Welp, it’s time for me to be sour. To start, Wonder World is horribly underused. It’s either barely explained, terribly explained, or never explained at all. It looks like this large, expansive world yet it’s only ever “explored” when sections of the real world are taken to it. I think. The only indication are damn bubbles. The only time the riders are in there fully is, and I’m not kidding, during the opening and ending credits. Don’t bother asking if there are civilizations, ancient ruins, or whatever the hell that giant sword is they love showing off. Or do in the next chapter. They didn’t think this through.
Avalon seems to be related to Wonder World, but it’s in some alternate dimension separate from it. This begs the question if this world holds other dimensions as well. Another question is the bubbles that appear when Wonder World takes over an area. It seemed to be a part of the world, but then the show had Rintaro explore why they exist? So now I don’t know what the show is trying to establish. Just from the CGI shots of it, the concept was too ambitious for a tokusatsu show with a low budget. It also sucks because the whole “Wonder World coming to Earth” stops with the next arc, so f it I guess.
Then, we have the powers of the riders. At the start of the series, the Wonder Ride Books and the knights had specific rules. Saber, Blades, and Espada all have one book of each category. A God Beast, an Animal, and a Story Book. Buster was starting to follow this rule, with one God beast (Genbu Shinwa) and one Story (Jakun). This was one of the things the show managed to explain through showing rather than telling, and it was going very well. But then Kenzan and Slash throw out that rule by having 2 story books with no address to it at all. And, spoilers, every knight later on gets one only because reasons. The show does state that Wonder Ride Books were lost, so, at first, I understood that as the knights losing their Wonder Combos forever. But then the Avalon arc showed they had 7 out-of-nowhere books that aren’t tied to any sword, and it still doesn’t explain how Kenzan and Slash are exceptions, so f it I guess.
If that wasn’t bad enough, upon rewatching, it seems as though Wonder Combos are not cut and clear. Let me explain. When Ryo gives Touma Storm Eagle, Saber’s official book, he’s not like, “here’s your book. It should help you unlock Rekka’s power.” Instead, the way he says it is like, “here’s this book I found.” When Touma gets Saiyuu Journey, Rintaro’s not like, “hey, he had your final book? Now you can achieve your Wonder Combo.” NO, his line was essentially like, “It’s a red book. Now you can do the thing.” This issue lies more with the dialogue, which I’ll elaborate my points more in that section, but I’ll still explain my issues. The way characters say their lines seemingly imply, especially with how the books are talked in general, that none of the auxiliary Wonder Rider books are actually tied to the sword of the same color.
The way it’s said seems to mean that any red or blue book achieves the Wonder Combo. With all those missing books they like to talk about, it’s hard to say if there are or arent’ any other red or blue book. There’s never an established number. The dialogue also implies that the books. that are supposed to be used by their respective wielder, were in the hands of someone else before until they died. But then Calibur had Saiyuu Journey, as a way to foreshadow his real identity, meaning that he had his respective red book, and Rintaro’s master used all of his blue books in the past. Just f it, right?
We then have their swords. I already mentioned the clashing aesthetics of the Seiken Swordrivers. but the show also fumbles with the sword’s power set and rules. This point will come back when the remaining 5 swords appear, so this retains to the 6 we have now. Let’s get what I feel is just me being too perfectionist aside. It’s said repeatedly that people are “chosen” by the sword, but it doesn’t give a criterion on how they’re chosen. I ask this because Daichi just throws away Rekka and magically becomes Calibur. Like, did the sword immediately forget about him because he chose a cooler looking sword, or did Kurayami choose him based on his goal? Rintaro, after his fight with Kento, tells him to return his sword if he won’t act like a swordsman. Wouldn’t the sword just refuse to let anyone transform into Espada until Kento dies, or does the guild have some kind of magic to forcefully remove a user from their sword? This more a minor issue, and no one might really give a crap, but with everything else combined it becomes harder and harder to not notice.
