Posted on Leave a comment

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

Welcome back to the Toku-Review Round-up! It’s been another interesting fortnight of Tokusatsu TV with the debut of Kamen Rider Saber, and the continuation of the amazing Ultraman Z and Mashin Sentai Kiramager. I think it’s fair to say expectations are high for all of these shows at this point – Z and Kiramager because of the standard they’ve set for entertaining toku TV, and Saber, well – because it’s new.

With all the ups and downs of Zero-One, I was definitely ready for something new with Saber. The brief break from Z with the compilation episode made me realise just how much Z had become part of my Friday routine, and I’m always up for more Kiramager. I was very much ready to review this block of episodes!

Kamen Rider Saber – Episodes 1 & 2

So, the first two episodes of Saber have come and gone with a fast-paced flourish of the pen (and sword). I’ve seen people describe these episodes in a variety of ways both positive and negative, and it was quite hard for me to get a grip on a ‘general consensus’ of sorts. With that said, I (mostly) really enjoyed the introduction to this series thus far.

‘Introduction’ really is the key term for it, as both of these initial two episodes pull no punches with the rapid-fire exposition. Maybe it was just me, but I felt as though Saber has already gone pretty heavy on the (sometimes difficult to make fun) process of explaining world details, with ferocious punctuation and disregard for short term memory. What I’m saying is that Saber has already said a lot, very quickly, all at once. But that’s to be expected, of course!

I’ve now watched the first episode of Kamen Rider Saber three times. The first was fuelled by my initial hype-filled reactions to every little thing as I watched it without subtitles. The second viewing, I tried to pay attention to finer details and got to fully understand it all in my actual language (my 日本語 isn’t that good, yet). On my third viewing, I tried to come to an assessment of its overall quality. ‘It’s neat,’ I thought to myself. ‘I like books, and swords are pretty cool too.’ said my internal monologue.

And even though there’s probably going to be a lot more to it than just swords and books, I can’t help but return to the general thought that Saber’s core motifs just appeal to me a lot. I’ve got a Master’s degree in literature and so have a great deal of love for books, and swords I think are universally cool as a weapon type. The more fantastical setting is also something I’ve been looking for for a while in rider.

The episode itself has a very generic structure, and there are some weaker elements, such as the fully CG sequences. Overall though, the first episode is serviceable, quickly introducing us to Touma, the wider plot concerning an ominous group attempting to warp the world with their weird, um – ‘Book-based Reality Marble Magic’.

Touma himself has a quirky vibe to him, but quickly distinguishes himself from Aruto with quicker wits and a more whimsical and adventurous energy. Secondary character Mei hasn’t done much so far, but they’re pretty amusing nonetheless. There’s also a generous helping of mystique in the brief glimpses we see of Touma’s memory.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence leading up to and after the first ‘henshin’, where the sword of flames appeared in the fire, and the exceedingly well-choreographed action that ensued after Touma transformed and became ‘Kamen Rider Saber’ in their Brave Dragon form. The ‘henshin’ sequence itself is a little over-the-top, and something can definitely be said about how much this show is willing to blindside you with a cacophony of audio and visual information.

Overall though, the first episode of Saber displayed some sort of confidence, even if the pacing felt weird in a lot of ways, and it was a bit of a sensory overload from time to time. That confidence does a lot to carry the episode, and it’s clear this new approach won’t appeal to everyone, but for now, it has me hooked. I give it a solid 3.3 out of 5 Wonder Ride Books.

The second episode has elements that are both better and worse than its predecessor, with a fairly decent introduction to the secondary rider Rintaro as well as aspects such as the ‘order of logos’ and ‘swordsmen’ which will no doubt become important aspects of the series.

As an aside, I really like the design of the ‘headquarters’ area that Rintaro brings Touma to – the giant books, many bookcases and various bizarre iconography lead to a sense of otherworldliness.

Also impressive is the design of secondary rider ‘Kamen Rider Blade’ and the moves they dispense in defending themselves against the weird ant thing. I really like the asymmetrical qualities of Kamen Rider Blade’s design, and I think overall that sticking to one colour makes this design a solid improvement on Saber’s. It’s the best sequence of predominantly practical effects in the episode.

There are a lot of extended sequences in this episode that rely a bit too much on digital effects. I’ve seen speculation that this is some sort of social distancing measure, or merely an easier way to get the bikes involved more. Whatever the reason, I do think some of these sequences have a kind of intangible quality to them that weakens their believability to some degree.

With that said, Saber episode 2 still delivered a pretty fun adventure, and I’m really excited to see the appearance of Kamen Rider Buster in the next episode. The preview claims he’s the king of parenting, and he has a pretty cool looking suit, sword and style. In conclusion, I give episode 2 a 3.2 out of 5 ‘Beanstalks’.

Ultraman Z – Episodes 11 & 12

With all the excitement of Saber, Ultraman Z is the perfect palette cleanser – you know what you’re getting with Z, and you always know it’s going to be awesome. Episodes 11 and 12 are no different, which see the introduction of King Joe STORAGE Custom, the now-completed revamp of King Joe for STORAGE’s ongoing anti-monster weapon collection.

Episode 11 focuses on the return of the ‘Red King’, and gives a lot of interesting stuff – some slow but meaningful character insight for Haruki, and some reflection on the natural protective instincts of both man and monster.

This is achieved at first by having Haruki visit his mother for the anniversary of his father’s death in a fairly touching scene of reunion. Unfortunately, it’s cut short by the appearance of Red King, the skull monster, a fairly generic monster who also makes me laugh whenever they aggressively wobble and makes that strange noise.

Zett initially is able to give Red King a run for its money in Beta Smash form, and soon, King Joe STORAGE custom joins the fray. It’s clearly a powerful mech, but could be described as ‘unwieldy’ in its current state. I’m a big fan of its look, which ditches the multi-coloured visage in favour of a more organised blue light system. The movement of it is also considerably more rigid and mechanical compared to its original form, which is cool.

This all goes pretty well until a new ‘Red King’ is spotted at a different location, with Yoko given the order to defend against the new threat, leaving this one to be dealt with by Zett. Using some different medals, they’re able to dispatch it pretty quickly in Gamma Future form. I love this form, by the way.

Things get a bit intense, though, when we stumble upon the realisation that the two monsters were just trying to protect an egg all along. Haruki recalls his late Dad’s own selflessness in trying to save others during a monster attack. Suddenly, they aren’t so different after all, and Haruki feels a sense of guilt about his actions, causing him to lose synchronicity with Ultraman Z. I think this is a really neat thematic arc for an episode, and it seemingly will have some form of lasting consequence, as red king retreats with its egg, but as Juggler states, it will almost certainly be back and ready to attack once more.

The general flow of this episode works incredibly well, I think. This sort of character based story feels right at home in this particular iteration of Ultraman, and it’s able to blend it flawlessly with fun action. I give it 4 out 5 Pedanium Hammers!

Episode 12 of Ultraman Z is similarly straightforward compared to the previous episode, but I think it’s of a higher quality. We pick up some of the threads from the previous episode, such as Haruki’s guilt about slaying monsters, as well the use of King Joe STORAGE custom, which over the course of the episode, becomes refined into its multi-part dynamic form.

We open with Haruki in Sevenger, running out of battery power during a kaiju fight. He switches to summoning Zett, and then the residual guilt (flashing back to the previous episode) once more affects Haruki’s fighting spirit, powering down Ultraman Z. This is a fairly well-constructed scene, and the monster, Grigio Raiden, flees. It mirrors the previous episode’s scene where Haruki was guilt-stricken brilliantly.

The next portion of this episode is defined by important conversations with people. A conversation with the team to discuss the urgency with which Grigio Raiden needs to be dispatched. A conversation with Yuka about how to utilise Raiden’s biology using a skin sample. A Conversation with Yoko in which Haruki broaches the question: ‘is it morally right to kill all these monsters?’ to which Yoko deflects that this is not a moral question, but rather STORAGE’s moral duty; their burden and responsibility. It isn’t an easy resolution to the struggle that Haruki faces, but it does offer an interesting alternate perspective.

Much of the rest of the episode is led by a pretty compelling battle against Raiden using the now-optimised King Joe STORAGE Custom. Grigio Raiden’s devastating abilities punctuate a particularly intense encounter, essentially an externalisation of the emotional conflict of everyone involved. Through the camera work and and performance, It really communicates that there’s something at stake here; something important. It’s all fairly visceral and emotive, especially when it looks like someone’s about to sacrifice themselves. Haruki releases a guttural scream at the end of the episode, and it’s certainly one way to cap off an exciting episode. A great episode, one worthy of high praise, I think – 4.8 out 5!

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 21 & 22

Episode 21 of Kiramager presents a pretty solid story overall, one that advances the ‘granterstone’ plot established previously, whilst providing its fair share of interesting lore details and another amusing villain of the week.

I feel like I comment upon this every time I review Kiramager episodes, but I’ve got to say it again – the kaijin designs for this show are excellent. The simple concepts with an evil tinge just works really well, and even though many of them are quite silly based on how mundane the object they’re based on are, there’s something about that mundanity that makes it even better, as the powers of these ‘generic object’ marsskmen are often formidable in their own right. For example, this episode’s villain is a fishing rod, who can grab people with their hook from quite a distance.

In addition, this fishing rod assailant has also managed to get the next ‘granterstone’ before Takamichi, which of course they need in order to reverse Mabusheena’s curse. This adds to the general sense of stakes for this episode, and makes the conflict against this goofy villain all the more serious.

Interestingly, a decent chunk of this episode is dedicated to a flashback with King Oradin, the queen and a younger Takamichi, who narrates the story from the present day and explains how mabusheena became afflicted with the curse. I really like the background of this flashback, the music it uses, and just seeing this earlier period of history some more.

MVP of the episode probably has to be Shiguru, who puts two and two together to determine the location of the fishing rod marsskman, using the context clue of the fact that the fishing rod guy was wet, the knowledge of the granterstone’s ability to warp time, and the date of the fishing tournament that they discovered before. In what can only be described as a galaxy-brained conclusion, Shiguru concludes that the fishing marsskman was using their ability to grab people from the comfort of the future.

Shiguru was somehow right on the money with this conclusion, and so the team gets to work on kicking this fishing rod back where it came from. This progresses how you might expect, with an ensuing kaiju battle, but Takamichi is also able to get that essential ‘granterstone’, and return it to Mabusheena, explaining his plan to lift the curse. In a pretty interesting emotional twist on how I expected this scene to go, Mabusheena makes it clear that they don’t want Takamichi to be her hero, but rather everybody’s hero. The distinction is fairly significant when you consider the relationship these characters have had so far. It’s a good payoff for Takamichi’s story arc.

It was a neat episode – 3.6 fishing rods out of 5!

