Friday, July 31, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 18-21

EPISODES 18 - 21

Battle Royale was a hot property for Toei in the early '00s. It was a best-selling novel, made into a movie that became infamous and controversial worldwide. You couldn't escape the buzz for that movie, and Toei even milked its shitty sequel for what little it was worth. (There was a point where every cast member from BR2 ended up in a toku, too.) So, a lot of people in '02 made the Battle Royale connection with Ryuki, and you really can't deny it. The biggest piece of evidence is in the character of Takeshi Asakura, who's a TV-14 version of Kazuo Kiriyama. blasphemous as it may be to most, I think what Takashi Hagino does with Asakura blows anything actor Masanobu Ando did with Kiriyama out of the water. I think Asakura would kick Kiriyama's ass.

I was so excited for Asakura's debut in '02. I had really wanted for a character like him in Ryuki -- an all out villainous, homicidal, psychotic, formidable opponent. I basically wanted a Yutaka Hirose Rider. Even though I like the villains with a surprising shade of grey, I feel like Ryuki really needed a Rider who just didn't give a shit. One who played by his own rules. One who really stirred things up and wouldn't care about alliances or magic wishes or feeding his Tamagotchi; a Rider who wouldn't be afraid to push a fight past the time limit in the Mirror World. Somebody who walked the talk and can do serious harm. That was all promised with Asakura and I thought he delivered.

I couldn't wait for the episodes with him. Nowadays you can download the latest episode (for free!) the very day it airs, which is still crazy to me. But at the time of Ryuki, you had to wait for slow-ass tape sellers to get the four episodes they'd sell per volume. So, that's wait around for four episodes to air, wait for the sellers to put it on their site, and then pay the outrageous price they wanted for four frucking episodes (which oftentimes was iffy quality) and wait then for ages for the seller to get it out to you. This was the horror of the fandom back in the day, and it was a farce. I was suspicious of the goofy guy from Changerion being cast in such a part, but he at least looked cool in pictures, and I freaking loved the Ouja design, and that Jiro Okamoto was playing him in-suit. (Not just because of the Changerion connection, but because I was happy for Okamoto to be playing a Rider again, and I thought he was really cool and made a great villainous Rider as G4.) Sidenote: after Ouja transforms, Okamoto will do a little slither-y flicking of his wrist. Seiji Takaiwa totally stole this for his portrayal of Faiz, and became better known for it, and it's unjust.

It's a rare thing for a wait like that to be worth it, but it was. The character delivered, the episodes delivered. 18 & 19 are treated with importance -- the stakes are high, and 19 has an "event" feel to it. (Watch the preview for it at the end of 18 and try not to feel the Chills of Epicness.) I like that 19 was such a Rider free-for-all that it's the only time in the series that the credits will list the Rider name along with the character's name. (A weird detail for me to notice and point out, but...still. The Heisei Riders were trying to be so much cooler than the standard Rider shows that they rarely credit the character as the hero like they used to always do.)

We had Sudou/Scissors, who was a sickie, but didn't hang around long enough to make a full impression. We have Kitaoka, who the show wants you to sympathize with at times. We have Shibaura, who's hard to take completely seriously because he looks 10 years old and that shaky game introduction did him no favors. So here's Asakura, and it's a kind of shocking character to have in a superhero show. A violent prisoner, one who obviously has a lot of mental issues. But what's great about Hagino is he gives a pretty grounded performance. You could get very flashy with this kind of role, give a mannered performance -- which is how I feel Ando is in Battle Royale. He's just about seeming cool and having tics. Hagino can convey the character's delight in the mayhem he causes without seeming artificial or over-the-top. Similarly, he is really good at displaying the character's simmering rage and frustration. He's just SO good in the part and ends up saving a lot of the show when it stumbles in its second half and will manage to be good even when they start to put Asakura in more outrageous situations.

There are so many villainous characters like Asakura in TV and movies that you just don't buy because the performance will be overly quirky or the writing will try too hard to make the person a cold bad-ass. And on the other hand, there are depictions of madmen who take it the other direction and are almost robotic and uninteresting. When Asakura's just passing time by banging his head on the nearest hard object or punching a wall, Hagino sells it. You're just like, "What the hell is wrong with this guy?" Hagino knows something about the character and his motivations we don't; he believes in the character. It's such a good performance and Hagino is such a good actor that I don't understand why there have been so many less talented people in Kamen Rider who are rewarded with great, mainstream careers, but someone like Hagino -- who did good work in his show, who has range and is committed -- can't escape genre works. He's better than Joe Odagiri. (Besides, Japan already had Tadanobu Asano, they didn't need the knockoff with Odagiri.) People like dweeby Den-O or pipsqueak Philip and the flop-sweating Fourze dork and personality-free Drive twerp get big...what?! Makes me want to go smack my noggin against the wall, Asakura-style. Fame doesn't reward talent.


These are the first episodes we see Shiro Kanzaki OUTSIDE of a mirror. When I first saw the show, I always assumed he was trapped in the Mirror World, and that's what one of his motivations was. But in these episodes, he's out and about and meeting with people and moving Kitaoka's chess pieces, so...there went that theory! There's obviously still limitations in how long he can be in the real world, but...Kanzaki beginning to just pop up as he pleases makes him seem a little too powerful. What was stopping him from interfering with real world stuff prior to this? What was stopping him from escalating the Rider battle before now? (And it's still several episodes away from him doing stuff like messing with Eri to light a fire under Ren's ass. So...why the delay?) The show starts to act like KANZAKI IS EVERYWHERE! Yeah? Well, why doesn't he stop the Alternative stuff from happening? That would save him A LOT of trouble, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.

But, as Kitaoka notes, Kanzaki is one nasty guy. I love that he chooses Asakura just to help get things moving, knowing that Asakura has ties to two of the Riders and will probably leave guys like Shinji and Ren as stains on a road in the Mirror World. Kenzaburo Kikuchi is so creepy in the scenes when he recruits Asakura and then, later, when he stops by Kitaoka's to threaten him, and I have to once again mention how much he reminds me of Mitsuo Ando, classic toku villain creep.

I love the jailbreak scene, with Ouja kicking down the barred doors. But I have to mention that I've always been confused how it works. I've always been under the impression that Asakura just transforms in the real world and uses the Ouja power suit to break out. But when I just rewatched it, the way it's filmed -- Ouja breaking down the door, proceeding down the hall, with guards just rounding the corner -- seems to suggest that he's in the Mirror World. His escape is supposed to be a mystery -- when Reiko later goes through security cam footage, she doesn't see Ouja (just Kanzaki), which suggests Mirror World shenanigans. How's that work, when he needs to get out of the Mirror World from the point he entered, which could only be his cell? (The show forgets the little detail of the Riders needing to exit from the point they entered the Mirror World.) Unless Kanzaki was holding a reflective surface for him and was like "See ya outside!" I hate to poke holes in such a cool scene, so let's overlook all that. Sometimes, a show or movie has to just throw logic aside in favor of the cool factor...

I'd similarly like to know just how Asakura was able to afford to hire Kitaoka, but I'll let that slide, too. Kitaoka lets himself be exchanged for hostages in an attempt to clean up his image, so...maybe he took Asakura's case for some egotistical reason? Like, he intended to get this nasty criminal freed just to prove his talents, but that's how much Asakura creeped Kitaoka out -- he decided to drop him rather than spend any more time helping him. And it's a mystery just the level of crimes committed by Asakura -- the vagueness certainly hints that he's done all of the worst things you can think of. Instead of facing off against some Ex-Aid rando in a special, he needed to face W and be forced to count up his crimes! (Or, better yet, Skull.)

Asakura quickly gets to work once freed, immediately heading to a thrift shop for new clothes and the phone book in order to find Kitaoka. (He tears the page out. "Public property...private property." Billy Caulfield style!) He then goes directly to Kitaoka's to attack, in a coolly-directed scene, a swift little exchange from him attacking Reiko, attempting to strike Kitaoka, but being intercepted by Goro. He eventually winds up taking a girl hostage and holding a restaurant full of people hostage, and where does our hapless hero happen to be? In that restaurant. I LOVE that Shinji gets a big hero moment here, and that he FINALLY is seen in a better light by his co-workers for his actions. This is one of my favorite Shinji moments of the series. He also puts a mark on himself in Asakura's eyes; when Shinji says he's going to stay as long as the girl is still held hostage, Asakura waves him off. But when he later finds out that Shinji is Ryuki? That pisses Asakura off. I think it's that he doesn't like the "idiot from the restaurant" twice now being so defiant and standing up to him. Everyone treats Asakura like plague-covered evil incarnate, but here's a regular guy like Shinji stepping up to him and talking back -- fighting back, even, as Knight and Raia are frozen by Ouja's killing of Gai. And Asakura don't like that one bit. He recognizes a threat in Ryuki, and it's something the show sadly doesn't pursue.

