Friday, August 28, 2020
EPISODES 34 ~ 40
There are interesting ideas and character moments spread throughout this batch of episodes, but they're all either spread too thin or suffer from the show just not wanting to commit to anything when the finale is still fairly far away. I find the stuff with Ren to be the weakest parts of these episodes, which is sad when the show favors him so much and gives so much focus to him. All of that attention, and he really acts out of sorts here, like the writers don't know their own characters.
Shell-shocked at the news about Eri, Ren's keeping to himself and being argumentative again. Tired of the tension, Sanako throws Shinji, Ren and Yui out of the house until they sort things out, and you can really understand her frustration -- we're already growing tired of it from what we see as viewers, imagine living with this shit!
Despite the mood of the trio, they take a pleasant walk and wind up at an amusement park. OK. How does Ren go from, "I need to hate your guts, Shinji! So...you suck because you won't wash dishes!" to being talked into participating in a wholesome activity like bumper cars? It's shit like this that makes characters look like they have MPD! Yui gets into the spirit and enjoys rides, while Ren loses himself in the moment enough to recall times at amusement parks with Eri. (Eri had a story about not liking merry-go-rounds as a kid because she was afraid she'd turn around and her parents wouldn't be there. So Ren honors that story by making it come true for Yui, as she's on a carousel and her two good friends are no longer there when she makes the turn.)
Ren decides it's a good time to challenge Shinji to a fight and...I really don't understand why Shinji accepts, it doesn't seem like something he'd do. But he does, and he manages to put up a good fight, courtesy of his newly acquired Survive Card, and I like that Knight is taken aback in shock to discover he has that card. (It would have been nicer if Shinji surprised by debuting this form in an episode with a better reason for them to fight.) I just assume Shinji's thinking is that, as long as he puts up a good fight, maybe he can get through to Ren how wrong it is to be fighting a buddy.
It's always been a mystery to me why Kanzaki gives Shinji the Survive Card. Isn't Shinji a hindrance to the Rider battle? Wouldn't Kanzaki's goal be met quicker without him? But I guess, maybe, that even if Shinji gets an F in terms of Rider Killin', he does a pretty damn good job at Monster Killin', so *maybe* that's of some value to Kanzaki? Ryuki's still storing up energy. IF Shinji happened to be the last Rider standing, the one to face Odin, maybe that would be enough for Shiro's goal? Maybe the power coming from somebody pure like Ryuki would be even better (to give Yui)?
I've always been conflicted about how to feel about Ryuki's Survive form. I like it more than Knight's, but it has the same problem of making the "face" of the helmet look smaller by extending the visor portion. The pointed shoulders also seem strange to me. But I LOVE that he has the antennae. I've mentioned before that I think it's really clever that Ryuki, the show's biggest hero, is the one to have the classic red Rider bug eyes, so to finish off that classic look by giving him the antennae is just great.
Ren and Shinji beat each other to a pulp and Yui can hear the sounds of their battle -- clashing and shouts. I guess they fight to a draw, and Ren moves on, in a stupor, looking for the next Rider he can challenge. When Kitaoka's out and Asakura's arrested, he's approached by Kanzaki, who suggests a particular person he'd like Knight to fight (he goes unnamed, but I assume Tiger and/or his group), before Ren successfully goads Kanzaki into fighting. Kanzaki's still pretending like Odin's a separate person, but that's who Knight ends up fighting. After taking a beating from Ryuki, Knight takes a *massive* dose of pain from Odin, before reflexively striking him as Odin's moving in for the kill, stabbing him with his lance. Odin fades and Ren flips his lid, presumably about the fact that he's killed him, but...WHAT ABOUT SCISSORS?!?!?!? Oh, well. I guess I'm the only one who remembers Scissors, and the way that Final Vent used to mean FINAL Vent, and not just something that could be walked off, as is the case so many times in the later portions of this show.
I think it's interesting that, and a nice touch, as Ren makes his first "kill," a tear is shown escaping Eri's eye -- her good man has lost his way -- and she wakes up shortly afterward. But I think it's a shame that the show never stops to let it sink in for Ren that he might have just killed Yui's brother...! That's something big to overlook. No, he just continues on his blind quest to fight, even trying to track down Asakura as he's moved from jails. Now, Yui and Shinji say that they think that Ren knows it's too late to save Eri, so I think this has all been basically Ren with a death wish (again). Maybe he had hoped Shinji would have found it in him to defeat him and put him out of his misery. Certainly he thought Odin might have been able to, and he nearly did, before just a natural desire to survive kicked in...
But once Eri wakes up and the news is delivered to Ren, he visits her briefly before handing her over to Yui's care -- he wants to go out and keep fighting! It's this turn that I really just roll my eyes at. The Ren that began this show was supposed to be cool and logical, and I think *that* Ren would have stayed with Eri for as long as she's awake. It's an understandable motivation that he decides to avoid Eri so she doesn't find out what he's been up to as a Rider, but still frustrating in that he's keeping up with this "gotta fight 'em all" mentality rather than stay with Eri. Hiding his Rider status doesn't matter much -- it manages to be blown in a couple of scenes, anyway. (Though it's cool the way Dark Wing sees Eri and is like "Hey, I remember you," and Ren has to call him off.) And once this stuff with Eri's over with, Ren's just back to talking about fighting to win, making speeches that he doesn't care if everyone in the world becomes his enemy as long as there's Eri...
But then he's quick to help Yui once she's being targeted. And, yeah, that makes sense, because Yui does mean something to him, he's always showed concern for her, but...if this brief time he just spent with Eri was supposed to harden him again, strengthen his resolve to fight, then...wouldn't it have been interesting to see him now struggle with what to do with Yui? I think it's a missed opportunity to not have Yui more involved at this point. The way Ren's reacted to times that Yui's been in a crisis is similar to how he acts with Eri -- I'm not saying he's in love with Yui (shut up, Inoue!), but she's probably the second person he cares most about. So imagine if something happened to where he had to try to turn against Yui, if she became an obstacle between his goal of saving Eri. Imagine if Yui had become a Rider at this point, dammit! Imagine if Yui had found out that Ren might have killed Shiro! (Like, he finally sees Kanzaki again and is just like, "Oh. So I didn't kill you." Not, "What?! I'm glad I didn't kill Yui's brother, but I did still kill someone, and it tortured me for a bit and made me feel like I lost a piece of my soul, but...whatevs. What's up, Shiro?")
I assume the time he spent with Eri is supposed to remotivate him, but...I feel like it was a chance to have him mellow out for a while. He gets to see Eri, she requests that he stop being a Rider if it's for her. Maybe he chews on that for a while. Maybe he just backs off -- there's no problem with writing a character out of the main storyline for a bit. Have Ren ride off somewhere, travel and collect his thoughts; I find it tiresome at this point to just have him go back to his old "fight me!" speeches. It might not be as horrendously torturous as a fighting anime when it gets repetitive, but that's not something you should want to risk being thought of in the same sentence as.
I haven't even mentioned the ridiculous stuff with Asakura in these episodes. Now, I think some of it is born of "this guy is a serious villain, but we need to sideline him a bit otherwise he's going to kill everyone by episode 37" and I think some of it is to make him as extreme as possible in comparison to a new character, which I'll get more into in a minute.
Anyway, remember the tense cliffhanger at the end of the previous episode, with Asakura ready to attack? Another fake-out. Goro whisks Kitaoka away knowing Asakura's near, giving us the moment I often make fun of -- Asakura breaking into Kitaoka's place and helping himself to all kinds of eats. It's probably something that read funnier than it plays, because it's just kind of silly. (Though it's nasty when Asakura drinks a glass of raw eggs. That had to be Hagino's idea.) The main purpose of the scene is that Asakura manages to hear a message on Kitaoka's machine saying where a meeting of his is tomorrow, so there's gonna be no escaping Asakura then.
From a silly scene to a cool one, this leads Asakura to reveal his knowledge by just standing in the middle of the road, waiting for Kitaoka's car. Apparently having seen enough horror movies to know the proper way to behave in this scenario, Goro floors the car, but Kitaoka stops him at the last minute. (Is the implication he doesn't want Goro to have blood on his hands? But the real answer is: Asakura's a big villain the show can't afford to lose!) Kitaoka prefers to respond to Asakura's challenge the Shiro Kanzaki Way and takes it to the Mirror World. After their fight as Riders, things get weird...
Kitaoka flees to a dead end, chased by Asakura. He then gets on the ground, begging to be spared. He then makes a call on his phone and...police surround and take Asakura in. I'm not even concerned with how Kitaoka knew to arrange all of this, no. My problems are...there's no way someone like Kitaoka would put on this little act. He's not going to pretend to be weak in front of anyone, let alone his top enemy. But the worst part is, Kitaoka's said previously that there isn't any point in getting Asakura arrested again, because he'd just escape again. But here he is putting on a show to get Asakura arrested again. Time to kill, show? We spend four or so episodes getting Asakura to and from jail and he ends up just loose again.
One episode is mostly devoted to just Asakura being switched from prison locations, which could have been cool, but...the show's at the stage of losing budget, so it's not pulled off as well as it could have been if it had the yen. I admire the effort, though, because there's lengthy scenes of car chases and collisions and I remember the days when Toei would have just hauled out a scene from a B-movie in their vaults to pass off, but they went and filmed it here. I wish the scene of Asakura fighting off several cops had better choreography -- it's a bit Will Sasso's Steven Seagal -- they film it to look more impressive than it ended up being. And Shinji gets no credit for hauling a dissipating Asakura out of the Mirror World and handing him back over to the cops! That's pretty cool.