The next episode of Kiramager gives a rip-roaring adventure through time, in an attempt to lift mabusheena’s curse and save the city from a kaiju at the same time. Given mabusheena’s feelings towards Takamichi needing to be ‘everyone’s hero’, the team devises a plan to split up and do both at the same – Takamichi will lead the defense the city, whilst Juuru, Tametomo and Sena will go back in time to find a way to revive the Aqua Kiramai Stone, which could be used to lift the curse. It’s a pretty good set-up for an episode, and I think it works particularly well.

The episode gives Juuru time to explore the flashback that we saw in the previous episode and essentially go on their own solo adventure in the past. I was particularly amused by Tametomo and Sena’s muddite disguises, and I really enjoyed this portion of the episode overall. Time travel stuff is usually fun in Sentai, and it felt at home here, especially as we had seen this flashback so recently.

In the present day, Takamichi has to defend against Yodonheim’s forces, and reflects on the nature of what it means to be a hero as both an individual and as part of a team. It took some time, but it seems like this episode has finally driven home Takamichi’s transition to being more of a team player.

In the past, however, things go a bit wrong and Juuru has to improvise a few things to figure out a solution that will bring back the Aqua Kiramai Stone. One of the secondary results of this on-the-fly thinking, though, is a new form for the King Express, which combines with the new stone to create this fancy new mecha, which to me looks to be at least somewhat Gurren Lagann inspired. It’s a pretty cool form, and I do hope we get to see more of it.

One thing that strikes me about this episode is that it’s another display of teamwork that this show is so good at. Given that Sentai is in principle about teams of heroes, I can’t understate how well Kiramager nails this aspect, and this episode, which divides the group up into subteams and then unites them at the end, does this particularly well. I give it 3.9 out of 5 sharks!

If there’s one thing that’s uniting all these shows at the moment, it’s the consistency in quality. I’m routinely tuning in to be impressed by Kiramager and Ultraman Z in different ways, and I think Saber has had a great start so far. I’m already attached to a lot of these characters – we can only wait and see what lies in store for each of them.

Tune in next time for another Toku Review Round-up! Let us know how you’re enjoying these series on our social media pages!

Posted on Leave a comment

Toku Review Round-up! (August 30th, 2020)

Here we are again, after another eventful fortnight. Just as the earth keeps turning and 2020 continues to be the worst thing ever, we were once again treated to more kaiju-crushing outings in Ultraman Z, sparkling adventures in Mashin Sentai Kiramager, and the beginning of the end in Kamen Rider Zero-One. I can always count on Tokusatsu to provide some much needed levity.

Things will be a little bit different for this edition; we’ll only be reviewing the recent episodes of Ultraman Z and Kiramager, and Zero-One’s final episodes will get their own special review article, coming soon. But I’m sure even without Rider we’ll have just as much fun as we usually do. Let’s commence with Review Round-up – Riderless edition!

Ultraman Z – Episode 9 & 10

If there’s one thing that I really admire about the series of Ultraman Z so far, it’s that they’re very capable at conveying conspiracy and shadowy operations. As I said in the last edition of the round-up, I like every scene where the artefacts of Ultraman and adjacent aliens are studied by human characters who don’t fully understand their importance. Ultraman Z is excellent at adding additional mystique to these scenes of the monster research lab, which are marked by dramatic lighting and understated performances. Episode 9 kicks off with a short version of this sort of thing, as the narration relays the detail that the Ultra Medals left behind by Genegarg are being located and studied. 

This is swiftly interrupted by the appearance of King Joe, ‘the space robot’, who disrupts the red flash of the lab’s alarm system with their own incandescent and multicoloured torso lights, which pulsate from outside in a rather menacing way, like large inhuman eyes. It’s a great (re)introduction to this character.

King Joe really gets to shine once the plot of this episode kicks off, which involves the STORAGE team attempting to transport the recovered ultra-medals to a secure location, with Yuka inventing a pretty cool looking device to block the energy that the medals give off to keep them covert. Of course, they’re interrupted by King Joe, who gets into fisticuffs with Windom, which they are easily able to evade. In a very effective and menacing scene, King Joe approaches the convoy in multiple pieces, and stares them down with its terrifying eyes once more in a shot that parallels the start of the episode. No dialogue is exchanged, and in what initially appears a wordless moment of defeat, they hand over the precious cargo. But fear not… it was a fake! 

Instead of blocking the signal of the medals, it was emitting it, which is what attracted King Joe initially. Yoko has the real case and is taking a shortcut, so Haruki was merely providing a distraction battle. But wait! There’s a double ruse! It turns out that Yoko’s handing over the medals to Kaburagi, who quickly opens the case to re-summon King Joe to their position, and runs away laughing like a madman. I love a good double ruse, and this one is no exception. It also provides a convenient excuse for the king himself to make their return and fight Zett.

This is obviously a pretty cool fight, and I like that Zett themselves forgets some useful advice, and thanks Yuka for their ‘ultra helpful’ info on King Joe’s weak spot. The gamma future transformation/gamma illusion and the subsequent defeat of King joe is a well put together sequence, and the end of this episode leaves us with a fun little tease, with Joe’s remains being airlifted out, and a hand rising from the ground. It’s a great little episode – 4.6 ‘ruses’ out of 5.

Episode 10 very much follows on from the former, and gives us STORAGE’s attempt to utilise King Joe themselves, and the return of the hand we saw during episode 9’s stinger. 

It turns out the hand belongs to Barossa, an alien space pirate who was hiding out inside King Joe. What results in a very frenetic first half of this episode, with Barossa running around in Storage HQ, fighting against both Juggler and Zett (in human size) and trying to escape. This is made fairly amusing by the weird sounds that Barossa continually makes, and their strange spiral-inspired design.

In a funny exchange, Juggler admits their own conniving nature, answering ‘are you a friend or an ally?’ with ‘[it] depends on the time of day.’ Although they initially help defend against Barossa, they peace out when Barossa returns to threaten Haruki and Yoko, further confirming their own duplicitousness. 

This episode is also where they give Bako, the elderly engineering head, time to shine. As Barossa attacks him and makes their way to the partially restored King Joe to escape, he concocts a quick-witted plan, throwing their lunch to lead Barossa into a ‘shocking’ trap by Haruki. It’s a nice moment of teamwork and character building for Bako.

Damaged and without their method of escape, Barossa runs out into the open, where they gigantify themselves to ultra-scale, meaning it’s time to duke it out with Zett. I love how the standoff between the two is framed and set on this dusty landscape backdrop, with this profile wide shot that sets a clear ‘one-cut’ distance between the two, perhaps inspired by Kurosawa and other classic ‘duel’ moments in related genre movies. Barossa adjusts his stance with his sword, and Zett grips the riser. 

The whole affair concludes when Yoko is able to give Zett some new ultra medals, which lend Zett the powers to create their own sword. Once again, we return to the samurai-duel inspired framing, and Zett is able to deliver some decisive blows with their new abilities. Before being sucked into a vacuum, Barossa declares that their brothers will dispatch revenge on their behalf. Zett informs Haruki that Barossa aliens are born in sets of 10,000, and therefore they likely have 9,999 brothers. Perhaps the rest of the season will give us a few hundred Barossa to deal with per episode? 

All in all, it’s another banger for Ultraman Z, with an episode that goes from strength to strength in its refined chaos. 4 out of 5 spirals!

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 19 & 20

I feel like the episode 19 mark is where fatigue would normally start setting in on a series if it hadn’t already, but despite everything, I’m still really enjoying Kiramager. These last two episodes are no exception to that, with some fun ideas, goofy villains and dazzling battles.

Episode 19 graces us with an amusing ‘body-swap’ concept. It’s certainly not anything new for Sentai, but the results are still fairly original. An evil ‘home’ themed marrskman has the ability to ‘move out’ souls from the bodies, allowing them to body-swap the entire Kiramager team with their Kirama stone counterparts. As you may expect, this puts the team in a less than stellar position, and hijinks ensue as the Kirama Stones clumsily, excitedly navigate their new human bodies.

Both the character and suit actors do a good job of cranking up their performances to match the ridiculous enthusiasm of the stones wreaking havoc with the bodies of their partners. We see the ‘machine version’ of the team struggle with the basics of fighting in human form in a rather hilarious way, breaking bones and getting destroyed as they fail to adapt to having a flesh & blood vessel.

Despite all the silliness, the episode manages to deliver an appropriately sentimental message about the power of positive encouragement. This is sold by the Kirama Fire’s stubborn idea that they can get through to one of Juuru’s school students (he’s like a teaching assistant in this episode) who rips the paper apart when given the instruction to draw. Fire’s method (within Juuru’s body) is to simply encourage him to go further with the tearing, and this has some unexpected positive results. Juuru gets to watch this from the outside, and realises something important; maybe the stones just need some encouragement.

The way they execute this idea is a bit odd; I feel like there’s a bit of a disconnect between the sort of encouragement the group delivers and the immediate increase in skill, but I also realise that’s kind of a silly thing to worry about, when the episode (and series) has already planted its feet firmly in absurd territory. We’re treated to the group excelling as the ‘machine version’ of the team, and then swiftly brought into a kaiju battle against an amusing ‘home loan’ themed creature. Top notch theming. 

Overall, episode 19 is a solid outing for the Kiramager crew, and it’s especially effective as a team-focused episode. I give it 3.5 Home Loans out of 5.

Just when I thought Kiramager might be running out of ideas for its monster-of-the-week entities, episode 20 gives us a super glue bad guy. Yes, super glue – the most menacing of all the household solvents. Seriously, glue can be very dangerous. Be careful out there.

The crux of this episode, though, is not about glue, but rather Juuru’s relationship to classmate Kakihara, who puts on a facade of being an ‘honour student’, yet shows a more aggressive, uncaring side when the teachers aren’t around. Deciding to try and uncover the secret behind Juuru’s regular disappearances from school, Kakihara tags along and stumbles upon the Kiramager team fighting against the glue guy, and in a moment of danger, Juuru jumps to protect her from danger, and their hands become glued together.

It’s a quirky setup, which means it’s a normal setup for Kiramager, but I guess it’s fairly nice. There’s some pretty amusing stuff when they first begin to examine the problem back at HQ, where the rest of the team is content to protect Juuru’s identity (who is still in their Kirama form), until Takamichi enters and blurts out his name, revealing his secret identity to Kakihara, who suddenly changes their tune a bit when they learn this information. 

There are several emotional twists and turns in their relationship from this point on, but it seems as though Juuru admires Kakiharas ‘real’ personality, which she refuses to accept. She does eventually come to terms with it, and also resolves to change herself, as the two have to work together in order to defeat the glue marrskman, who has managed to glue the much of the rest of the team to various objects. I like the way that Shiguru yells ‘mannequin!’ when he’s suddenly glued to a mannequin. It’s not even that funny, but the delivery really made me chuckle.

