Friday 27 May 2022

Miniseries REVIEW: Revice Legacy: Kamen Rider Vail

Revice Legacy: Kamen Rider Vail

With more avenues to expand its story the Kamen Rider franchise has moved much further into the realms of supplementary material in recent years, with much of it landing exclusively on the Toei Tokusatsu Fan Club streaming service. Following on from Kamen Rider Revice: The Mystery the service released its second special from the 50th anniversary celebration series – Revice Legacy: Kamen Rider Vail, a five-part miniseries taking the story of Kamen Rider Revice back over two decades before it all began.

NOAH experiment on JunpeiThe Vail Driver

As Genta Igarashi happily records a new video, Yukimi quietly recalls events from 25 years ago. Genta Igarashi was once Junpei Shiranami – a man brought back from the brink of death by the scientific research organisation NOAH in their attempts to harness the powers of the demon Giff. Presented with a transformation device, the amnesiac Junpei is forced to transform into the ultimate demon hunter – Kamen Rider Vail.

Junpei continues his missions in the hopes of finding the red demon that killed his parents, goaded on by the demon inside him he draws his powers from. When he saves Yukimi from a demon attack, the pair quickly fall in love. However NOAH aren’t prepared to the let their test subject go that easily, the demon responsible for his parents' death is closer than Junpei thinks.

Yukimi IgarashiThe red demon

Kamen Rider Vail may be a suitable title for the prequel story being told, but at the heart of this miniseries is a love story. Above all else it's about two people who didn't have anyone else in their lives found each other, and despite the complexity of their situation somehow would both find happiness and go on to have three children. That is perhaps the most engaging part of the whole special, and it's sold on the chemistry Junpei (played by Masanari Wada) and Yukimi (Sakurako Okubo, who previously played Hammie in Uchu Sentai Kyuranger) have. As abridged as both their story and romance may be for the purpose of fitting it all into a 50-minute miniseries, it remains believable and works well within the setting.

There is also plenty of backstory to be told here, typically done so in a somewhat darker tone that periphery Kamen Rider media often adopts. Junpei's transformation into a Kamen Rider by a shady organisation may mirror that of Takeshi Hongo's own transformation, but there's also visual and thematic shades of Kamen Rider Amazons in this as well – from the more militarised setup of Vail's missions to the (admittedly less doomed) romance that permeates through the story. Revice as a series that's been able to balance its light-hearted and darker elements fairly well, but when it comes to tone Kamen Rider Vail very much leans into the latter. Thankfully it isn't over the top with its violence in the way so many of these specials tend to be, but there's definitely a darkness to it that's much less prevalent in the series itself.

Junpei and YukimiShozo Irabu

It isn't just the Igarashi parents we get the backstory on here though, with several other Revice characters also getting some much-needed context. It goes without saying that Vail himself is a big part of this special, defining his relationship with Junpei/Genta and setting him up as a significant threat for the main series. His manipulation of Junpei works particularly well in helping paint him as an anthesis to Vice, which is of course also conveyed in his evil being an "evil" version of that titular character. It's nice to also get a little more context on both George's father Masumi and bathhouse regular Shozo Irabu as well, showing just how the latter is tied up in Genta's past life. Masumi's involvement in NOAH also sheds a lot of light on his current role in the main series, though with no mention of Weekend or any indication of what he did in the years since there's still a fair few gaps that could be filled there.

The focus may be on the characters themselves but there's still plenty of Rider action for those who didn't get their fill of Kamen Rider Vail suit in the series itself, nicely showing it off as the beginnings of the technology seen in the series itself. The Kamen Rider Vail suit is a curious one – seemingly combining a more primitive version of the Revice aesthetic with the kind of classic sensibilities you'd perhaps see in Showa era suits. Ability-wise it isn't really that far removed from what's already been seen in Revice, but as a result of it being a streaming special there's far more of a rawness to the fight scenes that comes from both Junpei's thirst for revenge and Vail's ferocity. Naturally the reveal of Vail as a villain lacks any sort of impact but it still leads into quite a tense finale, particularly with the grittier nature of the special lending itself to a more hopeless scenario. But ultimately it's love that prevails, with a resolution that wrap things up rather neatly for where they're picked up in the main story.

Kamen Rider VailVail reveals himself

Of course ultimately the big debate is whether background information as important as this should be in the actual show rather than relegated to a streaming service special. Arguably Revice is already too loaded with plot to have done this side story the same level of justice, but there's no doubt that the connection between the two could have been implemented better. Much like how Hiromi exited the show and was then immediately revealed to be starring in Blu-Ray specials (which were then horrifically tied into the main show's clip episode), Genta temporarily disappeared from the show whilst these specials were appearing. Kamen Rider Vail made a single appearance in the show practically just to advertise this miniseries, while Vail himself has just slipped into as a main villain without really that much fanfare. To its credit Revice has actually make those parts of the story work, but characters like Masumi Karizaki and Hideo Akaishi remain poorly defined even with this additional context. While it's good that Kamen Rider has more outlets for side stories like these, they certainly shouldn't be coming at the expense of the main show. This is the perfect place to flesh out Genta and Yukimi's relationship, but not to drop key explanations such as why Vail was in the Demons Driver in the first place.

Masumi KarizakiHideo Akaishi

While there'll always be the question of how much of a show's story should be told through supplementary material, Revice Legacy: Kamen Rider Vail is nevertheless an enjoyable little miniseries that wisely places the emphasis on its characters and their relationships rather than overcomplicating the story. This way it fills in the blanks like it was always intended, but thankfully isn't just a tick box exercise. With strong family dynamics a rarity in Kamen Rider seeing how the Igarashi family bond began is a story felt worth telling.

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