Hello toku fans and newbies alike, and welcome to the first edition of Rider Kick. The semi-regular series where we (rider) kick back and discuss all things tokusatsu. If you know me, then among my love for horror, mecha and the likes I am also a huge Kamen Rider fan. My favorite show of all time is a Kamen Rider series, I have a bunch of Rider figuarts in storage as well as a few of my favorites on display, I absolutely adore the franchise. Shout Factory has just recently made my dreams come true and officially brought the franchise over to the US for the first time..sorta. Not going into it too much, we did have Saban’s failed Masked Rider as well as the not so great adaptation of Kamen Rider Ryuki (Dragon Knight here in the US), but this is the first true and proper release of Kamen Rider (and I mean the original Kamen Rider) in the US with officially licensed subs and I am so happy. Here’s hoping it does well enough to justify additional seasons and an eventual home video release. I will be doing a watch through of the series and posting my thoughts on each episode and encourage you all to watch along with me. Now for those of you unfamiliar with the franchise I do plan on taking a more in-depth look at it at a later date, I will also have a bit of a beginner’s guide to tokusatsu that I will be putting out as well so do look forward to those in the somewhat near future. For now though, just know that tokusatsu is the genre that consists of men in rubber and spandex suits and contains such franchises as Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, Ultraman and Godzilla.
So, without much further adieu, let’s (rider) kick back and watch some toku!
For those of you interested in going on this journey with me, you can find the official subs on Shout Factory’s website available to stream for free right here.
Kamen Rider S1E1: The Eerie/Mysterious Spider Man (Note: The website lists it as Mysterious, the sub on the episode says Eerie)
Takeshi Hongo, a young scientist boasting of an IQ of 600 and a racing prodigy, is abducted and his body surgically remodeled by Shocker, an evil secret society plotting for global domination.
No, this isn’t Disney’s new Spider-Man series for Disney +, it’s the first episode of the legendary Kamen Rider!
We begin with our opening credits set to what I can only describe as exactly the sort of theme song you would expect out of a Japanese action show from the 70’s. I’ll be getting more into various Kamen Rider themes later on, but they are always something I look forward to with each new season and while not all are classics, for the most part I find them quite enjoyable and the original is no exception. With a groovy beat, lyrical exposition and a catchy chorus, you’ll be humming along and calling out “rider kick” for days. The visuals are great, with the titular hero riding his motorcycle (the cyclone) cut with various closeups of the suit and bike. It’s much less flashy compared to the openings of modern seasons, but it sets the tone well, has almost a western sorta vibe to it if you know what I mean.
Cut to our hero, Takeshi Hongo (henceforth referred to as Hongo), as he races down a snowy road, unaware of the trouble awaiting him. There’s some rather interesting cuts and edits here, I’m sure to add a bit of visual excitement to the scene, it can be a bit jarring and frantic, especially when the shot is inexplicably upside down at one point, but there are a couple of decent angles used and as later seasons would barely justify the “rider” part of the title it is always nice seeing the bike getting some love. It turns out that Hongo is training for an upcoming grand prix, but his times just aren’t quite good enough to make the cut. He assures Mr. Tachibana that he’ll cut ten seconds off his time on the next go around, leaving us to a bit of narrative exposition from Tachinaba as he goes. We’re told that Hongo is not only a first-rate rider, he’s also a leading biochemist at Johoku University. After a few more brief cuts between Hongo and something lurking in the bushes, our rider finds himself being tailed by a group of men and women wearing black and red on bikes of their own. Hongo soon comes face to face with another group of these mysterious riders and realizes that they must be after him. With a mighty leap, Hongo scares them off with a showing of his superior riding prowess and he turns the chase on them. But it turns out they were merely luring him into a trap, as mysterious (or eerie) fibers are strewn about him, like an eerie (or mysterious) web is being cast over his body. Several women in the same black and red garb stand over him and laugh.
