Sunday, June 16, 2019

Kooky Theory: The Role of the Lost Gear Member


So I was flipping through one of the Sentai books that has a few pages about the designs, briefly covering each show, and in the Bioman section is a design sketch by Yutaka Izubuchi for a character who (obviously) doesn't appear in the show. A human-looking character that's identified as an officer for the Gear Empire...and Shiro Gou/Red One's older brother.

It's unknown whether he was considered to be in the show and plans changed or fell through or whether Izubuchi was just messing around and sketching out any idea he had independently. But what if Bioman's staff kicked around an idea that Gou would discover his brother worked for Gear, but that was dropped once they gave him the story of his long-lost dad who became a cyborg in order to combat Gear -- the thinking being that the dad would make for a stronger storyline, so they abandoned the brother idea. Or maybe the dad would still be involved, with one of his goals being to try to save the brother, but they thought that just made things too complicated and too Red-oriented and...who knows?

But here's what I was thinking...

Main writer Hirohisa Soda always said he had big plans for Mika/Yellow Four, and that she would be as important as Gou/Red One, the implication being that all those plans went out the window once Yuki Yajima abruptly left the show. Well, who's the only one in the show to mention having an older brother? In the first couple of episodes, when Mika's refusing to join the Bioman, she reveals it's because she wants to keep pursuing photography, and the reason she took it up was because her deceased older brother was a photographer and she wants to both honor him and realize his dreams. (It seemed he was more of a nature photographer, while Mika's more into photojournalism.)

So, my theory is...what if this sketch and idea originated not as Gou's older brother, but Mika's? What if he was either presumed dead or fully dead, but captured and brought back as a cyborg soldier of Gear's? How cruel would that be, to have to face the brother she thought she lost, the brother she idolized? Going into the endgame with Gou's dad, who's helping the fight against Gear, while also having to contend with Mika's brother, who's actually WITH Gear? That would have made for some juicy drama, AND would have put Mika on the same level of importance as Gou. And once Yajima left, maybe Soda still clung to the idea, considering making it Gou's brother, before then just scrapping it altogether.

If this could have been the plan for Mika, it would hould have been pretty dang interesting, and I think it would have been a really strong arc for a character like hers. She was reluctant to be a Bioman because she wanted to honor her brother's memory, and then she ends up finding herself on the battlefield against him. And she was so headstrong and independent that I think it would have caused major friction amongst the team, because I imagine she'd initially try to save him. I think Yajima would have given a great, explosive performance. I envision something like, Mika would try to get through to her brother and fail -- he's too far gone -- and Shuuichi from this would learn the way to try to reach through to his dad, Doctor Man. From Mika's failure would come the show's biggest victory.

I've always wondered what Soda had planned when he said what he did about Yellow Four. Maybe this just IS a kooky theory, but it's the only thing that's given me an inkling of the supposedly big and special things that could have been in store for Mika Koizumi, the Biomic Woman.

And now I'm trying to think of who they could have gotten to play Mika's brother if this was the scenario. I'm thinking someone JAC to match Yajima, but someone who was also a big deal. How awesome would Hiroyuki Sanada have been in a role like this, rather than just in the guest spot as Jun's archery coach? (He was a rising star, and I know he supposedly only took that role as the JAC's way to apologize for Yajima's abrupt exit from the series, but you never know -- maybe he could have been enticed by a good part.)


Friday, June 7, 2019

Unsung Heroes of Toku: Naoko Kamio


Naoko Kamio was born on November 16th, 1961. Her earliest known work as a stuntwoman was in Liveman, where she was on the all-purpose action crew. She remained a fixture in Super Sentai in similar small parts -- grunts, extras -- before finally landing her first heroine role as Mega Pink in 1997's Megaranger.

The role of Miku Imamura was a special and unique one amongst tokusatsu heroines, and actress Mami Higashiyama nailed the character. But it was very crucial to have a good performer in the suit, as well, and Kamio delivered, capturing the character's youth, spunky attitude and plucky determination. After Megaranger, Kamio spent most of her time on the Sentai franchise as the double for the heroine actress out of suit, and going back to playing grunts and monsters. While she continued to double actresses out of suit, she was often mainly relegated to substitute for whoever was the in-suit performer for a heroine. (This has led to some confusion as to who she plays. For example, she substituted Gokai Pink for one episode, so some profiles will have her listed as playing Gokai Pink, when that was Mizuho Nagawa's role and it shouldn't be taken away from her.)

(I'd also just like to note here that Kamio is credited as doubling for Nanami out of suit in Hurricaneger. Yuuki Ono played Hurricane Blue in suit. So...stop pretending like you did all of the stunts, Nao Nagasawa! You didn't even do everything as Nanami -- Kamio doubled you!)

By the mid-and-late '00s, Kamio was given a few unique roles that helped make her stand out amongst other talented suit actors. While the roles of Gekiranger's Sha-Fu and Robotough or Goseiger's Datass lack the cool and glory of a full-blown superhero, she still put forth the effort into playing these characters and making them unique. (Who'd think Mega Pink was in Sha-Fu's suit?) The Datass suit doesn't look like a fun one to be in, but she recalled the giddy robo helpers of yesteryear. (Which means, for this '80s fan, Magu.)

Most impressive of all, in my opinion, is Kamio's roles in Zyuohger and Lupinranger vs Patranger. In both series, she plays the main (male) villains. While Zyuohger's Genis doesn't have the intricate design of Turboranger's Ragon, for example, it's still a massive suit which requires the character to be immobile. Kamio's working the top half of the character, and she gives Genis the command his character should have, but also his laconic and detached demeanor; she completely sells the guy as a killer who's killed for sport so many times that he needs new ways to be entertained by it. She makes the character more notable than the voice actor, in my opinion.

Sharing the same main writer as Zyuohger, Lupinranger vs Patranger's main villain, Doguranio Yabun, is a bit similar to Genis. He's shown to be a bit of a frail senior, one who's meant to watch potential successors as they execute plans in the hopes of taking over his gang. Like Genis, Yabun's a bit desensitized and it's hard to impress him, but Kamio makes the character uniquely his own. (I was surprised when I found out she was in suit; I really thought it was an longtime male member of the Japan Action Enterprise -- I was certain it was Hideaki Kusaka or Riichi Seike. And, yeah, when Yabun finally stood up, you could see he was short, so it would rule out Kusaka, but that costume is so bulky, I thought it just made the wearer look short. It really does not look like a pleasant costume to wear.)

A complete 180 from those roles are her roles in Kyoryuger and Ryusoulger as cute prankster-type characters Luckyro and Kureon. While I'm not a fan of the Luckyro character, it's definitely not Kamio's fault -- she plays the part well, conveying the character's youthful joy. Kureon is similar in that it seems to be a boyish monster, but Kureon comes across as being more mean-spirited, taking delight in the torment he causes, sometimes kicking back to watch mayhem unfold, and sometimes just bouncing around with excitement at his plans. (Note the crazy, endless youthful energy she gives these characters, especially Kureon, at age 51.) Another youthful creature she's played is Kamen Rider Kiva's Bassha, who she plays as at times playful, at times deadly, but also rather dandy.

Kamio finally got a full-time hero gig once again with Kyuranger, playing Koguma Sky Blue. While I tend to find kid heroes lame, she really helped save the day by making Koguma Sky Blue actually tough and cool, and I loved the power the character had to grow semi-giant. Kamio is of short stature, so I imagine it had to be fun for her to play this role and remind some people, 20 years after her first full-time hero role, that she could kick ass.

While it's not confirmed, I think it's fairly obvious that Kamio is in-suit as Shinken Red in the second episode of Gokaiger, when the young boy takes the Shinken Red Ranger Key and transforms. If it indeed is Kamio, how funny is it that she briefly got to play Shinken Red, which was one of the last in-suit performances of her husband's, Hirofumi Fukuzawa? (Shinken Red's probably his best role, IMO, and a role that probably meant a lot to him as a swordsman.) She also plays ToQ 4 whenever it's the kid version of Hikari transforming.

Kamio's a very versatile, skilled suit actress, with an emphasis on the acting part of the job. I think, if she weren't a woman, she'd have more main roles, and would be as popular with viewers as someone like Yasuhiro Takeuchi, another talented and versatile suit-actor. Some people think it's due to her height that she doesn't have more main roles, but...Takeuchi is known for being short, and he's often cast as the double for people much taller than he is. It's all in how you film it. Tsutomu Kitagawa, a favorite suit-actor of mine, is on the short side, but he still has more regular hero gigs on his resume than Kamio. Nevertheless, with her villain roles especially, she HAS proven herself, made her mark, and has accomplished a lot, making some of those roles more memorable than they probably had any right to be. For that, she is one of Shougo's Unsung Heroes of Toku™.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Shougo VS Lupinranger VS Patranger


It took me a while, but I've finally finished Lupinranger VS Patranger. (I really need to try to stay on top of Ryusoulger so it doesn't pile up, but that show ain't making it easy. #RYUSOULBORING!) I figured I'd round up some thoughts on the show and where I'd rank it on my list of Super Sentai.

