Tuesday 13 December 2016

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Drive Saga: Kamen Rider Mach/Kamen Rider Heart

Kamen Rider Drive Saga: Kamen Rider Mach/Kamen Rider Heart

When a Kamen Rider series draws to a conclusion, rarely is it truly the end. Not only does that Rider make a return alongside the current one in next year’s Movie Wars release, but in recent years the additional Riders have shared the spotlight in their own V-cinema releases. This trend initially kicked off with Kamen Rider W’s Accel and Eternal movies but has recently been revived with Kamen Riders Gaim, Drive and Ghost. In terms of Drive movies Kamen Rider Drive Saga: Kamen Rider Chaser, may have been a side story taking place during the course of the film but the second – Kamen Rider Drive Saga: Kamen Rider Mach/Kamen Rider Heart acts as a true epilogue to the show, bringing back Gou Shijima/Kamen Rider Mach and the Roidmude Heart for one last outing.

Gou returns
He's back!

It’s been three years since the defeat of the Roidmudes, and Gou Shijima has travelled the world to learn the skills needed to resurrect Chase. Finally returning home, it isn’t long before he, Rinna and Kyu put these skills to the test and attempt to revive their fallen comrade. However something goes wrong and it isn’t Chase that returns – it’s Heart, complete with Brain and Medic’s consciousness also merged into his body.

In Kamen Rider Heart, the three Roidmudes team up with First Division inspector Genpachiro Otta as a Roidmude amalgamation targets the humans previously copied by Roidmudes. While the two unlikely partners don’t get along, the weaker Heart learns where true strength lies as he sets out to extinguish this bug from the Roidmudes programming. Meanwhile in Kamen Rider Mach, Gou has developed a close friendship with Reiko Nishihori – supporting her during her prison stay and then meeting her upon release. However when Roidmude 005 returns and begins to haunt and frame Reiko with his own string of murders, it’s up to Gou to prove her innocence and free her from her father’s curse once and for all. 

Heart revived
Tfw when you revive the wrong Roidmude

If there was any Kamen Rider Drive character deserving of their own V-cinema movie, it was definitely Heart. As one of the most fascinating and layered villains that Kamen Rider has produced in years, it’s great to see him take the lead and develop from his defeat at the end of the series. Heart’s strict code of honour continues on into this story, which instantly covers any questions of why he’s allying himself with humanity here. His weakened state also makes him considerably more vulnerable, putting the character in a position he’s never really been in before since his only real ‘defeat’ was his death. As a character that plays far more on intelligence and emotion than he does on brute strength, this is the perfect setup for a Heart movie and the writers play on it wonderfully. With Brain and Medic almost acting like his conscience, Heart gets one last hurrah where he truly gets to play the hero – acting both as redemption and progression of his former status of a villain with a (somewhat) noble cause.

Heart does comedy
"For the fans"

However the return of Heart does come at a price, and that’s also the return of Drive’s over the top comedy style that helped turn many Western fans off the first half of the series. Genpachiro was one of its biggest offenders when it came to this, and as one of the film’s main characters it means there’s quite a lot of zany camera close-ups and silly faces. It’s a huge pity because Genpachiro can actually be a pretty deep character when the plot calls for it, but a lot of his message feels lost in an onslaught of gurning and over the top body movements. Rinna’s eccentricities seem to have been amped up tenfold as well, with the scientist feeling like a shadow of her former self whose main draw is wigs and questionable fashion choices. It isn’t all bad though – after years of bodyswap/bodysharing episodes you expect Toei to deliver when it comes to Heart, Brain and Medic sharing one body, and they do so with some of the movie’s best moments. From seeing Tomoya Warabino impressively act out both Brain and Medic’s mannerisms to Heart’s comically fanservicey bath scene, Kamen Rider Heart still manages to have an element of silliness to it that is genuinely funny.

