I’ve only seen five and a half seasons of Super Sentai, but I definitely think Ressha Sentai ToQger is now officially my absolute favorite. And maybe even favorite toku season when including Kamen Rider and even Power Rangers.
I’ve posted about how Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters had everything I look for in a Sentai/Power Rangers season. I’ve written about what the big deal is with Power Rangers RPM. But ToQger managed to take all the things I love about these spandexed superheroes and add something fresh and new.
That’s all thanks to the writing of Yasuko Kobayashi, I believe. And after ToQger, I must say that she is now officially my favorite tokusatsu writer (English or Japanese). It’s no wonder though since of the 10 and a half Sentai and Kamen Rider seasons I’ve ever seen, she’s written 4 of them. And those 4 (Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, Kamen Rider OOO, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters and ToQger) are among my favorites. (And what a job she did adapting Attack on Titan!)
I’ve noticed in those Kobayashi seasons, she writes about relationships and bonds. The climax of her stories hinge on the idea that you have connected with and followed these characters and their relationships through the season. If you have, then the climaxes and ultimate conclusions should absolutely resonate with full effect.
That was the case with Eiji, Hina and Ankh in OOO. That was the case with Takeru and his retainers-turned-friends in Shinkenger. And that was definitely the case with the Go-Busters, the Buddyroids and the EMC crew.
They all go through very difficult times in the year we spend with them and that helps form a strong bond between the characters that will either help them overcome the ultimate evil in the final episodes and/or provide exceptional emotionally-charged character moments in the same final episodes.
ToQger was no different.
A couple of weeks ago, I realized an interesting comparison I actually really like. Ressha Sentai ToQger is like an onion.
ToQger, the Onion
At the start of the season, we got a nice, big fresh onion. And with every episode, we start peeling off each layer of the onion. With every layer peeled off, you start tearing up more and more.
With ToQger, as the weeks went by, we’d peel back more of the ToQgers’ past. It was the entire premise of the season. The ToQgers have lost all memories from before they arrived on the Rainbow Line. Conductor and Ticket tell them immediately that they are as good as dead and can’t go home. They don’t even remember where home is. And it isn’t until halfway through the season that they realize they’ve also forgotten their families even existed.
As we learned more about what their relationships were like in the “past” as kids (which of course turned out to be more recent than they and we originally thought) and as we met their families and learned about their hometown, things would get very emotional.
And even more so, very nostalgic. And that’s probably one of my most favorite aspects of this season.
A Sense of Nostalgia
Even before knowing the ToQgers were kids, their dilemma helped me connect with them faster than any group of Rangers I’ve ever watched. They just seemed so innocent. None of them were jerks or cocky. They were just a nice group of childhood friends who have just embarked on a journey to find their home. How can you possibly not root for them and wish for them to remember and eventually make it home?
That connection was supported by a great sense of nostalgia, by way of their slowly returning memories and their journey through different towns across the country. My favorite trips were them going to the countryside towns that looked nothing like the usual Tokyo Toei locations. (I only wish they had done more of those rural location shoots.)
All of the train scenes were amazing too. It’s an amazing feat to be able to make those train scenes of them arriving, linking up or departing from Hyper Ressha Terminal look so good. You almost forget it’s a just a mini model train set.
And the music used in the season was just spectacular. Such moving, stirring music all season long. And the theme song too. All evoking that sense of movement and riding on a train while being exciting, happy, hopeful and upbeat. The music is one of the most important aspects of this season. And it contributed a great deal.
I love nostalgia. (When used well and sincerely, not like the force fed nostalgia of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.) When done well, there is an inherent emotional connection to be made when using nostalgia and memories of the “good ol’ days” and the like.
And here on ToQger, I felt a great sincerity in the story. And that’s thanks in large part to the immediately likeable characters.
Adorable, Charming, Likeable
I was immediately drawn to them in the first promos. Didn’t they look adorable?
But ultimately, it was their strong friendship and bond that hit home. It was great to see a team that was already friends. They may have had some disagreements here and there, but there was none of that “I work alone” stuff or “We need to learn to work together” or “We need to get to know each other” episodes that most other seasons would have for teams that had people thrown together. Clashing was at a minimum. And that was because the five of them were already good friends.
Even when Akira first joined the team, after the initial hesitation, they did everything they could to welcome him like he was one of their classmates from back home. And the emotional payoff of that bond came in the finale when Akira finally wanted to live instead of wanting to die.
The ToQgers, again, were immediately charming and likeable. Many kudos to both the young and younger cast members who portrayed the ToQgers for being able to effectively convey that childlike innocence throughout the season.
Their performances and the characters written by Kobayashi helped make the eventual climax of the season that much more meaningful and effective.
Most effective may be the use of flashbacks as well as intertwining several scenes of both young and old ToQgers
Each of the ToQgers were distinct, but at the same time helped contribute to each other’s characters as well. And that includes Akira, Conductor, Ticket and Wagon. They would each bring something out of each other’s characters that would help in their development and the fleshing out of their characters as the season unfolded.
Their friendship and bond was as strong as that of a family. And by the end of the season, they truly became one.
The success also includes the Shadow Line which may be the best written villain group I’ve seen ever. Getting to see the dynamics of the Shadow Line every week was exciting. We met each one of the main villains and we saw each of them had their own motivations. We eventually saw each of them would be able to go their own ways as well. More directly, being able to choose whether to embrace the light or stay in the darkness.
