comes off as shallow and materialistic, but it all comes from wanting to create a good life for the people she cares about.
Maybe that’s what connects her to Marvelous on a deeper level. They share in putting on a face that makes it seem like they only care about themselves while secretly burning with a passion for justice, and Luka definitely has the strength to back it up. Her signature sword-swinging is one of the most iconic techniques in the group. Everything about Luka is kickass, and so she earns her spot as my favorite Sentai Yellow Ranger.
Don “Doc” Dogoier/Gokai Green
DOC IS UNDERAPPRECIATED. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
Such a brave take, I know… but I’m serious. For a character written as comic relief, he has a ton of extra depth. If it weren’t for Ahim, I might actually say he has the most development of the group. When I say that, I think it’s important to specify that he’s still the same person at the end. Everyone is. It’s just that they’ve grown to be better than they were. Sometimes it can be hard to see character development as a solid change from beginning to end because personalities generally stay the same. So, let’s consider what Doc goes through.
When the Gokaigers first meet Doc, they trick him into repairing their ship before he knows they’re the wanted pirates. He runs away like a coward when he finds out, but he comes back and repairs the ship anyway despite his fears because he’s just that honest and dependable. In fact, he’s so dependable that, upon seeing how much of a mess the crew’s quarters are, he instantly cleans the entire ship and makes the crew dinner. At that point, Marvelous kind of just decides Doc’s gonna be a Gokaiger without his input.
When we first meet Doc in the show, he’s the only one who doesn’t immediately realize that people are in danger when the Zangyack attacks. Or at least he doesn’t pay the civilians any mind being that he’s too focused on trying to make his own escape with the others. It makes him seem pretty wimpy, pathetic, uncool, and even selfish. Now, he does have a good moment in this episode where he shows sass to the enemy commander, but he’s more just going with what the others are doing than deciding for himself that he wants to fight.
Doc has plenty of other good moments, though. He comes a long way. There are plenty of moments when we get a glimpse into how thoughtful and caring Doc is towards the team. There’s the time when we find out he takes everyone’s nutrition into account when prepping meals. There’s the time he switches bodies with Luka and does everything in his power not to put her body in danger while Luka carelessly plays around in his own body.
Then, the one time he decides to stand up for himself by playing a prank on the other members of the crew, he finds that saving Marvelous falls to him. It’s a powerful moment of development for Doc where we see how capable he can be when push comes to shove and his back’s against the wall. This is especially the case since he’s up against one of the strongest Zangyack commanders at the time. The stakes are high in that two-parter.
It’s so easy to dismiss Doc as being a funny wimp, but he embraces who he is (unorthodox fighting and all). It’s almost disheartening to see the treatment he gets in Superhero Taisen which I pointed out with some friends in our (now defunct) Patreon-exclusive TokuNet Gattai podcast where we watched the movie. Doc is severely underappreciated, and his arc where he learns to move past his feelings of mediocrity which are worsened by the appearance of Gokai Silver is one of the best parts of the entire series.
Ahim de Famille/Gokai Pink
Let’s talk about Ahim de Famille, the princess-turned-pirate. As I mentioned, Ahim’s planet was destroyed by the Zangyack. When Ahim happened upon the Gokaigers one day, she asked to join them unprompted. She wanted to show the people from her world that were still in space that their princess was fighting for their sake. Of course, being a princess meant Ahim wasn’t immediately cut out for the pirate life, but she put in a lot of hard work to become a capable fighter. While Doc takes care of the crew and their equipment, Ahim is a necessary part of the crew’s social dynamic. Ahim brings people together. She’s that type of sweet, caring person.
Ahim gets some impressive moments throughout the show. In one episode, she pays tribute to a classic Super Sentai episode trope: the Pink Ranger cosplay episode. She even gets to Gokai Change into Abare Pink- a running gag from Bakuryu Sentai Abaranger rather than a real ranger. But of course, I’d like to talk about her relationship with Luka.
