Dedicated to Justin Carmical and Shotaro Ishinomori
In 2011, I saw a video by Internet Reviewer Justin Carmical a.k.a. JewWario about a video game called Kamen Rider Climax Heroes OOO. It intrigued me since it was basically a Power Rangers/Sentai series about a single hero with a slight insect theme to its characters. Though of course it was so much more. From there I was interested in learning more about Kamen Rider and what it was all about. And I have no regrets about it. This article will explore the background of Kamen Rider and will give a feeling as to what Rider TV will be about with my new review series.
Kamen Rider debuted in 1971, created by Mangaka and Tokusatsu legend Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of many, many staples of Japanese fandom including the Super Sentai Franchise starting with Himitsu Sentai Goranger, Inazuman, Kikaider, and Cyborg 009. This guy did for Japanese television what Osamu Tezuka did for Manga. It was originally about a man named Takeshi Hongo, played by Hiroshi Fujioka, who was abducted by the long running organization Shocker and turned into a “cyborg”, which basically means in this show’s canon, having cybernetic implants, meant to be one of their foot soldiers, the Hoppers. However, before he could be fully brainwashed, Takeshi was saved by a scientist, thus motivating him to use his new found powers to fight against Shocker and all other evil doers as Kamen Rider, which literally translates to “Masked Rider.”
While the series would change characters, themes, and Rider Motifs over the years, the concept would still remain the same. One man with a special belt that allows him to transform into a superhero after declaring the phrase “Henshin”, which means Transform, fighting evil. It has been over 45 years since the franchise began and it is basically to Japan what Superman is to the USA. Hell, when Saban tried to adapt Kamen Rider Black RX into the critically and universally hated Masked Rider in an attempt to mold it into a show that was like Power Rangers, Shotaro Ishinomori declared his hatred of it and because of that show, it is very unlikely that the United States may never see a Kamen Rider Adaptation again, though thankfully we got something good in 2009 with Kamen Rider Dragon Knight.
Kamen Rider initially went on through what is referred to as “The Showa Era”, meaning the Reign of Emperor Hirohito or Emperor Showa from 1926 to 1989. It began with the eponymously titled Kamen Rider and ended with Kamen Rider Black RX. While the franchise would continue with one off films based on original Rider creations, the show would not see a revival until January 30, 2000 with the first show of the Heisei Era, Kamen Rider Kuuga, which acted as a relaunch with the basics of the franchise on display, a good man gains a belt that transforms him into a superhero and he has an insect them, this time a stag beetle, though the cyborg angle was eliminated for a more mystical edge.
With the coming of the Heisei era came a new way of storytelling, though this style was fully introduced with Kamen Rider Black. The series had a more serialized nature to it with an overarching plot instead of a monster of the week. It was also much more visibly violent and decidedly darker tone than the Showa Era, though the Showa Era did have its dark moments, especially when it came to the origin stories of the various Kamen Riders of that time. Still, Kuuga was a big hit and did its job to revive the franchise for the modern age.
However, the rest of the initial Heisei run of Kamen Rider was…. mixed to say the least, partially thanks to head showrunner at the time, Shinichiro Shirakura. Kamen Rider Agito was in my, and other viewer’s opinions, overwritten, with unlikable characters, and too dark for its own good, though it would introduce a long running staple of the franchise to this day, the Secondary Rider, a Kamen Rider that basically functions as the Sixth Ranger for the show. Kamen Rider Ryuki was too dark with bad writing, too many Riders, and featured many of Toshiki Inoue’s tropes bad writing. For reference, google the “Toshiki Inoue Drinking Game” and you shall see. Kamen Rider 555 broke the streak with a show that worked well towards Inoue’s strengths as a writer with the dark tone fitting the overall story being told, a well written plot, a very well done Main Rider, and a good examination of one of the longest running themes of Kamen Rider: What makes someone truly human? Their physiology or their inner character? Can someone, after being physically altered, retain his or her humanity or are they monsters. While it had its faults, it was still a very good series that, after being introduced to it thanks to the reviews of my friend and reviewing colleague Des Shinta, who I recommend viewing for better context to the four series I previously mentioned, I really enjoyed viewing.
I have not seen Kamen Rider Blade, Kamen Rider Hibiki, nor Kamen Rider Kabuto, though on research, I learned that Hibiki is not well regarded by fans, particularly since it apparently started out very good, but due to a staff change, the writing and initial plot deteriorated and thus it became one of the most hated Kamen Rider series of the Heisei Era. Suffice to say, you can see why this era was in trouble; operating under the belief that dark equaled good writing. While I am not against dark stories, I do have to say that these shows missed the point of what made Kamen Rider good. While the Showa Era could be dark, there was a tone of optimism to it with the promise that no matter how dark things got, Kamen Rider would be there to save the day.
It wouldn’t be until after the tenth series, Kamen Rider Decade, that the franchise would fully find its feet with good storytelling, more overall comedic moments, a tone that was a good mix of dark and light, and creative motifs and themes for the Riders in what would be called by fans “The Neo-Heisei Era”. However, I believe that this franchise found its feet with a show that acts as the proto-Neo-Heisei era: Kamen Rider Den-O, which we will be looking at for Rider TV.
I was originally going to review Kamen Rider Fourze as it is my favorite Kamen Rider series and it works as the 40th Anniversary of the franchise. However, I’ve always been fascinated by Den-O since it was introduced to me by EZ Rider in his review of OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let’s Go Kamen Riders and the fan reactions. Den-O is mixed among fans and so far into the series… I can see why. I will go into it as I review it, but for now I will say the main fan critiques: An overly comedic focus, a time travel plot that has a… let’s say abnormal take, and a sense of lack of agency for the Main Rider due to how he Henshins. However, despite the negative reaction, I always wanted to see for myself why it was disliked and there are things to like among fans. For example, this series is decidedly more character focused with a looming background threat for the heroes. I also like the Rider Designs, but again, I’ll get into that when I fully review it. It also works as a Proto-Neo-Heisei show since it not only has a more polished look as opposed to the beginning of the Heisei Era which had a more grainy look to it. It also had Rider suits that looked less rubbery and a mix of plastic and spandex. The comedic focus and character driven story helped as well, but like most prototypes, it wouldn’t be fully perfected until Kamen Rider W, the first show to debut after Kamen Rider Decade.
Rider TV will be a full retrospective of Den-O and when I am done with it, I will move onto another Kamen Rider series. I will be reviewing two episodes per article, since Kamen Rider has each episode work in a two episode arc. I will also be glancing over episodes that count at Filler episodes since I want to stick to the main story. So join me, friends and Tokufaithful, as we board the Train of Time with Kamen Rider Den-O.