Heisei Kamen Rider Doesn't Get Better Or Worse Every Year
It's stupid to think that anything gets better or worse every year. Kamen Rider has its ups and downs like every franchise. Considering I've basically watched Kuuga, Agito, Ryuki, Faiz, Blade, Hibiki, Kabuto, Den-O, Kiva, Decade, W, OOO, Fourze, Wizard, Gaim, Drive and I'm currently watching Ghost... I'd like to give my thoughts on the Heisei era Kamen Riders. I'd divide the discussion with some set eras to avoid straining the readers.
Part 1 - From Kamen Rider Kuuga to Kamen Rider Decade
The whole start was pretty good with Kamen Rider Kuuga. If you recall, Kamen Rider Black RX became the last Showa Era Kamen Rider. It wasn't popular enough to spawn another series after it. Then we had a couple of Kamen Rider movies but no Kamen Rider series until two years after the death of Shotaro Ishinomori. Naruhisa Arakawa entered big time in his first job as the head writer for any of Toei's Tokusatsu series. The show introduced a new formula where the villains weren't like the typical trying to take over the world with one stupid plan after the other. Instead, the Grongi were focused on treating humans like prey. They can be viewed as another alternate version of the Yaujta from the Predator series. But unlike the Yaujta, they have less honor since they hunt down even teh weaker ones. I find that weird considering Kuuga isn't an R-rated series and the Predator movies aren't for children. The show was a major success that it reinstalled Kamen Rider in the eyes of the people.
After Kamen Rider Kuuga, Kamen Rider Agito became another success this time under Toshiki Inoue. Yes, Inoue. Doesn't mean it's Inoue it's already bad or good. Agito was a very atypical Kamen Rider since the whole season was focused on the direction of human evolution than the villains trying to take over the world. The whole conflict in Agito was focused on the decisions of the two Overlords on what to do with humanity. The unjustified acts of murder were not even your typical crime scenes. The show was considered the magnum opus of Toshiki Inoue during his time. As much as I like the show, I still can't deny Kuuga was necessary. Without it, I don't think Agito would know to what direction it would take. The show became a major success and Inoue somehow got overconfident in himself or had burned out in the process.
The next series of shows weren't so good. Now let's take a look at what what happened next. So Inoue either got cocky or was ran out of good ideas. Kamen Rider Ryuki came in as Yasuko Kobayashi's big entry. The show featured the first Rider war but some said it became a writer war between her and Inoue. Then it happened that Ryuki may have gotten a lot of parental complaints that they were asked to tone things down. Then came that annoying Megumi perhaps at the request of executives. The way Inoue wrote Megumi felt like he hated the character. Maybe Kobayashi and Inoue both agreed to kill everyone including Shinji for the finale. What may have happened next is again executive meddling. Ryuki's ending was pretty much something that should have never happened. I doubt it Kobayashi wanted Ryuki to end that way. I guess executive meddling forced Kobayashi (and maybe Inoue too) to push the reset button. Then all the angry reactions may have forced Inoue to write an alternate ending. I guess the fanbase is now divided.
Then after Ryuki, Kamen Rider Faiz came along. Yes, Faiz. Faiz tends to get fanbase divided and this is where Inoue was trying to carry out what he wanted to be his darkest work. He even appeared at the end of Kamen Rider Faiz! But the show itself showed the pluses and minuses that Inoue has as a writer and almost all if it. A lot of times, I wanted to play the drinking game whenever any of the three belts get passed to another character. Then we have that annoying Masato Kusaka. I'm wondering what's with Inoue and his douchebag characters? I already had issues with Hojo in Agito then comes this guy. Masato feels like a bigger troll than Hojo is. He's like the show's version of Timeranger's Captain Ryuya but much worse because of the screen time. I felt like that while Captain Ryuya still managed to change the future in Timeranger, all Masato does is troll everyone. I had no sympathy for his death. The Orphnoch King was just too sudden and the way it ended was perhaps Inoue's worst finale ever. For one, Power Rangers Time Force is really a much better written show than this one with how it dealt with the issue of racism than this series. Should we blame Shirakura, Inoue ore both?
Kamen Rider Blade is one of my favorites but it was criticized for its poor acting. Oh, that just reminds me of how I'm a fan of Wild Force but the acting is so criticized. Blade for me was a huge enjoyable series with how the Undead are the enemies. These enemies can't be killed but they can certainly be captured. The whole game of Kamen Riders here in a Battle Royale was enjoyable to watch. While it's not as good as Agito due to the fact it's written by Sho Aikawa (Boukenger's head writer), it does have its charm. Maybe it's because I still like Boukenger even if it's not as good as I think as it was. Maybe, I'm a sucker for nightmare fuel Tokusatsu that I end up thinking less of Super Sentai series from Gaoranger up to present. Like I could still say that the villains in Blade were a frightening bunch not just because you couldn't kill them, they were really a scary bunch for children anyway. But even at times, I felt like there's worthy nightmare fuel but the writing wasn't as good as Kuuga and Agito.
