Sunday 31 May 2015

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Gaim Gaiden - Zangetsu & Baron

Kamen Rider Gaim Gaiden Zangetsu & Baron

If there's one thing that both Toei and Bandai like doing it's making money. So if a particular series has proven especially popular and/or profitable, you can bet that the two will milk it for everything that it's worth. In terms of Kamen Rider shows you only have to look at the slew of Kamen Rider Den-O movies or the Kamen Rider W Returns Accel and Eternal movies to realise that. And now it seems fair to say that Kamen Rider Gaim officially falls under that category too. Though the series didn't break the overall ratings decline that has plagued both Kamen Rider and Super Sentai for many years now (although many will argue that those don't amount to all that much anymore), the series struck a chord with the older fanbase and this combined with good merchandise sales was enough for a Kamen Rider Gaim Gaiden V-cinema project to go ahead. This straight to DVD release is split into two side stories, with the first focusing on Kamen Rider Zangetsu and the second on Kamen Rider Baron. Along with it came a few new pieces of web exclusive merchandise, and more recently the announcement that a second release focusing on Kamen Riders Duke and Knuckle is in the works. Looks like Gaim has plenty of life in it yet.

Part 1: Kamen Rider Zangetsu
Zangetsu Watermelon Arms
Kamen Rider Zangetsu Repaint Arms

The Zangetsu portion of Gaim Gaiden takes place following episode 20 of the main series, where Takatora reveals the truth behind Helheim to Kouta and strengthens his resolve to carry out Yggdrasil's Project Ark. When a mysterious assailant able to control the Helheim cracks begins attacking Yggdrasil's members, a face from Takatora's past resurfaces - Touka Akatsuki, a servant of his father Amagi Kureshima who was employed at a very young age. While the two seem happy to be reunited, Touka comes with the news of his and Micchy's father's passing. As Takatora investigates the mystery attacker, he not only discovers their connection with Touka's arrival but also the dark secrets of his father and the Yggdrasil Corporation.

Takaratora & Touka
Even Takatora is confused to how all of this is relevant

If there's any Kamen Rider Gaim character that has plenty of story left to tell, it's Takatora Kureshima. Not only have both he and Ryouma Sengoku presumably been Riders for a considerable amount of time before the start of the series, but the chapter of Helheim's discovery and the decision to go ahead with Project Ark is one left completely unexplored. Not to mention that there wasn't actually a whole lot of light shed on Yggdrasil other than its Helheim based activities. Gaim Gaiden's Zangetsu chapter does address these things, however it does so in a disappointingly abrupt way that feels more like info-dumping than a well-crafted expansion. Moments such as what Amagi Kurseshima had been getting up to and Touka's origins aren't defined very well, which leaves them creating more questions the possibilities than there were to begin with - particularly the latter, as it later drops the bombshell that Ryouma also shares the same backstory.

With so much of Takatora's past available that would only need to centre around core Gaim characters, it's a little baffling why this story needed to bring a whole new character and involve Takatora in a situation he knew absolutely nothing about. It's almost as if Gaim Gaiden actively avoids covering any subject that would have real ramifications on how you'd view the series, but also wants to make passing comments that potentially lead to bigger things (again: Ryouma). With the fight scenes minimal and largely unremarkable, t begs the question of what Gaim Gaiden is actually offering the viewer other than the chance to get to see all of the cast again.

Kamen Rider Idunn
Kamen Rider Idunn Repaint Arms

But the sad truth is that Gaim Gaiden was created just as much to sell more toys as it was to see all these characters again, so taking centre stage are a new selection of Riders, Arms and Lockseeds for Bandai to sell to willing collectors. But with Kamen Rider Gaim essentially over now, there can't be a whole lot of budget going towards this venture and all of these "new" things have actually been seen elsewhere. Zangetsu's watermelon arms is just a repaint of his standard melon arms but with a slightly modded weapon, while new Rider Idunn's Ringo arms is a slightly recoloured version of Kamen Rider Mars' Golden Arms from the Great Soccer Battle! movie. Idunn herself is a completely new concept, and given Gaim's ever growing roster of Riders it's great to see another female added to the mix. However like so many of her peers Idunn doesn't really amount to much more than a footnote in Gaim's journey - mostly due to being part of such a mediocre spin-off rather than of any fault of her own.

