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

If there’s anything this current lineup of Tokusatsu shows (and reviewing them fortnightly) has taught me, it’s that a ‘good vibe’ can carry a tokusatsu show pretty far. As I mentioned in last week’s edition of the review round up, Kamen Rider’s Saber has done a lot to keep itself charming, even when I foresee some minor structural and pacing issues that may affect it going forwards. The general ‘vibe’ of the show would make me want to continue, even if we reached Zero-One levels of wasted potential. 

Ultraman Z currently exists in a similar place, and while I’ve had very few problems with Z so far, I think that the small issues I’ve had with it have been superseded by the general quality of the theming, the monsters and the gradual but impressive character development we’ve had so far. Once again, ‘a good vibe’ has helped Z move forwards.

Kiramager on the other hand, has me feeling weird. Not because the show’s bad, but rather the opposite: I feel weird that I have nothing bad to say about it. It really just is that good, and when I write these reviews, I always wonder if I’m going to border on repetition when I continually re-state how good it is. As someone who has been fairly critical of modern sentai in the past, it really has turned around my expectations of the show in impressive ways.

With all this said, I think we should stop with the postulating and begin with the review, shouldn’t we?

Kamen Rider Saber – Episodes 5 & 6

My favourite aspect of episode 5 was that we got a decent amount of time dedicated towards our Tertiary rider, Kento/Espada. It turns out his father is Calibur, which is a pretty big deal. He also seems burdened with various knowledge that Touma doesn’t remember.

This leads to an interesting dynamic between the two – it seems Touma remembers some aspects of their past friendship, but maybe not the most tragic parts. It’s definitely an interesting type of relationship to consider (and one that has shown up in some forms in Rider before), and I feel as though the performances of both do a good job of communicating this.

This is shown throughout the episode, where they both have to quietly acknowledge that they have some sort of important connection, even if Touma doesn’t really really understand it. Saber is still using this to thread the plot with intrigue, and honestly at times I do wish this aspect of the show wasn’t quite as immediately prolonged, but it all kind of depends on how it resolves.

A piranha based Megid is causing problems, and the two have to work together to defeat it, but when Calibur appears, Kento can’t really control his rage, even though we know Ogami has vowed to handle it, and told Kento to leave it alone. Calibur overpowers him fairly easily, and Buster has to swoop in at the last minute to save him.

There was also a fairly nice scene between Kento and Ogami – clearly there’s a paternal bond of some kind forming here, in Calibur’s absence. It allowed Ogami to show off a goofier side as he fumbled with a can of soda, as well as him attempting to moralise about the nature of Calibur’s betrayal, something he experienced first hand. I like this scene a lot, and I would argue it’s the strongest dialogue exchange we’ve gotten so far. I especially like when Touma appears, ready to say something abou Kento, and Ogami suggests: ‘We’ve all got our own problems, don’t we? You do too.’ It seems like a fairly obvious remark, but it’s a nice open-ended way to call attention to the thematic struggle of the episode, which whilst thin, is indeed present.

One of my major issues with this episode is actually a visual one, and that’s the use of some weird chromatic aberration filter during this episode’s fight scenes. It’s been used before in the show, but it felt particularly noticeable here, and I felt as though it hindered the good qualities of the suits and props. With that said, I really like Espada’s gold and white design, and I’m excited to see more of this one in action.

All in all, it’s a strong episode, one that I think is roughly on par with the previous in terms of quality – there were some great dialogue moments, some good action, and Espada’s suit is cool. It also ends on a fairly strong cliffhanger type moment, with the reveal of a kaijin general (with another awesome design). I give it 3.2 out of 5 magic lamps!

The next episode is also one I enjoyed, although I do think episode 6 suffers from more structural anomalies than episode 5. It brings us right into the thick of things with Rintaro’s battle against Zoous (what a name), who it’s revealed is the guy who killed his former master (the previous water swordsman). There’s obviously a bit of a backstory here which we may get to see more of later on, but I feel as though the emotive nature of Rintaro’s reactions to Zooous, and his viscerally intense style of fighting alongside this, was more than enough to tell us everything we need for now.

Alongside this, we have the introduction of Kamen Rider Kenzan, the ‘wind ninja’, who instantly locks horns with Touma in a sense of childlike competition. The main plot of this episode, outside of Rintaro’s confrontation with Zooous, is Touma’s struggle to ‘unseal’ the sword of flames by finding Avalon, and Kenzan’s battle with the Megid. The two are in competition, and they give a fairly good sense of them competing by cutting between these three events at their climax, but I do think the episode is slightly bizarrely paced because of this.

