Toku Review Round-up! (October 4th, 2020)

It’s that time again, we’re reviewing more episodes of Tokusatsu TV! As always, we’ve had another fortnight of explosive and awe-inspiring action in Kiramager, Ultraman Z and Kamen Rider Saber. Plots are moving at a clip, and events are coalescing in various dramatic and interesting ways! 

Kamen Rider Saber – Episodes 3 & 4

As you may have gathered from the previous review round up, my general thoughts on the first two episodes of Saber were complicated but overall fairly positive. With the next two episodes, it’s made it a bit harder for me to determine what my overall feelings on this show will be, but with Rider I think it’s always too early to make an overall value judgement. 

With that being said, the aesthetic motifs and energy of Saber attack an intersection of several of my interests, and the next two episodes have only helped to solidify that it’s going to give me a lot of things I want on at the very least a superficial level. Writing and structure wise, it’s much harder to tell. 

Some enjoyment stems from Kamen Rider Buster, the rider who appears as the focus for these two episodes. Buster – real name Ogami – slips somewhere into a ‘gentle giant single dad’ archetype, a parent fuelled by their very own passion for parenting, who is equally passionate about doing a quick henshin to ‘bust’ some bad guys. I cannot overstate how much I love Buster’s general design – the sword-based transformation, the bulky nature of the suit, the brown and orange colour scheme. It’s all really good, and I was very satisfied with how it looked in motion after seeing this dude in pre-release materials and thinking ‘wow, Buster looks really cool’. Happy to confirm that I wasn’t wrong about that!

The plot structure of episode 3 wastes no time getting going, swiftly delivering Buster as well as a cornucopia of new threats for the team to deal with. To give some general thoughts on the plot of the episode – ‘It’s alright’ would be one way of describing it. As this is a two-part story, this episode suffers from being mostly set-up for the next episode to resolve. It’s not bad per se, but this episode felt less focused in some key areas.

What sells the episode is Ogami’s general presence and demeanour coupled with Touma’s continued embrace of his adventurous new life, with Rintaro and Mei in tow. Buster brings an undeniable energy to these particular story beats, and whilst I’m still greeting used to most of the characters, I generally appreciate the charms that each of them have had highlighted so far. As an aside, I thought Rintaro was particularly funny in the background of the opening scene of this episode, where his hopes of eating an eclair are destroyed in front of him. He also shines when he co-opts the Peter Fantasista book from Touma because it matches his particular fighting style more.

The show keeps going at an accelerated pace, and I think that’s something that may settle down over time, as I think episode 3 was at least a little more coherent than the first two in this regard. With that being said, there are still times where I wish the whole thing would slow down a bit. The henshin sequences are also a bit overkill and should probably be faster. When it comes to adjustments I’d make to Saber at the moment, it mostly comes down to pacing.

With all that being said, I think episode 3 was solid and pretty fun at key points. It provides a satisfactory set-up for the next episode to conclude, with some goofy antics and solid action. I liked it, but it could have been better – I give it 3 out of 5 Sacred Swords.

The next episode I think proved to be stronger, building on what 3 had set up and delivering what was perhaps the most competent episode of Saber so far.

If there’s one thing I really liked about Episode 3 and 4, it’s that the fights with Buster and the new villain felt like they had a lot more physicality to them than previous encounters. This is hard to describe, but generally speaking, there were less 3D renders and more props hitting props, if that makes sense. This is complimented well by Buster’s bulky, large suit, that make for fights that feel like they have some impact. 

What we get in episode 4 plot-wise is a rather simple resolution to the plot of Ogami’s son being trapped in the book dimension, held captive by a salamander type enemy. Whilst our secondary character Mei valiantly attempts to save him, she ends up becoming trapped herself. 

Ogami makes a critical choice, and offers to delay a new threat so that Touma can save his child and keep the ‘promise’ he made to them, which seemingly requires a lot of restraint on his part. Ogami is fiery and quite aggressive towards Touma (whom he labels as ‘novelist’) but it’s clear that even when the stakes are particularly personal, he wants to do the right thing.

