3, 2, 1, killshot! Let's discuss One Punch Man!


October 8, 2013

Let's discuss...Kamen Rider?


If there’s anyone out there with any objections to a post on Kamen Rider, raise your hand now.

…Put your hand down, Mortimer!  I’m doing a post on Kamen Rider!

So let me start by saying this: I am a nerd.

Day after day, I find myself thankful that I decided to walk down the path of nerdhood (you can thank a disastrous Little League season for that).  The biggest advantage to being a nerd is that stories and canons and worlds that so many others would shove aside -- or even register as existing -- become the source of untold dozens of hours of entertainment.  Nerds can take a story incredibly seriously, and arguably draw more entertainment -- or hate -- from it than the average, casual viewer.  But I’d wager that a nerd is always greedy.  Always on the lookout for more stories.  Better stories.  Crazier stories, wilder stories, wherever, whatever, whenever. 


Part of the reason I like TV Tropes -- besides quick nuggets of information divulged at a furious rate and quantity -- is because that site makes it remarkably easy to find stories of interest.  So if, for example, you’re out to find information on Power Rangers on a whim, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon its Japanese counterpart, Super Sentai.  And that leads to an investigation of the tokusatsu genre.  And then the next thing you know, you’re looking at a massive list of Kamen Rider shows over the years.  And you decide to pick one at random, click the link, read the summary, and say to yourself, “Hey!  This sounds like something that’d be the bee’s knees in trees with my buddy Steve!”  Or something to that effect.

Well, I can’t guarantee that’s the intended effect for everyone, nerd or otherwise.  But if you’ll let me be a little bold, I’d just like to say that…well, I think Kamen Rider is friggin’ cool.

  
I’m not so well-adjusted in the dark that I’ve never heard of Kamen Rider.  After all, there was that American version of one of the installments that came out a while back…which was apparently so terrible the creator of Kamen Rider himself hated it.  And more recently, there was Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight on one of the Saturday morning cartoon blocks, but I couldn’t be arsed to watch it because reasons.  But no matter the stumbles the franchise has seen in its stateside ventures, I’ve always had a strong interest in Kamen Rider.  There’s just something damn alluring about people putting on super-suits to fight monsters and such on a regular basis -- more often than not imparting a lesson on audiences.  Call me old-fashioned if you must, but I know what I like.

And so it was written.  I decided to check out some Kamen Rider for myself, and see if I could get a strong impression -- and delectable taste -- of why this series has not only endured for so long, but why there are people like me so intrigued by it that they’d cross entire oceans (via their internet connections) to see it.  While working on art assets for the blog, I went to YouTube to have a look for myself, and see if some noble patron had delivered upon us the word of God…or if not that, then at least people with bug-faced masks.  And while there’s only a mere sampling of what’s been available in the East for years, I can’t help but feel like even with a sample I’m satisfied.  For a given definition of “satisfied”, of course.


To modify an earlier statement, I’d just like to say that Kamen Rider OOO is super friggin’ cool.  (It’s pronounced “Ohs”, by the way.)

I’ve seen more episodes of OOO than any other in the franchise (though I did watch some of Den-O) for three reasons.  First, the lead writer of the series is the same person responsible for Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, which I am extremely fond of.  Second, I read about the concept behind this Rider’s powers before I saw them in action, and that -- along with the concepts of the show itself -- made me interested…that, and I remembered said concepts more readily than any other installments, barring Den-O.  Third?  Well…


That jingle will be with me until my dying days. 

Actually, stuff like this makes me want to come up with a theory.  If you’ve been alive for the past…oh, I don’t know, five minutes, you probably know that there are some long-ass stories out there.  (Just look at the navbar at the top of this page.)  And you’ve probably come across them at one point or another, thought it was cool, but then when you dare to take the plunge you start to realize how much effort it’d take to get into the story, get scared off, and hide under your bed until the big scary chapter/episode count goes away.  I know the feeling. 

BUT I think that the way to generate interest for even the longest of stories, even if it’s in the longest of franchises, is to create some kind of magnet.  Cut out a small piece of an element of your work -- or create one in the first place -- and dangle it out in the public -- or virtual -- space.  I wouldn’t have started watching Two Best Friends Play if it wasn’t for “Matt’s Bomb-Ass Axe Throw” (and I bet thousands of Game Grumps fans were made from the infamous “WHAT IS THIS” meltdown).  If it’s attractive enough, and/or becomes a well-ingrained meme, maybe that’ll help bring in an audience.  Maybe all it takes is a catchy song, or some emblematic section of a larger work, to generate interest.  Maybe I should try taking my own advice. 


