Sunday, September 25, 2016

Black Lightning: Kamen Rider Black episodes 37 - 40 + Movie 2

37 - A stab at getting a little more grounded and personal; Katsumi and the others are in Yubari for a friend's wedding, when Shadow Moon coldly uses Katsumi by manipulating her into capturing the newlywed friend (a teacher), all to give Koutarou a taste of what it's like to see the fall of a loved one (as if he hasn't with Nobuhiko), to see the loved one cause misery, and to be powerless to stop them. It's interesting to think that maybe Shadow Moon chose Katsumi in hopes that she'd be harmed or killed, maybe that he's aware there's feelings for her deep within him, and he needs to be rid of them, but the show doesn't make that clear.

Katsumi actress Ayumi Taguchi is good at playing bad, though. Makes you wonder what it would have been like if Katsumi had long ago decided to join Golgom for Nobuhiko's sake and become a new villainess for the show. I also think she might be wearing Yellow Mask's shirt from Maskman in this episode.

Something that always sticks out for me about this episode: Pink Flash actress Mayumi Yoshida pops up for one scene as an acquaintance at the wedding. Why is it Pink Flash? Why get somebody toku fans are going to recognize for an absolute nothing role? Why couldn't she have played the friend getting married? It's weird and distracting.

38 - Another welcome stab at being grounded, right down to bringing back Golgom's politician Sakata, who (believe it or not) was last seen in episode 8. I loved when the show used Kuromatsu, Sakata and Oomiya regularly, giving the show that realistic vibe of Golgom's influence. I always figured they would keep adding characters like them throughout the series, more and more officials who follow Golgom, but they instead sweep those three guys away pretty quickly. Oomiya only gets a photo cameo here! Still, it's nice to bring them back into the mix, and try to recall those early episodes.

Here Sakata creates an organization (the EP Party) for the sake of world peace and charity. It's all obvious bullshit, but people eat it up, anyway, and it quickly finds success. (Oomiya backs the organization in a press release via an assistant.) The key to winning over people in this episode is the opening of a care facility that has a machine that is said to speed up the body's healing ability to the point where it can quickly heal severe injuries and even cure disease. Really, the machine was stolen, and is an abandoned idea, the inventor finding out that the machine looks like it works, but it really ultimately ends up KILLING people rather than helping them. But that works for Golgom, they don't want the sickly in their new world. So, the promise of curing people, only to really be killing them, is damned awful. It's really surprising that this is a Baraom plot, because it's a nefarious one.

It's weird, though, that Baraom disguises himself as a human in this episode and he's not played by JAC suit actor Toshimichi Takahashi, as he should and usually would have been. It's not like Takahashi hasn't had a bunch of face roles, so it's weird that it's not him. (It's instead Kenjuu Hayashi, who played Megiddo in Dynaman.)

MOVIE 2 - This was the first time I've watched this movie. I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one, but it's OK. It's interesting that it ties into the series a little more than toku movies at the time tended to do; Shadow Moon's here, talking of his plans to build the Golgom empire, and choosing to do so in the city of Yubari. (So, we know what episode they were filming at the time of this movie -- 37.)

From there, the plot becomes real '70s Rider-y, in that it's about an escaped scientist and Koutarou coming to the rescue of the scientist and his family. ('70s Rider LOVED random scientists needing saved. And hikers. But especially: scientists' kids and hikers' siblings.) In a really bizarre and random turn of things, Golgom is having this scientist (played by Flashman's Tokimura, aka Shin's dad in Shin Kamen Rider) BUILD THEM A GIANT ROBOT! What the fuck?!? That's so un-Golgom like. They want a giant robot to guard this big old Golgom Mansion Shadow Moon plans to build, and it just doesn't fit...

And the robot's design makes it even worse. Is it something cool, like a big gargoyle or dragon or something? No, it looks like a giant Johnny Five from Short Circuit. Can you imagine Shadow Moon piloting this thing? I guess they WOULD be successful in defeating Black, because he'd die from laughter if he saw that thing coming his way. But there's a reason the robot looks the way it does...

The first movie had the Ishinomori cameo, this one has an extended cameo for the real life (then) mayor of the city of Yubari, Tetsuji Nakada. Nakada made a brief appearance in episode 37, spamming some of his city's virtues, but he's more involved here. As for that goofy robot, it's actually something real called the U-BAROT, which was an attraction unique to the city of Yubari and the Robotic Science Center of its History Village tourist spot. So, this whole movie is a travel brochure for Yubari, which is strange, but...they really wanted to be put on the map, dammit!

The best part of this movie, without question, is the fight scene between Black and Shadow Moon. The show's making you wait for it, but if you got your ass to the theater for Toei's Manga Matsuri, you got to have a little taste. Kids probably had bragging rights over those who didn't get to see the movie; be there or be square, man.

39 - I could never tell if this episode is meant to be taken completely seriously or if it's seriocomic. It seems like a goofy idea, especially for this show, but it's also presented to be a serious threat, so...

Whatever, I think it's a fun episode. It might not fit Black or even what my idea of Black is or should be, but it's fun. Call me crazy, but I think if you're an evil organization out to conquer mankind and ruin civilization, there's worse ways to go about it that manufacture a pop star who has subliminal signals in their videos. Jesus, look at the state of music now! People are buying into pop acts hook, line and sinker. A sinister Golgom plot being behind Adele and Taylor Swift is the only explanation I can think of for their popularity, how about you?

This episode COULD have been played completely straight. The villains backing a pop star who relies on a mysterious image -- she never attends events or performs live, adding to her mystique -- to add incentive for her subliminal-message-packed videos to create a frenzy in their demand...that could all be done seriously and cool and creepy, with some serious real life commentary! (The episode does try some commentary, I think, by insinuating that otaku types who lock themselves up and worship an idol are under that idol's evil influence, that it's beyond their control.) But the way it's presented, with Japan's love for mid-teen idols who can barely sing or dance and have such a manufactured, scripted persona, that all plays as just kind of goofy. (I hate Japan's teen idol scene.) Especially when someone like Koutarou loses his shit over her, and that's even BEFORE he's hit with the subliminal signal.

My favorite part of this episode is the way Kyoko and Battle Hopper step up when Koutarou's out of it. Kyoko's the first one to realize that the hit song Mogrog is Gorgom (Golgom) backwards, The Shining style. With the way Koutarou's so eager to blame everything on Golgom, you'd think he would have noticed that immediately. ("The weatherman said it was supposed to be 75 degrees today, not 74 -- this is Golgom's doing!" -- Koutarou's standard line of thinking. Poor paranoid bastard.)

Just when Koutarou's embarrassed himself enough, Battle Hopper is shown reacting back at Koutarou's garage/base, and dashes out after him. First, he stops to pick up Kyoko. Battle Hopper is awesome, and like this show's second Rider. I keep calling Battle Hopper "he," but...what's Battle Hopper's actual gender? Maybe Battle Hopper is female. Battle Hopper gets killed in the finale, which is the tradition of female Riders, so I guess Battle Hopper could be a lady.

The pop singer is Yuko Ooi, which is the name of the actress playing her, who was also a pop singer. So I guess she's playing "herself" in the same way that, say, Matt LeBlanc plays "himself" in Episodes. Googling her, it seems like she's a one-hit wonder, and a lot of the top results are about this Black episode. Still, gotta hand it to her for being an idol just starting out and playing a evil version of herself, a monster disguising itself as a pop star.

40 - A pretty unnecessary episode, especially this late in the game, but it's one that I like for guest star Masashi Ishibashi, in one of his rare good guy performances in a toku. There's barely a story in this one, it's just Koutarou chasing a monster into hiding within the mountains, where Koutarou comes across Ishibashi's kindly old hermit and his kid pupil.