It all moves quite quickly, mostly in a positive way, but I think I would have liked to have slowed down in order to get a better sense of Ren (Kenzan) as a character – the previous episode had no trouble with this, so I felt like it was weird that aspects of this episode felt like they wanted to introduce them and deliver a small bit of information about their personality as quickly as they could. It felt like Daishinji, the logos ‘swordkeeper’ got more in the way of interesting scenes than Ren did, but maybe that’s just me.

The fight against Zoous was very effective, and also I like that for the most part, Touma was problem-solving in a way other than fighting. Seeing him find the books and put together the pieces of the puzzle was interesting because it was different, to say the least. 

Another interesting thing about this episode is the post credits sequence, a new addition to Saber’s format. I actually really liked this scene, which picks up directly after Rintaro’s defeat. I love that we see him storm through, dramatically pick up a new pegasus book, and pledge to defeat his enemy. It’s great, dramatic stuff and an excellent hook for the next episode.

Overall, I think this episode was alright – not quite as good as the former, but I think in particular the Rintaro and Touma stuff was good, even if I didn’t vibe with Ren as much. 3 out of 5 Shuriken!

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 25 and 26

Kiramager already has a really great core cast of characters, so it’s always a little worrying when it threatens to add a new regular into the mix, which is the case with these two episodes. Thankfully though, the new Yodonheim general (well, Emperor Yodon’s… personal assistant and secretary?), Yodonna, makes a great addition to the villain line-up of the show, and firmly changes the context of the threat.

Episode 25 is mostly about introducing them, but they’re in disguise, of course, as a shrine ‘priestess’. The Kiramai gang finds them at this shrine, as they’re still looking for the ‘granterstones’ – even though the curse on Mabusheena was lifted, Takamichi hopes to use the stones to restore their homeworld of Crystalia. It’s a noble ambition, and one that makes sense for his character at this point in the story.

Of course, it’s not like the team can turn up anywhere without hijinx ensuing, but everything at the shrine does seem relatively normal at first. Juuru gives some exposition on the shrine’s local phoenix legend, and it seems as though he’s been coming here to draw for a while. The priestess makes her first appearance, and it’s amusing to see Tametomo seemingly smitten.

The episode revolves around the surprise appearance of Yodonna from her disguised form, so the team, particularly Tametomo, spend a lot of time with the priestess in this episode. There’s the minor distraction of the bowling Bomb Marsskman which is pretty funny, and it’s particularly interesting to see Garza disappointed by their performance.

The trio of Juuru, Tametomo and Takamichi have great chemistry, and I think this is shown really well when they find a new Granterstone, and spend a long time celebrating this victory. The priestess is considerably less amused.

It’s also really great to see Tametomo try and balance understanding and critiquing this weirdness without being rude. If you were paying attention at all this episode, I think it becomes quickly apparent that the priestess is not of this world.

Of course, it’s still kind of surprising when they pull out a Yodon changer from the ground. I have the respect this episode for at least committing to this surprise, as it effectively hijacks the usual episode structure in favour of the reveal of this new character, and the new villainous plan. It’s a pretty threatening plan, too, and they’re even able to upgrade the basic grunts to cause issues for the team.

I really appreciate this way of escalating things, and it adds something strong to both this episode and the series overall! I give this 4 out of 5 aggressive stares.

The next episode picks up directly where the previous left off, with the team overwhelmed by the new grunts and facing defeat. Takamichi manages to retrieve the granterstone from the monstone that had absorbed it in the previous episode, and proposes a suggestion – could the granterstone be used to power them up to defeat Yodonna and save Earth?

The conversation that follows becomes very emotionally charged very quickly, and I think this scene is excellently scripted and staged for dramatic purposes. Takamichi’s collapse at the door, everyone in bandages and the crystals trying to interject with suggestions all contribute to this scene feeling like the team is in a desperate struggle. Juuru’s concern is that use of the granterstone will kill them, and Tametomo seems to be okay with that if it’ll save earth. It’s a bit dark.

This episode is great for a lot of reasons, but I really like that it forces the team to consider possible consequences of any course of action they take, and I also like that it has Juuru going on their own journey to consider the next steps as a leader. There’s a real lively sense of stakes this episode, and I think another King Oradin flashback was an interesting way to get us to Juuru’s new weapon inspiration.

Furthermore, I think this bow and arrow armour power up is also a really interesting use of the granterstone, and I didn’t think we’d see it be used in this way. There’s a lot of touches that make its use in the final scene of this episode excellent, but I love the countdown timer we’re given for this ‘relay race’ style encounter for the bow, the tension it delivers when we reach the end of that timer and there’s still one bomb left, and the relief when we realise that Takamichi is waiting in the wings to save the days, with a reference to their leg-split pose in one of their first episodes.

