Toku Review Round-up! (17th September, 2020)

Welcome back to the Toku-Review Round-up! It’s been another interesting fortnight of Tokusatsu TV with the debut of Kamen Rider Saber, and the continuation of the amazing Ultraman Z and Mashin Sentai Kiramager. I think it’s fair to say expectations are high for all of these shows at this point – Z and Kiramager because of the standard they’ve set for entertaining toku TV, and Saber, well – because it’s new.

With all the ups and downs of Zero-One, I was definitely ready for something new with Saber. The brief break from Z with the compilation episode made me realise just how much Z had become part of my Friday routine, and I’m always up for more Kiramager. I was very much ready to review this block of episodes!

Kamen Rider Saber – Episodes 1 & 2

So, the first two episodes of Saber have come and gone with a fast-paced flourish of the pen (and sword). I’ve seen people describe these episodes in a variety of ways both positive and negative, and it was quite hard for me to get a grip on a ‘general consensus’ of sorts. With that said, I (mostly) really enjoyed the introduction to this series thus far.

‘Introduction’ really is the key term for it, as both of these initial two episodes pull no punches with the rapid-fire exposition. Maybe it was just me, but I felt as though Saber has already gone pretty heavy on the (sometimes difficult to make fun) process of explaining world details, with ferocious punctuation and disregard for short term memory. What I’m saying is that Saber has already said a lot, very quickly, all at once. But that’s to be expected, of course!

I’ve now watched the first episode of Kamen Rider Saber three times. The first was fuelled by my initial hype-filled reactions to every little thing as I watched it without subtitles. The second viewing, I tried to pay attention to finer details and got to fully understand it all in my actual language (my 日本語 isn’t that good, yet). On my third viewing, I tried to come to an assessment of its overall quality. ‘It’s neat,’ I thought to myself. ‘I like books, and swords are pretty cool too.’ said my internal monologue.

And even though there’s probably going to be a lot more to it than just swords and books, I can’t help but return to the general thought that Saber’s core motifs just appeal to me a lot. I’ve got a Master’s degree in literature and so have a great deal of love for books, and swords I think are universally cool as a weapon type. The more fantastical setting is also something I’ve been looking for for a while in rider.

The episode itself has a very generic structure, and there are some weaker elements, such as the fully CG sequences. Overall though, the first episode is serviceable, quickly introducing us to Touma, the wider plot concerning an ominous group attempting to warp the world with their weird, um – ‘Book-based Reality Marble Magic’.

Touma himself has a quirky vibe to him, but quickly distinguishes himself from Aruto with quicker wits and a more whimsical and adventurous energy. Secondary character Mei hasn’t done much so far, but they’re pretty amusing nonetheless. There’s also a generous helping of mystique in the brief glimpses we see of Touma’s memory.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence leading up to and after the first ‘henshin’, where the sword of flames appeared in the fire, and the exceedingly well-choreographed action that ensued after Touma transformed and became ‘Kamen Rider Saber’ in their Brave Dragon form. The ‘henshin’ sequence itself is a little over-the-top, and something can definitely be said about how much this show is willing to blindside you with a cacophony of audio and visual information.

Overall though, the first episode of Saber displayed some sort of confidence, even if the pacing felt weird in a lot of ways, and it was a bit of a sensory overload from time to time. That confidence does a lot to carry the episode, and it’s clear this new approach won’t appeal to everyone, but for now, it has me hooked. I give it a solid 3.3 out of 5 Wonder Ride Books.

The second episode has elements that are both better and worse than its predecessor, with a fairly decent introduction to the secondary rider Rintaro as well as aspects such as the ‘order of logos’ and ‘swordsmen’ which will no doubt become important aspects of the series.

As an aside, I really like the design of the ‘headquarters’ area that Rintaro brings Touma to – the giant books, many bookcases and various bizarre iconography lead to a sense of otherworldliness.

Also impressive is the design of secondary rider ‘Kamen Rider Blade’ and the moves they dispense in defending themselves against the weird ant thing. I really like the asymmetrical qualities of Kamen Rider Blade’s design, and I think overall that sticking to one colour makes this design a solid improvement on Saber’s. It’s the best sequence of predominantly practical effects in the episode.

There are a lot of extended sequences in this episode that rely a bit too much on digital effects. I’ve seen speculation that this is some sort of social distancing measure, or merely an easier way to get the bikes involved more. Whatever the reason, I do think some of these sequences have a kind of intangible quality to them that weakens their believability to some degree.

