“My Friend, the Swordsman of Thunder”
Wait, what? What’s going on? Who is that? Where are we? A television show you say? Could’ve fooled me.
I’m going to level with y’all – this might be the single most incomprehensible episode of television I’ve ever seen. We’ve spoken in previous weeks about how Saber seems to have serious structural and pacing problems, be that because of COVID or something else. Even with that background I was completely unprepared for how haphazard and confusing this 20 or so minutes were. Strap in because this one’s going to be rough.
Ostensibly, this is an episode to introduce Kento, aka Kamen Rider Espada. Except…he already showed up at the end of the second episode and has sort of been around in fits and starts since then. Also, within the first 60 seconds of this episode Ogami casually drops into conversation that the mysterious Calibur is actually Kento’s father. So yeah, the big mystery around our principle villain that the show has been steadily building since it began is casually dismantled in a tossed off conversation at the beginning of an episode.
It’s impossible to overstate how awful this writing is. I’m not naive enough to believe the Calibur we’re seeing is actually straight up Kento’s father – there’s way too much ambiguity even in this one episode – but an attempt, any attempt to sell this as an actual dramatic revelation would have been welcome. Even a cliched, Darth Vader-esque reveal and a scene chewing NOOOOOOOOOOOO would have been something. This is just the most pathetic, limp-wristed resolution of a mystery possible. If even the show itself won’t believe in its plotlines enough to give them drama, then why the hell should we give a damn about them? Amateur hour stuff.
One of the most, er, distinctive characteristics of this episode is how none of the scenes appear to be connected to each other at all. We’ve spoken in past writeups about how the show has often felt ‘frankensteined’ together out of various odd sequences, but this is a level beyond. It’s incredibly hard to work out the basics of what’s actually going on and the pace of the show lurches from long clumsy dumps of exposition and leaden declarations of friendship to bitty scenes barely lasting twenty seconds and serving no apparent purpose.
There’s no narrative thrust or natural flow from event to event – characters appear and disappear purely because the story needs them to at that particular moment. It’s not so much a peak behind the curtain as an electron microscope directly on the rusty gears of the narrative. Look at Ogami popping out of nowhere to rescue Kento. Look at Touma and Kento magically knowing exactly where the monster is hanging out, even though it’s an entirely unconnected location we’ve never seen before. It’s just lazy writing pure and simple, an unwillingness or an inability to give any sort of context or meaning beyond ‘the script says we are here so we are here’.
On top of all that there’s the fact that this episode just looks unbearably ugly. Granted, this has been an issue with Saber from the very beginning but it’s a perfect storm this week. Perhaps someone realised that having bubbles in the background of all the alternate world scenes made them look unbearably lame, because they’re mercifully gone this week. The bad news is they’ve been replaced by a new filter which adds horrifying fringes to everything, making the show look even more like it was filmed through the bottom of two milk bottles. In addition, the ‘fights’ in this episode exemplify everything that Saber has been doing wrong with its action. There are so many horrible stock footage transformations and form changes that there’s no time for actual fights (the fact everyone automatically has swords doesn’t help either). The best part of the action in tokusatsu shows has always been the martial arts and stunt work of the talented suit actors, but instead here we go straight from the transformation into ugly CGI spam finishing moves. Just give us some punching and kicking without video effects bombarding the screen, I swear it’ll be alright.
I just cannot believe how inept this entire episode was. As I said at the top, one of the worst, most baffling episodes of any television show I’ve seen. It doesn’t matter if this is a show for five year olds, this sucked SO badly I’m sure they’ll be turning it off in droves too. The only thing I can say is that I hope it’s COVID that is driving the team to put out episodes of this desperate quality, because if not then I don’t even know where to start.
- Daishinji is introduced in this episode…two episodes after he first appeared. It’s another thing which makes me wonder how much chopping and changing the show is going through.
- ‘Zooous’ is perhaps the least thretening name in history. Also, what is that dude wearing?
- Kento’s father is played (out of suit) by Mitsuru Karahashi, who longtime fans will remember as Naoya Kaido from Kamen Rider 555, and memorably as Juzo Fuwa in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.
- I assume the young man that Calibur stops to talk to is a human form Desast, but the show doesn’t make this clear
- Touma in all black with a fedora makes it look like he’s cosplaying Shotaro from Kamen Rider W.