Thursday 21 October 2021

Movie REVIEW: Zero-One Others: Kamen Rider Vulcan & Valkyrie

Zero-One Others: Kamen Rider Vulcan & Valkyrie

Earlier in the year Kamen Rider Zero-One dropped what was perhaps the biggest cliffhanger since Diend turned his gun on Decade (or the Rider War began depending on which version of Decade you're watching), as Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai destroyed the bodies of its four Humagear hosts and set out on a new path of destruction. Now several months after the release of Zero-One Others: Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai the conclusion of the story is finally here, as the A.I.M.S. Riders take to the stage in Zero-One Others: Kamen Rider Vulcan & Valkyrie. Although the Kamen Rider Genms -The Presidents- special is technically set afterward, for the time being it's also fair to say this acts as the main end to the Zero-One story. Like the previous film, it was written by the show's head writer Yuya Takahashi and directed by secondary writer Masaya Kakehi

(WARNING: Spoiler discussion will be particularly heavy in this review)

Yua makes her addressKamen Rider Metsuboujinrai

Picking up immediately after the events of the previous film, Yua Yaiba and A.I.M.S. have been tasked with the mission of bringing down once and for all. With the new free Solds choosing to side with MetsubouJinrai, the risk of a Humagear uprising looms once more. Meanwhile Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai itself is directly targeting Yua, proclaiming that "Kamen Rider Valkyrie will be extinct".

As both Isamu Fuwa and Yua both fight back against the overwhelming force of Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai, they also try to solve the mystery of the group's sudden return to violence. With two Solds coming to terms with their newfound individuality encountering them both, the two Riders employ new powers to stop history repeating itself once more.

Kamen Rider Valkyrie Justice ServalKamen Rider Vulcan Lone Wolf

Much like with many of the spin-off specials made exclusively for the Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub service, V-cinema releases are often a means to tell a story that could be construed as a bit more "adult" than what went on in the accompanying series. It isn't always the case (and "more adult" is still a rather loaded term when discussing a franchise that's admittedly all-ages, but primarily for children), but the shift in brutality and occasionally more complex themes certainly make an argument for it. This is something that can definitely be said of Vulcan & Valkyrie, which after the aftermath of Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai is left in a very precarious position. Not only must it act as a fitting send-off to its title characters, but also provide a satisfying resolution to the previous film.

Even before its official announcement, a film focusing on the two A.I.M.S. (or former A.I.M.S. in Isamu's case) felt inevitable. Both were extremely important characters to Zero-One, with Isamu coming across as more engaging than Aruto himself at times whilst Yua was a landmark character in terms of being the first truly prominent woman Kamen Rider right from the very beginning. Having them be the characters tasked with taking down MetsubouJinrai, especially in Aruto's absence, is also thematically important. While Aruto came into the struggle as a mediator between humans and Humagears, A.I.M.S. and were diametrically opposed from the very beginning. Though the attitudes of all the parties changed greatly over the course of Zero-One, they are effectively back where they started - mirroring the very moral that the end of the film highlights. 

Isamu Fuwa & Yua YaibaVulcan & Valkyrie vs MetsubouJinrai

The film gets off to a reasonably good start. As with the previous film these V-cinemas are an opportunity to flesh out the new status quo set out at the end of the series, which was briefly touched upon in RealxTime but had to be set aside in the face of the more immediate crisis. There isn't really a whole lot to say about Isamu setting out as a "lone wolf", however Yua now acting as the head of A.I.M.S. is a much more interesting set up. Over the course of Zero-One we've seen Yua gone from A.I.M.S. to Zaia, before breaking off from Gai's clutches to go it alone before returning to A.I.M.S. and restoring it as an independent force. After spending so much time in the servitude of others, it's great to see Yua at the head of the organisation and able to make decisions for herself. To some extent anyway, as right from the very beginning the heat is coming down from the Secretary of National Defense to eliminate MetsubouJinrai. Naturally Yua is hesitant given that everything has happened in the past, and although the direct conflict between her and her higher ups is a little half-baked it helps to illustrate the difference between her and her former colleague. Whereas even as the head of A.I.M.S. Yua is still bound by the will of her superiors, Isamu is free to act by his own ideals.

