Saturday, October 29, 2016
Black Guardian Spirit: Kamen Rider Black 46 - 51 (finale)
46 - Baraom sees the episode number and decides it's time for him to die, but he's pretending to be all honorable and act like it's vengeance for Bishum. Other than Baraom being a phony, the rest of the episode is decent, though.
The Creation King is making his presence known in a shape on the sun (he really just looks like a burning carrot slice); freak occurrences then begin to happen on Earth. I think if the show was of the same quality as it was early on, the sense of dread and doom these final episodes try to convey would have been stronger. They're still good, though.
Koutarou is celebrating his birthday, and it's odd that it's a joyous occasion until Kyoko brings up Nobuhiko. Dude, you grew up with the guy, you shared the same birthdate, how did you not already think of that? Before the show lets you dwell on Koutarou's brain-fart too long, he and Shadow Moon are pulled into a grasshopper-filled vision by the Creation King, who does his best Shiro Kanzaki impression by just telling them to fight and get it over with.
Baraom's big plan is to use the whale monster, who he knows plans on defecting from Golgom. (The whale monster had been eavesdropping earlier in the episode, hearing Darom and Baraom laying out plans to destroy the seas. This is when whale monster had the epiphany that maybe these Golgom guys aren't the awesome party dudes they claimed to be.) While whale monster is fighting Black, Baraom attacks with twin tusk swords, stabbing the whale monster through the back (symbolism! Baraom literally doing to the whale what he's punishing the whale for doing to Golgom), and TRYING TO KABOB BLACK AT THE SAME TIME, TOO. Why's the show obsessed with this idea? Or is Baraom being his usual stooge self and couldn't come up with anything better but to rip off someone else's idea from a previous episode?
Long story short, Black kills Baraom and saves whale monster, making a new BFF who he leads back to the sea. Whale monster will be important, so it's a shame his design isn't better, and that the suit isn't made better. (And I always thought it was a shame he wasn't given a human avatar. Maybe that's a good thing, because it probably would have been another goddamn kid.) Before Baraom dies, he unleashes a big attack on Black, who's standing on top of a mountain, and is just totally still and cool as a ton of explosions go off around him. That was awesome. He won't be intimidated by the likes of Baraom, dammit.
The Creation King whisks Shadow Moon away on another vision chat, telling him to get moving on fighting Black. Why? Because he's dying and needs a successor. Why's it so important, when it's obvious that Black ain't going to be taking over Golgom if he kills Shadow Moon? I don't know, that's a good question, and one only Shozo Uehara probably knows the answer to. Isn't Shadow Moon pretty much already in charge, anyway? What's he going to gain by getting back the King Stone? Is the Creation King making up rules as he goes along? What are you, a reporter? Why are you asking so many questions -- piss off!
47 - An episode that would be much better with more money, and a better title than "Rider Dies!" Japan and their love for giveaway titles. Like...you see that title and you know that, if Rider dies, he ain't going to stay dead, so maybe that's not a big deal. And when you see Rider "die," you know he's not going to stay dead, no matter what the episode is called. But "Rider Dies!" telegraphs it and there's no surprise. Just call it the generic old "Decisive Battle!" and let people be shocked by the outcome.
Because imagine watching this episode not knowing what's coming up. You'd probably assume the battle would be interfered with or it would come to a draw or Shadow Moon would pull the old Wolzard "Your head's not in the fight! Come back when you're focused and stronger!" But, no, you see the title and wait for Shadow Moon to deliver the killing stroke.
The episode handles it all well, though. The Shonen Golgom Tai return -- with only two returning actors this time, and a whole lotta new ones -- and have been fighting off Golgom. I like the scene when the Shonen Senshi, Kyoko and Katsumi each stand up, one by one, and give Koutarou the OK to fight Shadow Moon. That so much pain and damage has been caused by him and Golgom that he should really just be stopped. There's a good bit when Koutarou's trying to send Kyoko and Katsumi away from Japan because he doesn't want them witnessing the fight, because he knows one of them's not going to be left standing. Kyoko kind of undoes her strong decision from just minutes prior of declaring she thinks Nobuhiko is lost and that Koutarou should fight him by being like "What?! You two are fighting to the death!?!? Forget what I said!" A lame bit making her look crazy or like a dumb-dumb.