The choreography of Juuru and Kakihara timing their dodges together is entertaining and impressive, and even if this sequence is quite short, it’s essentially the emotional climax of the episode, as the two have to work together to overcome the machinations of.. Glue. It works as the perfect distraction, allowing Takamichi and Tametomo to glue together their own hammer made out of various junk. It’s ironic, perhaps, that the glue marrskman is defeated by the constructive powers of glue, when he’s all about using glue for destructive powers. There’s also a follow up mech battle, as you might expect, where they are inspired by the very nature of glue to combine.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose, and although this episode was enjoyable, I do wish some of the other members of the team got a way to ‘shine’ in it, and although it was kind of Juuru focused, it also felt like Kakihara had a more significant role than Juuru did. With that being said, it still made for some endearing and lighthearted fun, and is another strong showing for Kiramager. 3.2 Tubes of Glue out of 5!

That’s all for this slightly shorter edition of Toku Review Roundup, but be sure to stay tuned to the Toku Toy Store for the full review of Zero-One’s final episodes, coming soon!

Posted on Leave a comment

Toku Review Round-up! (August 16th, 2020)

Hello, and welcome back to the Toku Review Round-up! It’s been another fortnight of exciting Tokusatsu content, with plenty of dramatic twists and turns. If you’ve been following along with Mashin Sentai Kiramager, Kamen Rider Zero-One and Ultraman Z, you’ll know that we’re at a fairly exciting point in each show. Although each show has some flaws that are starting to show (or have been showing for a while) there’s no denying the momentum that this trio of tokusatsu has right now. The last two weeks has given us some fiery episodes.

So without further ado, let’s get on with the episode reviews. Let’s mix things up by starting with Ultraman Z today.

Ultraman Z – Episodes 7 & 8

Ultraman Z is pretty fantastic and, if I’m being honest, I’m looking forward to it more and more each week. Z seems to be showing up each episode with something even cooler than the previous. This time, we finally get to catch up with Zero, who was initially described as Zett’s mentor, but hasn’t appeared since he got trapped in a wormhole in the first episode. Of course, it’s going to take more than that to dispatch Zero. This episode has a title and title card art that I absolutely love: ‘His Majesty’s Medal’. It’s been said a lot before, but the cape really completes Zero’s look.

The episode opens with an odd but charming scene of Riku eating a lot of noodles, and the rest of STORAGE just being kind of baffled by his general demeanour. They’re interrupted pretty quickly when androids infiltrate STORAGE HQ, and after a bit of a skirmish, they abduct Riku. Thankfully, Yuka is able to use her science skills to hack into an android and relocate our hero.

Of course, Riku’s abduction is all a part of the shady monster experiments that have been ongoing in the background of the series. In an excellent line of dialogue: ‘Let Belial Rest in Peace!’ Riku excalims, as the machine begins to extract ‘Belial factors’ from him. But it’s too late, as a new monster medal of Belial is produced.

My second-favourite part of this episode is the introduction of Zett borrowing Haruki’s body in an ‘ultra-emergency’. It’s nice to see this mechanic make a return, and Zett’s hand-to-hand combat display/dance with Yoko is pretty amusing albeit short. 

Of course, my favourite part of the episode, and the part where it truly excels, is the fight against the form-changing Skull Gomora/Thunder Killer, the Belial fusion monster. The fight’s dramatic sunset background and music really heightens the intensity when Geed and Zett get curb stomped, and this all makes it even more effective when Zero shows up to finish the fight with their trademark rigour. His declaration that ‘you’re 20,000 years too early to worry about me’ combined with his posture, appearance and demeanour exudes confidence. Geed and Zett seem empowered by his mere presence, and the three fight harmoniously together. It’s very radical.

It’s an exciting episode and one that advances the plot in a fairly compelling way. I give it 4 out of 5 stylish capes!

Episode 8, ‘The Mystic Power’ isn’t necessarily as hype-inducing as the previous episode, but it does provide a lot for the structure of the ongoing series. It gives us a little bit more information about Kaburagi and his alien comrades, a little bit more information about the Ultra-medal, an entertaining sub-adventure with Yoko and Yuka, and a decent fight against this episode’s monster, the Tri-King. None of it quite sets off as many fireworks as episode 7, but it’d be fairly hard to match that. 

There’s something to be said about the thousand yard stare Kaburagi gives almost all of the time. Although there’s still a lot to be learned about this character, I think it’s impressive that the short scenes with them have managed to convey a deeply mysterious, frightening aura. This is emphasised by their performance, but the strange artefacts they get to interact with, from these bizarre scrolls to the notes on the Ultra-medal creation process that appear later in the episode. 

It’s also nice how this episode uses Yoko and Yuka, who get some moments to shine as a duo and as individuals. Their scene where they come across the Z Riser and take turns pretending to be Zett made me chuckle, and it was amusing to see their differences in fighting styles when captured by Kaburagi’s alien comrades, with Yuka’s more chaotic tendencies juxtaposed against Yoko’s more measured and precise application martial skill.

The episode ‘gracefully’ weaves in some new Ultra Medals when Z’s initial fight against Tri-King starts to go south after it grows more monster parts. Zett gives Haruki a brief rundown of the new medals he’s obtained, referring to them (Tiga, Dyna and Gaia) as Ultras from another dimension, and prompts Haruki to borrow their ‘phantasmagorical lights’. This creates the form Gamma Future, which allows him to more easily defeat Tri-King. It’s a sleek new design that really effectively pays tribute to the three Ultras it is created from.

This episode is what I would describe as an ‘average’ episode of Z, which is by no means bad. It’s still rather enjoyable, but I give it a 3 out of 5 Phantasmagoria for thoroughly sitting on the benchmark.

Kamen Rider Zero-One – Episodes 41 & 42

I’m sure some of you reading this have some strong feelings about how episode 42 ended, and I certainly do too. We’ll get there, but first we’ve got to talk about the previous episode.

Episode 41 contains a lot of dramatic moments, for better or worse. We also get some fairly interesting conversations between characters in conflict with each other. The episodes begin with our heroes standing in the ruins of the destroyed Hiden Manufacturing building. Aruto asserts his desire to rescue the remaining members of Metsuboujinrai from the grip of the Ark, and cracks a pun. I’m a fan of how Fuwa has to hold back laughter at this one, continuing the thread of his weird sense of humour.

Another thing I liked about this episode was having Jin confront Horobi about his desire for liberating the humagears. I feel like Jin’s ‘dream’ hasn’t been explored enough, because in a way he can be understood as a parallel moral compass for the show as a whole, focusing on the freedom of Humagears in a way that is similar but distinct to Aruto’s goals. Jin established themselves as an independent entity quite a while ago, and it’s nice to finally see them acting on that.

The next major moment in the episode is, of course, Aruto reclaiming the title of CEO of Hiden Intelligence after Gai decides to step down. This is a decision I don’t really like as much. I kind of assumed that Aruto would claim his final success in the show on his own terms with Hiden Manufacturing, which felt more thematically appropriate. Gai stepping down doesn’t necessarily surprise me though, but it’s also difficult to describe it as character growth. The whole thing feels more like a reshuffle out of convenience, so that Aruto has the necessary resources to tackle the endgame.

This episode wraps up with a collaborative effort to take down the Ark. With Aruto as Zero-Two fighting them on the ground, and Ikazuchi attacking the actual satellite. It’s a fairly entertaining fight by most accounts, and by the end of the episode, it seems like the Ark really is done for this time. Until Horobi tells us it isn’t (and we’re reminded that we still have 4 episodes to go).

Overall, this episode is something of a mixed bag – I think it has some exciting elements but also a few that highlight some of the show’s wasted potential. But it does help set the stage for the significantly more exciting follow up episode. I give it 3 ‘Letters of Resignation’ out 5.

Episode 42, as I have mentioned, is where Zero-One really seems to be heating up. The end of this episode marks another rise in my interest in the show, which dipped quite a lot during the workplace competition arc and once again when Gai was meant to be redeemed. But I think if they manage to use the space of the remaining few episodes really effectively, then we could be in for a really satisfying ending.

I’m also partially skeptical, because it’d be really easy to mess this up. I’m of course talking about the last-minute ‘twist’ of episode 42, which sees Aruto possessed by the Ark in the wake of Izu’s tragic death. There’s some other good things about this episode, but much of it feels like it’s leading up to this particular sequence of events. It was nice, in particular, to see the ‘calculations’ return, but this time from Azu’s perspective. I was genuinely starting to think we might not ever see Azu again until this happened.

It was also compelling to see a bit of teamwork between the main riders, something that feels like we’ve been waiting forever to get again. Just seeing Fuwa and Yua actually do something was awesome, even if they didn’t manage much.

In addition, whether you’re vibing with Horobi or not (and I can certainly understand feeling neutral towards him at this point), I feel like it’s easy to agree that the actor really sells it. Horobi’s moody teenager vibes permeated this episode, and it felt convincing when they decided to do what they do.

In terms of things I didn’t like about this episode, I have to say that the scene with Gai Amatsu being essentially fired and re-hired into a new ‘thouser department’ in ZAIA was really odd. I appreciate it might be setting up something interesting, but the fact that the new ZAIA Japan CEO kind of jumped in out of nowhere felt a little contrived.

But those final moments were definitely something very impressive. The presentation of the reveal, as well as the design of Zero-One have gone a long way to make this a memorable moment.

What will probably determine if this episode remains as good as I thought it was in the first viewing will come down to what lasting consequences it has on the show. I’m hoping to see Fuwa and/or Yua really step up to the plate in the next episodes, and I’m hoping that Aruto’s struggle and internal conflict continues to provide stakes for the show’s finale. It was an exciting episode, I give it 4 out of 5 ‘Perfect Conclusions’.

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 17 & 18 

If there’s one thing that Kiramager has gotten consistently right, it’s the general tone, which often walks the line between sentimental seriousness and a goofy comedic vibe. Although episode 17 doesn’t do anything particularly dazzling, I think it highlights Kiramager’s attempts to balance its tone perhaps better than many of the episodes that come before it.

The general premise involves a rather silly ‘whack-a-mole’ Marrsskman, who guards the treasure that Takamichi has been looking for this entire time. Takamichi calls upon Tametomo’s skills as ‘pro-gamer’ to help him defeat the whack-a-mole challenge, and the whole team once again agrees to help. Juuru fashions a new hammer for Tametomo to use, and as one might expect, Tametomo’s fast reactions carry him quite far. 

What motivates Tametomo’s pro-gamer skills, though, is a desire to see Takamichi open up to everyone else. It’s pretty clear that despite going through several emotional lessons over the past few episodes, Takamichi is still placing some distance between himself and the rest of the team. Tametomo hopes he can fix that if he finally gets the treasure he wants. This is the sort of tonal balance I mentioned; the whack-a-mole set-up of this episode is a bit silly, but there’s an emotional backdrop that kind of recontextualizes it.

Tametomo’s gambit seems to work, as opposed to Takamichi taking the usual selfish approach to the Kiramagers, it seems as though he’s willing to put in some level of self-sacrifice, as he quite literally changes himself for the better by temporarily turning into a silver Kirama stone. Talk about character development!

The stone powers up Drilljean into a grand guardian, which allows them to turn the tide of battle at a crucial moment. Afterwards, Takamichi goes back to get the treasure, and explains to the team the importance of it. The ‘garnerstone’ is one of four, and when gathered, they grant a wish. In what I can describe as an effective dramatic cliffhanger, Takamichi declares that he needs them to save Mabusheena, who is cursed!