So, what do I mean by confusing powersets? You’d think the swords, based on the elements, would use those elements. The Swordriver ones manipulate the elements directly while Suzune gives the wielder super hearing to detect any enemy. But then you have Gekido and Hayate, which are barely shown to ever manipulate their element outside their transformation. Gekido just seems to have the powers of “be big as f@ck” and be heavy, even if the show barely tries to be consistent with that. Hayate seems to only have ninja techniques, even if Ren just goes for flashy athletic moves than actual strategy. Finally, we have Kurayami with its insanely vast move set. This sword does so many things in this arc and does even more in later arcs. It’s darkness ability seems to overpower the other swords, it can absorb attacks to redirect them, it can absorb people rather than kill them, it seemingly revives its user from dark miasma, and (spoiler alert since it’s relevant) this thing predicts the future. I get that it’s one of the original Seikens, and the one’s our heroes wield are manmade, but how come it has such a large move pool while the others consist of “shoot fire” and “get big dick energy?” But this may get better later on or it gets worse. We, mostly I, will see. Until then, it’s gosh darn weird.
To combine all of my points on the powers, I can’t get a grasp of the powers in this show because the show just doesn’t understand its own rules. The show says and shows rules, but then it’s like it questions itself to the point where I’m left confused, and it made watching the show unbearable. It is one big f it after another. The rider powers I’ve seen before were very simple to the point where they explain themselves on first glance. Saber tried to expand and add depth to the powers, but the end result becomes this muddled mess that got harder and harder to take seriously.
The guild and the Megid have plot holes as well. To get the obvious out of the way, the Southern Base should have been teased on day one because its reveal in episode 8 comes out of nowhere. Why weren’t they checking up on the Northern base more? Why aren’t they helping more? With how bad things are getting in Japan, wouldn’t they want to send more help instead of giving Espada one freakin book…that was already supposedly his? Are there Megid all over the world that is taking up much of the Southern base’s time (for those who have watched it, we will get to that)? That’s another thing, are the Megid fighting all over the place? Tokusatsu shows do focus heavily on Japan as if it’s the world itself, but this begs so many questions. Are the Megid General’s hitting every spot in the globe, or just Japan? Could they even attempt that with just 3 generals? IS that why Buster and Kenzan are sometimes gone in some episodes, because they travel around the world to defeat the Megid? This may be overthinking but, with a plot better on paper than in reality, it’s another reason why this show feels so cramped. I wish we had focus episodes on Buster and Kenzan because A. they would have explained what they do when they’re gone and B. it would have been more interesting than Touma’s shitty memory plot (I’m getting to ahead of myself).
The members also seemingly know nothing about anything. Multiple times Daishinji states that Kurayami holds “many secrets.” How? The guild has seemingly had this sword for 2,000 years, before he who shall not be named yet gave it up, so how does no one know Kurayami’s exact power? This should be common knowledge to them, or at least they would have been told by the previous swordsmen. Then, they’re seemingly surprised by the fact that the Table of Contents hold the beginning and the end of the world. Why? They are the protectors of the Almighty Book that created the world yet are surprised that said Almighty Book had the beginning and end of the world? How much are these people told about anything? Are they kept secrets in the dark on purpose so they can focus on protecting the world? If anything, Touma and Rintaro should be surprised by this, not Ryo or Daishinji.
I get that Kamen Rider isn’t the masterclass of rules, hell I’ll usually not care about it to this extent. But I go to this extent with Saber because the show barely tries to elaborate on anything. Again, it all feels like one f it after another. And this is because of the next atrocity.
This was the pain that I had to endure in this show. I never quite care about dialogue in movies or TV before this show. The dialogue is atrocious. Some of the cheesiest, un-emotional, laziest writing ever. So much of it is exposition after exposition. From Touma beating you over the head with his promises, to ep 3’s stupid moral about loving books, to dozens of speeches about what Wonder Ride Books are. You might be thinking, in Jobby’s voice, “But Samuel! You just complained about the worldbuilding. With all these expositions, wouldn’t that have answered your questions?” Yes, it would. You would think. But, not only does the show have bad exposition, but it has also repeated exposition. This show will beat you over the head with the same information over and over again. I now know that Wonder Ride Books come from the Almighty Book and how the character vow to save the world because they love saying that every damn episode.