So, Shibaura gets what's coming to him. It's funny how hard he tried to set everything up to be perfect (in his mind), and he really got in over his head. I like how he just has the balls to pull up to Asakura and spill everything about the Rider fight -- including that Kitaoka is a Rider, before then just driving off! He underestimated Asakura and paid for it. The character's so weaselly, it's an awesome moment when you discover that Ouja uses him as a human body shield. (It initially looks like Gai's the only one unscathed from End of World, but he took it hardest!) But that doesn't kill him! It's crazy that little Shibaura's still in the fight, pissed at Ouja, but is too weak, so he gets Veno Crash'd -- he tastes two Final Vents! A weird subplot, though, is his apparent kidnapping of Yui to lure Ren and Tetzuka into the fight. It all happens off screen because it's just hard to buy any scenario where Shibaura's overpowering Yui -- they're in the same weight division. And it's a little too much after Sudou already kidnapped her. (Poor Yui.) It makes more sense for Shibaura here than it did Sudou, but that was an early episode trying to amp up some drama, what can ya do?

Ren begins these episodes still in a bit of a trance, barely speaking, wandering and withdrawn into himself. If he was still himself, Ren would probably send Tetzuka swimming with Evildiver in the river they were near after their talk, but he just gives him a look and, I guess, things turn out OK, because we next see 'em just heading to the Atori. Ren finally gets to speaking again when he finds out Yui's been taken. Despite all of Tetzuka's pleas and calling it as he sees it, Ren insists on fighting. Ren has a cryptic line in 19 that says that maybe, at this point, he has a bit of a death wish. Like, it would just be easier to be killed than worry about any of the stuff he's worried about. And Tetzuka's spent all of this time trying to keep him alive! To avoid that vision he saw. And I think the death wish is kind of one of the reasons Ren decides to help Asakura escape. Tetzuka says that he thinks Ren's trying to "get back his mask," hoping to pick up something from Asakura, but I feel like a death wish is part of it. Hanging out with a volatile, unpredictable guy like Asakura. And it all ends up making Shinji extra worried, not only for Ren putting himself in danger, but now ORE Journal wants to know about the guy aiding Asakura. Shinji don't want his bud to be cheesed by the fuzz! Seriously, when Ren's off with Asakura, Shinji's burning up Ren's cellphone by calling as much as a worried grandmother.

And then Tetzuka blabs Ren's secret and motivation in front of Shinji, so now he knows about Eri. This scene's good because Ren pretty much just opens up, putting all of his Advent Cards on the table -- including the fact that he blames himself for Eri. And he's aware of what Eri would want, that she would want him to do the right thing -- that the best way to honor her would be to be the good man she thinks he can be. But his love for her is wrapped with guilt and so many other feelings that he can't just move on that easily, so it's a believable component to the character and keeps his motivation from being frustrating to the viewer. There's so much forced drama in later Rider shows that you're like "These stupid characters could resolve this with one conversation!" Ren's story had the risk of being like that, but it's not. He's a little more complicated. And so then he's back to Asakura's side, trying to learn how to be cold.

Shinji's uncertain what to make of the news, feeling like Ren's fighting for a pretty selfless reason and that he's no longer in any position to try to stop him. Tetzuka points out that all Riders are fighting for something personal. It's supposed to be a tell about Tetzuka, but it seems like it flies over Shinji's head. Although Shinji is written to be super altruistic, to the point where he is pissed about someone like Shibaura being killed senselessly by Ouja, these episodes are a glimpse of things to come in terms of Shinji's just total blind faith in Ren. He gets a little too obsessed with Ren. And, sure, he knows Ren's decent deep down, and he certainly has more heroic qualities than mostly every other Rider here, and he feels sorry for him, I said many a time during my Liveman coverage, there's a fine line between our heroes being good and caring and just being chumps. Shinji ends up taking quite a few visits to Chumptown later on. (I'll mention here that I remember on the making of Episode Final, Takamasa Suga was kind of grumbling that he had to be like "Hey, Ren!" and chase after him for the umpteenth time.)

There's a lot of little subtleties happening to Ren here that...I used to blame on Matsuda's performance, but he's not totally to blame, even though he still delivers some lines in a bemused way that doesn't make the character seem like he's really in such a serious situation. Ren here is trying to bottle up his feelings and trying to see Shinji as a villain; he's trying to make himself believe that, but when Matsuda's saying lines in that sing-songy way, it gives everything a falseness. You feel like he's just putting up a ruse, not having this tug-of-war with himself. He's not exactly smarmy, but it's in the neighborhood. The situation seems more like he's trying to pull one over on Asakura, when he's supposed to be pulling one over on himself!

But the bigger problem is I feel like they don't let a lot of this internal strife within Ren breathe, so at times he seems like he has multiple personalities, other times he just seems wishy-washy. It doesn't come across like the big crisis of the soul it should. He tries this "learn from Asakura" thing for an episode and a half -- trying to urge Asakura to take Ryuki out -- before then just going back to bailing Ryuki out. It's nowhere near as bad as some of the character "changes" that go on to happen in Faiz -- remember when Takumi betrayed his pals to join Lucky Clover then betrayed Lucky Clover to join his pals and then betrayed his pals to join Smart Brain and then betrayed Smart Brain to join his pals and then betrayed his pals to join his pals? -- it just would be so much stronger, have the full impact it's supposed to, if it just took it a little slower.

Look at this: Ren was trying to get Asakura to kill Shinji for him, basically, so he wouldn't have to worry about doing it himself. That's very fucked up! That's a crazy plan to have the main hero of the show consider. He knows it's wrong and steps in to save Ryuki, but it's still quickly just waved off, like the show is Asakura and we're the idiot in the restaurant. But Shinji shows up to Asakura's hideout and challenges Ren to a fight first; the implication, I feel, being that he knows Knight wouldn't end up harming him, and he'd come to his senses in time.

I do like that moment when Ren's watching Ouja battle Ryuki, and he just knows it's not right, so then enters the battle and prevents Ouja's Final Vent. He gets in a line about wanting to kill Ryuki himself, and you're like "Son of a bitch! Don't do it, Ren, don't take a page out of the Crisis Playbook of Villain Cop-outs, don't!" But then he follows that up with telling Ouja he'll take (Ouja) out first, and that saves it for me.

Ouja, proving what a tough bastard he is, makes a Contract with Gai's Monster. Ouja was already a threat enough, but it's great that they overpower him on top of it -- Kanzaki's stacking his deck on purpose by giving him extra Contract cards. You feel like the axe is right above everyone else's heads. I wonder, though -- why does Gai's Monster, of all Monsters, seem to show loyalty to Gai? He goes on a full-on vendetta against anyone who he thinks looks like Asakura! It's crazy. But it's interesting that Ouja performs Gai's Final Vent, and Knight takes the hit in the exact way he does in Tetzuka's vision. I always figured that Knight only ended up getting killed in that vision because it was at his low point and when he was doubting himself. Now that he's regained some sense and is doing the right thing again, he's strong enough to survive what should have been an even more powerful attack since it's coming from Ouja rather than Gai.

Kanzaki meets up with Shinji for a scene, going into the spiel he does when recruiting Riders, knowing Shinji's never really been given the proper introduction to things. When Shinji refuses to give Kanzaki a reason to fight, Kanzaki drops the chilling parting shot that Shinji's wish must be to die in the Rider battle. Oh, what a bastard...and this is after he's like "You're the accidental Rider. I'm surprised you've made it this far."

Yui begins to investigate things in this batch of episodes, and...these episodes are made around the time of Episode Final, they're leading up to Episode Final's a bad indication of things to come in the series. She gets a vision of drawing brightly colored monsters! Uh-oh...

BTW, in the episode when Asakura's holding the restaurant hostage, the actor who plays the head cop on the scene is Masahiro Sudou...aka Spielban's Youki! You've done messed up when they're sending Youki to be the hostage negotiator.

Officer Youki reporting for duty. AAAHH!!!

One last thing. Asakura's often repeated line ("irairasurundayo") is frequently translated as "vexed." What is he, in Downton Abbey? It means to be irritated, to be pushed to the brink of annoyance. It's supposed to be kinda funny that this insane guy will just snap at a moment's notice, kill a dude and be like "Well, I was irritated." It's cutesy, but considering his Pokemon is a rattlesnake, I always said I'd make the line "I'm getting rattled."

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 15-17

EPISODES 15 - 17

Inoue returns for episodes 15 & 16 and he brings along with him nobody's favorite Rider. Jun Shibaura, Kamen Rider Gai...I don't totally hate the character, but in retrospect, I just kind of see him as an unnecessary diversion from getting to Ouja! I think Shibaura's an appropriately evil character, and that he's a beyond spoiled rich kid is such an Inoue idea. Shibaura's a sociopath who likes toying with people. He's an entitled, rich prick. Give him a coke habit, and it's like a Bret Easton Ellis character becoming a Kamen Rider. And I think actor Satoshi Ichijou is too good at playing this character, because he succeeds in making the character really just so damn obnoxious and unlikable -- you hate him. My problem with the character has always been...his whole introduction through that web video game or whatever is just done so poorly and is so lame. I don't even know how a writer can come to that decision. "How to bring on the new Rider...I know, this dumb video game shit!"

