Thursday, 25 May 2017

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr. Pac-Man vs. Ex-Aid & Ghost with Legend Riders

Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr. Pac-Man vs. Ex-Aid & Ghost with Legend Riders

Kamen Rider is a franchise where the weird and wonderful is commonplace, but when Toei revealed that Kamen Rider Ex-Aid and Kamen Rider Ghost would be facing off against Pac-Man in their annual crossover movie it was clear this was going to be something really special. Ex-Aid is a video game-themed series after all, so they’d be fools to make use of their links to Bandai Namco properties! Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr. Pac-Man vs. Ex-Aid & Ghost with Legend Riders is a 45th anniversary Kamen Rider project, dropping the usual “Movie Wars” title but falling under the same banner as those films. As well as reuniting Ex-Aid and Ghost following the latter’s final episode, the film also features Kamen Riders Drive, Wizard and Gaim to celebrate the last five years of Kamen Rider history.

Dr. Pac-ManEmu & Takeru

Legendary gaming icon Pac-Man has escaped cyberspace and is attacking Japan, corrupted by a mysterious terrorist known as “Dr. Pac-Man”. Arriving at the scene of Pac-Man’s attack, Emu is reunited with Takeru Tenkuji – who has since returned to school and is continuing life as normal. But as Takeru goes to become Kamen Rider Ghost Pac-Man attacks, stripping Takeru of his powers. Undeterred, Takeru and Emu work together to battle against the Pac-Man virus with Ghost’s powers key to returning Pac-Man to his senses.

Meanwhile Dr. Pac-Man kidnaps Togo, a young gaming prodigy who has developed the popular game Hatesate Puzzle. He also reveals himself as Michihiko Zaizen, a surgeon who disappeared six years ago after being infected by the Bugster virus. What are his plans for Togo, and how was he instrumental in giving Emu the power to become Ex-Aid? Legend Riders Drive, Wizard and Gaim arrive to lend a hand as Ex-Aid and Ghost face one of their biggest battles yet.

Ex-Aid & Ghost vs Pac-ManMichihiko Zaizen

Super Movie Wars Genesis may have been quickly discarded from both Drive and Ghost canon, but there is one change that it brought about that seems to have stuck. As well as dropping Movie Wars from the title, Heisei Generations is another film that abandons the multiple parts format, instead telling a complete story where Ex-Aid and Ghost crossover throughout. With the Pac-Man element ultimately dealt with by the halfway point it still feels like a two part story structurally, but the two halves certainly mesh together well enough for it to work. Unlike its predecessor the canonocity of this film isn’t likely to be called into question either, with Ex-Aid having already made multiple references to the “Dr Pac-Man Incident” and the plot not really having any wider implications for the Specter V-cinema that takes place after it. While perhaps not essential viewing to fully understand Ex-Aid, it’s still a significant piece of context as well as a nice little epilogue to Ghost even if many were probably glad to see the back of that show. There is the odd thing that goes without explanation, such as the fact Takeru and co. suddenly have access to the heroic Eyecons again, but generally it’s a pretty consistent film with any minor lapse in continuity being easily handwaved away.

The story is about as ridiculous as you’d expect a film starring a villain named Dr. Pac-Man to be, but in typical Ex-Aid fashion it’s all played completely straight so you just buy into the absurdity of an angry Pac-Man virus flying around attacking people. Incorporating such an iconic gaming character into Ex-Aid properly was a genius move on Toei’s part, and second only to the fact they then go a make a point of him being weak against Kamen Rider Ghost in a wonderful bit of theme association. Beyond that the film shares the fairly basic “patient of the week” set-up as early Ex-Aid episodes did, with Tojo sitting comfortably among the show’s growing list of mostly unlikeable guest stars. Zaizen feels like a much grander villain than any MOTW Bugster though, and together with his Proto-Gashat-powered underlings feel very reminiscent of Eternal and his Dopant henchmen in The Gaia Memories of Fate. Everything comes together well, and even moments like Takeru’s obligatory “has to happen at least once per Ghost appearance” death sequence actually feels like it has a proper place for once. Both shows’ supporting Riders aren’t especially well implemented into film (Makoto and Alain literally just show up, and at this point in Ex-Aid’s story Hiiro and Taiga are still standoffish jerks), but this isn’t really to its detriment as Heisei Generations is already juggling a lot of characters. They show up, they work together well and Kiriya gets to make a cool entrance – it’s pretty much all you can want from them in this kind of limited role.

