Here’s a title that’ll make most casual readers scratch their heads in confusion and I’ll have to admit it’s probably not the best title to sucker people into reading my blog with. But I promised myself that I wouldn’t let this blog go to waste, I’ve had several previous go down the drain because I simply forgot or ran out of things to say or chose too narrow a field to write about. And the last post did sort of set a precedence so I figured another post about tokusatsu wasn’t entirely crazy… but I’m drifting from the subject at hand which is this:
It’s kind of hard to say what this movie really is. Is it a movie or an episode? After all, it has episode in the title there but it is nearly 90 minutes long. It has a beginning, middle and ending complete with pacing and actors and for Japan, a movie budget.
And it’s not made any easier if I were to try and explain just how this movie relates to the series “Kamen Rider Den-O” or the fact that it’s sort of only a third of a bigger movie called “Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Cho-Den-O Trilogy“, hence the “Episode Red” subtitle…
So, I guess, to make this a little easier, let’s back up six, seven years to 2007 when “Kamen Rider Den-O” took over the yearly Kamen Rider series after “Kamen Rider Kabuto“, the very first Kamen Rider I watched in full. And to say that my initial impression of Den-O was poor is to put it lightly. At that point I had gotten used to the rather serious tone of Kabuto and Den-O is very much focused on comedy. Which is also why it became as big as it is.
During the nineties the franchise was kept alive mostly through various movies and adaptations outside of Japan. I don’t know exactly why they chose to put it out to pasture but they did. Perhaps it wasn’t as profitable as the Super Sentai series or they just didn’t feel like it any longer. Whatever the reason, “Kamen Rider Black RX“closed the eighties and was the last Kamen Rider series in roughly a decade.
Or maybe Saban doomed it.
This may not sound like much over here but in Japan, a series focused entirely on selling toys to kids on a yearly basis going off the air for this long is the equivalent of being declared legally dead… only to come back.
And back it came in the year 2000 with the series “Kamen Rider Kuuga“, my personal favorite. It was one of the first Kamen Riders I ever saw and back then I actually utterly hated it. I only saw the first few episodes but I just couldn’t get into it. Fast forward a few years and I watched it again to sate the completionist in me and I ended up absolutely loving the hell out of it.
But I’m drifting from the subject at hand… again, so allow me to steer back on my point here. Kuuga continued a trend that Kamen Rider series are in general much darker than its Super Sentai counterpart. There’s a lot of adult themes permeating the series such as sacrifice, hate, death and revenge among many, many more (I believe there’s even rape in the novelization of one of the series) and the victims of the monsters tended to more often end up dead in a variety of ways. The closest the series got to levity was with “Kamen Rider Ryuki” and that still featured people dying gruesomely to the left and to the right and a rather gruesome twist for the lead protagonist leading to one of the weirdest endings in Kamen Rider history, I think.
There was seven series of this which equals seven years.
And then Den-O happened.
It turned out to be a huge success. It’s pretty much the only Kamen Rider series I know of that more or less spawned its own franchise. You’d think, considering they change the setting and plot every year, that this would be a common occurrence but no. Den-O was hugely popular to the point where they felt they had to continue the franchise after the series came to an end and ANOTHER took its place.
This is when they started making the movies, starting with Climax Deka followed by Final Countdown. Then they started the so called Cho-Den-O series which consisted of The Onigashima Warship and then this trilogy and here we are.
Quick word about the Onigashima Warship movie: it sucks. In my opinion, Kamen Rider movies have a nasty tendency to not be very good and Den-O’s movies were never that different in this regard. However, what charm the series had carried over in great deal to the movies and it was one of the first series since they restarted the franchise that had a movie that actually took place within the continuity of the series so kudos to them for daring to pull that off again.
However, a lot of the love I had for the series pretty much petered out with The Onigashima Warship and I can very easily point at exactly what did it:
This is the actor who portrays the main character of Den-O, Ryotaro Nogami. Seems weird, right, why would I suddenly have a problem with the actor? Well, this is what he looked like before Onigashima Warship:
If you spot certain differences then that would be because they’re two entirely different actors. The reason for this in-series is that events in the movie distort time and Ryotaro becomes a worse actor. The real reason for this was of course that Takeru Sato wanted to pursue an acting career, eventually landing the leading role in the Ruroni Kenshin movie adaptations. So I imagine he’s looking back on that decision very favorably at this point.
Amazingly this wasn’t the first time Den-O pulled this stunt and in my opinion it went roughly as well. Yuriko Shiratori was hit by the Kamen Rider curse and fell ill during shooting and was replaced by much younger Tamaki Matsumoto, the in-series reasons being pretty much the same.
Time travel, not even once.