In episode 23, we see how Luka treats Ahim like a little sister because she’s reminded of her real little sister. When the two are trapped with GoGoFive’s GoPink and a child who needs medical attention, Luka tries to be a hero and save everyone alone which would leave her vulnerable. Ahim objects to being protected because she sees herself as a capable member of the crew as well. Ahim resents being treated like a child and would rather be treated as an equal. Of course, Ahim proves her point with a plan that wins them the day, coming out looking like the older sister in the end according to Gokai Silver.
Despite her past as a sheltered, high-class princess, Ahim the Gokaiger grew to become strong, capable, independent, driven, and tenacious in addition to the usual pink ranger tropes of being (mostly) mild-mannered and kind-hearted. Time and time again, Ahim proves that she earned her place on this pirate crew. This brings me to her strongest moment- her revenge for her planet’s demise.
After the Zangyack emperor appears, Ahim runs into Zatsurig: the general who destroyed her planet and killed her parents. When she tries to face him alone knowing she’ll probably die, the others stop her and remind her she’s fighting to give hope to her people, and she can’t do that if she dies. It’s an intervention built around a crew that cares deeply about Ahim and that pushes her to achieve her own goal.
In this moment, Ahim breaks down in the most heartfelt tears I think I’ve seen in Super Sentai. I can’t applaud Yui Koike for her performance enough. In the end, Ahim leads a successful attack against Zatsurig, performing incredible Gokai Change duos with the other pirates before finishing him with the Gokai Galleon Buster. It’s a beautiful episode and a powerful moment for perhaps the greatest Pink Ranger ever.
I don’t call her “the greatest” lightly, especially given how much I adored Sayo in Mashin Sentai Kiramager as Kiramai Pink. I just don’t think I’ve ever seen another with a character arc that comes anywhere close to Ahim’s. The story may be slightly out of nowhere in terms of structure, and it may be over in just one episode… but I still think that the way Ahim develops towards this moment is absolutely incredible. She’s necessary to the pirates’ dynamic, and she proves how capable she is in battle. Ahim is amazing!
Between Ahim and Luka, Gokaiger features some of the most capable, kickass, expressive, and well-developed women rangers in all of Super Sentai even to this very day.
I can’t talk about the pirate crew without at least mentioning everyone’s favorite treasure-navigating bird. Navi doesn’t really have much of a character arc as you’d assume, but she’s still a fun addition to the cast. There’s something about her fortunes that just makes me smile. Maybe it’s just endearing how she always slams against the walls and ceiling. Either way, Navi makes it very clear throughout the show that she’s a serious member of the crew which makes it kind of mind-blowing when she transforms into the door to the Greatest Treasure in the Universe. Of course, if you’re not convinced early on, then just wait for episode 48 when Navi finally gets to show what she’s made of.
Truly, you can’t have the Gokaigers without Navi… but make no mistake, she doesn’t ever steal the show. I do think she’s at least a much better character than Zenkaiger‘s Secchan. You didn’t expect me to skip that comparison, did you? It’s kind of uncanny that the 45th anniversary series has a bird robot like the 35th anniversary series. It can’t be a coincidence, can it? Well, either way, Navi’s an important part of the crew, and she won’t let you forget it!
Zocks Goldtsuiker/Gokai Gold
Just kidding! Zocks is a Zenkaiger, obviously! But let’s take this moment to note the official spelling of his name, friends.
The Swashbuckling Silver Fanboy
Gai Ikari. Gokai Silver. What can I even say about him? Apparently, a lot if I separated him from the others with his own header… but there is definitely a lot to say so let’s start with the basics.
Gai is a Super Sentai fan’s dream come true. He’s a fanboy with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of all Super Sentai, and he gets to live his dream when he becomes a Gokaiger. But how? Marvelous is the one who gave the Mobirates and Ranger Keys to Joe, Luka, Doc, and Ahim. AkaRed gave them to him in the first place. How did Gai become a Gokaiger? Buckle up. It’s amazing.
Gai embodies everything the Super Sentai are meant to be. He believes in justice, protecting others, and just being a good person. He’s a foil to the Gokaigers in that he’s a very typically righteous individual, at least on the outside. So, of course he dives in front of a truck to save a child, nearly dying in the process. This resonates with the spirits of Super Sentai extra heroes who tragically died.
