Kamen Sentai Gorider #3 – The Only Winning Move

Previously on Kamen Sentai Gorider:

Kamen Sentai Gorider – Episode 1 Impressions

Kamen Sentai Gorider #2 – The Next Stage

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Obviously, spoilers are contained for the Goriders miniseries itself, but this finale episode focuses heavily on Blade and involves several plot points that extend directly from that show’s finale. You have been warned.

Each time I keep expecting this miniseries to slip up and slide back into promotional nonsense, and each time I’m pleasantly surprised at how it keeps up its quality through the twists and turns of plot. Although this is the last episode in the miniseries, where you would expect it to shove most of said promotional nonsense, it manages to even sell its purported connection with the spring Taisen movie in a really fun and entertaining way.

What honestly has made Goriders such an excellent ride so far is largely due to how well it incorporates its characters, but another strength is how tightly it crafts its mystery plot. The twist of Kenzaki being an imposter is something that makes a lot of sense in retrospect just based on what we’ve seen from the first two episodes, but this episode also builds onto that pile of evidence – including a few details that I was kicking myself for not catching earlier. It’s hard to make a plot twist in any story that is genuinely shocking, but at the same time, not a complete Deus ex Machina that feels tacked on at the last second. Goriders strikes that balance surprisingly well.

Episode 3 (Finale)

So the finale episode starts off with Emu re-entering the game world to attempt to “change the fate of the dead”, but as was stated last episode, he does so with the added challenge of having his memory wiped completely.

Actually not as completely as we thought. The cumulative changes that Emu has effected in this world (causing the other Riders to unite together, as well as leaving a clue behind from previous iterations of the game) jogs his memory enough that he regains all his knowledge of the game scenario and events relatively quickly. Good timing too, so we can get a pretty impressive “Whodunnit”-style detective monologue right at the start without rehashing the events of the first episode. In this exposition, Emu details exactly how he could figure out the mysterious clues to this puzzle, and how he remembered “Kenzaki’s” real identity – Kuroto Dan’s ghost in the machine.

Just like in the main series, Kuroto’s own arrogant overconfidence becomes his downfall, as it gives Emu enough time to make a warning to himself after Kuroto reveals himself at the conclusion of the last iteration of the game.

Now this Memento-style plan at first glance seems like a gaping plot hole. After all, Emu spilled coffee in the first episode, and the fact that it disappeared when the room was later reset was a major plot point. It helped him to realize they were in an artificially-constructed game world in the first place. But there’s a difference between the coffee – made of the same code as the other surroundings and thus subject to the same programming – and Emu’s own blood. As Emu says himself, he’s a rogue element, an anomaly in this closed system; the code that resets the rest of the surroundings doesn’t apply to what he brings in with himself.

However even with this knowledge, Dan is smug in his belief that they still can’t escape the trap he’s set for them. That is, to harvest the other Riders’ despair at being revived only to be caught in an endless loop of defeat and death. He’s seeking to gather this negative energy in order to revive himself in the physical world (If that sounds highly implausible, well, the Bugsters already take data and give it physical forms in the real world, just roll with it).

Now with Emu trapped here with them, and subject to the same programming that makes the game unwinnable, Kuroto gloats over his inevitable victory.

Turns out though, there’s another wildcard that helps to bring down Kuroto’s schemes in addition to Emu’s own genius gamer hacks. And that is the real Kenzaki who shows up. Literally the Joker in this deck of cards. It’s with this development that Goriders goes from “interesting mystery plot with good characters” to “THIS IS THE BEST RIDER CROSSOVER EVER”

You think I’m exaggerating don’t you. Maybe I was at first, when I was exuberantly gushing over this miniseries while live-tweeting. I don’t think I’m exaggerating anymore when I claim that though.

As I said, Kuroto’s arrogance led to Emu discovering the truth of the game world, and how to communicate that knowledge to gain his memory back when he later re-entered. But the fact that he specifically used Kenzaki’s data and appearance to construct his disguise is more than just coincidence, it’s also what leads to the complete implosion of all his plans.