Since the last episode, Shadow Moon has supposedly cast a pall over Tokyo, not letting the sun shine until Black agrees to fight him, this Saturday night, for the championship belt! But it still looks sunny! Cheap, production. Cheap. And there's still all sorts of calamitous happenings and Golgom attacks, and although there's not the budget to reflect it well, the show does a creepy job of trying to sell the idea of doom by having politicians fighting each other in despair and showing monks crying doom and nuns praying.
I don't know what happened to all of the cool action this show once had, but it's slipped in the last dozen episodes, so Black and Shadow Moon's fight isn't as awesome as it once would have been. Black had cooler fights with Birugenia, and he was just the placeholder until Shadow Moon came on, so that's sad. This fight isn't terrible, but you expect something grander, and something not filmed at the fucking rocks that every no name monster fight in a Metal Hero happens at. They start off pretty evenly, and then Black has the upperhand, and then Shadow Moon is saved by a cheat. Despite telling the Creation King to not interfere, that's exactly what the Creation King does, and it's what leads Shadow Moon to win, and Shadow Moon doesn't even care that there was the interference though he expressed he didn't want one.
In yet another one of his three-second appearances, Takahito Horiuchi returns as Nobuhiko, the Creation King allowing Shadow Moon to revert to Nobuhiko to throw Black off, giving Shadow Moon the upperhand. I was actually surprised by this the first time I saw it, because I didn't think the series was ever going to show Shadow Moon revert to Nobuhiko. I really don't like the usage of the OP theme here, though. Why play the triumphant and heroic theme for Nobuhiko, as he then kicks Black's ass? These final episodes are full of bad song uses. Anyway, Shadow Moon delivers the killing blow, stabbing Black through the abdomen. In a surprise moment, the Creation King orders Shadow Moon to cut out the King Stone, but he can't bear to do it once Black reverts to being Koutarou. This pisses the Creation King off, but Shadow Moon is all "Eh, I don't need his King Stone. I'll be a great King without it!" Which just makes you wonder why it was so important to begin with. Why create two people to fight, with separate stones, just to have the victor take both stones...eh? I kind of got the impression early on that the point of a sun vs moon stone is that maybe whoever won would influence the world -- like, if Shadow Moon won, maybe that meant a long period of darkness. If Black Sun wins, maybe the world would becoming a blazing, Mad Max kind of desert. I dunno.
Kyoko and Katsumi -- who against Koutarou's wishes, snuck and watched the fight by the sidelines -- join his side, and I like how this is done. Jiro Okamoto's doing a good job acting Black's final moments, as he weakly tells Kyoko and Katsumi to leave Japan ASAP (because shit's 'bout to get nuts there, and there's no one there to stop it), as well as gratitude for supporting him, and last goodbyes. Kyoko and Katsumi's actresses sell the hell out of this scene, and then there's an earthquake which carries Rider's body away first by rock fall, and then by launching him into the waters. Baraom's death led to a similar massive earthquake, and it gives these big events a kind of Biblical feel to them, which is great at making it all seem epic. (Sorry, Bishum -- despite being way better at your job than Baraom, all you get is some sparklers and colored smoke, but no earthquake. And your final fight will be filmed in the studio, too.)
The episode ends on this downer, and with a feeling of dread and uncertainty, and it's a great cliffhanger, which all gets ruined by the next episode's preview. It would have been awesome to have a Black-free episode, where Golgom's just causing chaos and the people are in a panic, but...that's what happens when you waste good episode time on stupid shit like Golgom's warp machine that's ruined by a kid's remote control car controller.
48 - Episode is 70% clip show, which kind of sucks. Toei obviously just doesn't want to put money into the show at this point -- the fools are putting all of their eggs in RX's basket. Joke's on them.
But the show depicts a Japan that's similar to a zombie movie -- monsters are attacking the streets, people are fleeing their homes, we're shown that Golgom's monsters aren't the only monsters on the planet, but that there's some human monsters, too. (Uehara would have done this better than Miyashita or Sugimura.) That's right, as Kyoko and Katsumi drive (presumably to the airport), they're ambushed by a group of greedy people out to steal their car, their money, their clothes, their boots, their motorcycle. Pandemonium! They get saved by a weird guy who should have been stunt casting, but is instead some generic pud who's a weak actor, so you question his motives. (Turns out the character is decent and on the up and up.)
This guy leads Kyoko and Katsumi to a hideaway, where he has a bunch of kids and has a boat that will get them all to America. This is supposed to be hopeful for the kids, but I still wonder what the fuck a bunch of kids are going to do once they get into America. Could the show have spared some money and thrown some adults into the mix, so you could assume these kids had parents and help make this all more believable?