Hongo awakens under a bizarre light fixture, surrounded by strange scientists wearing face paint and he himself wearing some sort of padded spandex costume (complete with matching belt). A voice laughs and welcomes our hero to Shocker (no, not that one). Cut to exposition as we are informed (complete with paint, blood? being dripped over a globe) that Shocker is an evil organization with influence all around the world and that they, for some reason, have brought Hongo to their secret base somewhere in a remote area of Japan. We are assured that Shocker is truly terrifying and that their plans involve altering humans in countries all around the world in order to use them as pawns to, what else, conquer the planet. They inform Hongo that they are looking for a man with an IQ of 600 and displaying superior athleticism, which just so conveniently happens to describe him to a T (you shouldn’t have taken that leap over them Hongo, now they know your secret). Hongo protests, refusing to join as he is not a fan of the Shocker, but he is informed that it is in fact too late to protest and that in the week since he was brought their unconscious he has all but become a member of Shocker already. But not all is lost, in that time the scientists have already altered much of his body, turning him into a cyborg (bitchin’!). Ya see, cyborgs will control the fate of the world and Shocker will control the cyborgs, thus world domination. Hongo writes this off as clear and obvious bull hooey, but the voice assures him that he will prove it to him. Hongo’s head is then sprayed with gas (or air?), which causes the pinwheel in the middle of his belt to spin, after which he is to be subjected to 50,000 volts being channeled through his body. This would, of course, fry any normal man to a crisp. But you see, Hongo’s cybernetic body has been infused with the power of wind, which makes him immune to the effects of such high voltage because science. He’s reassured that his body will not suffer a single burn, but damn does that look like it still hurts like a mother trucker, but only because they haven’t finished altering his brain to not feel pain (dicks).
Just as the alterations are about to be made to Hongo’s mind, the generator powering the hideout is destroyed. The scientists rush out to find who was responsible, clearly never having seen a James Bond film in their lives and leaving Hongo completely unguarded. With his newly imbued cybernetic strength, Hongo breaks free of his restraints with little effort, marveling at his new abilities. Just then a man approaches from the shadows, one that Hongo recognizes. No, it isn’t Mr. Tachibana, but a man by the name of Mr. Midorikawa, who had apparently gone missing. Midorikawa says that Shocker is behind it all. The power comes back on and the two must make their escape. For some reason Midorikawa knows there is an exit above them in the ceiling and with Hongo’s cybernetic powers he should be able to effortlessly leap up through the ceiling, taking Midorikawa with him…which he proceeds to do.
The pair race away on the same bike seen in the opening credits as something mysterious (or eerie) lurks in the brush. As they ride into a strange fog, more web-like fibers ensnare them and they drive straight into a giant spider web. Hongo falls off the bike and down a cliffside, Midorikawa calling out after him as the lovely agents of Shocker slowly approach him, laughing. Midorikawa is captured and brought before this episode’s titular antagonist, he tells him all those that betray Shocker must die. All those that betray the Shocker, get the shocker. It turns out that Midorikawa’s betrayal has put his only daughter in danger. Even as the Mysterious (or Eerie) Spider Man begins to clamp his claws around his face, all Midorikawa cares about is them sparing his daughter’s life. Just then a shrill sound and a cutaway reveals a strange figure standing atop the mount, a rider of sorts, wearing a mask, a masked rider if you will. We get a close up of the legendary and iconic Kamen Rider in his on-screen debut, scarf billowing heroically in the wind and theme song playing in the background. The Spider Man exclaims that it cannot be and Hongo jumps down into action as we get our first fight scene of the franchise. Hongo fights off the Shocker foot soldiers then leaps away as we cut to a commercial break, complete with title card transition featuring art of our hero riding the cyclone.
After the break we cut to Johoku University School of Literature as a rather jumpy girl is startled by her friend at the gate. We learn that this is Ruriko, Midorikawa’s daughter, her friend asking her what’s wrong, that she looks distracted. Ruriko asks her friend, named Hiromi, if she sees anyone following her. Hiromi says no and that Ruriko is being weird (how rude). Ruriko claims she feels as though someone has been watching her over the last few days, and it turns out she’s right as a man in the shadows informs someone that the pair have just passed by. On the other end of the call, Spider Man expresses his delight and tells the man to use the daughter to lure out the daughter. What happened between the previous fight scene and now that Hongo and Midorikawa managed to escape when we never actually saw them get away isn’t explained, but this is a half hour show, no time for needless details like how our hero got away from the villain. Anyways, the man asks where they should strike and Spider Man tells him to go to the cafe where Ruriko works or on the way there perhaps. Sooner is certainly better than later as several men in business suits approach the young women menacingly, as if this were a crowded subway train. A car stops beside the pair, it’s Ruriko’s boss just in the nick of time. They try and inform him of the danger, but it seems the strange men have already dispersed, opting to wait for a more opportune time to strike. He has them hop in to take them straight to the cafe, then hands Ruriko a note with a location, stating that her father has been found. Ruriko and her boss get out of the car and head into the cafe as Hiromi drives off (to look for a parking spot maybe? I thought her boss was driving, whatever, I dunno). The two go inside where they are attacked by Shocker. They beat the crap out of Ruriko’s boss as she stands up in the corner with her head against the wall. Way to help there girl. As Shocker grabs her it turns out to have all been an elaborate ruse, and I have egg on my face for that last comment. Ruriko and Hiromi switched outfits (I don’t even want to know the logistics of this) and the one that sped off in the car was in fact Ruriko herself, delighted to know her father was in fact still alive as she had believed. She reads the note stating he is located at a warehouse at the pier, unaware of the rather large spider hanging out on the rear windshield of the car (seriously, how do you not see that thing?). The Spider Man hears her talking to herself and also learns the location of Ruriko’s father.
