Recap: Phoenix gets more and more frustrated with Wiseman considering him the brute of the villain crew. When he goes on a murderous rampage, Rinko catches a glimpse of his human form and sets out to investigate. Meanwhile, Haruto and Shunpei meet up with the next Gate, an extremely loud and social woman named Shiho.
Aquagaze‘s Thoughts: What.
Kamen Rider Wizard has always been relatively subdued and serious for a toku show, yet for some reason someone felt it was necessary to make up for its general lack of wackiness with this episode. Cue an hysterical and most hilariously overperforming Gate — who seems to be Akiko’s (from Kamen Rider W) long lost sister — two enormously silly new rings and a bunch of really weird jokes that had me thinking someone might have poured some liquid LSD in the staff’s tea this week.
What made this episode interesting, though, is how it completely eschewed Wizard’s usual flaws; the same ones I lined out last week.
- Haruto is a lot more lighthearted and snappy in this episode, and while Shunya Shiraishi still isn’t remotely decent at acting, he at least seems to be having lots of fun. Also, more Phoenix is more awesome.
- Shunpei and Rinko actually play major roles; Rinko even going off on a search of her own without dragging Haruto in it. Koyomi still suffers from “Hey, I’m still in this show”, though.
- Kousuke isn’t a complete moron because he is hardly in the episode. He still manages to get on my nerves for every single one of the five minutes of screen time he has, though. The future sure looks bright for his further character development…
Sadly enough, this surprising turnaround comes with a heap of brand new flaws. The directing is all over the place, the jokes are random and silly and most of the time you have no idea what is even supposed to be happening. Zigg will address these problems in great detail, but I am going to guess Toei might be considering a complete retool. Into what exactly is beyond me, but it cannot be denied that this episode of Wizard felt entirely different from what we have seen before. It is also no mystery that Super Hero Time has not been doing all that shiny in the ratings department with its current line-up, and Wizard‘s Super Sentai counterpart, Go-Busters, has already gone through a minor retool. Is Toei attempting something similar here? Radical change or not, I’m interested to see where this goes next.
Dragonzigg’s Thoughts: This is a truly baffling, bizarre episode that feels incredibly disjointed and somehow all the more interesting for it. Structurally and stylistically it’s so far from anything we’ve seen from Wizard at this point I was convinced that a guest director had taken over, although this apparently is not the case. There’s an abundance of long held shots, bizarre dutch angles (where the camera is tipped off the horizontal plane) and unusual cuts here, and after the reassured, relatively stylish cinematography the show has had up to this point, this occasionally looks pretty amateurish.
There’s also been an infusion of ‘wackiness’ into the show that’s far more extreme than anything we’ve seen up until now, and one which has it teetering dangerously close to the edge of self parody. Other times it works, but this newfound appreciation for over-the-top comedy seems again entirely unprecedented and is a jarring shift in tone. Sequences like Haruto’s use of EXCITE are dumb, and not in the enjoyably tongue in cheek way required. At its worst, this tone actively damages the story, such as Phoenix’s furious rampage in the rain being followed by a bunch of gurning extras hung over the scenery. I’m all for Toku shows embracing their inherent silliness, but to do it in such an obvious manner as this breaks any suspension of disbelief one might have.
The schizophrenia we see in the directing also carries through to the plot, which is clearly divided into two main threads this week. The ‘A’ plot features Haruto and Shunpei trying to protect the Gate of the week, an annoying, obnoxious woman called Shiho who seems unable to operate at anything other than maximum volume all the time. Is she intended as a parody of a certain segment of Japanese culture? If so, it’s lost on me. What redeems this segment from being just irritating and silly is the Phantom Beelzebub, who’s superbly creepy in his human form and actually displays a measure of awareness and cunning, concocting a pretty ingenious and dastardly plan to drive Shiho into despair. It’s nice to see a return to a Phantom who actually takes time to analyse his target’s personality and then plan his strategy, rather than just attacking outright.
Really though, it’s the supposed ‘backup’ plot that’s the real draw here. Rinko, having been shamefully sidelined for most of the show, actually gets to do something, and something detective related at that! It also helps immeasurably that this plot is centred around Phoenix, who’s been by far and away the most charismatic character on the show. Flashbacks to him as a nice, hardworking chap have exactly the right disconcerting effect, and actor Atsumi does a great job of changing his look and body language to distinguish between the two incarnations. There’s a tinge of tragedy to the story, an encouraging sign of emotional investment. The ongoing conflict between Wiseman and Phoenix also appears to be bubbling up, possibly a hint of things to come.
Overall, it’s this second arc which saves this episode from the often baffling choices which it makes. Aqua suggests that the show might be attempting a mid-season retool and I have to desperately hope not - Wizard has always had extremely compelling ideas, it’s merely the quality of their execution I’ve taken issue with. Despite the forced wackiness, this episode was the most interesting in a while, and definitely has me excited for what’s to come next week.
- I will admit, the segment with the top-hat wearing Wizard is extremely amusing.
- Kousuke barely appears in this episode, aside from his role in the opening and his obligatory appearance in the fight. It’s not a good omen for his future character development.
- On the other had, he’s superbly integrated into the opening credits, the shot of his chimera shadow being a particular highlight.
- The next episode preview shows Wizard will gain a power which allows all of his forms to battle alongside each other. While not unprecedented, this is normally something that’s saved for movies (e.g. Kamen Rider Den-O: I’m Born!, Kamen Rider OOO: The Shogun and the 21 Core Medals)