These episodes, scattered as they are, also mark the debut of Groucho, Chico and Harpo as Kamen Rider Tiger, in what's the stupidest "mystery" of television history. There's no reason to have Kagawa, Nakamura and Toujou all have Decks to throw off characters in the show. I...it's just a fuck you to the audience, more silly-ass gimmickry and fake-outs, things they think will look cool in a teaser. Look how messy it is -- from trying to hide who's Tiger by giving them three Decks to introducing Alternative who...ends up being two of them, anyway. It's just pointless. Real brain buster who Tiger really is -- it's not the guy who played an Ultraman, who's just randomly hanging out in the background, it's definitely the older dude with four eyes, right?
Ah, Kamen Rider Tiger. Satoru Toujou. As messy as the introduction is, I like this character. He's so fucked up. If Asakura is a TV-14 Kazuo Kiriyama, then Toujou is a TV-14 Ichi the Killer...minus the perversity, but, still...that type of psychopath. (He even has the older mentor whose intentions are "noble," and tries to point this disturbed individual in the "right" direction, but they're unaware the level of crazy they're dealing with, and they create bigger monsters.) Ichi the Killer thought he was a hero ridding the world of bullies and wicked people, and Toujou thinks he's a hero ridding the world of people who only pretend to be heroes, people he deems to be wrong and selfish.
I think Toujou is another response -- a middle finger -- by the show's production to the idea that the show isn't "heroic." So, here's the show being like, "You want a hero? You got it. Here's a guy who thinks he's the best hero in the show...and he couldn't be further from the truth, because he has a head full of bad wiring." Toujou's a sickie. I think he might have more of a problem than Asakura. Asakura does horrible stuff, but he can be a manipulator, and he recognizes right from wrong, he just doesn't give a shit. He's a sociopath. But the characters of this show know where they stand with him! Toujou doesn't have the same dictionary as everyone else, he's operating on his own warped view of things, completely under the impression that he's not only in the right, but a good, normal, heroic person. He kills whoever doesn't fit into his take on the world. He's a psychopath.
And I like how actor Jun Takatsuki doesn't care about how creepy he comes across, he just goes for it. It's weird, since he played one of the goofier Ultraman protagonists, and maybe he's rebelling against that, but he commits to just being a total creep. From the way he's just lurking in the background initially to his phony friendliness with Sanako to the way he stares at Yui... Funny thing is, Takatsuki actually got some press at the time for appealing to some of the women viewers, so...
I think taking Asakura to such extremes in these episodes is to set him apart from Toujou, a way to make him the "bigger" deal. But it's kind of a mistake to go so big, because they end up making Asakura a cartoon, almost, when Toujou's such a surprisingly realistic nutcase, that it ends up making Asakura look bad. And Takatsuki's playing Toujou with just this quietness and subtlety. It's like comparing an outlandish, fictional killer like the Joker to a real criminal from one of Discovery's Murder Shows. (Toujou sheds some tears after he kills Nakamura and is later unsure if they meant genuine sadness when Shinji questions him. Sick. Bastard.)
Asakura made such a strong debut in this show. Remember how shocking he was? Unpredictable, violent. He was relatively grounded. He took kids hostage, he killed a Rider in his first debut. He killed his family! But the longer he's around, the more they feel like having him top himself. And now he's being wrapped up like he's Hannibal Lecter and even makes the Hannibal Lecter escape by switching clothing with his victim! It's just a little too much, IMO. If it works at all, it's only because of Hagino. To me, it's a shame to make a character that's been a regular for so long look bad in favor of a new guy who's not going to matter much in the end, but I DO like that Toujou, for no real reason, interrupts Ryuki and Ouja's fight to Final Vent Ouja, and that pisses Ouja off and makes him target Tiger. So, I like that the two nutcases become one of the show's big rivalries, even though I'd rather the show have remembered Ouja's initial beef with Ryuki.
I've always wondered just how Toujou got mixed up with Kagawa and Nakamura. I don't think Kanzaki would have given him a Deck if he knew he was part of the Kill Yui Task Force. It was a great idea to bring Nakamura back, especially as a renegade Rider, but I think they killed him too quickly. He was the one with ties to Kanzaki, I think they should have at least had a scene together. But, no, Kanzaki makes all of his grand appearances to Kagawa instead.
Ryuki mistakes Tiger for a friend and pays the price, being hospitalized. Suga plays Shinji's being so torn well in this episode, and I like that Shinji's not just thinking of Ren here, but everyone and everything -- it's all sinking in. He's been having his head filled with Kagawa's theories, but he just wants to do the right thing as he's always known it, but he also doesn't want Yui to have to pay. Kagawa's plan to close the Mirror World sounded so good, but not for that cost -- you can think he's naive, but he doesn't think killing one person's worth it, and certainly not Yui. What the hell has Yui done to anybody, you know?!
But what's Shinji's thinking behind this -- close the Mirror World, taking away Riders and the Rider Battles. Well, he knows why Ren's fighting, so is Shinji saying to just let Eri die? And not in a cruel or heartless way, I just wonder if his thinking is she's being taken care of, if modern medicine can't save her, then that's not the same as someone getting deliberately killed because of the Rider war. He thinks of Kagawa's words that it's more heroic to make one sacrifice if it saves a dozen peoeple, and he compares that to Ren, who's willing to sacrifice everyone for the one. I like when Shinji has moments alone with Yui, who has her own dilemma -- she senses unhappiness from her brother, so she wants to put an end to everything for his sake. Neither one of them has any answers, so all they can really do is push on and stick to their own beliefs. And this leads to one of my favorite moments...
Evil bastardmind Kanzaki targets Kagawa's family with his number-one hitmonster, Garudthunder, offering Kagawa a choice -- hand over his cosplay Rider Deck and have the monsters called off or continue to be a thorn in Kanzaki's ass as Alternative and have his family become Monster food. Toujou proclaims he knows that Kagawa, the true hero, will make the right choice. He lets Toujou get into his head! So he joins a Mirror battle and lets his family be targeted.
And it's a nice, big battle, with everyone involved. Ouja's newly escaped and PISSED to see Tiger, and they zero in on one another and fight in their own corner. Zolda shows up. A ton of gazelle monsters, hinting at the loser who's about to debut and is keeping tabs on the sideline. (Really? Again? We've already had creepo Tiger spying on Rider fights from the shadows.) My favorite moment is when Ryuki shows up, taking out a lot of the monsters everyone was having trouble with, and then revealing he saved Kagawa's wife and son. You can sense, even behind his mask, Kagawa is relieved, but Tiger's still yammering on about how Kagawa didn't care. (Kagawa's not long for this world. He recognizes the disturbing signs Toujou shows, his ease with killing, but doesn't do much about it.)
Even though I feel like it's a diversion of attention that could be spent on other things, I've always liked Alternative, and I think he's a cool, unpredictable addition. I liked having a renegade character with abilities who didn't care about Kanzaki's bull. I like his Kamen Rider-y look, Kagawa's spin on the Visors, I like that his homemade Mirror Monster can become his motorcycle! I remember some people on the forums years ago saying that they thought his monster looked a bit Jason Voorhees-like. I can see it, and I wonder if someone in the show did, too, because when he pops out to grab Yui, they do a freeze and zoom on Yui's screaming face that's really reminiscent of a couple of the early Friday the 13th movies. (I remember thinking it was pretty shocking that Yui was pulled into the Mirror World to be attacked like that, and cool the way Shiro sends Garudthunder to save her.)
I talk about horror too much on here, since I just compared Okamoto's performance as Ryuga to Jason, but I don't care. I'll do it some more. Naoki Nagase's performance as Tiger reminds me of a masked killer in a slasher, as well. He's just very still and kind of takes pleasure in and admires his handiwork. So he's got some Michael Myers vibes going.
I've always thought Toujou was an interesting character, but I always had a problem with this batch of episodes. I don't mind them as much as I did back in the day, but they could certainly be tighter, and some character motivations could be a little cleaner. I like when Asakura has a little more purpose than "Grr! I wanna fight!" and I really don't like how Ren's bouncing around throughout and after the Eri ordeal. (I'm not even going to mention further clowning up of Kitaoka by having him and Goro go on a drunken karaoke jaunt with Megumi and Shimada, while everyone but Megumi spends the next couple of episodes fighting the hangover.) It's like...this show wants to be fairly serialized, but the way they'll have Shinji and Ren take a step forward then two back is still a more rigid form of storytelling of old, because they're just stalling until the moments they're allowed to advance with them.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
This sorry thing. It's a bit of the same situation as Episode Final -- it was a primetime special, so it had to be welcoming to unfamiliar viewers. The Agito primetime special was similar, and that's how it ended up having some inconsistencies with what was depicted in the show. I feel like the inconsistencies in the Agito special were easy to overlook -- that special's not great, but it's not terrible. 13 Riders decides to be yet another alternate retelling of the Ryuki adventure, and it just doesn't have the time or money to pull it off, so it's very lackluster and looks so very low-end soap-opera cheap. Episode Final got to skate past a lot of its problems because of its style, but this 45-minute, shot-on-video-looking TV special doesn't have that glossy style to fall back on.
