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Manni

Manni's Toku Reviews - Time to HENSHIN!

2 posts in this topic

Okay peoples, this is the thread I'm going to put all the discussion and my reviews of all things tokusatsu/special effects drama shows on TV. While I'll be mainly discussing things that appear on Japanese TV, if you can point to other countries' content, I will be happy to have a look. Tokusatsu covers TV shows and movies that are live action that use considerable CG and special effects. 

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Introduction to Kamen Rider

 

 

 

Kamen Rider is a Japanese tokusatsu-style television show, part of a long-running franchise. So far, there have been 24 separate series of seasons of the Kamen Rider franchise. The 24 seasons are usually split between two eras, with a 10 year gap in between, where there was no Kamen Rider being made. The first era was known as the Showa era starting with the original Kamen Rider in the 1971 and ending with Kamen Rider Black RX in 1990. The Heisei era Kamen Riders start with Kamen Rider Kuuga in 2000 and have continued onto this day. Kamen Rider can be called a live-action superhero show, with elaborate and sometimes bizarre costumes for both the titular Kamen Rider/s and the various monsters/kaijin. Like Western superhero shows, the story focuses on the exploits, adventures, misadventures (sometimes) and all around crazy occurrences in the life of the titular Kamen Rider. Unlike Western superheroes though, the source of power has not changed very much since the show's genesis. Most Kamen Riders, assuming no crazy-level cybernetic enhancements/modifications (like some of the earlier Showa Riders) or mad mutation (in the case of Shin), derive their power from their Henshin Devices, otherwise known as Drivers. The Drivers can come in varying forms but are almost always look like belts worn around the waist. While the way they obtain the Henshin Device changes from season to season, what doesn't change is that once they possess it, the lives of the characters change forever. What often happens in Kamen Rider is that the protagonist/s (Kamen Riders) are often pitted against invading monsters from another dimension and/or shady organisations with unknown objectives. While each season varies the formula to varying degrees, the basic form still stands. 

 

 

Being part of such a long franchise with its brand recognition, one would expect the shows creators and producers to run out of ideas. And in some ways, the franchise has at least started to lose its 'freshness'. Depending on who you would ask, you would get a myriad of responses on the question of 'where did Heisei era Kamen Rider start recycling tropes?" It is my personal opinion (and it is just that, an opinion) that Kamen Rider Den-O (started in 2007) at least started a few tropes that got repeated over and over again, despite changes in directors and writers. The first of the two most recognisable tropes in Heisei era Kamen Rider are its tendency to use the well-known formula known as Monster of the Week to act as the focal point of an episode, especially if there is no progress in the overall plot. While not necessarily bad in itself, the over-usage of the trope gets rather boring after some time, especially if there's nothing that advances the overal plot or even sub-plots. The second of the recognisable tropes in Kamen Rider is the what's known as the two-episode arc, where a story-arc gets introduced and completed in two episodes. While not a problem in itself, it is usually tied in with the Monster-of-the week formula. It shows a lack of imagination to stretch a battle over multiple episodes with no plot advance of any sort. The usage of Monster-of the-week in combination with the two-episode arc also lowers the opportunity for character and world building, as most of the attention would be used up with battle details. Kamen Rider Wizard (started in 2012) is probably one of the worst culprits of the entire series of using these two tropes in conjunction.

 

 

Given that this series is targeted at kids, one would not expect much darkness in the story telling. However, that is not quite the case in most Kamen Riders. In fact, the earlier Heisei era Kamen Rider could do dark themes relatively well and had permanent character death, if the plot asked for it. However, from Den-O onwards, the series took a more light-hearted tone. Despite one exception being Kamen Rider W (started in 2009), the newer Heisei era shows tended to be more light-hearted and often shied away from more serious and darker themes and plot lines. While there were moments in earlier Kamen Rider (including the overly dramatic and old-school Showa era) that did light-hearted and almost slap-stick moments, these kind of moments got more and more common while some of the themes explored got toned down. Another thing that should be noted is that, since this is targeted at kids, one would expect there to be commercial tie-ins and...marketing. And one would be quite justified to say that about Kamen Rider. A lot of money is made from the merchandise that the show produces. Given that Bandai is a major sponsor and funder of the franchise, one could easily see much money could be made by advertising and making toys for this. In fact, Showa era and early Heisei era (Kuuga and Agito) did not have as many 'toys' and gimmics than the modern Heisei Riders do. In fact, the amount of Henshin gimmicks and accessories seemed to explode in the Heisei era. An extreme example of this would Kamen Rider OOO (started in 2010), who had toys a plenty.

Edited by Manni

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