So this weekend (which was Labor Day in America – yay arbitrary holidays!) I got the opportunity of finally watching a Kamen Rider product. It was Kamen Rider the First, which I gather is a pretty recent bit of the franchise (though it has a second, called, what else? Kamen Rider the Next). I’ve been getting slowly into sentai shows, but haven’t watched enough to really blog about it (maybe next week), so I’ll just do something related and talk about Kamen Rider.
If you’re not into the Moonspeak or haven’t been exposed enough to know, “kamen” is Japanese for “mask” and so it’s “Masked Rider.” You won’t be surprised to learn that the main character rides a sweet motorbike and does great stunt-fights on it and, sometimes, off it briefly (because sometimes you have to jump off your bike to really kick someone. Not always, but sometimes). The basic story, true across all iterations (that I know anything about), is that Hongo gets captured one night by agents of Shocker and is transformed into a badass, Robocop cyborg with fewer metal parts. In some versions he escapes before the brainwashing (which seems like it should be step one in this kidnapping people to turn into super soldiers thing), but in this version it just doesn’t take all the way. While he’s killing one of the witnesses to Shocker’s doings around the city it begins to snow. Hongo was a grad student studying the effects of the environment on the growth of water crystals. So the snow “wakes him up.” But not before he’s stood around enough, looking incriminated, so the reporter he’s in love with sees him standing over the body his companion super soldier killed. And naturally it’s the reporter’s fiancé. Hurray.
So Hongo runs off into the night and eventually tries to get back to his old life. There’s a scene where he can’t do any lab work because he Hulk Smashes everything he touches. This is never developed further. Much later in the movie we’ll see him lecturing to a class, so it seems like he worked out his problems enough to stay in the program. The reporter finds him, having recognized his face from an interview she did with him previously, and accuses him outright of killing her fiancé. She never speaks to the police or does anything else about it. I think she’s meant to be Lois Lane, and while she starts off doing pretty well, she becomes a ridiculous damsel-in-distress by movie’s end (underscored by how she happily dates three different men throughout the movie, even though it’s nominally been less than a week since her fiancé dies [I’m counting the fiancé as one of the three]. Each of the other two save her from something, so naturally she dates them. I assume if a guy in the grocery store kept her from slipping in a spill on aisle one she’d perform unspeakable acts with him in the broom closet).
Hongo gets a rival, naturally. Another shock(er) trooper is tasked with killing Hongo, and he agrees so long as he gets the reporter. The bosses agree. However, at some point they decide he betrayed them for some reason (it’s not too clear), and he becomes a renegade as well; though, obviously, until the movie’s end he wants to kill Hongo to get back in Shocker’s good graces. By the way, after the climax he rides away into the snowy night, like a cool cowboy, but it’s never explained how he won’t die shortly: all Shocker androids need frequent blood transfusion / chelation or they’ll die. Also of course: Hongo doesn’t. He’s the first completely successful android Shocker made. But it still stands that Rival Guy will fucking die if he doesn’t get the transfusion therapy, and he helps Hongo blow the shit out of the base. So, uh… cool?
That sort of told you the end. I left out that Shocker kidnaps the girl everyone wants to date, for, uh, reasons? So that’s why the two riders finally team up properly.
Now, guess what I’ve been leaving out? The completely irrelevant and poorly interlaced subplot. I’m sure you’re excited to hear we have one of those!
Specifically, a young boy (teenager or older) keeps trying to escape from a hospital – his first attempt is suicide, but he quite naturally decides he doesn’t want to when he actually gets over the railing of the rooftop. But a few times he tries to just run off. Meanwhile, a girl keeps coming in with flowers and scarves and shit to try to cheer him up. He brushes her off in true Asshole Japanese Teenage Main Character Fashion. He’s too goddamn emo for sympathy, dammit! Eventually during one of his escape attempts he breaks down – the problem, you see, being that no one ever visits him, so where would he go if he got out? We are never told where the hell his parents or guardians are. The girl shows up and says let’s go, basically. They have a fun time, posing for pictures that are never taken in front of paintings and statues, then finally getting one actual photo taken just in time for the girl to collapse. Then we get our shocking twist: she was a patient too! I’ll tell you what, that was definitely surprising and not painfully obvious. She lied about being a volunteer because, uh, reasons. But her mission has been to cheer him up because he’s so depressed, even though she’s farther along on the boardgame of deathly illness than he is.
Then Shocker shows up. They’re making agents out of deathly ill people, which makes way more sense, honestly, than picking them up off the street. They never say they’re taking the guy too, but turns out they do because after probably a total of twenty minutes spent on this subplot, we find out why it matters! They’re the bosses Kamen Rider 1 and 2 are going to have to fight at the base! Yes, indeed, they are inexplicably evil now, the girl licking her lips in a token gesture of eeeeeeviiiiilll. They almost best our heroes, but our heroes suddenly decide to be good at fighting again and best them, instead! As the girl is lying dead the boy crawls to her, because one of the flowers they set out in the headquarters, before being made totally evil and definitely too good for flowers, has bloomed finally. Then he dies too. I imagine this is here to make some statement about how evil Shocker is, ruining people’s lives, or something, but honestly they’re the only agents we’ve seen so far whose personalities were changed – both the guy who wanted to kill Hongo and the guy who recruits all these people seem relatively normal (the recruiter is suitably campy, but you know, not balls to the wall eeeeeeeeviiiilll).
In the end, was this any good? Sorta. When it remembers what the fuck it’s doing it’s pretty great, actually. This would work better, surprising no one, as a series of episodes – or barring that, a shorter special, maybe 45-60 minutes. There’s too much shit in there that doesn’t matter. But they had a big budget and I guess I can’t blame them for trying to go for gold, or whatever. However, it made me want to watch more Kamen Rider properties, so in that sense, it accomplished its purposes very well.