At the time, I was really excited to see this special. I thought it sounded really cool that it was going to show you WHAT IF...Koichi Sakakibara had become Ryuki? That's a GREAT idea filled with a ton of potential, one that would necessitate an alternate timeline. And they got Keiichi freakin' Wada to play him! Holy shit! (Dairanger's Dragon Ranger is out to get revenge on Ryuki for stealing his pose!) The Ryuki production has had Changerion, two Ultramen and Robocon's Robina be Riders. As Sentai guy, I watched Ryuki and kept wondering where a Sentai person was! And, finally, here it was -- not only a cool guy like Keiichi Wada, but he was going to be playing the man who was originally meant to be Ryuki, Koichi Sakakibara...
And Wada/Sakakibara is like the jokester in a slasher movie and gets killed a minute and a half into the special. Potential *wasted*. I still don't understand the thinking behind this. There's story potential there, you get a guy who's loved by the toku fandom, and...just kill him off in order to make the lunkhead we've spent half a year with the hero we've already seen him be for half a year.
There's so many questions about Sakakibara. He had a Deck, which meant Kanzaki chose him. Was he a nasty bastard like everyone else? The way he covered all of the reflective surfaces in his apartment says he was afraid. None of the other assholes and crazies who have been given a Deck were afraid of the Mirror World and its Monsters, but Sakakibara was. Did Kanzaki make a mistake? Did something about the idea of Mirror Worlds and Monsters change whoever Sakakibara was? Who knows. We don't want to confuse new viewers -- if they're joining this late in the game, that's their fault, I say -- so we have to get to the status quo and make the regular star the lead of this special. From what little is said about him, it does sound like Sakakibara was heroic and actually wanting to stop the battle and close the Mirror World.
The whole special should have been about him! Show how different things are with Sakakibara as Ryuki instead of Shinji! Gaim might have had Ryuki Envy, but at least it learned from this special's mistake, giving us a whole episode devoted to an alternate scenario where Yuuya became Gaim as intended -- since he was the one who was given the belt -- while Kouta ended up becoming the monster.
Another frustrating thing? As an American viewer in '02, I knew I'd see this special before getting to see Episode Final. So I was excited to see SOMEthing pertaining to Femme and Ryuga and...it's useless. And they actually get Natsuki Katou to voice Femme, but it could have just as easily been stock audio from Episode Final for all they give her. (One line and fight grunts!) They're just tacked on, a gimmick to justify naming this thing 13 Riders. (Meanwhile, this thing is more like 5 Riders since most of the focus is on Shinji, Ren, Kitaoka, Takamizawa, and Shibaura.) Not as much of a gimmick as Shirakura's shameless phone-in voting for viewers to select which ending they want -- the crappy "stop the fight" ending or the crappy "continue the fight" ending. (Like choosing between brown or green poop.)
Here's a big problem with a show or movie having alternate timelines -- it ends up making things feel worthless. They don't have the courage to kill, say, Ren, in episode 24 of the show, so they feel free to do it in some alternate "what-if" special like this. It's phony, gutless posturing. But the problem is, when you depict character deaths enough times in alternate timelines, you just numb the viewer into not giving a shit when you stick with it for the final, totally definitive finally final version.
As for the special's one contribution -- Takamizawa/Verde -- he's kind of a waste to me. It's a good idea for a character, a corrupt and power-hungry businessman who finds jollies in fighting and murdering people as a Kamen Rider -- a guy who sees all of life as a Rider battle for him to win -- and actor Arthur Kuroda is surprisingly decent for being given so little to work with, but...that's just it. Verde is probably the most undeveloped Rider in all of Ryuki, and he feels like he's not even in much of the special. (Verde's also my least favorite Rider design of the show; probably the *only* design I don't like from Ryuki. Even Gai's grew on me over time, and he's just kind of a big toaster. I even think Abyss looks cool, although a little last-minute.)
It's also annoying the way this special just ignores the rules, too -- apparently you can just hand over your Card Deck and be done with being a Rider, easy as that. And I know it's born of lazy writing to have everyone in one place, but the idea that ALL of the bad Riders were united, like some Asshole's Alliance like this is some shitty season of Survivor, always seemed so stupid to me, and goes against what we know of these characters from the show. But this special doesn't really care whether you care about the show. It even ends with Kanzaki being like "Yeah, this 'story' didn't matter. See ya in the real show, folks!" Pbbbbbbbbblllllt. (If anything, have them unite only at the end, when it comes to Ryuki's trying to destroy that big mirror; their little club and trying to recruit someone like Ren stretches belief.)
Just a pointless, letdown, blown opportunity. Think of it -- Ryuki had such interest in it that they were able to have the phone-in vote gimmick. They should have taken the time to write something much more interesting and engaging than this for all of the investment viewers had in it. That this special ends up being the end of evening specials for Kamen Rider says it all.
Monday, August 24, 2020
We just get the show back to normal, and here's another goofy one to set it back! I guess they felt the need to focus on Megumi since she's new, and since she's comedic relief all you can really do is a goofy one. This might be my least favorite episode, though. It's just silly and disposable for the most part...
Megumi sees Shinji exit a mirror and then spends the episode trailing him and trying to solve how he does it. She comes to the conclusion it's a magic trick by demonstrating how she thinks he accomplished it at the ORE Journal offices. The worst part of this is Megumi's mirror-based prop finally causes things to fall into place for Reiko, and she realizes mirrors are the common link between all of the disappearances. And if Reiko needs a freakin' magic show from Megumi to help crack the case then she's really just the terrible reporter that ORE Journal deserves. But the show pretends like she's good and it's a shame they didn't want to put more effort in writing her so that she COULD be good.
The only real thing this episode has going for it happens towards the end; Kanzaki pops up and talks with Kitaoka, asking him how long he has left to live and telling him that death's all there is for a Rider who doesn't fight. (They film him freakishly, he ends up just gliding out of Kitaoka's place like a spirit.) He then appears in Eri's room and increases her heart-rate, Ren discovering the doctors now only give her days to live. Yui's starting to fade away like the Riders when they're in the Mirror World for too long! Asakura's lurking near Kitaoka's! There's gonna be a showdown! There's a real attempt at making these scenes just seem so big and building towards an event and climax, and it riles you up, but then you're like "Oh, this is just episode 33. We're in for more wheel-spinning and repetition because there's 17 more episodes." At the time Ryuki aired, that wasn't really my thought. You believe in the show, you're expecting more Riders, so you think there's going to be some resolution to the character dynamics and then some new characters will come on and create new ones.
Odin's just been teased, they're saving him for later, so we haven't really had a new Rider for a while. It was ten episodes ago that Raia died! We've been dealing with the four regulars since then, so it feels like the show could use some kind of shake-up. Now, knowing where the show goes? We only get Tiger and Imperer and they're certainly not the shake-up the show could have used. You're supposed to include the Alternatives in there, but...nothing about any of these characters feels long term. Scissors, you had no idea he wasn't going to make it past two episodes. Raia tried to be integrated amongst the regulars as if he was a regular. Gai didn't last long, but was tied into some important events. I feel like it's so late in the game that the writers don't even pretend like Tiger or Imperer or Alternative are going to matter -- they're handled in a way that feels more cannon fodder-like, because they know they're sticking with the four regulars. So, when Tiger's teased at the end of this episode -- and after you remember that the dreadful 13 Riders Special falls after this episode -- you come back and it's that waste of time horseshit with the three Tiger Decks and you're just like...ugh. Not interested. Maybe you should have been a 30 episode show, Ryuki.
Friday, August 21, 2020
EPISODES 31 & 32
Episodes that always seemed to me like a note came down from the network being like, "Um, yes, this Asakura guy? Can't he, like, be shown painting some flowers or playing with a puppy or helping some kids do their homework or something? Does he have to be so...evil?" And the boneheads basically listen! And then the follow up note was like, "Oh, and we still haven't satisfied our agreement with the owner of the boat we were loaned for Kuuga, can you work that in somehow?"
These episodes didn't need to be a two-parter, IMO. And they look to be money-saving episodes, so...it's not the strongest return after the string of comedic episodes. There's an interesting idea behind them, a strong moral choice for Shinji, but something about them just doesn't work.
So, Asakura's monsters haven't been fed and begin to target Asakura, who stalks a trio of Mirror Monsters who he thinks will make the best meal for his three pals. (These three Mirror Monsters are insect-based and colored red, blue and yellow. So they're kinda like a Sentai team. Fun fact: in 2002, the fandom saw the previews for these episodes and thought they were new Riders. I didn't think the designs looked good enough to be new Riders.) He follows Bee-Fighter to a ferry boat and continues to stalk them. When the entire crew and passengers of the boat save for one girl go missing, the mystery is...did Asakura do it to feed his monsters, or was it these new Mirror Monsters?
That's a kind of interesting idea, because it IS plausible that Asakura would just let his own monsters eat people to get them off his back. The show doesn't even really answer whether he's completely innocent or not -- I guess since his monsters were still attacking him, they hadn't eaten for a while, which means he didn't give 'em people, but...I think it's purposely a little ambiguous. Besides, people ain't as tasty as those CGI powerballs of amassed life and energy that a Mirror Monster would leave behind.
Maybe I'm making too much out of it, but it's kind of hard to not feel like these episodes are Kobayashi giving Inoue the finger. Like "Agito's biggest mystery was related to what happened on a boat? Oh, yeah? Well, here's a horror show that's solved in one episode. Oh, and my monsters are so vicious that nobody's surviving the ride." A scene where the attacked boat is investigated with the lone survivor being found is directed in a way that's reminiscent of the Akatsuki-gou passengers finding the Youth of Light. At one point, we're shown a passenger who's killed who looks quite a bit like Jun Kaname. So it's like, "The big hero of the boat rescue in your show, Inoue? Killed!"
