Friday, October 7, 2016
Black Cloud: Kamen Rider Black episodes 41 - 45
41 - The tone of this episode is wonky. Just...wonkin' all over the place. It starts off being about a young boy's pain at losing his father during Golgom's big Dai Kaijin Upgrade Attack from episode 36. That's good, looking into some of the actual trauma Golgom's caused, and it gives Koutarou a nice moment of seeing beyond himself and his own pain and realizing just how many lives Golgom's ruined. But the episode quickly turns to...two ashigaru with a time-machine landing in 1988 and wreaking havoc? What. The. Shit? And if that doesn't sound strange enough to you, these two guys are played by a comedic duo (Yuutopia), so "hilarity" ensues.
Don't you love it how, in tokusatsu, time travel is indicated by the hands of a clock moving around? That happens a whole bunch here. Entertainment in the 1980s just loved time-travel, so why not let Black try it out, even if it doesn't fit? The kid eventually spots the two time-travelers -- who got the machine they don't know how to use from Golgom's latest monster -- and decides to tag along, in hopes of going to the day his dad was killed and warning him.
Now, the episode depicts time-traveling as the three hunched together while a whirlpool is superimposed onto the screen. I've heard the expression "oceans of time," but this looks more like "the toilet flush of time." I don't understand why they'd go with this effect, but, hey, we're in the 40s, and we're trying to save some money! The kid spots the day his dad is killed, but is prevented from doing anything by the two ancient guys because he'd be lost in time if he left their flushing effect. So, the kid gets to watch his dad die again, which is fun times for him.
Koutarou eventually tags on to help, and gets a glimpse of the day of his and Nobuhiko's 19th birthday. Precisely, a moment when Nobuhiko was waiting on a late Koutarou BEFORE they got to their creepy party. Koutarou sees this as a huge advantage, and a way to save himself (and many others) pain by interfering and telling Nobuhiko to GTFO. The two ashigaru give Koutarou the same warning that he could be lost in time, and Koutarou is all "Shut up! I'm the title of the show, it will be just fine." He successfully jumps to the day and sounds like a nut blabbering his warnings and Nobuhiko just laughs him off. Way to go, Koutarou!
I'm being a flippant dick about this, but to be honest, I thought this episode was really cool when I first saw it. Well, at least the part about Koutarou wanting to go back in time to stop Nobuhiko (and himself) from attending that creepshow of a birthday party (and its subsequent abduction). I think it's a damn good idea, so interesting -- WHAT WOULD KOUTAROU DO IF HE HAD A CHANCE TO CHANGE THAT NIGHT? That's an idea that should have been the whole episode. It's a bit too sci-fi-y of an idea for Black, if I must say, but it's preferable to using just a pinch of this idea wrapped up in a goofshow. (I'd say it's an idea better suited for the more sci-fi in nature Black RX, but that show's so horribly made it would have done it even stupider.)
The worst, though, might be that the final battle takes place on an easel-shaped clock face that's floating on the toilet tide of time. Black is fighting the monster, while the hands of the clock risk decapitating the kid, who's tied up, with the "hilarious" ashigaru trying to cut through their chains. Meanwhile, random folks of yesteryear -- those lost in time -- are climbing up the side of the giant clock face and trying to drag Black down with them. It's something that probably looked and sounded good in the writer's head, but is just goofy and doesn't play well on screen.
42 - More kids. Jesus wept. Two brothers, one strong and one weak, who both have extra-sensory powers. The strong one has displayed his powers, the weak one's said to be stronger, but his haven't shown. Golgom targets the strong one so their latest monster can possess him and use his powers to help resurrect Golgom monsters. It's so clumsy the way the show addresses this problem: Shadow Moon is all "We need to start our take-over, but for it to work, we need more monsters!" And one of the trio is like "Black's killed too many! What do we do?" And so they come up with this winning plan of raising dead monsters.
Raising dead monsters = we want to save money. Black's done this already in the second movie. It's way too late in the game to be having such ho-hum episodes. Shit or get off the pot, as they say, Kamen Rider Black.