Gai has a dream where the Zyurangers’ DragonRanger, the Timerangers’ TimeFire, and the Abarangers’ AbareKiller grant him a Ranger Key, the Gokai Cellular, and their Greater Powers. When he wakes up, he finds he’s actually in possession of those things. And so he seeks out the Gokaigers to join their team only to be quickly turned down. He has this vision where he joins the team and leads the pirates in becoming a very heroic goody-two-shoes kind of team. Naturally, this was never gonna happen. Although something interesting does happen.
Marvelous confiscates the Gokai Cellular and Gokai Silver Key, telling Gai that he can only join the crew if he brings something to the table they don’t already have. While Gai is out thinking about it, the Zangyack attack. Driven by his will to protect mankind, he goes into battle without transforming. Even within this selfless desire, the pirates find something to respect. (I’m taking off points for repeating this story with Gingaman’s Hyuuga/Black Knight, though. Gai forgot what he learned way too fast.)
See, each Gokaiger is chasing their own dream. They support each other in selfishly taking what they want for themselves. That said, even Gai has a selfish desire. He wants to destroy the entire Zangyack Empire. The Gokaigers fought the Zangyack plenty up to this point, but that was mostly because they were in the way. Gai’s dream, though? Now that was something exciting they could connect with- a thrilling adventure! And so Gai joined the team.
Gai is a perfect sixth ranger for this team. Not only does he balance out their mostly serious dynamic with his high energy and passion, but he brings tons of Super Sentai knowledge that gets the team closer to their goal than ever! Gai is a character the audience can connect with in a whole different way compared to the others. Specifically, he’s someone you- the person reading this review- can probably connect with if you’re a big tokusatsu fan. Gai is one of us, but he’s also more than just a character we can project ourselves onto. He has to learn what it takes to be a hero just like the others.
Things only get better when we learn about Gai’s unique abilities. First of all, he has a robot that acts as a tribute to the three teams that gave him his powers. GoZyuDrill is a time-traveling ship that comes from the Timerangers’ era and can transform into dinosaur mode as GoZyuRex with the power of the DragonRanger Key. It becomes the humanoid GoZyuJin with the power of the Abarangers. The name and some design elements of GoZyuJin seem to be inspired by the Zyurangers’ Daizyuzin while things like the drill arm were inspired by the Abarangers’ AbarenOh. This is an impressive mashup of elements from past series, but that’s not all!
We learn two episodes after Gai’s debut that he has the power to combine Ranger Keys together. This lets him do things like Gokai Change into a half-silver, half-gold Go-On Wings Ranger or combine the Gokai Red and Gokai Green keys to become Gokai Christmas! We learn this during an arc where Doc is made to feel insignificant next to Gai. Gai is new to the team, but he’s a better fighter than Doc and seemingly contributing more. Once Gai points out how impressive Doc seems to him, the two are able to make up, and Doc then realizes that Gai can combine 15 Ranger Keys- every extra hero Key up through the Goseigers. This gives birth to the extra-powerful Gokai Silver Gold Mode complete with a finisher that launches projections of past rangers at the enemy.
Gai is the perfect extra hero for a team like the Gokaigers. He’s a tribute to fans, to the series history, and he’s a wonderfully executed foil who pushes the team forward. As one final note on Gai, I appreciate that he doesn’t show up until episode 17. It gives the core team plenty of time to establish themselves and show off their dynamics before Gai adds a twist. Lately, it feels like the extra hero is normally introduced much sooner more often than not. I’d like to see Gokaiger‘s approach taken more often.
Walking the Plank… Or Not?
No show is perfect, no matter how much I may like it. It’s only fair that I critique the few low points I did notice. Let’s start with the episodic structure.
When I say Gokaiger has an episodic structure, I mean that not every single episode has a big character or plot development and that episodes generally follow a strict format that doesn’t often change. Other Super Sentai have been known to have a problem with this because an episodic structure can make a story seem static and even boring. This is a common criticism of Lupinranger vs Patranger, for instance.
Personally, I can see how some people might have a big problem with Gokaiger‘s format because they may just get bored. Maybe that’s you, but I would advise you not to write the show off immediately. Personally, I don’t think of Gokaiger as being episodic in the same way as Lupinranger vs Patranger. My first time watching, I never even noticed how episodic Gokaiger is. But why? What’s different?