The survivor, a young girl, is so traumatized that the only thing that perks her up is Asakura's presence -- he showed up shortly after her family and the rest of the passengers were killed and keeps her company and she misplaces that as his caring for her, when he was really just keeping tabs on the culprits, those Taiyou Sentai Bugvulcan monsters. At one point, Asakura's involvement is caught by the press, who realize he only faked his death, so it becomes highly publicized, and you want someone to just shake the girl and be like, "Haven't you watched the news?! Don't you have any Spidey-sense?! Asakura's a creep! He didn't help you! Shut up about Asakura! Let it go! ARGH!"
Ren and Kitaoka know what's up with Asakura's monster situation, though, and are fine with letting things play out. Honestly? Asakura's a better fighter than either of them, so it's smart to just sit back and let his monsters eat him for his neglect. The obstacle, of course, is Shinji. Not that he thinks Asakura's a nice guy or anything, but he sees how much he means to the girl. That he's somehow a beacon for this ill girl gives him a value to Shinji, makes him think that it's senseless to just let him die because it's convenient for the Riders -- he doesn't feel right just sitting back and knowingly take part in his death. Aren't they supposed to be better than that, value life more than that? It's an interesting question for our hero, whose morals are always put to the test in this terrible game started by Kanzaki, but one that I just don't think is fully cooked in its depiction in this episode. I also think it's a missed opportunity to not address the real hatred Asakura had for Shinji when he debuted; the show gets rid of that rivalry, which is a shame.
I like Shinji and all, but if I was Knight at the end, when Ryuki has Dragredder prevent Dark Wing from absorbing the energy so Ouja's monsters can have it, I think I would have attacked him, Water Boy-style. Knight just gives him a look, Zolda just walks away, mildly irritated that their best chance of being rid of Asakura is gone.
I once again have to point out how good Hagino is, though. He has moments where he shows that Asakura is amused by his monsters targeting him, but he also has moments where he's angry and yelling at them to hold off. With a lesser performer, Asakura would be very one-note -- the amused reaction is the one a performer would latch onto because, oh, doesn't it make them seem so crazeeeee!? We've seen dozens of performances like that, where the character is meant to be unhinged, but the performer just whoops it up and lays on quirks and it doesn't work, it's cartoonish. Hagino's performance is layered, never boring, and he makes Asakura more believable as a person. I also like that he never wavers and attempts to make Asakura likable; in the scene when the girl is handing him flowers, is attacked by Venosnaker, but weakly gets up to give him those flowers, some other actor would have played it in a way that made you think Asakura was, surprisingly, touched. Not Hagino. This show ends up sugar-coating a lot of things, so I have to assume that this is Hagino's contribution. He knows the character, and so he just remains unmoved by the gesture.
And quite the body count Reiko stacks up in her pursuit of the story -- she gets an American professor who knew of Shiro in America killed while she's interviewing him. (Shiro has him killed with Garudthunder.) The guy confirms that Shiro was working on weird stuff in America before he died a year ago, and this is all stuff that's meant to be spooky and mysterious and it's nonsense the show never follows through on. Is the implication that there's multiple Shiros -- Mirror Shiros? Is he really a ghost? What exactly "killed" him in America, but allowed him to return to Japan to complete his work in 401? The show's never clear on it, but I thought it meant that this "death" in the US is the moment when Shiro actually first enters the Mirror World, but who knows. It's just meant to sound cool and mysterious, and maybe you should be spending less time on hijinks and delivering some answers, show! And for him to be able to keep tabs on a situation like this, once again, makes him seem too powerful. If he can just haunt every place whenever he wants, kill whoever he wants, well...why doesn't he do that more often?
Heroism Watch: Shinji manages to save the nurse in charge of the girl from being THIS close to being killed by a Mirror Monster. A problem with this two-parter for me is that the actress playing the girl is kinda robotic. But I think the actress playing the nurse is sympathetic and makes the nurse just seem so kindhearted and caring that it makes me wish that SHE was playing the lone survivor who, in her state of shock, latches onto Asakura. I guess they'd be afraid to have the Mika character be an adult, because there could be romantic implications, and making it a kid makes it more innocent, but I think it would be more interesting with an older actress. The nurse's actress, Hitomi Hidaka, is recognizable as the leader of the Memory Police from Ultraman Nexus.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Toshiki Inoue returns after Crazy Joe Davola kicks him in the head and he gives us these two just dreadful episodes. Episodes that aren't as funny as they think they are, are stupid, and yet cement Inoue as the go-to guy for similarly stupid "comedic" episodes in the late 20s in the next several Kamen Rider shows. (And they just get worse and worse, too. It says something when these episodes of Ryuki are the best of his "goofy 20s" Rider episodes. And, no, Blade's Taiyaki Ultimate Form isn't funny! Those episodes were terrible, and a terrible waste of Mio Fukuzumi, but that's beside the point.) Episodes that are just too damn silly and fan-servicey for their own good.
We just had a couple of comedic episodes, so these weren't needed, and Ryuki has better things to be doing than waste two episodes like this, but...someone thought otherwise. (Shirakura!) I also feel like Inoue's trying to outdo Kobayashi, show her he's funnier or something. It's sad the way Inoue makes such a strong entrance in this show, but he eventually just deteriorates. I always wondered, between how goofy his episodes end up, and what he does with Episode Final and the 13 Riders Special, if he ended up rubbing Kobayashi the wrong way. I think it's surprising that they never work together again on another show. After Ryuki, I think the only thing of Kobayashi's Inoue ended up working on is one of the OOO movies, which is often said to be one of the worst Rider movies, so...revenge?
I think, more than the actual written material or any of the performances -- or out-of-character moments -- what I dislike about these two particular episodes so much is the direction. Director Hidenori Ishida uses the Flop Sweat Advent and tries to zip and zap all over the place, push things too far, squeeze in too many visual gags and sets out to prove just how waaaaaaaacky he can be -- I don't think I can recall another case of a director trying to upstage performers in a comedy. He cuts too quickly in some areas, lingers in others, and the rhythm is horrendously off. Add to that that everybody wants to be funnier than the person opposite them, the scripts not even being all that funny to begin with, and it's all just too damn much. (Another awkward choice in direction? All of the emphasis on the heat wave that was hitting '02 hard.)
I'm not against comedic episodes or even the all-out wacky ones. But pick your spots, baby. These episodes just don't work in the context of the show or with these characters. A serious scenario where Shinji, Ren and Kitaoka decide to call off a fight to unite for a cause? That sounds interesting. (I'd make the cause be to take out Asakura.) Uniting to save a kidnapped Reiko? I watch this episode and I'm like "What the hell is Ren involved for? What's he care?" Sure, he's contacted her before when he's needed her involvement with something Kitaoka-related, but I don't think he's invested enough to take part in this entire caper. And then poor Shimada gets kidnapped and nobody gives a shit about her, it's still all about Reiko. (Even worse? The older woman they suspect of the kidnappings ends up being killed by a Mirror Monster when all three are nearby, yukking it up.)
Our stars seem determined that a human is behind the kidnappings and yet, when Yui is in one suspect's house and is searching for the kidnapped women, she's searching in places like garbage bins and microwaves. So...did Crazy Joe Davola kick Yui in the head, and she's stupid now, too, or are we supposed to think that our heroes think that the dork from the marriage interview or the older woman is able to access the Mirror World? (I'm surprised we didn't get a scene of a panicking Shinji being like "Oi, Ren! That old lady, could she be a Rider?!?!") If Shougo was writing this episode, by the way, it wouldn't have been Yui who became the third bride candidate, but Sanako Kanzaki. You're going crazy with comedy, but are going to let Kazue Tsunogae sit the episodes out?! C'MON! LET'S GET NUTS!
The second episode is the debut of the most unnecessary addition to the show, ever -- Megumi Asano. Remember, folks, we're promised 13 Riders by this show, but let's pointlessly add another idiot to the ORE Journal gang. I don't understand why she's in this show -- they don't do anything with her! Like I just said, she joins the ORE Journal staff, and you know how important they are. The show obviously is like "Damn, we've appealed so much to the housewives, we need to cast someone for our male viewers." And I'm sure Shirakura thinks he launched Chisato Morishita's career, but she was already a rising gravure idol, so...he was trying to hitch the saggy second half of his show onto a rising star!
(To me, Morishita looks like a female version of Takashi Hagino. The Goro thing's not enough, but now the show gives Kitaoka a new femme-Asakura. Does Kitaoka really want Ren to tell everyone at the Atori how Kitaoka is all mixed up in a perverse sexual amalgam of some girl and his worst enemy?)
One thing I actually like about the Megumi character is that she's supposed to be strong -- she takes out a gang of hoodlums who are hitting on her; Kitaoka says she made a good bodyguard -- but she's also a klutz. Even in her skilled take down of that group of punks, her victory is capped with something that's the result of her clumsiness. I'd rather the show have just kept her as Kitaoka's second bodyguard -- have her be the comedic bodyguard to Goro's practically mute, stone-faced persona. But to bring her on and make her part of ORE Journal...? Makes no sense.
