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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Kamen Rider Gaim Series Review

Kamen Rider Gaim easily brought something new to the Kamen Rider franchise as fans were quick to give this series praise… Then when the series was done the fans changed their minds so quickly… Either way I can say that Gaim was a big breath of fresh air as Kamen Rider still keeps me interested in current Toku. My episode reviews for this series was an interesting little trip I had. I felt like I improved on noticing things for themes and writing. It reminds me of when I was reviewing Kyoryuger, but I ended up loving Gaim and not having a battle with it. Anyways, let us take a bite of fruit and get some soda to chug it down with, it’s time to change fate!
Kamen Rider Gaim is about the tale of Kouta as he is growing up and decides to leave his little dance group. During that time he tries to find a new job, but doesn’t get any luck. Meanwhile, his little dance group, Team Gaim is having some trouble staying on top because of the new hip thing the Inves Games. There is a team called Baron that is dominating the scene with a strong leader and with some little cheaters. The leader of Gaim, Yuuya finds a way to get back on top, but before he gets a chance to make his scene, he vanishes. A close friend of Yuuya and Kouta, Mai asks Kouta to help her to find Yuuya and there they find a rift. In the rift is a mystical forest with many unique fruits and while they found the item that Yuuya was holding to, there was no Yuuya. There was a monster though and it’s out for blood! Kouta takes the belt and finds out that the fruit he was holding onto became Lock Seeds, the item that the dance groups are using in the Inves Games. Kouta decides to take a chance to use the belt and the seed as he transforms into Armored Rider Gaim a name which is given to him later. During his first fight, Mai appears, but with a whole different look. There she asks him if he is ready for what is about to come, during the time Kouta doesn’t realize what is happening and just wants to protect Mai. Ever since that day, Kouta started to use his powers to help the dance team and put them back on top and then there are many developments in the background happening.
Now here is the thing about Kamen Rider Gaim, the plot changes and I will easily go through those changes as well until the very late changes. The thing with Gaim though even in this first part of the series there are many hints to what is going to happening. There was the odd looking Mai, the many character hints with how Micchy and Kaito were acting, and the whole idea of fate being intertwined. Now one many think they can see what is coming up, but personally I know many people who couldn’t see what was going to happen. Now this is not a bad thing because the series has its hints and there are many of them. I really felt dumb for not seeing them at times because when you know what happens, you see the hints everywhere in the early episodes! Then there are even hints in those episodes as the series goes through four major arcs. The first one would be the Inves Games, second would be Yggdrasil, third would be the Helheim arc, and finally we got the finale. I easily could give them different titles, but I am trying to keep things a secret.
So I am going to talk about the second arc of the series for those who are wondering this is the last plot description I will have because it’s the biggest change to the overall tone of the series. This is a warning for anyone, but there will be some major spoilers and again this is only the second arc of the series. So during the time the Beat Riders have been fighting each other with Inves and Armored Riders, there has been a company in the background gathering information. This is Yggdrasil the company that ended up saving the town as they are using kids to be test experiments. Yggdrasil kept things enclosed very well and thanks to Armored Riders as well things were kept under control. Even if things got hairy for this company, they have do have optional plans. The Beat Riders will take the fall for the Inves invasions because they have been using them for games and the people take the bait and blame them in the end. It also doesn’t help that Beat Riders have found ways to use their Inves for other purposes like theft! Yggdrasil even uses another rider, Bravo to take out Beat Riders. Kouta after learning what has been happening wants to put an end to Yggdrasil and Micchy a close friend wants the same. The bad news is that Micchy is the younger brother of the president of Yggdrasil, Takatora. Now many would think Yggdrasil is being evil, but they are doing this for a greater good. They want to know what the Lock Seeds can do along with the Drivers because the world is in danger. The forest which is called Helheim and it already destroyed on civilization and it’s out to invade Earth and takeover! This is when the split starts to happen as Kouta finds a greater resolve, Micchy a boy who has been helping Kouta starts to disagree with him when he finds out the truth, Kaito goes on his own, and Takatora doubts his own plans. To further the stress, Takatora and three other members of Yggdrasil are given improve Drivers as these were called the Genesis Riders. Kouta does find new strength though with the Jinba Arms and later getting Kachidoki Arms and he finds a new truth about the forest. A scientist named Ryouma has been investigating the Inves in the Helheim forest and there is a special type of them as these become more apparent in the series and starting off the third arc of the series. 
