I’ve been selling comic books since I was 12 years old. I’ve worked in a comics shop for decades, at all levels of employment. The absolute best part of the job is the visit after you sell someone a book. When you first meet someone and give a recommendation, it’s all investigation: what have they liked before, what are they looking for now, etc. You learn about them, and try to pick a book that’s going to make them happy. That’s fun. The rewarding part is when they return, telling you how well the recommendation worked for them, how excited they are to continue that journey. It’s literally the best. It’s what’s kept me selling comics for my entire adult life. A show about a bookseller? Who is also a Kamen Rider? And wants to protect the magic of storytelling? In a show about how fiction is both a way to give context to adolescence and a refuge from the harsh realities of adulthood, but not always the best way to deal with either time in our lives? This is a show that has my name all over it.

Which is why it’s sort of a bummer that I don’t think I enjoyed it much, if at all.

It’s nice to see the guy who did Ghost learn some lessons from that show’s start, though. Takeru was always an uphill battle for me because he never seemed to have a motivation outside of monster detonating, so the show rarely had a compelling B- or C-plot, something that generated out of the rest of the character’s life. Shows like Drive and Ex-Aid built complete worlds out of their protagonist’s day jobs; Takeru mostly sat in a basement until a Temple Nerd rolled in and shouted TAKERU, MONSTERS. Saber instantly corrects that, giving Touma both a relatable backstory (found early success in one field, but maybe lost the spark as an adult) and a normal-ass day job. Touma’s dedication to brightening the lives of children and stoking the magic of imagination is basically the first thing we learn about him, adding legibility and coherence to his motivation as a Kamen Rider. He’s a guy that cares deeply about the written word, and can’t stand to see it being used against people.

I just… I don’t know if the episode’s pivot from Touma Is A Dedicated Bookseller into Touma Is An Enraged Swordsman works?

It didn’t really work for me, which, again: sort of a bummer! It sucks to hit that first big Henshin and be like I’m Not Seeing It. I think it’s rushed, honestly. I think the show needed at least another Act between the book monster’s attack and Saber’s debut. There’s just this Touma monologue (Toumonologue) to get us from his shock at being in the middle of a dreamlike disaster in a storybook world, to him berating a book monster about misunderstanding humanity’s connection to prose so harshly that a flaming sword is deposited for his use. That’s… that is a lot of ground for one Toumonologue to cover! It’s a good speech! It’s just not a speech that papers over the pacing issues.

(If I felt especially generous, I could try and explain some of the shift in storytelling by speculating about Touma’s ability to lose himself in stories of heroic fiction. It sort of tracks that the guy who firmly believes in connecting people with uplifting stories of epic heroes might himself jump at the chance to do something poetic and insane, like rapidly become a superhero in order to detonate a book monster in a fairytale world. But I feel like I’m doing the show’s work for it? That’s all there, somewhere, but it’s not exactly presented as a way to understand Touma’s super-quick decision to become Kamen Rider Saber.)

After that lurch in the episode, I kinda didn’t click with the rest of the episode. The action was fine. Aggressively fine. I don’t know that the CG was great, but it didn’t hurt me or anything. But the fight was so one-sided in Saber’s favor that I sort of couldn’t invest much in the outcome. Touma demolished the book monster with the sort of boastful confidence of a much longer roll-up, not a first fight after a surprise knighting. It all felt pre-ordained in a way that actually had me feeling bad for the book monster. Touma’s heroic debut felt rushed, and then his fighting felt massively overleveled. It took the jerky pacing of the middle of the episode, then amplified it as the climax approached. Not a super great way to experience the first fight.

The thing is… man, I like a lot of what this show’s made out of. I like how it’s exploring how retail can be its own type of beneficial human connection. I like the concept of finding the stories that help us be the better versions of ourselves. I like how it’s such a thinly-veiled discussion of what tokusatsu shows and tokusatsu audiences give to each other. I like all of the things it’s talking about. And, man, I like Touma and Mei! I think Touma’s slightly embarrassed laziness works great against Mei’s wacky bossiness, and their dynamic was warm and funny throughout.