I got some blowback when I said this before, but I'll say it again -- knowing that writer Junko Komura is a big Liveman fan, I feel like this show might have originated or been pitched as "What if the villains for the new Sentai were another Sentai?" So they then thought of ways to go about that, what themes would match, and it eventually got reduced to cops and robbers. Which COULD have worked, but...

The show we got never intended for the Lupinranger to be all that bad. In fact, the show favors the Lupinranger, those characters and their stories, far more than it does the Patranger. With producer Takaaki Utsunomiya, I feel like he was just basically wanting them to be like Gokaiger -- sorta scoundrels, but actually decent. So the show gets in the way of its own premise. It's a good team versus a good team and the way they sustain the premise is to make the thieves just minor nuisances to the cops, who always let them off the hook. In the end, the show makes the cops ineffectual and unable to do their job in order to let our real heroes keep doin' what they do.

Treasure collecting is never an interesting series-long premise, in my opinion. And it's an idea that's just very anime to me, one of those things that *might* work long term in a comic or cartoon, but is just not sustainable or believable in live action. The only time a toku's done the idea in a way I've liked is Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya, and that's because there were MANY people after the treasure, but the show also had many breaks from that plot. Here, it's just kinda dumb -- the Lupin want it, the police don't, so...what's the problem? Our "bad" Sentai is not only actually good, but their goal in no way hinders the police. They could easily work this shit out -- "Hey, cops! Don't destroy the treasure." "OK, 'thieves.' We don't want it, anyway, and it will be so much easier to deal with this monster that it's our job to deal with if you're not interfering and tryin' to get to the item we have no interest in." It's just not a good premise, and not done well.

I like the Lupinranger cast. Touma/Blue is my favorite, because I like the no-nonsense characters, and I think his backstory and motivation was given more detail and treated more seriously. I like Kairi, which is surprising since his actor is so damn young (and he often just looks disgusted in scenes, a big fan of nostril acting); they reallllly needed to film more with him and his brother, though. It could have been a really strong story, but they mostly only show that one damn clip of his brother chasing him down an alley with Kairi being a dick. I really liked the idea of Kairi being so torn up that he was so cruel to his brother, especially in his last moments, and they really needed to be unafraid to go into that some more, and get more specific about what his problem was. (It's obvious they were too afraid of making him too unlikable.) They make Umika a little too ditzy, but she's comedic relief, she's likable. The actress looks like she's having fun and is enthusiastic, and she's a Sentai fan, who had long wanted to be in a Sentai show, so that's cool. They never do a whole hell of a lot with her, though.

It's sad that...toku shows are kinda like procedurals, so a cop toku show should work out very well, but there's yet to be a perfect cop Sentai, IMO. (No, it wasn't Dekaranger, which was too doofy. It's like the Police Academy of toku cops. And the Uchuu Keiji don't scratch the itch, either, because they're cops in name only. Closest is probably Kuuga, and that's because it IS just a regular cop show!) And it's certainly not the Pat side of this show, since...the show doesn't really care about them, so they're treated mostly as useless, as nincompoops. The uncool obstacles for our, like, so totally much cooler stars, Jurer Sentai Lupinranger!

Keiichiro is just...bad. I dislike him, A LOT. I really don't understand why people name this character or actor as a favorite. He's so unconvincing. He's meant to be dedicated to his job, passionate, caring. He's a guy who can't live without the rule book. But the actor just goes TOO far, WAY overboard, seeming like he has severe mental disorders. He never seems caring; whenever he gives a supposedly impassioned speech about protecting the citizens or upholding justice, it's very forced and very insincere. The way actor Kousei Yuuki tries to convey being serious about his job is to just plaster on this bogus slack-jawed "serious" face and yell everything. I think he DOES show signs that he has it in him to do a better job, but...it's just a bad performance. And I can't tell if his instincts are wrong, whether he doesn't give a shit, or if he's getting some bad direction. One thing that doesn't help is that, when the show was starting, I think far too much was made of him looking like that overacting doofus from Drive to where it affected the way he played Keiichiro, and the way Keiichiro was depicted. And so the show DOES try to start writing that Keiichiro's awkward and goes overboard, but it still doesn't work, because the show tries to have it both ways -- they want him to be an over-the-top cartoon, but they want him to be serious and believable as a stand-up cop and hero and neither works -- neither in the writing nor acting. He just sucks.

Keiichiro's practically the second Akaza Banban. Banban, who was meant to be the nutty loose cannon who wiped his ass with the rule book. Banban, though, is kind of an idiot, and since Ryuji Sainei can't pull the character off, he ends up making Banban a psychopath. Keiichiro is the exact opposite of Banban -- he follows the rules, he respects law and order. He's passionate and is supposed to be an intuitive, intelligent police officer. And yet the actor goes too far and makes Keiichiro seem like a psychopath. Two completely different characters when, filtered through weak performances, meet the same result. *shrugs*

Episode 30 showed what a cool character Keiichiro could have been. I don't know why, but he's really restrained in that episode. Undercover, in another city, making a trade with some shady assholes who have a VS Vehicle. Kairi's on his ass to spy on him, and while he's focused on getting the job done, he takes a side trip to help a lost girl.

When he gets her to a police box, she's still upset -- she only got separated from her parents because she was trying to find her lost barrette. Keiichiro takes extra time to go all over the city looking for the girl's barrette. (Kairi takes the easy way and just goes and buys another one, before Keiichiro returns with the girl's actual missing one.) And it's like...Keiichiro just comes across as a nice guy in this episode, just really wanting to do the right thing and make people happy. He even tries to console Kairi when he's beating himself up for how he treated his brother.

Later when he's making the trade and is betrayed by the criminals he's dealing with, he just calmly kicks all of their asses, because he knew it would happen! If Keiichiro could have always just been restrained and coolheaded like this, I'd probably like him. He'd probably be one of the better Reds of recent years. But, for as unusual as this episode was in showing a calm, yet still fiery Keiichiro, they go and undo it by having him revert to the screaming jackass once Thief!Kairi shows up. And he's good in his moment with Kairi in episode 49, so...I don't know what the hell they were trying to accomplish with this character. But it just didn't work, and so he ended up as one of my least favorite Reds.

Sakuya is useless, and a fucking dolt, and the actor acts like he was just some schmoe they yanked off the street the day of filming because the actor they DID cast just bailed at the last minute...and the first fourteen runner-ups also turned them down. He's so one-note and cringe-inducing, always just yelling everything and making that same pained face, with one eye bugging out while the other squints. He not only yells everything, but he yells it in a monotone -- whether he's happy, sad, pissed, it's all the same.

I think you're meant to feel bad for how much the character gets mistreated, and the way everyone thinks he's a clumsy idiot, but I don't, 'cuz he sucks, and he IS an idiot. He's supposed to be the heart of the team, the one who's led by his heart whereas Keiichiro's led by the rule book and Tsukasa by logic, but Sakuya's always depicted too stupidly and he hardly even matters in the show. There's that episode where a monster supposedly causes Sakuya to keep making mistakes, but it's practically forgotten about, because that's just always how Sakuya is. He also always reacts to situations by whining and seeming cowardly. He's never good at the job, how'd he get hired? I guess his daddy must be the police commissioner. And what's the deal with the #2 suit's shade of green, the Mylanta color?

I really like Tsukasa, though -- she's the only character I like on the Pat side of things, and my favorite character of the show, and probably my favorite heroine since Matsuri/Go Pink. She's the serious one, the only one with smarts, the only one who seems competent and kick ass. And Okuyama's the only one of the three who even tries to act. Why in the fuck is she #3? She should be Red! And I kind of wonder if she was meant to be -- I can picture Komura and Utsunomiya building the show, knowing the Lupinranger are the real stars and that the Patranger are basically supporting cast. Therefore, maybe they could finally slip in a full-time female Red? Except, no, they're shot down by higher-ups, probably Bandai, who probably whine that, even if the Patranger are the secondary team, they have to pretend like the cops are the "stars," and therefore don't want to lose sales in merchandise based on the "star" hero, the cop, the Red. Their mistake.