There are many characters in Gaim as I did mention some of them in the plot descriptions, but many of them are minor. I will just talk about the main four riders and could mention anyone who is connected to them. First there is Kouta the main character of the series. This is a kid who wants to grow up and find a new job and he finds a chance to change his life and many other lives in general. Kouta goes through a strong progression of understanding of what is truly fighting for oneself and how that is not a horrible thing. Kouta also learns that to make his dreams a reality he may have to force things and he may regret some of his decisions as he continues to move on. Kaito, the rival character and my favorite Kamen Rider since Accel is simply an amazing character. His development is the most interesting since he doesn’t change as a character, except for some powers. The series does give him a back story and those events made him the person he is now. His ideal of power may seem wrong to many, but he is the same as Kouta in many ways. Both of these riders wants change to happen and who is to say which of them is right or wrong since the series doesn’t do things like that. Kaito wants people to become stronger and with the people he is with he can see that with Zack a fellow Armored Rider, Mai, and Yoko a Genesis Rider. Micchy is another big character as he is Kouta’s close friend and he is the most complex character of the main four. He is young, goes to a rich school, has a legacy to live up to, acts innocent around his friends, but acts sinister to anyone who wants to use him. The sad thing is that all of this makes the poor boy confused and he does things that can be unforgivable. People have different opinions about Micchy and just seem him as a villain, but again Gaim is not about that at all! Finally, there is Takatora the leader of many movements in Yggdrasil. Takatora lives in regret as he does want to save the world, but with his plans they do cause people to die. Takatora still does move forward though and Kouta learns that from him. Sadly many of his allies, Sid, Ryouma, Yoko, and even Micchy see things differently and act behind his back. Ryouma wants to advance his technology and become stronger that way while Sid just wants power and Yoko follows the ones who are truly strong. There are still many characters that I haven’t mentioned, but we will be here forever so I am moving on.
A major thing in this series is that it tears down the concept of good versus evil as there is good, but evil is not there. It’s even debatable what is good and what it means to be a hero in this show. Even people like Sid who just wants power isn’t evil, he’s just greedy. There are many people who do things for themselves and I wouldn’t call them evil. These would be people ran be desires and there are even other characters who do just kill and want to enslave humans, but again they are diabolical and yet I wouldn’t say evil. The characters I talk about are too dumb to even be considered evil and there is one who has many great plans and yet all she wants is a toy to play with. The leader of these guys is then not even a villain since he was a past hero in many ways who regrets what he did. Things even get more intense as the human characters get in heated battles with themselves as I will say this takes the concept of riders fighting each other that series like Ryuki and Faiz tried to do and actually makes it work for every scene. These are people fighting for what they believe in and at times it could be just desires. As I said before in my final episode review the series is about progressing in life and it’s a simple message as the shows goes to major extremes to show this. The story of the show is well written, the dialogue is smart, and all of that just excites you to see the confrontations and yet that build up is better than the actual fights.
Gaim wasn’t perfect as the show did suffer from the current rider sins, mostly the use of CGI. There are many moments where CGI will be used and it’s disgusting at times. There were some fights I do like from the series, but my goodness the CGI fights are all terrible. The series can use special effects well at times when it simply adds something to a slash or even some scenery use. The overall look of the Helheim Forest is beautiful, there is an actual set and the whole background is an effect. It easily felt like a whole different world which was the point. Still things like the bikes both in air and on ground can be ruined because of CGI and don’t get me started on Sukia Arms! Even some big fights that should be amazing ended up being bogged down by CGI like the final fight was disappointing in many points because I would rather see the small armies of Inves fight each other with the riders fighting each other. What ends up happening is that special effects are just thrown around everywhere as the final part of the fight was way more entertaining. What really saves the show was the overall story, but for an action show and having some fights being lackluster does affect the overall feeling.
The best fights would have to go to Jinba Arms
The show also has way too many characters and while some can get some cool moments, it’s very little compared to the major characters. I do like characters like Zack and Jonouchi, but their overall screen time is too little. Now this is good as well since the show can make good characters in little time, but then you do want more things for them at the same time. Also many characters ended up being for comedic use while I feel Jonouchi was the best example for comedy. Even though he has a huge progression of a fighter and he also becomes more comfortable with himself as he acts like Oren in future scenes. Now Oren was a different story as there was way too much put into him as his dialogue alone was funny and then the use of altering his voice or throwing effects around made it annoying. The overall comedy is most for Oren as well since he is a rider and gets more screen time than other characters. I do like Oren and yet his comedy can get annoying at points. There are other minor characters that do have some nice moments though like Badou the owner of a cafĂ©.
Overall, Kamen Rider Gaim easily focused more on the story than anything else and for how much I loved the story, the dialogue, and the characters there are problems still. Some episodes were movie tie-ins and the beginning arc can be hard to get through at first even though I do have more positive thoughts for them compared to my initial viewings of those episodes. There is a ton of content regarding story and character development as we got broken characters, tragic characters, foils, and greedy characters and yet none of them are evil. Gen Urobuchi did a great amount of this show and I do love how his story broke free from the Bandai curse of constant toys being presented because soon the overall product placements gets lowered. There are new things to see, but later on things like that are heavily story driven. I still do like Kamen Rider Wizard, but Gaim is easily the superior show and the same can be said to Fourze and definitely OOO! Gaim was very much its own thing and yet it also felt like it worked with concepts from past Hesiei series that failed. Kamen Rider Gaim gets an A-

