Kamen Rider is an ongoing series of Japanese television shows created by Shotaro Ishinomori in the genre of Tokusatsu, that began its run in 1971. Tokusatsu is a style of film and TV heavily utilizing special effects, mainly in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The original Kamen Rider is about Takeshi Hongo, a college student kidnapped by the evil organization “Shocker”. He is experimented on and given a belt that allows him to transform into a super soldier, for the purpose of fighting for Shocker and their evil plans. Takeshi escapes and fights against Shocker and their army of evil rubber suit monsters as the motorcycle riding, bug-eyed Kamen Rider.
With the advent of many mature superhero themed television shows and their rising popularity, came the fact that people are interested in that style of television show. In shows like Daredevil and The Flash, we see the humanity that many of us can relate to. These revelations of humanity, coupled with extraordinary stories and circumstances, are a formula for popularity. Kamen Rider is no different, as their fandom closely mirrors those of their western comic book fan counterparts.
The show’s formula is simple but attractive. Someone put under extraordinary circumstances is given a henshin (transformation) belt which allows them to transform into the motorcycle riding Kamen Rider; Kamen meaning ‘masked’, to fight off monsters set forth by a central evil figure. The central baddy is human in nature, overly influenced by things like greed, power, or personal tragedy. Although marketed as a children’s show, Kamen Rider keeps themes that are surprisingly dark as the standards for television in Japan are very different. These themes can range anywhere from murder to human experimentation or loss of innocence during war and genocide.
That being said, the show can be quirky and fun, with the familiar sense of humor westerners only experience in Japanese anime. Each season of Kamen Rider has a unique theme that sets the stage for the setting and suit. Some themes include space travel, detectives, playing cards, and engineering. The aesthetics are also pleasing. Kamen Rider suits are generally bug-eyed, with a grasshopper motif. Comparisons in suit design can be made with other shows like the Gundam series and Power Rangers.
Power Rangers actually share a kinship with Kamen Rider as it was based on another show also created by Shotaro Ishinomori: Super Sentai. There are many crossovers where the Kamen Rider of the era teams up with the Super Sentai team of that same era.
In Japan, Kamen Rider is extremely popular, having spawned 29 core seasons, movies, manga, video games, merchandise, and music. Despite its popularity in Japan, Kamen Rider never really took off in the west. It was adapted twice for American audiences and flopped both times. The adaptations never took themselves seriously, failing to embrace the mature themes of their source material leading to disinterest.
The small but dedicated western fanbase for Kamen Rider makes do without the big budget backing shows receive when brought from across the pond; sharing fansubbed episodes and engaging in discussion over social media. Hopefully, this can change and Kamen Rider can be brought to the west in officially subbed versions or big budget adaptations that remain faithful to the source material. Its variety of story, extraordinary characters, and plot twists and turns are perfect for western audiences. The desire this era has for mature superhero-themed shows is a fertile ground for Kamen Rider and I believe wholeheartedly that it can succeed.