Kamen Rider Wizard Episode 26

[Over-Time] Kamen Rider Wizard - 26 [47D25EAC].mkv_snapshot_22.40_[2013.03.13_12.27.37]

Recap: Kousuke discovers Medusa has disguised herself as a high schooler to get close to the newest Gate. Haruto and Shunpei go undercover to investigate.

Zigg’s Thoughts: Medusa has been an interesting part of the Wizard mythology so far without ever really occupying the centre stage. She’s mostly worked as a foil to Phoenix and as the one lieutenant who’s remained steadfastly loyal to Wiseman (we haven’t seen him in a while, have we?).  Thus, it’s very encouraging to finally see her mysterious past explored in some detail.  The idea that all of the major villains were once good, ordinary people is incredibly compelling and some exploration into the tragedy of that concept was teased with Phoenix before ultimately being swept under the carpet.  By giving Medusa/Misa a living, breathing tether to her past life though it seems we’ll get much more on that angle this time.

Before that though there’s plenty of time for Kousuke to revert to his lame comedy-relief persona after his mini-triumph last week.  The opening third where he runs around harassing teenage girls is easily the weakest part of the episode, is mostly unfunny and has the added detriment of making him look like a massive creeper for not much comedic payoff.  It’s not awful, just kind of pointless, since it’s an extended riff where the punchline is obvious before they even begin.  Beast’s fight with Medusa is also pretty lame, with a lack of bite to the choreography making it a rather pedestrian affair. Worst of all is the re-use of the useless Saber Strike joke pretty much verbatim from the Phoenix battle. There it was funny because it wasn’t expected – here it’s ‘I guess you ran out of jokes, huh?’

[Over-Time] Kamen Rider Wizard - 26 [47D25EAC].mkv_snapshot_15.36_[2013.03.13_12.27.15]

Fortunately, the second part of this episode is much more interesting and makes for a satisfying, if brief, mystery. Shunpei in drag is a much more forgivable cheap joke, helped by a damn good makeup and costuming job.  Most importantly, there’s  some genuine confusion as to whether Mayu is Medusa or not, accentuated by some clever cuts and some good scripting which makes entirely innocent actions (like her arrival as a transfer student) seem like possible excuses for evil Phantom activities.  The entire thing is anchored by an absolutely excellent dual performance from Erina Nakayama as both the innocent Mayu and the villainous Misa. In fact, it’s almost too good – Aqua and I spent a decent amount of the episode debating whether it was even the same actress playing both characters, so different are they in manner, demeanor and even physical appearance (the result of excellent hair and makeup work).  Nakayama completely transforms her voice and body language between the two sisters in a manner that’s reminiscent of Takeru Satoh’s superlative work in Kamen Rider Den-O, and if you’ve seen that series you’ll know that’s high praise indeed.

The net result is the setup for some hugely intriguing drama, but crucially it’s really just the setup.  Whether we get a payoff is completely down to the next episode. This is one situation where Kamen Rider’s traditional two episode arcs are something of a restriction, and I sort of hope that Mayu sticks around longer than that so they can spin the story further, so that seems unlikely. Regardless, Wizard has set up some great story beats – now it’s just a case of seeing if it can knock them down. 

[Over-Time] Kamen Rider Wizard - 26 [47D25EAC].mkv_snapshot_01.57_[2013.03.13_12.38.43]

Random Observations

  • Kousuke drooling over high school girls would be considerably creepier if Tasuku Nagase weren’t barely out of his teens himself.  And he’s still older than Erina Nakayama, who is actually of high school age.
  • The Golem familiar sequence doesn’t even bother to hide its toy commercial purpose, though chances are it’ll crop up and do something useful in the second half of the story.
  • The sequence where Haruto puts the shoe to his ear is a delightful little moment and further cements my suspicion that Shunya Shiraishi is excellent at light comedy. If his character was a little less uptight I think he could really shine.
  • Now Wizard needs Drago-Time to take down a bunch of mooks? He took down an entire gang of them in the first episode! There is an obvious explanation though. (Aqua’s Note – Also, because toys.)