The worst one for me was ep 6, when Daishinji reexplained what Wonder Rider books are to Touma, who for some reason just has to know for some reason. He just doesn’t retain information. All kinds of scenes, from seeing what Ryo and Ren are up to, to actual elaborations on the show’s rules, were sacrificed for clunky writing about the same books with the same information. It acts like it’s being intellectual and complex when it really isn’t. It’s incredibly lazy.
And it all culminates into Sophia. You might also be asking, “why is Sophia not being talked about in the cons version of the character part. You write blogs like a bad chef from Hell’s Kitchen!” That’s because the show doesn’t treat her like an actual character. I’m so sorry for the actress, but her character is worthless. She embodies everything wrong with the exposition because she’s exposition the statue. Her first episode wasn’t bad since it was supposed to be the exposition episode, but the rest drones on. She’s the reason the reveal of Calibur being Kento’s dad was sloppy. She loves going on and on in times that don’t make sense. When she goes to tell Kento to help Rintaro fight Zoous, she could have said, “Espada (she only calls the characters by their rider designation, by the way), Blades is currently fighting Zoous. I’m sending you to help.” Nope, she goes along the lines of “Espada, Blades is currently fighting Zoous. He’s the known to be the king of the beasts…okay now help him.” This is an episode after Desast calls Zoous that title, by the way. In the same episode, when Touma asks to read the guild’s books to understand Wonder Ride Books, she could have said, “Oh yeah sure. Take all the time you want. Asks Slash if you need anything.” No, she goes, “Of course. Books are the center of knowledge. By reading the books, we can obtain power and blab bla bla, ask Slash for anything.” I love how it zooms in on Touma just smiling and nodding as if he’s listening to most inspirational speech he’s ever heard. However, I like to imagine he’s thinking, “Yeah no f#cking sh!t! I know what books are. I’m a novelist. I had to read them for 4 years at college!” Lastly, when Touma asks where Ryo and Ren went, Sophia goes…ah, you get the point. She goes on and on about unnecessary information the character already knows. It’s worse because Rina says these lines in the most robotic way possible. Just the cherry on top.
I’m not kidding when I say, after Sophia gets kidnapped, the dialogue gets better. Instead of wasting our time with the same information, the characters actually get to progress through conversations. It made the final part of the chapter bearable because it stopped repeating shit. Hell, no one really cared to find her. After Ryo’s like, “Oh no, Sophia’s missing,” everyone just goes about there day. Yes, they had the fate of Japan on their shoulders and had to plan for that, but no one even tried to demand a search party for her. Hell, to spoil it for the next arc, no one actually saves her. It’s some random occurrence that happens.
Sophia, the dialogue, and the worldbuilding combined are the worst aspects of this show. I can’t take this show seriously if it can’t even respect its own rules, and I can’t respect this show when it tries to hide it under rambling. When it comes to writing, this show is the master class of being lazy and hypocritical.
Touma: The Second Coming of Kamen Rider Saber
Touma is, by far, the worst protagonist I’ve seen in the franchise. On paper, he should have been interesting. A novelist whose repressed the memory of the battle that left him scarred 15 years ago, who only remembers that he makes promises that has to keep. He then becomes the rider that saved him and is able to use the Wonder Ride Books effectively due to being knowledgeable in stories, even more than the seasoned riders. It sounds unique, but then execution comes through the door (be nice to him, he just went through a divorce. His wife Ideas couldn’t handle him criticizing her). His job as a novelist comes up sometimes, but it really feels like an afterthought that was only added because the theme was books. None of his goals relate to his novels, and his own novel is barely seen past a few shots with it in the background. We never learn about what kind of genres he writes, or if he was a literary writer. We do get glimpses of the books he read in the past, but it never goes any further besides two books. Nothing about who inspired him to keep writing or nothing about whether he got a degree. Again, minor stuff, but it makes his job status such a hollow part of him. A trait that you could remove, and it would change nothing. I will say, this would make me get annoyed at a certain…Ultra that came out lately. But that’s for another time.
