Wednesday 9 May 2018

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Another Ending - Kamen Rider Brave & Snipe

Kamen Rider Ex-Aid Another Ending: Kamen Rider Brave & Snipe

When Toei said that "the game is forever", they sure weren't joking around. Not content with just ending Kamen Rider Ex-Aid through the series itself and the True Ending movie, the 2016-2017 Kamen Rider series has returned once again for a trilogy of V-Cinema releases – rather appropriately titled Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Another Ending. Like previous post-series V-cinema entries these movies each focus on a pair of Riders from the show's expanded cast rather than Ex-Aid himself, however unlike the others these three films also tie together into an overall plotline. Kicking off the trilogy is Kamen Rider Ex Aid: Another Ending – Kamen Rider Brave & Snipe, featuring arguably the two most prominent of the show's other Riders. This isn't the first time either Rider has had the spotlight either, with Brave previously taking centre stage in the Let's Survive! Revival of the Beast Rider Squad! special and Snipe's back story being uncovered in the Episode ZERO prequel miniseries.

Two years after the events of the series, the Kamen Riders have gone their separate ways – with Hiiro working towards restoring those lost to the Bugster virus and Taiga continuing to work at his own hospital alongside Nico. Meanwhile Kuroto Dan has escaped from his prison, setting his own mysterious plans into motion.

Hiiro's girlfriend Saki appears before him once more, controlled by the revived Tokimeki Crisis Bugster Lovelica. Elsewhere, Nico's relationship with Taiga becomes strained as an old rival from her gaming days appears at Taiga's hospital. Though both Riders are determined to save Saki, neither are prepared to work together to do so. As Brave and Snipe face off against each other and Lovelica, Kamen Rider Cronus returns once more. However neither Rider is aware they're playing right into Kuroto's hands...

Whereas previous Kamen Rider V-cinema sequels focusing on two Riders have tended to be broken down into two separate parts, Brave & Snipe (along with the other two Another Ending instalments) is immediately different in that it is a single film with one intertwining plot. The result is a longer running time that greatly benefits the flow and development of the film, as well as allowing for interaction between the chosen characters rather than segregating them off. The pairs for each of these Another Ending films have been perfectly chosen, as each of them build upon established relationships and/or common ground rather than being assigned together at random. As the two characters with the most history in Ex-Aid as well as one of the rockiest relationships, putting Hiiro and Taiga together was pretty much a no-brainer.

However the immediate problem this film faces is that both characters had already reached a reasonably satisfying conclusion at the end of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. Taiga's loner fa├žade had been exposed and he successfully regained the trust and respect of his peers, while Hiiro had not only come to terms with losing Saki for good but also subsequently regained hope that she could one day be recovered. As such Brave & Snipe immediately feels like its retreading old ground, and with much less emotion behind it too. It's clear that the aim here was to finally give some real closure to the Hiiro/Saki storyline, but with Hiiro's end goal not changing at the end of the film it just seems overly harsh to put the character through the ringer like this again.

Perhaps even more problematic is the furthering of Taiga and Nico's relationship, which feels less like development and more like regression. Over the course of Ex-Aid we saw Taiga begin to open up to people thanks to Nico, who in turn went from a single-minded gamer to a valuable ally and hero. Here not only is Nico's storyline a B-plot that primarily hinges on an uninteresting new character, but it's resolution feels like a slap in the face to everything she and Taiga went through over the course of the series. Nico even makes a point of calling Taiga out on the fact that he's gone back to his old ways, but nothing really comes of it that isn't just conjecture. Which on the same note, is exactly what the relationship between Taiga and Nico is most of the time. A friends/sibling/mentor-student relationship suits them far better, but then this film tries to inject implications of romance in there as well without anything tangible to follow it up. The whole thing just feels like a complete mess, shoehorned in in an attempt to draw parallels with the Saki plot line despite them having very little in common. It shouldn't be all the surprising given how badly handled Nico's storyline has been handled in general, but she definitely deserved better than all this.

That isn't to say that everything repeated from the series is bad though, especially when it comes to the film's villains. While Kuroto Dan's revival and subsequent defection to CR was largely met positively by fans (mostly thanks to Tetsuya Iwanaga's larger than life acting), it was never quite the same as his stint as an unpredictably villainous madman. Though the specifics of his plan are still a mystery the sinister undercurrent his scenes have are enough to bring back some of that early Kuroto magic, and a constant reminder as to who the real star of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid is. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the sheer arrogance and confidence the self-proclaimed god exudes that you just revel in the overcomplicated nature of his plans, making the fact there were clearly much more straightforward ways he could have got what he wanted all the more hilarious. Also making a welcome return here is Ren Amagasaki/Lovelica, especially as at this point Ex-Aid's fun genre-based Bugster foes seem like almost a distant memory. While perhaps not quite as over the top as he previously was, Lovelica compliments Kuroto perfectly in that they both manage to strike the right balance of comedy and villainy. Also proving an interesting addition to the cast is restorative doctor Saiko Yaotome, who plays a limited role in this part of Another Ending but should prove interesting going forwards if the ending is anything to go by.

Another thing Brave & Snipe does deserve to be commended for though is not cracking to the pressure of introducing some sort of new Rider or suit variant as a shoehorned villain and/or power-up. While these may help ensure the longevity of the show through merchandise sales and add a little more excitement to the story, there is something refreshing about seeing a film stick to the assets it already has. We get to see Brave in both level 50 and 100 forms, while Taiga pulls double duty as both Snipe and Kamen Rider Cronus. Though it might have felt a bit undeserved in the series itself, Taiga's use of the Chronicle Gashat here is a nice reminder of his insistence of attaining a greater power so that others don't need to fight – even if that usually comes at his detriment.

Though Kamen Rider Ex Aid: Another Ending – Kamen Rider Brave & Snipe is an enjoyable opener to the latest chapter in the Ex-Aid story, it's overall impact is hampered by the fact that both Rider's stories already felt concluded in a satisfying manner. Hiiro's final reunion with Saki is sweet but doesn't have the same emotional resonance as his previous resolution in the show itself, while the Taiga/Nico dynamic comes across here as stunted rather than adequately developed. Both characters are still a pleasure to watch onscreen, but it's really Genm's machinations and the return of Lovelica that make things interesting. Another Ending could certainly still prove to be more than just the sum of its parts, but as an individual entity there's definitely some signs of Ex-Aid fatigue beginning to settle in.


Anonymous said...

Now that Build is on its final route, whats your thoughts about the show so far ?

Alex said...

Build is really really good stuff. It's incredible how the story just seems to be getting better and better each episode.

Episode 21 is possibly the single best Kamen Rider episode I've ever seen.