Sunday, September 23, 2012
Toshiki Inoue and Finales: A Bad Mix
Toshiki Inoue: before he became public enemy numero uno with toku fans for lackluster -- and sometimes just plain bad -- writings, there's no denying that he was once a great talent to the genre. (He's the toku version of Frank Miller -- for what good he did for the genre, he got so bad that he practically undid it.) His goal was to keep the often fanciful shows grounded and character focused, and he added in some identifiable (although highly soap-ish) drama, and tried to take seriously a genre often dismissed as "kids stuff," giving a defiant "piss off" to those detractors. He's the brain behind three of my favorite shows, and some of the genre's biggest shows -- Jetman, Changerion (cult hit it may be) and Kamen Rider Agito. Prior to Jetman, he turned in a decent amount of scripts as a secondary writer for shows like Flashman and Maskman. After three well-regarded shows, especially a crossover hit like Agito, he got cocky. Then Toei put him too much to work. Then he turned in junk like Faiz. But even when he was at the top of his game, Inoue had a huge weakness -- how to wrap up a series or write a proper series finale. (And I'm only covering his henshin hero stuff, because I haven't watched Cutie Honey the Live or Mikazuki).
A lot of Inoue's problems come from trying too hard to be "shocking" or going against the expectations of the audience, or just plain sticking it to fans, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Jetman's finale. Having the entire B-Part being devoted to just catching up on the team was a new thing, but going as far as to force a romance out of Ryu and Kaori to the point where they're getting married? Having Ako out of the blue decide to be a pop star? But the worst of it is the part that's remained debated by fans since the show aired...
The killing of Gai Yuuki. It's such an absurd and pointless turn of events that this one episode ruins the entire series for some fans. Me? I can't stand it, and the only way I could watch the episode was by pretending like Gai was just taking a lil' nap and the others weren't so stupid that they didn't realize something was wrong with him and got him some help. But Gai's appearance in Gokaiger got me to soften up on the finale a bit. A BIT. My complaint was always how stupid it made the characters look. It's supposed to be some great, Klingon warrior-worthy gesture that Gai bypasses the hospital to make his friends' wedding, but...isn't it worse to mar their wedding day by being reminded that it was the day their friend and teammate died? Doesn't it make Ryu and the others look stupid that they couldn't tell something was wrong with Gai, and falling for his lame-o hangover excuse? But there was at least something sweet in the Gokaiger episode in that Gai didn't want the Gokaiger pestering his teammates for their lame-o Grand Power because he didn't want to pick at all of those wounds. So, it's an extension of the Jetman finale and addresses something that bothered me, so...it was something.
There are some who always defended the finale though. It showed "reality," that even though the Jetman defeated the supervillains, one of them was taken down by an ordinary thug, and that it's ironic that Gai was killed by someone who, if not for Jetman, he could have ended up as. Some think it's all a part of the curse Radeige placed on them upon his death. Yeah, that could have been done in a different, better way, a way that didn't make our heroes look like dummies. No, it was all just Inoue looking for a way to "shock" viewers.
I think it's an interesting idea to show that a henshin hero, although they've defeated their super enemies, haven't quite cleaned up the world as they thought. How many shows end with the heroes making big speeches about how peaceful they've made the world, when they've only solved one of its problems? And here's Jetman that shows that while they've taken on aliens from another dimension, there's still very real threats in Japan, and it faces one of our heroes, but...it's just not done well. Again, don't make your characters look like dummies.
Changerion was always a strange show that played by its own rules, but its finale is something else. Although it paved the way for Heisei Rider, Changerion was only a cult hit, but its small fanbase still try to argue out what the hell the finale meant.
The episode starts out in a bonkers way, in which our main characters are seen in a crazy, post-apocalyptic setting, and it bounces back and forth between that and the show's present day, which saw our hero Akira Suzumura up to his ordinary everyday shenanigans -- no superheroism in sight, just back to his off-the-wall investigations.
Spoiler alert, but in that alternate world, every one of the show's characters gets killed off, and one of the regulars is revealed to be a secret villain. It's a frigging mess! The debate amongst fans is...did the events of the series happen? Was it all meant to be a dream by Akira, escaping his ordinary life as an unsuccessful private investigator? I think it was basically just Inoue throwing in ideas he had -- Akira becoming more professional, certain character deaths -- but wasn't able to use because of Changerion being cut short. Since I can't stand cop-out/rewrite/it's a dream finales, I just figure the events of the show did happen and the post-apocalyptic scenes were just of an alternate world where Akira was more heroic and the show seemed more like a typical tokusatsu series -- Changerion had been criticized by some at the time for seeming so different, something the 30th episode addressed by having a tokusatsu otaku trying to teach Changerion how to be a "real" hero.