His promises become one note since he speals on and on about how he’ll keep them. That’s half his dialogue. “I will keep my promise, I tots promise.” His interactions with characters are so forced because it’s just this. Only people who gets some semblances of actual conversations are Kento, cause he a homie, and Rintaro, cause he a weirdo. Rather than make him fleshed out or interesting, it’s just promises. You know how friendship speeches become boring because they come across as rehearsed? This is Touma’s friendship speech, which actually segways nicely into the next topic.
This story is about friendship but, unlike Fourze, it’s forced. Like a courting. Like mayonaise on pizza and yes I’ve seen that. Besides Rintaro and Kento, Touma’s friendships with the other characters come across as shallow because of the dialogue hammers it in instead of them actually having downtown together. By ep 15, the show treats their friendships like they’ve been together for 48 episodes. When they do try to show it with Touma, it’s one sided. All the characters give Touma their books as a sign of friendship, but he never gives Storm Eagle or Saiyuu Journey to them. This tacked on friendship does get subverted in the next chapter, but its role here drags the story down.
And now, for something different. Here’s Touma’s memory arc…his only arc and it sucks. Now, him not being a full amnesiac and just suppressing losing Luna is fine. It’s different compared to the full amnesiac’s the franchise has had 7 times before. But everything surrounding it and Touma’s own urgency towards finding the truth was handled atrociously. Despite being his primary goal, he never tries to discover his own past. Every opportunity, from asking who Calibur was to Kento’s behavior relating to it, he passes it up like it’s not a priority. Yes, a main character who treats his character arc as not a priority. For the first 8 episodes, all of the clues happen upon him, so he never discovers anything on his own. The Wonder Ride books, for no reason, show him pieces of his memories as if they’ve held it in. How? Who knows? And, even when some things were revealed or were going to be revealed, it was either the dialogue doing it’s Saber thing or the characters would just skip over it. It felt like nothing was progressing, like I was in limbo every episode. The worst part is everything about his past, besides who Calibur is, is essentially within the first memory from episode 1. Sure, Luna is a mystery, but the information Touma was trying to find out was so predictable that it could have been revealed in 4 episodes instead of 13.
Another issue with his past is that we barely learn anything else besides that battle. As selective memory, it would have worked if we had a basis of the stuff he does remember. His family, his own reasoning for why he became a novelist, the other friends he made, or other events related enough to be important. But, because it’s the disappearance of Luna is the only thing we see of his past, he might as well have been a complete amnesiac. This issue gets brought up when Touma saw the memory of him with the girl and a boy blurred out. Now, we know it’s Kento because he’s the only other friend of Touma’s we’ve met. Apparently, Touma thought it was someone else because he was surprised to find out Kento was that kid. Like, who else did he think it was? If he remembered Kento as a childhood friend in episode 3, yet didn’t put two and two together, than who was Kento to him for the past 8 episodes? Did he think Kento was some other childhood friend that he read stories with all the time? The lack of context behind Touma’s past made his discovery of Luna confusing because we have no basis for what he remembers and doesn’t remember. Again, with how little we learn of Touma, the story would have had so much more clarity if he was just a full-on amnesiac.
Finally, Touma is a gary stu. In the first episode, Touma miraculously uses Rekka and his powers with absolute ease. Later on, he miraculously uses the books others with somewhat ease. How? Who the hell knows, he just does. Now, I understand what people in the comments may say. “But that’s just Rider! Rider’s always know how to use their powers immediately!” My issue connects to the worldbuiling inconsistencies since they make it seem Touma is jesus and can just these abilities because f it.
For example, using previous main characters, a lot of Kamen Rider have powers using science fiction. They don’t need to go super in-depth cause its man-made. This is the case for Aruto as Zero One, who we’re shown to have learn from the belt because it’s linked to a satellite. When Emu from Ex-Aid is shown to know the powers, we know that the powers work by having knowledge of the game because someone designed it to. When Sento uses Build’s power, it was shown to have been designed heavily to use the powers of the Fullbottles correctly. By having it science based, it doesn’t need to go too in-depth for us to understand why the riders are able to use their powers.
