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Toku Review Round-up! (August 16th, 2020)

Hello, and welcome back to the Toku Review Round-up! It’s been another fortnight of exciting Tokusatsu content, with plenty of dramatic twists and turns. If you’ve been following along with Mashin Sentai Kiramager, Kamen Rider Zero-One and Ultraman Z, you’ll know that we’re at a fairly exciting point in each show. Although each show has some flaws that are starting to show (or have been showing for a while) there’s no denying the momentum that this trio of tokusatsu has right now. The last two weeks has given us some fiery episodes.

So without further ado, let’s get on with the episode reviews. Let’s mix things up by starting with Ultraman Z today.

Ultraman Z – Episodes 7 & 8

Ultraman Z is pretty fantastic and, if I’m being honest, I’m looking forward to it more and more each week. Z seems to be showing up each episode with something even cooler than the previous. This time, we finally get to catch up with Zero, who was initially described as Zett’s mentor, but hasn’t appeared since he got trapped in a wormhole in the first episode. Of course, it’s going to take more than that to dispatch Zero. This episode has a title and title card art that I absolutely love: ‘His Majesty’s Medal’. It’s been said a lot before, but the cape really completes Zero’s look.

The episode opens with an odd but charming scene of Riku eating a lot of noodles, and the rest of STORAGE just being kind of baffled by his general demeanour. They’re interrupted pretty quickly when androids infiltrate STORAGE HQ, and after a bit of a skirmish, they abduct Riku. Thankfully, Yuka is able to use her science skills to hack into an android and relocate our hero.

Of course, Riku’s abduction is all a part of the shady monster experiments that have been ongoing in the background of the series. In an excellent line of dialogue: ‘Let Belial Rest in Peace!’ Riku excalims, as the machine begins to extract ‘Belial factors’ from him. But it’s too late, as a new monster medal of Belial is produced.

My second-favourite part of this episode is the introduction of Zett borrowing Haruki’s body in an ‘ultra-emergency’. It’s nice to see this mechanic make a return, and Zett’s hand-to-hand combat display/dance with Yoko is pretty amusing albeit short. 

Of course, my favourite part of the episode, and the part where it truly excels, is the fight against the form-changing Skull Gomora/Thunder Killer, the Belial fusion monster. The fight’s dramatic sunset background and music really heightens the intensity when Geed and Zett get curb stomped, and this all makes it even more effective when Zero shows up to finish the fight with their trademark rigour. His declaration that ‘you’re 20,000 years too early to worry about me’ combined with his posture, appearance and demeanour exudes confidence. Geed and Zett seem empowered by his mere presence, and the three fight harmoniously together. It’s very radical.

It’s an exciting episode and one that advances the plot in a fairly compelling way. I give it 4 out of 5 stylish capes!

Episode 8, ‘The Mystic Power’ isn’t necessarily as hype-inducing as the previous episode, but it does provide a lot for the structure of the ongoing series. It gives us a little bit more information about Kaburagi and his alien comrades, a little bit more information about the Ultra-medal, an entertaining sub-adventure with Yoko and Yuka, and a decent fight against this episode’s monster, the Tri-King. None of it quite sets off as many fireworks as episode 7, but it’d be fairly hard to match that. 

There’s something to be said about the thousand yard stare Kaburagi gives almost all of the time. Although there’s still a lot to be learned about this character, I think it’s impressive that the short scenes with them have managed to convey a deeply mysterious, frightening aura. This is emphasised by their performance, but the strange artefacts they get to interact with, from these bizarre scrolls to the notes on the Ultra-medal creation process that appear later in the episode. 

It’s also nice how this episode uses Yoko and Yuka, who get some moments to shine as a duo and as individuals. Their scene where they come across the Z Riser and take turns pretending to be Zett made me chuckle, and it was amusing to see their differences in fighting styles when captured by Kaburagi’s alien comrades, with Yuka’s more chaotic tendencies juxtaposed against Yoko’s more measured and precise application martial skill.

