If there’s ever one new show I could recommend to people who are of the same age as me, or people who grew up watching the same shows I watched as a kid, it would be Toei’s latest – yet unofficial – installment in the Super Sentai series, Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger.
Technically, I would recommend the show to just about anyone, but I’m painfully aware that a lot of its humor and references will be lost on people who are not at the very least familiar with Chojin Sentai Jetman or Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger (the show where most of the footages from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers came from). It will still be watchable and will be funny, but the story will seem all over the place if you miss all the references (the fact that the show has a very disjointed and inconsistent is a major plot point, for one thing.)
Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger is set in the real world, or at least a fictional version of the real world where the Super Sentai series is depicted exactly as it is in the real world – just a very successful series of kid-oriented action shows produced by the Toei Company.
The story itself centers on Akagi Nobuo, who is a 30+ year old Super Sentai fanboy who makes a living as a delivery boy in Akihabara, where he spends most of his time daydreaming about becoming a member of a super sentai team or at least, an actor playing one. He is soon found by a mysterious maid café owner named Hakase Hiroyo, and recruited as the “Red” in a brand new super sentai film, along with two girls, Moegi Yumeria (yellow) and Mitsuki Aoyagi (Blue).
At first, Akagi thought that he was just recruited as an actor, but eventually realized that they’re not in a film shoot and that they are fighting for real. And then halfway through the pilot episode, he discovers another twist: everything that happened, right from the time they transformed to the time they defeated the enemy, was only happening inside their minds via a special machine that causes what is called a “Grand Delusion.”
During the first few episodes of the series, the story was told under the premise that they are fighting real world problems (such as piracy, the rise of hostels, illegal hentai merchandise, and illegal sequestrations of establishments) by fantasizing about it in their heads, replacing key figures with super sentai inspired enemies (e.g. a hostel owner turning into a perverted monster), with their delusions having some sort of effect in the real world. For instance, the trio fighting invisible enemies in front of the scene of the crime attracted the authorities, resulting in perps being apprehended.
However, as the series progressed the story started peeling off the outer layers, revealing payoffs to plot points that were established earlier in the series, and the narrative itself starting to incorporate fantasy elements – such as enemies from their imaginary world finding their way to the real world. I could reveal more but the series is ongoing, and it’s best if you get to experience it on your own.
The cast is easily one of the show’s strengths, regardless of whether you’re familiar with them or not. Most of the cast are already well-known in Japan and with people who are well-versed in Otaku culture, but it works both ways: if you don’t recognize them, it allows you to immerse yourself in the story better but if you know the actors, it will still help as you’re likely the type of person who enjoys their body of work (literally, as is the case with some of the female cast members – one of whom is a former adult film star).
The series is also peppered with cameos from people who are popular within the super sentai and anime industry, but there’s no loss even if you’re not familiar with them as the show introduces each cameo as part of the story (especially since they’re usually playing themselves.)
The production value in Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger is remarkably high for a parody/spoof series, even beating out the original super sentai shows. You’re not getting anything on the level of a Hollywood movie, but the CG effects are decent enough and it is acknowledged by the story if it comes out silly and out of place. For example, they have revealed the reasons why most super sentai fights occur in the morning and/or at abandoned warehouses (re: it’s usually cheaper and much easier when it comes to logistics).
As mentioned above, the show requires a certain amount of knowledge of the other Super Sentai shows, as well as the industry. However, the show compromises by having some of the more obscure references explained in the story, but still – it’s usually much more rewarding to get the references yourself. I would suggest watching a show or two, or reading up on other shows before starting this one. Otherwise, the show will just come off as a Super Sentai-themed sketch comedy show, as you’ll be going from one joke to the other without realizing that there’s a much deeper story happening underneath.
Thankfully, you don’t have to spend any money nor do anything against the law just to watch the series, as the entirety of the first season is already officially available on Youtube, with English subtitles. For free.