I joked on Twitter after episode 2 aired, that of course Kuroto would hijack Kenzaki’s identity – after all, they’re both zombies. Turns out that wisecrack was more literal than I anticipated. The fact that Kuroto started messing around with Undead cards and abilities to imitate Kenzaki pings the real Kenzaki, and attracts him to the game, where he enters, just like Emu. Which means that now currently within the artificial confines of this world, we have one single Undead – the Joker.

In a way, it’s the most hilariously ironic outcome. Kuroto sought to construct an unwinnable scenario with this game world that would drive everyone trapped in it into eternal despair. But as Emu stated, the game is not totally unwinnable – Kuroto himself is advancing just fine in his objectives within it! So in order to escape the game, they flip the scenario around and drive him into an unwinnable scenario that is designed only to bring suffering and death. And that is the Battle Fight itself. With the real Kenzaki’s entrance into the world, it culminates in the Joker endgame, which triggers a full-on existential apocalypse of the virtual world around them.

Kuroto said it himself, two negatives in this case make a positive. They literally beat him at his own game.

There’s a couple other cool details in this first half that I want to mention. First of all, the real Kenzaki has a reflection in the game world!

vlcsnap-2017-04-12-19h33m55s444

This should’ve been a huge tip-off to everyone in the first two episodes, since even Kuroto-disguided-as-Kenzaki admitted that he wasn’t actually dead. But most of us didn’t notice or didn’t think it was important. I, for one, accepted his explanation of his Undead state as being “the same as being dead” at face value. It worked thematically, if not completely literally, so I just rolled with it in my initial write-up of episode 1.

Secondly, this plot is entirely consistent with Dan the Man’s Usual Plan from the main series too.

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In creating – and then later upgrading – his Dangerous Zombie form, Kuroto exploited violent death to gain more and more power. Now he is using a closely-related power source – the sheer, despairing hopelessness that he causes in others. The man’s practically a Garo-styled Horror with how much he feeds on pure evil and negative karma at this point.

Anyways, once the game world’s programming is destroyed, they’re still left within the virtual space itself, but now are no longer confined by the “unwinnable” programming that Dan used to construct the illusory amusement park around them. But despite the stunning quality of motivational speechifying before this showdown, the monsters that Kuroto had also put into the game, as well as his own power level, still prove to be too much for the Riders to overcome. Which is when Emu pulls out his own set of trump cards – the Gorider cards from the CSHT movie. (This spin-off supposedly takes place during the events of that movie as an aside.) They’re like Riders, but as a Sentai team!

Look, it sounds silly, but what follows is one of the most thoroughly entertaining fights I’ve seen in a crossover. Even resident edgelord Kaito gets way into his role as Akaranger/ AkaRider. We saw this in Gaim as well, for as much as he grouses about working with others, Kaito makes for a surprisingly good leader.

And Kiriya is… well still Kiriya, doing flip kicks and making motorcycle revving motions with his pose after transforming.

They even make a reference to the Goranger’s ball attack during this fight, where all the rangers kick around a super-charged football that explodes when launched at an enemy. Even Ex-Aid gets in on the teamwork!

It’s goofy, brightly-colored, and is an absolute blast to watch. I love that a special that was so thoroughly determined to make the audience suffer along with the Riders according to Kuroto’s schemes, has such a lighthearted, explosives-filled beatdown of a fight as its climax.

Just kidding, we’ve still got about five minutes of the episode left. Of course this miniseries isn’t going to end entirely on a positive note, what did you expect.

When Kuroto is defeated, he launches a suicide attack, meaning to destroy all the Riders’ data along with the virtual space and himself. Accepting their deaths for the sake of others, the dead Riders throw themselves at him to entrap him within the explosion, and allow Kenzaki and Emu a chance to escape.

I’ve talked a bit about how much I enjoy the mystery plot in this miniseries as well as how it’s resolved, but as I mentioned before, what really makes this story special is how it handles its characters. Even the members of the team that don’t get as much development, Kino and Yoko, still are handled perfectly in sync not only in continuity with their character arcs from their respective series, but also in context with the other Goriders. It’s what makes it so rewarding to see them work together as a team when they transform into the Goriders, and also why it’s utterly heartbreaking to see that closure result in their extinction a second time over. (Technically, for Kaito, this is his third time, considering the events of the Gaim/Drive Movie Wars crossover, Full Throttle).

Ironically, Yoko gets more closure here than she ever did in Gaim’s finale, finding a better ideal to hold on to and fight for, than simply following after power, or Kaito’s powerful charisma. The lines that each of the dead Riders give before sacrificing themselves in finality are effective because they come at the end of the emotional high point that the Gorider team battle represents.

In the concluding scene, with Emu reunited with Hiiro and Poppy after the world has been saved, I’m reminded of a line from the finale of the Skyrider series (a Showa-era Kamen Rider season).

In that finale, all the Riders sacrifice themselves to defeat the monstrous leader of Neo-Shocker before he destroys Tokyo. They die with the understanding that the spirit of justice and heroism they represent will live freely on in the next generation, and also leave behind the assurance that they’ll return to fight when they’re needed. It’s a simple gesture in this scene in Gorider, but the children carrying the balloons here is a reminder that the hopes and ideals of the Riders who have died continue to live on after them.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s certainly an ending scene that leans more towards the “sweet” side of “bittersweet”.

As icing on the proverbial cake, even Hiiro walks away smiling.

As for Kenzaki? Well who knows where he wandered off to after exiting the game. But let this be a warning to anyone in the shared Rider universe who decides to mess around with artifacts from the Undead or the Battle Fight again, Kenzaki will hunt you down and end you.

____________________________

So, long story short: Goriders is an unexpectedly awesome mini-series, and if you’re a Rider fan in general, or are just enjoying Ex-Aid. you should really track this down to watch it for yourself. It’s got fantastic character interactions that range from heartbreakingly tragic to flat-out hilarious, a fun payoff with the Gorider fight (although I wish they did more with establishing the advertised Sentai angle than Emu literally pulling the cards out of his butt at the last second), and a surprisingly well-constructed mystery plot that’ll have you cheering as Kuroto’s gets hoisted by his own petard in the most appropriately ironic way again, undone by his megalomaniacal overconfidence.

I had a ton of fun watching through this, a large part of which is due to the fact that Gaim, Blade and Agito are all within my top five favorite Rider seasons in the first place. Really, there’s only a few things that I would’ve liked to see changed to improve it overall. First of all, as I said, I would’ve liked to see the Goriders concept incorporated more apparently in the series rather than just bringing it in ten minutes until the end. And then – just nitpicking here – it would’ve been neat to see Kenzaki bust out King Form as a cap to his importance in relation to Kuroto’s downfall at the end of the story. Plus, any excuse to see that gorgeous suit dusted off is a good one.

But those are minor details in what was otherwise a really fun and surprisingly poignant bit of Rider crossover. Typically, I point to Movie Wars Megamax as the best Rider crossover story, as it ties together three very strong Rider series (W, OOO and Fourze) in a way that’s consistent with all of the elements of those shows and their respective Riders. Not to mention it also boasts of some of the best team-up action in the franchise. But Goriders may just beat it out, because although the action is weaker (it doesn’t have the same movie budget, after all), the character moments and overall plotting are top-shelf, even while tackling the feat of connecting four wildly different Rider series together.

“Goriders into Eternity” indeed. I wish we could see more of the team in the future.

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3 comments

  1. […] He broadcasts a notice that beating the game will actually bring back everyone who has died playing it. The Riders of course are all in denial that this is possible – the audience isn’t given any indication as to its truth on way or another (My bet’s on “technically true, but Monkey’s Paw”). Interestingly, Emu isn’t immediately skeptical of the claim either, which is, frankly, very ironic considering he should’ve learned a lesson about the pitfalls of trying to revive the dead from the Gorider miniseries. […]

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