The episode ‘gracefully’ weaves in some new Ultra Medals when Z’s initial fight against Tri-King starts to go south after it grows more monster parts. Zett gives Haruki a brief rundown of the new medals he’s obtained, referring to them (Tiga, Dyna and Gaia) as Ultras from another dimension, and prompts Haruki to borrow their ‘phantasmagorical lights’. This creates the form Gamma Future, which allows him to more easily defeat Tri-King. It’s a sleek new design that really effectively pays tribute to the three Ultras it is created from.

This episode is what I would describe as an ‘average’ episode of Z, which is by no means bad. It’s still rather enjoyable, but I give it a 3 out of 5 Phantasmagoria for thoroughly sitting on the benchmark.

Kamen Rider Zero-One – Episodes 41 & 42

I’m sure some of you reading this have some strong feelings about how episode 42 ended, and I certainly do too. We’ll get there, but first we’ve got to talk about the previous episode.

Episode 41 contains a lot of dramatic moments, for better or worse. We also get some fairly interesting conversations between characters in conflict with each other. The episodes begin with our heroes standing in the ruins of the destroyed Hiden Manufacturing building. Aruto asserts his desire to rescue the remaining members of Metsuboujinrai from the grip of the Ark, and cracks a pun. I’m a fan of how Fuwa has to hold back laughter at this one, continuing the thread of his weird sense of humour.

Another thing I liked about this episode was having Jin confront Horobi about his desire for liberating the humagears. I feel like Jin’s ‘dream’ hasn’t been explored enough, because in a way he can be understood as a parallel moral compass for the show as a whole, focusing on the freedom of Humagears in a way that is similar but distinct to Aruto’s goals. Jin established themselves as an independent entity quite a while ago, and it’s nice to finally see them acting on that.

The next major moment in the episode is, of course, Aruto reclaiming the title of CEO of Hiden Intelligence after Gai decides to step down. This is a decision I don’t really like as much. I kind of assumed that Aruto would claim his final success in the show on his own terms with Hiden Manufacturing, which felt more thematically appropriate. Gai stepping down doesn’t necessarily surprise me though, but it’s also difficult to describe it as character growth. The whole thing feels more like a reshuffle out of convenience, so that Aruto has the necessary resources to tackle the endgame.

This episode wraps up with a collaborative effort to take down the Ark. With Aruto as Zero-Two fighting them on the ground, and Ikazuchi attacking the actual satellite. It’s a fairly entertaining fight by most accounts, and by the end of the episode, it seems like the Ark really is done for this time. Until Horobi tells us it isn’t (and we’re reminded that we still have 4 episodes to go).

Overall, this episode is something of a mixed bag – I think it has some exciting elements but also a few that highlight some of the show’s wasted potential. But it does help set the stage for the significantly more exciting follow up episode. I give it 3 ‘Letters of Resignation’ out 5.

Episode 42, as I have mentioned, is where Zero-One really seems to be heating up. The end of this episode marks another rise in my interest in the show, which dipped quite a lot during the workplace competition arc and once again when Gai was meant to be redeemed. But I think if they manage to use the space of the remaining few episodes really effectively, then we could be in for a really satisfying ending.

I’m also partially skeptical, because it’d be really easy to mess this up. I’m of course talking about the last-minute ‘twist’ of episode 42, which sees Aruto possessed by the Ark in the wake of Izu’s tragic death. There’s some other good things about this episode, but much of it feels like it’s leading up to this particular sequence of events. It was nice, in particular, to see the ‘calculations’ return, but this time from Azu’s perspective. I was genuinely starting to think we might not ever see Azu again until this happened.

It was also compelling to see a bit of teamwork between the main riders, something that feels like we’ve been waiting forever to get again. Just seeing Fuwa and Yua actually do something was awesome, even if they didn’t manage much.

In addition, whether you’re vibing with Horobi or not (and I can certainly understand feeling neutral towards him at this point), I feel like it’s easy to agree that the actor really sells it. Horobi’s moody teenager vibes permeated this episode, and it felt convincing when they decided to do what they do.

In terms of things I didn’t like about this episode, I have to say that the scene with Gai Amatsu being essentially fired and re-hired into a new ‘thouser department’ in ZAIA was really odd. I appreciate it might be setting up something interesting, but the fact that the new ZAIA Japan CEO kind of jumped in out of nowhere felt a little contrived.

But those final moments were definitely something very impressive. The presentation of the reveal, as well as the design of Zero-One have gone a long way to make this a memorable moment.