Meanwhile, at the warehouse, Midorikawa laments to Hongo that he wonders if he did the right thing in betraying Shocker, thereby putting his daughter’s life in jeopardy. Hongo reassures him that it was the right thing to do, that he is the only one that can testify about what Shocker is planning. The pair have changed into some rather nice suits in the time since we last saw them (seriously, just what happened after that fight scene?) as Hongo declares that he will fight for the liberation of humanity and Midorikawa must have faith in himself. Ruriko arrives at the pier just as Hongo informs Midorikawa that she would be arriving soon, what timing! Hongo twists the knob on..something (it’s dark and kinda hard to see), breaking it off before remembering that he has many times the strength of a normal human, a strength that he cannot control. Now it’s Hongo’s time to lament, asking the good doctor if he will remain a cyborg for the rest of his life as if he’s the one that got the short end of the stick here. Hongo, you don’t realize how good you got it bro. It is then that we get a bit of a revelation from Midorikawa as he reveals that it is he who recommended Hongo to Shocker. We see Spider Man lurking overhead as Ruriko looks on, listening in on her father’s conversation and wondering who he is talking to (damn, we sure she ain’t a cyborg too with hearing like that?). Midorikawa begs Hongo’s forgiveness as sticky white stuff drips down from above him. Hongo continues his lamentation, saying that anyone that didn’t know him might think he was from another planet, but at least Midorikawa and Tachibana understand him. Right.
In an honestly decently creepy scene we see the web continue to slowly lower towards Midorikawa, who finally notices them as they overtake him, wrapping around his neck and beginning to strangle him. He cries out for Honogo, who rushes to the doctor’s aid, struggling to pull the webbing off of him with his uncontrollable inhuman strength. Just as Ruriko runs in and mistakes the help for an attack. The two look on as he continues to struggle, blood now dripping from the sides of his mouth. Hongo notices something above them, in the vents, yelling to watch out and pulling Ruriko back with himself as Spider Man shoots a dart into the good doctor, who proceeds to melt into a foam-like substance before disappearing altogether. Hongo tells Ruriko it’s not safe there, as she accuses him of murdering her father and questioning why he wants to save her. He explains to her that it wasn’t him that did it, she of course not believing him after hearing the two argue and seeing what she believed to be Hongo strangling him. He begs for her trust, but she backs away, calling him a murderer. Spider Man fires another dart, narrowly missing Hongo, before grabbing Ruriko and making off with her and leaping onto a passing truck. Hongo gives chase on the cyclone, and with the push of a lever the bike accelerates and as we pull back our hero is decked out in his full Kamen Rider getup. Having now gotten ahead of the truck, Hongo stands his ground and the Spider Man leaps off to confront him, Ruriko in his arms. With a wave of his hand, a mob of Shocker soldiers appear from off-screen to face off with Hongo, because why fight the hero when you have goons to do it for you? The soldiers approach, now armed with magically spawning staff weapons. They surround him, but Hongo is able to leap out from the middle of the mob with ease. They jump after him, whirling their weapons around. Some more fast forwarded action as they circle him again, swinging their staffs around. Hongo, the Kamen Rider stands stoically, his arms raised and ready to fight. He grabs a staff from one of Shocker’s goons and proceeds to beat the crap out of them with it. There’s some decent fight choreography and martial arts on display as he fights off Shocker. Spider Man fires off another dart, but misses and hits the soldier that Hongo was grappling with instead, who proceeds to melt into foam just as Midorikawa had.
