Teamwork is a theme that is pervasive throughout tokusatsu, and in 2020, the genre seems practically synonymous with this idea, with all the popular shows of the year regularly highlighting the importance of trusting others and working together. It’s certainly nothing new, but I think it’s dominated the thematic layers of Kiramager, Kamen Rider and even Ultraman Z to some extent and for the most part, it’s worked. When the world seems so massively divided, it’s nice that this genre is so dedicated to themes of friendship and kindness.
Welcome to the Toku Review Round-up, where it’s my job to bring you concise reviews of the latest episodes of everything new in tokusatsu TV, with a breakdown of what works and what doesn’t and a numerical rating to sum it all up. Today, we’re jumping back into reviews of Kamen Rider Saber, Ultraman Z, and Mashin Sentai Kiramager.
Kamen Rider Saber – Episodes 7 & 8
Episode 6 of Kamen Rider Saber made me a bit concerned about certain characters and choices, but Episodes 7 and 8 alleviated some of those concerns in a fairly satisfying way. I really enjoyed these episodes: they pushed forward in terms of both narrative and character, and they provided some really exciting moments.
There’s a lot to be said about the contrast between where we are in episode 7 and where we end up in episode 7. The struggles of the group in these episodes seemingly do a lot to unify them, and I think this has a positive on the quality of the show overall; it feels like we’re moving past the first stage of the character’s relationships, and can now move into a more confident and dynamic phase of the show.
Episode 7 revolves around Touma and Kento going on a journey to find ‘Avalon’ and ‘unseal’ the sword Rekka, so that they can transform again. As I mentioned in last edition, the stuff with Touma actually having to figure stuff out using books and the secret lore contained within, is really appealing to me. There’s a bit more of this at the top of episode 7, and I like the ancient sword kata that Espada has to perform in dramatic lighting to ‘open the door’. More of this sort of sword wizardry and ancient secrets would be appreciated – that’s what I want from this show!
Meanwhile, Rintaro picks up from their post-credits scene in the last episode, and enters the training realm, ‘liberation’, which appears to me almost like a hyperbolic time chamber. He enters to do some training with a powerful new wonder ride book, and I love the framing of this shot where his flashback appears behind us, showing us briefly the previous ‘Kamen Rider Blades’.
Even though the desert/beach environment that Touma and Kento are transported to isn’t the most inspired new location, this is probably the first time the location and colour grading feel like they actually work together to create a more ‘fantastical’ setting. I love the way an unsuited Calibur walks in from the distance, their face obscured.
I’m also fond of a lot of things in this episode, from the medusa villain that they introduce to the new form for Rintaro, which gives us a stylish blue on blue. There’s also a lot going on in this episode, setting interesting precedents for the show going forward, such as the voice that Touma speaks to in Avalon, the use of the King (of) Arthur book. It feels strange that such an important figure in book-and-sword related mythology would become available to Saber so soon, though. One can only wonder what the final wonder ride books will reference?
There actually wasn’t much I disliked about this episode, but I will say that there were a lot of moving parts that it was cutting between – perhaps one of these threads could be removed to give us a bit more time with Touma and Kento, but the stuff with Rintaro and the others was by no means bad. It’s a decent episode for Saber! I give it 3.5 Avalons out of 5.
Episode 8 picks up directly after the previous, with Touma completing their trial to unseal Rekka, and Kento lying face first in the sand after a defeat at the hands of Calibur. The two are distraught, but not all hope is lost – at the very least, Saber now has the power of King Arthur on their side.
After regrouping and examining the mysterious new artefacts that Touma has acquired, it becomes apparent that we’re not going to see what the extra ‘blank book’ does for a while now. I’m intrigued, though.
This episode offers a particularly ghoulish preposition, with Ogami being turned to stone by another medusa megid (much like in their original mythology, they appear in threes). It’s clear that Ogami does this in a quick act of reckless selflessness, but it’s still slightly shocking in its execution, even if it is clearly a temporary problem.
The episode then revolves around the core team having to come together to save their comrade by defeating the medusa. It’s not the most original thrust for the plot, but once again, the quality of this episode comes from the execution. I like that the team has to back out in the original fight, and I like that they have to plan a bit before heading back into combat. The way it cuts between Touma explaining the plan and the plan being executed is great.
