This is how I will forever and ever remember Den-O. This is the opening to the series and does a fantastic job getting you pumped and ready for some good action. It gives you a good idea what the show is about and there’s some really nice editing done to give hints about the timetraveling shenanigans about to go down.
And the song is absolutely awesome!
There? Did I get your hopes up? Good, ’cause I enjoy crushing them, MUHAHAHAHA… *cough* Well, they don’t use that song for the intro anymore, go figure. I mean, it was only the series’ theme song so what are the chances people are attached to it?
I am going to start by saying “I was wrong.” For two reasons. One is that Episode Blue and Yellow are better than Episode Red. And two, there was no overarching plot to speak of unless you count that one shitty gag concerning the Owner. But I’ll get to that because as it turns out, there’s more backstory to be had… yes, it’s sort of important or the plot of Episode Blue is probably just a bit beyond understanding.
In the movie Final Countdown, we were introduced to the character Kotaro Nogami and his companion Teddy. If his last name sounds familiar it’s because he shares this name with Ryotaro and Airi. In fact, he’s Ryotaro’s grandson from far into the future brought back to save his grandfather who has been possessed and gone over to the dark side.
Oh, and he’s also the future Kamen Rider.
Kotaro is portrayed by Dori Sakurada and his acting is… suspect at best. He’s not downright awful, he’s leagues better than Takuya Mizuguchi but then he’s not hampered by having to fill someone’s shoes.
The move to feature Kotaro as the main character strikes me as an early warning that Takeru Sato was getting ready to leave the franchise. It could also have been a conscious decision on the writers since they were sort of tasked with keeping the franchise alive for as long as possible and the “easiest” way to do that is of course to introduce more characters to feed upon.
The movie concludes with Ryotaro and Kotaro settling their differences (that was a thing but I’m not going to go into it here) and Kotaro would then proceed to show up in Onigashima Warship, cementing him as an active character in the franchise.
I bring this up because “Episode Blue – The Dispatched Imagin is Newtral” (get it?) is all about Kotaro and his companion Teddy coming to terms with the fact that they love each other. No, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a matter of homosexuality but something the Japanese seem to treasure far more: a true bromance.
When Ryotaro fails the apprehend a ticket thief-
Oh yeah, I sort of never explained that. In Den-O, they travel around time in a train called the DenLiner. They never really explain this or how that’s even possible, it just is. To travel in time you need a ticket. Yes? Right? Alright.
Alright, so when Ryotaro fails to apprehend the ticket thief, getting severely beaten up in the process, Kotaro is again called in to save the day. But there’s a hitch: Teddy, his trusted friend, servant and companion, is taken from him by Owner and he’s told to instead work with one of Ryotaro’s Imagin.
What’s an Imagin? Didn’t I cover that in my previous review? No? Crap.
Well, to transform into Kamen Rider in this series, you need the help of an Imagin. Imagins are beings from the future that travel back in time to change the future. Aka, they’re mostly evil but as portrayed throughout the series, there are a few that are nice or at least ambivalent about the plans to destroy the future. Yuto, whom I covered in my previous review, works together with Deneb, Kotaro has Teddy and Ryotaro has Momotaros, Urataros, Kintaros and Ryutaros… and Sieg from time to time. He’s the main character after all, so he gets more of them. Basically, the Imagin you pair up with decide your Kamen Rider form.
The ticket thief in question is working for someone who wants to travel back in time to spend her birthday with her grandma who would pass on later in that year. It’s actually a very touching plot about death and loss and is handled really nicely, obviously paralleling what Kotaro and Teddy are going through about taking someone for granted.
It’s a lot more emotional than it has any right to be, quite frankly, and there are a lot of heartbreaking moments, both with the grandma and granddaughter and between Kotaro and Teddy.
It does make the movie stand out from the usual tokusatsu movies and definitely from the trilogy at hand.
The monster in question is also suspiciously feminine and uses a lot of her feminine wiles to fight the two Kamen Riders. There’s even a fight sequence where Kotaro is whipping her and she’s getting pleasure out of it. Personally I didn’t get offended by it but I can definitely see this monster not going over well in the west.
I do adore the design of her, however, as her sexual nature is also represented in her design, taking a form inspired by the preying mantis. And I’m sure a lot of people know the story of the mantis’ sexual habits concerning men. The Japanese sure seem to know! Point I’m trying to make is that they made her this way for a reason and I think it works, creep factor of her sort of hitting on a teenager Ryotaro.
Overall, I really liked Episode Blue. It gave Kotaro and Teddy some well deserved closure and the plot actually managed to touch my heart. It’s a bit sappy and the conclusion with the grandma boarders on insulin shock inducing sweetness but I’ll give it a pass. Be sure to watch through the credits for one last tug on the heartstrings.
“Episode Yellow – Treasure of the End Pirates” then.
Well, sorry to say but this requires more backstory, this time about the Kamen Rider series that took the place of the one that succeeded Den-O: Kamen Rider Decade. I’ll make it as painless for you as I can but while Decade isn’t about timtravel, it might as well be because this time we’re hopping between worlds, revisiting many of the old Kamen Riders.
The story of Decade is basically this: Tsukasa Kadoya doesn’t know where he comes from, what world he belongs to as there are many, and he remembers very little of his past. Basically, every Kamen Rider series is a world of its own and now something is destroying them. Tsukasa travels these worlds trying to unite the Riders against a common threat while at the same time looking for his own world.
But more importantly he’s followed by a man who calls himself Daiki Kaito, a thief who steals treasure and transforms into Kamen Rider Diend (get it?).