I once joked, and still think, that Tsukasa should have quit the force and joined the Lupinranger, with Umika quitting the Lupinranger and joining the cops -- then it'd all match up. I think it's a big, big mistake to make the cop side look so bad, to make them the goofballs. If their intention was to make them seem more like underdogs, they failed big time. Other than Tsukasa, they just seem so stupid and incompetent.

Tsukasa's a one-woman Sentai. I love that episode where Keiichiro and Sakuya are off on their own to defuse a bomb and Tsukasa just explodes into a fight with the Gangler AND the Lupinranger on her own. And she kicks so much ass in that episode where she and Touma are in the Gangler dimension. If I were in charge of things, I would have kept Okuyama around and spun off Tsukasa into her own show -- she joins the universal police and becomes the new Space Sheriff. (I should also mention that I really took notice of Patran #3 suit-actress Ryoko Gomi -- she showed a swift fierceness in this role that she hasn't in any other, and really kicked ass.)

Noel's so nonsensical he should be in a Heisei Kamen Rider show. OK, that's an exaggeration. He makes more sense than that Diend turd. But the whole idea of Patren/Lupin X is a wasted opportunity. Instead of trying to write a character who's doing some subterfuge or obfuscation, a character who could add conflict to both sides, who's really steps ahead and doing a balancing act, let's just be lazy and have the character admit up front that he's working for both sides and they just accept that. And I don't care how mean it sounds, but I hate this guy's voice. He sounds like a Muppet. (Noel's basically just a human version of Good Striker. Bounces back and forth between the teams, has an annoying voice. Speaking of Good Striker -- what the hell's the point of that talking carrot, man? Why's it take half the series to even try to address who he is, where he came from? He never fit in the show, either. It's too ToQ.) While I ended up actually liking Noel -- and didn't predict his backstory -- I didn't think his motivation was that great. The way the show depicted Arsene Lupin was just too goofy to try to make him a big part of the dramatic background and motivation for one of our main heroes. Really, the way they make Lupin look is exactly like one of Masao's goofy disguises in Battle Fever.

The mecha...I won't say much about, since I'm not a mecha fan, but they are ffffffffffUGLY! The show dwells on the mecha far too much, the scenes just cluttered and practically unwatchable. (And unlistenable. Just loud and busy these scenes are.) The mecha designs remind me of Boukenger's, just big, ugly, indecipherable messes of metallic junk, you can't really tell what part's being swapped for what because it's all an eyesore and the eye sees these designs and scenes overstuffed with crap CGI and just decides to give your brain the finger. And that just pisses the brain off, because they're already in a fight with your ears, which are just like "Shut this show up! Why's it so loud!? Jesus, God, why do the Japanese have to make their superhero shows so loud?! This isn't a way for anyone to start a Sunday morning."

The villains are just uninteresting, and often feel like a part of another show. Terrible designs (seriously, why do they keep getting Masato Hisa to design these ugly, overly colored blobs), the same personality Toei's been giving bad guys for about a decade now (bored boss, gruff guy who speaks in monotone, sexy voiced monster-enlarging woman) and they lack motivation. (The head bad guy's reason for killing Lupin and taking the treasure pieces? Because he could, so why not? Ugh.) Take the unimpressiveness of the Zangyaku and the boringness of the Deathgaliens, and slap them in the ugliness of the Jark Matter and you have these goons. Zamigo could have been cool -- awful Mr. Freeze-like pun not intended -- but he instead is like one of the lesser koooooooky and quirrrrrrky Grongi, with the acting chops to match. And it doesn't help that the writers choose to use him by consulting a magic eight-ball. The monsters of the week are all interchangeable goofballs. The designs for all of these guys are bad enough, but the huge safes on them are just a...bad, bad look. What are the designers thinking?

So, it's like...the show's main story, as they choose to tell it in this series, isn't enough to cover 50+ episodes, so the show's just kind of stuck in stasis -- everybody's back where they started by the episode's end, it goes around in circles, and that gets kinda old. And when the show goes for an all -out comedy episode, it's unbearably bad -- usually the show at its worst -- so you can't even count on those to break up the tediousness. And even though it's not trying to shove a new toy down your throat every episode, it still has the dreaded format of all modern tokus where it's focused on characters just collecting shit. Yawn. So they might as well just pack the thing with toys, with its focus going so much into the boring-ass Lupin Collection. (Ooh, I'm supposed to get all tingly with emotion just because each treasure is a quickly made 3D-printed homage to a past Sentai prop? I'm flipping you the bird right now, Toei. They can't even put in the effort to have the prop cutesily match up with whatever power it's supposed to give the Gangler.) Fine, some pieces are supposed to be more important, because they're a new mecha or weapon upgrade, but even if I was a mecha fan, I doubt I'd like the mecha in this show, because they're an eyesore.

It's still as set on cruise-control effort-wise, tedious and full of wasted potential as most every post-Gokai Sentai has been, but not QUITE as annoying as shows like Kyuranger or Kyoryuger. Sometimes I wouldn't mind the show, sometimes I would be bored outta my gourd because all of the same notes it would hit. It's safe. It's boring. (They could have broken up the tedium by every once in a while throwing in a case for the cops that had nothing to do with a Gangler -- give them other villains to contend with. And give the Lupinranger someone else to fight over the Lupin Collection with since the cops didn't give a shit! Not that hard, guys.) Sometimes I wouldn't mind the show, sometimes I would be bored outta my mind. Still, though, since I like a few of the characters, I thought it had potential, and it was nice after something like Kyuranger to have characters who seemed like people, it has more of an advantage over a couple of other shows. As it is, I'd probably rank it between Hurricaneger and Goseiger on my ranking list, putting it at number 37.

The show needed to either just be 25 episodes long or plan itself better. It was a little too afraid to take itself as seriously as it obviously wanted to, and too afraid to break away from the norm. I think it was a mistake to have the cops enter the thieves' domain so soon into the series -- practically being buds with the Jurer staff by episode two led to a lot of the stalling and tail-chasing. I think the show should have started out by having the Lupinranger and Patranger in their own stories, and never intersecting. After the first cours, have the Lupinranger put themselves on the cops' radar. And then they're fighting for a while. By the early 20s, THEN have the cops becomes regulars -- maybe even friends -- with them as patrons of Jurer. Milking the tension of "Ooh, are the cops ever going to find out" for just 15 or so episodes towards the end of the series would be so much more believable and less frustrating as a viewer.

I think the show could have still twiddled its thumbs with the Lupinranger's loved ones and Zamigo as it did if they had done something like I'd just described. But the show pretty much lays out all of its ideas by episode two, and so it's just stalling for the rest of the series on every one of their ongoing stories. It just gets old after a while, and strains believability. It makes everyone seem stupid. (Stupider, in Sakuya's case.) It could have been a better show! That's basically my reaction to so many Sentai of the past several years. There's ingredients for there to be a better show, but Toei's just content with doing the bare minimum and switching to auto-pilot. A shame.

I think this one's going to end up like Go-busters. Like, it's a flat and boring show, but shows are going to get so bad, the fandom will look back like "Yeah, Lupinranger VS Patranger looks pretty amazing now."

Monday, May 20, 2019

Kamen Rider Black RX Episodes 46-47


EPISODE 46

In what the show thinks is a surprise, Jark decides to be the next to go after RX. He, Dasnerder and Maribaron land the Crisis ship in a split mountain and go to the area where the Zyuranger had to win their weapons and meet...a shadowy floating head, the Crisis Emperor. The Emperor grabs Jark with some tendrils and squeezes the bejesus out of him. (He's really upgrading him into an ugly super-duper form that, for some reason, gets the new name of Jarkmidora.) Takahata's performance as Maribaron's good here, in which she's really just outraged and upset that it looks like Jark's in pain, and that Dasmader won't do anything to do help. (Takahata's so wasted in this show.)

The Saharas and other families are seen driving away from the cities, their vehicles are all driving through the Toku Mountainside. So many toku battles have taken place there. It's a dangerous spot, so you know something bad will happen. Don't take a shortcut through Mt. Toku and expect to be safe!

The cars are all attacked by Jarkmidora, and the people panic. This sequence is pretty good, actually, and one of the only times I've noted the direction in this show, one of the only times it's really had flair or style. The final three episodes are directed by Masao Minowa, who directed the stylish and atmospheric final episodes of Black. He's not working with as strong of material in this show, but this sequence is probably one of the show's few emotional and heavy sequences. The scene is directed with a shaky cam frenzy as Jarkmidora rips his way through fleeing citizens, making his way to the Saharas...

