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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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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.

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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!