My personal top ten super sentai list.
10. Hikari Sentai Maskman. (1987-88)
This was, for me, the single most disappointing Super Sentai that I've seen to date. The characters were largely bland and stock, the story was turgid and uninteresting, the villains were hampered by an unappealing aesthetic, especially on the part of Emperor Zeba. Furthermore, many of the more interesting and unique aspects of the series were grossly underplayed, from Takeru's "tragic love" that barely gets fleshed out to the aura power that the rangers use to fuel their finishing moves and little else. Haruka's background as a ninja, to how on earth Chief Sugata knew everything that he did and why on earth he waited until after Tube began its invasion to tell our heroes about Aura Power.. There's even how early on the fact that the monster of the week was actually two monsters in one, which gets dropped early on. Anything that would make the series stand out was neglected, seemingly out of fear of rocking the boat or something. Plus, it has one of the worst opening acts of any story I've seen to date, everything being horribly rushed with no time to breathe or grasp who anyone is or what's going on, told things without being given the chance to see them for ourselves.
But, there is Akira, who's easily the best character on the show and his character gets taken in some unexpected directions, though not as far as they could have I felt. Haruka and Momoko are also given good screentime and development, and sentai does generally do well by its ladies and the ending to it all is pretty good, even if certain parts are rushed and not nearly as emotionally affecting as the show would like them to have been.
9. Tensou Sentai Goseiger (2010-11)
This was also a disappointing series, with many interesting ideas and notions squandered in favor of stock plots. This though is more understandable than in the case of Maskman, as Goseiger suffered from considerable behind the scenes trouble from day one until a little over half way through the series. Notions like the Goseigers's powers coming from loving the Earth and all that it has to offer, and the thematic progression of villain groups, get let down by lackluster writing. Furthermore, the mecha here are generally aesthetically unappealing due to the headders being crammed on to various vaguely appropriate locations on the main body. Characterization and development is generally pretty weak as well, especially for Agri, which in a weird way gets a lampshade in an episode where he is afflicted with self-doubt and made to think that his friends think he's useless and has nothing to contribute to the group, and rather then him realizing what he uniquely provides to the group, GoseiKnight just tells him to cut the emo crap and do his job.
Again though, there are good points to the series. The Matrintis and Brajira arcs are generally strong, with the Matrintis featuring the single best "Monster of the Week who isn't bad but has to be killed anyway and it is very sad" episode that I've ever seen, even if that is mostly due to the writers riding on the coattails of "The Iron Giant". Alata is also a surprisingly capable red ranger; when I first saw him, I didn't think much of him, but by the end he's a unique and exemplary main character, which is always something worth appreciating.
8. Juken Sentai Gekiranger (2007-08)
Gekiranger does get a lot of things right; it has good, well choreographed fight scenes that are expressive of the characters involved, the monster suits have a very nice thematic aesthetic, the story is expansive, well constructed and paced, and the villains are easily among the best. Ironically, that last part also feeds into the main problem I have with the series; due to the extensive time and focus that Rio and Mele get, the Gekiranger heroes are generally poorly developed despite the opening narration's insistence on how the characters are always growing and changing in the course of their extensive training. Two examples of this are when Ran is training under Master Elehan and Retsu trains under Bat Li; they both learn important lessons, but they don't really internalize them. We don't see Ran smiling and being gleefully joyous as she fights after her training, and Retsu doesn't trance and flow after his training. They just use the weapons and summon the new GekiBeasts they get. Plus, the team dynamic never really quite came together for me, which hurt a lot.
Gou and Ken, operating as sort of "Yin-Yang" Sixth Rangers, are very capable fighters, but their development and importance to the story is fairly contained to their personal mini-arcs. Once Gou overcomes his wolfman condition, and Ken unlocks the Sai Dai Ou, they don't really matter too much any more, which is a shame as I did find them to be pretty good characters, but in the face of Jan, Rio, and Mele, its hard for anyone else in Gekiranger to matter much at all. Speaking of Jan...I liked him. Yeah, his antics are a bit overdone, but he does fulfill the main "Free will vs. Fate" themes of the series very well, and he does get very good development. Oh, and Long is easily the best damn manipulative mastermind ever, as we actually see him perform damage control whenever certain people start doing things that would wreck his carefully composed three thousand year plan. Oh, and Miki is awesome.