The kid is under the impression that Ishibashi's character is a karate master, but Ishibashi's character is really just a fraud. He's not coming from a place of malice, he's really just an easily frightened guy, somebody who never stood out much and whose biggest failure in life was failing to save his grandson from a dire situation. The kid pupil believes in him, though, and gives the guy encouragement he needs. Koutarou's afraid these two are in danger, so he just hangs around until he's through with the monster and onto the next episode's adventure.

Ishibashi's character is just kind of pitiful, initially afraid that the obviously more capable Koutarou's come to unmask him as a fraud. Wouldn't you know the monster shows up and attacks the kid, and when the old man freezes in terror, the kid finally realizes he's dishonest and turns on him. Ishibashi's character finally finds courage to take on the monster so the kid can run to safety, putting his life on the line, and once again ends up as a hero in the kid's eyes. Ishibashi's just likable, and as a real-life karate-ka, he probably had a chuckle over playing a guy who was a fake and knew nothin'.

All in all, this is one of those kid-friendly, lesson-learnin' episodes. Hokey, but not offensive.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Kamen Rider Black episode 36 & The Problem with Nobuhiko

36 - Shadow Moon has declared himself leader of Golgom and revamps the Golgom trio into being super monsters. I've always hated what this show does to the Golgom trio. They went from being creepy and mysterious and cool and are given a new, awful look that makes them look like ordinary monsters of the week, and they're turned into mere lackeys of Shadow Moon's. They should have just given them a power-up, but, no, their title literally goes from "Great Priest" to "Great Kaijin." "Kaijin," as in just "monster," as in the plain description of the low-ranking monsters of the week of this show. Our regular villains have been turned toady. It sucks, especially since the designs are terrible. (Bishum looks like she's out of some bad Broadway play -- Bats -- or something.)

Once Darom transforms, they switch suit-actors. I really liked what Hirokazu Shouji did in the role; he's really short, but he carried himself in a certain way, conveying such a confidence and strength that he made Darom seem like a man of import, a man in charge. (Shozo Iizuka's voice-over is great, as well, it goes without saying.) Shouji did a lot through that mask, and the replacement as Great Kaijin Darom just doesn't bother.

This episode also kind of goes against what this show wanted to be in its earlier days. Remember the Golgom that was manipulating society from the shadows? The Golgom who had officials and world leaders in their pocket? The Golgom that was insidious, that was more realistic? Shwip. That's the sound of the show wiping its ass with all that. Shadow Moon's first decision is to take Golgom public, having the Golgom trio break into a government building and cause panic in a public part of the city. Remember when Golgom actually had politicians on their side? Now they're breaking into buildings and being like "We're Golgom, and we're taking over! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha. I'll be Governor Darom!" It's disappointing, and a time when you wonder what Shozo Uehara would have been doing at this point if he didn't leave the show.

I understand bringing in the big villain they've been talking about and trying to convey a sense of escalation for this final act of the series. The show wants to go big and not go home, but not only is it obvious that the budget's gradually shrinking, which hurts these chaotic and apocalyptic scenarios the show wants to convey, but it's done in a way that feels like a betrayal to the series' original agenda. Just a few tweaks to the writing, and it would work more, and you could overlook the show's trying to do something grand that's usually done in high-budget Hollywood blockbusters.

Shadow Moon's big thing since arriving is his plan to just demolish civilization and build Golgom's empire above ground. Golgom's been trying to systematically bring down society and take over, more methodically, but Shadow Moon's still kind of keeping with their overall agenda. X-Men: Apocalypse is newly released as of this writing, and what he's saying is not unlike Apocalypse's big "Everything they built will fall! From the ashes, we'll build a new world!" speech. This show, obviously, doesn't have a $200 million budget like that movie, so you just have to be patient and let your imagination do the walking, because a lot of where this show goes with its own doomsday scenarios is just done in a disappointing way. And again, that's not even taking into consideration the way that it feels like it goes against what the series was first setting out to do, and ends up turning the Golgom into more generic and average villains than they were. You knew there'd be escalation, that Golgom wanted to destroy and take over the world, but I always assumed it would be more subtle. They're like a supernatural SPECTRE, they have people everywhere, their tentacles are extended across the world. The '70s Riders wanted their villains to be like that, but Black obviously wanted to be more believable than those shows.

The scene where Golgom is attacking the city is meant to be big and chaotic, but they really don't want to put the money into it. The Bowzock attack in the first episode of Carranger is more frantic than anything Golgom does here. And there's some cool episodes coming up that are like this one, that are meant to feel big-scale and like huge events, but they're really cutting back on the show's budget at this point, and that hurts these ideas as much as the show's switching gears. On the bright side, Katsumi gets a moment to shine as she saves a kid from a falling sign, before begging Nobuhiko to end this attack.

The highlight of this episode is Kyoko and Katsumi returning to the Akizuki home and finding Shadow Moon there. He's just being a creep in a dark room, surrounded by smoke. He tells them of his plans for world domination and offers them protection, which it looks like Katsumi actually considers for a moment. The stillness and calm in which suit-actor Tokio Iwata moves as Shadow Moon is great, and Masaki Terasoma's voice-performance is suitably restrained. (That dude can really ham it up at times, so it's nice he's so reserved in this role.)

And it's here that I'd like to talk about Nobuhiko. When I first got into Kamen Rider Black, it was the late '90s/early '00s-ish. I obviously knew about Shadow Moon, and I obviously knew it was Nobuhiko. So, I was expecting Nobuhiko to be more involved with the show, and once Shadow Moon came in, we'd see an evil Nobuhiko who would pop in and out of the show and transform into Shadow Moon -- you know, the way the regular evil Riders in the Heisei shows do. So, I was initially surprised and disappointed that there's way more Shadow Moon than there ever is Nobuhiko, and that Shadow Moon never really "transforms" back into Nobuhiko...

Now, I've come to accept that maybe it's the show wanting to convey just how little there is of Nobuhiko left, that he's so far gone, so transformed that there's only Shadow Moon. He'll take on a Nobuhiko form briefly, if it suits an agenda, but, really, Nobuhiko is gone.

Maybe it's for the best since Nobuhiko's actor, Takahito Horiuchi, doesn't seem like the greatest actor, and probably couldn't have pulled off a villainous Nobuhiko. That's another thing -- the show needed to show us a bit more Nobuhiko prior to the transformation. We hardly ever even get dialogue about what he was like. Are we to just assume that he was as seemingly decent as Koutarou? Again, I kind of blame Horiuchi, who in his brief appearances always seems like a smug bastard with a chip on his shoulder. We definitely needed someone better as Nobuhiko, someone at least likable. I'm not saying he should have played Nobuhiko, I'm just using this as an example, but think of a performer like Hiroshi Miyauchi; Miyauchi is such a personality, you know him so well, he can convey a lot with a little. If you weren't going to deal with Nobuhiko a lot, you needed someone like that in those flashback snippets.

Which brings me to this next point: I remember someone at Japan Hero saying that they heard the reason for Nobuhiko's lack of screen presence is because Horiuchi was difficult, and that he resented not being the lead, so the production used him as little as they could. I have no idea how true that is -- there's really no info about Horiuchi out there -- but it's hard to watch the show and not wonder if that was the case. Because just even in episodes 34 and 36, he's used in just one scene, without much of any dialogue. Like "Get him in, get him out, we hate working with him."

That would be sad if it was true, because...who does Horiuchi think he is? He's not good. Who is he, even? He doesn't seem to have many credits beyond Black. The Japanese Wikipedia claims he was a popular pop singer, but I can't even find info out about that -- they list a couple of singles and an album, how popular could he be based on such a little output? Why wouldn't they just recast him IF he was hard to work with?