Gokaiger‘s setup, as I mentioned, is that the pirates must earn the Greater Power of every past team in order to obtain their goal, and that goal is not to defeat the Zangyack Empire. (outside of Gai, of course) The vast majority of episodes are dedicated to paying tribute to a past team with clever cameos and guest stars from Super Sentai history. Abaranger fans get to see Koutaro Tanaka as AbareKiller again. Go-Onger fans get to catch up with Sosuke/Go-On Red and the Engine partners! The movies feature special cameos as well, including a three-person Kenji Ohba transformation where he plays all three of his Toei hero roles! (Space Sheriff Gavan, Battle Kenya, and DenziBlue) So how does this help the episodic problem?
Well, just about every episode finds a way to develop one or more of the Gokaigers’ characters, whether it’s about their own growth as a person or a change in their relationships with the other pirates. So many of these tribute episodes contribute to their development, and it also helps make each episode feel more substantial when there’s the additional context added by learning about past teams. Functionally, the episode structure is as follows:
- The pirates start most episodes looking for their next Greater Power or just running into a past Super Sentai member.
- A Zangyack Action Commander gets in the way, and the past Super Sentai character has to teach the team a lesson that relates to the character’s original show in order to win the fight.
- After learning their lesson, the Gokaigers Gokai Change into the team being focused on in the current episode.
- The Action Commander grows giant, and the Gokaigers summon their robot(s).
- The Gokaigers win the fight using the newly earned Greater Power courtesy of this week’s guest star.
I cannot deny this structure, but I never got bored of it thanks to the fan service, the cameos, and the developments that come from character focus episodes. Each episode managed to feel to me like it moved the show forward while sticking to its rigid structure. On top of all that, the show changes things up by giving some tribute episodes a different tone or feeling to better match the show being honored.
The best example is probably the Chojin Sentai Jetman tribute episode in which we learn about the unfortunate fate of Gai Yuki/BlackCondor. The whole episode has this sort of melancholy hanging over it, and it’s bookended with some bittersweet scenes of Gai Yuki in a bar in the afterlife. Now, I never saw Jetman, but I’ve heard it’s a rather dramatic series. This episode gives me the feeling that its tone is meant to be related to the older show, but maybe you can be the judge of that.
Now, I should warn you that not every team gets a tribute episode, but I don’t think that matters much. Obviously, it would suck to find out your personal favorite from the first 34 teams didn’t get a tribute, but not many get skipped. The fact that this many tribute episodes get the level of care and attention they do is a testament to the work that the show’s cast and crew were able to put in. Plus, there are a few extra Greater Powers earned in the 199 Hero Great Battle movie with some extra cameos. I can say I do also recommend the other Gokaiger movies as well. Any excuse to watch more Gokaiger action and characters is a good one by me. They almost always steal the show. How fitting.
For the above reasons, I never felt like the strict structure of Gokaiger bogged it down or made it feel slow or boring. On the contrary, I think Gokaiger is a show that benefits incredibly from centering its entire premise on a concept that is inherently repetitive. Most episodes center on obtaining another team’s Greater Power which brings the crew closer to their goal. The ways in which it propels the story are genius, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen since. Even a show like Uchu Sentai Kyuranger, which I adore for its incredible storytelling, doesn’t manage this type of creativity. Rather than taking Gokaiger‘s approach, Kyuranger tells its story by focusing instead on individual story arcs.
Of course, I’m not saying Gokaiger is necessarily “better” than Kyuranger for it. I’m just saying an episodic show doesn’t have to be a difficult watch, and I find Gokaiger is anything but that, even today. Still, maybe you’ll find yourself bored despite the variety in episodes and tributes. Maybe the story doesn’t progress the way you want. In fact, maybe you crave a villain-focused story. Well, I’d better tell you now that Gokaiger isn’t really that kind of show.