Part 2: Kamen Rider Baron
Baron Ringo Arms
Kamen Rider Baron "Hey this was used in another movie" Arms

The Kamen Rider Baron side story takes place shortly afterward, following Kaito's allegiance with Ryouma Sengoku as he begins to hunt for the Overlords. Upon returning to Zawame, Kaito is met with a man who looks identical to him - Shapool, the heir to a foreign country. Wishing for some freedom, Shapool forcibly switches places with Kaito and goes on to confuse the Beat Riders with his cheery demeanour. Meanwhile Kaito discovers that Shapool's butler Alfred is targeting him, and is quickly thrown into a battle against an all new Armoured Rider.

Kaito & Shapool
Seeing double

One thing that's always impressed me about Kamen Rider Gaim was its ability to juggle rather dark and serious content with light-hearted antics. As the series progressed there was naturally considerably less comedy, but even comedy characters like Bravo and Gridon didn't feel at all out place right at the very end. Gaim Gaiden's Kamen Rider Baron chapter on the other hand can't hand such stark tonal differences at all. The story opens with an abrupt insight in Kaito's childhood and glimpse into how he became the way he is (which contradicts the Kaito Kumon Side Story supplementary novel released prior), and right from the beginning it involves visuals that they probably wouldn't have gotten away with on the show itself. It's a considerably dark opener all things considered, and it alone would have made a much more engaging spin-off story in itself - even if it means there would have been no Rider action whatsoever unless it was told in a series of flashbacks.

But instead the story then jumps into this overly comedic piece that probably would have fit the earlier episodes of the series, but doesn't feel quite appropriate being placed when things were starting to hit the fan. Yutaka Kobayashi displayed his brilliance for a comedic side of Baron in the Gaim Hyper Battle DVD and he shines again here, but while that a Hyper Battle DVD is always just a bit of fun it feels like so much could have been done here. But instead the story is rather predictable throughout, centring on a character that has absolutely no stake in the overall Gaim story. Kaito is just thrust into the middle of it out of pure chance.

Kamen Rider Tyrant
Nothing says Dragonfruit like HORNS

Of course this portion also features another new Armoured Rider, this time going by the name of Kamen Rider Tyrant. Though arguably looking a bit more original than Idunn, Tyrant also uses Arms repurposed from the main Gaim story - specifically the Dragonfruit Energy Arms worn by mecha Ryouma in Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Drive & Gaim: Movie War Throttle (although it does have some notable differences to Ryouma's version). Visually it's quite striking, but like Shapool belongs to a character that ultimately doesn't matter. The whole story seems to add as some sort of foreshadowing to Kaito being prepared to embrace the power of Helheim/the Overlords to attain his goals, but it's something that doesn't need foreshadowing. Not just because it's unlikely anyone is going to be watching this in the middle of the show, but because Kaito's dialogue and actions in the show are more than enough to get this across. The battle between Baron and Tyrant also includes a rather out of place dirt biking scene, which presumably is supposed to look like some sort of fight but comes across more as them taking a brief extreme sports break.

It isn't all bad though - Kaito's origins are enough to provoke a spark of interest and as usual the combination of Oren (Kamen Rider Bravo) and Hideyasu (Kamen Rider Gridon) is a pleasure to watch. If it's a comedy side story Toei want to be making, they should be looking to these two because they manage to keep the fun actually relevant.

Final Thoughts

Kamen Rider Gaim is a series with a pretty close-knit story, but like any Gen Urobuchi production there's plenty of room for things to be expanded on or new secrets to be revealed. Gaim Gaiden would have been the perfect opportunity to do this, especially with its stories focussing on specific stories and relatively small casts. However these two are nothing short of disappointing. The elements that are genuinely interesting are left as small tidbits lacking any real depth of content, while the bulk of the story is dedicated to introducing characters who don't add anything of real value to the show. Zangetsu's story had a lot of good implications that could have come to so much more if fleshed out into something more than a mere 30 minutes, but other than the novelty of having a Kaito lookalike confusion everyone Baron's is pretty much a dud on every level. If these Duke and Knuckle stories really do end up going ahead, I just hope they have some better ideas than this otherwise I'm inclined to say any more Kamen Rider Gaim won't be a good thing.

Just say no, don't buy more.

1 comment:

MarsHottentot said...

The battle between Baron and Tyrant also includes a rather out of place dirt biking scene, which presumably is supposed to look like some sort of fight but comes across more as them taking a brief extreme sports break.

That part was hilarious - I loved it. The way I see these are as toy grabs - "let's try and clear some stock" - and if they're any good at all, it's a bonus. That said, I thought it wasn't as bad as it could have been (see Duke / Knuckle)