Tuesday 16 April 2024

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider Geats: Jyamato Awaking

Kamen Rider Geats: Jyamato Awaking

If there's one important thing for a modern Kamen Rider fan to learn, it's that a series ending is never "the end". As finite as an ending may seem, between subsequent Winter crossover movie, V-Cinext releases and any other spin-off Toei might want to throw out in the not-too-distant future you can guarantee that all your favourite Riders will be back a good few times long after the final episode has aired. Kamen Rider Geats is no exception to this of course, with the stars of the Desire Grand Prix back once more for their first V-Cinext/epilogue outing in Kamen Rider Geats: Jyamato Awaking. Keeping things in-line with the show's continuity series head writer Yuya Takahashi returns once more to provide the story, with the film directed by tokusatsu veteran Koichi Sakamoto.

The God JyamatoThe Queen Jyamato

When the future faces certain destruction from the God Jyamato, a version of Ace Ukiyo travels back to the past to prevent its creation. He arrives in a period some time after he originally ascended as a god, with Keiwa, Neon, Michinaga and the other DGP contestants having continued on with their lives. One mutant Jyamato has gone on to find love and potentially create unity with humanity, but when tragedy strikes she becomes the future Ace appears to cast judgement. Can Buffa, Tycoon, Na-Go and a present day Geats stand up against the strength of Kamen Rider Dooms Geats?

Meanwhile, Beroba has also returned from the future - revealing the origins of the Jyamato and the secrets behind humanity's future. As she continues to target Michinaga and attempts to awaken the dormant Jyamato power inside of him, can he continue to protect the world Ace left behind for them?

Kamen Rider Dooms GeatsMichinaga and Beroba

A small rant to begin with, in that what's the point in Kamen Rider shows having endings with repercussions when they're only going to reversed straight away in epilogue material? As a series Kamen Rider Geats ended with Ace Ukiyo ascending to godhood, creating a world where everyone can be happy at the cost the world will forget about him. The cast from the present day move on with their lives, and (most of) the characters from the future return to their time. By the time of Jyamato Awaking, the present day cast are still carrying their Desire Drivers around like nothing's changed and Ace is back again to travel the Earth. The main characters being exempt from forgetting Ace isn't that shocking, but how easy Geats shifted back into a status quo is a little disheartening. Granted both 4 Aces and the Black Fox and the Geats Final stage show also take place between the finale and Jyamato Awaking (with the stage show not only being canon but also explaining Ace's return - albeit in a very hand-waving way), but even between the three of them the resolving of the show's finale feels unearned.

The other thing Jyamato Awaking does that on reflection isn't the best practice for an epilogue movie is the amount of backstory injected into it. As the developers of the Desire Grand Prix the people of the future were a huge part of Geats' story, but their origins remained fairly vague. Jyamato Awaking finally sheds light on all this - together with the creation of the Jyamato and how easily they're all able to seemingly come back from the dead. The fact it still manages to feel like something of a footnote is a testament to Geats being so good that it didn't need to explain everything upfront, but it's still surprising that such a thing was held back to so late in the game.

The Future AceNa-Go, Buffa and Tycoon

That said it's all that lore dumping that proves to be one of the more notable elements to Jyamato Awaking's story-wise, because the main plot is pretty familiar Kamen Rider territory. Here Takahashi takes another stab at the show's monsters/villains living in harmony with humanity, a theme that has been prevalent throughout all his works for the franchise. Though it is nice to see the Jyamato become the focus again after quickly falling by the wayside in the main show, the lack of development they had there means the film is effectively starting afresh. Hazuki and Haruki's story isn't a bad one, but its rushed through quickly in an hour whilst Aoto (another mutant Jyamato that Daichi has raised to start a new generation) is a fairly one-note villain. There are a few nice surprises along the way and at the very least the story tries to keep you guessing the identity of the God Jyamato, but it's fairly predictable stuff.

Jyamato Awaking does however have another antagonist of sorts in the form of the future Ace, who over millennia has become far more pessimistic and judgmental of mankind. It's an interesting take on the character for sure, even if a little unbelievable that he would go down that path based on everything we saw from him in the movie. Despite all the use of time travel and people from the future in the series, causality is something Geats has little to no interest in so it definitely feels more like a straightforward 'alternate' version of him in that sense. It's also rather fitting that the Ace Ukiyo's greatest opponent is another Ace Ukiyo. One might think that two Aces would completely dominate the film but Future Ace's presence and involvement very much feels like the B-side to the story, and even 'our' Ace seems to take a backseat for the most part so that the other cast members can take the lead.