Ex-Aid Damashii Ghost and Kaigan Ghost Ex-AidKamen Rider Ghost Tenkatoitsu Damashii

You can always rely on director Koichi Sakamoto to provide some incredible action sequences, and thanks to its lack of his usual brand of fanservice Heisei Generations comes out on top as one of the most photogenic Rider films in recent memory. Every fight is slick, colourful and worthy of about a hundred screenshots, methodically covering as many forms and unique abilities as they possibly can. While there’s an obvious formula to the “attack, form change, attack, form change” pattern the later Legend Rider fights take, each one shows off that Rider’s style perfectly and together with their respective theme songs perfectly capture the magic of each show. Of course being the stars Ex-Aid and Ghost also get some nice new power-ups with that Ex-Aid Eyecon Takeru got at the end of his series finally coming into play. Also making its debut is Ghost’s new Tenkatoitsu Damashii, a rather clever mix of great unifiers Oda Nobunaga, Totoyomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. It’s a shame this form is coming so late in the game for Ghost that it isn’t a bit more unique, but still leaves a lasting impression as one of Ghost’s more notable entries. With Ghost borrows the power Ex-Aid Emu follows suite with the Ghost Legend Rider Gashat, while also getting a nice little sneak preview of (at the time forthcoming) the Mighty Action Bros XX. With most non-Japanese fans not catching the film until after its show debut some of the initial impact is lost, but it’s still a very nice teaser akin to the movie-preview appearances of OOO’s Tajador combo or Wizard’s All Dragon Style.

But what really sets this film apart from the usual Movie Wars fare is the appearance of “Legend” Riders Drive, Gaim and Wizard, giving these five Riders the same shared universe appeal Fourze, OOO and W previously had in Movie Wars Megamax. Shinnosuke’s role in the film is particularly significant – no longer acting as a Rider physically but still very much one in spirit. Police presence is something often sorely lacking from Kamen Rider and in Shinnosuke the franchise has finally found its perfect liaison, giving Shinnosuke a great reason to keep coming back providing Ryoma Takeuchi is free. It also shows off just how fantastic a character (and more importantly, hero) he is, teaming up with Riders sporting far more significant power sets than him and kicking just as much ass. Haruto’s appearance doesn’t come quite as naturally, but again proves that free from the problems of his own show Wizard can be a really great character.

Shinnosuke TomariHaruto Soma

Unfortunately Gako Sano was unable to reprise his role as Kouta for the film, with Gaim only every appearing transformed other than a momentary back-shot during the credits. Thankfully Toei did at least use voice clips for Sano's lines which is far better than a (usually poor) soundalike, but it's definitely noticeable that these aren't newly recorded bits. It’s a shame, but if it had to happen to any of these Riders Gaim was probably the best case scenario. As a space god having him randomly drop in works, and provides a reasonably explanation for Krim to come out of storage too. Either way the nicest thing about seeing all these Riders together is the fact they’re all already somewhat acquainted with each other – Ex-Aid and Ghost have met, Ghost knows Drive while Gaim has met both him and Wizard. Little moments like Emu and Takeru remembering each other just from their Drivers or Drive introducing Gaim to everyone are real highlights, making each series feel far less detached from each other and more like the big shared universe the Showa Riders enjoyed.

The five riders togetherHeisei Generations

Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr. Pac-Man vs. Ex-Aid & Ghost with Legend Riders is just as absurd as its name suggests, but has far more appeal beyond the appearance of Namco’s legendary mascot. Sano’s absence could have had a really adverse effect on a five-Rider crossover but the strength of the other four is enough to pull it together, prompting a Rider reunion that really does feel like something special. As a strong farewell to Kamen Rider Ghost and a strong supplement to Ex-Aid, Heisei Generations is an action-packed feature that really does embody what it means to be a Kamen Rider.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Would you say this was better than Megamax?

Alex said...

Oh that's hard to call. Megamax is like the standard I hold all Rider films to so I'd say that it slightly edges this out. Heisei Generations has a much better format since it isn't split into parts, but Double feels much better integrated into Megamax than Gaim (and to a lesser extent, Wizard) do here.