The Sahara parents tell Shigeru and Hitomi to run, which they do. Jark's after them because he wants hostages, but the parents cling to Jark's legs to prevent him for chasing their kids and he just reaches down and strikes them. We don't see what he does, but the way it's directed -- with the POV shot from the Saharas, looking up at an imposing Jark -- to the way the Jark suit actor plays it (I'm not sure if it's still Takahashi in this super form), and the way it cuts away to the kids to get their reaction as they hear their parents' last breath...it's done well. It's a shame that the show began with the Sahara parents being so obnoxious, and it's a shame that the show never knew what to do with them, so they were used poorly and in the wrong way, so it's a testament to Minowa that this sequence is effective in any way whatsoever. And Inoue and Imura are good kid performers, as I've said, so they do a good job. (Imura is so young that it seems like she believes what's happening in the show is really happening. So she legitimately looks scared and sad.)

Besides the show not developing the Sahara parents in a good enough way to make this be the dramatic shock it wishes it was, there's two more problems with this:

In another show, I would probably commend them for doing something like killing the Sahara parents. It's senseless, it's for shock value, but it's a gut punch. It's dark. You don't see it coming. But it's the wrong move for a show with RX's tone. And it's the wrong move in a show like RX, which doesn't really care about characters or consequences, but I'll talk a little more about that in the finale.

The other problem is that the Sahara parents sacrifice themselves so that their kids can escape. But the kids don't! They freeze and turn around in terror and Jark actually catches up to them and it's Amazon (and some other old Riders) that arrives in the nick of time to save them! So the Saharas basically died for nothing. And that IS in keeping with RX's tone, because RX wouldn't be RX without characters bein' stupid!

This show's always been bad about letting things sink in for characters, and while it tries in the aftermath of the Sahara Killing, it's still not given enough time, and is handled a bit over-the-top. The Riders bring Shigeru and Hitomi to Koutarou and the RX Squad's hangout where they tell everyone what happened to their parents, and nobody's really shocked. Koutarou reacts the same way he reacts to anything Crisis does. I mean, he pretty much has a line in an episode where he says "How dare you tarnish how special remote control cars are for boys! YURUSAN!" So, when he hears of the Saharas -- the people who kindly took him in, gave him work, gave him a surrogate family -- and he faces Jark saying "How dare you do that to Mr. and Mrs. Sahara...YURUSAN!" it's just like...Jesus, writers. For something like this, don't do the cliched hero speech. Despite what the internet thinks, this isn't unique to Koutarou Minami -- far from it. Pretty much every single episode of every toku, the final line by the hero before they henshin to beat the latest monster and stop the latest scheme is "Something something something, yurusan!"

We do get a kind of cool fight between RX and Jark that's unfortunately ruined by RX using his ugly alternate forms a little too much. When he's Robo Rider, he loses his gun, which Shigeru and Hitomi grab in order to exact their revenge on Jark. And they do get a shot off! (Jark just walks it off.) OK. I guess this is meant to be touching, but it just plays goofy. (I'd have it that they just toss it back to RX, and the next blast he does DOES get in some damage. This could be where Jark's eye gets damaged, so it's symbolically a wound given by the Sahara kids, but...remember the show we're dealing with.)

And although this battle is supposed to be personal, therefore it's only RX fighting Jark, it highlights just how useless the 10 Riders are by having them just running to each location to watch the battle! They do this a lot in these episodes -- just sit back and enjoy watching RX do all of the work. Why are they still here? Isn't there some form of Shocker off in Chattanooga for them to go battle? *siiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh*

Random notes:

1) I just learned that it was reported by the Director's Guild of Japan late last year that Masao Minowa passed away at an unknown date. That's sad, especially since I kept acknowledging how much I liked Minowa's style during my Turboranger coverage just last year.

2) It's a nice, rare character moment when Kyoko approaches Shigeru and Hitomi and tells them that she's the same as they are -- orphaned by Crisis -- and offers words of support.

3) Two words I keep coming back to throughout this rewatch are "random" and "inexplicable." For example, in this episode and the previous one, Jark is inexplicably voiced by Hidekatsu Shibata rather than Seizou Katou as usual. To be honest, I never really liked Katou as Jark. He has a very odd and distinct voice. I will always associate his voice with Sei-ou Bazuu, a freakish character who benefited from Katou's unique voice. His voice doesn't work coming out of the gaudily designed Jark. I think there's also something about knowing Toshimichi Takahashi is the man behind the mask, and thinking that Katou's voice doesn't go with that face, either. I like Shibata, as well. (He's the voice of General Shadow, my favorite Rider villain.) And Shibata's gruff, no-time-for-BS voice just fits better. I don't know the reason why they replace Katou with Shibata in the character's final episodes, but it's a shame it wasn't Shibata the entire time.

4) I'm not for sugarcoating entertainment, but I think that at least Utako should have survived. Have Joe and Reiko survey the scene after hearing Shigeru and Hitomi's story and find a still living Utako, and they send her to a hospital in time.

5) Again, Takahata has a nice reaction when she realizes Jark's dead. RX likes to waste its women performers, I guess is the one cohesive thing about it... other than its awfulness. Hey-oooooooooooo.

6) In my coverage of Black, I noted that it was unfortunate that the show ran out of money and wasn't able to fully convey the destruction Golgom was supposed to cause in the final episodes. But at least Black made the attempt. RX relies heavily on stock shots of buildings exploding or people fleeing, and the rest of the action is in such isolated locations, focusing on our core group of characters, that it really doesn't read like Crisis is launching a successful all-out assault.
_________

EPISODE 47

The finally! (I stole that joke from The Soup. It's a genius way of describing the end to a show you don't like or enjoy.) And this one's a scattered mess that doesn't remember its own storyline from early on. If the show had ended with Jark being killed out of revenge for killing the Saharas and Crisis just finally pissing off, it probably would have been a better end. Because...there's just a lot of stupid in this one, and there's not even a cool climactic final battle to fall back on. It's stupid and lackluster, and one of the weaker toku finales I can think of.

Crisis, I've beaten the horse enough, are idiots. Considering the Emperor is a giant head, not even he has any smarts in that massive dome. His plan in this episode is to send Maribaron to cordially invite Koutarou to a one-on-one meeting with him. And Koutarou accepts! See, turning into Robo Rider and Goo Rider has done something to his brain! So he goes along with Maribaron to meet the Head of the Family in that area where the Zyuranger earn their weapons. The RX Squad -- now including the gratuitous Goro and Shigeru and Hitomi -- and the 10 Riders have the smarts to follow.

It's all fun and games making fun of this sloppy finale, but I guess the truth is you don't know if the Crisis Emperor is genuine or not. He commends Koutarou for being a formidable opponent and offers him a title and the chance to rule Earth as part of Crisis. They could have done some contrasting with the whole Century King thing -- what if Koutarou would have contemplated this offer, that he could be "in charge" of Earth as a Crisis member, but still be looking out for Earth? Sabotage Crisis from within? We don't get anything like that. There's the offer -- again, whether it's genuine or BS, who knows -- Maribaron is outraged and bitches out the Emperor for being a dumbass, he smites her, and then Koutarou refuses. As soon as he refuses, Dasmader appears and the whole underground thing caves in and Dasmader's soon aboard the Crisis ship and laughing at victory... It's one of the many quick, confusing edits in this episode.

Before I get to that, I want to address Maribaron. Again, Takahata's giving a performance the show doesn't deserve. But once the Emperor turns on her, I love that there's a moment where she looks like she's ready to attack HIM before she turns around and attempts to attack Koutarou one last time. Your plans weren't always sound Maribaron, but thanks to the skills of your actress, you end the show on a better note than you deserved.

We just jump into the final battle here. It's the Crisis ship, RX appears. I do think it's a little funny that RX announces that he's on the Crisis ship by destroying the obnoxious little robot, Chakram, and letting its body fall near Dasmader. The show doesn't even attempt to explain how RX got out of the jam of that cave collapsing in on him and his buddies, and we don't know how all of his buddies got out of it in time, either. There's no time, it's the finale! Also: RX isn't interested in that...

RX is more interested in retconning some of their already feeble backstory for the sake of inserting a snoozy and predictable green message. Here, Dasmader -- a rather chatty bastard all of a sudden -- reveals to RX that Crisisville -- the Kai-Makai -- is actually a twin of Earth, and that it operated parallel to Earth, and what caused its unstable environment and destruction is pollution caused by people on Earth.

Bull...SHIT! First of all, Dr. Waldo told us way back in -- what, episode three? -- that it was the Crisis Empire that ruined their world. I *think* the show still tries to address this, having RX be like "Didn't the Crisis Emperor ruin your world," but Dasmader dismisses him and pushes on with his side of the story. (And since Koutarou ends the series by preaching to every member of the RX Squad, this is obviously the true scenario that writer Ezure wants to go with.) Secondly, what the hell have I been watching for the past dozen episodes if not Crisis trying to pollute the Earth in order to make it habitable for their people? If the goal is to go to Earth because their world is ruined, then...it don't make no sense! They were polluting Earth so their people would be more at home! So, GTFOuttahere with your preachy, lame, unnecessary, retconning, Captain Planet bullshit, show.