I don't know if I believe the story of him being hard to work with, but I still think he's a weak actor, and a casting mistake. I also think the show going through so many writers contributes to the Nobuhiko side of the story seeming messy. At this point of the show, it's clear that Sugimura's taken over, and doesn't care about dispensing with what Uehara and the show originally set out to do.

This episode also has Shadow Moon speaking to Koutarou through the King Stone, telling him that they're destined to fight, beginning a new story-line for the show to drag out -- it's about ten or so episodes before Black and Shadow Moon have that fight. Having build-up and creating anticipation for what's supposed to be an important part of the series is good, but with the way Black's been going, you know there's going to be a couple less-than-stellar episodes in between that you'll have to fight through, with some anime-ish repetition of dialogue to be beaten over the head with, too.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Black Shadow: Kamen Rider Black episodes 31 - 35

31 - Episode starts with some bad-ass motocross action, with a buncha explosions, fuck yeah! What danger is Koutarou getting into now? Ha, fooled you! The motorist takes off their helmet and it's a kid! This episode marks the return of the Shonen Golgom Tai from episode 24, but only two of the four actors from that episode returned. That kind of weakens the episode, but it's such a strange concept, and these kids are really dedicated to their roles, that I dig these stunted soldiers, so it's fun to see them back. (Where'd their custom grey jackets with Black's question mark squiggle go?) In a fact that only interests me, one of the new kids playing a Shonen Senshi is Yuuji Satou, who was the first Warajii in Changeman -- he only played Warajii once, in his first appearance, episode 27. I also recognize Satou as the kid who wanted Takeru to teach him the Godhand in that awesome episode of Maskman.

In this episode, we learn that INET's Kubota must have been a Golgom member, because he TOTALLY rips off of Golgom's plan in this episode to recruit young soldiers through video games for his Megaranger project. That's right, Golgom wants to replenish their Shonen Golgom Tai stock by recruiting kids who show skill at the video game Athletic World (I have that game!) and kidnapping sucking them into the video game. There's some moments that I see as kind of meta moments, like the fact that the game/computer screen gives off an obnoxious strobe flash before it sucks someone into the game, Black understandably shielding his eyes like Mega Red's jamming his Drill Saber in 'em. (Feel how the audience has felt for 30 episodes of DX Terebi Power toys, Minami Koutarou!)

There's a funny bit when a kid playing a video game gets a glimpse of a digitized, 8-bit looking Black fighting the episode's monster, Double Dragon style, when Black's in the computer world. It would have been funnier if the show had used a snippet of the actual game of Kamen Rider Black they had for the Famicom disc system, though. How awesome would that have been? (The game snippet they show here has better graphics than the real game.)

There's also a bit when Koutarou is being told by the one tech-savvy Shonen Senshi that there's a chance that, if they go into the computer world, they might not return. The other Shonen Senshi freak out at this idea, and Koutarou's on board immediately. This might sound horrible, but...I think Koutarou should have weighed the situation more. There looked to be only two captives in the computer world, and Koutarou was risking his freedom to go in and save them when...what would he have done if he got stuck there? What would the world have done? We have only him to fight Golgom, man. He wagered A LOT on two captives.

Episode could have spent a little more on the "video game" set, though. It's just all a bunch of cubes and squares, like Golgom sent 'em to Q*Bert. I used to poke fun at this episode, using it as a marker of how far Black got from its more serious early episodes, but I've come around to enjoying it more -- it's entertaining.

32 - I honestly didn't even remember this episode. And that's because it sucks. I think this episode originated as writer Ryu Yamaguchi being like "Hey, guys, I have this real creepy image of Bishum as a nun!" And the producers were like "Ew, cool! What's the episode about?" And Yamaguchi replied, "Dunno! But I just scored some killer magic 'shrooms from my dealer, so that should get the old idea engine runnin'!" Sorry to say, Yamaguchi, you got some of the bad shit...

Because the episode is literally a giant mushroom who sprays yellow smoke over people and gets them to hallucinate and have nightmares and shit -- see how little Yamaguchi traveled for his inspiration? Really, this episode wants to be one of those classic Space Sheriff, trippy, what-the-fuck's going on, the hero is trapped in Makuu/Mado/Fushigi Space and it's 22 minutes of just wacky and bizarre shit. But Black just doesn't commit to it the way the Space Sheriffs did. Either that, or Space Sheriff writer Shozo Uehara had a better mushroom supply to fuel the freaky images those episodes could produce.

This is the kind of crap, weak, stupid episode that gives formulaic toku a bad name. Formula isn't the problem, people, it's bad ideas like this episode is crammed with. Also, it's episodes like these that give Tetsuo Kurata a bad reputation. I've read a lot of people knock him for being hammy, but the problem is that he's giving 110% to shit episodes like this, episodes that don't really have anything going for them, and episodes that seem kind of stupid to get so intense and passionate over, so Kurata's efforts aren't appreciated.

Ryu Yamaguchi, by the way, wrote episode 24, the one with Katsumi and the college girls being kidnapped by Godai's whiny teacher, the one that...had nightmare imagery, and had the Freddy Krueger-esque effect of Katsumi rolling around on the ceiling. Yamaguchi repeats that here! This is only his second Black script, and he's repeating himself! Not surprisingly, this is his last Black script, too. This episode might be worse than the one with the gold-shitting bug, because I recommend just skipping it. Gold-shitting bug at least had a cool fight in it.

(My lawyer insists that I must point out that I'm being humorous, and that neither Ryu Yamaguchi nor Shozo Uehara are known drug users.)

33 - Boring. The Golgom plot this week is to mess with a river's flow and contaminate a water supply with toxic waste -- it's a generic villain plot, whatever, but I can picture this idea working better in an episode from earlier in this series, centered on an older character, being grounded and real world. Because here, it's weakened by being wrapped in a generic and random story of a wheelchair-bound boy who witnesses Golgom's monster, and how his dad never believes him. Snooze.

34 - After a string of below average and weak episodes, we finally get to something meaty! This begins a three-parter that sadly has bigger ambitions than the budget allows.

I remember when I first saw this episode, being shocked at the first scene, with the out of it and dirty Nobuhiko stumbling through the city streets, making his way to a police station. Holy crap, what's going on?! I wasn't expecting this! This is the first time in a while we've seen Nobuhiko. (And he looks like he's been eating some of those Kamen Rider Black snacks -- dude's puffed up a bit.) He's sent to the hospital and the news puts out info about this Jiro Doe, which Kyoko happens to catch and dashes out of the shop to make her way to the hospital. She gets to Nobuhiko's room and...Nobuhiko is just Baraom in disguise. What a goddamn motherfucking rip-off. This show's dicked around enough and has no right to be dicking around on fool you moments like this.

That leads to Baraom kidnapping Kyoko and trying to recreate their plan from SEVENTEEN EPISODES AGO to use Kyoko to feed the cocooned Nobuhiko her life force. That Baraom, he's a quick one. At this point, it's kind of like...what the hell's been the hold-up with Shadow Moon, anyway? Koutarou escaped half-baked and Black turned out just fine. They're overcooking Nobuhiko! Why's he just been covered in Saran Wrap and shoved in a hamster ball for 34 goddamn episodes?!? What have the three Golgom Priests been doing?!?! How long does it take to bake a Shadow Moon?!?!?

Despite the length of time it's taken, the Golgom trio are pretty confident that it will work this time. Birugenia doesn't like that, and it lights a fire under his ass to throw his hat in the ring and run for the title of Creation King's successor as an Independent nominee. The current Creation King shows him a hellish path which he walks, and ends up with the Creation King's sword. This is his entire platform -- that he found the sword belonging to the Creation King, and that's why Golgomites should vote for him -- he gets shit done! As sudden as it is, I like this turn for Birugenia; he had a tossed off line around when he debuted, about how he could have been the contender for Century King -- even being born under the prophesied eclipse -- but he was born too early. (A Creation King holds office for about 50,000 years. It's only at this point in the show that the current Creation King is nearing the end of office.)

