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Toku Review Round-up! (August 2nd, 2020)

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Toku Review Round-Up! Some interesting stuff has been happening in the world of tokusatsu over the past few weeks, such as the reveal of Kamen Rider Saber, the new series featuring a sword & book wielding hero that will succeed Zero-One in about a month’s time. There’s things about it that excite me about Saber (I love the idea of books as a gimmick!) and other things about it that give me some reason for trepidation (the sword protruding from his head is a bit odd), but I feel pretty excited about it regardless. We’ve also had the debut of Zero-One’s final form, Ultraman Z has had the exciting return of several characters and elements from past series, and Mashin Sentai Kiramager continues to be a really fun time. Without further ado, let’s get into the episode reviews!

Kamen Rider Zero-One – Episodes 39 & 40

In my previous edition of the Toku Review Round-up, I gave what I thought was a ‘harsh but fair’ review of the previous two Zero-One episodes. I can happily say that it became very quickly apparent that these next two episodes showed an improvement and I enjoyed them a lot more. The core problem those episodes presented (of Gai Amatsu’s ‘commitment to repentance’) is still kind of present, but we’re quickly shown that the absurdity of Gai suddenly deciding to be good is at least being acknowledged, and resisted, as Aruto calls him out.

I quite like that this exchange even happens at all, as I was quite worried that this whole situation would be understated or glossed over. But it’s not the only compelling element to episode 39 before this conversation even happens, there’s some cool stuff – the opening team-up fight against Ark-Zero, its use of music, and the general performance of Ark-Zero, who can be fairly fearsome when they do choose to talk. 

Unfortunately, there’s also an equal bit of tedium in this one, including a lot of exposition about how the Ark isn’t really possible to defeat and the best characters (Fuwas and Naki) are once more a bit sidelined. There’s an interesting scene where Gai attempts to apologise to Fuwa and Yua, but that’s all they really get in terms of meaningful moments in this episode. I appreciate, however, that there is some resistance, and that Fuwa and Yua don’t really accept the terms of Gai’s apology right away. It’s important for the characters to be having these types of conversations.

This episode concludes with Naki and Ark-Zero (as Horobi) destroying Aruto one more time and integrating into the satellite Zea. It has become abundantly clear that Ark-Zero is always going to be one step ahead, unless Zero-One gets a serious upgrade.

I think this episode was somewhere between okay and good, so I’m giving it 3 out of 5 ‘All-Knowing Satellites’! 

The next episode was definitely a lot more interesting from a conceptual point of view, giving us a few different subsequent versions of reality or ‘timelines’. At first, I thought some sort of time-travel shenanigans were going on, but as ridiculously fun and silly as that would have been, I’m glad that didn’t happen. Instead, Izu is running simulations of possible futures. 

The way they show Fuwa, Gai and Yua getting hit by Ark’s hyper-lethal lasers in the first simulation did elicit some genuine shock in me, before I understood what was going on. If there’s one particular element that this episode gets right, it’s the sudden, rapid and ruthless nature of these moments in the first simulation. A genuine sense of hopelessness is produced. 

The hopelessness continues to compound and increase as the sequences continue to play out, and each time the gang tries a slightly different approach, to no avail. It’s nice to see that Aruto is still so optimistic each time, even though we see him fail quite a lot in this episode. This episode is also set from Izu’s perspective, which adds a lot to this dynamic of seeing Aruto try and fail over and over again.

Towards the episode’s climax, however, it’s revealed that Izu running these simulations allows them to bring Zea back online at a crucial moment, somehow. I have to admit that it feels fairly contrived, but the hype that follows is worth enduring a little contrivance for. Zea’s return means that Aruto’s vision for a suit upgrade, which began in the previous epiosde, can be brought to life. The creatively named 02 suit is formed, and even though it’s a simple design, I really like this suit. It beats having something overly complicated as the final form, in my opinion. 02 kicks some serious satellite, and it seems like Ark-Zero has finally met their match. The battle that bookends this episode is fairly neat, and overall, it engaged me more than episode 39. I give this episode 3.2 ‘Calculations’ out of 5!