All things considered, it’s a very solid episode, and one that had a few neat surprises within. I give it 3.1 ‘Garnerstones’ out of 5.

Episode 18 gives us some even more dramatic shifts in Kiramager’s story, which build further upon the previous few episodes. We get more details about the curse that may befall mabusheena, as well as the introduction of ‘calamentality’, the inverse form of ‘kiramentality’.

The crux of this episode is the rather heavy-metal idea that Garza can simply distort the ‘monstone’ that lives inside of Takamichi with a negative energy, distorting him into an ‘assassin of darkness’ that serves Yodonheim. It’s kind of a conventional story, especially for a sixth ranger, but I don’t dislike anything about the way they’re doing it here. 

Maybe it’s just me, though, but I think they could have done more with converting the Kirama Silver suit into a more evil version. The red eyes are a good start, but I would have appreciated a bit more in this department. 

There’s a big, well-earned moment of drama in this episode that I think works really well. Juuru uses the Garnerstone to wish the monstone (and by proxy, the darkness) out of Takamichi, but Takamichi is of course stunned by this, wishing to save the power of the Garnerstones for Mabusheena’s curse. Juuru asserts that Mabusheena might have sacrificed herself trying to save Takamichi from the darkness anyway, and that he wouldn’t choose between the two. It’s all pretty good, as it feels like the last 5 or so episodes have been building up to this big emotional release. 

There’s not much else specifically to comment on in this episode – the final mech battle is dynamic and well-earned, and the ending resolution between Takamichi and Juuru is really nice. It feels like the end of an arc, with a few motivations put in place for where the show might go next. It gets 3.5 monstones out of 5.

That’s all for this week’s edition of Toku Review Round-Up! As always, I’m very excited to see where things go from here. In the next edition, we’ll be moving into Kiramager’s next arc, meeting King Joe in Ultraman Z, and getting exceedingly close to the finale in Zero-One. Exciting times lie ahead!

Posted on Leave a comment

Toku Review Round-up! (August 2nd, 2020)

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Toku Review Round-Up! Some interesting stuff has been happening in the world of tokusatsu over the past few weeks, such as the reveal of Kamen Rider Saber, the new series featuring a sword & book wielding hero that will succeed Zero-One in about a month’s time. There’s things about it that excite me about Saber (I love the idea of books as a gimmick!) and other things about it that give me some reason for trepidation (the sword protruding from his head is a bit odd), but I feel pretty excited about it regardless. We’ve also had the debut of Zero-One’s final form, Ultraman Z has had the exciting return of several characters and elements from past series, and Mashin Sentai Kiramager continues to be a really fun time. Without further ado, let’s get into the episode reviews!

Kamen Rider Zero-One – Episodes 39 & 40

In my previous edition of the Toku Review Round-up, I gave what I thought was a ‘harsh but fair’ review of the previous two Zero-One episodes. I can happily say that it became very quickly apparent that these next two episodes showed an improvement and I enjoyed them a lot more. The core problem those episodes presented (of Gai Amatsu’s ‘commitment to repentance’) is still kind of present, but we’re quickly shown that the absurdity of Gai suddenly deciding to be good is at least being acknowledged, and resisted, as Aruto calls him out.

I quite like that this exchange even happens at all, as I was quite worried that this whole situation would be understated or glossed over. But it’s not the only compelling element to episode 39 before this conversation even happens, there’s some cool stuff – the opening team-up fight against Ark-Zero, its use of music, and the general performance of Ark-Zero, who can be fairly fearsome when they do choose to talk. 

Unfortunately, there’s also an equal bit of tedium in this one, including a lot of exposition about how the Ark isn’t really possible to defeat and the best characters (Fuwas and Naki) are once more a bit sidelined. There’s an interesting scene where Gai attempts to apologise to Fuwa and Yua, but that’s all they really get in terms of meaningful moments in this episode. I appreciate, however, that there is some resistance, and that Fuwa and Yua don’t really accept the terms of Gai’s apology right away. It’s important for the characters to be having these types of conversations.

This episode concludes with Naki and Ark-Zero (as Horobi) destroying Aruto one more time and integrating into the satellite Zea. It has become abundantly clear that Ark-Zero is always going to be one step ahead, unless Zero-One gets a serious upgrade.

I think this episode was somewhere between okay and good, so I’m giving it 3 out of 5 ‘All-Knowing Satellites’! 

The next episode was definitely a lot more interesting from a conceptual point of view, giving us a few different subsequent versions of reality or ‘timelines’. At first, I thought some sort of time-travel shenanigans were going on, but as ridiculously fun and silly as that would have been, I’m glad that didn’t happen. Instead, Izu is running simulations of possible futures. 

The way they show Fuwa, Gai and Yua getting hit by Ark’s hyper-lethal lasers in the first simulation did elicit some genuine shock in me, before I understood what was going on. If there’s one particular element that this episode gets right, it’s the sudden, rapid and ruthless nature of these moments in the first simulation. A genuine sense of hopelessness is produced. 

The hopelessness continues to compound and increase as the sequences continue to play out, and each time the gang tries a slightly different approach, to no avail. It’s nice to see that Aruto is still so optimistic each time, even though we see him fail quite a lot in this episode. This episode is also set from Izu’s perspective, which adds a lot to this dynamic of seeing Aruto try and fail over and over again.

Towards the episode’s climax, however, it’s revealed that Izu running these simulations allows them to bring Zea back online at a crucial moment, somehow. I have to admit that it feels fairly contrived, but the hype that follows is worth enduring a little contrivance for. Zea’s return means that Aruto’s vision for a suit upgrade, which began in the previous epiosde, can be brought to life. The creatively named 02 suit is formed, and even though it’s a simple design, I really like this suit. It beats having something overly complicated as the final form, in my opinion. 02 kicks some serious satellite, and it seems like Ark-Zero has finally met their match. The battle that bookends this episode is fairly neat, and overall, it engaged me more than episode 39. I give this episode 3.2 ‘Calculations’ out of 5!

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 15 & 16

Episode 15 begins with a lot of quirky scenes – w e see an episode of one of Shiguru’s TV Shows, ‘I’m In Love With a Grim Reaper’, and discover the fact that Takamichi and Mabusheena still haven’t fully resolved their issues, so Takamichi is attempting to communicate with her telepathically. There’s a lot of fun comedic touches to the presentation of the in-universe TV show, and something more subtly funny about casually producing this telepathy ability. But trouble soon emerges!

After interrupting one of Shiguru’s TV shoots to find treasure underneath a statue, Shiguru and Takamichi become paired up together, with many hijinx ensuing. They accidentally uncover a monstone, meanwhile, the rest of the team have encountered Crunchula, one of the Yodonheim generals. He goads them into a bizarro game of ‘green light, red light’ where any false move will get you turned into a traditional Japanese ‘daruma’ doll. It’s minor, but I really appreciated the design detail that went into the different designs for the Kirama daruma dolls, which replicates their helmets. 

When the remaining team gets got by Crunchula, it’s up to Shiguru and Takamichi to save the day. Before this, though, Shiguru attempts to break through to understanding Takamichi’s emotional problems by inquiring about his past with Mabusheena. Although there’s a nice little flashback, Takamichi rather rudely shuts Shiguru down when he attempts to give some sincere advice, showing us just how little he’s learned about playing well with others. It’s executed nicely.

The resolution to this conflict probably goes in the way that you might think, with fairly convenient ways to tie up all the loose ends. Shiguru and Takamichi come up with a quick rescue plan, and Takamichi of course has to use his telepathy to communicate with Mabusheena in order to avert her from danger. Takamichi isn’t sure that the telepathy will work, while Shiguru seems pretty sure. This gesture of faith from Takamichi sits at the intersection of several different cliches when it comes to tropes of re-establishing friendship, but it works okay here, and goes further to establish Shiguru’s ‘eye for detail’.

The resulting mech fight is pretty amusing as the general creates a demonic Ring Toss kaiju, which is a pretty fabulous design – part shelled creature, part evil-looking ring toss poll, which launches the rings as both projectiles and restraining devices. This is a fairly creative giant monster battle, all things considered.

After this fight wraps up, there’s a few brief scenes that confirm that the Takamich and Mabusheena tension has melted away a bit, as well as one final gag about Shiguru’s obsession with lip balm which has been appearing throughout the episode. Overall, the arc of this episode is, in true Kiramager fashion, fairly predictable, yet satisfying. I give it a 3 out of 5 Lip Balms!

Episode 16 I think is a slightly more interesting episode than the previous for a myriad of reasons. Despite a pretty bizarre central premise, this episode does quite a lot of good character work in the short amount of time, has a really weird looking villain, and focuses a bit more on the overall team dynamic, as opposed to the Takamichi focus that many of the recent episodes have had.

This works by forcing Kirama Silver out-of-action for once, due to a crippling trauma associated with… marshmallows? Yes, the enemy-of-the-week of this episode is a Marshmallow themed Marrskman, which Takamichi has a big problem with, due to a past incident involving the sweet.

It turns out Takamichi’s trauma boils down to a school-romance gone wrong, where he accidentally hurts the feelings of a girl he has a crush on by being rude about the marshmallows he received from, communicated to us via a funny flashback. In the present, the rest of the team insist that Takamichi makes more marshmallows to give to her in the present day in order to make up for his misgivings all those years ago, which Sena seems particularly invested in. The team also hopes to find the weakness of the marshmallow Marsskman by making marshmallows. 

It’s an entertaining concept, and one where we once again get to see some new dynamics. In a sub-adventure, Shiguru and Sayo opt in to complete some treasure hunting on behalf of Takamichi, and Tametomo thinks swiftly when Marshmallows are accidentally frozen and dropped, shattering them, allowing him to concoct a plan to freeze the Marshmallow guy, reducing his elasticity.

Takamichi confides in Sena, who asserts that her interest is based mainly in supporting the team as a whole, which Takamichi seems to respect. This is a nicely scripted moment, and the sequence that follows – featuring Takamichi fighting on the ground whilst the rest of the team battles the kaiju in the Kiramajin, is exceptionally cool, aided by the soundtrack!

Of course, Takamichi is able to apologise to his childhood love at the end, who unsurprisingly remarks on how Takamichi hasn’t changed in 30 years. This resolution seems to please Sena, and the group speculates that there may be more to it, but none of them are sure why. It’s a ‘sweet’ ending to a ‘sweet’ episode – it gets 4 out of 5 Marshmallows!

Ultraman Z – Episodes 5 & 6

Episode five of Ultraman Z is remarkable for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s all about the return of Jugglus Juggler, a veteran of the Ultra series, who pops up in this episode and reminds of us of why they’re so great. Secondly, even outside of Juggler, the episode builds an incredible tension by forcing our heroes into some difficult situations. 