On one hand, I can appreciate what they're going for -- it's just so screwed up that this young brat is putting on this game which seriously harms his classmates and supposed friends. This game, which is his creation, supposedly hooks his friends to the point where they're not happy until they're reenacting it for real. The show depicts this *horribly*, and is all just a set up to launch Shibaura's obsession with turning things into "games" -- you know those types of characters that toku loved in the early '00s that totally didn't get old fast. (Shibaura's obviously more the type to go to some developing country and hunt people, don't you think?) What's this horseshit with trying to have it be a very outdated video game, what looks like the Game Gear version of Mortal Kombat? And if that's not bad enough, Toei hauls out 16 YEAR OLD Kinclone masks from Spielban and spray paints 'em silver for the fighters in this "game" to wear. (Why mask them? Just so there can be confusing reports of masked fighters, which makes Shinji panic that someone's caught wind of the Riders. It would have been interesting if Shibaura did this as a way to attract attention to himself from other Riders, but that's apparently not the case.) Of all of the masks to repaint...the goofball Kinclones. ANY other grunt mask would have been better. Even a Cottopottoro, you ask? OK, maybe not them.

If they weren't going to iron this idea out and put the effort into executing it better, then they should have gone with something else. It's a bad debut for the new character, who actually is a little important, and it's hard to get you to care about him when it comes across so cheap and stupid. Oh, and the victor of these battles will take the buttons from the cloak of their victims, which we all know Inoue recycles for 753 in Kiva -- and it's not good there, either.

What a joke ORE Journal is, man. Shibaura hacks their system and threatens them until they let him take over the company and Shinji and Daisuke are seen advertising the new and still-not-improved paper, and...Shibaura's in charge for, like, a day before being bested, losing interest and moving on. How's that all look to the public and advertisers? But I like his takeover of ORE Journal more than that Shaq-Fu stuff of the first episode, because we at least get some fun scenes and humor out of it. Shibaura remains a dick, roasting everyone at the ORE Journal. Secondly, Suga's hilarious as he's typing up praise for Shibaura as if his brain can't accept the bullshit of it all and is trying to get his fingers to stop typing. But most importantly -- computer dork Shibaura VS computer dork Shimada is the best. After he insults her, she makes it her mission to get even, and the scene where she goes to the Atori to launch her attack is gold, Kurihara's quick intensity and Ayano Sugiyama's perplexed reactions both a riot. Shimada's the one who saves the day, stopping Shibaura from forcing his dumbass game onto the subscribers' computers (make a timely joke about U2 forcing their dumbass album onto your iTunes here), which makes him lose interest and abandon the company.

It's a good thing Shibaura's a sickie who likes toying with people, or else this would be Shinji's final episode. If Kitaoka had gotten his hands on Ryuki's Dragredder card? It would have been torn up right there. But Shibaura hangs onto it so he can keep tormenting Shinji, which is his mistake, since Knight and Raia manage to get it off of him.

I don't know how the writers room worked at Ryuki, but it's kind of sad to go from Ren ending the previous two-parter finding a sort of peace, being OK with saving Shinji, to Inoue coming in here and having Ren decide he needs to cut himself off again. I guess they had to accelerate things knowing Ouja was coming up and what his appearance entails, but it's a little too sudden. There needed to be a scene between Ren and Shinji, instead of just having Ren space out as he washes dishes and going over everything in his head. And when Tetzuka's following Ren, Ren's one reaction is to just stick to his version of the story -- he's in it to fight Riders! -- when Tetzuka and we viewers know differently. Maybe it's not a Japanese reaction, but I'd rather Ren keep silent or just tell Tetzuka to piss off. His denials, his restating his mission just all sounds like thou doth protest too much. And it can just get repetitive after a while -- I don't care if you're afraid that some viewers aren't up to speed; if they liked the show, they'd have been watching every single episode!

I think it would have been better if Ren had still just been OK with Shinji, but the thing that gets him to waver again is his hesitation to kill Gai. After that, have him go over things in his head, have that be what gets him fixated on winning and Eri again and looking for a way to emotionally distance himself from Shinji. That way, it would have been a short bit of peace for Shinji, and growth for Ren, and it would have ended in the same result, but not be the immediate step back from the previous episode's advancement. But I feel like that might be Inoue's fault -- he wants to write the cool guy being cool. (And, hey, it IS cool when he's just wandering down the street, purposely bumping into a punk who then chases after him and just *PUNCH*. And then the punk's buddy approaches him and then *PUNCH*. And then some other pest taps his shoulder and it's *PUNCH BLOCKED* by Tetzuka.)

Kobayashi writes 17, which is a kind of cool-down. Ren's a little more back on track. His hesitation to strike Gai nearly brings Tetzuka's vision to reality, but Ryuki steps in. Tetzuka warns that Ren's not in the clear yet, and also that Ren loses either way the story goes -- whether he loses the battle and therefore Eri or wins the battle, but at the cost of his humanity. Matsuda's pretty good in the scene when Shinji tells him how proud he is of him -- that's the last thing Ren wants to hear, so he has a bit of a break-down and just goes kinda catatonic for the rest of the episode, having to be hauled back home by Shinji and Tetzuka. But does Ren hesitate to kill Gai because he can't kill or because Shibaura's basically a kid? Speaking of Shibaura, he's picked up by the police (cybercrimes division?) until his rich daddy calls Kitaoka to bail him out! That they employ Kitaoka, who calls the patriarch a treasured client, tells you all you need to know about the Shibaura family.

Heroism Watch: After giving a woman a particularly negative reading, that woman is eventually grabbed by a Mirror Monster, but Shinji manages to save her in time by giving the monster a good ol' Showa-style jump kick.

Now here it is, your Moment of Zen:

Monday, July 27, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 13 & 14

EPISODES 13 & 14

I ain't going to lie; when I first saw pictures of Kamen Rider Raia, I was like "Pfffffffffft! A pink Rider, what are they thinking!?" But Raia's no joke, and Tetzuka ended up as one of my favorite characters in the show.

Having recently visited Eri, Ren's in a state of mind where he really needs to get his mind back on his goal. So when dinner with the Atori team gets a little too chummy, he has no choice but to leave the place and go riding. I love Shinji and Ren's reaction to Sanako remarking that they're becoming family, with the two of them like brothers -- it warms Shinji's heart, while it's salt in Ren's wounds. He doesn't want to hear that, he can't let himself think that, he can't let himself feel that. He doesn't want to get close to anyone else, he has to think about Eri, only worry about Eri.

Shinji and Ren both face what it would mean to actually take a life in this Rider Battle. Shinji's gullibility is taken advantage of in a very nasty way by Kitaoka when he learns that Shinji mistakenly thinks Goro is Zolda; when Shinji tries to talk Goro out of being a Rider, Kitaoka not only seems personally repulsed by Shinji's naivety and morality, but sees it as an opening to amuse himself. Kitaoka feigns defeat in a battle with Ryuki, planting the Zolda Card Deck on a "dying" Goro as Shinji witnesses Goro's final moments. Not content enough with just that, Kitaoka basically suggests to a lost Shinji that the best way to make it up is to pay for a life with a life. This leads Shinji to neglect his Riderly duties as a pissed and hungry Dragredder stalks and attempts to attack him. (Yui can sense Dragredder and convinces Dragredder to back off on one attack. I still don't think the monster is merely her drawing, man.)

Ren, after probably just riding around all night, relaxes at a sidewalk cafe while there are street vendors busy at work nearby. One is fortune-teller Miyuki Tetzuka, who gives a negative reading to a woman. It seems to me like Ren's able to hear all of this, taking particular interest in Tetzuka's advice to the woman that fate can be changed. (Make your Yasuko Kobayashi Timeranger joke here, but Tetzuka is more interesting in one scene so far than Tatsuya Asami is for an entire series.) When Tetzuka approaches Ren, making observations about him, Ren becomes increasingly irritated before Tetzuka lays his cards on the table -- kinda literally, since he pulls out his Card Deck. I like how cool and calm Hassei Takano plays Tetzuka, he's so good in the role, it's strange that I've never liked Takano in any other role I've seen him in. As a seer, he makes Tetzuka just seem like he's seen it all; his visions almost always seem negative, and he has a weariness about him. He's haunted by his gift/curse, and by his past. He wants to help people, help change their fate, save them...and also put a stop to the Rider fight.

Tetzuka gets Ren to try to realize that he's not ready to take a life, which contrasts with Shinji's learning what taking a life feels like. Like Sanako's comment about being like brothers, this isn't what Ren needs to hear -- he has recharged his drive to save Eri and he's already confronting on his own whether he has it in him to go to the extremes, so he doesn't need Tetzuka telling him this -- he's aware. When he hears that Tetzuka wants peace, he wants to stop the Rider fight, Ren pushes him to fight, anyway. I think he's underestimating Tetzuka, mistaking him for another Shinji. They might share the same ideal, but the big difference is that Tetzuka knows how to fight, and fight well, and so the battle between Knight and Raia ends at a draw, with both run-down. I think that gets Ren to think twice and back off.

