Welcome back to Mangamania and it’s time for Mangamania’s contribution to the 45th anniversary of Kamen Rider with my review of Kamen Rider Spirits, a manga series based off the Showa Era of Kamen Rider, starring every single Showa Era Kamen Rider before Kamen Rider Black. It’s a manga that honors the Showa Era of Kamen Rider in a way that many Heisei Era Writers, like Shoji Yonemura of the Kamen Rider Taisen Films, failed to do. It’s a series that is dark, yet hopeful. New, yet familiar. A series about Heroes that come to the aid of the people in their time of need. A legacy of Masked Heroes. They are the Kamen Riders. Here we talk about my second favorite Manga series of all time.
In an unspecified time period, a growing threat to the human race, known as the Badan Empire, is on the rise. Villains from the past are coming back or new ones are appearing. Thus, ever Kamen Rider is needed to save the day. These include Takeshi Hongo (Kamen Rider Ichigo), Hayato Ichimonji (Kamen Rider Niigo), Shiro Kazami (Kamen Rider V3, Joji Yuki (Riderman), Keisuke Jin or Kamen Rider X, Daisuke Yamamoto (Kamen Rider Amazon), Shigeru Jo (Kamen Rider Stronger), Hiroshi Tsukuba (Kamen Rider Skyrider), and Kazuya Oki (Kamen Rider Super-1). Along with Kazuya Taki, a long time ally of the original Kamen Riders, it’s up to these Riders to stand up to save the world from the Badan Empire. However, a new Kamen Rider is around. One that works for the Badan Empire. Who is this Rider? What side will he fight for? Find out in Kamen Rider Spirits, written and drawn by Kenichi Muraeda!
Writing and Characters
This is possibly one of the best tributes to the Showa Era of Kamen Rider I’ve ever seen. It puts most of the live action Kamen Rider movie crossovers to shame with how well it portrays the Riders. Every Rider feels like their tv counterparts and act exactly how they should act. Story wise, it’s very sporadic in its approach during the early chapters. While there is an overarching plot, it does take a while for the Badan Empire plot to come to the forefront, leaving the early chapters to introduce and develop the Kamen Riders and show them for who they are as characters. And this was probably the best move Muraeda could have made.
It is clear that Muraeda is a big fan of the original Showa Era Riders. That is more than evident in how he treats the Riders from the very beginning. Unlike Shoji Yonemura, who has no understanding of what made the Showa Era good, going so far as to write the Showa Era Riders as the antagonists of Kamen Rider Taisen, Muraeda treats them with the utmost respect. This is evident in the first appearance of Takeshi Hongo in the first chapter of Spirits when Takeshi comes to the aid of Kazuya Taki in his greatest hour of need and Henshins into Kamen Rider Ichigo (Kamen Rider 1). The moment is treated like an angel coming from on high to save the day. And it’s even done IN COLOR! It’s a glorious moment that deserves to be framed on a wall and worshipped by all in the Toku Faithful. The other single stories are good as well, each one devoting at least two chapters per Rider. My personal favorites were the ones about Amazon, Riderman, and Skyrider.
Amazon’s story was a very heartwarming story about a lonely boy genius named Victor who is under threat of kidnapping from Human-to-Animal Cyborgs beings lead by soon to be recurring villain Needle. However, Amazon or Daisuke Yamamoto comes to his rescue and the two of them look into why Needle and his men wanted Victor in the first place. It’s a good intro to Amazon and really show cased just how bloody the original Kamen Rider Amazon could be. The Skyrider chapters were about Hiroshi and his sidekick GanGanG traveling in Norway when they come across a woman and her reclusive scientist father who are under attack from a Moth Man Cyborg. While I heard “meh” things about the main Skyrider series, this chapter did make me want to know more about Skyrider and to try the show out for myself. However, of the three favorites, Riderman’s chapter was my personal favorite as it not only showcased the most physically weakest Rider, but it also gave an explanation for why Riderman appeared in later series after dying.
The explanation was that Riderman or Joji Yuki, the former partner of Kamen Rider V3, survived the explosion that supposedly killed him, but left him with amnesia. He meets Interpol Agent Annrietta Birkin and comes under pursuit by his old enemy from Destron, the villains of V3, Marshal Yoroi, who has transformed himself into a Gigantic Crab Man. Yuki and Anri end up on an island in Tahiti where they meet a little girl and her grandfather, eventually becoming sorta surrogate parents to that little girl, though Anri and Joji never really become a couple, but it’s really sweet to see them playing with a little girl, especially in one particular panel. Overall, the Rider intro chapters are great and really do work to help sell the Showa Riders to fans that are only familiar with the Heisei Era Riders.
Now onto the main story. After his introduction, the new Rider, revealed to be the Spirits version of Ryo Murasame (Kamen Rider ZX) the Tenth Rider. Initially he’s an antagonistic Rider, having been brainwashed by Badan, but he eventually overcomes the brainwashing and joins with the other 9 Riders. Ryo takes the stage as the main character of the Manga while the other Riders fill in support roles, but are still present for most of the story.
That brings me to a couple problems I have with the manga: The pacing and Ryo himself. While the build up to the full coming of the Badan Empire is great and gives plenty of hints as to what is to come, especially with the many monsters that they’ve created. However, when the Badan Empire arrives, the quick yet very concise pacing of the opening chapters feels lost and it just seems to drag on. It falls victim to the trap that many manga that run on for too long fall into: Pacing problems. While the writing is good enough to make me want to continue onwards with the story, the pacing can drag along.
This brings me to the character of Ryo Murasame or Kamen Rider ZX. While the writing for him is compelling, dealing with his amnesia, his lost humanity (which is a long running theme in Kamen Rider) and guilt over being made to do terrible things, he also falls victim to another manga cliché: Angst and brooding. It’s a trend that I really am tired of when it comes to Manga. It’s boring and predictable. We know that Ryo will get over it eventually, that’s how these arcs go, but it just drags on and on. It’s a boring cliché that needs to stop. Immediately. No more of them. Yes, he has the right to brood given what he’s gone through, but it just doesn’t feel new and well done.
The writing itself isn’t bad, but it is pretty trendy for Tokusatsu stories, especially for an expansion of the Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together!! Special that acted as a one off episode that introduced ZX and the Badan Empire. While it does have moments of introspection and deep thought along with good character development for the Riders, at its core, it’s a story about men in spandex fighting monsters. And that’s good enough for me, even with its flaws.
Now the art is probably the weakest part of the story. Not to say that it is bad, but the art itself isn’t all that impressive, especially compared to My Hero Academia. If I had to say what it feels like, in regards to the character designs, it feels generic. The biggest problem with it is that the human designs feel a bit… samey. The bodies are all basic body types meant to fit the characters. The faces feel the same. Like compare two pictures of two of the Kamen Riders and you’ll see that they aren’t all that distinct. It feels reminiscent of other Shonen Manga that I’ve read, thus lacking its own true identity in regards to character designs and body. And that’s really all the negativity I have towards the art.
The best part about the art is the action, the looks of the Riders, and the monster designs. Seriously, I love these monster designs. They look like they were taken straight out of the show and brought to the page, though upgraded to compensate for the very fake looking designs from the old days of TV. The best designs for me are Tiger-Roid and Marshal Yoroi’s Giant Crab form. I also love how the Rider designs are done for the manga. One good example is Kamen Rider Amazon’s design. It really has the organic look for Amazon’s costume down to an A.
Now the action. The action is probably the most important part for a manga like this. And it works. The movement flows very well for this comic. It feels fluid from panel to panel and when the action begins? Oooooh, baby, does it look awesome. Each action scene packs a punch, making sure to show the effect of the impact of each blow. If I had to say which was my favorite action scene, it would have to be Riderman vs Marshal Yoroi with the Coup De Grace being his blasting Armor from the inside using his machine gun arm.
Overall, the art is good, but it doesn’t feel wholly unique and it feels like it doesn’t have its identity. However, the monster designs and the action scenes make up for any shortcomings the art may have. It feels like I’m reading something from the show brought onto the page. And I love it. I love what I’m reading. Overall, the art works for the manga and while I may have complaints, I feel that it works well.
I love this manga. I love it so much. It’s probably my second favorite manga that I’ve read thus far. The writing is very Kamen Rider-esque with good characterization and plenty of “Hell Yeah” moments littered throughout the story. While the art isn’t very unique, it serves its purpose for the story and delivers a lot of great action for the story. However, what it truly gets right is the sense of Hope that is supposed to be part of Kamen Rider.
Kamen Rider is about one man, or two men give or take a season or two, taking a stand for what’s right. A man with a special belt or cybernetic modifications that makes him into a superhuman. Fighting against monsters that live to hurt and kill others because they can. Because they don’t care about the importance of life. Kamen Rider, even in the Showa era, had plenty of dark moments. Moments when it all seemed hopeless. Moments when it seemed that it was all going to end and that the monsters would win. Then he would come. No matter the time, the Motif (Basically a certain object or creature that a Rider is based on), or the place, there will always be a Kamen Rider. To quote Kazuya Taki, “Won’t you believe in him? That… Even if there is no God or Buddha… There is Kamen Rider.” That is the core of Kamen Rider. And that’s why this is one of my favorite Manga and one of the best tributes to the Showa Era.
Now for the bad news: You cannot buy this in English. As of this review, Kamen Rider Spirits has not been Officially Licensed and translated into English or other languages. If you want to read this, you will have to track down fan translations of this manga. And while they aren’t the best translated at times, but it’s better than nothing at all. If you can, find this manga and read it. Enjoy one of the best manga I’ve ever read in my life. Read Kamen Rider Spirits.