It all kicks off when ice monster Peguila begins their attack. Using the Windom, they hope to quell the threat, and Haruki is on the ground guiding civilians into a safety point. Things quickly take a turn for the worst as Windom is iced (literally) by Peguila, freezing it in place, and Juggler appears behind Haruki to quickly swipe the Z Riser. Uh oh! 

Without many options left, Haruki must board the Sevenger to extract Yoko from the frozen Windom in a tense mission. The desperation is certainly felt, and Sevenger performs a pretty incredible tackle on Peguila, which gives them just enough time to get in and out of the frozen Windom. But things get even weirder when Juggler returns to Haruki, only to protect him from Peguila, give back the Z riser, and run away again!

The ensuing fight between Alpha Edge Zett and Peguila is a pretty brief one, which begins in the clouds and comes crashing down to the city. An ancient artefact that was mentioned early in the episode appears and comes to Zett’s aid, transforming into a lance. Zett recognises it as Ultra tech, and knows how to use it, and so the battle commences on the ground. It’s really fun to see the new lance in action, almost immediately exploding Peguila in a cloud of flames.

It sets the stage however, for a significantly cooler fight against the Zeppandon, a new monster created by Juggler’s copy of the Z Riser tech. The design of this monster is very unique and weird, and it has a teleportation skill that keeps getting the better of Zett throughout the fight. The way in which it is shot allows us to see Zett’s mistaken anticipations of where Zeppandon will move to and the resulting counter-attacks. Ultimately, Zett switches the elemental ability of the lance, which transforms it into an ice arrow, which proves decisive in the victory. 

Ultraman Z has once again delivered an exciting and visceral episode populated with a lot of intense moments and action, and the return of a fan favourite. It’ll be interesting to see how the different aspects of the show will continue to come together later in the series – there’s a lot of possibilities for where this show could go! I give it 4.1 Lances out of 5!

The next episode decides to escalate things even further – beginning with a fairly innocuous efficiency test between Windom and Sevenger, which is interrupted by the appearance of Gillvallis! This episode drops a lot of references and flashbacks to Geed, which are pretty awesome to see, but they certainly rely on you having knowledge of Geed to truly appreciate them. 

That doesn’t stop it being amazing nonetheless – Geed is one of my favourite Ultra shows. Geed’s fight against Gillvallis steals the show. You know it’s pretty cool when even our main protagonist says so.

We even get a cool reunion between Riku and Juggler. Juggler proclaims his new desire to fight for peace, and Riku explains that Gillvallis was resurrected by those pesky Devil Splinters. Meanwhile, the STORAGE team comes up with an elaborate sting operation to try and lure Gillvallis into a trap, which kind of ends up with Zett taking decisive action.

The brief moments of Zett and Geed talking are really charming, with Zett explaining Geed’s backstory to Haruki. Having them fight together is really exciting, and afterwards it’s also nice to have a moment of conversation between Riku and Haruki, where Haruki finally learns of the origin of the Devil Splinters and Ultraman Belial. It’s nice that some visuals of Belial are shown here – these flashbacks, whilst maybe slightly abrasive for newcomers, really help to flesh out Z’s relationship with the rest of this world.

This episode in general is very strong in terms of connecting Ultraman Z to Ultraman history, and also contains a few pretty good battles. I’ll always really enjoy the design of Gillvallis, and I’m very fond of the way the human characters, such as Juggler and Riku, and Riku and Haruki, have gotten to interact. I give it 4 out of 5 Devil Splinters!

That’s all for the Toku Review Round-Up this week, and I’m already very excited to find out what comes next for each major toku show. I’m very engaged by where Ultraman Z is going, I’m loving the characters in Kiramager, and Zero-One is quickly approaching its final episodes. There’s a lot more excitement to come! 

Posted on Leave a comment

Toku Review Round-up! (July 19th, 2020)

Looks like it’s that time again; I’m back once more to review recent episodes of the latest tokusatsu shows! Compared to the state of the world, the current climate of Tokusatsu could be described as ‘aggressively normal’ – there’s many quality shows airing, and everyone’s got their hot takes. As Zero-One nears its conclusion, speculation on how it will end, as well as the next show ‘Kamen Rider Saber’ looms in the air. Kiramager continues to dazzle people with its new sixth ranger, and Ultraman Z continues to have the most hype inducing opening theme song. It’s certainly ‘business as usual’ when it comes to major tokusatsu.

But how good is any of it, really? That’s the real question. And for some reason, you came here for those answers, or just to have a read of what I think. In either case, thank you for checking it out! Without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Kamen Rider Zero-One – Episodes 37 & 38

I watched episodes 37 and 38 of Zero-One back to back, and I have two very distinct feelings about each episode. When recalling episode 37, I struggled to remember the key events that happened within, and with episode 38, I felt quite frustrated at the direction it was taking. Unfortunately, Kamen Rider hasn’t really lived up to my hopes for it the past few weeks.

Episode 37 itself is fine, it just doesn’t really achieve all that much. The episode is dominated by more fights against the Ark which is able to seamlessly possess different members of Metsuboujinrai.net. It’s a little bit disappointing how this is essentially further sidelining already-sidelined characters, and reducing their role a fair bit. The combat in this episode is good, but it’s getting more and more divorced from a sense of stakes or character motivation. It’s awesome seeing the full Metsuboujinrai crew together, but it doesn’t really mean a lot right now.

There are some fun elements to this episode. I still like Naki a lot, and have done since their introduction. I think it’s important to note though, that with so few episodes left, there probably aren’t many exciting directions in which they can take Naki as a character. I hope they can surprise me in that regard, because I like Naki’s cold and calculating persona, and I actually like their new suit form which is introduced in this episode. I hope we get to see more of ‘Japanese Wolf’ in later episodes.

In addition, the senior management of HIDEN launch an ambush against Gai’s tyrannical presidency by collecting data on his various crimes. This comes to a head at the end of the episode, as they prepare to force out Gai with stacks of evidence. What could possibly happen next? Surely this will have lasting consequences for Gai and HIDEN intelligence as a whole?

Unfortunately, these are rhetorical questions. Episode 37 was kind of boring with some fun action – I give it 2 out of 5 ‘Japanese Wolves’.

At the beginning of Episode 38, it seems like Gai immediately gains the upper hand, forces his way into the secret lab, and deletes all of the incriminating records of his behaviour, with relative ease. Technology is incredible.

Zero-One never ceases to remind us of how amazing technology is, especially when we keep being introduced to friendly A.I. important to changing the hearts of main characters. I’m talking of course about episode 38’s robot dog, ‘Thouser’, and its effect on bad guy Gai Amatsu, which may prove to be one of the more controversial elements of Zero-One overall. 

I’ll get this out of the way: I don’t really like what they’re doing here. In principle, I like dogs a lot, and I’m usually all for the cuteness and nostalgia of a dog changing someone’s heart. But unless this is the grand bait-and-switch that some are anticipating it will be, I don’t think they’ve really done the groundwork to justify Gai switching sides at this point. We get a backstory that’s told to us in shorthand, which is brought to the forefront through the recreation of the robot dog ‘Thouser’ in the present day. It’s a weird way to execute on this concept, which I assumed might have been coming anyway, but definitely not like this.

I’m certainly not a ‘Gai hater’ – I think he served his purpose as a villain agreeably. But therein lies the problem. They’ve done far too much to elucidate his villainous nature which now makes it a lot harder for us to buy into the idea of him having a change of heart. If any of Gai’s past had been established a bit earlier, it would have been a lot more effective to give us this sudden declaration that he ‘loves HIDEN Intelligence’ at the end of this episode. Once again, there are some cool things here, such as the return of the bike and the brief glimpses we see of Fuwa & Yua, but it’s all kind of overshadowed by the impact of this big change.

Overall though, Gai’s tragic robot dog backstory and switch, which dominates the episode, doesn’t really work for me. I try to avoid being negative about things online, so sorry for this – Episode 38 gets a 1.5 Robot Dogs out of a possible five.

Mashin Sentai Kiramager – Episodes 13 & 14

Kiramager continues to delight with another set of charming episodes. Of the three shows in this lineup of reviews, I think I’d have to say I’m enjoying Kiramager the most right now, for the simple fact that it’s hitting a lot of high notes in terms of tone, comedy and design, even if they’re quite familiar notes.

Lots of examples of these qualities can be seen in Episode 13, which gives us a further look at Kiramager Silver, Crystalia Takamichi. The bombshell of the previous episode left us wondering how he might gel with the group, but this episode gives us all the answers we might need on that front, showing us a character caught between two worlds, who must confront their past mistakes.

It was charming to see a character like Takamichi brought to life with this comedic and lighthearted performance. The episode also morphs a lot structurally for a sentai episode, twisting the existing formula a bit to focus more on Takamichi’s development as a character. It’s a fairly classic set-up; Takamichi is caught between a desire to hunt treasure and a hidden desire to save people as Kiramai Silver. What results is a lot of sequences of Silver flying in to ‘steal the thunder’ from the rest of the team, but refusing to commit to the role. It’s pretty amusing. 

We even get a bit of backstory for Takamichi in brief but zesty flashbacks, and the proper debut of his new drilling vehicle Mashin, Drilljean. Furthermore, Takamichi gets to reconcile with the CARAT leader Hakataminami – his younger brother! Yes, it seems Takamichi was recreated from crystals, meaning he hasn’t aged in quite some time, making him a ‘full fledged showa guy.’

This was a neat episode – it had some fun villain encounters, some unique character development and some good action. It was a good time. I give it 3.5 out of 5 Drills.

Episode 14 feels like a continuation of the previous episode’s themes, despite being a different story. We have more angst and aloofness from Takamichi, who is still more interested in treasure hunting than anything else, which is highlighted in the opening sequence of the episode.

Despite working with the rest of the Kiramagers in some form to defeat Yodon Marsskmen, Takamichi still maintains a (misguided?) belief in their own superiority, and this episode’s all about him having to drop that belief and rely on others. He’s forced into a spot of vulnerability once a steam engine themed enemy attacks the bathhouse that they’re hanging out in, causing Takamichi to lose his Kiramai Changer. We also via flashback that this toxic attitude of narcissism was passed onto him by the villain Garza, who encourages him that when he is alone is when Takamichi shines the brightest.

It’s a pretty simple concept for an episode, and Sentai often uses ‘learning teamwork’ as a thematic turnstile (even within earlier episodes of this series) but it provides some quirky fun regardless. This episode would actually be a lot less interesting to me without the inclusion of the steam-engine Marsskman – I really dig their design, and the way in which Kiramai Red literally has to slam-dunk some rubble into his ‘chimney’ to defeat him, while Silver holds him in place. Using basketball manoeuvres in combat is pretty fantastic in any context, and it’s done here in a way that’s both functional and flashy.

Takamichi learns that Garza’s advice about him working best on his own was a manipulative form of sabotage, and in one final act of genuine teamwork, the full group unites to defeat the Yodon forces, using a variety of new mech creations. Silver even gets to join in on the ending dance, finally! I give this episode 3 out 5 Steam Trains/Slam Dunks.