Kamen Rider Hibiki well it's a show you can be mixed about. Up until now, I still think this show SUCKS IMO. There's been some good Japanese-themed shows like Kakuranger or Shinkenger but no, not Hibiki. It was an attempt to do a Japanese-themed Kamen Rider but I felt the first attempt wasn't as good. The show also had problems with Shigenori Takatera and Tyuyoshi Kida. It may have not bee the best combination. The first half was flat. Then you had a change of personnel involved with Shinichiro Shirakura and Toshiki Inoue. Inoue brought in some conflict to the show but ends up adding that super annoying child. Then the show has a really bad finale. Hmmm maybe Faiz's finale isn't so bad. But still WTF?! I wonder what was Inoue thinking with how he wrote Hibiki's even more absurd finale?
Kamen Rider Kabuto was a fine show for some but not for all. This was where Shoji "Patrick Star" Yonemura showed up. Maybe he's not as bad as Jonathan Tzachor but why do I have the feeling that Toei needed to learn from Saban's getting rid of the guy? I felt like at times, Toei should have fired "Patrick Star" long ago. But Kabuto was a fine series. Tzachor prior to Samurai and Megaforce wrote Wild Force which I'm a fan of. I think Kabuto's an okay season. But I feel at times, Tendo can be quite a Gary Stu in some way. I don't know how any comic critic like Doug Walker aka the Nostalgia Critic would even respond to that guy. I'd like to see ANY critic who's also a comedian dare to review this series. The series had a bit of Starship Troopers or what feel with the Worms invading Japan. Then a bit of Armageddon and whatever popular American sci-fi movies and series inspired the series. Then there's also the problem of how humanity's hearts can eventually exceed the non-human antagonists in this series. It's fine but I don't feel like rewatching it that much.
After the horror series from Kuuga to Kabuto, there was yet another attempt at lighter and softer. If you consider Super Sentai and Kamen Rider back to back, much has changed. You can consider that after Timeranger, Super Sentai had become closer to TV-Y7-FV starting with Gaoranger. You had Gaoranger, Hurricanger, Abaranger, Dekaranger, Magiranger and Boukenger which were all lighter and softer seasons. Hurricanger is more or less a lighter version of Liveman. Kamen Rider Den-O is another attempt at lighter and softer. The first was Kamen Rider Black RX which IMO still had a considerable amount of nightmare fuel in it. Den-O became a popular season with the war on the Imagins. The whole series had a lot of time travel and worked well with the children. But older fans like myself felt the show is a trainwreck. I felt like Timeranger and Time Force as different both won't give too much of a conundrum to me. Kamen Rider Kiva came in as a horror-comedy where Toshiki Inoue as its main writer tried to either reclaim his success or switch to comedy. I personally enjoy Kamen Rider Kiva's world of rainbows and teddy bears mixed with the Fangires.
The era ended with Kamen Rider Decade. Yes, ONORE DIKEDO! I felt like Kamen Rider Decade is just a messy anniversary season. Some like it but I personally HATE IT except for the crossover it had with Shinkenger. I still felt like the whole plot is a mess to the point it lasted for only 31 episodes with no proper finale. Then I had to wait for freaking months just to get the movie finale. I felt like really what's up with that? I always consider Kamen Rider Decade as Saban's Masked Rider with better acting and aesthetics but the show still sucks from within. It's Saban's Masked Rider repackaged but still as bad when it comes to writing. The only difference is the Shinkenger Arc is miles better than Friend In Need. But the Shinkenger arc still didn't do anything to really save Decade from my ever super duper harsh criticism! Sorry Decade fans, I can't really accept it as a good show after all! Yup, I can be a very harsh critic myself several times in a row!
Part 2 - From Kamen Rider W to presently, Kamen Rider Ghost
I can't decide on what to think about this era. So we have Kamen Rider W which is a HUGE improvement from Decade. While Decade still makes me call it as Saban's Masked Rider repackaged, W has Riku Sanjo. Now I don't like Kyoryuger but I enjoyed Sanjo's works with Kamen Rider. W tries another unique approach of a two-in-one superhero. The hero Shotaro merges with Philip's soul to become Kamen Rider W. The new story has humans turning into Dopants and the only way to revert them back to human is by defeating them. The whole Dopant plague is caused by the Museum and there's also Foundation X behind the problem. The show featured a lot of Super Sentai guest stars. But I guess a lot of people now how much I hated how much I hated the two episodes where Nao Nagasawa (one of my favorite action girls) was treated while Ayumi Kinoshita had a real badass role that I liked. The show wasn't really perfect but it was a good comeback.
Kamen Rider OOO was Yasuko Kobayashi's major return to Kamen Rider after she was finished with Samurai Sentai Shinkenger and writing the two-part crossover with Decade. The show itself is popular. I felt like the whole show is better than Den-O. But like W, the show sticks to the newer format of lighter and softer Kamen Riders. The show was focused on a lot of silly stuff, there hasn't been much tragedy while I felt like it was an improvement from Den-O. But I can't deny how I tend to bash Ankh as much as I bash Momotaros in Den-O. I seldom felt like Ankh was a watered down version of Masato Kusaka or Hojo Toru. Sometimes, I'd like to imagine what if Hojo or Masato were possessed by Ankh... dundundun! The series also featured what might be Toei's tribute to Haim Saban namely Cake Boss. I felt like Kougami Foundation was meant to represent Saban Brands, just a year before Saban managed to buy back the rights from Toei to produce Power Rangers. NEXT!
Kamen Rider Fourze is what I call another "Kamen Rider meets Nickelodeon" scenario. I had that feeling with Kamen Rider Kiva where I dubbed it as "Kamen Rider Danny Phantom". I felt like Kamen Rider Fourze was basically Kamen Rider Planet Sheen. It felt like it was an improved version of the failed Planet Sheen series. I even wanted to imagine Kengo himself as Jimmy Neutron and Gentaro as Sheen. Of course, the comparison is forced. Shun feels like Dash from Danny Phantom but a milder version. It also tried to do with the science theme in a lighter and softer scenario. During its airing, it also appeared during the events of Super Hero Taisen movie, Go-Busters was a darker and edgier season while this one was more on the fun side. But at times, there were some inconsistencies like why in the world did they just pop it up that Gentaro lost his parents before the series started or why put some unnecessary tearjerkers near the finale? But it was still a fun rocket ride to outer space. Insert Kamen Rider Super-1 theme anyone?
Unfortunately, we were followed up by yes... Kamen Rider Wizard. I don't know if I'd watch this show OR I'd watch Fairly Oddparents' earlier seasons. But like Fairly Oddparents, the whole show is probably best considered (for me, anyway) as Timmy Turner having wished himself to become a Kamen Rider. The show ends up as an inferior version of Kamen Rider OOO. I could give my blame to well Tyuyoshi Kida. At this point, I felt like producer Takaaki Utsunomiya ran out of good ideas. He was responsible for Shinkenger and Gokaiger. But he's also responsible for Wizard and ToQGer. So it's most likely hit or miss. I felt like I don't even want to rewatch the series. For horror-comedy, watch Kamen Rider Kiva! Both Wizard and ToQGer can get out of my rewatch list. I'm probably a harsh critic towards this show and I don't dare deny it.
Kamen Rider Gaim was a much better follow-up. I really had nothing else to watch and I felt like dropping Toku as a whole. Megaforce, Kyoryuger, ToQGer, Wizard... what else is there to watch anyway? Naomi Takebe was the producer here and she did a bad job during Go-Busters. But I've enjoyed Kiva and OOO. I felt like Takebe was more fit to write Kamen Rider than she was more fit to produce Super Sentai. I'll admit ToQGer is SOOOOO BORING for me that I didn't even bother to rewatch it. My void was filled during its airing. I felt like it was an improved version of Kamen Rider Ryuki. The story was more consistent, Gen Urobuchi was a good writer in one way or another. The whole series kept me watching to watch it. Sure fruits feels like a silly concept but the writing of Urobuchi is hard to master. While I didn't like its crossover with ToQGer and sorry, I still can't like it but leaving it aside, Gaim is a really solid series.
Kamen Rider Drive came in as one of my favorites. I was afraid that Sanjo would ruin it after I felt like I still freaking hate Kyoryuger. Kyoryuger makes dinosaurs glad they're dead. But Drive was a good comeback. Is it the best? No. After watching Winspector, I felt like Drive isn't much of a Knight Rider inspired series. This show had some good humor, I liked the whole Roidmude vs, human concept and the scientist vs. scientist clash. The show had some good police action, I still feel it's a good show. But it also shows yet again that just because a Rider show is new that it's going to be better. The show still had some problems like I felt like there are times Shinnosuke and Kiriko are teased too much. But again, I'm a sucker for such stuff so I don't really point it out as a flaw.
As for Kamen Rider Ghost, I don't feel it's as good as Drive. As of the moment, I still feel that I'd watch Kamen Rider Kiva over that show. I feel like as much as there are improvements in the next series but a sequel can also fall apart. So it's better to expect that not every sequel is better than the prequel. Just think innovation has its ups and downs, right?
So what's the cause of Kamen Rider getting better or getting worse every year?
I've mentioned something about the writers and producers themselves. The management system tends to either let a producer produce for a long time (ex. Takeyuki Suzuki worked all the way from Goggle V up to Ohranger with Hirohisa Soda, Toshiki Inoue and Noboru Sugimura as head writers) or the current trend of revolving writers. Many times, a producer's work can be hit or miss. Naomi Takebe can be good in some areas but tends to do bad in other areas. Like I felt that while she did good with OOO and Kiva but Gaim's success is due to Urobuchi's high quality writing. Shinichiro Shirakura was the man behind Agito but he was also the man behind Faiz and several other Kamen Riders.
The problem can also be a writer's self-indulgence and a serious lack of self-discipline. Perhaps a good example is Toshiki Inoue vs. Yasuko Kobayashi vs. Naruhisa Arakawa. It's said that after Inoue made Agito the magnum opus that he had, he got cocky considering he also wrote the overly popular Jetman. On the other hand, Yasuko Kobayashi didn't get cocky during the time Timeranger became her Agito bullet and when Gingaman became a popular season. Arakawa tends to maintain some degree of self-discipline even if his later works may not be as good as Kuuga. So it's safe to assume that Inoue's becoming cocky might be the reason why he decided to write Faiz entirely himself. Heck, Inoue even appeared at the end of Faiz perhaps proud of his work when I felt like he should have been proud of Agito instead. I guess that it's very easy to be overconfident after several past successes.
Burnouts on the part of the writer can be another factor. Putting Kamen Rider aside, do you remember the legacy of Hirohisa Soda with Super Sentai? Soda worked all the way from Goggle V up to Fiveman. During Turboranger, he was showing signs of burning out. It should have been a red flag that Soda needed a break but making him do more than he could also made him write two seasons where he's shown lots of burnouts. Fiveman was definitely one season that could have ended Super Sentai but Jetman renewed interest in the franchise. Yasuko Kobayashi was still trying her best during Go-Busters but was burnt out beyond belief during ToQGer. If Inoue was't really having self-indulgence then it could be attributed to him burning out or both. Sometimes, it's necessary to get a new writer who you find out has shown signs of burning out. I felt like several shows could've been better if they got a different writer like I always said it, Naruhisa Arakawa, Junki Takegami or Yoshio Urasawa should've been assigned to ToQGer instead of an already burnt out Kobayashi.
I could also blame executive meddling. As I mentioned earlier, Ryuki could have been a victim of executive meddling throughout its run. I guess from the start, Toshiki Inoue and Yasuko Kobayashi already planned to kill everyone including Shinji and Renn. Ryuki's ending felt like it was intended everyone involved in the Rider War died. Then the final episode ended up with what could be the producers' final decision to revive everyone under amnesia. If Ryuki had that tragic ending it could have been good. But no, the whole reset button ending made Ryuki pointless! All character development is out of the window and I sometimes choose to believe the show never happened. Fortunately, Kamen Rider Gaim didn't repeat the same mistake in the battle royale. Also, Kamen Rider Hibiki's sudden change of producer with Shichiro Shirakura and having Inoue to replace Tyuyoshi Kida brought in was a good news/bad news scenario. Inoue writes better than Kida but Shigenori Takatera has always been a better producer than Shirakura. But again, what if Shirakura ends up as Toei's favorite producer?!
Lastly, I think we can also think about trying to ride on previous successes can be very annoying at times. As much as I like Kamen Rider Kiva but trying to reclaim your past success with your past success can further give the message you're done for. Toshiki Inoue tried to put stuff from Jetman like Radiguet's amnesia into Rook's amnesia or the battle between Wataru and Taiga from Kamen Rider Black's Black Sun vs. Shadow Moon. I could say that the writing styles of Kamen Rider Kuuga and Kamen Rider Agito were just too hard to replicate. Agito's plot was probably too much one of a kind though part of it worked with Gaim. Kuuga had complex mysteries but writing good ones has never been an easy job. One can succeed with it and the other can fail in it. What worked yesterday may not work today. Like who can imagine Super Sentai's current format still following the 80s? The keywords are your "TARGET MARKET". It's primarily for a new generation of children. Fans of Kuuga have long grown up. It's time to focus on a new generation of Kamen Rider fans!