Birugenia, drunk on his awesomeness, frees Kyoko and takes her hostage to lure out Koutarou. The Three Golgom Musketeers are pissed that they lost Kyoko, and are told by the Creation King that they can use the energy of their elemental stones and transfer that to Nobuhiko. Like Black has the sun stone and Shadow Moon the moon stone, the Golgom priests have stones of earth, sea and sky, and begin transferring their energies to Nobuhiko.

Meanwhile, Birugenia shows that he's apparently been watching '70s tokus in his spare time, because he decides to hang Kyoko on a cross at the rocky quarry. Koutarou don't like that one bit, and a fight ensues. Koutarou takes quite a beating, and even nearly sacrifices Road Sector and Battle Hopper to get to Kyoko and free her. Birugenia corners them on a cliff and they fall, the show's first real cliffhanger.

I like this episode, despite my complaining, I just always find it irritating that it drags things out and has those little teasing cop-outs when the show's danced around this enough, but what makes it twice as bad is coming off a string of such subpar episodes.

35 - Picking up where the last one left off, Black and Kyoko have landed at the bottom of the mountain, but onto some rocks, and not into the sea. Black's taking a well earned nap and reverts to Koutarou, which Kyoko witnesses for the first time. She helps keep him hidden from Birugenia, and they make their way into a cave where there's a scene I like, when Koutarou lays out the possibility that he'll have to fight Nobuhiko, which Kyoko doesn't react well to. Koutarou's always tried to shine an optimistic light on the Nobuhiko situation, especially with Kyoko and Katsumi. But you always knew there's not a happy ending there -- Nobuhiko's been in Golgom's hands too long -- so for him to admit here, to Kyoko, that he might have no choice but fight him, is big.

While Koutarou tries to heal, Birugenia causes random destruction by possessing a group of biker punks. This is mainly notable because the head punk is Jiro Okamoto, making his third face appearance in this series. (The first time was as a guy being possessed by Birugenia in Birugenia's first episode! Fitting that he's back for Birugenia's last.) This eventually leads to Koutarou and Birugenia having a cool fight, made cooler by the way it turns dark once Shadow Moon revives.

That's right, the Golgom trio put all of their energy into reviving Shadow Moon, and it finally, finally works. Good for them, because they didn't want Birugenia to win the election, but bad for them, because it left them all shriveled and dying and they now look like Godneros' nutsack. (There's a nicely gross bit with tides of sand coming out from Darom's mouth and face.)

They do a good job of debuting Shadow Moon; not only does his revival cause earthquakes, but the sky turns black, and his ominous form is shown just standing in the Golgom lair; he steals the sword right from Birugenia's hand while he's in the middle of fighting Black, causing Black to gain the upper hand in the fight. When Birugenia returns to the lair, I love his look of joy at seeing the pitiful sight of the shriveled Golgom trio; but his joy is short lived, because he quickly spots Shadow Moon out the corner of his eye.

Shadow Moon just stands there, huge, threatening, mysterious. Birugenia doesn't back down, and demands the return of his sword once he spots it in Shadow Moon's hand. Shadow Moon just lightly chuckles. "It was made for me. Take it back, if you think you can." These are his first words and he's already a son of a bitch! Birugenia attacks and Shadow Moon cuts him down with no effort. Remember, Birugenia's no slouch, so this is a great intro to the villain they've made us wait so long to see. Birugenia dies, which is a loss to the show; he was awesome, and it would have been interesting to see him interact with Shadow Moon for at least a couple of episodes. But, still, that would lessen the impact of Shadow Moon's instantly slaughtering him.

I think the episode should have ended there; I think it's a mistake to shoehorn in Shadow Moon revealing himself to Koutarou in an underwhelming way. Koutarou's just driving, and Shadow Moon materializes in the middle of the road to just toss off some generic bad guy boasting. They needed to save their meeting and make it much more momentous. The only good thing here is that Koutarou uses his noggin. I could picture some other show having Koutarou get off his bike and be like "Who are you!?!" "Mwa-ha-ha. I am Shadow Moon." "Shadow Moon!?!? Nobuhiko?! You're Nobuhiko?!?!" That would be all stupid and overly melodramatic, but Koutarou's calm, and recognizes who it is off the bat, just calmly addressing him as Nobuhiko. That's the only upside in this rushed final scene.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Black Knight: Kamen Rider Black episodes 26 - 30

26 - This episode has a mixed message; a dad's pushing his daughter to be stronger, to keep up with the boys in this ever changing world, and she wants to be strong, but she's, like, just no good at them sports the way boys are, because girls can't play sports! So, she's ripe pickin' for Golgom, who sends Dyna Blue to possess her and give her super-strength to the point where she's pwning boys at every sport, and also Koutarou. Then, when she's freed, her dad's all bawling like "I'm sorry for pushing you to do the impossible!" Bah.

Despite that, I like this episode, and that's because of guest star Hiromi Yuhara as the girl. When I first saw this episode, I was like "What, is she some kind of JAC kid or something?!" Because she's awesome, she cuts loose, man -- she's throwing stuff around, taking crazy falls, beating the crap out of Koutarou and Black. Yuhara's actually a pretty good actress for her age -- check out how well she pulls off playing bad here, but also the normal girl trying to fight through the Golgom monster's possession. Yuhara's popped up in A LOT of toku stuff in the '80s and '90s (my favorite role of hers is Rin in Turboranger). She's often the target of villains, and she's a really sympathetic performer, with a sorrowful look to her. I would have liked to see her mature and become a Sentai heroine or something, but her last appearance was as Malteua's human form in Ohranger. She was good in that, but needed a better send-off. (Yuhara actually was also in the first Black movie, as one of the kidnapped kids.)

27 - I like this episode, but it's a bit of a knock-off of that one Ultraseven episode. I mean, toku is filled with episodes where the hero is cheering up a hospitalized kid, but this one -- like Ultraseven -- is about the hero racing the clock to restore power to the hospital because a kid's undergoing emergency surgery. The monster drains energy, so Koutarou's held up from transforming and takes quite a beating, the way Dan did in that Ultraseven, too. Well, I guess if you're going to rip off of something, rip off of something good.

Unintentional moment of laughter -- Koutarou is pinned down by the monster, who's trying to rip the King Stone from his body, and Koutarou escapes this by poking the monster in the eyes with his first two fingers like Moe Howard.

28 - Fan favorite writer Naruhisa Arakawa makes his tokusatsu debut with this episode! It's the first and last episode of Black he writes, because it's terrible. I really like Arakawa, he's one of my favorite toku writers, he's written some great, classic stuff, but he can turn around and write some absolute junk. This episode is junk.

It's not a terrible idea to have the villains try to get the hero to lose faith in people and fall into despair, but this possibly the stupidest way you could have gone about the idea. And it's not only just a stupid episode, but it's another episode that makes the characters look dumb. Birugenia, who's been great all of his time in the show, especially in the way he shows up JUST to mock the Golgom trio's plans of the week, is finally shown giving a plan of his own,'s dumber than anything he mocked the trio for. So, it sorta makes him look bad. He has the latest monster unleash golden insects all over Japan, which basically shit gold, and it becomes all of the rage in Japan, a Pokemon for adults, and this is supposed to make society collapse into greed and laziness.