Her intro to the show is her lying her way back into Kitaoka's life, but before you can call her yet another one of Inoue's "woman swindler" type characters (which would be the second one he's given Ryuki), her being a ditzy and comedic character at least makes her a little more genuine. She really does want back in Kitaoka's life and kind of embellishes and misremembers things, and is even a bit of a hypochondriac about her medical condition. (Good thing Goro finds the world's chattiest doctor.) And since Kitaoka's such a slimy guy, you don't know who to believe, so it's a comedic battle of misunderstandings and lies. At least Kitaoka starts feeling sorry for her when he's under the impression that she, like him, is on borrowed time, and we also get the return of Goro's being Kitaoka's moral compass. But, once again, the comedy just goes too unbelievably far -- Shinji acts like a mental nutcase in the scenes in which he hears Megumi's story, and all that stuff with Kitaoka giving her food items as engagement rings is just flat out stupid. Maybe it would be easier to take and overlook if this was some goofy one-off, but, no, we're getting stuck here, this is the introduction of a new character, so...*sigh*
I feel like 30 is the better of the two episodes, with less tryharding-to-impress direction by Ishida. There's at least a couple of moments I like -- the scene with the hoodlum group, the "Who Knows Kitaoka Best?" quiz, Kitaoka's silent henshin on the boat with Megumi, Daisuke's reveal that Megumi's the new ORE Journal hire ("Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!" x 10) -- but I still don't feel like I'm watching the same show, man. Sure, Kitaoka and actor Ryouhei can be funny, but I always disliked the show using the Kitaoka character in humorous situations. Inoue wrote his intro episodes, he's the one who wrote him to be so cruel and nasty, why would he want to depict him so goofily!? (These episodes are fan-servicey, so they're obviously for Ryouhei's fans. While I think fans should be listened to, I don't think showrunners should do anything that betrays a character or storyline, no matter what the fans are demanding.) Inoue only writes four more episodes after this, the four with Imperer. Those episodes are also comedically tinged, and makes me wonder what it would have been like if Chisato Morishita's Megumi had shown up as Imperer instead...
Monday, August 17, 2020
The fandom was a funny place in 2002. Ryuki faced a lot of criticism for being gimmicky, too talky, not Kamen Rider enough. There's even gossip that Hiroshi Fujioka spoke out against it, like he's God of Kamen Rider and it was concrete proof that Ryuki, like, totally sucked, dude. So when Episode Final news hit, you had a ton of people spreading this misinformation that Ryuki was a dismal failure and it got canceled and it was ending early with this movie. Because that always happens! Shows always get canceled and are rewarded with a big screen movie to tie everything up! But some gullible fans bought this, either not seeing the logic of what I just said or not understanding that Japan, for some reason, likes to make movies out of what-if stories/possible alternate endings.
I certainly don't understand the choice to have a show that's built upon mysteries and a "who will survive" scenario deciding to make a movie halfway into its run where it offers answers to those mysteries. It could be a cultural thing, but the way Episode Final -- and the subsequent big-screen Rider movies that offered alternate endings -- goes about it just feels cheap and gimmicky. But it's a cheap gimmick that I bought into, because Episode Final was my event movie of '02. I thought the trailers looked cool. Disappointed that most toku movies are about as meaningful as the weakest filler episode, I thought this idea of the show having its "finale" with the scope of a movie sounded cool. I just really couldn't wait to see it, I practically counted the days until its DVD release. (Nowadays, there's a lot of English-speaking fans in Japan who will see a movie on its release day and write summaries or answer questions you have. Back then you had to wait. In Episode Final's case, you just might have actually had to PAY for a summary by the one person who happened to be in Japan to see it.)
There's a lot I like about Episode Final, but it also plays fast and loose with some rules and I ultimately ended up disappointed by it initially. And I never thought Ryuki was canceled and Episode Final was it, but I DID think that Episode Final WAS going to matter to the show -- I thought the show would hit the 40s and end in a way that would have bled into where Episode Final would land, with maybe an Episode 50 epilogue to the movie. So when the show hit the endpoint and was just cherry-picking elements of Episode Final, I was left with further disappointment.
Inoue writes Episode Final -- I guess Toei trusted him with a movie more than Kobayashi at that point -- and you can tell there are things that Kobayashi probably didn't agree with in Inoue's depiction of the "end." I'm guessing she offered up some of her ideas of where she was going and Inoue put his own spin on it. In my opinion, any of the sloppiness and narrative letdown in the Ryuki series is a result of Episode Final. It was just a terrible mistake to approach the movie this way. Agito was a show that hinged on mysteries bigger than anything in Ryuki, but Project G4 was just another adventure on the side, but had a lot of nice character moments. I feel like Episode Final was an attempt to be like "See! This movie's going to MATTER! It won't feel like a random fillery episode like Project G4! It's going to be THE END of Ryuki!" So they put all of their Advent Cards on the table and what you end up with is a mess. There's no reason why this movie couldn't have just been the story of Femme and Ryuga and take away any elements of it being the "finale."
Kobayashi seems to me, judging by other works, like a writer who doesn't have much planned out. I think she improvises and makes adjustments based on what's happening with the production, and things she discovers along the way. So even if Toei asked her before the halfway point of Ryuki's production what her answers to the mysteries were or where she's headed, she might have had an idea that she would have ended up changing naturally as she kept working on the show. So to have Episode Final blow so much in terms of answers or story endpoints, so soon, I think, kind of throws her and the rest of the series off. The best decision would have been to try to just ignore Episode Final. But if it did hold SOME of her ideas, then she couldn't just abandon that. So I think the show ends up this mixture of pieces of her original intention, some of what Episode Final did, and some things that changed as a result of Episode Final. So everything ends up tangled. By making Episode Final, the entire Ryuki production shot itself in the foot. And not just with any pop gun, but with Zolda's Giga Launcher.
And not even just in terms of how the movie affects the show's ending, but I blame it for the decline in quality in Episodes 24 to 30. I mentioned how those episodes just seem weird and they mess up the flow the show had by being kind of repetitive and most of them have a lighthearted (or outright bonkers) tone to them. And those are the episodes that aired as Episode Final was being promoted. I think these episodes exist as just a restating of the show's mission and status quo and offering light, standalone-ish adventures that's welcoming to new viewers who might be interested from Episode Final. As I noted, the clip show aired the Sunday before Episode Final premiered, so...I do think they were building around it. But see what I mean that Episode Final disrupts Ryuki before it even premieres?
What I like about the movie is how dark it is. It brings back some of the boldness that the show starts losing over time, not totally pulling its punches. I think it's filmed well; it's a slick looking movie. It's only the second Heisei Rider movie, so you can tell it doesn't have the budget it would honestly like, but they do try to make a spectacle of it -- one example being getting to see Knight fly around so much. (Knight's design is never cooler than when he has the cape/wings.)
Other than being the "finale," the big selling point of this movie, obviously, was Femme, the "first" female Rider. (You know where I stand on that matter, folks. #kamenridertackle) Miho Kirishima is a total Inoue character -- we've seen him use the template quite a few times already, a no-good, young shyster woman who becomes the main hero's kind-of love interest. Miho's never really completely soared for me. The "first" female Rider deserved more development, but I think some of it is because she's such a kitbash of a character type that Inoue's used one too many times that it doesn't make this "first" female Rider all that unique. I used to put a lot of blame on actress Natsuki Katou, as well. I used to think she was a little too young to pull off the role, but there's a deeper issue than that. (Also, it's cool since Katou's a well known toku/anime/game geek, but also that she continues Ryuki's sorta-tradition of casting past toku people as Riders.)
Miho/Femme is the one area of the movie that I feel pulls its punches. They want her to be as tough and deadly as the male Riders in Kanzaki's crazy battle royale, but they show her constantly being bested. And they're too afraid to have her be the one to kill Ouja. They also make her a swan, which...could there have been a more predictable choice? (Well, I guess it does cutesily line-up: Inoue's writing for a white swan again.) We're introduced to Miho as a scammer of scammers, but not only is that softened by playing it for laughs, but we're probably also to assume that she's only even criminal in order to get the money to maintain her sister's cryogenic preservation. Aww, so she's not so bad, guys, see?!!!
And while she's "criminal," she's also filled with rage and a desire for revenge towards Asakura. And while the movie doesn't let her get her revenge, letting Asakura instead be killed by Ryuga, I like that she realizes what it was that Shinji was trying to convey to her about fighting, and that she is grateful to him, and begins a road to redemption. That's when they begin to get chummy, with hints of a romantic relationship, but it doesn't completely work for me because of how Inoue depicts Shinji. Shinji's being a klutz, acting childish, and so Inoue has Miho basically treat him like a child. It's not touching to me that her dying words are for Shinji to remember to tie his shoes, because I'm basically like "Wow. That's stupid writing." I get that she was supposed to be somewhat sassy, so it's meant to be played humorously, but it could have easily been conveyed in a better way. The way Inoue writes Shinji here really robs the story of the bittersweetness it's supposed to have. (Also: how's about Shinji realizes what happens to Miho? It's like it becomes a different movie after she dies and nobody remembers her.)
Kitaoka takes an interest in helping Miho because he knows Asakura killed her sister and he feels guilt for his brief time as Asakura's attorney. I could never figure out if this movie was trying to say that THIS was the crime Asakura was put away for, and Kitaoka was the defense attorney on THIS particular case. That would explain Kitaoka's concern, of course, but it takes away from Asakura's mystique a bit. Don't you imagine something so much bigger being the thing that gets him caught? In the director's cut of this movie, you get the scene of his targeting and attacking Miho's sister, and...it's ordinary. He kills her with a broken bottle. Like...I don't even understand what future science is required for some bottle cuts that Miho decides to Demolition Man her. I think this cryogenics company might be taking major advantage of Miho.
