Thursday, 29 September 2016

Series REVIEW: Kamen Rider Ghost

Kamen Rider Ghost

After the sheer insanity/genius of giving a Kamen Rider a car instead of a bike, it’s almost as if Toei went motif crazy in order to make the 2015-16 Rider seem just as innovative. Eyeball collectibles, hoodies, historical figures, a pirate ship that can transform into a giant iguana – these are just some of the facets that make up Kamen Rider Ghost. Spanning a total of 50 episodes, including a crossover with currently airing Super Sentai series Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger, the 17th Heisei era Kamen Rider series (and 26th in total) marks Takuro Fukuda’s debut as lead writer and stars Shun Nishime as the titular character.

The cast of Kamen Rider Ghost
Ghostbusters

On his 16th birthday Takeru Tenkuji, the son of a ghost hunter who died ten years prior, is killed by a monster known as a Ganma while trying to protect his friends from its attack. Resurrected by a mysterious hermit and bestowed with a device known as the Ghost Driver, Takeru gains the ability to transform into Kamen Rider Ghost using orb shaped trinkets known as Eyecons. However Takeru now only has 99 days to gather 15 additional Eyecons contain the souls of historical figures, which when brought together will grant him one wish – to be brought back to life.

On his journey Takeru re-encounters his childhood friend Makoto Fukami, who along with his sister was sucked into the Ganma world ten years ago and has now taken the guise of Kamen Rider Specter. Though initially clashing, the two Riders also face off against the Ganma forces who are devoted to invading our world and reshaping it in their image of perfection. Enemies include the Ganma prince Alain (later becoming Kamen Rider Necrom) and his brother Adel – who also allies himself with the Ganmeizers, 15 deities that defend the Ganma world.

Kamen Rider Ghost Ore Damashii
Now with glow in the dark action

Kamen Rider Ghost is a series that certainly isn’t short of ideas. Between its numerous themes, motifs, gimmicks and characters it’s simply bursting at the seams with potential content. But even though a year-long run may seem like a lot of content to fill, Ghost’s numerous problems stem from the fact that it might just be trying to achieve far too much. The series opens with Takeru on his 99-day quest to collect the 15 Dragon Balls Eyecons and wish for his mortality back from the Eternal Dragon Great Eye, during which he encounters past historical figures and gains new power ups along the way. Each Eyecon grants a new form, which means there are a total of 15 forms on offer before the series is even halfway through. Takeru himself doesn’t receive all of these initially (some are Specter’s, and others are already lying around because plot convenience), but even with that in mind it’s still a case of him receiving a new form almost every episode. Even the first episode pulls no punches about how quickly they’re sped through, as Ghost receives the first of his Heroic Eyecons (Musashi) before the audience has even properly gotten to grips with his base form. The speed they’re gone through not only means that many of them don’t really get a decent amount of exposure, but it also results in none of them feeling particularly special either.

Kamen Riders Specter & Necrom
Background Bros.

However this initial premise only lasts a mere 11 episodes, as Takeru sacrifices his wish to bring Makoto’s sister Kanon back to life instead. Rewarded with a reset countdown and an upgraded base form, the Eyecon gathering starts anew as the Ganma threat becomes properly realised. This is where the show becomes a little more interesting as Alain’s character development takes centre stage, with the Ganma’s argument that humans don’t deserve their world providing that dash of morality that makes Kamen Rider villains so interesting. From there the show moves into yet another arc as it introduces Adel and the Ganmeizers, returning to the “victim of the week” format as this time the cast CONNECT with the Heroic Eyecons rather than finding them. This is the point the show decides to go big on themes (“humanities potential is infinite” etc.) but small on everything else. The Ganmeizer suits are pretty uninspired compared to their Ganma predecessors, and their immortality just means they’re used over and over again. The weekly plot threads distract from the urgency the story should be having as it amps up to its conclusion, and finally the show starts desperately incorporating elements from its supplementary material (specifically the summer movie and Rider Eyecon webisodes) without any real explanation of how/why it fits. Oh, and Takeru has another fake out death to get an upgrade form.

It’s all just too much for the show to hold together without falling apart. The 15 “Heroes” are prominent enough to be treated as characters, but in the grand scheme of the show still come across primarily as gimmicks. Following Makoto’s stint as a rival his relevance quickly fades, ending in him receiving a half-baked clone storyline just to keep him doing something. Similarly once Alain joins Takeru and company Kamen Rider Necrom takes a rather significant power drop (due to Ghost and Specter both receiving upgrades) and often can’t contribute in ways more meaningful than “take out henchmen while Ghost defeats monster”. The fact that both Specter and Necrom do next to nothing in the final episode, having their sole battle usurped by a Rider from a totally different show (one that hasn’t even started yet) is rather telling.

