Sometimes the Best Superhero Crossovers Are the Simplest (and Silliest)

This is deep, serious superhero drama, right here.
Image: TV Asahi/Over-Time Subs

Next week, Avengers: Endgame finally hits theaters. Meticulous plans, endless teases, hushed whispers, and millions of dollars worth of moviemaking heft across a decade have gone into this grand coming together of Marvel’s mightiest. But sometimes a purer joy can found in having a superheroic mashup...just because?

Earlier this year, ahead of the premiere of Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger, the annual entry into the Super Sentai franchise—the Spandex-clad, superheroic kids’ show that serves as the basis for Power Rangers in the West—Toei and TV Asahi aired a four-part special crossover event pulling in characters from the franchise’s 44-year history called Super Sentai Strongest Battle. It, as the title might imply, mashed up the idea of Sentai’s ginormous legacy of superhero teams with the rage sweeping across video games like Fortnite and PUBG lately: the Battle Royale (a concept that, while having a thoroughly global resurgence lately, is rooted in Japanese origins beyond that, with Koushun Takami’s iconic novel Battle Royale).

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Rita reveals the team mashups of her grand tournament.
Image: TV Asahi/Over-Time Subs

The premise: Every Super Sentai team is split up by a mysterious cosmic being named Rita (no relation to Repulsa) and reforged into new teams—based on everything from “all these people use swords!” to “these ones are kinda weird!”—to take part in a battle royale elimination event where the winning group can be granted their ultimate wish.

Why? Because why not, frankly.

And that’s really the simple joy of Strongest Battle. Sure, there is a narrative. There’s a mysterious armored warrior going around beating up the heroes for seemingly nefarious reasons, and the main team the saga follows—the Pink Ranger from the train-themed Ressha Sentai ToQger, the Orange Ranger from the space-bound Uchu Sentai Kyuranger, the Red Ranger from the recent animal-themed Dobutsu Sentai Zyuohger, the Red Ranger from Shuriken Sentai Nininger (adapted into Ninja Steel), and the Red Ranger from Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger (adapted, clumsily, into the Super Megaforce season)—try to investigate it in between participating in the royale.

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But Strongest Battle doesn’t really care; it’s an excuse to answer simple pleasures that are about these beloved heroes punching each other in the face, and being kind of gung ho about it?

Please note that they don’t even try to use their ranged weapons...at range.
Image: TV Asahi/Over-Time Subs
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At no point do the gathered 160 heroes—take that, Avengers: Endgame and your ridiculously large cast!—really question why they, some of the most vital protectors of the Earth over the past 40+ years, have been summoned to an alien planet to do some random young woman’s pugilistic bidding. Aside from the focus team, at no point are you ever invited to consider why they even decide to participate.

Even when Strongest Battle eventually reveals that Rita actually has nefarious intent, and is using the Sentai heroes to harvest an energy to summon a dude literally called “Dai Satan”—bizarrely enough, the main villain of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, the show that was adapted into the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers—the contest is just...sort of still happening. Everyone just rolls with it, because hey, why not? It’s fun!

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This is so dumb, but I love it. Go get ‘em, Bouken Yellow!
Image: TV Asahi/Over-Time Subs

It’s chasing that fun that drives everything Strongest Battle does. Let’s find out who’d win in a fight between the sword-wielding Dekamaster from Dekaranger (SPD’s very own Doggie Kruger) and the Red Ranger from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (I think you can guess which Power Rangers series he’s from), and the bow-wielding Blue and Yellow rangers from Liveman and Turboranger. Let’s watch a bizarre mashup of “beefy” archetyped heroes go up against the sixth-ranger-themed stars of Hurricanger (Ninja Storm), Carranger (Turbo), and Kakuranger (Ninjor, to you and I, Ranger fans). Let’s just watch all these heroes from all these different shows beat each other up for four episodes, because, really, that is the purest and simplest joy of any superhero crossover: the fannish glee of not just mashup action, but trying to figure out who, of all our favorites, really is the strongest.

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It’s good, honest, dumb fun—and above all, there’s no pretense in Strongest Battle that it ever wants to be anything but that. Its thrills are cheap and simple, yes, but it knows that despite that, those thrills are still thrilling. In this era of the meticulously crafted crossover event, where superheroic blockbusters spend years and years building up to cataclysmic events and everything is grave, and grand—almost too grand—it’s refreshing to have a superhero mashup that is just as earnestly, brazenly simple as something like Super Sentai Strongest Battle.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
Image: TV Asahi/Over-Time Subs
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So as we look forward to the Avengers: Endgame next week—perhaps even, as the Mad Titan himself gravely drones, “dread, run from it,” as we comprehend the conclusion of a saga that has been teased as concluding for a decade of our lives—it’s nice to escape the severity of all with something that just wants to have a bit of mashup fun for the sake of it.

Endgame has a lot of promise to live up to, but I’m glad that even as it prepares to consume pop culture as we know it for the next few weeks, I’ll always have the simple charms of Super Sentai Strongest Battle to return to.

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About the author

James Whitbrook

James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!