The Golgom trio eat this shitty plan up, but Birugenia's real goal is to get people to turn on Koutarou and have him lose faith. (Which redeems him from looking completely stupid for hatching this plan, at least.) Once his new kid friend of the week's family is being torn apart by this gold-shitting bug shit, Koutarou begins a quest to tour Japan and break into people's houses and destroy their gold-shitting bug collections. Kind of an asshole move, and all kinds of illegal, but nobody calls the cops on him -- they just throw him out or throw a bucket of water on him to chase him off. About this: people are said to have been quitting their jobs and cashing in their savings to buy these bugs with plans to breed them and make more, which means more gold shit. So, when Black ultimately foils this plan, that leaves a lot of penniless and presumably homeless people throughout Japan, including Koutarou's latest kid buddy he's trying to "help."

Anyway, Koutarou plays along like he's lost faith in humanity and lures out Birugenia and gives us this episode's only saving grace, which is a cool fight scene.

The previous episode was a knock-off, and this one sort of is, too. It reminds me of that Flashman episode where Kaura -- the outsider villain -- heads up his own plan of unleashing gold-shitting bugs on Japan. That episode's real plan ends up being that the bugs will explode or something, but it's the same thing with appealing to people's greed. Also: that Flashman episode is known for showcasing the villain actors without make-up, as they go undercover to peddle the insects. This episode has Birugenia's actor sans make-up, posing as a guy who is using a story of his own good fortune with these gold-shitting bugs to make people want them.

Yeah, screw this episode. Sad thing is, I'm planning on rewatching RX, but that entire series feels like the gold-shitting bug episode -- without the cool fight.

29 - A good episode with a lot of crazy action for everyone. Of course, it's awesome that Change Mermaid is a guest-star -- she's one of four astronauts who Golgom kidnap and replace with copies so they can actually crash the space shuttle and screw with mankind's desire to explore space. (It's mentioned that Hiroko Nishimoto's character would be the first female Japanese astronaut in space. Nishimoto's been to space a couple times already, pal.)

Katsumi gets some of the spotlight since she's friends with Nishimoto's character, Himeya. There's a pretty cool and tense scene later on when Katsumi and Kyoko are trapped in a small hospital room, fending off an attack from the Himeya clone. (Kyoko gets a few hits in; so they're not just hiding in a closet and yelling for Koutarou. Koutarou doesn't end up saving them directly, either.)

Katsumi is actually captured by Golgom and taken to their lair, where Darom nearly shits himself when he recognizes her as Shadow Moon's girlfriend. He plans to use this to their advantage, but Birugenia, like a true renegade Sixth Villain, lets her go to further his own plan -- which is to lure Katsumi into a false sense of security with Himeya and help free her and the other astronauts, who actually turn out to be the clones. There's yet another cool fight between Koutarou/Black and Birugenia, and once again Koutarou sucker punches Birugenia with Road Sector (he warns him to take a look behind him this time, it's hilarious).

The episode ends with Katsumi saying she felt like she was near Nobuhiko when she was captured, which is our Nobuhiko update... We know now that Shadow Moon's coming up shortly, so she shouldn't be so happy about that.

30 - A disappointingly scattered episode. There's not even much of a plot to it; Baraom manipulates a Hawaiian -- who is said to belong to an island clan and has a supernatural power to repel grasshoppers -- into traveling to Japan and killing Koutarou. Masaki Kyomoto is wasted, his return as Taki pointless, as he tries to lend a hand, but mostly gets his ass kicked and must just run away with the Hawaiian and guard her until Black gets there to do the real savin'. Really, it's like the producers realized they could use Kyomoto one more time and just shoved him into an already existing script; you can picture the episode without Taki and it plays just the same.

Not much to this episode except luring Koutarou into a trap and attacking him. The episode takes a strange turn when Birugenia steps in to block the monster's attack -- which was working pretty well -- and essentially saves Koutarou by attacking him with his Dark Storm move, throwing him across town, all as a way of preventing Baraom from killing Koutarou, leaving that job for himself. That's not the weird part, though, the weird part is that Koutarou lands in a park and randomly has amnesia. Some kids kick a soccer ball in his direction and he returns it, smashing apart a bench it hits, because he doesn't remember he's a cyborg. Koutarou ends up regaining his memory because he sees the soccer ball and it reminds him of Taki. Yeah, right. GTFO.

Birugenia then shows up and the episode is so unremarkable that it fails to give us even an entertaining fight! It's a really clumsy, awkward, cheap fight in this park where the same bench keeps getting destroyed (by either Birugenia's sword or Koutarou's fat-ass as he falls onto it) with Birugenia hacking down a lot of trees in missed attempts at hitting Koutarou. I don't know why, but from here out, this show LOVES to have characters fall and break benches.

Episode's just weak. And it ends with a narration that's like "But Koutarou's fate is about to change...!" and they cut to the cocooned Nobuhiko, still looking like the Hopper Man Koutarou first transformed into in episode one. The episode then ends with the old TSUZUKU, and I'm guessing a ton of people were pissed off once they waited through the commercials, sat through the ending credits, and saw that the next episode's preview contained jackshit about Nobuhiko or his transformation. In fact, it had to be a HUGE middle finger that it was a preview for an episode about Koutarou going into a video game to save kids. (It ends up being a fun episode, but, c'mon...a huge letdown when you're teasing that the Shadow Moon stuff was going to get rolling.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Black Hole Message: Kamen Rider Black episodes 21 - 25 + Movie

21 - Fun episode with Battle Hopper influenced by the latest monster, rampaging and causing (off-screen) destruction. Cool moment with Birugenia attempting to hijack the bike and meddle in Golgom's plan. Awesome to see Koutarou keeping an all night vigil for Battle Hopper, which leads him to discover the reason for the bike's erratic behavior. You'd think once Black killed the monster, its minions (which are infecting Battle Hopper) would die, as per toku tradition, but it's interesting they don't. Black takes a gamble on attacking Battle Hopper with Road Sector (stop trying to make Road Sector happen), and it's ridiculous that we care as much about Battle Hopper as we do. Sensible viewers were probably worried in '87 that Battle Hopper would be killed so they could focus on Road Sucktor, but that's thankfully not the case.

22 - A bit of a strange episode, with a clairvoyant kid who's convinced Koutarou's going to kill his scientist dad, so there's a couple of weird-ass scenes of this kid attempting to kill Koutarou. The dad is building some big solar powered laser gun and Golgom's funding it for their latest plan. Kid learns Koutarou's the good guy and helps a blinded Black fight by using his special abilities, which he...loses as a result of doing? Whatever, weird episode.

One thing I like, though, is when Koutarou questions the kid, he actually seems kind of hurt and insulted that the kid thinks he could be a bad guy. While I like the angry, lost, uncertain Koutarou of the early episodes -- it suited his age, as the youngest Rider at the time -- he's settling into his role of being a hero and paragon of justice that he doesn't want anyone to think he's bad.

This episode also marks the debut of Birugenia's Demon Kakka-inspired make-up upgrade (make-upgrade?). So long, sickly jaundiced look. This make-up looks cooler, makes the character look meaner. There's no real explanation behind it; they just cut to Birugenia watching from the sidelines and he just does it.

MOVIE 1 (Race to Oni Island) - Standard toku movie; big on action, low on plot -- that's not to say I don't enjoy it, I think it's fun for what it is. It's Uehara's last script for Black, and he brings back some nasty Golgom weirdness -- the sicko chameleon monster kidnaps kids, the suitable ones being made into new monsters, the ones that don't pass becoming monster food. The main objective is to lure Koutarou to a small island and capture him, turning him into a monster. There's some cool action, like an early fight with Birugenia and neat wire-work when Black takes on five chameleon monsters. Director Mishio Konishi brings back some of the dark, horror-ish atmosphere, mainly on the titular island.

