“United Swords, and Crossing Emotions”
Determined to confront his father and finally discover the motivation behind his betrayal, Kento recruits Touma and Rintaro for a final showdown with Calibur. The result of their battle is a shocking revelation about the dark Rider’s true identity….
We’re now ten full episodes into Saber, or to put it another way almost a quarter of the way through. That made me think a lot about another one of the show’s major issues, and also the mildly encouraging signs this episode shows of resolving it.
Put simply, it’s kind of hard to become invested in the conflict here because we don’t actually know the stakes, either for the heroes or the villains. Now don’t get me wrong, no story should put all its cards on the table at once, and Rider shows in general tend to be slow starters whose opening episodes are heavy on basic exposition and toy shilling. Normally though we at least have some idea of the motivation of the two sides, or at least the thematic base which the conflict is bound to resolve around. Zero-One centred around the Humagear rights debate and the associated terrorism of Metsubojinrai, Zi-O was all about preventing the apocalyptic future, Build focused on the mystery of the Pandora’s Box and the hidden power it contained…you get the idea.
In contrast, Saber is about basically nothing at this point. We know that the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad because that’s what we’ve been told, and I guess the bad guys are trying to take over the world or something? Or destroy it? We’re really at the stage where we should be getting a clearer picture of the motivations and objectives of either side, but instead there’s just sort of a fuzzy mix of vaguely gestured at plot points, and a definite feeling of going through the motions.
That’s why this episode was encouraging to me though, as Saber finally seems to get the idea it should lay out plots that last more than an episode or two, and begin to makes tangible steps towards the kind of long term storytelling it desperately needs. The centrepiece of this is the reveal that the mysterious Calibur is in fact Daichi Kamijou, former holder of the Saber mantle. The importance here is not that it’s a shocking twist (as I mentioned last week, this was pretty much the only option possible) but that it finally adds a tangible, personal dimension to the battle between the two sides. Instantly a whole multitude of interesting questions are opened up; What drove him to turn to the dark side? Why did he rescue Touma 15 years ago? What actually happened to Kento’s dad? These are all strong plots that the show can pick up and run with. Whether they’ll do them any justice remains an open question of course, but at least they’re giving themselves something to build off of.
Elsewhere though there are signs that Saber isn’t quite ready for a character writing revolution yet. Kento’s subplot with the mysterious lady is clunky and inelegant, with some flowery dialogue totally failing to hide the fact that she’s basically just there as a powerup delivery service. Neither the big ‘friends forever!’ speech between he, Touma and Rintaro, or the episode ending breakdown feel earned – we just have not seen enough of Kento as a character, bar some very very surface level angsting about his father’s supposed betrayal. It also seems somewhat forced that he hasn’t told the others about Calibur either. Granted, it’s got to be a point of shame, but this is a life and death battle for the fate of the world, come on.
This episode was also directed by Koichi Sakamoto and again it shows in the higher quality of the fight scenes, the general cinematography and especially in the use of gratuitous and enormous practical effect explosions (which, let me be clear, are very much appreciated). It’s flashy for sure, but a little Sakamoto goes a long way, and the show’s core aesthetic is so fundamentally ugly there’s only so much that can be done. As has become fairly common now, I have to note that this is automatically one of the better episodes of the show so far just because it actually makes sense and functions as a piece of narrative. That very low bar has been cleared for a few episodes now, so let’s hope it becomes the default going forward and that the seeds planted here can grow into a story worthy of keeping our attention.
- This episode contains what should be a seminal moment in any tokusatsu show – the first use of the main theme as battle music. Problem is, Saber‘s theme is so bad and so distinctly unsuited to being used to score an action scene that the end result is just kind of a flop.
- So…was Storious blowing up Calibur and revealing his identity part of the plan?
- There’s absolutely no sign of Saber using his King of Arthur powerup, which was such a huge deal just a few episodes back. I guess the implication is the three-book combo is more powerful, but Saber had the three -book combo BEFORE he got King of Arthur.
- I really hope the revelation that there’s a Southern base does not mean another wave of new Riders. Buster and Kenzan already don’t appear in this episode, and Slash is obviously just thrown into a side-battle to show off the newest toy.
- The ending narration strongly suggests that
Tasselcreepy clown is about to become an actual character in the narrative of the show, in which case these writeups will cease as I’ll be too busy running out of my house screaming.