Saturday, 5 October 2013

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Wizard

Kamen Rider Wizard Flame Style

Another year has flown past and so it's time to say goodbye to yet another Kamen Rider series. After a year of light-hearted fun with Kamen Rider Fourze, the 2012-2013 Kamen Rider series suggested that it would be taking things a little more serious once again. With an impressive arsenal of magic rings and a slightly more unorthodox costume design, Kamen Rider Wizard made his debut first giving off a showy fight in Fourze's summer movie before returning to cockblock Shun (boo!) in the show's finale. 

Kamen Rider Wizard Haruto Rinko
Haruto, in a rare appearance without doughnuts in hand

Six months prior to the beginning of the series, a mysterious ritual known as the Sabbath was held to give birth to magical creatures known as Phantoms, which are born from chosen humans (known as "Gates") when they go into despair. Somehow Haruto Soma is able to survive the ritual, keeping his Dragon Phantom at bay inside of him. When the ritual ended, Haruto was met by a mysterious White Wizard who presented him with a girl who had lost her memories and a Wizardriver and rings to channel his magic powers. Becoming Kamen Rider Wizard, Haruto fights against the Phantoms - led by Wiseman and his henchmen Medusa, Phoenix and (later) Gremlin, to prevent more from being spawned.

Eventually Haruto meets a man named Kosuke Nitoh, another wizard wielding ancient powers to become Kamen Rider Beast. Needing the mana of Phantoms to survive and satisfy the beast Chimera inside of him, Kosuke joins Haruto's fight as the Phantoms plan to repeat the Sabbath once again. However lurking in the shadows is also the White Wizard, with his true intentions remaining unclear.

Kamen Rider Wizard Dragon Styles Flame Water Land Hurricane
Kamen Sentai Wizaranger

After a year of the loveable goofball that was Gentaro Kisaragi, Haruto is a very different Rider to get used to. Calm, stoic and ready to help at a moment's notice, Haruto is perhaps the closest thing to a Showa-era style Kamen Rider in recent years. Unfortunately this means his character development is shockingly minimal, so a lot of his personality instead comes across as him being boring rather than aloof. He's also a shockingly powerful Rider, boasting no less than 10 different forms in the show's full run. He begins with four elemental forms (Fire, Water, Land and Hurricane) before having these upgraded with the power of his Dragon phantom. These four can also combine into one single Dragon style (which is used all of twice) before finally getting his ultimate form - Infinity Style. Despite early episodes showing it easy for Haruto to run out of mana or the Dragon hinting that using his powers could have side effects, Haruto just blitzes through every single one of his power ups which make the enemies seem less and less threatening. The plus side is the fight scenes are really stylish, with each form bringing its own unique flavours.

He also has a belt that doesn't shut the hell up.

Kamen Rider Wizard Kamen Rider Beast Kosuke Nitoh
L-I-O-N...LION!

Kamen Rider Beast on the other hand suffers from different problems entirely. After several series of a series secondary Rider to compliment the main one, it's refreshing to see someone a bit more comedic to go alongside Haruto. However Beast's personal story doesn't really go anywhere for the majority of the series, instead all his development is crammed into the final section. Unfortunately by this time the writers seem to have decided to make Nitoh the ultimate punching bag, with most of his fight sequences resulting in him getting his ass kicked. Even his finest moment comes out of him losing a fight.

Nitoh isn't Haruto's only ally against the Phantoms. Also appearing as regular characters are Wajima the ring maker, Koyomi (the girl from the Sabbath) and Rinko and Shunpei - two gates saved early on in the show. Shunpei is a mostly annoying comic relief character, while Rinko is quite possibly the most useless detective ever. Wajima is fun but doesn't really have much of a role, while Koyomi is a huge part of the plot but doesn't really have much of a character. This is apparently due to actor commitment, but it's hard to care about such a huge part of the story when the character is concerns is rarely anywhere to be found and has a handful of lines in the entire show.

Kamen Rider Wizard Wiseman Phantom
Wiseman, who may or may not be cosplaying Frieza

It's harder to talk about the villains without giving away too many spoilers (and Wizard's plot is one that heavily relies on its twists) but I will say that they are a mixed bunch overall. Wiseman is shrouded in mystery for the entire thing so there isn't a lot to say, while Medusa is his loyal servant and does very little outside of crossing her arms, bossing people about and looking perturbed. The Phoenix Phantom is the true joy of the villains - a loose cannon that has little interest in some grand scheme and is just in it for destruction. Finally there's Gremlin (or Sora as he's rather be known as) - a Phantom with some pretty dark and twisted origins. 

As I mentioned earlier the story of Kamen Rider Wizard is one that depends on build-up, suspense and plot twists. However it only makes good use of this in the final 15-20 episodes, with the rest of the episode count taken up by a "Gate of the Week" story line where the guest characters usually attempt to be more of an asshole than the last. You might get one or two good stories out of it, but for the most part it's really boring and repetitive, offering the viewer little more than some decent monster designs and some flashy fight sequences with great effects. When it DOES finally it these episodes it never looks back and the show has a massive turn around on quality, but in retrospect you'll wish that there was more done here. A lot of interesting things seem to have gone on behind the scenes, and with time running out Wizard chooses a "tell but not show" approach, dampening the effect of what are otherwise some really fantastic episodes. The Gate of the Week episodes are hard to get through, but its reassuring to know that the writers did seem to have an overall plan for things as they were going along. 

Kamen Rider Wizard White Wizard
Just who is the White Wizard?

However determined not to go out on a dour note, Wizard continues following the main story's conclusion with an additional two episodes to celebrate 15 years of Heisei-era Kamen Rider and introduce the next Rider to the franchise - Kamen Rider Gaim. These episodes see Haruto enter a world populated by past Kamen Rider enemies, where two children are able to summon the past 13 Riders with the use of Rider Rings. Make no mistake these episodes are very silly, but perhaps one of the most fun crossovers I've seen in Kamen Rider. Even without actors returning to reprise their roles (although Masahiro Inoue returns as Tsukasa Kadoya/Decade, which is always welcome), this 2-parter still manages to bring the fun and leave a smile on your face. Which arguably is a bit strange for Wizard, but far from unwelcome.

Kamen Rider Wizard Special Kuuga Agito Ryuki Faiz Hibiki Kabuto Den-O Blade Kiva Decade W OOO Fourze Gaim
Because why not?

In the end, flashy fight sequences and some impressive twists aren't enough to save Kamen Rider Wizard from the levels of mediocrity. Haruto's personal growth is stunted, the overall story just repeats itself with different faces for so many episodes and outside of Phoenix, the villain cast aren't a particularly fun lot. It's possible that the show might be a bit easier to take in a few episodes at a time rather than on a week by week basis, but it won't change the amount of wasted potential this show holds.

1 comment:

horaciosi said...

It wasn't perfect, it wasn't great but it wasn't god awful. It was just ok.