A couple of strange bits in this movie, though. One is a scene showing kids eating the Kamen Rider Black snacks you could actually buy in '87/'88. An episode already had a kid riding the Battle Hopper you could buy, but it was in the background, so you could kind of overlook it. Maybe you could think that some kid idolized Black and had his parents build him his own little Battle Hopper. But Black snacks!?!? Who's making that money, within the world of the show -- Adrian Veidt?

The other strange thing is choosing to end the movie with Tetsuo Kurata's flat singing of the "Ore no Seishun" song. This isn't the first time a toku character has burst into one of their own songs -- both the song and the scene is reminiscent of Hiroshi Watari singing his terrible song in Spielban -- but as a way to END the movie...?!? Strange choice.

Everybody knows and loves Shoutarou Ishinomori's cameo in this movie, where he's a knowledgeable fisherman who gives Koutarou a ride to Golgom's island hideaway. I think it might be the most Ishinomori's been given to do in one of his cameos. When I first saw this movie, I totally expected him to be a Golgom kaijin in disguise, though, he was acting so strange and being suspiciously too helpful.

23 - This is the first episode of Black that I feel really plays to the kids. It's not exactly a funny or lighthearted episode, but it's certainly kid-friendly, focusing almost exclusively on the kid of the week. How much you hate the episode depends on whether you're an animal lover. I'm an animal lover, so I felt bad for the kid guest star, who just lost his dog, and has that hole filled by finding a miniaturized fragment of a Golgom monster and adopts it. (And loses THAT by the end of the episode, too.)

24 - The first episode to heavily feature Katsumi and it's an odd one. Girls at her campus are going missing, and of course it turns out to be the teacher Katsumi is fond of, played by that unlikable dude who goes on to play Godai's old teacher in Kuuga. I always think of this episode as "Oh, the one where the writer saw A Nightmare on Elm Street that week." It's not touched on a lot, but the episode IS called "The College Girls' Nightmare," and the monster does effect their dreams, but the thing that REALLY stands out to me is when Koutarou comes across the manipulated Katsumi in the evil teacher's lab and she's sent rolling all across the walls and ceiling like Freddy killing Tina in the first Nightmare on Elm Street. (I'm a huge Nightmare on Elm Street fan, so that's a plus.)

It's also this episode that debuts Black's attempt at a Shonen Rider Tai sort of thing, which seems random here, IMO. Now, if you know me from Japan Hero or HJU, I have always whined about the Showa Rider shows using the Shonen Rider Tai. I think they're lame, I think they're pandering. They're seriously uncool. But I LIKE this take on them in Black. Here, they're a Golgom experiment gone wrong, lab guinea pigs and freaks -- they were operated on when they were kids and stopped growing. They might still look like tweens, but they're technically in their 20s. That gives them a bit more sorrow than the standard Shonen Rider Tai, and you can take them a bit more seriously than previous ones. It also gives the episode writer freedom to KILL ONE OFF!!!

25 - A follow-up to episode 12, it sees a former coworker of that episode's Professor Daimon kidnapped by Birugenia in order to force him to make his own Road Sector type of super bike. This episode's mainly cool for a lot of motorcycle action and a night battle between Black and Birugenia. (This show, awesomely enough, has A LOT of night shoots. They sadly ease up on them later on, at the time in a series when Toei typically likes slashing budgets.) Black's and Birugenia's sped-up race is pretty cool, especially considering the small area of terrain they were covering -- they make the most of it they're able to. And where else are you going to see a death scene for a motorcycle? Kamen Rider Black's the only place, motherfucker.

I like that this episode kind of points out a crucial difference between Battle Hopper and Road Sector. Not just that Battle Hopper is cooler, but that Battle Hopper is alive, while Road Sector's basically a super-computer.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Henshin! Rider Black -- Kamen Rider Black episodes 16 - 20

16 - Golgom's plan for today is to set off earthquakes that will cause Tokyo to sink, as Koutarou teams up with Interpol officer Ryusei Taki to stop the plan. With Black being a modernization of classic Rider, it's a cool idea to bring in an ally like Taki. Kazuya Taki, of the original series, was played by Sonny Chiba's little brother Jiro, and was reliable ass-kicking backup for the Rider. Being just humans, there's a limit to how much either show's Taki can help the Rider, so there's always this big sense of the odds being stacked against the Rider -- even when he gets help, it's not much help. The post-Original Series Riders really lost the sense of danger the Riders could be in once they relied on having old Riders themselves guest star to help the latest show's Rider. Black, being the first Rider show to completely break free of any previous show -- standing on its own and in its own world -- brings back that sense of how much danger our hero faces by going it alone. Especially with the way they show him gaining a new ally, but one who can't stick around -- he has to leave the country by the episode's end.

So, on one hand, I'm glad Taki doesn't always just pop in, but on the other, it's strange to know he makes only one more appearance after this, after debuting with so much fanfare, and after they cast toku fan and special guest star Masaki Kyomoto. And Kyomoto is a get for the show, he's fairly high profile, and it's interesting that Taki knew Nobuhiko (so he knew OF Koutarou), and Koutarou's able to unburden himself with the details of Golgom and Nobuhiko's abduction and being a Rider. In a way, Taki fills not only the Taki position from the original series, but Toubei Tachibana's. It's interesting to cross those two characters, but considering that Black's last attempt at filling the Tachibana role lasted as long as Ryusei begin to realize what an unlucky bastard Koutarou is.

17 - A nice, back to basics episode -- the Golgom supernaturally messing with the Akizukis. This is the first time an episode has focused at great length on Kyoko. It's a shame the way Kyoko and Katsumi can be so underused when they have just as much emotional involvement in the overall storyline, and they're played by good, likable performers. Though underused, Kyoko and Katsumi bring such heart to the show, they're a far cry from the typical supporting female cast Rider has had up until this point, written as ditzes who say stupid stuff and faint at danger and who the Rider and Oyassan can laugh at and be like "Girl, get back in that kitchen!"

The Golgom priests realize there's something wrong with the cocooned Nobuhiko -- he's in pain and possibly dying in the conversion process -- and set out on finding a lifeforce to transfer to him. Their best choice is his kid sister, Kyoko, and they have the latest monster manipulate her dreams so they can get her to a place where she'll be able to hand over her lifeforce. That's the diabolical catch, for this to work, she has to willingly give it up, and the Golgom don't sugar coat it -- her soul/dreamself is right there at Golgom's lair, she encounters the priests, she sees Nobuhiko's cocoon, and Darom lays out that Nobuhiko's in pain and needs her life force, and she agrees because she can't stand to see her long-lost brother suffering.

When I first saw this episode, I actually worried about Kyoko. Her character was so underused, I did think that it was possible that they would write her off like this. And how tragic would that be? I don't see it as a cop-out that Koutarou saved her in time, but the show CAN be accused of copping out that she doesn't remember what happened when she wakes up. I chalk that up to the murkiness dreams can have, and that maybe something happened to her since she WAS in the process of having her life energy drained over to Nobuhiko.

18 - Aw, yeah, Birugenia arrives! And what an entrance he makes. It's awesome the way the Creation King orders the priests to break him out of his prison. What better way to introduce our new ass-kicking villain than having a creep like Darom, upon entering the graveyard-like area where Birugenia is sealed, be like "I had hoped I would never set foot in this dreadful place again."

Right away, Birugenia doesn't disappoint. He's a bad-ass, but he's also arrogant, and always making snide remarks to and about the Golgom priests. And, as much as I like those creepy Golgom priests, Birugenia was a shot of energy the show needed; there really needed to be an active villain, a physical threat. The Golgom priests are best left in the shadows, so it wouldn't have worked to make them take on Koutarou (though the show makes that mistake later), so Birugenia's a great addition to the show in that regard. That he lives up to his boasting as a great and fearsome warrior -- when so many similar types of character don't -- is great.

