Wednesday, September 16, 2020
EPISODES 49 - 50
Ryuki was never going to have a happy ending. We're told from the start that there will only be one survivor; we have one genuine good guy amongst a bunch of amoral characters. The opening credits promise a showdown between Shinji and Ren, with Yui in the middle. "If you don't fight, you won't survive!" is the show's tagline. "This fight's not about justice, but simply desire" is the way Daisuke sums up the Rider battle in the final episode. And then there's the show's imagery of misfortune -- thirteen Riders, broken mirrors, two clairvoyant characters who never had good news. (It's also thirteen years since Yui and Shiro's accident, which makes me wonder if the purpose of Shiro's creating thirteen Riders was that there needed to be one to represent each year that Yui's been replaced.)
Episode 49 begins with the death of Yui and ends with the death of Shinji. I really didn't expect that at the time, it was a shock. You had a bad feeling about Shinji but expected that to be saved for the very last episode. (You knew Ren was safe, otherwise 13 Riders wouldn't have blown such a big moment on such a meaningless special.) And so when the moment comes that Shinji takes a mortal hit from a monster while protecting a girl, it's presented in an impactful way, but you're still kinda like "Oh, he'll be fine. The show will wriggle around this in some way." So when he actually dies, with Ren by his side? I think it's all done well, and I think Suga's performance is great. Matsuda's good, but I think gets a little TOO emotional. Ren's come to like Shinji, yes, but Matsuda acts like a lover bigger than Eri is the one dying a bloody mess.
I find it pretty funny that, once Shinji dies, Kanzaki appears and tells Ren to get busy fightin' Odin, because he's the only one left. Like...there's still Kitaoka and Asakura, but they're isolated in these final two episodes, stuck in their own little drama -- and Kanzaki basically is here to tell you that, even if they're still alive, he thinks they're so unimportant and realizes they're at the end of their story...so he's going to come right out and crown Ren the Highlander who wins the booby prize of getting to face Odin...again. Knight's killed Odin twice now. No matter how rigged Kanzaki makes this game, that doesn't look good, man -- you sure you want to go down that road again?
Because Kitaoka is Inoue's character, Kobayashi can't really be bothered to do anything but basically repeat Episode Final. There's been different outcomes for other characters, but here's Kitaoka just once again realizing he's at the end, he's had enough, and he quits. Unlike that movie, which made no mention of how he intends to quit and not end up as Magnagiga's lunch, this take at least gives you more of an idea -- I think Kitaoka knows he's low on time. He begins the scene peppy, talking about asking Reiko out, but then gets gloomy, talking about the way he feels he needs to take care of Asakura, or like he's left a huge mistake behind. We later see Kitaoka, unconscious, laying on the couch of his office, holding a flower -- it's funereal. I think he died on the spot and Goro decided to contract Magnagiga and fight in Kitaoka's place, hoping to deal with Asakura on his own so that Kitaoka's guilt could be cleared, so that he could rest in peace...
But Goro fails, he ends up killed by Ouja, the one bright spot being that seeing Goro's body instead of Kitaoka's sends Asakura into such a blind rage that he has no problem running right to his own death, being gunned down by law enforcement. (One thing that confuses me: we get a voiceover of officers making arrangements to trap and deal with Asakura, and part of this message plays over a shot of Kitaoka. Did Kitaoka set him up? He had to have known Asakura's whereabouts since Goro knows where he is to challenge him.) It's supposed to be some kind of cool, bad-ass Bruce Lee moment, but I always thought this death was ill-fitting for Asakura and a pretty anti-climactic way to send him off.
I find it strange how Goro's not able to put up much of a fight against Ouja. Sure, Asakura's probably stronger and deadlier than Goro is, but Goro's supposed to be a good fighter, and yet he doesn't put up much of a fight. That says Goro was holding back, since Kitaoka as Zolda never really fought hand-to-hand much -- he relied on his weaponry. Did Goro hold back just so he could keep up the charade that he was Kitaoka? Possibly, but I think it also seems like he intended to die. Goro couldn't live without Kitaoka -- so he wants to die with sensei.
(Random factoid while I'm thinking of it -- in the broadcast episode, as Reiko sits waiting for Kitaoka in the restaurant, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" is playing. This is replaced with generic muzak for the home-video releases. I HATE when things are changed for the video/DVD releases like that, and it's often music that's changed because there's no such thing as too much money for record labels.)
It's sad how rushed and cheap the final battles in this show are. I understand the episode has a lot to pack in, and I'm glad it chooses to focus on character moments. But the final battle between Knight and Odin really needed more attention and money put into it. We just get these quick shots flying by of strikes and tumbles. It doesn't convey the total, brutal, deadly beating Knight is supposed to undergo in this battle. Odin's Final Vent is so brutal, we don't even get to see it -- and Knight runs right towards it to keep fighting! Ren ends up dying from his wounds! But it's just not conveyed, it's filmed in the way a generic cliffhanger fight is filmed -- they never put much effort into those, because they know the next episode's going to begin with some cheap cop-out. But this is the final battle that sees the death of the longest-serving cast member's character! It's the final battle in what's been a show all about battle! They needed to haul out some crazy Junji Yamaoka-esque big guns here, even if they had to go to the Abandoned Warehouse District where all of Yamaoka's Metal Hero action scenes took place. (Eighties Metal Heroes at Mt. Makuu; Nineties Metal Heroes have the Abandoned Warehouse.) I like that the final fight takes place outside of the Kanzaki home, at least.
Shiro remains tormented by the idea of Yui's wish to cease the efforts to revive her -- Yui's presence being made by black feathers again. (If Shiro's represented by the golden feathers of Odin, the phoenix, then what could Yui's black feathers signify -- a crow? A raven? In Norse mythology, Odin's animal companions include ravens.) Kanzaki has a meltdown which erases Odin, who names Ren the final Rider of it all. The new life appears before Ren and...he's said it from the start and, true to his word, he uses it to bring Eri back, dying at the foot of her bed. (It's always looked like Ren has died with a slight smile on his face, which is an interesting touch that I wonder if it was scripted or Matsuda's idea.)