I don’t really know how to feel about Touma being turned into a sword to be wielded but a King Arthur mech, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Although rather bizarre, I don’t think it distracted from the ‘real’ resolution to the episode, which was focused squarely on the team working together. They even draw King Arthur back into this idea by comparing his friendship with the knights of the round table with his friendship with the other swordsmen.
It’s a pretty good episode, and as I mentioned before, I feel like we’re finally getting into a really good place with Saber, despite some of its small slip ups and eccentricity. I give this episode 3.5 ‘King Arthur mechs’ out of 5.
Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 27 & 28
Episode 27 of Kiramager drops us into an interesting side story which also pays tribute to Juken Sentai Gekiranger. Gekiranger is a bit of a gap in my sentai experience, but this episode didn’t really alienate me in any way. For the most part, it did a fairly cohesive job of keeping the Gekiranger elements minor and within the context of the world of Kiramager, but it’s clear there could have been additional references to Gekiranger that went over my head.
The episode focuses on Sena, Sena’s running career slump and some devastating Super Glue causing trouble. It wastes no time showing us the Gekiranger characters, Miki Masaki & Natsume Masaki, who are currently committed to their roles in development as part of the SCRTC, who sponsor Sena’s running. We even get some Gekiranger archive footage as their existence in the world is given context.
As part of the SCRTC sponsorship, Sena offers to test some of their equipment and gather data whilst running, but it soon gets hi-jacked by Yodonna and Garza, with the help of the Super-Glue Marrsk (the brother of the previous glue marrsk, in a strange but slightly funny continuity nod to ‘mask’ the reuse of a kaijin design).
Something I really like about this episode is that it forces Sena and the rest of the gang into an unconventional problem with unconventional solutions. The main team get stuck very quickly, leaving them out of commission for most of the episode, and Sena has to keep running or the device she’s wearing will detonate, like a warped tokusatsu version of the classic flick Speed with Keanu Reeves.
It’s a bit of a pace change from the previous episodes, which were quite intense with their world ending scale, and it’s a nice intermediary episode. It focuses a lot on Sena’s own resolve, as well as the Gekiranger characters. Some aspects of Miki’s and Natsume’s personalities definitely didn’t make as much sense to me as they would for a Gekiranger fan, but I did like that a lot of this episodes ‘solution’ stemmed from Sena having to decipher the idiosyncratic dialogue of Miki and Natsume.
Overall it’s a strong showing, even if I couldn’t fully appreciate it. I give it this week’s third 3.5 ‘nikiniki’ out of 5.
Episode 28 is another pretty great episode, too. We move from a Sena focused episode to one that’s slightly more Shiguru focused. After some brief interplay with Shiguru rehearsing a tearful scene and Juuru and Mabusheena not realising it’s acting, the premise of our episode is swiftly delivered. There’s an invisible mech of some kind attacking the city, and it appears just like the attacks that took down Crystalia all those years ago. The mashins get put out of commission, and the only way to restore their power? Find King Oradin’s mentor, and make them feel feelings again, of course.
That’s an oversimplification of the concept, but It’s quite an adventure this episode – we’re introduced to a whole new character adjacent to the Crystalia royal family, Embark. There’s an urgency to this whole thing, and Shiguru comes up with a bizarre plan to convince ‘Embark’ to aid their cause, via the power of acting.
The scenes with Shiguru and Juuru in this episode are pretty inspired. They go from ‘Manzai’ comedy performance, to swordsmanship demonstration, to an excellent original song from Shiguru. But nothing, it seems, will rouse the emotions of Embark. It’s pretty amusing to see these two play off of eachother in increasingly energetic and dramatic ways, especially when the camera cuts to show the opposing Embark, who sits motionless.
It doesn’t mean this episode is light on action, either. There’s a really impressively choreographed scene featuring the rest of the team trying to retrieve the ‘camouflage’ device from Yodonna. It’s dynamic without being needlessly flashy, and it’s a good use of the rest of the team whilst Juuru and Shiguru have their own fun adventure.
This episode has a very effective ‘set-up – payoff’ structure, as after trying a variety of different performance styles, Shiguru is brought to tears, seemingly genuinely moved by Embark’s depressed apathy. If you were paying attention, you’ll recognise this as similar to the crying he was doing at the start of the episode, but it appears real enough, which I suppose is a testament to both Shiguru’s performance and the actor portraying Shiguru?
