20 May 2017

beyond the bugmen, part VI

Part VI: The Detective Moving at Top Speed, Drive

I will preface today's article about Kamen Rider Drive (October 5, 2014-September 27, 2015) by saying that it is CURRENTLY my number one favorite Kamen Rider series. It was also the first one that I watched as it came out, week by week (when Charles was in Japan, he actually saw one of the last episodes live, and accidentally spoiled part of the fight by describing it!). I'm not really sure what makes me love it so much, but I do. Tomari Shinnosuke is our main hero, a detective whose partner was injured after the Global Freeze Incident, where monsters known as the Roidmude slowed down the entire world. This caused a shot that Shinnosuke took at one of the monsters to hit a gas tank near his partner. We find him six months after, lazy and unwilling to do much of anything. But, when strange things start to occur, his brain shifts into top gear, and he takes on the case.

Our hero, mid-henshin pose.

I think what really solidified Drive as my current favorite series is the detective aspect - anyone who knows me well enough knows my all-time favorite game series is Phoenix Wright. Yes, W was a detective story as well, but we saw far less actual detective work in that one. In Drive, Shinnosuke spends most of his non-costumed time following clues, questioning witnesses and bystanders near a crime scene, all to determine the motives of the Roidmude. And just what are the Roidmude, anyway?

Here's a few, as an example.

The Roidmude are mechanical lifeforms, who are able to slow time in their vicinity, steal the likenesses of human beings, and generally wreak havoc. There is a major question that gets brought up later in the series, however - when do the Roidmude stop being Roidmude, and are considered human? Some events occur that bring this sort of thing into question, which mirrors many conversations happening in our world right now. Where is the line between human and machine, if the machine looks, acts, and feels like a human? Being one of the most technologically-advanced countries in the world, Japan will have to address these questions sooner than many of us.

For now, we have Kamen Rider Drive to give us plenty of food for thought, as well as a fantastic detective story to wrap it all up in.

12 May 2017

beyond the bugmen: part V

PART V: The Dancing Fruit-Samurai Rider, Gaim

What to say about Kamen Rider Gaim (October 6, 2013 - September 28, 2014)? Well, to start with...as I alluded last week, this is another Rider series worked on by an anime director - Gen Urobuchi, most well-known for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Like that series, Gaim suberts and inverts various Kamen Rider tropes, such as having little to no monsters to fight the Riders with. Instead, the series follows Kouta Kazuraba, among various other Beat Riders as they're called, who compete in a televised dance-battle competition in Zawame City. The dance teams compete for stages throughout the city, and if a stage comes into conflict, they fight with small monsters called Inves. Sounds a LOT more like a certain other popular Japanese property, doesn't it?
TOTALLY what came to mind first.

Like any series done by Urobuchi (or Urobutcher as some English fans call him), the series is rife with confusion and misinformation (seriously, watch episode 11 of Gaim, it is MESSED UP). Zawame City is built around the headquarters of the Yggdrasil Corporation, who also sponsor the Beat Riders competition...and manufactured the Sengoku Driver...nothing bad can come of this, right? Well, eventually stuff DOES go down, but unlike with some other Kamen Rider series, I can't talk much more about even the beginning of the series without giving a lot away. Let's just say that there's a lot of religious parallels throughout the series.

This is their version of the Garden of Eden. Yeah.

The other big comparison between Gaim and Japanese culture is the whole Beat Riders competition in the first place. The teams are fighting for territory and acclaim, eventually by doing away with the dancing and just sending their own Kamen Riders after each other to claim territory. All of this centered around a huge central tower...and the henshin device itself gives us the last piece. The majority of the series is a takeoff of the Warring States era of Japanese history, down to some of the helmets of the Riders looking quite a bit like the historical figures' armor.

Our main hero's helmet, side by side with  Date Masamune's helmet.

Gaim was a bit strange as far as theming and concepts go - it still stands out amongst Kamen Rider fans as a bit standoffish compared to the series around it. Our next one is a bit less strange, but there's a major change in it that makes it notable...

05 May 2017

beyond the bugmen, part IV

Part IV: The Ringed Mage of Hope, Wizard

Kamen Rider Wizard (September 2, 2012 -September 29, 2013) has always had one of the best designs of the past few years of Kamen Rider, in my personal opinion – I mean, just look at that coat! But, we're not here to talk about the design of the suits. Wizard takes place in a world where a solar eclipse welcomed demons known as Phantoms into the world – these Phantoms are released when a human falls into despair, usually illustrated as something that is “holding up their heart” being shattered (in the first episode, a locket with a character's father in it is literally shattered, which makes her fall into despair). Haruto Soma, a man who held in the Phantom inside him and received magical powers in return, fights to stop the Phantoms from causing despair, becoming the world's “final hope”.
Seriously, look at that design. One of the coolest out there.