Ultraman Z – Episodes 3 & 4

I know because of the way we started this series that we’re an episode behind in this reviewing of Ultraman Z. I know there’s some incredibly exciting stuff that has gone in Episode 5 that I want to talk about, but for the sanctity (???) of this review column, we have to stick to two episodes at a time. I can’t be giving Ultraman Z any preferential treatment, as much as I would like to. You’ll have to wait until next time for the takes on episode 5 & 6.

With that being said, Episodes 3 and 4 are both fairly strong in their own right. Episode 3 takes a leaf out of the book of Zero-One and introduces a new problem for our heroes: corporate accountability and funding negotiation. This becomes an issue after Haruki accidentally destroys an observatory while piloting Sevenger in a skirmish against Guigass (it’s nice to see them again!).

As a result, funding for STORAGE’s second anti-monster robot is pulled, meaning that they must now re-negotiate. In order to prove Sevenger’s effectiveness, they opt to demonstrate this by using them to transporti a dormant monster, Gomora, away to a safer, unihabited space. This is livestreamed to a variety of western government officials, who amusingly remark (in English) about the likeness of this scenario to ‘Japanese Robot Animations’ they used to watch as a child.

Of course, things escalate when Gomora awakens. We’re treated to a brief fight against the creature with Sevenger, before Haruki decides to call in the power of Ultraman Z. The fight at this stage becomes a lot more interesting, and even the western government guys seem to recognise ‘Ultraman’! Haruki, who has been suffering from hayfever the whole episode to the point of distraction, remarks that the air is clear inside this bubble reality within Z, allowing him to focus on defeating Gomora. The fight that ensues is very tangible and dynamic.

Despite this, the battle proves to be tough until Z is able to get a power up, transforming them into their Beta Smash form and finishing the fight with Gomora. All is well that ends well, as STORAGE is able to secure funding for their second robot – the officials were so impressed with Sevenger’s ability, given that Ultraman struggled! I think this is a funny – if a little contrived – way to wrap things up.

This was another simple but effective episode for Ultraman Z. It didn’t seem to hone in on a particular message, rather trying to say multiple things about responsibility and perseverance, but that’s fine. It was more lighthearted fun. I give it 3 out of 5 Beta Smashes.

The next episode is all about introducing us to STORAGE’s second robot, Windom, which has suffered a variety of cutbacks in production. The quality overall is lower than what Hikari expected when designing it. I’m starting to think that STORAGE – ostensibly the only serious line of defence against a variety of regular threats – is severely underfunded? Maybe this show is saying something. There’s not much time to focus on this, however, as another Kaiju attacks – the underground beast Telesdon!

The team suffers another big L in this battle as the Telesdon remains undefeated. Despite this, Hikari is able to retrieve a vital sample of the monster’s skin, which they use to analyse the threat for the upcoming rematch. We also get a brief glimpse at a ‘mysterious figure’ who uses their own type of Ultra Riser and a strange machine to create their very own Kaiju medal. I like the way that this scene is lit in a cryptic green shade, and I like how this scene allows us to draw our own conclusions on how the machine functions, and to what purpose the medal will be used in the future.

Hikari comes to some sort of epiphany about the power problem of Windom, and Sevenger once again attempts to take on Telesdon. After Sevenger is toasted, Haruki summons Ultraman Z in their Beta Smash form once again to throw down some wrestling moves. Meanwhile, Hikari manages to recycle a spare kaiju part to act as an external power source for Windom, which appears at exactly the right time.

I’d like to take a moment to heap some praise on the design of this one – whilst I like Sevenger, there’s something about Windom’s overall design, from its more humanoid hands and arms, to the weird almost beak-like mouth and scalp antenna, Windom is a bizarre design that definitely fits right alongside Sevenger as a clunky, man-made machine. It’s charming. It’s also essential in this encounter, winning the battle against Telesdon easily.

That is until Telesdon gets upgraded by this mysterious figure from earlier. Z has to switch things up and change forms to focus on speed, which combined with the new power of Windom, allows them to turn the tide of the battle once more. The way in which this fight is framed and the pace at which it moves allows us to see that Ultraman works better with the company of Wisdom, forming a great team together.

Things wrap up neatly from here, and Haruki and Z discover the existence of the ‘kaiju medal’, which floats out of Telesdon upon their defeat. Ulraman remarks that this could be catastrophic if put in the wrong hands, and we get more of a glimpse at what the future might hold of Ultraman Z’s villains. Overall, I enjoyed this episode a bit more than three, for the teamwork and fight choreography on display, the glimpses at the villainous side, and the more concise and robust theming. It was as solid episode which I grant 4 out 5 Kaiju medals.

That’s all for this week’s edition of Toku Review Round-up! As always, I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here. Zero-One’s got a lot of explaining to do, Kiramager is moving onto to a new team dynamic, and I’m keen to see more of Ultraman’s villain. It’s an exciting time to be a toku fan, that’s for sure.

Posted on Leave a comment

Toku Review Round-Up! (July 4th, 2020)

Hello, and welcome to the first ever ‘Toku Review Round-Up!’ on the Toku Toy Store! I’m Adam – you may remember me from some other things I’ve written recently for this site, such as my ‘What makes a great Kamen Rider villain?’ piece and my recaps of the currently airing Super Hero Time Shows Machine Sentai Kiramager and Kamen Rider Zero One. Although I had tremendous fun writing those, I didn’t get much space to express my personal thoughts, criticisms and appraisals on what’s happening right now in the current, exciting moment of Tokusatsu. That’s about to change, however, as right now I have the extraordinary pleasure of reviewing the latest episodes of major tokusatsu shows for the Toku Toy Store, including Mashin Sentai Kiramager, Kamen Rider Zero-One and Ultraman Z. Every two weeks, I’ll be bringing you my ‘sparkling’ takes on the last two episodes of each show!

When this regular column was originally pitched, we lived in a more hopeful world where Covid-19 hadn’t destroyed everything yet. At the time I was first given the opportunity to write regular episode reviews, Super Hero Time hadn’t yet been delayed, and GARO Versus Road was still airing, which I very much wanted to include as part of this, but at the time of writing it finished last week, and this column is all about the currently airing shows. Sorry GARO, but you didn’t make it in, but thankfully Ultraman Z began and Super Hero Time returned at an opportune moment to form the three pillars of this regular review column (I liked GARO VR a lot, for the record!).

I’ll be reviewing the individual episodes of each of these major toku shows in groups of two, until the shows end, or I die (whichever comes first!). I’ll be trying to consider each episode on its own merits, but of course factoring in how the series has handled things throughout its run. I think it will be particularly interesting to compare the three shows at three different points in their life cycle, with Ultraman Z having only just debuted, Kiramager still in its early game and Zero-One approaching its end. I think there’s a lot to say about each show so far, but to really condense these reviews down to the most basic assessment, I’ve pioneered a ‘revolutionary’ five-star system for each episode, which you’ll see in action below!

Kamen Rider Zero-One – Episodes 35.5 & 36

Episode 35.5 of Kamen Rider Zero One is a bit of a weird one to start with because it feels like a partial recap episode, yet it still seems somewhat important for the continuity of the story. This episode in particular mostly focuses on our villain team of Metsubouijinrai, who are introduced to ‘Azu’, the evil counterpart of ‘Izu’ who appears to have been created as an emissary of the Ark satellite, which is now awake and ready to enact its will on the world.

Although there was a lot of recycled footage in this episode, I did enjoy how it introduced Azu, with Izu’s actress showing a different dimension in the form of a more malicious Humagear assistant. I also enjoyed the minor hesitations each member of Metsuboujinrai had in telling the story of how they gained their ‘singularity’. In particular, I appreciated how the minor changes Jin’s character has gone through thus far enabled him to carefully obscure his true intentions to avoid being inflicted with the ‘Malice learning ability’. This comes to fruition in the next episode, and upon reflection, they did quite a good job of establishing it here.

Outside of these minor details, there wasn’t a lot of new stuff in 35.5 to enjoy, probably due to its nature as an intermediary episode. There wasn’t even much Aruto outside of a small cameo. It was nice to be caught up again on the current thoughts and feelings of the Metsuboujinrai, but it felt more like a reminder than anything else. With that being said, this is the episode that introduces us to the Ark’s physical presence, which seems like it will be an important thing going forwards – it puts this episode in a weird limbo between being important and being just another recap. It’s somewhere between skippable and not skippable. On the Zero-One scale, it gets 2.5 ‘Burning Falcons’ out of 5. The charming performances elevate it a bit for me, but overall it felt quite forgettable as an episode.

Episode 36, however, was a lot stronger, and contained quite a few aspects that I liked, including Jin and Yua’s team up as a pay off to the last few episodes. I quite enjoyed the choreography in all of the fights against Ark-Zero, and it was interesting to see some kind of gambit in play against the new villain. The plan doesn’t really work though, and a lot of this episode consists of the existing players getting owned by the new bad guy.

I do like where Zero-One is currently headed but I think it’s been caught up in some problems along the way that may have prevented it from being even better. The extended pacing of the previous Arc has made it felt like we’re now rushing towards a new enemy and the way in which the last few episodes have played out have been frustrating in the way that characters seem to keep switching alliances. Side-switching is a Kamen Rider staple of course, so it’s partly to be expected, but I’m never really certain at the moment what certain characters are motivated by and I’m confused why more time wasn’t dedicated to establishing the threat of Ark-Zero, rather than ZAIA, who have faded into the background a bit at this stage.

Overall, though, episode 36 at least felt like there were a lot of moving parts to it compared to the previous ‘half’ episode. The use of Fuwa (and to some extent, Naki) continues to be the best part of the show – and at this point I’m enjoying where his character is at the most after his ‘reset’, and the emotional moment that they give him this episode was one of the stronger elements of this episode overall; seeing Fuwa laugh so much was a strange sight, but at least his character is moving forwards.

As Zero-One barrels towards its conclusion, it remains to be seen if it can wrap things up in a truly satisfying way. Aspects of it give me hope for the final block of episodes, though, and I give Episode 36 a solid 3.5 ‘Ark Drivers’ out of 5. 

Ultraman Z – Episodes 1 and 2

Tsuburaya productions have been kind enough to simulcast all the episodes of their latest show Ultraman Z via YouTube, with full english subtitling, which makes this one a really convenient watch for fans and newcomers to the world of Ultraman alike. The tone and continuity of the first episodes of Ultraman Z are also indicative of a show designed to draw in new people whilst also paying a kind reverence to Ultraman’s history. The first episode is a great introduction, and a fun look at the new Ultraman hero and the supporting cast.

I’m a big fan of how Ultraman brings its kaiju and mecha to life with the use of scaled model shots and CGI in a fantastic harmony. It doesn’t always look perfect but the first episodes of Ultraman Z make it clear that the show is confident in its own style. We’re immediately introduced to the man-made mecha of the series, Sevenger, which is really charming in its clunky appearance. Throughout the episode, the rest of the earth’s defense force – STORAGE – are also imbued with a lot of personality. Charming is definitely the key word for this first episode because I kept seeing stuff that made me smile or laugh.