Hagino's performance in the movie is, of course, great. I love his introduction scene being him beating down a gang led by Yuusuke Tomoi, and I love his casual heartlessness as he makes the connection with Miho. "Oh, I remember her. She's the one whose sister I killed. Hmm. So what was I saying?"
The idea of Ryuga as being the final Rider is strange to me. (I think this is why Kobayashi has Odin show up early and be like "I'm the 13th Rider! Me! That's who! I'm the final boss! And anybody who tells you otherwise is a goddamn liar!" And Odin's cooler than Ryuga, IMO.) But it might help to explain a bit why Kanzaki keeps Shinji around. Is Ryuga something unique to the Ryuki deck? (If not, well, then why don't all of the Riders have a dark or mirror counterpart?) Is Ryuga born from Shinji's decency, unique since Shinji is the "accidental" Rider? Did Kanzaki create him to be Shinji's opposite, making the most of this "accident?" Was he born as a manifestation of Yui's unhappiness that Shinji didn't keep his childhood promise? (I thought having Shinji and Yui once meet as kids was just a little too much -- far too cutesy and hard to believe.) A dark and powerful Rider being born of Shinji would be enough reason for Shiro to keep Shinji in the game, IMO, and take away that frustrating Scott Evil question I always have of "Why doesn't Shiro just kill him when he's not looking so that his twisted Rider fight can go smoother?!"
The hero having a "mirror" version is a cute and clever idea and all, but a little boring to me. Mostly my problem is that it seems like a cheat -- you're promising 13 Riders, but we kinda only get 12, because this is just a repaint release, dammit! I like the darker Visor voice, but I have to say...it's always been weird to me that they get Jiro Okamoto to play Ryuga. I mean, I think he's pretty good. He made a great villain Rider at that point in his career. But if you're going to have a "mirror" of Ryuki, Okamoto's not a great match for Seiji Takaiwa. Why wouldn't you get Naoki Nagase, who actually doubles for Ryuki at times? (And Nagase goes on to become the "villain movie Rider" suit actor beginning with Paradise Lost. He could have had a quicker start if they listened to me!) Okamoto's performance is cool, though -- he's just a boulder of a killing machine. His work as Ryuga always reminded me of Kane Hodder's take on Jason Voorhees.
Speaking of which, I just feel like there's a dark, eerie, supernatural and horror vibe to the whole movie, which is one of the things I like about it. As I've said, I feel like there's those vibes to the ideas of the show, but they're at the edges of the show -- this movie basks in them. The movie starting out with ghost stories being told, for cryin' out loud. The numerous Shear Ghosts that pop up throughout. The depiction of Yui's mirror image making contact with Yui is done in a very supernatural way, down to Yui's having to give something in exchange for her life, which ends up being her drawings of the Mirror Monsters. There's a story there that was never told -- why did Mirror-Yui want and accept those monster drawings? And then there's that mid-credits scene of the kid versions of Shiro and Yui meeting in the Mirror World, like the Mirror World is some kind of afterlife.
This part, though, is what I feel doesn't line up with the show. We're told this happens after Shiro is sent away to America -- Yui just keeps to herself, isolated, making an imaginary friend out of her reflection as she draws monsters. One day, when she's crying in loneliness, the reflection invites her into the Mirror World, and she stays too long, and the reflection gives her her life in exchange for the drawings. This is Yui's first contact with the Mirror World. The show, at this point, hints that something related to the Mirror World happens to both Shiro and Yui, causing an explosion that kills their parents, and that this is what leads to the two being separated by their extended family. So I think Inoue is diverting a bit from what Kobayashi might have been working out there.
This movie also confirms that Shiro's basically rigged the game; whoever wins the Rider battle -- the one who emerges strongest -- will have their life and energy taken by Shiro to be given to Yui. To me, this makes sense with how we've seen Shiro behave in the series, and I imagine this is one area that was completely Kobayashi's and her actual plan. But she then ends up diverting from this in the actual show and...argh, it's a mess.
That Shiro has the game fixed was possibly an endgame of the series; the surviving Riders come together to take him down once they find out it's all for naught. It's an interesting idea, but a little wasted here. (Especially when Ren's all like "I don't care if he's lying! I can't take the risk, so I'll keep fighting!" Like, you're smarter than this, Ren.) But it doesn't make much sense to tie everything to Yui -- he didn't think the whole "let's start an anime fighting tournament so I can give Yui a new life" thing through when it took him so long to even invent the stuff and get it started. Like "Oh, Yui dies when she's 20? Well, that leaves some time. I can get the ball rolling on that Rider stuff when she's 19, that should leave enough time." Similar to Shiro's banning their cards in episode 25, it's something that sounds cool, but just doesn't make a bit of sense in the narrative as established. He takes his time creating this stuff and setting up the Rider fight, the whole point of the Rider fight is to build up energy that he can give to Yui, but he's going to wait so long that Yui's time limit is just a couple of days away, but six Riders remain? I thought Kanzaki was supposed to be smart!
I like the idea behind Kitaoka's final scene. He realizes his time's running out, so he's like "Eh, screw this Rider thing." He leaves his Deck and he just tries to go out and live the rest of his life. So...I guess he figures if Magnagiga comes trying to eat him, Goro-chan can fight him off? On one hand, it's a cool "fuck you" by the character, just flipping off his fate as a Rider AND mortal, but on the other, you're left bothered that it's ignoring the show's rules.
And, damn, how bleak is Yui's end? It was always such a gut punch to me. She's mostly just a sweet, kind, tragic character in the show. Did Inoue go too far for shock value, or is this a tragic end for a character who saw no other choice? But it's a big moment. It makes Ren break down -- he pretty much just freezes and proceeds to watch the rest of the movie in a stupor along with the audience. It causes Shiro to freak out so much he erases himself from existence and causes most of the glass and other reflective surfaces in Japan to shatter. The sight of poor Yui's corpse is enough to get Shinji to rip himself out of Ryuga. Yui's suicide is such a shock, and it's filmed in such a sad way, and Ayano Sugiyama's performance is great. (Satoshi Matsuda's good when he finds her body, too. Ren goes a little bye-bye seeing her dead, and it's obviously traumatic for him that it happens in the same room where he lost Eri. I think it's safe to say that Lab 401 is haunted.)
I always liked the end of this movie. Things have gone to shit -- whatever Shiro did, it's caused an unending swarm of Mirror Monsters to be spit out into the real world. Only Ryuki and Knight remain in the Rider battle. They both set their sights on the massive amounts of Mirror Monsters and offer each other some kind (parting?) words, before transforming and heading into the crowd as the movie ends. It's a surprisingly more heroic way for these two characters to go out than what the actual show ends up doing with them, and you can't imagine it will end pretty for them, so there's still some of that bleakness since this story was never going to have a happy ending.
So, when I can manage to overlook some flaws and inconsistencies, I'll enjoy this movie, and tend to prefer it to the show's final episodes. Sad thing is, it needed more time to develop characters and ideas and give the other regulars a little more to do. (I think more could have been done with Ren, especially with Ren and Miho since they're both fighting to save loved ones.) Sadder thing? There IS a director's cut, but the extra material is mostly stuff that deserved to be cut -- nothing that adds to the movie. (And, in fact, makes the movie worse. When I last watched the director's cut, I HATED it. It's overly long and just unnecessary -- a product they could release, so they did, not one that warranted it like Project G4.) Shougo says: Stick with the theatrical version!
This movie being an alternate finale, and the movie premiering around the time Odin debuted in the series, I was expecting a post-credits thing where you get a glimpse of Odin's staff and hear "Time Vent!" Like I said in my coverage of 28, I think the timing of that episode and this movie is to introduce the concept of alternate timelines, but I feel like if they had done something like this, it would have been a nice little detail.
Friday, August 14, 2020
I've always disliked this episode. Its purpose is to be a clip show, really, but it does it in a way that basically reboots and retcons everything leading up to it. You only just stumbled in the past few episodes, Ryuki, but you mostly had a good thing going -- a dumb clip show isn't the thing to risk retbooting your show with. The funny thing is, this episode thinks it's high concept. You can't be a high concept clip show, that's an oxymoron. The clip show is the lowest form of television storytelling (after reality TV) -- a money-saving technique.
The idea of Shinji getting to go back in time and try to change the fate of some Riders -- I'll admit that I think that's an interesting idea, but it's one that needed to be explored seriously. That is, plan it out. Spend the money to get all the actors you need back. Maybe Episode Final could have been this instead of an alternate finale? Don't just do something like this and wrap it in a clip show.
I still wouldn't like too many changes made to what the show's established, though. For the most part, this episode has Shinji's awareness that he's repeating history come and go, so you can just be like "Well, maybe not much ended up changing, so you can just ignore 28 for the clip show it is." But here's a huge problem...
It really screws up a lot of cool, shocking moments with the Kitaoka and Asakura storylines. And while you're not supposed to pay that much attention to this episode, and just kind of ignore it and laugh it off...it doesn't work if you take the idea of time-travel stories seriously (unlike Kobayashi, who uses it as purely as a gimmick and crutch) and you certainly can't dismiss it when it's introducing the idea of time shenanigans and altered timelines to Ryuki, which will continue to use it. It's no coincidence that this was the episode that aired nearly a week before Episode Final premiered. Episode Final doesn't come right out and say it, but its proximity to this episode's airing has always implied that it's a product of time-related shenanigans, and that's what fans have assumed all of these years.