The scene also plays a little like Dasmader basically trying to appeal to Koutarou by telling him the population count and saying that all of his people need a new place to live, and the scene ends with Koutarou killing him and causing the complete destruction of Kai-Makai, so...our hero, folks. All of the weird, but good little gnomes he's met on Kai-Makai throughout the show, like Waldo, or the ones who helped Hitomi, Joe's resistance buddies, and all of his promises to go back and save them and their world -- LIES.

This whole final battle BAMFs all over the place -- it begins in the tiny Crisis ship's main battle room, it continues into the Space Sheriff Black Soundstage With Dry Ice, it ends at, of course, the quarry. The thing is...once on the ship, Dasmader takes the ship through a portal to show Koutarou Crisisville. With all of this confusing editing, it's not even clear if Koutarou has returned to Earth before he kills Dasmader! He could have been trapped in another dimension for all he knew, and that would have certainly been a weird and bleak way to end the show, but...I guess once he and the Giant Emperor Head make it to the quarry, they're on Earth? Again -- who knows, since that's the site of Makuu/Mado/Fuuma Space. (Dasmader ended up being a guise of the Great Emperor, by the way. That's how unimpressive he is, and how lamely this thing's resolved.) Speaking of Makuu Space -- when the Emperor's defeat causes massive explosions, there's a stock shot of Makuu Space exploding...! See? What have I always said -- this show is an Uchuu Rider.

The Emperor's dying words, by the way, are that if the people of Earth continue to pollute, they're just going to end up creating another Kai-Makai (this time, it would be Earth itself), and Koutarou clings to that to make some speeches later on. Lame, writers.

But I guess Koutarou does make it back to Earth A-OK, because we get a pathetic send-off for all of these characters. First, he approaches the useless 10 Riders, who predictably vow to keep roaming the Earth looking for old villains to fight (*yawn, write something new for old Riders to do, Toei*), while Koutarou's like "Thanks for nothing, guys!"

Which brings us to some of the biggest bullshit in this episode, which is saying something, because this episode is some big bullshit. Koutarou and the RX Squad are on a cliff, with a grave marker for the Sahara parents. Koutarou says final words to the two, who maybe had the better deal in these terrible final episodes, and everyone prays. And Koutarou gets up and says farewell to everybody! Shigeru and Hitomi are going to live with Kyoko (a sad life that Kyoko's going to have), while Joe's going to travel and try to find out about his past; Reiko will resume being a photographer and Goro -- WHY IS HE HERE?!?! -- says he wants to keep on cookin'. Koutarou, meanwhile, is "going off to train" and "should be back one day." What the fuck is that shit? (I'm so damn surprised that Joe's not traveling with Koutarou, since the show basically wished he was as cool and heroic as Koutarou. Sorry, Joetarou fans.)

This is one of those vague '70s endings that's meant to make our hero look more heroic and selfless, dedicating his life to traveling and fighting bad guys, but to me is just a totally unfulfilling resolution and place to leave the character(s) you've spent an entire show with.

Again, Koutarou's battle with Golgom was personal. It took a big toll on him. He managed to carve out some happiness in RX, but more evil shitheads targeted him and pulled him into their bullshit. He rose to the challenge. Doesn't our hero deserve rest? Peace, finally? The Sahara family, who took him in, what should be a symbol of his happiness, the parents are cut down. I think it's pretty cold to leave Shigeru and Hitomi behind to ride off just because that's the way the '70s Riders did it.

Here was the time for RX to get serious. There could have been a flashforward where Koutarou, now married to Reiko, is raising Shigeru and Hitomi. Maybe Kyoko stops by now and then. Have Koutarou find some peace and the family he's been missing. And had Toei known this was going to be the end of the franchise for a while, maybe they'd have done something like that. (I doubt it, though.) But they need to keep the idea that Koutarou's around out there, fighting as RX, just in case a future show needs a disappointing crossover! (You might not have to worry about that, Toei.)

Because...Koutarou just abandons the Sahara kids! He leaves Reiko! He lets a teen girl raise two kids! Isn't it bad enough that the show accidentally makes him look bad for letting Kai-Makai explode after told its population and origin, but they have him look like an absolute coldhearted ass towards his girlfriend, friends and family, too? And I'm sure there's some nutters who are out there like "OMG, that makes RX such a dark show," when, no, it makes it what it always was -- a poorly written, not-thought-out mess.

To be serious, although it really plays like Koutarou just doesn't care about the destruction of (what's most likely a lot of innocent) civilians on Kai-Makai, I don't think that's the intention. Kai-Makai was already said to be in the process of dying off, I think its life was meant to be tied to Dasmader/the Emperor in a way, and that ultimately you're meant to feel like Crisis/Kai-Makai was its own undoing. But that doesn't excuse Koutarou's big mistake to just abandon all of his loved ones. It's just such a bad move, on the part of the character AND the writers. Think of the Black finale, how somber and quiet it was, how it ended on Koutarou's lamenting that he lost everyone. THAT Koutarou, the real Koutarou, would not just abandon everyone, giving them the lonely existence Golgom forced on him.

Call me crazy, but I'd love to write a reunion movie. I was once against it, but I think you could build a bridge between Black and RX. I think you could do something that brings Koutarou back together with Shigeru, Hitomi, Reiko, Kyoko, Joe, and bring back Kyoko and Katsumi from Black, too. I think you could really address the trauma all of these characters endured, and how they all might feel slighted by Koutarou and resent him some, when his behavior is possibly a result of his own trauma. Because it's NOT heroic to have him just ride off, and it's a pitiful way to end a character who was as popular as Koutarou Minami. Tetsuo Kurata's owed an apology in the form of some new movie or special, man.

So, to sum it up -- these final episodes make the villains look even stupider than normal, they make the '70s Riders lame and useless and they make our hero, the cool Koutarou Minami, seem like an irresponsible ASSHOLE. Piss off, RX.
___________

FINAL THOUGHTS?

There have been so many bad, terrible, torturous toku shows in the past several years that I thought RX would seem like an improvement in comparison. But, no, it remains just a really difficult watch, an unwatchable mess, a total heap of suck. As a follow-up to Black, it's a massive failure. As just a loose sequel, it's a failure. Even viewed on its own, it's just a completely pointless, aimless waste of time. The first cours is absolutely terrible, and makes a good case for why maybe some tokus should be canceled, the way American shows are. Then it got to this pretty generic point where it seemed like, OK, maybe I could handle the show. But that didn't last long! I was soon just dreading watching the show.

While I might have come around to liking certain characters more than I used to -- like Joe or Bossgun -- there's not really an episode of this show I would consider truly GOOD. Subpar's really the best description, while "weak," "forgettable," and "awful" would be most other rankings. That's not an exaggeration, that's not me being hyperbolic for the sake of comedy. There's just not an episode of this show that sticks out. I can think of episodes of Fiveman that I'd call "good" or "memorable" for cryin' out loud. FIVEMAN! That's nuts!

It's clear to me that nobody working on RX had any love for it. They didn't believe in it, they didn't have a vision. Everybody was cynical, everybody was on autopilot, they thought the brand and Koutarou Minami was enough to print money. It was completely tone-deaf as to what people wanted from Kamen Rider, and it immediately undid any of the progress and goodwill Black reclaimed for the franchise. It was a cowardly production that, according to Heisei series producer Shin'ichiro Shirakura, caved to the demands of sponsors and the network. IT DIDN'T NEED TO TURN OUT THIS WAY.

Kamen Rider Black's a cool show. It was meant to be a cool, hip, reinvigoration of the franchise. Its reach exceeded its grasp, but it TRIED. RX doesn't try. At all. Black was a cool, not-your-dad's-Kamen-Rider series, and RX pulls it back into formulaic, kid-friendly Dorksville. Sad thing is...

With more effort, this show could have worked a little more. It wouldn't have been GOOD, necessarily, but maybe more tolerable than the show we ended up with. It would be disappointing how different it was compared to Black, but if they had cared enough, they could have made some of those changes work, i.e. that this is a Koutarou who found some peace before the latest battle, so he can be jokey and pal around with goofy supporting characters. You could still have a lighter tone of show, since that's what it seemed like Toei was after it the late '80s, and it could have still felt connected to Black, if attention to detail was given. But nobody on this show cared. To say it's by-the-numbers is too complimentary. There are so many episodes where I'd have the thought "there's just no love or care put into this show." Nobody believed in it.

