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 them...by 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.