Review: Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger – Having Fun with Delusions of Grandeur

TYPE OF REVIEW : FIRST IMPRESSION
Contains mild spoilers

I am a 25 year old fan of Power Rangers. I remember being just six years old when it first premiered, the perfect age to get wrapped up in the phenomenon. It’s funny how I lost interest in the show sometime during the 2nd season (I don’t remember watching it at all after that). And though I’d stumble upon episodes of Power Rangers over the next couple of years, it wasn’t until Power Rangers Wild Force in 2002 that I got sucked back into the world of spandexed superheroes.

By then, I was 15 years old. Not so removed from the so-called “target audience” of the franchise, but definitely moving further away. But since Wild Force, I haven’t missed a single episode of Power Rangers (save for the 2nd half of SPD which is a whole other story). And now I’m in mid-20s and still tuning to, now, Nickelodeon on Saturdays at noon for new episodes of the almost 20 year old franchise.

But I’m definitely not ashamed of that. Target audience, schmarget audience. I still enjoy Power Rangers (well… Samurai… umm…) and I know I’m not the only fan of the series that isn’t in elementary school.

The same can be said for fans of the series where Power Rangers was born out of, Japan’s Super Sentai. Just as there are Power Rangers fans of all ages, so are there fans of Super Sentai of all ages. And Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger is just the series for those fans.

In a way, Akibaranger is a love letter to the “older” fans of Super Sentai, to the fans who’ve grown up watching Sentai, who still watch Sentai or who remember the days when they do.

The main character of Akibaranger is Nobuo Akagi, a 29-year old superfan of Sentai. Though he works as a delivery man, he daydreams of being one of the colorful superheroes he’s been a fan of all his life. But one day, a mysterious, beautiful scientist enlists him to protect the Akihabara district, an area of Tokyo known for its shops catering to fans of Sentai, anime… basically Comic-con every day of the year, from a new evil threat.

Together with Yumeria Moegi, a cosplayer who loves to dress up as anime characters and Mitsuki Aoyagi, a high school martial artist who hides her love for a popular anime character, Nobuo becomes one of the three Akibarangers. At first, they believe they have really become Sentai heroes, but they eventually learn their transforming/morphing and fighting are just all in their heads. Using their “delusion powers,” they are able to fight actual crime in the district by seeing their enemies as generals of Malseena, the head of a corporation wanting to destroy the otaku (basically “comic book geek”) culture of Akihabara.

Again, it’s all in their heads. Yet, Hiroyo Hakase, the scientist who provides them their gadgets and access to the delusion powers. But, their fighting is all in their heads, so how can she…

And therein lies the beauty or possibly head-scratching hook for Akibaranger. The series is a parody of Super Sentai (hence the Hikounin or Unofficial part of the title) made by Toei themselves. It looks at Sentai as a series and its fandom, takes it, then laughs at it, but all with a good heart.

Akibaranger is definitely not for the kiddies. Of course, it’s 1am timeslot should be the most obvious sign of that, but the series features some possibly warped, dark and strange themes. There’s definitely plenty of sexual undertones, which actually is also a nod to various Japanese anime as well, but the idea that these three Akibarangers are having lifelike delusions is pretty trippy.

Indeed, the series is played up as a comedic parody of the Sentai franchise, but you can’t help but wonder what’s going on below the surface. Are we dealing with some sort of “Angelica Pickles is a messed up little girl who dreamed up the Rugrats characters based on actually, screwed up, tragic characters and events in her life” kind of theory? Or is this some sort of Awake-like dream where no one knows what’s going on type of deal? Or is the doctor drugging them with hallucinogens to conduct sick experiments on them? They could might even have some sort of mental illness for all we know.

Or maybe they’re just three Sentai and anime fans who like to have fun.

Indeed, the show’s basic premise of these three using “delusion power” has made for some trippy and strange moments, including scenes worthy of its 1am timeslot. But outside of the possible dark, twisted side of the story, the series is just a helluva lot of pure fun. Containing slick action, a lot of Sentai meta, and the traditional Sentai staples like friendship and teamwork, Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger may be for the grown-ups, but it’s definitely a love letter to all fans who’ve grown up watching Super Sentai.

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