I haven’t talked much about the villains yet so let me give you a rundown. The initial Zangyack force is led by the bratty Prince Warz Gill (who was clearly not ready to lead an army) with his chief of staff and main advisor, Damaras, at his side. His bodyguard is Barizorg, and technical adviser Insarn provides support with science and technology. The prince wants to do everything his way regardless of whether it’s the smart thing to do just so he can prove to his father, Emperor Ackdos Gill, that he can handle the responsibilities he’s been handed.
The prince flies off the handle when Damaras tries to rein him in a bit, but Damaras only did that because he promised the emperor that he would watch over the prince. Insarn doesn’t play quite as vital a role in terms of story, but she was responsible for developing the ray that makes their Action Commanders grow. After the death of the prince, Ackdos Gill appears to take command and destroy the Gokaigers.
From those descriptions, it sounds like the Zangyack crew aboard their ship, the Gigant Horse, have some complex politics and relationships among themselves. For instance, the prince cares deeply for Barizorg, and Damaras cares deeply for the prince despite how Warz Gill treats him in return. After all, the prince felt like he was being babysat when he deserved to be given the trust and freedom to lead. They’re great characters in concept. The problem is you don’t get to actually see any of this go anywhere until we learn about Barizorg’s creation at the hands of the Zangyack scientist, Zaien, in episode 30. Even then, no real further developments occur until Warz Gill goes out to fight himself starting in episode 37.
From that point on, the villains make meaningful moves that break from the usual episodic structure. Prince Warz Gill dies in episode 38, and Damaras is imprisoned two episodes later for his failure to protect the prince. In episode 42, he’s sent after the Gokaigers, and he dies in episode 43. These events could have been spread out a lot more before escalating the way they do, and this is a common pacing problem for Super Sentai shows to have. That said… it still didn’t bug me.
This was supposed to be the section where I point out all the problems with Gokaiger, but I spent so long explaining why the episodic structure doesn’t bother me for a reason. Those very same reasons for enjoying the show’s structure are, along with the beautiful characterization and portrayal of the Gokaigers themselves, a huge reason why I don’t care nearly enough about the villains for their lack of involvement to ruin the show for me on any level.
In fact, their lack of involvement actually manages to significantly raise the stakes when they finally do make big moves. It was incredibly shocking to see the prince roll out to fight, and the intensity behind Damaras showing up was absolutely palpable. The rapid escalation from then on created some incredible tension for the epic finale!
Besides, Gokaiger has another trick up its sleeve.
Basco the Privateer
Basco Ta Jolokia was a member of the Red Pirates, the crew consisting of AkaRed and Marvelous before the Gokaigers formed. He betrayed the other two members by selling them out to the Zangyack so he could go find the Greatest Treasure in the Universe for himself. There’s no sympathetic backstory or redeeming factor with Basco. He’s a cold-hearted weasel who will lie, manipulate, and hurt or kill whoever he must in order to achieve his goals.
Just when you start to think he might’ve developed a soft spot for his only partner, a cute space monkey named Sally, he turns right on her and kills her horribly and heartlessly. Basco is another foil to Marvelous, albeit the opposite of Gai. Where Marvelous is a selfish jerk with a heart of gold, Basco is a true scoundrel who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. And though he’s already hate-able enough just from that description, he’s also got a charming human form played by Kei Hosogai. (Bonus: you can see Hosogai in Ultraman Trigger)
While the Zangyack mostly do the same thing for 30 or 36 episodes, Basco changes everything. He shows up just 15 episodes in, even before Gai’s first appearance, and reveals his ability to summon copies of past rangers from their keys. It’s a pretty scary ability if you haven’t seen it before, (or in Zenkaiger with its much more lame execution) but the copies just don’t stack up to a real Sentai when push comes to shove. That still doesn’t stop Basco from showing up on occasion to wreak havoc.
Unlike the Zangyack, he’s after the Greater Powers and Ranger Keys so he can get the Greatest Treasure in the Universe before Marvelous, and this leads him to clashing with the Gokaigers more often than the Gigant Horse commanders. He even brings his own giant monsters for when his plans don’t work out.
And if you’re wondering why Basco’s a threat when the Greater Powers have to be given by past Sentai… That’s the thing… They don’t…
Basco’s trumpet, in addition to summoning evil rangers, can forcibly remove the Greater Powers from a member of a past Sentai team. As it turns out, the Greater Powers are a tangible power source that can be taken. Basco represents everything a Sentai should never be, and this ends up being his downfall.