Anyway, the jailed Shinji lets Kitaoka know he's a Rider, and lets Kitaoka know he knows about Asakura and that Asakura will be a Rider. It's unclear whether this time-rewriting Shinji ends up aware sooner than he should be that Kitaoka is Zolda, robbing us of that great two-parter when Kitaoka makes Shinji believe Goro is, but...it robs Asakura's becoming a Rider of its impact. It's a WOW moment when Asakura pulls that Deck out and shows Kitaoka and Kitaoka's taken aback, fulling realizing just how wicked Kanzaki is. But with Shinji back in time, altering things...Kitaoka is now aware Asakura will be a Rider and he doesn't care, realizing there needs to be the 13 Riders in order for the battle to take place. You can assume that moment will come in the restraunt and Kitaoka, instead of being shocked and pissed at Kanzaki for his selecting Asakura, will instead know Asakura is now a Rider and not have a reaction. That all just sucks.
And it's hard to care for what's meant to be a weighty and haunting realization of Shinji's that, no matter what he tries, he can't seem to prevent Rider fights and deaths from happening because, on one hand it's just a crummy clip show and on the other, it's pissing you off by changing so many events.
And it just brings up too many questions. Why is Shinji the only one who has moments of remembering? How is Kanzaki-from-real-time able to converse with him? Or, better yet, WHY does he? The whole point of Odin's using Time Vent is so Shiro can undo the damage caused to Yui's drawing of her and her brother, but...if he can undo an entire year, why not, oh, I don't know, prevent Shinji from becoming a Rider? Kanzaki's little Rider fight would go so much smoother without Shinji, so if Kanzaki has this kind of power...?
I can't even let myself be amused by Shinji's leaving a note to remind him where he can successfully punch Odin, which IS a funny and cool moment, but everything surrounding it is so frustrating. And then Shinji gets on his new hobbyhorse -- protecting the other Riders. And you're like "No! Don't go there Shinji, there are only moments for you to look stupid to be found there."
Time Vent should have never been an ability in this show. That should probably be the only thing this post should say. There's no point in Odin even popping up at this point. It's really only to introduce the idea of alternate timelines, which I really think is just a way for Kobayashi to be like, "Don't pay attention to Episode Final! That's not how I wanted to end this story, so...erase that shit, Time Vent!"
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
EPISODES 26 & 27
These episodes don't have much to do with one another, but both are mainly stand-aloneish lighthearted episodes written by Kobayashi. I think these episodes are fun, and probably the furthest a show like Ryuki should go in terms of the required wacky episodes, but that doesn't stop it. (That's right -- Inoue comes along with scripts that try really hard to outdo Kobayashi's comedic sensibilities and he really misses the mark.)
Episode 26 deals with Kitaoka tricking Shinji into taking over in Goro's place, because Goro himself is filling in for an injured Kitaoka. I don't know how that's going to work out for Kitaoka -- the Goro doing his job, not the Shinji butler, we know how that's going to turn out. When did Goro get his law degree? Goro's a thug! A criminal! What the hell could he possibly be doing in Kitaoka's place? Those cases are getting thrown out, man. There's a Suits-type of spin-off in there somewhere.
Shinji knows his plan to change the Riders as people is hopeless -- I think Kobayashi's rebelling against Inoue introducing this -- but he doesn't know what else to try. So he's trying to get close to Kitaoka and figure out why he fights, getting pulled into doing shitty chores for him and taking beatings when thugs come looking for Kitaoka. He finally remembers to just stick to his original motivation -- protecting people, even if it's the criminal shitheads who just beat him up. (And he DOES manage to save that one guy in time.) And you're like "Finally! There's the Shinji I like."
The episode's funniest bit is when Ryuki's inserting Zolda's cards into his own Visor, expecting the weapons to come to him, but they still go to Zolda. I'm guessing this came about because of some internet potheads who were like "Man, what would happen if, like, Ryuki used Knight's cards, man?" Zolda's too injured to do his own card swiping and it makes you realize how much sense it makes that Zolda has all of the guns and long-distance weapons and attacks -- by being in poor health, it often saves him from having to engage in physical battles and brawls. He gets into his fair amount of brawls, but he doesn't take risks he doesn't have to.
Episode 27's the better episode, in which a kid catches Ren transforming and entering and exiting the Mirror World and follows him. The early Heisei Rider shows, especially Ryuki, faced a lot of criticism in 2002, one by Rider purists being that the shows are no longer heroic or kid-friendly. So I always saw this episode as addressing that, and kind of flipping those critics off.
The kid is energetic and wants to be a Rider, even stealing Shinji's Card Deck. Ren tries to scare him off with Dark Wing and then transforms to go off and fight the monster that's been targeting the kid. Ren, remembering when he saw episode 5 of Bioman as a boy, lets himself be beaten up by the monster to try to teach the kid a lesson. Along with Shinji's words, the boy comes to realize that being a Kamen Rider ain't the fun, cool, bitchin' time he thinks it would be. I think this is a jab at the critics who were like "Kamen Riders are heroes! They aren't mopey, they're friends of kids and justice!" And if this is indeed the message Ryuki is saying, then I agree with it -- being a Kamen Rider's NOT supposed to be fun. You wouldn't want to be a Kamen Rider, because that means something really shitty has happened to you. It's fighting, it's pain, it's loneliness. Chances are, you're a guy like Shinji who's in way over your head. And this is one of many reasons why Heisei Phase 2 and modern Riders suck -- they take that whole moronic Marvel "Man, it's dope being a superhero and playing with toys!" tack, and it flies in the face of what Kamen Rider stands for.
I like the way that whole scene's depicted of the kid, Shinji and Goro all watching the Mirror World battle. After getting woozy, Kitaoka's motivated to get back into the fight, and so he -- and eventually Asakura -- join Knight's little battle. As if you didn't need any more proof that Goro was in love with Kitaoka, he breaks down crying seeing him fight, knowing how difficult it is for him. This is the same episode as Ren, putting on a brave face for everyone after there being a scare with Eri, goes to his room and can be seen crying. The kid says he wants to be a Rider not only because it's cool, but he can get back at bullies. If this kid wasn't so polite and nice-seeming, I can see a scenario where Kanzaki WOULD select him to be a Rider.
Ryuki makes it to the scene at a bad time, as Odin reveals himself, getting in some smacks (and smack talk) to all of the Riders, before engaging the Time Vent card. (Uh-oh, was my reaction at the time AND now. Kobayashi and her time travel obsession rearing its ugly head into this show was obviously a bad thing.)
The preview for this episode shows a very pissed of Yui telling Shiro that she wanted to join the fight as a Rider. I feel like that was another cheat. People expected Yui to become a Rider at the time, which I didn't think was going to happen, but it's interesting to think about. (What if the Alternative storyline had been about her becoming a self-made Rider? Imagine if after this episode, Yui just vanished for a while, and then came back as Alternative? Am I the only one that thinks that sounds awesome?) This was back before every character in a Kamen Rider show became a Kamen Rider or transformed in SOME way, so it wasn't expected or a given for someone like Yui to maybe become one. So I feel like that line and speech is there to torment the people who wanted that to happen. But it's a good scene, with Ayano Sugiyama going crazy and wrecking the Kanzaki place like some drunk metal band trashing a hotel room, and demanding answers from her brother and, finally, cutting ties with him.
Kanzaki says here that his motivation is to obtain the power from whoever's the victorious Rider. "The power to be a god or a devil." And Shiro's been depicted as such a nefarious creep that it's obvious he's in this for something that would benefit him -- I don't think, even at this stage, it was going to end up being the seemingly benevolent reason of saving Yui. There's obviously something important about Yui, and she's PART of his motivation, but I never thought the entire motivation. More on my theory and/or what I originally envisioned the show would do in the coverage for the finale.
Reiko ends up rewatching the surveillance footage of the prison the day Asakura escaped like she's looking for Easter eggs within it, when she catches a glimpse of Shiro in the Mirror World. She's smart enough to remember his picture at the Atori, and makes the connection, even spilling to Yui that she heard he died a year ago in America. Good going, Reiko! Are you sure you don't want to feed Yui to Venosnaker while you're at it? Maybe she'd make it in time to be digested with Akira, who you got killed. Geez. Ace reporter.
I shouldn't be hard on Reiko. I like Sayaka Kuon a lot and think she does a good job, the show just really doesn't know how to handle the character, and has her just keep stalling on her investigation because they don't want her to solve it, which just ends up making her look bad. (Even though I think it would have been more interesting if she did put things together.) But I like the moment in 26 when Daisuke's doing some lame, pun-filled routine with a cantaloupe he has, and Kuon obviously breaks and bursts out laughing at him, turning away quickly before then trying to compose herself so she can again face the camera. (She succeeds in masking her smile. You can be bested by a model, Jimmy Fallon!)
Odin's a great design, I'd like it if the show could have had a better landing with the character. I LOVE that they got Visor voice Tsuyoshi Koyama to voice him, the significance of which I'll bring up in the final episode and what I expected from the final episode. (Shirakura calls Episode Final Inoue's version of the finale and the show's finale Kobayashi's. I guess that post will end up being Shougo's version of the finale.) Since Jiro Okamoto plays Odin in suit, I'm curious who plays Ouja in these scenes from 27 and 28. He seems kinda lanky, so I wonder if it could even be Hagino since he has a lot of the same mannerisms.