This persuades Embark, who is also brought to tears, and Shiguru reveals he hatched the plan from the very beginning, bringing Embark into the fray in the final battle. It’s good stuff!
I give this episode a solid 4 out of 5 crocodile tears; a fun dynamic between Juuru & Shiguru really sells it, along with a great conceptual foundation.
Ultraman Z – Episodes 17 and 18
Episode 17 shows Haruki the consequences of their actions, as alien Barossa returns to wreak havoc, and Beliarok switches allegiance. This episode showcases a lot of great things about Ultraman Z, and I think Beliarok has been a great addition to add some extra flavour to this series, but aspects this episode it felt somewhat lifeless.
The initial fight against Barossa is pretty standard, but once Barossa themselves gets a hold of Beliarok, who seems more than willing to be wielded by such a chaotic entity, things get interesting, and it sways the outcome of the fight considerably.
I’m still really fond of Beliarok’s goofy jaw movements when they speak, as well as their persona, which is what continually turns the tides of this episode. There’s a sense of smugness to Barossa when they get Beliarok, only to be chewed out when it decides to abandon them, and eventually get picked up by Juggler.
There’s an excellent exchange between Juggler and Beliarok. Beliarok delivers their standard opening line to question Juggler’s motives, to which Juggler responds that they are entirely neutral: ‘as the wind blows, so do I do as I please’. This is fairly consistent with what we’ve seen them do this season, and it’s nice to see them provide some sort of introspection.
Although fairly simple, there’s some stuff to enjoy about this episode, but Barossa doesn’t make for the most interesting antagonist. I enjoyed them the first time around this season, but here they were a fairly expected and generic presence. I suppose knowing that Barossa would make a return made their return less exciting.
Outside of certain dialogue with juggler and some rumination on the nature of good and evil, this one also seemed to lack some of the interesting thematic undercurrent that Z’s recent episodes have had, or at the very least, was more focused on the chaotic energy of Beliarok than anything else.
All things considered, it was a decent outing for Ultraman Z even if it wasn’t my favourite – Beliarok’s a lot of fun, and Juggler’s presence in this episode was a great part of it. I give it 3.1 out of 5.
Episode 18 is rather ambitiously titled ‘Do-over in the year 2020’ – something I only wish were possible given the nightmarish reality this year has presented us with.
This episode begins with a rather compelling mystery element, with Pagos, a subterranean monster suddenly disappearing, and the mysterious appearance of Kaori, a human who appears near Haruki and begins saying some really strange stuff. She disappears, and STORAGE notices a trend of other disappearances in the area, similar to the disappearance of Pagos.
Haruki is able to track down Kaori again, and the mystery starts to unravel. Kaori is fused with a ‘kemur’ monster, and the other disappearances in the area are also related to this. The Kemur were finding new bodies for a hostile takeover, and the whole thing takes a rather dark turn when Kaori begs to be killed by Haruki, in order to prevent the Kemur part of them from fully taking over.
It’s an okay idea for an episode, and once the full extent of the Kemur’s plan is revealed, it becomes clear that there isn’t necessarily going to be a conventional solution to this one. It’s good to see a bit of a moral struggle within Haruki again, one exacerbated by the fact that they know this Kemur is also Kaori. Beliarok, on the other hand, doesn’t have any regard for such consequences, and is also the only one who can help Zett and Haruki punt the devastating ‘Kemur liquid’ into another dimension.
It all culminates in a fairly dramatic moment, with Zett in Delta Rise Claw form and the Kemur dramatically being held back just long enough by their human side to make the decisive ‘deathcium slash’ and save the day. It’s good stuff. I was fairly certain this would result in Kaori’s death, but it seems like the episode didn’t want to commit to that. All of the disappeared humans, as well as Pagos return.
I think it’s a bit disappointing how quickly the mystery of the episode unravels so quickly, and ultimately doesn’t lend itself to any large status quo shift, but I give it some kudos for trying to put a spin on Z’s regular formula. It has a more exciting quality to it than the previous episode, though, once again there’s a lot to enjoy here. I give it 3.2 Kemurs out of 5!
That’s all for this week’s edition of Toku Review Round-up, but rest assured we’ll be back again in two weeks for even more Tokusatsu review shenanigans!