Kamen Rider Buffa Plosion RageHazuki and Haruki

Whereas most Kamen Rider V-Cinemas tend to focus on one or two characters other than the titular Rider, despite having such a large cast Geats is one of the rare examples where it doesn't put another Rider in the title. While on the one hand it kind of works because Geats' strengths actually came from it being an ensemble piece, on the other this decision feels in name only because really the film belongs to Michinaga. Having arguably had the most growth over the course of the main series, Michi is in a very different place here and the return of Beroba is perfect for showing just how much he's changed. Beroba's return may be another example of consequences not really meaning much in the grand scheme of things, but her chaotic attitude and overall dynamic with Michi is so good that it's always worth revisiting. Though all the Riders here are fighting for the same thing, Michi's previous involvement with the Jyamato brings him much closer to the conflict than the others - hence why he leads the way in a lot of the film's strongest moments.

Michiniga might be the MVP of the film but that certainly isn't a slight against Keiwa or Neon, both of whom might not have the same emotional involvement in the story but are actively involved throughout. Though the size of Geats' cast could get a little out of hand at times to its credit the show was great at keeping the focus tight, and it does so here again by keeping things fairly tight-knit. Despite the revelations from the future Jyamato Awaking thankfully keeps that side of the cast at arm's length. With many of them among the show's least interesting characters their absence isn't especially missed, though the film's lack of any sort of DGP variant also results in an extremely limited role for Tsumuri. As perhaps the only character in the show who had any sort of main character status without becoming a Rider, it's a massive shame that they couldn't find more to do without outside of those confines. Along with Beroba Niramu, Sara and Daichi both make appearances, but none of them transform. Niramu and Daichi are both largely appear to provide exposition (Niramu for the future stuff and Daichi as the bridge between human and Jyamato), but Daichi in particular is another character that seems to have benefitted well from a shift in character thanks to Geats' endgame.

AotoNeon, Michi and Keiwa

Of course there's also the more cynical argument that one of the chief reasons V-Cinema films exist is for Bandai to squeeze out a few more Premium Bandai exclusive gimmick toys whilst there's still demand, to which Jyamato Awaking is more than happy to oblige on. That said despite Geats being a series where they could very easily go overboard, the new additions to the show's arsenal make perfect sense. Black and gold has proven to be a winning colour combination across a multitude of franchises, so it goes without saying that the Dooms Geats suit looks superb. A simple palette swap makes a whole lot of difference to what was also a fantastic suit - clashing with the white of the standard Geats IX beautifully and just making sense for a more ruthless version of Ace. Far more significant however is the debut of Plosion Rage - righting the wrong of Kamen Rider Buffa not getting a proper final form in the main series. The form is appropriately over the top, with flourishes like chainsaw fingers on a giant hand exactly the kind of stupidly awesome thing that makes the franchise so fun. Though the way Michinaga obtains it feels properly earned and makes sense within the story, you also have to admire how Geats was written in such a way that the characters can just conjure up a new power-up out of thin air and it totally works.

With Sakamoto behind the director's chair the film is also at the very least guaranteed some fantastic action sequences, which it particularly delivers in both the Geats IX and Plosion Rage sequences. Much like it was in the later episodes of the series it's wonderful to see Tycoon, Buffa and Na-Go all fighting side by side again - their team-ups in this feeling very reminiscent of Geats finale. The decision to showcase the main four Riders only (despite featuring other characters that participated in the DGP) was also a wise one as it not only focuses the action but also helps it feel more like an epilogue piece. As the DGP itself doesn't really play a part in this, neither would any of the other Riders. There are also some interesting visual quirks to the film that extend beyond just the action sequences, such as the infamous Kamen Rider Amazons filter on certain scenes to give it a broodier atmosphere. Though it does fit with some elements of the story, the overall result works to mixed effect.

Geats IX vs Dooms GeatsPlosion Rage attacks

Even with the surprising amount of backstory loaded into the film, the biggest problem with Kamen Rider Geats: Jyamato Awaking is that it still feels like a story that doesn't need to be told. With Geats having wrapped itself up so nicely within the series itself anything set afterwards just feels tacked-on, and even with some fantastic Michinaga moments (this film really does belong to Kamen Rider Buffa) there's a constant sense that this film is going through the motions. The Jyamato storyline had potential, but without the proper time to develop it instead just comes across as another spin on human/monster co-existence that's previously been done better elsewhere. While it's always great to see the Geats cast, Jyamato Awaking is hardly the shining star the series was.

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