Friday 25 November 2022

Special REVIEW: Kamen Rider Saber Spin-Off: Kamen Rider Sabela & Kamen Rider Durendal

Kamen Rider Saber Spin-Off: Kamen Rider Sabela & Kamen Rider Durendal

With Kamen Rider Saber having as many Riders as it does it was perhaps a bit of a surprise when V-Cinext movie Trio of Deep Sin decided to focus on the core three Riders, but nevertheless it remains a series rife with Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub spin-off potential. As two of the last Riders to join Saber's line-up of legendary swordsmen, Reika and Ryoga Shindai are two characters that particularly felt like they had more to give. Toei obviously felt so too, given the surprise announcement of Kamen Rider Saber Spin-off: Kamen Rider Sabela & Kamen Rider Durendal as the latest entry on their streaming platform. This special marks the second time the Shindai siblings have broken away from the main Saber cast, having previously represented them in the Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger portion of the Saber/Zenkaiger crossover episodes.

Reika and Ryoga ShindaiReika meets her suitor

When Reika is approached with a marriage proposal by a representative from the prestigious Mitarai family, Ryoga believes his sister should give up her sword to find happiness in marriage. Though initially Reika is against the idea, her prospective husband Rui is able to see through her protest, suggesting that she should look to forge her own path in life - beyond gaining her brother’s approval. Even perhaps to her own surprise, she accepts Rui's proposal.

As the wedding day approaches, Ryoga appears reluctant to attend the ceremony. However some disturbing news from Ren sees Ryoga spring into action, as the true identity of Rui reveals Reika could be in very real danger.

Reika's weddingKamen Rider Durendal & Sabela

If there's one thing that most Saber viewers seem to agree upon, it's that the Shindai siblings were pretty shortchanged when it came to character development. This especially applies to Reika, who burst onto the series as a force to be reckoned with but whose character later almost became entirely defined by her love for her brother. Naturally Ryoga's introduction is entirely responsible for this decline, but even he didn't really have much to offer the Saber cast outside of his detached, stoic nature. In suit they were two of the coolest Riders Saber had to offer, but outside of it they really weren't that much to write home about. However the aforementioned Zenkaiger crossover highlighted how much potential both characters had, so much so that some even tried to argue that they were better written there than they were in the series itself. Could this special offer a chance to capture some of that magic once again?

Marriage plotlines aren't anything unusual for tokusatsu, so really this is a story that could have easily fit in amongst the main Saber episodes had the plot not been high gear by the time the Shindai siblings were properly integrated into it. When this special was first announced with an image of a transformed Durendal carrying Reika in a wedding dress, it did seem pretty par for the course for these characters by this point and that little was going to change here. The image itself had obvious connotations, and there's always a specific niche being filled when a principal character turns up in a wedding dress. But while this special doesn't do anything unexpected with this storyline, it does at least try to use it to contextualise the (often overbearing) relationship between the siblings in a way that makes sense. Through explanations and flashbacks we learn that Reika's love for her brother stems back to her childhood, as well as a desire for him to properly acknowledge her for the swordsman she's become. Meanwhile Ryoga is faced with the reality that one day he needs to let go of Reika and let her forge her own path in life, in turn opening up what he really wants for her. So while the special never truly escapes from the pair being defined by one another, it does at least try to frame it with emotion as opposed to just comedy. The flashback of a young Reika with her brother are sweet, and the two do admittedly have great chemistry together.

Flashback to childhoodIt isn't a wedding without a few explosions

With a very small cast on hand her Reika and Ryoga very much drive the special, the former of whom is on very good form here. Though the initial scenes of her waiting on her brother hand and foot don't really instill much hope, it's clear that actress Mei Angela is having a lot of the fun with the role – particularly during her initial meeting with Rei and the guest appearance by Yume Miyamoto (Magine in Zenkaiger – who not only has a history with Reika but Angela is also a big fan of). Meanwhile though there isn't much change in Ryoga's character, the rare moments where he drops the stoic act and shows some genuine emotion always seem to comes across well.

The Shindai siblings haven't been completely separated from the rest of the Saber cast though, as a few familiar faces pop up to keep the story flowing. While it does perhaps have a sense of "whichever actors were available at the time" about it, the choices still work and the decision to veer away from the "main" Saber characters is appreciated. As a fan favourite from the series any time Ryo/Kamen Rider Buster shows up it's usually a good time, but his and his family's conversation with Ryoga is nicely done in suggesting to him that Reika could find happiness beyond the sword. Comparatively Ren's brief cameo is far more obvious in being about purely to bridge the story, but even in such a small role he was a nice choice given the wandering swordsman he's become following the events of the main series. Even if the special is dealing with a much smaller cast, it's nice to see that it's still making use of the strong community of characters Kamen Rider Saber built up.

The Ogami Family"You sound just like her."

The short runtime doesn't really there's much of a chance to build up a good villain, but nevertheless Rui plays his part in the story well. He's charismatic enough to play off of Reika, but at the same time is quickly able to turn that charisma into menace. His disillusionment with the world and desire to change it is nothing new to Saber, but the added element of doing so via families' social influence is a nice twist to accompany the marriage theme. As a quick kitbash of the Goblin Megid his Amanojaku Megid form doesn't have much of a wow factor, but a more lowkey monster-of-the-week style villain is perhaps better suited to a more lowkey story like this.

However one thing that is particularly refreshing about Sabela & Durendal is that it's purely about the characters. Not just in that it utilises a very small cast, but also in that it isn't flogging any merchandise in the process either. There's no new Wonder Ride Books to advertise, no new forms cobbled together from existing suits – just a (reasonably) solid story about the Shindai siblings. Even with its flaws, a Rider special that has nothing to sell is a surprising rarity. Yes the time of Saber's toy line may be over, but the likes of Gaim Gaiden: Kamen Rider Gridon vs Kamen Rider Bravo have shown there's always something that can be sold years later. Though the lack of new forms may perhaps make the special a little less memorable in some fans' eyes, more character-driven pieces that purely work with what already exists certainly wouldn't go amiss on the TTFC.

Rui MitaraiThe Amanojaku Megid

Kamen Rider Saber Spin-off: Kamen Rider Sabela & Kamen Rider Durendal might not have the length or flashiness of other Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub specials but as a self-contained story it does its job reasonably well whilst restoring some semblance of agency to Reika's character. While arguably the Shindai siblings would need something more akin to a feature-length V-Cinext release to give them the development they so desperately need/deserve, the further we move away from Kamen Rider Saber the less that seems likely. This spin-off is certainly better than nothing.

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