Before the final battle, Basco reveals that AkaRed was always planning on returning the Ranger Keys to their owners and not using them to get the treasure. Even this revelation isn’t enough to stop Marvelous from fighting. He proclaims that he’d even fight AkaRed if AkaRed were keeping the Gokaigers from their dream. Yet even after all that, Marvelous still chooses to destroy the treasure rather than sacrifice Earth’s Sentai to use its power.
Basco could never have the treasure because the only ones who could even reach it are those who understand and respect the legacy of Super Sentai. In the end, he’s bested because a piece of Sally’s necklace protects Marvelous from being shot. All this goes down two episodes before the grand finale.
In that way, Basco is like the true main villain of Gokaiger. He’s the one actively trying to get in the Gokaigers’ way. He’s the one we see all throughout the show to build the tension until he’s finished so close to the end. Basco’s defeat sets the stage to show how the Gokaigers have grown and what makes them a true Sentai deserving of the Greatest Treasure in the Universe. The defeat of Ackdos Gill in the final episode is merely the cherry on top, not unlike a victory lap solidifying the status of the Gokaigers’ development as a team of heroes. It’s like defeating Basco and claiming the treasure was the final trial to test the pirates’ growth before they could finish their adventure and free the universe.
So even if it would be nice to see more of the villains taking an active role in the story, Basco picks up the slack and creates tension where there was none before. This paired with the variety of tribute episodes and character focus episodes creates a perfect balance in the story of the show. Basically, Basco turns the story into an even more cohesive whole. Basco is Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger’s secret story weapon.
FINAL WAAAAAVE!!! Full Sail Ahead!
I absolutely fully wholeheartedly recommend watching Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger whether you’ve seen past shows, Power Rangers, or you just wanted to give Super Sentai a try. If you’ve already seen Gokaiger but it’s been a while, (maybe you’ve even seen more of the older shows since the last watch) then you should absolutely give it a re-watch sometime. The show doesn’t only hold up. You might get even more out of it than before!
In fact, I’d recommend going in fully blind if possible and then rewatching every so often after watching more Super Sentai and other tokusatsu shows. I think that’s the ideal way to fully experience Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger.
Even after all these years, Gokaiger is the best setup I’ve seen for an episodic story in Sentai mostly because it manages not to feel so episodic. This is largely thanks to the variety in how tribute episodes are handled but also to the premise giving plenty of room for each episode to contribute to the pirates’ character development while simultaneously leading the crew toward its goal. And make no mistake, those pirates stand out from any other team in history. Only the Lupinrangers could’ve matched the Gokaigers’ unique expressive character by virtue of being unlikely heroes in the form of thieves, but even they couldn’t live up to the Gokaigers for me.
The anniversary theme was deeply and thoughtfully integrated with the pirate theme in everything from the suit designs to the robots to the opening sequence. This show is so well-loved that the Gokaigers have shown up twice in the last five years both in Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger and Super Sentai Strongest Battle. Now, they’re even coming back for a third time in Kaizoku Sentai 10 Gokaiger. Apparently, their next treasure is “the show” because they’re stealing it from the Zenkaigers! (Sorry, Zocks!)
This year’s current season, Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger, has a lot to live up to in comparison. I wrote most of this review back in Spring 2021. As of Zenkaiger episode 1, the show’s tributes to past Sentai are a bit more tongue-in-cheek and subtle, but they still show off the powers of past teams in the first episode as they should.
As the series has been going on, I’m finding it’s far less about past Sentai and far more about a story focusing on the main cast. Still, only time (and me finally getting back to catching up) will tell how Zenkaiger develops as the second true anniversary Sentai.
Regardless of that, one thing’s for sure: the Gokaigers will be remembered for decades as one of the most unique teams, one of the most well thought out stories for the weekly episodic format, and as one of the most well-executed Sentai in Toei’s history.
At least I’ll remember it that way as my favorite Super Sentai. I cannot recommend enough that you watch and regularly re-watch Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger.