Kamen Sentai Gorider – Episode 1 Impressions

I usually don’t discuss the odd little side stories and tie-ins to toku series, often because they have little to no bearing on the main series. Written by a different staff than the main series, and normally just intended for extra marketing and advertising for the toy line, they’re usually not worth more than just a cursory glance and maybe a couple funny character moments.

Ex-Aid has a LOT of tie-in and promotional material, that so far has run the gamut from inconsequential toy shilling, to bizarrely fun toy shilling, to… well, just bizarre in a general “what were they smoking when this got approved” way.

Along this line, you can imagine the announcement of a Kamen Sentai Gorider miniseries caused a lot of head-scratching when it was first announced. A web-exclusive streaming miniseries? Okay sure, gotta promote Toei’s video streaming service. Starring previous Rider characters of varying degrees of popularity and recognition that have only a tenuous connection together? Interesting choices but they have to keep to the color motif of the original Gorangers to match the Sentai team I guess. Even the use of Kamen Riders as a Sentai team hearkens back to Gorangers’ initial pitch, where Ishinomori originally intended it to be a Rider series itself, before it took on its final shape.

But getting all the original face actors back to reprise their roles!?

My good sir, you had my attention, but now you have my full interest.

I suppose I should backtrack a bit. “Kamen Sentai Gorider” is a bit of a mystery at this point, deliberately so, in that we only have the first episode so far, and much about what the miniseries is actually about, who the Riders are fighting against, and what is going on within the plot has yet to be revealed. What we do know so far is that Emu, Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, along with five other Kamen Riders (who have one important thing in common with each other) have all been trapped in a seemingly-illusory amusement park for an unknown reason.

Oh and Shocker is here for some reason too.

 

Because it’s literally impossible to do a Rider crossover in the spring without them showing up to trash the party.

(Seriously, how do they even KNOW that those are Shocker monsters and grunts they’re fighting in the first place. Does this take place after the events of this year’s crossover movie? Is the Decade movie actually recurring canon now?)

This miniseries serves as a unique attraction personally, in that I’ve seen all the series from which the different Riders hail, so I was very interested in how the writing would handle their respective characters. Yoko and Kaito (Kamen Riders Marika and Baron, respectively, from Gaim), Kino (Another Agito, from well, Agito), Kenzaki (Kamen Rider Blade, from the series of the same name), along with Emu and Kiriya (Ex-Aid and Lazer) are a weird combination, but there’s a lot of similarities and differences between their characters that provide the possibility for some intriguing interactions together.

Like, for example, Kino was a doctor just like the Ex-Aid Riders, and Kenzaki and the Gaim Riders were all involved in separate cosmic battles for the fate of the world, little details like that. I never would’ve thought of throwing this team together, but when it was first announced, I was, strangely, really excited to see what could result from the combination.

The big obstacle the miniseries would have to overcome though, as I stated earlier, is that these tie-in stories are written by a different creator than the main series. Given that it is just a tie-in miniseries, would Toei skimp on talent and effort in getting it out, or would the writer involved portray the characters accurately, AND provide an interesting mystery on top of everything else?

In short. I’ll be darned he ACTUALLY PULLED IT OFF.

For this first episode, I’ll break down the characters from where they left off in their own series, and how that affects where they end up in this weird little miniseries.

(Author’s Note: As of this moment, the only way to get this special with English subs is through TV-Nihon’s fan-subbing project. I generally don’t use TVN subs for my own watching if I have a choice, for various reasons, but their work here is serviceable if any readers want to follow along themselves)

(ANOTHER Author’s Note: This series is NOT shy at all about casually dropping massive endgame spoilers for the shows where its respective Riders hail from. I will mark where open spoilers begin from those shows for the benefit of my readers, but a word of warning for viewers who want to watch this series without having first seen Agito, Blade or Gaim.)

Kino Kaoru – Another Agito

His inclusion in this miniseries is a bit odd, considering that for the 15 years since his appearance in Agito, Toei actually never officially considered him a “Rider” in any of the merchandise or marketing lines. I guess that changed for the purposes of including him on this team.

If you’ve read through my Agito posts, then you should have a fairly solid understanding of Kino’s character from that series. If not, then allow me to direct you fine folks over this way to get caught up.