It's similar to what happens to the Heisei Rider shows. I feel like Kuuga and Agito were sort of the Blacks, where they raised the bar and updated the franchise. But greed set in and Toei blew all of that goodwill with Ryuki, and that blew a hole in the franchise that can still be felt. (If only they had the sense to take another break after Ryuki, we might have been spared some terrible shows and the terrible state they're currently in.)

RX doesn't have its own identity. It's wildly inconsistent and it's not cohesive, it's just a dumping ground for the most generic and run-of-the-mill toku plots you can find, while Toei searches for anything that sticks, praying you still want to buy the sucky toys. They didn't know what to do with it, where they were going. It's aimless. It's baffling how the show could have so many staff members -- producers, directors -- who worked on Black, but was really off-base and missed the point on why Black was a success and what people wanted from the franchise by that point. The show plays like it's the first toku ever adapted for American audiences -- you know how the staff of MMPR got Super Sentai and just didn't understand it, so they turned in hollow, plotless nonsense, thinking that kids wouldn't care, and just having the creative Japanese footage do the lifting and bail them out? That's RX. A show made by people who don't know what they're doing, don't know what they've got, and just don't care. (Even Tetsuo Kurata's performance is spotty. Remember, I always was impressed with him in Black, especially for being an acting novice. There's only ONE episode of Black I feel like he phoned in, but there's many more in RX. I chalk some of that up to him having to be exhausted playing the lead twice in a row, but I think a lot of it is also having such weak material.)

It's just a terrible, terrible show. There are so many times throughout this rewatch where I just wanted to quit it, mid-episode, or I'd get in a bad, bad mood after watching it. (One of the only other tokus I can think of where I have that reaction is Timeranger.) It wasn't fun or enjoyable to watch. And guess what? I honestly started this rewatch hoping to be more open to the show, a little more forgiving, to try to find some silver lining in it, but the show makes it impossible. WHY, why is it so bad? I'd really love to sit down with the show's staff and pick their brain.

KOOKY THEORY CORNER

Ryouhei Kobayashi as Jou Kasumino/Kamen Rider RX?

I don't think it takes Sherlock Holmes to look at this show -- its approach, its tone, its style, its design -- and realize that it most likely began life as its own, separate thing. I've always strongly believed that the show entered production as its own thing, and that after the monster success of Black, some madman at Toei decided that it would be good business to keep the star of that show, so Tetsuo Kurata and Koutarou Minami were scribbled into the production late in development.

And now it's commonly known that Ryouhei Kobayashi -- of Fiveman fame -- was actually hired by Toei to be (the vaguely phrased) "Kamen Rider after [Kurata/Black/Koutarou]." The story goes that he was definitely cast, and Toei liked him, but things fell through and so they gave him a role in another show as a way to apologize to him and hang on to him. It's widely believed that this was originally to be the show after RX, and that the role of Fumiya/Five Black is the role that they gave him to make it up to him.

Black and RX producer Susumu Yoshikawa supposedly was pretty bitter that there were Kamen Rider parodies popping up, thinking the franchise lost its power, and that's the reason he claims Rider shows -- including this follow-up with Kobayashi as a lead -- were scrapped. If nobody took Rider seriously, anymore, then what's the point, I guess was the thinking. (I think that's a BS excuse. This is the guy who blamed video games for the decline of the crusty Space Sheriff-styled shows. It's obvious that he knew, deep down, that RX was a pile of junk, and that it was a franchise killer more than some parody.)

The timeline of Kobayashi as a Rider in a proposed third show after RX never made sense to me. RX ran from October of '88 to September of '89. Filming wrapped in the mid-summer of that year, and that's probably around the time they were starting to cast Fiveman. Toei obviously knew they weren't following up RX by then, that the franchise was going bye-bye. So how exactly was Kobayashi cast in this third show, but given the Fiveman role as a sorry, when they had to have known well beforehand that they weren't even doing a third show? (And if you cast the dude as a lead in his own show, wouldn't you give him the lead in the apology? Why wasn't Kobayashi Five Red?)

So, my theory's always been that Kobayashi was actually cast as whoever would have been Kamen Rider RX. This would have been probably summer of '88. But Toei decided to keep Kurata, morph it into a kinda-sequel, and so the role they gave Kobayashi -- to hang on to him, to make it up to him eventually -- was his role in Jiban. He joined that show in episode 20, which aired in June of '89, which means it was probably filmed in early spring. To me, that's closer to the timetable of his possibly being cast as a Rider, but having it fall through. A third show which followed RX just doesn't really line-up with Fiveman getting underway. (You can find a picture out there from Rikiya Koyama of a cast and crew photo from the day RX wrapped, which is dated August of '89 -- again, Fiveman would probably be entering production stages. They had to have known damn well there wasn't going to be a new show by then, let alone have already cast Kobayashi as the new Rider. And let me add: man, August was a pretty damn later-than-usual wrap date. A month before airing! They're usually finishing ADR by that point, not filming.)

And while Kobayashi acknowledges that he was cast as a Rider who never was, it's always been looked down on, even uncouth, for performers to talk about roles they were offered/given/were meant to play, out of respect for the person who ended up in the role. So Kobayashi's probably not really going to admit "Yeah, that was supposed to be me, but they kept Kurata around!" (So, know that when an actor says they were meant to play a specific part that they're committing a no-no and are kinda assholey.)

So, think of those early episodes. Think of Kobayashi as a young, goofy new character. Think of the tone of those early RX episodes. It's easier to imagine a goofy, new character, isn't it? And after this rewatch, I have to wonder if the original character would basically have Kasumi no Joe's backstory -- someone from Earth who was kidnapped by Crisis, who escaped their cyborg surgery, only to hand themselves over to them and go through with it in order to spare loved ones. That's a backstory for a main character, not the comedic sidekick.

But greed wins. They got Kurata back, they rode on the coattails of Black. I think the only reason we're still talking about RX is because of that. Because it certainly isn't strong enough to stand on its own.

Tetsuo Kurata deserved better. The cast deserved better. The viewers deserved better. Someone loves you, RX -- but it ain't me.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Kamen Rider Black RX Episodes 44-45


EPISODE 44

♪And another one's gone, another one bites the dust, YEAH!♪

Bossgun decides he's had enough with the show and goes to his death. Crisis decides to launch a full scale attack on Japan -- sending Maribaron to meet with Japan's prime minister in a laughable scene (Golgom this ain't), where she just basically asks "Deal? Or No Deal?" Crisis' attack sends a lot of (unseen) people fleeing the city. Among them, the Saharas. Koutarou stops by and gifts them each something, and it's a rare, rare, rare moment in this series that actually just stops and breathes and lets the characters act like PEOPLE. That's long been such a rarity in this show, and it's one of the show's many, many, colossal weaknesses. A big difference between Black and this show was that Black wanted to depict a more realistic world, it wanted to depict ordinary youths. Yes, Koutarou was mostly business in that show, but we often got scenes of him chilling with his sisters or just acting NORMAL...Black, for as fanciful as it was, would often still feel like a show about people. RX is a cartoon.

Whenever we get a scene of Koutarou's downtime in RX, a scene of a "normal" life, it's always wildly exaggerated -- he's clowning around with Reiko in some chauvinistic way, or he's mugging as the Saharas are lobbing insults around, or he's performing in a comedy duo with Joe. RX is a cartoon, and a soulless one that doesn't want you to actually care about the people in the show. But before I go too far into that, I'll move on to...

The monster of this episode, said to be Crisis' strongest. It's like a robotic dinosaur thing that perfectly sums up not only Crisis, but this show -- random. It just drives home how incohesive Crisis is, and the entire show, really. RX, as a production, has just pulled random shit out of a hat for its entire duration, not caring if any of it works or makes sense or is GOOD. Anyway, the monster is real tough, man, with the Revolcane not even making a dent, and Koutarou has to be bailed out by...the 10 (costumed) Riders.

Could they even attempt to make this team-up not feel like the slapped on, attention-seeking afterthought it is? Between those cheap-ass teases of the past few episodes to just how stupid and random and forced in it all is. Why doesn't Koutarou wonder why these jagoffs don't unhenshin? It's always been dopey to me in these team-ups where they don't want to pay any of the old actors, so they're just in costume all the time. It looks really stupid, guys. Why don't they realize this? Why don't they care? Because the RX production has never cared. Not for one moment.