One last thing I'd like to say about these episodes is I like how open they show Ren being with Yui. Ren's always different around Yui, and I don't know if that means Matsuda's a better actor than I ever gave him credit for or if Sugiyama brings it out of him. But Yui's with him to see Eri and she's torn up and feeling responsible, but Ren says that Yui's just another victim of Shiro's. He also admits that he only ever got close to Yui because he thought it would give him an advantage in the fight, so I guess his revealing this is an admission that, no, he DOES consider Yui a close friend now, so his original intention is now moot and he should also confess it. But I think Kobayashi writing that Yui is potentially another victim of Shiro's kinda tells you where some of her initial ideas were heading. This and the argument between the siblings show that Shiro wasn't meant to be some antihero who's just looking out for his innocent sister, but there's a deeper issue there.
Monday, August 10, 2020
EPISODES 24 & 25
For years, I basically thought the show died with Tetzuka. By that, I mean...not just what I feel is a decline in quality in the show's second half, but the show just feels different. Some of it is the way it seems like its budget gets lessened, but a lot of it is the show starting to improvise on the spot and write to adjust to what they think is popular about it or expected it from it. Like...I think it's obvious that Asakura wasn't meant to last as long as he did. I have a theory he was going to be killed off by the end of 25. But he really jazzed the show up, they knew people would love him, so they kept him. And I certainly don't think they expected to keep him until the end of the series, but that's what happens. Kooky theory, but I feel like that shot of Ren burning the Evil Diver card in the episode preview kinda proves the original intention; but in keeping Asakura, they decide to have him make a Contract with Raia's monster instead.
Something about this two-parter just always seems slapped on to me. Even though the real decline in Ryuki begins in 26, IMO, I tend to unfairly lump 24 & 25 alongside those ones, and I think it's the rushed feeling of these episodes. And it's not just that Inoue's breezing in to write his own thing. It's the first time in the show that I feel like the momentum has ceased; it has been pretty consistently solid up until now, but this episode's scattered. I don't know how, but it's like when an American show goes on summer hiatus and there are shake-ups behind the scenes or they pay too much attention to fan feedback and the show returns for the new season as practically another show. Something's just missing. Different. A bit broken.
And this episode begins the show's almost trolling of the audience. Shirakura, Takebe, Kobayashi, Inoue -- they're getting full of themselves and it's not about delivering a quality storyline anymore, but moments that are "cool." Episodes are constructed around a "cool" idea, even if it's illogical or even outright clashes with what's previously established. Something that will be a real "zinger" and hook. You know the way Hollywood nowadays just likes having stuff that will look cool for a trailer, but doesn't care to actually implement it within a freaking narrative?
Episode 24 deals briefly with the fall out of Tetzuka's death. Yui's so depressed that she goes missing. Shinji's depressed for a bit before deciding the best way to honor Tetzuka would be to change the Riders as people and stop the fight that way. He thinks that Ren's changing is proof it can be done, but...c'mon. Shinji's not THAT stupid. He'd have to know there's no chance of changing Kitaoka, forget about Asakura. Just a few episodes ago, Shinji denounced Asakura as a monster and kicked his ass and demanded he turn himself in. But now he's wasting everyone's time talking about changing him? I get that he's supposed to be torn up about Tetzuka dying, but it's not believable. And you can't say it's the character just trying to convince himself it's possible, which is the only way I'd excuse it, because he's shown to genuinely believe in this ill-conceived new approach and uses it as a way to help console Yui. So it stinks to me of Inoue having disdain for Shinji and his heroic ideals, so he's intentionally making him look stupid. Cool guy Ren, though, of course is streets ahead enough to know none of this will work and tells Shinji as much, but Shinji's stuck on his plan for the time being.
Also smarter than written here? Reiko, who finds Asakura's hideout and buys his bullshit story of needing to see his kid brother for a shot at redemption. (AND the bogus story he tells her of being his brother's hero.) I could understand if Reiko got so caught up in covering this story and framing it a certain way that she let her senses get away from her, but it's again not presented that way. She seems like she's genuinely impressed to find that Asakura seems sensitive and human and...she's supposed to be smarter than this, and certainly more logical and in-tune with the way the "real world" works than Shinji. Why are she and Shinji using the same brain in these two episodes? At least Hagino does a good job in his performance as Asakura, at first telling her stories of hardships of living as a wild dog and then the tragedy (he caused!) of what happened to his family. You realize just how sick and sociopathic Asakura is, but everybody should have known better. It's been clear since minute one how screwed up Asakura is. No matter how convincing he is, Reiko would definitely know better than to trust him...
But she instead finds his brother and leads him to his death. The brother -- whose actor is a dime store Yellow Lion -- makes it clear that he wants left alone, but she keeps pushing him until he relents. And he gets killed. And Reiko never seems to feel guilt or even remember the guy. Asakura knocks her out and I guess she just forgets about this plot, as the viewers should, too. And I think Inoue thought he was being clever by naming the brother Akira -- Hagino, in his new image as Asakura, kills his old image as an Akira (Akira Suzumura/Changerion). On a random note: they should go and refilm Akira's scenes with the Lupin Red actor and CGI them into the show, because HE looks like he could be Hagino's little brother.
So, I think all of this was Inoue being like "Ooh, I've got a really cool story to tell about Asakura! Who cares if it makes everyone look stupid?" Like, you know Inoue was just dying to write something sick for Asakura. And the episode ends with a "Ooh, I've got a really cool cliffhanger -- what if Kanzaki cuts off everyone's Advent Cards?!" Fine, it makes a good cliffhanger, one that I fell for back in the day, but it doesn't make a damn bit of sense. Because he does cut off their cards like he's a pissed off parent cutting off their rich asshole kid's credit cards, but it flies in the face of what's been seen before. It's yet more overpowering Kanzaki, because...why hasn't he done this before? When Tetzuka ends up giving Ren the Survive Card, which wasn't Kanzaki's intent, why didn't he cut off that card? If he's so worried about Shinji or Tetzuka stopping the battle, why doesn't he cut off their cards? There's so many things that don't go his way that he could have prevented if he pulled this move, but...well, why doesn't he? See, don't just go with something because it's "cool." (Another thing in this episode that was used as a "cool" hook for the preview? Kitaoka collapsing. See the way the show devolves into just trying to trick its audience into thinking something big will go down? It loses its courage, so it resorts to these fake-outs and the show's above that stuff.)
These episodes end with Ouja contracting Evil Diver and now taking control of that monster. With the way even Ren's disgusted by Akira's killing, and the randomness of Zolda deciding to enter the fight, I really do feel like this storyline originated as being Ouja's exit, with the main three coming together to fight him. On one hand, it's a good thing they didn't, because Hagino often ends up being the best part of the show. On the other, it just opens up more opportunities for wheel spinning. (Much like the wheel spinning done by Reiko's dorky Urkel e-car when she happens to conveniently gets stuck right near Asakura's hideout. Man, her car...it's the Rideshooter of cars. I should take this time to mention how dorky I think the Rideshooters are, and that I think the production is under the impression they're like some cool gadget that Batman would get in one of his movies. Having said that, that didn't stop me from wanting the Rideshooter Hot Wheels in '02. That's how into Ryuki I was.)
The episodes could have worked, but they're just rushed and come too much at the expense of our characters. And while we get a bit of history of how Goro came to be employed by Kitaoka -- Kitaoka missed a critical doctor's appointment to represent Goro -- even Kitaoka's clowning around a bit in this episode, and will continue to do so for his next few appearances. The next two episodes are lighthearted, and then the show basically commits to its soft reboot with what I call the "Odin Clip Show," and then returns with two wacky, seriously out of place comedic episodes. Typical Terrible 20s of Toku, or something else? My theory is in another post.
Other than Hagino's performance, the part I like most of these episodes is the scene of Yui and Shiro at the seashore. It's filmed nicely, I like how Shiro remains ominous by being so far out into the water from Yui. (Does he use the sea as his reflective surface of choice here? That's cool.) And it's nice that Yui's affected by Tetzuka's death and makes you wish that the character showed more initiative, which these next few episodes hint at but never go anywhere with.
Heroism Watch: Ren manages to save a couple of kids at a playground from a Mirror Monster. He's obsessed with showing off the Knight Survive form which...I've never liked the design of. It's way too bulky (look at that ugly gauntlet!), it uses too bright of a blue, the enlarged visor makes him look like he has a shrunken head. It doesn't help they film the scenes with the visual panache of the local car show. The bike's ugly, Dark Wing's new form is ugly. If Tetzuka knew how ugly this form would end up being, he'd probably have torn up the Survive card.
The "shock" in the next episode's preview? Something going on with Eri! Yeah, they put that off for several more episodes. The sad thing is, I like that Ren has come to his senses, and he basically looks out for Shinji in this episode. But that's going to be going out the window in the upcoming episodes when Eri temporarily gets out of her coma. The way Shinji and Ren each end up going back and forth...it's just cowardly writing. I feel like they really wanted to end up having Shinji and Ren basically come through the show in reversed positions -- Ren's become the caring hero, Shinji's become one-tracked and wanting to fight, but it didn't have the guts to go through with it, totally and concretely. So we just get this back and forth and it makes the characters look indecisive, foolish, and just plain mental in the end. The showmakers are starting to lose control of their creation. There's supposed to be a complexity or like the back-and-forth is a depiction of characters grappling with difficult decisions, but that's certainly not the way it ends up playing in the long term; the show's staff stops putting in the amount of effort and detail it would take to make it play as such. If you're wanting to prolong things until the end of the show, they needed to keep the level of nuance they had been giving the show. Instead, they're content to just repeat themselves, and it goes from seeming like a subtle show to one that's beating you over the head and one that's more formulaic.