Hello, and welcome back to the Toku Review Round-up! As we continue to zoom through the never-ceasing nightmare that is the year of 2020, Tokusatsu TV continues to deliver, bringing with it fisticuffs, flames and many surprises! The currently airing Ultraman Z, Mashin Sentai Kiramager and Kamen Rider Saber march onwards, so without further ado, let’s commence with the reviews!
Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 29 & 30
The banter never stops with Kiramager, it seems. Another fortnight, and another excellent two episodes. There’s a lot that the show does that helps maintain its quality, from excellent character dynamics, clever aesthetic choices and regular subversion of key Sentai tropes.
Episode 29 is another episode that combines these elements effectively, with some fairly surprising moments, even if the central premise wasn’t anything mindblowing. In order to heal the crystals, the group must travel to the mysterious world of Atamald, a mysterious world created by Oradin where Crystalians and humans live in harmony. It looks shockingly (perhaps unsurprisingly) like an alternate tokyo.
This episode has a fun adventurous vibe to it, and gives some payoff to the previous episode set-ups. Embark is the one giving the exposition about the nature of Atamald, as well as the key that Juuru received from King Oradin. After some speculation, the team concludes that they may be able to recover King Oradin’s soul on Atamald. There’s a general sense of whimsy to this undertaking, even if the pedestrian nature of Atamald’s environment perhaps undercuts this slightly.
The structure of this episode is kind of weird as it sidesteps the conventional villainous plot to instead force Juuru into some creative problem solving, whilst the rest of the team fights evil versions of themselves. Again, this isn’t the most creative enemy, but it doesn’t last very long, so I’ll give it a free pass. This episode is more focused on the ticking clock of needing to save Oradin and get back in time to group up with Takamichi, who is defending the home front.
Even though I didn’t care much for the evil versions of the Kiramagers, I did enjoy Juuru having to draw a lock on the door, unlocking King Oradin’s soul, and him rejoining along with Embark to create a brand new ‘Grateful Phoenix’ mech for the team to use, which has an excellent design. I was kind of confused by the fact that Oradin is so willing to depart after this point, and it seems that this confusion is also reflected by the team, so I’m not alone there.
It’s a strong episode, although I think the construction of Atamald could have been better, and I think there could have been a stronger villainous force at work. I missed having a fun Marsskman design in this episode! Not a bad showing, though – it’s pretty standard stuff for Kiramager, so it’s worth at least 3 out of 5 keyholes.
The next episode is also a pretty good addition to Kiramager’s ongoing saga, one that pokes some fun at the idea of a ‘seventh’ Kiramager as well as presenting some further interesting interplay between our lively cast of characters.
The episode is at its best when it focuses on the relationship between the team and Muryou, which it does throughout in between fights with the new ‘Mannequin Marsskman’, who is suitably weird and creepy. This episode lightly probes the idea that Muryuo themselves might be interested in becoming the 7th Kiramager, which Takamichi and Mabusheena seem fully interested in supporting, complete with a daydream ‘henshin’ for a fully designed Kiramai Gold. Even though it’s just for this brief joke (probably?), I actually really like the Kiramai Gold design. It’s especially gaudy.
The other element of the story, which involved defeating the Mannequin Marsskman, is also a competent part of this episode. The Mannequin Marsskman has some genuinely scary powers, from freezing people still to turning them into actual mannequins (I’m not sure why they even bothered with the former if they were capable of the latter?) and it was nice to see the kaijin return given how absent they were in the previous episode.
Of course, the truly impressive part of this episode is the inversion of what Muryou was even doing in this episode. What first appears as earnest attempts to ‘practice’ or ‘prepare’ to become the 7th member of the team, ends up being revealed to be Muryou finding a new way to communicate with the recently revived King Oradin. He’s totally fine with being the support guy, it seems, which is confirmed in an endearing flashback with younger Muryou and Oradin. All of the flashbacks in Kiramager are great, by the way!
Will there be a 7th Kiramager? There’s certainly ample opportunity for it, but I think even the show recognises it’s got a good thing going right now that doesn’t want to interrupt. I think it might be more interesting for a hypothetical 7th member of the group to be a new character, but that’s just my take.
Overall, it’s a strong episode that provides a funny take on the character of Muryou – I liked it a tad more than the previous episode, so I’ll give it 3.2 Kiramai Golds out of 5!
Ultraman Z – Episodes 19 and 20
Episode 19 of Ultraman Z gives us a short but compelling – if slightly fanservice-y – episode. It gives us the debut of Ace in Ultraman Z, and a pretty radical fight against Baraba, who appears from another dimension, causing Zett’s Ace Ultra Medal to react.
This is a neat concept, and the sudden appearance of a flashing ultra-medal is a neat way to signify Ace’s imminent introduction, and once he does appear, there’s a genuine sense of history between both Ace and Baraba as well as between Ace and Zett.
Much of the episode is focused on the extended fight between Zett, King Joe and Baraba, who seems to have a distinct advantage against them, even with Zett in Delta Rise Claw form. The prolonged battle is full of shifts in the balance of power, but despite their best efforts, neither King Joe nor Z can manage to gain the upper hand for long enough until Ace appears.
It’s cool seeing Ace’s classic techniques come into the fray here, as well as the camaraderie between Ace and Zett themselves, and I like the revelation behind Zett’s named (Z as in, ‘the last’, as in ‘the hero that will end all conflicts’) it’s obviously quite ambitious naming, because I somehow doubt Z’s going to end all conflicts, but it’s nice that they put some thought into it.