Random notes:

1) The Sahara parents plead with Koutarou to not be reckless. The dad gifts him with his lighter, with the promise he'll stop smoking until Koutarou returns to live with them. They fear they know he's going to his death. (If this show had any subtlety, I'd say this is the moment they let Koutarou know they know he's RX. But this show has never been subtle. It's in your face and kicking you in the nuts directly.) The Saharas obviously don't know how goofy Crisis is, or how ridiculously overpowered Koutarou is. It's wasted dramatics. Koutarou's never felt like he's had the blade against his throat in this series, as he had many times in Black. I think this episode is probably something assistant producer Shigenori Takatera kept in mind when he made Kuuga -- go watch the last few episodes of that show to see scenes of "hero making his farewell tour to his friends" done well.

2) The rubber face on Bossgun's forehead has looked REALLY shabby the past few episodes. But it's still a better actor than Dasmader. (Tetsuya Matsui has zero and a half facial expressions. And that helmet is way too big for you, you runt!)

3) I cannot watch that scene of the Riders introducing themselves without thinking of what Saban's Masked Rider did with it it. Namely, the amazing goon they hired to grunt "I am Amazon!" for Skyrider.
____________

EPISODE 45

A pretty dopey episode in which Koutarou decides to shrink himself as Bio Rider, enter the innards of the "strongest monster of Crisis," and destroy him from within, and then fake his own death for good measure.

Idiots that they are, Crisis thinks they're successful, and then decide to turn their attention to the 10 Riders. Maribaron resurrects monsters to kill them. Why do the showmakers think this is interesting? We have 10 costumed heroes that's hard to care about fighting monsters we've already seen killed by the guy whose show it is. And yet Toei returns to this scenario again and again -- and to this day! It's all just so pointless, as thrilling as a stiff and crusty amateur stage show.

Of course Koutarou's just hiding out, waiting to make his move. He hides, in Bio Rider's CGI goo form, within a puddle near the RX Cave and waits to sneak -attack Crisis' revived monsters.

After Koutarou fakes his death, a good chunk of the episode is spent on following the RX Squad and their reactions. I'm not complaining about this, but I'm going to complain about Goro coming back in out of nowhere and seemingly being made a part of the squad. (Jou Onodera must have been like "Ooh, ooh, dad! Please let me be in the episodes with the old Riders. Pleaaaaaaaaase!") This is RX in a nutshell: it's episode 45, we're in the final stages, main villains are being written off, and here's where the show's priorities lie: an extended "humorous" sequence of a panicked Goro running back and forth trying to fight off monsters, using one of Maribaron's magic feathers that will get them to freeze in their tracks. Goro running into battle with a frying pan... Help me.

Random notes:

1) Crisis' "strongest" monster, that dinosaur robot thing, was typically lame and useless in the end, but I thought the effect where he'd turn into a fireball was cool. It's just Toei's favorite fireball effect, but in the previous episode, they have that fireball land, like a meteorite, and skid across the ground, which was done well.

The scene where Koutarou asks Kyoko to call for water, which she does, and it pours onto Koutarou, allowing him to transform straight into Bio Rider and invade the monster is so out of nowhere and bizarre that it made one of my "WTF Moments" on YouTube. The funniest is those shots where it's obviously crew members just dumping buckets of water on Kurata, and he's just taking it.

2) There's a scene where a monster impersonates Rider 1; because the 10 Riders are freaks and don't unhenshin, it's hard for the RX Squad to notice that there's 11 instead of 10. I would forgive this lousy, forced team-up if Goro had approached Joe being like "I think there's two Rider 1s" and Joe replied "No, that's just Rider 2." Hey-oooooooooooo. (Because the only difference between Rider 1 and Rider 2's design is that Rider 2 has a bow on his head.)

3) RX fights Maribaron and scratches her face, which pisses her off -- that old cliche -- and leads her to wear an oversized eyepatch in these final episodes. A bad, unintentionally comical choice.

4) Seriously, this horseshit 10 Rider team-up. WHY?! Look, I know Toei realized at this point that they killed the franchise again, so they wanted to send it out in a "special" way, and Bandai was worried about Rider toys sitting on the shelf, but...is it really "special" when you're doing it so half-assed? Not that any returning actors would improve it, because it's written so horribly. There's literally no reason for them to be here! There's nothing they do that one of the RX Squad* can't do, and they don't even really end up doing shit or adding anything! Koutarou does all of the work, they just stand there as he kills 10+ monsters!

Look, I know Fujioka was distancing himself from the franchise and off making B-movies with Michael Biehn, and Sasaki's private life was messed up at the time. But you're telling me they couldn't have gotten Miyauchi? Araki? Freaking Shunsuke Takasugi, when being a Kamen Rider is his only known thing? They couldn't even get one of them to do a VOICE? And why are replacement voices always so off? They don't even try to pretend it's the same character. It's acknowledgement by the showmakers that it's a sham. So spare us, the viewers.

*As previously mentioned, the RX Squad was probably put on the backburner for the sake of this lousy team-up. And it kinda sucks, since RX was trying to build them up, and using them in bigger ways would have been more meaningful to the show than Koutarou teaming up with a Korakuen show.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Kamen Rider Black RX Episodes 42-43

♪完全独走♪

EPISODE 42

A frustrating episode because...Gedorian actually has a good, successful-seeming plan in this episode, but Crisis stupidity gets in the way of it. We don't need RX, and we certainly don't need the 10 Riders! Crisis will do themselves in, and not in some Vyram "they're all petty and hate each other" way, but just by their bozoticity.

Gedorian coughs up a worm that sucks up energy. He successfully drains RX of his fighting power, but also the King Stone energy. RX is pretty much toast in the scene when...Dasnerder shows up to interfere, wanting to behead RX himself. (Shut up about beheading people, Dasnerder! You haven't beheaded anyone and you won't. And chances are, if you do, you'll fuck it up like Theon Greyjoy. Because you're a Looser, with a capital L and two incorrect Os, because that's how much you suck, you deserve the 12 year-old internet troll spelling.)

Dasnerder pisses off Gedorian, while the other Crisis officers appear and attack Gedorian. All of this horseshit allows RX to escape, but the Crisis don't care, because they're morons. They all hunt Koutarou down, he's eventually assisted by Joe and Reiko. Joe decides to cause a distraction by confronting the Crisis clowns, and they ARE distracted -- not by Joe, but by the Crisis ship sending down beams of energy. They could easily kill Joe here, but, no, why kill your enemies when you're confused by the appearance of your own ship, and all of the Crisis officers decide to beam back aboard and check this out.

Gedorian's sending the ship's energy down to his monster, and incinerates himself doing so. How? I dunno. It's episode 42 and there's a lot of Crisis regulars to kill. Gedorian's voice-actor is very irritating and indecipherable in this scene. Koutarou's like "Ruh-roh! I better stop that monster." With a look to that stock footage clip of the sky, he transforms (after failing to at first) and saves the day. So, it makes Koutarou look like he was kinda faking as Joe and Reiko hauled his ass throughout the forest, escaping Crisis. Because nothing hurts him. He can escape any jam. There's nothing the writers won't make up for him at this point. He's already overpowered, but we're going to have to sit through a lame-ass team-up with the 10 Fake Shemp Riders as they help him finish the fight with Crisis anyway. *sigh*

Random notes, random show:

1) The episode begins with the Crisis Emperor teleporting a weird-ass Triforce hour glass into the Crisis ship. He's giving the Crisis goons until the Triforce fills with Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice to kill RX and get on with the immigration or he's going to blow 'em all up. He stops it at the last minute, commending Gedorian for doing whatever it takes for the empire. The only thing this guy is leading is Jark and shit. And Jark left town.

2) In this episode we hear the Crisis Emperor, and he's voiced by Goro Naya. That's probably cool for longtime Rider fans, but I think he's kinda mismatched here, and I don't care for the implication that the Crisis Emperor -- leader of these terrible villains -- could actually be the classic Great Leader.
_____________

EPISODE 43

*dundundun* ♪Another one bites the dust♪ *dundundun*

This episode sees Gatezone deciding to take on RX with help of Dasmader. Dasmader sits and studies his video surveillance of RX, looking for a weakness, with the newly revealed info about the King Stone being the source of power. It's a plot hole, I don't get this. Prior to the events of the series, Crisis studied up on Koutarou, remember? They knew all of his abilities and the source of his power in hopes of recruiting him. They knew about the King Stone -- they split it so he'd never transform and sent him floating in space, did they not? Dasmader's the Crisis Emperor, spoiler alert, so he should know this info based on all of Crisis' research. So it's all just pointless time-killin', and more ways to make the villains seem stupid.