I'd love to know how the conversation went with Reiko, getting her to participate in Ren's plan to unmask Zolda. Sure, she knows Yui and Ren are Shinji's friends, but why's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist listening to a punk like Ren? I guess her dislike for Kitaoka runs that deep. And I love how Ren has it all timed out. Don't ask why or how he worked it out, that ruins the illusion of television. But it's great that he had Dark Wing make Kitaoka's Ridey Sense activate, getting Kitaoka to transform into the elevator doors just in time for Shinji to see. And then Goro arrives at the wrong time, realizing too late that his appearance finally kills the deception. Suga's great in that moment when Shinji intensely walks over to Kitaoka and Goro before we realize he's going to Goro in relief and happiness to see Goro's alive and well. It touches even Goro! That guy's full of surprises. Suga's good throughout this episode, especially when Shinji is torn up at the thought of killing -- the scene with him just wandering a city while thinking of all of the lives he affected by killing one person is acted, written and directed in such a strong way.

Ren gets that cool moment when he comes along at the right time and has Dark Wing block Dragredder from attacking Shinji. A very concerned Yui calls him to check in on Shinji, and Ren's willingness to do so -- his wondering if Shinji truly did kill a person -- shows that he has come to care about Shinji. And I think him seeing Shinji in such a state was a shock, and he genuinely wanted to help save Shinji from his despair and was happy to unmask Kitaoka as the lying sack of monkey shit he is. The ultimate proof being when he tells Kitaoka that Shinji's a better person than either of them, all culminating to a more at ease Ren participating in the next Atori dinner. I feel like Ren's come more to terms with Shinji's involvement, he knows Tetzuka's right about him, so maybe he decides to push his worries to the back of his mind -- cross those bridges when he comes to them. And he saw what the idea of killing somebody did to Shinji -- he probably doesn't want to go through that any time soon. Although...

I have to mention again...what the hell about Scissors, man? Have I been wrong for all of this time in thinking that Knight kills him? How else did Scissors' Deck break, then -- did it decide to go on strike mid-battle? Uh, no, Scissors took a Final Vent and died from it, meaning...Knight killed him! So why is Tetzuka and the writers all of sudden acting like Ren's hands are totally clean? And you can't say, "Well, maybe it's because Scissors died in battle, so that's not the same as just seeking the Rider out to kill them just because it's Kanzaki's rule." Because...well, that's no different than what happens with Odin. Knight's fighting for his life in that battle, too, but his "killing" Odin sends him over the edge. Scissors' death is depicted in a way to give the writers just enough wiggle room, but I see it as a bit of a cheat and a case of backpedaling to try to have their favorite character (Ren) save face.

Moment of Heroism: After he gets his groove back, Shinji saves a woman from that damned irritating, hopped-up Mirror Monster.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 11 & 12

EPISODES 11 & 12

So far, Ryuki has done a pretty decent job of having the episodes overlap into one another, giving it a sense of serialization. They can still be broken down into two-parters, but it's not as obvious as Kuuga's format and even Agito had a clean cut before they got onto the next storyline. Ryuki will introduce something and pick it up and run with it, smoothly, into the next episode. But then it eventually does wind up being more easily broken down into the two-parter format that the franchise would soon end up beating to death and beyond.

And so this episode picks up from Ryuki and Knight trying to recover from being blasted with End of World, with Ren taking a hit to the head that causes him to lose most of his memories from the past year. A cheap story device? Eh, I just see it as the most convenient way to fill in some backstory without slowing things down and doing an episode set full on in the past, and in a way that's going to be able to involve the titular character. You can't really keep holding back on Ren's deal, especially as we go into the episodes with Tetzuka and Asakura having Ren question his ability to go all the way in this fight.

We get a glimpse of what kind of life Ren led before the series by all of the criminal hoodlums he encounters as he returns to past haunts to try to remember everything. He's pissed off or left bad blood with just about every two-bit punk in Tokyo, as you'd expect. A too kind Shinji, worried about Ren and hoping he can safely recover, accompanies him and always tries to intervene before those wanting some revenge against Ren can get it. He takes quite a beating, almost looking like Rocky Balboa by the end of this arc, taking beatings Ren was meant to pay for (and with interest). In retrospect, this kind of looks like the beginning of Shinji becoming just too chumpy when it comes to Ren -- he eventually just loses his mind with how hard he tries to help Ren -- but so many of these scenes play for comedic effect that they work on their own. And it helps that Shinji gets pretty fed up after a while, making comments about how Ren just always leaves people pissed off and then Shinji himself tries to start fleeing from the punks after one too many beatdowns. So he doesn't just look like a dope who's needlessly putting himself in danger for someone who's been a jerk to him.

Ren's compelled, driven by one big reason to piece together his past, and as he continues towards that goal, Yui decides to begin to piece together the Shiro Kanzaki story. She goes to his old university to investigate, finding that he led a lab experiment that went bad and brought nothing but questions, resentment and damage. She realizes that she doesn't really know what her brother was like -- she's remembering that kid that seemed hellbent to stay by her side as he was hauled away, but what if he changed? She learns from experiment participant Hajime Nakamura that, whatever Shiro was aiming to do, he claimed it was all for Yui's sake. I like how Ren and Yui's investigations intersect, with both of their paths leading to the abandoned Lab Room 401.

As we learn, Eri was involved with the experiment. Eri Ogawa, the one who Ren's rings belong to. I find her to be such a sad story of the show, but I've always been confused by the casting of the actress. She just really doesn't seem to mesh with the type of people this show was casting. She has a kind of old-fashioned look about her, making her more appropriate for period productions. And she doesn't quite match the typical mold of the pure and angelic love interest in Japanese media. Getting past that, she's a good actress, and you just feel bad for Eri. She one day begs Ren to pick her up early from the university, just sensing something bad is going to happen with the next day's experiments. For some reason, he just doesn't seem to want to. So when he DOES actually show up for her, it's too late -- the experiment has laid waste. He gets his first taste of the crazy stuff he's going to be dealing with for the next year, as Kanzaki is there and gives him his Card Deck.

The show's fuzzy on what the experiment is definitively supposed to be, but here's how I always took it -- it was Shiro's first success at opening the gates of the Mirror World. The Monster that happened to first appear was Dark Wing, and Shiro had the contract and Deck ready to go for whatever Monster first showed itself. Now, what was the extent of Eri's involvement? We never find out. If things hadn't turned out so bad, with Eri attacked and/or collapsing in absolute terror, would he have forced her to make the contract? Was she just bait for any of the Monsters, to entice them into our world -- using her light as a lure? It's purposely left a mystery, I guess to keep you on the same page as Ren. Ren didn't know what the hell she was up to at the university and certainly didn't think it could have been anything to scare her out of returning there. A dozen episodes into this show, we understand how Ren feels when he just bursts into Room 401 and is thrust into a world of mad scientists and monsters.

It would be nice to have gotten a bit of his reaction, an exchange between him and Kanzaki, just WHY he would have so easily accepted the Card Deck. Whatever the reason -- maybe because, as he saw Eri lying unconscious at this scene of madness, he realized he had a chance to save her by listening to her and picking her up early, and he failed -- he chooses to damn himself with the Card Deck, becoming a Rider, and partnering with the monster who critically injures the woman he loves. Dark Wing's just a constant reminder of her, so I love that scene when it's hovering in the mirror in Eri's hospital room and Ren punches and breaks the mirror, just totally furious with the monster and the whole situation. It makes me wish the show was more confident in depicting Ren as he's supposed to be rather than sugar-coating it to make him and the actor more bankable.

In these episodes, we get the best picture of who Ren's supposed to be. A flat-out hooligan. Look at all of the punks he's pissed off in his wake. I think there's a similarity to Ren and Gai Yuuki, but I think Ren's supposed to be even more dangerous than Gai. Gai has charm and a code. There's a decent and honorable person in Ren, but it's buried deep in him -- he's not even all that aware of it. But then he meets Eri. However she came into his life is a miracle for him. She's pure and loving and a beacon of light. They're an unlikely pair, but work, and she's good for him. And if it isn't obvious enough how different they are, the production dresses each of them in black and white, filming her in softness and brightness. She tries to sway Ren from his combative ways, but still loves him anyway, and he's a changed person when with her. Maybe the person he really is? Or who he wants to be? (I'll paraphrase these Lou Reed lyrics: "You made me forget myself/Made me think I was someone else/Someone good.")

And I think Eri was instrumental in getting Ren to find his heart and become more open and caring and that ends up becoming a series long struggle as this once cold guy has so thawed to where he finds himself caring for people like Yui and Shinji, but he can't afford to take his eyes off the prize because he's in this for the woman who made him this way! So I see it as another spin on the classic Rider dilemma. You have Shinji thrown into this battle, wanting to retain his heart and humanity amidst all of the unfairness and cruelty of life and the Rider Battle. But then you have Ren who probably wishes he didn't feel so much, who would like to lose his humanity if it meant his success, but he can't. Because he loved and that love changed him, that's all tied into his whole reason for being Knight, it's unremovable. And he just has a lot of guilt about what happened to her on top of it -- he probably felt she was too good for him and he really let her down.

