Saturday, October 06, 2012

Tackle Week Part 3

Tackle Week belatedly continues with a look at the moment that Tackle is remembered for. Sort of.

Note: If you somehow aren't aware of the character's ultimate fate or are watching Stronger and haven't reached 30 yet, be aware that this part contains huge spoilers.

It's finally time to talk about what many consider to be Tackle's defining moment: her death. Actually, I've always found it a little unfortunate that the thing everybody remembers her for most is dying, though in fairness I can sort of see why:

- It is a really good episode, arguably one of the best in the series. Tense, tragic, and well-directed, it's a standout even in a great show like Stronger.
- It is a really good episode for Tackle, a fact that I think often gets overlooked. Most just concentrate on the death itself, but I think the real meat is in the scenes leading up to it, and how it's the culmination of Yuriko's story arc and the turning point for Shigeru's.
- It's one of the few deaths in Rider that's stuck (sort of) with no backsies. Riderman came back by way of Tahiti, any time a main Rider "dies" it's usually undone by magic, time travel, or talking whales, and these days we're so used to last-episode resurrections it's more surprising if somebody stays dead. But they didn't pull any punches with this one, and they never have since (sort of.)

What's funny is that originally, it wasn't going to be that way at all. It was known early on that Stronger would be the final Kamen Rider series, but its actual length wasn't decided until the series was already under way. I'm not sure what the ultimate deciding factor was, since complete ratings details for Stronger are hard to find. It's averages were less than the previous series, but that's part of the normal downward slide Kamen Rider has been on since the beginning. The first show to buck the trend, ironically, is BLACK RX, even if it's by a .1% Things get more complicated in the Heisei era, but to put things in perspective, if a show was pulling Stronger numbers these days, it would be doing very, very well.

In any event, it was ultimately decided that the series would run for 3 courses, or cours (blocks of 13 episodes) rather than 4 as was planned at one point. I know that they at least got as far as rough plot outlines and an incomplete episode list before cutting back to the current 39 episode run, offering a tantalizing glimpse at what might have been.

Actually, if you think about it, Stronger shows its 3-cours structure pretty clearly. The first 13 episodes are battling against Titan, which culminates in his defeat in 13. Coincidentally, also an important episode for Yuriko, as it goes a bit more into her past. Very little details about the character's history are revealed on the show, and what remains comes from producer Hirayama Tôru's writings. According to him, she was kidnapped by Black Satan along with her brother (who "appears" in the aforementioned 13.) This is interesting as it makes her the more traditionally-Riderish tragic hero on the show, especially since that episode ends with a scene at a grave which has a bookend in episode 31. Beyond that, Hirayama states that she was born in Nice, France; her father was a trader and her mother was a mountaineer (I guess Hirayama liked giving characters a global spin; Ichimonji was born in London and nearly every classic villain has an international point of origin. Baron Fang somehow manages to be from both Siberia and the Congo, though I think the mix-up is due to the homeland for his monster form.)

Episodes 14~26 bring in General Shadow and conclude the Black Satan story arc, with the remainder of the show giving us Delzer, Tackle's noble end and the Kamen Rider grand finale. Had the show run longer though, there were a couple interesting things in the pipeline. Tackle's death would have come a couple episodes later than 30, and the character would have been resurrected before the end of the series, possibly with further alterations. If that means bringing back design elements from the Ishinomori sketches, that would have been pretty cool to see. Furthermore, the previous Riders would have been hanging around considerably longer, which makes a lot of sense when you consider how most Stronger comic versions work out. They're more like late-addition series regulars rather than guest stars.

We can only really speculate on how a 52-episode run of Stronger would have looked. As it is, I think the last third of the series is very strong, with the final 5-episode story arc being incredible stuff that is the genesis for the Legendary Seven of MEGA MAX and a precursor to the kick-ass team-ups in New Kamen Rider. I wouldn't trade it for the world, though it would be interesting to see how it would have played out with Tackle. It sorta does in comic form, but we'll get to that in another part. Ultimately, the show wound up being the length that it is, so Tackle's farewell episode turned out to be her final farewell.

Rewinding for a second, I said that episode 30, "Goodbye Tackle! Her Last Act!" was a good episode for her, even if this fact is often overshadowed by the "Doh-ho-ho, all gurl riders must die!!" aspect that it somehow created. I said I'd be tearing into that idea, so let'd do it.

Put aside the "kind-ofs" and "maybes" like that one girl who became Delta for 5 seconds, or Megumi turning into IXA. Put aside Kivaara, or Nadeshiko who I'd argue wasn't really alive in the conventional sense (as she says herself) so she can't really die in the conventional sense either. Not that it matters anymore, since if you've seen the news about the next Movie War, you know who's coming back.

Yes, Kamen Rider doesn't have a great track record with Riders who happen to be women. There aren't enough of them, and the few that there are tend to be minor roles in movies or a handful of episodes. But I think this has less to do with some silly secret agenda or "tradition" and more to do with the fact that from 2000 on, Rider mortality in general skyrocketed. Male or female, TV or movies, nobody was safe. Consider that more Riders died in 2002 than in the 30 years before that combined, and virtually all of them were male.

Post-2000 movies in particular are veritable bloodbaths, even when you put aside TV characters dying in them. When you get down to it, the only movie Riders who have survived have been either women or guys from the future! There's the Hibiki ones if you want to really stretch it, but even they eventually must have died of old age or something. Seriously, NEW Den-O and Aqua are okay, and the aforementioned Kivaara and Nadeshiko, but everybody else? It's not a question of whether they die or not, it's a question of whether they didn't die again somewhere in Decade (arguably, everybody "dies" in Decade anyway, then gets resurrected somehow.)

Now to be fair, I've noticed that this is largely confined to the earlier 2000's and from Kamen Rider W onward, they've tried to do things a little differently. We still have Riders who die, but there's always some twist to where it's not a conventional death. With Kamen Rider Skull, we basically knew him as a dead body before we ever knew him as Skull, and the character's activities are mostly all in the past. Plus he has an alternate self running around out there, so if you like, Skull's basically alive anyway. Eternal is a literal dead man walking anyway; his reign of terror on Futo was essentially a coffee break from the afterlife. Core and Poseidon barely even quantify as human; they're Kaijin in Rider clothing. By contrast, the main heroes tend to get through the shows in one piece and I already mentioned Nadeshiko. Hell, even when Fourze died it lasted less than an episode and he just came back stronger than ever! Kids these days.

The point of all this isn't to say that Toei is exempt from blame in how they handle female Riders. Far from it, but by the same token I think it's not simply an issue confined to gender. Female Riders die, male Riders die, and I think after 2009 we've been seeing a bit of a shift away from that (of course, I write this as Super Hero Taisen is released on rental DVD, and that movie probably features a ton of fake-out deaths with heroes on both sides jobbing out.)

To go back to Tackle though, again I think it's too bad that her last episode tends to be looked at more for its perceived long-term effects rather than the episode itself, because when it comes to that, well... I'll put it this way: I love Femme, but I don't particularly like how Femme was written out of Episode Final. I feel like she could have either quit like Kitaoka or lasted until the end of the movie, and it wouldn't alter the narrative much since her death barely affects Shinji (poor bastard doesn't even know! That must have been an awkward next day.)

Missing Ace is one of my favorite 2000's Rider movies, but I'll admit it goofed up in how it handled the ultimate face of L'Arc (and Lance.) It would have sent a stronger message had both characters survived and learned something from the real Team Blade, rather than being punked out in one of the film's more nonsensical sequences. I wasn't thrilled with what they did to Akira in Hibiki, who doesn't die, but basically quits the Oni business for reasons I'm still not clear on (Decade did her one better in that regards.) If you want to take those to task as being sloppy, hokey ways to write off a female Rider,  I could see where you're coming from and I'd agree. I love the characters, but given their limited screen time, I think they deserved better send-offs.

But with Tackle, I think it's more complicated. While it's true that her death does lead to a major character moment for Stronger, that's basically just a side effect, not the purpose. Her death is really more about her, and what's more, it's not simply getting killed off because the writers don't know what to do with her anymore. It's the final, necessary part of her story that began back in episode 1.

As we've established, Tackle's whole deal all series long is that she's good, but she's not Stronger. He's the hero of the show, she's a supporting character. The sidekick who can hold her own in a fight, but she's still playing second banana to him. He kills the monsters, the show's named after him, that's just how it works. By this point in the series, she's spending more time hanging around with Tachibana, and in the episodes leading up to 30 there's Yuriko, but little Tackle. It feels like something's going on.

And suddenly we're confronted with a situation that Stronger can't just Electro Fire his way out of. Enter the Delzer Army's scientist extraordinaire, Doctor Kate (voiced by the late, great Soga Machiko herself! Also, "Keitô" is a kind of flower.) She's already been plaguing Stronger in 29, and it's made clear that she's particularly dangerous and very hard to kill, basically straight-up beating Stronger in their first real throw-down. By the time 30 rolls around, it's made plainly clear that if Stronger has so much trouble with her, Tackle wouldn't have a prayer.

And for most of the episode, she doesn't. Yuriko is lethally poisoned almost immediately when entering Kate's lair to save a weakened Stronger and some kids, and takes a dose of deadly gas later on. Yet through all this, she never backs down, always trying to fight back, and hiding her weakness from a Shigeru who it's pretty clear by now cares a lot more about her than he ever thought he would at the start of the show. We get probably one of the best Denpa Nage moments (even the camera feels it!) Then there's the famous fireside scene, one of my favorite moments in Kamen Rider, played brilliantly by all three of the show's leads. Shigeru is too wrapped up in coffee and Major Skull to notice what's right in front of him, until it's too late.

Tachibana in particular is the rock in this episode; it all hinges on him since he's Yuriko's only confidant and the one who spells it out for Shigeru at the end. I would say the end of the episode is probably one of his finest moments as a character, since he's got to comfort our hero, even though you know he's emotionally destroyed on the inside. It makes a lot of sense to me why they waited until Stronger's chapter to bring Tachibana into Spirits; aside from being the last show he was in, I think he shared a particularly strong connection with Shigeru and Yuriko. With the others he was a father figure and a friend, but with them he is more; the very glue that holds them together.

However, when you get down to it, Tackle doesn't die because of some poison. She dies because, when the chips are down and Stronger's life is at risk, she executes the Ultra Cyclone, an attack so devastating it utterly destroys Doctor Kate. The monster Stronger couldn't beat before, and it's very questionable if he could given the shape he's in by that point. It comes with great cost, and Tackle sacrifices her all her life force to use it, but ultimately it's by her own hand. The decision was hers. Rather than die a victim, she dies fighting to save her best friend.

That and the ensuing sequence as Shigeru cradles her body are incredibly powerful stuff, with Shigeru getting a rude wake-up call. It's not all fun and games anymore. Araki is awesome in this scene, and the direction by the underused Yamazaki Daisuke is stellar. I particularly like the fact that when Shigeru cries, we don't see his face, but just the tears falling on his gloved hand holding Yuriko's own. Perhaps the most amazing thing to me is Igami Masaru didn't write this! Good on the other guy though. Igami does get the last word with a follow-up scene at the beginning of 31, which sees the completion of Shigeru's spiritual transformation into a more determined, driven hero and his literal transformation into Charge-Up mode by the end of the episode. But that's another story.

Obviously I love this episode and I don't think writing about it does it justice; you have to see it, but ideally after you've seen the preceding 29 episodes and gotten the full story of Tackle. It really is the perfect final episode for her and although I would have liked to see how they handled a resurrection, if this was going to be it, it was one helluva note to end on. Of course, the story doesn't quite end there, as we'll get to in the next part, where I will finally get to that "in-show context and. franchise reality" stuff I've been going on about.


  1. I have been holding off on watching Stronger until its completed, though i am well aware of Tackle´s story, that said...

    "The decision was hers. Rather than die a victim, she dies fighting to save her best friend."

    Dude, i almost cry right there. I don´t think i will be able to handle the real thing.

  2. It's pretty powerful, even today. Kamen Rider has had a lot of very good character death scenes, but for my money Tackle's is one of the hardest to top. Even watching it again (for the umpteenth time in my life) it's hard not to feel a little bummed out afterwards. It's good to have the remainder of the series to look forward to though!