I grew up loving the Power Rangers, and if you recall I recently tracked down some Power Rangers fan productions, so I was absolutely sure I’d be doing a Rewatch post on a Power Rangers series. Well, I tried, and I just couldn’t get through anything but the 1995 movie, which was still not great, but also not as bad as the TV franchise has aged for me. This lead me to digging into the world of Super Sentai, the franchise that Power Rangers attempted to use footage from while cutting in their own stuff, and I discovered that Super Sentai was far superior. Which brings me to today’s review, Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger, the Super Sentai counterpart to Power Rangers Wild Force.
Wild Force was the last Power Rangers series I watched, and I couldn’t even make it through. Either it was just that bad, or I was growing out of it. So, I thought I’d start my Super Sentai experience off with Gaorangers, the series that Wild Force used for roughly half of its footage, and I was not disappointed. Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger is loosely translated as “Hundred-beasts Squadron Gaoranger,” though if you go by the subtitles during the title song, it could also be “Hundred-beasts Squadron Growl Ranger.”
The series follows our chosen heroes: GaoRed, played by Noboru Kaneko and suit actor Hirofumi Fukuzawa, the leader and newest member of the team. GaoYellow, played by Kei Horie and suit actor Yasuhiro Takeuchi, the longest serving Gaoranger in this era and the team’s resident hothead. GaoBlue, played by Takeru Shibaki and suit actor Yasuhiko Imai, the youngest of the team. GaoBlack, played by Kazuyoshi Sakai and suit actor Hideaki Kusaka, the team’s courage. GaoWhite, played by Mio Takeuchi, and suit actors Motokuni Nakagawa, Naoko Kamio, and Yuichi Hachisuka, the team’s heart. Tetomu, played by Takemi, the team’s priestess and source of advice. And, later in the series, GaoSilver, played by Tetsuji Tamayama and suit actor Naoki Ofuji, often the team’s last-minute savior.
Using their abilities, weapons, Power Animals, and Mecha, they battle the evil Org Tribe. The Orgs are generally led by Yabaiba, voiced by Kōichi Sakaguchi with suit actor Motokuni Nakagawa, TsueTsue, played by Rei Saito, and whatever higher power Org they can dig up for each arc. Yabaiba and TsueTsue are also the comic relief of the series, but unlike comic relief characters in Power Rangers, they prove themselves to be quite capable quite often.
The ensemble cast is amazing, their chemistry from the start is perfect, and you really get a sense that they all care of each other a great deal (even Yabaiba and TsueTsue). There are two stand-outs not in the main cast that I’d like to mention. Futaro, played by Daiki Arioka, is basically the child form of the team’s god. This kid can really act, he’s great. And finally, Rouki, voiced by Eiji Takemoto with suit actor Shoma Kai. Rouki is one of the “monsters” of the series, but he actually has a back story, character development, and an entire arc. As someone coming to this direct from years of Power Rangers, that is absolutely unheard of. Also, his design is impressive and it allows him to be one of most physical opponents in the series, often battling the Gaorangers directly on the ground.
So, you’ve seen these clips now, and you’re thinking, “That doesn’t look much better than Power Rangers,” and yeah you’re kind of right. Sadly, there just aren’t many clips of this pre-digital era Japanese series with English subtitles, but I assure you this series far exceeds its Power Rangers counterpart. The music is far better (like the music in that last clip), there is actual narrative cohesion when you don’t have to edit out every single minute that looks Japanese, and this series is incredibly dramatic. To give just one example, plenty of people actually die in this series. Early on, most of the Gaorangers are killed in battle (they come back later via a mystical side-quest), but this isn’t some sort of CGI-filled off-screen death. They are brutally killed on-screen. And because that’s not enough, the villains even kill a child on screen. Have you seen any of that on Power Rangers? Nope.
There’s a certain quality to this series too that I can’t quite describe. It’s like a live-action anime. And I know you’re thinking, “Yeah, it’s made in Japan,” but I’ve seen plenty of live action Japanese shows, I even checked out a few other Super Sentai shows too, and they just aren’t like this. Anime tropes shine through constantly, and the show manages a perfect balance of goofy episodes and incredibly serious episodes (sometimes both in the same episode, like that last clip again), kind of like Dragon Ball Z and other anime from that era. But it’s not over-stylized, like live action anime adaptions should be, it’s just anime tropes in a real-world setting, and it’s great.
If you don’t want to dive into all 51 episodes, I recommend at least checking out the Rouki arc, which runs for 10 episodes starting on Episode 15 through 24. If you’d rather watch just one episode to see if you like it, check out Episode 29. I’m pretty sure that either will hook you for the rest of the series. 😉
You can stream all of Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger for free on Shout! Factory TV. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little experiment with the Rewatch series and Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger as much as I did, and I hope you check out a few more Super Sentai counterparts to Power Rangers shows you may have watched growing up!
Edit: Speaking of that, don’t miss the Rewatch review of Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, the Super Sentai counterpart to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.