Kamen Rider Kuuga: An Ambitious Remodeling of Kamen Rider!
Kamen Rider Kuuga in itself was a huge ambitious attempt to remodel the Kamen Rider franchise. Back in the late 80s, Kamen Rider had one success followed by a lesser success. Kamen Rider Black was so successful that it had a much less successful sequel in Kamen Rider Black RX which ended in September 24, 1989. After Black RX, the Kamen Rider series somewhat came to a close. Only specials like ZO, J and Shin Kamen Rider came but no Kamen Rider series came in. Kamen Rider came to a close for a time being. On 1998, Shotaro Ishinomori also died.
Toei wasn't going to easily rest and Kamen Rider would have a return after 11 years of hiatus. May 1999 was the month and year that a new Kamen Rider would be created. At that time, Shotaro Ishinomori had died. By that time, I guess die-hard Kamen Rider fans would have wanted Kamen Rider back. The project was finished on time and on January 30, 2000 the new Kamen Rider for the new millennium was born... Kamen Rider Kuuga! Kuuga started an entirely different type of Kamen Rider show different from its predecessors yet still sharing the similarity. The genius behind Kuuga was after all Shigenori Takatera who was responsible for some of my favorite shows like Megaranger. Then this was at the same time Naruhisa Arakawa's big time to become a head writer... although he would do more Super Sentai. Another major contributor was Toshiki Inoue who's most likely frustrated with producers.
I would view Kamen Rider Kuuga an attempt to pay tribute to old school Kamen Riders while giving new school style of writing. I would say that some of its influence would be pulled from Black and Black RX. Like Black, Kuuga was going to be a hit and like Black RX, he would take the mantle of being the second Kamen Rider with multiple forms and have the help of his allies. However the show would not take any mistakes from Kamen Rider Black RX and instead, had the quality of writing Kamen Rider Black had but at a more different approach. The obvious of what was copied was the use of a Rider Belt (a staple in Kamen Rider franchise), the henshin pose, the motorcycle and the Rider Kick.
It took allies to a whole new level. While Black RX only had his allies helping him mid-season (first Joe the Haze) and later his girlfriend Reiko would be helping him in his fight against the Crisis Empire. Back in Black RX, Joe came in midseason and later, he was assisted by his girlfriend who wasn't immediately aware of his secret identity. Black RX would also help from Kyoko Matoba who also helped in combat. Changes only happened midseason for Black RX either as an attempt to liven the show or as an experimental concept.
I would say that Kuuga managed to take that aspect of Black RX and started to fix it. Instead, we had the allies starting to assist him rather than the hero bearing that burden and getting them to help midway. Chief Kaoru Ichijou was a constant friend to the hero Yuusuke Godai. He helped hide Yuusuke's alter ego as Kuuga. But it wasn't just Ichijou... there was someone else who helped him namely Sakurako Sawatari (the decoder) and his younger sister Minori Godai. Slowly but surely, the police department becomes more and more involved and not just Ichijou. Trying to write a whole bunch of allies behind the scenes and in the battlefield was no easy task but it was pulled off anyway thanks to Arakawa and Takatera.
The show took the multiple form approach to an atypical way at the same time. Unlike Black RX where the hero automatically adjusts to his new form, his is a very different situation. He gets the new form but he must learn to use it. He must learn on what weapons to use. Unlike the typical way of materializing the Kamen Rider weapons on your hands, one can see that Kuuga in his different forms take something to create the weapon to defeat the Grongi he's facing. He doesn't automatically defeat the monster he's tasked to defeat. The whole approach with Kuuga having to unwrap mysteries about the power, makes the hero far more human than superhuman in spite of having the Kuuga powers.
So how does this help in my opinion? It provides a more realistic approach to Kamen Rider that may differentiate it from Super Sentai. In Super Sentai and Showa Rider, whenever a new equipment came, the protagonist would immediately know how to use it. Not so with Kuuga... it made everyone realize that superheroes aren't omnipotent or invincible. Every episode of the season showed a Kamen Rider who was really struggling with himself, others and the Grongi to protect the smiles of everyone.
So what was the different approach? Remember that Kamen Rider Black to Black RX had the episodic approach. That is, Gorgom and Crisis Empire usually focused on half-brained but dangerous schemes to conquer humanity a la Sentai villains with their monsters usually defeated at the end of the episode. Kuuga had a different approach that started to draw the line between Sentai villains and Kamen Rider villains. Gone were the days when Kamen Rider villains would come up with convoluted or questionable plots to destroy humanity/take over the world like Gorgom's plan to use necklaces that unleash bees or Crisis Empire's plan to turn people into insects... you know typical convoluted plans that make Sentai fun to watch. The line was drawn starting then.
Kamen Rider Kuuga also did a bit of approaching ancient civilization like Kamen Rider Black and Kamen Rider Amazon. Like Kamen Rider Amazon, the powers of Kuuga are purely mystical. I would view the Grongi as sort of a mixture of Gorgom (coming darkness, animal beasts, mysticism), Geddon (again mysticism and ancient civilization returning to threaten humanity) and Garanda Empire (yet another ancient civilization). However I'll still watch Kamen Rider Amazon before I can link any more comments.
The Grongi presents itself as a mysterious foe. To add to the mystery, the Grongi's language was much different from the human beings although overtime, they managed to learn to speak human before the series began. They were faced as bloodthirsty creatures who killed human for sport which makes me want to compare them to the Yaujta of the Predator series. They always had their game of killing humans for fun which I think is just awfully disgusting. Kuuga presented a real nightmare fuel whenever it came to the idea of, "Oh no, where are they going to strike next." The Grongi were hardly predictable to both the viewers and the characters.
Overall, the whole success of Kuuga would later inspire its successor Agito. Kuuga would be the most important breakthrough of Kamen Rider.