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.