But Saber’s powers come from a mystical source. Yes, the swords were made by humans, but they must have used the same mystical energy as the Wonder Ride Books. But it’s never explained how people interact with the books. Is the information sent to them? Do they need to be trained in order to use the books, or is it based on knowledge of the story? These questions never get answered. All we get is “Wonder Ride Books are full of power,” and that’s it. So when Touma just knows how to use his powers, it’s anti-climactic and it makes it so Touma is an exception to legitimate growth. It would have been cool if he struggled at first and learned these powers on the second fight like Kuuga, or his character gets re-written to have already been an experienced Saber just like with Kiva and Kabuto-oh wait, that was the original plan! Had there been an explanation or a scene actually training with his powers, I would believe it and become interested in his mage status.
As if him using his powers easily was bad enough, we get to his upgrade forms. This is gonna get repeated throughout this entire review series, but Toei went overboard with how many upgrades and powerful forms he gets. He first receives the 3 Combo Form Trinity in ep 3, using it 2 times. The next form was Dragon Arthur, which was actually worth it since Touma went through a trial to get. Then, 2 episodes later, he obtains his official combo, Crimson Dragon. I don’t care what anyone says, this is an upgrade form to me. It’s just as powerful as a standard upgrade, it’s his three books combined to create the effect of a European dragon, and he will use more often than Draconic Knight in the next arc. This form’s introduction was way too early considering he just master Arthur. If anything, Arthur should have been Touma’s final book just to polish the pacing. But Toei said f it and give him Draconic Knight 4 episodes later. Then they said f it again and have him use Espada’s main book. Okay, that one is more of a nitpick and has story relevance, but still. 4 powerful forms in the span of 13 episodes, more than any main rider before him. Along with the swords and books, this is why so many people see Saber as a cash grab season, and I why I see Touma as a Gary stu. Sure, main riders get powerful forms, it’s in nature of their arc, but not to this extent within the first 15 episodes. Dragon Arthur’s the only one I felt he earned. The rest have just been handed to him on a silver platter. Touma barely worked for anything, and he was rewarded because of that.
I wish Kento was the main protagonist because Touma is the worst, and he gets worse the more this show goes on. Barely any flaws, barely any other characteristics, and barely any incentive to care about him. He’s the worst this franchise has to offer.
Mei Sudo: The Comic Relief Character
Mei, played by Kasuka Kawazu, has her moments but is the show’s worst attempt at comedy. Mei was fine in the first 5 episodes, but her lack of comedy and over the top acting drags this show hard. I do like how she is a morality boost for the characters, and I do like her love story with Rintaro. But her loud and obnoxious humor clashes hard with the story’s overall tone. Nothing wrong with serious storytelling combined with humor. I mean I love Metal Arms and Mother because of that. Saber dips into that mud pool, with many of the jokes being a reference to the original fairytale so actually book readers can get a good laugh. One of the funnier bits was the subversion of Tinker Bell, who is a buff wrestler rather than the skinny pretty girl we know her for being. Yeah, they actually hired a pro wrestler to portray the fairy.
Mei’s comedy is like a bad Abbot and Castello bit. So much of it is her screeching like a crow or using her body for humor. The latter is okay sometimes, not gonna lie. Her high energy becomes annoying within a few episodes, and it starts taking more attention from the plot more than needed. She’s that comic relief character that everyone ends up rolling their eyes at the poor humor. I will give credit where credit is due, Asuka pulls it off very well. Listen, you’ll never hear me say a Kamen Rider show has bad acting. Now, granted, I think Japan has different standards for acting and I’m no expert at what good or bad acting is. Just like…everything about me. Oh my god. A-anyway, when I say an actor is doing a good job, I’m basing it on the standards I know. But her acting can only take this character so far. I’m not saying she needs this complex story arc since she’s supposed to be a static character who changes the characters around her, which that part does work, but the writing for her comedy is just awful and it starts becoming noise instead of funny.