I’m also a big fan of the way Saber and Blades wrap up their fight against the salamander using three volumes in the swordriver and are immediately faced with the much more fearsome threat of Calibur, who until this point has been waiting in the shadows. There’s a brief but very compelling battle with them – much like Buster, they have a really great design and I’m looking forward to learning more about them. I’m intrigued about Saber’s central mystery, although at this current point I would already like to know a lot more about Calibur’s motivations than what we do. I realise we’ll get there in time, but it wouldn’t hurt to get some more of this sooner. 

Overall, it’s another excellent episode, and I’m really interested to see where it might go from here. I give it 3.2 out of 5 promises!

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 23 & 24 

You can always count on Kiramager to brighten up your day. These two new episodes are of course no exception to this. As a general comment, I really think that Kiramager has been quite impressive so far, with a lot to like in its characterisation of the team and supporting characters, and a really good sense of stakes, motivations and fun.

There are a lot of great examples of all of the above in episode 23, which sees our heroes tasked with their greatest challenge yet: improvisational performance. 

Yes, Kiramager’s 23rd episode was quite the spectacle in a number of ways, as our crew successfully manages to bring back Mabusheena’s mother, who inhabits the crystal of her tiara. Both Takamichi and Mabusheena raise some concerns, however, that if they learn the truth about King Oradin’s passing and Crystalia’s fall against Yodonheim, it could be too much for Mabayuine to handle. Unfortunately, things progress too rapidly, and they get to spot the Kiramagers in action against a bank safe themed Yodonheim enemy. 

The logical solution? Ask the team to pretend to be actors performing a play, of course! No way Queen Mabayuine could ever see through that. It’s another pretty funny set-up for an episode, and much of this comedy comes from characters being forced to ‘play against type’ and inhabit roles that aren’t very much like their real personalities. Shiguru, for example, who is obviously very confident about their skills as a lead actor, is forced into the ‘hapless’ geek sidekick role, whilst Tametomo gets to revel in being the hyper-confident leader.

There’s some subtle and not so subtle meta humour here about the sentai formula, with aspects of this ‘play’ feeling like it is lightly jabbing at certain tropes of enemy encounters and team composition in the series. It’s fairly amusing to see how each new incident and accident is spun into the narrative in order to try and keep the lie going.

Of course, it can’t convince them for too long, especially when the Bank Vault Marrskman seemingly has the team on the ropes. But as one final distractionary measure, Mabusheena overcomes a supposed shyness to perform a (incredibly well produced, for something off-the-cuff) song in order to keep Mabayuine’s attention. I love how this fades us into a black backdrop with disco lights (essentially the crystals), it’s a nice production touch on something that is already going over-the-top.

This episode of Kiramager is delightful fun, and I think it goes to show that an episode doesn’t need to be particularly flashy to engage in all of the right ways – a lot of this episode takes place in one location, and outside of the song number, relies heavily on the performances of the team and some nice sentimentality at the end in order to make it work. I really dig this one – 4 out of 5 Vaults.

And it seems like musicality and performance is something of a theme for Kiramager at the moment, because we move from the musical number in 23 to episode 24, which revolves around the team having to form their very own ‘sparkling’ band. 

The premise is simple – we have a recovering child in Sayo’s hospital who has lost their inspiration for music, an amplifier Marrskman who is unleashing a horrible screeching violin onto the world, and a group of empathetic heroes. Sayo was planning to help the kid get back into music with their own band, but when the Marrskman sends all of the band to hospital, it’s up to the rest of the Kiramager team to step in, on Juuru’s suggestion. 

It gives another amusing situation through once again forcing the team into a situation they’re somewhat uncomfortable with. I can really appreciate the way in which Sayo points out the flaws of each member in the initial practice – Sena is too fast, Shiguru is too concerned with their image, Juuru is not tuned correctly, and Tametomo is ‘not even trying’. The detail in this dialogue is amusing to say the least but it’s the small charms like these that make the series so great. On a similar charming note, Garza’s attempts to shred on a guitar are simultaneously very heavy metal (he’s a very evil looking guy) and very dumb (he clearly needs some lessons).

As this series is always so keen to assert, practice makes perfect, and after a while the gang eventually ‘get their groove’ to some extent. But there are more pressing matters at hand when the new amplifier Marrskman wants to take advantage of Koya’s (Sayo’s patient) musical apathy. 