But despite their differences in approach, there are some things that they still agree on. The dichotomy between justice and life is a concept that's been important to the Kamen Rider franchise since its very beginning, so for it to resurface in such an overt way during its 50th anniversary is extremely fitting. This conversation directly stems from Solds 9 and 20, who are particularly conflicted by their sudden free-will. Both Yua and Isamu offer their own viewpoints on justice and the value of life, each concluding that "justice" as a concept can easily be perverted, while what's truly important is something that can't be so easily defined - the ability to follow your heart whilst protecting life. Both Solds are influenced by their words, leading them to take their own paths instead of blindly following Metsuboujinrai like the rest of their brethren. It's not only strong dialogue, it's the kind of think piece that helps set Kamen Rider apart from its peers. 

Isamu & Sold9Yua & Sold20

However as strong as these concepts may seem, it isn't long before the film's problems begin to unfold. Though V-cinemas are there to primarily act as epilogues to their respective shows, they're also an opportunity to throw out a few final suits, forms and gimmicks. In MetsubouJinrai we were introduced to Kamen Rider ZAIA as well as the titular Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai, this time it's the turn of Kamen Rider Valkyrie Justice Serval and Kamen Rider Vulcan Lone Wolf. Both forms were suitably hyped up in the lead up to the film's release, and with Valkyrie arguably having been served short in the latter half of Zero-One many fans hoped that this new form would give her the spotlight she was long overdue. But of course this isn't actually the case, and just over four minutes after its initial introduction Justice Serval has been completely overwhelmed (and destroyed) by the vastly superior MetsubouJinrai. And that just sums up not only how Yua feels completely secondary to the action scenes of Vulcan & Valkyrie, but also how she's actually more of a plot device than anything else. When Isamu deduces why MetsubouJinrai has declared "Valkyrie will be extinct", it isn't primarily because of her position at the top of A.I.M.S. or the fact she's supposedly a tech genius – it's because hurting her will make Vulcan go after them. Yua seems like a main participant in the story, but ultimately she's there to witness (and later tell) the story of the other characters. Even the story beats directly related to her don't really matter – one example being the ghostly figure of a young girl she sees at the beginning of the film. The framing suggests that this might be something traumatic tied to Yua's past, but instead we find out it's a girl who was killed by weapons created by her university professor. The message about creating weapons that go on to kill the wrong people is powerful, but doesn't really quite hit the same when it's tied to a superfluous (and until that point completely unknown) character. Yua getting wasted in both her fight scenes isn't any surprise when the story cares so little about her. Regardless of how well she was treated in the show itself Kamen Rider Valkyrie was a significant character, so for her to get such a disservice in her own film is really disappointing. Though in some ways Yua might have gotten off the best of everyone, because Justice Serval getting such limited screen time is the least of Vulcan & Valkyrie's issues.

Because what the film culminates in is a final showdown between Vulcan and MetsubouJinrai, and it’s one where supposedly no one is getting out alive. Yua and Isamu conclude that MetsubouJinrai became an enemy that could unite humans and Humagears, whilst Isamu also succumbs to the injuries he receives in the fight (though this is meant to be a little more open to interpretation, it still feels pretty clear). While neither move feels drastically out of character for either party, this sudden shift towards permanent deaths feels rather out of place. It’s hard for these characters’ deaths to carry the weight they should when Jin and Izu’s were robbed of that at the the series climax. The film's moral is that these characters are meant to live on example, with Yua highlighting that unless humans are able to learn how to live with technology they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. There is admittedly a certain poignancy to this, as well as real-life parallels to our world also needing to learn from past mistakes, but it all just feels so sudden. It also doesn't help that the individual MetsubouJinrai members don't actually appear in this outside of flashbacks, so they're robbed of any meaningful goodbye.

One final standA sacrifice

I expect someone out there is currently reading this and saying "wasn't one of your main issues with Zero-One that death didn't have any meaning?" and yes it was. However in doing so the main show was sticking to its guns in making sure that it's story was one of optimism – where the each of the characters was able to grow from their experiences and set out a new life for themselves, confident in that they had been able to overcome their differences. Though it tried to act as though the original Izu had truly died and the new one was completely different, for all intent and purposes it was pretty much exactly the same Izu – Aruto got his robot wife and they all lived happily ever after. As questionable as some of that may be, if that's the story Zero-One wants to tell then fine. However taking that and then flip-flopping in what is most likely going to be the last core piece of Zero-One fiction ever made just feels wrong. After spending 45 episodes and two movies with these characters and watching them find their place in the world, suddenly three main characters (and two fairly important side characters) are gone. Even worse is the fact that these deaths all happen in a special where the main character barely appears at all, leaving the tragedy of their deaths completely devoid of any emotional resonance from the person that brought them all together in the first place. It feels less of a case of the characters all being brought to their logical conclusions, and almost like Takahashi taking his toys off of the table so they can't be used by any other writer in the future. Suddenly taking Zero-One's optimistic ending about a brighter future and twisting it into one about humanity repeating its mistakes doesn't just feel mean-spirited, it feels cowardly as well.

