Team Drive gets to test out a bunch of new equipment as the Special Division hunts down an entrepreneur they suspect of being a Roidmude.
Kamen Rider Drive episodes seem to be making a bit of a sport out of constantly trying to one-up themselves in terms of being the most archetypical Kamen Rider Drive episode in existence. It’s an easy show to review because its pluses and minuses are so consistent and so obvious. Once more, this episode suffered from lousy pacing in the detective segments and seizure-inducing jitter cam during action sequences, but was saved yet again by endearing characters and strong acting. One major problem is that this episode seemed to be the second half of a first half that never aired. The sudden introduction of a random detective from section 2 accompanying Shinnosuke and Otta, and the fact that the very first thing we see the heroes do in this episode is accusing someone of being a Roidmude, not the less being proven correct, gives me the feeling this episode is the rather sloppy summary of what used to be a typical whodunit two-parter. Aside from giving us a creepy villain to loath and providing some character development for Rinna in the form of the ‘I’m still unmarried’ angst subplot given to every female character over the age of 25 in every piece of Japanese fiction, the mystery of this episode was, as is often the case, little to write home about.
Of course, the main event of the week was the introduction of Type Dead Heat, because you can never have enough toys conveniently coming your way during a minor struggle. I never like it when Kamen Riders get important power-ups without having to do any sort of character developing for it. OOO obtained TaJaDor only when Eiji and Ankh learned to trust each other. Gaim unlocked Kachidoki Arms by strengthening his resolve in the face of overwhelming odds. Drive got Dead Heat… because some guy happened to make it for him. The fact that Dead Heat looks incredibly lazy doesn’t help — it’s little more than Mach’s suit with Drive’s armour on it — though the ridiculously over-the-top steam and electricity effects do make it a joy to watch in action. If anything, it was Kiriko who got the coolest upgrades this week, with the introduction of her new, high powered gun and boots being the definite highlight of the episode. This is what Kamen Rider girls should be like, if they really won’t allow them to be Riders. In, short, this episode did totally manage to perfectly encapsulate what Drive is all about, if that was actually what it set out to do: a mish-mash of hilarious highs and cringeworthy lows; charismatic characters, but little for them to do. Inconsistency is Drive‘s lifeblood, but having lifeblood at least means it has a heart.
- One thing about Kiriko and Shinnosuke’s relationship that I particularly like is that he seems to be kind of into her, but she’s doesn’t seem to be into him. Usually it’s the other way around with these types of characters, so this is a nice breath of fresh air.
- Taiko Katono’s performance as the Chase of Kiriko’s dreams brings back some hilariously traumatizing memories of Saint Mitchy’s nice guy antics from episode 35 of Gaim. I’ve come for you, m’lady.
- In not-unrelated-but-probably-still-pretty-unrelated news, Zigg and I watched the first episode of Power Rangers: Dino Charge, the adaptation of our much beloved Kyoryuger. To our surprise, it was pretty good! Being comprised entirely of original footage and having characters with actual personalities for once helped a lot, so it seems.
I can’t quite put my finger on what left me unsatisfied about this episode, but something definitely did. I think what’s upset me about Drive thus far is that the story is so bad at parceling out the plot at a decent pace. While few have matched the inspired continuous storyline of Gaim, most Rider shows are pretty good at drip-feeding the plot in so that every episode has some little tidbit of information to cling to. That’s not been a strength of Drive so far, an in fact the exposition tends to have come in large ungainly chunks. That leads to anticlimaxes like this episode.
Riders gaining new forms should be a climax of action, excitement and personal development. They should come at the end of decent story arcs and coincide with a moment of character growth. That’s not to say these arcs are long – many powerups have been gained at the end of a mere two episode story – but there needs to be some buildup to be satisfying. I’m mostly echoing Aqua’s comments here, but the debut of Dead Heat was impossibly underwhelming – aside from the total lack of buildup, the suit itself is totally terrible. Mashups of two riders tend to look pretty crap anyway, but the sheer laziness on display here has to be seen to be believed. It’s very disappointing because a lot of the fun of Kamen Rider is tied up in its inherently toyetic cool factor. When the flashy stuff looks rubbish, everything else becomes a little less good.
The other thing which came to mind in this episode was the fact I’m just not very into the villains. Sure, Chase makes for a nice foil but we’ve seen so little of the chief Roidmudes and they’ve been so generically evil it’s tough to buy them as actual characters. Some of the greatest Rider shows have been powered by complex infighting between the villains, who have often been fleshed out as well as or even better than our protagonists. That’s clearly not happened here and it’s to the show’s detriment. It’s tough to feel the stakes are high when we have such insubstantial baddies to root against.
The thing is though that Drive still has some solid fundamentals down. The interplay between the main characters continues to be good, and this week’s plot was effectively creepy (if you can ignore the trite and sexist ‘all women want to get married!’ implications). Practically a third of the way through its run though, Drive needs to start putting more meat on the bones lest it become too strictly formula.
- Kiriko absolutely steals this episode with her awesome superpowered upgrades, and I hope this means she’ll actually be allowed to stay relevant and take part in fights in a meaningful way.
- Chase’s weird foray into 2D JAPAN is one of the occasional overt reminders that this is a dumb kid’s show.
- I will echo Aqua on Power Rangers Dino Charge – it’s actually a legitimately good and entertaining premiere. Track it down if you can.