Sunday, March 18, 2018

Rider Warriors (Version Heisei)

Yuusuke Godai/Kamen Rider Kuuga

Godai was a modern, sensitive character that suited the new times that Kuuga -- as a show, as a character -- was meant to present. Selfless, competent, able, he threw himself into the unknown for the sake of other people, risking his body and health, and managed to accomplish what no ancient warrior before him had due to his strength of character and soul. So, again the classic Rider element of "Will this power change him, corrupt him, ruin him," but spun in a new way. You have a dangerous, mysterious power, but it's given to a character who's so genuinely good, could it possibly corrupt him?

I liked early on when they showed the power taking a toll on Godai. He'd put on a smile, but hunch over in pain in private. The power required him to sleep an ungodly amount. He's a genuinely good person, but on the outside, he looks a little irresponsible, acting before thinking, looking like a lazy slacker. But his intentions are so good, he's such a well-meaning guy that nobody could stay mad at him...

But it was nice when they did. Kuuga wanted to be realistic, and I feel it was successful in many ways -- taking a crazy concept like henshin heroes, but applying realism to it in the style and action and consequences and how friends, family, citizens, communities, cities would respond to monster attacks, giving the monsters their own language and code of conduct -- Kuuga accomplished it well. For me, the show gets a little too soft on Godai, though. For all of its attempts at realism, Godai starts to slip and they depict him as being just a bit too perfect. Somebody like Godai would rub a lot of people the wrong way in real life. Sure, some would warm to him, but not EVERYONE. And the show had no problem showing people kind of doubt or distrust or get bothered by Godai's super easygoingness early on, but after a while he wins over everyone with a simple thumbs up.

The moment which perfectly captures this is later on, when Godai's with the cops in a meeting and everyone is all grim and serious and Godai just bursts in with a "daijobu!" and a thumbs-up and a silly face and everyone just laughs and starts to worship Godai. There reaches a point in the show where Godai starts to come off like a kid or a simpleton, and that's not how he's supposed to be, and I always felt like it was basically Odagiri getting a little tired of the role and overcompensating by playing up the goofier aspect of the character more. And what's worse is, when he really lays it on, it makes the character seem insincere. There's a lot of things I like about Godai, but the seemingly dim-witted side isn't one of them. The unrealistic way everyone falls in love with him is another, which is one of the many reasons I say...

Shouichi Tsugami/Kamen Rider Agito Godai done right. He's the peace-loving hippie, he's the guy who's so apparently pure and decent that he's able to control Ozawa's unwieldy G3-X A.I., he's the guy who marches to his own beat, has his own unique outlook on life and is someone seen as being care-free and chill. Only, Shouichi does manage to rub people the wrong way. While his unique take on things does sway some characters over time -- Ashihara initially dislikes him, but takes on his philosophy to the improvement of his life -- most people think he's an oddball. The people he lives with like to mock him. The only person immediately on his side is the quirky Ozawa.

I feel like the characters of Agito react to the Godai/Shouichi type in a realer way. And while Godai certainly wasn't unflappable -- I raved about the Porcupine Grongi episodes before it was cool -- Shouichi is shown more having moments of doubt or fear or anger or pain. There's the added dilemma and pressure over his amnesia. He's struggling with strange powers that are changing him, but he doesn't have the answers to them all the way Godai did with Sakurako's help.

Shinji Kido/Kamen Rider Ryuki

I was super into Ryuki when it aired. Even though I think a lot of the problems the franchise currently faces can be traced back to Ryuki, I thought at the time it was a breath of fresh air. One of the things that made it initially difficult for me to get into a lot of the '70s Rider sequels was how same-y a lot of them were -- that happens with sequels. But Black broke free of that, and I liked that show as an update of the classic Rider setting. Kuuga and Agito proved that you can do something completely different, but still find creative ways to retain Kamen Rider's core concepts and identity.

Ryuki went crazier and farther, but I do think it kept true to Rider, in a way, especially with Shinji. (For the most part.) He was the first outright comedic Kamen Rider lead. He was the first to be a buffoon, after a long line of scientist and student Riders. But Shinji was all heart. The Showa Riders' biggest fight wasn't just against the various forms of Shocker, but a fight within themselves -- to retain their humanity, to not become the monster Shocker turned them into. Ryuki put a new spin on that by having Shinji thrown into this crazy battle with a bunch of anti-social and/or amoral and/or outright criminal people, where his beliefs would be tested, and he had to hold on to his humanity and soul not as literally as Showa Riders, but metaphorically. He was going to take this power, which was created by Shiro Kanzaki for selfish purposes and used for harm, to protect people.

Shinji's the show's big hero, the one who wants to use his ability not for his own gain, but to save people, and to save everyone influenced by one-man Shocker organization Shiro Kanzaki. (The show didn't succeed at getting Kanzaki to work as well as they wanted, but that's another topic. But I do think he was meant to be a timely commentary on the lone agent who causes mass destruction.) So, Shinji being the one true hero of the show, I loved that Ryuki was the only one who had the classic Rider red bug eyes, I thought that was clever.

The problem with Shinji was the show getting too big for its britches and never having the guts to stick to its guns. Other characters got popular and started to take over the show, so Shinji would just flap around his own show like a headless chicken. He zipped and zapped between characters and beliefs and would easily be swayed into bad decisions you know was against the character's beliefs, but...hey, what's it matter, Shinji's so stupid, right? Ugh.

And the show not having the guts to stick to its guns leads to that awful, stupid terrible reset button finale, which FURTHER ruins its characters. Like, Shinji was a dolt, but he was supposed to mature. He became braver. He had a positive impact on some of the people surrounding him, especially Ren. When the events of the entire series are undone, he's back to being the stupid Shinji, who just makes everything miserable for everyone at the ORE Journal.

Takumi Inui/Kamen Rider 555

I like Takumi a lot on paper, but the execution's a little wonky. I'll say I certainly like him in the earlier parts of the show. Around the time he's revealed as Wolf Orphenoch, he seems like someone else. And while Kento Handa's gone up in my estimation -- I still think the guy might have cracked time travel and went and redid his performance -- a better actor would have really hit the character out of Tokyo Dome.

But Takumi's the first Rider who's anti-social because he's a grouchy bastard. That's yet another different spin on the guy who's keeping his distance from loved ones. While he's a genuinely grouchy guy, and fairly cynical, a lot of it is armor -- he admits that he lacks confidence and that he doesn't want to run the risk of hurting or betraying anyone he cares about, so he keeps to himself and is mostly a wanderer, just drifting aimlessly in his life. Despite his demeanor, he does have a heart and cares for others, and you can tell he hates himself in his more jerkier moments. His revelation as an Orphenoch is meant to give this more layers, and bring in the classic Rider dilemma of the monster-trying-to-live-amongst-humanity, but Faiz is so off-the-rails sloppy, chasing its ass in repetition by that point that the show doesn't successfully make that storyline land with the impact they think it does.

Honestly, even though it's pretty much revealed by episode two that only Orphenochs can transform using the Faiz Gear, I don't really feel like the whole Wolf Orphenoch thing -- and certainly the way it was depicted in the show -- was planned. There was obviously going to be a mystery of who Takumi was, but I'm not convinced Takumi was meant to be an Orphenoch. (I think it's a plothole. Mari couldn't transform, despite having the same Orphenoch cells that Kusaka has, and he's able to transform. I think Inoue strayed from what he might have originally been planning.)

Takumi's most important role in the show is as Orphenoch supporter. The show's at its best when it's the three dry-cleaning buddies and their relationships with the three renegade Orphenoch buddies. I like how kind of organically all of their relationships unfold, with Takumi and Kiba initially kind of not getting along, but then they become friends and then Takumi's confronted with the fact that Kiba and Osada are Orphenoch, and he's conflicted. But he sees the good in them, he sees that they're even better people than some of the humans he's met, so he fights for them. Making Takumi an Orphenoch robs this story of its power.

Takumi's a better hero than you realize, though. He puts his ass on the line for his pals. He puts himself in harm's way when he thinks something stinks. Despite how terribly Kusaka treats him, he genuinely feels bad for the guy and sees how damaged he is when he lays out all of his problems to him. He's a guy who'd LIKE to just turn his back and ride away, but even when he tries, he can't. He's a true Inoue character.

Kazuma Kenzaki/Kamen Rider Blade

Blade's a mess. That always comes out when Kamen Rider Blade is brought up around me. If someone's naming the Heisei Riders, and they go "Kuuga, Agito, Ryuki, Faiz, Blade --" I'll just reflexively cut them off with a "Blade's a mess!"

They wanted Kenzaki to be the young, bright optimistic hero, and yet at the same time he was supposed to have baggage and be haunted and paranoid and overwhelmed and a bit untrusting, because BOARD was so incompetently put together that it felt like a new betrayal every day to him. Actor Takayuki Tsubaki's a likable enough guy, but not a great actor, and Kenzaki is (under)written and so inconsistently that he doesn't make enough of an impression. (Even Seiji Takaiwa's stumped on how to play Blade in suit. Seriously, there is nothing to mark his performance. He had just had three back-to-back-to-back memorable in-suit performances, and Blade seems like it could be anybody.)

And that's made even worse by the show becoming Kamen Rider Chalice. So, Kenzaki majorly takes a back seat, and foolishly takes a liking to Hajime/Chalice -- at the risk of himself, his friends, friends of Hajime -- just because the script says to. So his ultimate sacrifice in the finale doesn't land, it doesn't feel genuine. Kenzaki puts so much on the line for a character he or we have absolutely no reason to care about. (Hajime is completely unlikable for most of the series, and actor Ryoji Morimoto's limited ability as an actor makes him even worse.) He ignores good advice of others for the sake of his foolish plan and he just ends up looking dumb in the long run.

Hitoshi "Hibiki-san!" Hidaka/Kamen Rider Hibiki

The Heisei era's first and last time at trying a true Showa-styled larger than life hero. For as unconventional as Hibiki was, Shigeki Hosokawa was perfect casting, and with his age came a maturity that made Hibiki the extremely dependable pro he was meant to be and that you and Asumu were meant to look up to. He's a kind, sage, easygoing dude. (Sadly, in the Inoue-penned second half of the series, Hibiki begins to seem strangely condescending to Asumu. It's like Inoue recognizes what a cool guy Hibiki is supposed to be and tries to start writing him as a stereotypical "cool" guy, in which he gives off a kind of jerkish air.) Hibiki just acts weird in those later episodes, it's sad -- but he's still one of my favorite Heisei Riders.

What's odd about Hibiki is that the set-up has the possibility of being classic Rider; these are ordinary guys who decided to sacrifice their humanity in order to become onis and fight evil. But treating this as their official job, and trying to be sort of Zen and spiritual leads to the characters all seeming so jolly, the show barely explores the meaning that their sacrifice holds. Only once Inoue takes over do they get into that a bit. (The movie makes the most of it with Kabuki's bitterness and what outcasts the others are; it's one of the reasons that movie is so good.)

Souji Tendou/Kamen Rider Kabuto

I think they wanted Tendou to be a modern update on what I just described Hibiki as -- a larger than life hero who's confident and knows what he's doing -- but it really just didn't work with the wackily inconsistent style of the series and Hiro Mizushima's smug performance. Tendou mostly comes off as a self-centered ass who's out to prove how much better he is than everyone at everything and how much more he knows. He's a real pest, he doesn't seem like he cares about anyone who's not Souji and I'm surprised nobody in the show tried to murder him in his sleep.

I always likened Tendou to those nasty dog owners who beat their dog after it shits on the carpet, shoving their face into its mess.

Ryoutarou Nogami/Kamen Rider Den-O

I think there was potential with the Ryoutarou character to hit a couple of classic Rider motifs -- earlier in the series, his letting the Imagin take control over him caused damage to his body, so you could have had a "he's risking his body/humanity" -- but the show gets far, far too wrapped up in the Imagin shenanigans to have any kind of consistent, good, serious Kamen Rider story. The show's a sitcom, Ryoutarou's the straight man mugging in the background at the hijinks of the colorful characters with their stupid catchphrases.

What I can't stand about Ryoutarou, though, is the way Takeru Satou plays him. There's playing a meek guy and then there's whatever the hell Satou's doing, like that Michael Jackson impersonator voice he puts on.

If Ryuki was the beginning of the end in terms of incorporating anime gimmicks into live action, Den-O's certainly the beginning of the end in terms of incorporating anime behavior. Characters go from attempting to seem flesh and blood to 1D characters only capable of repeating catchphrases.

Wataru Kurenai/Kamen Rider Kiva

I like Wataru for the most part. But I always got the impression that Koji Seto was really checked out by the time the show ends, he just seems over the show. Wataru, for me, is at his best when he's a freak to society. That he's conflicted about his Fangire half, but at the same time kind of grossed out and afraid of the human world is yet another twist on the Classic Rider Dilemma. I love how bizarre they make him, wearing masks and gloves in public, not wanting to speak, having to have Shizuka interpret for him. He's just a weird dude in a weird house with the weird job of repairing violins. I love the nickname given to him by his rude-ass neighbors, "Obaketarou."

All of that really just brings to mind the depictions of the more benevolent vampires who keep to themselves and are hermits, and some of the obsessive-compulsive depictions, as well.

Tsukasa Kadoya/Kamen Rider Decade

He's basically the second Tendou. But whereas Kabuto was a show that only cared about the surface, and how cool everything -- especially Tendou -- was supposed to be, Decade wants you to feel for Tsukasa and care about his journey and whether he finds where he belongs. Well, you don't, because Decade was horribly written, Masahiro Inoue is an incredibly bad actor and Tsukasa's a tool. Oh, he was secretly the leader of Shocker? What a shocker.

Shoutarou Hidari & Philip/Kamen Rider W

Shoutarou's one of my favorites. He's a character who could have easily been obnoxious, like Kiva's Otoya, but he's written better and played by a better actor. Ren Kiriyama carries so much of this show, it's insane to me he's not given more attention or doesn't have the career or popularity that the incredibly weaker Masaki Suda does.

Shoutarou could have easily been just a joke character who was all bluster, but Kiriyama brings a strength and honest to the character. No, he might not be the hardboiled bad-ass he wishes he was, but he's as iron-willed, strong and dedicated as the best hardboiled guys. (A LOT of the protagonists in hardboiled cop stories are usually pretty soft, sensitive guys who bury their feelings and pain deep in order to keep functioning and keep at their job.) Shoutarou can get lost in that wannabe hardboiled act, but when the going gets tough, his real personality comes through, and he's a better hero and detective than he gets credit for, and better than the phony persona he wants to conjure. Without Kiriyama, I probably wouldn't like W much at all.

As for Philip, I can take him when he's the quirky guy who can get wrapped up in minutiae. But when they gave Suda anything dramatic to play, when they got too far into the Sonozaki storyline, I lost interest in Philip, and Suda's performance would really waver.

Eiji Hino/Kamen Rider OOO

I can't make it far in OOO. I forget where I left off. But I thought Eiji and his "gimmick" (it's not even detailed enough to qualify as a "gimmick") was some of the stupidest things thought, written, approved, filmed, and put on television. He's an absent-minded bum who doesn't care about anything other than having tomorrow's underwear! Just...what is that shit? Does Kobayashi think that makes her like David Lynch? Let me tell you something, that's too stupid for David Lynch, and he's written some stupid shit.

And then I find out Eiji was some rich whiny Tatsuya Asami kind of guy who got some people killed and this wandering bum thing is some kind of PTSD-caused creation and...I'm laughing really hard right now, I can't convey that with typing. That makes him even worse! Add on to all of that that the dude who plays him, whose name I don't even want to bother looking up, is just obnoxious. Obnoxious when he's not even doing anything. Just standing there, he'll be making a dopey face.

OOO is one show that I don't think I could watch. It's the first Rider series where I really felt like I just couldn't watch the thing, the first Rider series I felt like it was OK to let go of Rider and not watch them all. I don't even know if I could be convinced to watch the whole show and its movies for a million dollars, and I'm a greedy bastard.

Gentaro Kisaragi/Kamen Rider Fourze

He's not a character, he's a walking gimmick. A stupid gimmick. "I want to be friends with everyone at this school that is constantly under mysterious attack yet we don't know where the attack is coming from!" Fourze's the first Rider show that feels put together by committee -- it was Bandai and parents and teachers and nerds. "Let's have a really lame guy who's just happy all the time, plays with robot burgers and is all about making friends!" And they think it's real cute to have him dressed like a hoodlum delinquent, only for him to have such a My Little Pony message. Jesse Katsopolis is more of a Kamen Rider than this guy.

Haruto Souma/Kamen Rider Wizard

Haruto has the personality of a wet sock. He's got a couple of dead parents he has a hang-up about maybe. That's about all we know about him, other than he was able to beat his despair. How? Why? His love of doughnuts? Who knows! Why deal with that when we can have funny scenes of Haruto using his rings to make fart smells and have Kamen Rider Mayo, like, totally grossing everybody out by putting mayo on everything!

That's another thing -- Haruto never feels like a wizard or magician to me. You really don't get the impression he's magical, that he trained with the White Wizard. All of the powers and abilities come from the rings and the belt and the Bandai gimmicks. So he's no different than any other asshole from the Heisei shows. So, he has no powers AND no personality.

Thing is, I don't even hate Wizard like most of the fandom does. It was very, very formulaic, but it had a lot of ideas I liked. I enjoyed watching the show, for the most part, and think back to it with a fondness. The cast was mostly likable and provided some laughs, including Shunya Shiraishi. The problem with Shiraishi was he was likable, yes -- but he didn't have much of a presence. If you're going to have a role as under-written as Haruto, and so much of the show focus on him, you better get somebody who can make magic out of nothing like a Hiroshi Miyauchi or Kenji Ohba or Jun'ichi Haruta or Tetsuo Kurata.

Kouta Kazuraba/Kamen Rider Gaim

Gaim's pretty messy, too. Not as haphazard of a mess like Blade, but really all over the place.

I liked Kouta earlier in the series, when he was returning to his friends and helping them out. He was optimistic, he wanted to be fair, he tried to help everyone he could at his own risk. He was pretty much the only hero of the show for a long while. But he gets kind of Shinji'd where he gets tugged around by the assholes surrounding him and makes stupid decisions and looks bad. I feel like Gaim is basically just Ryuki 2 -- it's like all of the bad episodes of Ryuki after being filtered through Katy Perry's brain.

Gaku Sano's not a great actor, but there reaches a point where he gets very one-note in his performance, where he just shouts everything in a worried panic. I got tired of that. And then I'll think of that ridiculous get-up Kouta gets when he becomes god of M-78 or whatever.

Yeah, Gaim was a big middle finger. It got you kind of interested and invested and took such dumb turns that you felt so stupid for watching it by the end that you could literally hear the showrunners laughing at you.

Shinnosuke Tomari/Kamen Rider Drive

Agent Cody Banks. Not an interesting character. He liked milk candies and was an expert at solving really obvious cases once he straightened his tie. Whoopie! I couldn't stand it once the show reached a point where it was basically Part 1: Shinnosuke gets his ass kicked by monster. Part 2: "I gotta get stronger!" Shinnosuke gets new toy to beat monster. Repeat until you hit an episode that was supposed to be "story driven," but wasn't.

Man, how stupid was the arc of him solving his dad's murder? "I caught the culprit!" "Sorry, Shinnosuke. I was just standing in the back of the bank that day. But I saw who really killed him! It was the bank teller!" Shinnosuke catches the bank teller. "Sorry, Shinnosuke. It looked like I fired the gun, but it was a reflection from the metallic counter. But I saw who shot the gun! It was the third guy in line." Shinnosuke catches the third guy in line. "Sorry, Shinnosuke! I was just there on business and the real culprit bumped into me and dropped the gun into my hands, so...wasn't me! But I know who it was! It was the guy who delivers those sandwiches from that place!" Shinnosuke catches the sandwich guy. "Sorry, Shinnosuke! It wasn't me! I was set up by that one guy. You know that guy who works at the police station, who is really suspicious and played by a really bad actor who couldn't possibly be more out of place? The guy you originally suspected, but we needed to prolong this shit? Yeah, it's not him, but I thought I'd remind you of him!"

Ugh. I enjoyed Drive for a second and then it got real insufferably stupid.

Takeru Tenkuuji/Kamen Rider Ghost

I didn't make it far into Ghost, just several episodes. I like its set-up, I think the cast would be good in a better made show, but it's such a safe, fluffy show, literally about nothing but collecting the toys, like some shitty sub-Pokemon anime. Takeru's actor seemed likable enough, but I thought the character came across not as selfless or courageous as he was supposed to seem.

I haven't watched a single episode of Ex-Aid or Build, so I'll leave them off.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rider Warriors ('90s Outsiders)

Shin Kazamatsuri/Kamen Rider Shin

I'm a huge fan of Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue. I was one of its only supporters for years. It's not a perfect movie, but I loved what it tried to do. It was the first tokusatsu work aimed completely at the adult fans. It wanted to be a more realistic take on the classic Ishinomori Rider; it was darker, meaner, more serious, more violent, it brought the horror back to the character.

Being a "prologue" and a mystery, we don't get to spend much time with Shin as a character. He's already a guinea-pig, he's already investigating the news clippings he's connecting to his dreams. We're not given a chance to really know him, he's already on the go, he's already all-business. It's a very tense character and locked down performance by Shin Ishikawa. (Years after the movie, the dude changed his stage name to Shin! That's dedication.) So, critics of the movie find Shin bland or too stiff. But he's really in line with the style the movie's going for. There's literally only ONE lighthearted moment in the movie, and even then Shin's just kind of distant, because he heard the news playing in the background.

But Shin, as a character, has it REALLY bad, even by Kamen Rider standards. He's lied to by pretty much everyone. He volunteers to be a lab guinea pig, trusting his dad, but his dad doesn't try too hard to protect him from the sinister organization backing his research. (Not until it's too late.) Not only is Shin turned into a monster by the renegade nutball scientist Onizuka, but he might be a HOMICIDAL monster. How different is that? Unsure what to do, unsure what he's capable of doing, he's caught between the sinister organization, the CIA agents after him, and the loved ones who let him down. His pregnant girlfriend is murdered, their baby another possible monster. It would have been pretty neat to get a follow up story to see what a new adventure brought Shin, but his tale alienated too many people.

Did the movie push it too far? Maybe. But, damn, don't you miss when Toei was willing to take a risk and gamble on a project like this? All of their shows are the same now.

I got major shit at HJU one time when I said the Heisei Riders wouldn't exist without this movie. "OMG, Shin was a bomb, how could that be true?!?!?!?" I still stand by that. It went for the dramatic approach, it dispensed with fanciful villains and toys and went for a mainstream-sounding song rather than the traditional theme. (No "Fight, Shin Kamen Rider! Warrior of green, fighting for justice! Fight, Shin! Protect the world with your greenness!")

Masaru Asou/Kamen Rider ZO

Kou Domon's great casting for a Rider. The dude looks like he stepped out of a '70s show. And ZO's a slick looking movie, but action is its top priority, so he didn't have much to work with and Asou wasn't much of a character. He's a student who was in the wrong place at the wrong time trusting the wrong, nutty sonuvabitch. Spends the movie looking for Akomaru, who the movie mistakenly places most focus on.

My brother loves ZO and has the manga, and I remember there being a subplot about Masaru having a relationship with Naomi Morinaga's character. I don't know if that was ever planned, scripted or even shot, but it would have gone a long way towards giving Masaru SOMETHING else to stand out...and it would make the title tune "Love Can't Be Stopped" actually make sense.

Prince Dex of Edenoi/Kamen Rider Saban

Just fuckin' with ya.

Kouji Segawa/Kamen Rider J

Yuuta Mochizuki is cool. Many have noted how he resembles Hiroshi Fujioka. It's a no-brainer for him to play a Rider, he's a great choice. But despite having more screen-time devoted to only him, Segawa's even more forgettable than Asou! We know literally nothing about him and the movie is so strangely silent -- there's about four lines in the whole 45 minute run time, and three of them are "Kana-chan!"

He's a cameraman. That's it. (Funny -- that's about all we know about Hayato Ichimonji, but Takeshi Sasaki imbues him with such life that he makes Hayato memorable.) Segawa apparently is a nature photographer, and he gets immediately killed by Fog and is revived by underground hippies just because he's the only cast member of the movie. Because he's a nature watcher, that means he must love nature, so these underground dwellers decide he's the best pick for the J Power, and it all turns into some snoozy green message. Pretty much EVERY toku hero is a greeny -- even Gai Yuuki! -- so...that doesn't help Segawa stand out, either.

We're introduced to him as he's camping and that's where the whole dang movie takes place. It really looks like Koji and the little girl he's with (and spends the movie trying to rescue) are the only two people in this strange, mountainous planet where the Fog have landed, mistaking it for Earth. (ZO had such style to it, but J doesn't have any of that. I remember, back in the day, people joking that it was like the movie was quickly filmed without permits out in public places. And you know what? It does seem that way. It's probably Amemiya's least visually impressive movie.)

The most interesting thing is that Koji is actually killed, a deader-than-dead corpse when he gets changed and resurrected as a Rider. (I guess we know what the J really stands for, huh?) The movie could have done more with that, because that was a Rider first.

Toshihide Wakamatsu really dodged a jumbo-sized bullet when he didn't get the part. Poor Mochizuki. But, in a way, it makes sense for it to be him -- if the Fog landed on Earth in the time of dinosaurs and feasted on them, who better than the leader of the Dinosaur Sentai to get revenge?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Rider Warriors (Version Showa)

I thought I'd do main Riders, like how I covered the Reds...and then every other Sentai color, mentor, sixth and extra. I only plan on doing the main Riders! I do not intend to do a post covering the likes of all 200 Ryuki assholes or the 31 Kabuto losers and so on. These posts also double as basically What Shougo Thinks Makes a Kamen Rider. Here we go...

Takeshi Hongou/Kamen Rider

The King of Kamen Rider. Fujioka is Hongou, Hongou is Fujioka. He takes the role seriously and it shows -- it cost him! Doing as many of his stunts as possible, he was injured so badly he had to leave the show! (I always wondered about the extent of his injuries; I have a feeling they were worse than was let on. Notice the way, in those early episodes, Fujioka drives his motorcycle like a maniac, WITHOUT a helmet! Once Hayato is brought in and once Fujioka returns? ALWAYS a helmet.)

We never really got to see Hongou's potential. What those early episodes were about, where they were headed was lost once the show scrambled to get around Fujioka's injury. And by the time he returns, the show's set in its comfort zone -- it doesn't come close to approximating or even trying to get back to its early tone or storytelling. It's such a shame.

But Hongou immediately has all of the qualities required in a classic Rider. He's the guy who had a bright future that was taken away by the villains. He was mutilated, he loses his sense of belonging in this world. But he tries. He tries to remain human, tries to stay close with his friends, and tries to end the monstrous fiends who did this to him, who perpetuate so much pain. And the odds are overwhelming. He's the only one who can do what he does and Shocker is not only worldwide, but filled with an astounding number of freaks with similar ability to his. Hongou's not an asshole or anti-social, he's just a loner who feels like he's been given the boot by life. He's on the outside looking in and unsure -- and scared -- of all of the abilities he now has and doesn't understand. He doesn't want to risk anyone unnecessarily. He's tragic. That's a crucial element to a Kamen Rider. A Kamen Rider is meant to be sorrowful.

It's great that the production chose to bring Fujioka back when they could have easily told him to piss off, but it's sad that they didn't have the confidence or faith in the audience to make up for that lost time and pick up where they were forced to end off. (What happened to Ruriko!?!? I basically imagined she joined Hongou on many adventures and was like Madeline Swann in Spectre, just reaching a point one mission where she's like "I just can't do this anymore!")

Hayato Ichimonji/Kamen Rider

Hayato's fun and pretty underrated. As much as I'm a "purist" of Ishinomori's Rider, and love those early Hongou episodes, and think they're the quintessential Rider episodes, I actually favor Hayato over Hongou just for how much heavy lifting the awesome Takeshi Sasaki does. Hongou doesn't come back the same Hongou to the same show, so I feel like that old Hongou -- the "real" one -- his story was cut off, is incomplete.

But Sasaki hits the ground running; you have no idea he's a replacement. After following fill-in Taki and understandably minimal stock-footage of Fujioka for a few episodes, he immediately is recognizable as the new lead hero. He's confident, he's funny. That's the big difference. His Ichimonji doesn't seem like he's as burdened by his alteration or his constant fight with Shocker. He hates them. He can get seriously pissed off at their actions. He's not exactly nonchalant, but he can be playful at times in his dealings with Shocker. He can find fun in the moment. (One favorite bit of mine is, as he and Taki are putting on Shocker grunt uniforms they just stole to infiltrate one of their places, he shoots Taki this wild, Michael Keaton-like grin, one that's saying "The crazy shit we get ourselves into, eh?") I wouldn't say he's "goofier" than Hongou, as he's been described, but definitely not as gloomy. Not as tragic. Hongou is Sean Connery. Ichimonji is Roger Moore. Both have their merits, and the lighter take is certainly something viewers wanted at the time, and is something that kept the property thriving. After Fujioka was injured, it was a huge gamble if the show was going to survive. They chanced bringing in a new guy, it managed to work, so I can understand why the production just wanted to take it easy and play it kind of safe and just give the people the adventurous show they wanted.

While Hongou is more of a brooder who doesn't feel he belongs and goes it alone, Hayato realizes his friends are his strength. There's a kind of air of mystery about Hayato, and one thing that's interesting is whenever he saves the day and people are rejoicing, he doesn't stick around for long, like he doesn't allow himself -- or feel he can -- enjoy the happiness. Especially not when there's other people he can be saving out there, and so many people who have been sacrificed. It gives the character his own layer of tragedy; that's another crucial ingredient to a classic Ishinomori-styled Rider, is how tragic they are. They're crapped on, they've had everything taken from them, but they go on, alone, outnumbered, with the odds against them. They're not in it for attention or to go down in history; their struggles are secret, their opponents secret. (I always said Kamen Rider's not a bug for nothin' -- he's one little guy in over his head, ready to be stepped on.)

Hayato is just a good superhero. When watching superhero stuff, sometimes you can't help but wonder what superhero you'd want to rely on in real life. You'd want somebody really dependable, somebody who had confidence and you have confidence in, somebody you know would really save your ass. Superman, Wonder Woman -- they're reliable. I love Batman, he's my favorite superhero, but? I don't think I'd be comfortable counting on him, he's got issues. And I wouldn't be comfortable with someone flippant like The Flash or Green Lantern always having to charge his ring. I love the X-Men, but they're all a mess. Spider-man's just a kid. The Hulk is the most unstable hero ever. So, Superman and Wonder Woman are really the best and only. But I feel Hayato Ichimonji is up there. If he says he'll be there, if he says he'll take care of it, if he says he's going to dismantle an enemy plot, you know he'll do it or die trying. If Shocker takes his eyesight, takes his legs, he's still going to go after them. If you come to him with a crazy story, he's going to believe you. Sasaki plays Hayato with such conviction. And while it's the production getting a little softer, Hayato is shown saving way more people than Hongou; earlier in the show, a character was pretty much dead if they were attacked by Shocker or (especially) turned into a monster, but the show softens and Hayato is shown to successfully help people heal or revert their transformation, but it adds even more to his heroic victories.

To call him "Rider 2" makes you think he's inferior. But for a big portion of the show he's just "Kamen Rider." I think it's time we start calling him just "Kamen Rider" again.

And I know it shouldn't, but Sasaki's real life problems also helped me appreciate him and his contribution to the franchise more.

Shirou Kazami/Kamen Rider V3

It was always hard for me to judge Kazami since I saw V3 after Miyauchi's more larger than life roles in JAKQ and Zubat beforehand. But here's one of the things that Igadevil pointed out to me that I kept in mind when I once rewatched V3: what sets Kazami apart from not only Miyauchi's big persona and later colorful heroes, but his Showa contemporaries, is the revenge angle. Kazami begins the series VERY angry, very isolated. That's an interesting take on a Rider protagonist. It's just unfortunate that '70s TV didn't allow room to explore that more. It's remembered when it needs to be, but otherwise it's business as usual for Kamen Rider. But, even without being one of his larger than life characters, even in his first go at tokusatsu, Hiroshi Miyauchi himself is such a presence and can carry so much on his own.

Jouji Yuuki/Riderman

Jouji brings a sense of continuity to the final episodes, and another interesting take -- he's a dedicated Destron member who's basically bought the hype and was fooled into believing them to be something they never had any intention of being. Even after they try to execute him, he believes in Destron, blaming his betrayal on only a couple of rotten apples. He believes that V3 is evil, and this is the true birth of a Rider vs Rider concept.

Actor Akira Yamaguchi is just a good actor, I always enjoy seeing him pop up in shows, and has a real world-weary, sullen and gloomy expression to him that's perfect for a Kamen Rider, but especially works as a Rider who's such a misguided, confused and sympathetic poor soul.

Keisuke Jin/Kamen Rider X

Ryou Hayami makes this character better than it's written. Keisuke has a lot going for him -- I like how he's quiet, contemplative, thoughtful -- but the show kind of forgets that and gets by on Hayami's abilities alone for big chunks. I like the first several episodes, they play a bit like a Kamen Rider film noir; Keisuke returns home, his dad (one of the biggest asshole fathers in toku, which specializes in asshole fathers) gets him mixed up in a terrible situation and he has to contend with his girlfriend possibly being with the villains. He loses his dad, who was his guidance after being surgically altered, so he's on his own figuring out his strange powers. X's first episodes, thematically, also come closest to those initial episodes of the first series.

The show decides to quickly resolve these storylines in favor of bringing in rival character Apollo Geist. (I'm not the biggest fan of Apollo Geist, but I know a lot of people love the character. He's a cool idea, marred by bad casting, IMO, and he's not as interesting as the more personal and direct drama Keisuke was undergoing.) The noir-y feel dies with Keisuke's girlfriend and the show becomes a standard toku.

One thing I always found interesting about Keisuke -- and I don't know if it was written or something Hayami decided on -- is that he'll pray when he finds a dead victim. Keisuke's spiritual, that's an interesting touch.

Daisuke "Amazon" Yamamoto/Kamen Rider Amazon

Amazon's just kind of boring, as a character and as a show. He's the jungle guy who can't speak for a huge chunk of his (24 episode long!) series, but the show never uses that to make him seem as alienated or even as possibly dangerous as he should be. Nope, by episode two, he's made friends with a kid and everyone is A-OK. The show being so short and rushed, his progression into being more civilized doesn't quite work the way the show wants it to. The show and Amazon's growth is truncated, so we're left with one weird son of a bitch of a show and Rider.

Shigeru Jou/Kamen Rider Stronger

This is the kind of character you'd expect Miyauchi to play, but Shigeru Araki's great, anyway. He's a good actor on his own, but it's eerie how he looks kind of like a combination of nearly every Rider actor before him -- he looks a bit like Fujioka, but there's a strong Miyauchiness to him. It's eerie, but fitting of the "last" Rider, which wanted to evoke all of its predecessors.

We don't get a ton of info or motivation for Jou -- he undergoes the cyborg operation under false pretenses to get revenge for a friend -- but he's just a true comic-book, larger than life personality that just wants to kick some bad guy ass. People like to compare Tendou to him, but that's wrong. Jou's boastful and arrogant to bad guys, sure. Tendou's an ass to EVERYONE. (Everyone except his sister, who worships him, and Hiyori, who's similarly an ass to everyone.)

Yuriko Misaki/Tackle

She counts, dammit. I love Riderman, but if he counts as a Kamen Rider, Tackle counts even more. (Riderman's only surgical alteration is his arm! Yuriko undergoes the full thing, same as Shigeru!) Yuriko's a great addition to the show, a fresh change of pace. She's funny, she's likable, she tries her damnedest to help Shigeru. And while she's leagues above the Tachibana Racing Girls, the show and the times were just too afraid to let her do too much, certainly never anything that would outdo Stronger. Still, she shouldn't be underestimated or overlooked. She's important. Her character dies tragically trying to save the day. She's not considered a Rider out of pure sexism. (Every other Rider has died and returned. I guess Shocker puts their powerful turbines in the testicles, because you only get to be an immortal Rider if you have a dong.)

But she's awesome, she's fun, she has a great rapport with Shigeru. She's lively and kick-ass, he's an entertaining and large personality -- together, they're kinda like the toku Steed and Peel.

And, again, knowing that actress Kyoko Okada died so young -- and now that Stronger actor Shigeru Araki has passed, as well -- it casts a sad shadow over the show and character(s).

I think it's time to finally just start calling her Kamen Rider Tackle. It's only sexism that blocks it.

Hiroshi Tsukuba/Kamen Rider (Skyrider)

Honestly? This guy has one of the largest episode counts, but I couldn't really tell you anything about him. His character's lacking and actor Hiroaki Murakami is really uncompelling. The ONE interesting thing I thought the show was heading towards -- that Hiroshi was the son of the Neo-Shocker villain played by that hammy dude from Goggle V -- ended up being a fake-out, so...*shrug*

Kazuya Oki/Kamen Rider Super 1

Against my better judgment, I enjoy Super 1. I think it's goofy fun. It's not really Kamen Rider-y, it's kind of a proto-Metal Hero, but I find it entertaining. Kazuya's...not the most memorable character, and actor Shunsuke Takasugi is not the strongest actor, so the character isn't able to slide by on his strength. (Since I brought up the Metal Heroes, look at Retsu Ichijoji. If he didn't have someone of Kenji Ohba's level playing him, would he be memorable as he's written?)

The show was more fun when it had the whole martial arts surroundings, and Kazuya and Takasugi came off better in that part of the show. Too bad the villains of those earlier episodes aren't as memorable as their replacements, the Jin Dogma, so the better episodes would at least have better villains.

Ryou Murasame/Kamen Rider ZX

Shun Sugata's awesome. He's a more bad-ass Rider than what this special deserved. Because it's just...I don't understand this special. It's introducing a new Rider, but is mostly a clip show, and treats the new footage detailing the origin of the new Rider like an already existing show to make part of the clip show and...bah. It's an underwhelming mess. Sugata gives Murasame a rage beyond the script; he makes Ryou's anger seem explosive, dangerous. Sugata REALLY needed something closer in tone to Shin Kamen Rider. I would have liked to seen more of ZX, but this underwhelming special basically put the nail in the coffin of the style of Rider they wanted ZX to be.

Koutarou Minami/Kamen Rider Black

Koutarou truly was a new hero, a new legend. Even though ZX aired just a few years before him, that production looked like it came from the mid-70s. Black was hip, Black was fresh, Black was modern. And so was Koutarou. At the time the youngest Rider, the angriest, the one who's had so much taken from him, and continued to have things taken from him throughout the show. Black wasn't going to shy away from Koutarou's pain and brush it aside, it was going to be an ongoing issue for him to overcome.

Koutarou hits a lot of the familiar beats from the '70s series, but we get them done in new ways, suited for our young Rider. The big new angle for Koutarou is the tragedy of how he was cut down while so young, but also that he was just an average guy. '70s Riders were either scholars or scientists or wizards in every sport. Koutarou was a kid. He was on his own. Golgom had a strong hold over ordinary society, so he was massively in over his head. But he had to fight. He needed to fight. (Another interesting thing is that Koutarou would need to become enraged to transform. I thought that was an interesting touch for our younger, ordinary hero.) Another thing that greatly helped add to this sense of danger was that Black was the first show to be truly free of any of its predecessors -- he wasn't going to have Rider 1 or 2 come and bail him out. It was one of RX's MANY, MANY mistakes to bring them in and ruin that.

Tetsuo Kurata is awesome, and it's really hard to believe that this was his first acting gig, and that he basically stumbled into auditioning for the role. He makes the most of the role and creates a modern hero worthy of the title. In my opinion, Kamen Rider Black comes closest to best capturing Ishinomori's Kamen Rider concept.

Koutarou Minami/Kamen Rider (Black) RX

Make no mistake, this is a different Koutarou than the one in RX.

I just always think of Black's finale. Him standing in the rain after killing his brother. His sitting in the shop abandoned by his sisters. It's dark, it's bleak, but he rides off into daylight. Maybe he'll find some happiness in the future...

How the hell he ended up living with that sitcom family, I have no idea. Now, I could understand Koutarou trying to carve out some happiness for himself. Maybe he really enjoys the Saharas' company, maybe they even feel like family to him. He finds love with Reiko. I could picture him TRYING his damnedest to lead a new life, forget his past and his mutation. Koutarou's much goofier in this show. Maybe some of that is happiness, but a lot of it is him putting on this kind of Clark Kent dork act for the sake of his loved ones.

Whereas the '70s Riders were loners who devoted their lives to wiping out Shocker/Destron/etc., in all of its forms, Koutarou accomplished destroying Golgom. He didn't need to ride the world for the rest of his life, he had a chance to find some happiness. He does, but then he's faced with a new threat and brought into a new battle against his will. And rather than run away from the life he's built since the events of Black, rather than distance himself from those he loves, he stays. He puts up a front, feigns some goofiness here and there, but he keeps them close. And even that's not good enough. The Sahara parents are killed at the end of the series. This is all doubly tragic for this character.

But the show is just not made well. It leans far too heavily into comedy and fantasy and sci-fi and all of this stuff that's just so out of place for Kamen Rider, especially a character like Koutarou, especially when it's building off of something with the same world as Black's. (It's no coincidence that the franchise died after this show. Creative sloppiness. Creative cockiness. Creative greed.) This is what really bugs me about had all of this interesting stuff to explore, but chose to ignore it in favor of just being big and light and funny. The ingredients were there, but they never had any intention of making it a true and honest sequel to Black. So, you're left to fill in a lot of these gaps and make the leap; the show's not interested in exploring Koutarou keeping up this Kent routine, it's just an excuse for Koutarou to be silly or be easier to put into silly situations. It could have worked with better writing, but doesn't. Last time I tried to watch RX -- and I didn't make it far -- Koutarou was even acting like a goofball when he was alone, so you can't even blame all of his goofiness on being a cover. So he just feels like a completely different character instead.

You know what? Maybe I should just start looking at this show as Koutarou, after the events of Black, began taking massive doses of anti-depressants.