I never got the chance to watch all of the first Shinkalion anime. I discovered it a little late, and the way episodes would be up on Youtube for only a week meant that a busy schedule could derail my hopes of keeping up with it. And let’s face it: The series is pretty generic in a lot of ways. Still, I wished I could have kept pace with it better.
In 2021, Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z debuted, and I saw this as my opportunity to do what I couldn’t before. I decided to keep up with the series week to week, not expecting my world to be rocked or anything.
The basic story is that years after the events of the original Shinkalion, a new boy named Arata Shin becomes the driver of the new Shinkalion Z E5 Hayabusa. Unlike the original main character, Hayasugi Hayato, Shin is not a train otaku but rather a cryptid enthusiast. Alongside him is a new friend, Usui Abuto (named after the Apt trains), who is the train fan but can’t drive Shinkalions for some reason. Together, along with other allies, they have to fight against the forces of the extraterrestrial Teoti.
Shinkalion Z doesn’t dazzle, but it’s fun and it has a few twists and turns that add some welcome tension and drama. Also, it has a grade schooler version of Maetel from Galaxy Express 999. In a way, part of watching Shinkalion is seeing their argument for being the most ambitious crossover, as the meme goes.
One of the issues with Shinkalion in general is that the characters and the mecha themselves both feel kind of bland. I know I’m not the target audience, and I’m not saying they need to look amazing, but there’s something decidedly milquetoast about the aesthetic. In particular, the fact that all the Shinkalions have basically the same design with minor differences and even transform virtually the same way makes it less exciting than it could be—imagine if they had unique transformation sequences a la Precure or Sailor Moon. I’m sure it makes for convenient toys, though.
Shinkalion Z makes some improvements in both regards, though nothing mind-blowing. Abuto has some depth to him, while a Shinkalion driver named Taiji is hard to forget because he’s this weirdly muscular little boy from a family of lumberjacks or something. The inclusion of a big-bodied lady as a side character that doesn’t fall into fatphobia is also worth noting. As for the robots, there’s one that can turn into a centaur, which is the most eye-catching thing to come out of this franchise so far.
The show winds up being 41 episodes long, a bit unusual of a number, and it makes me wonder if the show got cut short. Of course, that means it’s in the company of many classic robot anime—First Gundam, most famously. Between this and its toyetic, “for kids” feel, perhaps Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion is the purest mecha series of all.