There's one good scene where Koutarou is being covered in multiple revived monsters, and he's desperately trying to break through to the weak kid to access his abilities and help him overcome the possessed brother. Just some parallels between Koutarou and Nobuhiko and the two guests, with Koutarou bringing up how he's struggling to free HIS under-the-influence-of-evil brother. A nice idea, and a strong backbone for an episode, it's just done in a bland way.
43 - Another basically inessential episode, but I don't mind this one too much. Kikaider's Shun Ueda is a Golgom monster who's basically selling smarthouses (I KNEW those were a Golgom plot). Surprise! The supposedly great technology of the house is really controlled by Golgom, who use it to lead the people living in their smartapartment into a subterranean land of Golgom's where they'll gradually have their lifeforce drained and fed to Golgom monsters.
A kid -- of course, because Sugimura's taken over the show -- notices the strange goings-on and gets Koutarou's help. Kyoko and Katsumi get to help out, as they journey to Golgom's underground zoo to help free people, AND they go Johnny Rotten bonkers and destroy Golgom's life-sucking device by smashing it to pieces. Pretty cool. There's also this weird cop-out where Shadow Moon randomly shows up and challenges Black to fight, and Black is like "Seriously? There's two minutes left in this filler episode, you really think we're going to have our big Royal Rumble, Summer Century King Smackdown here and now? Take a hike, you fucking toaster." (Verbatim.)
These goddamn kids clogging up the show, though. Like I've said, it's a very outdated mode of storytelling for toku by the late '80s. This is the area of the more generic '70s shows. Shows in the '80s still had kid guest stars, sure, but focus also went to guest stars of all ages. Sugimura had this thing about involving kids -- I remember a quote of his which was to the effect of "Just because you focus on kids doesn't mean [your stories] can't be dramatic." But I just see it as a way of looking down on toku, that he thought these were just kids shows so it ALWAYS had to involve a kid. He believed in this so much so, that he was the first one to make a kid a regular hero. (In Dairanger, aka Gosei Sentai Kouranger, because Kou overtakes the show from episodes 15 - 48.) I don't think it's a coincidence that Black become so kid-centric once Sugimura became more involved.
Look at episode 3. Uehara wrote it, a kid was highlighted. He was a survivor of the train attack, and Koutarou found him and took him back to the shop and got some info out of him. That was the end of his involvement. Because the show's called Kamen Rider Black, not Random Kid You Won't See Next Week Being Saved by Kamen Rider Black. What's the common thing in Sugimura's later shows like Jiban, Winspector, Solbrain, Zyuranger, Dairanger, Kakuranger, Ohranger? The heroes feel like the guest-stars in their own shows and the kid of the week -- who you don't care about, who you won't see again -- takes the spotlight. I feel like only Dairanger eased up on that, and that was because of Kou eating up so much of the thing as a regular that it was free to not be so kid-heavy in ordinary episodes.
In other mid-to-late '80s toku shows, when there would be a guest-star (kid or otherwise), it would often serve to flesh out one of the regular characters through befriending or saving that guest character. (And it wasn't always the heroes it helped flesh out, but a lot of times a guest would figure into a regular villain's past or storyline or development.) I find the way guests and their storylines are typically done in '70s shows -- and Sugimura's, and therefore often latter Black -- to be kind of impersonal. It's not done in a way that illuminates a regular. Usually, the regular doesn't even factor in, we're focusing on this guest that you just can't invest in, because they're inconsequential in the long run. You know you're in trouble when you'll be seven minutes into an episode and the main hero hasn't even appeared -- it will be the guest of the week you've been following, and the hero is only brought into the mix by randomly driving by or getting a message from the Shonen Riders! Also, think back to the early episode of Black that focused on Jouji Nakata's guest-character. An episode about a dude in his 30s! You wouldn't catch Sugimura doing that.