In any case, the sounds of OOO are positively infectious.  I don’t know how many times I’ve looked for that sound clip (and its brothers), but it has to be more times than I’ve blinked in the past month.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, there are the rest of the songs -- a theme for each “combo” (read: armor loadout) the Rider uses.  As you’d expect, they’re all reflective of the style of each combo, taking on a different character without fail. 

Compare and contrast the insect-based GataKiriBa combo…


…To the big animal combo, SaGoZou.


Yeah.  Pretty big difference.  To be fair, I can’t guarantee that anyone who listens to the songs will fall in love with them…buuuuuuuuuuuuut those that do have an incentive to learn a bit more about the context.  I certainly did -- and for months now I’ve been popping into YouTube just to listen to “Gotta Keep it Real” or “Ride on Right Time.”  I can’t get through “Power to Tearer” without my brain going “HELL YEAH!”, to the point where I’ve got links to the song in HD, the instrumental version, and even the lyrics saved in a Word file.  It just goes to show you the power of a few choice snippets -- and by extension, the power of music.  Engraving certain words, phrases, and sounds upon others can really go a long way.  Monsoon would be proud.


All right, that’s a sufficiently long and meandering intro sequence.  What’s the show about?

In the simplest terms, evil monsters (technically men and women in suits, if you don’t believe in movie magic) awaken and decide to start wreaking havoc on the world -- and the only one that can stop them is a guy who puts on a slightly-less evil suit to fight the hordes of chaos.  If you want to get a bit more complex, here’s an expanded summary: the Greeed have begun walking the earth once more in search of Medals -- coins that are the energy and embodiment of one’s desires -- in order to feed themselves and grow stronger.  

But of the five core Greeed, one of them, Ankh, decides to go rogue and steals from the Greeed for his own purposes.  Thing is, at the moment Ankh is nothing but a flying hand, and as such needs someone to do the Medal-hunting and monster-fighting on his behalf.  Enter Eiji, a well-meaning (and underwear-loving) vagrant who happens to get entangled with the Greeed.  In a moment of desperation, Ankh entrusts Eiji with the transforming artifact and a handful of Core Medals that will transform a mere wander into the legendary OOO.  Together they fight crime…and monsters.  Mostly monsters.


From what I’ve heard, Kamen Rider -- and by extension, other toku shows like the Super Sentai franchise -- are supposed to be for children.  I have a hard time believing that, to say the least, based on the content that’s offered up regularly.  On the other hand, I’m the one who thinks that “kid’s stuff” has evolved and plenty of shows have more merit (so to speak) than one would expect -- and based on what I’ve seen, I’m happy to report that OOO is as thematically dense as it is entertaining.  There’s an obvious glee to be had from seeing guys in suits fight other guys in suits, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface…and on the surface, but let’s not let semantics get in the way.

It’s worth noting that while the theme of the series is (obviously) greed, the spirit of the series -- the essence that transforms and characterizes it -- is desire.  Everything in OOO revolves around the desires of its cast, good, evil, or incidental; and it’s those differences and natures of their desires that make the show so supremely intriguing.  The four main Greeed are working together for the most part and desperately need medals to sustain themselves, but it’s obvious almost from the word go that they have conflicting interests; two of them are openly hostile, one of them is out to backstab another, and the “dumbest” of the bunch does whatever the hell he wants…which, typically, is trying to be a good boy for the group’s female Greeed.  

Conversely, you have characters like Eiji, who wants nothing more than to help people -- to the point of trying to force a Greeed’s hand by offering up his life in a high-stakes bargain.  He acts (and usually looks) like a doofus, but it’s made clear that Eiji takes the Rider business very seriously, and with good reason.  There are side characters wrestling with desire as well; there’s the young waitress Hina, who wants nothing more than the safety (and smiling face) of her older brother; there’s also the motorcycle-driving ex-cop Gotou, who has an extremely strong desire to save the world…to the point where he might go to extremes to do it.  Like “accidentally” shooting Eiji in the back with a rocket launcher. 


The cool thing about OOO is that it doesn’t act like wanting things is inherently wrong.  In addition to the Greeed, there’s the mysterious Kougami Foundation, and they’ve been researching -- and using -- the Medals to power their machines for the sake of humanity.  It’s heavily implied that they’re not exactly altruistic, but then again its founder and the machines/support they provide for OOO make a good point: humanity has gotten as far as it has BECAUSE of desires and greed.  Harnessing that power, especially in a physical form, has the potential to lead to new beginnings for the human race.

 And that really is a key point for the series; those who get used by the Greeed (and end up giving birth to a Yummy, AKA the monster of the week) do so because they can’t keep their desires in check.  In fact, one episode explicitly makes controlled desire a plot point; a photographer who made it big loses his passion in the field and falls on hard times, and gets addicted to playing the lottery.  Because he substituted a controlled desire for an irrational one, he ends up being a target for a Yummy attack, which ends up hurting the people around him…up to and including his wife.  Turning greed into actual monsters is pretty fantastical (and more than a little on the nose), but it works well.  It’s simple but effective, and adds some real meaning to the show besides seeing a RIDER KICK in action.  Among other, tentacle-whip related things.


With all that said, I’d say the real draw of OOO (as it should be) is its cast.  They’re colorful and entertaining, but it’s in a hard-to-nail sense.  If I had to put it simply, I’d say that these characters -- in spite of being filmed in live action -- are juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust shifted enough to the right to be fantastical, but not quite enough to be totally unrealistic.  It goes without saying that I like Eiji and think he’s pretty cool, but it is an absolute joy to see one dandy-ass SOB like Ankh take center stage.  His standard form is a winged monster forearm, but by the end of the first episode he’s taken over a dead body and uses it as his own (incidentally, Hina’s now-dead brother, who is only alive because of Ankh’s possession).  He uses the body to great effect, with an air and mannerisms that cast him as cold yet stylish -- a bad boy in every sense of the word, and not afraid to give the occasional regular death glare. 


Uh...what was I talking about again?  Sorry, I lost my train of thought.  I got lost in their eyes.

Oh, yeah, now I remember.  He’s also an interesting character writing-wise; as a Greeed, he’s just as devoted to his desires and lust as the others, and acts as a blatant counterpoint to Eiji’s self-ordained heroism.  Incidentally, even though he acts like he’s in control, Ankh starts losing bargaining chip after bargaining chip.  He has no body, he can’t transform, he has to give up the Medals the pair gains by beating the Yummies to the Kougami Foundation, he’s constantly on the losing end of deals with Eiji -- who need I remind you is an underwear-espousing drifter -- and in one episode he gets separated from his body and has his arm beaten up by kids that think he’s a snake.  The universe just loves crapping all over this guy -- and it’s glorious.  He’s getting kicked around, and he knows it; of course, that just makes me wonder if at some point later in the series, Ankh is going to draw the line…

Actually, I’d say that’s a good thing.  I haven’t even made it to episode fifteen yet, but there are so many ways for the plot to go that I can’t help but feel excited.  There’s been progression in the plot, but there’s been setup simultaneously, and the possibilities are as diverse as they are potentially-rewarding.  To wit: if the Greeed can take advantage of people’s selfish desires (money, clothing, food), then what happens if they take advantage of Eiji’s desire to help everyone he can, or Gotou’s desire to save the world, or even Hina’s desire to be reunited with her brother, or Ankh's desire to choke a bitch?

  
Would those create the most powerful Yummies imaginable?  Will the Kougami Foundation follow through on its heavy foreshadowing and create a man-made Kamen Rider, and who will use it?  What sort of desires would its user have, and how would that affect both the user and the suit?  If Kougami is obsessed with birth and beginnings and the corporation’s scientist Dr. Maki is obsessed with endings, what sort of dark agenda does he have in mind?  When is Ankh just going to say “screw this shit” and go bananas?  Who is the true villain of the story, if not the Greeed?  (It’s not that they’re lame villains -- like Ankh, they’re colorfully entertaining -- but given the stuff I’ve seen/read/played over the years I have a hard time believing they’re the central threat.)

I will be honest.  If I had to point to one thing that bothers me about OOO, it’s in the visuals -- or to be more specific, the CG.  I don’t know enough about CG (especially in a live-action show) to make any snap comments or judgments about it, but in terms of OOO, it’s…well, “noticeable” is probably the nicest word I could use for it.  Some effects are all right, but when they have to put something on-screen like a Medal-powered vending machine turning into a motorcycle -- which is often -- or a can-sized robot turning into a chirpy animal -- which is also often -- then the CG becomes really distracting.  


It doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the visuals, and takes away from things like the punching and kicking.  Also, I know that the show is called Kamen Rider, but I really don’t want to see or care to see a vending machine transform into a motorcycle over and over again.  And apparently, OOO -- in a rather hilarious twist of fate -- had budget issues; the GataKiriBa combo only appears a few times because it was so expensive to put its shadow-cloning ability on-screen.  Probably shouldn’t have spent so much time showing off those bikes, guys.

But overall, I’m not just happy with the way OOO came out -- I’m impressed.  The CG is hit-or-miss, sure, but seeing these characters in action -- from the standard ass-kicking to a heartfelt conversation -- is a real treat.  (To say nothing of the fact that there’s nothing trippier than seeing a Rider bow humbly, shuffle around clumsily, or straddle a vending machine and pretend it’s a working motorcycle.)  These characters are interesting, the story is interesting, the themes are handled with an eye for multiple angles/avenues, the music is downright infectious, the action is entertaining (whenever Eiji uses a full combo, it’s a definite HELL YEAH moment), the comedy and drama are spot-on, and I feel like watching it right now.


URRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!  SO HYPE!

I can’t say I know all that much about Kamen Rider as a franchise, but I feel like OOO is a good cross-section of what makes any given installment -- and the franchise at large -- so enduring and loved.  Much like the Power Rangers (American or Japanese), each yearly installment brings with it new rules, new characters, and new ideas for the audience’s pleasure.  It’s hard to say how successful any one series is compared to another, but they have to be doing something right.  They’re pulling in viewers and fans year after year from all over the world, and of all ages…well, multiple ages, at least.  Why?  People want to see what happens when heroes and villains are thrown into the proverbial ring.  They want to see ideas and beliefs defined and clashing with one other.  They want action, comedy, and drama -- or if not that, then the balance of those three in accordance with the writers’ vision.  They want to feel that spirit…and as long as Kamen Rider keeps on delivering, it’ll keep on thriving.

Then again, that just begs the question: why the hell isn’t Kamen Rider available more readily?


Funimation has dozens of anime -- subbed and dubbed -- made available via its streaming services on its main site or YouTube.  Crunchyroll puts up the latest anime on its site, with subtitles, and leaves archived shows online for years (someday I’ll finish watching Heroman).  So why aren’t toku shows readily available for anime fans who are exactly in the market for that sort of thing?  I wouldn’t mind a straight dub as long as I could actually watch something like OOO on TV, even if the process is a little…well, VERY impractical.  But moreover, I wouldn’t mind just doing what I’ve been doing: going online, loading up the proper website, and watching a series with subtitles.  That’s fine.  I would love that.

To be fair, I can and have started checking Dailymotion for episodes without a problem.  And indeed, there’s been a semi-recent announcement that Toei is going to make a toku channel…but that only changes the question, not answers it.  Why did it take them -- anyone, really -- so long to make this stuff immediately available?  Legal issues?  A supposed lack of interest?  Laziness?  It boggles the mind…but then again, I guess it’s all right in the end.  More Kamen Rider equals more fun.  And as long as the franchise gets more exposure, I’m happy.  Pretty soon, there’s going to be one word on everyone’s mind.  Or if not that, then at least my mind.

HENSHIN!  And as a corollary, RIDER KICK!


…I couldn’t leave without saying that.  I just couldn’t.


10 comments:

  1. Hey man :) Until this post I knew little of Kamen Rider but I did recently review Battle Pinball which features him and a pintable based around his exploits :)

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  2. Kamen Rider...pinball?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJaamHrGgvs



    Wait. I don't think there was proper setup for that non-contextual clip. On the other hand, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


    In any case, I know a lot of people would bemoan the presence of merchandising in whatever (excessive) form it may take -- that was the thrust of more than half of at least one Simpsons episode -- but come on. Kamen Rider pinball? You can't hate that. I'm gonna have to give it a look. Thanks for the heads-up.

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  3. You like the Super Sentai series too? Man-oh-man, I remember I started watching those with a friend of mine, about 4 years ago! I had read the (extremely R-rated) manga, but I hadn't watched any until Kamen Rider × Kamen Rider Gaim & Wizard: The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle, which was as damn ridiculous as a super crossover of the entire freaking franchise as you'd expect! (roll clip, Jeffrey!)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0bznx1bcXY

    On a related note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, MISTER PAYNE!

    On a less-related note, since you are such a huge Power Rangers fan (and since I was too, but we only got the first 4 season in Greece and then the crappy magical forest Power Rangers spin-off), I might have something super-duper special at hand for you by next week on my blog!

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  4. Ho-lee Schmidt, you've become a Kamen Rider fan, too? My respect for you has magnified manifold. And happy belated birthday, dood.

    I'm actually more familiar with the older, Showa-era Kamen Riders of the 70s and 80s, which are good too, but they're more of an acquired taste thing. The CG is a whole different kind of bad, but it kinda adds to the campy charm of the earlier series. Not to mention, you get a glimpse of past Japanese culture seldom seen in the west. Who would've thought Go-Go Clubs were a thing in early 70s Japan?

    Anyway, a YouTube user (RiderFan96, I believe) is posting all of the fan subbed Rider shows. It's where I've been getting my Rider fix, anyway.

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  5. Thanks for the birthday wish -- but don't worry, there's no need for the "Mr." It just feels so stiff and awkward. Now, Guardsman, that's something I could get behind. Either that, or Thunder King.


    But yeah, I think there's something magical about Power Rangers -- or Super Sentai, or Kamen Rider, or pretty much any show featuring guys in suits fighting other guys in suits. They may have a different way of going about things, but there's no doubt that these guys are superheroes...and as you likely know, superheroes = awesomeness. With some degree of consistency. (Given that one of the later Power Rangers seasons had a mech that turned into a giant shotgun, I'd say the franchise has earned its place as THE GREATEST THING EVER.) OOO is no exception...although I'm worried that it's making me question my sexuality in ways I never would have thought possible. Then again, I'm sure there's nothing wrong with a little man-crush here and there.


    In any case, I'll have to give your upcoming post a look. Not sure what to expect of it, but given that the last time I saw a compilation of Kamen Rider stuff, it had wall-to-wall Rider Kicks...so yeah, I'd say I'm in good hands.

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  6. Theoretically, I've always been a Kamen Rider fan in the sense that I approve of the concept. I'd just never gotten around to watching any of the shows in earnest...but man oh man, am I glad I did. I guess I'm about halfway through OOO by now, but I'm already making plans to give Fourze a look if I can. Because truth be told, I've always had a soft spot for delinquent-type characters...and HOLY SHIT, DAT HAIR.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abq-dbblmaY



    RiderFan96, huh? I'll have to keep that one in mind if/when my current OOO supplier -- some mess of letters and numbers I can't be arsed to remember -- stops delivering. Or...gets arrested. Because YouTube has the power to do that, maybe.

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  7. I can't in good faith call you Thunder King without a guitar solo to go with it or at least a cape on my back to flap in the wind and you know it.


    But yeah, Super Sentai are cheesy as fuck superheroes and they're beautiful just for what they do. I just re-watched the Kamen Rider special that I posted the clip from and I was thinking the entire time 'My God, why? Why is this so over-the-top and so ridiculous but so awesome at the same time?"


    I'll give OOO a whirl. But I'll be honest. The blonde guy's coife and face kinda scare me.

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  8. Ah, yes, the cape. My brother's a big fan of those. A very big fan. It seems like he can't have a single session with Street Fighter 4 without saying "Bison should get his cape from Alpha back." And woe to those (i.e. me) whenever a game allows him to actually wear a cape...


    In any case, here's hoping you get a kick out of OOO. Incidentally, blonde guy isn't the guy who made me question myself (in spite of one episode featuring gratuitous shots of his leather-clad ass). There's another guy in there that...well, I'm considering making a post JUST to celebrate him. Because he's worth it.


    Although I think I'm over my questioning period. One look at Alyson Hannigan is enough to lay all my doubts to rest. Ooooh, I think I feel a swoon coming on...

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  9. I've made a passing glance at Ultraman before, but I guess it never really occured to me to look into that any more than a surface-level name check. Kamen Rider's a top priority right now, buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I suppose I'll have to check out some other stuff eventually.


    If nothing else, I'd like to see if "Bogun" is just as messed up as the Game Grumps declared.

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  10. Oh! The YouTube user's name is RiderFan097, not RiderFan96. D'oh.
    I'm kinda surprised you haven't looked into Ultraman yet, the oldest of Japan's Toku trinity (with Super Sentai and Kamen Rider). I wanna say Pacific Rim was paying homage to that series when calling their monsters "Kaiju," but that's just wild speculation on my part.

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