Shiro had a partner during his experiments, Ejima, who we meet as a disheveled wanderer, clinging to a Seal Vent card, using it to ward off Mirror Monsters the way Van Helsing uses a crucifix against vampires. (We never learn the extent of Ejima's involvement, do we?) The Seal Vent card, that's kind of a supernatural idea. I originally always thought the Mirror World was going to be a bit more supernatural, perhaps taking inspiration from Jean Cocteau's Orphée, where mirrors were used as an entrance to the land of the dead. I always thought that the Mirror World was something that always existed, and that it absorbed things from the regular world. Mirrors, a sign of vanity, something that people look into and find something about themselves to not be happy about -- I thought maybe the Mirror World took negative thoughts like that and it manifested as the Mirror Monsters.

And there's a scene in this episode on a train when a student is distracted by some guy's loud music, and he just has this look on his face that you can tell he wishes the guy was dead, and, voila, the guy's taken by a monster a split-second later. That student's anger fed the Mirror World and he got his wish. So, I thought that was going to be where the show went with it. The Mirror World existed and Shiro Kanzaki found a way to access it and use it for his own purposes. There's also the way that Mirror Monsters seem to target specific locations -- like they're haunting them. (The school, the hotel's elevator in an upcoming episode.) Web-sites devoted to the strange happenings that are a result of the Mirror World describe it in supernatural ways. More on my original theories, particularly with Kanzaki, in later posts.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 9 & 10


These episodes continue Kitaoka's debut, with Inoue continuing as writer. So this is basically a four-parter, they transition into each so well. I think these two episodes are just really well done and run the gamut -- it's a silly case of mistaken identity that kicks things off, but it ends up becoming a pretty heartfelt story with surprising character turns.

You have Shinji barely making it out of a fight with Zolda with a distinct arm injury, and he then gets falsely arrested for kidnapping Shimada -- he can't just tell people that the real culprit was taken by a Mirror Monster -- he then has the misfortune of his friends hiring Kitaoka to defend him, with Kitaoka being observant enough to realize Shinji is Ryuki and trying to get Shinji to incriminate himself. It's crazy, crazy stuff! Things keep getting piled on to our hapless hero. (Why doesn't any of his ORE Journal buddies ever question why he'd try to kidnap Shimada, anyway? With friends like these dummies, who needs Riders to fight?)

It's also a good, telling episode for Ren. He's irritated with Shinji, he doesn't like such an irresponsible and harmless guy worming his way into the Rider battle, but he knows Shinji doesn't deserve any of this, so he's instrumental in getting the gears moving to help free Shinji. His teasing of Shinji when he sees Shinji locked up is one of the moments where Ren's whole bemused tormenting really works. It's a way for Ren to vent his feelings about the situation he's surprised to find himself in, in helping Shinji. And he also has to cross paths with Kitaoka to try to get him to accept Shinji's case and they just clash from the start. Kitaoka's a dismissive, judgmental ass about Ren. And what you can gather about Ren's life and background and where he came from, you just know he loathes people like Kitaoka and doesn't feel comfortable around that type. It's a class battle. And then it's Reiko who gets Kitaoka to accept, but as I wasn't the best choice to involve him, not that they knew any better. From their point of view, it's a coup, since Kitaoka has such a spotless record as a lawyer.

The subplot of this episode is sad, but sweet, with a young girl, Yukari, wanting to hire Kitaoka to help her dad. Her dad is the real culprit of Shimada's kidnapping and, of course, Mirror Food, but only Shinji knows that. (Does he ever even tell anybody about the man's demise!? Not on screen, if so.) Her dad just wanted ransom to help pay for her mom's surgical procedure and targeted ORE Journal because they talked smack about his job and cost him a lot of employees. He didn't mean any harm,, look what he did, and look what it got Shinji into. But because of his daughter, and the affecting performance by actress Yukiko Ikari, you do feel bad for him and his family.

And, of course, Kitaoka is an asshat, couldn't care less at how cold he is about Yukari and her family's situation, but Goro takes an instant liking and sympathy to her. She ends up only feeling comfortable with Goro to the point where she whispers to him and he becomes her mouthpiece. At one point she's insulting Kitaoka, and Kitaoka asks whether it's really her or Goro's words. So, Goro's pretty disappointed in Kitaoka's behavior, and his befriending the kid adds another layer -- and mystery -- to the character. Surely, he's not as much of a thug as he appears. Here, he's Kitaoka's moral compass, bringing out decency in such a disagreeable person, and that's the role the character ends up playing throughout most of the show.

And when Kitaoka hears that Yukari practically lives at the hospital to be with her mom -- especially now that her dad is missing -- it hits too close to home for him. Earlier in the episode, we see him leave a doctor's appointment that obviously had useless results, as the chatty nurses are heard saying there's nothing that can be done for him. So, surprise of surprises, Kitaoka ends up paying for Yukari's mother's surgery, which gets Yukari to see him in a new light and come to his defense when a freed Shinji is giving a smack-down for the shit he put him through. (Shinji still doesn't know that Kitaoka is Zolda, although Ren learns in this two-parter.) You get the feeling Kitaoka's thoughts are "Oh, well, it's not like all this money can help me with MY condition."

I like that this decision is Kitaoka's own, and he's not directed to it by Goro or Yukari, deepening the layers of his character. (In the next episode, Reiko puts Kitaoka on her black list for all of his prickishness, but then wants to cover the story of the anonymous man who mysteriously paid off a woman's medical bills!) This act of his also brings Goro back to his side -- it's funny that, when Ren shows up at Kitaoka's along with Yui and Reiko, Ren and Kitaoka are getting in a struggle, but Goro stands back. Once Kitaoka saves the day? Bodyguard Goro returns to try to prevent Ren and Shinji from attacking his sensei.

Ryouhei's just really good in these episodes. Such a detestable bastard, from the way he treats Shinji to his taunting of Ren, his using Reiko and what a creep he is towards Yui and yet...he still can make the guy likable. He's interesting and you don't know what to make of him. These episodes and 13 and 14 are this character's best and it's sad how far the show pushes the limits with him, to the point where he becomes pretty much comedic relief, which is such a strange turn for him. (Though it's born out of people liking Ryouhei.) And Zolda gives a great cliffhanger to this episode, when we finally see his Advent Monster and he nukes the block -- Mirror Monster, Knight and Ryuki included -- with his Final Vent, the only Final Vent I know the name of without looking it up, which is "End of World."

I like the scene with Kitaoka and Ren after they've fought in the Mirror World, when we get Kitaoka's reason for fighting -- eternal life -- while we get Kitaoka just roasting Ren, criticizing his ability as a Rider compared to his. Seeing the rings on Ren's necklace, Kitaoka quickly puts together Ren's motivation and causes Ren to face a truth and hypocrisy in that, for all of his lecturing of needing the will to fight Riders, Ren's fighting for a good reason. Ren puts up a front and talks tough, but he's fighting for someone else, and that's seen as a weakness compared to Kitaoka, who's only concerned with himself.

Just a really good episode that involves everyone nicely and covers a lot of emotional ground.

Heroism Watch: Shinji and Ren manage to save Yukari from a monster attacking her. (You just know Inoue wanted to kill her; have her join her dad in the Mirror Monster's belly just as her mother is cured.) And I'd say Kitaoka's forking over the money for the woman's surgery is heroic. Probably the most heroic thing he'll do in the series! And a shout-out to the kid, Yukari, for giving testimony incriminating her father to free our hero.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 7 & 8


The debut of the third regular Rider, and the debut in this series of Toshiki Inoue as secondary writer. And, boy, is Kitaoka an Inoue character.

I remember when I first saw Zolda teased at the end of episode 6, I made the first of what would be many similar complaints about a lot of the designs for subsequent Heisei Riders -- he looked too much like a Metal Hero. He really looks like he should be an extra hero with Solbrain or Exceedraft, doesn't he? But I like the detail of the helmet with the blinking lights and that little track that turns on the side, I think that's pretty cool.

I've always liked the character of Shuuichi Kitaoka. He's a narcissist, he's self-serving, he's greedy, he's immoral. His soul is mildewed. But you can kind of understand where he's coming from. The type of person he is, knowing that he's dying, his focus is on getting the most he can out of life, at whatever cost. And look at the way Shinji gets easily swept into his world -- and look also at the way Shuuichi seems to enjoy bringing Shinji into his world. Kitaoka might be a slimeball, but he does seem to be at times personable. (Narcissists can be charming.) Granted, your in into his world is probably to appeal to his ego -- as Shinji does by claiming to want to do an article about him -- but he still seems like he has some light within him. (And the show goes a little overboard with that, but more on that as it develops.)

So he's interesting in that you never know how to feel about him. There are times when he's really devious and villainous and you hate his guts, but there's also a lot I find to like in the character and understand or sympathize with. (Which maybe makes me the bastard everyone says I am, I dunno.) It's also fascinating that this type of character is made to be the third lead in the show. As in...his Deck comes in the set with Ryuki and Knight's, the more heroic guys. It's hard to imagine kids buying that initial V-Buckle set being like, "I get to be Kitaoka, whoo! Masato, you get to play Goro-chan -- come shave my face and fetch me a brandy!"