Meanwhile, Shadow Moon is cocky about his victory and is ready to throw a "Woo-hoo! I'm the next Creation King" party. (Literally, he wants to celebrate.) The turnout is really lame, though -- Darom, that pesky bat monster, and Shadow Moon's two lame prostitutes/secretaries/babysitters/whatever. I don't think I mentioned them, but when Shadow Moon first takes over, he creates these two masked females who do nothing but stand by him. They don't talk, they don't fight, and their design is atrocious -- they look like something from Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills.
However, the Creation King tells him to hold his horses. Say WHAT?! Hasn't he been all "Hurry and fight! Time's running out! Hurry! Fight! Get the King Stone! Fight! Go! Hurry! Time is of the essence! Time's running out! Fight! Hurry and fight! Fight and hurry! Do one or both!" for the past umpteen episodes? Apparently, Shadow Moon needs Koutarou's King Stone, otherwise he won't be able to succeed the Creation King upon his death, and that will just result in Shadow Moon's death. Huh? The Creation King is TOTALLY making the rules up as he goes along. That, or we have a bad writer in our midst, one who doesn't care and hasn't even watched previous episodes.
The main event in this episode, though, is the whale monster finding Black's corpse at the bottom of the sea. The whale monster is concerned, and takes Black's body back to his underwater cave hideout, which I'll just call the Whale Cave. There, he places Black on a bedding that I *think* is supposed to be made of seaweed, but looks like garbage bags. Then the whale brings out a giant seashell and starts pouring dry-ice on Black, the narrator explaining to us that this is some sacred resurrection elixir that's passed down in the whale monster's tribe. OK. That's convenient. How handy! Damn lucky for Koutarou that he just met the whale monster recently, eh? Because what were his other options -- wait around for Aquaman?
Wouldn't it have been more interesting if the whale monster had been introduced long ago? Shouldn't it be some character we know and really, really like? What if it had been the ghost of Birugenia or something? What if Battle Hopper sacrificed itself for him? I don't know who suggested it (I'd like to credit them by name, but I honestly don't remember), but I remember reading someone say that it should have just been the sun saving him, and Koutarou should have resurrected and become RX here. At this late stage in the game, they were obviously getting RX up and running and knew Kurata was coming back, so that would have been a pretty neat thing to see. Wrap up Black with his new powers, then he goes on to that terrible new show. THAT would necessitate power-ups and stuff in his new show, since the RX form would have been spoiled by its use at the end of Black. That was an awesome idea, whoever said it. (And, no, it wasn't you ;-P)
The whale's not as dopey looking as Amazon's mole buddy, but there's still just something I find lacking about this whole bit. As I said, his design's not the greatest, the suit looks really shabby, like it was from a '60s show and has just been rotting in the warehouse. Maybe the choice of a whale carries some symbolism that I'm missing. Whale's really just shoehorned in here and is essentially a Red Shirt.
As whale's super Orange Lazarus cocktail begins to work on Black, Kyoko and Katsumi depart Japan, throwing a bouquet in honor of Koutarou into the seas. The bouquet washes up to the door of the Whale Cave, whale seeing them and placing them on Black's chest. This is when Black shows signs of life. You might say it's cheesy, but shut up! I like it.
The show came as close as they could to doing an episode without Black. (This is an episode without Koutarou, actually.) He's on the slab for the entire time, and we only see Black or Koutarou in action through old clips.
49 - Black has risen, and Koutarou is aghast at just how much things have changed in the day he's been dead. (I'm joking there; there's no real indication of how long he was meant to be dead, but it SEEMS like a short amount of time.) The show's been hinting at the chaos and destruction going on throughout Japan ever since Shadow Moon's arrival. But since Black died, the citizens of Japan have given up. Buildings have been leveled, things are ablaze. Things are bleak, there's pro-Golgom gangs terrorizing people and even kids playing Kamen Rider Black in the streets depict Black's loss and surrender to Golgom. The part with the kids is kind of goofy, but Tetsuo Kurata manages to seem actually heartbroken that Black's story has already been warped.
Koutarou could have been a little more stealthy and have the element of surprise, but Golgom quickly learns of his resurrection -- and whale monster's involvement -- and are after them. That pro-Golgom gang? They're tricked into capturing the whale by Darom, as a way to lure Black. Whale takes a beating throughout the episode, but Black is victorious, and the pro-Golgomers rebel once they learn that Darom isn't interested in them.
