“Flame With Light, Blade With Blade”, “The Stronghold Broken, by the Will of a Sword”, and “Shining Brightest, a Body Full of Colour”
This week on Saber, my patience with this cursed show finally runs out.
This is it folks. Honestly I’ve stuck with Saber far longer than previous bad Rider shows just because the ways in which it has been bad have been truly fascinating. Even my warped fascination has its limits though, and the truth is for a while now the show has not even reached car-crash viewing status, but instead slogged along in the familiar pit of deeply bad writing, acting and characterisation. It’s probably telling that the reason this post is late is because even our fansubbers over at Genmcorp couldn’t stand any more and dropped the show after episode 18. Not that I blame them of course.In fact, they probably got out at just the right time, as this three episode patch is dire in the extreme.
In a sense, this is the perfect place to wrap up our journey with Saber because these episodes basically present a microcosm of all the show’s sins. We’re still stuck in this interminable plotline wherein Touma and the rest of the Sword of Logos are estranged from each other for the most unbelievably flimsy reasons, and it hasn’t gotten any better with time. It’s impossible to shake the feeling that this entire sequence is drawn-out padding of the very worst kind, perpetuated only by the total inability of the characters to act sensibly, rationally or even believably in any way. For example, in episode 19 there’s a big confrontation between Saber and Slash, and then in episode 21 there’s another big confrontation between Saber and Slash. Nothing at all changes between these two fights and there’s absolutely no reason they couldn’t have been condensed into a single encounter. I get that in a year-long show there has to be some level of filler, but you could at least make even a token effort to not just do the same thing over and over again. Touma and the various other Riders have fought each other so many times at this point that any battle is just absolutely boring, especially since the show’s desperation to maintain the status quo means nobody actually wins or loses these fights.
What makes this situation even worse is that the second fight is necessitated by Daishinji pulling an ancient prophecy out of his ass. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘because destiny says so’ storytelling at the best of times, but it’s especially egregious here because there has not been a single thing said about this prophecy until the very episode where it’s fulfilled. You honestly couldn’t find time in the more than seven hours of TV we’ve had so far to slip in a mention here or there? Maybe establish at some point that Daishinji’s family had a longstanding connection to the Swords and Swordsmen? Thing is though, that would require a both modicum of advance planning, and any interest at all in fleshing out these characters beyond the marionettes they are at the moment. Nobody in the show actually has history, complex personality, or motivation. They just exist to act our their predetermined roles and they have no weight beyond what we see. So these episodes end with Daishinji joining Touma’s cause, not because he was persuaded of its righteousness, nor swayed by our hero’s resolve, but because he saw the sword glow a bit and immediately betrayed all of his comrades. Plus ça change.
Really these episodes do a lot to throw into sharp relief how completely ineffectual Touma is as a lead character. Again, a lot of it is down to a near total lack of development. Things keep happening to Touma but the show is completely uninterested in exploring why or how they affect him. We know that he’s looking for Luna, and we know he’s upset because Kento died, but we know so little about those characters that it’s hard to truly empathise with him. Instead, Touma just sort of becomes a blob of generic niceness who wants to save people because he’s the lead character and that’s what the lead character does. His desperation to save weird car collection kid is presumably meant to be endearing but so fanatical does he seem that it instead just comes of part creepy and part hilariously melodramatic. This isn’t aided by Syuichiro Naito’s extremely broad, over-the-top performance, but to be fair he’s being given so little by the script it’s hard to begrudge him the theatrics.
Another problem is that, in an arc in which Touma is presumably meant to show his power and determination, the spotlight is constantly stolen by Yuri, since he’s got the newest toys to shill. I was willing to give the character some leeway when he first showed up, but enough is enough, and I found myself deeply loathing him whenever he showed up on screen. The writing is simply not good enough for the kind of man-out-of-time vibe that they’re going for, and the result is the jokes fall flat and at all other times he just seems to be kind of a smarmy jerk. In total contrast to Naito, Tomohiro Ichikawa appears to have gone for the Kathy Ireland school of acting and just cannot muster any sort of charm or swagger to the character. To top it off, we yet again see the show handing out a power-up to a character without any sort of story attached to it or obstacle to overcome to attain it. Yuri simply decides he needs a powerup and goes to get it. That’s it. Still, I’ve been saying all along that this show needed more hideous Photoshop filters and Ex-Aid style ugly hit effects, so good going there.
I could go on and on forever. The villains are awful. The fights are rubbish. The dialogue is grating. The camerawork is basic. But really, the truth here is I’ve gone on far too long already. This is a deeply terrible show and I’ve talked a lot about the myriad ways in which it’s terrible for months now. It hasn’t learnt anything from its mistakes, and indeed it’s doubled down on many of them. It’s occasionally been fun tearing this story to shreds but at the end of the day what I’m left with is a deep unease about the future of the show. In its 50th year, Kamen Rider is on shakier ground than ever, and it’s not just sad nerds like me who are thinking that. Word from Japan is that ratings are down, word of mouth is poisonous, and that kids are staying away in droves. I’d like to think that Saber isn’t quite bad enough to kill an entire franchise stone but by god, they’ve given it a try. Regardless, when a new Rider rolls into town I’ll be back to cover it, but until then this fairy tale is very much over.
- With Genmcorp dropping out, my thanks go to IzuSubs for translating these last three episodes.
- Yuri just wipes editor lady’s memory! Guess being a 2000 year old floating sword exempts you from worrying about any sort of morality.
- Hey, Desast is here! What’s his new role? Oh he’s just gonna do random shit? Cool.
- Ren is still really really angry and it’s still really, really lame.
- There is one genuinely cool thing which happens in episode 21, which is the stunt crew actually lighting Touma’s sword on fire for real during the battle with Slash. It looks fantastic and a billion times better than all the effects which surround it.
- Thank you everybody who’s followed along this far. We’re all gluttons for punishment together! Hope to see you next time with a better show.
- FINAL CLOWN UPDATE – Still creepy, especially in triplicate!