I’ve made it clear a couple of times that Zyuohger might be my least favorite Sentai season. So going into Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Returns: Life Received! The Earth’s Monarchs’ Decisive Battle! (帰ってきた動物戦隊ジュウオウジャー お命頂戴！地球王者決定戦), I probably had low expectations. But perhaps that was all for the best as I ended up thoroughly enjoying the movie.
It also left me a little disappointed as it offered a glimpse of what the series could’ve been.
My biggest issue with the season was its horrible treatment of Misao and his trauma and the general doucheness of the Zyumans halfway through. Thankfully, none of that was present here. Instead, the film brought out the best of each character.
The film is centered around a battle royale tournament to find the Earth’s Monarch. On the surface, a conceivably less-bloody version of Ginis’ Most Dangerous Game. But a more sinister plot is actually driving the tournament and the Zyuohgers jump in to save the day.
The main plot is actually a clever way to continue the villains’ goal and theme from the season.
The film’s star, however, was undoubtedly Misao. After a season of being mocked and laughed at for his perceived mental and physical weakness, he was the strongest and bravest of anyone in this film. Gone was the meek, worried Misao from the series and instead, we got the more confident and strong Misao that he’s become. (And from what we know from the series, no thanks to the others.)
Our first look at where Misao is in this film is of him and Yamato working together/hanging out in this new world. And by all accounts, happy and doing very well. It was great to see the two of them together considering they came across as the only sincere friendship in the series.
Which is why Misao falling in love with Lillian totally goes against his in-series, season-long crush on Yamato. The film even implies that Lillian is only feeling the connection with the former flame that was one of the three Zyumans forced into Misao’s body. And again, a detail of Misao’s situation that was never fully explored in the series. (The three Zyumans killed so they could be forced into Misao’s body.)
For the others, the film pulls from a pretty forgettable plot point from the series: tension between Sela and Leo. While, as far as I remember, the episode referenced in this film was good, any “rivalry” between the two was otherwise nonexistent. Yet, it still makes sense for their characters. Leo sees himself as a chivalrous ladies’ man and Sela sees herself as a strong, independent woman. So inserting that subplot here in the film was alright and actually worked well.
It was very interesting to see Leo hooking back up with the rocker that stroked his tail from the series though lol
But it’s also commendable that the film gives Amu and Tusk, who were still underused, a moment or two to shine on their own as well. Especially during their casino adventures. And seeing Bud actually with the team was also a big positive.
Yamato took more of a backseat here as well. (Though he would take the lead in the future in Super Sentai Saikyou Battle of course.) He and Bud exposed the true plot behind the tournament.
But Yamato, who had been the most “normal” in-series, was truly relegated to mugging for the camera in this film. lol
But altogether, of all the Zyuohger content we’ve gotten, this had to be most tightly-written and most enjoyable production. Zyuohger had plenty of potential and a strong foundation, but it just didn’t come together in the end. This film shows that if they hadn’t dropped the ball, Zyuohger could’ve been a really special season.
It’s too bad. But at least this film gives the cast and characters a chance to shine without any of the heavy baggage the series developed during its run. And it actually left me with a more positive feeling about the season than the series itself.