On one hand, I almost admire that decision of Kobayashi's. I mean...it's true to the character! He's stubborn, and he never got over Eri and never listened to her to think of himself over her if it means his improvement, so OF COURSE he's going to stick to his plan to bring her back, even if he's no longer there to be with her. Imagine this ending without the reset! It's infuriating, but pretty damn bold and would frustrate a lot of viewers. Because the way I wanted this to play out -- the way a lot of viewers probably expected it to be -- is perhaps a little "safer," a little predictable...
One of the show's biggest points -- maybe THE point of the show -- was Ren being softened by not just Eri, and not just Yui, but especially Shinji. Shinji was supposed to make Ren be the hero that was within him. You get to the end of 49 where Ren's just weeping all over Shinji's dying body, with Shinji stating what his absolute firmest wish would be if he won the Rider fight and you think, "Oh. Ren's listening to Shinji's last words, taking them to heart." So, I thought Ren was going to come to a conclusion that basically honored Shinji's dying words -- his last request. I thought Ren would abandon his own wish and try to find some loophole, try and decide to do something like wish the Mirror World never existed or was never opened or that Mirror Monsters never existed or even that the Kanzakis never existed, meaning the Rider fight never would happen. So, the show would have a reset, but since it was Ren's choice, his action, he would retain the knowledge of what happened. And that would be kind of bittersweet -- he'd no longer be in the lives of people who bettered him, like Shinji or Yui, but he'd still be that person we saw evolve throughout the show (meaning his development throughout the year wasn't a waste), and Eri would still be saved. But Ren sticks to his intentions and saves Eri. And that's true to the character. And, for as vague as the show could be about what exactly the Mirror World was and what could be done with it, I think the show intended for the "wish" to be only something personal for whoever was granted it -- I don't think something big like the closing of the Mirror World was really an option...
The choice is, and has always been, in the hands of the Kanzakis. Shiro's always had the fight fixed. Once Ren wins and goes about his way, Shiro ponders his next move before a Mirror World Yui talks to him, questioning if he's just going to start over. Now...Yui's done disappeared, but Shiro's still been pushing for the Riders to fight, saying that there are still two days remaining. So...by asking him if he's going to start again, does she mean Shiro -- despite the time limit having passed -- would set up a completely new and accelerated Rider battle, or does she mean would he pull some Time Vent hijinks and do it all over? I think that's purposely left for you to wonder, with most fans seeming to take the implication as being that he'd undo time, and this is where Episode Final and 13 Riders is supposed to wiggle in. So...how many times might he have played with time by now? And if he has this kind of ability, then why doesn't he just prevent Yui's accident in the first place? He has all of this power and still can't accomplish this one thing? At this point, the show just wants you to care about the characters and not little details like this, but...that doesn't always work. You can leave some things mysterious or up in the air, but you better be given just enough information for it to make sense, and it better make sense for the character. It doesn't make sense to me that Kanzaki is apparently powerful enough to exist past death and can alter time, but he chooses to use that power in ways that frustrate his own agenda.
So Yui finally convinces Shiro to just stop and they both go off to some dimension together to draw happier things with their younger selves. The final shot of the series is the pictures of the siblings at the Atori being of their younger selves -- Sanako is also no longer the quirky and joyful woman she was, but curt and surly. And this, I think, is that Shiro decided to go back and die with Yui when she had her accident. They never made it to adulthood, there was never the breach in the Mirror World, the Riders were never created.
Yui said a few episodes prior to this that the Kanzakis basically created the Mirror World and...I never really liked that. Like I've said, I feel like early on there were strong supernatural suggestions about the Mirror World. I feel like it always existed, it's just that the Kanzakis were the first to ever breach it.
Here's what I always thought should be done with the mystery of Shiro and the Mirror World -- the Mirror World existed. It's another world, dimension, maybe even afterlife. Emotions like vanity gave birth to the monsters within it. (To bring up Cocteau's Orpheus again, mirrors are used as a portal into the underworld; the underworld is shown to be bombed-out ruins, described as a zone born of "men's memories and the ruins of their habits." Funny that Orpheus also ends with a reset.) The Mirror World always had a ruler, a deity -- Odin. The Kanzakis break through to the Mirror World; Yui is threatened. Shiro eventually is targeted by Odin who makes him a deal, a contract -- Odin wants out of the Mirror World, but he can't get out. Shiro, obviously, has found a way INTO the Mirror World, even if it's limited, so if Odin merges with him, he can have access to both worlds, even if limited. Outmatched, Shiro has no choice -- he's intertwined with Odin.
Shiro comes up with the idea of creating Riders and the Rider fight, all based on Odin. His reason? Whoever wins that Rider battle will take his place in the Mirror World as Odin's puppet. Shiro promises a wish, a new life, but nobody realizes the small print -- the wish is only going to apply to the Mirror World. Ren, you want Eri back? Win the battle and you'll get your wish...it's just that Eri will be safe, trapped forever in the Mirror World, Odin's new underling. Kitaoka, you want eternal life? You can have it, but it will be eternity in the cold, terrifying Mirror World.
And that's basically my idea of where things might have been heading in 2002. (I never really worked out how Yui would fit into all of it, but neither did the show. Hey-ooooooooo.) But I feel like my old take keeps Shiro fairly villainous and would go along with the images of bad fortune. I feel like it was a mistake to make the Mirror World seem so small -- a placed conjured up by two lonely kids -- and to make Odin just a puppet of Shiro's. He was obviously meant to be a little more important than what they did with him.
So, Yui's convinced Shiro to put a stop to the madness and he does, and everything is reset and everything you've just watched for the year was meaningless. I always broke it down like this...
* Shinji's back to being a dolt who nobody likes or respects. The Rider fight caused his best qualities to come out, it caused him to do some quick growing which improved him, but that's all gone.
* Ren's back to being a coldhearted thug who only cares about Eri. Any of his heroic qualities remain deeply buried and unknown to even him.
* Kitaoka's still dyin', and is back to being a complete narcissistic asshole.
* Asakura's still a nut, and most of his crimes are completely unrelated to being a Rider. Which means: he will still kill Miho's sister, he will still maim pianist Yuuichi Saitou.