Even the new Ultra hero, Z, is full of good vibes. Once they make their way to Earth to combat the threat of a ‘ferocious space shark’ Genegarg, they find themselves having to fuse with the earthling Haruki, who was piloting Sevenger. Z and Haruki have difficulty communicating with each other, and there’s even some humour to be found in the way Z asks Haruki to ‘chant [his] name!’ with more spirit in order to complete their mutual transformation. It’s clear from the beginning that Ultraman Z is going to be a really fun series, with a lot of soul at the core of its character writing.

Overall, the first episode was just a great time, and I’m not sure how else to explain it beyond how I have already – it just works! I give it 4 and half Ultra Medals out of 5!

The second episode was filled with a similar quality and involves Haruki getting used to his new responsibilities as someone merged with Ultraman Z, as well as his troubles with a new invisible kaiju. Everything that was great about the first episode is great again here, there’s more kaiju crushing action that has a very tangible look to it, and once again the characters have a lot of dynamic personality. More is shown about the inner workings of the defense group STORAGE, highlighting the hierarchy between the core members that form the show’s supporting cast.

We’re also given a general insight into what motivates Haruki – he’s striving to be better – in life, in his practice of Karate, and as part of the global defense force, STORAGE. He feels very responsible for his own failures, wishing to build upon himself. In an intense sparring practice, Haruki is told to ‘not just rely on his eyes’. This comes back later on in the episode, as Haruki uses this as inspiration to defeat the invisible Kaiju by ‘sensing’ it after merging with Z once more. It’s a neat conclusion to another neat episode and also showcases the STORAGE team working together nicely throughout. Although it’s not quite as strong as the opener, it’s still a succinct and smart episode – I give it 4 Zestium Beams out of five, and I’m really excited to see where Ultraman Z goes from here.

Mashin Sentai Kiramager –  Episodes 11 + 12

If you read my recap of Kiramager thus far, you’ll know that I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit in its first 10 episodes. It’s playing it quite safe for a Sentai series show but that’s definitely not a bad thing by any means. Even when Kiramager feels formulaic, it’s still managing to look pretty stylish while doing it.

Episode 11 kicks off with intense gameplay of Tekken, with our e-sports hero Tametomo taking the lead. After the match his hair is stolen by his competitor, who says something weird about using it as fuel for his ‘curse’. It’s a weird series of events, and soon after encountering a menacing Marrskman with the rest of the Kiramager team, Tametomo is sent back in time to re-experience their day all over again, starting with the weird encounter they had after their Tekken match.

It’s a funny and interesting premise for an episode, and it uses its twenty minute runtime effectively to do quite a lot with the concept, despite utilising a lot of cliches from other ‘time loop’ media. Tametomo has been one of the most fleshed-out members of the team so far, and this episode does a pretty decent job at continuing to show why, who manages to keep a good humour and competence despite the continual resets, figuring out what’s going on pretty quickly, but succumbing to feelings of isolation when he realises that he’s the only one experiencing the full extent of the time reset. It’s nice that Tametomo is given a more existential struggle in this episode, rather than just a physical one.

Tametomo eventually figures out what he needs to do after being inspired by others, resolving to repeatedly defeat the ‘reset button’ Marrskman over and over again until he yields his ability to reset time. If I’m being honest, I think it would have been more thematically appropriate if the episode would wrap up around here, but we have to stick to Sentai formula and have at least one battle on a larger scale. Despite this minor gripe, though, this episode is a really interesting solo adventure for Tametomo. I give it 3.5 out of 5 ‘Reset Buttons’.

Episode 12 gives us what many Sentai fans have been looking forward to for a while now – the debut of Kiramai Silver. This episode serves as a pretty excellent introduction to Kiramai Silver, with Kiramai Pink, Sayo, used as the point-of-view character. The adventure that ensues is pretty interesting – Sayo gets trapped on a mountain, with no way of escape, until an unusual man in a silver jacket appears!

The episode shows us a lot of back and forth between Sayo and this mysterious new figure, who shows a lot of excitement about things that make very little sense and expresses a lot of skepticism about fully saving Sayo from her peril due to a prophecy that we also hear Mabusheena quote at the beginning of the episode. Regardless, the two work together to find a treasure, which actually ends up being a ‘monstone’. What I like about this portion of the episode is the new character’s innate heroism, which shows through in everything they do – they’re laser focused on their goal, and as soon as the ‘monstone’ appears, he resolves to defeat it. 

Eventually, all of the Kiramagers end up in the same spot, fighting the same enemy, and the new guy’s name is revealed to be… Crystalia Takamichi. We then get our first transformation of Kiramai silver, which features an incredibly cool transformation jingle. The next five minutes of the episode are essentially dedicated to showing that Takamichi is the coolest guy, at least until it’s revealed that he’s Mabusheena’s brother, and abandoned Crystalia when they needed him the most.

It’s important to establish this kind of thing early on, and it puts Takamichi in an interesting place from the outset. It’s a cool storytelling move to make him appear to be the coolest guy and then have him revealed to be the worst guy soon after – it definitely creates some intrigue on where his character will go next to redeem themselves. 

Overall, it was a pretty cool and flashy introduction for the new hero, which also manages to raise some questions. It’s unfortunate that most of the main team were sidelined in this episode as a means to introduce Silver, but that’s just how it has to go sometimes. It’s another enjoyable outing for Kiramager – I give it 4 out of 5 ‘Shiny Breakers’.

That’s all for this edition of Toku Review Round-up, and this year’s tokusatsu continues to be an enjoyable escape from the tough conditions of the world. I’m excited to see where Ultraman Z goes from its strong start, I’m looking forward to getting more of Takamichi and I’m holding out hope for a suitably explosive final arc for Zero-One! See you next time as we found out what each of these shows has in store!

Toku Review Round-up is a fortnighty column. Join Adam again for more in two weeks!

Posted on Leave a comment

SODO Sundays – June 28th, 2020

Hello, tokusatsu community! It’s Joshua Perry here to talk about SODO figures on my fortnightly series, SODO Sundays. Today actual Zero-One news once again! Zi-O is over!

Kamen Rider Zero-One

AI-09 has revealed the rest of its figures! First up is the final form for Zero-One: Kamen Rider Zero-Two! This figure will come with the Progrise Hopper Blade that Metal Cluster Hopper but will also come with a special version of the Attache Caliber with a peg at the bottom for the hand to hold both swords and recreate the combined version from the show.

Next up is the final figure to finish the Kamen Rider Zi-O figures with Kamen Rider Tsukuyomi! After a nearly year wait she is going to be released in AI-09. She comes with her Faiz Phone X that she used throughout the show but never in her Rider form except for in a stageshow as well as a swappable hand to recreate her Luminous Fractor weapon she used to backstab Another Decade in the finale of Zi-O.

AI-09 isn’t done yet as the new villain for Zero-One will be here as well: Kamen Rider Arc-Zero. This figure will have painted eyes as most recent figures have had but will include the option for stickers for the eyes to have more detail on them.

In a surprise reveal the final figure for AI-09 will be a Dodo Magia. More information on him will be in the next update.

Kamen Rider Ikazuchi from AI-08 has also finally been shown off after a long wait.

SODO’s commitment to making every on screen form has been something they have been keeping up since Ex-Aid and this has always included the forms seen in Hyper Battle DVDs. Zero-One had one earlier this year but the form from the special seemed to be overlooked, until now. In the September issue of the TV-Kun magazine, a SODO figure for the Hopping Kangaroo Zero-One form will be released.

20200625212801

Kiramager YUDO

A Japanese retailer put up pre-orders for the second set of YUDO figures for Kiramager and with them a list of contents. No pictures yet as the figures haven’t been revealed yet but the set will include: Kiramei Silver, Garza, the grunts of the season: the Bechats, and an accessory set. This set will be out in October.

UDO

You can watch the latest SODO Sundays video over on the Toku Toy Store Facebook page.

That’s it for this edition of SODO Sundays Season 3! Stay tuned for the next edition on both Toku Toy Store and the Toku Toy Store Facebook page.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Machine Sentai Kiramager: The Story So Far!

It’s been a while, but it looks like Super Hero Time is finally returning to broadcast on June 21st, bringing Tokusatsu titans Kamen Rider Zero-One and Machine Sentai Kiramager back to our screens! Despite this necessary break in programming, I think it’s fair to say that Super Hero Time returning is pretty exciting, in part due to the continuation of Machine Sentai Kiramager, which had really only just begun before Super Hero Time went on hiatus. Kiramager has had a pretty excellent showing so far in its first 10 episodes, but if you haven’t watched the re-cap special or Kiramager itself during its time off, you may have forgotten a few details – don’t worry, because we’re here to give you a ‘sparkling’ refresher course on everything that’s happened in Machine Sentai Kiramager so far!

Things began in a fairly standard way for contemporary Super Sentai first episodes – we were sweepingly introduced to our core team of heroes: KiramaYellow, Sentai’s first ever e-sports champion, KiramaGreen, a running athlete, KiramaBlue, a popular actor, and KiramaPink, a young surgeon. This group is introduced to us in classic Sentai fashion as an incomplete unit, using the powers lended to them by the ‘crystalians’ to fight threats on earth as the Kiramagers. The Kiramagers are chosen for their ‘Kiramentality’ –  a clever portmanteau combining the Japanese onomatopoeia for sparkling/shiny (‘kira kira’) and ‘mentality’ to represent a ‘shining’ way of thinking. The Kiramagers draw their power from sentient gemstones which latch onto those with a high level of ‘kiramentality’ forming a symbiotic relationship with them. As a team they’re looking for their fifth member – KiramaRed.

Of course, KiramaRed is found almost immediately in the form of our point-of-view character, Juru Atsuta, who is spending their time drifting off into imagination during school. This changes pretty quickly once the Yodonheim army attacks earth, immediately drawing the attention of the Kiramagers to respond to the threat, whilst Juru is initially too busy drawing to notice, but eventually catches on.

If you’ve seen a Super Sentai series before, then this first episode unfolds in the way you’d expect. Juru meets the team and is chosen by the crystal to become KiramaRed, but is initially unsure of how they’ll be useful to the team, despite the fact they’ve already been elected as the leader. This leads Juru to think about how they can use their existing skills to be a Kiramager, culminating in the first use of Juru’s signature ‘kiramaking’ power to bring his inspired drawings to reality, using the power of crystals. Juru does this to create the vehicle ‘machines’ that will become a mainstay in this series, and the five crystals work together as a fire engine, jet, helicopter, digger and sports car to save Tokyo from this kaiju threat. A bond is formed, and our team is created.

After this introduction, we then get several episodes dedicated to showing us members of the team learning to work together. There’s an episode focused on KiramaGreen, Sena, and her struggle over having to dedicate time to her career as an athlete against her responsibilities as a Kiramager. Red goes through the typical struggles of a Sentai Red ranger, caught between asserting himself as a leader and understanding Sena’s struggle as a friend. This ultimately leads to them using their inspirational powers to create a crystal that allows the user to create a clone of themselves. Neat! That’s something that will definitely come in handy later on, both in this episode when they use it to foil the villain, and the series as a whole where it will no doubt continue to be used.