Ryo Ogami: Kamen Rider Buster
Played by Yuki Ikushima, when the first trailers and information came out for the show, Buster was already a breath of fresh air. A veteran rider whose friend betrayed the group, so now he has to find out the truth while taking care of their son alongside his own. Yeah, finally, a rider from the main show who’s a father and isn’t a piece of sh!t. I won’t repeat my statements, but Ryo’s fatherly love for Kento gives us the best scenes in the show. His own moments with Sora are incredibly adorable. Unfortunately, his character was sacrificed for the oh so important character that is Touma. The show barely shows us moments of Ryo trying to find out about Calibur’s identity. All of it is off screen and ends up adding nothing to the story since it progresses nothing. In fact, Ryo doesn’t discover anything substantial; everyone else does a better job. Whenever Calibur is on screen, something always comes up so other characters can get their fill of dragon booty.
Especially from ep 6 to 8. By the time we learn about Daichi, Ryo’s told everything in an offscreen exposition scene. It’s incredibly mishandled, because God forbid he do anything substantial on-screen! The worst part is that scene is essentially the end of this arc. He says he’ll find out why Daichi took Hayato’s place, but he never goes through with. His relationship with Hayato even gets transferred over to Daichi as if the writer forgot realized he forgot to write out Ryo. It really sucks because Ryo could have been an amazing character. Had Saber cut down the roster, I think he would have been executed much better.
Now it’s time for the rest of the antagonists. Zoous is the 4th best one; so mediocre at best. I do like his rivalry with Rintaro, even if it was for 3 episodes, and his “get stuff done” arrogance contrasts well with Storious shady and calm personality. His suit design also appeals to me. That hellhound aesthetic with the blue and white makes me ascend, and the muscular veins all over his body is the cream of the crop. What was I talking about?
Yeah, that’s about it. This chapter never shows us any more than him just being impatient and releasing Megid. He becomes one note, making all his positives feel inconsequential. Not the worse, but far from the best.
Legeiel: The 5th Element Except Bad
Okay, admittedly, with all of these major characters in one part of the show, some are inevitably going to get less development than others. Even none at all. So. like with our heroes, the villains are a hierarchy of importance. Calibur and Storious (a little) got more focus than Desast and Zoous. Standard affair.But Legeiel…all I have to say is.
Who tf was this guy!?
I literally can’t say anything positive about him. He has no rivalry, he has no contrasts with the heroes, his motivations are as barren as Pokemon Sword and Shield content, and he has no personality (at least a consistent one). Some episodes he’s proud of his work, other times he looks disinterested, and sometimes he’s just mad for no reason. There’s no core trait; it’s like he becomes other characters out of nowhere. Unlike a certain psychopath we’ll get to later, he’s evil for evil in the most boring way. Every time Legeiel comes on screen, he’s more obstacle than character. He has the traits of a monster of the week, except we understand why they have to die 1-2 episodes later because there is nothing to work with. I like to redact my statement, his only parallel is Sophia because both are walking bricks who do and say nothing of importance.
The only reason Legeiel exists is because the Megid Generals represent the corrupt version of the Wonder Ride Book categories, and they needed one who represents the Phantom Beasts. That’s it. Getting rid of Legeiel changes nothing, and it would have been better if Desast was the Phantom Beast general instead.
And, now, the finale of the show’s barbarous bullsh!t: the toys. However, just in case you haven’t watched any toku, I’ll explain the context. Kamen Rider has always been a toy commercial, there is no ignoring that aspect, though things have gotten more hectic as of recent seasons. Older shows were simple about how much toys you got. A lot of older Heisei had self-contained drivers where everything was in one package. There would have different henshin belts with their own lights and sounds in one season, though in universe and toy wise there would be only a few riders (unless you’re Kabuto but I haven’t watched that one yet). The riders in Blade and Faiz had multiple henshin devices, but only limited it to 4 riders stretched out into 48 episodes. How and when these multiple riders came in depends on the series. Ryuki started the “gimmick” line where you put stuff in the driver to henshin or into the weapon to get different sounds. Take for example the several visors from Ryuki that used different cards, so the riders used the same belt with different card holders to transform. Gimmicks during this time varied as well in terms of how many there were. You had Ryuki, Blade, and Decade with a lot of gimmick items but they were just cards. Nothing too crazy. Then you have Kiva with the whistles, where riders only had a set number like 4 or 8. Take even Kabuto, who’s gimmick item, the Zectors, were the henshin devices themselves. While the shows were trying to sell toys, they didn’t take away from the story or worldbuilding in-universe. Sure when you saw them transform you would say, “oh look a new toy,” but when characters only have a minimal of 1 to 4 forms stretched within over 40 episodes, it’s barely noticeable compared to Heisei Phase Two. It also helps that transformation noises were simple as well, usually just wordless standby jingles and a random sound that plays just before the henshin is complete. Even with words, it’s short phrases like “Cast Off” or “Kamenride: Decade.” Short and to the point, to which phase 2 missed.