Finished? Good.

Kino is the first to appear to Emu when he awakens at the start of the episode. Emu finds himself among a backdrop that is at once unknown, but familiar through flashbacks and an odd gut feeling. That discomfort is not helped by his first interaction with Kino, who, even within his own series, is characterized by being generally grumpy and paranoid. In fact, he attacks Emu first on suspicion of him being involved with this mess and somehow responsible for them being trapped in the amusement park labyrinth.

 

This is slightly at odds with where his character ended up at the end of his arc in Agito, but not with where he started from. Considering that he only warmed up to the other characters after a long period of development, eventually being won over by the impossibly-adorable charm of Shouichi Tsugami (the main Agito Rider), it makes sense why unfamiliar surroundings and unfamiliar characters allow him to fall back into his old character flaws.

Remember, Kino’s main motivation in Agito is that he believes himself to be the only one worthy of being a Kamen Rider, and sees everyone else as dead weight. Emu and the others will have to work hard to change that perception to get him fully on board with the rest of the team.

Kenzaki Kazuma – Kamen Rider Blade

 

Kino’s first action in this episode is to attack Emu out of paranoia. Kenzaki stumbles across the scene, and his first action is to attempt to stop the fight between Riders. This is perfectly in line with his established characterization, providing a great summation of his core motivations and character elements from Blade itself.

His own self-titled series involves conflict around a “Battle Royale” that decides the fate of all living species on Earth, and how certain individuals try to control or manipulate that war for their own benefit. In a show that involved a HUGE amount of in-fighting between the various Riders, not to mention enemy monsters that could’ve been friends and allies under different circumstances, it makes complete sense why Kenzaki now seeks to prevent more unnecessary conflict from ripping others apart.

 

 

Unfortunately, he’s less successful here, and doesn’t do much initially to sway Kino’s paranoia away from suspecting Emu of wrongdoing. But the weariness with battle is very apparent in Kenzaki’s character and will likely continue to be a motivating force throughout this miniseries.

Minato Yoko and Kaito Kumon – Kamen Riders Marika and Baron

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Yoko and Kaito are a bit of a package deal.

In Gaim, Kaito was the primary rival of the main Rider, Kouta (Gaim proper), and Yoko became his staunchest ally and supporter, especially late into the endgame. Although a secondary Rider consistently throughout the series, Kaito travels around between “rival”, “reluctant ally” and “outright antagonist” due to changing events within Gaim that I’ll get around to later. What is consistent about him is his firm belief that strength is all that matters in the world. In his eyes, that strength can take on a number of different forms (he admires the resilience and optimism of the main female romantic lead, Mai, for example), but he still sees power over others as foremost and necessary to enact any change or lasting impact on the world around him.

Yoko is similar. At first she starts off as an opportunist, backing an outright villain, Ryoma (the evil mad scientist who created the technology for their Rider belts and weapons) because she expects him to eventually become the dominant force at play in the conflict central to the show’s events. Later on though, after Ryoma leaves her for dead, she finds herself drawn to Kaito’s own brand of strength, and sees him as worthy of actually succeeding where others failed. She installs herself into office as Kingmaker – or maybe more appropriately, Queen Mother – serving as an influential advisor, without being the center of attention herself.

Like Kaito, she values strength, but also understands the importance of working with others, of alliances, influences and diplomacy rather than just sheer bull-headedness.

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In the same way, here Kaito is utterly unimpressed with everyone else around him and has zero interest in delving into the mysteries around their entrapment with the others. It takes Yoko’s guidance to try and bring him back around to his old firebrand self.

She’s not successful yet, but that may change in later episodes.

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With the arrival of Kiriya to round out the group, the first episode of this miniseries establishes a few driving questions to move the plot into the next installment.

  1. What is the purpose of this island park, and why can’t they leave?
  2. Why has this meeting room been prepared for them and who is “the master”?
  3. Why is Emu the only one who seems to have a hint as to what’s going on, and is getting flashbacks or visions of other events within the park?