We’re then treated to an episode about KiramaBlue, Shiguru Oshikiri, who in the opening fight of this episode fall’s victim to the enemy’s vice grip, which plants a literal giant vice onto his head, causing immense difficulties in his daily life as TV actor, as well as putting him on the proverbial bench for the Kiramagers. Oshikiri’s usual stoicism and arrogance is turned up to maximum as he attempts to deflect any assumptions that this new vice on his head bothers him in any way. Shiguru continues to attempt to act in their TV shoot and fight alongside the Kiramagers, but quickly finds that it’s quite difficult to keep up such a facade with a vice on your head. Ultimately, Shiguru learns to be a bit more trusting and open up to his team, choosing to let them support him in the final confrontation against the Vice Marsskman.  Another important teamwork lesson! 

The next episodes focus on the group’s Crystalian leader Mabusheena. With Mabusheena’s episode, we get the first steps towards developing a villain and our series arc. Mabusheena’s uncle Garza arrives on earth (in a pretty cool looking phantom train of some sort), and we learn that it was Garza who assassinated Mabusheena’s father, King Oradin, after being turned by the evil forces of Yodonheim. Despite this, Garza claims that King Oradin is alive! Of course, this is merely a deception by Garza, but the arc of the episode involves the Kiramager team uncovering Garza’s sinister intentions whilst Mabusheena is manipulated by him through her belief in her father’s life – it’s a sad tale, but a compelling one for sure. Mabusheena soon realises the truth, thankfully, KiramaRed is around to protect them from Garza in a pretty cool solo fight.

We then get an interesting episode about KiramaYellow, Tametomo, in an episode which briefly explores the dynamic between the sentient crystals and the Kiramager team. The crystals appear to have plenty of banter behind the scenes – the yellow crystal Shovellow asserting that Tametomo should be the leader of the group rather than Juru, and sets out on a mission to prove it. This is all occurring whilst we see Tametomo themselves in their element as the leader of their e-sports team. After Tametomo’s e-sports match, Sena talks to Tametomo, revealing an intricate backstory where his grandfather tragically died after a heart attack, after a less-than-positive interaction with young Tametomo who yells at him for buying the wrong video game. Tametomo deeply regrets his spoiled behaviour towards his grandfather, and asserts that his crystal Shovellow reminds him of his grandfather in some strange way. Shovellow is intent to make Tametomo leader, so searches for the new crystals on earth in order to create the ‘Shovellow corp’ (despite warnings from the other crystals to not do this). Shovellow ultimately succeeds in finding the other crystal machines, and jokes about creating a new super Sentai show with Tametomo as the leader and the sole member. 

Ultimately, the final fight with this episode’s villain involves Juru becoming frozen, briefly entrusting Tametomo and gemini clone to lead the counterattack in an elaborate performance designed to convince Shovellow of Juru’s power. It’s a nice moment that shows a slight evolution in the dynamic, and after the fight is wrapped up, we see Tametomo resolve to continue working with the slightly difficult crystal Shovellow, stating ‘he knew what I really wanted, deep down, after all’ in what could be described as a touching moment.

The next episode is all about KiramaPink, Sayo. It kicks off with a camera type Marsskman that has the ability to capture people with its photography powers – Sena and Shiguru are quickly captured in a photograph, which in turn transports them to a strange prison which drains their energy. Sayo on the other hand receives a head trauma, which transforms her into an amnesiac with no memories beyond age five of her life. This obviously puts the team in a difficult position, so Juru and Tametomo set out to cure Sayo’s amnesia by taking her to visit her old Aikido teacher. They learn of a pivotal event in Sayo’s young life (rescuing the adorable dog, Kotetsu!)  that established a pattern of working hard to save lives under pressure. Reminding her of this doesn’t do much,  but once the other Kiramagers are captured by the camera, the pressure forces Sayo to change back into their Kiramager form and then rescue the others with Helico, the pink crystal machine, before combining with the rest of the machines for one more showdown. Sayo’s memories are soon after restored by another head trauma induced by a playful Mabusheena, and the status quo remains!

Episode 7 begins with the team deciding that Juru can be a better leader and inducting him into an intense training regime – he’s forced to run with Sena, do Kendo with Shiguru, Aikido with Sayo and a shootout test with Tametomo. Juru is pretty exhausted by these tests, but feels ultimately that they are in his best interests to continue with. Things escalate, however, as the group begins to argue about which method of training is the most effective for Juru. This is quickly cut short by the appearance of two new Marsskmen, a fridge type and an oven type, who argue between themselves, mirroring the arguments of the Kiramager team. After their initial battle, we cut to Juru’s next training regime, which is even more intense than before, showing juru starting to hallucinate. This episode culminates in a battle against Garza, with Juru nearly passing out at the wheel of the combined crystal machines, until he notices a new hallucination – a shining white mech which is protecting the Kiramagers!

Episode 8 begins where the previous episode left off, and the other members of the Kiramager team can’t see the ‘shining giant’ that Juru is apparently hallucinating.  When Juru faints, the shining mecha vanishes, allowing the Kiramagers to escape. Juru falls into a coma-like state from exhaustion, and the red crystal blames Juru’s team for pushing him too hard with the training regime. Mabusheena tells the Kiramagers that they neglected his artistic skills, which is what gives his ‘Kiramentality’ life and is an essential ability within the group. Whilst comatose, Juru dreams of the Crystalian King Oradin, Mabusheena’s deceased father, creating a sketch under his guidance. When he wakes up, he realises that his dream was at least partially real, as he has drawn the image of a secret warehouse, which houses the white crystal Mabushina came to Earth in. Garza discovers Juru looking for the crister and attempts to destroy it, only for Juru to transform the crystal into a new crystal machine – the Mashin Express, which he uses to outrun Garza. The rest of the group apologises for their excessive training methods, and Juru then puts the rest of the team through an art class, restoring balance in a satisfying and humorous way.

We are then treated to two episodes that feel slightly more filler-y that the preceding two-parter. In episode 9, Sena encounters a rival from her past, Makino, who treats her with disregard and  who we eventually learn used to beat Sena regularly in the traditional Japanese card game Karuta. After a Karuta-themed Marsskman appears, Sena is forced to confront her past in failing against Makino in Karuta, as Makino witnesses Sena’s weakness when duelling against the Karuta Marsskman. Ultimately, the two are able to resolve their differences after saving Makino from the villain of the weak, and the two gain a mutual respect for each other. Episode 10 on the other hand sees our heroes buying into an internet urban legend about an idol who rises from the grave every night to sing. After watching a performance online, some members of the group get put to sleep through the insidious end to the idol’s performance, which launches a ticket into their hearts. Shiguru recognises the idol as a fan of his, Iyo, leading Sayo to attempt to fix the problem by forcing Shiguru to confront Iyo. It’s revealed that Iyo is being manipulated by a Yodonheim Marsskman, and also that Shiguru previously led them on through ambiguous responses to her affections. As more and more people become brainwashed by the Iyo’s broadcasts, Sayo is able to intercept the signal and restore her friends to health, while Shiguru confronts the situation by saving Iyo and defeating the Marsskman in one precisely controlled cut.

That’s (almost) everything that’s happened in Machine Sentai Kiramager so far! Personally, I think it’s been a very solid series, even in these early stages. It’s got a long way to go still, but Kiramager has remained pretty consistently whimsical, funny, and willing to engage with its characters on a personal level. I can’t really issue many complaints about what I’ve seen so far, and I had a lot of fun returning to it for this recap. I’m excited for the upcoming appearance of the sixth silver Kiramager and much more once the show has returned this weekend!

Are you exited for the return of Kiramager? What have you enjoyed so far? Join the conversation on social media or drop us a comment below!

Posted on Leave a comment

SODO Sundays – May 3rd, 2020

Hello, tokusatsu community! It’s Joshua Perry here to talk about SODO figures on my fortnightly series, SODO Sundays. Today lots and lots of SHODO!

Kamen Rider Zero-One

AI-07 will be continuing with Kamen Rider Ichi-gata from Reiwa: The First Generation movie! This figure is a great one to pair with Kamen Rider 001 in AI-06. He includes a pair of fisted hands.

20200422164235

Also in the set is Kamen Rider Vulcan in his Rampage Vulcan form. The effort and time was put into this figure to mold all of the animals for all the different Progrise Keys this form is powered by. Like the past forms for Vulcan he comes with the ShotRiser in its belt and weapon forms.

20200430004224

AI-07 will be out in June but we already know the first figure for AI-08 and that is Kamen Rider Zamonas! This is the second of the trio of movie exclusive Riders from the Zi-O Over Quarterz movie. He comes with his bowgun weapon. Zi-O is almost done with the figures for Zi-O with this release.

Kamen Rider Agito

SHODO will be releasing a Premium Bandai Set for Kamen Rider Agito. This set will include Agito’s Burning Form that wasn’t in the earlier SHODO Agito set as well as Kamen Rider Gills and Kamen Rider G3-X!

This G3-X figure is fulled loaded with his full arsenal.

20200422192322

Kyukyu Sentai Go-Go V

SHODO Super continues for a second set! This set includes the entire Go-Go V team and includes the first female mold for the SHODO line. The team has all of the arsenals for the team as well as another SHODO first with minor stickers on the weapons for the smaller details paint couldn’t cover.

You can watch the latest SODO Sundays video over on the Toku Toy Store Facebook page.

That’s it for this edition of SODO Sundays Season 3! Stay tuned for the next edition on both Toku Toy Store and the Toku Toy Store Facebook page.

Posted on Leave a comment

Toei Company launches global tokusatsu YouTube channel

Toei Company announce the launch of TOEI TOKUSATSU WORLD OFFICIAL; a YouTube channel bringing subtitled tokusatsu to international audiences

With North America riding high on the announcement of their TokuSHOUTsu streaming service on Pluto TV, the rest of the English speaking world, most notably the United Kingdom, were feeling a little… left out. This all changed last night as Toei Company Ltd – the company behind the most popular toku shows such as Super Sentai and Kamen Rider – announced that they are expanding their YouTube offering to bring us TOEI TOKUSATSU WORLD OFFICIAL. Starting April 6th, 2020, this service will launch with the first two episodes of 70 different toku programmes from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The whole list of seventy has not been fully revealed but will include innagural Super Sentai series, Himistsu Sentai Gorenger (1975), Metal Hero Series including Uchu Keiju Gavan (1982), and robot anime such as Voltes V (1977). Once the first two episodes of the full catalogue have dropped on April 6th, future episodes will be released on a schedule with each series getting their own release days.

Full details and the early release schedule is available in Toei’s press release, available here.

Are you excited for Toei Tokusatsu World Official? What shows are you most interested in? Join the conversation across our social media channels!