Kamen Rider: Japan’s Legacy Superhero

In my senior year of high school, I was getting into Mecha anime and frequented a certain imageboard. Through this community I managed to discover some older anime from the 80s and 90s I had never heard of, but I also discovered something else this small community talked about: Tokusatsu.

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Tokusatsu, in Japan, is a live action television show or movie that uses extensive of special effects. A western example would probably be Doctor Who, which in Japan was marketed as Britain’s longest running tokusatsu show. When it comes to fandom though, the term tokusatsu in the western fandom tends to exclusively include Asian productions. In Japan, the medium includes Godzilla, Ultraman, Super Sentai and my personal favorite, Kamen Rider.

Kamen Rider is one of the most prevalent tokusatsu franchises, and is one of the oldest. The original Kamen Rider was created by manga god Shotaro Ishinomori. The franchise started in 1971 and continues to run today. It’s a live-action superhero show, with a lot of fun over-the-top action and toy-selling gimmicks.

The original Kamen Rider Ichigo series ran throughout 1973 but an important precedent was placed when the next series starred a new Kamen Rider entirely. The structure of the franchise is every year, a new Kamen Rider with a new story stars in their own 50-ish episode show and 2-ish movies. After that series is done, the show is rebooted to fit a new story and a new Kamen Rider. There’s still an underlying continuity, with older Riders teaming up with newer Riders in special episodes, straight-to-video content, and movies.

When I started to get into the franchise, what got me interested was the special effects, the Japanese-ness of the material, and the overall optimism and enthusiasm that a lot of the better Kamen Rider series deal in. In the early 2010s, the overall grittiness of Western superhero media (especially the New 52 stuff) kind of left me in the dust. The goofy optimism of Kamen Rider was what I desperately needed at the time, and my first series was a part of a new generation of Kamen Riders.

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I’m completely biased about this, but Kamen Rider W (Pronounced Double) is one of the best places to start watching this franchise. What makes Double special is it’s great fight scenes, it’s fun characters, and it’s overall execution.

In the windy city of Futo, the powerful Sonozaki Family sell USB-shaped devices called Gaia Memories to anyone who will take them. These Gaia Memories turn their users into powerful monsters called Dopants, but also contain a toxin that drives them insane and may eventually kill them. After his boss dies, the half-boiled detective Shotaro Hidari works with a mysterious man named Phillip to form Kamen Rider W to save Futo’s residents from Dopants, as well as save the people behind the Dopants.

What makes this series special is the great cast of characters: Shotaro and Phillip have a great dynamic and the Boss’s daughter, Akiko, tends to bounce between annoying, cute and funny. There’s also the too-serious Kamen Rider Accel Ryu Terui, who shows up about halfway throughout the series to shake the show’s dynamic up. That’s not to mention the half-dozen recurring characters, all of which get the time to shine.

If this show is up your alley, I’d highly recommend Fourze, OOOs, Faiz, and Kabuto. There are tons of options in the twenty-seven series that exist thus far, but this is my biggest recommendation, and there are a ton of recommendation guides if you wanted something different.

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There’s been a couple times it’s been adapted in the US, but always to critical or commercial failure. Haim Saban’s 1995 adaption Masked Rider is a complete mess to a point of laughter from the fandom, whereas 2008’s Kamen Rider Dragon Knight was a pretty decent adaption until they suddenly decided to just add aliens to the plot for no reason.

There hasn’t been an adaption since Dragon Knight and personally, I feel if the right series was marketed and adapted correctly it could be fairly popular. Considering it’s sister series, Super Sentai, has had a lot of success here it’s a damn shame that Kamen Rider never hit the big time in the west.

It’s crazy to come from the US where almost no one knows about the franchise to go to Japan where it’s a big popular thing you can find anywhere. You can’t even find officially subtitled versions, despite the fact that shows like Ultraman and Super Sentai have made progress on that end in the past few years.

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I love Kamen Rider, so I wrote this to share my love of this franchise, even if it’s just to a few people. It’s no doubt a kid’s show, sure, but there’s a lot of great work put into every series. If you’re willing to seek it out, Kamen Rider is a distinctly Japanese superhero franchise worth the watch.

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Before the Attack On Titan Anthology…

In October of 2016, Kodansha Comics released the Attack On Titan Anthology, a book based upon the extremely popular manga franchise. The anthology was made specifically for the large following the original manga had gained in North America. The Anthology’s stories were made exclusively by Western comic creators, and it was a big deal because of its western origins and the diverse stable of creators that worked on it. While there hasn’t been any word about how well the Attack On Titan anthology has done, a mark of its success is the similar Ghost In The Shell Anthology coming next year from the same publisher.

While the Attack On Titan Anthology was a big push toward the crossover between western comics and manga, it was hardly the first. Western comic creators working with anime and manga intellectual properties for over fifty years.

In 1965 Gold Key Comics, a publisher largely known for their work on licensed TV and cartoon comics, gained the license for Astro Boy from NBC. My source, this article from Manga Bookshelf, only claims that one issue was created but from what I’ve found, it’s the earliest Western comic adaption of anime. This wasn’t the last time Astro Boy was adapted to American comics, either.

