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.
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.
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.
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.
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.