I actually don’t have much to say about episode 19 beyond the fact that I enjoyed it, because despite some nice fanservice and lore advancements it didn’t leave me with much to complain about. It’s not exactly the peak of Ultraman Z, but it is a very solid episode, and for that I’ll give it a 3.8 out of 5 Ace Blades.
Episode 20 of Z is another excellent edition to the series, and this latest outing focuses on telling one of the more heartfelt character stories of the series to date. It centres around the characters of Kojiro, their daughter Ruri, and the artificial lifeform creature M1.
After a while spent establishing the relationship between Ruri and their father, as well as the kind-hearted nature of M1, trouble rears its head when M1 is transformed into Kaiju size, and STORAGE is called into action. Understanding that Ruri doesn’t want M1 harmed, the STORAGE team plead with Hebikura/Juggler to stall M1 so that Ruri and Yuka will have enough time to develop a ‘cell regressor’ to reduce M1 back to their original size. I like this as a set-up, as it still requires Haruki to power up with Zett, but mainly in order to protect rather than attack. Even if it’s basic, it feels like many of the ideas of previous episodes fold neatly into supporting this moment.
As Juggler enforces a strict rule that M1 should be destroyed if it reaches a certain distance of the city, there is still a valuable sense of desperation in the stakes. With limited tools available, Zett and King Joe have to work together to carefully subdue the creature.
There’s some nice character moments throughout this episode, particularly with Kojiro, and the conflict at the core of it is a really interesting one. I think it helps that M1 has a very innocent look in the design of their face, which makes their monstrous malfunction all the more scary.
Overall, it’s another excellent episode for Ultraman Z, one that I think draws upon the series’ greatest elements. I give it a 4 out of 5 ‘rugby double tackles’!
Kamen Rider Saber – Episodes 9 & 10
Kamen Rider Saber has been an interesting experience for me, so far – sometimes I think I love it, other times I think it’s just okay. I think at the moment I’m leaning more towards liking it overall, even if at times there’s certain things I wish were a bit different about it. As I mentioned in the last edition, we’ve finally reached a spot where it seems as though the characters are getting to interact often, and in interesting ways, although the show still has some issues in pacing and visuals.
Episode 9 shares some common elements with Kiramager episode 30, with the group being split up to face various threats, and some allusions to our support character (Daishinji) gearing up and transforming. Of course, in this episode, they actually do gear up and transform.
I like how this episode picks up the team dynamic that was established in the previous episode, and that the group goes straight into taking on the problem at hand. There’s some great dialogue and performance from Kento, who despite being personally related to Calibur, also seeks to understand their betrayal. The others remark that Kento may just be putting on a brave face throughout this whole situation, despite him insisting otherwise.
Furthermore, even though we’ve known for a while now that Daishinji might have a rider form, the direction of the character in this episode is fairly effective in building up to the point where he feels the need to join in to support the team more directly. I was surprised to see their new outfit, and just how audacious and loud their transformation was, as well as the effect this had on their character’s normally reserved personality that was somewhat amped up in their rider form.
Once again, the use of chromatic aberration filters in a lot of the outside footage is quite cumbersome and I wish they’d stop doing it. Similarly, Daishinji’s transformation sequence is a bit too much. It definitely matches the suit itself, and I don’t even dislike the suit, but I think it may get a bit grating going forwards.
In addition to Daishinji coming into the fray, this episode also strips our heroes of their power, and introduces a few new elements of intrigue for the ongoing plot that puts the show in a position ripe for cool new stories. I actually liked this episode quite a lot, and it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why; I think I’m just appreciative that it didn’t really waste any time, and introduced some new cool new ideas. I give it 3.6 ‘Bremen No Rock Bands’ out of 5!
This next episode really escalates things in a way I didn’t expect, beginning with just a sincere and straightforward team battle against Calibur and ending with a twist I legitimately didn’t anticipate, and that’s really cool.
Before the main sequence of the episode, however, we get some dialogue between the group, as well as a new character from the ‘southern base’ who arrives to hand Kento the Tri-Cerberus Wonder Ride Book. I really hope that this character has some sort of relevant presence beyond this, because it would be kind of weird/disappointing if they didn’t.
It seems for as much as Saber focuses on Touma, a lot of the emotional moments have surrounded Kento, who (until this episode) is burdened with the knowledge of their father as Calibur. This episode sort of begins with a renewal of faith in Kento from a few people, which is important considering the twist at the end of this episode.
It’s really engaging to see the trio (+ Daishinji) work together in combat, with each of them adapting their ‘three volume’ forms. These forms look excellent together as the three primary colours, and they’re nice and shiny. Daishinji is here too, with the same vigor they displayed in the previous episode, which is something that Touma remarks upon and receives a quick dismissal.
It would have been nice to see Buster and Kenzan here in this battle, but I’ll take what I can get – it was still very satisfying to see a fully powered group trying a variety of techniques to take on Calibur, including Daishinji, who can only be described as ‘unhinged’ when using the Bremen no Rock Band book. I really hope they explore switching Daishinji’s personality a bit in later episodes.
Of course, the ‘main event’ of this episode is seeing Calibur’s face for the first time, as well as Touma uncovering a bit more of their childhood memory. It appears that instead of Kento’s dad, it’s someone else underneath the dark mask – the previous wielder of Rekka, the sword of flames.
This obviously has quite the effect on both Kento and Touma, one which we might not fully understand until the next episode. It’s a thrilling, climactic moment, one that really elevated the episode.
I like where this episode took us – I give it 4.5 Dark Pegasus’s out of 5! Excited for more Saber next week!
I’m excited for more toku in general, too! I think Ultraman Z, Kiramager and Saber keep showing improvement from week to week, and I can’t wait for more!
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