And that's just the four main Riders. I feel like for characters like Shibaura and Toujou there would eventually be escalation, they'd probably become plain old killers. So our main characters lose character growth, their becoming good people, while all of the villainous Riders are free to become even more horrible than they were. The only real bright side is that Mirror Monster victims should now be alive. Whoopee, the show didn't care much about them, so that's not even important. What's important is...you just flushed all of this character growth and wasted my time, now didn't you? You were supposed to be a show that broke all of the rules and was so bold and different, yet you have this cowardly finale because you painted yourself into corners and don't want to commit to anything that might "damage" a popular character.
Gah! Wasn't it bad enough how the show started to stray in its second half? The overly comedic tone, the cheapening of the production? Couldn't it have delivered a definitive finale that wasn't a cheap trick or didn't feel like it made you waste your time?
I had been so into Ryuki, but after its finale, I felt pretty cheated by it. It killed a lot of goodwill, I'd have trouble even going back and watching the earlier episodes I loved because I could never shake its cop-out finale that made it all useless. I'd try and try to enjoy those earlier episodes or even just enjoy ANYthing Ryuki, period, but found it difficult.
And then Rider Time happened. And I didn't know what to make of it initially -- I think the Rider franchise is in a poor, poor state. I think everything Zi-o touches is terrible, and Inoue's Ryuki episodes were a mixed bag, so I didn't have much hope for this little web series. But by the end of the third episode...I felt love for Ryuki return.
The special is on the cheap side (it makes the 13 Riders Special seem like a movie), a little rushed, it tries to be a little too weird and mysterious, but I liked what it tried to do for the most part. To me, it felt like somewhat of an apology for the show's finale not having the courage to stick to its guns. It ends up making the Ryuki show matter again, it undoes the finale's making everything feel like a waste. I love that the characters all gradually remember the original show's timeline and they try to set things right before it's too late. There's also something about seeing so many of the cast members, seventeen years older, that gives the bleakness of this miniseries some weight. They -- and we -- have been waiting so long for things to be made right in the Ryuki world! And it's probably the last time we'll see all of these cast members together as these characters, so that makes things take on an even sadder tone.
The timeline of the TV series is the only one that matters. And it was all undone in the finale and the characters were all back to their normal (abnormal for the psycho ones) lives. Like I said, Shinji's a dolt working at the ORE Journal, Ren's a punk, Kitaoka went back to being one of the scummiest lawyers, etc. But as fate would have it, most of these same schmoes are once again selected to take part in a fight that doesn't concern them -- unaware of how they got there, they all wake up in the Mirror World, thrown into an extremely accelerated version of the Rider Fight by a mysterious woman... We get mirrors of old alliances, there's a fuzzy familiarity for some of the participants before they eventually have total recall.
Look, with Ryuki's reset finale, it was very uncertain if we'd ever see anyone from Ryuki participate in a team-up or new project. Fans generally thought "Well, we can't bring Ryuki back, because his timeline was erased and the Riders of that show don't even exist anymore." Sure, we got Ryouhei cameoing as Kitaoka in that Superhero Taisen movie, but those movies don't count -- they never make sense, so they do whatever they want. So, this special was a nice surprise, and a good way to bring the characters back, get them back into their positions from the show, while also addressing that blunder of the finale. It shouldn't work as well as it did, and it's a shame that there wasn't an episode or two more.
It sucks that they didn't get everyone back -- since a few have retired, it wouldn't have been an option, anyway. (It's a shame Ryouhei wasn't able to be worked in in some way.) But you can pretty much picture that the Riders who have replacements still met their demise in the new timeline that was established in the finale. Here's what I pretty much think happened from the finale to the point of Rider Time...
Shinji -- Remained at the ORE Journal. The Zi-o episodes featuring Shinji and Daisuke Ookubo reveal that the ORE Journal has long since shut down, which is pretty obvious given how shoddily it was run. I like that the Time Jackers selecting Mirror Shinji has made Mirror Shinji terrorize the real Shinji, and that Shinji's now living a life a lot like Sakakibara's before he vanished: frightened, in hiding, all reflective surfaces of his home covered.
Ren -- No Kanzakis or Mirror World means Eri was never harmed, so he probably spent more time with her, but...I don't think those two were built to last. It's twisted, but I think Eri's accident made Ren realize her importance to him more than he might have otherwise. That accident needed to happen to set him on the right path. And I like the fake-out at the end, when Shinji visits Eri at the hospital for Ren. You're like "What?! The show was erased, but she's still in the hospital?" And then they reveal that she's a nurse there, still wearing her rings; even if things might not have worked out for the two in the reset timeline, Ren obviously still meant something to her, too. Or, hey, maybe I'm reading it wrong and Eri and Ren DID last, and he still became a better person. He does seem a little more good-natured, and he IS still disturbed when he makes his first kill. (Abyss.)
Sudou -- Probably in prison or killed by a pissed off accomplice.
Kitaoka -- Succumbed to Non-Specific Illness #5, leaving Goro to once again be called upon as Zolda.
Tetzuka -- As I said, it's likely that things went bad with Yuuichi, sending Tetzuka on a darker path.
Shibaura -- The years have made him rot even more.
Asakura -- Went about his usual business. I like that he's the one who knows what's all going on, that he still has his memory of the previous timeline. I like that he basically has that Joker line of "I think we're destined to do this forever." He might be right! And since Asakura said his wish in the show was for the fight to go on forever, maybe he's the real winner, huh?
Toujou -- In prison or murdered, c'mon. Maybe a politician.
Sano -- Went on to still be a dipshit who fell ass backwards into his father's fortune. He had a big mouth, I can imagine some businessman wanting to eliminate him. Someone like...
Takamizawa -- Probably in prison or in hiding overseas.
Miho -- The absence of Femme from this special is an interesting mystery. Since she's Inoue's creation, and Inoue wrote this miniseries, it has to mean something, right? Anyway, she probably ended up scamming the wrong person. She could've reformed, I dunno.
Mirror Shinji -- Where there's a good Shinji there's a mirror one.
