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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!

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SODO Sundays – September 6th, 2020

Hello, tokusatsu community! It’s Joshua Perry here to talk about SODO figures on my fortnightly series, SODO Sundays. Today, Zero-One carries over to Saber!

Kamen Rider Zero-One

Even though it ended last weekend Zero-One still had some characters to offer and some of them are coming in Saber’s Book 1 Set! First up, Kamen Rider Eden! Eden made a cameo appearance in the finale of Zero-One to set up the plot of the delayed summer movie that is now releasing in December. The creators of the SODO line weren’t sure what weapons Eden would be using in the movie so they gave him an improved version of the Thousand Jacker weapon.

The other surprise figure for Zero-One in Book 1 will be the Fighting Jackel Raider! The form used by Yua during the middle of the series. She will come with her sickle weapon and special hands for holding said weapon.

Book 1 for Saber will also include a new stand design to them that allows them to be pegged on top of each other to save shelf space and stack figures for display.

SHODO-X 11

We now have pictures of SHODO-X 11. The set will include Kamen Rider Ex-Aid Level 2 and his Double Gamer XX forms. They will come with the Gashacon Breaker and Gashacon Keyslasher weapons. The Keyslasher will have stickers as well as stickers for the chest designs with the health bars.

Riderman will be the Showa Rider in the set, he’ll have his swappable arm weapons as well as his bike the Riderman Machine.

Kamen Rider Kuuga

N-Daguya-Zeba was teased a little while ago. He will be a stand-alone Premium Bandai release. He will be a little more expensive due to all of the detail and PVC plastic he uses. While shown recreating the fight with Kuuga Ultimate, Kuuga will not be sold with him.

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 4! Stay tuned for the next edition on both Toku Toy Store and the Toku Toy Store Facebook page.

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Zero One’s Final Episodes, Reviewed!

In the final chunk of the recently finished Kamen Rider Zero-One, we’ve zoomed in to focus on the conflict between Aruto and Horobi. At first, this conflict positions the two as avatars for their respective satellites Zea and Ark, and then after the satellites are essentially out of the picture, it positions them as individuals aggressively motivated by different approaches to human emotion. In the final episode, the payoff of Horobi versus Aruto is very much a classic approach to the Kamen Rider endgame – one that came close, I think, to being something compelling, yet fell short in a variety of crucial areas. My opinion on the finale of Zero-One acts as the perfect analogy for the show as a whole: “a fun yet flawed experience that often baselessly threatened to make me feel something more.” To explain what I fully mean by this, we’ll have to go back a few steps.

Some of the best parts of Zero-One’s final episodes stem from Aruto’s heel-turn, which I commented on in an earlier edition of the review round-up. It was definitely nice to see Rider take an interesting move like this. What began with Aruto facing off against the Ark-worshipping Metsuboujinrai.net was seemingly ending with Aruto embracing the power that the Ark and its counterpart ‘malice’ lend to him, and it almost seemed like Zero-One was about to attempt some highly poetic bookending. For all of the talk I made about wanting this show to upend the status quo more, this was certainly one way to do that.

This shift in the paradigm of the show meant that the other characters were in the prime position to finally get the moments I felt like they deserved more of. This was a chance to have Gai show that he was actually committed to heroism, or to have Yua get another upgrade and hold their own against Ark-One. In my ideal version of the show’s final episodes, Fuwa would have stepped up to take their position as ‘the real hero’ of the show and resolved things quickly with his can-do attitude, but regrettably, none of this happens. Episode 44 even made it seem like something like that could have happened, which made it all the more disappointing when it didn’t. Why would they introduce a (slightly) new form for Fuwa when they just discard it in the next episode? I’m not really sure.

This final conflict also puts the character of Horobi under the spotlight and positions him as the other central figure. This might be what makes the final episode feel particularly weird to me, as ending it all on a 1v1 conflict between Horobi and Aruto is, as I say, almost poetic, but the preceding 44 episodes only scarcely do enough character work to justify such a matchup leading the ending. I do think that Horobi disguising his true feelings about Jin’s demise and exploring the deep feelings that are at odds with his nature is pretty interesting, but on the other hand, it would have been useful to explore the familial relationship between Horobi and Jin in a way that is communicated more effectively to the audience in order to make these final, guttural screams from Horobi hit a bit harder.

