Saturday, October 29, 2016
Kamen Rider Black Wrap-up & The RX Meltdown
I know I've been a real wise-ass about the past few episodes of Black, and even the finale, but I like them for the most part. It's just hard not to feel disappointment in the show's final 20 or so episodes, especially when you think of those early episodes and what Uehara might have done with the show if he stayed with it. I really feel like Sugimura kind of just didn't care when he took over, and then the budget's reduced and that's twice as harmful to the show. A lot of those big, epic, Biblical moments the show goes for at the end, and the scenes of cities ravaged, just aren't given the attention and depth they need. (Hey, no-budget backlot stuff still beats the way Gaim tries to convey Zawame's destruction by radio updates!)
And the final face-off between Black and the injured Shadow Moon IS cool. I mock the redecorated Golgom lair, but it at least gets the mood right. When I think of Black Sun and Shadow Moon having their massive, final fight, I picture it in a darkened city, or on a mountaintop while it storms at night. Darkness, is the point. So, they made the best use of their little blackened out studio space as best they could. It's quick, it's brutal, and it's the words exchanged that are more brutal than the fight. No real complaints about how Shadow Moon was defeated.
There's a lot in the second half that could be trimmed or done better, but there was obviously a lot of behind-the-scenes troubles and budget cuts and, in the end, the show turned out better than it could have ended up under those conditions. I might not like Sugimura's style, but he was able to deliver a strong finale. I still can't let go of my disappointment that the show starts so strong and unique and dark and descends into old-fashioned kidsville, I still mourn the dip in quality the show takes. It's not as severe a situation as Liveman, though. Liveman has a great start and just fizzles and ceases to resemble the same show by its end. Black changes, and not for the better, but it at least doesn't totally lose its identity, it's just a show that zigged when it should have just kept on its course. (What happens to Liveman is heartbreaking; what happens to Black is just frustrating.) If Black started out seeming like a precursor to Tim Burton's Batman, then the second half of the show is Batman Forever -- there's some good elements there, but A LOT of moldy cheese you have to navigate around. Terrible analogy, but whatever.
The biggest change for me on this viewing is Shadow Moon. I used to be kind of disappointed in how they handled him. I always thought he looked goofy just standing still at the center of the Golgom lair the way he always did -- couldn't they have built an awesome throne for him, one made out of skulls or something? I always thought he was extremely overrated. But I tried to pay attention to suit-actor Iwata's performance this time, listen carefully to Terasoma's voice-overs. They both do a good job, and Shadow Moon has this huge, ominous, dangerous feel to him, the way Iwata carries him. And I've made peace with the fact that the show doesn't exactly do a good job of giving you a sense of Nobuhiko, so we don't really care as much as we could that Nobuhiko is lost inside Shadow Moon. We needed a better actor for Nobuhiko, we needed SOME dialogue for him, we needed more scenes of who we was before Shadow Moon.
This is one of my many, many problems with RX. Put aside the fact it's a stupid, horrendous, moronic pile of garbage. Ignore that it's a terrible sequel to Black. Think of Black's problems. Think of how a potential sequel series would offer many opportunities to fix, or at least smooth over, some of Black's rough patches. You had a whole year of show to do, and you NEVER fix the blunder that was shipping Kyoko and Katsumi off to America? You don't have to get the actresses back, have them send Koutarou a fucking letter. "Hey, when you went for your nap at the bottom of the sea, we left Japan, as you instructed. You can write us here. Hope to hear from you soon, because I don't know why you act like we're fucking dead when we're just in another country. Love, Kyoko. P.S. I hear you're driving a ladybug car now. That's why I haven't returned to Japan, I would be too embarrassed to be seen with you. What kind of Kamen Rider drives a ladybug car?"
How about acknowledging how tragic it is that Koutarou, having survived a long and personal battle, is pulled back into fighting? This isn't the '70s Riders, where Shocker's main branch was defeated, so Hongou travels the world to fight other branches. This isn't the '70s Riders, where Shocker just keeps mutating, so the '70s Riders' job is never finished. Golgom was destroyed, Koutarou won, the end. And now he's targeted and brought into a new battle against his will. No, don't explore that at all, just have him be a goofball who laughs it all off.
