Kamen Rider Wizard Episode 23

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Recap: Phoenix summons Haruto for a final showdown.

Aquagaze‘s Thoughts: How do you beat an enemy who can instantly rise from the ashes when you destroy them? It’s simple. Haruto takes a page from Bayonetta’s book and takes care of Phoenix once and for all by literally kicking him into the sun. An amazingly badass and surprisingly dark end for our favourite firebird, but there is one thing our ringed hero overlooked: Phoenix gets stronger every time he regenerates. In other words, will he not eventually become strong enough to break out of his fiery prison and destroy the sun? Congratulations, Haruto, you just eradicated all of humanity. Whoops.

In the world where no one breaks out in laughter when a belt starts singing during a supposedly dramatic scene, however, it looks like Phoenix is indeed gone forever. Kamen Rider Wizard will be poorer without him, as once again ascertained by the blazing trail of destruction he left through Tokyo as his blaze of glory. Luckily, Gremlin is here to continue his legacy of behaving ambiguously towards his boss and being flipping awesome. I wonder if he will be the final lieutenant-rank Phantom to be introduced, though.

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Aside from using the sweet power-up he did not use last battle because he is a complete idiot and kicking a dude into the sun, Haruto spent most of this episode feeling guilty over something he could not have possibly have done anything about. Whether it was a Spider-Man-inspired “no one gets hurt under my watch” or blaming himself for being irresponsible, his angst in this episode felt shoehorned, although it did give Koyomi a chance to actually do something. Kousuke and Shunpei remain annoying as usual, their uselessness made even more apparent by the fact that they are essentially the same character split up into two one-dimensional halves. Why couldn’t they have made Shunpei Kamen Rider Beast? It would have fit perfectly into his aspirations to become a wizard.

Speaking of Kamen Rider Beast, he did have an amazingly fun joke in his overall pretty enjoyable fight against Phoenix before the opening credits. This, alongside his offer to consume Phoenix’s mana – which would have made for a way more effective solution than Haruto’s — makes it all the more evident what a pity it is he has been reduced to punching bag annex henchman exterminator. I would love to see some more of Kamen Rider’s equivalent of Final Fantasy’s gambler class, but as established before, incorporating actual characters into its story seems to be something Kamen Rider Wizard is wholly incapable of.

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Dragonzigg’s Thoughts:  It’s a worthy sendoff for Phoenix, albeit in an episode that isn’t everything it could have been. It’s another example of Wizard‘s less than stellar characterisation letting down what could have been a much more powerful and interesting. The conversations Haruto has with Rinko and Koyomi should be powerful, personality-defining moments for all the characters involved. As it is, they come across as tired and slightly preachy. It’s an incredibly odd choice to have the NSB head deliver the obligatory ‘This is your fault!’ speech to Haruto – he’s a character we’ve barely seen, and one who’s mostly been a jerk when we have. Meanwhile, the scenes that concentrate on the team sans Haruto at Remnants are just incredibly boring, and serve as a reminder how redundant much of this cast appears to be. It’s not so much that I object to a big supporting cast (Fourze‘s was colossal for example) but rather they haven’t been given purposes or personalities.  The show needs to start leveraging it’s characters either as plot devices or as effective comic relief, as it is, Shunpei, Wajima and even Rinko are just sort of…there.

If there’s a saving grace to the character action this episode, it’s strong performances from our two female leads. Yuko Takayama has the easy job as injured Rinko, but she still pulls of the regretful speech well, while Makoto Okunaka once again shows off some fine acting chops as Koyomi, reminding us that her relationship with Haruto is among the most interesting of the dangling plot threads.  Shunya Shiraishi is clearly trying hard to break out of Haruto’s permanent pokerface, but he can’t quite get there, while Tasuku Nagase hits the same personable but slightly irritating groove he has all along as Kousuke, unable to muster additional gravitas for the situation.  As ever, the acting crown is stolen by Atsumi’s deliciously evil Phoenix, making the most of his final appearance by hamming it up to all new levels.

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Speaking of the firebird, he sure goes out in style, blowing a huge amount of crap up before successfully fending off four Wizards at once, forcing Haruto to combine his powers into All Dragon Style. The result is, quite frankly, rubbish. The Dragon styles already suffered from an abundance of dodgy CGI, and here we just get all of that at once and that, combined with some extremely ropey greenscreen effects, results in a battle that’s dangerously close to a pantomime farce. I understand Toei likes CGI because it’s cheap and allows for crazy battles, but I do wish they’d realise their strength lies in great fight choreography and costume design and stop overdosing on the pixels.  As it is, I do like all the flashy spell effects they unleash (the finisher is especially cool) but the battle itself is somewhat ‘eh’.  What definitely isn’t ‘eh’ however, is Haruto’s ingenious and shockingly cruel method to defeating Phoenix, a clever gambit that’s nevertheless sure to give some children somewhere nightmares. There’s even a rare moment of pure badassery as Wizard subverts his usual catchphrase by declaring that “There will be no finale for you.”

Where does this leave us then? The final scene makes it abundantly clear that it’s Gremlin who will be stepping into Phoenix’s shoes as Medusa’s co-conspirator, and that’s exciting. He’s shown he has the ability to be just as effective a villain as Phoenix was while adopting a complete different style and personality. This very much feels like a curtain falling on part 1 of Wizard, what with the characters renewing the affirmation in each other, the major villain of the show thus far laid to rest and a powerful new form taking the stage. Hopefully, as we pass the show’s halfway point in the next few episodes, we’ll begin to dig into some of the overarching plot and unravel the mysteries behind Wiseman, Gremlin and the Phantoms.

Random Observations

  • Beast is once again criminally underused, but his Chameleo Saber Strike against Phoenix is by some distance the best thing in the show this week.
  • Nothing ruins the drama of a scene like that bloody belt.
  • Despite the White Wizard declaring Wizard is now ‘complete’, All Dragon is not Wizard’s Ultimate Form – we can probably expect to see that around episode 32.

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