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.


  1. I agree with you about episode 41. It's a waste of a good idea; in fact it feels like they forgot to do the obvious thing and included Kotaro warning Nobuhiko at the last minute.

    It was just disappointing to see Black stall again for several episodes after that late 30s arc with Shadow Moon's debut and Kyoko and Katsumi's reactions to it.

    1. If it wasn't for scheduling Horiuchi to make a rare appearance as Nobuhiko, I totally would think the part with Koutarou wanting to change the past wasn't scripted, but a late, late, last minute addition.

      Black could have turned out worse. It's a bad mix of playing it safe and a writer switch-up (Sugimura obviously had no plans of what to do with the show) causing the problems. But I guess a couple of generic episodes thrown in between the big, story episodes isn't as bad as the show totally going off the rails, Ryuki style.

  2. Oh, Oh! I actually knew it was called Capitola. I went to Capitola, CA when I was really young and yeah, the name kinda makes sense for at least the SCUBA half of his operation. I don't remember too-too much about the place, but the name always stuck with me.

    I always saw the Sugimura kid-of-the-week as an intentional or unintentional statement on how differently we view things depending on what age we are (or even socially...lord knows he helmed some preachy episodes). An adult will see a problem and try to take the direct path to solve it, but the kid might come to a better (or only in some cases) solution to the problem using imagination or just seeing it from a different point of view.

    That said...while I enjoy some of the moments I really think Sugimura relied on them far too often. Compound that with their usual terrible acting and we're in for a lot of regretable moments. I kinda wish someone would have reigned him in (especially by the mid-90s), but it is what it is. The man wrote some excellent twists (the rotten mother episode of Dairanger was extremely harsh...and well played). I never truly minded kid episodes if they didn't get in the way of the episode being entertaining or not.

    What are you talking about? That "toilet flushing effect" was EXTREMELY expensive. Toei pulled their best crew from whatever moderately sized movie they were working on and sent them to the southern hemisphere to film several takes of a purpose-built toilet flushing (some takes included actual money going into the swirl). Test audiences found the footage too jarring--why is it swirling the wrong direction? So they reversed the footage. The results are the perfection that you saw.

    1. The kid-of-the-week thing... It's, like, a fan like me can't bitch about it without someone coming along and being like "Fanboy! You just want grimdark! Can't face you watch kid show, lul!" The kid of the week/lesson learnin' episodes have their place, but not at the expense of the regular characters. That's something Sugimura does too often.

      And, like I've said, something about the way Sugimura goes about it, shoving a kid in every damn thing, just seems to me like he's not taking toku seriously, that (from his point of view) it's not worth trying to make it anything more than the silly kids stuff he sees it as.

      I see what you mean about the kid perspective versus the adult perspective, though. What bugs me about this is two things: 1) If it's the boy-who-cries-wolf scenario, as I've brought up a couple times with just Black, I can't stand when it's actually the hero who won't be open-minded and listen to the kid. The heroes obviously know strange things are afoot at the Circle K, so I think it's lazy and a waste of time when they're dismissive of the kid. 2) I find it a little irritating when these stories act like adults have no imagination, that it's something limited to kids. That's a weird message to me.

      LOL @ the history of the toilet flushing effect. (Yes, I said LOL in 2016.)

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  4. The idea of Kotaro changing that night from ep 41 would've been neat for an ep. But I agree with you that something like that indeed would've probably been better suited for a show like RX.... y'know, weird thing is, I never ever really think much about what my ideal version of RX would've been, lol.

    I do wish Bishium could've gotten a much better final ep. Ah well. I always really liked the Golgom Priest trio, and always felt they were kinda under appreciated.

    The way I see Sugimura's style and focus on kids in toku, is I suppose more of a further exploration of the classic 70s setup. I always felt Sugimura was pretty good at appealing to his target audiences. With toku, it's kids. With stuff like Resident Evil, adults. And I guess I just saw what he did with toku, as a way to directly speak to the children audience. Which I think is pretty neat.

    I do get where you're coming from though Shougo. I do feel that Sugimura, much like some other talents like Inoue or Takatera, was also sometimes prone to over self indulgence. Cause there were some moments where Sugimura does shell out an ep which is clearly just phoning it in.

    I don't think I completely agree that Sugimura yanks toku backwards. More like, he just takes it in a different direction. A very different direction, for better or for worse. Cause the thing with Sugimura is that his style appeals very specifically to the child audience, compared to the late 80s toku, which were more geared towards everyone. Personally, I think there's plenty of merit in Sugimura's style. But also, understandably, can be a pretty friggin weird thing to approach, if you're of the adult audience. I dunno if this is good or bad for toku. But Sugimura does seem to be a matter of "expressing the child" vs. "appealing to anyone."

    I know you say that we have no reason to care about the child of the week (especially if they overshadow the heroes). And I can perfectly see what you mean. But on the other hand, imagining myself as a child of the early 90s, I could imagine myself in the feet of this child, as I am exploring the respective show's worlds, knowing there's heroes out there. I know, it's pretty wonky compared to the late 80s shows where you're obviously watching the cool heroes doing their cool superhero missions and following their stories.

    I admit, I do enjoy Kou's story from Dairanger. I often saw Kou in the viewpoint that he was a child stand-in character, involved in a pretty neat epic story. I guess I could say he's written kinda like a video game character, if that makes any sense. But again, for any hardcore adult Sentai fan, Kou's story is obviously something you can only enjoy if it is very specifically the kind of thing you'd want to watch in the first place. I've noticed specifically with Zyuranger, it's a show which kinda requires a different approach. And not every Sentai fan is (understandably) really going to be okay with that.