Heisei Phase 2 is when Bandai started making Kamen Rider comparable Transformers G1. Forms became the staple, and I argue a formula. It started out slowly with Decade to Wizard. However, in there OOOs really expanded upon the idea of henshins having a phrase such as the form title, like TaToBa, being sang like a song. OOO also pushed the limits of having several forms, with his number being…*reads the Fandom article* 133! That’s not even counting the extra medals, Jesus Christ! Gaim and onward was when the formula became law. Henshins now have a phrase, for example, “”Soiya! Orange Arms! Hanamichi on stage!” The main protagonist would get a slew of forms, ranging from 4 to 7 now instead of 1 to 4, through the hundreds of gimmick items. It no longer the one and done. Here’s an example:
Because of this increase in forms, many of the first few episodes of each season do everything to show off the base toys. Zero-One’s first 7 episodes each include one new form, and even a new rider, unlike Blade who got his first new form at episode 26. With seasons like Gaim and Ex-aid having more than 4 riders, you’ve got a lot of toys running around with henshin phrases that double as short songs. This shift turned Kamen Rider from a relatively simple commercial into a full blown marketing campaign. I mean, look over Youtube and you’ll find so many channels reviewing the slew of gimmicks that have come out each year. That’s not to say that every Heisei season is bad because of this. Such seasons like Drive and Build have been acclaimed for being the best in the franchise. Unfortunately, it gets harder to ignore this, and each passing season introduces more and more toys to be sold.
Before, upgrade forms were scattered in terms of whether they would appear. In the hierarchy, it goes like this
Super and ends with
This wasn’t always followed in old Heisei. Ryuki, Kabuto, and Decade skip from base to final. However, Gaim is when the franchise started going down a linear path. From then on, this was the hierarchy:
Base and alternate forms from ep 1-12
First Upgrade from ep 12 to around 20-24
Super from ep 20-24 to around 30
Final from 30 to the end (sometimes later like Grand Zi-O at ep 40).
We won’t worry about Super and Final until the next three chapters, but for now it’s important to understand. This formula added something that could make or break a season: how the toys are handled. Some seasons, like Drive in my opinion, got away with it by just having a good story with good characters. Ex-aid was completely fair in its execution of the first few forms since the first 5 riders we got, because the show is based off of video games, each got their own alternative form titled “Level 3.” Ex-aid is actually one of the only main protagonists to have one alternative form because of this, which makes the balancing good. When a show has multiple riders, the creators gave the vast majority of them the same blank belt, with the only change being a face plate and their own gimmick item. This helps prevent too many drivers with their own sounds and ways of transforming, keeping it as simple as Ryuki’s V-buckle. The henshin phrases are also short at the very least, not taking up too much screentime to allow for the rider to get into the action. This is why I don’t have too much of a problem with the toys of previous seasons because the creators did enough to not make it overly noticeable. Sure, now I have an issue with the vast amount of forms the main rider gets in the first few episodes, but those were minor nitpicks when I first watched them. Previous shows did their best to keep the toy commercial without detracting from what was happening in the story, in my opinion.
