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 Taki...you 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.