Faking us out by making us think Goro is a Rider is one of the only times this show succeeds in such a fake-out. Because he's obviously a hooligan, we're shown the scenes of him watching Kitaoka on TV with an inscrutable look. We spend the rest of that episode as other hoods chase Kitaoka and give him a beating, so he could have been with those guys. But the shock...he shows up to save Kitaoka. The show's always mysterious with Goro -- what exactly his background is, why he's apparently so skilled as a manservant. Even before I read it, I knew actor Tomohisa Yuge obviously had to have auditioned to be a Rider in this show, so I wonder how he felt getting this weird role instead. Goro has his moments, and we'll see there's more to him than meets the eye, but...he's obviously here for the Akiba Yellow segment of the fandom to draw comics of him and Kitaoka. The show pushes things far with these two, but it's always seemed to me like a one-sided thing -- Goro's in love with Kitaoka, but Kitaoka's straight and just a bastard and what he loves is how devoted Goro is to him, and so he likes tormenting Goro by leaving him hanging. Goro's a rare person who loves Kitaoka genuinely with the added bonus of being the skilled bodyguard Kitaoka needs with how many people he ends up pissing off.

Inoue also brings some of the quirky comedy he can be known for with these episodes, beginning with the funny sequence of Shinji dreaming the ORE Journal office (and his temporary home) is on fire as he sleepwalk-extinguishes it. (Kanji Tsuda's reaction and the way Ryuta Tasaki direct the scene of the co-workers discovering Shinji's handiwork are hilarious.)

This quirkiness can also be seen in the bizarre subplot of Shinji and Reiko investigating the funky critters found by an old man -- some viewers might think this storyline goes too far in kookiness, but I think it works with the kind of sensationalist tabloid work that Shinji wants to do clashing with the level of journalistic integrity Reiko would like the ORE Journal to have. (The fact that Daisuke sends them on this mission should tell you, Reiko...Daisuke will print whatever sells and you're with the wrong paper!) It's a sidestep that leads Reiko onto the REAL story, turning into an investigation of the nearby pharmaceutical plant that's TURNING THE SKY NEON, which puts her and Shinji onto the path of Kitaoka. Turns out this scoop is a big zilch, as it's apparently not causing any harm. OK, but why is the sky turning into the time vortexes seen in Timeranger?! There's a cover-up and even Reiko's on the take!

The old man who's lying and painting crayfish gold and glueing hair on frogs always cracked me up. It's a bit sad that he craves the attention this story, being told in an online rag like ORE Journal, would bring him, and he's a bit of a shit for killing so many creatures in his attempts to make these freakish finds, but the actor's just so funny and likable. It's always nice to see Ben Hiura pop up in something.

Speaking of quirkiness, this episode marks the debut of Sanako Kanzaki. I've often said that she's my favorite "kooky elder" of Kamen Rider. Showa shows had the reliable Tachibana, Heisei shows get eccentric characters who you don't know what to make of. I've always loved how Kazue Tsunogae plays this character -- she's hilarious, she's at times over-the-top, but she's never cartoonish or grating. She plays it at a perfect pitch and knows when to dial it back and can also be dramatic when it calls for it. So many performances in Rider now are at 11 just the entire time and it's brutal and gets tiresome. (I'm looking at you, Ghost cast.) Sanako might be a kook, but she calls things as she sees 'em and is finally someone who's positive about our main hero, Shinji. Maybe it's meant to be humorous that the crackpot is defending him, I dunno, but I see it as she's the elder, she knows what she's talking about -- her intuition is never wrong, after all.

Sanako has the idea of having Shinji and Ren move in to one of the rooms above the teahouse. It's a real sitcom arrangement, but I guess it's convenient for the writers. The funny thing is, Shinji now has to work at the Atori. He still works at ORE Journal, in addition to being a Kamen Rider. Toku shows have a hard time juggling jobs for heroes, so they tend to just have the job exist in a magical bubble that doesn't need attention paid to it, but...Ryuki does a surprisingly breezy job of showing Shinji do it all. Where's he find the time, man?

Heroism Watch: An F+ this go around, as nobody makes it to the scene in time to save anyone. Even poor old Ben Hiura gets slice and diced by the zebra Mirror Monster! Inoue's obviously like "You want to see people get saved, go watch an old Rescue 911. I'm trying to write something interesting here."

Friday, July 17, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 5 & 6


People poke a lot of fun at Scissors, but I always liked him. He might not hang around for long, but he's a good introduction to the kinds of fiendish, evil, black-souled slimeballs that become Riders and adversaries in this show. Look at him -- he's a corrupt cop, abusing his power and position to commit crimes and cover them up. He insinuates himself into situations to direct them in his favor. He's a duplicitous, slimy rat, man. If he had more time in the show, more development...he might be more screwed up than Asakura. I always thought it was disturbing the way Sudou shows up, as a cop, to be the rescuer of his own crime scene at the beginning of the episode.

It's interesting that Knight recognizes Scissors when he "saves" Ryuki from him -- they've obviously crossed paths before. A big mistake of this show was announcing at the top there'd be 13 Riders. As we learn, the show can't make good on that promise. (And the various movies/specials barely can, either.) I think it would have been more interesting if some of those 13 had already been dealt with prior to the series -- if Knight and Scissors know each other, then there could have been a possibility that a couple of others had been out there as Riders who have been killed. Knight acts like he's been a Rider for several years with all of his speechifying about needing to fight and be the last Rider and all that he (somehow, mysteriously) knows about everything. How the hell does Ren know so much, anyway? From what we see later, Ren's apparently the first one to become a Rider, but Sudou must have been an early one, too.

This episode's the first real wake-up call for Shinji. He's too trusting and thinks the Riders will listen to logic, not knowing the kind of people Shiro's giving the Decks to. But he's seen Ren fight monsters, Shinji thinks he's concerned for people but hides it behind a tough act, so he knows Ren's OK enough, and he's seen he can be talked down from a fight. But he can't believe the depths Sudou will sink and just not care. He's been killing people to feed to his monster, just to keep it strong. (And maybe hide some more bodies due to his criminal activities? Just sayin'.) This realllllllly gets Shinji to consider fighting Sudou, but Ren interferes. He criticizes Shinji for wanting to fight Sudou because his actions repulse him -- "[Sudou] being a Rider should be reason enough." Is this Ren bailing Shinji out before Shinji gets in over his head? I guess that's up to interpretation. But it brings up an interesting question...

The history of this Rider Battle being vague, and this sense that Ren has been a Rider for a while -- Sudou, too -- you're under the impression that Ren has fought his share of Riders. Maybe killed them, you don't really know at this point. He talks like he's experienced, like he's been at it a while and has seen some shit. And he basically ends up killing Scissors here. They beat each other up, they both get in their Final Vents, and while Knight seems more injured, it's Scissors' Deck which breaks, causing his monster to turn on him and kill him. Well...what did you think would happen when you Final Vent'd a Rider? Knight was in this to kill him; he took Sudou as an opponent because he didn't think Shinji would be able to. Oh, Knight might turn his head in disgust when Volcancer eats Sudou, but that doesn't mean he had a problem with killing Sudou. Which's hard to buy that Ren has a breakdown later on when he thinks he kills Odin. But that's another topic. Also, after Ryuki kills Volcancer, he refuses to let Dragredder eat its energy -- the energy which was grown, knowingly, in cold blood, with the lives of others. Knight has no problem letting Dark Wing take it instead. So...see, Ren, at this point, was meant to be a darker character with an edge, and by the middle of the show, I think they're backpedalling and sugar-coating him.

Suga's good in that last scene when Ren tells Shinji to keep the deets of Sudou's demise from Yui. So he has to plaster a happy mood on and fake his way through returning to the Atori. Shinji's first true taste of what this whole Kamen Rider thing entails, and the first cut into his soul. And, again, we see some growth in his battle tactics in the way he escapes a death trap laid by Sudou by hopping into the Mirror World as Ryuki.

Sudou is played by model-turned-actor-turned musician Takeshi Kimura. I think he's decent enough here, maybe he would have become shakier if he had more episodes, who knows. And maybe he telegraphs what a creep Sudou is too soon, but I think it all ends up working -- he accomplishes what Sudou's supposed to. Another disturbing thing: Kimura's always reminded me of Haruki Hamada.

Hero Watch: Shinji saves a woman from being pulled into the Mirror World by Volcancer! A middle-aged woman stops Sudou from probably killing Reiko! The two cops trying to bring Sudou down aren't so lucky. (Look at what a creep Sudou is, smiling after he has his pursuers -- once his co-workers -- killed by Volcancer.)