With that said, Saber episode 2 still delivered a pretty fun adventure, and I’m really excited to see the appearance of Kamen Rider Buster in the next episode. The preview claims he’s the king of parenting, and he has a pretty cool looking suit, sword and style. In conclusion, I give episode 2 a 3.2 out of 5 ‘Beanstalks’.

Ultraman Z – Episodes 11 & 12

With all the excitement of Saber, Ultraman Z is the perfect palette cleanser – you know what you’re getting with Z, and you always know it’s going to be awesome. Episodes 11 and 12 are no different, which see the introduction of King Joe STORAGE Custom, the now-completed revamp of King Joe for STORAGE’s ongoing anti-monster weapon collection.

Episode 11 focuses on the return of the ‘Red King’, and gives a lot of interesting stuff – some slow but meaningful character insight for Haruki, and some reflection on the natural protective instincts of both man and monster.

This is achieved at first by having Haruki visit his mother for the anniversary of his father’s death in a fairly touching scene of reunion. Unfortunately, it’s cut short by the appearance of Red King, the skull monster, a fairly generic monster who also makes me laugh whenever they aggressively wobble and makes that strange noise.

Zett initially is able to give Red King a run for its money in Beta Smash form, and soon, King Joe STORAGE custom joins the fray. It’s clearly a powerful mech, but could be described as ‘unwieldy’ in its current state. I’m a big fan of its look, which ditches the multi-coloured visage in favour of a more organised blue light system. The movement of it is also considerably more rigid and mechanical compared to its original form, which is cool.

This all goes pretty well until a new ‘Red King’ is spotted at a different location, with Yoko given the order to defend against the new threat, leaving this one to be dealt with by Zett. Using some different medals, they’re able to dispatch it pretty quickly in Gamma Future form. I love this form, by the way.

Things get a bit intense, though, when we stumble upon the realisation that the two monsters were just trying to protect an egg all along. Haruki recalls his late Dad’s own selflessness in trying to save others during a monster attack. Suddenly, they aren’t so different after all, and Haruki feels a sense of guilt about his actions, causing him to lose synchronicity with Ultraman Z. I think this is a really neat thematic arc for an episode, and it seemingly will have some form of lasting consequence, as red king retreats with its egg, but as Juggler states, it will almost certainly be back and ready to attack once more.

The general flow of this episode works incredibly well, I think. This sort of character based story feels right at home in this particular iteration of Ultraman, and it’s able to blend it flawlessly with fun action. I give it 4 out 5 Pedanium Hammers!

Episode 12 of Ultraman Z is similarly straightforward compared to the previous episode, but I think it’s of a higher quality. We pick up some of the threads from the previous episode, such as Haruki’s guilt about slaying monsters, as well the use of King Joe STORAGE custom, which over the course of the episode, becomes refined into its multi-part dynamic form.

We open with Haruki in Sevenger, running out of battery power during a kaiju fight. He switches to summoning Zett, and then the residual guilt (flashing back to the previous episode) once more affects Haruki’s fighting spirit, powering down Ultraman Z. This is a fairly well-constructed scene, and the monster, Grigio Raiden, flees. It mirrors the previous episode’s scene where Haruki was guilt-stricken brilliantly.

The next portion of this episode is defined by important conversations with people. A conversation with the team to discuss the urgency with which Grigio Raiden needs to be dispatched. A conversation with Yuka about how to utilise Raiden’s biology using a skin sample. A Conversation with Yoko in which Haruki broaches the question: ‘is it morally right to kill all these monsters?’ to which Yoko deflects that this is not a moral question, but rather STORAGE’s moral duty; their burden and responsibility. It isn’t an easy resolution to the struggle that Haruki faces, but it does offer an interesting alternate perspective.

Much of the rest of the episode is led by a pretty compelling battle against Raiden using the now-optimised King Joe STORAGE Custom. Grigio Raiden’s devastating abilities punctuate a particularly intense encounter, essentially an externalisation of the emotional conflict of everyone involved. Through the camera work and and performance, It really communicates that there’s something at stake here; something important. It’s all fairly visceral and emotive, especially when it looks like someone’s about to sacrifice themselves. Haruki releases a guttural scream at the end of the episode, and it’s certainly one way to cap off an exciting episode. A great episode, one worthy of high praise, I think – 4.8 out 5!