And I don't mean to sound like I'm slamming '70s era tokusatsu. You know I enjoy a lot of those shows, even though I'm an '80s guy. I'm well aware of differing storytelling styles employed by shows of the past. (And I'm aware that there are obnoxious youngsters out there who have a problem with the '80s style that I'm extolling.) It's not something unique to tokusatsu, American shows were typically formulaic or episodic and devoted to guest-stars of the week in the '60s and '70s. I just think, by 1988, tokusatsu had made advances on moving away from that, and writers like Sugimura yank it backward. THAT'S what I have a problem with. And I especially don't like seeing it in Black, a show that was shaping up to be something different and better and forward-looking, but got mired down in a very average and typical approach to superhero and toku shows.
44 - Dispensable and silly episode which stars yet another random kid. Golgom's come up with some great warp machine that they plan to use to...transfer the seas of Japan into the subway and cause Tokyo to sink? And this machine is interfered with by a kid's radio controlled car? Did Golgom make their machine with parts bought at Big Lots or something? Stupid. Too stupid and pointless of an episode this late in the series. This is the only episode I think Tetsuo Kurata really phones in, and it's understandable.
This is the second episode in a row when Koutarou hears the kid guest star describing some obviously shady Golgom shit and Koutarou -- remember, the paranoid Koutarou who blames everything on Golgom -- laughs off the kid and asks if he's sure he wasn't asleep. Condescending ass. That happens a lot in these old Kamen Rider shows, when you know the Kamen Rider's always on the lookout for strange goings-on by the bad guy. Koutarou's usually been better about this, more open-minded.
45 - Bishum concocts a convoluted plan to lure Koutarou to a battle zone so she can unleash a suicide attack on him. If Bishum just wanted to kidnap Koutarou to lure him into a trap, she should have just done that. Instead, we have to go through this dull plot of her disguising herself as an ikebana teacher and unleashing these flowers that make women go insane and, every Japanese man's nightmare, rebel against doing housework and cooking and shit.
But when you get to the heart of the episode, there's some good stuff. Kyoko's the standout. Kyoko encounters a former school friend, who doesn't understand why Kyoko's vanished. It's important to remember that we saw Kyoko in a school uniform in the first episode; she's obviously dropped out after Golgom ruined her family and she has to support Koutarou in his fight (and run the shop that was forced upon her). Sad.
About the shop...prior to this viewing of the series, if I was a contestant on a game-show and the million dollar question was to name the shop they're always at in this show, I'd have lost. As many times as I've watched this show, as much as I like this show, I didn't know the name. I don't think anybody says it! It's just shown on a sign a couple of times, and it's such a random name that I must have thought it was some of the Engrish signs that were hanging on the building. (Stuff like "Diving good! Me like!") Don't be caught with your pants down, kids, and win that million -- the answer is Capitola. Capitola diving shop and bar. It's such a common thing, a universal concept. "You know, I really need a new wetsuit. I love me some scuba diving. I guess I'll head over to Capitola, and while I'm there, maybe some Wild Turkey will help me decide what suit to buy -- black, light black, grey." No wonder Toudou disappears, he was an absolute crackpot. Head on over to Capitola, buy yourself a snorkel and get some booze from our teenage barkeep. Why go to an ordinary bar? To watch some sports? Here at Capitola, our television always plays the news, so you can catch the latest report of a kaijin attack. Once in a while some weird guy who always wears motorcycle gloves will dash out like a madman, saying something that sounds like "It's a Goal Gum plan!"
Once Bishum gets Black to fight, she restrains him and orders Shadow Moon to send the killing blow, which he does from Golgom's base, which is just a laser-y blade that he stabs through Bishum's back, with the intention of kabobbing Black, too. Kyoko throws herself in front of Black, intending to become part of the kabob, wanting to die if Black does. This leads Shadow Moon to hesitate and withdraw the attack, with only Bishum dying as a result. Not a good day to be working for Golgom; a death on the job, and now Shadow Moon will have to file a report and internal affairs is going be on him, and it's going to make his life a living hell, and he really needs to be focusing on fighting Black -- eventually -- and, just, ugh, life is hard for Shadow Moon. He just woke up several episodes ago, he wasn't expecting this shit.