The episode ends with Koutarou tossing two flowers into the sea in honor of Kyoko and Katsumi, with words of farewell. (Kyoko and Katsumi have made it to San Francisco, in the fastest boat ride of all time.) He makes a vow, now absolutely positively certain, beyond a doubt, posilutely and absotively that Nobuhiko is beyond saving and he'll fight Shadow Moon...TO THE DEATH! Well, what took you so long in growing your balls, there, Koutarou?
50 - So many of these last episodes are clips and dragging things out! Between all of the terrible episodes in the 30s and 40s and all of the flashbacks that use all of the same insert songs, this show could have just been 42 episodes and been just fine!
In this one, Koutarou thoughtfully lugs the severely injured whale monster along to find one of the entrances to Golgom's lair. It's not enough he brought him back from the dead, but he's using him as a navigator, now, too. The Creation King teleports Koutarou into his inner sanctum, along with Shadow Moon, leaving the whale monster alone and easy pick'ins for this week's monster, who looks like some reject from Godneros' Mutant Army. RIP, whale monster; you confused me. Before he dies, he begs Koutarou to protect the waters. Koutarou doesn't hear him, otherwise he would probably have put a stop to all of Japan's whaling.
Elsewhere, we're shown Kyoko and Katsumi in San Francisco, reading the paper of Kamen Rider's return. (It made American news! What was that headline? "Scoop! Bug guy back from dead in Japan!") Kyoko frantically packs so she can return, but Katsumi stops her, saying that they need to stay out of Koutarou's way at this crucial time. It's something I never really understood. They know how much their presence helped motivate Koutarou. It reminds me of the way in season two of The Flash, Barry successfully gets his dad out of prison, and his dad's first move is to leave town so he won't interfere with his son's responsibility as a hero. Just...huh?
In the Creation King's hip and stylin' ELO-cover-inspired room, which in no way looks like the ordinary Golgom lair redressed, cheap production, the Creation King lays it out for the two knuckleheads he probably regrets recruiting for this whole thing. Not only does one who holds the title of Creation King get to live for 50,000 years, but he gets all sorts of crazy powers over not just the world...but the universe! Creation King also reveals his true form -- he doesn't look like a burning carrot slice, just a big rubber heart that glows. The Creation King says that whoever takes over gets to rule and wipe out mankind, which Black is all "Meh, no thanks! I'm the good guy, dipshit." To which the Creation King is all "This was a bad idea! Sorry, Shadow Moon, even though it was painfully obvious this Black Sun tit's not going to cooperate, I'm backing you! GOOD DAY!" and ejects them into a flowery field.
Black's impressed by the view. He sees Shadow Moon and is literally like "Isn't this beautiful? How can you want to destroy this, Nobuhiko?" And Shadow Moon is all "Leave the serene, lyrical stuff to Metalder. It don't work coming from you. Let's fight!" At some point, Shadow Moon reveals the ace up his sleeve...he calls for Battle Hopper, who responds! That's right, he says that since Battle Hopper was created for the Century King/Creation King, that's is HIS toy, too, and he's using it! (Why he hasn't prior to this, especially to stop Black from winning the day, is yet another question mark/plot hole/question hole for the new writers.)
Because you're fed up with Koutarou always blowing things by thinking he can talk to Nobuhiko, and because you're fed up with Shadow Moon just standing there with his threats, Battle Hopper's the only person you're liking in this scene right now. Will Kamen Rider have to fight Battle Hopper who, let's be honest, is so much more likable and a better friend and brother than Nobuhiko? TO BE CONTINUED!
51 - Battle Hopper hasn't appeared much lately, Koutarou's been going for the Road Sucktor, probably because kids weren't buying that shitty toy. So, this whole fight's a dirty trick of the writers to pull. Shadow Moon's controlling Battle Hopper's movements, but not its heart. Battle Hopper's actually crying that he's attacking Koutarou/Black. Black wants to free his friend before harming him, so he King Stone Flashes Shadow Moon (proof that Battle Hopper matters more to him than Nobuhiko!) and sends Shadow Moon flying off the bike. Shadow Moon takes his sword and slices through Battle Hopper several times before Black beats the crap out of him, Rider Kicking him, the works, and Shadow Moon runs back home with the help of his two masked babysitters.