Aqua‘s Thoughts: I have to admit, while I very often give Shunya Shiraishi a lot of flak for his often bored, dreary performance as Haruto, this episode he does show he is rather good at adding in neat little quirks. The problem may not so much be Shiraishi’s performance, but his character — more specifically, his lack thereof. Haruto is hard to describe as a character because he has no particular traits. His personality changes according to what role he needs to fulfill. Is he a reluctant hero? Yes, apparently, but then why doesn’t he show it? He’s a bit of a clown like Shotaro from Kamen Rider W, but he’s also a deadpan bad boy like Tsukasa Kadoya from Kamen Rider Decade. Is he a caring nice guy? Is he a brooding pretty boy? It is rather obvious that neither the writers nor Shiraishi have any idea what Haruto is supposed to act like.

Personally, I think it is obvious nonetheless what sort of character Shunya Shiraishi wants to play. While Junki Totsuki’s Shunpei is not exactly the best foil to play off, the two of them really did seem to feel right at home in some of their characters’ sillier antics this week. I personally think Haruto would work best as a suave, eccentric dandy with some silly quirks, to fit his smooth and fabulous fighting style. Seiji Takaiwa’s once again stellar body language as Wizard reveals a hint of uniqueness to Haruto’s character and it is very dissappointing to never really see that bloom in his portrayal. The same can be said for all the other characters, though. Kamen Rider Wizard has no real characters, it only has roles that need to be filled. Haruto is the hero, Kousuke is the rival and Shunpei is the comic relief, but the people occupying these spots do not feel human in the slightest. Toei’s toku shows have always used the most standard of role patterns, but have always been able to fill up the roles with quirky personalities. Wizard is severely lacking in this department, which makes it hard to care about any of these characters, especially when the writers themselves have no idea what to do with them anymore. Do I still have to mention Koyomi, really?

This is why Medusa and Mayu are so interesting. Mayu popping up was a twist I honestly did not see coming, and while she is relatively void of personality like everyone else in this show, she at least has an interesting role to fulfill. A character with an undeniable close link to one of the villains and their past often leads to some great character-driven drama in toku shows  — Think Andross and Karone in Power Rangers In Space, Red Hawk and his lost girlfriend Rie in Jetman or Philip and Wakana in Kamen Rider W — and I really hope to see Mayu stick around for a while longer, whether she chooses to side with Team Wizard or gets manipulated by Medusa into assisting to turn her best friend, the Gate of the week, into a Phantom. Erina Nakayama’s brilliant performance and chameleon skills certainly contribute to the interesting dynamic these two have going on, and it once again shows that in terms of creative costuming and make-up, Toei are second to none.

Meanwhile, that other interesting character in this show, Gremlin, keeps skipping around in the background, trying to make sure no one notices he is obviously up to something. Looks like Medusa and Wiseman did not get the loyal lieutenant they hoped to replace Phoenix with. I just hope Wiseman will not need to go look for another replacement so soon already, but there is a tangible chance Medusa might kick the bucket next episode. By the way, have we learnt anything about this week’s Gate yet, or is she just one big red herring? The preview seems to indicate Mayu will be going through a fair bit of despair herself next episode and with none other than the White Wizard showing up to save our swashbuckling heroes’ backsides once again, I cannot help but feel that no matter what will happen, it will most definitely be significant.

Random Observations

  • Has Beast ever won a fight? Seriously, he is the most useless Kamen Rider since Den-O’s Plat Form.
  • Is it strange that I am eager for yet another new sweet power-up? I am pretty tired of Wizard’s and especially Beast’s unspectacular stockpile of powers already, especially because it is still not very clear to me what some of them do. The Dolphi mant, anyone?
  • Have this adorable fanart of Haruto and … some girl, courtesy of one of Pixiv’s greatest Kamen Rider artists, Chiko.

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