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Overall Series Review:
So Kamen Rider Wizard has one of the most interesting concepts I”ve seen in these Kamen Rider shows. Most Kamen Rider stuff tended to play on a quasi-sci-fi feel, either using ambiguous supervillain/superhero science or ancient artifacts to explain the source of their heroes” power. Kamen Rider Wizardtakes things from the whole other spectrum, though, with our hero, Soma Haruto, proclaiming that he is a magician, and the term “Ring-Wielding Magician” is used to describe our hero as much as the term “Kamen Rider”. So this is the Dr. Strange or the Zatanna equivalent for Kamen Riders, which is totally fine!And it starts off introducing our characters in quick succession, as well as the concepts of magicians in general. Not everyone can be a wizard, but those that do focus their powers through magical rings (collect them all, kids!), and as the only person that is able to use magic in the nondescript Japanese city, and one of the survivors of a mysterious tragedy involving an eclipse, Haruto has taken up the mantle of Kamen Rider Wizard in order to protect the world. Proclaiming himself to be the “Last Hope”, the way he fights the villains of the show, the monsters called the Phantoms, who wish to transform humans with latent magical energy (called “Gates”) into more Phantoms by driving them into despair. Haruto has to defeat the Phantoms in real life, before going into the “underworld” of their victims and restore their hope there. Mostly by drop-kicking the physical manifestation of their despair, because this is still a Kamen Rider show.Sure, the concept is cheesy, but I don”t mind shows with a cheesy premise as long as the story and characters are good. Kamen Rider has proven itself to be able to take silly, cheesy themes and to do something great with it. But after the first couple of arcs, it”s clear that… Wizard”s biggest fault is how static it is. Which is a shame, because the cast is genuinely charismatic, but other than maybe an episode for each of the main characters, they just repeat the same tired jokes and go through the same conflict over and over again. Particularly the stretch of two-parters where Haruto gains the Flame/Hurricane/Water/Land Dragon Styles all feel repetitive, as is most of the fight scenes afterwards where it”s just waiting until Haruto busts out his body-replicating magic of summoning all four forms. His “final” form, Infinity Form, also feels like it shows up with an asspull… I”m no stranger to characters in Japanese fiction getting power-ups through feelings and stuff, but this is a particularly bad example of one.
One of my biggest gripe is how Kamen Rider Wizard sticks so hard to the “monster of the two-parter” format. Kamen Rider shows range from those that like monster-of-the-week format, monster-of-the-two-parter format and more serialized, interconnected shows, but most shows tended to have stretches where the main plot takes over from the monster-of-the-week. Not so for Wizard, where up until the end, there”s no real sense of urgency or the plot being moved forwards. Lasting 53 episodes, (and Kamen Rider shows tend to last somewhere between 45-50) this show doesn”t feel like it”s going anywhere even when we”re in the late forties, with the status quo mostly being similar other than the addition of a couple of new tricks and characters. I could divide up other more plot-extensive Kamen Rider shows based on the arcs (or at least main villains), but with Wizard… it”s the “let”s know our characters”, lasting for the first four or five episodes, a huge glut of repetition in the middle with very, very slow build-up, and a final rush to four or five episodes where huge revelations happen and the main villains finally do something.(Oh and the last two episodes aren”t actually real episodes, I feel, but more of a crossover special tacked on to the end of the show, and the show”s real conclusion is 51. Sure, Wizard is sort of the main character, but episodes 52 and 53 is sort of an “all Riders together!” moment and the introduction of the next rider, fruit boy Gaim.)The show starts off with Haruto and a couple of the characters being already part of the superheroing business, and we slowly get drip-fed some backstory about how magic works in this world, and it seemed kind of different. Unlike most of the Heisei-era Kamen Riders, instead of slowly learning to become a Kamen Rider over the course of the first couple of episodes, Wizard is one of the few who is already one when the series starts, and a damn experienced one that”s mostly calm and stoic. But as charismatic as Haruto”s actor is, it ends up with the series ending up feeling more dull than anything, especially since he resolves any crises in his character over the course of five minutes. Early on we get some hints that his power comes at a greater cost, and that the dragon that lives inside him and provides his magical power is going to give us some Naruto-style side effects… but none of this really ends up panning out to anything.
And it”s… it”s my biggest complaint about the show. It honestly feels like it goes nowhere, and when we finally get to the final arc of the episode (which lasted around three or four episodes) and fight the Big Bads of the show, the revelations that the show give us feel like they should be revelations that a superior show would pull off as the mid-season revelation. Ultimately, I honestly feel like the show didn”t do a good job at building a world, or a plotline that I care about. The show does manage to set up an actually charismatic set of characters, some really great aesthetics… but it feels like the first ten or twelve episodes of a season stretched into 40+ episodes, where the show keeps going “hey, these characters are cool, right? They”re funny and charming and you love them!” And I do kinda love them… but are you going to do anything with them?There”s a plot twist near the end that”s actually pretty neat and is a nice little revelation (I won”t spoil it in this segment), but ultimately the story feels just dry and just a collection of episodes-of-the-week, sort of like Pokemon. And that”s the biggest weakness of the show. None of the side characters ultimately feel like they matter at all, and the two that do — Koyomi and Kamen Rider Beast — only get their development in literally the final episodes of the show.
Which is a huge, huge shame. From a production standpoint, Kamen Rider Wizardhas one of my all-time favourite suits, one of the straight-up best soundtrack in the entire franchise, a pretty charismatic cast, great visuals in both monster and costuming design… but they”re just not allowed to do anything until the last four or five episodes where it seemed like an entire season”s worth of story is just crammed in to lead to a climax. Wizardwould probably have been better served had it been shorter, maybe 20-30 episodes long, due to how utterly repetitive everything ended up being. I remembered watching episode 43 or something of the series and being utterly mind-boggled that the show hasn”t actually gone anywhere. Even episodes where Haruto gains power-ups, or episodes focusing on the secondary rider, Beast, doesn”t really do anything to do much in terms of world-building or character development.
And I do sound like a bit of a downer about this show, and I definitely feel like it”s one of the weaker shows that I”ve watched. But I don”t dislike it in any way! While Wizard doesn”t actually get cracking with the plot until like the last arc, the individual episodes-of-the-week, while throwaway, tend to be pretty dang charming. I watched it whenever there”s some off-time at work, which is how I ended up going through all 53 episodes. I don”t think this is a show that I could probably stand to binge-watch, but as something that”s more of a distraction sort of entertainment, it”s definitely a lot better. And the style! And the music! I don”t talk a lot about music, but the almost-orchestral tunes that play when Wizard does his action scenes are pretty well-done.Wizard isn”t a bad show, honestly… it”s just one that had a lot of utterly wasted potential and some pretty shit pacing. The show itself carries a massive load of charm, which does honestly end up helping to put Wizard into being good enough for me to consider an average series.And this show definitely makes me really, really hungry for donuts.
One of the best way to talk about any given fictional piece, I feel, is through the characters, and this is going to be my format for reviewing Kamen Rider shows. So let”s start off with the cast of Kamen Rider Wizardas we touch upon plot points and whatnot.
And here”s our hero, Soma Haruto, or Kamen Rider Wizard. As mentioned above, Haruto is one of the few Heisei-era protagonists who”s already an established Kamen Rider before the show”s first episode, and the only other one I can think from the entire Heisei series are probably only Build and Blade. But while we get the hints at a larger backstory with just what happened during the enigmatic Sabbath, as well as Haruto”s backstory, the few episodes that do focus on Haruto”s backstory end up being pretty dry, falling into more of “let”s show it to the audience” moments, and other than a couple of brief scenes of Haruto looking contemplative and maybe shedding a tear or two, these honestly don”t really end up causing Haruto to feel like he”s grown since Haruto”s already sort of gone through all of the emotions, and he”s just re-experiencing them.
It”s always unfortunate, then, that Haruto just alternates between the confident, playful “I am the last hope!” or making donut jokes (he loves his donuts), and while that”s charismatic enough for the first ten or twenty episodes or so, by the time the series reaches its end, I honestly look back and shrug at the utter lack of character growth Haruto”s experienced. Sure, he gets his power-ups, and at least in the first half of the series, Wizard”s magic rings allows him to do a lot of fun little tricks that you don”t really expect to see in a Kamen Rider show, but particularly in the huge stretch in the middle of the episode, his four Dragon Styles are utterly repetitive and bland. And, sure, Infinity Style is a fancy diamond suit and all, but the way he gets it feels pretty much like an asspull.Thankfully, as we approach the end of the series, we get some genuinely well-done Haruto moments. Arguably it”s a bit of a too-little-too-late bit, but it”s better than not getting anything at all. As he”s desperate to save his friend Koyomi, there was an episode where Haruto is seriously considering allowing the main villain to go through with his plan since that would lead to Koyomi”s rescue. That brief bit of Haruto allowing himself to succumb to a selfish desire is actually pretty well-done… but, y”know, that”s like four episodes out of fifty-three, while the rest of the series Haruto”s just a bland, generic hero. A charming one, and a lot more likable than some other Kamen Rider protagonists I write off as boring, but still pretty static.Ultimately, a charismatic but honestly boring protagonist. Again, one of my biggest complaints about the show in general is how they had a pretty good cast and a bunch of pretty interesting mysteries, but are handled poorly.
The main heroine of Kamen Rider Wizard is Koyomi, who is pretty quickly established to be a mobile “doll”, one of the few to have survived the enigmatic Sabbath ritual that is part of Haruto”s backstory. Again, her backstory is interesting — Haruto has to feed her mana to keep her alive, and later on, we learn about her true origin. That she is actually the daughter of the White Wizard (more on him later), and the White Wizard”s machinations for the entire series is to bring her back to life. Koyomi herself, though, doesn”t have much to do as a character. Sure, she”s meant to be more of a subdued character to compare with the high-energy Rinko, Nitoh and Shunpei… but that honestly means that other than the mystery about her origin, she gets jack shit to do for the entire series until the final couple of episodes. This is partially due to the actress”s other commitments, but it still really ends up with her being pretty much stuck with very little. She ends up dying in an admittedly pretty sad and brutal scene, but it”s not a good sign when the most memorable thing about a character is her death. Koyomi at least gets to transform in the Wizard/Gaim movie as a one-off brainwashed villain, which is fun.
Nitoh Kosuke, a.k.a. Kamen Rider Beast, is the secondary Kamen Rider of the show, first appearing in episode 17 of the show, and he”s… he”s pretty boisterous and the actor”s utterly funny, playing a quirky character with a completely different fighting style. As a high-energy hobo with an unhealthy love for mayonnaise, Nitoh is a stark contrast to Haruto (and to all of the more serious, grim secondary riders in previous and future shows)… but that”s all there is to Nitoh”s character. The initial episodes had a brief conflict about how he is quite literally always hungry since unlike Haruto”s dragon, Nitoh”s inner phantom Chimaera is always hungering for mana, but that brief dilemma is less played up for drama and more of “Nitoh”s a dumbass” because he didn”t know how Phantoms are created. And while the whole “have to eat Phantoms or will be consumed” gimmick was initially interesting, they really didn”t do anything with it. Seeing what the franchise does with other “consume the monster” style heroes really ends up making Beast look a lot more bland, too.He”s noted to be an “archetype” magician, and thus different from Haruto and Wiseman… but we don”t really get any real revelation about any of these. Nitoh is a pretty fun and hammy character, and I do always love hammy characters, but… y”know, this show doesn”t really have much of a plot, making the fact that Nitoh and many of the other characters being just a collection of eclectic quirks a bit more prominent. At least Kamen Rider Beast ended up single-handedly foiling the White Wizard”s huge, world-ending plan, which is not something I expected him to do. He”s got style, at least, for a dude whose diet is 95% mayonnaise. Nitoh”s dynamic with the kid that became one of the Kamen Rider Mages was also relatively well done, although maybe I”m just grasping at straws to like him. Again, just like Wizard himself, I do like these characters… I just don”t think the show does anything truly significant with them.
Police officerDaimon Rinko is the character that the viewers first discovered Kamen Rider Wizard from. She”s like the Lois Lane of the show, the normal human who gets thrown into this bizarre world of ring magicians, phantoms and bending bullets, and after being rescued from Phantoms, ends up befriending and becoming part of Wizard”s team. And… and that”s honestly all there is about her. Kamen Rider doesn”t have a good track at keeping non-transforming recurring characters relevant, but they tend to try and do something with them. Rinko remains static and ends up becoming sort of the butt of jokes for basically the entire series. I would make a “Kamen Rider is unfortunately sexist” comment here, except honestly everyone in the cast that”s not Haruto is kind of useless regardless of gender.
Nara Shunpei shows up in the second episode as this naive simpleton who thinks he can cast magic because he read a story book once, and when he sees Haruto, begs to be his apprentice. It”s a silly set-up for a character, of course… but while Shunpei outgrows his whole “I want to be a wizard” shtick and becomes Haruto”s sidekick, he doesn”t really do anything other than just be another guy in Wizard”s little group of friends. I am honestly thinking hard, but I don”t really think the show would”ve changed if both Rinko and Shunpei are written out entirely.
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Wajima Shigeru is the token old man of the group, being a ring-maker that”s all caught up on magicians and everything. His role is to provide some gag jokes, run the ring shop that our heroes use as a base, and make power-ups for Haruto from random magic stones they find. He”s… he”s more plot relevant than Shunpei and Rinko, I think, but ultimately also kind of just there.
Inamori Mayu, a.k.a. Kamen Rider Mage, is… she”s an interesting character. It”s no secret that in the entire Kamen Rider series, women never really ended up being written well, and even tended to just show up to die. Most of the good-aligned women in this franchise don”t get to transform (other than Ex-Aid), and those that do tend to get killed off. Inamori Mayu, though, is a fun little exception! She starts off as a victim-of-the-week, being the twin sister of the Gate that would become Medusa, and she is so convinced that her sister is in there, fighting, somewhere. In perhaps one of the few subversions of Wizard”s more light-hearted theme (not a single Phantom was successfully created in 50+ episodes), this is one where the tropes were against her, and she found out that Medusa not only killed her family, her sister is also gone.And then she gets spirited away by the enigmatic White Wizard for almost the rest of the series, but shows up in the final arc with the ability to transform into Kamen Rider Mage! Sure, she doesn”t get to beat Medusa, and sure, her form ends up losing its specialty when two other random dudes also get transformed into differently-coloured Kamen Rider Mages by the White Wizard, but I”ve always loved Mayu”s little story. At least the set-up… at the end, even though she gets into a huge, climactic confrontation with Medusa, she doesn”t even get that victory. Boo!
Kizaki Masanori is a recurring character, initially the leader of Sector Zero, a shady MIB government organization that is hunting Wizard… but ended up being mostly ignored for a vast portion of the story. He”s mostly here for me to illustrate the nice amount of world-building that Wizard blatantly ignores. Hell, the show even pretends to kill him off, but doesn”t even give Kizaki that! Other than being a dickish ally, he”s kind of a waste as a character.That”s the primary good-guy cast, so let”s talk about the primary bad guys! In the order of their appearance…
Phoenix is the first of the two recurring main Phantoms that are leading all of these enemies of the week, and he”s the brash, “IMMA FUCK YOU UP!” one to Medusa”s more cerebral, restrained schemer. He”s kinda fun, but ultimately ends up just being the slightly-more-tough enemy that Wizard defeats after he gets his first power-up. I honestly thought that he was going to come back from being forced to “endlessly regenerate in the sun”, maybe as a movie villain or something, but nope.Let”s talk about the Phantoms a bit. While their track record as villains are kind of suckish, I do really like the concept of villains that are actively trying to drive people into despair by breaking the thing they cherish the most, in order to make the victims” latent Phantom grow. Also a huge fan of their designs in general, as well as how they are mostly themed around Western fantasy monsters like goblins, minotaurs, sirens and whatnot. With a show that isn”t as obsessed with villain-of-the-week episodes, these could honestly lead to some genuinely well-done drama… but as it is, the only really good drama that the Phantoms bring around are only the Medusa and Gremlin spotlight two-parters.
Medusa“s probably the most interesting villain for me, particularly since she lasted almost the entire season. Initially introduced in a fun little dynamic with Phoenix where she is the faithful lieutenant of the real big bad, the enigmatic Wiseman, she is noted to be utterly faithful and devoted to Wiseman, trusting that Wiseman will bring over a new day for Phantoms. She also ends up leading to one of the few genuinely dramatic moments of the show, where we get the revelation that the human that became her, Inamori Misa, had a twin sister, Mayu! This allows her actress to play two characters at once, and it”s honestly pretty impressive. I did cover Mayu on top, though, but Medusa”s sadistic toying with the humans, I feel made her pretty fun as a villain.She goes through some changes in dynamic as we go on, being forced to work alongside and then beneath Gremlin, and later on when the huge revelation on the true identity of Wiseman is revealed, poor Medusa gets straight-up killed despite her loyalty, because every single thing that Wiseman told her turns out to be a lie. It”s actually a fun story for a sadistic villain who gets her just desserts. Normally an evil villain killing a loyal subordinate is a trope I”m not a fan of, but I feel that this is definitely something Wizard executed well.