At the very least the film still has plenty of flashy visuals on offer, but even then it's nothing that the main series hadn't already done better. The initial fight against MetsubouJinrai shows how great a team Vulcan and Valkyrie are, so it was a shame that them being completely overpowered in their base forms was the only time we got to see that teamwork in the entire movie. Meanwhile Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai's stiff and robotic movements prove to be an interesting contrast to the more acrobatic choreography of the human Riders, but again it isn't long before that also loses its luster. It's a shame that Justice Serval was so underserved in the film, because visually it works really well as an upgrade to Valkyrie's Rushing Cheetah – sharing the same colour scheme whilst more heavily armoured and weaponised. With Vulcan already having received several upgrades over the course of Zero-One Lone Wolf feels like much less of a momentous occasion, but there is something particularly satisfying about seeing Isamu access it with a Zero-One Driver – in effect completing his journey to becoming a Kamen Rider.

One last warningThe Ghosts watch on

Zero-One Others: Kamen Rider Vulcan & Valkyrie is a film I'm conflicted about both as a fan and reviewer, but at the very least those halves agree that this is not good. The Zero-One fan in me finds it an unnecessarily bitter way to end a series that felt eternally optimistic (so much so that it's retroactively spoiling Kamen Rider MetsubouJinrai, since this is where the road leads), whilst the reviewer in me can see the merit in its more realistic moral and ethical quandary about what constitutes as justice. Other aspects, such as the disservice it does Yua, aren't mutually exclusive. Given its success and popularity despite the hardships it faced releasing during a global pandemic, Kamen Rider Zero-One deserved a far better ending than this.


M said...

Ex-Aid Another Ending Trilogy still are my favorite Kamen Rider V-Cinema Movies.

xXBigBadBeetleborgsFan1886Xx said...

Dear Mr. Shiny Toy Robots,

I think this movie might be the most unintentionally comedic thing Toei's released in a good while. Now, I didn't like Zero-One much at all. I thought it was more of the same from Yuya Takahashi, but the two movies released prior to this one were honestly excellent, or at the very least interesting. (REALxTIME might be one of my favorite Rider movies now, which was shocking to say the least.) Those movies being good made me have oddly skewed hopes for this being at the very least decent, so you can imagine how surprised I was when it turned out to be the most hilariously incompetent V-Cinema put out in the last five years. Now this isn't a bad thing whatsoever, because not only does it tell me a broken clock is right twice a day, it also makes for something to laugh at with your friends. Watch as Kamen Rider Metsuboujinrai stands there! Watch as Valkyrie's shiny new form gets taken down in a sequence that fits in the Twitter video limit! Watch as Aruto spits out a beam from space just for Vulcan to get beat as well! And on top of all that, the action feels very stunted, and any side characters that you're supposed to care about have as much worth as pocket lint. I think Takahashi needs to figure out how we're supposed to feel about death, considering it meant nothing in Ex-Aid, and also meant nothing in Zero-One, up until this movie where we're supposed to be distraught when he kills off fan-favorite characters like a discount Gen Urobuchi. Overall, I'm not mad, I'm not disappointed even, I'm more just very confused and entertained at how this movie turned out.


Thomas "xXBigBadBeetleborgsFan1886" Clart

Oneechan said...

Although you convinced me of the problems this movie had, I thought it was decent. But I hate that Mestubojinrai became an enemy just so that humans and Humagears could unite against them. I think it would've been better if Metsubojinrai came to be because their minds were hacked while possessed by MassBrain or something like that, and to have them saved by Vulcan and Valkyrie.

btw, how are you liking Revice so far? I'm hooked.

Neko-Nyan said...

I'm a HUGE fan of Valkyrie. Her design was wonderful, and since she got the short stick when it comes to forms, I was hoping, like you, that she would have the opportunity to shine, especially since her final forms, just like her other forms, look pretty fucking RAD. Alas, it wasn't to be.

It's not the only reason why, like you, I didn't really like that film. The other reason is that... it feels like a cop out of sorts. It's hard to describe, but I honestly never like when a KR series end up on a bittersweet note, with accent on the bitter. It feels like it's calling for another film, another special, that's unlikely to ever come.