Inoue's masterwork, IMO, and this is the closest he gets to writing a passable finale -- it's shocking. Sad thing is, it's a little plain considering how consistently solid and big and intricate the series was. A big problem is just how rushed it is -- it's the exact opposite of Kuuga's finale, which it's somewhat modeled after, and which was long and leisurely to the point where it almost became ridiculous. (Because the whole of Japan was on the edge of their seat to find out the fate of Jean.) They each get some cool lines, but that last fight? Not the best they could have done. The complaint has always been that it looks like it was filmed in someone's backyard, and it does. And the coda bringing you up to speed with where the characters are headed is just too rushed. The show had 77 recurring characters it had to deal with, so things were bound to be rushed, but...what the hell's up with Ozawa smiling at Toujou and tolerating the weasel? Still puzzles me. The show needed to end on a much bigger scale, hitting that high note. But, hey, at least no characters were pointlessly killed off, right?
But I should mention that one criticized part of Agito's final arc is the time jump, which IS jarring and I think contributes to some of the actual final episode's problems, but...that's Inoue, and the trouble he has wrapping his shows up. I always thought the final few episodes were a condensed version of what Inoue would have done with Agito if it had been allowed to go well over the standard 51 episodes, which comes off as seeming rushed.
Oh, boy. This show was always going in circles and barely went anywhere, and played like bad Degrassi fan-fics, but the finale is pretty notorious even amongst the poor saps who actually liked this show. Inoue wrote every episode of Faiz -- and the movie -- and it's pretty obvious by the end he was just like "Eh, that's it. I'm outs!" and just, you know, didn't feel like wrapping up the show. Half the villains live, characters die pointlessly, and it's all a going-through-the-motions, empty excursion that ends on a dissatisfying note. And if you thought Agito's backyard wrestlin' final fight was bad, Faiz is worse, taking place in what looks to be a parking garage. The final scene of the series? Our hero and his two useless buddies laying in the grass. OK. Pretty mellow considering that the show's heroes let half the villains off. Inoue must have a special spot for Faiz, and was happy enough with the finale to actually appear in it (pictured above).
I still wonder what the heck Toei was thinking when they thought Hibiki was an appropriate and suitable addition to the Rider franchise. Why did they hear this pitch and think it made a suitable action hero series? Main writer Tsuyoshi Kida is known as a playwright, and it's obvious he thought he was making some cool, small, quirky little, different, art-house show and it was a case of trying-too-damn-hard-to-be-different, and I think Toei should have replaced him, writing partner Ooishi and original producer Takatera a lot sooner.
I think it was a huge mistake to wait so long to fire Kida and replace him with Inoue, because I actually think Inoue did some good stuff with the series. He brought conflict! He gave cardboard regulars personality! He gave the show a long-missing history! And the movie was awesome. But Inoue just had to fumble the finale. If there was one thing Kida's snail's-pace scripts was building up to, it was Asumu going on the journey to become Hibiki's apprentice. Too safe and predictable for Inoue, so he constantly rewrote his finale script up until the last minute and, although it was teased in a lamely staged final fight, a flash-forward reveals that Asumu -- who practically stalked Hibiki for the entire series and wanted to do what he did -- realized it would be cooler if he became a doctor or vet or nurse or something. Screw this show. I think this show did major damage to the Rider franchise that it hasn't recovered from since.
Kiva was a mess and everyone knows it. To me, it screams of Inoue trying desperately to reclaim the title and relive past glories, but it was too late for him, he was burned out beyond belief, and the production is just sloppy. (I know Inoue has a daughter who's trying to make it as a writer, and my theory is that she's really behind the show and was just lazily copying her dad which made it feel like the Inoue Potpourri, but that's kooky. Because the show was sloppy, even for post-Agito, way-past-burnt-out Inoue standards.)
The finale is a crazy-DX-WTF in which characters who were presumed dead are alive (one character A-OK with another who tried to kill them), a marriage between two characters who hated each other is forced, villains turn good out of the blue, and I even think I remember time travel being involved in defeating the final Fangire, and then...that crazy-stupid final scene, which makes the Den-O series look sane and sophisticated. For the entire series we followed a Kurenai family member in '86 and in present '06, so a Kurenai from the future crashes the (forced) wedding bringing news of Bad Robot Us's and pretty much every character in the show turns into a Kiva and flies into the camera with their CGI buddies and what-the-hell-did-they-use-a-Go-onger-script?
To wrap it up, Inoue might have burnt himself out, but he's responsible for three of my favorite shows and he's done a lot of great stand-alone episodes for other shows (I'm thinking of the Maskman episode with Blue Flash, the Jin arc in Dairanger, and the Kuuga episodes with that female Grongi who likes decapitating people). He might not know how to do a good finale, but I still think of him as one of my favorite toku writers and even one who has inspired me. (There's as much to learn in his bad stuff as there is in his good stuff.)