And Birugenia certainly kicks Koutarou's ass in this episode. But the episode isn't all cool villains and awesome battles, but it nicely and subtly addresses Kyoko and Katsumi's knowledge of Koutarou's secret life as a Kamen Rider. It's a secret Koutarou obviously didn't want them to know, but they're not stupid. Once again, the supporting female characters of Rider shows prior to Black WERE treated stupidly. Like, Oyassan -- whether Tachibana or Tani -- were SO much cooler and intellectual than the stupid women working for him that they didn't even need the Rider to tell them -- they just knew, they were so awesome. Like, it's complete and total, total bullshit in V3 that you're under the impression that Junko knows Shiro is V3 by episode three, but there's an episode near the series' end when she wonders if it could be, like, totally possible for Kazami to be V3. And to add insult to injury, Kazami pops up a millisecond after V3 rides off like "Stupid girl! How can I be V3," as he and Tachibana share a condescending laugh. Meanwhile, that Taki-wannabe twerp that pops up in the later portion of the show (Ken Sakuma) learns V3's identity like *that*, because he's smart and has a dong!

I liked how Black gave Kyoko and Katsumi some credit, even if the show could have done a little more with them, especially considering how far Hirohisa Soda was taking female characters over on Sentai. But there's just a nice little progression to their knowledge. Koutarou fills Kyoko in on all that's happened with Golgom in the second episode (sadly off screen), and Katsumi gradually finds out over time by just being around them so much. Here, Kyoko and Katsumi confirm that Koutarou IS Kamen Rider -- not Kamen Rider's friend, that old side-splitting explanation every superhero mistakenly thinks is sufficient -- but address it in an indirect way that still kind of honors Koutarou's wanting to keep it a secret, by telling Koutarou the words of warning and concern for well-being they would tell "Kamen Rider." Koutarou knows they know, and nothing more is said on the subject; they know, so give them some credit.

This episode also reveals that the squiggly mark on Black's chest is meant to represent a snake holding an orb in its mouth, which is the mark on Birugenia's shield and sword. You might have thought it was a stepped on question mark Black was sporting, but you're wrong, jokester.

19 - An entertaining episode that's a nice send-off for Susumu Kurobe; this is the one that writes Kuromatsu out of the series. Birugenia prevents the Golgom trio from executing Kuromatsu so that he can shapeshift into him and lure Koutarou into a trap, under the scenario that Kuromatsu is defecting. Koutarou is suspicious and Kurogenia always comes *so close* to killing Koutarou, but with the way he's always being interrupted, it becomes almost comical. I also think it's interesting when Koutarou tells Katsumi to call an ambulance for an obviously wounded "Kuromatsu," but she refuses because of his association with Golgom and his involvement with Nobuhiko (and Koutarou's) situation. Kurogenia thinks fast on his feet, though, and promises to give information on Nobuhiko -- that's what saves him.

So, from here out, the Golgom trio start to be used more. I've always been a bit disappointed that Rider never seemed to use its villains as regularly as Sentai -- where you could count on seeing villains like Neferu and Wanda regularly on the battle field fighting the Flashman, you never see, say, Marshall Armor fighting V3 on the field. So, I like the Golgom getting more screen-time on one hand, but on the other...I like them in the shadows and mysterious and being the string-pullers. It's weird to have them out in daylight, more active in their plans and dealing with Black.

Birugenia gives another nice beatdown on Black, proving himself as a formidable new foe, even fighting off Battle Hopper (NO!). There's a scene where he's fighting off Battle Hopper while having a blade at Black's throat, and Black uses some quick thinking and calls for Road Sector to blindside Birugenia. (I love that Birugenia's even like "You cheating little shit!") One of the few times I like the Road Sector, man.

And that last scene, with Koutarou reading about Kuromatsu's strange death in the newspaper...he was executed by Golgom, and that's the chilling, sinister side of Golgom that's great.

20 - A really lazy episode that doesn't mind making our characters look dumb. You expect more from an episode called "Rider's Grave" than a stupid plan to lure Koutarou into an abandoned house and fight some plants, but...that's what happens. Hard to believe it took two writers to bring us this stinky filler -- Noboru Sugimura and Ken'ichi Araki. I've already said that I'm not a Sugimura fan -- sure enough, this episode focuses on a random kid, like he loves to do -- and Araki will never live down writing that god-awful Tomato King episode of Jetman, as far as I'm concerned. There's worse episodes out there in tokuland, but this is lazy, Space Sheriff-y stuff that Kamen Rider Black is supposed to be beyond. At least the kaijin is creepy.

This is also the episode where the Golgom trio start to become obsessed with getting the King Stone back from Koutarou. It starts to become a repetitive Faiz-style "Give back those belts!" thing.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Black Action: Kamen Rider Black episodes 11 - 15

11 - This episode could have dialed up some of the gross-out factor, IMO. When too many Golgom monsters are starving and fighting over food, the priests decide to use humans to sprout a fruit for the monsters to eat. It's depicted in a way we've seen so many times in toku, with little branches and buds coming out of people's faces, but it IS a suitably ooky premise. Not an entirely groundbreaking episode, but it does end with Golgom having to put a lot of their monsters on ice since their new food supply is cut off by Black.

12 - Uehara's return as writer, and the last episode he writes of this series, and it's a crummy commercial. (Son of a bitch!) In 1987, Sentais were starting to get two mechas, so I guess some asshole at Bandai was like "Hey, what unnecessary thing can we give Kamen Rider?" and another asshole replied "Hey, how about a new bike!" Because Koutarou doesn't need it, and it's especially useless when they've just built up Battle Hopper's importance, and it's especially useless since the Road Sector really, really, really, really sucks, and it looks like some dumb leftover from Super 1.

So we end up with some junk you don't care about, about how some guy's dad built the Road Sector for Golgom, who wanted to mass produce them and use them for eeeeeeevvvvil, but the guy's dad didn't like that, so he went and hid in the mountains and left the Road Sector for his son (who was a pro biker), who then trains HIS son to use it, but...sorry, random assholes and their sons endorsing an ugly Bandai toy doesn't sell, so we need to end this story with that Kamen Rider motherfucker gaining ownership of this piece of shit. And that's just what happens. I'll give the episode this: at least the biker and his kid didn't die in order for Koutarou to end up with the bike. But this is the first time in the series that the Golgom priests have seemed kind of dumb. "Yeah, dude, this stupid, ugly motorcycle is the key to our victory!" It's probably this episode which causes me in my subconscious to think of Baraom as the weakest of the three Golgom priests.

One thing I do like about the episode, though, is how Koutarou wins over the biker and his son. Not only by repeatedly saving them from monster attacks (I do believe Koutarou led Golgom right to their hiding spot!), but by laying out how much Golgom's screwed him over. (The biker's dad and wife were killed by Golgom; Koutarou's lost two dads, a mother, a brother, his own humanity...) One thing I think Black does better than a lot of the Riders before it is highlighting Koutarou's sorrow and repeating what he's lost. I know some of this has to do with changes in television storytelling style between the early '70s and 1987, but in V3, he was only really in pain in the first two episodes and maybe once in every dozen episodes he'd bring up his family. A lot of those times, it was the NARRATOR who brought up his family. In Super 1, Kazuya literally forgets about his murdered space camp friends after the first episode. That's it. Nothing is ever said, and he's never given much of a beef with Dogma beyond "he's the hero, and he'll fight the monster bad guy dudes." (Dude doesn't even ever mention his martial arts buddies who get killed halfway through the show.)