It’s here where the Kiramager team has to step up in another exceptional act of teamwork, with the core team playing the song to inspire Koya to not succumb to the darkness. The scene with the performance and Takamichi embracing their ‘roadie’ role of supporting the team is so good, and it reminds me of earlier parts of the season where the need for synchronicity and teamwork culminates in an explosive way. Takamichi’s willingness to embrace their supporting role is also a very effective way to signpost how far he’s come, and it’s really satisfying to see. It’s another banger for Kiramager – I give it 4 out of 5 Violins.

Ultraman Z – Episode 13 and 14 

Ultraman Z has reached a really interesting point in its story, and each week I watch and think that we might have reached some sort of plateau, and then I’m always impressed by the next episode. Episode 13, however, was kind of dull for me – not bad, but definitely not what I was hoping for. 

This is because 13 is essentially a low-budget, small-scale episode with recap elements. I can’t really blame it for that – not every episode can be full of hype, and after the last few, I totally understand why they’d want to tone things down a little bit here. Unfortunately it means there’s not a huge deal to say about it.

There are a handful of good new scenes in this one. I think Haruki’s interactions with the medal-eating monster are fairly amusing and provide some much needed levity considering the tone of the episodes that preceded this one. It also served its purpose and reminded me of some of the show’s key moments.

The best part of this episode is the conclusion, wherein Zett and Haruki have a conversation. Zett has begun to empathise with Haruki’s feelings a bit more, and the two share a fist bump.  It’s nice. I give this episode 2 out of 5 fist bumps – could have done without it, but it was alright as a change of pace.

Episode 14, however, continues the story that was building in the episodes prior. With King Joe STORAGE Custom now fully under control, the crew gains more attention on the global stage, which calls for celebration. 

I like the central premise of this episode, which presents Bullton, the ‘fourth dimensional monster’. Instead of a simple kaiju battle, we get an adventure that pushes our heroes through time and space. Bullton creates a fourth-dimensional pocket within STORAGE HQ, and this links their position in space to the subconscious, meaning Haruki keeps getting reset in time, as does Yoko, who harbours doubts about utilising King Joe. 

This works fairly well, and part of me wishes that this aspect of the episode was longer, because the mind-mending, time-loop fashion of this segment was conveyed fairly well in the editing, and offers a nice alternative to the usual kaiju action.

I am particularly fond of the scene with Jugglus Juggler, who confronts Celebro outside. Our assumption is that Juggler may be able to make light work of him, only to end up trapped in a bathroom. Juggler quietly walking around the bathroom, assuming he can find Celebro hiding in the stall, and then gently resigning to his fate is probably the comedic height of Ultraman Z for me, and I don’t even think it was intended to be as humorous as I found it.

Once the team begins to figure out what’s going on, it allows Haruki to briefly reunite with his father, bringing to a close an emotional arc that has spanned throughout the season. This scene is very effectively scripted, with Haruki’s father gradually realising the identity of this mysterious stranger, and Haruki becoming overcome with emotion, especially when he begins to understand the ideology of his father.

It allows Haruki to form a new ideology of his own, and fight with more conviction than ever before, which in some ways makes the fight against Bullton a satisfying one. Bullton has this rubbery quality to them which gives their impacts to ground a satisfying weight, and the fact that they can just wipe King Joe’s missiles out of reality is amazing. 

It feels like a very modern episode of the show, one that balances character with action and humour in an episode that doesn’t waste any time. I give it 4 out of 5 ‘Dimensional Pockets!’

That’s all for this week’s edition of the Review Round-up! As always, I’m pretty happy with all of these shows right now; I’m hoping Saber can live up to the potential it has shown, meanwhile Kiramager is approaching the top spots of my personal favourite sentai, alongside Ultraman Z reaching similar levels of quality. I feel certain there’s still some places where each of these shows could surprise us, so I’m excited to see what new highs (or lows?) we can hit! 

Let us know your thoughts on Kamen Rider Saber, Mashin Sentai Kiramager and Ultraman Z so far in the comments, on our social media pages, or our new Discord server!

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