But, no, RX would rather barely ever mention the more successful show which it wouldn't exist without. As much of a problem I have with Sugimura, why wouldn't they get him as main writer for RX? Why flip through your candidates and settle for the guy who brought you Super fucking One? A guy who had NOTHING to do with Black? Why choose him to head its sequel? (Takashi Ezure basically is Sugimura without the penchant for weirdness. That means jack left town, and you're left with the excessive amount of kids, but even MORE generic storylines.) And, hey, I enjoy Super One, it's mostly goofy fun -- but it ain't a Rider show. There's not a Kamen Rider-y bone in its body! So you get THAT guy to pen the follow-up to the show that was trying to modernize the classic Rider formula, making practically the epitome of Kamen Rider? Bad, bad, BAD decision.
Rather than be a proper follow-up, rather than look to Black and extend its world, fix some pot holes in the road, be an actual continuation, RX would rather try to fuse together the dead style of the Space Sheriffs with the out-of-place "comedy" found in the stop-trying-to-make-them-happen Fushigi Comedy series for their sequel to Black. Like, why in the hell did they think it was such a good idea to depict all of the supporting players the way they do? The Saharas are the most unlikable, unsympathetic, obnoxious, useless, loud, worst supporting "characters" in toku. The show never tries to make them realistic, tolerable or likable, and the show devotes FAR too much time to their antics. (Really, this show should be called "That Screeching Chubby Kid, Featuring RX.") I know they're supposed to be "funny," by why did even the Sahara parents have to be shrieking nitwits?
Being surrounded by such imbeciles, being such a lighter show that doesn't resemble its predecessor, this changes Koutarou into a generic buffoon. If Black went from being Batman to Batman Forever, then RX is definitely Batman & Robin. How the shows' creators could be so clueless, so tone-deaf, so misunderstanding of their audience that they let their work fall so quickly is a mystery. I dislike RX so much that I refuse to even call it "Kamen Rider *Black* RX." It's so far from Black, so far from Koutarou, it's an entirely separate thing. To me, it's just "Kamen Rider RX." And even then, if you view it as its own thing, it's still way past the boundaries of being watchable; a horrifically written and acted mess. And I'm not trying to be cute or humorous or simply hyperbolic here -- I loathe RX. I say I hate Go-onger or Den-O for being stupid, but they're just stupid shows. RX is stupid...AND bad...AND inept...AND tarnishes a good show while it's at it.
A solid example of a bad sequel, RX is one of the absolute worst toku shows, in the truest sense of the word. It's unwatchable, a Mt. Fuji-sized pile of radioactive, worm-infested chimpanzee shit. Time freezes when you try to watch the show, and everything sucks in that moment -- watching RX could be used as a form of punishment. The ONLY good things to be found in it is the soundtrack and Atsuko Takahata's performance as Maribaron, and the show deserves neither. People like to think Saban's Masked Rider is some embarrassing failure and blemish on Kamen Rider's record, one that Ishinomori took as a huge insult, but it's mostly that bad because RX gave it nothing good to work with. Ferbus > Kasumi no Joe. The best thing to come out of Kamen Rider Decade was splitting the two shows up and bringing Black back into things.
You know who should have written Black RX? Susumu Takaku. He had proven with Machineman and Byclosser that he can write entertaining, kid-friendly, episodic escapist fare -- which RX wanted to be, for some reason -- but he also showed with Metalder just what an emotional and deep show he could do. He would have walked a line between lightness and depth. (RX has the depth of a piss puddle.)
All in all, for as much as I look like I complained, I still really like Black, and had a damn fun time watching it again. It's a classic, it was influential. (I think Keita Amemiya's entire career has been trying to make a perfect Black. I certainly think he thinks GARO is Black done right, but he's wrong.) Still, it's hard for me to not feel frustrated in turns it took. Is it too much to hope for Tetsuo Kurata to return in his own movie next year, for the show's 30th anniversary, giving us the proper follow-up to Black we should have had? And keep your new sucky Rider out of the movie -- just make it Black, dammit, keep your sugary new crap out of it, Toei!