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Kamen Rider Gaim Episode 47 Review: Final Stage (Major Spoiler Alert!!!)

Kamen Rider Gaim ends on an interesting note. While episode forty-six easily could have been the ending for the series and left on a bitter sweet note. That was not Gaim’s purpose though as this final episode is here to resolve anything left undone. So with that said, a new rider appears and he or she is not a friendly one and without any riders left it seems this new villain cannot be outdone. Could someone soon stand up and be the next hero for the city?

I am getting this right out of the way, I haven’t seen the movie. I don’t have much interest in it since rider movies were having a bad streak lately. The last good rider movie I saw was probably the Fourze and OOO movie and that only passes because of the Fourze segments being enjoyable. So I don’t really know who Kougane is. I can just tell he is a man who was after the Golden Fruit as well and I bet he thought he had that since his previous Lock Seed was literally the Golden Fruit. High chance though his Lock Seed only made him look gold on the surface. He is back from the grave though and knowing that the movie was a different dimension than the actual series does make having Kougane being here confusing. Maybe the movie dimension got destroyed or something and now Kougane just came back to the dimension the series takes place. All of that doesn’t really matter though since the big focus here is that there is a new villain and Kamen Rider Jam easily takes the look of a villain.

First of all this rider’s name is Jam that is silly and awesome at the same time. It’s still because it’s jam you know like jelly and who would take that seriously? Well with how this rider looks would make you think differently. Sure this design just takes from other riders, more importantly the gold rider from the film, but along with that would be some of Gaim’s designs. At least the helmet is different and I do personally like that helmet. The black easily forms a flame around his visor which makes me think of hell fire and that is helped with how the pinkish coloring makes flames. Pink was an odd color to choose when thinking about it, but it fits with the tone of black that was used. I think red would have just been an easy choice while pink is a shade of red. Overall though this design makes good use of the color pink which is something I don’t say often about Kamen Riders. The pink is also used for a villain rider none the less which again sounds very uncommon for a villain design.

Now I have been using the term villain and evil more mostly because this character is. Now, one would think I am being a hypocrite because I spent many episode reviews talking about how there was no good or evil. The thing with Kougane is that he was not a part of this world originally and just came from a different one. Also the events of the series are done as Kouta got the Golden Fruit which was the major focus of the show. The use of Kougane was to give spark to those who needed to step up which here was Micchy. Micchy for about seven months still hasn’t forgiven himself and now he decides to step up and fight. Kouta was the previous hero and now others need to stand up and take that spot when things become hazy. Again the series has shown before that heroes are not always good and that a villain is not always evil, there are many sides and different points of view to take into question. Here though it is the usual good versus evil, but it doesn’t break the mold that the series had before.

In the end though this episode may use good versus evil, but that was not the focus at all like I mentioned already. Even before Kougane shows up, Takatora talks about how he needs to atone for his sins. To do this he decides to help the city he could have destroyed without the help of Yggdrasil. Takatora makes that clear by making sure that most of the company was destroyed which goes for Drivers and Lock Seeds. Jonouchi even decides he has to atone for his sins since he blames himself for Hase’s death which I will get to later. Micchy was then the biggest character who had to atone since he caused a lot of mischief in a short amount of time. This was the large focus for this episode, some characters have stopped moving and now they start moving forward once more. Micchy needed this the most and now he can finally fight for what he believes which is something many characters wanted people to do in general.