Random Eye Patch of Mystery: The last episode ended with a two-eyed Reiko frantically hustling out of the ORE Journal office to check out the antique shop she's traced a lot of the missing people to. This episode begins with her making it to the antique shop and it's night, and she has an eyepatch. So...she urgently left the ORE Journel but was like "Shit! My eye's bugging me. Better go to the doctor. So long, scoop that made me leave work in a hurry, making the camera go all NYPD Blue crazy. I know I said I'm dedicated to the job and am not afraid of danger, but...owwie, my eye!"

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 3 & 4


It's hard to feel bad for Ren when Shinji suspects him of nefarious actions considering how far he goes out of his way to be an asshole to Shinji. Yui even has a moment of being an asshole to Shinji because she doesn't like Shinji's accusations against Ren. You can accuse Shinji of diving into this too hard, being too forceful,'s not like he's wrong. Ren's been a dick, he's always at the scene of the crime and doesn't care to explain himself in any way. Yeah, Ren's standoffish and doesn't like Shinji, but it's one of those Faiz examples where a simple sentence would clear up confusion. Ren, you don't like Shinji? Well, be a little more open in explaining yourself and get him off your ass. It's not that hard. It's your own damn fault for just being silent and looking suspicious. I can understand Ren feeling like he doesn't need to fill in Shinji on everything, but if it's going to get him out of your hair...why wouldn't he?

These episodes highlight the problem with Ren for me. Even by Episode 2, the show has decided it favors Ren. He's the "serious" character, the "cool" one. (Hell, he's the first Rider we're shown in the series.) We're just supposed to like him because of that, the show wants that to be enough. But Ren's supposed to be a harder, more dangerous-seeming character than he ever comes across. Yes, he is a good person deep down -- very deep down, only Eri's really supposed to know at first -- but he is supposed to be vaguely criminal, really rough. You're supposed to not know if he's an ally or enemy, he's supposed to have an air of mystery -- what's driving him, why he's with Yui, what Yui sees in him, why Yui has any control over him.

The problem is not only in the show favoring him over the lead character, but in the casting of Satoshi Matsuda. He's just too damn young to ever be completely convincing. (Toku needs to stop being afraid to cast older performers!) Matsuda is also an easygoing jokester in real life, and I feel like that often comes through in not only his performance, but eventually in the writing. (It's funny that Matsuda seems the goof in real life, while Takamasa Suga seems to take himself very seriously.) Even in episode two Ren has a scene where he's confronting Shinji, but Matsuda is playing it in this playful way where he has a light, humorous tone.

When he's berating Shinji, he often has this sparkle in his eye, much like Hiroshi Miyauchi when playfully scolding or one-upping a character. It doesn't work for this character. Matsuda gets in the character's way more than once in this show. He's a likable guy, he's not a bad actor, just too young for the part, unable at that point to hide some of his more natural instincts. Whenever Ren seems bemused by everything -- I feel like that's Matsuda slipping through. While Ren IS supposed to warm up and take a liking to Shinji and his buffoonery, he's certainly not at that point yet. Shinji's supposed to be a massive pain in the ass he doesn't need right now. But he's already reacting to Shinji with bemusement. There's also just the fear in not wanting to have Ren be too bad or unlikable. For as bold of a rule-breaker as Ryuki wants to be, it's funny the way it will hold back or be afraid to commit to an idea. (Hence the whole cowardly finale.)

When Ryuki aired, I really wished that Shinji Kasahara had played Ren -- I think he would have brought the intensity and danger the character had, but also the heroism and honor he was supposed to have buried beneath. (Of the Ryuki cast, I think Tomohisa "Goro-chan" Yuge would have made the best Knight, as written. How Yuge ended up in the final auditions for Shinji, I have no idea.) I also think we need a better suit ACTOR as Knight than Makoto Itou, who really doesn't bring much of anything to the part. (Itou's best in the roles that are meant to be less flashy and more human, like G3 and Hibiki.) Perhaps if there had been a better suit-actor -- think someone like Naoki Oofuji -- that could have carried over and helped Matsuda out in his performance.

The show never really cares to explain Ren and Yui's deal, does it? (And it's not for the reasons you think and put into your novel, Inoue!) Like, you can assume he wants to be close to her to keep tabs on the whole Shiro Kanzaki situation (and the show does confirm that later on), but what the hell does she get out of befriending Ren? Does she recognize that Ren's a good person, so he's her way to keep tabs on the goings-on of the Mirror World? Her crazy defense of Ren at Shinji's expense hints at something bigger that's never followed through with. Some things work better as a mystery, but this ain't one of them. It's awesome when she breaks through the Mirror World to save Ryuki by giving Knight an ultimatum, though. She saved our hero from being a smear in the Mirror World.

I hate how nasty Yui is to Shinji, though -- calling him weak and more untrustworthy than Ren -- especially after Shinji tries to get her to feel better about the possibility that Shiro might not be an evil bastard. And even if he is an evil bastard, well Shinji's going to prove him wrong by being the one guy in the fight who just wants to save people. That scene in the Atori in episode 3 is one of my favorite moments of the series, one of the reasons I thought Shinji was so cool. And I like that the episode starts with Ryuki making a mistake in his battle with Knight which he learns from and uses to his advantage to get the upper hand in a battle with one of the gazelle monsters. It's not like Shinji ends up a karate warrior, but I've always liked how the show tries to have a progression to his fighting ability.

Another thing Ren shows little patience for with Shinji is the concept of the Rider War, which hasn't been stated by this point in the series, so Shinji doesn't know about it, and we don't know about it unless we've read press material leading up to the show. Can't fault Shinji for that one, either, Ren. (Although Ren has a point that it would be easier for him to just kill Shinji now, but it would be easier to believe he could if we didn't already know Ren's a good guy and they're counting on you to want to buy his toys!) Shinji's going to get his first taste of this nightmare in the next two episodes, but Shinji discovers Ren's possible motivation to fight in the two rings he wears on a necklace. Ren's of the mindset that a person needs a personal reason to fight, Shinji thinks just wanting to help and protect people is enough. This, of course, is the major theme running throughout the series, and the motivation of Shiro in selecting who he does to be a Rider. Yasuko Kobayashi's reach exceeds her grasp a bit, because she never quite makes her point with this, especially when Shinji ends up losing grip of his beliefs in often unconvincing ways. And it says something that she makes the "stupid" character the one who's selfless and wants to do good with his power; the "cool" one, the real star of the show is the "realistic" one.

Shiro makes his first appearance, a shady character who just urges Shinji to fight. We and Shinji and the other Riders will become very, very familiar with this directive from Shiro throughout the show. I was always a little puzzled at actor Kenzaburo Kikuchi's casting, though. He was an illustrator who tried his hand at modeling and then acting, with Ryuki his acting debut. I kinda wonder how he got this big role, but he works as this mysterious, shadow-y character. Call me crazy, but he also always reminded me a little of Mitsuo Andou, and that really helps give him an extra vibe of creepiness. Because Shiro's a creepy guy! We don't know his deal yet. And even when we do, he remains creepy. You never quite know what to make of the character. He's using people, but the people he selects to be Riders are terrible themselves. Is he good or bad? That's for you to decide as the evidence piles up. So many moral quagmires in this show, Ryuki was perfectly in step with the trend of the "age of the complicated antihero" that Hollywood loved in their TV dramas at the time.

Like here, when Shiro basically takes up Shinji's time and seemingly prevents his Ridey-Sense from going off in time to save that teacher who's killed. (We later find out Ren was on the scene, but the monster moved too fast, so he holds a bit of a grudge against it.) Shinji and Ren both manage to save a couple of girls at the school that the gazelles are apparently obsessed with, so...yay, heroism!

We get a flashback of Shiro helping a bullied Yui when kids don't believe her about the existence of Mirror Monsters. We see briefly the scene of an angry Shiro being pulled into a car by adults as kid Yui cries. I have no idea where this story was originally going to go, but I don't think for a second it was going to be about Yui drawing monsters and being replaced by her mirror self and all that. I feel like Yui was going to have a more important role than that, be a little more active in the story. Look at the way she can see into the Mirror World to observe Ryuki and Knight's fight. I feel like she was going to have a more supernatural involvement with the Mirror World -- maybe the monsters came from her, but they weren't going to be from awful doodles. Maybe she was going to be a villain and Shiro was out to stop her? (Black feathers fall upon her in the opening credits.)

One thing I find most tedious on Ryuki rewatches is the ORE Journal gang. And what's funny is that I really liked them when Ryuki aired, I thought they were funny. Daisuke's always up to something, even if he's way too lax with his employees and you have no clue how ORE Journal stays afloat. Shimada's memorably quirky to the point where she won a role on the next Rider show based on her awesomeness. Reiko had potential, but she's mostly just a pill. It's a lot of scenes of her acting like she's more important than she is, when she's 77 steps behind what we know is going on. So, a lot of the ORE Journal scenes can end up feeling gratuitous.