Odin -- Ah, here's another mystery, and I like that they make him so mysterious here. A hooded figure who's guiding the Another Rider to kill for lifeforce. After he's defeated by Zi-o and Geiz, he mutters "Yui" before fading. Even if the Kanzakis have made it that they died in that accident in 1989, there's some remnant in the Mirror World of their existence, their memory. What could it mean? Maybe Odin IS a higher power of the Mirror World...? You have nothing but speculation, in a good way.
Our characters live a fast and furious version of the Rider battle, but try to set things right. And, once again, there's not a happy ending in the Advent Cards for these characters. This special is bleak -- everyone dies, but mostly die trying to be better people than they were -- being the better people they actually were, once upon another timeline. Here we finally get closure on Ren's heroic arc, that he sacrifices himself for Shinji. Shinji's acknowledged for all that he previously did, ending this special with the knowledge of those accomplishments and growth.
Yeah, the Zi-o series ends up undoing its timeline, and if you want to be nitpicky, you can realize that that means that this special is undone, so we're back to the Ryuki series having a finale that strips the series of its meaning. But this is more of a Ryuki special than a Zi-o one, somehow, magically. (Unlike, say, that Kamen Rider One movie that was really a Ghost movie with special guest Kamen Rider One.) Rider Time is its own thing, it stands on its own, individual from the Zi-o series. It introduces the idea that these characters will eventually remember the previous timeline -- that someone like Asakura already did -- and therefore not make the Ryuki series feel so wasteful. It's this three-part miniseries that got me back into Ryuki, and the reason I was able to do this project.
I actually tried two or three years ago to cover Ryuki like this, but it went the way it usually always went -- I couldn't get past the first few episodes, so I scrapped the project. I was then going to do a joke post where I "covered" the entire series in one post, in which the summary for every episode read "This episode ends up not mattering because of the chickenshit finale." I never would have thought that Toei would actually do something like this miniseries and that it would be something that managed to make me feel something positive for Ryuki again. I can enjoy it again, I can look at it with fondness again...
I can count myself as a Ryuki fan once again. While I like it nowhere near as much -- nor does it mean as much to me -- as Liveman, I feel a similar way about Ryuki. They're both bold shows, with a very strong first half...then it changes. It will have flickers of the great show it was here and there, but for the most part, it abandons a lot of what made it good and unique, and you just have to kind of cherry-pick what you do like about the second half or reimagine some things yourself. There are many flaws, but there's also still a lot of good and good ideas there that still make the show worthwhile and special, even if you're frustrated that it turned into something different than it set out to be or promised to be or you expected it to be.
Ryuki was a big, bold show, with lofty ambitions. It didn't stick its landing, it got a little too preoccupied with trying to please viewers, it got a little full of itself, but it wanted to be different. It succeeded there and, for better or worse, I feel it has been more of an influence on the Heisei Riders that followed it than either Kuuga or Agito was.
Monday, September 14, 2020
EPISODES 47 & 48
As quickly as he decided to fight for Yui, Shinji decides to not fight for Yui -- that is, he's beating the hell out of Knight, but can't quite insert that Final Vent card when he pulls it. This causes Ryuki to have a meltdown that concerns even Knight, who helps pull him from the Mirror World as they're disintegrating and the obnoxious Shear Ghosts are after them. Shinji then decides to try to stop thinking about things -- he'll plaster on a happy face as Shinji and just dive into fights as Ryuki.
I see Shinji's obsession with trying to stir up fights as a death wish. He feels so cornered by the situation, you have to wonder if he's contemplated suicide to try to escape it. And he must have, when he's going around challenging everyone to fights, and everyone turns him down. (I like that he notices the irony -- when he wanted the fighting to stop, nobody would. When he wants to fight, nobody will.) I can see what the show's going for with Shinji is these past few episodes, and I like the idea behind it, if not the execution. If they could have gotten Shinji to this point in a more believable way -- he just pulls it out of his ass like he used the Indecisive Vent card and quickly bounces back to his original stance...but then repeats his new resolve before bouncing back to his original stance. It's rushed, it's repetitive, it's especially a little too close to what they've done with Ren, and they don't even bother to come at it from that angle, that Shinji's as lost as Ren once was and needs Ren to come through the way he has for Ren. Ren's concerned for Shinji, yeah, but is still keeping up his cool and detached front which is hard to believe by this point. For as focused on Ren as this show's been, he's shockingly just hovering in the periphery in these final episodes, when maybe he should be feeling the dilemmas more than anyone -- Eri's life is still on the line, but also close pal Yui's and he's seeing Shinji suffer.
They needed to dig into the characters' heads just a little more here. They especially need to give Yui more shading -- a big problem is that the show hinges its entire end game and purpose on Yui, but has never cared to make Yui matter as much as she's supposed to -- both to the audience and to characters like Shinji and Ren. She's a nice person, an innocent in all of this, and actress Ayano Sugiyama is likable, so you can care about the character to a certain point, but by trying to keep her background and involvement so mysterious, that limited what the writers felt comfortable doing with the character, so she's shoved into a cupboard and hauled out when it's required. It's not as bad as, say, what we'd see with Koyomi in Wizard, but I feel like we needed more for her, especially seeing more of her bond with Shinji. (And, no, not have it be that they met as kids.)
The moment that Shinji abandons his principles and decides to fight for Yui should be a really big, shocking moment, but the way it's done is just kind of like "Oh. Shinji being wishywashy. AGAIN. Having to learn the same lesson. AGAIN." *sigh*" And while it's obvious that the knowledge of Yui's quickly approaching birthday being the deadline is meant to accelerate the situation and put emotions on edge -- leading to Shinji's quick decisions back and forth -- it's done in a way that just makes the show feel like it's rushing, not the actual situation leading the characters to organic decisions.
It's hard to have your hero wrestle with so many moral dilemmas when 1) you're going to drag things out to the point of tedium 2) you don't want to commit to answering those questions 3) you don't know how to answer those questions and 4) you're centering most of it on a character who you can't be bothered with developing beyond damsel in distress, even though she started the series far stronger and knowledgeable and involved than that.