Kamen Rider is a tragic character, he needs his pain like Batman needs his pain, and I think that's something that needs to be at the forefront of the character's motivation. That doesn't mean he needs to be moody or whiny -- Black conveys this with Koutarou just visiting a place he visited in the past with Nobuhiko, looking solemn, and hoping there comes a day when they'll both visit that spot again. Kyoko will look at siblings with sadness, Katsumi will look at lovers with envy -- these little moments add up and help sell the cost this has on the characters, it gives the show more consistency and flow and authenticity rather than perpetually rebooting and focusing on some random scientist who the Rider doesn't know, but gets involved with because a freaking Shonen Rider Scout happened to witness something and buzzed the base.

13 - The first episode to be written by Noboru Sugimura, who will go on to write a lot of Black's key episodes later, being named its second main writer. This is the first time Sugimura's written for Rider, and I think he only does ZO after Black -- he goes on to play a bigger role in Metal Heroes and Sentai in the '90s. Despite liking Dairanger and Kakuranger, I'm not a huge fan of Sugimura's writing. I feel like writers like Hirohisa Soda, Susumu Takaku and Toshiki Inoue were trying to advance toku writing styles, and that Sugimura takes toku a step back. His scripts really remind me of uber-formulaic '70s scripts, where an episode's focus would be on a kid or scientist-in-need of the week. What Sugimura brings that's uniquely his own is a trying too hard to be bizarre (that's certainly a problem with his Sentai shows). He uses gimmicks and oddness rather than cohesive storytelling to mask an outdated style that's regressing the genre. However, he's more or less reined in here, and I do like a lot of his Black episodes.

Nevertheless, this episode is kid-focused and bizarre. Golgom's latest monster, the crab monster, lays a ton of eggs, so Golgom sets out on kidnapping new mothers to care for the eggs. The eldest son of one of the mothers takes it upon himself to try to find the monster's lair and save his mother, so that's how Sugimura brings a kid into the spotlight. This isn't the most terrible episode ever, or even one of the worst toku plans, because there is something sinister about Golgom snatching mothers just released from the hospital for their own use, but it just doesn't make sense to me -- you'd think Golgom would want more harsh methods so the monsters would hatch and grow to be aggressive, but it's just the mothers speaking kind of soothingly to the eggs. Huh?

More proof that Sugimura is a '70s-style writer in disguise is that he has a scene where Black's training himself in a rocky quarry to find a new technique to beat the monster. Black doesn't have a Tachibana to help him out, though, he's on his own. Something else reminiscent of '70s Riders is the crab monster's attack, spraying a foam on its opponents. Also: Sugimura seemingly mistakes Koutarou for one of the '70s scientist Riders -- there's an unintentionally laughable scene where Koutarou's hanging out in his abandoned garage Rider Cave, analyzing a bit of the crab's evil foam. It just doesn't seem very Koutarou-like -- Hongou/1 is a man of science, guys like Kazami and Keisuke were scholarly. Koutarou's supposed to be more average, so it's just out of character for him to be whipping out a telescope and flipping through science textbooks.

A new technique brings updated Rider Punch and Rider Kick sequences, which just means a couple of altered, slower shots and extra Seizure Flash. (What this sequence really needed was to be slowed down, too. Avert the eyes!) This is the first time in a while I've rewatched Black, and I have to say, this is the first time that damn flashing has bothered me. I wonder if the difference is watching Black on an HDTV versus an old-styled TV. I don't know, but it sucks that I pretty much have to look away for his transformation and finishers -- two signature marks of tokusatsu, taken away.

14 - Golgom's plan for today is to wipe out Japan's tuna supply so Kuromatsu can create an extract which will power the episode's monster, which is a mammoth. The terror of Japan's fish supply being stolen or blocked or wiped out is a common threat to a number of tokus, but it's not really used here in a way like "It will ruin Japan's cuisine!" "It will bring down Japanese food businesses!" or anything like that. That would be Godneros' agenda. It's something that maybe Golgom early on would have considered, one of the convoluted ways of bringing down society. But, no, here it's just to power the monster. If you haven't noticed, Golgom's legitimate faces have been dwindling, and we pretty much only ever see Kuromatsu from here on (and he's getting the boot shortly, too). Kuromatsu was always the more over-the-top of Golgom's puppets, so I think that his hanging around while the others are phased out represents Black's early intention of being grounded gradually being abandoned with the villains becoming more fanciful.

The guest stars are a sushi chef and his son. The sushi chef pushes it, he's a little too comical for Black's grim world, but he and his son are at least likable performers. Still, you get that uneasy feeling that Black's starting to slip, and that it will soon become Super-1's second half (where Kazuya is barely in the show, and it's instead kid-focused). Probably the most memorable part of the episode is Katsumi and Kyoko taking the kid to the beach, where he has an annual tradition of setting flowers into the sea to honor his dead mother. This scene is mocked for Katsumi and Kyoko busting out into song -- Long Long Ago 20th Century, no less -- but it at least brings things back to Black's grim Earth! The son is mourning his mom and Katsumi and Kyoko take the time to honor Nobuhiko while they're at it.

One part I love, though, and it's brief -- Koutarou pulls up to a few farmers talking about the stolen fish dilemma. He listens in and butts in asking questions and one farmer is just, very quickly, like "Who are you?" and Koutarou just bulldozes over that, he Rider Sidesteps it. It's hilarious to me because Koutarou's been really bad about that -- he pulls up to accident scenes, crime scenes and just marches up to an official and asks them for the details, like he's a cop! This is something pretty much every Kamen Rider up until this point has done. And people usually just fill them in! Cops, paramedics -- they're happy to answer him, no questions asked! A lot of Sentai heroes get away with this, but a lot of Sentai heroes are government sanctioned or ex-cops or whatever, or it's known that they're heroes. And keep in mind that it's not like Koutarou has advertised he's Kamen Rider and that he's a superhero; he's just an average 19 year old, strolling up to a crime scene, "Hey, what happened?" In this episode, there's finally someone who's like "And who the fuck are you, exactly?" The way the actor says it, it HAD to be a comment on how often this happens. Thank you, writer Hisashi Yamazaki! Too bad you only write one more episode of this show.

15 - The show, for as much as it's gotten away from the quality and style from when it began, has up to this point at least been entertaining. This is the show's first real stinker, a completely unnecessary episode without any redeeming feature. It reminds me of those mid-20s episodes of Liveman, which give a stink of a staff like "Hey, can we go on vacation now? Oh, we have one more to churn out? *scribbles nonsense* There! Let's party!"

Kyoko's roped Koutarou into helping whip a kid's soccer team into shape. That's the first inkling that we have a generic episode on our hands. But, hey, unlike when this happened in Metalder, it works for Koutarou, since he's at least been shown to be a sporty guy, and into soccer. This conveniently leads Koutarou to Golgom's plan this week, which is a TV-Y7 version of Joker's plans in The Dark Knight to show society "naturally" turning on each other and becoming cruel when the chips are down. Shit, that might sound more interesting than what we got here, which is...a gym coach under Golgom's influence creating a really, really tough study group that turns on anyone who fails to meet their standard. Shit, that might even sound more interesting...

The whole episode is a kid being beaten by his class with gym equipment and typical ways the Japanese punish the bad kids of class, all under the influence of Golgom's evil turtle monster. Once this school is taken over, the Golgom will ship the turtle to other schools and recreate this wonderful plan. There's bad lighting out of Freddy's Nightmares, and at one point randomly, the kid of the week is somehow speaking to Koutarou through a soccer ball which Koutarou desperately tries to talk to, Cast Away-style, before it just floats away. It's...just bad. It could literally be the script of ANY tokusatsu from ANY era.

Sad note, this is the last episode where Koutarou wears the cool grey jacket and black gloves. It was a dark look that fit the dark tone this show was trying to have. He wears the white outfit from here on, and continues to do so in RX.