So back to the character Jonouchi, I talked about a character named Zack who got bigger near the finale. I even talked about how much I loved that since the series gave big moments for a minor character. It’s an easy way to make minor characters more likable and important to the series. For Jonouchi, we did see his progression in this series. It’s funny to see the cowardly one now standing up for everyone. Then I do love how he started to become flamboyant as Oren as the whole “Never Give Up” gag was used very well when Jonouchi shows himself to become a competent cook. The boy even decides to take on Jam by himself with only a Kurokage Driver. Even while transforming he had thoughts of Hase and Jonouchi did learn of his fate from Takatora. Now I know that the Kurokages were weak, but at least give something to Jonouchi at the least. Jonouchi doesn’t even get to kill the Inves which I thought was going to happen. Oh well at the very least Jonouchi improved his courage and was able to take the stage for himself.

Even poor Micchy didn’t stand up to these two foes which again gave this bitter aftertaste. I know Micchy wasn’t the best fighter of the series, but there was a point he did stand his own against Baron using a Genesis Driver. Now Micchy did have some cool moments in his solo fight like how he quickly gets his gun and gets both Jam and the Inves off guard. Micchy almost had Jam, but he pulls his trump card by telling Micchy that he was using a human body to be a host. Micchy couldn’t bring himself to hurt another human being which easily shows that the boy has changed. Later on though, Kouta does return to the stage because he has to take down Kougane. So this does confirm that this Kouta knows who Kougane is, but I bet that is due to the Golden Fruit giving him the powers of an observer or maybe there is something in the movie that directly connects to the series. We then get a fight with the two friends being allies again and taking down Kougane. It was a satisfying fight as I did love seeing Ryugen using Gaim’s sword and their teamwork was strong. Things felt better with the use of the theme song playing in the background. The finisher was also a good old fashioned rider kick which is always something to be happy about!

The series then ends with many nice touches to make things feel grander. First there was Kouta telling Micchy that he can always start over and now Micchy agrees with Kouta. Micchy is also back to being the nice guy he was before, but no matter he and Kouta were friends already and they always will be. We then get to see everyone coming to Micchy with smiles as even Takatora was smiling. This was just a great way to give resolution and redemption to Micchy. I know many fans wanted him dead just because they said he was evil, but again that is not true. The series itself even mentions that Micchy is a victim multiple times and he doesn’t deserve harsh treatments that other characters got. The series even decides to show a flashback were Kouta talks to Micchy about how he fights because he just has to. This just again proves the fact that the series was not about good fighting evil, Kouta fought because he had to. It was the only way Kouta could move forward and in the same fight for many people so that they could move forward as well.

The credit scene then got me all broken up then because we see that Kouta truly kept his promises and did the impossible. We see three kids looking at the great shrine which was around before Yggdrasil came and used it for their purposes. There we see Kaito’s spirit watching over the place as Mai comes to him and talks about how the people have regained their strength. Mai tells Kaito that the power of humanity is the power to restart and correct ones mistakes. It is true that things could go bitter again, but humans have the power to make things better after the conflict. Kouta easily shows Kaito that since Kouta saved the Earth from being changed. This even gets Kaito to smile to Mai and telling her that she is strong as he passes away. Kaito who had nothing other than despair in his life just found happiness once more and can fully rest now. This was simply one of the strongest endings I have seen for a character and again it’s a strong bitter and sweet note. Kaito is no longer with this world, but he is happy once more as Kouta did get to show him what true power is. We then see Kaito and Mai return to their world as it becomes something new, yes Kouta literally made a new world become fruitful. So not only did Kouta save one world, he started life in another.

Kamen Rider Gaim ending on a strong note as on paper this ending could have sounded like a mess with the use of a movie character. Shockingly enough it was a great episode and one of the better endings for the franchise in recent years. Things are still set into stone, but there are still people who can change their lives and keep moving on. This was what the series was about, the ability of moving forward and never giving up. The future may look bleak, but there are people who will bring the light to it. This is easily a great way to start the New Year as the finale of Gaim gets an A.
Next Time: It's time to Drive the Kamen Rider!