We'll divert to shenanigans we don't need or we'll just be padding time as Reiko thinks she has a brain wave, and it doesn't add up to much in the end. They're certainly not the support system Shinji could use, despite Reiko's potential or Daisuke's apparently being a good friend to Shinji prior to employing him. Ordinarily, this situation would be kept in the show as a way for our main hero to find out the latest happenings he needs to go and help superhero with -- the reason Clark Kent decides to work at the Daily Planet -- but that's not even the case here, because the Riders in this show just always know what's going down with the Mirror Monsters. They have Ridey-Sense and Pokemon pals! They don't need a job to help 'em. So it's kinda like...what's ORE Journal's purpose again?

Monday, July 13, 2020

Kamen Rider Ryuki Episodes 1 & 2

Kamen Rider Ryuki meant a lot to me in 2002. I was still pretty new to being a Rider fan, and at the time was catching up on Agito, and gradually was making my way through Kuuga. But I got into those shows far too late; Ryuki was actually beginning, and I was following it from the start. And I thought it looked fucking awesome.

One of the things that drew me to Agito was that it had three Riders -- I had always wondered why Kamen Rider never tried to do a Spielban, having more than one (ideally a trio) of Riders. And I liked how different the three Riders in Agito were, what they represented -- not to mention the fact that it's not until the show's nearly over that the three are all on the same page and fighting together. They cross paths the entire series, but don't truly "team up" until later episodes, in a masterfully written way that makes sense in terms of the show's story. It was a big pay-off, it was like a big prize when they all finally started working together.

And Ryuki was shaping up to have multiple Riders, too. Not only that, but clearly an antagonistic one. (Going off the early publicity photos, I had hoped Knight would have been more like what I initially imagined Shadow Moon to be -- a transforming villain Rider. He wasn't, but Ryuki gives us plenty of those.) Cut to finally getting the first volume on VHS, along with Hurricaneger's first volume. Despite being a Sentai Guy, I was more excited about Ryuki, so I figured I'd watch its first episode first, then get to the Sentai. And I did that. And then I popped in Hurricaneger. And I thought Hurricaneger was so cheap-looking and terrible that I was barely able to make it through the first episode, let alone the entire volume. So, after that one episode, I went on to wipe out the remaining Ryuki.

I was totally crazy for Ryuki. Couldn't wait to watch the new episodes, couldn't wait to check out Toei's site each week to see what was happening. And then...basically, the show bought its own hype and took a nosedive, culminating in one of the weakest, letdown series finales of all tokudom, essentially ruining the show. I went from loving the show to outright hating it, barely able to even tolerate the sight of it. (Even when I tried to ignore the finale, I wouldn't be able to enjoy any of the earlier episodes I had loved so much.) But something happened and actually, to my surprise, it rekindled my Ryuki love again. I'll get into that and the series' highs and lows in the posts to come. So let's start with...


These were pretty fresh, exciting episodes at the time. What's shocking in retrospect is how many just quiet, conversational character moments these two episodes have. They really give you (and Shinji) the perfect amount of time to take in the whole strange concept it's depicting and quickly get you on board in rooting for Shinji as our main hero.

Because these were very uncharted waters. Shinji, in terms of main protagonists, was nothing like what Rider had given us previously. Godai and Shouichi were often viewed as carefree or stupid, but they weren't, and they obviously stepped up and were bad-ass when they transformed. And nearly every Rider prior to that was supposed to be really intelligent and into science, if not actual students or scientists. Shinji's not a smart guy. He's not totally clueless or helpless, but his heart is definitely bigger than his brain. He's led by his emotions and he's not really aware of how mean the world can be, but it's definitely something he's going to find out over the course of the show.

He means well and just wants to be good at his job but is just clumsy and irresponsible. He's hapless. But he's just a good person with a pure heart and drive, and he is just so in over his head once he makes a contract with Dragredder. That's one of the great things about this show, though, and why I initially liked Shinji. It's what I talked about with Koutarou in Black versus RX -- in Black, he just seemed like a normal guy who seemed just so outnumbered and outmatched by the opponent he decided to go against. With Shinji, he's going to be encountering a lot of blackhearted, evil people, and how much is he going to be able to retain any of his optimism, hope, heart? It's a new spin on the Ishinomori ingredient of a Rider clinging to their humanity and morals, fighting against succumbing to darkness and being a monster.

Shinji's also not a fighter, he's just running on pure instinct when most past Riders had cyborg superstrength or were said to be athletic. This is nicely reflected by Seiji Takaiwa's in-suit performance as Ryuki. It's funny about the time, I hadn't really liked any of his (mostly comedic) Sentai roles. But I loved his work in Agito. So I definitely feel like he switched over to Rider to get work of that type, and then...his very second Rider role is a comedic one. Shinji also doesn't have much of any moral support -- his co-workers aren't helpful, leaving just Yui, who's torn between wanting her own answers and wanting to help Ren. So, again: he's in way over his head. Can he survive, and what will be left of him?!

The other, bigger thing Ryuki is ushering in is the incorporation of anime gimmicks. For better or worse, Ryuki is the one that started it all, and it's one of the several problems the franchise has faced which can be traced back to this series. I'm pretty split on what I think about the Advent Cards, the Mirror Monster allies. When Ryuki was first announced, I kind of scoffed. I thought it was lame. Pokemon-mania was just dying in America, I didn't understand it and thought it was stupid. Here I was, just getting into Kamen Rider, with so much of Ryuki looking promising, and...they're gonna have cards to play with and, like, Pokemon to look after?! What's Toei thinking?! But then I ended up so into the show and liking its gimmicks that I bought pretty much every Advent Card I wanted. And it was so fun to buy the packs of those, which came on sheets and you had to peel 'em and you didn't know what you were getting, they were like a drug. So, on the one hand is the purist "OMG, that's just lame and greedy," but on the other...I bought into the gimmick, so I'm a bit of a hypocrite.

At least the Mirror Monsters don't talk! I was relieved at the time by that, and it's something that they'd definitely do now. A problem with the Mirror Monsters coming off too Poke/Digimon-ish is the quality of CGI. CGI's overestimated -- when it's millions and millions of dollars it still doesn't look right. So I'm not trashing Toei's much-cheaper CGI, just that CGI already lends a cartoonish quality to live-action, and the way the Mirror Monsters for the Riders are depicted, being so colorful, they clash with the show and stick out. Thankfully, the show doesn't give much of a damn about the Mirror Monsters, so it's not that big a deal. They're not cute buddies, but live up to their "monster" name. They just want fed, making them more like Tamagotchis than Pokemon, which sounds even worse when you word it like that now that I've done it. I think the show could have made them even more monstrous, but that's not where the show's interest is; the show's interest is in showing that the monsters this time around are the humans.

I'd really like to keep track of how many times we see one of the Riders actually save someone in this show. So far, it's one and a half. Shinji inadvertently saves Reiko from the spider, and Ren laters saves Yoshifumi Oshikawa on a rooftop from another spider. Don't get used to it, citizens of Japan -- not many people get saved in early Heisei Rider shows, but especially Ryuki.

It's a shame the show never knows what to do with Reiko, though. She's supposed to be such a good journalist, but she's not allowed to solve the show's mystery because the show itself can't solve the mystery until the end. But I really like her in these first two episodes, and it's the last thing of note she does. She's the one who lights the fire under Shinji's ass to realize the severity of what's happening, the realization that he might have something he can do to put a stop to all of the mysterious disappearances.

I like that he's trying to look out for her by trying to drive her away from the missing persons scoop, and I like how insulted she is that he's pegged her wrong -- she's not in it for a scoop, but to help people find the answers and get closure. She doesn't care how dangerous it can get, that comes with the territory. The scene when she prints out the list of missing people, pointing out they're parents, siblings, kids, and shoves it towards Shinji is great. Too bad the track the show takes forces her to be sidelined, so she's used mostly as a comedic foil for Kitaoka; it would have been nice for her to be a little more involved and maybe be that source of support Shinji could have used, a cold splash of logic when Shinji's twisted up in confusion by the other Riders. She could have been a great ally. She could have been used in better ways than becoming a one-note nag who has to tell everyone what a better journalist she is than they are. Eyeroll.

Damn, don't you miss when Toei took Rider seriously, and actually cared about it? The cracks begin to show within this show, as Shirakura and everyone else begin to go power-happy, but at least early on, this show is good, it's fresh, it's exciting. It still cares about Kamen Rider -- look at how the franchise has dropped even pretending to be connected to Ishinomori's creation by getting rid of the tradition of having a spider as the first episode's monster.

"But Ryuki's not a Rider! It began life as a Metal Hero." Why's that rumor still pop up? I don't buy it. Rider was back, and Toei wasn't going to risk losing that heat on a Metal Hero. True, Yasuko Kobayashi got her start on Metal Heroes, and it's the franchise that inspired her to write toku, so there's always a strong Metal Hero influence in her works, but I think the only reason she was randomly given that episode of Agito to write was to basically test her out and get her in with Rider -- they were obviously getting Ryuki underway by that point. And Ryuki, for as different as it seems, still does have a lot of Rider in its DNA, and that's what makes the early run of Heisei shows so damn good -- they were the breath of fresh air the franchise needed, especially to come back so strong and stay on the air, but they retained a lot of the core elements of what made Kamen Rider so unique, and utilized those elements and ideas in new ways.