Toku Review Round-up! (December 6th, 2020)

Hello, and welcome back to the Toku Review Round-up! As we get closer and closer to the end of the year, Tokusatsu TV never stops, bringing with it more clashing swords, ‘crystalians’, corporate restructuring and plenty more exciting things! The currently airing Ultraman Z, Mashin Sentai Kiramager and Kamen Rider Saber definitely aren’t slowing down anytime soon, so without further ado, let’s commence with the reviews!

Ultraman Z – Episodes 21 & 22

Ultraman Z often provides a lot of reasons to enjoy it, even when I find myself growing weary of some of its charms. Episodes 21and 22 send us careening into the show’s endgame, whilst still feeling very much like contained episodic chunks. Although there’s some interesting set up for where Ultraman Z might take us in its final moments, I can’t help but wonder where all of this is going; I mostly think this in a good way, because I want to be surprised.

Episode 21, ‘D4’, focuses on the titular ‘D4’ Weapon, a new and potentially deadly weapon created to be used by King Joe STORAGE custom against emerging kaiju threats. The result is an episode that has the STORAGE team at odds with the upper chain of command, as they’re well aware of the many potential dangers the use of the D4 weapon could cause (‘dimensional collapse’). Director Kuriyama returns to the fold to heighten this tension, and this episode shows many of our cast on edge in opposition to Kuriyama’s assured confidence that the weapon is safe.

The drama of this episode is fairly well performed, and elements like the OST and editing in this episode help add up to a sense of impending doom, which is something that the show does very effectively overall. This episode evoked an atmosphere that couldn’t be denied, and it all leads up to the moment at the end of the episode where the use of the D4 ray seems like an inevitably, despite the many attempts from Hebikura, Yoko and Haruki to avoid such an outcome.

As an aside, I think the design of the monster, Kelbim, in this episode is good, but perhaps not quite as good as some of the other monsters in this season. Their design doesn’t really communicate much about the fact that there’s many of them, although their ‘mother’ looks pretty cool.

The solution of Zett being able to prevent much of the damage of the D4 ray, however, is what feels a bit more unsatisfying here. I think this episode might have worked better if Zett for some reason couldn’t intervene, because it feels strange that the consequences of the D4 ray are effectively something that can be nullified. It’s no secret that Zett’s current form with the Belialrok equipped already seemed overpowered in this sense, so I suppose it fits within the shows internal logic – I was just a little disappointed that this wasn’t the ‘real’ consequence of using the D4 Ray.

The ‘real’ consequence of course, is STORAGE being dismantled. It makes sense, as it seems like this was something that was on the precipice of happening throughout the show. Overall, it’s an okay end to a mostly good episode that to me felt like it undermined itself just a little bit. I’ll still give it a respectable 3.5 out of 5 ‘D4 Rays’.

Although episode 22 has a distinctly different feeling to the previous episode, I think I appreciated it more just because of the sheer amounts of movement in the plot. It’s interesting to actually see all of the team move on from STORAGE, and I quite liked seeing what life was like for each of them beyond it. It was nice to see Haruki, Yoko, Yuka, Bako etc. hanging out as friends.

Of course, it’s all still a vehicle for more kaiju/mech fights in the usual scale, this time against Barossa again, with a bit of Tri-King thrown in for good measure. Whilst this fight begins in a fairly typical way, one of the end results of the battle actually leads to the completion of the new mecha, ‘ultroid zero’, so that’s pretty neat.

It was really cool to see Juggler back again. For a while, it felt like they were fully committed to their identity as Hebikura, but we can see in this episode that they’ve still retained their devious streak. It was amusing to see them disguised as a pizza man, and it was nice to see them retain their original hairstyle, even when meeting up with their former STORAGE subordinates.

It was nice to see Sevenger back again too. I love Sevnger’s design, so it was cool to have them back in the fold.

This episode feels rather transitory in nature, setting us up for the final few, but that’s no bad thing. It still had a lot of entertaining material enveloped within in. I am looking forward to seeing where the show takes us next. I give this episode a 3.6 out of 5 ‘Ultroids’, putting it just above the previous.

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 31 & 32

Episode 31 of the ever-dazzling Mashin Sentai Kiramager gets to the core of what Super Sentai is all about. The toys. Okay, I’m just kidding; it’s actually a fairly moving episode about loneliness, friendship and honesty, but there is a toy theme all the same. It features two of our heroes, Juuru and Takamich, plus all of the Mashins, shrunk down to toy size and taken in by a lonely child.

The episode spends a lot of time with Juuru and Takamichi just meandering on how to escape this predicament, with the rest of the team going back to the ‘old days’ before Juuru joined the team and made the Mashins. It’s funny that they comment on the inherent nostalgia of this situation, but of course, it’s a bit of a struggle for them to make any headway against the kaiju-scale enemy without the Mashins.

Although at first Juuru and Takamichi’s time with the kid seems like just a bit of light-hearted distraction, it eventually becomes clear that Juuru has become invested in the relationship that the kid has with their mother, ruining their chance to escape in order to help him through his problems, much to Takamichi’s dismay. The way this episode’s plot unravels is fairly effective, as there’s a lot of heart at its core. A lot of it reminded me of Toy Story, for probably obvious reasons.

It isn’t the most compelling episode of the series so far, but it is sincere, heartfelt and with a fair amount of comedy and action throughout. There’s not much to say beyond that other than to give it a respectable 3.5 ‘mini mecha’ out of 5.

The next episode contained within it a lot more content, perhaps unexpectedly so. What starts as a fairly innocuous episode about Sayo going on a date and the threat of a riddle marrskman is one that proves to be particularly significant in the ongoing story. It reveals another one of Yodonna’s plans, and establishes some important characterisation for Sayo.