So these two characters have shown up from very early on. Wiseman, the Frieza-looking motherfucker on the left, is the enigmatic master that Medusa serves. While the White Wizard (middle) is the enigmatic wizard that rescued Haruto and Koyomi after the Sabbath, and basically gave Haruto his Wizard driver.And… and the series was clearly building up to the huge twist that apparently these two enigmatic characters are plotting something. Wiseman clearly wants more Phantoms for some reason, and the White Wizard gives Haruto power-ups and has some… mysterious thing to do. And mysterious characters operating in the background isn”t anything new for both Kamen Rider and other Japanese shows. But what I didn”t see coming, and perhaps the best twist in the show, is that apparently thes two characters are the same person — the twin identities of the human wizard Fueki So, father of Koyomi, who”s been planning a long game in order to create a gigantic magical circle with four other wizards in order to do a ritual to bring his dead daughter, Koyomi, to life.It makes a lot of sense, of course, and the way the show explains it is done well (I”ve seen some Kamen Rider shows where there are huge, glaring plot holes in the “huge revelation”). But it doesn”t really excuse how the show”s been cock-teasing both Wiseman and White Wizard for 40+ episodes without doing anything with them. We keep getting scenes of some of our heroes encountering either White Wizard or Wiseman, only for him to just cast a spell to teleport away or to create a mist hallucination. It”s a huge, huge gripe that I have. Sure, the plot twist was great, but I really wished I had more of a connection to both of these characters beyond “Medusa”s boss” and “mysterious benefactor”.Ultimately, the White Wizard himself is pretty well acted, I suppose, and the climactic confrontation with Haruto is well done. Interestingly, though, as a tragic character who needs hope that is a nice contrast to Haruto”s insistence that he will “bring hope” to everyone that needs it, he is not the final villain, because after a slight redemption he gets literally stabbed in the back by…
Gremlin, the Phantom that insists everyone call him by his human name,Takigawa Sora. He”s apparently a Phantom that retained his human intelligence, and this is interesting! But he just spends quite literally the entire series dicking around, showing up with an irritating “HELLO” and just acts as a wild card, and he never ever stops being annoying. He keeps hinting that he knows about bigger things about Wiseman”s plans and the Philosopher”s Stone, but Gremlin himself is a static character up until episodes 34-35, which stars him and reveals that despite appearances, he is not a tragic character, but rather a psychopath that has been killing women like a modern-day, badly-dressed Jack the Ripper even before he became a monster. It”s a fun revelation, but after that Gremlin continues to be an annoying prick until the final episode, where he kills the White Wizard and Koyomi in quick succession, absorbs the Philosopher”s Stone, and ends up being the inequivocably-evil final enemy for Haruto to kill.The actor does his best with Gremlin, but he”s a character that shows up way too much and is way too irritating that I honestly didn”t care for him and went “oh, come on” when it was obvious that he”s going to show up for a final confrontation. The way he was utilized is great, since Koyomi”s death was memorable, but Gremlin himself, I feel, wasn”t that interesting of a character and was always pretty static.And… yeah, there”s the problem with the show, I think. The show never does anything with a vast majority of its cast, and while the actors are all pretty well-cast, not a lot of them are allowed to grow out of the couple of lines that defines who they are. Maybe for a shorter, 20-30 episode run, this would suffice, but everyone”s story is stretched out for far, far more than they should have been. And that”s honestly the real problem I have with the show. Ultimately, looking back, I don”t really dislike the show per se, and I certainly cheer whenever Wizard shows up in future cameos in movies or whatever, but the show itself being described as a whole load of wasted potential is certainly accurate.Anyway, those are my thoughts about Kamen Rider Wizard. I”m not sure how regularly I”ll churn these out, and if I”ll keep this format around. .With some of the more serialized shows like Gaim or Build, I could probably do an arc-by-arc structure review. I”ll probably jump around most of the Phase 2 Heisei shows a bit before touching on the others. We”ll see.
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