Superheroes on television is not really a revolutionary concept, but thanks in due part to the recent success of superheroes on the big screen, the TV world has been recently trying to find ways to jump in.
Some shows have been deconstructions on the genre (Heroes), some have been grounded approaches (early seasons of Smallvile, Arrow and to a certain degree Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) It’s been interesting for me.
While I’ve found entertainment value in some of these shows (and yeah, I even have fond memories of cheesy ’90s shows like M.A.N.T.I.S.) I feel few have have really scratched that superhero itch. Even though I did like and appreciated the ’70s Incredible Hulk show, I still wish that Hulk fought a monster or two.
I want pure super heroes. No tongue in cheek tones. No hiding from the costumes. No hiding from the inherent silliness of the genre. Super heroes fighting super villains. That’s it.
It’s part of the reason I’ve gotten back into my old childhood love of Japanese superheroes. For the last few months, I’ve been devouring theses shows (best known as Tokusatsu Shows) like a kid who discovered sugar tastes good on ALL cereals.
Yep…that’s right, the “Power Rangers stuff.”
Fair enough. I was the same way. I had a strong love for this stuff when I was a kid, but as I grew up, I just assumed that these shows were just light fair. Cool aesthetics, but little substance, and probably maddening storytelling.
That is…until I gave a few of these shows a real shot.
Kamen Rider Fourze was the first current Tokusatsu Show I tried out…and I loved it.
This is the show that you THOUGHT Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was. A crazier pitch would be….
“Take equals parts Japanese High School drama, The Breakfast Club, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Power Rangers and add a sprinkle of space appreciation.”
That’s this show. Sounds like a crazy concoction right? Yet somehow it all works.
The series is about a kid named Gentaro Kisaragi (Gen for short) who is a transfer student at Amanogawa High School, a school that is based on an astronaut and space exploration theme. Gen has one simple mission at his new school… to be friends with every single person at Amanogawa High School! On his first day he meets Kengo Utahoshi, a brilliant but moody second year student and Yuki Jojima, a old friend from Gen’s childhood who dreams of being an astronaut.
Gen not only discovers the school’s traditional high school cliques (based more on stereotypical American High School clicks which makes it a bit funnier), but he also finds out that Amanogawa High is constantly being attacked by evil monsters called Zodiarts.
To Gen’s surprise he finds out that Kengo and Yuki mysteriously have access to a powerful space base (hidden in a locker because…you know…it’s bigger on the inside.) they also have access to weapons, vehicles and more importantly, a special belt that turns the wearer into an armored superhero. While Kengo is smart and knows how to use all the equiptment, his body is suffering from an illness that doesn’t allow him to wear the belt. Much to Yuki’s urging, she convinces Kengo to let Gen wear the belt which transforms him to Kamen Rider Fourze!!
That’s the basic set up for the first episode, but the show surprisingly goes further with the concept, and explores every angle that it could with its 48 episode run.
The show never forgets it’s made for children (so the comedy can be on the slapstick side, and the messages are sometimes delivered with the subtlety of a jack hammer), but it also uses the concept of creating friendships, and the importance of friends, in a manner that is refreshing and kinda inspiring.
We eventually find out that the Zodiarts are troubled teenagers that the main villain corrupts into becoming the monsters, using their high emotional states as a way to convince them. Much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we see the teens using evil forces to their benefit and our rag-tag, Scooby-esque team (in this case, they call themselves the Kamen Rider Club) battle the trouble teens, and even try to redeem them before they slip too far down the monster slope.
One of the big surprises for me about this show is, despite the high kid factor, and the silliness of the concept sometimes, they actually come up with answers for the tropes that you just had to accept with this genre. Do you remember in Power Rangers that all the bad guys actually KNEW the identities of our heroes? Did you ever wonder why didn’t they just attack them at home? Kamen Rider Fourzes address this and actually has a great answer for it.
The characters are a blast, and while they’re presented quite broadly, the show does gives them surprisingly deep moments. They are clearly defined, with big personalities, and it makes it fun to see when they start adding new members/students to the Kamen Rider Club.
Gen himself is this big ball of entertainment. Wonderfully played by Sota Fukushi, he’s full of naive, youthful energy, but displays the rough and tumble side of him when goaded into a fight. His positivity drives the show, and soon he inspires not only his friends and fellow classmates, but also his teachers. It’s also great seeing him in action too as Kamen Rider Fourze. Since he’s still figuring out how to use the suit and the weapons, it’s a great deal of fun seeing Gen as Fourze trying to get his bearings straight while he’s fighting monsters. It’s got this Spider-Man like feel that I really enjoy.
And the villain’s motivation is quiet good. The main bad guy’s plot is not laid out clear yet, but slowly we start learning what he wants. When we see the means by which he wishes to accomplish his plans, it quite compelling, well thought out and pretty exciting.
Oh…and did I mention that the fights are actually really well choreographed and just a ton of fun to watch? Well….they are. Unlike say, most American live action super hero shows, Japanese shows can go hardcore with the fights scenes, and we see plenty of buildings getting smashed, fast and furious punches, and energy blasts aplenty.
Now…sadly, and this is gonna be pretty mean after how much I’ve been praising it…there is no OFFICIAL way to see it in America. There are…ways….but I can’t endorse them on the site. But there are…so good luck in your search my friends.
Kamen Rider Fourze is one of the most satisfying super hero projects I have ever seen. I’m personally tired of seeing my good guys lose because it’s more “realistic” (looking at YOU DC comics and your months long Forever Evil event.) I want escapism again. I want my heroes to win. This show does that and it still is satisfying with strong plot and character work. Kamen Rider Fourze made such a great impact on me, that I wanted to go further into the history of the franchise and try out the other Kamen Rider shows that I just brushed aside.
And with that thought process, where else do I go, but to start at the beginning….