    I guess overall what I'm trying to say is, Sugimura had a unique style which either worked or didn't work, depending on how it was approached. And he was just prone to getting very self-indulgent at times over his specific style with toku. (which I can understand can either be very interesting, or very annoying)

  5. Y'know, all this talk on Sugimura and kids kinda reminded me of the times when I was trying to figure out how to feel about Hibiki. A show where it just stars a middle schooler we give no cares about, but exploring a potentially interesting world with heroes. Though the big difference here being that I actually enjoy Sugimura's shows, and I feel Takatera is the one who takes it way too far and crossing the line with Hibiki.

    1. It comes down to preference. People see the kid-of-the-week episode, getting the story from the kid's perspective, as a valid way to tell these stories. That's not the method of storytelling I prefer, but I think those stories CAN work, they just rarely do in the ways I describe Sugimura's work or the more formulaic of the '70s scripts. I think kids are tuning into a superhero show for the superheroes rather than meaningless kid guest stars, don't you? I think kids would rather imagine themselves as the heroes than the heroes' forgettable pal-of-the-week, so I don't really think the "kids want to see characters like themselves" explanation fits this situation.

      I think the kid (or guest -- it doesn't always have to be a kid) needs to at least provide something for one of our regular characters. When the episode is following a kid for the first several minutes, and our hero is only brought in to help by happenstance, and he's just a bud of the kid's for the episode before riding off, that just doesn't hold a lot of meaning in the end, and that's the way it is in most of Sugimura's work.

      As for Hibiki, it had a valid take on the kid focus; Asumu was meant to take over for Hibiki. We were following the growth of a future hero. There were parallels made between Asumu's routine, everyday school life and the (surprisingly) routine, everyday life of being a superhero. Paths would converge and Asumu would end up the disciple and then hero. The problem is Takatera going insane and straying from the premise and turning Hibiki into...whatever the hell that was supposed to be. I've had a Hibiki post written up and sitting on my computer for almost four years now, maybe I should just post it. Hibiki's a show I've come to like more over time, but it has HUMONGOUS problems (both halves).

      I'll also say about Takatera choosing to focus on a kid made a little sense at that point of time. The Heisei Rider shows at that point had completely forgotten kids, not only as characters in the show, but as viewers. So, making a kid the main character, one who was going to grow into being a hero, was a surprisingly bold move at that time. (Which is weird to think about, considering how long it took Rider to break out of the kid-of-the-week mold.)

    2. I remember when I was a kid, I tended to not really mind if there were kid guest stars, as long as they weren't acting like annoying pieces of shit. Aside from that, I was often pretty easy to please, as long as the superheroes showed up at all. And as long as the kids weren't dragging them down. I guess you could say I looked up to the heroes and thought they deserved every amount of respect, lol.

      But yeah, that aside, I never really thought much about who was the focus in these shows as a kid, so I guess it never really bothered me. And I'm not sure how other kids felt about it too. But I do know that shows like KR Black, Zyuranger, Dairanger, and ToQger were all successes, so... make of that what you will.

      But I get what you mean though Shougo. Heck, as a kid, I always roleplayed as the heroes whenever I was playing outside or whatever, lol. But I guess that's a matter I tend to see separate from the topic of who's being the focus in the shows themselves.

      Yeah, I agree with what you mean on Hibiki. And yeah.... Takatera going insane is a good way to put it, lol. A lot of the choices he made with the show... sheesh.

      Hibiki is a guilty pleasure of mine. It has a lot of elements I really like personally. Just, execution-wise... it's pretty bad honestly, lol.

    3. >But I do know that shows like KR Black, Zyuranger, >Dairanger, and ToQger were all successes, so... make of >that what you will.

      I think maybe sometimes have a toku show be kid-oriented. But not every show, and not every episode the way it was in the '70s or in Sugimura's shows.

      >Hibiki is a guilty pleasure of mine. It has a lot of >elements I really like personally. Just, execution->wise... it's pretty bad honestly, lol.

      There's a lot of Hibiki hate out there now! Man, when I couldn't get into the show, people liked to act like it was some artsy gem that the common folk just couldn't get, heh.

      I watched the show again a few years ago and was feeling into it, but that basically started out of nostalgia. (I was feeling nostalgic for '05, and when I really, really, really wanted to like Hibiki since it was from the Kuuga producer and after Blade sucked so bad.) I now enjoy Hibiki, but see a show that could have been truly good instead of just a weird show with good ideas not realized.

    4. Oh yeah? I tend to see a lot of love for Hibiki personally. But yeah, I do see the haters out there too. Cause yeah, even today, I feel like I still see people praising Hibiki as that artsy underappreciated gem that needs more love. To the point where honestly, I feel like it's getting a little overrated now. ^^;

      But I do admit, I do like Hibiki. But not cause I think it's great at what it does. But more cause I just like the ideas and atmosphere of it. Even if those ideas never really go anywhere, lol. Nor are a lot of the ideas really did anything good for the Rider franchise (I kinda blame Hibiki as the start of Toei/Bandai and even the fandom claiming Rider can be whatever it wants to be).

      But I get what you mean. I have a lot of fond memories of Hibiki myself. I do have a special connection to the show. And it's indeed a show I really wanted to love a lot more than I do. Sometimes I do go back to rewatch Hibiki out of curiosity of what exactly it was trying to do, and what might've been better for the show. I'll give Hibiki this. It's at least very ambitious. Perhaps a bit too ambitious for it's own good.

      Though at the end of the day, I feel happy that I've at least got Gingaman (imo, Gingaman did a lot of the things Hibiki did, but did it far better imo).