I'm a bit more a Super Sentai fan than a Rider fan, I admit, and didn't really get into the franchise as easily. I do remember watching that "mess" of the Saban "Masked Rider" series back when Power Rangers was big, but really I more came around to KR in more recent times. The first series I started was Amazon mostly to not cloud myself with all the Heisei focus/love people give, but only became more interested in the franchise due to W, which I admit wasn't perfect but was still fun enough to let me stick around. Its been up and down since then as I try to balance Showa and Heisei so I don't just get too much of one, but I think I'm handling it rather well.
Quick Rider Reviews
Classic Showa Era
- Kamen Rider: N/A
- V3: Instead of continuing the adventures of the original Riders, this series does a bit of a soft reboot with the two of them leaving their legacy to a protege who loses his family to the the Great Leader's latest evil organization, Destron. After some great and interesting early episodes, the series enters into annoying routine under it's first general, but rights the course near the end of his run, give us a foreshadowing for a later season with the second general and, after a brief wrong turn, has an amazing final arc with an ambitious leader and a wild card who establishes future concepts in this early Rider season. While with Showa cliches (like the kid group, it is a really satisfying fulfilling and ambitious series with visions of things to come.
- X: COMING APRIL, 2017!
- Amazon: A very strange series both for its era and now; starts off with an offbeat concept of “a Wildman coming to civilization to fight an enemy trying to control it and gain its power” with him learning to live and cope with his strange surroundings, with really brutal but great fights. Halfway, though, it changes to a generic battle against an organization, making it lose whatever made it interesting in the process as the hero becomes instantly-adapting to the Japanese society. A couple episodes aren’t bad during this phase but it really just doesn’t feel as good as it had. This is a bizarre season that loses its uniqueness halfway through, overall.
- Stronger: N/A
Later Showa Era
- Kamen Rider (Skyrider): I'm very torn about this series, which is a return to the basics of "abducted human modified and turns against evil masters" in a slight reboot of the franchise that goes in many different directions. The good include a really dark early arc that's likewise a lot of fun, as well as revisits of many of the classic Riders teaming up with the new guy. On the other hand, the retool just leads to the main hero barely using his main power and a ton of child-based one-shots that really do get extremely grating (even if the main villain for this phase is as awesome as the first), while the show just tries way too hard to find comic relief when really it isn't that needed. (even if one idea has its charms in some ways and an underrated funny guy). Its a conflicting season but it is worthwhile for the great things that it does do.
- Super-1: Starting 1/2016
- Birth of the 10th (ZX): N/A
- Black: The start of the second Showa revival is an interesting experiment that is more or less tough to watch due to the standards of the time. The focus remains on a hero changed due to an evil organization, but done so only so he can ultimately fight his adopted brother to be their ultimate leader. The dramatic elements can get hammy and filled with too many "child plots" and really weird moments, but there are still some fun one-shots, building drama and the aforementioned showdown, which aside from dumb interferences by the main villain does lead to a very bittersweet conclusion. While I don't think its as classic as many make it due to the spaces between important moments, its still important and very worthwhile to see it.
- Black RX: With the success of the previous season, a sequel was obviously greenlit; but unfortunately that sequel turned out to be a complete disaster in its production leading to the series to take a hiatus for a long time afterwards. The season once again follows last season's hero, now fighting against invaders from another dimension who are trying to conquer our world to remove humanity and replace it with their own population. The main character's personality has mellowed to the point of being an utter goof for a good chunk of the season, while there really doesn't feel like anything is at stake, with him just fighting one threat after another with just the bare bones concepts and anything and everything being thrown at him. While there is one strength in at least him having real allies this season (particularly a comedic but awesome one), the show just throws anything to try and keep it relevant, including another villain's brief return and all of the previous Riders in a final showdown where nearly all of them contribute absolutely nothing in the end; let alone an attempt at trying to make some sort of environmental message while ultimately leading to the main character committing essentially genocide of an entire universe in the final battle. If there was much tighter development or maybe a different lead, it could have worked; instead we just have an extremely disappointing season that proves what made the previous one so memorable and good.
Early Heisei Movies
- Shin Kamen Rider Prologue: A strange one-shot movie with some interesting ideas, particularly in bringing the “monster” back into the concept of modified humans. The “ultra-violence” the movie has doesn’t bother me due to its nature (and being hilarious when you think about it)…on the other hand, some of the other stuff does get rather icky and disturbing like…what/where the second “Rider” comes from by the end. The maturity likewise is a tad gratuitous, though I get it’s supposed to be for “adults”…well if they want adult, they get adult!
- ZO: Somehow this movie feels like an excuse to try again and make a movie similar to Shin but made for a more kid-friendly audience. It isn't that good with its plot and story, though, with a bizarre storyline about the Rider pretty much forced to reunite a father and son, even though the father was the one who created him and all the monstrosities of the movie in the first place. If you do see this movie, I do recommend some of the stop-motion animation used for the monsters and some really neat cameos, particularly Naomi Morinaga and Kenji Ohba!