It’s an excellent episode, and I’m happy to give it 5 out of 5. No gimmick rating for this one, it’s just really that good! It’s got tension, some light comedy, and an exhilarating final scene. It’s the Kiramager team working together at their best, and it sets an exciting precedent for future episodes.

Ultraman Z Episodes 15 & 16 

There’s a lot of good in these two episodes of Z. Episode 15 in particular is a pretty strong one: It sees the return of Geed/Riku, as well as the debut of Delta Rise Claw and the return of Belial (kind of). It’s a packed episode, and one that lives up to its promises.

Geed makes a distress call to Haruki, warning them of danger. Greeza, the void monster, is causing trouble, and in brief scrap they’ve managed to get Geed trapped in ‘the void’, and now it’s up to Haruki and Z to save them. The only problem is that it’s going to be rather difficult to do that without some extra power, as Greeza is an extremely powerful ‘universe correcting’ being. Juggler realising the threat of Greeza and preventing STORAGE from getting involved at all was also executed well with some nice dialogue and performance flourishes.

It becomes even more abundantly clear that Zett is going to struggle against this one with no assistance – something essentially confirmed in the first fight of the episode, where even with Zett, Geed and the Tri-King, they stand no chance. I like how ‘weird’ Greeza is when fighting, just moving around in erratic fashion, causing all sorts of strange audio and visual phenomena. 

I’m also a big fan of how Juggler even decided to join in on this episode, both in the fight as Tri-King and in the later scenes where they assist Haruki in acquiring the Belial medal. I’m starting to think that the directors of Ultraman Z kind of just want to keep putting Juggler in comically mundane situations, like how they put him in the back of the car to navigate this episode. I need a spin off Haruki and Juggler buddy comedy/road trip movie.

The general idea that they can just go and…. take the medals from Celebro is pretty interesting to say the least, but that’s kind of just what happens when Juggler is put into a tough situation like this, I guess. 

The finale to this episode is incredible in all of the ways; an explosive and dynamic event. The reaction between the Belial, Zero and Geed medals was just really hype, and made perfect sense. The design of Delta Rise Claw form is excellent, and I love how they have a golden shimmery aura, and pose themselves like Zero after rescuing Geed. The fun doesn’t even stop there, but escalates – Zett manages to pull out a ‘Belial splinter’ from inside the void monster, which was surprising to say the least. This new form for Belial is fairly comical in how they only seem to have jaw movement, and question Zett/Haruki’s motives in wielding them. It’ll be interesting to see where this one goes, and it provides a new character for them to play off of.

It’s another excellent episode for Z, and one that introduces some new ideas to continue to lead us through. I give it 4 out of 5 ‘Deathcium slashes’.

The next episode of Ultraman Z is also pretty good – perhaps not hitting the extreme highs of the last, but still a strong showing nonetheless.

Episode 16 is introducing in how it tells a fairly personal story with Yuka and her connection to the culturally embedded tales of Horoboros, this episode’s featured monster which seems to only appear every 333 years. Yuka has been researching this monster for quite a while after seeing it as a kid, and they’ve seemingly been enamoured with it ever since. This is a really interesting plot in the sense that it gives a bit more context for Yuka’s kaiju obsessions, and leads us through an episode that at the very least begins with them as the focal point. 

This episode is a change of pace in some ways, as the first half of it earnestly follows Yuka and Haruki on the ground, attempting to track the monster on the supposed day of its appearance. They find a conch shell artefact, and before long, Horoboros appears before them. Yuka is rather frustrated that she doesn’t really know what to do now that they’re here, and so Haruki gears up to transform. I think it’s an excellent character moment when Yuka decides enough is enough, drinks their juice, and begins trying to make deductions, all while we see Beta Smash Zett wrestling with Horoboros in the background.

I really liked Horoboros in R/B so I’m glad they’ve made a return in some form, especially with this surrounding mythology. I especially like that the conch as an instrument isn’t really a convenient solution, but rather something that ends up exacerbating the issue, especially once Horboros is upgraded with another medal, transforming them into Metsuboros, forcing Zett to power up to their new Delta Rise Claw form to finish things off.

Of course, this episode chooses to end things not with a decisive victory, but rather a cliffhanger, with Alien Barossa returning to earth. Uh-oh. This was a fun episode – fairly straightforward, but that’s alright. I give it 3.5 out of 5 Conch shells.

That’s all for this week’s edition of the Toku Review Round-up, but we’ll be back in another fortnight to talk about more tokusatsu episodes. I’m looking forward to a lot of teased elements of this future episodes, such as the debut of more riders in Saber, the return of Barossa in Ultraman Z and the new villainous duo in Kiramager. Things are ramping up in all kinds of ways, and I’m ready for more!

Are you ready for more? Come chat to us about it on social media or on the Toku Toy Store Discord server!

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