“555 – 913 – 2003”
Teaming up with Takumi and Kusaka, Sougo and his crew attempt to uncover the truth behind the mysterious Fourze/Faiz Another Rider, and his connection to Amanogawa student Karin Yamabuki. Also, Geiz makes a truly explosive phone call.
This is a super frustrating episode, because Zi-O takes some solid steps to tell an interesting story, but they’re largely undone by the shaky basics it still hasn’t been able to lock in. In fact, it’s increasingly obvious that being a huge crossover, the very thing it’s meant to exist for, is in fact one of the weaker parts of the show. When Zi-O is trying to be a regular Rider show, and tell interesting stories within the confines of it’s gimmick, it’s gradually getting better, but when it tries to be an epic anniversary celebration, that’s where it’s losing ground.
Let’s concentrate on the good stuff first though. Perhaps inspired by the presence of the 555 Riders, the story behind the Another Rider turns out to be a rather dark, twisted tale, which gives a nice shot of genuine drama to the narrative. I’ve said a few times now that the part of the show which has most intrigued me thus far has been the Time Jackers and the potential of their powers, and this is a great example of how you can twist the basic concept to create good character drama. Yes, Hora ‘saving’ Karin from her fate, but her then requiring regular infusions of life force doesn’t line up exactly with how the Jackers’ powers have been portrayed, but it’s a great piece of drama, and thematically ties in well to the Faustian bargain concept that has always been a part of Kamen Rider. This is the kind of moral ambiguity I’d like to see more of – Sakuma’s definitely a bad guy for sure, but he’s got a understandable, maybe even sympathetic motivation for what he does.
So the basic story of the Riders bringing Sakuma and Karin’s twisted relationship to an end is great. It’s all the stuff around it which starts to cause problems. For a start, the idea that he’s two Another Riders in one is…weird to say the least. Can Swartz not tell that Sakuma was already made into Another Rider? Are the Jackers operating so independently that they’re not aware of what the others are doing, even though they’ve presumably only got a limited number of Riders they can create? I wouldn’t mind the small plot holes so much if the story actually made the need for Sakuma being a two-time Another Rider more apparent or relevant, but as it is it just comes off as something they did for a cheap shock. Geiz notes that over the years his power began to weaken – why is that exactly?
Speaking of plot holes, we’ve gotta circle back around to the weird timeline stuff happening here. I don’t want to harp on this too much, because it’s easy to slide into nitpicking pointless minutiae, but as it stands Zi-O still has big issues with getting its mechanics straight. It’s pretty cool that both Geiz and Zi-O can battle the same monster 15 years apart, but if Geiz defeats Sakuma in 2003 shouldn’t he instantly cease to exist in 2018? Things become even more headache inducing if you consider the potential ramifications of Sakuma stealing Faiz’s powers (the battle that Faiz is depicted losing his powers in happened in episode 2 of the show). Sure, that provides a valid reason why Kusaka is still alive, but if the events of 555 never happened then…well let’s just say the world would probably be in a considerably different state. This was an issue with the previous Riders too of course, but the much greater time gap to 555, as well as the pretty apocalyptic nature of the conspiracy in that show, makes it even more obvious that the world should have changed in significant ways.
On the 555 note, Takumi and Kusaka feel utterly wasted, which is especially baffling when you go to the effort to get back the original actors. It’s kind of crazy we never see Takumi transform into Faiz aside from through stock footage, and in general he feels utterly superfluous to what’s actually happening in the story. Kusaka is more relevant (the idea that Karin went to the Ryusei School is a neat touch that helps make his involvement feel natural) but it’s incredibly underwhelming to see he and Takumi basically team up to solve the mystery, even if he does so grudgingly. For those of you who aren’t aware, Kusaka has a reputation as one of the most evil, shitty Riders ever to appear in the franchise, and his enmity with Takumi was one of the most vicious there’s ever been between Riders in a show. He was a great character, who the fandom loves (to hate), but make no mistake he’s a villain to the core, and teaming up with Takumi is something incredibly out of character. You can explain that with the timeline shift, but then why bother having them at all if they’re in-name-only versions? It just reinforces the idea that Zi-O is more lazy greatest hits parade than a tribute to what people actually liked about the show.
The net result is an episode which occasionally delights with its dark twists, but ultimately underwhelms. Zi-O still hasn’t improved in the core areas it needs to to become a regularly enjoyable show – we still know next to nothing about our main characters, and they’re still appallingly acted and given sketchy dialogue and motivations. That’s a shame, because it undermines much of the good work done on this episode, and makes it less enjoyable than it ultimately should be.
- For those of you wondering what the ‘913’ in the title refers to, that was the ID number of Kamen Rider Kaixa, Kusaka’s alter ego.
- The cropped and upscaled 555 footage used for the flashback…doesn’t look great.
- Takumi’s business card is a reference to the fact he often worked in his friend Keitaro Kikuchi’s dry cleaning store back in 555.
- The radio-casette player Junichiro talks about repairing is the same model Keitaro used in episode 6 of 555.
- Another Fourze attempting to snap Kusaka’s neck one-handed is almost certainly a reference to how he ultimately met his end in 555.
- Geiz’s Faiz Armour looks utterly ridiculous, mostly due to the gigantic phone shoulders. It’s especially striking since the original Faiz is one of the more streamlined, understated Rider designs.
- In episode 6.5 Sougo points out that Sota Fukushi and Ryo Yoshizawa didn’t appear because they were too busy appearing in the Bleach movie. I guess it’s meant to be tongue in cheek, but honestly it comes off as kind of petty.
- So…is Mari just dead now?