It's really all in the execution. Because this could work as is, but it's all depicted -- written, filmed, acted -- in such a similar manner, and THAT is what makes it seem so repetitive. Otherwise, I like what the show's trying to do. This show's supposed to be unconventional; our hero is in a moral tug of war and our other characters have murky motivations and/or are ethically compromised. The point of the show, of Shinji's being yanked around, is that there's no simple answer or easy way out. He can't, like a traditional toku hero you've seen so many times, just go, "I'll fight for justice! Protect world peace! DAIJOBU and YURUSAN!" and be OK and have all of his problems solved. No, it's more complicated than that, and Shinji will feel like he arrives at that point, and has figured a way out, but discover he's still stuck. But the show isn't the bold show it started as; it's more indecisive than its characters, which culminates in the ultimate cop-out, the finale. (I'll save that mess for then.)
And imagine how interesting it could have been if Shiro had taken special interest in Shinji after he decided to fight for Yui; he could have then valued Shinji, looked after him, made sure he made it to the end (which would mean kind of protecting him and fighting off the other survivors). Shinji should have been comped in Kanzaki's casino! But we just get more of Kanzaki's same old same old. The keyword in these final episodes is "repetition."
For the last couple of episodes deciding to have Shinji question himself, whether he's actually saved anyone or interfered, I like that it's not just Ren who shows concern for Shinji, but -- more surprisingly -- Kitaoka's concerned for Shinji, noting that his involvement has changed him and Ren, whether they like it or not. The strength of Shinji as a person got through to these two initially very selfish men, and he's had a positive impact on people. So I would like for these episodes, in which our hero is having his doubts about where he belongs and the way that's dovetailing with his former opponents acknowledging his good and worth and proving why his instincts have been right all along, to have been more focused, more detailed, instead of making you feel like, "Ugh! This again." It's kind of like...the show needed to abandon the Rider fight by this point and have the remaining heroes unite for a shared cause. (Taking down Odin? Exposing Shiro? Breaking the Mirror World?) Because the fight just ain't working at this point...
And it still isn't going to work when Shiro pops up and gives them a three-day time limit, just as he did in Episode Final. Again, it just opens up so many questions, like...if Shiro knew he had a time limit -- which was Yui's 20th birthday -- then why'd he go about things the way he did? Setting up this Rider fight and thinking it had a chance of working in just a year's time is a little too presumptuous and leaves him no wiggle room. It's a bit careless, isn't it?
Why doesn't the show just come out and say what the deal with the Kanzaki parents is, anyway? They sound pretty effed up and so much of the info given is murky when it doesn't have to be. Like, Yui says she remembers vacationing with her entire family and the great time they had, and then Ren finds a photograph of a seaside that looks just like one of Yui's drawings. We later hear Yui say she doesn't remember her parents much, and Sanako says that their parents basically locked Yui and Shiro in a room to live. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like the implication is that that happy vacation memory was just a photo Yui saw, and that her drawing that picture meant it came alive from Mirror World magic and THAT is why she thinks it's a memory, but...eh, the show doesn't really confirm that. And I have a sense that it's something born out of inconsistent writing more than a missing puzzle piece. Basically: the show didn't take the Kanzaki parents -- as characters -- into account early on, but changed it at the end. And while you COULD wiggle in some fanon like I just did...nice try, show. Why should I do all of your work, Kobayashi?
Why were Ma and Pa Kanzaki so crazy sounding?! I assume Kobayashi probably had plans to flesh out the Kanzakis more that were either ruined by Episode Final or ruined by Shirakura wanting to do, like, some funny and epic episodes instead, man! Like, it's interesting that Shiro, in these episodes, decides to kidnap Yui and lock her up at their old house to keep her from hurting herself -- he's basically repeating what his parents did to them, unwittingly, but I don't even think the show's aware of that connection.
One more thing...Reiko's been missing for a few episodes, and she returns here from America, suddenly having all of the info on Shiro Kanzaki, even his Mirror World research material. Um...HOW? Who had this info? Where'd she get the tip? And how many people did she get killed in the meantime? And not only that, but she finally catches Shinji transforming. Nothing like knowing you're in the final episodes to light a fire under this ace reporter's ass.
Just a frustrating final few episodes, and while there's elements I like, the execution is off. The show is playing it safe and will lead into two very disappointing final episodes that make it clear just how much the staff didn't want to commit to anything and didn't want to answer any of the hefty questions it posed to our heroes and to the audience.
Friday, September 11, 2020
EPISODES 45 & 46
Welcome to Super Sloppy Double Dare, I'm your host, Shougo B'Stard. We're getting into some messy episodes here, and the obviously incredibly shrinking budget doesn't help matters.
Episode 45 is really just one of the most unnecessary episodes. Not much of anything happens, the show's totally aware it has six more episodes and, therefore, some time to kill. We waste time on unfunny scenes of Megumi and Shimada -- sent by Reiko to spy on Kitaoka -- trying their hand at being Kitaoka's secretaries, we get scenes of Daisuke moving into the Atori, we get to see over and over and over and over again Yui flipping out at dissolving and being taunted by that clip from Episode Final of Kid Yui telling her she'll disappear on her 20th. Shouldn't final episodes be, like, building up to the finale? This is just Dizzy Batting about.
Keeping up with Ryuki as it aired -- to the best of one's abilities back in the day -- it was uncertain how Ryuki was going to end. Was it going to end on a cliffhanger, leaving Episode Final as its finale? Was it going to do its own thing? Was it going to be a reiteration of Episode Final? And by this point, you realize it's a mixture of the last two -- it's a reiteration, but also wants to do its own thing, for better or worse. (Mostly worse.)
These two episodes have a problem in trying too hard to pretend like they're building up to something -- something big, something shocking, perhaps even character deaths! -- but it ends up going nowhere and being a big fake out. Toujou helps Asakura escape from the police with the promise of a battle -- Asakura deflating Toujou's confidence revealing he's not the one who killed Imperer -- but Asakura falls asleep and Toujou loses interest and moves on. Get outta here. Later, Toujou challenges all of the Riders to a battle and, most of them actually accept, and it...goes nowhere. We only have five Riders, four of which are regulars, rather than write anything new or interesting -- our Riders are all as indecisive as Shinji, so they have no right to mock him -- we'll set up these fake-out big battles that are either derailed because, lol, our Riders are crazy or because they're distracted by the Shear Ghost monsters we have to spam in order to drag things out. (Maybe if those monsters didn't make stupid noises like they're hiccupping, I wouldn't mind them.)