Saber didn’t even try. What we have here is the most blatant toy commercial of them all; a mixture of bad writing and bad toy execution. Every episode is packed full of form introductions. I do like how the books were spread around to the other riders, but the fact that we got 6 swords in the first 8 episodes meant we got 6 transformation toys with their own quirks and gimmicks. And, of course, what mentioned before with the world building. That’s a lot for that short amount of time. The toys wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t go on for centuries. Before this, when a rider activates the gimmick, it’s one word or phrase. The riders, here, activate their books and just stand there listening to it drone on instead of doing the actual henshin. Here’s a comparison of the last 6 season gimmick activations:
Gaim Orange Lockseed: “Orange” Boom done
Drive: The Shift Cars say nothing. The back is flipped up and thats it.
Ghost: Like the previous one. Click the button and, boom, done.
Ex-aid Mighty Action X: “Mighty Action X!”
Build’s Rabbit Tank Bottles: Have no sounds individually but do make the driver say their name when inserted.
Zi-O’s Ridewatch: “Zi-O.” Okay, I think you got the point that the one’s with noises just say their own name. Here’s Saber’s gimmick.
Saber’s Brave Dragon: “Brave Dragon.” Okay good now- “Katsute subete wo horobosu hodo no idaina chikara wo tenishita shinjuu ga ita…” Why? Wtf!
You know how people complain about shonen characters standing and doing nothing while their opponent gets a super form. Imagine that but the guy is just standing there in open listening to a book doing absolutely nothing for a whole minute! Previous seasons, the rider activates the gimmick, it says one thing quickly, then they put it in. Saber’s like, “nah, watch them stand.”
Now, I can see a refute. They do the same during the standby. They stand and listen to the belt. You would be correct; it is pretty dumb. It stretches the suspension of belief too far. But, stuff happens during this. The rider is moving their arms or something, the environment sometimes blow up, and maybe a giant grasshopper comes out. None of it is this boring side to side camera movement of a person putting a book near their ear and standing perfectly still. It’s not only dumb, but also boring to watch. Plus, this is all before the actual henshin, so it’s double the waiting. As a fan who’s seen the device just be done when the button is pushed, seeing these books go on and on multiple times in one episode is not fun.
Then, the transformation noise drones just as much. They aren’t henshin phrases; they’re henshin sentences. Here’s a comparison of the same last 6 season’s transformation phrase:
Gaim: “Soiya! Orange Arms! Hanamichi on stage!”
Drive: “Drive Type Speed! (Upbeat jazz music)”
Ghost: “Kaigan! Ore! Let’s go! Kakugo! Go Go Go! Ghost! Go! Go! Go! Go!”
Ex-Aid: “Gachan! Level Up! Mighty jump! Mighty kick! Mighty Mighty Action X!”
Build: “(Techno rock music) Hagane no moonsault! RabbitTank! Yeah!”
Zi-O: “(Electronic beat) Kamen Rider Zi-O!”
Zero-One: “Progrise! To-bia ga rise! Rising Hopper! A jump to the sky turns to a Rider Kick.”
Saber: “Rekka Battou! Brave Dragon~! Rekka Issatsu! Yuki no ryuu to Kaenken Rekka ga majiwaru toki, shinku no tsurugi ga aku wo tsuranuku!” (Btw, these from the fandom site)
You see how long that sh!t is!? Ep 3 was the worst of it. I timed it. Combined with the standing and the henshining from 3 different riders, the last 10 minutes of the episode are the toys talking! Again, this just inflates everything too much. What once took about a few seconds feels like a whole minute. Sometimes, they cut it down, but when it’s consistently happening with a new form, it just ruins the tone. It’s a slog to get through.
This was just the first 15 episodes, and it failed as a toy show already. To me, as a viewer of Transformers, sometimes Ultraman, Sentai that one time, and primarily Kamen Rider, a good show that sells toys shouldn’t make me see it as a toy commercial as I’m watching. OR, at the very least, not detract too much from the viewer experience. It shouldn’t take away my enjoyment and immersion. Saber doesn’t do that. The whole show, with its horrible writing, feels like a toy commercial because it bombards the screen with Wonder Ride Books, Seikens, and jarringly long noises. It’s noise. All of it is just noise.