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.