Takeru Sato was simply a better Ryotaro and actor overall. There’s also the problem that little Takuya Mizoguchi has shoes to fill and needs to emulate the mannerisms of Takeru’s Ryotaro which just comes off a painfully fake and simply not as charming or attractive. For one, Takuya doesn’t have the acting chops for this and furthermore, at times Ryotaro becomes a womanizer… keep in mind, this is a much younger Ryotaro. The Japanese might think that’s cute but honestly it’s a bit creepy.
But that’s pretty much Japan for you.
So I was already set against disliking Episode Red before even watching it. I admit that but I make no excuses or try to apologize for it. I stand by what I said: the change was detrimental. But perhaps sensing that people had taken to the actor-change poorly, they opted to set Episode Red about the OTHER Kamen Rider in Den-O: Yuto Sakurai or Kamen Rider Zeronos.
Yuto is probably the most complicated character to explain since to do so I’d have to go into detail about time-wimeys and orbital wobble. Basically, and I write that sarcastically, in the timeline where timetravel didn’t mess everything up, Yuto would grow up to be Ryotaro’s sister’s lover and future husband. But when the time invasion began, the adult Yuto traveled back in time to give his younger self the arsenal with which to combat it at which point he fastforwarded to 2007 (when the series takes place) to join in the fray. Because the timeline was upset, adult Yuto disappeared and Airi (that’s Ryotaro’s older sister) forgot all about him. Oh, and Hana, the girl traveling and mentoring Ryotaro is actually his unborn niece that sort of ceased to exist when Yuto and Airi never became a couple… or something.
Timetravel, not even twice.
So this movie revolves around Yuto romancing Airi as his much younger self. This of course falls in the category of icky because she is older than him (I’m not entirely sure by how much but she definitely looks A LOT older) and, oh, she regained her memory about him at one point and sort of figured out what was going on. So she KNOWS he’s a younger version of the guy she was set to marry. Talk about imprinting.
There’s also a subplot about Airi having a stalker because everyone falls in love with Airi the second they lay eyes on her. Some might consider that the plot of the actual movie but in all honesty, it’s barely explored and is treated more like comic relief (you hear that, girls, stalkers are funny!) with the stalker being so shy and cowardly he can’t approach her. Instead he concocts a plan together with a monster where he can be seen as hero for saving her only he consistently screws it up and that whole plot sort of goes unresolved at the end with the stalker more or less just going unpunished, I think.
And Ryotaro is barely featured at all.
Yeah, I’m not above using memes!
Congratulations, you made it to the review part of the review!
So what did I think of the movie itself? Well, it’s not very well written and feels more like a monster of the week episode from the series itself rather than something to be taken seriously. From what I understand it ties into an overarching story but keep in mind I’ve only seen the first movie and these are my first impressions.
The one really big disappointment is the fact that there’s barely any fighting at all. Neither Kamen Rider featured transforms more than once or twice and the ensuing fights aren’t all that impressive so the wait is not really worth it. And even though I complain a lot about the new Ryotaro, a Den-O movie not really featuring Den-O seem a bit like false advertising. The principal cast all return and it does feature Zeronos a lot more but still, they better shape up in this particular department for the next two movies.
My main gripe is mostly how unimportant the plot seems at this point. I’m sure it ties into the coming movies, which I promise to ogle today or this weekend, depending on how much fun Bioshock Infinite is.
But there’s more to it than that.
I think even the cast themselves have grown weary of the franchise as they’re not really putting their all into it anymore. Even Yuichi Nakamura who portrays Sakurai seems to have grown bored with the role and he was boring even before he lost interest. It also seems very odd to that this plot even exists since surely all Sakurai would have to do is travel back to his original time and let things take their natural turn? Or is that no longer possible due to the timelines being all kinds of messed up? And even if the two get together, does that restore the timeline somehow? Surely it would just create a divergent timeline instead? Would it still lead to Hana’s birth? The show seems to think so.
Time travel, not even thrice.
Oh, and the monster is very disappointing. It’s based on the “Three little pigs” fable but they don’t do anything particular with it and he doesn’t seem to have any sort of power at all other than strength, seems kind of a weak monster to center you movie around. I mean, surely, if you have something based on the three little piggies you could come up with something slightly more interesting than “Punching” as a superpower. He’s eventually defeated by Den-O in a less than spectacular fight involving a lot of punching. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this was a script left over from the series.
But this is a common problem with a lot of tokusatsu movies that spawn from series. But this is something I’ll probably come back to at a later date. But now I’ll let you go, this blog post has gone on long enough. In short, the movie wasn’t particularly good, even for a tokusatsu movie.
In related news, I have started watching OOO as well and to sum it up quickly: I like it. But you’ll get to hear more about that once I’ve finished the series. Next time… probably more Cho-Den-O.