One of the best things about this episode is the way in which the rest of the team respond to Sayo’s date with a peculiar childish glee. The group seems overly excited to see and hear what’s happening, by both spying on the date and in conversation with Sayo, where through exaggerated movements and expressions, communicate a hilarious need to know more.

The next best thing about this episode is the riddle marrskman, which after an episode without much marrskman presence feels like a return to form. This is definitely one of my top five marrsk designs in the series – it’s not the most creative, but I love the simplicity and how silly their ability is. I even like the riddles included in this episode, which I found myself trying to solve as it went along.

What I didn’t expect was how intense things got at the end – first with the team worrying about Sayo retiring from the Kiramagers for marriage, and then with the confirmation that this is something she was actually thinking about, as well as the revelation of another hidden Yodoheim scheme.

Just with all the important dialogue in Kiramager there’s some real sincerity to dialogue between Sayo and Jun, as he realises the harm his actions have caused, as well as the extent of Sayo’s feelings. There’s some cool dialogue about the feeling of hopelessness against the threat of Yodonheim that goes to lengths to explain his actions, and it all clicks together really well as a way of raising the stakes, right up to the ending cliffhanger.

Overall, it’s another solid episode for Kiramager, one which I rather enjoyed. I’ll give it a 3.8 ‘riddles’ out of 5.

Kamen Rider Saber – Episodes 11 & 12

The most recent two episodes were action packed, layered with important plot beats, and probably my favourite episodes of the show so far. In that respect, it’s pleasing to report that Saber keeps getting better, improving on the little things whilst continuing to dish out big reveals on backdrops of action.

I think at this point, you’ll probably know if you’re in or out when it comes to Saber, and I think it’s done a good job of rewarding people who have stuck through these first ten episodes. Now that we’ve established all of the major characters and re-contextualised the core conflict, it allows the show to finally start tugging at threads that have been present from the beginning, and focusing in on the most important relationships of the show.

Having suffered a heavy mental blow from learning the truth of Calibur’s identity, this episode focuses on Kento’s refusal to fall in line with the other swordsman, attempting to take out Calibur on his own. It makes sense why he would want to do this, as there’s clearly a lot of confusion here: when Calibur was understood to be Kento’s father, it gave him a target to focus on. Now that he knows the truth of Calibur’s identity, Kento still wants to take out his anger on Calibur, but for different reasons. The question of ‘where did my father actually go then?’ seems to linger on his mind as he challenges Calibur once more.

Throughout the episode, Rintaro chastises Kento for being reckless. It’s clear that Kento’s way is diverting from what Rintaro believe’s is the best approach for the guild, and he may just have a point. The way in which Rintaro approaches Kento in this episode is an important setup for the payoff at the end, where it appears Rintaro is ready to give his life to save Kento.

The production of the show still has some weird features that distract me from the really good stuff going on. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in a lot of ways when it comes to toku, but it seems like Saber has a certain inelegance when it comes to certain production details – the transition between detailed swords and the equivalent foam props seems really obvious, and as I’ve mentioned before, they need to use less intense filters on the outside footage at times (the chromatic abberation seems to have calmed down in this episode, at least).

Despite this small grievance, I think this episode is quite strong, even if it baits the audience a bit at the end. I felt like it’s obvious that Rintaro isn’t dead just because of how Rider has approached death in recent years, but it does really try to sell that this is the case. With the issues aside though, it’s still a strong episode and a great set up for the following episode, which is even better. I give it 4 out of 5 Jaou Dragons.

Episode 22 builds on what the prior episode establishes, giving us another set of important fights as the swordsmen scatter to different parts of the city in order to confront multiple enemies at once. With six key points in the city under attack at once, all of the swordsmen must act simultaneously, but of course things are never that easy in Kamen Rider Saber. Kento still harbours an intense desire to do right by Touma in revenge against Calibur, and Rintaro is obviously wounded, both of which threaten to cause problems. It’s an exciting premise.

Despite suffering some heavy damage in the previous episode, though, Rintaro only takes a short time to recover before leaping into action again, ready to take Touma’s place in the group operation. After some heated dialogue, Touma seems to ‘unlock’ another part of their childhood memory, finally understanding the relationship between himself and three figures he’s been recalling in his perpetual flashback.

Once more, the relationship dynamic between Touma and Kento changes, as Touma realises just why Kento has been fighting so hard. It all comes down to a promise the two had both made with the third figure, Luna, 15 years ago. There’s still a lot of questions surrounding this, but the reveal works for the purposes of this episode, and leaves us on an emotional cliffhanger that mirrors the previous episode, with Kento succumbing to their injuries in Touma’s arms.

It’s a fairly effective episode, even if it only boils down to a few key scenes. Buster’s speech to Kento provided some effective foreshadowing, and it’s nice to get some further answers on things that have been hanging around since the beginning of the show. The staging and performance of the final scene is a pretty effective one, but much like my skepticism at the end of episode 11, it’s hard to feel like this will be a particularly permanent status quo change.

Despite this feeling, I really like everything that this episode tells us about our key characters, and it establishes a firmer motive for Touma moving forwards. We’ll see where it goes from here, but for now I’d consider this episode on par with the previous one, so I’ll give this a rating of 4 out of 5 promises.

That’s all for the Toku Review Round-up this week, but next time there’s plenty of things to be excited about, including the continuation of Saber and Kiramager and the end of Ultraman Z!

Have you enjoyed Ultraman Z? Will you be sad to see it end? Join the conversation on our social media or on Discord!

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