Shirakura's fingerprints are all over some of these attempts at seeming "big" or "shocking," attempts at creating "moments" or being "epic." Like, when Toujou challenges the other Riders to a fight -- with only Ren, Kitaoka and Asakura showing up -- those three get into their own fight as Toujou hangs back, holding a can of gasoline. Now, when I first saw this episode, I thought Toujou was pouring it all over all of the entryways the others took to get into the Mirror World -- I stupidly thought that maybe the show finally remembered that they needed to leave the Mirror World from the place they entered it. So, here I thought Toujou was destroying ALL of their exits, trapping them, and I thought that was just such a genius move by such a crazy character...
But, no, he's just pouring gasoline onto his car only, apparently setting a trap for when they get OUT of the Mirror World and have an explosion occur when Asakura starts up Toujou's car, and...that sucks in comparison. And it also ends up playing just really silly. But I can see Shirakura being like "Ooh, wouldn't it be so cool and thrilling if we could stage this big explosion and it's crazy and you don't know who survives and it would be a cool cheat and a gimmick and, hey, don't I look like a Japanese Geoffrey Rush?" No, it's not cool and, yes, you DO look like Geoffrey Rush. The show's lost its guts, so you know everybody's walking away from that explosion.
Secondly, the show has no money, so the explosion and fire is this really laughably primitive CGI and everyone's overacting and, instead of the cool Hollywood action scene Shirakura thinks he has, it's more something from a telenovela. It's just so damned goofy. (And even goofier that everyone walks away from it A-OK. The next time we see Asakura -- who was not only just burned by his snake's venom, but was also IN the car as it exploded -- is a five-second scene where he pops up, smirking, with just some black smudges on his face, as he hops off screen, onto his next adventure. Crazy keeps ya kickin'!)
Toujou's reliably nutty, but I really feel like they rush his demise just so they can focus on the regulars for the final four episodes. (Maybe cut down on some of those Kid Yui warnings instead, eh?) And Takatsuki's good here -- I love how different Toujou is, having such a swagger when he's challenging Asakura, feeling high from killing Sano, but then being deflated and becoming his withdrawn, creepily quiet self once he finds out the truth. So, he takes it hard when he finds out he's not the one to have killed Sano, and then he takes it hard when Kitaoka bursts his dream, telling him that a person who sets out to be a hero isn't a real hero. This puts Toujou into a tailspin, where he wishes he had Kagawa to get answers from (too bad he killed him), before deciding to just cut himself from the past and start anew. The New and Improved Toujou doesn't make it far, because he takes yet another Final Vent from Ouja and then, while stumbling around in the suffering of that injury, eventually saves a father and son he believes to be Kagawa and his kid from being run over...
I always thought it was a little fucked up that Toujou basically got his happy ending. Look what a sick bastard he is! How much blood is on his hands! And the show rewards him by actually making him a hero! Even the newspaper refers to him as such! It's a bit twisted of the writers, even though it's supposed to be ironic -- Toujou's so warped that he doesn't even recognize that what he did was heroic, he dies still wondering what it takes to be a hero. (His dying thoughts are basically that he needs Kagawa and another chance to get it right.) AND YET...and yet since these episodes had Kitaoka tell Toujou his belief that anybody who sets out to be a hero isn't a hero, well...Toujou didn't save that man and his son to be heroic, so...the show's saying, as far as it's concerned, Toujou IS a hero, so Kobayashi's trying to have it both ways. The episode title is even "The Hero Tiger." So...yeah, it's screwed up. The real way this should have played out is if Toujou -- because he's such a loser -- trips on his shoelaces as he races towards the father and son, being run over along with them. Like, he botched the one actually heroic act he attempted. I guess nobody wants to watch that before a magical girl and/or dinosaur anime, though, huh?
Speaking of heroism, our hero, Shinji, kinda loses face in these episodes. Fearing for Yui, he decides that he's going to fight for her. He lets Ren and everyone else get in his head and begin to think that his vow to never fight and just save people was naive and an excuse and that he hasn't really saved anyone and...that's just bullshit. Shinji's done a lot of good, and he's been down this road so many times, with himself AND Ren, that he should know better by now -- even he's smarter than this. I think he'd be looking for alternative ways to help her, and I think he'd know that she wouldn't want him to go against his principles. You gotta love how deluded Ren is, though. When Shinji's like, "Hey, if this whole Rider fight's all for Yui, what are you gonna do, Ren, if you find out Shiro's just been lying about what he's promised?" And Ren's just like, "Eri and Yui will make it no matter what!" Who's the one who's naive now, Ren?
So we're back at the umpteenth similarly-staged battle between Ren and Shinji, which is used as just a cliffhanger to end on, which is quickly resolved by the next episode's start. Though, thankfully, the motivations are at least understandable and not as contrived as, say, most of the battles in Faiz. Still, I feel like the show should be beyond this point by now. Soooo much of this show's problems in its second half is the repetition. Speaking of which, the preview for the next episode teases, YET AGAIN, a scene of an unconscious Kitaoka with a crying Goro yelling "SENSEI!!!!!!11!!!" Why doesn't anyone realize that they've done this, so it's not the cool trailer moment they think it is? *Sigh* Soooo much of this show's problems in its second half is the repetition.
Friday, September 4, 2020
EPISODES 41 - 44
There's a lot I like in these episodes, but the misplaced comedic air that blows throughout this run of episodes holds 'em back. That, and there's some ideas that needed to cook a little longer.
Probably my favorite bits from these episodes are what involve Toujou, and how much more we realize just how messed up he is. When Kagawa holds him back from killing Ryuki, later lecturing Toujou that he kills too easily? That's strike one against Kagawa. When he sees a relieved Kagawa phoning his family? Strike three. (Toujou's a nut, he's skipping right to strike three.) Once Kagawa actually took Toujou to dinner to meet his family? You knew things weren't turning out nice for Kagawa and you can see the exact moment Toujou decides he's going to kill him.