Sometimes it feels like this show on a wider scale takes the ‘cursed monkey paw’ approach to writing where each cool thing is tainted by something that holds it back from reaching its true potential in the grand scheme of things. I feel like this is demonstrated most reliably by the general ensemble cast, who have all had cool moments and ideas surrounding them throughout the show, yet seem to have little to no involvement in the final gambit between Horobi and Aruto. Naki and Yua’s roles in these last few episodes are so disappointingly meagre. Ditto for Gai, who was essentially reduced to a comedic set-piece and mercilessly bullied (perhaps rightly so) since his turn to good. It’s nice that he’s been put in his place to some extent, but I can’t help but feel like Gai was meant to do something more meaningful after his big redemptive moments. From episodes 43 to 45, he’s had very little presence for a character that was once so powerful.

This is not to suggest that everything in this final stretch was tainted; the fight choreography is as good in these episodes as it was throughout the entire show, and the performances have been stellar. I’m also inclined to suggest that I appreciate that something was attempted that felt fresh with Aruto’s turn, even if much of the status quo ended up returning by the end of the show. It definitely gave some pretty interesting moments on the surface even if they didn’t pan out in quite the way I hoped.

Additionally, certain moments that we did get with the rest of the cast in the final episodes did really work. Fuwa’s attempt to subdue Aruto in Episode 44 was great, because there was a sense of hope that quickly became shattered, even with a whole new form granted by Naki’s Japanese Wolf Key. Although I’m disappointed that Fuwa didn’t get another attempt in the final episode, his dialogue, the fight and everything else in this scene were all just great.

I was also rather surprised at how much attention was paid to the external consequences that Aruto’s turn had on the world, with humagear rioting and an obvious lack of faith in Hiden Intelligence becoming widespread. It was cool to see the vice-president have to step up and solve a problem, and lended a bit of extra context to these characters that we’ve been seeing as fairly one-dimensional throughout.

The final forms of our major players Horobi and Aruto were a sight to behold. I really liked Ark Scorpion’s design and the accompanying henshin, and I was a big fan of the way in which Aruto essentially created a new form out of the base zero one form with ‘realising hopper’. If there’s one thing I don’t think Zero-One should be criticised on, it’s the design of the suits – although there’s a few I don’t mesh with, I generally think the approach to aesthetics in this season has been very solid, and that’s quite apparent in the last few episodes. The effect of realising hopper materialising produced one of my favourite moments in the series.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the conclusion overall is the lack of permanence in certain decisions. It’s been made apparent that characters mostly have problems staying dead, which somewhat lowers the sense of stakes. I understand why this occurs, but I do think it brings the whole thing down a bit – Jin’s destruction could have been impactful, but instead he is revived at the last minute. Similarly, whilst Izu is still ‘dead’, the ability to recreate Izu and teach her softens the impact of her demise. But on the other hand, the final scene with Aruto and Izu was fairly amusing and touching. It’s this sort of give-and-take that makes the show so hard for me to judge.

With all this said, it’s difficult for me to suggest that Zero-One’s finale or final arc was even bad. On the contrary, I do think that with the material that the earlier part of the series established, it does provide a form of a satisfactory end to the series as a whole. Although I remarked that I would have liked to have seen more of the secondary characters, they each had a fairly natural ending point, with each character embracing their role as a Kamen Rider in their own way. This was pretty neat, albeit fleeting, and provides an example of Zero-One using some fairly concise scenes to demonstrate some level of character growth.

The problems that Zero-One has run into during filming have been well documented elsewhere, and whilst I think an entirely different approach to the structure of the series (for example, reducing the length of the Job Competition Arc) and having the full amount of episodes would have helped, I do believe it’s fairly impressive that a certain level of ‘entertainment cohesion’ has been retained despite all the difficulties. For all its faults, Zero-One does manage to at least deliver some level of fun most of the time, even when the quality of the writing itself felt inconsistent.

In the normal editions of Review Round-up, I would deliver a rating to each episode, but here I’ll simply state that the end of Zero-One was probably the best finale that Zero-One could have given us, especially considering the rest of the season. I don’t think we could have reached a more effective finale with the way the stage was set. However you want to read that is up to you, but without any ambiguity I can say that I’ll definitely miss Zero-One. It’s been a delight to review it each week, and I’m definitely going to be missing the amazing suits, silly one liners, and all of the characters that made it the experience that it was. I’m fine with where we leave it, and for now, it’s time to ‘leap towards a (new) dream’ when Kamen Rider Saber begins next week. I’ll see you next time in the Toku Review Round-up!