Edith & Yurusen
When in doubt, always add puppets

Things aren't helped by a particularly weak cast either. As mentioned previously Makoto fades into mediocrity fairly quickly (as well as a very limited emotional range), while Kanon dots between acting as a damsel in distress or someone who simply isn't really doing anything at all. Alain has some brilliant development following his introduction and arguably is Ghost's most fleshed out character, but even that takes a pretty steep decline as time goes on. As far as the non-Rider supporting cast goes Onari is perhaps the biggest source of problems for many - not only exemplifying the typical "over the top comedic" side character Kamen Rider has increasingly used in recent years but also taking it to new heights as well. His fellow monks Shibuya and Narita are both equally forgettable, despite the former managing to get his own two-part focus story in along the way. The one saving grace is Akari, who is undoubtedly among the best female characters the franchise has ever produced. Constantly involved and pro-active, it's incredibly refreshing to see a character so involved in things without being a Rider throughout the whole of the series as she tries to rationalise every supernatural thing thrown at her.  Ghost's spectral sidekick Yurusen is there to inject a bit of fun into the series as well, but even he/she/it's inclusion is often tenuous and their eventual explanation is just one random thing that you're just better off accepting rather than questioning.

Meanwhile in theory Adel isn't an awful villain - he's a snotty kid that develops a god complex that quickly gets out of hand. Plenty of good characters have been born from similar concepts, but once again it's all about the handling. Adel is seemingly built up as someone so far gone he's beyond redemption, but then at the very last second that proves to not be the case. The show isn't sure whether to paint Adel as someone beyond sympathy or not, so decides to have its cake and eat it before ending things with some even less interesting villains. The Ganmeizers are just plain boring - there's no better way to put it than that.

Adel and the Ganmeizers
Army of Me

With a better supporting and villain cast having a one-dimensional protagonist like Takeru would likely come across a lot better, because there's nothing especially wrong with the way the character was approached. His personality fits the themes and overall message of the show perfectly, and the rare moments he does step outside of his usual cheery disposition do make for some of the show's better moments due to the huge contrast. But with a largely bad cast surrounding him all the (or lack of) things that make Takeru so plain just stand out all the more. His kind of character works best as a springboard for others - as was the case with Shinnosuke in Movie Wars Genesis and Hongo in Kamen Rider 1. Again it feels a lot like the writers having the right idea of what they want to do, but going about it in a really bad way.

The erratic storyline and constantly shifting gimmicks means so many things are quickly forgotten about too. Shortly after the arrival of the Toucon Boost form and later the Grateful (a form which clashes horrifically with Ghost's otherwise cohesive aesthetic) and Mugen Damashiis, Ore Damashii (Ghost's base form) is rarely seen again. This doesn't just make the show feel strange in the sense that it dropped its central piece of marketing so soon, but brilliant little touches the suit had (such as its glowing orange sections) are barely utilised. Similarly Takeru's ghostly abilities out of suit are mostly done away with, and if it wasn't for the opening narration constantly reminding the viewer you wouldn't be hard pressed to forget he's even in that situation. The circumstances surrounding Takeru's father Ryu's death are also played up to be more dramatic than they actually are. And the fact there's also a pirate ship that can inexplicably turn into an iguana that connects to Ghost's bike? Don't even think about getting an explanation for that one - weird unrelated toys might not be a new thing to Kamen Rider, but rarely does one stand out as sorely as this.

The Iguana Ghostriker
....god knows.

Kamen Rider Ghost isn't a completely irredeemable series - it's one that had a lot of good ideas but just went about most of them in completely the wrong way. Learning from the past, the power of memories and emotions, making the most of life in order to burn brightly - these are all very rich topics and on offer here. But what you also have is a dense series marred by bad plotting and underdevelopment in most areas - the kind that shows off its charm when you stop and think about it but not while you're actually watching. While there are certainly plenty of things to like about Kamen Rider Ghost, there's not only plenty to dislike - there's also just as many things that it could have done so much better too.

2 comments:

Spearichu said...

Which is sad this show failed because I really like the show from beginning to the point where Grandma Fumi died to help with Alain's character.

Alex said...

The Fumi stuff was utterly fantastic, undoubtedly one of the best bits of the show overall. It's a shame it couldn't have been like that the rest of the time.