7. Choujin Sentai Jetman (1991-92)
Choujin Sentai Jetman has a lot going for it; a Red Ranger who manages the forlorn tragic love effectively, reluctant heroes in over their heads, villains that manage to be imposing and terrifying, a badass female mentor who does not care that your laziness has been magically induced, she will push you along at gunpoint and kick you out of a helicopter if that's what it takes to get your ass in gear, an episode where the monster of the week tries to be terrifying and evil and kill the Jetmen so as to show his bosses that he is useful, but gosh darn it, he's just too nice a guy to really be evil, and an ending that really works...so long as you ignore the portion where it skips three years down the line. I know I do. Jetman's flaws come in two parts. The first is that many plot points get terribly rushed, like the Empress Juza and Radiguet getting turned human, while others seem to come out of nowhere, like Tran being suddenly mocked left and right for being a kid so he forces himself to grow up into Tranza. This problem gets resolved around the time of the Reverse Dimension Jetman plotline, so that's not too bad.
Unfortunately, my other problem with the show is not so satisfactorily resolved. The name of that problem is Gai Yuuki the Black Condor. I am well aware of the fact that he is one of the most popular characters in the whole franchise, but I hated him. He made a very bad first impression on me when he refused to join the group, not because he was afraid like Raita, but because he was an obnoxious cynic who proclaimed that he had no problem with the Vyram eradicating humanity, which forced Ryu to have to spend two whole episodes dragging his sorry ass into the group, when it only took the others a scene or two to get with the program. And once he does join, he decides that he just LOVES Kaori, who herself decides that she loves Ryu, who is still pining over his (not really) dead girlfriend Rie. This results in a very painful and annoying love triangle that never feels genuine, mostly consisting of Gai harassing, badgering, and guilt-tripping Kaori into getting into a relationship with him. And when they do get together? He openly flirts with other women and complains over being expected to do things like exhibit proper table manors or talk to her parents. Really, just watch the opening act of episode 17 where Gai, almost out of nowhere, decides to drag Kaori away from the others, trap her in an elevator with him, invades her personal space, and demands to know whether she loves or hates him. Seriously, for so much of the series he just comes off as a skeevy predator that even on the occasion when he is a genuine badass, I am unable to appreciate it.
The weird thing about the above is that Gai is supposed to have been based on Joe the Condor from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and I loved Joe! He was an awesome focused, driven character, more fixated on defeating the evils of Galactor than anyone else, and yet none of that manages to carry over. Oh, one thing does carry over; they both die, though in the case of Gai's death it was entirely gratuitous and solely for shock value. I can't say the same regarding Joe as I've yet to actually finish that series.
6. GoGo Sentai Boukenger (2006-07)
Boukenger is an awesome episodic series with a great cast, especially Sakura/BoukenPink, who is just one hell of a super badass reminiscent of Mai from "Avatar the Last Airbender". The multiple villain groups with their own unique M.O.s and goals make each episode interesting, and the references to the preceding twenty-nine series are woven in in subtle ways so that even someone like me, who still hasn't seen most of those series, can still enjoy the main story of any given episode. Oh, and episode 26 is basically one giant reference to "Revolutionary Girl Utena", which was unexpected and awesome in equal measure. Plus, while this series is the one that started the whole "Combine every mech into one giant cluster-fuck" trend, it actually works very well with this one; the Ultimate Daiboken is very well put together with a lot of thought as to the function of each piece as it gets added on to the main body, and the fact that everyone gets the same number of mechs is a big plus for me.
Now, my problems are generally pretty minor; Team chemistry isn't as good as I would have liked, Natsuki demonstrates a precognitive ability in the first episode that is never referenced again, and the relationship between Satoru and Sakura is underdeveloped, though that does get improved upon in the Gekiranger vs. Boukenger special, which was also one of the better crossover specials besides.
5. Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger (2004-05)
Dekaranger is basically the super sentai version of a cop show, where Boukenger was the super sentai take on Indiana Jones. And like Boukenger, it is also an awesome episodic series with some very good characters, my favorite among the main cast being Sen; quiet and reserved, a quirky yet brilliant thinker, and when you piss him off, neither heaven nor hell will be able to save you. There's also how the main villain, Agent Abrella, is an intergalactic arms dealer rather than an interstellar conqueror, which fits the whole police theme in a way that works for the super sentai formula. But really, my favorite part of the whole show is Doggie Kruger and Shiratori Swan; they are just the best supporting cast ever and are both awesomeness incarnate. Also, they need to get together. Now.
The only real flaw I can give to Deka is that Ban does get on my nerves, and unlike Jan or other screaming reds, he doesn't have an excuse for his conduct. Mostly, I just prefer more saga style series over the episodic ones, all else being equal.
4. Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (2009-10)
Shinkenger is the first super sentai to feature a female red. Awesome! At no point do the female red and male red fight side by side. Not awesome.