Where does Kamen Rider Zero-One sit in your personal ranking of Kamen Rider series? Join the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages or leave a comment below!

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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!

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SODO Sundays – August 23rd, 2020

Hello, tokusatsu community! It’s Joshua Perry here to talk about SODO figures on my fortnightly series, SODO Sundays. Today, the story of SODO Kamen Rider Saber begins!

Kamen Rider Saber

The first set of Kamen Rider Saber SODO figures has begun to be revealed! This year the SODO Sets will be known as “Books”. Book 1 for Saber has shown off the first two figures, Kamen Rider Saber and Kamen Rider Blades!

Kamen Rider Saber will introduce new features in SODO line. He will split into two halves similar to how Kamen Rider Build did. This will allow for theoretical forms using the pieces from the different Riders.

The figures will have the ball joint swappable hands that were introduced with the Gaim SODO Chronicle figures, butterfly joints on the shoulders, and more leg movement. Continuing the trend started with Zero-One the figures will feature fewer stickers than usual, with only 18 stickers for Saber- Brave Dragon between the two boxes.

Kamen Rider Blades will be in the set as well, but more details on his figure will be shown off in the next update.

SHODO-X 11

No pictures of the figures yet, as they will be revealed in the next blog update, but the next set of SHODO figures will contain Riderman and his bike to continue the Showa Riders, and the first SODO Rider will make his SHODO debut with Ex-Aid Action Gamer Level 2 and Ex-Aid Double Action Gamer Level XX L & R. Details on the figures will be shown off next time.

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

That concludes SODO Sundays Season 3! Thank you for the support over the past year during Zero-One! Come back the first weekend of September as we begin SODO Sundays Season 4 to cover everything SODO, SHODO, and YUDO has to cover over the next year!

S4 TEASER

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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!

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SODO Sundays – August 9th, 2020

Hello, tokusatsu community! It’s Joshua Perry here to talk about SODO figures on my fortnightly series, SODO Sundays. Today, the final figures for Zero-One’s retail line and Chronicle Kuuga!

Kamen Rider Zero-One

The final two figures for AI-10 have been revealed. First up, in a surprise reveal, the Another Riders are continuing once again with Another Decade! The final boss of Kamen Rider Zi-O is joining the set. His head is almost entirely made up of sticker details due to the more complex design of the head. With his announcement, SODO has announced this figure is the end of the planned Another Rider figures as well as Zi-O figures in general.

The final retail figure for AI-10 will be Kamen Rider Ark-One. This figure is based on the final villain for Zero-One that just appeared in the most recent episode. With this reveal the final retail set for Zero-One is complete.

Now that Zero-One is winding down SODO has confirmed at least the first 3 sets for SODO figures for the next Rider series: Kamen Rider Saber.

Saber will begin to be covered in the first September update as well as in the first episode of SODO Sundays- Season 4!

Kamen Rider Kuuga

Following the announcement of Set 2 & the Premium Rising Form Set for the SODO Chronicle Kuuga figures the next Premium Bandai item has been revealed.

This will be a Set of Kuuga’s bike the TryChaser 2000. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without the Gouram as well. The Gouram will feature a handle Kuuga can hang from and will be able to connect with the TryChaser to form the TryGouram.

That’s not all for Kuuga as the showcase of Ultimate Form from the upcoming Set 2 ended with a teaser of the Gurongi N-Daguva-Zeba joining the Chronicle line in an unknown release.

20200806174542

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.

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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! 

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SODO Sundays – July 26th, 2020

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

SHODO-O 4

The next set of SHODO-O will be out in November and consist of a line up from four different Rider series. From Blade, we’ll have Kamen Rider Garren and Kamen Rider Chalice. From Kabuto, the set brings us Kamen Rider Dark Kabuto and a Worm and then finally the Riotroopers from Faiz and Kamen Rider G4 from Agito.

Kamen Rider Zero-One

The Another Riders return in AI-10 with Another Zero-One from the Reiwa: The First Generation movie! He’ll have the Attache Caliber.

There will be an accessories set with many little pieces to add to older figures such as the wings and stinger for Valkyrie’s Lightning Hornet form, a ready to fire version of the Attache Arrow and Progrise Key loaded Attache Shotgun, a Zero-One Driver and hands holding both a closed and open Progrise Key with option stickers to choose which Key they are holding.

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.

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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.