What will probably determine if this episode remains as good as I thought it was in the first viewing will come down to what lasting consequences it has on the show. I’m hoping to see Fuwa and/or Yua really step up to the plate in the next episodes, and I’m hoping that Aruto’s struggle and internal conflict continues to provide stakes for the show’s finale. It was an exciting episode, I give it 4 out of 5 ‘Perfect Conclusions’.

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 17 & 18 

If there’s one thing that Kiramager has gotten consistently right, it’s the general tone, which often walks the line between sentimental seriousness and a goofy comedic vibe. Although episode 17 doesn’t do anything particularly dazzling, I think it highlights Kiramager’s attempts to balance its tone perhaps better than many of the episodes that come before it.

The general premise involves a rather silly ‘whack-a-mole’ Marrsskman, who guards the treasure that Takamichi has been looking for this entire time. Takamichi calls upon Tametomo’s skills as ‘pro-gamer’ to help him defeat the whack-a-mole challenge, and the whole team once again agrees to help. Juuru fashions a new hammer for Tametomo to use, and as one might expect, Tametomo’s fast reactions carry him quite far. 

What motivates Tametomo’s pro-gamer skills, though, is a desire to see Takamichi open up to everyone else. It’s pretty clear that despite going through several emotional lessons over the past few episodes, Takamichi is still placing some distance between himself and the rest of the team. Tametomo hopes he can fix that if he finally gets the treasure he wants. This is the sort of tonal balance I mentioned; the whack-a-mole set-up of this episode is a bit silly, but there’s an emotional backdrop that kind of recontextualizes it.

Tametomo’s gambit seems to work, as opposed to Takamichi taking the usual selfish approach to the Kiramagers, it seems as though he’s willing to put in some level of self-sacrifice, as he quite literally changes himself for the better by temporarily turning into a silver Kirama stone. Talk about character development!

The stone powers up Drilljean into a grand guardian, which allows them to turn the tide of battle at a crucial moment. Afterwards, Takamichi goes back to get the treasure, and explains to the team the importance of it. The ‘garnerstone’ is one of four, and when gathered, they grant a wish. In what I can describe as an effective dramatic cliffhanger, Takamichi declares that he needs them to save Mabusheena, who is cursed!

All things considered, it’s a very solid episode, and one that had a few neat surprises within. I give it 3.1 ‘Garnerstones’ out of 5.

Episode 18 gives us some even more dramatic shifts in Kiramager’s story, which build further upon the previous few episodes. We get more details about the curse that may befall mabusheena, as well as the introduction of ‘calamentality’, the inverse form of ‘kiramentality’.

The crux of this episode is the rather heavy-metal idea that Garza can simply distort the ‘monstone’ that lives inside of Takamichi with a negative energy, distorting him into an ‘assassin of darkness’ that serves Yodonheim. It’s kind of a conventional story, especially for a sixth ranger, but I don’t dislike anything about the way they’re doing it here. 

Maybe it’s just me, though, but I think they could have done more with converting the Kirama Silver suit into a more evil version. The red eyes are a good start, but I would have appreciated a bit more in this department. 

There’s a big, well-earned moment of drama in this episode that I think works really well. Juuru uses the Garnerstone to wish the monstone (and by proxy, the darkness) out of Takamichi, but Takamichi is of course stunned by this, wishing to save the power of the Garnerstones for Mabusheena’s curse. Juuru asserts that Mabusheena might have sacrificed herself trying to save Takamichi from the darkness anyway, and that he wouldn’t choose between the two. It’s all pretty good, as it feels like the last 5 or so episodes have been building up to this big emotional release. 

There’s not much else specifically to comment on in this episode – the final mech battle is dynamic and well-earned, and the ending resolution between Takamichi and Juuru is really nice. It feels like the end of an arc, with a few motivations put in place for where the show might go next. It gets 3.5 monstones out of 5.

That’s all for this week’s edition of Toku Review Round-Up! As always, I’m very excited to see where things go from here. In the next edition, we’ll be moving into Kiramager’s next arc, meeting King Joe in Ultraman Z, and getting exceedingly close to the finale in Zero-One. Exciting times lie ahead!

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