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Astroboy #1, 1965, Gold Key Comics
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Brian Thomas and Marc Hansen, The Original Astro Boy, March 1989, NOW! Comics
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E.J Su, Astro Boy: The Movie, January 2009, IDW Comics

Astro Boy was adapted again by NOW! Comics as The Original Astro Boy and ran from 1987 to 1989. In 2009, IDW Comics put out two miniseries to coincide with the animated movie’s release: a prequel and an adaption.

However, I’m getting way ahead of myself. The single-issue Astro Boy comic was a huge outlier: the first few adaptions from anime and manga to comic started in the 1980. A lot of manga in the 80s and 90s was released in single-issue floppies, not unlike the weekly releases from Marvel and DC. In fact, it was Marvel’s imprint Epic Comics that initially colorized and released Akira in that floppy format with a run lasting from 1989 to 1995.

Early translated manga was far more niche than anything you’d see today: initially, these floppy-style translated manga were only sold in comic shops and were generally obscure. These comic-style manga existed until the early 2000s, when the “graphic novel” or tankōbon format prevailed, and the manga section in your local Barnes and Noble became commonplace. Yet, despite manga’s obscurity, this early environment was when multiple western comics based upon anime/manga began their run.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Marvel found that licensed comics based upon toy properties were extremely lucrative. In fact, one of the licenses that they obtained was Shogun Warriors, a line of toys based upon imported super robot properties that most people in the United States had little access to. The comic Shogun Warriors only focused on three mecha and their pilots: Combatra which was based upon Combattler V, Raydeen which was based upon Brave Raideen, and Danguard Ace which was based upon Planetary Robot Danguard Ace.

The Shogun Warriors comics have a degree of separation due to this being an adaption of the toy line rather than the anime and manga themselves. It’s extremely notable due to its age: the first issue came out in 1979 and the series lasted until 1980.

The Jack Kirby Museum website indicates that the King himself was tapped to work on a Gigantor comic around the same time the Shogun Warriors comics were released. The article notes that plans feel through, and I couldn’t find any other sources than this on a Gigantor comic from Marvel.

Similarly to Astro Boy, in 1987 Speed Racer, another classic anime, was adapted into a comic by Now! Comics. The book ran from 1987 to 1990 and even outlasted the Astro Boy book, with an Astro Boy back-up story being featured in Speed Racer #17 after it’s cancellation.

The longest running comic series I could find based upon an anime is the Toren Smith and Adam Warren-written Dirty Pair comics, published initially by Eclipse Comics and then by Dark Horse Comics. While a fairly short run in terms of issue count (24), the way that the Dirty Pair Comics worked was that it wasn’t really an ongoing comic. Dirty Pair began as multiple miniseries, but later were just published straight to graphic novel format.

While Toren Smith left early, he and Adam Warren were some of the earliest manga-influenced artists found in Western comics. Toren Smith at the time was known for Ninja High School, whereas Adam Warren is a little more relevant today due to his Empowered superhero comic. Adam Warren also worked on Bubblegum Crisis: Grand Mal for Dark Horse in 1995. Dirty Pair led to a long run, from 1988 to 2002: fourteen years of Adam Warren art evolution and original English manga.

While most of what I’ve found is exhausted, there’s one last oddity I’d like to talk about. In 2013, BOOM! Comics imprint Archaia released a graphic novel based upon Cyborg 009. The book was written by F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp and drawn by Marcus To and Ian Herring. Some of these Western adaptions are really interesting for their place in history: the Dirty Pair book, for example, shows that the Dirty Pair anime was popular enough in certain circles for it to be adapted into a western comic with a fourteen year run. Personally, when I came upon this book I was extremely curious why a Cyborg 009 Graphic Novel by a western team was published in 2014, when the original series doesn’t have much of a fandom in the West. According to this interview with F. J. DeSanto, the book was part of a push to make Shotaro Ishinomori’s work more well-known in the US.

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By Ian Fleming and Marcus To, Cyborg 009, 2013, Archaia Comics

While there isn’t a ton of Western comics adapting these Japanese properties, I’d like to think that the crossover between East and West when it comes to comics is a part of the future. There are other things I likely overlooked, but if you have any Western comics about anime and manga you’d like to share with me, leave a comment below! I may write a follow-up on this, possibly from the other end: anime and manga about American comics and properties. Until next time, thank you.

Caleb Gillen’s Five Most Influential Video Games

Ah, video games: by the time I was in college, I began to truly appreciate the way that video games have helped to mold my life into what it is right now. I started with Sonic the Hedgehog when I was 3 or 4 and now, it’s been a lifelong hobby. So, to celebrate the 20+ years I’ve spent playing video games, as well as my introduction into Truly Abrasive, I’m going to talk to you about the games that have had the largest influence on me over time.

These are in no particular order.

Super Smash Bros (N64)

So, the Nintendo 64 was my first console, ever. I had a Game Boy Color first for my fifth birthday but the Nintendo 64 was the iconic system of my early childhood, not unlike a ton of nineties kids. One of the first games that came with the system was Super Smash Bros, and there’s a good reason why I’m not putting any of its much-improved sequels on here.smash.png

Afternoons with my uncle were spent desperately trying to beat his Captain Falcon. For characters other than Mario, Kirby, Link, and Pikachu this was really my first interaction with every other Nintendo character. I mean, I’m not sure if I would have ever played any of the Metroid series, Star Fox series, or Earthbound without playing this game first.

Another big thing that made this game extremely influential was its longevity. I rarely played Melee outside of other friends’ houses, even if Melee was objectively better. My family gathered to watch or play Smash 64 at almost every gathering. From ages 7 to 13, even if I rarely touched my N64, Smash was always a family mainstay. For a younger me, this was competitive gaming.

Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland (GBA)

Let me just tell you, the ad to this thing was the most addictive thing in the universe as a child. You’ve got this fake sounding James Bond theme for Kirby, that was nonetheless catchy as heck. This game was released in what I call THE ERA OF KIRBY, the period of time when the anime ran, and both Nightmare in Dreamland and Kirby Air Ride were released. While I wasn’t able to enjoy Air Ride until around high school, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland was a mainstay for awhile.

The biggest complaint you can make about this game, or any Kirby game is that it’s too easy, but ten year old me had no issues with that. The big reason why this game was so influential isn’t due to the fact that it was my first Kirby game, (In fact, that was Kirby’s Dreamland, the original Game Boy game) but that it was another family experience.

My sister is not a gamer at all, but this was this was a game experience that both my sister and I shared and  we both love to this day. This game also taught me the value of short games like Kirby: there are no real long Kirby games that I can remember, but each one is slam dunk because of its lack of bloat.

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3) Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox)

Jet Set Radio Future, for a while, was my white whale. The first convention I ever went to, Anime Boston 2006, had a place on the gaming floor for JSRF and I was absolutely blown away. I just kept on playing it and playing it and didn’t really know what the game was. It took until I got an Xbox 360 to get a copy of it and let me tell you: this is a franchise that desperately needs a sequel.

While the original Jet Set Radio didn’t age super well mechanically, it’s sequel is still sound in that regard. Jet Set Radio Future is an experiment that was born from an era of Tony Hawk games with realistic graphics, basically no story (besides the THUG games), and an American rock/rap playlist. The Jet Set Radio franchise is  Japan’s answer to those games, with outlandish graffiti graphics, a downright zany story, and an original Japanese soundtrack.

When I got Jet Set Radio Future, it taught me the value of art direction over graphics in an era where all my friends were talking about the graphics of sports games and Call of Duty. Aesthetics and art direction is king in the Jet Set Radio games, and it sure as hell aged a lot better than the realistic games of 2002.

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4) Persona 4 (PS2)

Garrett beat me to this, but unlike him, I’m talking about my experience with the originalpersona4 Persona 4. This game, honestly, is hard to talk about because a lot of people have said a lot of things about it. For me, at this point, I had grown up with a ton of JRPGs, from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy 7 to Pokemon: the reason why they aren’t on this list is because Persona 4, at least before Persona 5 came out, was the apex of the JRPG for me.

I had played a bit of Persona 3 FES when I was in high school, but for a while I wasn’t as into video games as I was before, and was focusing on a ton of other stuff, particularly my anime fandom. I had heard a lot about Persona 4 before I started playing and despite it’s slow start, I was hooked.

Persona 4, in a lot of ways, showed me where turn-based RPGs had to go and where Japanese games in general were going. It, like Jet Set Radio Future, has amazing aesthetics but it’s gameplay and writing are incredibly strong. People are still talking about these characters, and their charm has led to at least a half a dozen spin-off games, and by god does this game deserve it.

5) The World Ends With You (iPhone/Android)

Ever play a game, read a book, or watch a movie that feels like it was made specifically for you? For me, that game was The World Ends With You. When I purchased TWEWY, I came from a background watching and playing stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Mega Man Battle Network and Kingdom Hearts. The World Ends With You is basically the combination of all those elements I loved growing up in the most perfect way.

For me, the Pin-based, deck building gameplay was something I never knew I always wanted. For a while, I grew up thinking I hated the over complicated designs of Tetsuya Nomura, but The World Ends With You franchise proved me wrong, and let a more refined design shine through. The music, again like Jet Set Radio, is extremely distinct J-pop and J-rap and it’s a story has an extremely fleshed out setting and experience. The music and the fashion and trend mechanics only enhance the city of Shibuya Neku is trapped in.

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The phone port was the first way I managed to experience the game in the early 2010s, and Neku’s story is in a great contrast to a lot of other Square Enix teenagers and protagonists. Neku starts off moody, his emotional arc throughout the story starts him at moody teenager who thinks he doesn’t needing anything, and ends him at accepting his feelings and learning that he can’t avoid his emotions. In a lot of ways, it’s about going from teenager to adult, and as I was in my first year of college when I started playing this, it was something I also needed to learn.

Written by Caleb Gillen