REVIEW: DOUBUTSU SENTAI ZYUOHGER

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Starring

Masaki Nakao (Cheer Boys!!)
Miki Yanagi (Kakegurui)
Shohei Nanba (Sengoku Basara)
Tsurugi Watanabe (Does the Flower Bloom?)
Haruka Tateishi (Prison 13)
Naoki Kunishima (You Are the Apple of My Eye)
Susumu Terajima (Human Trust)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Kohei Murakami (Kamen Rider 555)
Unshō Ishizuka (Choushinsei Flashman)
Shun Nishime (Kamen Rider Ghost)
Aoi Yuki (Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger)
Kenshiro Iwai (Code Blue)
Masami Horiuchi (Kamen Rider Drive)
Sayuri Inoue (The Hatsumori Bemars)
Seiya Osada (Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger)
Ayana Shiramoto (Kamen Rider Amazons)
Eriko Moriwaki (Kamen Rider Agito)
Ryota Ozawa (Nozokime)
Yūki Yamada (Holiday Love)
Mao Ichimichi (Uchu Sentai Kyuranger)
Kazuki Shimizu (A Day of One Herb)
Yui Koike (Daily Lives of High School Boys)
Junya Ikeda (Garo: Kami no Kiba)
Tomokazu Seki (Shuriken Sentai Ninninger)
Hiroaki Iwanaga (Kamen Rider 000)
Tomiyuki Kunihiro (Sleeping Bride)

doubutsu-sentai-zyuohger-1121483a-6b6a-4ade-8f3b-4a08f4720b2-resize-750There are some themes and motifs that Super Sentai will always come back to. In 2013 the long-running franchise turned to dinosaurs for a third time with Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, and more recently it also did ninjas for a third time with Shuriken Sentai Ninninger. With that in mind, it seems almost fitting that the 40th anniversary Toei would revisit yet another popular motif – animals. 2016-2017 was the year of Doubutsu Sentai Zyohger, the 40th team in the Super Sentai series and released as part of Toei’s “Super Hero Year” anniversary celebrations.

After falling through a mysterious portal to a world of anthropomorphic animals known as Zyuland, zoologist Yamato Kazakiri encounters four of its people – Sela (a shark), Leo (a Lion), Amu (a Tiger) and Tusk (an Elephant), and is accused of stealing one of the six Champions Symbols that power the link between the two worlds. However their meeting coincides with the arrival of the Dethgalians – a group of aliens who have decided on the Earth as the site for their 100th Blood Game. As Yamato returns to Earth with the four Zyumen in tow, the five are able to use the Champions Symbols to become Earth’s newest guardians – the Zyuohgers. The team are able to fend off the Dethgalians first attack but upon their return to the Link Cube the Zyumen find the sixth Symbol missing, stranding them on Earth until it is found.

Blending in with humanity, the four Zyumen join Yamato as they search for the means to return home while fighting off the Dethgalian attacks. Eventually the Dethgalians raise the stakes as they create their own Zyuohger, created from three kidnapped Zyuman and the brainwashed human Mondo Misao. After freeing Misao from their clutches, he joins the team as Zyuoh The World as the Blood Games continue.

Starring two humans and four anthropomorphic animals, Zyuohger immediately sets itself apart from the usual Super Sentai formula of either an entirely human team or one limited to one or two “different” members. Sure the Zyumen adopt human disguises fairly quickly, but their clothing and tails (or in Sela’s case, fin) serve as a constant reminder that Zyuohger is playing with a slightly different dynamic. Don’t be too fooled into thinking Zyuohger is any less red-centric that most other Super Sentai though – it’s still Yamato that gets the most development, the most power ups (three animals compared to the others’ one) and the big speeches/action sequences.However presentation is key, and Zyuohger still manages to make the four Zyumen feel suitably fleshed out even if they aren’t getting the same treatment as their human teammate. They all get their obligatory spotlight episodes as their time to shine, but each Zyuman has their own distinct and well-realised personality that makes their interactions a joy to watch. A particularly great standalone episode is 32, where a monster attack causes the characters’ “hidden personalities” to also come on show.

But in terms of characterisation it’s actually Misao that deserves the most praise, who has arguably emerged as one of the most realistic and relatable characters the franchise has ever put out. As if his turn as an evil ranger and unique tri-coloured suit wasn’t enough to earn him a place in the cool books, the show’s honest depiction of someone suffering from depression is quite unlike anything Sentai has tackled before. Yes his fluctuating mood is the butt of numerous (and admittedly funny) jokes, but the actual narrative is relatively sincere in the way it portrays his constantly shifting mental state, survivors’ guilt and difficulty overcoming his emotions. Combine this with Yamato’s own parental turmoil, and Zyuohger has done a pretty good job of tackling issues rarely seen in Super Sentai these days.

However the Dethgalians fall on the simpler side of the Super Sentai villain spectrum, setting out with very little background other than “some aliens are here to destroy things”. While their motivations don’t make for particularly deep storytelling, seeing their leader Genis’ see everything as a game for his amusement works in their favour – painting him as a chilling opponent unphased by setbacks and always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else. It isn’t until the arrival of the megabeast hunter Bunglay that things begin to take an interesting turn, as the weekly monsters are recycled and pushed to one side story-wise. It brings forward development for Genis own generals (or “players”) – Quval and Azald. Although his attendant Naria is still left with no personality outside of being unflinchingly loyal, those two are pushed to be more than that.

Aesthetically Zyuohger thrives on simplicity, reflected both in the suits and the cube-themed animal mecha. The latter’s case is something that didn’t necessarily translate well when it came to the toys (minipla notwithstanding), but onscreen work rather well – with the cute brightly coloured animals giving Zyuohger a unique visual identity that sets it apart from the similarly themed Gaoranger. The simpler designs also make for far more fluid robot designs, which while boxy in nature don’t have the same unappealing pile-of-parts look many “ultimate” combos now suffer from. There’s nothing especially new to be had here and the combination of animals and retro-styled video game cubes doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but as far as the show goes it definitely works.

Finally as the 40th entry in the franchise Zyuohger does have some anniversary element to it, but in the more reserved sense (akin to Gaoranger or Boukenger) rather than an all-out celebration like Gokaiger was. Gokaiger is far too fresh in everyone’s memories to try and top it yet, so instead Zyuohger’s main strength is in that it is simply a solid Super Sentai series. It never really tries to reinvent the wheel, but knows the tropes of the franchise well enough to keep them fresh and entertaining. Throwing a mecha battle in at the start of an episode might not sound like much, but for a show that’s stuck to its format so rigidly for decades it comes as a welcome surprise.Of course it wouldn’t be an anniversary without cameos, and while the Zyuohger vs Ninninger movie covers the bulk of that there’s also a wonderful two-part story here featuring the return of the Gokaigers. The two teams have a wonderful dynamic, with Gokaigers going about their heroism in their usual standoffish way. But most importantly these two episodes are integral to Zyuohger’s plot as well, making them far more than just some well-polished fanservice and the perfect opportunity to officially add the post-Gokaiger shows to the Ranger Key collection.

While there are undoubtedly some areas Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger could have done better in, that doesn’t change the fact that this is arguably the strongest Super Sentai has been in the last few years. Even through its usual Red-centricity Zyuohger displays memorable characters with their own unique traits, arcs and development – presenting the feeling of a well-rounded and equal cast even when it doesn’t quite feel like that on paper. Additionally the villains for the most part all had their own stories to tell, which despite not coming into the spotlight enough were all well signposted and kept the show interesting. It also works perfectly as an anniversary series – not by attempting the same thing as Gokaiger but instead simply coming out as a well-crafted series that does all the things a good Super Sentai series should. Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger might be the one offering a much-needed shakeup to the formula, but 2016 was a definitely a year where Super Sentai shined.untitled

REVIEW: KAMEN RIDER GHOST

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Starring

Shun Nishime (Liar! Uncover the Truth)
Hikaru Ohsawa (Death Note)
Ryosuke Yamamoto (Samulife)
Takayuki Yanagi (Ikenie no Dilemma)
Yoshiyuki Morishita (Naotora: The Lady Warlord)
Hayato Isomura (Hiyokko)
Sotaro Yasuda (Juken Sentai Gekiranger)
Akihiro Mayama (Carved 2: The Scissors Massacre)
Mio Kudo (Mashin Sentai Kiramager)
Takuya Mizoguchi (Kamen Rider Decade)
Reo Kanshuji (Blue Demon ver.2.0 )
Yasuomi Sano (Moonlight Mask)
Naoto Takenaka (Garo: Makai Senki)
Aoi Yuki (Kamen Rider 555)
Kazuhiko Nishimura (Choujuu Sentai Liveman)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Yukari Taki (Kamen Rider Build)
Shunsaku Yajima (Kamen Rider W)
Hitomi Nabatame (School Rumble)
Tetsu Inada (Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger)
Tomokazu Seki (Kamen Rider 1)
Rie Tsuneyoshi (CSI: Crime Scene Talks Drama Special)
Masaki Nakao ( Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger)
Arisa Komiya (Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters)
Kaya Hioki (Haguregumi vs Ninja)
Makoto Okunaka (Kamen Rider Wizard)
Rin Honoka (Kamne Rider Fourze)
Takumi Tsutsui (Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya)
Reon Kadena (The Pinkle)
Hiroki Iijima (Kamen Rider Ex-Aid)

Kamen Rider Ghost Ore DamashiiAfter the sheer insanity/genius of giving a Kamen Rider a car instead of a bike, it’s almost as if Toei went motif crazy in order to make the 2015-16 Rider seem just as innovative. Eyeball collectibles, hoodies, historical figures, a pirate ship that can transform into a giant iguana – these are just some of the facets that make up Kamen Rider Ghost. Spanning a total of 50 episodes, including a crossover with currently airing Super Sentai series Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger, the 17th Heisei era Kamen Rider series (and 26th in total) marks Takuro Fukuda’s debut as lead writer and stars Shun Nishime as the titular character.Image result for KAMEN RIDER GHOSTOn his 16th birthday Takeru Tenkuji, the son of a ghost hunter who died ten years prior, is killed by a monster known as a Ganma while trying to protect his friends from its attack. Resurrected by a mysterious hermit and bestowed with a device known as the Ghost Driver, Takeru gains the ability to transform into Kamen Rider Ghost using orb shaped trinkets known as Eyecons. However Takeru now only has 99 days to gather 15 additional Eyecons contain the souls of historical figures, which when brought together will grant him one wish – to be brought back to life.Image result for KAMEN RIDER GHOSTOn his journey Takeru re-encounters his childhood friend Makoto Fukami, who along with his sister was sucked into the Ganma world ten years ago and has now taken the guise of Kamen Rider Specter. Though initially clashing, the two Riders also face off against the Ganma forces who are devoted to invading our world and reshaping it in their image of perfection. Enemies include the Ganma prince Alain (later becoming Kamen Rider Necrom) and his brother Adel – who also allies himself with the Ganmeizers, 15 deities that defend the Ganma world.Image result for KAMEN RIDER GHOST CASTThe series opens with Takeru on his 99-day quest to collect the 15 Dragon Balls Eyecons and wish for his mortality back from the Eternal Dragon Great Eye, during which he encounters past historical figures and gains new power ups along the way. Each Eyecon grants a new form, which means there are a total of 15 forms on offer before the series is even halfway through. Takeru himself doesn’t receive all of these initially, but even with that in mind it’s still a case of him receiving a new form almost every episode. Even the first episode pulls no punches about how quickly they’re sped through, as Ghost receives the first of his Heroic Eyecons (Musashi) before the audience has even properly gotten to grips with his base form. The speed they’re gone through not only means that many of them don’t really get a decent amount of exposure.12522977_1188615781165919_904208118060116510_nHowever this initial premise only lasts a mere 11 episodes, as Takeru sacrifices his wish to bring Makoto’s sister Kanon back to life instead. Rewarded with a reset countdown and an upgraded base form, the Eyecon gathering starts anew as the Ganma threat becomes properly realised. This is where the show becomes a little more interesting as Alain’s character development takes centre stage, with the Ganma’s argument that humans don’t deserve their world providing that dash of morality that makes Kamen Rider villains so interesting. From there the show moves into yet another arc as it introduces Adel and the Ganmeizers, returning to the “victim of the week” format as this time the cast connect with the Heroic Eyecons rather than finding them. This is the point the show decides to go big on themes (“humanities potential is infinite” etc.)Image result for KAMEN RIDER GHOST CASTKamen Rider Ghost is a great addition to the Kamen Rider family, Thou not as good as Kamen Rider Drive it still holds its own and the last episode gives us a tease of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid which looks to be very intresting.

REVIEW: KAMEN RIDER 1

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Starring

Hiroshi Fujioka (Katsu Kaishū)
Shun Nishime (Kamen Rider Ghost)
Natsumi Okamoto (Back Street Girls)
Tsuyoshi Abe (The Incite Mill)
Nao Nagasawa (Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger)
Kozo Takeda (Sandada Maru)
Hikaru Ohsawa (Tokyo Slaves)
Ryosuke Yamamoto (Perfect Son)
Takayuki Yanagi (Kamen TEacher)
Takuya Mizoguchi (Ninja Kids!!!)
Ren Osugi (Shin Godzilla)
Aoi Yūki (Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger)
Kōji Ishii (Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger)

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With Super Sentai and Kamen Rider celebrating their 40th and 45th anniversaries this year, Toei have dubbed 2016 as “Super Hero Year” with very good reason. But while the former franchise might seem like it’s been slacking a bit on the celebration front, the same can’t be said for Kamen Rider. In addition to the Amazon Prime exclusive Kamen Rider Amazons series, a legendary hero has also made his return to the fold. Kamen Rider 1 sees Hiroshi Fujioka reprise his role as Takeshi Hongo/Kamen Rider 1, crossing over with the cast of Kamen Rider Ghost in a feature-length celebration. Fujioka himself was actively involved in the development of the film, writing it alongside prolific tokusatsu veteran Toshiki Inoue. While both Rider 1 and Fujioka have made various reappearances over the years, this film sees him once again in the leading role – complete with a brand new look to go with it.
Takeshi Hongo, the first ever Kamen Rider, has spent years travelling the world battling the forces of evil. However when the evil organisation Shocker target Mayu Tachibana, granddaughter of Hongo’s friend and Rider mentor Tobei Tachibana, he returns to Japan once more. Also caught up in the fight against Shocker is Takeru Tenkujii, Kamen Rider Ghost, and his friends.
But Shocker isn’t the only evil they have to worry about, as a new faction rises to make its own bid for power – Nova Shocker! As the two evil organisations battle both the Riders and each other for Mayu and the power held within her, Hongo is faced with the option of hanging up the mask to live a peaceful life with Mayu. With the years of fighting evil finally taking their toll on the great hero, could this be Kamen Rider 1’s final battle?

Forget the woefully out of character interpretation brought back for 2014’s Heisei Rider vs. Showa Rider: Kamen Rider Taisen, this is truly the return of Takeshi Hongo. This is a man who’s spent the last 45 years travelling the world and fighting evil, fight alongside and losing comrades along the way. He carries himself with a gruff hardened exterior, but behind all the fighting and cybernetics lies a man who’s clearly grown tired of it all and longs for a normal life. Hiroshi Fujioka manages to convey all this in just his stance and facial expressions, but through his dialogue he’s also able to create this commanding presence which at the same time feels like the return of an old friend. The introduction of Mayu also gives Hongo this new grandfatherly edge, and the scenes in which he bonds with her and does things his life never usually permits him are some of the most touching that the film has to offer. Although the fake out of his death is all too predictable (as if they’d let Takeshi Hongo die) the emotion leading up to that point is all too real, as the years of fighting visibly take their toll on the great hero.

Although the film is undoubtedly Hongo’s story he isn’t alone, and in Kamen Rider 1 he finds new comrades in the cast of Kamen Rider Ghost – the currently airing show at the time of the film’s release. Kamen Rider Ghost might not be many people’s favourite series, but when freed from the murkiness of their own story there’s a lot to like about the cast here. Takeru’s youth and cheery optimism make the perfect foil to the wizened Hongo, with the two developing a strong teacher/protégé dynamic throughout the course of the film. It’s clear that Hongo sees a lot of himself in Takeru, both in the way he values life and the help he receives along the way from his comrades. As such Akari and Onari are crucial even when just sitting comfortably in their support roles, with Onari’s over the top comedy appropriately restrained. That isn’t to say Kamen Rider 1 isn’t without laughs – the Ghost cast provide a much needed comedic balance to the film, especially in the earlier moments as Takeru and Akari infiltrate a high school to get closer to Mayu. Oh and Makoto is there too – but less as a character and more to bolster to the Rider ranks and have some to fight while Takeru and Hongo are enjoying the more emotional scenes. True to his appearance in his own show then.

Of course you can’t bring Takeshi Hongo back without also resurrecting the villainous organisation that created him, and this time there’s also an all-out Shocker civil war to deal with. The idea that Nova Shocker aims to control the world through the global economy is the perfect update to the original’s outdated notions of world domination, and ties in nicely with the Shocker Ishinomori created and expanded upon in his original manga. Toei have repeatedly brought back Shocker under various new guises in the past six years, but this is the first time that an update has actually felt natural and relevant. Shocker’s datedness is pushed both through their methods and the visuals, and despite their once great status are constantly touted as the underdogs. But you can’t keep a good villain down, and the return of Ambassador Hell is a turning point that culminates in a wonderful moment of hero and villain fighting side by side. Nova Shocker’s three generals present a genuinely credible threat and are a pleasure to watch onscreen, despite the somewhat minor characterisation.

Nova Shocker aren’t the only ones that have gotten with the times either, with this film marking the debut of a new look for its starring Rider. In an attempt to not only modernise a 45 year old suit but also make it look like its Hongo under the helmet, the new Rider 1 suit throws out the streamline look and opts for one that prioritises bulk and armour – something you’d expect from a man getting on in years. The film doesn’t pay a great deal of notice as to why the suit has changed, but as a cyborg needing to keep up with the latest threats it doesn’t seem a stretch for Hongo to have made some modifications over time. The added bulk also makes Hongo stand out from Ghost and Specter, whose suits seem almost retro in comparison. Much in the way The Dark Knight Returns re-imagined a much older, bigger Batman who was still more than capable of besting his foes, Kamen Rider 1 has done exactly the same but without any of the emotional baggage that came with it. Making a random appearance on the Ghost side of things are the post-Decade Rider Eyecons, which may bring the canoncity of Rider 1 into question but are certainly the perfect addition for an anniversary movie.


If there was one complaint to be had about this film, it’s the inclusion/use of the Alexander the Great Eyecon. Its relevance is completely shoehorned in, acting only as a way to keep Ghost’s own gimmicks relevant in a film that’s only marginally about the show. However that isn’t to say that there’s no place for an all-powerful Eyecon in the film at all – in fact a better idea would have been to make it a Great Shocker Leader one instead. This way the plot of the film remains exactly the same, however it feels far more relevant and has the added symbolism of the two Shocker factions fighting over their former leader’s power. It fits so perfectly you have to wonder why it wasn’t done in the first place.
Pooka-10Kamen Rider 1 might not have the explosive grandeur of the recent Super Hero Taisen films, but what it does have is the heart that they were sorely lacking. The film is a wonderfully 45th anniversary tribute to the hero that started him all, bringing him back properly for one more adventure that brings the Kamen Rider 1 story into modern times. Fujioka plays the role better than ever, and the Ghost cast play their role perfectly in symbolising a crossover between two heroes that may be from different generations but share exactly the same values. Takeru’s closing words of “Takeshi Hongo will always be my hero” couldn’t ring any truer.

REVIEW: Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Ghost & Drive: Super Movie Wars Genesis

 

Starring

Shun Nishime (Kamen Rider Ghost)
Hikaru Ohsawa (Tokyo Slaves)
Ryosuke Yamamoto (The Travelling Chronicles)
Takayuki Yanagi (Amanogawa)
Naoto Takenaka (Hideoyoshi)
Takuya Mizoguchi (Kamen Rider Decade)
Reo Kanshuji (Blue Demon ver.2.0)
Kazuhiko Nishimura (Choujuu Sentai Liveman)
Aoi Yuki (Kamen Rider 555)
Yoshiyuki Morishita (The Grudge)
Hayato Isomura (Hiyokko)
Ryoma Takeuchi (Detective Pikachu)
Rio Uchida (Chimamire Sukeban Chainsaw)
Taiko Katono (Gaki Rock)
Yu Inaba (Clone Baby)
Tsurutaro Kataoka (Sharaku)
Chris Peppler (Tokyo Eye)
Rei Yoshii (Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger)
Kenta Hamano (Segodon)
Taira Imata (Super Hero Taisen GP: Kamen Rider 3)
Tomoya Warabino (First Kiss)
Shōta Matsushima (Godhand Teru)
Fumika Baba (Code Blue)

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Just as the latest Kamen Rider is beginning to find his footing, his predecessor returns for one last goodbye as part of a Movie Wars crossover which has been a franchise staple for the past seven years. This time it’s the turn of Kamen Rider Ghost, reuniting once more with Kamen Rider Drive in the time-travelling Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Ghost & Drive: Super Movie Wars Genesis. Other than boasting a “super” along with the typically lengthy title, Movie Wars Genesis throws one big format change into the works – making it a particularly notable entry in this popular series of crossovers.

When first division police officer Shinnosuke Tomari is asked to investigate mysterious going ons that cannot be explained by science, he encounters Takeru Tenkuji and Mysterious Paranormal Insitute during a fight against a Ganma thief. Following a brief misunderstanding between Kamen Riders Drive, Mach, Ghost and Specter, the two groups settle and begin to learn more about each other. All of a sudden a space/time portal appears, sucking in both Takeru and Shinnosuke and transporting them back to 2005. Here the two find themselves in the care of Takeru’s father Ryu – mere days before his untimely death.

However what they also discover is a Ganma plot to awaken a Leonardo da Vinci Eyecon, and a young Akari is right at the centre of it. Meanwhile in 2015 Specter and Mach have their own problems, as the space/time rift causes the resurrection of Roidmudes Heart, Brain and Medic – led by  none other than the Da Vinci Ganma himself. What unfolds is a battle across two time periods, as Ghost and Drive battle in the past to defeat the Ganma and fix the present.

Regular viewers of the Movie Wars series will notice that the biggest change when it comes to Movie Wars Genesis is that the Rider 1 segment/Rider 2 segment/Crossover format has finally been done away with in favor of a feature-length story that features the casts of both series’. While it still may have two stories running parallel, the film happily jumps between the past and present where appropriate to keep the story flowing. This new approach highly benefits the crossover aspect of the film, tying the two Riders together early on whereas previous movies kept them strictly apart until the last half an hour or so.


This revamped format definitely works just as well in execution as it does in theory, with the casts of both Drive and Ghost almost immediately showing excellent camaraderie that develops beautifully. The cast of Kamen Rider Ghost have constantly proven themselves to be a welcoming bunch and welcome the cast of Drive with open arms. This doesn’t just apply to the five Riders either  the extended casts also work wonderfully together. Villains are also handled well too, with the idea of a Da Vinci Eyecon/Ganma tying nicely into Ghost’s overall themes. The presentation of the three Renaissance Ganma is good enough to portray them as a threat more notable than the usual Ganma, but without having to rely on the gimmick of a poorly placed movie Rider to up the ante.


Movie Wars Genesis is a film that raises several questions and inconsistencies, but definitely has its heart in the right place. The altered format not only improves the crossover element of the film considerably, it offers a less predictable and more unique viewing experience that will hopefully carry forward into future Movie Wars instalments. As a farewell to Kamen Rider Drive it could have perhaps done better, but it manages to perfectly capture the excitement of Kamen Rider Ghost’s early episodes and provide a satisfying crossover that brings out the best in both casts.