But, god, it’s that Ghost Debut thing of the show having a tough time putting it all together in a fluid way; instead, it’s all fits and starts, rushed parts up against perfunctory exposition. It’s a pretty clunky first draft. Probably could use some more editing as the series progresses.


The crimson-lit sign in the shop window – blazing KOJI AND YASUYUKI: HABERDASHERS in reverse to the sales floor – rendered Koji’s anger even more imposing than Yasuyuki was used to.

This was bad.

“This is bad, Yuki,” Koji muttered, to no surprise.

“It… was an oversight. Not a big deal. We can move these! It’ll be fine,” said Yasuyuki, unconvincing even to his own ears.

Koji stalked around the seated Yasuyuki, too frustrated to have this conversation immobile. He needed to vent, to let the steam off before he buried Yuki alongside this colossal blunder; this insurmountable hurdle. His boiling point was reached, though, at Yasuyuki’s attempt to minimize the damage. They were standing in financial quicksand, an oncoming ruin that was going to take their livelihood into the dirt.

“F– ‘fine’?! You think it’s fine to have ordered a dozen cases of these?!” Koji’s apoplectic questioning was accompanied by a quick lunge towards Yasayuki’s face, currently turned to avoid a withering glare, and several jabbing motions with his finger towards a mountain of boxes.

The boxes read MEN’S NOVELTY HATS - MULTICOLOR ASSORTMENT - CASE OF 12 BOXES. Twelve hats per box. Twelve boxes per case. Twelve cases. 144 boxes. Almost two thousand comical hats in every color of the rainbow.

Yasayuki took Koji’s dramatic, punishing pause as the opportunity to regain some ground, and launched into his hastily-prepared defense of what was a truly catastrophic screw-up… not that he planned on letting Koji know that.

“Okay, one, the website was very unclear that we’d be ordering case assortments. I’ve already fired off an email about their manipulative layout, and I’m sure we’ll be reimbursed fully. Two, I swear that the website said ‘nouveau’ hats. The font they used was… it’s probably a super common error, hardly worth beating oneself up over. But, three, I don’t even think it’ll be necessary to send them back. These are going to sell great. We just need a clever display – which you are great at, by the way, I’ve always been a fan – and some of my impeccable salesmanship, and we’ll be able to turn these stunning bits of headwear for a sizable profit. This is going to take our business to the next level, Koji, I’m sure of it.”

Koji looked less sure of it. He also looked significantly redder than he did before Yasayuki started explaining himself. Could the sign maybe be getting brighter? Was that possible?

Koji’s twitching eyelid and grinding teeth suggested it was not possible.

“You. Are. Out. Of. Your. MIND,” Koji forced out through gritted teeth. “You cannot sell 1700 of these ridiculous things. Hell, I don’t think you could sell one of these. They’re like something a clown would wear! The ones that aren’t tiny are massive! What fashionless dope would wear these outside of a bet?”

Yasayuki saw an opening.

“Bet, huh? Okay, how about this. I bet you I can sell one of these to the next customer who walks in. I win, we try and sell the rest of the order. I lose–”

Koji cut him off. “You lose, you’re going to be wearing one of these tiny hats at your funeral real soon, Yuki.”

Just then, the door chime went off. A lanky young man entered wearing baggy clothes, and a vest that was somehow too thin and too big. His outfit screamed What Is This “Fashion” You Speak Of. He looked like he’d fallen out of a plane and was still wearing his deployed parachute. He looked like a waiter who’d suddenly lost two hundred pounds. He saw the two owners in the middle of the floor, and took long strides over to them.

“Hi, my name’s Touma. You guys sell hats? I think this outfit could use a hat. Maybe a couple hats. What do you think?”

Yasayuki’s face brightened as Koji’s mouth dropped.

“Friend,” Yasayuki declared as he stood and clasped the young man on the shoulder, “I think we’ve got just the thing.”