I like that Ren's pretty disgusted by and takes such a dislike to Kagawa having so casually ignored the danger his family was in; it's a nice mirror to Ren's situation, which is he's putting everything on the line for his loved one. He can't fathom someone sacrificing a loved one in such a way, especially for the sake of being a "hero." Ren's never claimed to be a hero, but he's in the role as one, so this becomes another of the show's examinations at what constitutes a hero. Here's Kagawa, (supposedly) ready to sacrifice loved ones for what he sees as a bigger cause. Some would say that Ren's a hero since his motivation is the well being of someone else, but he's not afraid to hurt others or kill monsters or bloody his hands and blacken his soul -- is that heroic? And Kagawa's thinking is a little too clinical, his attitude is a little too self-satisfied, he says what he thinks sounds good, so he's not exactly a hero, either. And then you have Toujou, who takes Kagawa's "lessons" and warps them beyond recognition! (And let's not forget Nakamura, who was more motivated out of revenge than wanting to help people.)
Ren doesn't do much in these episodes, it's strange. This one scene with Kagawa's one of the bigger things he's given. (Was Matsuda off doing something else or what?) It's a missed opportunity to not have him get mixed up with Kagawa more. I guess why have characters with clashing beliefs face off when you can focus on Asakura's touring the filming locations to steal other people's food? I don't know why the show thinks these scenes are amusing, but they're not.
I like that Asakura's obsessed with tracking down Toujou -- he's focused on dealing with him before anyone else -- but I definitely don't think he's the type to just overlook his intense hatred of Kitaoka and Shinji, seeking them out to ask for Toujou's location. (Asakura showing up at the ORE Journal's office has always been a big shark-jump moment for the character, IMO. It's not amusing, it's stupid. Lose it. And the ONE thing that was almost comedic about the scene, which is the ORE Journal staffers coming to Shinji's aid -- while keeping a very safe distance -- is ruined by the show acknowledging said safe distance.)
I also like that it's Kanzaki who ends up telling Asakura where to find Toujou. A tad too late, since by the time Asakura breaks into Lab 401, Kagawa's cleared out. You think Kanzaki would have done this long ago. It was, what, ten episodes ago when he asked Ren to deal with Kagawa's group? When nothing came of that, Kanzaki's next move should have been to unleash Asakura on them. You can't have Kanzaki be seemingly omnipresent, but then act like he's off and busy with paperwork when it's convenient for your story. It's hilarious the way Asakura reacts to Kanzaki, though. He's always happy to see him, offering him a bite of his food. Kanzaki might be the one person Asakura likes. And with Asakura as the one person who's enjoying this whole Rider fight, you think Kanzaki would show him some preferential treatment. Where's Ouja Survive, eh? Asakura could clean up so many of Kanzaki's messes. Reward the two guys who keep getting in your way, though, Kanzaki, you genius.
The worst, worst, absolute worst scene in this episode -- maybe even series -- is when Kitaoka, and then Ren and Shinji (I just had a brainfart which made me almost type "Stimpy") join Asakura at the abandoned Lab 401 where they...yuk it up like some shitty MCU heroes. We have our hapless hero, his fair-weather friend who once tried to get a psychopath to kill him, the asshole lawyer who tried to convince our hapless hero to kill himself, and the said psychopath who's had all three of these other assholes on his kill list. This is just such a...lame, pandering, fan-servicey moment, down to them actually saying "Wow, it's rare that the four of us are together! Cool, eh?" And it becomes a goof on Shinji, where they all take votes on whether they think he's a hindrance and an idiot. Asakura participates, his second shark-jump so damn soon... It's just, like...gah, I hate when writers just totally disregard the types of people their characters are just for a laugh or something they think would be cool. Bah! And even with how much Kitaoka's changed, I don't picture him participating in any of this baloneyshit.
And these episodes do suggest that Kitaoka's become a changed person. He realizes he's weaker in Rider battles -- and not just because of his medical condition -- and he gets into a bad fight with Tiger, which hospitalizes him, in an attempt to protect Reiko. (Ren gets him to the hospital and learns his secret in the process. This show has the chattiest doctors I've ever seen. Between everyone blabbing about Eri and Kitaoka, there's lawsuits all over Tokyo General.) Kitaoka even tells Asakura he'd like to be like him -- it would be easier to be an uncaring subhuman. This idea for a potential redemption of Kitaoka is interesting, but I don't know if I buy it from the guy we were first introduced to. It's brought about more as the writers try to cover how much more lighthearted they've made the character. It's something that needed a little more development, treated a little more seriously than as an explanation for why they changed the character's course.
You can look at the show and realize, sure, Goro, Shinji, Reiko, they're all meant to have had a positive influence on him, they've each tried to get him on a better path or be a better person. And if you take Episode Final and this show's own finale into account, I feel like Kitaoka reaches a point where he makes peace with his fate and just wants to live out the rest of his life in a happier and purer way, in a way with a clear conscience. As a fan of the Kitaoka character, that's all interesting to me, but...I just can't help but feel like the way it's handled here is just a Band-Aid for taking the character to often silly extremes, stripping him of his initial edge.
Another interesting idea, but even more poorly executed is...Mitsuru Sano, Kamen Rider Imperer. I like the idea of a Rider who gets what he wants -- what was his entire motivation in becoming a Rider -- and basically being damned to be a Rider because he can't just drop out because his wish actually came true independently. The problem with this is making the character so comedic and yet also so obnoxious and unlikable. It's just pretty tone-deaf, at this point in the show, to bring in the last Rider the show will see and make him a goofball. A lot of that is in the one-note way actor Takashi Hyuuga plays him, but...when you look at the character, he's kind of a shithat. He's a brown-nosing, manipulative, greedy, quick-to-abandon-you-for-greener-pastures schmuck, but the show acts like he's supposed to be somehow endearing. He's a bullshit artist, and I guess the show is somehow trying to fully realize Shinji's goofy Engrish t-shirt. (We've had winpy characters and womanizers, for example.)
