With the fate of the world at stake, Calibur and Saber clash for a final time. In the aftermath, seeds of discord are sowed amongst the Sword of Logos members.
Welcome back to our ongoing coverage of Saber, or alternatively the ongoing destruction of my critical faculties if you prefer. We took a few weeks off to focus on our end-of-year coverage (which you should go read, because it’s great) but Saber is on hiatus this week for the New Year, so now’s a perfect time to catch up. And it just so happens that we’ve got a fairly meaningful double bill to go over here, what with the (seeming) capstone to one plotline and the kickoff of another. It’s not good per se, but hey, at least stuff is happening!
Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that this pair of episodes are both directed by Koichi Sakamoto, and that means they’re immediately among the best looking, best shot, and most visually exciting episodes of Saber. There’s some excellent action in episode 15 in particular, with some sweet unmorphed beatdowns from the Megid (a Sakamoto speciality) and some suitably dramatic choreography for the final Saber/Calibur battle. I’m not sure I’d want Sakamoto directing every episode, but there’s little denying that he brings a level of style and visual verve to a show which is often uninspired or just plain ugly, and it’s clear that Toei management has him booked for big episodes like this precisely for that reason.
About that final Saber/Calibur confrontation…it’s really odd. We’ve got the expected stuff, like a near-villain victory and a heroic second wind once the spirit of Kento appears to encourage Touma. I’m even largely OK with the ‘I’ll tell you my plan before I kill you’ trope, since that’s just expedient writing at this point. The thing is though, the details of that plan, which is basically a potted history of Calibur and Kento’s father, is just kind of bizarre and hard to parse. It establishes that Kento’s father, Hayato Fukumiya, really was Calibur at one point, and that he betrayed the Sword of Logos to do what Daichi is trying to do right now – bridge the worlds and obtain the ‘Universal Truth’ or whatever. What’s incredibly unclear is why he’s doing that, though he claims that it’s the only way to save the world. Daichi then kills him and…immediately decides to become Calibur himself and basically repeat exactly what Hayato was just doing.
Now look, there’s definitely a way this can work. ‘Hero becomes villain because he thinks he can do it right’ is a classic arc, but it’s an arc where it’s important we know what’s at stake. Daichi claims that Hayato was led astray by a traitor within the Sword of Logos, but we’re not given any insight as to what that traitor told him or why he thought it was worth betraying all his comrades and sacrificing innocent lives for. Without that context he kind of just comes off as a random dick. Daichi’s case is even worse, since rather than attempting to root out the traitor in any other way, he instantly goes for the nuclear option and decides to do exactly what he just killed his best friend for doing. Is the implication that he needs godlike power just to defeat the Sword of Logos? I feel like a stiff breeze could topple the Sword of Logos on a good day so it just seems like an incredible overreaction. The net result is that we have almost no idea why either Calibur is trying to obtain the Universal Truth beyond ‘they’re bastards I guess’, which is definitely not what the writers seemed to be going for.
Anyway, after a fight which starts out decent but eventually devolves into the expected blizzard of ugly CGI, Calibur is defeated and appears to be having some sort of epiphany when he’s ruthlessly backstabbed and killed by…Desast? The no-name mook who’s barely been in the past few episodes and never done anything of note? It’s completely out of left field for sure but it’s also totally anticlimactic. Given that Calibur and Saber had to journey here through a magic portal and were knocked out mid-flight, how is Desast even around? There’s also been no suggestion that there’s any bad blood between him and Calibur, although there’s some hasty dialogue to indicate he’s doing it to be free of his book. Calibur’s death is also hilariously abrupt. He doesn’t get a moment of realisation or reflection, he just entrusts his sword to Touma, which then disappears instantly in a moment of unintentional comedy. It’s especially frustrating because the episode gets close to wringing some poignancy out of the character, but can’t land a knockout blow and just sort of fizzles out as a result.
Even taking that into account though it’s still far better than episode 16, which is perhaps the platonic ideal of an Idiot Plot – i.e. a plot which only works because every single character involved acts like a total idiot. Touma is suddenly convinced that all of his allies are actually waiting to stab him in the back, despite only having the word of a guy who was trying to take over the world, and, lest we forget, KILLED HIS BEST FRIEND. When Ren is the voice of reason you know you have to check yourself. Mind you, it’s not like everyone else is without blame. They immediately take the word of someone they’ve only met once before and who offers only the very flimsiest reason as to why Touma would betray them. Then, once they’re convinced of this unlikely fact, they immediately leap to the ‘confront him like it’s an armed intervention’ stage rather than just, you know, giving him a call and asking him to come in and talk about some stuff.
The resulting battle is deeply melodramatic, and not in the good way either. There’s a long, long history of shows pitting Riders against each other, but unless that is explicitly the premise of the entire story (Ryuki, Decade, Gaim etc) it tends to come off as incredibly forced and that’s especially true here given the show has worked so hard to sell the ‘yay teamwork!’ ethos over the past few episodes. Oh, there’s also the fact that a talking sword shows up and owns them all. I guess what with Saber’s obssession with endless powerups and flashy SFX rather than decent choreography or meaningful stakes, a talking, flying sword zipping around the screen is the logical endpoint, but still, bugger me. It looks awful naturally, and while I get it’s important to sell the power of your big new
toy character there’s no way to do this without making most of your cast look totally ridiculous.
It’s not a great place the show leaves us in then, but there are a few interesting things to look forward to. As clumsily handled as it’s been so far, there’s definitely potential in the idea of corruption from within the Sword of Logos. I think how intriguing this will ultimately end up being will depend on whether the script is actually brave enough to finger one of the Riders as a traitor. If they do there’s tons of drama to be had there, but if they just decide that the mysterious lady (who some searching indicates is called Reika Shindai) is the sole bad one then that’s the safest, most boring route possible. The other big thing, to me at least, is that it looks like we’re going to move towards more substantial Monsters-of-the-Week, and to indulge in the grand old Kamen Rider tradition of having them be connected to specific people. As much as it’s been done there’s always plenty of mileage in it, and hopefully with Calibur gone we’ll get a bit more of the Megid as actual villains too.
- Sakamoto has a track record of getting his actors to do their own stunts and he does it again here with the three Megids brief unmorphed fight. Koji Saikawa (Zooous) is particularly impressive.
- The Saber/Calibur battle is helped considerably by the extremely unique location work. I can’t actually tell whether it’s digitally graded or if they just found somewhere really lovely, but it’s quite something to see.
- Calibur’s flashbacks show that both Daishinji and Ogami were around 15 years ago. Having either of them be the traitor would be quite a brave move, especially dad-of-boy Ogami. I can dream right?
- Touma’s fashion is out of control in episode 16. I can’t work out what’s worse, the pseudo-priest looking getup he starts with, or his vile turtleneck and oversized red dress shirt combo.
- The random husband who can see the other world is played by Hideyoshi Iwata, the current main suit actor for Ultraman. This cameo is probably down to episode writer Keiichi Hasegawa, who himself has a long history with the Ultra series.
- Continuing the ‘this is basically a Sentai’ theme, Yuri is classic sixth ranger material. He’s showing up at roughly the right time and is gold *and* silver.
- Ren’s characterisation of the week – Crazed beserker.
- Hey remember when Rintaro had a blood feud with Zooous?