Wednesday 31 May 2023

Miniseries REVIEW: Kamen Rider Juuga VS Kamen Rider Orteca

Kamen Rider Judge VS Kamen Rider Orteca

On top of it being the 50th anniversary series, the sheer number of Riders that appear in Kamen Rider Revice made it clear that there was plenty of spin-off potential to be mined from it. While more obvious candidates got their shot at the spotlight either during the actual run of the series or in the more prestigious V-Cinema release, there's always the post-series Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub exclusives to think of as well. Of course, these are also an opportunity to add even more Riders to the mix as well. Kamen Rider Juuga VS Kamen Rider Orteca just happens to do both - putting series mainstay and Kamen Rider fanboy George Karizaki in the spotlight as he fights off against former Deadmans member Orteca as he finally takes on his own Rider form.

George's video diaryOrteca Returns

Following the events of the series, scientist George Karizaki has turned his research toward the "Humanity as Kamen Riders" project - creating more Rider powers by humans for humans. Although the idea of creating more Riders has been deemed controversial by the general public, George has enlisted the help of Shou Takada - a scientist who had previously worked with his father.

Meanwhile Orteca has escaped from prison, and after stealing a Demons Driver plans to form the Neo Deadmans and provide himself with his own Rider form. To power up the Juuga Driver, George enlists the help of the Special Investigation Unit's top scientist Rinna Sawagami. However Orteca has also asked Rinna for help in enhancing the Demons Driver! It's a race against time as George not only has to defeat Orteca, but also the Deadmans' mysterious benefactor.

Rinna's back too!The Homo Gifftex

It's become increasingly clear that more often than not Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub specials (particularly the ones set after a series) occupy this strange little space between V-Cinemas and Hyper Battle DVDs when it comes to tone. Basically the story will have a semi-serious plot which works within the logic of that specific series, but will also be filled with more comedy than you'd typically find in an average episode. Sometimes this can feel a little jarring, but if there's any character to throw caution to the wind to when it comes to this approach it's George Karizaki. Since it feels like Revice never really had a grip on what it wanted the character to be in the first place, his descent into this quirky side character who loves Kamen Rider and repeatedly speaks English phrases seems like a fairly on-brand evolution for him. And with the special kicking off with George's morning routine of practising his transformation pose in the mirror (in his boxer shorts no less) whilst admiring his vast collection of Kamen Rider memorabilia, there's not really any pretence of how silly the pair of episodes that make up Kamen Rider Juuga VS Kamen Rider Orteca can get. But at the same time there's something particularly enjoyable about this iteration of George, possibly because it's easy for fans to see themselves in him. Now that all that forced drama is out of the way he's just an earnest guy who loves Kamen Riders and wants to make his daddy proud, and that's something most will be able to get behind.

Orteca is in a similar boat, given that once the Deadmans storyline ended the show didn't really know what to do with him so threw him in jail for the remainder of it. So now it's ultimately been settled on "George's rival", and given how little Revice content there is left that's not really a bad place for him to end up. The two do have a good little rivalry going on, and with some of the more comedic elements rubbing off on Orteca here both characters are well-suited for something a little more light-hearted. Orteca comes across as this confident all-knowing/powerful bad guy, but less than two minutes with Hana and it's clear he's just as much of a goober as the rest of them.

Admit it, we've all done thisOrteca as Makoto

But forgetting about Revice for a second, seeing Rinna from Kamen Rider Drive appear here is wonderful. Revice and Drive have had a curiously close relationship ever since Genpachiro appeared in Kamen Rider Revice: The Mystery and it's great to see that continuing here, particularly with the relationship between those two characters. With Rinna believing Gen is having an affair it's fair to say that most of her involvement here is played for laughs, but as a character who's similarly eccentric to George the pair have a good dynamic beyond George just fanboying over working with another Rider support character. Naturally with Rinna involved the Drive tributes are aplenty, ranging from minor callbacks to appearances from both Mach and Chaser's weapons during fight scenes. Drive might not be widely considered a "fan favourite" or anything like that, but it has a cast of characters that can easily slot into other shows and not feel out of place. The cameos in Revice have proven this a few times, so I wouldn't be averse to them ever showing up again elsewhere too.

Given the title of this though, it's amazing how that wasn't considered enough to drive the story of a two-part miniseries. While the rivalry between the two characters is central to the story, it's also dominated (particularly in the second part) by a second villain with links to both George and Masumi Karizaki. Working that in alongside the whole idea of George's "Humanity as Kamen Riders" project isn't inherently a bad thing, but of course it means the story is really pushed for time on making everything flow well. The general public's backlash to George creating more Kamen Riders works really well in a post-Revice world that nearly became overrun with demons partially because of it, but it's the kind of idea that would have been better fleshed out in either a movie or somewhere it could have been a main plot element. Here it's just some people taking some videos of Juuga and then a few shots of angry message boards. Basically everything the story has is solid, but in typical Revice fashion it just feels a little underdone.

Shou TakadaA Drive Reunion

However the biggest crime of this miniseries is calling it "Kamen Rider Juuga VS Kamen Rider Orteca" and then making the latter Rider barely a part of it at all. Orteca getting a hold of a Demons Driver and reforming the Deadmans is more than enough plot to fill a two-part special, but throwing in the Homo Gifftex elements really pushes the Rider part of Orteca's contributions to the sideline. It isn't until all of that is wrapped up with that we finally get to see Kamen Rider Orteca, their fight effectively making up the last five minutes of the whole affair. It's a shame because Kamen Rider Orteca is actually a pretty great suit. Naturally coming this late in the game it's a retool of existing parts (namely the Demons Trooper β and Kamen Rider Build's Octopus Halfbody), but the pieces go together well to make a convincing Kraken theme Rider - which is itself a fitting choice for Orteca and a badass choice of motif. The fight itself is a great climax (especially with the two throwing out Drive themed attacks as well as the usual Revice arsenal), but definitely leaves you wanting more.

That all said, if there's something out there that makes Kamen Rider Juuga VS Kamen Rider Orteca truly worth it it's the end theme "George Karizaki's Rider System", where we're treated to George rapping his way through each era's primary and secondary Riders (something which is sure to cause some debate amongst fans). Given the growing levels of Rider fanaticism George has shown (particularly in the spin-off Revice content), this has been a long time coming and thus the perfect way to cap him off as a character. The special's insert song "Itoshi no Frenemy" (sung by both George and Orteca) is also pretty good too, highlighting the relationship the characters share in a way that the content of the special itself could have probably done a better job reflecting on.

Chanelling ChaserOrteca at Mach speed

There comes a point where you need to stop expecting a lot from these post-series Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub specials and start accepting them for what they are - a bit of harmless fun and a chance to see some of your favourite characters one last time. With that in mind, Kamen Rider Juuga VS Kamen Rider Orteca is a fairly enjoyable romp that puts the laughs first. The lack of substance when it comes to story line isn't a huge knock against it, but it is a shame that it results in "Kamen Rider Orteca" being little more than a footnote when it's his name up there in the title alongside Juuga. Still, as far as the series as a whole goes it's certainly not the worst piece of Revice fiction out there, and the chance to see Rinna again makes it more than worth it's 45-minute run time.

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