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 21 & 22

Episode 21 of Kiramager presents a pretty solid story overall, one that advances the ‘granterstone’ plot established previously, whilst providing its fair share of interesting lore details and another amusing villain of the week.

I feel like I comment upon this every time I review Kiramager episodes, but I’ve got to say it again – the kaijin designs for this show are excellent. The simple concepts with an evil tinge just works really well, and even though many of them are quite silly based on how mundane the object they’re based on are, there’s something about that mundanity that makes it even better, as the powers of these ‘generic object’ marsskmen are often formidable in their own right. For example, this episode’s villain is a fishing rod, who can grab people with their hook from quite a distance.

In addition, this fishing rod assailant has also managed to get the next ‘granterstone’ before Takamichi, which of course they need in order to reverse Mabusheena’s curse. This adds to the general sense of stakes for this episode, and makes the conflict against this goofy villain all the more serious.

Interestingly, a decent chunk of this episode is dedicated to a flashback with King Oradin, the queen and a younger Takamichi, who narrates the story from the present day and explains how mabusheena became afflicted with the curse. I really like the background of this flashback, the music it uses, and just seeing this earlier period of history some more.

MVP of the episode probably has to be Shiguru, who puts two and two together to determine the location of the fishing rod marsskman, using the context clue of the fact that the fishing rod guy was wet, the knowledge of the granterstone’s ability to warp time, and the date of the fishing tournament that they discovered before. In what can only be described as a galaxy-brained conclusion, Shiguru concludes that the fishing marsskman was using their ability to grab people from the comfort of the future.

Shiguru was somehow right on the money with this conclusion, and so the team gets to work on kicking this fishing rod back where it came from. This progresses how you might expect, with an ensuing kaiju battle, but Takamichi is also able to get that essential ‘granterstone’, and return it to Mabusheena, explaining his plan to lift the curse. In a pretty interesting emotional twist on how I expected this scene to go, Mabusheena makes it clear that they don’t want Takamichi to be her hero, but rather everybody’s hero. The distinction is fairly significant when you consider the relationship these characters have had so far. It’s a good payoff for Takamichi’s story arc.

It was a neat episode – 3.6 fishing rods out of 5!

The next episode of Kiramager gives a rip-roaring adventure through time, in an attempt to lift mabusheena’s curse and save the city from a kaiju at the same time. Given mabusheena’s feelings towards Takamichi needing to be ‘everyone’s hero’, the team devises a plan to split up and do both at the same – Takamichi will lead the defense the city, whilst Juuru, Tametomo and Sena will go back in time to find a way to revive the Aqua Kiramai Stone, which could be used to lift the curse. It’s a pretty good set-up for an episode, and I think it works particularly well.

The episode gives Juuru time to explore the flashback that we saw in the previous episode and essentially go on their own solo adventure in the past. I was particularly amused by Tametomo and Sena’s muddite disguises, and I really enjoyed this portion of the episode overall. Time travel stuff is usually fun in Sentai, and it felt at home here, especially as we had seen this flashback so recently.

In the present day, Takamichi has to defend against Yodonheim’s forces, and reflects on the nature of what it means to be a hero as both an individual and as part of a team. It took some time, but it seems like this episode has finally driven home Takamichi’s transition to being more of a team player.

In the past, however, things go a bit wrong and Juuru has to improvise a few things to figure out a solution that will bring back the Aqua Kiramai Stone. One of the secondary results of this on-the-fly thinking, though, is a new form for the King Express, which combines with the new stone to create this fancy new mecha, which to me looks to be at least somewhat Gurren Lagann inspired. It’s a pretty cool form, and I do hope we get to see more of it.

One thing that strikes me about this episode is that it’s another display of teamwork that this show is so good at. Given that Sentai is in principle about teams of heroes, I can’t understate how well Kiramager nails this aspect, and this episode, which divides the group up into subteams and then unites them at the end, does this particularly well. I give it 3.9 out of 5 sharks!

If there’s one thing that’s uniting all these shows at the moment, it’s the consistency in quality. I’m routinely tuning in to be impressed by Kiramager and Ultraman Z in different ways, and I think Saber has had a great start so far. I’m already attached to a lot of these characters – we can only wait and see what lies in store for each of them.

Tune in next time for another Toku Review Round-up! Let us know how you’re enjoying these series on our social media pages!

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