There’s some odd occurrences and noted hints laid out, although how they connect to each other isn’t known at the moment. What IS obvious is that Emu is the odd one out, and is likely tied more closely to the mysteries they explore. Kino’s suspicions are probably correct in that regard. But Emu doesn’t have a deceitful or manipulative bone in his body, and is just as authentically confused as the rest of them as to what’s going on.

 

ALRIGHT THAT’S ENOUGH MESSING AROUND, NOW IT’S TIME FOR ACTUAL SPOILERS

(Seriously, you’ve been warned)

The introduction of Kiriya to round out the fifth candle establishes the one thing that all five of the Riders – notably excluding Emu – have in common. In fact, it’s the common thread that most of us picked up on when the team was first announced.

They’re all dead.

(Kind of)

…FINE, more specifically, none of them are alive anymore.

Kenzaki’s a bit of an odd case in that he was forced to become an immortal Undead at the end of his series to prevent the destruction of the world. (Long story short, the Battle Royale requires a single winner to complete, which will then overrun the world and destroy humanity. With him becoming a new Undead, he forces the game into an eternal stalemate, and preserves the status quo.) As Kenzaki himself states though, it’s the same as being dead.

It’s tragically ironic as well, in order to preserve his friends and allow them to live normal lives, he takes on the curse of that eternal call to war and accepts his exile, prevented from ever having a normal life along with the friends he’s protected.

Kino dies in the process of trying to save Shouichi’s life when both of them are unable to use their powers.

Kaito dies at the hands of the main Rider, Kouta, in a final showdown to decide the fate of the world. Kouta wishes to preserve humanity (and like Kenzaki, sacrifices his humanity to do so), and Kaito wishes to see a world where the strong no longer oppress the weak by making a world where no weakness exists in the first place. Yoko dies an episode or two before that finale, sacrificing her own life for his, still believing in the righteousness of his vision.

And Kiriya dies at the hands of Kuroto’s Dangerous Zombie upgrade, finding himself in over his head despite his efforts to uncover the truth behind the viral outbreak, and to stop him from using the virus to take over the world.

Even though all these characters have lost their lives in the course of being Riders, the circumstances and motivations that led them to these ends vary wildly, and allow for some interesting interactions. For example, Kenzaki sticks to Kino, probably seeing in him a similar stubborn pride that plagued the secondary Rider in Blade, Tachibana (Garren). Both of them being early Heisei-period Riders with shows that have similar tones and styles helps too (the main writer for Agito even did a couple episodes of Blade, albeit a couple incredibly silly filler episodes that didn’t do much to advance or affect the main plot).

Understanding these characters’ backgrounds also helps to contextualize some unexpected directions that their reactions to events and each other take. The best example of this is when all the Riders realize that they’re dead (or un-dead). Kaito, as I said, was an intense rival of the main Rider of his series, and constantly strove to overcome challenges and oppressors in his path. But in this series, he seems oddly passive.

 

The reason for that is exactly BECAUSE he’s already died. He accepts his death, and doesn’t wish to explore the possibility of returning to life permanently with this unexpected call to participate in this game. Even in life, there never was a place in the world where Kaito could belong, or be happy. With his defeat at Kouta’s hands, and the world set on a path counter to his own vision, there’s nothing to return to, or strive for any longer. More than anything else, Kaito just wants to be left alone.

Kiriya similarly isn’t too concerned about returning to life, he’s left his life’s work to Emu and the other Riders, and has confidence that they can follow through on it where he failed. As long as that happens, he’ll be happy.

You know who is incredibly eager at the prospect of undoing their un-life? Kenzaki. Out of all the other Riders, he actually has a life, friends, and a place to return to that he’s been separated from for years. Of course he jumps at the idea that they might have been gathered together to be revived for some unknown reason.

As to whether that’s the real purpose to their gathering, we can only guess. I mentioned above, that Emu is clearly the odd one out, further emphasized by the fact that he’s the only one that casts a reflection in the massive floor-length mirror in the meeting room. As to why, well that’s just as mysterious as all the other points established in this first episode.

What I can say, is that for an odd little spin-off that no one saw coming, the writer involved does a shockingly competent job of writing all the Riders’ characters together. I’m really looking forward to their continued interactions, as well as breaking down the clues we’ve seen, to piece together the purpose that they serve united in this strange world.

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