And then, the heartbreak. Battle Hopper's laying in pieces, and Black makes his way over to it. For the first time, it talks, rasping out a weak thanks to Black, before dying. What's it say about this show's priorities that you care more about Battle Hopper than Nobuhiko at this point? What's it say about Takahito Horiuchi as an actor that a piece of Suzuki metal is more likable than he is? Even when he's just smiling in those Clearasil commercial flashbacks, you just hate that guy and want to punch him. Black understands. He's pissed now. When he fled, Shadow Moon dropped his sword. Black picks up his sword, and follows Shadow Moon's trail of urine back to the Golgom lair.
Black enters, and finds Shadow Moon being a bit over dramatic, smoking and clutching his wounds. Shadow Moon's obviously not up for any more fighting, not even an arm wrestling match. Not even a thumb-wrestling match! But he still has some nasty words left in him, telling Koutarou that he hates him. Black warns him not to bother attacking, but he does, and Black slices through his King Stone, and Shadow Moon falls. He lays on his back, dying, but still kicking enough to compliment Black some more. "I still win, because you'll live the rest of your life in misery knowing you killed your brother." At this point, Koutarou must be thinking "I'm glad you're dying, you dick. Why didn't I do it sooner?!" Shadow Moon requests his sword, with an emo line that he doesn't want to go to hell without it. Black grants his request and gives him the sword! Couple of geniuses here. Shadow Moon, not surprisingly -- well, not to anyone who isn't Black -- turns the sword on Black, targeting his throat, and then goes limp, dead.
Suddenly, the Creation King chimes in. "Well done, Black Sun, my son! Come in here, give me a kiss, I'll be on my way and you'll be the new Creation King!" Black goes into the Creation King's chambers and stares directly at that big, floating rubber heart. "Hey, genius, didn't you hear what I said in the last episode? Have you not watched this entire series? Who the fuck do you think I am? Why would you think I'd be the next Creation King?" The Creation King throws a tantrum. "Well, if you won't be Creation King, well I, I'll..." Panicking, he picks Generic Bad Guy Solution #5 -- he opens a hole to the Earth's core and threatens to throw himself in it, causing the Earth to explode, if Black doesn't agree. He places a lasery shield in front of him for protection.
Black calls the Road Sucktor and, spoiler alert, it fails. See? I told you that thing sucks. Then Black has a brainstorm. "Hey, if our terrible writers realized in episode 50 that Shadow Moon could use Battle Hopper since it was made for the Creation King, then shouldn't the terrible writers be writing that I can use Shadow Moon's sword, which was made for the Creation King?" That he does! He calls for the sword and chucks it right into the Creation King's rubber heart! The Creation King growls and goes to Generic Bad Guy Parting Words Chapter 11, in which he quotes "I'll be back! As long as men are wicked and roam the earth, I'll return! Death is but a window, time is but a door, I'll be back!" And then he explodes, the base explodes, Koutarou's riding out of there, stopping by Shadow Moon but not being able to do anything. He continues on as Golgom's destroyed...
We then see him standing on a cliff's edge, in heavy rain, where he tosses the sword over the edge and it disappears. The narrator remarks that it's rained heavily since Golgom's fall, as if the Earth is having the evil washed away from it. It gives the show another Biblical kind of feel and weight to it. Eventually, the rain stops, and we're shown the people of Japan happily resuming their lives.
Koutarou, however, sits in the dark and abandoned Capitola, reminiscing about his family. We're treated to the same clips we've been seeing for the past few episodes -- the same clips we've seen the entire show, really. See, whenever people knock Takeru's flashbacks of Mio in Maskman, I really hate them for it. Maskman filmed those scenes beautifully, giving them the grandness and loveliness of the storybook romance it was supposed to be. Think of those beautiful shots on the beach, with the sun setting. Think of the artsy shots of the flowers, as Mio's hat rolls by. If you're going to show a clip all the time to convey a character who's been lost, film it well, like Maskman! Black wants to get mileage out of the same two clips which are as generic and artsy as an allergy medication commercial. Couldn't they come up with one or two more clips, one that actually had dialogue, one that you made you care more about Nobuhiko than "Wow! He really likes laughing at waves!" Or "Wow! He really can't kick a soccer ball!"
Koutarou finishes his thoughts, says a farewell, and rides on to a new adventure. Sadly, that new adventure is a terrible, terrible new show that will kill the franchise for a decade. It's interesting that episode 51 doesn't end with the traditional "OWARI," it's just blank.
And that's Kamen Rider Black... But I ain't shutting up about it. Stay tuned for an outro!