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Kamen Rider is a beloved Japanese comic book superhero franchise that’s gone on just as long as a few sci-fi media empires, namely Doctor Who and Star Trek. Shotaro Ishinomori created this epic tokusatsu style series in 1971, and to distinguish between the many televised products, manga and films, it’s been categorised according to who was the emperor of the country, much like the Gojira films.
The latest Kamen Rider Zero-One (仮面ライダーゼロワン) made its debut in Sept 2019, with Saber the following year and Revice in 2021. They mark the Reiwa era, and four years isn’t that bad of a wait for a home video release in foreign markets. Not everyone has access to TV Asahi or wants to search YouTube for the fan posts of the latest episodes. Each season is self-contained narrative-wise, and when I take interest, that’s because of the theme. I can’t wait for Saber because it involves fairies and Revice for its Devilman influnced narrative. Fans of Hideaki Anno are especially excited because he’s helming a Shin revival.
The tone in Zero-One is familiar. It’s somewhere between I, Robot, Star Trek: Picard and Terminator: Rise of the Machines. Human-like androids called Humagears are everywhere, doing the work of normals, but a cyber-terrorist organization known as “MetsubouJinrai.net” has other ideas. They turn the bots into “Magias,” so that they’ll cause harm to not only the environment but also their owners.
The government’s response is to form A.I.M.S. (Artificial Intelligence Military Service). We have the beginnings of Blade Runner here, but instead of Decker, viewers are following the story of Aruto Hiden (Fumiya Takahashi, pictured right). His grandfather is the CEO of Hiden Intelligence, the creators of the Humagears, and he doesn’t like the idea of the family business going under. Though he has aspirations elsewhere, he learns he has to be a team player in order to deal with the threats tossed at him.
After gramps death, he inherits the business, and the greatest invention of them all–which allows him to become the next bug-eyed Kamen Rider! In some ways, this series has a few tones I remember from Ben 10. He gets modules which allows him to transform into other forms of this superhero. Plus, he’s not alone in trying to save Japan. He has to work with A.I.M.S. operatives, Isamu Fuwa and Yua Yaiba, as they too have the technology to turn Kamen Rider Vulcan and Kamen Rider Valkyrie.
There’s two rogue Humagears–Horobi and Jin–who are also Riders. Throughout the 45 episode series run, Aruto and his allies face a lot of regular weekly villains in their dealings with MetsubouJinrai.net. To stop them once and for all means watching the movie, Real×Time, which serves as an epilogue.
This North American release is welcomed for those who like over the top Japanese kids entertainment. The production is as corny as ReBoot: The Guardian Code, but it’s strangely enjoyable. The Kamen Rider franchise isn’t meant to be compelling television. It’s silly anime-style fun realised as live-action. But at the end, what this franchise represents is that Japan has more than one heroic icon who is as much beloved as Spider-Man.