Wednesday 7 June 2023

Special REVIEW: Geats Extra: Kamen Rider PunkJack

Geats Extra: Kamen Rider PunkJack

Kamen Rider Geats is a series with a lot different Riders (and given there's still a few months of it left, potentially more to come), so when it comes to the various spin-offs Kamen Rider fans are treated to it makes sense to get a head start on covering the essentials. The first of the Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub's Geats-centric specials is Geats Extra: Kamen Rider PunkJack, which aims to fill in some additional information about the Desire Grand Prix as well as add some additional context behind the Rider's return in episode 35. The special consists of one 27-minute episode, and was announced alongside the forthcoming Geats Extra: Kamen Rider Tycoon meets Kamen Rider Shinobi.

Niramu meets with WinWeather Hearts

Waking up in hospital following his self-destruction and apparent death, Win Hareruya is given the opportunity to regain his memories of the Desire Grand Prix by its producer Niramu. Touching the PunkJack ID core, Hareuya reflects on his past and how he came to be involved in the Desire Grand Prix.

Falling on tough times after the dissolution of his band Weather Hearts, Hareruya is given a job working as operational staff for the DGP by his grandfather - who was in turn a sponsor of the games. After watching his friend and former bandmate become involved, he starts to become disillusioned with what the games stand for. But following an uprising of power-hungry staff, Hareruya is chosen by Girori to take his own ID core - becoming Kamen Rider PunkJack as the DGP sets its sights on Ace Ukiyo.

Win HareruyaKamen Rider PunkJack

In a series with more cannon fodder Riders than ever before, Kamen Rider PunkJack's popularity felt like something of a surprise hit. Not only did he do well enough to return later in the series, but also get this very special. But while the boisterous yet devious nature of the character certainly made an impression, it's fair to say that his appearance in the Geats main series is fairly light on backstory. Even his return in episode 35 isn't really met with much detail. Things make perfect sense without it, but a special like this is a nice opportunity to fill in those blanks. What's more important though is Win Harerurya's direct backstory - how he came to be part of the DGP and eventually become Kamen Rider PunkJack. The special is told as a flashback, with Hareruya reflecting on the story as he regains his memories and commenting on certain events. It's a good framing device for someone who is quite literally remembering these things as the viewer watches, effortlessly sliding between events that happened prior to Kamen Rider Geats, during past episodes of the series and bringing them up to speed for PunkJack's return. Previously PunkJack was a character whose popularity was primarily based on a strong personality, but this adds an element of tragedy to him as well as an anti-authority attitude and punk rock spirit fitting to the Rider's name.

Hareruya's backstory is supplemented by some great supporting characters, namely his band Weather Hearts. Geats regulars like Niramu, Girori and Tsumuri are along for the ride as well, but it's definitely his bandmate Hiroki that we get the emotional crux of the story. Even with a girlfriend and baby on the way, Hiroki is the one member of Weather Hearts that wanted to keep on going, never letting his love for music die. It's this desire that leads him to the DGP, and in turn how Harerurya comes to learn about what happens to the wishes of those that aren't crowned the Desire God. It gives a little more insight into all the un-granted wishes as well as the Desire Goddess herself, fuelling PunkJack's emotions and directing him on the path he takes. For characters solely relegated to a 27-minute special with a lot else going on they're particularly well done, and Weather Hearts also gives Hareruya's actor Tsubasa Sakiyama the chance to show off his prowess as an accomplished singer and musician.

Hiroki AmamiyaGirori

But even if you aren't particularly a fan of PunkJack or the original characters presented in the special, what makes this episode of Geats Extra engaging is how it weaves in some behind the scenes information on how the Desire Grand Prix is actually managed. While in the series we see and hear plenty about the sponsors and higher ups of the show, this instead is all about the ground-level workers - the ones who clean up all the mess and ensure things run as smoothly as possible. Through seeing Hareruya take on it job, it's a chance to reframe and re-contextualise some of the flashbacks we've previously seen in the series itself (such as the death of Michinaga's friend Toru). It's also a chance to see some of the finer details, such as what exactly happens when a player's memory is erased, what happens if a player goes AWOL and how cleanup crews are despatched should anyone die in a Jamato attack. These are all things that can be gleamed from the main series anyway so don't need to necessarily be shown there, but in a spin-off like this it adds an extra layer to Geats that enhances the overall experience without becoming essential viewing.

Finally, one of the great things about Kamen Rider Geats is that thanks to the way the Entry Raise Forms work not a whole lot of effort is really needed to come up with new Riders - so Kamen Rider PunkJack is able to throw a few interesting ideas into the mix without having to do anything drastic or just have it come off looking like a poor kit bash. First up is Kamen Rider Butchi, Hiroki's dalmatian-themed Rider form whose helmet is simply a repaint of Kamen Rider Groovy (in turn a retool of Kamen Rider Lopo). With Groovy pretty much being blink-and-you'll-miss-it cannon fodder in Buffa's rampage, it's nice to get a better look at this helmet with a sharp new paint scheme. Secondly there's the DGP staff's "Guard Rider" forms, which simply repaint Kamen Rider Glare's mind-control helmets into a more uniform black to fit with the rest of the suit. It's basic, but works really well for a generic staff uniform. Ultimately the special doesn't really need either of these though, because seeing PunkJack in action with the Beat Buckle is satisfying enough. Though the Buckle will naturally always be associated with Na-Go first it just works so well with PunkJack that it feels brand new again. A nice bit of synergy from Bandai and Toei going on here too, with PunkJack's S.H. Figuarts release (which includes parts for both Monster and Beat forms) having just gone on preorder and looking all the more tempting.

Kamen Rider ButchiGuard Riders

With Toei Tokusatsu Fanclub specials tone, intent and quality can often vary wildly, but Geats Extra: Kamen Rider PunkJack might have just cracked the perfect formula. This is a special that focuses on a fan-favourite character, providing additional backstory and context to both them and the wider story of Kamen Rider Geats while also not throwing in anything that really should have been mentioned in the series proper. At just one episode long, it's also succinct in its storytelling and doesn't outstay its welcome. It manages to tick every box at what a TTFC special should achieve so well that even those that weren't particularly fans of PunkJack will be won over by Win Hareruya's punk rock spirit. If Toei have specials planned for the other Geats Riders of this quality, then things are looking good for us fans.

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