Finally, 21 and a half minutes into a 24 minute episode we get our fight between Kamen Rider and the Spider Man. They grapple, Hongo getting in a few good hits. Spider Man uses some sort of fleshy cord to climb up a wall along with some more odd editing. A wall that Hongo leaps up with a single leap. The two fight some more, Hongo landing some good punches in and causing the Spider Man to lose his cape (oh no!). Hongo leaps into the air and we get our first ever RIDER KICK! (sadly sans any sort of exclamation besides my own). Spider Man lays on the ground, defeated, and dissolves away, also into foam. A car pulls up and a man, I believe it was Ruriko’s boss, takes her unconscious body from Hongo, now back in his street clothes, as the closing narration begins. Hongo is putting his life on the line to fight Shocker. Midorikawa, the man that helped and understood him is now dead and Ruriko believes him to be the killer, will he be able to prove his innocence? More of Shocker’s monsters are out there, waiting.
To be continued…
So, where do I begin. First, let me say that you gotta keep in mind that this is a Japanese show from 1971 and..it feels like a Japanese series from the 70’s. Everything from the music to the general look and feel of the show, the odd camera angles and edits. If you grew up watching old Godzilla movies or other tokusatsu like Journey Into Space/Giant Robo or Ultraman like I did, you kinda know what you’re getting into with it. If you didn’t, well it can be a bit jarring at times, but there’s a certain charm to it.
The story is pretty bog standard stuff. Evil organization wants to take over the world using some convoluted plan (in this case involving cybernetically enhanced humans), their latest subject fights back and now is the only one capable of stopping them. It’s a classic trope and it works well enough here. There’s a lot of tell don’t show as far as background information and some pretty on the nose exposition. There’s also some odd moments of, “wait what happened” such as when Hongo and Midorikawa escape from the Spider Man..sorta, and the next time we see them they’re wearing nice suits and hiding out in a warehouse somewhere. We also don’t really see how Ruriko’s boss got a letter with their location on it or who sent it, and if it was from Hongo and Midorikawa why it would neglect to inform her of their partnership or why they’d want her to find them in the first place given the danger it would put her in. A lot of this stuff you just kinda gotta hand wave off and just accept it as it comes, plot conveniences and all that, it’s less than half an hour with no commercial breaks and there was a lot to squeeze into an origin story, I get it.
Visually the show looks fine. The suits are definitely dated, but the design of the OG Rider suit is, as I’ve mentioned, absolutely iconic and still one of my favorites. The grasshopper motif is very much a Japanese thing and ties into stories of bugs being heroic symbols and you’ll see this throughout a lot of Japanese media (it’s also why Bug types are strong against Dark (Evil) types in Pokemon, for instance). The Spider Man suit, not quite as good looking and it never really gave me much of a spider vibe apart from him using web in a few instances. The Shocker outfits are just fine too, they have a striking appearance and I will say I am rather fond of the female Shocker soldiers, must be the fishnets. The cyclone, Hongo’s bike, is a very simple design compared to some of the more elaborate bikes later seasons will make use of (sparingly), but it works in its simplicity and it at least gets some use unlike most other Kamen Rider bikes (or machines, as they are called later).
The music is catchy, as I mentioned in the synopsis I’ve always been a fan of toku themes and the original is a classic that fits the style of the show quite well. Is it my favorite? Naw, not even sure if it cracks my top 10 (now there’s a list we’ll get to), but it’s a catchy tune.
The fight scenes are brief, but there’s some good choreography and that first rider kick is, honestly a bit of a letdown if you’re coming to the show already familiar with the franchise. The rider kick has gone on to be, more or less, the signature finisher of the franchise and they get pretty damn elaborate with them. So for it to just be this sorta unceremonious jump into a kick to finish off the monster, no call out, no special effects, just a simple kick from the air..if you were expecting something bigger than that, heh, you really don’t get it here. Still, as with many things we’ll see over the season, everything has to start somewhere, right?
It’s definitely not a flawless premier. I poked fun at a few things here and there, but if you go in with the right sort of expectations its still a fun show and it does get better, most shows don’t have the strongest premier (we can’t all be Westworld’s first season now). I had a ton of fun revisiting the one that started it all with official subs this time and I am excited to go on this journey with you.
Gonna go ahead and give this one a solid B. As I said, it has a few flaws here and there, but most of those can be attributed to “it had a lot to squeeze into a short run time” and “it’s a toku series from the 70’s”. This is where it all began though and it definitely did a good enough job setting things up for the adventures to come.