“A Swordsman of Water, Mounted Upon a Blue Lion”
The mysterious stranger introduces himself as Rintaro Shindo, aka Kamen Rider Blades. He takes Touma and Mei to meet the mysterious Sophia, who explains the work of the ancient society known as the Sword of Logos.
My mother once said to me, as mothers throughout time have been wont to do, that if you can’t say anything nice about someone then you shouldn’t say anything at all. But this is a blog, and if I said nothing I’d be wasting your time even more than usual. So I’m going to break that rule, although in deference to it I’ll say there were some things I did enjoy about this episode alongside the myriad of things I did not.
The main positive point here was that the show is immediately moving to clearly delineate its structure. However Dan Brown it may be, the idea of Kamen Riders as a secret society that has defended humanity throughout time is one that’s packed full of potential , and one which appeals to the inner conspiracy theorist in me. I’m not entirely sure about introducing a mentor character like Sophia, whose vague and non-specific warnings of doom are already tiresome, but it’s certainly a new approach for the franchise and the headquarters building is a neat set with a striking aesthetic that again feels fresh in the context of Kamen Rider.
Probably my most welcome surprise though was Takaya Yamaguchi’s performance as Rintaro. I accused him of excessive mugging in episode 1, but given more screentime here he shows greater range and an affable, slightly dorky charm that fits the character well. Given the knights n’ magic aesthetic we were always going to need a pure straight man and my hope is that they can develop the character without losing the sense of innate goodness he seems to give off.
OK that’s enough nice things, because wow, in almost every other way this episode was an absolute disaster. Structurally it’s incredibly lumpy and disjointed, hopping between locations with little rhyme and reason. Why do Blades and Saber go to the base, go to the city, go back to the base, and then go BACK to the city? The culmination of this is of course the climactic 5 minute sequence that is shot 100% on greenscreen, one of the ugliest, worst, most tedious segments of tokusatsu I can remember in a long time. There’s been some talk that this was forced by the pandemic cutting greatly into available location shooting time, but whatever the cause the outcome is catastrophic.
What’s more, even leaving the ugliness of this sequence aside there are worrying signs of a show that’s not just embracing but wallowing in modern Kamen Rider‘s worst habits. The fights are short, unsatisfying, and laden down with crappy CG and unnecessary SFX flourishes. We get two full stock footage transformations, then they’re both repeated mere minutes later to pad runtime. There are three major powerups introduced in the space of about ten minutes and what’s more, we seem to be doing the Kamen Rider Double half/half gimmick AGAIN, presumably because it’s much better at generating gacha toys than individual form changes. Every time anybody does anything we’re bombarded by ugly noise and CGI.
There’s not really any real attempt here at fleshing out the characters, beyond Touma’s boilerplate speech about hope and determination, and Mei’s mugging is already tiresome in the extreme. It’s not like we get any more of the villains either, and bar the mystery surrounding Calibur’s identity there’s nothing interesting or threatening about them at all. So many Rider shows have succeeded on the back of compelling, hammy or tortured bad guys, so I’m desperate to see this lot get some actual characterisation.
There are all the standard disclaimers of course – it’s early, and there’s little doubt that Saber‘s production has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. But dear god this was dire and desperate stuff. We need rapid, RAPID improvement for this to be anything other than bottom tier trash on the tokusatsu scale.
- Our regular sub-providers Over-Time have decided to sit out this season, so we’re watching translations provided by the lovely folk at Genmcorp this year.
- We get our first chance to hear the new opening ‘ALMIGHTY ~ Kamen no Yakusoku’ by Yoohei Kawakami and the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. It’s terrible! It’s so bland I had to go back and listen to it several times while writing this piece just to remember what it sounded like.
- The idea of a secret base with a wise but mysterious mentor continues the trend of extremely Super Sentai-ish ideas showing up in the show. Is it worth mentioning the three main Riders are red, blue, and yellow?
- I’m fairly certain that nobody on the writing team actually understood the point of ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’
- I still hate that clown.