I think of the villains, Gritta is my favorite. Her unexpected development and growth as the little girl fawning over the hunky General Schwarz to becoming maybe the most major player and catalyst, even more than Emperor Zett, was just amazing to watch. Her interactions with the ToQgers too was a refreshing twist.
Best Twist is No Twist
Speaking of twists, I absolutely love the fact that we didn’t get a big final twist in the end. That is, we didn’t suddenly learn Right was born a Shadow or Zett is his father or Zett and Right are the same person or Zett was a kid in their class they bullied or something contrived like that.
It was all quite simple in fact. Right was just infected with more darkness than everyone else. Done. That again played into the central theme and the heart and soul of the season; it was about their strong bond and Imagination.
Sometimes the best stories are the simplest ones. Stories that unfold naturally and fluidly. Slowburns require investment and patience. But when you do have the patience and put in the time, you have the chance to be rewarded. And that’s ToQger. At its simplest, it was a story about light vs. dark. But the series took that and used that premise to tell the stories of the characters themselves.
We still did get some twists earlier in the season, like Gritta literally gobbling up Zett. But maybe one of the most shocking and heartbreaking moments at the time had to be Zett exploding out of Gritta. OUT OF GRITTA.
That was one of the most shocking scenes I’ve ever seen on Sentai or Power Rangers.
But ToQger struck a good balance. They had legitimately heavy drama and action while still having plenty of lighthearted fun.
A criticism of ToQger is that it was slow and had no story. (Those people must not have seen the most recent Power Rangers seasons.)
But you name me an episode and I will point out to you how it, even a filler, contributed something to the overall story and/or development of a character. Most often, the episodes would either fill in the blanks or reaffirm the ToQgers’ resolve to find home as well as reaffirm their deep bond and friendship.
That deep bond and friendship is what ultimately helped them reach the last stop and ultimately got them back home.
Other criticisms include ToQger being too goofy and its designs too simple and childish. (Apparently, according to Saban Brands or even Haim Saban himself. Who knows.)
Some Power Rangers fans are horrified at the idea of adapting such a wacky and childish ToQger and quickly agree with the assessment of whatever Saban Brands exec stating that opinion.
May I counter by saying I really don’t understand how ToQger is any more silly than any other previous Sentai or Power Rangers season? I mean, Kyoryuger had a farting zord and dancing morphing calls for goodness sakes. That’s not wacky enough for you? Every season has its crazy aspects. Even a season like Go-Busters where the core team watched their parents die, twice, had stuff like Hiromu freezing at the sight of chickens.
So I think the people saying any ToQger adaptation would have to be some wacky Akibaranger-type parody are just finding another way to put down the season they don’t particularly like or outright hate with a passion.
I mean, come on. This:
How is this goofy? This is totally badass.
The designs themselves, whether the suits or the trains, are perfectly fine as well. They may be simplistic, but they absolutely fit with the main train theme and work with the line changing gimmick that was definitely very fun. The trains, originally derided as boxy, proved everyone wrong by being mobile and very thrilling when in action.
They even poked fun at the idea in-show:
And the simplistic suits fit very well with them being kids.
Even then, what’s a simple suit when the action itself and all the toys are still fun and exciting?
Plus, how can you not love the steampunk designs of the Shadow Line?
ToQger isn’t any more childish than any other Sentai or Power Rangers. And in fact, ToQger may have been even more mature than many.
The central, overarching narrative theme of the season was Imagination. And as President explained in the finale, Imagination includes everything from hopes, dreams, prayers and fantasies.
Anything is possible with Imagination. Even being able to fight the evil darkness of the Shadow Line is possible.
We all know these are still children’s shows even if they can appeal to grownups like you and me.
And ToQger taught many great values that anyone would love their children to learn about. Learning the power of Imagination as a way to dream big. Being able to have hope and seeing something in front of them and finding a way to reach it or make it happen.
There’s also a belief in family and friends and remembering your roots. Being able to look back where you’ve come from to enable you to move forward.
The ToQgers also showed humility and selflessness, wanting to protect each other and their families while also be willing to sacrifice something most dear to them just so those same important people would not be hurt.
Those are the kinds of values you want to see in a children’s program. And when that same children’s program is able to include a fine story, great writing, witty dialogue and great performances, then you’ve got a winner.
Go-Busters was my favorite Sentai season of the few I’ve seen. Emotional and powerful while still being fun and funny and have plenty of heart.
ToQger just about edges Go-Busters as my new favorite if only because I absolutely love the friendship and bond that was the heart and soul of the season.
I’ve never cried as much during a Sentai or Kamen Rider or Power Rangers season as I did during ToQger. MaGMCMs all over the place. And I definitely am not ashamed or afraid to admit it.
ToQger has that perfect mix of legit drama and happy fun. It is a big win if you can balance a generally darker story or undercurrent through the season while still be bright and fun. It had awesome train scenes and probably the absolute best soundtrack I’ve heard yet. Like I said of Go-Busters, ToQger has an incredibly charming ensemble cast. The villains have some of the best story and character development I’ve ever seen. And the amount of heart that helps make those emotional climaxes effective really resonates with me.
“But maybe, most importantly, Ressha Sentai ToQger started a journey and satisfyingly concluded it. Both visually and emotionally, ToQger left a resonating mark for this Sentai and Power Rangers fan. And that’s all that’s important to me.”
Just like Ticket-kun said at the end of the episode, “Oretachi arigatou!!!”. Thank you everyone indeed. Thank you to Yasuko Kobayashi for an excellent story. Thank you to the entire cast and crew for bringing that story to life. An amazingly beautiful and exciting season.