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 15 & 16

Episode 15 begins with a lot of quirky scenes – w e see an episode of one of Shiguru’s TV Shows, ‘I’m In Love With a Grim Reaper’, and discover the fact that Takamichi and Mabusheena still haven’t fully resolved their issues, so Takamichi is attempting to communicate with her telepathically. There’s a lot of fun comedic touches to the presentation of the in-universe TV show, and something more subtly funny about casually producing this telepathy ability. But trouble soon emerges!

After interrupting one of Shiguru’s TV shoots to find treasure underneath a statue, Shiguru and Takamichi become paired up together, with many hijinx ensuing. They accidentally uncover a monstone, meanwhile, the rest of the team have encountered Crunchula, one of the Yodonheim generals. He goads them into a bizarro game of ‘green light, red light’ where any false move will get you turned into a traditional Japanese ‘daruma’ doll. It’s minor, but I really appreciated the design detail that went into the different designs for the Kirama daruma dolls, which replicates their helmets. 

When the remaining team gets got by Crunchula, it’s up to Shiguru and Takamichi to save the day. Before this, though, Shiguru attempts to break through to understanding Takamichi’s emotional problems by inquiring about his past with Mabusheena. Although there’s a nice little flashback, Takamichi rather rudely shuts Shiguru down when he attempts to give some sincere advice, showing us just how little he’s learned about playing well with others. It’s executed nicely.

The resolution to this conflict probably goes in the way that you might think, with fairly convenient ways to tie up all the loose ends. Shiguru and Takamichi come up with a quick rescue plan, and Takamichi of course has to use his telepathy to communicate with Mabusheena in order to avert her from danger. Takamichi isn’t sure that the telepathy will work, while Shiguru seems pretty sure. This gesture of faith from Takamichi sits at the intersection of several different cliches when it comes to tropes of re-establishing friendship, but it works okay here, and goes further to establish Shiguru’s ‘eye for detail’.

The resulting mech fight is pretty amusing as the general creates a demonic Ring Toss kaiju, which is a pretty fabulous design – part shelled creature, part evil-looking ring toss poll, which launches the rings as both projectiles and restraining devices. This is a fairly creative giant monster battle, all things considered.

After this fight wraps up, there’s a few brief scenes that confirm that the Takamich and Mabusheena tension has melted away a bit, as well as one final gag about Shiguru’s obsession with lip balm which has been appearing throughout the episode. Overall, the arc of this episode is, in true Kiramager fashion, fairly predictable, yet satisfying. I give it a 3 out of 5 Lip Balms!

Episode 16 I think is a slightly more interesting episode than the previous for a myriad of reasons. Despite a pretty bizarre central premise, this episode does quite a lot of good character work in the short amount of time, has a really weird looking villain, and focuses a bit more on the overall team dynamic, as opposed to the Takamichi focus that many of the recent episodes have had.

This works by forcing Kirama Silver out-of-action for once, due to a crippling trauma associated with… marshmallows? Yes, the enemy-of-the-week of this episode is a Marshmallow themed Marrskman, which Takamichi has a big problem with, due to a past incident involving the sweet.

It turns out Takamichi’s trauma boils down to a school-romance gone wrong, where he accidentally hurts the feelings of a girl he has a crush on by being rude about the marshmallows he received from, communicated to us via a funny flashback. In the present, the rest of the team insist that Takamichi makes more marshmallows to give to her in the present day in order to make up for his misgivings all those years ago, which Sena seems particularly invested in. The team also hopes to find the weakness of the marshmallow Marsskman by making marshmallows. 

It’s an entertaining concept, and one where we once again get to see some new dynamics. In a sub-adventure, Shiguru and Sayo opt in to complete some treasure hunting on behalf of Takamichi, and Tametomo thinks swiftly when Marshmallows are accidentally frozen and dropped, shattering them, allowing him to concoct a plan to freeze the Marshmallow guy, reducing his elasticity.

Takamichi confides in Sena, who asserts that her interest is based mainly in supporting the team as a whole, which Takamichi seems to respect. This is a nicely scripted moment, and the sequence that follows – featuring Takamichi fighting on the ground whilst the rest of the team battles the kaiju in the Kiramajin, is exceptionally cool, aided by the soundtrack!

Of course, Takamichi is able to apologise to his childhood love at the end, who unsurprisingly remarks on how Takamichi hasn’t changed in 30 years. This resolution seems to please Sena, and the group speculates that there may be more to it, but none of them are sure why. It’s a ‘sweet’ ending to a ‘sweet’ episode – it gets 4 out of 5 Marshmallows!