Gatezone allows Dasmader to use his "strongest" monster, which will unleash "Death Smoke" to be absorbed by RX at the critical moment he's pulled Revolcane from the King Stone. The plan works, the King Stone's polluted and RX is all writhing around in pain. He's saved by regathering his energy after the monster's deathsmoke blowin' device is damaged by an arrow blasted by Kyoko! And this isn't the first heroic moment for her in this episode, earlier she saves Reiko and Joe, who had been caught and chained up for spying on Crisis. She's had at least four big heroic moments in the show, which is surprising for a character who's come into the show so late, a girl, and so young. But...why is this show afraid to let Reiko do anything?!?! I DON'T UNDERSTAND! It's infuriating.

Reiko's now been paired up with Joe twice in comedic undercover scenes. Despite the fact that she's supposed to be part of the RX Squad now, she's only thrown one kick, and that was to a grunt. If Kyoko can become a master archer off-screen, then Reiko could have become the karate ass-kicking machine we know Makoto Sumikawa is off-screen. I mean, the show even had a scene of her training in a gi! That's more than we got for Kyoko's inexplicable penchant for archery. Did they just want Kyoko to have a signature weapon? Joe's always had his sai. Kyoko's is the arrow, for whatever reason. What, the water power was too goofy? That's supposed to be her thing. Why not make Reiko the archer out of nowhere? Why doesn't she have a signature weapon? We know it's her fists, dammit, but the show doesn't.

Anyway, there's something a little confusing about this episode. We spend a lot of time on the Crisis grunts taking over a gas station and giving people gas that causes their engines to explode and create black smoke. This is the reason Joe and Reiko go undercover, to find out what Crisis is up to. They're captured by Dasmader, who then goes off to make sure his plan to attack the King Stone goes well. This gas plan doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything! It all amounts to nothing! Was this just Crisis' regular plan this week, and it took the backseat since the episode's focus was more about Gatezone going behind Jark's back in order to attack RX on his own? Who knows? The heroes did nothing to stop it. Kyoko destroys a contraption, but it's only the contraption that was keeping Reiko and Joe prisoner.

Speaking of Gatezone, in this episode he has a really random drive to kill RX. Yeah, I know each Crisis member wants him dead to impress their lame boss, but the way the show depicts Gatezone in this episode, they act like it's one of those great personal beefs a toku villain has with a hero, and there's zip between Gatezone and RX. Or RX and any of the Crisis villains, for that matter. And that's one of the many, but one of the larger problems with this show. In Black, it was such an ugly, personal battle for Koutarou. His family was destroyed. There's just nothing connecting Koutarou to the lame-ass villains of this show. Their battles mean nothing. And at this point, the action's not even good anymore, so you can't be like "Well, it was a cool action scene." No, action directors Osamu Kaneda and Jun Murakami have checked out.

After Gatezone's death, Maribaron is seen looking sorrowful for a minute, which Bossgun notices, but she brushes off. There was all this weird stuff earlier in the series where Maribaron would be seen clinging to Gatezone's shoulder or caressing him. Nothing in this show has a payoff, and I don't know what the intention was, but they certainly seemed to be hinting at something between these two characters, which went nowhere. It wasn't even done in a clear enough or constant way to actually interest you in wondering what the untold story was.

You deserved so much better, Sumikawa.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Kamen Rider Black RX Episodes 40-41


EPISODE 40

Dweebmader ended the previous episode vowing to oversee the next plan, and you know the results will be no different than the other Crisis numbskulls. His great plan is to make an apartment complex look like it's haunted to drive out the tenants and modify and use the apartments for the Crisisfolk they're supposed to be smuggling in. In short: Dasmader's flipping a house, while Japan needs to build a wall and have Crisis pay for it!

Reiko hears the story through the grapevine and goes to take photos, spotting General Jark. (This is a grunt of Dasmader's, who later impersonates the general in order to spy on Bossgun. Why did he blow the plan by tipping off to Reiko that Crisis was involved?) Anyway, it's sad that the show lied by acting like they were finally going to let Reiko (Sumikawa) do more, and she's basically still just treated like Jimmy Olsen: good enough to give the deets of what's happening, but being pushed to the back when the men show up.

More Crisis intelligence here, as Bossgun is under Jackie's orders to pretend like he's going along with Dasmader, but Dasmader's only using Bossgun to begin with and, oh, aren't our villains so crafty and devious and interesting? (No.) I really don't understand why Dasmader's breeding Little Shop of Horrors creatures in the apartment, but why should the show make sense now? The turd is nearly out.

Dasmader uses Bossgun's monster to lure RX into a fight where the apartment's revamped security system can study RX's powers and abilities. Later on, Dasmader uses the info he's gathered to blow out that solar panel that's on the front of RX's chest, which I believe they name for the first time here -- the Sun Busk. (I'll give you a minute to laugh.)

Once the Sun Busk is burned out, RX is laying there and looks to the sun. It's a actually nice callback to those early episodes when Koutarou would get knocked around, look at the sun and transform. But it's a little annoying that he just bounces right back and tells Dasmader that the King Stone's more important. So, Maribaron's stupidity in that episode rubbed off and he's blabbing something he shouldn't to a villain. Making the once cool Revolcane finisher useless, RX "kills" Dasmader, but the little bastard pops up again in the end.

Random notes:

1) Dasmader really is a little bastard -- it's a BIG mistake to pair Dasmader and Bossgun up. Bossgun's suit actor is known for his height. Dasmader's a tiny little kid-looking dude. It's hilarious he's supposed to be the superior and he's craning his neck up to address his subordinate. Between his height and what a lousy villain he is...again, I'll just he's basically Dark Helmet.

2) As RX is off fighting monsters, Kyoko infiltrates the apartment building and destroys all of Crisis' equipment and their Little Shop of Horrors monsterplant things with some arrows. Nothing to say here, just that it's random. I like Kyoko, but it's sad that she's been given big hero moments like this and Reiko's given nothing but expositional malarkey. It goes to show how kidcentric the show is.

3) When the apartment building has been abandoned by the frightened citizens, Joe and Reiko disguise themselves as a couple begging to be given a room so they can get Koutarou in to investigate this Crisis Complex. How do they get Koutarou in? He hides in a bag of Reiko's as Bio Rider's CGI booger form. #bioriderisgross

4) RX uses the King Stone Flash at one point. I think it might be the first time he's done so in this series, but it's just depressing in the way it reminds you of Black. Likewise with the way Dasmader survives the Revolcane and is talking of his next great plans with Crisis while that Black BGM I associate with Birugenia plays, making you remember a better villain who Dasmader wishes he was just a pinch as cool as.
________

EPISODE 41

A pretty weird and inessential episode to come so late in the series. I suppose it's RX's version of "a goofy one before the finale," but it just seems so...you guessed it, random.

In this adventure, Maribaron calls for her great-aunt, the 2,000 year-old 100-Eyed Babaa to deal with RX. 100-Eyed Babaa's design is comical and hilarious (and intentionally so, I'm not being a smart-ass here) and she's a weirdo who goes off on her own side journey to absorb young women and gain more years to live. She happens upon Kyoko and becomes obsessed, with Kyoko calling out for Koutarou in desperation and he hears it, which begins his involvement.

100-Eyed Babaa eventually successfully traps Kyoko, Reiko, Joe and Koutarou within one of her many eyes. Although trapped in different eyes, each character can still communicate with one another. The show once again pulls abilities out of its ass for RX -- which it does soften -- and has him asking the others to send him energy, like he's Tinkerbell needing claps, and that allows him to transform and escape from 100-Eyed Babaa's eye and fight her, freeing the others. The highlight here is that 100-Eyed Babaa reduces herself to one floating eye and RX stabs her with the Revolcane mid-flight, so Jiro Okamoto's wired up as explosives are set off around him. I don't think Joe or Reiko are acting as they look on like "Oh, shit!"

It's funny. Even though I didn't mind this episode, I think it's lousy in terms of falling where it does -- RX doesn't have a full 50 episodes, so is there really time to waste on something like this? So despite being entertaining, it still fails!

Random notes:

1) The episode begins with Koutarou, Joe and Reiko spying on a Crisis contraption and making plans to shut it down. Of course, only Joe and Koutarou set out and get in on the action -- Reiko completely disappears until the smoke clears. Do I need to beat this horse anymore?

2) The voice actress for the 100-Eyed Babaa is hilarious, and I was certain it was Rika Matsumoto. I'm wrong, it's Kazue Ikura.

3) The episode ends with shots of the 10 Riders gathering in America, after fighting and investigating Crisis throughout the world. Wait, what? These inept bozos have been trying to take over the whole world, and not just Japan? HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaa...

Anyway, it's lame and I hate it. I imagine the kids watching RX at the time being like "Who are these fugly lame-os?" while the adults were like "Geez, couldn't they have gotten ANY actor back? Why does Rider 1 sound like a tween?" Because the RX production won't rest until it makes everyone unhappy.