Thursday 5 March 2015

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Gaim: Great Soccer Battle! Golden Fruits Cup!

Kamen Rider Gaim: Great Soccer Battle! Golden Fruits Cup!

There's always been two types of Heisei era Kamen Rider summer movies - those set in parallel worlds separate from the main canon, and those that actually tie into the series. The pre-Kamen Rider Decade films mostly fell into the former category, while the post-Decade ones fell into the latter. Kamen Rider Wizard cleverly tried to avoid these categories with a film that had the show's fall into a parallel universe, but Kamen Rider Gaim took it even further with a parallel universe movie which tied into the show itself - twice! But that's not all there is to Kamen Rider Gaim: Great Soccer Battle! Golden Fruits Cup! - in the summer of 2014 Japan (along with the rest of the world) was firmly in the grips of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, prompting Gaim to do a very unlikely bit of cross-promotion. If you thought fruit-armour samurai was weird enough, this is a whole different ball game.

Some of the Japanese player cameos
Things just got a whole new level of weird

After meeting a strange boy named Lapis in the ruins of the Helheim-infested Zawame City, Kouta Kazuraba finds himself transported to a parallel universe where the Beat Riders face off against each other in a football (or soccer if you prefer) tournament named the All Riders Cup. The prize - any wish you desire from the mystical Golden Fruit. Not only do things seem a lot more peaceful, but having never seen the threat of Helheim Kouta is surprised to see many people still alive - Hase, Sid, Takatora, even Yuuya.

But the peace doesn't last, as one by one the Armoured Riders begin to inexplicably turn on each other before being enveloped by what seem to be Helheim vines. As Lapis watches the riders fall one by one, a rusted golden Lockseed begins to regain its colour. Mitsuzane (who slowly regains his memories of the real world) discovers that Ryouma had succeeded in resurrecting Kougane - an artificial version of the golden fruit created by the Overlords. Proclaiming himself "god of a new generation", Kougane has set about using humanity's desire for the Golden Fruit to break the seal placed on him and regain his power. Together with Lapis and his Armoured Rider allies, Kouta must face off against the darkness inside himself before putting a stop to Kougane once and for all.

Kamen Rider Mars
Mars Attacks

So yes, Kamen Rider has done the unthinkable and gone football mad. And not in half measures either, with the film also featuring cameos from a number of Japanese players. The leap from dancers to footballers would have been strange when the early, more carefree Gaim episodes were airing, so to see it happen around the considerably more serious mid 30s (where the film roughly takes place in-show) is one hell of a jump. Not just because of the massive juxtaposition of the Riders playing football, but how innocent everything has suddenly become. Baron's fierce rivalry has turned into friendly sportsmanship, while Takatora is busy exclaiming that Yggdrasil will take the world over with soccer. At this point the television series was diving headfirst into all kinds of doom and gloom, so it's actually kind of refreshing to see all the characters having a bit of fun for once. And by the looks of it, the actors are having a blast as well.

Gaim Kiwami vs Mars
Well you can't ride a football into battle now can you?

Unfortunately though, the football element of the film is painfully shoehorned in. It only really pops up at specific moments, making it evidently clear that the story was crafted with any sort of "non-violent alternative" in mind. Great Soccer Battle only has one grandiose football match (the Team Gaim vs Team Baron game at the very beginning) before being relegated to background stuff until the final battle - which is one giant football game. Sure that makes for a unique finale, but by then the whole football aspect of the film feels like it's run its course. A great big multi-Rider battle against a godlike being could have been something really cool, but instead you get this very brief "match" where each Rider does a few tricks, Gaim does a kick and then they call it a day. It's surreal and maybe a tiny bit exhilarating, but not at all satisfying. At least it's preceded by a pretty sweet horseback fight.

The film doesn't have a whole lot to offer outside this element in the way of story either. The plot is pretty basic, relying on only a few core Gaim characters than the whole extended cast. It's great seeing the likes of Hase and Sid again, but other than to show that people haven't died in this parallel world they're little more than cameos. Others bit players are bit luckier though, as Oren and Takatora are key players in one of the film's best sequences. With Kouta being the central character sucked into this parallel world, the fact Micchy quickly regains his memories of the previous one seems a bit out of place. Especially since he's nowhere near the scheming manipulator he was at that point in the show's timeline. But Great Soccer Battle's biggest crime when it comes to characters is the sore lack of Ryouma Sengoku. The guy was already walking around in shorts for most of Gaim, he would have fit in perfectly here!

Kamen Rider Kamuro
Make the most, this is the best shot of him you'll get

In true Kamen Rider movie style, the film also features a few new exclusive ones - adding three new Riders and one new Gaim form to the show's already huge roster. That said, Kamen Rider Mars (the golden apple Rider form of Kougane) is the only one that's at all memorable. The other two new riders (Lapis' rider form Kamen Rider Kamuro and Shin Kurokage - the energy Rider form of Team Baron member Peko) are barely in it at all. Kamuro doesn't even get a decent fight sequence, instead turning into a football almost immediately after transforming for the first (and only time). Finally Jimber Arms gets a black repaint, which is both everything you'd expect an evil Gaim that isn't the infinitely better Bujin Gaim to be. The upside to all this though is the filmmakers' remembering Gaim's fruit swapping arms gimmick. Switching from his own forms into Banana, Durian and Donguri/Acorn arms, Gaim makes better use of this key feature in one fight than the 47-episode television series ever did.

Kamen Rider Kurokage Shin
Pinecone Soda? Tasty.

Kamen Rider Gaim: Great Soccer Battle! Golden Fruits Cup! is a real oddity. Despite revolving around a forced gimmick and not actually having a whole lot to it the film still manages to be something of an engaging watch - not just because of the sheer absurdity of it all but also by having some genuinely good action sequences. Meanwhile for the most part the exclusive Riders are utterly squandered - Mars being the only one in the film that actually has anything worth saying about. Finally while the story is mostly forgettable, the whole premise of it is quite easily one of the most memorable things about a Kamen Rider summer movie. Good or bad, it's certainly an interesting watch. And with so much heavy stuff going on in the series a bit of light relief is maybe perhaps exactly what Kamen Rider Gaim needed.

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