Ultraman Z – Episodes 5 & 6

Episode five of Ultraman Z is remarkable for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s all about the return of Jugglus Juggler, a veteran of the Ultra series, who pops up in this episode and reminds of us of why they’re so great. Secondly, even outside of Juggler, the episode builds an incredible tension by forcing our heroes into some difficult situations. 

It all kicks off when ice monster Peguila begins their attack. Using the Windom, they hope to quell the threat, and Haruki is on the ground guiding civilians into a safety point. Things quickly take a turn for the worst as Windom is iced (literally) by Peguila, freezing it in place, and Juggler appears behind Haruki to quickly swipe the Z Riser. Uh oh! 

Without many options left, Haruki must board the Sevenger to extract Yoko from the frozen Windom in a tense mission. The desperation is certainly felt, and Sevenger performs a pretty incredible tackle on Peguila, which gives them just enough time to get in and out of the frozen Windom. But things get even weirder when Juggler returns to Haruki, only to protect him from Peguila, give back the Z riser, and run away again!

The ensuing fight between Alpha Edge Zett and Peguila is a pretty brief one, which begins in the clouds and comes crashing down to the city. An ancient artefact that was mentioned early in the episode appears and comes to Zett’s aid, transforming into a lance. Zett recognises it as Ultra tech, and knows how to use it, and so the battle commences on the ground. It’s really fun to see the new lance in action, almost immediately exploding Peguila in a cloud of flames.

It sets the stage however, for a significantly cooler fight against the Zeppandon, a new monster created by Juggler’s copy of the Z Riser tech. The design of this monster is very unique and weird, and it has a teleportation skill that keeps getting the better of Zett throughout the fight. The way in which it is shot allows us to see Zett’s mistaken anticipations of where Zeppandon will move to and the resulting counter-attacks. Ultimately, Zett switches the elemental ability of the lance, which transforms it into an ice arrow, which proves decisive in the victory. 

Ultraman Z has once again delivered an exciting and visceral episode populated with a lot of intense moments and action, and the return of a fan favourite. It’ll be interesting to see how the different aspects of the show will continue to come together later in the series – there’s a lot of possibilities for where this show could go! I give it 4.1 Lances out of 5!

The next episode decides to escalate things even further – beginning with a fairly innocuous efficiency test between Windom and Sevenger, which is interrupted by the appearance of Gillvallis! This episode drops a lot of references and flashbacks to Geed, which are pretty awesome to see, but they certainly rely on you having knowledge of Geed to truly appreciate them. 

That doesn’t stop it being amazing nonetheless – Geed is one of my favourite Ultra shows. Geed’s fight against Gillvallis steals the show. You know it’s pretty cool when even our main protagonist says so.

We even get a cool reunion between Riku and Juggler. Juggler proclaims his new desire to fight for peace, and Riku explains that Gillvallis was resurrected by those pesky Devil Splinters. Meanwhile, the STORAGE team comes up with an elaborate sting operation to try and lure Gillvallis into a trap, which kind of ends up with Zett taking decisive action.

The brief moments of Zett and Geed talking are really charming, with Zett explaining Geed’s backstory to Haruki. Having them fight together is really exciting, and afterwards it’s also nice to have a moment of conversation between Riku and Haruki, where Haruki finally learns of the origin of the Devil Splinters and Ultraman Belial. It’s nice that some visuals of Belial are shown here – these flashbacks, whilst maybe slightly abrasive for newcomers, really help to flesh out Z’s relationship with the rest of this world.

This episode in general is very strong in terms of connecting Ultraman Z to Ultraman history, and also contains a few pretty good battles. I’ll always really enjoy the design of Gillvallis, and I’m very fond of the way the human characters, such as Juggler and Riku, and Riku and Haruki, have gotten to interact. I give it 4 out of 5 Devil Splinters!

That’s all for the Toku Review Round-Up this week, and I’m already very excited to find out what comes next for each major toku show. I’m very engaged by where Ultraman Z is going, I’m loving the characters in Kiramager, and Zero-One is quickly approaching its final episodes. There’s a lot more excitement to come! 

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