Wizard follows immediately after Fourze, which as we all remember, was a very lighthearted series to counteract the Tohoku disaster that was happening at the same time as Fourze's writing. When this series was being conceived, it was now a year after the disaster struck Japan. Families were still struggling to return to normalcy, and many in the more heavily-affected areas were permanently displaced. I believe Wizard was written with that in mind – the Phantoms represent the dread and fear of the disaster's aftermath, ever-present and still dwelling within people's hearts. Haruto, and by extension, Wizard, is the team behind the show attempting to quell the fear in viewers' hearts. Haruto is able to turn despair into hope, and save people from having their hearts shattered.

Haruto about to fall into despair. The effects on this show were INSANE.

If you thought the premise of this series was sad...remember last week, when I said some teams from popular anime often work on Kamen Rider series? Well, the next one's known for some deeply sad stuff…
I promise there's no contract to read next week's article...yet.

28 April 2017

beyond the bugmen, part III

Part III: The Friendliest Man Who Loves Space, Fourze

Kamen Rider Fourze (September 4, 2011-August 26, 2012) is the first chance that I have to bring up that a lot of Kamen Rider series have various teams from the anime industry working on them. In this case, the head writer for Fourze was Kazuki Nakashima, who is best known for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill (readers of Study of Anime will know that we all love both of those series here). The writing style definitely shows – it's a very energetic, bombastic series, set in a school called Amanogawa High School. Kisaragi Gentarou is our main hero, a pompadoured prime example of the “delinquent” trope.
You can't see it here, but he has the GOOFIEST smile.

But he's the farthest thing from it – Gentarou is “the man who will befriend everyone in this school” as he says in the first episode. He is generally a very upbeat, friendly character, completely going against his appearances. He's joined by a group of students that supplement his ability to use the Fourze Driver, either with knowledge of the various Astro Switches, or knowledge of the school itself. It's a series very driven by friendship, and it's very rare to see one of the monsters outright destroyed – I can only recall one instance of a defeated monster never being redeemed. This is crucial to the theme of the series, and it's pretty apparent why they chose this sort of series when you look at the time around it.

Sendai Airport flooding after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, and the ensuing disaster conditions were hard on the whole country. From power and water outages, the meltdowns at Fukushima, and more damage, the country was struck by disaster. In the timeline of Kamen Rider production, around March of every year, the series for the following year begins its production and writing. Fresh off the heels of the earthquake, the production team ended up making a cheerful, uplifting series that still manages to hit hard (I legit cried at the end of this one, y'all).

Remember that last section when we talk about our next series, because despair becomes a VERY important plot point...

21 April 2017

beyond the bugmen: part II

Part II: The Greedy Selflessness, OOO

Kamen Rider OOO, pronounced O's, is the next series in our look at the Kamen Rider franchise under a microscope. Airing from September 5, 2010 to August 28, 2011, the series follows Eiji Hino, a wanderer with a tragic sort of backstory, and a desire to help others. Soon after we meet Eiji, we are introduced to his “sidekick”: a floating hand named Ankh. Ankh is one of the Greeed (no, that is not a typo), a race of monsters that are made of coins – silver coins called Cell Medals make up their physical forms, and the Core Medals (each with its own color scheme and animal motif) make up their actual being. The Greeed create monsters from humans' desire, and hunt down their Core Medals so that they can take over the Earth, as they had tried to do 800 years ago.

In OOO, more than almost any other Rider series I've seen to date, the theme is so easily seen. Eiji represents a selfless hero, giving up all he has to save others, and even keeping little for himself outside of the fight – he believes that as long as he has a pair of underwear, a little money, and somewhere to sleep, he needs nothing else in the world. This actually starts to become a problem, as Ankh wants his Core Medals back, and will do anything to have them. He can't fight, though – which is why he helps Eiji to transform into OOO in the first place. When he starts putting innocent lives in danger, Eiji makes him promise – either he starts paying more attention, or he'll never transform again (mind you, this is while both of them are dangling from a collapsing skyscraper).

Later in the series, the emphasis begins to shift – rather than simply following the fight between Eiji and the Greeed, we see a fight between three sides of the Greeed. Uva wishes to gather Cell Medals to boost his power, Mezool tries to keep the group together and find their Core Medals, and Kazari flip-flops between the sides of the Greeed. In the end of the series, things happen that make Eiji realize that being entirely selfless is just too hard, but being too greedy is not good, either. So, he's left to take a pragmatic view on greed – want and desire for things, but do not be afraid to help others.