So, it turns out Kento wasn’t really dead after all! Ah well, if at first you don’t succeed….
This episode is incredible.
To be clear, that’s not a compliment.
Saber has been building up to this episode for a little while now, treating it as a sort of mini-climax, and while in theory that’s a good idea the execution is anything but. For a start, this episode is centred around Calibur’s evil plan to…do what exactly? We know he’s opening a portal to another world that will supposedly help him ‘obtain the eternal truth’, but that’s just obfuscation. We have no idea why he’s doing what he’s doing, let alone how he’s doing it, and the net result is there’s no sense of threat or imminent danger. Saber has been bad about this all along, assuming the audience will simply accept the bad guys are evil because we’re told they are, and it really hurts the sense of stakes here. I had hoped the revealing Calibur’s identity would cause the battle to move in a more personal direction, but honestly nothing has changed aside from the fact we see his face now. I accept that unravelling his motivation is a story beat which should be played out over the long term, but you have to give us something right now. As it is it looks like Kamijo will be exiting the scene for a while, so any tangible answers will have to wait.
Really though that’s not the big issue with this episode. No, the big problem is the off-the-charts level of melodrama. Now let’s be clear here, tokusatsu is a medium that is inherently camp as a field of tents, and a high level of melodrama is an essential part of the formula. There’s a delicate balance, though, between not being broad enough and being too broad, making all your attempts at storytelling cartoonish pastiches. Saber has rarely nailed that balance but this episode they go swan diving off of it and hit the water with a resounding splat.
Almost all of this is centred around Kento, who is somehow not dead? Despite the huge buildup and agonized, emotional farewell scene that ended the last episode, we quickly find out he’s merely been knocked unconscious, something which he recovers from in double quick time. It’s an impossibly huge anti-climax that just absolutely sucks any sort of drama out of the entire episode. Perhaps in an attempt to compensate for that, the director seems to have instructed every single actor to emote like it’s going out of fashion. The result is characters screaming their emotions out loud in an astonishingly pathetic attempt to convince us to care about them. At one point Kento is even lying on the ground crying his eyes out while reading out a bullet points list of the other Riders’ supposed attributes and it is deeply, deeply rubbish.
The culmination of this is the end of the episode, where they decide to kill Kento AGAIN and basically redo the ending of the last episode, only this time instead of just Touma sobbing and eulogizing him, we get everyone else along as well. Honesty, I spent most of this section just howling with laughter, because it is just SO lame and SO desperate. We’ve been given absolutely no reason to care about these characters at all, no reason to become invested in them, yet we get this pantomime level farce to try and convince us we’re deeply moved by it all. A bunch of vague flashbacks of two characters reading a book together does not constitute a deep and resonant back story. Is the sight of Kenzan crying meant to make me feel something, even though he’s barely been in the show and is totally insufferable whenever he turns up? Just a staggering misstep all around.
Honestly, this might be the worst Saber episode yet. Sure, some of the earlier episodes were utterly incoherent, but even that might be preferable to the embarassment on display here. The crowning glory is that this is ANOTHER fakeout, because we see Kento alive and well, and presumably he’s been taken over by the Sword of Darkness or something like that. Just absolute bullshit in every possible way. Awful, awful, awful.
- For the record, that’s three episodes in a row that have ended on fakeout death teases. A trick is always more impressive when you see it multiple times right?
- Tassel is (greenscreened) back in his weird cottage, even though he came to the real world last episode. Did he tag along just to watch Kento fall unconscious?
- Seriously, how many times do they show that pinky promise?
- In what has become a familiar pattern for the show, Touma doesn’t actually do anything to earn his powerup, it just happens at the most convenient point for the plot. At least this is the first Saber suit that actually looks kind of neat?
- On a related note, why does Daishinji not go along with the others? He doesn’t really do anything at the base except put the books in some tube, then randomly appears so he can be a part of the big ending scene.
- So…is the implication that Calibur somehow infected Kento at the end of last episode? It’s not really clear why he’s being taken over by the Sword of Darkness.