- J: After two bizarre experiments, the final of the three "early Heisei movies" is the one that gets it right, making a simple but fun movie with the bells and whistles backseat to what really matters: a transformed hero fighting horrifying monstrosities for the fate of the world! In this case, its an environmental photographer transformed by underground creatures into a Rider who gains his power from the Earth itself, climaxing in its ability to literally grow huge and fight an ancient but massive threats head-on! While a tad preachy with its environmental message, its simplicity just allows us to sit back and enjoy the ride, with a charismatic hero, horrifying villains and a big guy ripping a massive biomech machine with his bare hands...and isn't that what makes this franchise in the end?
- Kuuga: While the series that single-handedly restarted the franchise, the season gets a lot of slack due to being “low-tech”, “slow” or “dull”. Admittedly I really do like this series myself: the season is treated as a slowly-evolving mystery involving lost civilizations, a deadly game and a normal good-natured man who gets caught in trying to end an ancient battle in modern times. The series is just as much about the Rider’s battle against the awakened civilization as it is about the evolution of people in a society who suddenly must deal with horrible monsters rampaging through and who can kill them at any moment due to their playfully deadly nature, as well as the monsters themselves adapting and evolving with the society to take better advantage of it. The series is so different in its approach that I don’t know if it would have ever been made as it is either during the Showa era or with what Heisei became; the fact it was the first series in a revival of the franchise adds to how it could be so unique and different. While it takes a while to really get into due to its realism and slow nature, it really is a good series in the end and worth every moment.
- Agito: This is a case of a season with some interesting characters trapped in a storyline that probably is a bit too big for itself, being more or less the "X-Men" of the franchise involving the evolution of humanity and the threats by which it faces, from the personal to the cosmic. The characters really are some of the best things about it, with three focal Riders (an OK main who grows on you, a great secondary and an annoying tertiary with an awesome power) and those whom they touch in their lives, from the friendly to the jerks. However the problems tend to be about the world by which the season goes by: there are some mysteries that go on way too long and some concepts introduced way too quickly but don't really matter or get interesting until later; while the source of the power tends to try too hard to be a religious commentary when its more about a petty squabble between gods that humanity gets forced with that is too black and white for my taste and too convenient in avoiding the main Rider but not others associated with it. An interesting attempt and recommended but more for the characters than the world they live in.
- Ryuki: This season is ambitious with its concept: a battle between 13 Riders, fighting in a mirror universe for the chance to grant their greatest wish. Unfortunately even with a high concept like this, it ends up falling flat due to its means, including a wishy-washy main Rider who can’t even decide what he’s fighting for and wastes the entire series trying to figure out what to do and fails miserably, a squadron of Riders who seem to be the worst of the worst chosen by the jerk behind it all who essentially screwed up reality all so he could save his little sister, and just outlandishness all around where it gets to the point where the only one I was rooting for was essentially a bad guy trying to end this madness. (but who isn’t a regular Rider and basically exists as a mentor to one of the idiots chosen to take part in this mess) By the time you get to the killer dragonflies, you just wonder what the heck you just saw and try to piece together if any of it was even worth it.
- Faiz: This is an interesting series that really should have been better than it was with its concepts. The main idea of the series is great, focusing in particular on the "monsters" of the season and bringing up questions on can two different civilizations live together in peace, with a major emphasis of one's mentality and morality and if it can withstand distortions, manipulations and their own past. Unfortunately its still a slog to get through: its pretty good until a major plot element and the Secondary Rider appear, which leads to a rapid speed-up of the distortions, manipulations and the convenient "why do they keep hiding this" mess while putting up with quite a few grating characters otherwise and an enemy which, outside a few notables in a special squadron, just gets rather faceless and disposable due to being less their nature and more being corporate stooges. It is interesting but you just have to bare with a lot of stupid plot points and egos to get what's actually worthwhile in it.
- Blade: In a franchise obsessed with using secrets and tricks to create drama, this season actually ignores it completely, instead giving us a character-intense season involving an organization of public Riders fighting against immortal monsters released to fight in a tournament where the winner becomes the dominant species of the Earth. While the series just throws you right in head-first from the beginning, the interactions of the characters alongside the drama and the excellent battles keep you around, getting you sucked into their world and the themes of camaraderie and defying fate. And while the main Rider himself is a tad vanilla in his desires, he is a great foil to balance out the desires of the other three main Riders, including his workaholic, easily deceived partner, a kid thrown into the battle who wants to prove himself as a hero, and the ultimate wild card who may not be as evil as he is supposed to be. While tough for some and with a strange main-writer change halfway through, the season still easily has a winning hand.
- Hibiki: This season is an interesting experiment that goes totally off the rails. It starts with a very arty and fun set of opening episodes involving a kid at a crossroads befriending a quirky warrior who fights with the power of music and sound against massive monster threats. As the show settles in, though, it tries to make a bigger deal out of what's happening but it just gets rather confusing and hard to see in some aspects. But even these turn out calm and interesting compared to a complete series overhaul where characters suddenly become more one-dimensional and annoying, personified by possibly the most annoying Rider character ever. (and my own suspicions that the overhauling writer had his own ideas involving a supernatural heir and a gruff warrior he would write proper some time later!) Its worth it for some of the mentorship elements and early heart but brace yourself for the terrible overhaul!
- Kabuto: This is a season that has some interesting concepts and ideas going for it that's utterly ruined by dumb decisions and terrible pacing. The main idea follows two characters: an elitist standing above others and a hardworker who paves his own path, both of whom encounter and come into alliance and conflict with one another but follow different paths in facing down an army of insectoid space invaders that can mimic their prey. The interesting is seeing these two and others following various paths and seeing how they intersect while dealing with the invasion; but the series is plagued with too many problems from having extremely bizarre twists (see this season's female), things that come out of nowhere, weird casting problems and, worst of all, a terrible sense of pacing its story and plot-lines, most notably regarding a second involved group and a certain character who gets one revelation done way too quick and whose ending is completely rushed! Any potential the season has at the start is utterly lost by the end as it just meanders down the path of 'what the heck am I watching?'
- Den-O: This season is rather endearing though not without its problems, mostly in some of its convoluted and revealed elements at the end. It involves a weak boy with a strong will who ends up finding himself fighting against future invaders with the help of four goofy loveable weirdos (and sometimes a fifth) while trying to solve the mystery of a lost friend and his sister's lost memory, ultimately with his friend's past self and his partner. The series is built on its comedy and relationships, which is rather entertaining and extremely endearing in being guides at some moments and utter nuisances at others. But its not without its problems: there isn't really any explanation of the invaders (or partners) former lives in the future while trivializing their actions later on and the main mystery takes some bizarre turns at the end that makes it way too easy and compact in order to make the whole thing a family affair; though while many don't like the main enemy, I find him as a refreshing and interesting villain for pulling this. But even with its troubles, its still a memorable time-tripping ride.
- Kiva: An interesting but slightly headache-causing season, focusing on two characters in two times: a shy violin maker fighting monsters with the help of his own monster army; and his outgoing father 22 years in the past. There are some great concepts about legacy and coming into your own, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of interacting with the world. However, some of the interactions, particularly towards the end, get rather frustrating, especially when the main hero gets into an argument with his ambitious half-brother driven partially by a love triangle, as well as an extremely messy climax partially involving time-travel which may have lead to the entire season being a paradox and thus a headache-inducing circle. I do actually love the partner monsters and the second Rider starts off tough to bare but becomes more fun later, but some things have to be put tolerated, unfortunately, that reduce the majesty of this story of vampire kings.
- Decade: A peculiar though somewhat confusing series celebrating the 10th of the Heisei run, about an amnesiac with massive power instructed to visit nine worlds similar to the nine previous series and destroy them, only for him to gain something greater in the process from each life and Rider he encounters. The best thing about this series are probably the tributes and how they connect to the main character through his interactions; while not the originals, they give unique takes that allow for the central lesson of the seasons to be brought across. (including a historic first for this and another franchise) On the other hand, not all of the tributes were handled that well while some of the story elements get lost or confusing, particularly a major annoyance that gets no explanation and a later threat that sort of works in two scenarios but ultimately feels pointless in the grand scheme. It's a tough journey, but its one with slight reward at its end.
- W: On paper, it really is a very neat concept: a mystery series with two guys fusing together into a Rider trying to save a town they love and face essentially a drug trade run by the family controlling it. And amazingly, it does hold up as a really fun series…for the most part. The one-shots really played well in introducing the characters of the town and giving us all sorts of mysteries. Unfortunately, when you talk about the main plot, the stupidity kicks in: the main villain of the first third isn’t too bad but you get some sympathies for him when he finally leaves, then we get another villain who just acts annoying and brings out the worst of this season’s second Rider, and the third…um, I think he’s only there for the endgame; and the family itself is just a ridiculous family squabble anyway where you really don’t feel any sympathy for anyone except for the one who was able to get away through death in the first place. The season ultimately is the KR version of Boukenger: amazing one-shots and world, stupid main plots.
- OOO: Probably my favorite of the recent Riders, it builds an amazing world with a story based on the concept of desire, greed and what it takes to get what you really want out of the world. This world is fantastic but really believable in its methods, with alliances that keep changing by the episode and a power source that is closer to the concept of money, thus allowing for the idea of desire to play with the interchangeability of the Rider powers. All of the characters are memorable in their own ways from both the heroes to the villains, with my only real complaints being some early whining of a future secondary Rider (he gets better) and a bizarre explanation by the main villain as to why he has the philosophy that he does. And the music is probably one of the most memorable soundtracks I’ve heard in tokusatsu. What other word can be used to describe this season except the obvious: SUBARASHII!!!
- Fourze: On Watch List (2015)
- Wizard: N/A
- Gaim: N/A
- Drive: May/May Not Watch, Can't Decide