And he’s more or less the main character of Episode Yellow, hence the subtitle. It revolves around Daiki seemingly wanting to put something in his past right but while doing so he’s also being chased by the Time Police, something dreamed up for this movie. As it turns out, Daiki stole something valuable from the cop’s family and the cop has held a grudge ever since. While the movie does do things fairly straight up, there is a lot of complex scheming involved from Daiki’s side and it’s all wrapped up in a rather surprising manner.
What’s even more surprising is that the character who takes the front row next to Daiki and the timecop is not Ryotaro, Kotaro or even Yuto but actually one of Ryotaro’s Imagin:
I say “surprising” because this hasn’t really been a thing in the previous movies. I understand why Momotaros, the red and first Imagin Ryotaro bonds with, hasn’t been featured as much because he was the prominent Imagin in the series but this still leaves Ryutaro, the purple teenager Imagin, and Kintaros, the yellow muscle Imagin, pretty underutilized. Outside of a fight here and there, most prominently in Episode Blue, they don’t do a whole lot throughout the trilogy which why this move surprised me as much as it did.
From a character perspective this makes the most sense as him and Daiki are not that far off from each other, both seemingly scheming and cold but harbor a lot of soft, gooey, squishy feelings about love and similar. Often covering for the softness by pretending they had different goals in mind. Urataros and Daiki turn out to be a force to be reckoned with and this saves a lot of the movie.
This also highlights one of my main problems with the trilogy but I’ll cover that in a little bit.
This part of the trilogy features a lot less fighting and while there is one or two big blowouts, they’re neither here nor there, being pretty forgettable in the long run. Other than Daiki, Urataros and the policeman Reiji, the rest of the cast feels pretty unimportant and don’t do a whole lot of anything, making me question why they’re even there when it could’ve been done in a much better way. They’re eager to start a new franchise with Cho-Den-O but they’re not quite willing to take the risk. Again, more on this later.
As far as the acting go, I was quite surprised at how good it was. Kimiti Totani as Daiki Kaito is just as good as he was in Decade and Yuto Furukawa as newly introduced Reiji Kurosaki delivers a very strong performance as a troubled policeman and I can’t exactly blame him for the shortcomings of the character as that lies solely on the writing department. But my golden star this time goes to the combo Koji Yusa/Eitoku for their joint depiction of Urataros. Yes, I know, repeating myself but I was honestly surprised by how effective the character got.
Not saying that the other suit actors didn’t do a good job. Den-O has always had an exceptionally good crew in that department but considering how much room the Imagin have taken up, that’s not very surprising.
So what did I ultimately think of Episode Yellow? I liked it. It had many of the same flaws as Episode Red and Blue but like Blue it balanced it out very well. The inclusion of Daiki is definitely something positive if a bit out of left field and the usage of Urataros is surprisingly enjoyable. There is a bit too much back and forth in the plot but it’s definitely the first one in the series that properly touches upon the intricacies of timetravel and use it effectively as a plot point. Had they just added a little more fighting and we’d be golden.
So what is the problem I’ve been alluding to throughout the review? Well, it was one that Episode Yellow highlighted the best because of its inclusion of Daiki but also damned itself by using Urataros so well. Namely that the trilogy should’ve been about the Imagin. Consider this:
The Cho-Den-O trilogy, and largely the Onigashima Warship movie, takes place after the series in a time where Ryotaro intends to leave the tough job of Den-O behind and live a normal life and while the first two movies did a reasonable job of pulling him back in, his inclusion in the trilogy especially feels unnecessary. And I know the idea was to give closure to three characters that didn’t necessarily get one before but in my opinion, it wasn’t entirely necessary.
Yuto’s role should’ve ended when the invasion was prevented so his continued presence doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Why has he not buggered back back to his own time already to continue living out the life he left behind? I bet there’s some in-series explanation but still, there shouldn’t have needed to be.
And Kotaro didn’t need any kind of closure because his story had just started. For all intents and purposes, Kotaro was the main character moving forward. Dori Sakurada was all set to take over as the main character but it seems the creators were simply too afraid to take the step. If anything, Episode Blue undermines this which is a shame because there was some potential going forward here.
But by far the most troublesome example is Daiki Kaito who has nothing to do here. I love the character and it was done well but this just goes to show how unnecessary it all really was. Or worse yet, how they could’ve done it.
After all, the color coding was there. When talking about a show that color coded four of its main characters so blatantly you’d think movies named after colors would utilize this: Red would be Momotaros, Blue would be Urataros and Yellow would be Kintaros. All we’re missing is Purple to fit with Ryutaros and we’d be totally set. If you only want to make a trilogy and not a quadrilogy then just replace Red with Purple because Momotaros doesn’t need a movie.
But what would the movies be about? Again, Episode Yellow provides the perfect example: Urataros working with Daiki. Why not have each movie center around the three remaining Imagin breaking out and going on their own or finding new hosts, with Ryotaro pulling out of the race altogether to fulfill his own destiny and make sure Kotaro has a future. From what I understand, future incarnations of Den-O features only Kotaro suggesting this is what happened (and again proving why Kotaro didn’t need closure yet).
Now, it’s been a long time since I saw Den-O and the movies up to Onigashima Warship so I’m sure I’m talking pure blasphemy here but the series was already on its last leg when Takeru left and they haven’t dared taking the steps to preserve any momentum the franchise had. Have Kotaro and Teddy helm the franchise and give the Imagin the sendoff they deserve after such hard work.
Or maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about and this is what fans want. Either way, there hasn’t been any news of future Den-O material outside of crossover movies and the like so I imagine the franchise within a franchise has gone to the grave. Which honestly is a shame because Den-O always had a lot of potential.
I will say that Episode Blue and Yellow did bring back a lot of the love I felt for Den-O when it was just a series which just makes it doubly painful. I still maintain that Episode Red was less than good, though.
For now I leave you with what should’ve been the opening theme for the entire trilogy: