A staple of Japanese television is a little genre known as Tokusatsu. This genre has brought some of the most iconic characters to life and inspired many more into creation. What I want to share with you within this article is a show that has a long history in Japan but little known in the western world – Kamen Rider.
Tokusatsu basically means special effects show. When we think special effects now our minds immediately think CGI in big blockbusters such as Iron Man. What we’re actually talking about here though are actors in monster suits, pyrotechnics and transformation sequences. One great example of this type of show that we may be familiar with here in the western world is Doctor Who. You may have even seen some Japanese Tokusatsu before in the form of Godzilla or seen US adaptations of Tokusatsu such as Big Bad Beetleborgs, VR Troopers and Power Rangers.
Kamen Rider is a Tokusatsu television show created by Shotaro Ishinomori and first began airing in Japan in 1971. Kamen Rider currently airs on Sundays in Japan during a slot called Super Hero Time which also features Super Sentai (Japanese Power Rangers). Kamen Rider and Super Sentai actually share some strong links in creator Shotaro Ishinomori. Ishinomori has created many great series and not just confined to Tokusatsu, he is also a manga artist with a great mentor in the late great inspirational Osamu Tezuka.
The main premise in each Kamen Rider each is that of the main character having the ability to Henshin (transform), through the use of their belts, into a Kamen Rider and fight evil. Kamen is Japanese for Masked referring to them being masked very much like superheroes in western comics. Iconic features of a Kamen Rider that make them instantly recognizable are there Helmets, Belts and Motorcycles, the belts being the biggest selling point in terms of merchandise.
The belt design has a huge impact on the success of a show as this is the item that every kid what’s to own, most are designed with a collectable theme in mind such as cards, USB sticks, coins, rings etc… I sadly only own one belt so far that being Kamen Rider W (Double) this uses the USB sticks and it’s incredibly fun to play with even as an adult, not satisfied with just the one I plan to own more when I have the chance although they come with a high price tag outside of Japan.
Much like Power Rangers (Super Sentai), each Kamen Rider series has its own unique theme on a yearly basis, this year is Kamen Rider Wizard that follows a magic motif with the Riders using magic rings in combination with their belts. Each Kamen Rider series follows a different formula and varying amount of Riders in a series. Unlike Super Sentai where the norm is a team of five with one or two special characters, a Kamen Rider series can have any number of Riders not all of which are good and fights between Riders is commonplace during.
Kamen Rider Kabuto (2006) was my introduction into the Rider series, it saw a large cast of Riders each with there own agenda. Since then, I have watched most series bar the pre-2000 era, where I have only dabbled but have been very impressed by the original series that started it all due to its horror movie like episodes that truly frighten and are best seen with the lights on.
With the major success that Super Sentai has had in the western world with Power Rangers, It’s a wonder why Kamen Rider hasn’t had the same success and it’s not through lack of trying. Saban who were responsible for Power Rangers, Big Bad Beetleborgs and VR Troopers made the first attempt at a Kamen Rider adaptation with Masked Rider (1995) which used Kamen Rider Black RX‘s (1988) footage. Another attempt was made almost 15 years later with Kamen Rider Dragon Knight (2009) by Adness Entertainment and used Kamen Rider Ryuki (2002) for the adaptation but was cancelled at 40 episodes before the end of its run.
Although I haven’t watched these adaptations for fear of what they might contain compared to the originals, I have however seen the trailer to Dragon Knight and from that can gather they were trying to create another Power Rangers where everyone works together to defeat the evil but this is where Kamen Rider is inherently different. Probably why Kamen Rider and Super Sentai work so well side by side in Japan is because they offer different approaches to the same end.
Hopefully, we will again see attempts to either adapt Kamen Rider for western audiences or even a release of the Japanese versions with subtitles outside of Japan in the future. So far the only series that I know of with an English subtitled release is Kamen Rider V3 (1973).
I hope I have enlightened some people reading into the magical world of Kamen Rider and for those who already watch it please share your thoughts below on your favourite series or the series that first introduced you to Kamen Rider. As stated earlier my first series was Kabuto and my favourite three would be Den-O, Kiva and OOO. Questions are also welcome.