“The Sealed One, Arthur”
Touma is feeling the pressure of wielding the King of Arthur powerup…for some reason. His indecision leads to Ogami getting turned to stone, marginally improving the quality of his character writing.
It still feels kind of odd to analyse Saber as an actual piece of narrative and not the wild crazy car crash of odds and ends it continues to be, but there’s only so many times I can joke about how confusing everything is. With that said, this episode epitomises one of the problems with the actual storytelling in the show which would persist even if the production was smooth sailing.
The basic premise here is simple, and has been tested many many times, both within the Kamen Rider franchise and outside of it. Main character is plagued by doubt and said doubt causes them to make a mistake that badly hurts or even kills an ally. Main character must then power through their doubt and in doing so might just unlock a shiny new toy to get back at the bad guys with. Some variation on this plot appears in pretty much every Rider show and in fact an expanded version of it formed the (very good) finale of Kamen Rider Zero-One just a few months ago, so it’s not like there isn’t an established template to work off of.
Predictably of course, Saber absolutely screws up this relatively simple trope. The first problem is one that I pointed out in last week’s writeup, namely that the show messes up the formula from the start by giving Touma the powerup before he’s actually done anything to earn it, denying us the triumphant catharsis of seeing an awesome new power for the first time. Yes, they try to cover it up by having King of Arthur have a second, theoretically more impressive form, but there’s definitely an element of trying to have your cake and eat it here. It doesn’t help that the supposedly awesome power this Book is hiding is in fact absolutely, laughably bad. Of course Saber would think that true power is the ability to summon even more horrible CGI spam, but on top of that we’ve got the return of the dodgy Decade style tranformation gimmick. Kamen Rider in general is pretty bad with giant robots or enemies because they’re almost always CGI, as opposed to Super Sentai where the camp value of the lovingly made suits is much appreciated, and that trend isn’t bucked here.
The second, more fundamental problem with this episode is simply that Touma doesn’t actually have a problem, or overcome said nonexistant problem. There’s no real reason for him to screw up in the first place, no actual issue he faces. He just sucks so hard that Ogami has to ham handedly step in to take a fatal blow (while demorphing for…some reason?). The show tries to sell that he’s overwhelmed by the awesome responsibility of his new powerup, but that’s such a non-issue it just makes him look like someone who buckles under the slightest bit of expectation. Because there’s no actual problem, there’s no epiphany or realisation that turns him around either. He just has an exceedingly rote conversation with Ogami’s son and then magically decides to pick himself up and get better. To call it unsatisfying would be a gross understatement.
The entire thing is emblematic of one of Saber‘s most deeply rooted problems – the writing has no patience. There’s never any room for the characters to grow or for their conflicts to develop organically. No thought is given to how the characters feel or think, only what they *do*, and the net result is episodes like this one. The show mimics the motions of better stories, but without any of the care which went into their writing, resulting in hollow scenarios in which our characters have no discernable motivation or investment in the outcome. Without believable and relatable characters, every other positive attribute a show might have is negated. The fact that Saber doesn’t even have those attributes to begin with is further damning evidence against it.
- The undoubted highlight of this episode is the appearance of the two random bystanders, who are played by Kamen Rider Gaim veterans Metal Yoshida and Ryo Matsuda, They happened to be in the area shooting a Gaim spinoff and agreed to cameo for a laugh. Gaim is fantastic by the way, and if you haven’t seen it stop watching Saber and go watch it now. I’ll wait.
- I try not to rag on it too much because it’s a basic-cost-of-entry thing, but there are some really really bad instances of floppy rubber swords in this episode. Check out the shot where Touma is sent rolling down the stairs.
- Touma just hands Ogami’s sword to Sora. Shouldn’t it be way too heavy? What happened to basic suspension of disbelief?
- You’d think a kid would be just a teensy bit upset about his dad being turned to stone right? Apparently Sora is either extremely tough or very dumb.
- The bad guys are still being greenscreened into their HQ, although it’s one of the better efforts relatively speaking.
- As we briefly saw in the flashback in episode 1, the third man in the photograph is the original Saber.
- GET AWAY FROM ME CLOWN