I’ve been thinking a lot about the current generation of Kamen Riders as of late. With the stunning opening of this year’s Kamen Rider Decade, I realized just how awesome the franchise has been consistently over the last 9½ years. Now, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, shame on you. However, I will be kind and link you to some knowledge: Kamen Rider. Study it and be back later for the test. In the meantime, this list should give you a good place to start if you happen to be interested in checking out some of best tokusatsu Japan has to offer. Of course, be sure to dive into the original Shōwa Era Riders as well, including: Kamen Rider (1 & 2), V3, X, Amazon, Stronger, Skyrider, Super-1, BLACK, BLACK RX, and the movie riders Shin, ZO, and J.
Requirements: I’m considering the Rider designs, the show’s concept and motifs, the originality and execution of the aforementioned, and the overall quality of the show and its story-telling.
This one is all about the story-telling. A slow-paced drama, Faiz could have easily lasted two or episodes longer than it did. Actually, I wish it had; the end was rushed to make way for the next series, Blade. Despite this, the character-driven story of this series is worth following, as the ending genuainly leaves us feeling for all the characters, those that are lost and the ones that are left up to our imagination. The Greek alphabet motif is done well; the Riders look good and have neat toys. Also, I liked the open-endedness of the Rider Belts in this series. They do “belong” to certain characters, but almost anyone can use them – kinda. Let it suffice to say that the belts change hands almost every episode or so.
Kiva has one of the best designs of all the Riders. His Kiva and Emperor Forms are visually stunning and match his feral fighting style. It is interesting to note that his other forms are possession style power-ups along the same lines as Den-O, the Rider he comes after. Sadly, these forms are under used and are ultimately abandoned as soon as he gets the Emperor Form. The second Rider, IXA, is a little odd at first, but it soon makes sense considering the monster motif – IXA is a Christian Crusader meant to slay evil vampires (Fangire). The story comes together by the end, but the show slows down considerably in the middle. What really makes this series so amazing is the way the story is told. It alternates between the present and 1986, following Wataru Kurenai and his father, Otoya, in their respective times as they battle the Fangire as Kiva and IXA. The way the two stories weave in and out of each other is fun and insightful. The conclusion brings everything full circle, in more ways than one…
The 35th Anniversary series, Kabuto benefits from all that came before. The show features sound effects and cues from every Rider series up to that point, cameo appearances and voice work from past Riders and series alumni. The cast-off system is a little awkward at times as the armored forms that most of the Riders henshin into by default are actually rather useless in battle against the Worms. Besides that hiccup in design, the series is overall very excellent.
I haven’t seen enough of Ryuki to include it on this list, so its massive Rider War thing isn’t represented. However, the next best thing is Kamen Rider Blade. The writing team behind Faiz had to rush that series to a close in order to get Blade off and running. While the end of Faiz suffered because of that, the quality writing didn’t just disappear; it showed up in Blade. The tension throughout this series is magic, as the four Riders (Blade, Garren, Leangle, and Chalice) fight each other desperately all series to discover themselves and each other. Who can really be trusted is always the foremost conflict in the midst of the Battle Fight that the Undead wage among themselves for domination of the world. It’s a wonderful story of friendship that often takes cues from Ryuki’s Rider battles and meshes that with the methodical story-telling of Faiz. Also, the playing card motif is excellently executed.
Obviously, this series did something right. After 49 episodes, 3 movies, a Shin Chan special, a Hyper-Battle exercise DVD, and 2 animated short series, the Den-Liner just won’t stop making stops in our timeline. There is yet another movie team-up on the way, pairing Ryotaro Nogami, Kamen Rider Den-O, his oddball Imagin friends (Momotaros, Urataros, Kintaros, and Ryutaros), his niece from another time (Hana), and the Den-Liner’s Owner and stewardess with the current Kamen Rider, Decade.
The series itself is one hell of a ride from beginning to end. The two Riders – Den-O and Zeronos – have impressive designs unlike any seen in the franchise. Each form is based on a fairy tale/proverb that relates to the inspiration of the Imagin that represents the form. The train motif is used masterfully, and the epic mystery that drives the whole series, while a little sloppy at the end, manages to come together in a pleasant, and unexpected way in the finale. This is a must see for any fan of henshin heroes and is also a great introductory for the newbies.