TAKAYAMA JIN!!! That was a very pleasant surprise. Did not know he’d be playing Falchion in this movie! I don’t want to be that Kamen Rider fan, but: hottest male Rider? Maybe! For sure my favorite Secondary, depending on how you want to apply that term to Amazons.

Less pleasant was finding out that this wasn’t a movie, it was only a 22-minute long theatrical short. I was honestly looking forward to a larger Saber project, something where the production team could stretch out a bit, try and spend a little more time on the connective tissue of their story. I wanted some time to really luxuriate in these characters’ stories, you know? Relax a bit.

Instead, I got the last twenty-two minutes of every single Kamen Rider movie, where the villain’s apocalyptic plan has reached fruition, and only a team of Riders–gathered at the quarry under moonlight–can do enough form changes and finishing moves to take out an army of mooks and allow the titular Rider to manifest an upgrade that will save the day. Half of its meager runtime is devoted to Henshins and Finishers, with almost no actual narrative shared between its non-Touma cast. (I think they each get a catchphrase? That’s something!) There’s no setup or escalation or humor or mystery. It’s just (to borrow a phrase) a climax, right from the start.

With that out of the way… I don’t hate it? It’s specifically going for a primal Ur Kamen Rider story: Destroy Vs Protect, Light Vs Dark, Existence Vs Nothingness. Falchion’s motivations are pointedly barren; he just wants to destroy everything because everything will eventually be destroyed anyway, so what’s the point of existence. Touma stands in opposition because there’s always a Kamen Rider to stand in opposition. Falchion’s view of conflict as an eternal battle for power is offset by Touma’s view of conflict as a way of resetting the board; a turn of the page to allow for a new story. What looks to one person like a single unending narrative is, to another, an endless array of fresh starts.

It’s a movie (or “theatrical short”) that I sort of appreciated for its attempt to harness the limitations of its format in order to create something unique, while at the same time finding it to be a headache-inducing short film where everyone showed up screaming and somehow got louder from there. I never ever enjoyed movie finales as much as the build up (it’d be nice to get more Jin in this movie!), so a project that’s just the finale is always going to be a struggle for me to enjoy. I did end up liking its subtext–it’s a fun deconstruction of Kamen Rider movie stories–while not liking the text a whole lot.

Emotional Dragon’s a real neat upgrade form, though! I like Touma being more powerful for his ability to access his emotions!



THE BEAST AND DRAGON, ADORED



Tsuyoshi was disappointed in himself, but he had to admit: this was actually a pretty cool apocalypse.

He should be thinking of his friends, or his family, or his plans for the future that would go unaccomplished. Instead, as he stared at a gigantic book floating in mid-air that was displaying a superpowered battle from an alternate dimension, all he thought was that this was going to be a more bad-ass extinction of humanity than he’d previously expected.

He’d grown up aware of things like climate change, or terrorism. The current pandemic had largely receded into the background, but it was a daily reminder about the fragility of civilization. A friend’s mugging last week let the prospect of street crime intrude on his idle thoughts. These things… it was all part of life, and it was often more boring to contemplate than terrifying. Mundane.

This was the Winning The Lottery version of his demise, and that maybe had reoriented his immediate priorities. He didn’t even reach for his phone, to find out how his parents were faring in this new world of glowing, airborne monsters and catastrophic sky portals. His mind was focused on the gleaming superheroes, and the shouting accompaniment of their weaponry.

That was the weirdest part for him, in the fall of man. All of the music. As he watched a besworded swordsman battle an orange nihilist in a fairytale world, Tsuyoshi marveled mostly over how cacophonous the conflict was. Every sword slash was announced by a cry from the heavens about books or dragons or swords. It was less like a war for the right to exist than a wrestling match. It was entertaining, which isn’t the word he thought he’d ever use as he watched his world demolished.

There was a young woman about his age in the crowd, and she was trying to console a worried child. She talked about Kamen Riders, and about one called Saber, and he wondered how much of it she was making up to ease a scared child into their shared demise. It all would’ve sounded ludicrous to Tsuyoshi a day ago, but now he was watching a costumed superhero yell about humanity’s inherent ability to improve, so nothing seemed out of bounds.

All that talk of heroism and sacrifice… Tsuyoshi briefly considered that this might not be the end of the world after all. Imagine that. An apocalypse prevented. As he stood in the crowd and watched the shouting swordsman cover himself in a variety of dragons, Tsuyoshi actually felt a bit of optimism about the future. He could feel the crowd’s energy rise to meet the swordsman’s, everyone cheering on the finale of this theatrical duel. The hero could win. The world could be saved.

There was a flash of light.

Tsuyoshi jerked awake on the bus, and noticed his stop was coming up soon. He walked to the doorway of the bus, and exited when it stopped. As he walked towards his apartment, he saw a sign asking for volunteers for an afterschool program. Some local high school needed additional support from the community, apparently. Tsuyoshi’s schedule was full: work, family, friends, dating (which he needed to get back to, judging by the young woman in his dream)... he certainly couldn’t spare the time to tutor a teenager in math.

But as he took a step past the sign, he stopped. He thought about that dream, and the heroism of the imaginary swordsman. (He almost lingered on thoughts of the young woman, but he quickly refocused his attention.) He wasn’t sure what it all meant, but he found himself hopeful in a way he wasn’t usually. Maybe…

He reached for one of the tags with contact information, and tore it off of the sign.

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