Kamen Rider Heart
King of Hearts

Plot-wise Kamen Rider Heart is fairly by the numbers – the Roidmude amalgamation 5886 makes for a good one-off villain but isn’t really much more than a brainless bruiser with a nice suit design. What his inclusion does bring however is some nice cameos and call-backs to Drive’s episodic cast members, which really helps shape the film as a piece of “final” Drive fiction. Shinnosuke himself is also used sparingly, only really appearing to offer a few words of advice to the Roidmude who’d happily call him a friend. It’s just about the right amount, as it doesn’t take away from the fact this is Heart’s (and later Mach’s) story but means there isn’t something integral missing from the proceedings either.

Since it is of course impossible to make a Kamen Rider movie without the debut of some new Rider or form, Kamen Rider Heart of course sees the Roidmude himself become the hero – appearing in retooled Type Tridoron suit complete with a new Heart-esque head and other elements that reference the character’s evolved form. Upon initially seeing images of the suit I wasn’t exactly won over by it, but both learning of how it comes about and seeing it in action definitely leaves a far more positive impression.

Gou and Reiko
Darker literally as well as figuratively!

If Kamen Rider Heart was meant to reflect the sillier side of Kamen Rider Drive then Kamen Rider Mach definitely draws from its more serious side, tackling murder, depression and attempted suicide while littered with corpses and a pretty graphic hanging scene to boot. The film is still prone to its own moments of comedy, but with most of these taking place at the very beginning it thankfully doesn’t suffer from the same tonal whiplash that plagued the Chaser movie. All in all it’s a pretty serious affair that suits Mach’s character perfectly, given that he easily the most emotionally and tonally varied Rider in the show.

Despite the entire film’s set up focusing on Gou’s attempts at resurrecting Chase, his portion of the story sidesteps into completely different territory as it takes place on a smaller and more personal scale. The Nishihori storyline is one of the more significant cases in Kamen Rider Drive (running through Episode 0 as well as the series itself), and having the characters return again hammers it home that Drive isn’t the kind of series where cases and characters are simply forgotten about. With Gou having mostly gotten over his daddy issues and Roidmude xenophobia, it’s time for him to do the same for considerably more damaged Reiko. Even though prior to this movie the pair have only spent a minimal amount of time onscreen together, the development of their relationship feels surprisingly natural thanks to the close parallels between them. If anything the film is actually about letting things go and then being able to move forward creating a new family, something Kiriko explains to Gou in a particularly poignant scene.

Gou's "death"
Well that escalated quickly

This core theme also means that the reuse of Roidmude 005 doesn’t feel lazy either. Even through the voice alone Toru Nomaguchi’s portrayal of Koya Nishihori is chilling, and coupled with his sadistic murder pattern 005 makes for a rather compelling villain that’s far more human than he is monster (in a purely outward sense anyway). The claustrophobic warehouse fight scenes also contrast nicely with Heart’s brighter forest fights, highlighting the differences in tone between the two segments even if it was done unintentionally.

 Unfortunately the Kamen Rider Mach Chaser suit isn’t quite as creative as the Heart suit, and is instead simply a repaint of Chaser Mach suit with the name switched around to make it sound more different than it actually is. That said the added colours definitely add a lot more flare to the woefully plain Chaser Mach suit – and if there’s something Mach should have plenty of it’s flare. It’s unfortunate that this version of the suit lacks the Shingou Axe as that would helped push the combination element of it even further, but with how little the movie actually focuses on the Chase element it isn’t a huge loss.

Kamen Rider Mach Chaser
The boy's in blue

Though perhaps a bit too silly in places, Kamen Rider Drive Saga: Kamen Rider Mach/Kamen Rider Heart is an excellent send-off for two of Drive’s best developed characters. While their wider implications as an epilogue are relatively small, both parts play wonderful service to individual episodes of Drive and (especially in Mach’s case) build them up into something far more substantial. Despite the new suits to show off both segments are far heavier on plot and dialogue, wisely saving the action for a big finale. If the Returns movie is now going to be an annual thing with the franchise, then this movie seem like a big step in the right direction compared to the last few offerings.

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