Okay, speaking more substantively, Shinkenger does some very unexpected things, like how Juuzou, the seeming anti-villain with a human form, does not get redeemed at the expected moment and in fact proves to be the most evil bastard ever. Dokoku proves to be a surprisingly nuanced villain after dozens of episodes of sitting on his ass, getting drunk, and throwing tempertantrums. And of course, the part where Takeru is not the real 18th head of the Shiba clan, he is just a shadow for the real lord, Princess Kaoru. Who ends up adopting him into the clan so that he can be the 19th lord, and becomes his mother despite being younger than him. I really appreciate when stories do these sorts of things, going against the grain that we take for granted.
However, like Goseiger, the mech designs get really ugly, save ShinkenOh and MougyudaiOh. The main problem with all the myriad auxiliary mechs is how unlike the core five, they all have the hiden discs integrated into them, creating a very bulky and ugly effect. Furthermore, while I do like all the characters and the plot is well put together, Chiaki's "I must exceed Takeru" and the show's "Takeru is the best at everything ever" attitude get overbearing at times, and the amount of filler in the middle is a bit much. In particular, the opening act of episode 9 has Takeru and Ryunosuke in a sparring match, and the characters go on about how Ryunosuke is better at technique while Takeru has the advantage in a real battle...while showing Takeru winning the first match and fighting the second one until there is no conclusion. That contrast between what is told and what is shown really bugged me.
3. Mirai Sentai Timeranger (2000-2001)
Timeranger is one of the most consistently mature sentais out there. The characters are very subdued and down to earth, their development is nuanced and the chemistry between them is great. Naoto is a perfect cynical selfish anti-hero counterpart to Tatsuya's naive optimist hero, and the pairings between both Tatsuya/Yuuri and Domon/Honami are very well handled. Hell, we even get Domon Jr. out of it! That's right, canon babymaking, Timeranger has it. And while the Londarz Family does come off as incongruous and inappropriate as the villains for a time-travel sentai, end up being surprisingly deep, especially Gien.
However, while each character gets good personal storylines, the main overarching storyline doesn't really work for me; its barely there, when it is moves at a snail's pace, and when we finally get the answers to the big questions that we've been asking from day one, they aren't very satisfactory. In particular, we learn that Captain Ryura was trying to get someone else to become TimeFire in his place so that they would die instead of him, yet this only happens due to random chance with him doing nothing at all to remotely merit a "just as planned". Also, the mechanics for how time travel is supposed to work in Timeranger isn't really explained, muddying why certain things happen the way they do. Also, the first episode has our heroes from the future caught in a giant explosion, yet they somehow survive despite having been inside the explosion and without their Timeranger suits. It really is amazing how well thought out the characterization is that I still rank this series so high up.
2. Dengeki Sentai Changeman (1985-86)
This is one of the most consistently solid and substantive sentais that I've seen. The characters, while not exceptional, are all likeable and reasonably well developed. The fight choreography is very interesting, with big sweeping angles across the battlefield and a wide variety of battlefields beyond just urban/forest/quarry. The villains really shine here, with their own individual backstories and how they were each subjugated by the Star King Bazoo and forced to conquer more worlds for him, lest their own homes be destroyed utterly. Plot points are established well in advance for the most part, and the ending has a real sense of accomplishment to it beyond a mere return to the status quo.
On the downside, Chief Ibuki is one of the most lackluster mentors ever, due in no small part his concealing his true alien origins until near the end of the series for no good reason. There are also the baseball episodes, which are completely ludicrous yet are played dead serious, and the Change Robo has a rather unfortunate design around the head region. Also, the final battle has an unfortunate moment where the reach of the writers vastly exceeds the means of the special effects department.
1. Mahou Sentai Magiranger (2005-06)
My favorite, bar none. True, this is the first super sentai I've seen all the way through, but I've watched twice more since then and am planning to do so a fourth time, and its held out under scrutiny. The themes of courage and family being able to overcome everything are really positive and uplifting, the character development is the best ever due to how any given episode focuses on two characters and the relationship between rather than just one character by themselves, MagiKing is the best main mech, and the story structure is just exquisite; three main arcs, each with several mini-arcs, resulting in the storyline constantly building up, making each episode feel like it matters, and they do. The magic is innovative and creative, leading to unique fight scenes and finishers unlike anything any other sentai has to offer. The villains have a regular changing of the guard, keeping things fresh throughout the show's run, and the Infershia Pantheon is absolutely awe-inspiring, each member well fleshed out despite only arriving in the last third of the show.
Really, my only complaints with this show are nitpicks, like Yuka Yamazaki, Kai's love interest, never telling him that she knew he was MagiRed, while Urara and Houka don't get unique weapon modes for their MagiSticks.
So yeah, that's my list. What do you think of it, and what would your own list look like?