He's just such a waste of time and of a Rider; there's nothing consequential that comes of his existence. Remove him from these episodes and you not only have better episodes, but would have had more room to further develop better ideas with characters who matter. So, Imperer ends up kind of like Verde to me -- just a waste of a Rider. I don't know what Inoue was thinking, I don't know what Kanzaki was thinking when he selected Sano. Kooky theory: I'll once again wonder -- was Megumi going to be in the role of Imperer? The goofy, scammer airhead. She stumbles back into Kitaoka's life, she thinks she's dying, but she really isn't -- maybe that would have been her reason to be a Rider, but then she finds out she's not really dying, and that would have been the reason she felt she no longer needed to be a Rider...? Megumi Asano (M. aSANO) = Mitsuru Sano (M. SANO)? Eh? Eh? And these are Kitaoka-heavy episodes. OK, it's a stretch. But...maybe, just maybe, this was Inoue's plan, but he was shot down, that they wanted Miho to be the show's only female Rider since she was the "first" female Rider.
Hyuuga looks a little to me like Timeranger's Masaru Nagai, and with Mitsuru being the disowned son of a rich dad who ends up inheriting his family's fortune and company, it's easy to see him as some kind of Dark Tatsuya. It's hard to feel bad for Sano when he was just a rich guy's slacker son, was cut off for a few years and then fell ass backwards into all that money, who meets his end because he alienated everyone as he tried to scam them for money, pretending to be on their side. So, try as they might, but...I don't find his death scene all that emotional. I think it's a well done scene in terms of the way they make you feel the panic of being trapped, the desperation to escape the Mirror World. I think it's a cool idea that he sees the girl he's supposed to meet within the mirror shard he's holding -- like she's so close but just can't hear him. But I don't feel a thing for the character. (Listen to Sano's casual reply to being told of his father's death on the phone. He's like "Oh, OK." He doesn't care about the man, just the way it improves his life. So...he's a bit of a bastard and not the amusing guy they seem to think he is.) This knucklehead only exists, really, because somebody thought it would be funny to have a Rider use his Deck as a meishi holder.
We need to talk about Toujou...
He really lets his nutball flag fly in these episodes. Kagawa's diminished in his eyes, and so Tiger finally decides to cut him down. (He does this just as Alternative's about to attack Yui. Toujou says his main motivation is that he no longer wants to close the Mirror World, so Kagawa was right on the money when he accused Toujou of abusing his powers and enjoying it.) He's such a sick little creep as he cries and smiles while carrying Kagawa's evaporating corpse. And this is after he breaks bread with Kagawa's family! Kagawa, recognizing the monster he might have at the end of his leash, tries to show Toujou a picture of normalcy, of love and joy, and it just doesn't register for Toujou.
Kagawa didn't realize the level of Toujou's craziness and paid for it. Toujou has no sense of right or wrong, so how can he tell what's heroic or not? You have to question Kagawa's intelligence for not picking up on the warning signs, really. Toujou takes Kagawa's lessons and twists them to suit his own psychosis. He takes Kagawa's "a hero is willing to sacrifice anything, even those important to him" and warps it to justify his casual murders -- if he senses anyone getting close to him, he kills them to prevent him from being weak, to try and make his sense of weakness go away. That's pure serial killer logic.
Earlier on, there's this nicely filmed scene where Toujou is seen stalking Kitaoka and Reiko along from within a building, closing the window's blinds when Kitaoka spots him. When Kitaoka goes to transform via the building's window, the blinds are drawn and he finds Toujou on the other side, ready to transform. Once transformed, they charge at each other, going into the Mirror World. A cool little sequence.
Toujou does get quite a beating in this run of episodes, mainly by Asakura, who finally catches up to the little bastard and is disappointed by how easily he kicks his ass in the Mirror World. (Tiger narrowly dodges Ouja doing Raia's Final Vent, and then later takes Zolda's Final Vent along with Ouja. Crazy keeps you kickin'!) Opportunistic Sano takes Toujou back to his place to recover. (Takatsuki's good in the scene when he's just totally shut down, in a dark place, when holed up at Sano's, flipping out at the sight of everything in the place with a reflective surface. He's also good in his confession to Sano that he wants to be a hero so more people will like him. Before you might feel bad for him, consider that scenario. Say that Toujou does win the Rider battle and becomes a hero -- the same people who would like or even idolize him, he would see as a threat to his strength. That's a lot of dead people.) Sano ends up paying the price for sucking up to people for his own benefit -- when Toujou mistakes him for a friend, Tiger attempts to kill him. (He doesn't know he lived long enough for Ouja to finish the job.) And it's a nice moment for our hero -- I like when Ryuki, who had just been targeted by Imperer's army of monsters, realizes the screwed-upness of what Tiger's doing, and fights Tiger off so that Imperer can make an escape. It's a good example of Shinji's compassion, especially considering that Shinji was so pissed at Sano for backstabbing him and trying to attack Yui that he smacks him around and kicks him out of the Atori. (And it's also nice after the "Dump on Kido" theme running through these episodes.)
And because we're in the final stretch of episodes, we get some hints of the end game, with the worrisome appearance of Episode Final's noisy Shear Ghosts and with Yui taken to the Mirror World and displaying control over its monsters. (I still don't think she should be able to control Alternative's monster, but she does. Unless she can control ANY monster in the Mirror World, and not just the ones created by her...?) All of this just leads to time-killing scenes of Yui wandering the Mirror World as Ryuki and Knight drive around to find her. Yes, drive, as in they use their Ride Shooters which look like they go one mile per hour. (If that! They actually look like they don't run and are being pulled by a production assistant. So I guess the Ride Shooters are the first rickshaws in Kamen Rider history.)
Pointless Point Out of a Pointless Scene: What's the deal with the brief scene where Sanako apparently wants the Atori to be a maid cafe, so Yui's dressed as a maid? It serves no damn purpose and is one of the many, many attempts of this show at just doing something stupid and pointless for the lulz. Just like: Ren going out of character by being wowed by Sano's suitcase of money.