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!

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. 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 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!

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.